Letter to a Young Pastor (c. 1975)

Reposted from

http://thefirstpremise.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/letter-to-a-young-pastor-c-1975/

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“The grace of God be with you in all its fulness and power!

Jesus.

I have read your letter and I don’t believe you are suffering a crisis of morality or of morale, but something more serious. You are afflicted by fear and loathing, which is not uncommon in these times that young men are taught by punks and pompous farts that pastors are people who “get things done,” and “make things happen.” What a disaster. The fact is babies are born squalling, people die neglected, and in between the parenthesis of birth, death, and new birth, human ambiguity: adolescents making an unholy mess of growing up and their parents muddling through as guilty bystanders. Then there is weather-worn holiness, stunningly beautiful graveside prayers, sacrificial love surfacing from the tangled emotions of a broken family, a hymn sung in the night, foretastes of the feast to come, the sullen betrayal of a bored spouse quietly redeemed from years of self-imposed self-worship by forgiveness and grace: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; all of this mixed together, churning, aching for that day … That is God’s will, and that is also why I shoot into the darkness at anything that moves. Sooner or later, I will hit the evil one, and feel no guilt … the war-drums roll, and the bugles howl for blood, and the fat is in the fire. So get ready for it, brother. Buckle up and watch your back at all times. We are at war, and it may last a long time, but we have Christ’s own promise, that cannot fail, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against Christ our strength and Christ our might … People go crazy from fear and loathing, but not us, brother, not us. We preach Christ, perfect love and hope, double-barreled, and we will blow the enemies head off!

Christ!”

– Anthony S. Thompson, Letter to a Young Pastor, c.1975

Rorate Coeli OT Sermon 2012 Deuteronomy 18:15-19

Rorate Coeli Advent 4 OT Sermon
Deut 18:15-19
December 23, 2012 

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         So, how was everyone’s Friday? Ours was good. We went to the library and got out about a million books for next week and at night we went to the Electric Critters at the Zoo. We had a fun day. Not everyone did however. Especially those who believed those silly Mayans and bought into the belief that the Mayans predicted that the world was going to end. Boy, don’t they all look pretty ridiculous right now. But, no more ridiculous than those who have blindly followed end of the world predictions since, well, forever. 

         Since I was born in 1981 there have been roughly around 90 different people who have predicted the end of the world. 90 different predictions in 31 short years. That’s an average of three a year. Most don’t get news coverage because the people making the predictions aren’t famous and just a bunch of whack jobs. That’s a technical theological term. Some, like Pat Robertson, Harold Camping and Benny Hinn are well known individuals so the media picks up on their non-sense for ratings. This year those who wanted to see destruction and death blindly followed the Mayans lead. 

         False prophets are nothing new. They’ve been around since God’s prophets first spoke His Word. Moses, arguably the greatest of the OT prophets went and produced 10 plagues against the seers and diviners of Pharaoh. God used him to free Israel from slavery and to make a fool of Pharaoh’s prophets and the Egyptian gods in the process. 

         In Exodus 32, after freeing God’s people, Moses led them through the wilderness for a bit to Mount Sinai. He spoke with God face to face. He was given the 10 Commandments. The Law. This is a Law that shows what damned sinners we truly are. We don’t escape this damnation by ourselves. God was clear on this. But when Moses came down that mountain all aflutter after speaking with the Living God who would become incarnate many years later, his expression changes. He’s no longer the Moses who led the people and performed those miraculous and prophetic signs. Instead Moses is angry. 

         The Israelites in their sinful ingratitude for their God-won freedom from bondage forced Aaron to make a “god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 

         The false gods are made. The false prophets are pleased. A golden calf is erected for all to see.  The first commandment “You shall have no other gods” is broken joyfully and without remorse. Yet, Moses as the prophet intercedes for that sinful generation. And God holds back His anger. 

         In Exodus 34 Moses is back on the mountain getting another copy of the Law because it was destroyed. After Moses and God’s conversation that lasted 40 days and nights, his face shown with the light and glory of the one who was to come. His face shown like Jesus on the mount during the Transfiguration. Except Moses’ glory began to fade and fade showing the fallen creation that Moses was. 

         He was given the Law. That’s what Moses is known for. Law. All of the true prophets that followed have kept with the theme of Law. Repent from your evil ways. Repent from treating the poor like some form of sub-human slime. Repent from false worship to false idols. Repent from following false prophets. Follow God who gives all good gifts. As great as Moses was, and he was great, he was still a failure. Hard to hear, I know. But, it’s true. Moses was a failure. He couldn’t keep what he was commanded to give. 

         The Law that was given on that mountain terrifies and kills. It provides no comfort save comfort for the delusional that think they are keeping it without actually looking at their hearts. The Pharisees among us who like to point out the speck in others eyes while ignoring their own logs. The Law doesn’t make alive or console those that are broken. 

         But, Moses was right in at least on thing. He spoke as the prophet when he said “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers––it is to him you shall listen.”

         So who was the new prophet that Moses, as the great prophet of God, said would come? God sent many prophets after him to the Old Testament people. There were men like Samuel and Nathan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah. There were Amos and Malachi. Yet these men were all failures like Moses before them. Even the last prophet of the Old Testament, John the Baptist was a failure. If these men were failures, then who wasn’t? 

         In Acts 3 Peter preaches at Solomon’s Portico. Peter ends this fantastic sermon with these words, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:22-26) 

         Likewise in Acts 7 Saint Stephen, before he is stoned to death, says, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51-53) 

         This person that is the Prophet, the Righteous One, the Servant, is Jesus Christ, very God of very God. Peter says of Jesus, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” How true Peter speaks without even knowing it. 

         Jesus came as the Prophet that is like Moses, but different than him. Moses came to give Law, but Jesus came to give you something different. Jesus took those words of death and made them words of life. Jesus came to fulfill the Law for you. Jesus as the Greatest Prophet fulfills not just the great prophet Moses, but all of the prophets for you. 

         Jesus isn’t just some prophet from a long line of prophets. He is the Greatest Prophet of whom the Father says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!” Jesus comes “from among you, from the brothers,” as Moses put it. Jesus is true man from the Jewish people because “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). 

         No other prophet taught differently than Moses. No other prophet set up a new ministry that was pure Gospel death of the Law except Jesus. Every true prophet before Jesus taught Moses. Jesus, the Greatest Prophet, freed not only the Jews from the Law of Moses, but all people. Jesus freed you and gave you the new Word of the Gospel… Himself given and shed for the forgiveness of all of your sins. 

         John 1 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” 

         Jesus the Greatest Prophet leads you by His grace and truth. Jesus takes you to the Promised Land, not with Laws and regulations. Instead, Jesus takes you there by His cross and resurrection. Jesus doesn’t give you manna and quail from heaven to sustain your trip. Rather, Jesus gives you His very body and blood.   

         Amen. 

Gaudete OT Sermon 2012 Isaiah 40:1-8

Gaudete Sermon 2012
December 16, 2012
Isaiah 40:1-8 

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         For my money the sounds of nature while camping in the spring are some of the most beautiful sounds we can experience.  The fire crackles with wood that is still wet on the inside and sizzles as it pours out trying to escape as steam. The birds are each singing their unique and blissfully simple tunes for all to hear and enjoy. You may have a creek or river with water that is flowing fiercely nearby. The animals are coming awake after a long winter’s nap. 

         Like Superman had his Fortress of Solitude in the blistery cold of the Arctic, I had the various campgrounds in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and a few of the northern lakes in the Minnesota Boundary Waters that I used to go to with my Boy Scout Troop and occasionally with my family. During the hustle and the bustle of the school year I would look forward with anticipation to a monthly weekend trip, or weeklong trips in the summer. My friends and I would spend two or more Scout meetings in preparation. We had to decide who was going to bring what, what was going to be cooked and by whom and who got stuck with KP. 

         I loved the freedom we had to hike, fish, play cribbage and other cards games or just to sit and relax around the fire while enjoying the stars in their heavenly courses. The sounds of nature providing their comforting siren songs, knowing that everything was going to be alright when I got back home and to school again on Monday. 

         The wilderness was a great contrast to the sounds of life in the Chicago suburbs. The town had sounds of children playing and enjoying themselves. There were sounds of birds, but not as many as in the wilderness. There were also the sounds of cars speeding down the streets not acknowledging Stop signs and speed limits as more than suggestions. There were trains rolling by and planes making their descents to the town airport. 

         There were also the soul-destroying sounds of parents screaming profanities at their children. The sounds from a homeless man or woman begging for money outside of the liquor stores. The sounds of prostitutes looking for Johns. There were the joyous sounds of concert bands having concerts in the park and marching band putting on half-time shows. So it goes in the cities. So it goes in the suburbs. 

         Sounds are an important part of our lives. Some sounds remind us of good times gone past. Others remind us of pain and loss. But today … today I want you to consider the sounds of Advent. Let these sounds comfort you by entering your hearts through your ears. Let Isaiah echo all around you. As Simon and Garfunkel might sing, listen to the Sounds of Advent. 

         We begin with Sounds of Comfort. 

         “Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” 

         Isaiah prophesized these words to Jerusalem, that is to ‘her’ the bride of Christ, and also to you. The comfort is that your “warfare is ended and your iniquities are pardoned.” Sin that causes you to fear, doubt and despair before the face of the living God has been removed. Sin that is the source of so much pain in this world has been removed. Sins that cannot trust Jesus and His promises of peace have been removed. 

         The internal warfare that sin causes inside of you has been removed by the Gospel, by the sweet sound of Comfort that proceed from the mouth of Jesus when He says to you “Child take heart. I have taken on your warfare and your battling with sin into my very incarnate flesh for you. You no longer have to wage war for I have won the victory for you. You are forgiven.” 

         Just like Jerusalem who first heard these words a few hundred years before she fell in 586bc, we have to take Isaiah’s words from Jesus to His people of comfort by faith. Your forgiveness is taken by faith. Yet your daily experiences tell you otherwise. They tell you that this sweet sounding comfort hasn’t been experienced by you yet. You don’t have a destruction, captivity and return to validate the words of the prophet. 

         You have the forgiveness, and the promises that ancient Israel had. Your victory is won. Your troubles are over. You have received double forgiveness for the sins that you have committed in this life. The tree of death whose fruit is sin has been removed. The axe in Jesus’ hand has chopped it down and destroyed its roots. 

         You have received this comfort, in the words of the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed: “not by reason or senses.” Grace is wonderful. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation of Grace to sin, but double Grace for sins. This is pure mercy of God. Endless works and labor will not win this Grace for you. There is no merit needed. You are given double because of God’s Grace Alone. Jesus comes with hands and sides pierced by nails and spear and says, “Take eat,” “Take drink.” “Comfort, comfort my people. You are forgiven” 

         The second sound is the sound of anticipation. 

         “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”” 

         All, or parts, of these words are in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to describe the last prophet before Jesus, His cousin, John the Baptist. John is the voice that prepares the way of the Lord… for the new message of the Gospel. 

         Martin Luther wrote in his lectures on Isaiah that: “The voice of one crying, that is, a new kind of teaching which should be proclaimed everywhere. In the wilderness. This voice is sent forth in the wilderness both by the preacher himself and by the hearers. By contrast wilderness is placed opposite the teaching of the Law. For like a jail, a wall, and a city, the Law secures and fences us in. The voice of the Gospel, however, is a free wilderness, open to all, public, and unrestrained like a wilderness. There is indeed a limitation about the Law, but the teaching of the Gospel is most free and most unrestrained. Hence all these words are as by contrast set against the teaching of the Law. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. This voice of the Gospel takes the place of the whispering murmur, which teaches the Law in specified localities. This voice, however, has no definite place and teacher. Moses whispers, but the Gospel shouts confidently and most vigorously (p 8). 

         In summary, Luther is saying that the Gospel is where freedom is. The Law cages you in. It puts boundaries and barriers upon you that control, limit and eventually destroy your faith. The Gospel is free. There is no boundary to it. You cannot stop it because Jesus and His voice of forgiveness in His death echo everywhere. They are for everyone.

         It is the Gospel, the sounds of forgiveness in the incarnation that we anticipate celebrating on Christmas morning. This is when we remember that Jesus, God of God from eternity, took on flesh to lower the mountains and raise the valleys in His ministry so that all may be saved. The mountains are those who are puffed up with pride, arrogance and feelings of self-salvation like the Pharisee. The valleys are the beggars, the sinners, and the publicans, who stand before God in all their sinful glory knowing that they cannot save themselves. All are made equal before Jesus who dies so that all may live. 

         The third and final sound we see in Isaiah today is the sound of the Eternal Word.

         “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

          When I was a boy and would camp in the wilderness the sounds of the city would fade away. So too will the sounds of the world. The world preaches death and only death. You get pregnant and don’t want the child? Answer of the world: death to the child. You get old, feeble and don’t contribute enough financially to society and get sick? The answer: death. The rationale is that its cheaper than paying for medication. Have a poor quality of life, whatever that means? The answer: death. Death is all that the world knows and it shouts this sound of despair at the top of its lungs for all to hear.

         To some extent the world is correct. Since the fall, all flesh is like grass. Eventually we all will fade and wither, but in Christ we will never die. Jesus made sure of that on the cross. When Jesus died upon that tree of death He made it a new tree of life that whoever eats its fruit shall live. When Jesus rose He defeated death ensuring that those who pass from this vale of tears, pass through death as if like a dream, to awaken with Jesus in paradise of His making. This is Jesus’ promise to you when He baptized you in His blood that was spilt upon that new tree freeing you from the bondage of the city of Law and putting you in the wilderness of the Gospel. 

         Contrasted with our limited time upon this earth is the Word of God that you hear spoken into your ears that will stand forever. This Word reveals Jesus because Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word of Jesus that says, “you are forgiven” silences all others.   

         In conclusion, there are so many sounds that surround us on a daily basis. There are so many sounds that disturb us as well as delight us. But in the midst of them all are the sounds of Advent. The voice of Jesus has spoken tender words of comfort, words of anticipation, and words of everlasting life. Absorb the sounds of Advent and live them out! Amen.

Modern Lutheran Quote of the Day

Here is Krauth’s illustration that explains the Lutheran understanding of Baptism as it is presented in the Augsburg Confession:

The washing of Naaman (1 Kings 5:14) in the Jordan, may be considered a foreshadowing of the baptismal idea. A promise was given to Naaman, to wit, that his leprosy should be healed. This promise was conditioned upon the presupposed faith of Naaman, but this faith was not sufficient; a mean was appointed for the fulfillment of the promise, and faith in the mean was as absolutely prerequisite in Naaman as faith in the promise. Faith in God always involves faith in His means as well as faith in His promises. If Naaman had not believed the promise he would not have gone to the Jordan; but in Naaman had believed the promise, and had yet refused to go and wash–which was the attitude he actually assumed as first–he would not have been saved from the leprosy.

The washing of Naaman was not an arbitrary association, but was made of God a real and operative mean, so that in, with, and under the water, the divine power wrought which healed his leprosy. Naaman was bound to the means, so that no element but water–no water but that of the Jordan–would have availed to cleanse him. His faith would not cleanse him without the water. Abana and Pharpar, and every river that rolled, and every sea that lifted its waves, would have rolled and risen in vain, for the water that was to do such great things was not mere water, but that water which God had enjoined, and with which his promise was bound up (Luther: Small Catechism). Yet if Naaman, earnestly striving to reach the Jordan after the promise, ad been providentially prevented, we may believe that God would have wrought the cure without the means.

Charles Porterfield Krauth
The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology
p. 440

Orthodox Lutheran Father Quote of the Day

The tree of life has beautiful blossoms, Dear Lord Jesus, You have beautiful blood-red blossoms. What red flowers spring from Your hands! What red roses bloom from Your feet! What red buds I see in Your opened side! How beautiful all Your scars bloom! I will remember this whenever I see the red blossoms of the apple tree pushing out. Your blossoms were red because You wished to offer an antidote to the apples that Adam and Eve ate in sin. You bore apples of life against the apples of death. This is why the infant Jesus used to be painted holding an apple in His tiny hand.

The Great Works of God
Part I: Genesis 1-3
Valerius Herberger (trans. Matthew Carver)
Meditation 15
p. 149