Pastor's Pen 09/10/2020
- Published: 08 December 2020 08 December 2020
- Last Updated: 09 December 2020 09 December 2020
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. False teachers twist and pervert the Word of God. False preachers tell itching ears what they want to hear. The false preacher will not properly distinguish Law and Gospel.
Jesus teaches us that we will know the false prophets by their fruits. You will know them by their teaching – the false doctrine they teach is poison. BEWARE and watch out for these false teachers. There are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1)
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John)
True preachers will proclaim Jesus Crucified & Risen for sinners. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1) True preachers proclaim that Jesus is for sinners. Jesus, who goes to Calvary's Cross to suffer God's wrath against all our sins.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4)
True preachers proclaim God's Word in its truth and purity. Jesus, crucified and risen for you, brings peace with God. It is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. (Luke 24)
Luther highlight – The First Petition. Hallowed be Thy name.
What does this mean? God's name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may become holy among us also.
How is this done? When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God also lead holy lives in accordance with it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven. But he that teaches and lives otherwise than God's Word teaches profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, Heavenly Father. (Luther's Small Catechism.)
True preachers will encourage you to do good works of love and service for your neighbor. Holy living. Faith to God and love to your neighbor. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3)
Preaching Jesus Christ for you, the sinners. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17)
Rejoice, in God’s Word preached and taught for sinners at Zion. Gladly hear God's Word and learn it.
Preach You the Word LSB 586:1
Preach you the Word and plant it home To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand When flow’rs and men shall be forgot.
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him. (Genesis 50)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Revenge. Payback. We know what it is like to be sinned against. It hurts. Betrayed. Gossiped about. Cheated on. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another. (1 Thessalonians 5) “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7)
Joseph felt the hurt of being sinned against. Betrayed by his brothers. He was stripped of his clothes. Thrown into a pit. Mocked. Left for dead. Sold into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. He suffered at the hands of his own brothers. But God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. (Genesis 50)
Joseph is a Christ-like figure in the Scriptures. What men meant for evil against Joseph God used for good. At the Cross of Calvary, Christ’s Crucifixion was meant to get rid of Jesus. God used it for the greatest good. The FORGIVENESS OF SINS. “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23) Christ Risen from the dead brings His FORGIVENESS to sinners.
Peace be with you…If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. (John 20)
In Christ’s death and resurrection you are forgiven.
What to do with the sins committed against you? FORGIVE. Forgive those who sin against you. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4)
The life of a Christian is one of FORGIVENESS. Christians receive the forgiveness of sins all for Christ’s sake. Living in this forgiveness, you forgive those who sin against you. You forgive your spouse, children, and neighbor. Where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation.
Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5)
Rejoice in the rich treasure of the forgiveness of sins. Rejoice in hearing, receiving and forgiving one another. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
A Message from Pastor Hale
To be racist is said to be the greatest sin in our world – even greater than murder – and if you don’t say the correct three word magic phrase today – you are labeled as such. But words do have meaning and should be more than a political tool and symbol for outrage at perceived injustice.
“‘It is not enough to talk about racism, you must strive to be anti-racist and fight against racist policies and practices,’ Dr. Heard-Garris said. If you have the privilege, ‘make space, speak up or amplify issues of inequity and injustice.’ Children see everything” (Jessica Grose, “Talking to Kids About Racism, Early and Often,” NYT Parenting, June 3, 2020). Notice that working and acting a very particular way, or at least getting out of the way, is required. There is no freedom – this is forced slavery of a different kind.
The collective guilt is thrown upon all – not for judging the color of a person’s skin, beliefs, or stances, but simply for not acting as the mob demands. The made-up guilt is used to motivate actions and imprison minds, making others do what is unnatural and even unjust.
The Christian has the truth that there is no justice and no true hope without the just and righteous Lord. Christ is Lord, who died, and His righteousness is a gift. It does not have to be implemented by force or authoritarian groups. It simply is, because God is right and distributes His goodness in His Word.
But the race to have sinners “fix” injustice is by nature unjust – it can never arrive at true justice. Like the endless and impossible-to-win war on poverty, we will always have the sin of discrimination among us. It is inescapable – since this world cannot become heaven and perfectly impartial by our own efforts. We can’t deliver ourselves from our sin, only Christ can when He returns.
But the fervor which the anti-racists demand action reeks of the same error of racism – in the opposite direction. It perpetuates the divide among citizens and labels all those who do not categorically support their pagan philosophy “racists” – even the very people it supposes to promote! We do not need more judging and name-calling. Outward deeds cannot fix the heart – where discrimination and sins originate.
The religious character of this anti-authoritarian epidemic is scary. It is not about listening to a viewpoint and acknowledging that all people are one race, created by our Father in heaven to know Him and be loved by Him. Instead, it demands brutal submission and rants and raves demanding its imaginary, heavenly candy right now. But true earthly justice does not exist, and because of sin it cannot.
Life is full of injustices. Overweight people are shamed, while the skinny are considered unhealthy. The tall are awkward, while the short are deficient. The intellectual are boring book -worms, while the uneducated are ridiculed. Those too poor are looked down on, while those too rich are called evil and greedy. Those who obey authority are uninteresting, goody-two shoes, while the disobedience are criminals and thugs. There is no pleasing sinners. Sinners are very good at judging the wrong things.
Properly defined, racism is a sin – no one is to be judged or treated by what they look like or possess.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2).
But justice is rooted in God, our Maker, not in making up for past societal sins. Two sinful acts do not make a righteous one. Only Christ’s Spirit renews man from within and allows us not to judge sinfully, by receiving us into His love. Only the Father can take away the burden of real divine guilt and fill us with true love, a love which does not consider what people deserve, but the life that Christ has blessed us with. We are to treat all people just as we wish to be treated, even when they do not deserve it. This takes love, not faulty attempts at human justice and phony atonement.
We should morn and decry injustice and unloving attitudes – it is sin. But we can’t forgive by our emotion or make new people’s hearts and souls – that is Christ’s workshop. It is not the domain of politicians or activists. This world will always be unfair and unequal in all sorts of ways. But the Gospel gives us something much better than we deserve – the privilege of being a son of God with an eternal inheritance. No need to apologize for this privilege! This future heavenly home with our Father is our hope as we all endure persecution for belonging to Christ and loving our neighbors – no matter what they look like or have done and said.
A justice without God can never be just. A hope and solution without Christ is godless and in the end must be futile. Thanks be to Jesus we have victory over sin – and the answer to man’s injustice: Righteousness in God’s death for us. --ed.
I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, And will not be ashamed. (Psalm 119)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. June 25, 1530 was the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Lutheran theologians put their confession in writing for the world to see. What Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. Lutherans are biblical – Confessing the truth of God’s Word.
Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10)
In the Augsburg Confession’s teaching on “Justification by Faith” or “Civil Government” or “Good Works,” the one thread that runs through the whole Confession is Jesus. The Reformers wanted to make clear that the most important teaching is that through Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, we are forgiven of ALL our sins. (We are “justified” by grace for Christ's sake through faith alone).
IV: Of Justification. Teaching that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Romans 3 and 4.
The Augsburg Confession gushes with the Triune God’s mercy on us; how Jesus is our Savior; how everything in our faith and life flows from that central truth that we are righteous in God's sight by Christ alone. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2)
Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (The Word of the Lord Endures Forever) is the motto of the Lutheran Reformation, a confident confession of the enduring power and authority of God’s Word. The motto is based on 1 Peter 1:24–25.
Lutherans are the heirs of the Augsburg Confession. We are given to confess Christ before the world with boldness and confidence in God's Word. I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1)
God’s desire is for His church to be in agreement about doctrine, and to be of one mind, living at peace with one another. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1)
Confessing the Faith in Christ’s mercy to save sinners. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10)
Rejoice in God's Word taught in its truth and purity. For our ears to hear. Hearts to believe. Mouths to confess Jesus as Lord. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
God's Word Is Our Great Heritage LSB 582:1
God’s Word is our great heritage And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way, In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure, We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations
A Message from Pastor Hale
Could self-murder and other godless reactions to suffering and the mere threat of death, cause more death and anguish than the virus itself? The sinful response to being made powerless and helpless has not been pretty among those who think they are god-like and in full control of their own lives. The hope for Christians, thankfully, is outside ourselves – it is not in regaining some ideal of personal control over the world and our future. “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” 2 Thess. 2:16.
The world cannot understand why people – young, affluent people, at that – do not want to live. We have so much wealth, freedom, entertainment, and pleasure – it seems. But these are not what we need, or were created for. What we were built for is meaning, purpose, and divine hope. But society has tried to get rid of the last category (eternal blessings) to make the first category of blessings (temporary things) more complete.
In the article “The Curious Case of America’s Suicide Crisis” (Charles Fain Lehman, freebeacon.com, Feb. 15) the topic is introduced thus:
Every year since the turn of the millennium, the number of Americans dying by suicide has risen, with nearly 50,000 deaths in 2018 alone.
That steady increase began after almost a decade and a half of decline and has proceeded at such a pace that 2018's per capita suicide rate is the highest since the start of World War II. Suicide is now among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, the second-most common cause for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, and the third-most for those between 25 and 44.
These figures are a tragedy. But they are also a mystery. Experts have been unable to pick apart a statistical story that grows stranger the closer you look. What, they have been asking for years, is behind this unrelenting increase?
Christians should not be surprised that children do not thrive and have solid purpose when they are told that there is no god over their lives, that they are meaningless evolutionary accidents, that affluence is a replacement for godliness, and that their life is their own to do with as they please.
To murder oneself, in the world’s selfish thinking, is the ultimate assertion of authority over one’s body and destiny. It fits right in with the mantra of: “Be who you are” or “Be whatever you want to be.” Sin begets death, it cannot choose life or obedience or righteousness. The more we are free outwardly, the more license there is for sin to rule.
Children might not like discipline, order, and strict rules, but they need and crave them. They were created for it in God’s order. The 4th commandment (Honor your father and your mother), the first one dealing with human relations, is the basis for human life on earth. We are born into a hierarchy – a divine order. Without it, kids are free to be rebels, but ultimately they will be aimless and left with nothing but their own guilt and sin – which can only lead to death temporal and eternal.
Millennials and Gen. Xers are often so shallow that they think the promise of a grand retirement or a big house or radical political change will fulfill them. The boomers who brought in this change, were actually taught to work as children and to have some respect for authorities and life, even if it was not fully ingrained or passed on to their kids. But the newer generations have been inculcated in hopelessness and disorder. They search for deeper meaning and do not find it in this world’s goods.
We have a religious crisis – a problem of unbelief, not a scientific one. Studies and psychologists cannot give meaning. Freudian approaches to mental health cannot find wholeness solely within sinners, who are doomed under God’s wrath. All the psycho-babble, mental health talk, and increased awareness of materialistic explanations of despair have not helped – the problem of self-murder and loss of meaning has gotten exponentially worse since the rise of these so-called sciences. The war on depression seems to have been lost – to the world without hope in Christ.
Older generations that still have a shred of moral values cannot understand why youth who have been spoon-fed this garbage that the world is only material, are not healthy spiritually. Young, healthy people cut and harm themselves. They see addiction as a way to deal with boredom, and also murder themselves. They live as animals, because that’s what evolutionary pseudo-science taught them they are.
The truth is that the more we submit to others, in Christ’s love, the freer we are. Not physically, but mentally – in the conscience. But we cannot submit to a God who is not loving or present. The young want to feel bad (think of the success of recent horror movies, the rise in risk-taking behaviors, and the therapeutic tattoo and body modification movement), because they are numb from the world’s self-esteem worship – being constantly told they are good, while death is inescapable and life is said to have no meaning. No wonder death looks so appealing to those catechized so well in hopelessness!
The meaning of life for the Christian is not grandiose or earth-shattering. Forgiven and declared righteous before God. We are called to serve Him, not ourselves. We work diligently for someone else – Christ, our master. We are put into our earthly place – the very place we were made for and called to by Jesus – first by our physical biology.
Marriage, in faith, becomes a holy place of safety from sexual temptation that gives us a divine duty and person to serve. Children are not just slavish work and wealth vacuums, but offer a lasting legacy which bank accounts do not. Families and churches provide community, to keep us from being alone. And most of all, eternal life in heaven offers hope beyond all earthly suffering.
This crisis of suicide is incredibly tragic, even more than the worst plague, because it is unbelief and a rejection of God’s goodness. It is worse than the murder of babies and the elderly. It cuts one off from the only cause of hope: hearing the Gospel of Christ. It is a heinous sin and makes a satanic confession. While many have tried to Christianize it, death is never something the Christian seeks and wills for himself. Of course, even in the seconds before death repentance is possible, and not every suicide is in their right mind, but the trend of those hopeless, actively seeking death is undeniable. We cannot excuse this godless act or make it Christian. Sinners are forgiven in Christ – sins themselves are not to be excused or made ok.
Christians preach to the living, not the dead. It does no good to sugarcoat the horrific selfmurder of people we know. No allowance, permission, or excuse for self-murder can ever be Christian. After honoring parents, God makes His will clear: “You shall not murder.” No asterisk is there for self-murder. God’s will is clear.
The experts are befuddled: “Anyone who tells you that they know exactly why the [suicide] rates are going up or going down is lying to you… we truly don't understand this really well.” This is not a crisis of cell phones or TV’s, but of submission to God’s will. The people who have told us that there is no god, no eternal meaning, and no absolute morality cannot admit they have failed and should repent – so it must be a mystery to them.
Martin Luther on Suicide
It is often cited that Luther had a liberal, modern attitude toward suicide. Luther’s oftreferenced thought is from the Table Talk, which is not the written words of Luther himself, but purport to be recorded from Luther’s informal conversations (around the table). The muchquoted passage reads:
I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc. Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.
These words do not approve of suicide at all, nor does Luther make it an acceptable act for a Christian. He does not say all suicides must be treated as Christian and given a Christian burial (the 2003 Luther movie is inaccurate in depicting Luther as an innovator in suicide burial practice). He is really making a theological point that only faith saves, but we do not know the state of a man definitely from a past act. The real problem with suicide is that precious little time is left for repentance and hearing the Word, if successful.
If a suicide is not “certainly to be damned,” Luther does still allow for the probability that many are damned for the sin of self-murder. The only exception he gives is for the person who is not thinking clearly and not in control of his body – instead, Satan is. The underlying doctrine is that faith and the Holy Spirit living in a believer are not compatible with the complete rule of hopeless, self-harming thoughts in the mind. Luther basically says that only a person out of their mind can do such a thing as take his own life. For the person acting consciously and in clear control of his faculties, Luther does not give any hope at all. There is always hope with Christ, but not in the acts of sinners. Murder of the self is to be accepted no less, or treated more gently, than murder of another.
If social custom and legal justice do not condemn suicide (murder of oneself), then certainly Christian thinking must still be formed by the 5th commandment: “You shall not murder.” It is an evil, hopeless act. It can never be a Christian confession or good in itself. And not being God, who sees the heart and faith, we can only judge another sinner based on one’s public confession.
Luther did not crusade to treat suicides differently in church settings. He upheld the tradition that the body of a suicide should not even pass through the door – it must go through a window or exit some other way, as was the custom. This seems harsh and uncomfortable – but choosing death is not pretty or good – it is of Satan. By softening the stance on suicide, the world has only encouraged and glorified it.
But the fact that a person’s body is not honored with a Christian funeral or committal is not a problem for God – who will judge the living and the dead. But pastors can only go by someone’s public confession – they cannot judge one’s faith. To blithely accept every successful suicide and treat them as Christian is to bless and advertise murder as faithful.
Pastors and churches do not judge one’s heart, but if one’s last act is murder, there is not much positive to provide as evidence of faith. Pre-murder actions, even going to church, do not cancel out self-murder. Complete despair, the willingness to no longer live as God calls and wills, and utter hopeless are the opposite of hope and trust in God’s goodness. We have no authority to take our own lives. It is the ultimate rebellion against God. The sin itself must be condemned and warned against.
Murder, as a conscience decision and act of the will, is incompatible with belief in Christ through the Spirit, as are other public, on-going, active sins: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But many are deceived, thinking decent outward actions must mean a person believes and will always have faith. But sadly many do fall away and give up all true hope.
Funerals are for the living, though they do give a confession of the dead person’s life. Luther did not intend to boost the reputation of suicide or excuse it in any way as Christian behavior: “However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to...” Luther did not say we should treat suicides positively in practice, though he makes allowance that we are not God and can be wrong and do not see the full picture of man’s heart.
Suicide is satanic, as an act. Faith is not an act, but our acts can deny the Spirit, given in faith. The church on earth cannot judge faith in the heart. It must stick to acts and words. So judge the deeds and one’s confession and leave the soul to God. Luther’s words are not an excuse to baptize self-murder. To die by choice in despair is not Christian, since the believer has life in Christ, because He has already died to sin and the devil in baptism. The believer may not let Satan reign in the most despicable act possible: suicide. Amen.
Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves. (Genesis 11)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The people of Shinar are very ambitious. Hard workers. They wanted to build a tower that reached into the heavens. They wanted to make a name for themselves. “Look at me.” “Look at what I have done.”
The Lord is NOT pleased. God brings the wrecking ball against all our sinful pride that tries to break into heaven. The Lord’s Holy Law is brought against our sin. Exposing the sinful condition that dwells with sinners. The Law is preached against arrogance, idolatry and hate. REPENT – Repent of your sin. The Tower of Babel is abandoned. The LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Genesis 11)
The Lord has His building project that is good, right and salutary. God builds Zion, the heavenly city, His Bride the Church. I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16)
Jesus’ building project for His Church – Christ gives His life. Jesus comes for sinners. Jesus’ building project has a hammer, nails and the wood of the Cross putting to death your sins.
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2) The Father’s will – sending His Son to die for you.
(You are) members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2)
No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3)
In Zion the gifts flow. The Word of the Lord ringing in your ears. Building you up in the faith. Repentance and forgiveness. Gifts flow from Jesus in His Living Waters. In Holy Baptism the gift of the Holy Spirit comes down washing you through Water and Word.
The Day of Pentecost comes in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter is preaching Jesus Crucified and Risen for you.
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2)
Christ’s Church is scattered NO MORE. You are God’s chosen people. You are His Baptized Children on whom the Lord lavishes His rich gifts of mercy and grace. By the Spirit’s power you hear and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. (1 Peter 2)
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14)
I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them. (Ezekiel 34)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep tend to wander. Sheep get lost. There is a pack of ferocious wolves hunting the sheep. Separated from Christ, they are easy prey. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way. (Isaiah 53)
Skipping church, shutting our ears to the Word of God. Lusting, lying, coveting, gossiping and the evil that is in our hearts.
Thanks be to God for the Good Shepherd. Jesus seeks wandering sheep. Jesus pulls you up from the pit of death. Jesus snatches you from the jaws of the wolf.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.... I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (John 10)
The Good Shepherd places you into the flock of His Church. Jesus tends His flock with His living Word. Calling sinners to repentance. Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15)
Sheep listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Sheep gather around the Shepherd to feed on God's Word ringing in their ears. The Good News of the Gospel. Jesus saving sinners.
Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2)
From the Altar the Good Shepherd feeds His Sheep with His Body and Blood to eat and drink. In Holy Absolution – I forgive you all your sin – by Christ’s passionate death and glorious resurrection. The Words of your Good Shepherd forgive your sin. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (Psalm 23)
Your Pastors are under-shepherds to the Good Shepherd. Your Pastors are to teach God's Word in its truth and purity. “The one who hears you hears me." (Luke 10) Jesus tending His flock by His Word.
“Lord; you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.”… “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said, “Tend my sheep.” (John 21)
Happy hearing the Good Shepherd’s Voice. Sheep washed in the Blood of Christ. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
A Message from Pastor Hale
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1).
Our Lord is not panicked or upset by what is going on, even if most of the world is. Baptized into Christ, we are no longer the foundation of our own lives or hope. But this pandemic has revealed long-standing doctrinal and spiritual weaknesses among us: the attempt to practice online virtual communion, those calling preaching the Holy Gospel to real people wrong despite reasonable safety measures, the equation of man’s safety practices with sanctity, Scripture, and God’s will, and the new discord evident between Christians and even pastors.
It is shocking, to be sure, but these things are not really caused by a virus. But Satan can use it and the fears it conjures up to frighten, disturb faith, tempt the weak to fail to confess Christ faithfully, and even move some believers to fall away. These spiritual dangers we face are actually much greater than physical death, no matter how high the death toll rises. For to lose Christ and faith in Him is to lose eternal salvation. And the spiritual problems will not go away if restaurants and schools reopen. Satan’s damage could easily outlast the ramifications of the world’s shutdown.
Regarding the “online administration” of the Lord’s Supper, Communion is communal – it has to do with people gathering together to receive the undivided Christ’s body and blood. A surprising number of Lutheran pastors and churches, though, are trying to redefine the Supper, against Christ’s will stated in Scripture. While Communion is a comfort, it is not a necessity. There is much false emotionalism in Lutheran circles over receiving Communion. It is seen as greater and more powerful than the Word preached, taught, read, and trusted – perhaps because it involves our actions and looks more impressive than just listening to and living in God’s Word. But the act of receiving the Supper can easily become a cursed work of the Law, if preaching does not preserve it, so it is administered correctly. The bare act of physically receiving the elements does not make one a Christian or grant faith – quite the opposite – it requires (besides faith) self-examination and some knowledge of Christ to benefit from this specific gift of forgiveness, whereas Baptism does not (See 1 Cor. 10-11).
So no one needs Communion, nor is it necessary in any scriptural sense. To make it required, is to impose a law upon the Gospel. Even the idea of weekly Communion can be an idol – a legal mandate and cursed law. The forgiveness of sins must be free, it cannot be compelled or shoved down anyone’s throat. Communion by itself, without faith, does not help, instead it harms. But the push in high church circles to commune very young children, without full instruction, and even infants in some cases, is somewhat parallel to virtual attempts at communing in separate meals, while pretending to be together by linked computers. Both sides miss the point of the Supper: to promote faith in those who already believe – it is not for everyone and it is certainly not the center of our religion – Christ has not limited His help to a meal. Forgiveness is not limited to the Supper. It can always be desired, but it does not have to be received at every instant for you to have comfort.
The Lord’s strength will vindicate us, whether we are participating in His Holy meal or not – at the moment. We should not despise it, but it is not wrong to hunger a bit without eating. God is not confined exclusively to bread and wine, nor the church altar. He is the God of heaven and earth – all things which He made.
The gift of the Supper is for the strengthening of our faith, through its promise, which is always to be exercised by trusting in the Father’s grace through Christ and walking in the Spirit. We can always count on Christ’s strength, whether together or alone. And faith is not bound to ceremonies or church services, even receiving the sacrament, as important as they are on their own. The Christian lives in Christ, our mighty fortress, against all enemies, even the unseen. And Satan is the most dangerous enemy – not a virus. The promise God made to you in Baptism remains steadfast, giving us life by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, even if we are not currently being doused with water. So those who fall away from the faith do not need to be rebaptized, they simply need to repent and believe the promise God made in time and still keeps. Our Lord is faithful to us.
So also, the strength of the Supper is not for a moment, just while we are eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood. We are to live by faith in His forgiveness, even when we are not doing this particular religious action. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
Church is not redefined by pandemic or public menaces to our health. The internet can be a useful tool, but it is not a replacement for gathering together in Christ’s name. Our Lord did not say: “where two or three share bandwidth for a certain video stream, there I am with them (but physically divided).” No, the body of Christ is not divided, even if we are – and neither has the divine institution of the congregation or the call of Christ given to pastors to proclaim Him been annulled by divine right. Internet streams can deliver the Word, which is always effective, but being physically separated can never be a full replacement for the congregation publicly joined in the Lord’s name, just as video teleconferencing is a poor substitute for a couple’s wedding night in person. Yet we suffer gladly, safe with Christ when we must.
Yet, God is with us in His Spirit, even if we are alone. Christians have freedom, because we have the true God and His salvation, so nothing else is truly needed. The Lord’s protection is enough. Communion is very important, yes, but it is false doctrine to say that something is missing, if it cannot be received. To uplift the Supper so highly sounds spiritual, but it makes Baptism and God’s Word to be powerless. God is rich in His means, but if we are without some of them, God is not suddenly powerless to help us. Our limitations do not limit the almighty Lord Jesus. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction ... For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
So changing the essence of Communion, to give people the appearance of normalcy and some emotional comfort, is simply wrong and un-Lutheran. It also dangerously overlooks the power of Baptism and the Word itself – to make Communion some essential activity God requires for comfort. Christ left the frequency of its administration open-ended for a reason. “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me … for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor. 11:25-26). It does always forgive, but it gives no other type of forgiveness than found in the Gospel itself. This is why it has been called the visible Gospel. Thankfully, the Gospel, God’s grace and holy calling in Christ, is not limited to any activity or place. It is to reign in your heart, wherever you are at and in all circumstances.
Also, although preachers have a divine call and duty to proclaim the Word of Christ, no matter the season or supposed pandemic (which is always less dangerous than sin), no layman is to be compelled to do what they consider unsafe and unloving (2 Tim. 4:2). “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Pastors are called by Christ and His call does not contain fine print to stop serving Christ in dangerous times, but no one is to be guilted to come to church. Our Lord is not confined to a building or set time we choose to meet together. Our religion is not about our actions, but Jesus who confronted our sin in the flesh and loosed us from the slavery of death. Rely on the Lord’s might, even if you can’t carry out your religious actions. In the same way, our shut-ins are not without comfort – we believe the Maker of heaven and earth is with us for our good at all times and in all places.
The God who sustained Abraham, parted the Red Sea, brought water from a rock and quail from the sky, fed the 5000, healed the blind and deaf, and raised the dead, is with us. Trust the risen Lord’s promises, and you have all the power of Christ, who promises to raise you from the dead. Faith in Jesus is not an action and no one can suspend it or take it away by force.
The pandemic has revealed shoddy and sandy foundations of believers and trust in flimsy, earthly elements. “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). The people and leaders who were attracted only to the outward forms of church and the sacraments, have had their false foundations removed. The power of Christ is not removed, though. Our God remains seated in heaven, ruling and filling all things, still forgiving sins and protecting us with His angels.
This pandemic has been purifying, in a way, by showing what hearts are really resting on – as all suffering does. No one believes fully or without some element of fleshly unbelief, so now is the time to repent. The Lord – His doctrine and promises have not changed – so why have we? Jacob said to His God and ours: “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant” (Gen. 32:10) Our Lord is steadfast, and so should we be steadfast. No tribulations, sufferings, or dangers we endure change Christ and His loving attitude toward us.
The Lord, we pray, will give repentance to those who have wandered from the truth and also time to encourage one another in person freely and without restriction. But Satan must be dealt with head-on. Now is not the time to slink away from the power of Christ. Believe in the Lord Jesus, knowing your God will not forsake you—on earth or eternally. Rest in Him alone. Amen.