Tuesday, December 22, 2015

From a Christmas Day sermon by Martin Luther

He who confidently believes Christ has accomplished these things (i.e., His substitiutionary life and death, and His resurrection from the dead, for that person) immediately, in the twinkling of an eye, possesses salvation.

All his sins and the reality of death and hell are removed. Nothing more than such faith is necessary to salvation.
--Luther's Second Church Postil for Christmas Day (Titus 3:4-8)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

From one scruper to another...

You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.

--Martin Luther

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Another one from Megan Smiih

Came across this on YouTube today. You may recogize Sibelius's beautiful tune, "Finlandia." But it's the words that make this one for me.

Don't know why it's not sung more at funerals. I want it sung at mine.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another warble!

Thought I'd share this rendition by the talented lady who calls herself "the Lutheran Warbler" of one of my favorite hymns- one especially useful when Satan and OCD cause us to focus on ourselves and what miserable excuses for Christians we are instead of on Jesus.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Keeping things in perspective

Humorous though this post is, it is- as my Dad used to say- "kidding on the square." As Martin Luther liked to point out, a sense of humor- and proportion- is a powerful weapon against both OCD and the devil.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

The bottom line, Part 2

This has always been one of my favorite hymns. It's usually sung in the Lutheran church during Lent, but it's a powerful and moving reminder of the "bottom line" of our spiritual life any time of the year.

It's sung here by a talented young woman who calls herself "The Lutheran Warbler." You may recognize St. Paul's own confession in 1 Timothy 1:15: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (NKJV).

May you be edified and blessed by this hymn, as I have been repeatedly over the years.

That prints in the sand thing: here's the biblical version!

One of my college theology professors, Robert Schaibley, wrote this. Another, Dr. Steven Hein, posted it on Facebook. I hope you enjoy it. More to the point, I hope you see the problem with the other, more familiar version- and live your life by this one:

Saturday, August 15, 2015

From one of the greatest American theologians

Luther reminds us that those preachers who use the Law instead of the Gospel to effect sanctification are to blame for the paucity of sanctification and good works. --Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3:19

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Ecce Homo!"

John 19:5
Good Friday
March 21,2008
St. Mary's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Iowa


Anybody who's seen the movie Fat Man and Little Boy will remember the incident.

Dr. Michael Merriman and the other scientists of the Manhattan Project were excited. A critical experiment was about to be performed which, if successful, would prove that the atomic bomb was a practical idea.

A plutonium sphere was being surrounded by neutron-reflecting tungsten-carbide blocks, which reduce the mass necessary for the plutonium to go critical. That's just a fancy way of saying that they were putting that chuck of plutonium on a hair trigger, to facilitate a small-scale experiment it ordinarily would have taken a much larger and more dangerous chunck of the stuff to perform.

As the last brick was being lowered into place, everybody leaned forward in expectation. One of the scientists had been drinking a cup of tea. He set it down next to him- not realizing that he was putting it on the very edge of a chair.

The cup fell- and shattered. The man lowering that last tungsten-carbide brick into place was startled- and dropped the brick directly onto the plutonium core. Immediately the entire room was filled with lethal radiation.

Everyone froze- except for Michael Merriman. He reached down into the core and pulled the block out with his bare hands. Then he glanced at his watch, and had everyone in the room draw an "X" on the floor with chalk where he or she had been standing when the accident happened.

He did some calculations on the blackboard. And then, with a remarkably calm voice, he announced, "All of you should be all right. As for me- I haven't got a chance."

He died a slow and horrible death of radiation sickness three weeks later.

And on a hill outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God did something remarkably similar. What He took into his hands, though, was something far more lethal even than plutonium. It was the concentrated retribution of the ages. It was the guilt of the Holocaust, and of every war crime ever committed. It was the moral weight of every murder, every rape, every act of wanton cruelty in human history. Those nail-pierced hands seized hold of the curse that is borne by every lie, every blasphemy, every wrong.There is no evil either too big or two small to have been included. The slightest peccadillo of the most virtuous of all the other human beings who had ever lived- or ever would live- was included. So was the horror of every genocide ever committed. The guilt of the seventy six million people murdered by the most bloodthirsty regime in history- Communist China- was included. So was the guilt of the fifty million abortions performed in this country since 1973.

There is no sin you have ever committed- or ever will commit- that was not included.

There is no sin that any human being, anywhere, has ever committed, or ever will commit- that is not included.

And just like Michael Merriman in the story, Jesus Christ took the full brunt of all that guilt- its full weight; its full gravity; its full lethality; its full horror- onto Himself, so that it might not fall upon us.

Ecce homo. Behold the Man! Take a good, long hard look at that bleeding carcass, hanging there on the cross! It is surely a pity that so many Christians have a prejudice against the crucifix. There is no other sight imaginable that can so completely sum up the full horror of human sin- or, more specifically (and more to the point) of your sin and my sin- than the sight of that bleeding, dying slab of flesh on the Cross- and the knowledge that He Who hangs there is the one whose Word called the universe into being.

Ecce homo! Behond the Man! Behold Him and see the thoughtless words, the petty cruelties, the "harmless" lies that we dismiss so easily in their true light. Behold the Man- and see the horror of what we let ourselves do and think so easily, and dismiss so lightly.

But whatever you do, don't stop there. To stop there would be to miss the whole point.

Just as there is nothing that sums up the sheer horror of sin- the sheer horror of your sin, and mine- as the sight of that Man on the Cross, so there is nothing that expresses the unspeakable depths of the love of God so much as that very sight. A chorale for Good Friday our choir in high school sang- one written, as it happens, by a former member of the Concordia, River Forest faculty- expressed it well:
O love of God! O sin of man! In this dread act your strength is tried! The victory remains with Love: Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.
One might well believe that every time a person who was in that room at Los Alamos thought of Michael Merriman, the thought would go through his or her head, "He died so that I might live." Well, the same is true of that Man on the Cross. Every man and woman and child who has ever lived, and who ever will, can say as much about Him.

Do not seek out God, as He is in Himself, Luther warns us. Do not wish to encounter Him in his glory, and least of all in His holiness. You and He are natural enemies. Like Moses, who once presumptuously asked to see His face, you cannot look upon His face and live.

And if you should be so unfortunate as to meet Him, run. Run for your life! God is a consuming fire; nothing less holy than He can survive His presence. And yet how casually- how presumptuously- we speak of Him as a buddy, a pal, a casual companion!

But where can we run from the One Who fills the universe? Or where- which is finally the same thing- can we flee from what and who we are, as revealed in all its horror on the Cross?

The answer: to that very place. To the Cross. Flee from the God Who is a consuming fire and upon whose face no sinner like you can look and still live to God clothed in His promises and Our humanity.  Claim your baptism, wherein you receive the very righousness won for you on the cross, and which will sheild you from God's wrath far more completely than tungsten or lead can shield anyone from radiation.

Seek God in the Crucified- the horror of whose suffering is the only true measure of the horror of our sin, it's true, but also of the eternal and infinite depths of the love of the One Who bore it all, that we might live.

As it happens, Michael Merriman is a fictional character. It was, after all, a movie. Merriman was actually a composite of two real Los Alamos scientists- Harry K. Daghlian, whose death resulted from  a solitary accident, and Louis Slotin, a Canadian scientist who whose death was just as heroic as Merriman's death in the movie, if not quite as melodramatic. And both accidents actually occurred, as it happens, after the atom bomb was an accomplished reality.

But your sinfulness is as real as your every breath, and so is the condemnation due your sin. But rejoice- because so is the forgiving love and the cleansing grace that was so broad, so deep, and so inexhaustable as to send the Creator of all things, seen and unseen, to a hill outside Jerusalem long ago, to bear the guilt of it all, and die that we might live.

You are shielded by the righteousness of Christ, which He bought for us with his very blood.What is there to say in the face of such love? Where could we ever find the words,  or time enough to say them?

What, finally, can we say but "Thank you?"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In Christ, even bad news can be good news

Here's a sermon by one of the finest preachers and theologians I know on a subject nobody wants to hear about. I know I don't. But I can testify from my own experience that it's true.We're often discouraged by the very thing that should prove to us that we belong to Jesus.

The Cross- not nonstop success and happiness and "victory-" is the mark of Christ's ownership. If the devil and the world crucified Jesus, what should we expect them to do to us, who belong to Him? On the other hand, why should they waste their time on those who are already theirs?

But God does the same thing in our lives that He did in Christ's- He turns the tables on the devil, the world and our flesh my using our very suffering for our good.

The story is told of a woman who burst into Luther's study one day demanding to know why God allows the innocent to suffer. He could have pointed out that none of us are actually innocent; that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But instead, he pointed to the crucifix on the wall of his study and the One Human Being in all of history who was truly innocent and deserved not to suffer hanging on the cross for your sins and mine, bearing the suffering we deserve.

"I don't know," Luther replied. "But there He is. Why don't you ask Him."

In time of suffering our prayer should be that of our Lord in Gethsemane: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. But Your will, not Mine, be done." He never wills us to suffer needlessly. But He brought the world's redemption out of Christ's drinking of His cup- and if He bids us drink ours, it is only to bless us through its very drinking far more than we can imagine.