Tag Archives: Lutheran

For God the impossible takes no time at all 140th anniversary observance of First St Johns Mark 10:23-31 October 18, 2015

[Please click the above the link for the audio version]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that nothing’s impossible for God said … AMEN!

The SEABEES are part of the U.S. Navy, they are unique not because they are involved in constructing facilities like runways, landing facilities, fortifications, they are unique because while they are involved in construction they are often under enemy fire. Just like Nehemiah’s men, while some men worked on the wall around Jerusalem, others stood guard with swords and spears. Likewise SEABEES are often portrayed with a shovel in one hand and a rifle slug over their shoulder. Their unofficial motto is “With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer!” I had the privilege of serving with a SEABEE in Naval Coastal Warfare, he was about six foot 3 and as wide as he was tall, he could have been a linebacker. I had to share a two man tent with him for the first four nights we were in Spain, I acquired a lot of sympathy for my wife who has had to sleep with a big moose for all these 36 years.

On this 140th anniversary of First/St Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church, I can certainly say the same for those who founded this church. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have taken to conceptualize (a brilliant mind like John Augustus Dempwolf, who also designed the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital in Harrisburg… and supervised the construction of Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, First Saint Johns is certainly a remarkable achievement.) Also what it must have been like to raise the money, organize the resources to raise this magnificent house of worship, built to the glory of God. I wonder if it took “just a little bit longer.”

More and more we are realizing how vitally important strong Christian churches are to the vitality of our cities. So while we observe the founding and building of this structure, a feat that must have been enormous. Of equal importance are those people who 140 years ago had the vision to see how important a strong Christian ministry is in the heart of the city of York. That these structures were built to inspire awe and a tiny hint of God’s glory, the glory of the eternal, perfect world in our Lord Jesus Christ. I really like bringing people into this sanctuary for the first time and inevitably they will let a reverential “wow” come from their lips as they take in this magnificent house of Christian worship, the place where we join together to raise up God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This all speaks to the fact that there are those in the world who do those things that are to the glory of God, that look beyond themselves, that want, yes, what is best for themselves, but they also know that what is best is not for themselves alone, it is for all. Certainly Christ is best, there is no other way but through Christ. This quote from C.S. Lewis: God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” I just do not understand how people can cope without Christ. They are quick to blame a God they don’t believe in, they have many idols in their lives; their money, possessions (remember the rich young ruler from last week), job/position, spouse, home, on and on. Other idols include drugs, alcohol, sex, power, food… As Pastor Eric Lang notes about today’s Old Testament passage; “Ecclesiastes here focuses more on the danger of wealth to those who are wealthy.”[1] How is that dangerous? It is mortally dangerous! We can’t focus on two idols and Jesus certainly clearly stresses that: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24) Jesus never says don’t have money. Lazarus was wealthy for this time. Jesus doesn’t condemn him. It seems as though Lazarus was more than willing to share his wealth, he uses his wealth to provide for others. Jesus says: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) Remember how God told the rich man who was blessed with a plentiful crop, he had all kinds of plans to hoard and benefit from his produce? “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:20) We don’t really know for sure, it was 140 years plus ago, but I would be willing to bet that those who founded Heilige Johannes Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche were not particularly rich people. Either way, their lives weren’t like the rich farmer when he said: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” (Luke 12:19) Many, maybe most, had emigrated from Germany and their vision was not about being merry, it was about a church that would be a witness to the world around them to the glory of Jesus Christ. Part of that witness was providing for those who also emigrated from Germany and no doubt to help their neighbors. We continue to live that heritage today. I’m not German, but I am Lutheran. Many here today aren’t German, but as a result of this church being here, they have had an opportunity to come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord, they know that they are only saved in Christ. They certainly understand the C.S. Lewis quote there is no happiness or peace other than in Jesus. Sure in today’s world many think they have peace through self-medicating and indulging, but they come to realize how shallow, hopeless and the slavery they fall into when they surrender to worldly pleasures. Only through Christ do we have true life, only because of His sacrifice do we have eternal life in the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross do we have that relationship with God in this world and in the eternal resurrection.

The men and women who had the vision for this church, who struggled to bring this church to reality, who served Christ in this church and because of that served so many others, those people understood what Jesus’ words meant. They did not store away their wealth, but they used it as a tool to build this magnificent testimony to the Lordship of Christ and their true life because of Him. By doing that they also have witnessed to Christ to generations of people who have worshipped here, who have received the life-saving message of Christ’s Gospel here. The founders of this church did the impossible, not as men and women, but as the faithful of Christ who were guided by the faith the Holy Spirit gave them and sacrificed time, treasure and talent to build this glorious witness. Because of it God did the “impossible” through them and saved countless souls because of the Christian ministry in this church.

While they are the church waiting in heaven, we who are their brothers and sisters in Jesus, now bear their mantle to continue to witness to Christ, not just in this building, but going out into the community they knew so well to proclaim the life-saving message of Christ. Those who are led by those who are here, then come and join us in this magnificent house of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit to grow in their life in Christ and to raise their children and generations that will follow us.

We praise God for them, for what they have left to us, for those who are here today and whom we have personally known who sacrificed and worked so hard for this church that we join together in, in Christ.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

Design attribution to Terry Downs

[1] Eric Lange  Concordia Pulpit Resources Vol 25, Part 4, Series B

Confess and pray to one another that we will be healed James 5 First St Johns September 27, 2015

[For the audio version of this sermon click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who trust in the Lord for healing body and soul said … AMEN!

If you have been to a healing service here, our epistle lesson this morning will sound familiar. The first verse is instructional to all of us “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. We should not just pray, but also praise.

Certainly I appreciate the faith of those who come to the healing service and are looking to God for healing. This service isn’t my invention, it is in the Lutheran Service Book and we who are brothers and sisters in Jesus know the pericopes in the Gospels that are about the many healings that Jesus did. He healed people who were suffering from demonic possession, the man with the withered hand, the woman with the flow of blood, the man who couldn’t walk etc. We know that if it is God’s will and we lift up in prayer, by ourselves and/or part of a Christian group that God will heal. I think that the line “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick” is interesting. It says the prayer of faith will “save” the one who is sick. We know that it is not always God’s will to heal. The healing service includes “we also pray that those who are suffering do not lose faith.” As much as the healing service is about physical healing, it is also about spiritual healing.

I do not give them a 30-day money back guarantee when I do the healing service. I can’t promote this service as if it’s some Benny Hinn football stadium rally in front of 30,000 people. What about the people who don’t make it on the stage in time? Too bad for them? How come Benny Hinn can’t heal everyone in the stadium, if he has this miraculous power? Seems they have to come up on stage in front of the crowd and cameras so that he can make a spectacle out of his “healing”. I very much believe in the healing power of God. I very much believe that when faithful brothers and sisters gather together to pray for healing that it is effective. I don’t believe that I should turn it into a spectacle. Because I’m special? That I just send healing requests to the Throne of God and He heals on command? “Oh was that Driskell, he needs someone healed of cancer? OK, Jim’s my boy, there ya go healed.” This is the sin of presumption. I don’t set up the stadium, have a whole lot of people show up and bibady, bobady boo, everyone’s healed on my word. That would be great, but that’s not how God works. It’s about His will and who He wants healed and, in some cases, who He wants to take home. As one wag on the internet said, if these Benny Hinn types are so great, why don’t they stop at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which specializes in the treatment of pediatric cancer in Boston and heal all the children there? Seems the people who do this are more interested in self-promotion and the spot-light.

This is one of the ways the world sees Christians as gullible, superstitious, and presumptuous. Because of this many dismiss Christianity as silly and fatuous. They dismiss the Lord Jesus, He who died to save us, to be our redemption for our sins, to put us in right relationship with the Father. Yes our earthly life is important, but our eternal life in the resurrection is so much more important. That is all dismissed by the world because they don’t want to be one of those silly, easily influenced Christians. It does make me wonder: “OK, you don’t believe that Jesus can heal, what do you have that’s better?” I never get a straight answer, but the attitude seems to be, that they are too dignified, just plain too full of themselves to believe in silly Christian superstition. It really is kind of a metaphor of the world. I’m not going to believe what Jesus did for me for the sake of my dignity. There is no other solution, so I’m going to make my pride, the important factor, reject Jesus and be eternally condemned. OK, whatever? I can relate to the feeling that there are too many out there who try to make a side show attraction out of healing, which never seems to help the sick person and just makes Christians look silly.

The old country preacher was holding a healing service and he invited anyone to come up for healing. Billy comes up and says “Pastor I need help for the hearing.” Preacher raises his hands up in prayer, puts his hands over Billy’s ears, sticks his finger in Billy’s ears, loudly pronouncing and appealing for healing. Finally he stops and looks at Billy and asks can you hear? And Billy says I can hear fine, I need prayer for the court hearing next week. Yes that was a Chuck Swindoll.

Even the secular world has come around to the fact that there is power in faithful, prayer. Dr Harold Koenig, MD, was a professor at the Harvard Medical School for many years, and one of the things that he taught on was how prayer, faithful Christians have helped many people. Much research has shown that people who are prayed for actually do have better recoveries, fewer complications. Even more compelling those who know they’re being prayed for have even better results than. We have our prayer list that we pray over at every worship, at the prayer group that meets Sunday after worship, and at our prayer breakfast. You are encouraged to take the list in your bulletin home with you and include it in your daily prayers at home. When people ask me to put someone on that list, I ask them to give me the persons mailing address so that I can send them a postcard telling them they’re being prayed for. Sure I do that partly because I’ve seen the research that shows they will have a better result when they know they’re being prayed for and also I do it in faith for what St James tells us, to pray over the person, and our healing service is an effective way to pray over a sick or ailing person. But it’s always in trust that regardless of the outcome it is according to God’s will.

Dr Koenig is now the director at Duke University’s Center for spirituality, theology and health. We’re not talking about Bob Jones University, we are talking about very secular institutions of higher learning, Harvard and Duke have both come to recognize man isn’t just a physical machine, we are also spiritual beings that can be healed through the power of prayer that St James tells us about.

An article in Web MD states: “Research focusing on the power of prayer in healing has nearly doubled in the past 10 years,…” Dr Mitchell Krucoff states: “All of these studies, all the reports, are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.” The article quotes other research: “These studies show that religious people tend to live healthier lives.  In fact, people who pray tend to get sick less often, as separate studies conducted at Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale universities show. Some statistics from these studies:

  • Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.
  • Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not participate in a religion.
  • Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had astrokerate double that of people who attended regularly.

Also, says Koenig, “people who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly from depression. “[1]  We are told to raise up prayers to God and to ask Him for prayer. I would never, ever tell you not to pray for healing. But our prayer has to be in terms of trusting God, relying on His will. His will is not always to heal, but He often does and when it happens it is staggering. But we don’t do it in a prideful, presumptuous way as if God performs services on demand. It is about the faith God gives us and His will, His plan. His will is always, better than ours. Even at the times when we don’t see it that way, we realize later, that whether God chose to heal or not, it was the best result and God uses that healing or lack thereof to His glory, not making it a spectacle. Clearly, as St James tells us: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

We lift up prayer here at First St Johns for a reason. We are not here to make gratuitous gestures, go through the motions, we are a people of faith and we trust when God tells us to pray for those who are sick. Yes, the secular findings are interesting, but regardless, we trust God’s word to heal or to take a loved one home. We trust His will and we will continue to be people who take prayer seriously. Not just for physical healing, but as Dr Luther tells us, as a pastor I am a seel sorger, a “soul healer”. I want to be involved in physical healing, but also in the healing of the spirit. Healing of the spirit is certainly for life in this world, but our Lord Jesus has given us the ultimate healing, the forgiveness of our sins, our reconciliation with God the Father who heals our soul that we will live in the eternal perfection of the resurrection.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1]http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal

Prayer. Let’s just get started!

Again one of my beefs with Reformed Christianity, Christianity that is so prevalent in the United States today, is this obsessiveness with how everything has to be done right. Otherwise? What, just don’t?
I’m really not picking on the Blackabys but again, there are differences between Lutheranism and Reformed Christians. “Only when we pray according to God’s will is He pleased to grant our requests (John 15:16)”. So we limit God to what wecan request and require Him to answer prayer within these limits? Sounds a little presumptuous, He is going to do what His will is and, as it often goes, it’s not going to always make sense to us.
I submit that if it’s a choice between someone who’s not praying or, they will pray but they might not be in conformance with the rules the Blackabys list out:
If we are selfish. (James 4:3)
Are our requests worthy of the God we approach?
Do we lack the faith God requires…? (Matt 17:20)
Is there unconfessed sin? (Isaiah 1:15)
If we will ask according to His will. (Jeremiah 33:3)
(Henry, Richard Blackaby “Experiencing God Day by Day p 244)
I’d much rather that they pray. I have no doubt that God leads us in prayer. That by our taking a submissive posture, intentionally turning to and addressing Him, that He will lead us in prayer and that He is going to get us where He wants us to be from there, which doesn’t require our going through a briefing of what is and isn’t acceptable. But we have to start by being in prayer.
Getting people obsessed with, again, rules will discourage or give them another excuse not to even get started.
Bartimaeus asked to not be blind, to have sight (Mark 10:51), that’s kind of selfish. He could have asked for someone else’s benefit. But from that Jesus led Bartimaeus to follow Him. Maybe Bartimaeus became a disciple who subsequently taught and led other people.
As mature Christians we should pray in His will, and shouldn’t be self-centered. People will grow into spiritual maturity led by the Holy Spirit and hopefully by a faithful mature Christian disciple. Isn’t the Holy Spirit going to lead that new person into maturity? I have no doubt many aspects of a new prayers life are brought into closer conformance with Jesus’ will by taking to prayer. Let’s not get people obsessed with dos and don’ts, let’s get them praying first, then disciple them into efficacious prayer.

For God so loved all peoples, all heritages John 3: 14-21 First St Johns Mar 15, 2015

[For the audio version of this sermon please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus said … AMEN!!

You may have heard me refer to St Patricks as the “high holy day”, if you grew up where I grew up, it would be easy to come to that conclusion. I went to the St Patrick’s Day mass in Boston, once. It was conducted, by then, Cardinal Law. You wanna talk “high holy day”, that was it. The worship service, for what was during the week, was very ornate and well attended. This was at the Cardinal’s seat at Holy Cross Church in Boston. Say what you will about the Roman Catholic Church, but I left there very much feeling as if I had been in worship.

The story is told of Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston. Mayor Curley was quite the character, sort of a Robin Hood figure at the time, which was pretty much during the depression. He couldn’t make March 17 a holiday for a Christian Saint, he tried to find an historical event to commemorate. He hit upon the fact that March 17 is when the British evacuated Boston during the Revolutionary War. Well the fact that our Boston ancestors drove the mighty British out of Boston wasn’t something that not only the old Boston Yankees would happily commemorate, but also the Irish-American population would also buy into. Call it what you would, there was a holiday on March 17 and we all know what it’s really about. Evacuation Day is still a recognized holiday in Middlesex and Suffolk counties where Boston is located in. And it is duly celebrated.

Heritage is an important thing, it should be shared and celebrated. Right here we have at least four different groups in First St Johns Lutheran Church that are very serious in the living and celebrating of their heritage and there is nothing wrong with that. In a society that has become so splintered and so alienated, I submit that those people who remember their heritage, share that heritage with others of the same group, make sure that their children, grandchildren and other relatives remember that and don’t surrender to what has become an increasingly homogenized society. As much as diversity is promoted in today’s society, it really is putting away ethnic and religious heritages, to be bound together under an increasingly secular and humanist heritage. Many talk a good game about heritage, the lack of knowledge of American and ethnic history is getting to be scandalous. Too many young people can’t even think in historical terms, as if what came before them doesn’t matter and yet has very much made them what they are. This lack of anchoring in our society, to our Christian heritage and our family heritage has left us with a society that is increasingly detached and alienated.

When you were baptized, you became a new person. In Baptism you are “born again”, you are given real life, in Jesus Christ, you are that new man or woman. Because of that you are born into a new heritage. You may be of German ethnicity or Irish or Spanish, African-American, Italian, but as the song says “…in Christ alone…” We share a heritage that goes back to the beginning in Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Galatian brothers: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Because it is the “high holy day”, I bring this up because I do try to make St Patricks a little special. I know it’s the middle of Lent and should be somber. Sundays, though, even in Lent, are still festival days on the church calendar. It’s odd how it works out and if you would like me to explain it, I will, but I see St Patricks as a way to kind of stay in touch with the culture that I was brought up in and even as a Lutheran was included in. I have to admit, being of Irish/Yankee ethnicity, makes me an oddball in the Lutheran Church. Although it’s not the only thing that does, but I see St Patricks as a way to remember not just our ethnic identity, but so much more importantly our identity in Jesus.

One reason that I have felt it was so important to recite the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds with the word “catholic” is to emphasize that the Lutheran Church is very much a universal church. We should not concede that to any other church. We are universal and the Lutheran Church has members and churches in almost every country in the world. There are countries where Christianity is seriously repressed, so we really don’t know what church is or isn’t represented. The fastest growing Lutheran population in the world is not in the United States or Europe, it’s in …. Africa, by far. “…there are over 16 million Lutherans in Africa?  To put that in perspective, that’s more Lutherans than in all of North America. Unlike the Church in Europe and North America, Africa as well as Asia is seeing phenomenal growth in membership.” Put in perspective, from Dr Luther grew the churches of modern Protestantism. [1] Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, genuine Protestant Christian, excluding Anabaptist churches, churches are the result of what Martin Luther did 500 years ago. We are all truly brothers and sisters in Christ. Often more brothers and sisters than the people that we share physical parents with.

I may use St Patricks Day to add a little twist into worship, I try to do it better, but it never seems to come about. But we have a shared heritage that far transcends what countries our ancestors were born in, we have a heritage that matters for eternity. Jesus died for all of us equally, we are all equally saved in Jesus, whether you were baptized last week, or seventy years ago. I am no more saved because I’m of Irish descent than you are of German descent, or Spanish, African American. In the eternal resurrection our heritage is solely in He who died so that we could be saved. He who is the Lord of our life, in this life and in the life eternal. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” World, ko,smoj in Greek means “…the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human race”[2] We are all brothers and sisters in the Holy Catholic, universal Lutheran church of Jesus Christ.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

[1] See more at: http://www.messiahlacrescent.org/2010/09/lutherans-in-africa/#sthash.x7ApeFjD.dpuf

[2] BibleWorks

Holy Communion continued I

My Christian background is a little odd, although more and more it’s becoming common among younger generations and is not out of the question with in my “baby boomer” generation. I was dedicated as an American Baptist (“Baptists” don’t baptize infants. Parents “dedicate” their children, promising that they will raise their child as a Christian in the Baptist Church.) I was married by a “Congregational” minister (it’s now called United Church of Christ). I was baptized by a United Methodist Minister and ordained by a Lutheran minister. I cannot say I was “raised’ as a Christian, no less in any particular tradition. I’m not saying that based on my checkered past that I’m an expert on various traditions of the Lord’s Supper, but my experience might give me a little bit of a unique perspective.

To be clear, yea, I have a firm conviction about the Lord’s Supper, I’m very serious about the Lord’s Supper. Lutherans would agree with Roman Catholics that the Bread and Wine in the Lord’s Supper is the true Body and Blood of Jesus. There’s disagreement as how that’s arrived at and dealt with, but just to give you a place to start to understand what the church’s position is. Having been a Methodist, I’ve seen the Lord’s Supper treated more like a cookie and coco break during worship, I’ve seen it treated pretty cavalierly in other traditions too, it’s offensive, it’s really offensive, it’s the Holy Body of our Lord and Savior.

I know I’m kind of stacking the discussion, but Jesus told us: “Take, eat; this is my body.”, Not this is a symbol, this is something I’m doing to be chummy, this is some weird mystical thing. No this is My Body, this is My Blood. This is what has been sacrificed for you, this is what has been given to be a part of you, this is what was given in order to assure you I paid the price for you sin and you are now forgiven, there should be no doubt in your mind about this.

OK? Don’t think there’s a lot of room to maneuver. When we treat the Body and Blood less than that, then it’s hard to take seriously those who treat His Body so lightly. For those of you who are so easily offended, this is real offense, mistreating the true Body and Blood of your Savior, the One who died to pay for your sins.

Rev Dr Peter Kurowski has written a really great book “Close Communion Conversations”, discussing issues associated with the Lord’s Supper. Since different denominations have different perspectives on the Lord’s Supper, most denominations try to specifiy with whom it is appropriate to allow to share communion with outside the denomination. For most of Protestant Christianity all you have to do is profess some acceptance of Christ and be able to fog up a mirror. Lutheran Church Missouri Synod takes our most solemn sacrament very seriously and, I feel at least, that it should be treated seriously by everyone, regardless of church or lack of church.

Therefore I refer to Dr Kurowski’s book to discuss the concepts of “Open Communion”, “Closed Communion” which are the two contrasts, and “Close Communion” which Dr Kurowski labels the middle ground.

Open Communion in the extreme is the notion that the Lord’s Supper is administered to all people who come to the altar without any due diligence on the part of the administering pastor. This is not how Jesus wants His supper distributed. (1 Corinthians 4:1; Matthew 28: 18-20) Such a position is reckless and loveless. It creates Corinthian confusion. Church bodies that run this direction invariably will lose a true gospel centeredness lapsing into lawlessness. The person of Christ is diminished and “It is finished!” is rarely heard by the famished (John 19:30).”

Closed Communion” in the extreme is the notion that the Lord’s Supper is administered only to people who are communicant members of a denomination that has publicly declared altar fellowship. Though well meaning, this brittle approach is a reproach to many a saint who comes to the Lord’s Table hungering for righteousness but is met with a stone wall rather than a cup of compassion. The damage done when one’s position is too narrow is chilling, devastating and at times causes irreparable harm turning the Church – a hospital for sinners – into a kind of “Club Christ”, or a “Christ who clubs!”

Close Communion Conversations” seeks to pursue the good golden gospel middle of genuine evangelical theology on altar fellowship issues…The guideline in service of the gospel runs this way: Although we have as a general rule closed communion we have exceptions to the rule. Both the general rule and the exceptions to the rule are for the sake of the gospel. At the same time the exceptions ought not t become the rule.”

“Because of this evangelical guideline, I prefer the term close communion. It captures the theological tensions in which evangelical Christianity must live. It brings with it a paradoxical Lutheran edge.” (pp 9-10)

This sets the discussion and I want to emphasize that when in doubt, my preference is to have “closed’ communion. I’ve written about this before, but it is not to set some sort of “more worthy Christian”, but to assure that the recipient truly understands and accepts a correct understanding of what the Lord’s Supper truly is. I often tell those who are new to the Lutheran Church that we don’t want them to feel excluded, we want them to understand how seriously we take the Lord’s Supper, that it is for their spiritual health. As a member eligible to receive the Lord’s Supper a person stands before the church that, as a part of membership, they vow to accept the true understanding of what the Lord’s Supper truly is. I want to give people the Lord’s Supper, believe me it is one of the great parts of being a pastor. But I want to do it to the recipients spiritual health and nourishment and knowing that we both understand what we are doing.

Please feel free to discuss and I plan to have more discussion.

The Left and the Right hand kingdoms?? First St Johns September 7, 2014

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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that they are to submit to the left hand kingdom and the right hand kingdom said … AMEN
Was that ‘AMEN’ a little weak? Are you sitting there, ‘what is pastor talking about, what is left handed and right handed kingdom?’ This is a common way for we in the Lutheran Church to distinguish between the church and the state. The church being the right and the state being the left. Referring to Matthew 22: 15-22, Dr Luther said: “We should use his passage for our instruction in the attitude we should maintain toward these two Kingdoms: God’s and the emperor’s. We should accord each one its honor and due, both being ordinances and works of God…”1 This is something that is a little tough for, well pretty much everyone to accept. But Paul comes right to the point in today’s epistle lesson: “…for the authorities are ministers of God,…”. I am a minister, my purpose is, according to Dr Luther: “The spiritual power is to reign only over the soul, seeing to it that it comes to Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, to the Gospel and true faith…” As a “minister”, that is my authority, I’m responsible to Jesus to assure that I faithfully perform my office. The Greek word that Paul uses, leitourgo,j clearly means a public minister, it also means a “servant of the state”, as a pastor, at least according to the Lutheran Church, I hold a public office also. Certainly as a public officer, I have a responsibility to serve the public as a Christian pastor. I serve by marrying people, under the state’s authority, I serve by publicly offering Christian teaching and preaching. My ministry isn’t just limited to Lutheran Christians, although my first obligation is to the church that I serve. As such, my first obligation is to Christ. St Augustine writes: “But as far as the spiritual side is concerned, in which we believe in God and are called into his kingdom, it is not right for us to be subject to any man who seeks to overturn in us the very thing which God has been pleased to grant us so that we might obtain eternal life.”2 There certainly have been governments that have tried to turn Christians away from Jesus. We see it in the world today, in China, southeast Asia, North Korea, India, middle east. We certainly watch with concern, as we discussed last week, groups like Isis in Iraq. The world has bizarre ideas about the church and it seems to believe that Christians should roll over and play dead, they think that the church should be passive and weak. We aren’t called to be stupid and when the world tries to force us away from Jesus we should push back and defend our beliefs. But we do that only in terms of attempts to make us deny Jesus and our Christian walk. St Augustine also writes: “…if anyone thinks that he ought to submit to the point where he accepts that someone who is his superior in temporal affairs should have authority even over his faith, he falls into greater error.”3 We have seen the world try to do that. In China and Africa where persecution is commonplace, Christians continue to defy the government and lift up Christ in worship and praise. Paradoxically we are called to serve the state, but never in any way that we deny Christ or attempt to undermine others faith in Christ. Also paradoxically the church has grown dramatically in both China and Africa. The Christian church in Africa is growing faster than any church in the world. When we look back in history, we see that governments, starting with the Romans, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Iron Curtain countries, countries that tried to suppress the church have ended up being destroyed. The pagans who destroyed the Roman Empire became more Christian than the Christians in Rome. The Christian church in Russia has grown dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Abraham Kuyper the twentieth century Dutch journalist, theologian and politician in his famous proclamation declared, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’! Is the reminder which should resound in the ears of every Christian..” There is no where and nothing that Christ does not reign. We may have rulers that seem to be acting against the church, but we have to remember that we still owe those appointed over us our compliance. As Americans we certainly have the regular opportunity to change the political situation, and we should vote and participate in government. Our participation should be, just as it should be in any area of our lives, always remembering Whose we are. We should participate remembering that we are sons and daughters of God’s and that should guide us as to how we participate. There are many in the church who have tried to make the church part of some political machine and that has been as much on the liberal side of the political spectrum as it has on the conservative side, but it usually results in the loss of credibility of all Christians. The liberal Christian church is not taken seriously in the world anymore, it is usually seen as just a different kind of social service agency. The conservative church has been seen as moralistic, attempting to make the government an instrument of the church. Neither liberal or conservative Christianity is endorsed in the Bible. In Biblical instances, we see that Christians might have to submit to the civil government, but always maintaining their integrity in Christ.

This does not keep people from trying to make the church an instrument of their political beliefs. I will happily describe my political resume to you and I can demonstrate that I have pursued my political beliefs in the political process. But you will never hear me pursue some kind of political agenda from the pulpit. Likewise I expect that will be respected by those who come to worship. You are more than welcome, frankly expected to pursue your political rights, in the context of being a Christian in the political process, but I would also expect that when you are in this sanctuary, that you respect that you are in the “right-hand kingdom” and that you leave all your political buttons and pamphlets in your car and make your discussion about Christian discipleship.
In 1 Peter 2:13, Peter also tells us to be subject to every human institution. That we Christians are to be good citizens. I’m sure you can imagine how the Roman Christians received Paul’s direction to submit to the Roman government that was persecuting them. There are times when Christians are called to submit, even to death. We don’t like to think about that, we certainly are inclined to resist that and there may be times when the Holy Spirit enables us or guides us to resist. But our witness is always more effective when we submit and yes, sometimes, suffer unjustly for Christ.
This may seem odd to the world, Dr Luther comments: “…I am not troubled that the world esteems the Church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country-people, covetous men and drunkards condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us.”4 We are not called to live for the world, we may be put in a position that we will be oppressed by the world and we may be forced to obey a leader who we do not see as Christian, and we are permitted to defend ourselves in faith in Jesus, we are not permitted to do so in a way that defies what the Bible teaches us. I know that this sounds confusing, and there is only so far I can go in fifteen minutes. So in terms of how we live in the world as Christians, remembering that our Savior sacrificed for us, how are we to act when we might have to sacrifice as a witness to Jesus who died for us? Take some time to think about that this week and how that might be in your life right now.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.