Saturday, September 24, 2022

October Newsletter Article


It's nothing new.
Luther talked about it in the introduction to the Small Catechism.
The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form.  Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it.   Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they do not understand and cannot  recite either the Lord's Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.
October is the Month of Reformation Day, and it is the Reformation which brought us the Catechism and all clear Lutheran teaching.  One might find Luther's language a little sharp, but one cannot say his meaning was not clear.  The freedom of the Gospel often sets people free to ignore the faith.
Now, the people in Luther's time were ignorant largely because their former church held worship in Latin and taught that just being present in the building while the service happened gave one all the benefits the worship service supplied, whether or not one understood what was going on or what it meant.  So, when Lutheranism began, the priests and the lay-people were sadly, but understandably, ignorant.  The freedom of the Gospel was also taken to mean that the people no longer needed to attend worship regularly or take the Lord's Supper when it was offered.
Thankfully, our worship services are in our native tongue, and almost everyone can recite the Ten Commandments after a fashion, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.  We still fall short of knowing or understanding our doctrine (the teachings of the Bible) or comprehending what they have to do with how we live our lives and how we deal with other teachings at large in our society.  Some also struggle with the Lord's Supper: what it is, why we need it, and when it is right to withhold ourselves from receiving it.
Yes and no.  It is personal in the sense that you personally receive the body and blood of the Lord, individually.  If you are wrestling with repentance, unwilling or unable to repent of a sin or anger or hatred, then you personally should withhold yourself from receiving the sacrament while you wrestle with that sin.  If you don't think you need forgiveness for anything, you should also abstain.  In either case, you need to talk to your pastor, or another respected spiritual counselor (like another pastor), to find a resolution to your trouble, for it will stand between you and salvation if you do not resolve the issue.
But NO, the very name "communion" indicates that it is a sharing together in something holy.  It is a group activity, a profound and sacred family event in the family of Christ gathered at the altar.  It brings forgiveness and life to those who partake and it entails a confession of shared faith and doctrine with those with whom you share in this "koinonia."  We should have great and profound reasons to reject the fellowship of the Supper when the body of Christ that gathers at our altar is joining in receiving the gifts of God in the Sacrament and jointly confessing our faith before one another and the Lord.  That shared confession is why we limit access to the Holy Supper to those who share our faith, our doctrine, and our confession.  We do not want to facilitate a false confession by the unwary nor share the judgement of the Lord spoken of in 1 Cor.11:27-29 with those who do not know what we are doing.
For those same reasons, we should not commune anywhere but our home congregation or at any altar where they do not share our faith or where we are not certain that they confess the same faith as we do.
Luther's concern for the ignorance of the people about what the Bible teaches and what we confess should also remind us that we are never too old to learn or to forget.  Anyone under the age of 120 should understand that they need more time in the study of God's Word than the twenty-or-so minutes of the sermon each week.  Some of you may be so disciplined as to undertake regular individual study of the Word of God.  While I am sure that there are those among you who do, I am confident that there are also those who do not and would benefit from joining one of our parish's weekly Bible studies.
In our studies we fellowship in the Word, and we discuss what it means in our daily lives at different times and how God's Word and our faith might inform our thinking on the issues of life and society.  There are times when someone will bring cookies, cake or bars to share as well.  The edibles are not an integral part of Bible Study, but are a welcome addition nonetheless.
The urgent part is the shared study of God's Word and the conversation of the saints around the Word.  This is also a family event; personal and yet corporate – that is, of the body.  Romans 12:4-5,  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,  5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Nothing a Christian does is "personal" or "individual," except, perhaps, for sin.  Even that touches the body of Christ and injures the body of Christ.  1 Cor.12:25-27  that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  27 Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.   Let us not take the freedom of the Gospel as license to sin or to other injury, but as our liberty from condemnation.
Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Deeds or Fruit?

 Galatians 5:16-24

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Deeds or Fruits?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We are at war. I am not talking about what is going on in Afghanistan or Iraq. I am not even talking about the controversies over the Mosque or the political upheaval which seems to be sweeping our nation of late. I am speaking of the conflict within each one of us that believes. It is a war - a centuries-old war. Our nation's current enemy is, in reality, Islam. Islam is also an element in the external war against us Christians in our culture and in the world in general, but it is not the real enemy. Islam is more like a weapon in the war, just one weapon from an enormous arsenal. The real enemy is the devil, and among the enemy foot-soldiers is our own human nature, which our text calls "the flesh." The battleground of this war is the Christian himself.

Paul describes the flesh as distinct from the Spirit who guides us Christians. The flesh is our human nature, which is ours by birth. The Spirit is the spirit of God. One of the ways the Apostle distinguishes between the two is to refer to the "deeds" of the flesh in contrast to what Paul calls the "fruit" of the Spirit. Paul is speaking in favor of one and speaking against the other. This morning I want to look at this text with you, and approach it by asking the question, "Deeds or Fruit?"

It may seem strange to talk about our lives as a battlefield at times because our lives won't always seem to us as though we are at war. First, that is because the enemy does not always look to us like an enemy, does not always appear to us to be hostile, and the battle will not seem to be upon us. Sometimes we don't recognize the struggle, even when we are in the very heat of the battle. Nevertheless, we Christians need to be mentally on a war-footing at all times, even when the war seems like it is a long way removed from us, and seems to be more potential than actual war. Being deliberately Christian doesn't always feel like a war. But it is!

It is a fight for liberty. Paul writes, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Paul says we cannot simply do as we please. It is true! On the one hand, we are not free to do evil, because we are the adopted children of the Holy One. Evil is contrary to who we are. On the other hand, because our flesh is still sold in sin, we are not able freely to follow what is holy, because our flesh resists and fights us every inch of the way.

The battle, however, is about liberty. Paul writes, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." That is the liberty! The Gospel sets you free from the Law. Because Christ has fulfilled the Law for you, you are set free from its coercion. That means it cannot threaten you with dire consequences. It cannot condemn you. Jesus has taken the Law out of the way, and out of the calculations about where you will spend eternity. What we have done no longer either condemns us or saves us. Jesus has taken the full measure of our condemnation for sin in His flesh upon the cross. And His life, not ours, wins eternal righteousness and life and favor with God by His perfect holiness and sinlessness.

So, those who "are led by the Spirit," meaning "Believers" or "Christians" are no longer "under" the Law, and therefore are free. That freedom is not absolute. The Law still applies to us - meaning that it still teaches is right and good and holy, and it is still the will of God for our lives and conduct. It simply has lost its power to accuse or condemn us. We now are free to serve God because we desire to do so from a willing spirit, rather than because we must do so by compulsion of the Law.
The outcome of the two states, being under the Law and being led by the Spirit, are different. One produces what Paul called the deeds of the flesh. The other results in "the fruit of the Spirit".

The deeds of the flesh, being evil are not difficult to identify. "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

Most of those terms are fairly easy to understand. Immorality refers to sexual immorality. Impurity means uncleanness - we might use the word "dirty" to describe this sort of behavior. Sensuality means living for pleasure, or allowing ‘how it feels' to guide your moral compass. Idolatry is pretty well understood. Gross Idolatry is worshiping another god, refined idolatry is setting anything before God in your life, money, pleasure, power, health, or family and friends. Sorcery primarily referred in those days to the mixing of potions for achieving a supposedly ‘magical' effect, the primary use of which seems to have been to produce an abortion in the ancient world. Hatred - called enmities - strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger (generally violent in word or deed), disputes, dissensions, and factions are familiar to all of us in one context or another. Envying is a common form of evil - commonly seen active in "keeping up with the Joneses." And finally, Drunkenness and carousing mean pretty much what you think they do. Have a drink, yes. Get drunk, no. And regularly getting drunk is called "drunkenness" and whooping it up without decorum and self-control is called "carousing."

You may not hear a lot of preaching about those things today, but those things are declared by the Word of God to be deeds of the flesh - and are still to be counted as contrary to the Spirit of the Christian faith. Paul writes, "And things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." This is behavior unbecoming of a Christian. Damning, according to Paul. But take note of the word "practice" - those who practice such things. It indicates that those who "make a practice of", or "do these things with some frequency" show that the flesh, and not the Spirit, rules in their hearts and lives. They have deeds.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. There is a difference in the lives of those in whom the Holy Spirit is at work. This is not to say that every Christian is identical, or will be as clearly different from those ruled by the flesh as every other Christian. Some Christians are wonderful and great and obvious saints, and some are weak and immature in the faith, and not so clearly Christian in their lives at this or that point in time. But this "fruit" is that which the Spirit of God works in those in whom He dwells. If the Spirit of God is in you, and that means ‘if you are really a Christian', then the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart and your life and your spirit, and these qualities are the sorts of fruit He produces in you. This also means that you can aim at being this sort of person and know that you are not working at cross-purposes with God's Spirit within you.

The Holy Spirit works love, because "God is love." The joy arises from knowing your redemption, your salvation, and the rich promises of God, and from having the firm expectation that they are all true for you and will be fulfilled. Peace comes from actually trusting God - and from forgiving those whose sins cause anger and distress. We have patience because Christians forgive as we have been forgiven - and once you forgive, what is there to be impatient about? All things will happen in God's good time, right? Kindness and goodness flow from the Spirit because God is kind and gracious and good. He is so good that we overflow with His goodness when He dwells within us. God is faithful, and so, when the Spirit works faith in us, He also works faithfulness in us.

The gentleness and self-control flow out of all the things that the Spirit works in us. We are gentle because we have nothing to be violent about. God is in charge. God will provide. God will handle revenge - "Take no thought for revenge, brethren, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE. I WILL REPAY, SAITH THE LORD'." The whole process of living deliberately according to what you believe and confess requires constant self-control. We who believe know that "in our flesh exists no good thing", and so we must control our flesh if we wish to live out the truth of our existence as the chosen of God and the children of our heavenly Father. And the Christian does wish to do so.

Part of what Paul is telling us is that we don't have to work this stuff up in ourselves. These things are what the Spirit produces. They are "fruits". I don't imagine that pear trees struggle to produce pears. Pears are what happens as a result of the pear tree living and just going on with life. These fruits – likewise – are not our work - even though they may have sounded like we work them, as I described them, or that they were the natural, psychological results of certain conditions. They are not, they are the fruits of the Spirit.

Essentially, these things are what occur naturally when one lives in faith, trusting God, and allowing God to work His blessings and salvation. God works them, but be warned, they often feel like you are doing it. That is the battle within us. For the Christian, God is in charge. We live our lives trying to control the flesh and allow the work of God in us to be reflected outwardly in all our dealings with others. The Battle is the question, Deeds or Fruits?

Paul writes, "Against such things there is no law." That is to say that no one is likely to object to people who are like this. No one is going to swear out a complaint against such things. The evil of the world may mock you, or even attack you for being holy, but there is no law on the books against such things. And evil shows itself to be truly evil in that love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control are things that need to be attacked. But those who persecute such holy behavior are attacking the reflection of Christ in you - not you personally.

Jesus prophesied that persecutions and hatred by the world would happen if we were faithful. Those are things we hate to face and fear to experience, and long to avoid. They are repulsive to the flesh, so we feel that pain and fear acutely. In addition, denying and controlling our flesh is painful. Paul referred to it as "putting to death the deeds of the flesh", in Romans 8:13, because it is so painful. But God clearly tells us in our text, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

Those who are Christians must take the step that faith in Christ requires of all of us, the step of recognizing that our flesh, the passions and lusts of our sinful nature, is at war with our souls, and those passions and lusts are destructive of any true spiritual life. The believer recognizes that the deeds of the flesh are at war with the fruit of the Spirit. So the child of God in Christ Jesus crucifies the flesh, which is to say, the true believer is deliberately Christian. We walk by faith - but we also walk in our faith, choosing to do and say some things – and not to do or say other things – based on what we believe about ourselves, and about one another, and about God and His promises.

Finally, this living out of the Christian faith boils down to admitting that we are involved in a war. It is the cosmic war, not between abstract things called good and evil (as the world likes to imagine), but between our Savior God and the devil who seeks to destroy us by deceiving us and leading us to choose our own condemnation by word and deed. We can measure our progress in the battle to be faithful and conform our behavior to what we confess by asking ourselves, You got deeds or fruit? The flesh has deeds. The Spirit produces fruits. The Christian is filled with the Spirit, and seeks to put to death the deeds of the flesh.
So, how is it with you? Deeds or fruit?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Which Came First?

 Galatians 3:15-22

Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.  Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.  What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.  

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.  Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.  

Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be!  For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.  But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Trinity                             9/11/22

Which Came First?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Paul is wrestling in our text with the relationship of the Law and the Gospel with one another.  That is one of the fundamental questions confronting the Christian and the Church as she proclaims the Gospel.  As I read the text, it struck me that the question was a great deal like that old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?".  Naturally, as we read the Bible, the answer has to be, the chicken!  God created all the animals first, and then told them to be fruitful and multiply, and enabled them to reproduce after their own kind.  It is really not a difficult question.

In the modern world, when someone asks the question, you probably need to ask them a question or two: "Which specific chicken, and which specific egg?"  Most of the time, people are not really looking for first causes any more.  Typically when someone asks that question seriously today, they are approaching the world from an evolutionary perspective, which is about as useful as trying to describe what it would be like to breathe if there had never been any air.  It is to ask a question that sounds serious, but does not deal with reality, but rather with a fiction that does not exist.  ‘Imagine, if nothing we know today existed, and the laws of nature were entirely different, what would a tomato taste like?'  You see, total nonsense.

Paul is dealing with reality, and there is an answer which can be discerned from the original authoritative source material.  He is asking how the Law and the Gospel relate to one another for people who have struggled with it because they knew the Law first, and take it quite seriously, as we all should.  The question is summed up in our theme this morning, Which Came First?

The theme of Galatians is a response to the Judaizers.  They were the ones who were telling the Galatians that they needed to be good Jews before they could become good Christians.  They apparently were dealing with the law concerning circumcision, but leaving that specific issue aside, they were saying that the Law came first in history and for the Jews, and so the Law must come first for the Christian.  You have to keep the Law before you are worthy of the Gospel – a common thought in a lot of Protestant preaching today.  Paul takes on this issue by saying that the Law did not come first.  Paul asserts that the Gospel came first, although he doesn't call it "Gospel."  He calls it "the promise."

He says that the promise was given first, to Abraham.  Back in verse six, nine verses before our Epistle lesson begins, we read the famous words, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to Him as righteousness."  The promise of God to Abraham was one of the early promises of the Gospel to come, the salvation that would be worked out in time by the plan of God.  "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU.'  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer."

Paul is saying that the promise came first, and he describes that promise as communicated by a covenant.  The word "covenant" can also mean a man's will, as in ‘last will and testament'.  Then Paul writes that a covenant, even one of a mere man, cannot be set aside, once it has been ratified, nor can it be altered by another.  It is fixed.  The covenant with Abraham, and his descendants in the faith, which speaks the promises and contains the Old Testament Gospel, is also set and fixed and has been ratified, according to Paul, by God.  Therefore, it cannot be altered, amended, or added to by subsequent conditions or events.  Therefore, the Law, which came to Moses four hundred and thirty years later, cannot supersede, cancel out, or modify the original covenant.  The promise - the Gospel - came first, and so it precedes and does not require the prior application of the Law.  Those who cling to the Law as an added codicil to their salvation do so at their own risk, because the Gospel does not demand it nor set the Law as a precondition for the Gospel.  You don't need to be a good Jew first, and you don't need to prepare by obedience to the Law before you are fit, or worthy, or eligible for the Gospel.

Of course those who cling to the Law don't take this bit of news lying down.  They insist, even though God says differently, that the Law is required.  The argument takes the form of something like this, "If the Gospel is true, why then was the Law even given to us?"  It is a sort of theological tantrum:  The Law must be true!  God gave it and so we must need it!

And Paul agrees with part of the assertion while he answers the question.  The Law is, in fact, true.  It is, after all, God-given.  But God gave the Law for a reason different than those who cling to it expect.  He gave the Law to prepare all men for the coming fulfillment of the Gospel in Jesus Christ, and to prepare us to understand our need for the Gospel.  Paul says it was added for the sake of transgressions.  It was intended to teach us that we need saving.  God gave the Law to teach us about human failure and sin and make us fully aware of our need to be rescued, redeemed, and forgiven.  Far from making us holy, the Law leads us into sin.  The Law stirs up the sin within us.  It commands what we can recognize is right and holy and good, and yet we must also confess that we simply cannot keep the Law.  It shows us our sinfulness by commanding what is holy, and what we acknowledge to be holy, and yet we sin against it nonetheless.  What terrible sinners we are!

The idea that we can include the Law into our salvation, along with the Gospel, is also rejected by the Apostle.  Back then, the counter-argument was apparently that the Law was good and necessary and we would be just fine if we insisted upon the Law as well.  You will hear the same sort of preaching on Television, and in many churches today.  They will say that the Gospel is fine, but we need the Law too.  Fail to keep the Law and such teachers will kick you out of the Gospel as well.

Now, aside from the points Paul made about not altering a covenant once it has been ratified, he also makes note of the truth that if the Law were able to serve our salvation, we would have no need of the Gospel.  Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.  The Law and the Gospel do not compete.  They serve entirely different purposes.  Those who cling to the Law for salvation are clinging to that which cannot save them.  The purpose of the Law was never to save anyone, but to show them that they needed to be saved from their own wickedness and evil and sin.  The Gospel was given precisely because the Law could not save, and no one was able to keep the Law well enough to earn eternal life.

Except Jesus.  He kept it and earned the life which is promised to all that believe in the Gospel.  His is the righteousness with which we are reckoned by faith.  He is the One who has made the Gospel and filled the promise of the Gospel with life and forgiveness and all that we hope in it for.  He died the death the Law demanded, in our place.  His resurrection filled the Gospel with forgiveness, life, and peace!  His death is the one that made conditions of covenant, the last will and testament, now applicable!  He died and we inherit - we who believe with faith of Abraham - the heirs named in the covenant.

Those who cling to the Law do so because it is there, it was given by God, and it makes such good sense to us.  It appeals to our flesh, even though we are unable to obey it fully.  We can sense and feel its truth and rightness.  So mankind does not want to let go of it.  They like the Law better than the Gospel by nature.  So they continue to fight for it.  Their argument continues something like this: "The Law is still God's Word, so what do we do with it now?  How can we just dismiss it?"

The answer is that we do not dismiss it.  We listen to it.  "But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."  The place of the Law is to condemn.  It stands to accuse us of being sinners in need of a Savior, and so we listen to it and understand that we truly fit the indictment of the Law.  We are guilty!  We need a Savior.  Then we allow the Law to do it work and soften our hard hearts to hear the Gospel in all of its sweetness and be delighted by the salvation which is ours by grace through faith in connection with all that Jesus Christ has done for us.

And we remember that even with our forgiveness, the Law is still true, and it is still the will of God.  God would still have us be holy and do holy and live out the righteousness which He gives us in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel is not a license to sin, it is salvation for those who are sinners, rescue and redemption from our own sin.  But it is a license to be holy and to do what is pleasing to God.  So the Law serves us as a guide, showing us our sin, and helping us, by the same grace of God, to understand what is pleasing to God and how we may live out the holiness to which we have been called by God.

But even under the Gospel, we do not possess the native ability to keep the Law as it ought to be kept.  So, the Law should serve to bring us to repentance, and to confess our guilt and sin, and to eagerly hear the absolution with joy and receive the blessed gifts of the Sacrament with thanksgiving.  The Gospel doesn't lead us to discard the Law, it simply shields us from the power of the Law to condemn and kill us.  We are free from its condemnation, but not from its truth.  We are freed by the gift – which is ours through the promises of the Gospel, the covenant which came long before the Law.

Which came first?  The Chicken - and the Gospel of our salvation, planned in eternity and promised already to Abraham in the covenant set centuries before God ever gave the Law to man through Moses.  Let us give thanks!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Confidence through Christ Toward God

 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

And such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?  For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.  For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it.  For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Trinity                      9/04/22

Confidence through Christ Toward God

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I have been accused of being arrogant, at times.  Some of you may remember some of those occasions.  I don't believe it is true, or that anyone who really knows me at all would say that it was, but I get accused of it periodically.  I have been accused of being arrogant throughout my forty-odd years of ministry.  It always seems odd to me because I feel so ill-equipped and unprepared and weak in my own mind.  I struggle with the feeling that I am too timid to be a faithful servant of God.  I haven't the courage to say the things that need to be said, because I want people to like me.  I hate conflict and confrontation.  I tiptoe around issues when I should thunder like the prophets of old.  It doesn't work, of course.  People still call me arrogant.

Mind you, I am not surprised.  It used to surprise me, but it doesn't any more.  I understand what they mean and why they call me arrogant.  It has to do with knowing the truth, and being willing to call it the truth -- and being unwilling to deny it or compromise it.  When one is unwilling to bend or compromise, it appears to many to be arrogance.  When anyone claims to know absolute truth, that which is true for everyone whether they accept it as such or not, he or she is often viewed as arrogant.  

And I do know the truth.  I don't know every truth, or every detail of the truth, but I do know the Truth.  And I am unwilling to compromise it.  Actually, I am afraid to.  God has said some pretty heavy- weight things about those who change His Word, or say, "Thus sayeth the Lord" when He hasn't spoken, or who fail to speak a Word of warning when He has.  I will not compromise the truth – and I guess some people find that intimidating.  They try to deal with their feelings, and try manipulate me, by throwing around the accusation that I am arrogant.  They say it because I know - and dare to speak - the truth.

I call it confidence, although it is not personal confidence, but confidence in the Word of God, or as Paul puts it, Confidence through Christ toward God.  And that is our theme this morning, Confidence through Christ toward God.

Paul had to deal with the accusation that he was arrogant, too, and that he was shamelessly promoting himself.  Paul writes of the Corinthians that they are his "letter of commendation" from Christ to the church and to the world.  But he is sensitive to the thought that people think he is bragging.  So Paul writes, "And such confidence we have through Christ toward God."  This is the heart of the passage.  Paul confesses that in and of himself, he is not particularly adequate or competent for the task he is performing, and the work he does is not successful because of his talent or intelligence.  He acknowledges, instead, that everything comes from God.  His competence, and his success is God-worked.  God has made him adequate to the task.  He writes,   "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God."  

Similarly, when I preach, my confidence is not that I am something, but that God is at work through His Word.  The good things that may happen here are not Pastor Fish's doing, but God's work.  My adequacy and my confidence are from God.  If I measure up to the task, it is the gracious working of God on your behalf.  

That is the truth of the Holy Ministry.  No one who holds the office of the ministry is competent for the task, in and of himself.  Our adequacy is also from God.  Surely there are pastors that you have liked more than others.  Some were better speakers.  Some were just wonderful at calling on people and making them feel right at home.  Some fit in like a glove, while others may have seemed odd and out of place.  The truth, however, is that whether you like them or not, the power and adequacy for doing the work of the ministry is God-given.  Faith does not come by the eloquence of the preacher, or his intellectual arguments, or his personal appeal.  Faith comes by hearing, and that hearing is by the Word of God.

We confess that much in the Small Catechism, in the meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it in Christ Jesus in the one true faith."

God must create faith, because, "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."  So, our faith does not depend on us OR on the skill of the preacher, but on God.  As long as your pastor is faithful and teaches the whole counsel of God faithfully, God is at work through him, making him adequate for the work which God has called him to do and granting the success which God Himself has planned for His Word in this place.

Of course, the pastor must preach the whole counsel of God - both the Law and the Gospel.  That is what the part of the text is about when Paul writes about the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness.  Paul first writes about the Law.  He calls it "the ministry of death."  He describes it as "engraved in letters on stone."  That is Mt. Sinai.  He says that the Law came with glory -- such glory that the Children of Israel could not bear to look at the shining face of Moses.  He had to cover his face for a time, until the reflected glory of God faded.  Paul writes about the Law that "the letter kills."  That is the work of the Law.  It condemns us.  There is theological maxim – "lex semper accusat"  – "the law always accuses".  It always finds us guilty of sin.  

"And the wages of sin is death."  Our sin, revealed so clearly by the Law, causes death and makes us worthy of death -- and not just death of the body, but that eternal death which we call hell -- which is more than just being "dead and gone" and unconscious of everything forever.  It is misery, regret and condemnation.  That is why the work of the Law is called the "Ministry of Condemnation".

And the Law is true.  It came with glory, and still possesses the glory of being God's own will and law.  And yet such truth and glory is not enough.  The Law has no power to save us, only to kill us.  In another place, Paul tells us that "the Law was even given in order that sin might increase."  That does not mean that the purpose of that was that we might become more sinful – that is impossible since we are totally corrupted by sin.  The purpose for the Law was that we would see our sinfulness, recognize our corruption and helplessness in sin, learn our deserved condemnation, and despair of our own righteousness and of our own ability to save ourselves.  

All of which is why we need a Savior.  The Law always accuses and always condemns and leaves us no hope.  But God wants us to live, and to have hope, and to trust in Him.  So, He sent Jesus.  Jesus accomplished what we could not.  He kept the whole will and Law of God perfectly -- without failure or sin or exception.  He earned life where we had earned death.  Because He is true man He was able to earn life, just as He was liable to death if He had sinned.  Because He is true God His obedience was of sufficient worth to exchange for all sin.  His life was of ample value to cover all of our lives.  His death was sufficient ransom for all of us.  "By His stripes, we are healed," as Isaiah the prophet said.  

Now, everyone that knows what God has done, and who takes Him at His Word that Jesus was full payment and who also trusts God to do all that He has promised to do for the sake of Jesus Christ, has the gift of the Holy Spirit within them.  In fact, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we believe.  That is "the ministry of the Holy Spirit," "the letter of the spirit, written in our hearts," which Paul describes in our text.  "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved".  We who believe have life everlasting already, and will rise from our graves on that great day when Jesus returns to wrap up time and end the world and create for His people new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness and glory dwell.  Which is why the Gospel is called "the ministry of righteousness."  

It is the ministry of Christ's righteousness, which works righteousness in us and for us and through us.  The Holy Spirit makes those in whom He dwells holy.  And it is glorious, for it is life and salvation for us all -- all that believe.  And so, although the Law is true, and perfect and glorious, and came with great glory, it cannot hold a candle to the gospel.  The gospel is as much better than the law than life is better than death.  The glory of the Law, which is great, is overwhelmed by the glory of salvation and of the Gospel like a candle, which serves quite well as a light at night is overwhelmed by the bright light of the sun shining in broad daylight.  You cannot always even see that the candle is lit, if the sunshine is bright enough.  So, when we compare the Law with the Gospel, the truth and glory of the Law are simply not enough.  

The Law is still true, and good.  But the Gospel is better.  It is not ‘more true', it is merely also true, but with so much more wonderful a result.  Forgiveness trumps condemnation, and the righteousness received by grace through faith trumps sinfulness, and eternal life trumps death.  This is all received by those who believe, the gift of God, worked through the Gospel.  It is faith that Paul describes as Confidence through Christ toward God – confidence in forgiveness and salvation, and confidence for this life here and now.

And we must always keep in mind that our participation in all of this is not by our choice but by the grace of God.  We are adequate for salvation because of we are made adequate by Christ.  And so,  with Paul we confess, "such is our confidence through Christ towards God ."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)