Sunday, August 27, 2023

The End Is in Sight

 Isaiah 29:17-24

Is it not yet just a little while before Lebanon will be turned into a fertile field, and the fertile field will be considered as a forest?  And on that day the deaf shall hear words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.  The afflicted also shall increase their gladness in the LORD, and the needy of mankind shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.  For the ruthless will come to an end, and the scorner will be finished, indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off; who cause a person to be indicted by a word, and ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate, and defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments.  Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, "Jacob shall not now be ashamed, nor shall his face now turn pale; but when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, they will sanctify My name; indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.  And those who err in mind will know the truth, and those who criticize will accept instruction."

Sermon for Twelfth Sunday after Trinity                                              8/27/23

The End Is in Sight

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our world today is rocked with scandals, and bad news is everywhere.  The President is publicly accused of coercing millions of dollars in bribes.  His son is now famous for his drug use and the infamous laptop.  There appears to be a two-tiered justice system where one can do almost anything with impunity if you belong to the "right" group, and, conversely, you can rot in jail for years for doing nothing more than being in the wrong party.  The myth of America – of truth, justice, and the American way – seems to be unraveling around us.

Those are sad and worrisome object lessons on the corruption of this present world, and the total depravity of man.  Isaiah didn't know our time in history, but he was speaking about just such men and public corruption when he prophesied the words of our text, this morning.  And those words are words of comfort because they tell us that the end is in sight.  And that is our theme, this morning: The End Is In Sight.

Of course, these specific people aren't the only ones Isaiah was addressing.  He was addressing all sorts of evil people.  Listen to the words he uses:  For the ruthless will come to an end, and the scorner will be finished, indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off; who cause a person to be indicted by a word, and ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate, and defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments.  The targets here are those who take advantage of the little guy, of the powerless and the innocent.  God has a word of judgment for those who abuse the righteous.  And that word is, the end is in sight.

The end of all the pains, the end of all the frustrations, is in sight.  Is it not yet just a little while?  God says it is almost here.   And on that day the deaf shall hear words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.  The afflicted also shall increase their gladness in the LORD, and the needy of mankind shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Actually, that day is here!  We were the deaf - and we have heard the words of a book – the Bible!  We were blind, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that a natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit because you need to possess the Spirit to understand.  And what is it we say when comprehension dawns?  "Oh, I see!"  We are the blind mentioned in this text.  The gloom and darkness is the gloom of sin and the darkness of our condemnation for our sins and evil.  When the Holy Spirit comes, He enlightens us with the light of the Gospel and of faith, and we see the goodness of the Lord and of salvation, and we rejoice.

We are the afflicted.  We are afflicted by the devil, the world and our flesh.  They entice us to sin, and they punish us for holiness, and ridicule us for faith, and persecute us for Christ's sake and for His name.  We are those whose gladness is increased in the Lord.  We are gladdened by the forgiveness of our sins, and gladdened by the hope of everlasting life.

After all, what can the world do to us, really?  The world can make us hurt now, and the world can kill us.  While we suffer now, we can look forward to the hope of the resurrection where there is no more pain and sorrow.  Almost anything can be better endured when we see that the end is in sight.  Besides this truth, God also promises to strengthen us and help us to endure and bear up.  And if the world should do its worst to us, and kill us, it merely hurries us on toward heaven!  As Paul said in Philippians 1:21, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Those days promised by Isaiah are hard to imagine and difficult to wait for.  The pains and fear are very real and are happening right now.  It will seem like a long time, but already in Isaiah's day, God was telling us that it is just a little while.  The end is in sight.

It has to be in sight, because it began already, on Good Friday.  When Jesus died, He ended the old world, and destroyed sins and death.  That was Judgment Day!  God judged your sins – and mine – and punished them.  He poured out His wrath on Jesus.  And Jesus pours out His love and forgiveness, and everlasting life on us.  We take hold of it by faith, and we look forward to it, knowing that the end is in sight!

Those evil people who take advantage of others and abuse others will be dealt with by God.  That is part of our joy!  The power of those who do evil will be gone, and God will settle with them in justice.  They will come to an end and be finished entirely, just as Isaiah says.  But even now, we know that the end is coming.  We can see it in the Word and hear it in God's good news, proclaimed to us by His will.

God guarantees it!  He speaks through Isaiah about how He will teach, "And those who err in mind will know the truth, and those who criticize will accept instruction."  You aren't here by accident, and your faith and hope in God isn't by chance.  It is by the work and plan of the Lord.  God finds a way.  He pushes you through the door. It is the work of God.

He says so in our text.  He says that His people are "the work of His hands."  Each one of us has been chosen by God, called by name in our Baptism, and kept by Him for eternal life.  When we stop and consider what God has done to call us and gather us and keep us, we will sanctify His name, as Isaiah says, and finally, all men will stand in awe of the God of Israel.  He has made the things happen that we needed to happen.  He paid for our sins, and then caused the Gospel to be preached to us.  Some of us were carried in to the church for Baptism as infants, and some of us have come to it the long way around, but God has claimed each one of us.  It is His handiwork, and it is awe inspiring and praiseworthy and we thank Him.

And we know that the end, which began the day that Jesus died, is almost come to completion.  Some of us here may yet be alive in this world when Jesus calls all things to an end and raises the bodies of all men from their graves.  It will be a wonderful and terrifying day.  For those who rise to be with Jesus, it will be wonderful beyond all telling.  For those who stand on His left, and hear Jesus speak those four most horrible words in all of human history, "I Never Knew You!" it will be a day of unmatched and unimaginable terror - a terror that will never end.

And the end is in sight.  God is going to end the power of evil men and women to hurt us.  He is going to silence the liars.  He is going to stop the ruthless evil.  He is going to end the power of the wicked to defraud and cheat us.  And He will show the true joy of the Lord to His redeemed.  That is what the Bible says.  That is what we confess.  The end is in sight!

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

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Choice We Must Face

 Genesis 4:1-15

Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a man, the LORD."  And again, she gave birth to his brother Abel.  And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground.  And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.  And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.  So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.  Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."  And Cain told Abel his brother.  And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?"  And he said, "I do not know.  Am I my brother's keeper?"  And He said, "What have you done?  The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground.  And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.  When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth."
And Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is too great to bear!  Behold, Thou hast driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me."  So the LORD said to him, "Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold."  And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain, lest anyone finding him should slay him.

Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Trinity                                              8/20/23

The Choice We Must Face

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The story of Cain and Abel is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible.  I think it may have been preached about more times than any other Old Testament story.  Usually, the sermon is about the question Cain asks the Lord, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  I have never heard the question analyzed for its sarcasm or its open disrespect for God.  It is usually answered in the light of social ministry commitments that we have toward those in need.  The answer to Cain's question is invariably "YES!"

But Cain's question actually insults his brother – the brother whose sacrifice was pleasing to God while Cain's own was not.  "Am I my brother's keeper?"  The question also dismisses God as though He were a household servant of no importance.

It is like those times when we dismiss someone by saying "It is not my day to watch him," when asked where a neighbor or troublesome relative has gone.  Most importantly, it is part of Cain's answer to the challenge of evil which God encouraged Cain to resist and master.  Cain failed.  But the challenge of the temptation stands before every one of us daily.  It is, in the words of our sermon title today, the choice we must face.

Cain was angry.  He was angry with God and angry with his brother.  He had just experienced the most colossal put down.  He had been snubbed by God.  The Bible doesn't tell us why God preferred Abel's offering.  It hints at it a little, I think.  Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground - of his labors, but Abel brought of the firstlings – the first born of his flocks – and he brought of the fat portions – the very best of the best!  In a way it points forward to the gift of` the Lamb of God.  There is also a stewardship message in here somewhere –  –  – about giving God the first and the best rather than the left-overs and "what you can spare at the end of the month," but I am not going to go there.  

You are all grown-ups, and mostly long-term Christians, and if you haven't figured that out yet, you probably won't learn it today anyhow.  Besides, some of you will think that I am trying to pick your pockets and that all we are interested in is your money.

Cain's offering reflected his heart.  He gave the offering out of a sense of duty, I imagine, rather than the gift of love for God and heart-felt thanksgiving for God's goodness to him, as Abel appeared to have done.  He gave it the perfunctory ‘umph', and then he got irritated when his gift was received by God as perfunctory and not as the open-hearted gift of the true child of God.  God knows!  

And Cain got angry - not jealous.  The Bible tells us he was angry!  He was angry at God for seeing the truth and not pretending that Cain was something he didn't even really care to be, and angry at Abel for being holy, and being perceived by God as holy.  Abel was the first "goody-two-shoes ".  And he paid an awful price for his brother's anger.

Cain was like those people who want to call themselves "Christian" but don't want to take the time or expend the effort to actually be Christian.  It is the man or woman who doesn't bother with Church, but is "just as good a Christian as you are."  Or, he was like those people who belong to a church that no longer preaches the Word of God clearly or faithfully, and yet they get really irritated by us, and our focus on the truth, and our practice of closed communion.  They know they should be where the Word is preached, but they don't bother.  It seems to be easier to just despise those who cling to God's Word and call them "Holier-than-thou," than it is to actually do what they know they ought to do.

The choice that Cain faced was the choice of wallowing in his anger and feeling sorry for himself and continuing to stand in the path of temptation, or to see his sin as sin, resist the temptations, and put to death the deeds of the body, as St. Paul describes it in Romans 8:13.  "Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.'"

God asked Cain the question even though He knew the answer.  He wanted Cain to think about it, and to take control of himself and exercise some self-discipline, and do what it right.  What He said to Cain, in effect, was, "If you do what is right and good and holy, you will be accepted too.  I haven't rejected you completely.  I just made the point that what Abel did was done the way it ought to be done, and from the right heart and attitude.  So do what is holy and good and I will accept you, too.  But if you sit and stew, sin is lying in wait to take you down and destroy you.  The devil as marked you as a target and is stalking you like prey!  You must take control and master this temptation!"

We don't always face God's immediate and unmistakable approval or rejection, as Cain did.  God doesn't generally deal with people that way any longer.  It would be kind of cool if He did.  Then we would know if we were faithful or not, or if we made the right choice in that last temptation or not.  We could all tell if we were all sincere Christians or if someone was a hypocrite.  We would have no need for any debate about closed communion, because we could all see who should and who should not stand the altar and receive the treasures offered there.  But that is not the way it works.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  We must walk in the light of God's Word, even when we cannot see its truth.

But we each face the choice that Cain faced.  We face the choice of wallowing in our feelings and emotions, our needs and the temptations that the devil throws at us, or we can stand up, by the power which God gives us in Jesus Christ, and do what is right and good and holy.  The Bible gives us some ideas on how to handle this temptation.  It seems to suggest here that we should not allow ourselves to wallow in anger or jealousy.  We should simply apply ourselves to doing what we know is right – forgiving, doing the things that God gives us to do, rather than savoring our hurts and our angers and our sense that we deserve more - or better - or faster - or greater respect - or more influence - or whatever it is that we are being eaten up by at the moment of temptation.  The Bible tells us to flee from lust and temptation, and to decline to join in when sinners entice us.  It tells us to turn to God in prayer in our hour of trial.

Of course, we fail.  We have the same problem that Cain had.  We are sinful people.  We often like the feeling of anger.  We are titillated and tantalized by temptation.  We respect ourselves, but not much else.  Others need to listen to us.  Others need to cater to us.  You can see this tendency, which resides in every one of us, most easily in those individuals who say the cruelest things about others and expect them to take it in stride, and consider it to be humor or somehow appropriate comments, but if anyone questions them, or says anything - even things not intended to be critical - they fall apart, they complain about being attacked, and they cry about how everyone - especially the Pastor - treats them!

Sin has its desire set on us.  And sin works on us, if we are not diligent and deliberately holy in what we do and say and even in what we allow ourselves to think.  I have seen people who were life-long Christians, and active in their churches, suddenly stop going to church – even disavow the Christian faith – over some imagined hurt, or because their personal sin became an obsession and their guilt drove them away from the church.  Sometimes it was anger.  Sometimes they just suddenly became "too wise" for the church.  Now and then it was just that they lost their faith.

Sin works on us by luring us deeper and deeper in until we cannot stand anything holy – or until we feel so ashamed of ourselves that we cannot believe that God would still forgive us.  We have sinned and repented, and sinned and repented, so often with the same sin that we know that if we were God, we would not forgive us – and so we begin to doubt God's grace and forgiveness, and that is unbelief – or we decide that our sins are nothing and that we are just fine, and we don't really repent – and that is also unbelief.  In one case sin has torn us from the faith, and we know it.  In the other case, sin has seduced us away from the faith, and we still imagine that we are God's faithful children.  We simply ignore the evidence and make believe.

But Jesus does forgive – He has paid for all of our sins, and He has forgiven us every one.  He paid the price – "the soul that sins - it shall die!"  He died already - not as Abel died by the violence of Cain's sin, but willingly, for us.  He bore our sins to the cross and now He forgives us.  He also feeds us with His own body and blood to strengthen us for the fight, because we still must face the same choice bested Cain.  Sin still has us in his sights.  The Word of God to Cain is still fitting for us.  If you do what is holy, you will be lifted up – and if you do not do what is holy, sin is crouching at your door, and its desire is for you - but you must master it.

Jesus has taken your sin away, and nailed it to the tree of the cross.  Your sins have been forgiven!  The apostle Paul writes in Romans 6, "For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts,  and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.

The choice that we must face is the choice of being content in sin and complacent in the face of temptation, or the choice of putting to death the deeds of the body and being wholly and deliberately Christian.  Even though we do not believe in decision theology - because we know that the unregenerate man cannot choose to come to God– we do know that once you are in Christ, by His power you have the choice of living in faith or, by your own power, living in sin.  Cain chose one way.  We see the tragic results.   By the power of God in you, choose to fight sin and temptation, and walk in the grace and love of God, for Christ's sake.

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

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Empty Words

 Jeremiah 7:1-7

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, "Stand in the gate of the LORD'S house and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!'" Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'  For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever."

Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Trinity                                              8/13/23

Empty Words

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In Acts 19, Luke relates the account of some Jewish exorcists who were jealous of the blessings which God had bestowed on Paul.  Paul was working wonderful miracles, even people who were touched by handkerchiefs Paul had handled were being healed of their illnesses.  Those who were not Christians, but thought that they had the right to God's power and blessings were trying to take advantage of Paul and what He was doing – not understanding that the power was real and that the power was not in Paul, but in God.  The Bible says, and let me read you a couple of verses:

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches."  And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.  And the evil spirit answered and said to them, "I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?"  And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

I share this account with you as an example of what our text is speaking about, this morning.  Jeremiah is speaking the Word of God to the people of God, telling them that God can tell the difference between the truth and a lie, between sincerity and hypocrisy.  God warns those who would be His people not to indulge in self deception and place their trust in anything but Him alone.   The priests in our account from Acts did not know God, and did not believe in Jesus, but they tried to claim something there anyhow, and when they spoke in their unbelief, they spoke words without any real authority or power.   They spoke ‘empty words'.  Our theme, this morning, is "Empty Words".

Let me begin by reading the verse just following our text.  It will save a lot explaining.  "Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and cry, 'Deliver us!'-- that you may do all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," declares the LORD.

They were used to calling on God when it was convenient and when they had a need, and ignoring God when things were good.  They used His house for whatever purpose struck their fancy -- even when it was a purpose for which He had expressly forbidden the use of His house.  They ignored Him in their daily lives, and even in their worship, and did the very things He had commanded them not to do.  They acted as if He did not exist, or He could not see them, until they got in over their heads, and real trouble came a-calling, and then they were all pious and called on God.  When the prophets warned them of the dangers of what they were doing, they would hide behind who they were - or who they were supposed to be – and the fact that they had the temple of God among them.

God's message to them was simple and abrupt:   "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'"

The words of the people who did not live as the people of God, nor honor His covenant, words intending to identify them as God's people and expressing their certainty that they were under some sort of divine protection, were empty words.  They were empty because there was nothing behind them.  Oh, God was real.  His love for them was real.  His power was real, and His house was real.  It was His people and their faith in Him that was not real.  They were leaning on a covenant with God which they freely ignored.

Oh, they said they were Jews.  They claimed to be God's people.  But they did not live it out.  They worshiped other Gods.  They did evil.  They treated one another and foreigners in ways expressly forbidden by God.  They did not live as the people of the covenant.  They refused to be holy, and yet they assumed that they God tied up with a bow and that He was going to have to take care of them and rescue them.  They were trusting in deceptive words, empty words, because they were merely pretending to be God's people and living out something quite different.

The Word of God, here, underscores the truth that what you believe determines what you do, and, on the other hand, that what you do and how you behave, reveals what is in your heart.  Holy people do holy things.  God's people walk in the light of His will.  Those who refuse to do so, demonstrate that they are not God's people.  And anything they might say to the contrary is just empty words.

The application of this word to our lives would seem pretty clear."Amend your ways and your deeds!"  We don't want to be the sort of people who rest their comfort and hopes on empty words.  There are a lot of those sorts of people around today.  They talk about being Christian, but they do not let God's Word change their lives or how they live them.  They lie to one another and cheat one another, and then go to church on Sunday and claim that they are God's people.  They gossip about others, gamble, take advantage of others, manipulate people and then call themselves God's Children.  But those are empty words.

Then there are those who want to call themselves Christians without even coming to church.  They miss weeks at a time, sometimes months at a time – some just about never make it to church, and yet, heaven help you if you criticize them or suggest that they are less than faithful.  They want to believe that they are due every blessing of being the child of God without actually being the child of God.

It is not about behavior, or church attendance, or religion, really, it is about reality, and about faith, and about what is in you and is a priority for you.  Too often, people get caught up in debates about religion, and about what they can or cannot do and still be a Christian.  But that is not the point.  The real point is Jesus.

The real focus of our faith is not on what we do, or how we behave.  The real focus is on Jesus, and what He has done.  He has carried our sins to the cross.  He has died an ugly death on an instrument of torture in our place.  He has borne the wrath of God against our sins, so that we might be forgiven.  He has done what needed to be done, and now He pours out forgiveness of sins and life and salvation upon us.  Those riches are received by grace through faith.  So, he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

The question is, what do you actually believe?  The children of Israel of  Jeremiah's day knew about God.  They knew His name, and they knew His promises.  They had an understanding that God rescued and that God saved.  They even had some sort of expectation about God and the temple and their security in this world.  But they did not believe.  They did not have trust in God in them, or a relationship with God.  They simply knew about Him, and according to legend, God would do such-and-so for them.

They didn't ask who God was.  They thought they knew, and didn't really think much past that simple point.  They did not ask what God expected from them or wanted from them.  They knew what they expected from Him and they felt a sense of entitlement.  It was like God owed it to them, no matter what.

How does your life reflect your faith?  Do you stop to consider who God is and what He expects from you?  Or, do you just figure that God owes something to you because you call yourself a Lutheran, and count your blessings as entitlements?  Have you stopped to consider the seriousness of sin?  Look at the price God paid to set you free!  So, do you then casually wander back into sin, as though it really means nothing?  God has to take you any way He finds you, right?  Just like it doesn't matter which church you belong to, or how often you worship, or whether you have any respect or regard for those people God sets among you for your teaching and encouragement.

What is it that your life says about God and His place in your life?  Does it say that you know the rich grace of God, and how little you deserve His forgiveness and salvation?  Or, does your life say that you haven't really thought about it?  Are you a Christian, or a pretender?  Are you a Lutheran, or a spiritual epicurean at a smorgasbord of theological traditions?  Are you a member of Immanuel (and, visitors, you may insert the name of your home congregation there), or are you merely a spectator?  "Member" means "body part."  You are part of it and it is part of you.  We are part of you!

A lot of people call themselves "Christians", but for many it is just an empty word.  It doesn't shape their life.  It is just another brand-name label in their wardrobe.  Christians live in connection with Christ.  It means that they cannot live or choose what they do or say without taking Jesus Christ into account.  Truth is what He tells us it is, and right and wrong are determined less by public opinion and more by God's clearly revealed will.  If these things are yours, they show themselves in how you live.

"Lutheran" means many things - it means forgiveness from God first, and from us to others second.  It means clear doctrine, not taken for granted, but insisted upon.  It means the true body and blood of our Lord in the Sacrament.  It means the historic liturgy, and life of the congregation as fundamental to the life of faith of the individual members.  If you are a Lutheran, these truths are precious and vital for you – and it colors how you deal with faith and church and church fellowship with others.  If your faith-life is not shaped by these truths and values, then calling yourself a "Lutheran" is just "empty words".

Ours is an age of sound bites and "image".  Our culture is lost in how things appear, and what people say, without actually looking to see what the truth is or what is real.  Many people allow themselves to get caught up in deceptive words, empty words that suggest something is real, or that they value something when, in fact, they haven't stopped to even think about it, or what it means.  We have become accustomed to doing things without comparing what we do with what it says about us.  Jeremiah reminds us by the Word of God, that what we do reveals who we are and what we believe.  As John wrote in his first epistle, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth."

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