Of Faith and Sacrifice

Lent 5
Genesis 22:1-14
March 18, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.


What kind of faith does it take to slaughter your own son? Not only that, but your one and only son, the son for whom you waited and hoped, the one who finally came in your old age. What kind of faith does it take to lay a knife at his throat? The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his mediation on the story of Abraham and Isaac, Fear and Trembling, contemplated what it must have been like for Abraham to make that journey to the mountain at God’s behest, knowing all the while it meant his son’s death at his own hands. What kind of faith is that? I don’t know if anyone here has that kind of faith. In fact, if someone today would commit such a horrendous crime in service to God, we’d rightly prosecute him to the furthest extent of the law.


The Genesis narrative doesn’t tell us about what was going through Abraham’s head between, “Then he started out for the place God told him about,” and, “On the third day Abraham looked and saw the place in the distance.” But those three days must have been excruciating. How many times did Abraham think about turning back, about finding a new god who didn’t demand such horrible things? How often was he given the choice to take Isaac and flee to another country, one far, far away from this God who demands blood?

At its must subjective, faith is a crisis that demands a decision. Do I stay, do I go; do I obey, do I rebel; do I believe, do I doubt? Abraham was faced with decisions of faith when he saddled his donkey, when he cut the wood for the offering, when he took the knife in his hands, but he was also faced with a crisis of faith every step of his journey.

We are likewise faced with crises nearly every day of our lives. We don’t often call them crises; we tend to reserve that word for really big decisions. But there are little decisions we have to make day in and day out, like Abraham’s thousands of footsteps on his way to Mt. Moriah. A crisis of faith isn’t just whether to try out a new cancer drug that might end up killing you—a crisis of faith is when you make a decision to spread gossip, or to tell a half-truth to make somebody look bad, or to entertain a married coworker’s flirtations, or to “borrow” some money from your work’s petty cash.

But the decisions of faith are not always so clear-cut. Not everything has an identifiably God-pleasing decision. Abraham’s experience was even more muddy. If he would have chosen to do what was God’s will—that is, choosing not to kill his son—he would have been disobeying God and would have failed the test of faith. This is why Kierkegaard calls Abraham a knight of faith: after resigning himself to losing everything, including his son, he’s willing to do the unthinkable in faith.

If, then, faith is a crisis—an either-or decision—what happens if you’re wrong?

Our problem so far has been defining faith as a matter of making decisions. Faith isn’t about making decisions; making decisions is a matter of the Law. The Law commands this or that, and you had better do this or that. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, that’s Law if I’ve ever heard it. The Law also commands you not to spread gossip and to speak kindly about your neighbors, the Law commands you not to hide part of the truth, the Law commands you to honor your and your coworker’s marriages and to live a chaste life.

The Law is what makes the crisis. The Law is what puts a choice in front of you. But the Law is not always as clean-cut as we would like. There are often times when we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, when either decision would be to disobey God. Like Abraham. To sacrifice his son is murder. But to refuse is to disobey God’s direct command.

This is in fact, the reason why God gives His Law. The Law was given to increase the trespass. This is part of God’s test of Abraham. Either decision that he makes, he’s forced into a reckoning with God. Every step he takes toward that mountain is a step toward that reckoning. I wonder what would have happened had the voice of the angel not stopped Abraham—would he have gone through with it? We’ll never know. And that’s the point. Abraham’s faith wasn’t based on his choice. The Law demands a choice, but the choice is never satisfactory. We need a better definition of faith. We need to sift something else from this story that tells us what faith is.


We will, of course, never know what was going on inside of Abraham’s head, or what stirred in his heart. The only thing we can know is his confession. God leads Abraham along that journey in order to get him to confess his faith. Then Isaac said to his father, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “We have the fire and the wood,” said Isaac, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide Himself with a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. Now Abraham has come to the point where every other choice is removed. That’s faith in God. God has the choice; He will provide Himself with a sacrifice. Actually, let’s make that a little more pointed:

God Provides Himself as a Sacrifice

Now we have come to faith: faith is belief in the promise that God Himself makes and keeps.


As Abraham reached for the knife and took it in his hand to sacrifice his son, the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” he answered. “Don’t lay your hands on the boy,” He said, “and don’t do anything to him. Now I know you fear God: you didn’t refuse to give Me your only son.” When Abraham looked around, he saw behind him a ram caught by his horns in a bush. So Abraham went and got the ram and sacrificed him as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham called that place The-LORD-Will-Provide. Today we still say, “On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”

So where is this lamb? It’s not Isaac. It’s not on the altar. It’s not caught in a thicket (that’s a ram, not a lamb). In fact, the story closes without the lamb being sacrificed. But He is present. The Lamb is the One who speaks from heaven. The Angel of the Lord, Genesis names Him. God told Abraham to sacrifice His son Isaac, but it was really one of the sons that Isaac would produce.

The story goes on: Again the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven: “I swear by Myself, says the LORD, because you did this and didn’t refuse to give up your only son, I will bless you richly and give you many descendants, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and your  descendants will capture the city of their enemies. In your Descendant all the nations on earth will be blessed, because you did what I told you.” Actually, Moses didn’t write that Abraham did what God told Him—that’s a bad translation. Moses wrote that Abraham heard what God said. Abraham’s faith—and thus his blessing—wasn’t because of what he did. It was because of what God said. It was God’s gracious Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ, writes St. Paul.

Tradition is that that same mountain would be where the sacrifices were offered in the temple. That’s why it was still said in that day, “On the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” Year after year, lambs were brought in to be sacrificed, but none of them were the Lamb that God provided. Until the Angel of the Lord—the Son of God—stands in the temple. He is set apart as the Sacrifice once and for all. God makes good on His promise and He does what Abraham confesses—He provides Himself as the Sacrifice.


So that means that faith for you is not a crisis of decision. It doesn’t mean absolute resignation and being willing lose that which is most near and dear. For you, faith is rest in the promise that the Lamb of God became the Sacrifice also for you. The Law demands your choice, but God has made the choice you could never make. He gives you the promise—the same promise given to Abraham—that in his Descendent, you are blessed.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Born of the Promise

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Galatians 4:21-31
March 11, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Tell me, you who desire to be under the Law, do you not listen to the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons—one of the slave woman and one of the free woman. But where the one who was of the slave woman was born according to the flesh, the one of the free woman was through the promise. This is an allegory, for there are two testaments. One is from Mount Sinai, for begetting slavery—this is Hagar. Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, which corresponds to present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother, for it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one, who does not bear children, break forth and cry out, O one who is not in labor, because the children of the deserted one will be many more than she who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of a promise. But just as then, when the one born according to the flesh pursued the one according to the promise, so it is also now. But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not inherit along with the son of the free woman. Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.

In the name of + Jesus.


It’s always important to be very careful with allegory. Allegory is when a story signifies some greater meaning. The stories may or may not be true, but they usually serve to illustrate timeless truths. Aesop’s fables are examples of allegory; short stories that teach common sense morals. But allegories can be tricky, because it’s easy to invent some secret meaning and to soar off into flights of fancy. The British author J. R. R. Tolkien was not fond of allegories. And Lutherans in general have always been suspicious of allegorical readings of the Bible, because of the excesses and abuses of that method in the medieval Church.

But today we get an honest to goodness allegory. It’s right there in the text, although many English translations find a similar word to translate it. This is an allegory, writes St. Paul about the sons of Abraham. Allegoroumena. And the significance of this allegory is that there are two testaments. One of them corresponds to Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the slave woman; the other corresponds to Isaac, the son of Sarah, the free woman.

The first testament is the slave son. The original story goes like this: after years of failing to have children, even when God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation, Sarah had the bright idea of having one of the slaves, or household servants, act as a surrogate mother. She chose Hagar, and Abraham took her as a mistress and, sure enough, had a son, Ishmael. But Abraham and Sarah were taking God’s promise into their own hands and forcing the outcome, not to mention breaking the 6th Commandment. Eventually, Abraham and Sarah would have a son of their in their old age, against all odds (except God’s odds), and Isaac would be the son that God had promised. When Ishmael was a young man, he and his mother were expelled from the household into the desert to wander. Incidentally, God did make a great nation of Ishmael also—Islam traces its lineage to Abraham, but through Ishmael, the son of the Law, the son of slavery.

This is an allegory, for there are two testaments. One is from Mount Sinai, for begetting slavery—this is Hagar. Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, which corresponds to present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. There are actually two levels of signification here. The first correspondence is between Hagar and Mt. Sinai. Hagar precedes God’s activity on that mountain by about 450 years; she is a prototype of God’s giving of the Law. God was indeed at work in Ishmael’s birth, and was with him as well (the text never says that Ishmael abandons the faith of his father, but his descendants certainly did). Likewise, the Law is God’s good work. But it is not the promise. Ishmael is not Isaac, and the Messiah does not descend from Ishmael.

St. Paul then makes a surprising move to a third level of signification and says that Hagar, who corresponds to Mt. Sinai, also corresponds with present Jerusalem. This would have really offended the religiously sensible in Jerusalem, because they considered themselves descendants of Abraham via Isaac, and heirs of God’s special favor. But they only claimed a physical descent, which is essentially the same claim that Ishmael has. They may only claim an inheritance by the Law, and the result is that they are cast out. They are sons of slavery.

But there is yet a third level of signification, which Paul establishes at the beginning of today’s reading. Tell me, you who desire to be under the Law, do you not listen to the Law? The Jews who claimed Abraham’s ancestry were the immediate recipients of this allegory, but it also extends to everyone who would be under the Law. And this offends the religiously sensible among us as well. While we Gentiles may not be able to claim descent from Abraham either through Isaac or Ishmael, we are spiritual heirs of slavery. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin, says Jesus. And it is the Law that shuts the door and turns the key on sin’s slavery.

Yet Christians—yes, Lutherans also—are so quick to flee back into the Law, to reenact Abraham’s adultery in new and creative ways, to force God’s promise by works of the Law. But these works are never the real deal. Ishmael was probably a sweet boy, but he wasn’t the heir. The Law begets slavery.


But there is a second part to this allegory. But where the one who was of the slave woman was born according to the flesh, the one of the free woman was through the promise… But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother, for it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one, who does not bear children, break forth and cry out, O one who is not in labor, because the children of the deserted one will be many more than she who has a husband.”

It’s left unstated, but the first level of significance is that Sarah corresponds to another mountain, Mount Calvary. Where Mount Sinai was God’s activity of giving the Law, Mount Calvary is the location of His activity of accomplishing the Gospel. The death of Jesus and the blood shed on that mountain confirm a New Testament, just as we hear every week in the communion liturgy. This cup is the New Testament in my blood. This mountain gives birth to the promise of forgiveness of sins.

The next level of significance is that this corresponds to the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s the Jerusalem to which we refer when we invoke angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the communion liturgy. They are the residents above, heirs of the promise like their spiritual father Isaac. The Old Testament Reading for today is a reminder that the Law is not the only thing that God gave to His people in the wilderness. There was also grace in the shape of bread from heaven. And so we receive the living bread from heaven, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, given under bread and wine for us to eat and to drink along the way.

But the further significance is for those who have been freed from the slavery of the Law by the promise of the Gospel. Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of a promise. But just as then, when the one born according to the flesh pursued the one according to the promise, so it is also now. But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not inherit along with the son of the free woman. Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.

When the promise of the New Testament in Christ’s blood comes, the Law is cast out. Not that it no longer exists, but that it is no longer defining. The Law is not your mother, and you should not expect any sustenance from it. Rather, your sustenance comes from your mother, the Church: comfort, protection, rest, food and drink. Jerusalem descends from above in the Sacrament and the promise is born again. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is the promise that gave a second birth to Isaac and to you. And this promise begets freedom.

You, Like Isaac, Are Children of a Promise

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

God’s Finger

Third Sunday in Lent
Luke 11:14-28
March 4, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.


While only water and God’s Word are essential to Baptism, there are other ceremonies that extol what God does in this Sacrament. Two ceremonies common in today’s Baptism are the baptismal candle, to remind us that Baptism enlightens with the light of Christ, and a white cloth, to show that Baptism clothes with the righteousness of Christ, the sign of the cross shows that Baptism works forgiveness of sins. The essential parts of Baptism, though, are water—because to baptize means to wash with water—and God’s Word—because it is God’s Baptism, with His command, His promise, and His name attached to it.

The additional ceremonies as well as the prayers and liturgy that go along with it, are all secondary. In fact, if you look on the last printed page of your hymnal, you can find “A Short Form for Holy Baptism in Cases of Necessity,” which states, In urgent cases, in the absence of the Pastor, any Christian may administer Holy Baptism. Take water, call the child by name, pour or sprinkle the water on the head of the child, saying: I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. If there is time, the baptism may be preceded by the following prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. If there is time. It’s a pretty stripped down Baptism, but still a Baptism nonetheless. Water, Word. If there is time, the Lord’s Prayer.

So why all the ceremony, then? The Large Catechism teaches: So, and even much more, you must honor Baptism and consider it glorious because of the Word. For God Himself has honored it both by words and deeds. Furthermore, He confirmed it with miracles from heaven. Do you think it was a joke that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty? (LC V.21). The ceremonies are because of God’s command and promise that’s added to the water. And ceremonies are necessary to teach.

So the candle and the white cloth and the cross and the prayers are all designed to teach something about Baptism. But those are not the only ceremonies that have been used in Baptisms. In fact, the first Lutheran order of Baptism included a lot of ceremonies that would be quite foreign to you. It included three—count ‘em, three—exorcisms; salt was put into the baby’s mouth; the pastor touched the baby’s ears and nose with some spittle and said Ephphatha; a procession; and an anointing with oil. It was a good thing that the Wittenberg worshippers didn’t need to get home to watch Sunday football.

While these ceremonies might seem excessive to our modern, streamlined sensibilities, and even strange, they were not included randomly or haphazardly. They taught an aspect of Baptism—one that is illustrated in today’s Gospel.


And He was casting out a demon, who was also mute. And it happened that, when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds marveled (v 14). This is one of the many miraculous healings that Jesus performs, but one of the few that is actually reported with any detail. The evangelists report typical healings, and give them some theological significance; they aren’t just wonders to ooh and ahh over.

As is often the case, a person with physical maladies is also oppressed by a demon, or an evil spirit. Not every illness is directly linked to a spiritual cause, but all spiritual afflictions manifest themselves in physical afflictions as well. This particular man was mute, and along with being mute, a person is also often deaf, because hearing and speech go together.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals a deaf and mute man and we get the gritty details. He touches the man’s ears and tongue and spits and says “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” One could imagine a similar situation happening in this situation as well, Jesus addresses the man’s tongue, and all of a sudden he begins to speak.

The onlookers try to account for this strange turn of events, and some stoop to accusing Jesus of using dark arts and satanic powers to perform His works. Briefly, Jesus explains that the devil cannot be against himself, or else he’d be bound to fall. Jesus is, in fact, the one who has come to disarm Satan, and render him powerless. But what He says next is of great importance to our story today. He says, But if by the finger of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (v 20). This is an interesting metaphor, and one that’s a bit obscure. Does God literally stick His finger out of heaven to bring His kingdom? Well, yes, in the case of the man whose deaf ear was introduced to the finger of God in Jesus Christ. But to get a deeper understanding of what Jesus is saying here, we have to turn to Matthew’s Gospel. He tells the story with a slight change. Jesus says there, “But if by the Spirit of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (Mt 12:28). Precisely the same, but instead of finger, Matthew reports Jesus saying, “Spirit.” So the finger of God is the Spirit of God. And this is true when Jesus sticks His finger in deaf man’s ear, when He cures this mute man, and whenever He ministers to the sick and the demon-oppressed. The kingdom of God is invading the devil’s kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The phenomenon of the mute man starting to speak causes everyone to marvel, but Jesus’ gives some commentary on what cannot be seen. “When the unclean spirit has gone out from a person, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and when he does not find it, then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it having been swept and arranged in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself and after going in takes up residence there; and the end of that person is worse than the beginning” (vv 24-26).

What kind of place does an unclean spirit seek out? Anhydrous. Waterless. A waterless place could be just about anywhere, but one place it cannot be is Baptism, because water is essential to it. And what’s more, Baptism is the union of water and the Spirit of God, who comes through the Word. It is a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. And it casts out the devil and the evil spirit that are inhere in us since birth.

But Jesus’ commentary should also warn us that Baptism is not a once and done thing. We must continually return to our Baptisms, remember our Baptisms, and nurture our Baptisms. Or else, that same evil spirit will return and find everything set in order for him.

How do you prevent this from happening? Two ways. First, by confessing your sins and hearing again the Absolution. As the Large Catechism teaches, Here you see that Baptism, both in its power and meaning, includes also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance. It is really nothing other than Baptism (LC V.74). So repentance—confessing sins and believing the absolution—is just Baptism reapplied. It’s not necessary to find new water and get rebaptized. Just remember your Baptism, and what it means for every day of your life. Repent. Confess. Believe.

Second, is by catechism. Catechism is the word we use for the way the Church teaches the faith. It’s teaching by conversation, by questions and responses. Catechism is the unfolding of the name in which Baptism is administered. Catechism shouldn’t just start in junior high, but it should begin as soon as the water dries from the baby’s head. Read the Commandments, confess the Creed, pray the Our Father, use the Daily Prayers. Junior high is the time to start digging deeper. Notice, though, it’s the start. Catechism doesn’t end with confirmation. It goes on. Every day of our lives.

In this way, we can keep ourselves well watered with baptismal grace and remain occupied with the Holy Spirit. And our ends will be more blessed than our beginnings.

The Spirit of God Given in Baptism Is the Finger that Casts Out the Devil


In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Conquering God in Two Easy Steps

Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 32:22-32
March 20, 2011
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised February 25, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Life throws a lot of things at you. The season of Lent is a time meant for you to reflect on your life and your faith, and one thing that should quickly become apparent is that both your life and your faith are constantly under attack. You struggle with finances. News of disaster comes from all parts of the world and you wonder how a loving God can allow such things to happen—and if you’ll be next. Meanwhile, our society is systematically deconstructing every Law God has revealed in His Word and written on our hearts and reconstructing them to suit our own fancies.

Satan is indeed mounting a mighty assault on our Lord and your faith. But what about when it appears that God is also on the offensive? What about those times when you feel that God’s attacks are more unbearable than anything the world throws at you? What about when you pray and the only fruit you see is the exact opposite of what you pray for?

If God is your opponent, you have an impossible task trying to subdue the Almighty. Yet, when God appears to be on the attack, when He seems to be most stern and angry, there is one thing that will restrain His judgment, for He Himself has promised to submit to it.

God Allows Himself To Be Conquered by Faith and Prayer


The story of the patriarch Jacob is an example for us. Our story begins with Jacob getting up in the middle of the night and sending his entire household across a river and being left alone. The reason he does things this way is because he’s going to meet his brother Esau, and he’s afraid. If you remember, Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, Jacob being the second-born directly behind his brother. But Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright by deceiving his blind father and had fled to another land. Now, following God’s command, Jacob was returning, but he first had to go through his brother.

When Jacob is left alone, there is no doubt that spent time praying to God about his upcoming encounter with his brother. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day: (v 24).

Some people think of prayer as God’s big payout—that if you pray hard enough and believe strongly enough, God will reward your efforts with untold blessings. But Jacob’s experience shows us otherwise. Prayer is less of a divine slot-machine and more of an invitation to God to wrestle with Him. For as the majority of Christians interpret this story—and as Jacob himself later realizes—he is wrestling with no ordinary man, but with God Himself.

The tendency of our prayer is to try to subdue the Lord by wrestling Him to the ground by the strength of our works. That’s why so many people despise true prayer. Either they believe that it’s pointless to pray when you believe that you can get anything you want by good, old-fashioned hard work, or they’d tried to pray in the past and had not gotten the results they wanted.

The prayer of the natural man is a bit like a man going to his boss to ask for a raise. We lay before God everything that we’ve done on His behalf, how we’ve worked hard for Him, how we make His kingdom a better place overall. For all of these things, we think we have a right to get what ask for. The prayer we most naturally want to pray is a prayer of works.

Yet just as God comes to Jacob as He prays to wrestle with him, we also invite God into a wrestling match with our petitions. However, we fail to realize that our opponent is the almighty and omnipotent God; He cannot be subdued by our strength. Jacob, who was undoubtedly a strong man wrestled to daybreak without overcoming Him. The Man makes His strength known in that with a mere touch to the hip, His throws His leg out of socket.


Yet, the fact that this contest lasts all night tells us something about the Man who wrestles with Jacob. Even though He could have easily disabled Jacob, or worse, He allowed him to continue wrestling. Like a father who does not use his full strength when wrestling with his son, the Lord Almighty set aside His almighty power so as to allow Jacob this chance to wrestle with Him. Even the blow to the hip is not enough to keep Jacob from holding on until daybreak.

This is the way of our Lord Jesus. He sets aside His glory to be born of the Virgin, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, dead and buried under the hands of men. He allows Himself to be held by our mortal flesh.

Even though Jacob wrestled with God all night, he cannot ultimately subdue Him with his own strength. At dawn he has reached a draw at best. His opponent is only finally conquered when Jacob asks for a word of blessing. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him” (vv 25-29).

When Jacob asks for a blessing, he asks for a Word from God, and the Word of God can only be grasped by faith. Thus Jacob subdues God by faith and prayer. But it is not a prayer of His own works or a prayer for strength, but a prayer for God to be faithful to His Word. For God had promised Jacob that He would return him to his own country for his good.

Because Jacob prevailed over God not by strength, but by faith in His Word, God changed his name to Israel. You’ve heard that name countless times, but do you know what it means? It means, “conqueror of God.”

You, like Jacob, have also been given a new name—the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on you in your Baptism. With that name, you are also incorporated into a new Israel—not an Israel of the flesh, but rather of the Spirit. Thus you are more than a conqueror in Jesus Christ, because you have been given the means to subdue the almighty God of all creation—namely the promises that He’s made. And the Lord loves nothing more than to be subdued by His own promises.

Know that no matter how stern and angry and unrelenting the Lord may appear, He invites you to wrestle with Him in prayer, to hold His Word until the daybreak of a new creation.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Join the Resistance!

First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4:1-11
February 18, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.


Join the resistance! We’re looking for a few good men and women who are up to the challenge—some Lent warriors who are ready to take that next step in their spiritual journeys and make a serious effort to resist sin. That’s what the season of Lent is about, after all—resisting temptation. So stand up if you’re ready to join the resistance!

The pervasive problem with Lenten disciplines, though, is that we can only succeed if we make it easy on ourselves. That’s why you’ll often hear someone who’s giving up chocolate or soda for Lent. Yeah, it doesn’t take too much to resist Hershey’s or Sun Drop for 40 days. But if that even sounds too tough, you could always give up broccoli for Lent. Except none of the more common Lent disciplines usually benefit anyone other than yourself. Perhaps we can make it a little harder to succeed—for Lent you can give up repeating gossip.


We’re only a few days into Lent, and if you chose a discipline that’s even just a little more substantial than giving up broccoli or soda or chocolate, you might have already broken it. Sin—real sin, not just bad habits—is notoriously hard to resist. Some might claim that it’s just a matter of mind over matter, but that’s a modern fantasy that neglects, 1) that the body and its passions are strong, and 2) that the mind is just as corrupt as the body, and in fact every sinful act begins in the mind and in the heart.

That’s the nature of sin since Adam’s fall. The more you try to resist it, the more it takes a hold of you. This is why the last two commandments are added. St. Paul highlights this problem in his letter to the Romans:

What will we say, then? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! But I did not know sin except through the Law. For I had not known covetousness, except that the Law says, “You will not covet.” But taking the opportunity through the commandment, sin produced in me all covetousness, for without the Law, sin is dead. At one time I was living without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life. I died, and the commandment which was for life was found to be death for me. For sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me. So the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and right and good (Rom 7:7-12). Covetousness—the 9th and 10th Commandments—are added to show that sin is too large a problem for simple willpower.

Sin and the Law come into a violent clash in the life of a Christian. Lent isn’t an occasion to remove this conflict, but a time for a more intense look at it. It’s a time to be more honest with yourself. The Lenten fast and any Lenten discipline you may adopt is to show you that resistance is futile. It’s like drowning in quicksand—the more you struggle, the deeper you sink in it. So, should we just give up and give in?

That’s the real crisis today. Lent presents a catch-22. If you try to resist sin, you end up sinning. If you don’t try to resist sin, you end up sinning. Literally, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. This is the point that St. Paul was driving home. The only resolution to the crisis of the Law and sin is death. That judgment was leveled millennia ago when God said to Adam, You are dust, and to dust you will return (Gen 3:19). Sin seized its opportunity, and death is the result.


Adam was created without sin, and still he could not resist Satan. What does that say about the prospects for us, his sons and daughters? Satan’s temptations exhibit a remarkable influence over the flesh; he knows right where to place them—at our weakest spots. The flesh is weak, and now amount of discipline is going to strengthen it to resist temptation. The Lenten crisis caused by the call to join the resistance, only to find that resistance is futile, is only resolved by looking outside of ourselves.

It takes divine power that exceeds Satan’s persuasion to resist temptation. And I’m not talking about a spiritual spark from on high. The flesh is weak, and in order for the flesh to resist the desires of the flesh, it must be pervaded in every fiber, every molecule, with divinity. 100% Body. Soul. Mind. Heart. And this is the resolution that only God Himself can provide.


This is the solution provided by God Himself, and which is on display in the wilderness. It should first be noted that Jesus faces temptation following His baptism, after He is disclosed as the Son of God, and the mission of the cross is laid upon Him. That is the Father’s good pleasure. After assuming not only the mantle of the Son of God, but also the Son of Adam (which is to say, the Son of Man), Jesus goes to where Adam was banished—to the wilderness. His first order of public business is to confront the first cause of sin.

In the wilderness, Jesus encounters the old, evil foe, who now means deadly woe for our Lord. Three times Satan lays a temptation before Jesus. It only took one to get Adam to fall, but Jesus withstands three. Not only that, He does so at His weakest. The flesh is weak to begin with, but after forty days of fasting, it’s even weaker. If you give up chocolate for Lent, by the time Easter rolls around, you can’t wait to tear into that chocolate bunny. After forty days of fasting, Jesus in the flesh was most susceptible to temptation.

So that’s Satan’s first avenue of attack—the flesh. “If you are the Son of God, speak, so that these stones would become bread.” He who once overcame by a morsel of food, now tries to overcome in the same way. But to speak to stones to change them into bread means that you are not receiving your daily bread with thanksgiving. Jesus responds, “It is written: ‘Man will not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds through the mouth of God.’”

Again the devil makes his move. This time he doesn’t even twist God’s Word, he quotes it straight up, but invites a misinterpretation and misapplication: Then the devil took Him along into the holy city and stood Him upon the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it has been written that He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you on their hands, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.” Where the first temptation was for the Epicurean, this one is for the religious. This temptation is to pit God against His Word, to put the Bible above Jesus. Lutherans, beware! And Jesus said, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Third time’s a charm, so the devil thinks. Again, the devil took Him along into a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. And he said to Him, “These all I will give to You, if You would fall down and worship me.” This would fit well in our Wednesday evening set of ironies. The devil offers Jesus something that He already has. You can be the King of kings, the devil says. This temptation isn’t for worldly glory, as the devil suggests. It’s to deny Himself, to renounce His Baptism, to set aside the cross, to trade a crown of thorns for a crown of gold. But Jesus will have none of it; He cannot deny Himself. He will not take what is rightfully His by force. Rather, He must suffer and die to establish His kingdom, which is not of this world. Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan, for it has been written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God and Him alone will you serve.’”

After 40 days, the devil is out of tricks; he’s exhausted every last lie. And Jesus has resisted them all. The devil must depart. Angels come and minister to Him. Now is the time to

Join the Resistance; Jesus Is Your Resistance to Temptation


You are united with Christ, and with Him you not only can, but do resist the devil. The person of Jesus is the union of divinity and humanity. He alone has the power of Himself to resist the devil. You are united not in a personal union, but in a mystical union. In your Baptism, you are united with Christ, you join Him in His baptism, in His death, in His resurrection. You join Him in the wilderness where He resists the devil. In the Supper His body and blood become a part of you, and you become a part of His body. His defeat of the devil becomes your defeat of the devil.

This is the purpose of all Lenten discipline: to point you to Christ, who is your resistance to temptation.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Final Vocabulary: Faith

Luke 18:31-43
February 11, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Final vocabulary is the term that is given to the words and language that are most foundational to how we view the world. They are the words that, when you think about them, are hard to define in simpler terms; you simply know what the words mean. They are the words that you take for granted in the way you approach the world. Different people have different final vocabularies, and different communities also.

In the Church, we have our own final vocabulary, and were are on the second week of focus on themes for three of these vocabulary words. Since they are so fundamental to how we understand the world around us, including God who reveals Himself to us, it’s important to have a grasp of what these words mean. And since it’s hard to define final vocabulary in simpler terms, we have to expand the words, rather than break them down.

Today’s final vocabulary is faith. It’s a word that we use all the time in the Church. But the word presents two problems. First, when people use the word faith, they often mean different things. Second, it’s so common, we begin to take it for granted, and it starts to lose its meaning. So today, let’s reexamine our final vocabulary of faith.

Faith Is Receiving God’s Gifts for Salvation


            Faith is so foundational to any talk about Christianity that it can’t be explained in simpler terms; we need to expand upon it. And that’s one of the problems of faith—it’s shorthand language, but people mean a lot of different things by it. Some people may mean obedience, others may mean a mystical or ecstatic experience, others a sense of social justice or chartable service. The only sure definition, though, is one that comes from God. And, fortuitously, we have a very clear definition in the book of Hebrews. Faith is being sure of the things we hope for, being convinced of the things we can’t see (Heb 11:1). Faith is a conviction of hidden things.

Too often, the emphasis is put on the “being sure” and the “being convinced” aspect of faith. A Danish writer by the name of Søren Kierkegaard explored faith in a book called Fear and Trembling. The Denmark of his day had become more decadent and was moving toward the rationalism that had gripped much of the rest of Europe at the time. Kierkegaard wanted a more vigorous and serious Christianity. In his book, he looks at the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (as story we have in our stained glass windows back there). The story was a picture of faith for Kierkegaard, that that faith was a complete surrendering. Abraham was even willing to suspend his fatherly instincts and his knowledge of God’s law, that murder is forbidden, and to sacrifice his son because of his faith in God. This, for Kierkegaard, was the essence of faith, when even morality evaporates.

Kierkegaard’s understanding of faith is what theologians call fides qua creditur, or “faith which believes.” This is the act of believing, the feeling of absolute conviction. But the thing is, faith always has an object. Faith always believes in something. And it’s that object of faith that defines faith. Kierkegaard was only interested in the feeling of absolute dependence, but God is interested in the thing not seen that convinces you to believe.

Another way to talk about faith is fides quae creditur, or “faith which is believed.” It’s the content of faith. And, as Hebrews says, it’s something that’s not seen, something hidden. Ultimately, this faith rests on Jesus Christ, who would appear to all sensation to be a regular person. But faith is convinced of something more: hidden beneath that flesh is the glory of the Son of God. Hidden beneath His cross and suffering is the reconciliation of the entire human race. Hidden at God’s right hand in heaven is the risen Jesus, who promises to come again. Faith trusts what the eyes cannot see. And this is why the blind man becomes an icon of faith in today’s Gospel. He can’t see what’s going on; he must rely on his ears.

The act of believing is shaped by what is believed. The faith of the Christian Church is the faith of Christ, faith in Christ, faith that is rooted in who He is and what He has done. Furthermore, faith trusts in the promises of Christ that are attached to the ministry of the Church. In Baptism, we see only a few drops of water rolling down a baby’s head, but we believe it’s a washing of regeneration and renewal. In the Sacrament, we see bread and wine, but we believe it’s the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Faith is being convinced of the things we can’t see, and thus, faith is receiving God’s gifts.


            There’s a fascinating phenomenon that is called semantic satiation. Perhaps you’ve experienced it before. It’s when you repeat a word over and over again until it starts to lose its meaning and becomes meaningless sounds. It’s only temporary, but it shows how the mind can disassociate meaning from words that you use all the time. This is a problem with the word, “faith.” We use it so often, we must be on guard not only that we have the correct meaning, but that we have any meaning at all. And to do that, we need to in a sense reset and reattune our ears to find out not only what faith is, but why faith matters. Faith has a direction, a purpose. Faith receives God’s gifts—for salvation.

Faith is part of a lot of meaningless chatter. Tune into the Olympics these next weeks and you’ll be sure to hear some mention of faith. Only it’s not the faith of the Christian Church they’ll be referring to, but some amorphous, general sense of conviction or determination. This is what happens when “faith” gets emptied of its meaning. When “faith” becomes an empty shell of a word, you can import almost anything you want into it, make it mean anything you’d like. It’s like those motivational posters from a while back that have some inspiring word, like “courage” or “teamwork.” (I like the series of demotivational posters that came out in response. “Teamwork: ensuring that your hard work can always be ruined by someone else’s incompetence”).

In things that are not ultimate, meaningless chatter is meaningless chatter. But faith deals with ultimate things. That’s why it’s part of the Church’s final vocabulary. It’s foundational to how we operate, how we see the world and everything. And that’s true even when the human interest stories of the Olympic athletes talk about their faith. When faith is emptied of its meaning, it’s emptied of its object. Remember that faith’s object gives it its shape. Faith that is robbed of its object will of necessity look for another object.

In all of the various ways that faith is used, most often it means faith in yourself. Competing in the Olympics? Believe in yourself. Want to succeed in business? Believe in yourself. Want to be President of the United States? Believe in yourself. And you can do it. This is the same kind of faith peddled by many so-called Christians, as well. Joel Osteen’s message of faith is not faith in God, it’s faith in yourself. But the problem is, for every person who makes to the top while believing himself, there are a hundred who believed themselves to the bottom of the heap. Faith in yourself is faith that will ultimately fail, because you cannot believe yourself to overcome death. Even the most self-confident, determined individual cannot save himself from death’s cold touch.

So if faith is to mean anything at all in an ultimate sense, it needs to be constantly reattuned. Like when radios had dials to tune in stations. You have to make sure faith is right in that sweet spot, and then, as Luther says in the Large Catechism, “If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true” (LC I.3). True faith reaches out to the true God. But it’s not you who attunes your faith to reach out to God.

And again, the blind man becomes for us an icon of faith. He is lost in a world of meaningless chatter until he is confronted by Jesus. With a word, Jesus gives him the gift of sight, and faith receives that gift. But his faith received something more. Jesus doesn’t just say that the man’s faith has healed him, but that it has saved him. And Jesus said to him, “Look up; your faith has saved you” (v 42). Coincidentally, the man looks up and sees the object of his faith. It is as if He said, “Look up, your Jesus has saved you.” It wasn’t just that he received sight in his eyes, but that his faith was reattuned to see Jesus as his Savior.

So for faith to reach out to the true God, Jesus must first reach out to faith. This is what makes faith good and true, what makes faith a saving faith. Jesus gives faith its meaning. He is the object and content of faith. And when faith is attuned to Jesus, faith receives God’s gifts for salvation.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Final Vocabulary: Scripture

Luke 8:4-15
February 4, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Final vocabulary is the term that is given to the words and language that are most foundational to how we view the world. They are the words that, when you think about them, are hard to define in simpler terms; you simply know what the words mean. They are the words that you take for granted in the way you approach the world. Different people have different final vocabularies, and different communities also.

In the Church, we have our own final vocabulary, and were are on the second week of focus on themes for three of these vocabulary words. Since they are so fundamental to how we understand the world around us, including God who reveals Himself to us, it’s important to have a grasp of what these words mean. And since it’s hard to define final vocabulary in simpler terms, we have to expand the words, rather than break them down.

Today’s final vocabulary is Scripture. What is Scripture? What is the Bible? What is the Word of God? How would you answer that question to someone who has no clue what this Bible is that Christians think is so important? It’s not as easy as you might think. We can think of the Word of God in three ways, and Holy Scripture is what gets us started.

Holy Scripture Is the Written Word of God, Which is the Standard for the Preached Word of God, Which Communicates the Word of God Incarnate


            First some definitions. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word βίβλος. It literally means “book,” although books as we know them, with leaves of pages bound in between two covers were not around when the Bible was written (they came about in the 4th century A.D.). Originally, the Bible was not a book, but a collection of scrolls, as we hear when Jesus goes to the synagogue and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read in Luke 4. Regardless of the kind of media, the word “Bible” means a collection of writings on a common subject. The Holy Bible is a collection of writings of God’s spokesmen from ancient times until the early Church that record the story of Jesus.

The word “Scripture” is somewhat synonymous, but has a slightly different nuance. Scripture comes from the Greek Word γραφὴ, from which we get all of our words with “graph” in them. It means something written. In religious usage, it always has a connotation of a religious writing. In the New Testament it is always used in this case, and most often refers to the writings of the Old Testament. It can be used in the singular, “Scripture,” to refer to the whole of the writings, or to individual passages. It can also be used in the plural, “the Scriptures,” to refer to the whole of the writings. Very soon after the New Testament began to be written, the writings of the Apostles also were considered Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:16, where Paul’s writings are called “Scripture”).

Then there is the term, “the Word of God.” The Bible uses this in a number of ways, including in today’s parable. Jesus explains the symbolism of the parable for us, and the main point of comparison is, ‘The seed is the Word of God.’ However, in this case, it doesn’t make sense that the parable of the sower is to tell us to start throwing Bibles around. Furthermore, Jesus explicitly says that four ways in which the seed is received symbolizes ways that the Word is heard. This is confirmed just a few verses following today’s Gospel reading when Jesus tells His hearers to take care how they hear. So, while the Bible is certainly the written Word of God, there is also something more to the Word of God to make sense of this parable.


            There is a story that St. Augustine once encountered St. Ambrose with a text, reading silently. He was taken aback. Not that no one had ever read to themselves before, but that in antiquity, reading was almost always audible reading. Words were put on paper or parchment to be read aloud. A written word implied that it should also be a spoken work. And so the term, “the Word of God,” can also mean the proclamation of God’s Word. But how does this relate to the Bible as the Word of God? Holy Scripture is the standard for the preached Word of God.

This is what our Lutheran Confessions state about the place of the Holy Scripture in the life of the Church. First, ‹we receive and embrace with our whole heart› are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel. They are the only true standard or norm by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged. (Formula of Concord: The Comprehensive Summary, Foundation, Rule, and Norm, 3).

So the Bible functions in two ways as the written Word of God in relation to the preached Word of God. First, it is the sole source of all doctrine. This means that everything we must know about God and His plan of salvation comes from the Bible. While there is a bit of knowledge of God we can derive from nature, it is vague and often misleading and will never tell us the specific teaching of Jesus Christ. The words written down in the various scrolls and compiled into the book that we call the Bible were written to be a fountain of knowledge about God. Not knowledge in an academic sense, but in the sense of familiarity. We are brought into a favorable relationship with God by what the Bible reveals about God.

Second, the written Word of God functions as a standard, measure, or rule for teaching. Not only should all Church teaching originate in the Bible, but the Bible also regulates all teaching in the Church. Think of it less as a ruler and more like a fountain (as the Confessions say). At the middle is the source, the spring that gushes forth with the good stuff, but as the contents of Scripture are proclaimed, the pool fills and sets the boundary for the fountain. So every teaching in the Church is measured by the Bible and its source is the Bible.


            The parable, however, is meant to set a before us the purpose of both the written and preached Word of God. There is an irony that as the sower sows his seed, 75% of it fails to mature and produce fruit. Only the fourth and last soil condition bears fruit. These, Jesus explains, are they who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in a noble and good heart, and bear fruit in patience (v 15). Well, even when Jesus makes clear what He’s saying, it’s still hard to understand what He’s getting at. What He means by this is that there is another Word of God that we have not yet accounted for. Holy Scripture and its preaching are to communicate the Word of God incarnate.

So here’s how that works. Jesus uses two words to describe the kind of heart that receives His preached Word with the result of patiently borne fruit. Both of them are often translated as “good.” Kalos and agathos. The first one is used, for instance, when Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd—the kalos Shepherd. It’s good in the sense of beautiful or noble, one who would lay down His life for the sheep. Agathos, on the other hand, is a more general sense of good; it’s used to describe the good gifts from God, the good tree that bears good fruit, and a good, upstanding citizen. But together, these two goods refer to an idea of kalokagathia, a quality that ancient philosophers said was the product of training in righteousness. Now, in a philosophical sense, this meant philosophical training, becoming wise, and making yourself a better person. But when Jesus teaches righteousness, it’s His own righteousness.

John’s Gospel begins with an account of the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son. He calls the Son of God the Word of God; as words are expressions of your inner being, so the Son of God is the expression of God. And this Word becomes flesh, John reports. So the written Word of God and the preached Word of God are inseparable from the personal, incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. The soils that fail to bear fruit all symbolize people who hear the Word of God preached or who read the Bible and find everything but Jesus. They find instructions, morality, secret knowledge, chicken soup for the soul, or whatever.

But only when you hear Jesus, the Word of God who became flesh to suffer and die, who is your righteousness, only then do you receive the noble and good heart, the kalokagathia, because then the righteousness of Christ becomes your own. And that’s when fruit is borne.

So Jesus is the purpose of the written Word of God and its proclamation. The Bible is the source of every teaching about Jesus and His righteousness. It is the standard for how this teaching is proclaimed. Scripture. Bible. Word of God. It’s part of our final vocabulary in the Church. The Bible is given to be proclaimed so that we would know God in Jesus Christ, and so become righteous.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Final Vocabulary: Grace

Matthew 20:1-16
February 12, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Final vocabulary is the term that is given to the words and language that are most foundational to how we view the world. They are the words that, when you think about them, are hard to define in simpler terms; you simply know what the words mean. They are the words that you take for granted in the way you approach the world. Different people have different final vocabularies, and different communities also.

In the Church, we have our own final vocabulary, and the next three weeks focus on themes for three of these vocabulary words. Since they are so fundamental to how we understand the world around us, including God who reveals Himself to us, it’s important to have a grasp of what these words mean. And since it’s hard to define final vocabulary in simpler terms, we have to expand the words, rather than break them down.

Today’s final vocabulary is grace. What is grace? There are a lot of ways people define grace: undeserved love, a free gift. These are true, but they only just get us started. What is grace?



With fundamental words and ideas, we often need to experience them to know what they mean. Like love. How do you describe love? But you know it when you love someone, and when someone loves you. Grace is related to that. It’s difficult to define grace, but if you’ve experienced it, then you know it. And that’s one of the reasons that Jesus speaks in parables. He doesn’t come teaching from a theological textbook where point I.A.3 is a definition of grace. He tells a story of grace. The parable of the workers is a parable of grace, because each worker got full pay despite the work he put in.

For the reign of the heavens is like a man who was a ruler of a house, who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers for a denarius, he sent them for the day into his vineyard.

And going out around the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace and to these he said, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is just I will give to you.” So they left. Again he went out around the sixth and ninth hour and did the same.

Going out around the eleventh, he found others standing and said to them, “Why have you been standing in the marketplace the whole day?” They said to him, “Because no one hired us for himself.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”

When evening came, the lord of the vineyard said to the steward, “Call the workers and give over to them the wage beginning from the last until the first.” And when the ones from the eleventh hour came, he gave one day’s wage. And when the first ones came, thinking that they would receive more, he also gave them one day’s wage.

And they began to raise complaints about the ruler of the house, saying, “Those who were last did one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the heat.” And answering one of them, he said, “Friend, I did not treat you unjustly. Did you not agree with me for a day’s wage? Take what’s your and go. I desire to give to the last as I gave to you.” Or is it not allowed to me what I desire to do among my own? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” Thus the last will be first and the first last.

There is an irony in the parable (most parables have an ironic twist to them). It’s set up by the fact that the house ruler decides to distribute the day’s wages with the people who were hired last (who barely had enough time to do any work at all). And they all got a day’s wage. As he worked backward, all the workers got a day’s wage, regardless of whether they put in a day’s work.
This is grace. You can’t explain it; you can only experience it. But here’s the thing. Even though all of the workers received their wage by grace, not all of them experienced the grace. The first workers thought they were owed for their labor, and so they rejected the gift. They had a different final vocabulary, so to speak. Ironically, they worked a day’s work, but didn’t receive the day’s wage—because they didn’t understand grace.


There’s a reason that Jesus teaches in parables. There’s a reason that the Gospels are stories and not doctrinal essays. Even Paul’s letters, which are the most systematic doctrine, still have a narrative arc to them. The stories of the Bible are meant to establish our final vocabulary by making us a part of the story. This parable tells the bigger story of God’s kingdom, and you become a character in the story, too. Grace means that your reward is based not on your works, but on the promise of God in Jesus Christ.

There’s a point in a movie or reading a book when you are no longer a viewer or a reader, but you become part of the story. You get immersed in it. It’s what they mean by the phrase, “suspension of disbelief.” This is the critical point in reading the Bible. IT’s not about you reading in order to glean some special, secret knowledge that can only be found in a holy book. That direction is backward. The Bible is given not so that we can make it part of our lives, but so that we would become part of its story.

The parable of the workers is to make you a worker in the parable. Some of you have been in the fields since you were a little baby. Others are more recent “hires.” The emperor Constantine converted to Christianity as a young man but wasn’t baptized until his death bed. There are any number of stories of workers in the kingdom of God. But what unites everyone’s stories is that the work you put in does not determine the reward at the end of the day.

So you and I and everyone in this kingdom are workers by grace. The wage we receive is not the one we have earned, because the wages of our sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life. That’s the conclusion of the story. After the work is done, the day just goes on. The wage paid to you is the earnings of someone else. Jesus is the one who did the work when He suffered and died on the cross, and bore more than the heat of the day; He bore the sins of the world. And on the third day He rose from the dead, opening heaven’s treasury for you.

What is grace? It’s final vocabulary. You can’t simply define it. But when you become part of the story of Scripture, you become a recipient of grace. Like the workers who get paid irrespective of their work, you are rewarded not for your work, but for the work of another. Jesus has earned your reward. You don’t deserve it, but you get it anyway.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

The Cross Alone Is Our Theology

Good Friday
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
April 14, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will invalidate the understanding of the intelligent.” Where is the philosopher? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what we preach. Since the Jews ask for signs, and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, He is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

In the name of + Jesus.


In Aristotle’s book on Metaphysics, the philosopher could arrive at the concept of God as a first mover or initial cause simply by observing nature and contemplating how things work. He needed no special revelation, no Bible, only his own mind and the world around him. Thirteen hundred years later a Benedictine monk by the name of Anselm introduced an argument that says because we can conceive of a an all-powerful, eternal being, then such an all-powerful, eternal being must exist. To put this another way, even an atheist, by definition, must have an all-powerful, eternal God in which he doesn’t believe, and thereby concedes the existence of such a being.

So, everyone has a theology, whether they want to admit it or not. Everyone talks God-talk. And anyone who’s ever contemplated God or talked about God will one day take up thinking of God in a way similar to Aristotle or Anselm. God as the first cause or ultimate being.

The only problem is that such approaches to God can really only succeed in showing that God exists, but not much more. Who is this first cause? Is the ultimate being really concerned about us? And the problem only intensifies with the introduction of evil. If God is good, then the existence of evil is a contradiction—how can a good God cause evil? The other option is even worse—that God is not actually good. The new atheists justify their atheism this way—they conceive of God as capricious, mischievous, getting His kicks from watching us puny creatures suffer. They think of God as having a character more like Loki than Yahweh. And so they feel it’s easier to believe in no God at all than to submit to a God who allows evil to happen.

In answer to the problem of evil, theologians come up with theodicies. A theodicy is an attempt to justify God. In the face of a tragic evil, we say something like, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” It’s simply an attempt to explain evil and maintain God’s goodness. Professional theologians only offer more complicated versions of this. But if God is the One who must be justified, then He is not just, and He cannot be the justifier. A theodicy implies that Paul was mistaken when He wrote that God justifies.

A philosophical approach to God will end in destruction, because it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will invalidate the understanding of the intelligent.” The destruction of the wise and confounding of the intelligent is because both are attempts to hold God captive in our minds. Despite Anselm inferring an ultimate being from the concept of an ultimate being, it still subjects God to our thinking. Despite Aristotle arriving at a first cause from observing nature, it still subjects God to our philosophy. To try to hold God captive by intelligence or philosophy is to make Him less than God. It only perpetuates the condition of the first sin—the temptation to be like God and know good and evil.

To approach God from this direction is to approach Him in His hiddenness. It’s to demand answers to questions He has not answered. If you pry into the hiddenness of God and try to find out who He is, or to discover a justification for His actions, you won’t like what you find. The Greeks seek wisdom, the Jews ask for a sign (that is, for power), but both of them alike look for God where He does not reveal Himself. And both alike will either find a god of their own imagination, or the true God who is angry and full of wrath.


If we are to talk God-talk, what words shall we use? Almighty, eternal, omniscient—these all begin to speak of God, but they still speak of God on our terms. If we are to speak of God, we must speak on His terms. We must understand His power not according to human power. We must understand His wisdom in a way that is completely unlike our wisdom. Philosophies, treatises, and debates are useful in other walks of life, but to arrive at theology they are all quite useless, because God reveals Himself in foolish way. The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. The cross is foolishness, yet it is this very word of the cross that makes a theologian. The cross alone is our theology.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can approach God and find out who He is and what He thinks about us. It’s the only path to find Him to be merciful and gracious and just. It’s the path that eliminates every theodicy and speculation. The cross defines what the wisdom and power of God are.

Who is God? He is the One who became flesh, who bore the whips and rods, who had thorns pressed into His scalp. He is the One who endured a day’s worth of shame and agony, from the false accusations to the increasingly shallow breaths as He suffocated under His own weight on the cross. He did this out of His great love, because He could not bear to see you suffer this punishment. He willingly accepted it as His own. He is the God who would die for you.

The wrath of God is on full display as Christ hangs on the cross, but it is not directed outwardly. Jesus says of His torturers, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Man who is hung up on the tree drinks that cup of wrath to the dregs. And because of this, the cross shows us the God who is merciful and gracious and just. Jesus bears the just punishments for our sin, and so God has mercy on the sinner for His Son’s sake. And as He cries out His last words, He graciously gives up His Spirit and His lifeblood for the life of the world.

If you approach God by way of the cross, all theodicies come to an end. The direction of justification cannot be from us to God, because it is precisely at the cross where God justifies the entire world in His Son. When evil happens—from the most tragic suffering to the smallest, inconvenient annoyance—we can say firmly that evil was not part of God’s plan; evil was introduced by us enemies of God. But the God who reveals Himself most clearly in the cross and suffering at the hands of evil men, and who accomplishes the world’s greatest good through it, will also work all things together for good for those whom He has called and incorporated into the righteousness that is in Christ.

The cross alone is our theology, because the cross gives us the words to talk God-talk. We preach Christ crucified, He is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

What does it mean to call God wise? It means that He does something we consider foolish: He humbles Himself in the flesh to the point of death on the cross. What does it mean for God to be strong? It means for Him to make Himself weak.

In the Heidelburg Disputation of 1518, Martin Luther wrote, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25). He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” The cross alone is our theology; the cross alone is our God-talk. Tonight, see God revealed in the cross, and become a theologian all over again.

A Theologian Is One Who Comprehends God through Suffering and the Cross

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard

Participation in the Body

Holy Thursday
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
April 13, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, the many will be one body, for the many partake of the one bread.

In the name of + Jesus.


Since the rediscovery of the Gospel in the Reformation, there has been a progressive attempt within the Christian Church to disembody the faith. Not that it was new at the time of the Reformation, though. There has always been a struggle between biblical theology and the philosophy most often associated with the Greek philosopher Plato, who divided all of existence into an ideal, or spiritual realm, and a real, or material realm. The goal of this philosophy was to escape the material (which was imperfect and corrupted by evil) and ascend into the spiritual (which was were everything good and true and beautiful existed).

Thus, the philosophical quest for holiness and communion with God must necessarily be a departure from the body. And in the history of Christianity this has happened in three ways: an attempt to sanctify the will by moralism; an attempt to sanctify the intellect by understanding; an attempt to sanctify the emotions by mysticism. It would take an entire book to deal with each of these individually, but the big take away is that any philosophical approach to communion with God reduces us human creatures to what goes on in between our ears. The body is at best an unnecessary compartment for the mind; at worst it’s a detrimental nuisance that must be escaped.

But the story of creation paints a much different picture. Every other creature is called into existence with a Word of God. God breathes out His Word and the bodies form, and in this sense, the creatures are said to have a nephesh, or a soul. But the first man is different. God takes time and care to first create a body out of the earth. He forms it and shapes it. Then He breathes into His nostrils the breath of life and he becomes a living nephesh. The woman, likewise, began as the body of Adam, and derived her soul from his. All other creatures in their own way can be called embodied souls, but only human creatures are ensouled bodies.

This becomes even more understated when you consider God’s plan of salvation. He doesn’t simply reveal a moral code, or provide a book of information out of heaven, or provide emotional, spiritual experiences. Although all of these are true, they are all secondary and dependent upon the Word of God become flesh. God embodies Himself. This is not the will of the flesh, St. John writes in the prologue to his Gospel. St. Paul calls it the foolishness of God that the wise can’t understand. And the epistle to the Hebrews says that the experience of Christ is what is common to man.

The fact that Christ is the incarnate, embodied Word of God, who was born and grew in wisdom and knowledge, who ate and slept, who rejoiced and mourned, who had actual hands that were pierced with nails and bled the same blood that pumps through our bodies is a testament to God’s love of the body. You are more than a brain on a stick.

And this has important implications for faith as well. Faith isn’t something that happens just between your ears. If faith is simply an intellectual exercise, or the discipline of the will, or the stimulation of the emotions, then the intellectually challenged and mentally disabled are excluded from salvation. However—and you may also know this from your experience—when the capacities of the mind are diminished, very often the heart is enlarged with love that is not conditioned. Some of my greatest joys in the pastoral office has been witnessing the faith of the disabled, which resides deep in the heart, in the gut, in the bones.

But even if you are of sound, developed, and fully exercised mind, if you reflect on your life you will realize that there is very little you do that is the result of rational decisions. Much of your life is simply bodily habit, which is conditioned by your loves. Unfortunately, most of the time, and by nature, your loves are disoriented and you love what you ought not. This is Paul’s point in his great chapter on love. If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have prophecies and I know all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith such as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:1-2). Love is what orients the mind and faith. And love resides in the body.


As heady as St. Paul’s epistles can be, as intellectually stimulating as his arguments and logic are, he also does not deny the bodily aspect of the faith. Communion with God is not a meeting of the minds, but a meeting of the bodies. It is this aspect of faith that St. Paul calls a koinonia. A participation. To the Corinthians he also wrote, The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, the many will be one body, for the many partake of the one bread.

Communion with God takes place precisely on the bodily level, and it happens when the cup is blessed and the bread is broken. It is the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the altar. The communion that happens there is a bodily participation. Not a picture, or a metaphor, or a symbol, but a real participation of your body with the body of Christ.

In our adoption training, we’ve had to spend a lot of time learning about attachment. Attachment is the recognition of the bodily nature of the relationship of parents to children, and that children learn to depend on their parents through bodily contact, not an intellectual, rational decision (adoptive parents start out at least nine months behind, which is why we need to give extra attention to it).
But where attachment grows less and less as children age and mature into more autonomous humans (though it never entirely goes away), the bodily attachment that happens in the Sacrament of the Altar is the opposite. Instead of becoming autonomous bodies, we are incorporated into the body of Christ. The Supper of Jesus means that the Church can never be a collection of individuals. We are all connected to each other. But just your little finger isn’t connected to your knee bone, except that both are connected to the common body, so also you are not connected to your fellow Christians, except by the common participation in the one body of Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is the necessary reorientation of your body and your love. St. Paul cannot write the great chapter on love until he has thoroughly taught on the Supper. This reorientation takes place in two directions, as the post-communion collect so simply extols: in faith toward God, and in fervent love for one another.
The only problem is that since this takes place on a level deeper than the mind, most people find the Sacrament to be of limited use, and prefer the intellectual stimulation of the sermon or Bible class (or maybe intellectual sedation, depending on the sermon). But just because you are not immediately aware of what’s happening doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Like much of your life, which happens apart from rational decision or intellectual engagement, the reorientation of the bodily aspect of faith that happens in the Supper is not something that you’re going to notice all the time.

And because of this, hunger for the Sacrament wanes. What should you do if you feel no hunger for the Sacrament? It just so happens that this was the last question that our newly confirmed youth so boldly answered on Sunday. What’s the first thing you do, guys? To such a person no better advice can be given than that, in the: first place, he should put his hand into his bosom, and feel whether he still have flesh and blood. Then he should by all means believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. The first thing you do is check to see if you still have a body. And if you still have a body, believe what the Scriptures say about it.
This hunger was revived in the Reformation. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the confessors write, “Among us many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. They do so after they have been first instructed, examined, and absolved” (Ap. XV.41). The rigorous instruction and catechesis of the children that was characteristic of the Lutheran churches bore the fruit of a love for the Supper. Can we still confess that, among us, many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day?
I think we can reclaim our Reformation heritage and rekindle a hunger for the Sacrament very easily indeed. I propose that we begin by simply offering the Sacrament to those who wish to receive it on non-communion Sundays after the service. This would be good and beneficial for our congregation because it takes nothing away, but adds immensely.

In our meditation this evening on the Sacrament, I hope that in addition to receiving some information about the Supper, you’ve also grown a bit in your love for it, to see it as a centerpiece of your life with Christ and our life together, because

The Lord’s Supper Is Your Bodily Participation in the Body of Christ

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard