Look Closer

Trinity 15
St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 9, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

At some point in school everyone learns some basic geometry. For instance, a triangle is an object with three sides. You can measure each side of a triangle, add it together, and get the perimeter. If you multiply the base by the height and divide by two, you get the area. And in high school you get to prove why this is true. And this sort of thing holds for all Euclidean geometry (Euclid was that Greek guy a long time ago who first put all of this into a system).

The only problem is that none of these shapes actually exist in the world. If I asked you to measure the perimeter of the little island in the middle of the pond at Camp Trinity, you’d have a much more difficult time than with a triangle. There are all these little nooks and crannies on the outside, and the closer you look at it, the more things you have to measure. This is the strange and wonderful world of fractal geometry, where some interesting and sometimes paradoxical things happen.

Take, for instance, the Koch snowflake. This is constructed by taking a regular triangle, and extending another triangle off of each side, so that it looks like the Star of David. Then you do the same thing for each of the sides of the new triangles, and then again and again. It starts to look like a snowflake. The paradox is that its area is finite, but its perimeter is infinitely long. So if you started tracing the figure at one corner, you’d never be able to trace all around it. The closer you look, the more you have to trace.

This is the curious thing that happens with Elijah, though not with a geometric figure. His prophetic ministry coincides with a severe famine. God first preserves him by a hidden brook and sends ravens with food for him. But after the brook dries up, he is sent to Zarephath to a widow and her son, who have one meal left. Listen again.

Then the LORD spoke to him: “Leave and go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there. I’ve ordered a widow there to feed you.”

He left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the gate of the town, a widow was gathering wood, and he called to her: “Please bring a little water in a jar for me to drink.” As she was going to get it, he called to her again: “Please bring me a bite of bread.” “As the LORD your God lives,” she answered, “I don’t have anything baked; only a handful of flour in the jar and a little oil in the jug. I’m gathering a few sticks. I will go and prepare something for myself and my boy so we may eat it and then die.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Elijah told her. “Go and do as you said, but first make me a little cake of it, bring it to me, and after that prepare something for yourself and your boy. The LORD, the God of Israel, says this: ‘The jar of flour will never get empty, and the jug will never lack oil until the LORD sends rain on the land.’ ”

She went and did what Elijah told her, and so she, he, and her family ate for a long while. The jar of flour never got empty, and the jug never lacked olive oil, as the LORD had promised by Elijah.

Now this is pretty cool. It’s not that new flour and oil suddenly blinked into existence, but that the closer she looked, the more there was.

It’s important to remember that God’s miraculous gift shouldn’t be limited to the abundance of flour and oil, but also to its scarcity. The final measure of flour and oil, which the woman had by natural means, is as much a gift of God as the multiplied flour and oil—and as much of a miracle. The fact that you have flour in your cupboard is a gift of God, and miraculous that it’s there. It’s also miraculous that flour does its thing when you make pancakes, or a rustic loaf of bread, or a béchamel sauce.

But not only do we tend to overlook the miraculous of the everyday, we also tend to consider God’s gifts insufficient at first glance. This is why stewardship is so poor in LCMS congregations. I heard this week a statistic that the average LCMS giver gives 2% of their income. That’s a bit shy of the 10% standard established in the Old Testament (although if you count up all of the tithes required of God’s people in the Old Testament, it works out to more like 30% of your income goes to the Church. Go home and do that calculation, and give thanks to God that you live in the New Testament dispensation of grace).

But stewardship of God’s gifts is not a zero-sum game. It’s not that in order to give more, you have to make do with less. The more the widow gave, the more she had. As Jesus said, “To the one who has, more will be given, but to the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” At first glance God’s gift may look insufficient, but the problem is not with the gift—it’s the way we look at the gift. And because we don’t look properly, we lose trust in God to provide. It’s a First Commandment problem—we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

1.

In fractal geometry, if you put the figure under the microscope, more and more opens up. But that’s not how the gift of God works. It doesn’t reveal its abundance under scientific investigation. The gift of God needs a different kind of investigation. But, if you take a closer look at God’s gift, you’ll find everything that you need.

The view of God’s gift demonstrated by the widow of Zarephath was the view of faith. And that’s not predominantly a vision of the eyes, but of the ears. The prophet, the man of God, spoke God’s Word: the flour and oil would never be empty. God would provide. And every time she looked, she found more.

An optimist sees the cup as half full; a pessimist sees it half empty. But faith sees that it’s all that you need to support this body and life. And then some. That’s the way God gives gifts. Good measure, shaken together, pressed down, and overflowing. He gives and gives and gives until He can’t give any more and then He gives some more. Our God is superabundantly generous with His grace.

Take a look at the Lord’s Supper. Just bread and wine. Kind of a plain meal, and certainly not enough to hold you through the rest of the day, much less till lunch. And if you were to put it under the microscope, you’d find tinier and tinier bits of bread or drops of wine. But, if you investigate according to your ears, you hear, “This is My body; this is My blood.” The closer you look, the more you have.

This also extends to stewardship. You have to think less Euclid and more fractal. God gives gifts that at first glance appear insufficient. “One hundred dollars isn’t enough, much less ninety. I can’t afford to give ten to God’s work.” But if you give ten, God will ensure that ninety is more than enough. This is not my word, folks. Thus says the Lord, “Your Father in heaven knows you need [these things]. Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, too. So, don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

The sufficiency of God’s gift finally rests in the cross. A plain man, suffering indignity and a slave’s death, is the sufficient means of reconciling the entirety of the human race to God. Jesus is not a zero-sum game. He doesn’t become less God or man to become more man or God; He is both. He doesn’t subtract from the Law to give the Gospel. He fulfills the Law and then gives the grace of forgiveness. He doesn’t just die so that we would live. He also lives so that we might live. At first glance, God’s gift looks insufficient, but take a closer look at God’s gift, and you’ll find everything you need. Because,

With God, the Closer You Look, the More You Have

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Fruit

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Galatians 5:16-24
September 2, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

In Paul’s language, the distinction between the flesh and the spirit is a distinction between the old life of sins—the Old Adam as our catechism calls it—and the new life in Christ born of the Holy Spirit—the new man. The spirit of man (the new life) is only possible with the gift and work of the Spirit of God; you don’t naturally come by the spiritual life.

The flesh and the spirit are diametrically opposed. I say, follow the Spirit, and you will not do what the flesh wants. What the flesh wants is against the Spirit, and what the Spirit wants is against the flesh, because they are opposed to each other and so keep you from doing what you want to do. But if the Spirit leads you, you are not under the Law.

There is an inversion that happens. As a Christian, you have no law that condemns you. Everything is lawful. But if you do the works that are against the law, you will end up right back under the law where you began. On the other hand, to be governed by the Spirit means that there is no law against anything you do, because

There Is No Law Against the Fruit of the Spirit

I.

Paul’s commentary on the works of the flesh is interesting. We’re accustomed to dividing the Law into Ten Commandments (even though the Bible never calls them that). But the Ten Commandments are a convenient summary of different ways to put the Law of love into action. They are not an exhaustive list of everything that is contrary to God’s will. Even though there are Ten Commandments, St. Paul gives 15 examples of works of the flesh; they are opposed to the Spirit.

 Now, you know the works of the flesh. They are: sexual sin, uncleanness, wild living, worshiping of idols, witchcraft, hate, wrangling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, quarreling, divisions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, those who do such things will have no share in God’s kingdom. Let’s take a closer look at these 15.

Sexual sin. From the Greek, porneia, from which we get our words fornication and pornography. Better understood as prostitution, derived from a word meaning “to sell.” Related to slavery. The rebuke of porneia is as much about raising the dignity of women as it is about morals. Women are coheirs of the Gospel of Christ, not a lower class of citizen to be bought or sold like property.

Uncleanness. Akatharsia. The opposite of cathartic. It refers to cultic impurity, which we’re going to cover extensively in our fall adult Bible study on Leviticus that begins next week. It’s the state of complete separation from God and thus the realm of death and destruction.

Wild living. License, in this context, likely sexual license.

Worshipping of idols. Eidololatria. Idolatry. Service of idols. In many cases the service to idols was a sexual service, cultic prostitution, connecting this work of the flesh to the previous three.

Witchcraft. Pharmakeia, from which we get our word “pharmacy.” It has the connotation of magic and sorcery, but also of poison. Hermann Sasse wrote an essay showing that the “pharmacy” of the ancient world was abortion by taking a poison that would kill a fetus in utero. You might see how this would be a necessity for temple prostitutes to continue their trade.

Hate. Hostility as an inward disposition. Against fellow man, but most often between man and God. Its opposite is filia, or “friendship.”

Wrangling. Strife, discord, contention. In pl., quarrels.

Jealousy. Zelos. In a good sense, zeal. In a bad sense, jealousy. A consuming passion for that which is not yours. Which brings us to:

Anger. Thumoi. Literally, passions; anger or wrath. Noun form of the verb used in prior verses. The flesh desires against the Spirit and the Spirit desires against the flesh.

Selfishness. Used in Aristotle to denote “a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means” (BAG, 309). Selfish ambition.

Quarreling. Aka, dissentions, division, disunity, contention. Party spirit.

Divisions. Haireseis, or, heresies; sectarianism. Irenaeus wrote Against the Heresies in the second century, and he was writing against gnostics who say that the body is evil, and that Jesus only appeared to be incarnate and suffer and die.

Envy. It speaks for itself.

Drunkenness. Methai. Related to ecstatic frenzy and mysticism. Prevents preparation for the Parousia, or Christ’s second coming. The world thinks the Gospel to be the invention of drunken men (see, Acts 2).

Carousing. Excessive feasting, revelry. Think Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Along with methai (drunkenness) related to the Dionysius cults. The opposite of the Lord’s Supper.

The works of the flesh are, at their heart, false, idolatrous worship. Such worship does not impart the Spirit of God.

II.

On the other hand is the fruit of the Spirit. When I was in elementary school, I had to memorize these. I’ll never forget them. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The works of the flesh are found throughout the worship of the ancient world. But there is nothing analogous to the fruit of the Spirit, because there is nothing analogous to Christian worship. It’s something completely new. And it depends on the crucifixion of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit grows from the tree of the cross.

The first distinction to recognize is that flesh produces works, but the Spirit produces fruit. Like a tree and its fruit, the qualities described here are spontaneous and natural, not forced under compulsion of punishment. Furthermore, they are conditions of the person rather than discreet works. These conditions govern every aspect of your (new) life. Let’s take a closer look.

Love. Agape. Of the three kinds of love the Greeks have a word for, agape is the most thoroughgoing. It’s unconditional, sacrificial love. It’s love that gives of self for the sake of the beloved. It’s the kind of love that drives you to the cross for the life of the world.

Joy. Chara. Deeper than a superficial happiness. Often used as a greeting and connected with persons.

Peace. On two axes. First, before God, there is nothing to fear for the sake of Christ. Peace is the first word He speaks to His disciples after He rises from the dead. He shows the marks of His crucifixion, and gives them the Absolution. That is peace with God. Second, peace between individuals. Harmony. Concord. Not just with fellow Christians, but especially with fellow Christians.

Patience. Makrothumia. If anger (thumia) is having a short temper, makrothumia, means being long suffering. It means not avenging wrongs done to you, or seeking to get even. It means giving God the time to act. This fruit is sorely lacking among God’s people in 21st Century America, where we are trained to get what we want when we want it. God will train us otherwise.

Kindness. Refusing to go on the attack. Kindness includes in writing and speech as much as it does in physical matters. Christians can speak so cruelly of others, but we are called to put kindness into practice. To be kind is to be meek and mild.

Goodness. Connected to righteousness and truth. It’s a general goodness of person and character. Such goodness does not come from doing good things. Rather, a person is made good by the Spirit, and being good, performs good works. Like a tree bearing fruit.

Faithfulness. Being faithful is being full of faith. Faith is not a work that you produce. It is a gift of the Spirit. He fills you with faith to believe the Word of God; and consequently, you become faithful person, holding fast to the confession of faith, such as is expressed in the Apostles’ Creed.

Gentleness. Its opposite, displayed in the Corinthian congregation, is disputatiousness, or arrogance. It means that you are quick to correct people whom you deem to be wrong, quick to get into arguments. This does not mean that Christians should not correct error, but they should do it with gentleness and respect. Because, after all, you might be the one who is erring.

Self-control. To have dominion over yourself. Self-control was a big part of Greek ethics—it’s what divided the nobility from the lower classes of human. But in the Bible, it is not self-control for the sake of being a better person, but for the sake of your neighbor.

Just as the Ten Commandments, or even Paul’s list of the works of the flesh, is not exhaustive of the ways to act outside of God’s will, so also the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit is not exhaustive of all the good that God gives by His Spirit, and which is manifest in the new life in Christ. For instance, the Samaritan leper in today’s Gospel came back to Jesus, rejoicing. Chara—joy; a fruit of the Spirit. But his joy also manifest itself in eucharistia—thanksgiving.

Fruit grows from trees, and so the fruit of the Spirit blossoms from the tree of the cross. There is no fruit, and there is no Spirit, if you are not firmly planted in the death of Jesus. “I am the vine;” says Jesus, “you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). And in the words, of St. Paul: If we belong to Christ Jesus, we have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Law & Gospel

Trinity 13
Galatians 3:15-22
August 26, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

One of the things that distinguishes us Lutherans from the variety of different confessions of the Christian faith is our focus on the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel. It’s a major part of our confessional heritage, and one of our spiritual fathers in the LCMS, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, wrote a book called The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.

But there is always a danger that your theology will become a cliché, and that often happens with Law & Gospel. Law & Gospel has the danger of turning into a mathematical formula, so that if you say first a bit of Law, and then follow it with a bit of Gospel, that you’ve made the proper distinction. But that’s not it at all. Law & Gospel isn’t a formula, but a way of reading God’s Word. This is Jesus’ response to the young lawyer: “What is written in the Law?” and, “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26). It’s the second question that people get hung up on. They give the Law priority over everything.

St. Paul has the very same issue in mind when he writes to the Galatians about the Law and the Promise (or, Gospel). And he makes a very interesting observation. The Law doesn’t come until quite late, relatively speaking, in the history of Israel. Therefore, he concludes that,

The Promise Has Priority over the Law

I.

The first part of Paul’s deduction comes from the history of Israel. It’s a human example, drawn from the affairs of household and society. Just as a person writes a will to direct his assets and last wishes—and the law merely serves to make sure the promises made in the will are enacted—so God’s will and testament was first given as a promise to Abraham. The Law—the Ten Commandments, the civil laws, and the ceremonial laws—did not come until much later. Thus, the Promise has temporal priority over the Law.

The Law was given to Moses, its mediator, when Israel—at that time a great nation—was delivered from slavery in Egypt, as they wandered in the wilderness, awaiting the delivery of the promised land. It wasn’t just the Ten Commandments. In fact, the Ten Commandments weren’t even the most significant of the laws given to Israel. There were also the civil laws that governed Israel as a people, and the ceremonial laws that governed their worship. It also included the institution of the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, which were required of every practicing Jew. There weren’t hard and fast divisions between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws, either. For instance, the ceremony for healing a leper was also part of restoring the sick to the social order of Israel.

But Israel had been a people long before the Law. They got their name from Israel, whose name was changed from Jacob. And he received the promise and blessing from his father Isaac (by some rather duplicitous means), who, in turn, received it from his father, Abraham. Abraham walked with God and spoke with Him face to face and was the first to receive the explicit blessing and promise that all nations would be blessed in his offspring.

The time between Abraham and the Law was over four centuries, which doesn’t quite hit you as it should in this account St. Paul gives. But think about what has happened since 1588 (430 years ago). Things were much different than they are now. God’s people were His people for all of that time (and even before, if you count back from Abraham) and they were His people without the Law! This is Paul’s argument:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his Descendant. He doesn’t say: “and to the descendants,” in the plural, but in the singular: “and to your Descendant, Who is Christ. Now, I say this: First God confirmed His covenant; and the Law, which came 430 years later, doesn’t set aside and cancel its promise. If we get the inheritance by the Law, we don’t get it by a promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why was the Law given? Not to make a people. Not to make believers. Not to make saints. The Law was given because God’s people were wicked. It was given because they didn’t believe. It was given because they grumbled, and rebelled, and broke faith, and chased idols. That’s the thing with sin—if you insist on doing it, God will turn you over to it. He’ll increase your sin. You know how this works, right? You put a child in front of a big red button and give them the commandment, “Don’t press the button,” what do they want to do more than anything else? Press the button. The Law is to show that sin is not an occasional misdeed, but the corruption of our entire nature.

St. Paul: Why, then, was the Law given? It was added to arouse transgressions until the Descendant would come to Whom the promise was made. And it was given through angels in the hands of a mediator. A mediator deals with more than one, but God is one.

The Law is so that no man, woman, or child would think he or she stands before God righteous. It was given to serve the promise. It was given to drive us to the Descendent, Jesus Christ. That promise came before the Law, and so the Promise has temporal priority over the Law.

II.

St. Paul uses the historical illustration to demonstrate something else about the relationship of the Law to the Promise. It’s not just that the Promise preceded the Law in time, but that is also has another kind of priority over the Law. As a matter of focus, a matter of importance, a matter of what is the greater good, the Promise also has priority. The Promise takes precedence over the Law.

This does not mean that the Law has no importance. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that the Law, written on stone, has a certain glory. He also calls it a ministry of death. Nevertheless, it had a glory that made Moses’s face shine with light. No classic text written by men has the ability to make its readers’ faces shine with light. But the Law does. It’s is God’s Law, and therefore it is good. But its goodness ought never to imply that it is in itself the end to which the Promise is the means. It’s not that the Promise leads us into the Law, even though the Promise comes first, and the Law 430 years later.

We shouldn’t look at the Law/Gospel (or Law/Promise) distinction as a line—on the left side you start at the Law and then move to the right to get to the Gospel (or the other way around, if you want to be an antinomian and start with the Gospel to get to the Law). The Law isn’t the opposite pole from the Promise; if it was, then the Law would be somehow opposed to God’s Promise. But St. Paul also writes, Is the Law, then, opposed to God’s promise? Never! If a law had been given that could make us alive, it certainly would have given us righteousness. But the Scripture has said that everything is a prisoner of sin, so that the promised blessings might be given to believers through faith in Jesus Christ.

This is the subtle art of distinguishing Law and Gospel. It’s Dr. Walther’s twenty-fifth and final thesis on the proper distinction between the two: “the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.” The Gospel, or the Promise, brackets the Law. It has priority, and it takes precedence. It has a glory, St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, that far surpasses the first glory, so that it’s as if the first glory—that of the Law—has no glory at all.

The glory of the Law is to give way to the glory of the Promise. Like St. John the Baptist, who had to decrease so that Jesus would increase, the Law points us to Christ as the greater glory. Jesus does not give way to Moses.

So, St. Paul teaches us that the Promise has the priority over the Law. This is shown in Israel’s history, because the Promise was given to Abraham 430 years before the Law was given. The Law was only to emphasize the nature of sin until the time when Jesus came as the fulfillment of the Promise. He is Abraham’s Descendent, through whom all nations are blessed. Thus, the Promise also takes precedence over the Law in our faith. The Law cannot give us the inheritance. Our inheritance comes from God’s will, and His will alone. Our inheritance comes from the Promise.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Keep Talking

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
Mark 7:31-37
September 11, 2011
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised and updated August 19, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

1.

            In 1994, Pink Floyd (minus Roger Waters) released a song on The Division Bell album called “Keep Talking.” After a bit of guitar introduction, the song takes a sample of physicist Stephan Hawking’s electronic voice saying, “For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk.”

Stephen Hawking, even though he was one of the most intelligent men ever to have lived, cannot place his faith in anything other than his own reason. He makes the brilliant observation that the ability to talk is what separates mankind from the animals, even though he attributes it to evolution. We, however, who place our faith in God’s revelation, know that this ability to speak is no accident from the universe, but a gift from God.

God creates by speaking. Let there be light, and there was light. Everything is on account God’s Word. But man He fashions in His own image. He takes more time. Of everything God creates, humanity alone is given the ability to speak, just as God speaks. Speaking is man’s dominion over creation; God brings the creatures to man, and the man speaks their names.

2.

            When sin invaded God’s creation, it corrupted the image of God that Adam and Eve enjoyed, and thus it also corrupted speech.

            Today’s Gospel brings to Jesus a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Unlike many of the other diseases that were brought before Jesus, this one isn’t particularly life-threatening. No one has ever died from deafness or the inability to speak. It does, though, carve out a gaping hole in what is unique about human nature. Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who is deaf and mute? It’s difficult, although many deaf are good-natured about it, since it’s part of their life.

            Sin manifests itself differently in each person, and it’s no surprise that in some people it affects speech. This particular man in the Gospel had no ability to speak, but other speech impediments simply hinder speech.

A good friend of mine has a stutter that he’s dealt with his whole life. He’s explained to me that often it’s because his mouth doesn’t move as quickly as his brain. If he speaks in rhythm, he can say what’s on his mind. By the way, I think this is one of the reasons why worship has historically been chanted. Chanting helps to connect the brain to words through tones and rhythm. I also find myself on occasion speeding through my own speech and chanting is a way for me to slow down and connect my brain to God’s Word.

Muteness and speech impediments are not the only ways that sin has corrupted speech. Even those who speak fluidly have a corrupted speech in what they say. St. James writes, “The tongue is a fire, a world of wrong! Set among the parts of our body, the tongue soils the whole body and enflames the course of life as it gets its fire from hell. A human being can tame and has tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures in the sea. But no one can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We praise the Lord and Father with our tongue and with it curse other people, who once were made like God. Praise and cursing come from the same mouth. We mustn’t do that, my fellow Christians.” (James 3:6-10).

Most faithful Christians do manage to avoid the gross, scandalous sins. But dear God! how we speak to one another. It’s as if we think we’ve done our job if we wrap our insults in platitudes or mask our hatred with politeness. But it is a thin veneer. You may have chanted on the playground when you were young, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But you don’t say that any more as an adult because you know that it’s not true. Words hurt more than sticks and stones and leave deeper scars. And we know this! Yet we continue to bless God at Church and then walk out these doors to curse others with our gossiping and griping at our barbershops and coffee shops, on our front porches and back alleys. The digital age has only made the problem worse. A recent study revealed that people are much less inhibited to speak evil when they are sitting behind a keyboard and an internet router. This is what fuels the Twitter mob.

Jesus said, “What comes into his mouth doesn’t make a person unclean, but what goes out of his mouth makes him unclean.”” (Matt 15:11). What comes from your mouth reveals what’s in your heart.

3.

            When the deaf-mute man meets Jesus, he meets much more than a man who can speak. The Son of God is also called the Word of God, and He has come to redeem us and our foul speech by speaking to us.

Jesus Restores Holy Speech

4.

            There are only a few places in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is recorded in His native language of Aramaic. Whenever it does happen, though, the evangelist is making sure that we focus on His words. “Taking him away from the crowd to be alone with him, He put His fingers into the man’s ears. He spit and touched his tongue and looked up to heaven and sighed. Then He said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” His ears were opened, his tongue was set free to speak, and he talked naturally.” (vv 33-35).

            It was one simple word, but that word had the power to release this poor man from his afflictions. Although, if you notice, it wasn’t just the Word that Jesus gives him, but also physical signs. Jesus’ way is the way of sacrament—bringing His Word to bear in a very earthy manner: a finger in his ears, spittle on his tongue.

            Though this man’s affliction is located in his ears and his mouth, Jesus doesn’t speak to those two members. He speaks to the whole person. “Be opened!” Not just your ears and your mouth, but your whole self. He speaks to your heart. Be opened!

            The words of Jesus cut through the man as a surgeon’s scalpel, removing the malignancy that originated in Adam’s sin. The corruption that had stopped his speech Jesus removes by speaking. This was his Absolution.

            Jesus’ Ephphatha is also a Word for you. He calls you to be opened, that is, to confess your sins before God, holding nothing back for your own attempts at self-justification. He places His Word and Spirit in your ears to daily drive you to repentance. But He also has a Word of Absolution. His forgiveness begins to restore the image of God in us—the image that will be fully restored in the world to come.

5.

Luther baptismal first baptismal rite after the Reformation got rolling included a ritual where the pastor would touch the infant’s ear and say, “Ephphatha.” This ritual was symbolic of what happens when Lord combines His Word with water. He restores His image and the ability to hear and speak rightly. Today, when Cora was touched with water and God’s Word, she also heard God’s “Ephphatha.”

Because God’s image is restored in the justified, we are also set free from corrupted speech. After He healed the deaf and mute man, Jesus ordered the people not to tell anyone. But the more He forbade them, the more widely they spread the news. They were dumbfounded. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the speechless speak.” (vv 36-37).

            When Jesus opens ears and mouths, He does so in order that they be used. The services of Matins and Vespers both begin with a verse from Psalm 51. “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will praise You.” (Ps 51:15).

            Jesus touches your ear with His Word and your tongue with His body and blood, and He does so to open your lips to declare His praise. And not only in the church, but in the barbershops and coffee shops, on your front porch and in the back alleys, on your social media feeds and your emails. Don’t say anything harmful but only what is good, so that you help where there’s a need and benefit those who hear it. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, by Whom you were sealed for the day when you will be set free. Get rid of all bitter feelings, temper, anger, yelling, slander, and every way of hurting one another. Be kind to one another and tenderhearted, and forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Eph 4:29-32).

Another recording of Stephan Hawking ends Pink Floyd’s song: “It doesn’t have to be like this. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.” I’m sure that neither Stephan Hawking nor David Gilmour had the Gospel of Jesus Christ in mind with these words. But it won’t always be like this because we have a God in Jesus Christ who keeps talking. And when He speaks, His words restore God’s image and holy speech.

In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

A Holy Lament

Trinity 10
Luke 19:41-48
August 5, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace! But now it’s hidden so that you can’t see it. The time will come for you when your enemies will put up ramparts against you and surround you and press against you from every side. They’ll dash you and your children to the ground and not leave one stone on another in you, because you didn’t know the time your help came to you.”

Jesus went into the temple and proceeded to drive out the men who were selling things there. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house should be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’ ”

Every day He was teaching in the temple. The ruling priests, the Bible scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying to kill Him, but they couldn’t find a way to do it, because the people were all eager to hear Him.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, Jesus wept. You might know that from Bible trivia games, but did you know that the context of Jesus weeping was the death of His friend Lazarus? And that this was not the only time that the Bible reports Jesus crying? Today’s Gospel is a story of Jesus weeping, not over a friend, but over a city. Jerusalem, to be specific. The city of kings, the city of the temple, the city of God.

This was Jesus’ last approach to Jerusalem. An angry elite awaited Him, who would stir up the crowds into a murderous rage and conspire to have Jesus executed. Three days later He would rise, but He wouldn’t go back to Jerusalem. This was it for Him. And He saw something that made Him break down and cry.

When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace! But now it’s hidden so that you can’t see it. The time will come for you when your enemies will put up ramparts against you and surround you and press against you from every side. They’ll dash you and your children to the ground and not leave one stone on another in you, because you didn’t know the time your help came to you.”

Why the lament? Much of pop Christianity thrives on keeping you in a perpetual state of happiness. If you are sad, or anxious, or trepidatious, then you’re not believing hard enough. As if faith was something you had control over! Like a volume knob on your radio! But here, Jesus isn’t lacking faith. It is precisely His faith that leads Him to lament. And he’s not alone. Read through the Psalms. There’s 150 of them, and some of those 150 are serious laments. And our prophet today, Jeremiah, is known as the Weeping Prophet. He also wrote a book of the Bible titled—wait for it—Lamentations.

That’s not to say that there is no such thing as a wicked lament, or a lament of despair because a person has lost faith. But holy people can offer holy laments. Like Jesus over Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus is the model for holy lamentation, as well as its answer.

Jerusalem was a powerful and cosmopolitan city, and the temple in its center was one of the ancient marvels of beauty and architecture. It was the location of God’s activity on earth. But long before Jesus set His first foot inside the temple, God’s glory had left. The temple had been destroyed and rebuilt, desecrated and rededicated. But on every occasion, it was because God’s people had forsaken proper worship, introduced their own customs, and refocused worship on the efforts of the people rather than on God’s gracious activity. Once again, the temple was filled with robbers, who sold the sacrifices of God to earn a wage. They had turned the free gift into an object that was for sale.

So Jesus knew it wouldn’t be long before this whole thing came crashing down. It didn’t take a prophet to see that. But what Jesus did predict was the nature and the complete desolation of this next fall of the temple. Children dashed to the ground, every stone toppled. History records the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., about 40 years after Jesus uttered His prediction. The historian Josephus gives a detailed report of all of the events surrounding Jerusalem’s destruction. Let’s say that Jesus is actually putting the horror of that time lightly. The siege of Jerusalem drove people to such hunger that they did revolting things. The account is long, but here’s how it ends:

Now at the time that the mighty, renowne, and holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed, 4,034 years had been numbered from the beginning of the world, and 823 years from the founding of the city of Rome, and forty since Christ’s suffering. And thus Jerusalem, the most renowned city in all the east, was brought to a miserable and piteous end. (Walther’s Hymnal, p. 386, translation by Matthew Carver).

The lament that Jesus utters is because Jerusalem is on the path of strife, enmity, and, finally, destruction. It hadn’t quite arrived, but the seeds were sown. We can see the same thing today, can we not? There is no corner of the world, no corner of the Church, where sin and its effects cannot be felt. But when we approach Jerusalem, either from the perspective of an earthly city, or of the church, we are faced with a crisis. A decision. We can either jump into the fray and join in the battle, or we can lament. There was a little-known group in Jerusalem called the Zealots. One of Jesus’ disciples was Simon the Zealot. These guys were angry with the Romans, and incited a rebellion 4 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. They thought they were fighting for God, even putting together a group of Jewish ninjas called the Sicarii, responsible for assassinating Romans and their sympathizers. It was their revolt, according to Josephus, that brought the hammer down from the Roman Empire.

1.

Now, it might seem that Jesus is going that way. Immediately following His lament, Luke reports Him going into the temple and driving out the sellers. It looks like a rebellion, but Jesus indicates that it’s for a different purpose altogether. “My house should be a house of prayer,” said He. And, Every day He was teaching in the temple. The cleansing of the temple wasn’t about inciting a rebellion, or meeting violence with violence. It wasn’t about evening the scales of justice and making things right. It was about setting the stage for the way of peace. And that was by prayer and God’s Word.

Contrast the cleansing of the temple with Peter’s bearing arms a few days later. When the mob comes to arrest Jesus, Peter pulls his sword and cuts Malchus’s ear off. But Jesus returns the sword to its sheath and Malchus’s ear to his head. This is not peace, but a sword.

Jesus’ lament outside of Jerusalem also shows us something else about a holy lament, which separates it from wicked or despairing laments. Even under His tears, there is joy. The book of Hebrews presents it like this: For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, thinking nothing of its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

Jesus’ lament was that Jerusalem was on the path to destruction, but His joy was that He was blazing the way of peace. That path, though, goes directly through the cross.

It was, in fact, the third day after enduring the cross that Jesus appeared before His disciples and delivered His peace. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. That is the path of peace. It goes through the pierced hands of Jesus. This is the joy that answers lamentation—the forgiveness of sins.

“If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace!” says Jesus. If only you knew the way of the cross. If only you knew the way of forgiveness. Then you would avoid this tragic destruction. These words were first said over Jerusalem, but they are also uttered over you today. If you only knew—Jesus makes it known. He shows His hands and side. He breathes His Spirit. He sends absolvers. He gives His body and sheds His blood. He washes in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.

So Jesus answers His own lament by going to the cross, and by bringing the cross to sinners. Jesus answers with peace. His is a holy lament, because

A Holy Lament Seeks the Cross, Where Lasting Peace Can Be Found

In the name of + Jesus.

Slaves to God

Trinity 7
Romans 6:19-23
July 15, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

I talk in a human way because you are naturally weak. But just as you once let uncleanness and wickedness use the parts of your body as slaves to do wrong, so now let righteousness use the parts of your body as slaves in order to live holy. When you were slaves of sin, you weren’t free to serve righteousness as your master. What was your advantage then in doing the things that make you blush now? For they end in death. But now that you’ve been made free from sin and have been made slaves of God, your advantage is that you live in a holy way and finally have everlasting life. The wages paid by sin is death, but the gift given freely by God in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting life.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

There are four conditions in which we can consider the human will—before the fall into sin; after the fall, but before conversion; after conversion; and in the resurrection and new creation. But since we can’t go back to Eden, and Genesis gives us precious little information about what life was like before sin, and since the resurrection is something we hope for, but has not yet been revealed, it is profitable for us only to speak of the the human will in the middle two conditions—the human will after the fall and before conversion, and after conversion. This is what St. Paul writes about in today’s Epistle.

And he pulls no punches. When you were slaves of sin, you weren’t free to serve righteousness as your master. What was your advantage then in doing the things that make you blush now? For they end in death. Sin isn’t just an occasional misdeed, a few little slip-ups here and there. Sin isn’t a minor, superficial flaw that can be buffed out with a little elbow grease. You were slaves to sin. The natural state of the human will since Adam’s fall into sin is complete and utter bondage. There is no such thing as a free will for a slave.

Now it’s at this point that we must make another distinction in addition to the four conditions, and that is of the human will in relation to what it is able to do. In things that are below it, the will has some measure of freedom. High schoolers are free to choose what college to go to. People can consider whether to accept a new job offer or not. You make decisions all the time. And you are free. There is no fatalistic, deterministic force pushing you to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes.

But at the same time, much of your conduct isn’t a result of your will, but of habit. Did you will yourself to brush your teeth this morning? Not likely. You probably ran on autopilot. It’s something you do almost by nature. There is a pre-conscious part of you that does things seemingly apart from your will.

All of this is to say that the powers of the will are not as far-reaching as we’d like to believe. Because we have the ability to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes does not mean that we have freedom to choose every single outcome of our lives. And this is the second part of this distinction. In spiritual matters, the human will is completely bound to sin, unable to make even the slightest move towards its own improvement, since Adam’s fall into sin.

Yet the illusion of freedom remains. People think that, because we have some measure of freedom in smaller things, then we must also have freedom in higher things, things that are above us. But the bondage of the will means that even when the natural person does good works, they are evil and utterly corrupted by sin. They are done for selfish gain, out of pride, at the expense of others.  There is no advantage in doing any of these things. They end in death. That’s the trajectory of the human will’s every move. Every time you exercise your will, you are taking one more step toward the grave.

And then the will ceases. Dead mean can’t make decisions, not even in thing below. They can’t choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes, they can’t choose to accept a new job, they can’t choose which college to attend. And they certainly can’t choose to life again. So, there need to be a change to the human will that doesn’t involve the human will at all. We need a will that is able to be done in heaven even as it is done on earth.

1.

But now that you’ve been made free from sin and have been made slaves of God, your advantage is that you live in a holy way and finally have everlasting life. The wages paid by sin is death, but the gift given freely by God in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting life. Now something has changed. You’ve been set free from your sin! But don’t mistake this freedom for an absolute freedom. You have been set free from sin and have been made slaves of God.

After conversion, the human will is bound to God’s will. In spiritual matters, it is God who wills and works salvation. This is the paradox. If there is salvation, it is completely God’s work, given as a gift. If there is condemnation, it is completely the work of the human will. Death is the wage, the earnings of sin. But life is the gift of Jesus Christ.

So, being united with the will of God, the human will also begins to change in the things in which it is capable of acting, in the lower things. But this is in very great weakness. This is on account of the sinful flesh, which still hangs around the neck.

So St. Paul begins this section, I talk in a human way because you are naturally weak. Actually, the better translation would be, “I am speaking to you in a human way, because of the weakness of the flesh. He’s writing to Christians, those who have been baptized, those who have the Holy Spirit, those who have been converted. The new man and the new will has begun in them. But he still has to remind them of the flesh, which is the term Paul uses not for the material stuff of the body, but for the corrupt nature of sin. The flesh is contrasted with the spirit in a person, which is born of the Holy Spirit.

So even with the new creation and renewed will, there is a battle between it and the desires of the flesh. This is the topic of St. Paul’s next chapter. The good that I would do, that I do not. The things I do are the things I don’t want to do. It’s a paradox, that a person can be saved from their sinful flesh, yet continue to go on sinning. The tension of flesh and spirit continues throughout this life until the flesh is put in the grave.

Death is the only thing that can put an end to the corrupt and sinful will. And death is what Jesus delivers. In the verses just prior to this, St. Paul writes his marvelous theology of baptism: For we know that whoever is baptized into Christ Jesus is baptized into His death. We were therefore buried together with him, through baptism, into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we would in this way also walk in a new life.

Baptism is the death of the old will and the birth of the new. It is liberation from slavery to sin, and a new bond to God in Christ. But, as we learn in the Small Catechism, it is a daily death to sin and a daily rising again to new life. And this happens through confession and absolution. As the Large Catechism says, confession and absolution is simply a return to baptism, a remembrance of baptism, a renewal of baptism.

Renewal isn’t a once and done event. It is ongoing, day by day. Death and resurrection. Old will giving way to the new. Flesh giving way to spirit.

You were once a slave to sin, but now you are a slave to God. This is more than a metaphor. Sin has a price—the wages of sin is death. But you did not have to pay it. Jesus shed the blood that is more precious than silver or gold, which purchases you from your captor. You are not your own, you were bought for a price. You are God’s own special possession.

Jesus Paid the Wages of Your Sin, and Gives You the Gift of Life

 

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

He Must Increase

Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2018
John 3:25-30
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Christmas is only six months away! In six months, we’ll be getting ready for the children’s Christmas service, and putting the Christmas Eve dinner in the oven, and wrapping all the last-minute gifts. Only six months; doesn’t seem like that long, right? Except that that also means that every other day of the year is closer to Christmas than today. Today is the farthest from Christmas that you can get. But, there’s a little Christmas feel today in the service. It’s the celebration of the Nativity (or birth) of St. John the Baptist. And, it makes perfect sense; the cousin of our Lord was six months older than Him, so celebrating his birthday on June 24 is only fitting.

You just heard the story of John’s birth, maybe for the first time, or maybe for the umpteenth time. Today, though, I’d like to focus on something that comes a little later in John’s story:

Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:25-30).

2.

The dispute was about purification, which is to be expected if you’re baptizing with water. The Jews had their rites of purification—not only those prescribed in the Levitical law, but also additional laws in the Jewish commentaries on the Law. And John was in the wilderness baptizing with water for repentance. A rite of purification.

And then we find out that Jesus is baptizing, too, and more successfully at that. (Actually, we find out in a few paragraphs that Jesus never baptized anyone; His disciples did all of the baptizing. The people were mistaken. But that’s a different sermon).

But then, John says something peculiar. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” What appears obvious—that Jesus takes over what John is doing—is actually inverted. John, who is Jesus’ senior by six months, is implying that Jesus is the one behind all of the baptisms. “I am not the Christ,” John confessed. “I have been sent before Him.” Six months before the Nativity of Our Lord is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. But though he comes before Jesus, Jesus is the one who ranks above him, because He was before Him. Even though John was born first, Jesus predates Him. This would be impossible, except that Jesus is more than He appears on the surface.

When a man gets married, he often chooses someone close to him—a brother, a friend, maybe a cousin—to be his best man. He’s the one who holds the rings, pays the honoraria, makes sure everything goes smoothly. John says that he was chosen to be the best man, to stand at Jesus side as He prepares for His marriage to His bride, the Church. Another very important job for the best man—in fact, his only real job—is to be a witness. The groom doesn’t sign the marriage certificate; the best man does. He listen to the vow spoken by the groom and puts his name on the paper to say, “Yes, this word is true.” (Maids of honor do the same for the bride).

And this is John’s task. He is a prophet, to be sure, but his main task is to listen. That’s what got his father into trouble—he didn’t listen to God’s Word spoken by the angel, and lost his ability to speak. John’s task wasn’t to invent a new doctrine, but simply to say what had been given him to say. He is a witness. He is a martyr.

And so, when John’s disciples are getting a little antsy that Jesus is starting to gain traction, John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jesus himself says that no man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. But just as the days are beginning to get shorter, John’s ministry must decrease to make room for the groom.

1.

When Zechariah regained his voice, he sang a prophecy of John. We have it in the last part of the Benedictus, which is a canticle we sometimes sing with Matins. It’s on p. 38 of The Lutheran Hymnal:

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest,
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto His people
by the remission of their sins,

Through the tender mercy of our God
whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

This little verse is directed at the infant John, but Zechariah quickly switches to the work of Jesus. He is the one who gives knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins. He is the one who embodies the tender mercy of God. He is the Dayspring who rises upon us. He is the one who enlightens those who sit in the darkness of the shadow of death. He is the one who guides our feet into the way of peace. John goes before the face of Jesus to prepare His way, but the show is all about Jesus.

That verb “increase” seems to be an intransitive verb. In other words, the action of increasing isn’t transferred to anything else. Jesus must get bigger, Jesus must become more prominent, Jesus must become more important. That is true. But I think there’s also a little bit of transitivity to John’s statement as well. An transitive verb transfers the action to an object. Like when you tell the person riding shotgun, “Please increase the volume.” It means, “Make the volume more.” In this sense, Jesus also increases the ministry of John.

John came in the wilderness preaching repentance and administering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus had completed His passion and resurrection, He gave a new, different baptism than that of John. But it’s not completely different. It’s increased. This one goes to eleven. John’s baptism was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; Jesus’ baptism is all that, and a baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a washing of regeneration and renewal. It is a baptism that saves. Jesus must increase, and He must increase John’s ministry. This is the New Testament. Everything that came before the cross of Jesus is a shadow of the reality that comes after.

The lesson for you is that, like John, you must decrease. Your desires, your way of thinking, your way of living. These are, by nature, contrary to God’s desires, God’s way of thinking, God’s way of living. You must decrease. That’s where repentance begins. But it’s when you are nothing that you can be raised up. This is the continuation of repentance. Faith is the increase of Jesus in your heart, in your mind, in your life. This is the goal of John’s ministry, and the goal of Jesus’ ministry. You must decrease,

Jesus must Increase

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Feasting with Wisdom

Second Sunday after Trinity
June 10, 2018
Proverbs 9:1-10
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

1Wisdom has built her house.
   She has carved out her seven pillars.
2 She has butchered her meat, mixed her wine,
   and spread her table.
3 She has sent away her maids
   and calls from the highest spots in the city:
4 “If you’re untaught, turn in here.”
   If you don’t have understanding, she tells you,
5 “Come, eat my bread,
   and drink the wine I mix.
6 Leave ignorant people and begin to live;
   walk the road that leads to understanding.”
7 If you correct a scoffer, you get insulted.
   If you criticize a wicked person, you get hurt.
8 Don’t correct a scoffer or he will hate you;
   correct a wise person and he will love you.
9 Give advice to a wise person and he’ll be wiser still.
   Teach a righteous man and he will learn more.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
   knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

In the name of + Jesus

2.

There is a figure of speech called anthropomorphism. It’s when non-human things are given human attributes. For instance, the animals in Animal Farm are anthropomorphic, because they speak and hold meetings and things of that nature, and Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy are both anthropomorphic characters—a raccoon and a tree that function as humans. (Anthropos means “man,” or, “human” in Greek). But inanimate things can also be anthropomorphic, too. You can say that the fingers of the Mississippi River reach down into the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi Delta.

Anthropomorphism can also be used to speak of God. We use this figure of speech every week when we confess that Jesus ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. God is spirit, so He doesn’t literally have a right hand like each of you have. Rather, it’s to indicate the place of favor and authority. Similarly, we use language like “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” but God doesn’t have a mouth filled with teeth and surrounded with a beard, no matter what Michelangelo may have painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The first verses of Proverbs 9 looks to be an anthropomorphism, attributing to wisdom the activities of building a house, preparing a feast, inviting guests. But this wisdom literature goes beyond an anthropomorphic figure of speech. Wisdom here is not an inanimate object, or an idea, with human attributes ascribed to it. Rather, Wisdom—capital W—is a name for God. This is Wisdom incarnate, God incarnate. Jesus Christ. These proverbs are simply another way of telling the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel.

Parabolically in the Gospel, and proverbially in the Old Testament, God is telling us that in Christ He is setting up a household, preparing a feast, and giving us the invitation to join Him in fellowship. But the wisdom of Wisdom incarnate is not like the wisdom of the world.

Who gets the invitation? It’s not the rich, connected, well-to-do. In the parable, it’s the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. And the vagabonds that live out on the fringes. The “respectable” citizens have all rejected the invitation because, they can set a feast on their own, thank you very much.

And, similarly, when Wisdom prepares her feast, it’s not the wise who get the invitation. Wisdom has built her house. She has carved out her seven pillars. She has butchered her meat, mixed her wine, and spread her table. She has sent away her maids and calls from the highest spots in the city: “If you’re untaught, turn in here.”       If you don’t have understanding, she tells you, “Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine I mix. Leave ignorant people and begin to live; walk the road that leads to understanding.”

1.

There is some more proverbial wisdom that falls out of the nature of Wisdom incarnate. If you correct a scoffer, you get insulted. If you criticize a wicked person, you get hurt. Don’t correct a scoffer or he will hate you; correct a wise person and he will love you. Give advice to a wise person and he’ll be wiser still. Teach a righteous man and he will learn more.

There is some real wisdom here. Practical wisdom. If you try to correct a fool, who is committed to his foolishness, how will he react? He will insult you. He will try to hurt you. Not physically, usually, but he’ll try to hurt your reputation. That’s what an ad hominem fallacy is. It means, “against the person.” Fools who have no ground on which to stand must resort to insults and injury to reputation in order to win their argument. An ad hominem fallacy goes something like this.

Fool: “Abortion should be a woman’s choice, so she can have full reproductive equality.”

You: “Abortion takes the life of a child, even though it’s in its earliest stages of development. Abortion is not about choice, because the child never gets a choice.”

Fool: “You’re a Christian, and Christians have slaughtered thousands in the name of their religion, and so you can’t say anything about abortion.”

Notice how the fool does not engage in the argument, but tries to win by insult and injury. The fool must discredit his corrector because his position is foolish. So, if you’re wise, you won’t even engage in correcting a fool. It’s frivolous and self-defeating. You can’t convince someone who is unashamedly and uncritically committed to their own foolish errors.

The proverb puts you in the place of corrector, but there’s also the obverse, where you are the one being corrected. Here’s something for your self-examination: how do you react when you’re being corrected? Is your immediate reaction to lash out with an insult, to tell your corrector how he or she is wrong, to try to discredit your opponent? Do you come to hate when people correct you? Or do you love it? Don’t correct a scoffer or he will hate you; correct a wise person and he will love you.

Wise people welcome correction. It’s how you learn. Give advice to a wise person and he’ll be wiser still. Teach a righteous man and he will learn more. Even if your corrector is not completely right (and no corrector is completely right, even if it’s you doing the correcting), there is still an opportunity to learn and grow. Because very few correctors are also completely wrong. This is something I’ve come to appreciate in recent years, how to learn from people who are wrong.

Fools become more foolish, but wise become wiser still. But the question still remains: how do you become wise in the first place? All of us are more or less foolish, and we react badly to correction. Where does wisdom begin? The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Imagine the poor, crippled, blind, and lame coming up to the king’s feast. Imagine the vagabonds knocking on that door. Is there not a little fear? Imagine the novice disciple sitting at the feet of the master philosopher for the first time. Is there not a little fear? Fear here corresponds to humility. This is the way to approach God. And when you sit at the feast prepared by Wisdom, you gain access to a wisdom that exceeds all wisdom, a knowledge that exceeds all knowledge, and understanding that exceeds all understanding. You come to know the Lord and the Holy One in and through Jesus Christ. And the fear evaporates into wisdom of your own. Because,

Wisdom Is the End of the Fear of the Lord

In the name of + Jesus

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Love One Another

First Sunday after Trinity
1 John 4:16-21
June 3, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

16And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is Love, and if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you. 17His love has accomplished what He wants when we can look ahead confidently to the day of judgment because we are what He is in this world. 18Such love isn’t terrified, but the finest love throws out terror. We are terrified by punishment, and if we’re terrified, our love isn’t at its best.

19We love because He first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he’s a liar. If anyone doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, he can’t love God Whom he hasn’t seen. 21And this is the order He gave us: If you love God, love your brother.

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

There is a tradition that as St. John the Apostle and Evangelist neared the end of his life on earth he would repeat the phrase over and over again, “Little children, love one another.” This phrase is the entire message of John distilled down to one sentence. In fact, it’s the entire Gospel distilled down to its essence. Little children, love one another.

The message of love often gets drowned out in our Lutheran circles, with our emphasis on faith, justification, forgiveness, and the forensic declaration of the righteousness of God. But love is not excluded in this way of speaking. In fact, St. Paul, the great theologian of justification, is also the author of the great chapter on love to the Corinthians.

If I speak the languages of men and of angels but don’t have any love, I’ve become a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. Even if I speak God’s Word and know every kind of hidden truth and have every kind of knowledge, even if I have all the faith to move mountains but don’t have any love, I’m nothing. Even if I give away all I have to feed the hungry and give up my body but only to boast and don’t have any love, it doesn’t help me…And now these three, faith, hope, and love, go on, but the most important of these is love (1 Cor 13:1-3, 13). So faith doesn’t exclude love, rather, love includes faith.

Love isn’t John’s invention. It comes right from the mouth of the Savior. And this is the order He gave us: If you love God, love your brother. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives this command in the upper room on the night in which He is betrayed. This love is exemplified in Jesus washing His disciples’ feet; the Master serving the students, the Lord serving the followers, the greater serving the lesser. “Greater love has no one that this,” said Jesus, “that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus lays down His life to justify sinners as the personification of love.

And this love with which Christ has loved us is what shapes our love. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he’s a liar. If anyone doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, he can’t love God Whom he hasn’t seen. God has loved us to the point of laying down His life for us, and we say we love God. But we’re also skilled in the subtle art of being a liar without uttering any lies. Because our love is imperfect; it’s incomplete. We find it terribly easy to love the lovable, but the command of Jesus is a call to love the unlovable.

2.

A wise philosopher once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We hate because we fear. And we fear a lot of things. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct correspondence. You might hate snakes because you’re afraid of them, but you might hate your brother because you’re afraid of something completely unrelated.

What are your fears? Maybe you’re thinking about spiders or heights or clowns or the number 13. But those are really superficial fears. The fear that is antithetical to love is something that runs a bit deeper. It’s a more existential fear. Angst. Anxiety. Perhaps you can’t quite put it into words. But you’re absolutely sure that you don’t want your kids exposed to it.

Fear creeps in and sows the seeds of hatred. Fear and love cannot coexist. With one exception. Every explanation to the commandments in the Small Catechism begins, “We should fear and love God…” It always seemed strange to me that we should fear God, if God is love. I remember one of my grade school teachers said that this fear really means respect. But I think if Martin Luther (following the Bible) would have wanted us to respect God, he would have written “respect.” Fear means fear. But why should we fear God?

We are terrified by punishment, and if we’re terrified, our love isn’t at its best. Fear has to do with punishment. And punishment is a function of the Law. God commands us to live and act in a certain way—be it in relation to Him, to our parents, to our spouse, to our other neighbors. And if we fail to do what God expects us to do, there is the threat of punishment. So you should fear God, because He is the One who has the authority and the power to destroy both body and soul in hell.

But what do you do with the command from the mouth of Jesus to love one another? If you don’t love, then you’ll be punished, which creates fear, which is incompatible with love. It’s a self-defeating command.

But all the commandments also enjoin us to love God. How is it possible to love when the threat of punishment looms? This is not possible with an imperfect love, an incomplete love. Love must be perfected. His love has accomplished what He wants when we can look ahead confidently to the day of judgment because we are what He is in this world. Such love isn’t terrified, but the finest love throws out terror.

Perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in love. That’s why it’s impossible to love God and hate your brother. There’s no room for hate because there’s no room for fear if love is perfected. The seed of hate is never allowed to take root if love is complete.

1.

So with a perfect love, we can be confident of the judgment, because we know that the love of Christ was to suffer the punishment in our place. There has been no greater love that He who laid down His life for His enemies in order to make them His friends. This is the love of Christ, and that love has an effect on us.

I recently read a book called You Are What You Love. The point isn’t that if you love chocolate cake, you literally turn into chocolate cake. Rather, when you love something, you’re all about it. You pursue it as a goal. But in turn, your loves shape who you are. They define you. I once saw a shirt that said, “Running is life.” I wouldn’t wear that shirt because I don’t love running. I only do it if there’s a bear chasing me.

St. John says that in the world we are as He is. This is not because of anything that we have done, but because Jesus has loved us with an unrelenting love, such that He became us, that is, He became man, in order to pursue us to the depths of hell, which He suffered on the cross. He loved the unlovable and suffered crucifixion because of it.

And in turn, His love creates a new love. Sometimes it works out that way. If you experience love from someone else, you begin to experience love in return. We are as He is in the world. The love of God in Christ fills in all of the gaps where our love is incomplete. And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is Love, and if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you.

Love Is Perfected by the Love of God for Us In Christ

Little children, love one another.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

 

While We Own the Mystery

Holy Trinity
May 27, 2018
Romans 11:33-36
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who gave a gift to Him and he will be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

2.

There is a German saying, attributed to Martin Luther (although it likely belongs to the apocryphal sayings of Luther), that goes like this: Wenn es zur Theologie kommt, eine gewiße Bescheidenheit gehört dazu; “When it comes to theology, a certain humility is called for.” (I’m taking my German qualifier exam in a couple weeks, so I need the practice). What this saying get to is that there is a temptation once you learn a little bit of theology, to think that you have all the answers, to be so certain and sure that you are right, that you have no qualms about telling everyone else about how wrong they are. This is something of a plague for first-year seminarians, who dig deeper into theology than they ever have before, and mistakenly think that after reading a couple of books that they have all the right answers. Some of us shake off that notion, but it’s not easy to do. After learning a little bit of theology, it is still necessary to be trained in the school of experience by the Holy Spirit, which often involves large doses of humility.

The same is true of lay men and women. When it comes to theology, there is a certain superiority that manifests itself. But while you may have one or two answers, you definitely don’t have them all. This quest for certainty originates more in modern philosophical and scientific pursuits, which seek to discover all the secrets of the universe, than in the faith of Jesus Christ. Trust the LORD with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding, goes the Proverb (3:5).

In fact, sometimes answers are not even the most important part of theology. More important is to be able to ask the right questions. Because there is no right answer to a wrong question. Our questions get us in trouble, because we question where we ought not.

Today, let us take a cue from St. Paul, the leading theologian of the Christian Church, and his letter to the Romans, which exceeds entire libraries of theology written since then in its presentation of the faith. After exploring the topics of sin, righteousness, faith, good works, baptism, new life in Christ, and predestination, he simply has to stop and marvel at what he doesn’t know.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who gave a gift to Him and he will be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

When it comes to theology, a certain humility is called for. You have to know when to stop. You have to know when you cannot answer any further. You simply must exclaim that God’s judgments and ways are so far above our own, that that no one is able to mine the knowledge of God to its depths. You have to admit that you cannot know the mind of the Lord, you cannot be His counselor. There is a time to open your mouth and speak, but it is just as important to be able to recognize when you should shut your mouth and be silent. The Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “There is an appointed time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to talk” (Eccl 3:1a; 7b).

1.

We just confessed the Athanasian Creed, one of the three ecumenical (or, universal) creeds of the Christian Church. Its Trinitarian theology is unmatched. In fact, it is my opinion that the Athanasian Creed is the full extent of what we in our limited capabilities are able to say concerning the Trinity; to say more is to land in heresy. And the thing about the Athanasian Creed is that you probably understand the Trinity as little after you say it as you did before you say it. I also think that’s part of the point. The Trinity is a mystery. Let’s keep it a mystery, and confess what God gives us to confess in His name, the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Holy Father, Holy Son, / Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; / Though in essence only one, / Undivided God we claim Thee / And, adoring, bend the knee / While we own the mystery.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. Hey, that sounds awfully Trinitarian, doesn’t it? I think I’ll shut my mouth now.

To God Be Glory Forever

 

Amen.
Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA