Monday, September 29, 2014

God has taken a single small human body, appears to make it stand alone against the Devil and the World, and tells it "DO NOT BE AFRAID."


And he said, "Don't be afraid! For greater are those who are with us, than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed, "Oh LORD please open his eyes that he may see." And so the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16-17

Scripture heartens us many times with the words, “don’t be afraid.” It tells us that the only thing we should fear is God Himself, but for Christians who have conquered the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb it is a holy fear; one that attracts rather than repels, one that leads us to love and to trust in God above all things; to call upon Him in the day of trouble, and then to rest peacefully knowing that He will deliver us. This is the faith that Elisha possessed.

But if Scripture admonishes us so often not to be afraid there must be a reason, there must be many things that frighten us and fill us with anxiety. For Elisha it was a battalion of Syrian soldiers armed to the teeth. They wanted Elisha dead or alive because he had such a powerful gift of prophecy that he perceived every Syrian battle plan in advance, and told it to the king of Israel, so that the Syrians were always routed. When they discovered that Elisha was Israel’s secret weapon they sent their best troops to silence him. They surrounded the city of Dothan where he was staying, and when Elisha’s servant saw the hoard of enemy troops he trembled with fear, but Elisha was worried not at all.

We too are surrounded by the ever present threats of sin, death and the devil. We know them well but we aren’t always aware of the different forms they take. Satan, for example, rarely shows up in a devil costume. In fact St. Paul warns us that when it suits his purposes, he can appear to us as an angel of light, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. Luther teaches us in his famous hymn “on earth is not his equal.” He reminds us here that Satan is smarter and stronger than we are, and that he has numerous cohorts to assist him in his wicked ways. Many of them are found inside the church itself. This is very perverse, but is the case none-the-less. Rather than preach Christ crucified; rather than exalt the Word and the Sacraments which transmit the remission of sins to us, these “synagogues of satan” justify sin, and discount Christ until He is nothing more than a nice person who teaches others how to be nice. But Jesus did not bless little children, or warn away any who would harm them, or provide Celestial Warriors to watch over them because He is nice, but because He is God, because He is love, and because He is, as we sing in hymn (The Lutheran Hymnal) 351, “all compassion.” The devil has his people outside the church too. On the street they deal drugs, on the internet they dispense pornography, in finance they advocate greed and in entertainment they promote godlessness.

Sin is also our constant enemy. Though our slate is clean before God by faith in Christ, we still have Flesh which produces a never-ending stream of malicious thoughts, words and deeds. These are as offensive to God as they are harmful to our neighbor, so we must never cease our struggle against them, but because we have this millstone hanging around our necks we should be all the more scrupulous, even fanatical, about our attendance at God’s House where our vices are absolved by the Word and dissolved by the Sacrament.

And there is death; it too makes us afraid. Not only the final nail in the coffin, but all the tacks along the way: illness, aging, depression, addiction, poverty, crime, continual wars, endless disputes and disagreements and the like.

What could Elisha possibly have known when he says to his young aid: don’t be afraid? Through the eyes of faith he saw what his servant could not: a vast army of horses with chariots of fire that had come to his aid, greater in number and superior in power than the army that surrounded him. It was no mortal army that God sent to protect his prophet, dear Christians, quite the contrary. The Lord of Armies sends warrior angels who are all-business, and who never fail to protect us from the otherwise unbeatable foe.  It is by their tireless aid that God fulfills His promise to, “defend us against all danger and guard and protect us from all evil.”

Now chances are slim that we will ever see them with our own eyes, but what our eyes don’t see, our ears have been opened to hear, and our hearts taught to believe, so that under all circumstances we too can confess: greater are those who are with us, than those who are with them; or in the words of St. Paul: if God be for us, who can be against us? Consider too the many potent weapons we have at our disposal for the conduct of spiritual warfare. First we have Jesus who died and rose again in order to destroy the works of the devil to win the victory over sin for us, and to defeat the “final enemy,” death. We have the Sword of the Spirit which can fell the devil with one little word. We have 122 years of continual grace at Christ Lutheran Church, which since 1889 has provided new birth to the Lord’s little ones by the washing of regeneration; pardoned the sins of the penitent; filled the hungry with Good Things and conveyed to us every spiritual blessing in Christ. We have pastors and fellow Christians, singers and musicians, feasts and holy days, a rich fare of lessons repeated every year, dozens of prayers and hundreds of hymns to bless us and keep us at all times, and as if all this were not enough, every Christian, adult and child alike, has his own personal guardian angel, who is fully-armed and fully-prepared to visit wrath of God on any who would harm us, mislead us or tempt us, the Lord’s little ones, into sin.

Without doubt temptation must come, and there are many enemies who surround us, but whatever the opponent be we can always rest confident in these words: don’t be afraid for greater are they that are with us than they that are against us. Amen
~ Rev.Dean Kavouras

Thursday, September 25, 2014

As hard as life would be without any of our five senses, it is worse to be spiritually deaf and mute


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a
work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties
under the terms of
Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
And looking up into heaven Jesus sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha" that is, Be opened! And immediately his ears were opened, and his tongue untied, and he spoke plainly. Mark 8:34

The incarnate Son of God performed a great and mighty wonder that day to deliver a man who was in serious trouble. Life in this fallen world is difficult enough, but to try and survive it without the gifts of speech or hearing makes things that much more complex. Yet nothing is too difficult for Jesus! With His eyes He looked up to heaven from where all His authority came. With His breath He sighed at what the devil had perpetrated in His Father’s world, and at the price He would pay to redeem it. With the double edged sword of His mouth He commanded what was wrong to be made right, and by applying a bit of His own saliva to the tongue of the mute man, He untied it so that He spoke plainly. It was a wonder to behold.

Before we go too far, there is something we should know: miracles of this type no longer happen. Your Pentecostal neighbor doesn’t like to hear such talk, neither does the little Pentecostal that dwells in each of us, but the kind of miracles that Jesus did no longer take place. Other and greater ones do, but they are spiritual in nature and have mediate causes that God works out over time, so that what the Scripture says might be fulfilled that, “All things work together, for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” We are those people!

A careful reading of Scripture teaches us that there were three periods of supernatural wonders. Moses and his protégé Joshua performed Christ-like miracles at the inauguration of the Law. Elijah and his protégé Elisha did the same to inaugurate the prophetic era, and in the fullness of time the Son of God, who fulfilled both the Law and the Prophets, did the same but in far greater measure; and He gave the power to the disciples as well. However, after their death such wonders suddenly disappear. There will be one more period of miracles, however. Jesus warns us that as the End draws near, “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if it were possible, even the elect.” (Mt. 24:24) So armed with the Lord’s own warning, let us apply ourselves to the miracles that the church performs today.

The lesson we learn from this miracle is that we are all, by nature, spiritually deaf. We are unable to hear the counsel of God or to make sense of its wisdom. This is our default condition inherited from Adam, and unless healed by our Lord Jesus Christ a person lives his whole life this way, with ears open to every mind-numbing voice there is, every absurd opinion – of which there are so dreadfully many – but deaf to the one, holy voice that instructs us in the way of Peace, the way of Joy and the way of Indestructible Life. By a miracle far superior to opening the ears of the deaf (even science can do that), our Lord unplugs the ears of our hearts so that we can hear the most beautiful sounds there are: God’s word of love, hope, encouragement and guidance, words which make us alive, empower us to be His people, and to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd who calls us to follow Him to the place He has prepared for us. He opens our ears not just to hear the words, but also to believe them in the core of our being, so that the old nature is daily put to death and we can declare with S. Paul: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

As He opens our hearts to believe the words, He also opens our mouths to confess them. Like the man in today’s gospel we are not only spiritually deaf but spiritually mute. We have the power to use our tongues to spout every thoughtless, illogical and irrational opinion under the sun; every imaginable curse; to confess the world’s creeds and sing its deadly liturgy; to destroy our spouses, and to annihilate our children without ever lifting a finger. S. James knew what he was talking about when he said that the tongue is like a flame that sets the whole world on fire, but unless Jesus first unties our tongue we are unable to confess His holy name and be saved. Unless the Great Physician first performs the spiritual version of this miracle on the little beast within, we are unable to do what the mute man did: to sing God’s praises aright; and to use our tongues to worship Him with our prayers, our praise and our giving of Eucharistic thanks.

S. Mark uses an interesting word when he records the results of our Lord’s miracle. He says that the man’s tongue was untied and that he spoke “orthos” which is the first half of the word ortho-dox, which means: right praise. The church must always seek to be orthodox, not by imitating the Christian denomination that goes by that name necessarily, but by always praising God aright, always believing the true faith, and always confessing it in our worship. While it’s true that faith informs worship, it is equally as true that worship informs faith. Thus false worship leads to false faith, weak worship to weak faith, and no worship to no faith.

When children get to be about nine or ten months old we begin to speak to them with the expectation that they will repeat our words back to us. We tell them: say mama, say dada, and one day, lo and behold, they do, and the gift of speech is born. This is how it is with the holy faith we profess. We hear God’s word with ears opened by Jesus, we believe them with our hearts, we confess them with our lips, and now the fruits of faith proceed. By the power of God we can now control our tongues. We can think before we speak. We can follow the advice of S. James who says: be slow to speak and quick to listen. Then we can utilize our redeemed tongues to receive the Holy Sacrament, to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and to sing God’s praises, now in the earthly temple, then in the heavenly one. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is it too much to give God our best one day a week?


But when Simon Peter saw it he fell at Jesus' knees and said, “depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord!" Luke 5:8

In today’s epistle lesson the “fisher of men” admonishes us to: reverence Christ in our hearts as Lord, a tall order indeed! Not because the Spirit is unwilling, but because the Flesh is weak, and so reverence for our God is not something that comes naturally to us. We might hold great artists, or athletes, or statesmen in awe, but we are not inclined to do the same for Jesus. For that we need to hear Peter’s inspired words. For that we need hymns such as “Renew Me O Eternal Light” where we pray, “Create in me a new heart Lord, that gladly I obey Thy Word…”

When St. Peter wrote this admonition in his first epistle he wasn’t talking through his hat, but instead was teaching the church what he himself discovered in a most dramatic way. As he listened to what Jesus said that day, using his boat as a pulpit, he was electrified. His ears began to tingle with gladness, and his heart with new found joy. He realized that this was no ordinary Man who was speaking but someone special and amazing. He still did not know that Jesus was God incarnate, but he was impressed enough, so that when the Savior instructed him to head out into the deep and cast out his nets, Peter’s infant faith overcame his doubts. He did as Jesus instructed, and what a discovery he made! We don’t know the content of the Lord’s sermon that day but whatever He said He now confirmed by a miracle so astonishing that it caused the salty old sea dog to turn to jello. He fell at Jesus’ feet in reverent and humble awe, and begged the Lord to leave him, a request that Jesus would never honor, but possibly the most amazing feature of Peter’s experience is that he no longer called Jesus Master, but now names Him Lord, because that is what He is! There are many people who would speak well of Jesus today, especially if they can use Him to support their own particular cause. But in order to reverence Jesus in our hearts as Peter teaches, we must first confess that Jesus is Lord and believe it with all our strength.

The next part of reverence is to confess our sin and repudiate our own hollow righteousness as Peter did so thoroughly and completely that day. When we are baptized our sins are forgiven and we are cleansed of the pollution we inherit from Adam. However, because the Old Man can only produce the works of the Flesh which St. Paul lists in Galatians chapter five, we are in regular need of Simon-like confession. This should be done in our own private prayers each day as Luther teaches in the morning and evening prayers. More importantly it should be done in church, formally, as we do in the general confession, where along with the confession we also hear the sacramental absolution which the church administers at her Lord’s command. Even more notably, we must return to our roots as Lutherans and re-discover the blessings of private confession; where we speak the sins that trouble us most into the sacramental ear of God, which is attached to the pastor’s head. And then hear the absolution spoken by God Himself, through the sacramental lips of the pastor. This is God’s way, and by His grace, when we are situated in our new sanctuary we will provide regular opportunity for this forgotten sacrament.

But confessing our sins is never enough. Judas confessed and was utterly grief-stricken over his! But unlike Peter, who also wept bitterly, Judas did not believe that Jesus would forgive him. He did not believe that the death Jesus was about to die was for his sins and so he felt the need to die for himself, but suicide is utterly un-necessary because there is one who hung for you, one who died for you, one who anguished in blackest darkness for you on the cross, to give you the Light of Life! So when Jesus says from the pulpit of the cross, “it is finished,” be certain that it is! And when the pastor, based on the Lord’s eternal sacrifice, says, “I forgive you your sins,” or “take eat the body of Christ for the remission of your sins” understand that neither sin, nor death nor the devil can ever harm you again, and that you will reign with Christ in endless day. By such faith in the church’s absolution we reverence Christ in our hearts as Lord.

Also a vital part of Peter’s lesson is the word Reverence itself, which is the trademark of Christian worship, but reverence is under fierce attack in our generation. If it could, the false church would re-write Peter’s maxim to read, “be casual in your hearts towards the Lord,” but that will never do, not for this Lord, not for this Savior! Peter knew it, and we must learn it too. Not only must we reverence Jesus in our hearts, but also with our bodies, as Peter did in the fishing boat that day. When he fell to his knees before Jesus he was only doing what was perfectly natural for a sinner exposed to the grace of God, so there is good reason that carefully planned movements, and thoughtful gestures have always been part and parcel of Christian worship. There is good reason why we move slowly, sit quietly and kneel humbly in God’s house. There are rational grounds that lead us to bow at the name of Jesus, fold our hands when we pray, and make the sign of the cross. As the most basic rule of society is: be polite, the most basic rule of worship is: be reverent. And it works both ways. Our inner faith informs our outer movements, and our outer movements stimulate reverence within, so let us hear Peter’s words and always be reverent before our Lord.

Finally we reverence Christ as the Lord when we faithfully practice the virtues St. Peter teaches us in today’s epistle lesson. He writes, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.” These are the outward signs, and living proof of the reverence and faith given us in holy baptism.

No, the reverence St. Peter calls for here does not come to us naturally and there are many obstacles in our path, but with God’s mighty Word richly dispersed among us, we obtain the renewed heart we pray for in the hymn, and find fresh courage to strive against our flesh and blood. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who Built Your House?


For you O Lord Almighty, the God the Israel, have made this revelation to your servant saying, "I will build you a house." 2 Samuel 7:27

One of the most basic desires of every person is to have a place of his own, a place that he can call home. For two centuries this made America a beacon of hope for the world. It was the place where, if a person was willing to work hard, he could have a share of the American Dream. But in the last five years the American Dream has turned into a National Nightmare. Large swaths of Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure, while countless others have watched the value of their most prized possession sink so far under water that, in actuality, they are nothing more than glorified renters.

But as troubling as this might be it is not a new story. The history of man is the history of “building up and tearing down,” just like Solomon says in Ecclesiastes (3:3). We are currently in the latter phase of the proverb both nationally and ecclesiastically. Everything our forefathers worked so hard to build is slipping through our fingers like water, and much to our astonishment we are powerless to stop it.

That being the case we have good reason today to learn anew the wisdom of the 127th psalm where King David writes, “Unless the Lord build the house they who build it labor in vain.” David wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he also knew them to be true from personal experience. We learn in today’s Old Testament lesson that it was his great desire to build a house for God. A holy place where the Lord would dwell in the midst of His people in order to defend them against all danger, and give them rest from the many enemies that hounded them. But God had a different plan in mind, to build a house for David, and build it He did! He established David as King of Israel and gave him victory over all his enemies. He made him wealthy, powerful and respected by all the people both far and near. He also gave David wives and concubines, children and descendants, and every good thing that his heart desired, but because of the sin that clings to us so closely, things didn’t always turn up roses for David. Like every other house, his too was a series of ups and downs, laughter and tears, blessings and curses. He had marital difficulties, rebellious children and more than a few enemies who would have liked nothing better than to attend his funeral. Not only this, but in many cases David was his own worst enemy. Thinking himself untouchable he started an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah his most loyal officer, and then arranged to have Uriah killed in battle to cover his tracks. But in so doing, David brought untold misery down upon himself and his house.

It was exactly for this reason, because of sin’s awful sway and ghastly consequences, God built another kind of house for David as well. He pledged that in the fullness of time He would give David a Great Descendant! A Mighty King of Israel who would be both David’s Son and David’s Lord, and whose singular mission it would be to conquer sin, defeat death, and to rid the world of its curse forever. Jesus accomplished all these things for us by His life, death and resurrection; and He distributes salvation’s blessings to us in another house known as: the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church. This is true temple, the house of the living God which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone, and we the “living stones” made alive by Jesus Himself.

The church is never formless or void, so God has always provided His people with earthly sanctuaries, holy houses, where they can come to commune with Christ through the Word and Sacraments, and graciously obtain pardon for all of their sins. He provides us with churches that train us to conduct spiritual warfare, not warfare against flesh and blood like Muslims do, but against the principalities and powers of evil, against sin and temptation, and against spiritual wickedness in high places. Churches that equip us with the full armor of God: salvation as the Helmet to keep our minds safe from fear; the Righteousness of Christ as a holy Breastplate to defend our hearts from doubt and despair; Faith as our shield to quench every fiery dart that the devil launches against us, and the Word of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit, so that we are never defenseless against the Old Evil Foe.

As earthly temples go, God has blessed Christ Lutheran Church beyond measure, more than a thousand tongues could ever tell. For 107 of her 122 year history He provided her with a magnificent earthly temple that was like a mother to us all, a cradle of Christian civilization. And even if for a time we, like our Lord: have no place to lay our heads, as members of the holy Christian church, we are not homeless because Jesus assures us that in the Father’s house there are many rooms, and He has gone ahead to prepare a place there for us.

But because the Lord is Good and because His mercy endures forever we have every reason to believe that He will again provide us with an earthly sanctuary of our own, a house of grace, mercy and peace where we can sing His praises, and where we can say with King David: I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Are we just playing with our friends, or do we really care what happens to them?


public domain
When our Lord Jesus Christ said Judge not lest you be judged He was telling us to beware of thinking that we know another person’s spiritual condition.  That is particularly true of people who at first glance appear to be on the brink of hell.  Consider the party animal, who to all appearances cares nothing about the needs of his soul.  Yet all it might take would be a kind word from you to show him the vanity of his pursuits.  All it might take is a loving deed to make him hunger and thirst after righteousness.  All it would take is genuine care to awaken in him the need for something real and solid.  In Jesus’ time, people thought of tax collectors very badly.  They made a profit from Israel’s subjection to the Gentiles.  Some of them made large fortunes.  Yet our Blessed Lord chose one of that despised class to be an apostle, and as if that weren’t enough, also an evangelist. That man was Matthew.

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, while Matthew was sitting in the custom office.  It would have been near the docks because Matthew was collecting duties on goods that were being unloaded.  Nothing in the story indicates that Matthew was particularly wealthy, but he was despised.  He was connected by his occupation with everything that caused people to despise tax collectors.  The Lord only had to call him once.  Perhaps he was predisposed to follow Jesus, but that did not matter, because it was not Matthew’s choice, it was the Lord’s.  The power of God’s Word is great enough make the call effective.  Please don’t ask what Jesus saw in Matthew.  What does He see in you?  What reason do we give Him to open the Fountain of Life in our midst?  Didn’t He say The last shall be first?  Wasn’t one of His closest friends Mary Magdalene?  Did she deserve His attention?  That was never the point.  Jesus has pity on the weak and despised of the world, including the spiritually weak and religiously despised.  He calls the prisoners in the cells, and the worldly in the trappings of their luxury.  He calls the bums who hit bottom on the street, and the depressed who flee into the darkness.  No one deserves His attention.  The wonder is that Jesus is not ashamed to seek eternal jewels for His crown in the most vile places.

Notice He said two words to Matthew, Follow me.  Now as I said before, Matthew might have been predisposed to follow.  Everyone in Capernaum knew what had happened earlier that day when Jesus healed the paralytic and offended the religious people by forgiving his sins.  One can imagine Matthew making people wait in line at the custom office while he tried to get a look, then after an anonymous kick in the rear from the crowd, returning to the safety of his own turf.  But Jesus had chosen Matthew, and whether Matthew came to Him or not, Jesus would go to Matthew.  He said "Follow me," and Matthew did.  He didn’t make any excuses.  He didn’t procrastinate.  He left the custom business of the day undone.  We might think that was irresponsible, but from the standpoint of eternity, did it matter?  He had to obey.  He even obeyed to the point of blessed martyrdom.  Jesus called, Matthew followed.  The Word created faith.

Before he laid down his life, Matthew served the Lord for many years, beginning by having a dinner at his house and inviting the other tax collectors.  Notice, he was immediately concerned about his peers, his fellow laborer’s in Caesar’s vineyard.  What a marvelous idea!  Invite all your friends to a banquet and seriously proclaim the Word to them.  Would we have trouble with that?  Are we judging?  Do we assume that our friends, relatives and neighbors are spiritually alive because they’re nice, or because we wish they were?  Do we, as some people put it, "value their friendship too much to bring up serious subjects"?  What kind of friend is that?  If you can only be a friend where vanities are concerned, and not in the serious business of life – which certainly includes eternity, then you aren’t much of a friend at all.  I do not mean that you should obnoxiously push Jesus into people’s faces.  That’s a dumb strategy.  What I mean is you know your own friends best.  You know what sort of thing will get them to listen to you.  Use that knowledge to get them to turn, to lead them to the Fountain of Life, and until they are blessed by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration, one ought not think that their sins are forgiven.  We might speak a public absolution every Sunday, but it does not apply to those who are not baptized.  The fist time the pastor absolves your sins, he has to use water.

Matthew had learned the one name under heaven whereby we must be saved.  He wanted his friends to learn it, too.  The treasure of the Church is not one we want to bury, or admire when nobody’s looking.  Rather, it’s more like an oil well that has value as long as we keep pumping it out for distribution.  He gathered his peers to the One Name, and pumped out the spiritual blessings to the other publicans; and Jesus was glad.  He found Himself in the company of these ill-favored people and jumped at the chance to be the Great Physician of the spiritually sick.  He did not tell them to start a new group of disciples made up of tax collectors.  He welcomed them with His followers.  This caused the religious people to criticize Him even more than before, but they did not understand His mission.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  That has not changed since Jesus’ time.

What about you?  Do you fully understand Jesus’ mission?  He did not come into this world to make you nice.  If by the grace of God you have maintained good character, be thankful.  If you have a good credit rating on earth, be thankful, but never think that such things will qualify you for eternal life.  You need the medicine of the Great Physician.  You need Jesus’ mercy and pity every bit as much as Matthew did.  You need the cross, the blood, the atonement that Jesus made.  Your peers need it, too.  Just because they go to church, are nice, and have a good credit rating, you cannot take for granted what their spiritual state might be.  To assume a person is righteous is just as much judging as to assume a person is impenitent.  Do not judge either way.  Everyone needs to be born again of water and the Spirit.  Everyone needs his sins cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  On the other hand, never give up on anyone who seems to you to be beyond redemption.  It is, after all, the sick who need the doctor.  Lead that fallen friend, lead him by ways you know because you are close to him, lead him to the restoring blood of Jesus.  Let the Lord cover him with the same mercy that covered those tax collectors in Capernaum 2000 years ago.  His compassion is boundless.  The angels will have a party when that person repents, and when you join their company, you will have a part in it. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Friday, September 19, 2014

Do you feel attacked, afraid, alone, hopeless, or just tired? Learn how the Spirit of Evil attacks and deceives


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published
 (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923
There is a lot of background to look up here if you are not familiar with the history. Take your time.

A spirit of evil dwells among us, a fierce and mighty spirit of evil.  He is constantly active.  He tempted the first people to sin, has been actively tripping up everyone who thinks he stands ever since, and will only be compelled to stop when Jesus returns for the final act of salvation.  The irony of it is, he has no real power.  He cannot hurt God in any way, and even in the case of men, the power he holds is chiefly what we gave him.  In the Wartburg Castle, near Eisenach in Thuringia, you can see a spot on the wall where Martin Luther threw an inkwell at the devil.  Apparently he missed, but here is the lesson for us -- while Luther's action might have been ineffective, his simple defiance of evil is an example for us all.  No one can avoid the conflict.  In our lesson for this morning we can all see how it came to Moses and Joshua at Rephidim.

No doubt the Lord could have permitted the Israelites to cross into Canaan in peace, so He could make our walk through life easy as well.  That does not seem good to Him.  Rather, He permits a fierce, clever, and relentless enemy to attack us in countless ways.  Thus, enter the Amelekites.  They came to Rephidim just to pick a fight with Israel.  Moses turned to Joshua, his secretary of defense, and instructed him to institute a selective service system.  Moses put the whole people on red alert.  How often that same devil tries to stand between us and our goals, our hopes!  He would have us forget the Lord, or be afraid of men, or trust in our own wisdom, strength, or wealth, or if all that should fail, to wallow in the mire of despair.  The prophet calls his people, and us as well, to Get up and fight.  Yes, we have to fight.  At this point the story divides.  As Joshua led the troops down into the valley, Moses would go up to the hilltop.  In his hands he held the staff which not so long ago had turned into a snake and back again.   He probably looked at it from time to time concerned that it still had its straight shape.  Moses would need that staff, because God ordained that he hold it up in the air.  Joshua and his men down in the valley did their part with sword and shield, getting wounded and perhaps even killed.  Without their effort there would be no victory, but Moses also had to do his part, holding up the staff hour after tiresome hour with stiffness and agony, assisted by Aaron and Hur.  If they let the staff down even for a short time the soldiers in the valley suffered reverses.  Rise my soul to watch and pray.  So we battle on both levels in the face of temptation.

The Prince of Darkness stands between us and our eternal Canaan, our Father's house.  He is the Amelekite that attacks us day and night.  In his train are legions of fallen angels, bitter to the heart, with no hope of reconciliation.  Their great delight is to pull us down into the realm of death.  God has had mercy on us, and redeemed us by the blood of Jesus, restored us to His favor, and promises us His warm, brilliant presence forever.  How bitterly the evil ones envy that mercy!  What will they not do to get us to turn from it?  They bring into our lives the grossest vileness and ugliness, the fiercest hostility, the most strident injustice, and the most subtle deception.  No one is safe even in a house of worship consecrated to all that Satan hates.  What precinct could have been more consecrated than Eden, what worshippers more beautiful than the parents of our species?  Yet so quickly they became outcasts, marred by guilt, smitten by mortality which included the possibility of their redemption (see Genesis 3). Who served the Lord better than Job, yet so quickly his fortunes turned that he sat motionless in the ashes, a beggar who had lost his children (see Job 1-2). As for Judas, he was a trusted disciple of Jesus.  One moment he held eternal life in his hand.  A moment later he had exchanged it for silver coins (see Matthew 26:1 - 27:10).

Can the Lamb get up and fight against the Lion?  That is a good question, but the Lamb that fights for us is a Lion, the Lion of Judah. Here consider the second verse of A Mighty Fortress:

With might of ours can nought be done, soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.

Yes, it is He who appointed our guardian angels, it is He who is both Moses and Joshua for us, yet He loves us enough to do it. Although we are urged to resolve the fight, it always continues.   Sometimes we find ourselves in the trenches with Joshua, other times praying with Moses.  Either way, we have nothing to fear.

Against a spiritual enemy one needs a spiritual sword, a spiritual shield, a spiritual helmet.  We have the Word of God.  Paul used that sword to make the Governor Felix tremble (see Acts 24:1-25).  Peter used it to convert 3000 people on the first Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-40).  Luther fell back on it too when the inkwell didn’t work.  In today's Gospel we see how Jesus used it to drive the Tempter from His presence (see Matthew 4:1-11).  We may be spiritual Davids up against a formidable Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:1-50), but every chief part you have memorized, every hymn verse you can recall, every sacred text that sets your struggle in perspective is another smooth stone in your sack.  The Word assures you that God forgives you, places Himself between you and harm's way, and comforts you with hope.

Let's take a longer look at Moses now.  The Israelites would have been defeated had Moses not been so constant in prayer.  He held up that consecrated staff for hours, but he points us to the Greater Moses, on the hill of Calvary, holding up His hands in even more agonizing conflict.  There was no one to assist Him, only thieves who were no help at all (see Matthew 27:45-54).  His footsoldiers had all fled, so He had to be Joshua as well, the spiritual Amelekites assaulting Him with all their fury. But He won. He defeated them once and for all.  As He was briefing Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane He told them Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation.  If you fell and you are far from God, ask yourself whether you have neglected to pray.  Even that can be a fight, can it not?  But the Greater Moses intercedes still.  After the battle, when He had risen from the dead, He went across the greater Jordan to intercede for us in the heavenly sanctuary.  The one who tells us to get up and fight, got up and fought.  The Lamb was the Lion.  There is our defense -- our enemy is a lion, so is our Lord.  And He is going to see this thing through.  AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, September 15, 2014

Are we missing the point of why Jesus came? because if we are there will be real doubts


"Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." Luke 4:34

Is it possible that for too long we have failed to connect the dots of our religion?  That we have skimmed the surface but never plumbed the depths of the love of God?  This is not a charge to be more fervent, to try harder to know God or to experiment with yet one more religious formula.  Such appeals have a form of godliness, but they have no power.   Instead it is a call to see what is in front of our face, to learn the meaning of the prayers the church gives us to pray, so that by them we might learn the joy of our salvation.

Today let us consider the Sanctus, the words we sing as part of our communion liturgy, for these words, Holy, Holy, Holy recognize what our text teaches:  that Jesus, who is factually present among us in the bread and the wine, is the Holy One of God who came to destroy the devil, all of his wicked works and all of his wicked ways.

While Jesus was not pleased that the demons confessed this fact, He is delighted when we do; when we recognize that what we are about to receive in the Sacrament is the Holy One of God, who became incarnate, suffered death and rose again in order to answer for all of our sins, in order to make us God's people.  He did this to sever our attachment to the devil, a bond that was created by our sins, but one that cannot be broken by any human agency, not by technological advance or by the promises of the latest social policy.   However hard we might hope in these things they are false promises, diversions meant to keep us happy in our captivity because only Jesus can break these iron fetters, and if the Son sets your free, you are free indeed!

Not only does this Supper liberate us from the devil's oppression, but it also frees us from the penalty our sins merit, which is a share in the unending misery that causes the demons to fear and tremble.   We are vindicated and in Christ we are pronounced holy, blameless and fit for heaven;  for in Holy Baptism we renounce the devil, and are infiltrated by the Holy One of God.

Now when we consider our daily lives, how our sinful nature spews forth a perpetual stream of squalor, how carnal and worldly we are due to the sin that dwells in us, this is an amazing thing;   amazing and astonishing that God does not reject us, tire of us or abandon us, but rather He continually cherishes us, cleanses us and restores us to Himself.  May we who are the objects of such lavish affection cease our sins by the power of His Spirit, and express the same love to others.

As part of the Sanctus we also sing Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!  Please zero in on the word "He" and learn from it to look only to Jesus, not to ourselves, other people, or to any false god or vain philosophy, to do what only Jesus can: to destroy the works of the devil, who is the sum of all evil.

Martin Luther (after whom no boulevards are named) says in his explanation of the Last Petition, "Deliver us from evil," that this petition includes, "all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, shame, death, and in short all the tragic misery and heartache of which there is so incalculably much on earth."  These are the things that Jesus conquered on the cross.   Yes, they still occur in the world and we can be caught in the crossfire.  They can hurt us, but they cannot harm us.  Like the man in today's gospel lesson the devil might throw us to the ground, but we rise up unharmed because nothing in all of creation, not even death, can separate us from the love of God which is found in the Sacrament we here receive.  Yes, we live in the world and are subject to its sorrow, not only this, but as often as we give in to temptation we contribute to the problem, and invite the torment of demons.  Don't do that!  Instead "depart in peace" from the Lord's altar and practice the Christian virtues of faith, hope and above all love, which does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

We also sing Hosanna as part of the Sanctus because it too describes what happens in the Eucharist.  Hosanna is a fervent prayer for God to come to the rescue of His people, but in the church it took on a new meaning, so that for us it is an expression of praise and thanksgiving that God sent His Son to be our Savior;  one that is most perfectly expressed as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup.

The Sanctus we sing in our communion liturgy does three things, then.  It recalls the events of the past, that God, in Christ intervened in our fallen world, not to fix it or to improve it, but to redeem it by the death of His Son.  It recognizes that in Holy Communion Jesus, who once came to save us, comes to us now as well, to rescue us from our ongoing offenses;  to continually cleanse us;  to keep us safe from the demons that would possess the heart swept clean by His body and blood; and to be with us as He promised, so that we need never go through the sorrows and disappointments of life alone, or face death alone, but with Jesus who is with us, for us and in us.  It confesses that Christ who once came, and who comes to us now in the church, will also come again, for the Supper we partake in is a taste of the things to come; a true taste, but only a taste.  The fulfillment is yet to come. When that hour comes we will no longer see through a glass darkly, but behold God face to face.  We will know Him, even as He knows us, which is perfectly and completely.  It is a blessed knowledge and communion that will never end, and one that will transform us and restore us to the glorious creatures God made us to be.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, September 12, 2014

God has no exceptions to the law; and no exceptions to grace


For if the ministry which condemns is glorious, how much more glorious will the ministry of righteousness be?  2 Corinthians 3:9

St. Paul asks us a simple question, but it’s not one we can answer so easily.  Sinful nature gets in the way.  We may not love the law but at least we understand it, we can deal with it even if we cannot fulfill it.  But grace confuses us, it crosses the wires of our minds, so the church is always engaged in teaching the gospel, not only to those who do not believe it, but especially to those who do.

St. Paul calls the law of Moses, which was the guidepost of every good Jew, “the ministry that condemns” and “the letter which kills,” but still he says that it is glorious.  How is that possible?  The law is glorious because its source is God who lives in unapproachable light.  We wish that it were not so, that it did not have such power to lodge its hooks deep into our souls.  Since the beginning men have tried to shield themselves from its impossible demands.  Self righteous persons, both religious and secular, think that they can keep it and thus it holds no fear for them.  What a surprise they will get on judgment day.  Others find solace in modern scholarship which teaches us that the law did not really come from God, but that Israel got it from Hammurabi the Babylonian lawgiver so there is no reason to fear.  People will believe anything, and the newest addition to the world’s song book is a piece we might call, “the hymn of relative truth.”  It may be true for you, the song goes, but that doesn’t make it true for me.  Again, how surprised people will be when Jesus returns and imposes His morality on everyone.

The law is glorious.  We know it because Moses shone with the reflected glory of God merely by coming into contact with it.  We read in Exodus that he had to put a veil over his face when he taught it, or the people could not bear to look at him.  How much more dear then, should we consider those who preach the gospel of peace?

The law is glorious because it imparts the highest quality of life and the greatest temporal blessings to all who practice it and love it.  Imagine a nation where people worship God instead of the government; where the first solution to any problem is prayer instead of worry; a society without envy, murder, lust or deception.  Yes, the Law is glorious, but still St. Paul calls it the ministry of death!  Why?  Paul says in
Romans 7:14 that, “the Law is spiritual but I am carnal, sold under sin.” The problem is not with the Law, but with human beings who are unable to keep it, who fall under its judgments, rather than enjoy its blessings.  We can romanticize about the good old days when business was done on a handshake.  We can display the Ten Commandments in our courthouses, but at the end of the day we love our bellies most of all, and every man does what is right in his own eyes.

Neither does the law aid us in the final judgment.  Its most ardent adherents will not withstand judgment by keeping it.  Instead they will be condemned to eternal fire because of their sin, and only faith in the name of Jesus, which we receive as our own at baptism, can save us from the coming judgment -- and save us it does!  Jesus lived a sinless existence for us and died the death that we deserve.  He rose again to give us life and to take away the curse that the law imposes.

Yet law is the only thing we understand, poor sinners that we are, and grace must always elude us, so the church preaches the Gospel not only once in order to convert us, but without ceasing to keep us in the one true faith, to strengthen us in temptation and to give us endurance in suffering.  Nothing else can do that, not church programs, not even elegant sanctuaries, but only the good news of Jesus Christ, taught in God’s word and distributed among us by His sacraments.  It is the power of God unto salvation.

The Gospel Paul preached to the Corinthians, and which the true church still preaches today, is superior to the law!  As the moon loses its luster when the sun comes up, so Moses fades in the face of Christ who is the Sun of Righteousness.  The law kills but Christ gives life!  He removed the sin that stands between us and the glory we always seek.  He does not only redeem us;  He also restores us.  What have you lost because of sin?  Your health, happiness, family, friends, future or reputation?  Christ promises to restore to us double all that sin has taken away.  He promises us a new covenant and a better kingdom.  The law kills, but Christ commutes our death sentence to life, not life in prison but life in heaven.

He gives us His Holy Spirit who enlightens us so that we reject every other hope of salvation, and put our trust only in Christ who was handed over for our transgressions and raised again for our justification.  The Spirit leads us to a new kind of life.  He inspired the Corinthians to repent of the openly immoral lives they were living, to reject the false apostles of their day who were preaching a different gospel than the one they received from Paul, and to renew their love for Paul as their father in the faith.  He does the same for us.  He keeps us in the one true faith.  He richly and daily forgives our sins and the sins of all believers, not in a theoretical way, but by bringing us to the word and sacraments where we find Christ with all His redeeming grace.  Consider what we are engaged in when we come to God’s house: examine the mass we pray, the creed we confess and the sacraments we receive.  They are concerned about nothing other than dissolving our sins so that our sins do not dissolve us.

The Spirit does more besides.  We say in the catechism that on the last day He will raise up me and all the dead and give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  Such a hope makes us very bold dear Christians; bold to call God our Father and Christ our Brother; bold to come back again and again seeking the same forgiveness for the same sins; bold to pray the same prayers for the same problems; bold to seek strength to mortify the flesh, and make this holy faith the guidepost, sum and substance of our lives.

God grant that we dedicate ourselves to it more fully than before, and that we place our hope for glory only in Jesus who is the Lord of Glory. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is my faith a firm foundation or a stumbling stone?


Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:56-59

St. John begins His Gospel by calling Jesus the Word. Very soon He adds to this that Jesus is the Incarnate Word. He is not just the password, as if we could drop His name and find ourselves in heaven, but the living Word who admonishes us to pay attention to the Holy Gospel He imparts to us in the Word and Sacraments. This morning's lesson shows the negative side of things, what happens when people refuse to hear and refuse to believe.

The occasion was the Feast of Booths, and Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims who were celebrating it. Jesus was in the Temple preaching, but no one was listening. What did He mean when He said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day?” He was talking about the Promise made to Abraham that, “in you, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  The patriarchal ancestor's name was written in the Book of Life. He might not have seen Jesus face to face, but his faith was as strong as if he had.  We could say the same for Moses and the Prophets.  They lived and died centuries before the Lord’s birth, but they too believed without seeing.  As for the Disciples, even though they personally communed with Jesus for three years, they hardly ever understood a word He said.

On that historic day Jesus was fulfilling the 118th Psalm which says, “the Stone which the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone.”  In architecture the cornerstone is the one that holds the whole structure together, so Jesus was making some astounding claims as He stood in the Jerusalem Temple that day. He not was glorifying Himself, He never did that. He always glorified God, and knew that God would glorify Him, and that was enough for Him. But this crowd rejected the whole message. How terrible for them, because it was not just “a message” they were rejecting but the One whose name is Immanuel, God With Us. Their fathers had done that with the prophets. Now the One whom the prophets foretold was standing before them, but He fared no better.

This was not a mere misunderstanding, a conflict to be resolved or arbitrated away. Throughout this chapter John captures the bitter tone of the conversation. These people hated Jesus. They wanted to be godly, but they rejected the One who had unmistakably shown Himself to be Very God of Very God. Is there any question that the devil’s finger prints were all over the scene?  God fulfilled His Word. He set up His Cornerstone in Zion, but this stone had a double purpose. It was be a Cornerstone for faith but also a stumbling stone for unbelief. It had to be so. Jesus did not reject the Jews. He would have gladly gathered them under His wings like a mother hen because God wants all men to be saved. But there had to be an historical reason for the crucifixion and they provided it, because unless Jesus were crucified, the Perfect Sacrifice would not be made.

Now we can criticize these first century Jews if we like, but at least they were asking the right questions. Today you will still find people who hate Jesus, but far more common are those who think they can be neutral about Him. Who can say nice things about Him without admitting that He is God Incarnate, and the only One who can wash men clean from their sins?  That is sheer vanity.  Either Jesus is the Messiah who was right about everything He said, or He was the blasphemer they claimed Him to be. There is no middle ground. We must either love Jesus or hate Him. To be non-committal is merely hatred without the passion, like the lukewarm church in Laodicea. The Stone has been placed and everyone must either build on it or stumble over it. By God’s grace may we all build on it more and more.

Today hardly anyone asks the right questions.  We look at those Jews and wonder why they could be so short-sighted, but we have a different hang-up.  We want a Jesus who is culturally sensitive; a kewpie doll Jesus whom the world can love, and us along with Him, one who said and did everything that Scripture claims, except to suffer and die! except to ask us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him;  But God set the Stone in Zion and we cannot change what the Stone is. We can only believe the Lord’s word that He is both the Victim and the Priest who made full atonement for our sins: those of the past, the present and the future.  That He is incarnate in His Church today as our Cornerstone and as the church’s One Foundation, dispensing His mercy to all who put their hope in Him.

So let us pay close attention to our religion, to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith into which we are baptized; to the singular and unchanging Gospel of Holy Scripture; to the Promise God made to Abraham and to its fulfillment by our Lord’s death and resurrection. And let us eagerly receive the present grace He gives us in the church, by the Gospel.  If this Man offers us His flesh to eat, let us eat it with thanksgiving.  If He says our sins are forgiven and bids us “go in peace,” then let us breathe easy.  If He calls us to love ordinary people, then by all means love them. Don't stumble over Him when He comes to serve you. He died and rose again for you. He is the Sure Foundation of your faith. He is your road to heaven. He is the Rock on which you stand. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Every father that loves his child will correct him for the child's own good


Happy is the man whom God reproves; therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He binds up; He smites, but His hands heal. Job 5:17-18

In 2006 former Vice President Al Gore, and other prophets of doom, made a movie called: An Inconvenient Truth. Whatever the film’s merits or demerits might be, the fact is that all truth is inconvenient. Inconvenient because the “father of lies” has injected us with his poison so that we always prefer wispy white lies to the harsh realities of human existence.

As inconvenient truths go one of the most bothersome is the fact that righteous people must suffer. We don’t like that! It rubs us the wrong way and sets our teeth on edge! And yet it is a foundational teaching of the Christian faith that no one is exempt from suffering, especially God’s people.

We discover this in spades when we read the book of Job. The first thing we learn in it is that Job was a righteous man, not because he was sinless but because God declared him to be so. Like every other sinner ever redeemed Job was justified by faith; faith in the coming Savior whom God promised to send as the atonement for the sins of the world. But Job’s righteousness was not merely a charade or a fiction any more than ours is. The book demonstrates, instead, that his faith was active in love. It informs us that he was a good, honest and industrious man who amassed a great fortune. But unlike so many who are corrupted by wealth, Job was not. Instead he was a humble, pious and learned man whose wise counsel was surpassed only by his generosity, and no one who ever met him was worse off for the experience, but there is more to Job than meets the eye: he was also a walking, talking prophecy of the promised Savior, who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. Though Job was righteous in every way, and though no bad thing could be said against him, we read in chapter one that he is falsely accused by satan, and subsequently made to suffer more than any man who ever lived. In this respect he reminds us of Jesus, and what He suffered to redeem us from sin.

Though Job was righteous by faith, Jesus who is God incarnate, was truly and essentially righteous in and of Himself, but though He was upright, He also suffered. He too descended from the heights of heaven to the depths of degradation. He too was attacked by satan, falsely accused, treated like a criminal and saddled with the sins of the world, but unlike Job, whose life was protected by God, our Lord’s was not. Instead, He made the ultimate sacrifice and died a protracted and humiliating death, but one with a purpose! We learn from holy Scripture that His was a substitutionary death, a vicarious atonement, endured “for us men and for our salvation.” By it He brought a decisive conclusion to the guilt and condemnation that our sins incur; and to all the agony, misery and affliction that our iniquities visit upon us. He averted the wrath that was due us and reconciled us to God. He is our Peace, our Righteousness and our Advocate with the Father, who intercedes for us and who will return in glory, a glory He will share with us in a world without end. It is this very pleasant and congenial truth that upholds us through all that we must suffer as Christ’s holy people.

Like Job, we, too, are made righteous by Christ’s sacrifice and pronounced “forgiven” by faith, but even though we are Righteous we too must suffer. However what is vital for us to remember and to believe with all our strength is that suffering for the Christian is never punishment. Though we may be afflicted by illness, injustice, temptation and one piece of bad news after another as Job was, we can be confident that the things we suffer are nothing more, and nothing less than fatherly correction, because Scripture states that: whom the Lord loves He chastens.

There is a difference between punishment and correction. The purpose of punishment is retribution, to pay a person back for what he has done to you, to make him suffer and to even the score. There is no need for this because Jesus was punished for our sins, and paid their dreadful price in full on the cross. Correction, on the other hand, has as its end very different purposes, ones which we as God’s children cannot do without. Suffering stops our Flesh in its tracks as it merrily skips along the broad and easy path to destruction. It teaches us that a self-directed life is not the way forward, but a God directed life is. This is why Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, take up whatever crosses life lays upon us, and follow Him. To where? To Calvary, of course; to the death and burial of our self-serving sins, and the resurrection of the New Man which serves God in righteousness and purity forever. The problem with Flesh is that it expects life to be one, long, happy, uninterrupted party. A good time had by all. It doesn’t want to be restrained in any way, by any person, least of all God, and only affliction can rein it in. Correction also helps us turn from the earthly props that we normally look to for comfort, and to do what St. Paul admonishes in Colossians chapter three, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

This is what Job finally learned by his many afflictions: that bad things happen to good people, that the righteous must suffer, and that we should not despise the correction that God gives us. Instead we should count it as a sign of fatherly divine goodness and mercy; and never forget in the process that the same dear Father who wounds us will also make us whole, and that He who smites us in love will also heal us, in glory, in Christ. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When the New Man Comes, the Old Adam has to die


Public Domain

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” For if you truly amend your ways, and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever. Jeremiah 7:3-7

Jeremiah uses the strongest possible language with his people on this occasion. There are many ‘doubles’ that Scripture uses for emphasis, like when Jesus says “truly, truly,” or when St. John writes in Revelation, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” but there are very few “triples” as we have here where Jeremiah tells his hearers: Don’t trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.

Not only is the language strong but so is the message. The prophet is telling the people, in effect, not to trust in the objective means of grace that God provided to impart life and salvation to them, because they will do them no good. It would be as if a pastor were to tell his flock today: don’t believe that the Word and Sacraments forgive your sins and grant you peace with God. Very strong language indeed!

But why the tirade? Had God ceased to be compassionate; had His mercy and promises come to an end? Not at all dear Christians! Jeremiah used such heavy-duty words because his people were overtaken by sin. They thought they could have their cake and eat it too. They thought that since God’s mercy was greater than man’s sin that they could enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, and inherit eternal life as well. They would have flatly rejected St. James who says that: faith without works is dead.

Why such language? Because Jeremiah was speaking to the part of them that St. Paul calls the Flesh, and fear is the only language that Flesh understands. Jeremiah knew that Flesh is narcissistic, fully in love with itself and cares for no one else at all. He knew that it cannot be changed, reformed or improved, and that contrary to the world’s Creed, it can never ‘progress,’ which is why social manipulators are always frustrated in their quest to improve the world – their theories may be flawless, but the material they have to work with is not.

Why such strong language? Because this is how the Old Adam always deals with grace. He mistakes kindness for weakness. He is a taker who gives nothing in return. He feels entitled and is a firm believer in the redistribution of wealth, God’s and man’s alike. This was the condition of the church 650 years before the birth of the Savior, not of just a few – you can always find false sons within the church’s pale – but the whole nation was corrupt from top to bottom. The lusty worship of the fertility goddesses, and the vain worship of Nature were imported into the holy temple of God, which they thought of as their Lucky Charm. As long as it stood they thought they could do whatever they pleased and that God would not let anything bad happen to them. Sin was no longer condemned there, but excused and justified instead – even as it is today in so many places that call themselves church. The strong oppressed the helpless, injustice was the order of the day, and the shedding of innocent blood was legendary, even as it is today in America and the world over.

That’s why Jeremiah preached as he did, because Flesh is entirely corrupt; so twisted that even God Himself does not try to straighten it out – but instead, by holy baptism, He drowns the Old Man so that a New Man, Christ in us, might arise to serve Him in righteousness and purity forever, and the New Man is nothing like the Old! He believes that Jesus is the thrice holy temple of the Lord who was “destroyed” on the tree of the cross to answer for our sins, whose truly innocent blood was shed for us, and who was raised again on the third day for our justification. He knows that “Jesus is Lord,” and by the power of the Holy Spirit confesses the same in the church, and in the world as such profession is called for. He knows the Day of Visitation when he sees it. He recognizes it not only in the Lord’s incarnation, death and resurrection, but he identifies it in the Word and the Sacraments today. The New Man comes to the temple of the Lord not to justify his sins, but to confess them, and to be relieved from their burden. He comes to have flesh and blood fellowship with Christ in the Sacrament; to worship God in spirit and in truth; to pray, praise and give thanks; to rejoice and to sing; and to have the joy of salvation restored within him. He comes, too, to learn the Word of God, and to be strengthened and encouraged to turn from sin each day; and to exercise the gifts the Spirit has bestowed on each of us in our baptism. Many of the ones Paul mentions in First Corinthians such as miraculous healings, speaking in tongues and the interpreting of them were for the apostolic age only, but others are alive and well, and to be used by God’s people until the end of the age, gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, faith and the ability to discern the true from the false.

In his life and within the confines of his vocation the New Man does all these things. He never abuses God’s grace or takes His gifts for granted. He finds no pleasure in sin, but finds all his hope and joy in the Great Day of Visitation when Christ will come again. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras