October 27, 2019: Reformation Sunday

Reformation Sunday

October 27, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this day we celebrate the great victory of forgiveness over the schemes of both men and Satan.  For on this day all their attempts at obscuring Your forgiveness won on the cross and given us to freely by faith were overcome.  Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone were upheld as the Godly truths they are.  May we all prove ourselves worthy recipients—made worthy by the power of Your gospel truth!  Amen


TEXT:  Mark 13: 5-11


The year was 1517.  The 100 years’ war between England and France had come to an end about 70 years before.  Italy was riding high, basking in the glamour of the Renaissance.  Germany was mired in the political pettiness of about 400 “states” who often worked at cross-purposes.  And Pope Leo X needed money.  He was building St. Peter’s and it was costing a fortune.  So, he hit on the novel scheme of selling indulgences.  That is, slips of paper printed up that declared any and all sins against God were forgiven—for a price.  It was dry tinder just needing one match to set off a conflagration in restive Germany.

Dr. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of OT and Hebrew at the new university in Wittenburg, Germany was the match.  As he struck hammer blows to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, nailing up his 95 theses for public debate about such abuses of grace, the bonfire began.  Luther had no army.  He had no money.  Yet, he possessed the power of Godly forgiveness won by Christ.  The religious Civil War had begun.


Four years later, the Civil War was in full swing.  The Roman Catholic Emperor of all Europe, Charles V, called a “diet” a council in the city of Worms.  Luther was summoned to defend his writings under pain of death.  But he was not alone.  He had Lutheran princes on his side.  He stood before the “kings and princes” of the age and refused to recant, or take back the Godly truth of: Grace alone saves us; Scripture alone is the only source of Divine truth; and faith alone is how we come to possess such saving truth.  His recantation, or lack thereof here, was a powerful witness of Godly forgiveness.  Subsequent years showed how such forgiveness conquered human power. That’s why for over 400 years the Lutheran church has used this little section from Mark 13 to mark Reformation Sunday.  Especially note these words of Christ: “On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say, just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  These words applied to Dr. Luther at Worms.


Earlier in history, they also applied to St. Paul as he stood before Felix the Roman governor and also, later on, the Roman emperor.   They applied to Peter as he stood up for the Gospel.  They applied to all the other disciples and all the saints and martyrs who refused to renounce the truth that: “Jesus Christ is Lord of all.”  The point of the Reformation is this: God freely saves poor sinners by grace alone.  His undeserved love, shown by His bloody death on the cross for us, cannot be bought for human money or stolen by human power.  It is a free gift given us and made ours through faith alone.  So, all human attempts at trying to buy God off by human efforts and works, no matter how holy they may appear to be,  is doomed to failure.   Nothing we do is perfect.  But everything Christ did to save us IS Perfect!  That’s why Grace Alone saves!


Deep down in your heart, you know, all humans know, that they are sinners.  That they don’t measure up to God’s perfect standards.  It causes inner turmoil and spiritual pain and ultimately death.  Down deep we know God didn’t create us to die, but we do—because we bring it on ourselves.  Break it down and you must also confess that all humans face one singular dilemma: how do I square myself with God?  Can I cajole Him into accepting me?  Can I force Him to love me?  Can I buy Him off or pay for some potentate in the visible church to give me an indulgence?  All such attempts at self-righteousness stink, literally to high heaven!  No, I need the gospel of Christ, the forgiveness for all sins that He won for me.  I need it to be given to me as a free gift because nothing I have can compare to, or is as valuable as, His blood and righteousness.

The hammer blows struck on Oct. 31st in Wittenburg were the match that hit this spiritual/emotional tinderbox and literally blew up!  And although the world has tried to tamp it down, the same tinder exists today and needs to also be set on fire to literally save souls.  Forgiveness from God is the most powerful force in all creation.  It sets souls free and reforms the human heart.  It is born of repentance and faith.  It gives birth to a new life and a peace-filled conscience.  So, don’t be timid in using it every day in your life, your marriage, in your family at large, at work, as a citizen.  When you forgive as Christ has forgiven you, only good things can result.  And, and, you’re living proof of that fact.  Amen

18th Sunday after Trinity October 20, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You alone are our refuge and fortress against all enemies, including our own sinful flesh.  You are the only security blanket we will ever need because You are always with us both in this life and in the afterlife.  Today prompt all of us to act like it!  Amen


TEXT:  Mark 10: 17-27

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Your first conscious thought in the womb is: I’m safe!  After all, the ambient temperature surrounding you is constant and comfortable.  You’re well-fed on a well-regulated basis.  And as you develop you show your happiness, sometimes by playing trampoline off your mother’s uterine wall!  It’s a joyful time.  You don’t know anything different—except if your mom is very upset and you sense it, or if she eats spicy food and you feel it.  It’s the ultimate in security.  No wonder some babies take their time.  Why leave?

Then comes birth.  You’re pushed and shoved and come out of that secure womb to the harsh cold of bright lights and noisy surroundings.  Everything is different.  And outside upsets breed internal upsets within you.  As one dour Scottish sage once said: “You come into this world cold, hungry, and wet, and it only gets worse from there!”

Immediately you long for the safety of the womb.  So, you latch onto a security blanket in whatever form it takes.  A literal blanket, a stuffed toy, a warm loving dog.  Or, your mom or dad’s constant embrace.  You hold onto whatever it is that makes you feel secure.  As you begin to grow and age, that longing for security takes on many forms.  Parents, friends, pets, the consistency of known surroundings.   You need to feel in control amid an insecure world.  Eventually you arrive at the inner security of trusting in yourself and by extension in financial security.  This is where that rich young man was in his life and how he got there.


But, eventually you realize, as he did, that money cannot buy real security.  It lets us down.  Money can buy creature comforts.  It can buy better health care.  But it cannot buy true security in this life because it cannot save us from pain, suffering, or death.  That’s why this rich (very rich, think multimillionaire) arrived kneeling at Jesus’ feet and asking: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answers with some leading remarks to his query.  Jesus says: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,  do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  The man responds: “All these things I have kept since I was a boy.”

Really?   He viewed himself as basically perfect.  He viewed his sins as mere outward actions and not the reality of his heart.  He was arrogant.  Today you will confess your sins to God Almighty Who reads the heart, your heart.  Every thought, every word, every action you’ve ever done will be held up to His holy scrutiny.    I pray you will not be as arrogant as this young man and confess your total sinfulness, not just what others know about.  Otherwise, just like this young man you will have no real peace of mind, no inner security.  For forgiveness is the only pathway to lasting security.  Forgiveness won by Jesus dying in your place on the cross, rising to the secure life of eternal peace with God for us, and then placing such security in our hearts via faith—born of His forgiveness.


When this rich young man was done justifying his life, we’d expect Jesus to say: “Yah, right” and then excoriate him for his pride.  But Jesus does something far different.  “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”  Yes, Jesus loves all sinners, including you and me.  But now our all-knowing Lord shows His wisdom.  He knows of this man’s insecurities and addresses them.  “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come and follow me.’  At this the man’s face fell and he went away because he had great wealth.”

Ah, how we humans cause our own problems and end up destroying our lives.  We are all infected by pride.  We all want to have our cake and eat it to and never suffer indigestion as a result.  We want the security of a clean conscience and a life unencumbered  by discomfort.  We are all control freaks.  But we cannot control what really happens either here or when we die.  So, we see-saw back and forth over following the world’s prescription for lasting security and God’s prescription.  Alas, this man lost the battle.  He trusted in this world more than in God’s Son.

The rest of this lesson is Christ mopping up the human mess, the human attempts at fixing our inner longings for inner peace with the omnipresent panacea: money.  As Scripture says: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  Or, to put it another way: “The love of money-bought “security” is man’s ultimate folly.”  Think about it.  Some people believe they can think themselves out of all their problems.  But then they get old and get dementia.  Others slide through life trading on their appearance and glorying in it.  They even spend dollars on Botox and cosmetic  surgery.  But age advances and the frozen face syndrome strikes.  I know of one rich man in my little town growing up who came down with cancer.  He spent a fortune on medical and non-medical treatments.  But still he died.  We all will.  It’s not a question of: “If we die.  It’s when we die.”  And then the security blanket of our money, our mind, our appearance, our power will die, too.

The only thing that doesn’t die is: faith in Jesus Christ, Who rose again from the dead for us!  So, put your heart on the line and trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.  Do the opposite of what this arrogant young man did.  Live your life in humility toward God and your fellow man.  Act on the basis of love in all things.  Recognize that God’s forgiveness   conquers all attempts at human power.  Then you’ll be at peace with Him, with yourself, and with others.  Then you will lack nothing, nothing truly important. Then you will be rich in God.  And remember, faith is our ultimate security blanket because it clings to Christ and Christ resides in heaven—forever.  So our security in Him also lasts forever.    Amen

17th Sunday after Trinity October 13, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, teach us today to practice wisdom in all we say and do. Teach us that wisdom goes hand-in-hand with humility.  Teach us to avoid pride which enlarges our ego but diminishes Godly wisdom.  Yes, teach us that only then can we truly be happy and fulfilled in life.  Amen


TEXT:  James 3: 13-18

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

They say that wisdom comes with age.  I’ve found that it isn’t always true.  Older people can say and do some very dumb things! So let’s begin by asking this question: How do you define wisdom?  I suppose it is about making good choices in life which build everyone (including you) up.  It is stepping out of your skin, getting into another’s persona, analyzing what is good for them and then speaking or acting in a way that they will be uplifted.  Wisdom includes knowing another’s weaknesses and not giving them more than they can handle.  Wisdom always does what is best in the bigger venue of life.  It’s long term gain vs. short term gain.  Obviously the longer you’ve lived the more you’ve experienced and the better you’ll be able to make wise decisions.  But not always, because the sin of pride is always with us.


Let me ask another question: Do you want to be happy, well-adjusted, and fulfilled in your life?  Do you want to avoid the regret of second-guessing your words and actions and have friends instead of enemies?  If yes, that’s where wisdom comes into play.  And real wisdom comes only from God and is a gift given to us.—If, by His grace, we use it.

James begins our lesson by stating the obvious: “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.”  Words and actions show a person’s heart.  So, what side of your heart to you want to reveal to the world?  One word spoken in haste and anger can destroy a relationship.  One misguided action can cause hurts that are hard to heal.  That’s where humility comes into play.  For a humble heart always uses this motto: “There but by the grace of God go I.”

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unscriptural, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”


Envy is not being satisfied with your Godly blessings, seeing the opposite of yourself in another’s life, and trying to steal their happiness by sheer force of will.  Selfish ambition is nothing more than pride in action because you believe you know more than God about how to attain your inner longings.  Both are born of evil.  It reminds me of grade schooler on the playground.  We all want to be #1.  We all wanted to be the first pick for the team.  We all want the feeling of power over another.  So we jostle and budge in the line, seek out the spotlight, and  generally crave attention.  All this while ignoring another child’s welfare because we’re only thinking about ourselves.

In essence that’s the devil’s basic sin.  He didn’t want to be lesser than God, he wanted to be #1 and take God’s place.  And He did everything imaginable to try to attain his wish.  Humbleness is not in his dictionary.  Moreover, throughout the entire Bible every time a person tried to do the same, they fell from grace, just as Satan did.  Whereas, every time someone was willing to let God be God and to trust His loving heart, lasting blessings came to be.

In other words, repentance breeds blessings because repentance bows before Jesus Christ!  Repentance humbly says: “I don’t know everything, but Christ does!”  Repentance is willing to receive His forgiveness earned on the cross which pushes aside the uncertainty of always failing to achieve “superiority” because by faith His superiority is given to us.  Humble Christian faith thus calms the troubled breast and all the disorder and disharmony we inherently breed.  Faith gives birth to Godly wisdom, the only kind there is.

James ends by fleshing out exactly what that all is: “But the wisdom that comes down from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

Let me ask you a final question: Is it really wise to try to attain and take and accomplish the unattainable?  Why continue to beat your head against the wall thinking the absence of pain and total bliss will be the result?  And yet, that’s exactly what ego-driven worldly wisdom tells us to do.  Better to pray for God’s insightful grace, follow His commandments in all we do, wait for Him to guide us, show forth His love via humbleness, and have peace of mind.  True wisdom says: “God’s knows exactly what is best for me and He’ll give it to me.  For this is the reason Christ came—to save me from myself!”  Practice such Godly wisdom and when you get old and gray you’ll look back and say: “My, but my life has turned out so different than I once imagined—and I’m happy and fulfilled because of it!”   Amen

16th Sunday after Trinity October 6, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we thank You that You never show favoritism.  Instead, You show the same kind of love and compassion for all of us.  You treat all of us the same.  This is because we have no reason in our sinful lives for You to favor one over another.  May that same truthfulness be shown in our hearts and by our actions so that humble love may always predominate in Your holy Church.  Amen


TEXT:  James 2: 1-5, 8-10, 14-18

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

In Pinewood’s 135 year history, we’ve had 12 Pastors.  The 9th Pastor was the Rev. Rudolph Honsey, who served in the mid ‘60’s.  After he left Pinewood he took the call to teach Hebrew at our College and Seminary.  That’s where I got to know: Prof. Honsey.  I don’t know of one person who ever had him or knew him that didn’t like Prof. Honsey.  He was one of the most kind, compassionate, and humble people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.  To give you a snapshot of his persona, here’s a true story.

Every time I met him at synod convention he would always seek me, or other of his students, out.  We were in the back of the gym  when I met him that day.  With a big grin he greeted me: “Hi Tom, who are you doing?”  Then he looked around and spied a couple of comfy conference room chairs that were empty.  “Let’s sit down and talk for a while until some big-shot kicks us out!” he exclaimed.  We did.  The thing that is striking about that remark is that everyone knew that Prof. Honsey was the chief “big shot” in the room! Everyone that is, except Honsey!  He was the most humble person I’ve ever met.  This from a man who knew over 23 languages—a factoid a friend of mine had pried out of him years before!  The sainted Rudolph Honsey is a legend and always will be in our circles.


He epitomized St. James’ words of our text: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

It’s human nature to show favoritism, isn’t it?  It’s human nature to like some people more than others; to spend extra time with them; and to overlook and excuse their flaws—even when we shouldn’t.  The question is: Why do we do that?  The answer is multi-faceted, but it all boils down to our own insecurities.  We judge others by externals—their car, their home, their clothes, their job.  We judge them by what they can do or give to us—or so we surmise.  Our insecurities cause us to want to hang out with the popular folks, or the good looking ones, or the smart ones because we think that some of their blessings will automatically rub off on us.   I suppose this is the driver behind “celebrity endorsements.”  Wear Nike’s and you’ll somehow be as athletic as Michael Jordan, or wear TB12 stuff and you’ll be like Tom Brady.

People’s insecurities cause us to let our pride be puffed up by associating with certain other people or trying to curry favor with them because thereby we’ll feed our pride—all because we’re inwardly insecure.  And in modern times this has gotten worse.  I still recall a friend of mine who now is in heaven, who was a Harvard researcher.  When I arrived in Boston he told me: “Celebrities like Boston because people basically ignore them.  Bostonians think they are as good as anyone on this earth, so they feel no need to cow-tow to a celebrity!”   Alas, with the rise of social media and the celebrity culture of America, that has all changed.


In God’s church everyone is the same before God.  God treats us all the exact same way, doesn’t He?  We’re all sinners.  We’re all by nature enemies of God.  None of us can offer God anything and He doesn’t have to favor one of us over another because He has no insecurities—He’s the Almighty.

So when it comes to our salvation, God also treats us equally.  He doesn’t favor you because you earn more money—He doesn’t need your money.  He doesn’t favor you because you’re more athletic, more attractive, wear designer clothes, are humanly popular, or are blest with more brain-power than another, either.  After all, what can any human ever do that would impress God?

No, God loves saints and sinners alike.  He loves us equally in and because of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Recall the passage of Paul: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Christ paid for our insecurities, our sin, on the cross.  And by rising to life He also gave us the most special, secure future imaginable!  We’re all blest children of the Most High. It’s His gift to us through faith.  We have it all through faith in Him and we need nothing else to prop us up in life.  Whereas showing favoritism is our attempt to prop ourselves up because we feel insecure.


Favoritism reveals our sinful hearts.  It shows that God’s blessings and gifts are somehow inadequate.  And then our exemplary life crumbles as our text says: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all.”

James adds that true faith will reveal itself in actions.  “Faith without deeds is dead.”  They both go hand-in-hand.  And so for Christians who wish to be true to God, we will emulate our Savior in being humble in our actions.  Here’s were Prof. Honsey comes in.  He was a humble believer.  He knew world-renowned theologians.  He was world-renowned in his own right.  But he didn’t consider himself that.  He talked to everyone, spent time and energy on everyone crossing his path.  He always sought to build others up and increase their faith and understanding because that’s what Jesus did and he was a child of Jesus.  He was humble in spirit—especially to those who needed to be encouraged.  So, yes, with some he spent more time, not to feed his ego, but to increase God’s kingdom.

This little section of Scripture was written to get you to modify your behavior and do the same in God’s Church.  All of us are in the exact same boat.  All of us need to bail equally so that the devil and his minions don’t swamp the boat.  And the bailing bucket God has provided—the love and gratitude towards our Savior for building the boat and charting our course to heaven—is sufficient to the task.  So don’t favor the ship-mate who may appear stronger or more resolute.  Encourage everyone equally with God’s love, and then you’ll all arrive at the final destination with thanksgiving.  Amen