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Sermon for Ash Wednesday–Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments

 

The Ten Commandments

You shall have no other gods.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

Readings–Joel 2:12–19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

As we begin this penitential season called Lent, this year we reflect on the six chief parts of LutherTwoTablets’s Small Catechism.  These six chief parts, learned by heart by catechumens, those being instructed in the Christian faith, include all a Christian should know and believe to be and to remain Christian.

These six chief parts are: The Ten Commandments, The (Apostles’) Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar.

Tonight, we reflect on the first chief part, The Ten Commandments.

By way of introduction, hear the Word of the Lord according to St. Matthew, Chapter 22.

34 When the Pharisees heard that He (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:34-40, NKJ)

Quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus reveals the summary of God’s Holy Law, the Ten Commandments.

The word Jesus uses to summarize the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, is Love: 1 Love God, 2 Love neighbor.

As Jesus expresses it, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

If we go by our own judgment, love to God and love for neighbor is determined, not by what God says and means, but by what we deem as acceptable to ourselves.

In other words, instead of God setting the bar for the meaning of love, we ourselves set the bar—higher or lower—dependent on our agreement with it.

The problem with , our doing, is just this—It puts us in the leading role and gives the backseat to God.

Altering God’s commands to make them acceptable to us is what it means to play God.

This is idolatry, first commandment stuff.

Yet, even we are not immune from the temptation to make God and His Word more comfortable where we find it to be of discomfort.

We may even see ourselves as better, more righteous, and holier than our neighbor, who does all those things that we would never do.

But reflecting on these words of Dr. Luther from his Large Catechism in the section entitled, “Conclusion of the Ten Commandments,” we find that we, too, are in the same boat as others when it comes to making up ways to please God.

311 Now we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching about what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God. Everything that is to be a good work must arise and flow from and in this true fountain and channel. So apart from the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, no matter how great or precious it is in the world’s eyes. 312 Let us see now what our great saints can boast of their spiritual orders and their great and mighty works. They have invented and set these things up, while they let these commandments go, as though they were far too insignificant or had long ago been perfectly fulfilled.

313 I am of the opinion, indeed, that here one will find his hands full ‹and will have enough› to do to keep these commandments: meekness, patience, love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, and other such virtues and their implications [Galatians 5:22–23]. But such works are not of value and make no display in the world’s eyes. For these are not peculiar and proud works. They are not restricted to particular times, places, rites, and customs. They are common, everyday, household works that one neighbor can do for another. Therefore, they are not highly regarded.

314 But the other works cause people to open their eyes and ears wide. Men aid this effect by the great display, expense, and magnificent buildings with which they adorn such works, so that everything shines and glitters. There they waft incense, they sing and ring bells, they light tapers and candles, so that nothing else can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands there in a surplice garment embroidered with gold thread, or a layman continues all day upon his knees in Church, that is regarded as a most precious work, which no one can praise enough. But when a poor girl tends a little child and faithfully does what she is told, that is considered nothing. For what else should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?

315 Look, is not this a cursed overconfidence of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach? To pretend (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but theirs is for saints and perfect ones? 316 The miserable blind people do not see that no person can go far enough to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear). By them ‹power and strength to keep the commandments› is sought and prayed for and received continually. Therefore, all their boasting amounts to as much as if I boasted and said, “To be sure, I don’t have a penny to make payment with, but I confidently will try to pay ten florins.”

317 All this I say and teach so that people might get rid of the sad misuse that has taken such deep root and still clings to everybody. In all estates upon earth they must get used to looking at these commandments only and to be concerned about these matters. For it will be a long time before they will produce a teaching or estate equal to the Ten Commandments, because they are so high that no one can reach them by human power.” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 395–396.)

In summary, we can readily note two key things.

The first is this, that the 10 Commandments, given by the Holy and Just God, summarize how His people are to live.

Secondly, we note that man-made/invented works, as good and holy as they might appear before others, are not so before God.

Jesus speaks of this latter thing in the Gospel reading from Matthew 6 about practicing righteousness (ESV), giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.

These things are not to be done before men in order to be seen by them.

God knows the heart.  He sees and knows all.

Before God, not other people, is what matters.

Whether your neighbor sees or knows is not the thing to be concerned about.

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

True and lasting treasure is not found on earth, with praise and recognition by men, or in the things of this side of heaven.

True and lasting treasure is found in the Giver of all that is good, whose very Son is your Treasure, your riches, your “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

It is not what we think about a thing that ultimately matters.

What God says is what does.

God Himself lays out the summary of His holy will (and purpose) in the Ten Commandments: Love God. Love neighbor.

His first three commandments have just to do with Love to God, namely, having Him alone as God (and no other), using His Name rightly, and holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it.

These could be considered the positive side of the first three commandments, that which we are to do, in distinction from what we are not to do, as in having another god or gods before the one true God, using God’s Name carelessly and in vain, and despising His Word and its preaching.

Similarly, by Commandments 4-10, “Love neighbor,” God reveals what we are to do and not do in love to neighbor.

Honor Father and mother. “Serve and obey, love and cherish them.” Do not despise or anger them. (4th Commandment)

Be content with what you’re given.  Don’t be discontent with what you don’t have. (Commandments 7, 9, 10)

Speak well of your neighbor, not only of those you like and get along with, but also with those you don’t. Don’t gossip and defame another, “but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (8th Commandment)

Help your neighbor.  Help and don’t hurt. (5th Commandment)

Have clean, pure, and holy thoughts, words, and actions.  Do not lust or fantasize about another. (6th Commandment) –

The Commandments of the Lord are all encompassing.

They exclude nothing that God would have us do, how we are to live, and how we are to be.

They reveal God’s will.

They also reveal your sin.

So, St. Paul says, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7 NKJ.

Again, he says, “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20 NKJ).

Also does St. James reveal, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:10 NKJ).

The truth of God about His Law and our inability to keep it would certainly mean His righteousness condemnation and His abiding wrath upon us.

But for Christ’s sake alone, this is not so.

God’s wrath and condemnation are not on you because of how good you are or because of how good you try to be, not because of any holiness in you, and not because of any desire of yours to be better.

God’s righteous wrath and just condemnation against sin was met on Another, on Him whose fulfilment of the Law in your stead (Active obedience) and whose receiving God’s judgment for your sin (passive obedience) is Your life and salvation.

The very Law of God expounded and revealed by Jesus, Jesus has fulfilled.

The penalty for your sin Jesus suffered on the cross.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees His doing of the Law as your own.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees the punishment for your sin met.

Because of Christ, through faith in Him, you seek to abide in Christ and to do according to the Lord’s will, according to His Word.

You do this, not because by doing so you have God’s good pleasure, but becase you already have God’s good pleasure, His favor, His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, in Christ Jesus the Lord.

You continue to repent of your sin, throughout this Lenten season and beyond.

According to the Law of God, you know that you are not as God would have you be.

According to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you know and believe that Jesus alone is your help, Savior, and salvation. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasAlmighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday)

 

Series on Luther’s Small Catechism for midweek Lenten Services.

 

Christian Perfection

 

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Gal. 2:15-16

 

This is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”

Augsburg 27, on Monastic Vows, offers these words as contrast to those who took the taking of vows, in general, and of good works, in particular, as the means by which a Christian becomes perfect, holy, and acceptable to God. The article briefly details that monasticism, orginally, begain with good intentions, that of offering a means to study and learn God’s Word, but that in time, the practice became corrupt, as the teaching that monasticism surpassed even baptism was accepted as true.

The reformers, in their confession, which is also our own, declare that Christian perfection is not that we become perfect by making a vow, trying to keep the commandments, trying not to sin, or anything of ourselves. Changing who we are also doesn’t change our standing before God, as if we could change our standing before God.

We can’t.

Jesus says, “You will be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Other passages reveal that such perfection is not something that we can do, earn, merit, or obtain. Perfection is not within us to achieve.

Yet, God still commands it.

This does not mean that you can then do it, that you can keep such a command as God wants it to be kept. Rather, it means that God is commanding the impossible, that you see your sin, and trust in Him who has fulfilled the commandment, each and every one, in your stead; that you trust in Him who fully paid the debt of judgment for your sin; and that you not trust yourself as you seek to keep the commandment, but trust in Jesus alone for your help and salvation.

In this, as the Reformers confessed, as do we, is Christian perfection, not that we trust at all in what we do, but trust in God our Savior, who gave His Son for us and through whom we live out our callings in the fear of God and in true faith. Amen.

Vocation-Serving God, Serving Neighbor

 

In the Ten Commandments, God gives His people what they are to do—love Him and love neighbor (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 22:34-40).  God even commands His people how to love others (i.e. Honor father and mother, not murdering, not bearing false witness (gossiping), etc.), as well as how to love Him (having no other gods before Him, not misusing His Name, and using His Word rightly).  By doing these, the people of God serve Him and one another.

We do not have to invent or discover “new ways” of serving God and the church.  God has already given us what to do.

We serve God by keeping His Word (not despising it, but believing it), worshiping only Him—the Holy Trinity (not committing idolatry), and hearing His Word (going to church where His Holy Word is proclaimed and receiving and rejoicing in His free gift of forgiveness and life, given through the preached Word, the Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper).

We serve God also by serving our neighbor.  This kind of service takes place in our vocation, our calling(s).  This is where we serve God and our neighbor.  Parents care for, and discipline their children, in their vocation.  Children honor and obey their parents in their vocation.  Teachers teach and instruct in their vocation.  Students hear and learn in their vocation.  Pastors preach and teach and administer the sacraments in their vocation.  Congregational members hear what is preached and receive from the Lord what He speaks and gives through the Words and the actions of the pastor.

Serving God this way, in one’s vocation, does not mean that we necessarily like or will like those who serve us.  Pastors and congregations, students and teachers, parents and children, civil authorities and citizens, and others all have their weaknesses, their quirks, and their sins.  They do not always do, act, or speak as they should within their vocation.  But rather than using these shortcomings as excuses not to honor or recognize those whom God has placed to serve us, all the more ought we to “bear with one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Also, concerning vocation, it is the office that we are to recognize, and to help the one in that office to do as he or she should.

Vocation is how God would have us serve one another.  “Discovering new ways of serving God and the church” is not of God, for God has already given us how to serve Him and one another.

The question then is, “how are we doing” at serving Him and serving one another in the calling to which God has called us? (1 Corinthians 7).  The answer for all of us is-poorly.  We are failing.  We do not do as we should and we do as we ought not (Romans 7).  God is not first in our lives, and we seek to serve ourselves first and not others.  Instead of encouraging one another to do as God has given us to do, we complain, tear down, bicker, and intentionally hurt our neighbor for what they have done or have not done.  We take the anger we have towards ourselves out on others.  In doing so, we do not love as God would have us love.  We despise and profane the Name of God among us, and demonstrate, not service to God, but service to ourselves and the evil one.

Yet God, in His service to the Father on our behalf, completely and perfectly demonstrated, not service to Himself or for Himself, but to His Father for us, and to us in obedience to His Father (Hebrews 5:8), that His Father declare from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  In other Words, Jesus fulfilled His calling, His vocation, before the Father, for you.

Jesus kept His Father’s Word.  He truly loved His neighbor (you and me), both in saying what the Father had given Him to say (the word of Law and Gospel), and doing what the Father had given Him to do (suffer and die on the cross).  Jesus did neither of these for Himself, but for us, for you.  He came to save you from your disobedience, neglect, and misuse of your calling, both to serve God and to serve one another.

Instead of inventing new ways of serving God and the church, all we have to do is look to what God Himself says.  In doing that, we will have more than enough “to do.”  In doing that, we will also recognize how we do not do as God would have us do.  But by God’s grace through His Son, we will also recognize how Christ has done all that His Father had given Him to do.  By God’s grace through Jesus, we will recognize that Christ, having done all that the Father had given Him to do, means new and eternal life, for Christ, in shedding His blood on the cross, shed His blood to cover all of our sins, all of our sins against God and against one another.

This means that those same sins no longer condemn us as guilty before God.  Those same sins against God and one another can hurt us no more, for in their place is Christ, the sinner of all sinners.

In return, Christ, having taken our place, gives to us what is His (called “the great exchange”).  His obedience and service to His Father is counted as our own.  Therefore, because of Jesus, God sees you as perfectly obedient and a faithful servant, not because of what you do, but because of what Christ Himself did.

Thus does St. Paul say, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  Having peace with God means that all before Him is “alright.”  We have no need to fear for all that we have done and all that we have done wrong in our specific callings.  Before God, on account of Jesus, there is nothing but peace.  And because of Jesus, the Father also says to you, “You are My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

In contrast to taking these words as reason to “sit back and take it easy,” the Christian hears these words, and, in distinction from the sinful nature to serve nothing but itself, the Christian, according to the new man, seeks to all the more serve God and neighbor, faithfully and sacrificially, giving him or herself even in death for the benefit and well-being of those whom God would have be served.  Life begins to be focused on the other, on God and neighbor, not on self and ego.

As Christ lived, not for Himself, but in obedience to His Father and in service to us, so those born of God live, not for themselves, but in obedience to the Father in service to others.  This means that the Christian will seek, not his own benefit and gain, but that of others whom God has called to help and serve.

Such service to others will not take a “one size fits all approach.”  Nor does it have to be sought.  Rather, the Lord Himself reveals how we are to live with and to love one another, even as He, in Christ, loved and loves us, forgiving our sins and giving life and joy and peace (1 John 4:11).   As God loves us, so do His people love one another.

 

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