The Ministry of a New Covenant

The Ministry of the New Covenant

Text: II Corinthians 3:4-6

— by John T. Pless

Editor’s Note: The Rev. John T. Pless preached this sermon for the ordination of Michael Daniels on Trinity XI (August 7, 2016) at Salem Lutheran Church, Taylorsville, NC.

 This past month in Cleveland and then in Philadelphia, the attention of our nation and even the world was turned to decisions being made by the two leading political parties as to who would be put forward as their respective candidates for president of the United States. There were stirring speeches and rhetorical appeals. Those gatherings captured media coverage and commentary, and no doubt the dust will not settle until the election takes place in November. 

 Prof. John T. Pless

Prof. John T. Pless

By way of contrast, we are gathered here this afternoon not to put forward a man for political office with all the ruckus of a convention. Instead, we are here on this lazy August afternoon because Christ Jesus is putting a man in a spiritual office, the office of preaching, the office of the holy ministry of Word and Sacraments. This is not an office of worldly authority, but it is an authority for it is the office of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. So Dr. Luther says in one of his many sermons of John 20: “This was not Christ’s mandate to His disciples, and He did not send them forth for secular government. Rather, He committed to them the preaching office, and the government over sin, so that the proper definition of the office of preaching is that one should preach the Gospel of Christ and forgive the sins of the crushed, fearful consciences, but retain those of the impenitent and secure, and bind them” (LW 69:383). 

That is the office, Michael, into which you are placed today. The media might yawn at a church service which seems so pale and insignificant when set alongside the commotion of a convention hall, but I would submit to you that what is taking place today will have a significance — yes an eternal significance — long after the names of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are forgotten (and for that matter, even your own name is no longer remembered). The kingdoms of men and nations rise up and pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. It is an everlasting Gospel, this word of the cross, which you, Michael, are ordained, that is, put under orders to proclaim.

The person who is put into the office of president has weighty responsibility on their shoulders. The man who is put into the office of preaching has an even heavier burden to bear. Presidents and prime ministers, kings and emperors are given charge over things temporal. Pastors exercise an office with eternal consequences as they are charged to forgive the sins of the broken and retain the sins of the self-righteous, those who in their fleshly security refuse to repent.

 The Rev. Michael Daniels and his wife, Emily

The Rev. Michael Daniels and his wife, Emily

Political candidates recommend themselves for secular offices even as they seek to the approval and recommendation of others. But who can recommend himself for the office of preaching? As he writes II Corinthians, Paul does not commend himself, but Christ Jesus. So also with this young man, this son of Salem congregation, who is ordained today; it is finally not about Michael but about Jesus. 

Certainly, there is much to celebrate and give thanks for this afternoon. It is fitting that the congregation has a godly pride in the fact that one of your own, taught the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism in your midst, nurtured in the fear, love, and trust in God above all things, confirmed in the faith at this altar and fed here with the body and blood of Christ has been led to prepare for the pastoral office. On behalf of the whole church, I speak a word of thanksgiving for the gift that you have given in providing Michael for the work of the ministry. It is good and right that his parents and family who have supported and encourage him at each step along the way, now rejoice that Michael has come to this day. And Michael and Emily are no doubt relieved that the rigors of seminary education are in the rear view mirror and a big bright Texas-size future awaits them. There is eagerness and excitement now to get on to the work which you have been preparing for these past years. That is all well and good, but there is more. There is the one thing which you are to know and never forget. It is this: Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead is alone your sufficiency for preaching office.

 The Rev. Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX

The Rev. Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX

Your confidence is finally not that you have a Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary, or that you have the set of skills required for effective ministry, or that Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas thinks that you will be a good fit to work with Pastor Hull. All of that may be helpful but you have something greater. The Apostle puts it like this: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” In a few minutes, Michael, you will make some God-sized vows, solemn promises that your teaching will be completely bound to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and that your life will adorn and reflect the doctrine of Christ you are sworn to deliver in season and out of season. These vows should cause you to tremble more than a little. You can finally give a full-throated and unqualified “yes” to these questions because your confidence is toward God through Christ.

That little phrase that Paul uses “through Christ” is the key. Paul’s ministry was not validated by his cleverness or perseverance, by his eloquence or appearance, by his credentials of heritage or education but only through Christ. So it is with you, Michael. You are sufficient for this work only because your sufficiency is from God through Christ. 

He has made you competent to be a minister of the new covenant. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant that God would make with His people. The old covenant made at Sinai was shattered by Israel’s sin. There is no salvation there. The Law can only curb and condemn sin; it is powerless to forgive sin. Instead, Jeremiah proclaims a new covenant. That new covenant contains a promise absent in the old covenant. And the promise is this says Jeremiah: “ I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).

You are a minister not of the letter that kills (that’s the Law) but of the Spirit who gives life (that’s the Gospel). Yes, you will preach the Law in all of its sternness to those who are hardened in their unbelief but that preaching will never take their sin away. You will preach the Law only so your hearers might come to hear the promise of the new covenant: “ I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. The law never finds righteousness, and it is powerless to create it. The Gospel only finds sinners, but it is the power of God for salvation for it bestows righteousness in the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ.

You, Michael, are today authorized to be an agent and ambassador of the new covenant, on your lips are the words of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world. His words are spirit and life (John 6:63). Your competence and your confidence are in them. Move away from Jesus’ words, start referencing yourself, proclaiming something other than the Law and Gospel or mixing and muddling the two, and then you will have neither competence nor confidence. For this reason, your confession like that of the disciples can only and ever be: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

Preach the Law? Yes, for it is necessary to bring secure sinners to repentance. Afflict those who are comfortable in and with their sin. To those who have been so afflicted, preach the comfort of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world and by His resurrection gives forgiveness of sins to all you will receive it. That is the work of the minister of the new covenant. Today, Michael, it is the work committed to you.

Christ Jesus is sending you on your way today as a minister of the new covenant, not the letter that kills but the Spirit who gives life. You cannot see the ending of the path set before you. The Lord who sends you does not promise that the journey on which you are now embarking will be an easy one. This culture of death into which you are sent despises Christ. The ever-deceiving world, your own stubborn flesh, and the clever devil will always be on the attack. But you have a promise that is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ who has been raised from the dead never to die again. This is the lively and life-giving hope which will not disappoint you. In Him your life and work are secure for in this Jesus your sufficiency is from God. He has made you competent to be a minister of the new covenant, not the letter that kills but the Spirit who gives life. You have His promise. That is enough. Amen. 

 

Prof. John T. Pless is assistant professor of pastoral ministry and missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

 

 

Sermon on Psalm 46

—Preached by Oswald Bayer on the third to last Sunday of the Church Year (November 9, 2014) at the beginning of the ecumenical “Friedensdekade.”

Translated by Rev. Aaron Hambleton.

I.

    In a power struggle there is a struggle over power. Who wins? Chaos or the cosmos? Do conditions and equilibrium remain stable? Do the waters of chaos remain tamed? Or do they break forth so that in the end it is said, “And the earth was without form and void?” There is sufficient reason to fear. Who can truly say, “I am not afraid, ‘though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the sea rages and foams and the mountains quake from its surging?’” Who can truly say, “I am not afraid, though the earth shakes, though a tsunami bury me in its surging and raging, though lightning strike me, though water drown me, though a boulder kill me in the mountains, though deep depression attack me, though cancer devour me?

    Of course it’s not only the voracious maw of nature that threatens. It’s also the powers of history. The social and political power struggles, the surges and waves of the peoples’ bloody turmoils of war, are like the surging and raging of nature. So says Isaiah about the chaos of history, “They thunder like the thundering of the sea! Ah, the roar of nations; they roar like the roaring of mighty waters! The nations roar like the roaring of many waters” (Is 17:12). That is historical reality. And the reality of world history is that it is a struggle of every man against every man, in life and death, to the point of mutual recognition. The affairs of people with each other does not always happen in peaceful exchanges–in conversation and compromise–rather it often painfully ends in the breaking off of communication; in murder, terror, and war; or at worst in genocide. What the Hutu and Tutsi peoples have done is not the only of its kind, rather it reveals the havoc, that threatens each and every one of us from within.

    No one can say that our Psalm is deluded concerning the world in which we live. It sees the world with radical sobriety, as it truly is: extremely endangered, threatened by the powers of chaos–the hostile powers of perdition. The world of nature and history does not consist by itself. It has in and of itself no stability. It is therefore untrustworthy.

    Last–but not least–my own self, formed by nature and history, lacks stability. The text does not explicitly speak of this. Yet we know this unreliable fellow from our own experience, as they also have their say in many Psalms–which know of people’s self-endangerment; of their fickle hearts, their foolhardy defiance, and abysmal despondency; and of situations, in which we are completely at loss and in which we find ourselves up to the neck. Psalm 69 laments, “The waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me” (Ps 69:1).

    Is there a power that resists such a deadly threat, such a destruction of life, such deserts and voids, such an aggressive Nothing? Is there a power that destroys this destruction? Definitively: is there a strongman, “who on the earth brings about such [holy, redemptive] destruction, who makes wars cease to the end of the earth,” who, “shatters bow and smashes spears and burns [war]chariots with fire?” Is there such a strongman, such a power? Certainly there are but only in hints–such as in the UN. We must not make light of the power and effort of our reason. Yet the anxious question still remains for the one who does not take this lightly: Will there ever be a final ending of war, an everlasting peace? Is it not a delusion, that we entertain the idea of an everlasting peace in the orientation of our acting as the necessary postulate of reason, which allows and causes the progress toward the goal of an everlasting peace? This is particularly important to ask today at the beginning of the ecumenical Friedensdekade

 

II.

    Our Psalm can therefore speak only so radically and unadorned of the threat of our life in this world, because the Psalm does not allow it the last just as the first word. Its absolute first word is “God”: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” So, from the start, this becomes the unwavering grounds of trust; the grounds of defiance against all threat; namely, the grounds, which above all want to be loved. And yet they also want to be sought after and requested, as Luther does in the face of impending war in 1529 with his prayer for peace, “Graciously grant us peace, Lord God, in our time. There is indeed none other who could fight for us than you, our God, alone,” (EG 421).

    There is only one, who fights in the struggle over power in favor of life, and who effectively and finally takes a stand against chaos and war. He did not do this in a distant, intangible past and does not do this (perhaps) in distant, intangible future. He does this here and now: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” (2 Cor. 6:2 ESV). He does this here and now, in the present and at a particular place: in Jerusalem.

    According to our Psalm, in counteraction and contradiction to the unstable Flood, which broke all orderliness, God established an eternal city. The epitome of stability, the cosmic, as well as social, order: Jerusalem, the city of peace, as its name already says. The second verse of the Psalm offers a contrasting picture to that of the first verse, it could not be any sharper or clearer: there the flaring, life destroying wave; here the controlled, soft flowing and life sparing water—in Luther’s translation: the fountain [Brünnlein] (cf. Ps 65:10)—there the chaos, here the cosmos created by God; there insecurity, here safety; there corruption, here salvation: “Creation” as foundation and preservation of community.

    Jerusalem is “the city of God,” “there is the saints habitation in the highest,” “there God is with her.” He has taken up residence in this city and her temple, only in Jerusalem, nowhere else. He has laid himself there in freedom, to let his name dwell only in her before all, yet only to allow himself to be found in His name. His name is the pledge and gift to be, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Ex 34:6, ESV). Overall there, where He and His name are heard aloud, is Jerusalem. This Jerusalem is certainly not the earthly Jerusalem, that in our days is without peace, divided, and contested, rather the heavenly, to us coming, and future Jerusalem, for which God is designer and builder (Heb 11:10). It is not the dwelling place of God that we build for him; it is rather the place of grace, the mercy seat, which he built for us, in which he became Man and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This “new” (Rev 3:12; 21:2) Jerusalem is not built by our hands from here to heaven like the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). It is rather God’s work alone, which comes here from above (Rev 3:12; 21:2; Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22), given to us from heaven and is presented: the Kingdom of God, God in his power, as mere gift!

    We have heard of the coming of the Kingdom of God: “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, [Jesus] answeredthem, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, “Look, there!” or, “Look, here!” for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” (Lk 17:20). The kingdom of God is not seen, rather it is heard.

    I am in the midst of you; the heavenly Jerusalem has already come to earth in me. “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” (Lk 11:20). I fight for you against evil, chaos, nothing. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of angelic hosts, the Almighty, I—Jesus Christ.

    Is this claim then not absurd? Crazy? The Almighty, “who makes wars cease in all the earth, who breaks the bow and shatters the spear; who burns war chariots with fire,” should this powerful prince of peace be identical with the powerless child in the manger and the powerless man on the cross? Should the fullness of God live dwell bodily (Col 2:9) in this, a finite and mortal man? The creator of heaven and earth, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain in all its might, should he be identical with a creature, with this Jesus of Nazareth? The creator of heaven and earth, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain in all its might, should he come to us here and now in a measly bite of bread and a tiny sip of wine and make his home with us (John 14:23)? Should here and now a single “little word” of a human preaching him decide the struggle for power and make ultimate peace?

    Yes, a single, inconspicuous, poor word derails, the whole chaotic demon, the “old evil” foe of life with his great might and many tricks (with which no man can compete): “one little word can fell him.”

    Obviously, the struggle for power will be fought and decided with completely unequal means: the raging sea will not be subdued through an even more terrible power, rather through gently flowing water; the terrible war will not be abolished through an even more terrible war, rather through God’s defenseless name of his mercy, through the inconspicuous, poor “little word” of an incarnated and crucified man, in whom God unattractively, indecently–scandalously–took up residence thus he became the eternal Jerusalem.

    This Jesus Christ is himself the motherly city, which rescues and protects me–as the hen her brood (Mt 23:37). “Though Satan would devour me,” says his powerful word and lets “angel guards sing o’er me: ‘This child of God shall meet no harm,’ ” (LSB 880:4).

    In this strong city Jerusalem you are motherly safe and sound in time and eternity. I, the Merciful One, am your trust and strength, help in greatest need, which have assailed you. Therefore be not afraid, though fear boils and bubbles like the primordial flood and robs you of consciousness. Therefore be not afraid, though you no longer understand and the great hope, which you had, sinks in the sea, though the most beloved person be taken from you and you are in danger of falling into nothingness. I, the Merciful One, am your trust and strength, help in the greatest need, which have assailed you.

 

III.

    Be still and know that I am God, your trust and strength, the Lord Sabaoth, “and there’s none other God,” (LSB 656:2). Trust in me! Me—and no other gods.

    What does this say–today, at the beginning of the Friedensdekade? We have even heard the great “Be not afraid!” of the eternal Jerusalem and less it—Lord willing—lives and reigns in our hearts. Be still, let the hands sink in, we can and should, because God alone fights for us (Ex 14:14). “With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected” (LSB 656:2). Yet this state of peace is full of power: “The hands that in prayer are resting, those he makes strong in acting” (EG 457:11).

    The action of delivering earthly freedom, which is grounded in the state of peace and prayer, first lies in the dedication for a sober view of the world, in which we live. Its unfathomable endangerment and the struggle of the gods can’t be ignored. Despite the help of God “early in the morning,” on easter morning, and his triumph over death and powers hostile to life, these are–alas–not simply wiped away. As if no gods and lords with their threats and promises press us (1 Cor 8:5)! And so struggle and strife remain—up to the consummation of the world, in which we are no longer attacked living in faith and in hope, but the peace, which is believed in and hoped for, without attack and complaint and becoming aware in a wonderful way, that since Easter morning death is overcome, the bow is broken, the spears shattered, the [war]chariots burned with fire, in short: war is abolished; “now is great peace unceasing, all strife at last is ended,” (EG 179:1).

    In the Jerusalem-faith of this peace, that has already been established, we may and should also now dare to seek intensively after the possibilities of political dealings, which are in the movement and direction of that already established peace, after the possibilities of the kingdom of God, which lie in the one who has already come, Jesus Christ. Indeed such possibilities are in the inner mundane fight that still remains to be realized under the conditions of the torn, earthly Jerusalem, the fight of every man against every man in life and death. Thereby we painfully experience that the temporal regiment of God is still in no ways identical with his spiritual and that a puristic pacifism in the face of the still lurking wolves cannot be in the will of God. Because it is God’s will that we protect the life of those who have been given into our care—and in the most extreme case with legitimate force. Yet precisely for this reason we always take part in the old world of the earthly Jerusalem and her conflict.

    Can this participation persevere without resignation or cynicism? Yes, in the trust that the “old, evil” foe—the foe who rages throughout history even to this day–does not win; the trust that “the kingdom ours remaineth,” (LSB 656:4); the kingdom must remain his: his, the child in the manger, his, the man on the cross. This trust in the new Jerusalem—the trust in the eternal city of God—is understood by no ways by itself. For that reason we can now ask and sing: “Give us peace by your grace…” For that reason we can ask and sing every evening with our children and grandchildren: “Lord Jesus, since You love me, now spread Your wings above me and shield me from alarm. Though Satan would devour me, let angel guards sing o’er me: ‘This child of God shall meet no harm,’” (LSB 880:4). Amen


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy

A Sermon on the Holy Trinity (Augsburg Confession, Article I) by Armin Wenz

For this reason alone, the confession of the Holy Trinity is not an anachronism, nor is it an unnecessary formula that impedes the message of the church. The doctrines addressed in the Lutheran Confessions are still relevant today. Therefore the Augsburg Confession remains a necessary antithesis to the doctrines of human reason, which cannot imagine the Trinity and cannot imagine any more that Christ is true man and true God.

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On The Third Day He Rose Again

By Fredrik Sidenvall

Translated by Bror Erickson

This sermonette was originally published in Kyrka och Folk.

Holy week began this last Sunday. Once again you stand before the opportunity to live within the great drama of Easter. Of course, living within means more than decorating your house with various ornaments and eating traditional foods. Yes, it even means more than that you attend a few worship services. Here, to live within means a spiritual journey through time where your life is woven together with the children of Israel in Egypt, with the disciples in the upper room, with Judas in the temple, with Jesus in Gethsemane, with Peter in the high priest’s courtyard, Simon carrying the cross, with the Savior on the cross, with Mary and John at the foot of the cross, with Joseph of Arimathea at the shroud, the women at the empty grave, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

This trip through time and space also extends beyond the limits of personality. It doesn’t merely mean that you should travel there to see and experience things like a tourist. Rather, it is more that you, your person and your life, are present and participate with the people whom God’s word puts before you. You are there amidst God’s enslaved children who are torn between the security in their monotonous and oppressed life and the call to break out on the great adventure home in freedom. You are among the disciples whom Jesus treats as family, whose feet he washes, whose hunger he feeds with his own self. You are among those who sleep, who fail, deny, and betray. You and your blood red sins are there beneath Jesus’ scourged skin, ripped by thorns and pierced by spikes and suffering the wrath of God’s judgment on the cross. Your tears blend with the tears of those who cry at the foot of the cross and tenderly shroud the Savior’s cold corpse.

Now you can ask as Mary once did: How shall this happen? I am not so religious or spiritual that I can manage that much empathy. No, that is true. If it is up to you, then your Easter will be a superficial history. But the answer you receive is the same as that which Mary received: The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and power from on high shall overshadow you! The Holy Spirit dwells in God’s word and makes it a living and powerful word, a word that creates and moves across boundaries, transforms, binds together, and renews.

These lines are written not so that you should increase your efforts, but that your expectations should grow. When you celebrate the divine service this Easter and use God’s word at home, then an awesome thing can happen to your life: the here and now can be woven together with that which happened then. But it is not only so that you can now be carried to the Easter back then, but the whole dynamic of Easter can now be present in your life and your reality today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus can then grab hold of your rebellious will, despair, and unbelief with his pierced hands and take all of this with him into death. The Savior can shroud all of you in a robe made white as snow in his blood. Louder than the blood of Abel, it cries to heaven: “It is finished!” To you who sit alone and afflicted behind walls of fear, the hostile world’s most extreme front, Jesus comes to you and says, “It is I! Be not afraid!”

And as he once took the hand of Thomas into his open side, so he invites you to plug the USB cable of your life into his heart, so that his life that is stronger than death, stronger than anything, will stream into you. It births you anew, and you come to know that you are justified before God in Jesus. You are never without God, and never without hope in the world.

Easter, my friend, is not something that you should observe, but something the Lord causes to happen to you. 


Fredrik Sidenvall, pastor in the Church of Sweden, serves as principal for the Lutheran High School of Gothenburg, where he lives with his wife Anna. He is editor for the weekly Lutheran magazine Kyrka och Folk (Church and Nation) and co-founder of the North European Lutheran Academy. 

Bror Erickson is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Farmington New Mexico. He has translated and published several books including Then Fell the Lord's Fire by Bo Giertz and Witness by Hermann Sasse. 


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Living in the Light of the Last Day

Living in the light, not the shadow of the Last Day, does not mean that all the questions evaporate or the voice of lament is prematurely silenced. We walk in the light that God gives us in his Son, that is, we walk by faith, not sight. We are enabled to confess with the hymn writer “what God ordains is always good” and that there is no poison in the cup my good physician sends me. Amen.

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An Eternal Gospel to Proclaim

We are here today to do what Lutherans have done for generations, that is, celebrate the Reformation of the church which a 33 year-old priest ignited on October 31, 1517 when he tacked his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Of course whether you are a Christian or not, you can’t escape the significance of the Reformation. It is an important chapter in Western history; yes, in world history.

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The Foolishness of the Cross

This sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18–25 was preached by the Rev. Jacob Corzine on 26 July 2014 (Saturday of Trinity 5) in Neuendettelsau, Germany at the fourth International Loehe Conference.

 Wilhelm Loehe

Wilhelm Loehe

I’ve been reading the game of thrones books over the last year and a half or so. I don’t read a lot of fantasy fiction, and I have to admit, I’m impressed. I’m seriously enjoying the books. I’m going to say just a little bit about what’s going on in the volume I’m reading right now, but there’s no need to leave. I don’t think I’m providing any spoilers beyond those already given away in the title. You see, the “Game of Thrones” is exactly what it sounds like. The books are basically about a battle between the elite in an ancient semi-medieval, semi-magical land for the place on the so-called “iron throne” of Westeros. Depending on the volume you’re reading, there are Lannisters, Starks, Targaryans, and Baratheons—I’m sure I’ve missed a few—putting everything that they have into finding a path from where they are to sitting on that throne in King’s Landing. Mostly that means gathering troops, forming alliances, and in general getting the upper hand any way they can. At any rate, it entirely consumes the characters driving at it.

How it will end is anyone’s guess. The next volume is due out pretty soon, I think. What seems fairly clear, however, is that there can be at most one winner—there’s only room for one on the Iron Throne. If anyone sits there, he—or she—will sit there alone. Anyone who has followed or supported that aspirer along the way can hope for due reward at the end. Those on the opposing side, not so much. Their years of efforts will have been for naught, and their foolishness will be unveiled. Years of effort in the wrong direction. What could appear more foolish?

There could seem to be an analogy reading this passage from 1 Corinthians to a group of people gathered around the topic of Education or Formation and the phrase, “If you cease learning, you cease being capable." Years and years are dedicated to study, learning, and understanding, in the hopes of attaining wisdom. Then comes one of the absolute greats of the discipline, the apostle Paul himself announcing that it’s all for naught. Wisdom is not the order of the day, but foolishness. The cross of Christ—that’s the beginning and the end of it all. It would almost seem, for all of our studying, that we may as well have spent our time reading fantasy novels.

But then, it could be that “foolishness” doesn’t mean here what foolishness typically means, but actually does mean wisdom. After all, St. Paul calls Christ the “wisdom of God.” Then, all our pursuits could be called wisdom, in as far as they pursue Christ and the cross. And we would be rescued after all with our wisdom. But I’m not sure. Christ is called the “wisdom of God,” not the “wisdom of theologians.” St. Paul calls what he preaches folly. The world doesn’t know God through wisdom, but through folly. Should we be too proud to call what we pursue folly? Or are we so bold as to call it wiser than St. Paul’s preaching of Christ?

Now, St. Paul wasn’t preaching to academic theologians. So, when he speaks so disparagingly of the wise, he surely doesn’t mean this crowd. He means the Greek philosophers and the Jewish scribes. Maybe there’s an out there. After all, our wisdom, however worldly it might be, is finally the wisdom of the cross of Christ. Except, again that wisdom is folly. Do we really have the self-confidence to admit that Paul was right about himself, but that we’ve moved beyond that?

To borrow St. Paul’s words from another place: What then shall we say? Shall we give up our studies, conferences, and societies? Give up our wisdom in favor of something many of us might be inclined right now to call “fundamentalism”?

I hope not. I prefer to read this passage as a needed caution. Wisdom may be the Achille’s heel of the scholar and theologian, our idol, or with Luther, the place we hang our hearts that becomes our God.

And here, this passage of 1 Corinthians works against that in two ways. First, it pushes us to self-reflection, revealing our wisdom for what we in our very human egotism make it to be. It forces the hard question, not “how could you ever think yourself so wise?”, but rather “what place does your wisdom have in your life as a Christian?” and “Is that the place the word of the cross was meant to occupy?” Or very simply, “Do you suppose your wisdom is wiser than the word of the cross?”

Second, the text draws us out of ourselves, directing the attention of our faith away from our own wisdom toward the word of the cross. It says, “Once you realize the foolishness of your own wisdom, know that there’s something better—the foolishness of God. Once you realize the weakness of your wisdom, that it isn’t a lasting wisdom, know that there is something better. God’s foolishness is wiser and his weakness is stronger. And both are in the word of Christ crucified.” But it remains the foolishness of God. It remains a foolishness extra nos, and this is, I think, why this passage can always be read as an indictment our wisdom, however theologically astute it might be. The word of the cross is always a word about something external. Our wisdom is, at best, a reflection. The word of the cross is the original.

The contrast is stark as it must be. We must give up our wisdom in favor of folly. Otherwise, we would risk hearing this passage as a call to refine our wisdom. But it’s the folly of the cross that, by the grace of God, may even baptize our wisdom.

Of course that would mean it’s not for naught. There are a few figures in the Game of Thrones novels who stand above the infighting and “serve the realm.” Ostensibly, they don’t work to replace the regent, but to serve whoever the regent is. They lack great wisdom and often seem foolish compared to some of those seeking the throne. They don't always have answers but do sometimes have grounds for critiquing other would-be wisdom, seeing the folly.

They have an idea that’s fixed as the world and the wisdom around them changes—the idea of the realm. We have something fixed as well—the word of the cross.

Amen.

The Rev. Jacob Corzine (FELSISA) does Campus Ministry at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and is the English-Language Co-Secretary of the International Loehe Society.

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on BLOGIA are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord

Here in these later days of Lent, we hearken back to Christmas and that is not just because it is snowing outside this morning. The theology of the cross is no mere addendum to the story of Christmas. It is not the product of an overly pessimistic former German monk who was obsessed with suffering and death. Rather the theologia crucis makes its imprint over all of Holy Scripture.

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Confessing the Truth of Jesus

Jesus puts the question to his disciples, a question that will not go away: "Who do men say that I am?" Whether on the History Channel, in popular magazines, scholarly seminars, or chance conversations, it is an enduring inquiry, this question about Jesus. The disciples chime in with their speculative answers: "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 

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A Lament from the Ruins

Prof. Pless preached this sermon at the LCMS Life Conference on January 23, 2013.

Text: Job 30:16–24

This evening’s text from the Book of Job puts us with Job in the midst of the ruins, teaching us how to lament—that is, how to cry out to God. In a day when worship is judged effective and meaningful if it is upbeat, inspirational, celebratory, and positive, there is not much room for lament.  It is far too negative, too depressing to meet our refined taste for liturgies that are affirming, creative, and exciting. But where the church lacks the capacity for lament, a fragile human optimism replaces the hope which does not disappoint and the praise of God becomes shallow and empty. In fact, we may even praise ourselves under the guise of adoring God.

We stand with Job tonight who knows God’s judgment and wrath cannot be evaporated by wishing them away. We stand with Job, tossed about by a God who plays rough with his children to paraphrase Luther. We stand with Job who does not explain away the hidden work of God—his inscrutable ways which as Luther said often appear as those of a mad axe man let loose in the forest, chopping and hacking way. We stand with Job, slimy and muddy in the mire of our sin, ourselves like him “dust and ashes” and bound for death.  We grieve over a wrecked society where the murder of children is considered a fundamental human right and the elimination of the injured or aged is thought to be an act of compassion.  We stand with Job, whose complaint is not merely about faceless forces or evil, a decadent culture, a cancerous secularism, or corrupted enemies; His complaint is directed to the Almighty God who, he says, “has turned cruel to me.” We stand with Job who is not asking for an answer to the riddle of evil but for the Lord’s salvation.

Hence Job’s lament: “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand, and in disaster cry for help?”  We know, of course, something about life in the middle of devastation.  The ruins among which we live, move, and have our being is not a bombed out Dresden of crumbling, charred buildings but of a land where death is regularly administered under the most clinical of conditions.  In fact, the ruins are hailed as monuments of enlightened progressiveness. We may indeed reflect on how we have come to such a time as this where the weakest of our neighbors are the most endangered. We may look for reasons for the shifts in morality and the denial of truths once held to be self-evident. We might well look at strategies to recover and restore the recognition of the inherent value of human life and God-given dignity.  We may seek venues for teaching and advocacy. This is all well and good. But tonight we are not here for that. Tonight we are here to stand with Job, with outstretched hands praying in the midst of a disaster.

Our prayer, like that of Job, is nothing other than a lament. It is a protracted “Kyrie, Elesion!” It is a plea for God’s own mercy; his compassion. Lament might be described as prayer in those times when God leaves “the wound open” to use the words of Oswald Bayer. It is not a self-directed whine, but a prayer addressed to God himself.  Job’s lament is not the whimper of one who sees himself victimized by society or circumstances, but one who has a God-sized problem. Listen again to his lament: “God has casted me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. . . .You [that is, God] have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. You lift me up on the wind, you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm. For I know that you will bring me to death and to the house appointed for all the living.”  Job’s lament is directed to God who is his judge, his critic, who stands by, gazing on his shame but does not act, at least not yet.

Like Job, we lament before the God who leaves the wound open. We lament before the God who certainly has the power to bring an end to all that contradicts his will. We lament before a God who has the power to put down the mighty from their thrones, close abortion clinics, and reverse the hearts and minds of those who institutionalize evil. God instead leaves the wound open.

In the fullness of time, Job’s lament was answered. The redeemer whom Job confessed that he would see in his own flesh and with his own eyes has come into this ruined world where we live.  The Book of Hebrews tells us that this Jesus, God’s own Son, was given to lament: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7).  This Jesus is the Word of God come in our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior. He is God’s own answer of grace and truth, of life and salvation, through the forgiveness of sins to God’s wrath revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness. Jesus’ wounds—his side split open by a Roman spear and his nailed-pierced hands and feet—are forever the foundation of our confidence to live in a world where God leaves the wound open.

In that confidence we live and work, repenting of frustration and weak resignation. Bringing our exhaustion, unbelief, and fatigue to his cross, we have his promise: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  Resting in the wounds of this Jesus and alive in the hope that his resurrection guarantees, we stand in the midst of the ruins calling upon the Lord in this troublesome day, knowing that he will hear and he will hear and that our lament will be answered “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd and he will guide us to the springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes” (cf Rev 7:17).

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.

 

Prof. John T. Pless teaches at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

That’s Not Very Pastoral . . . or Is It?

A sermon preached by Prof. John T. Pless on 24 October 2012, in Kramer Chapel, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Text: Jeremiah 23:16–17; 23–32

In an essay entitled Union and Confession written just prior to WWII in 1938, Hermann Sasse penned these words: “Where man can no longer bear the truth, he cannot live without the lie” (Union and Confession, 1). In this wonderfully lucid little booklet, Sasse goes on to contrast the truth with the lie. He notes that from the beginning the lie and the truth have done battle within the church. So it was in the days of the apostles as Paul said to the congregation at Corinth: “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (I Cor 11:17). The lie, Sasse said, takes on various forms. There is the pious lie, that hypocrisy with which man lies to himself, to others, and even to God. The pious lie easily becomes the edifying lie. This is the lie that takes comfort in untruth. Sasse sees an example of the edifying lie embraced by medieval Christians when they trusted in the power of the saints, relying on the excess of their merit to further them in the struggle toward righteousness. The edifying lie was the lie unmasked and expelled by the Reformation. Then there is the dogmatic lie, the assertion that we have come to greater doctrinal maturity and old teachings are to be changed for a more contemporary, relevant theology. Finally there is, Sasse warned, the institutional lie when the churches embody the lie in their own life, instituting false teaching as normative.

Jeremiah has the lie, in all of the forms Sasse described: pious, edifying, dogmatic, and institutional lie in the crosshairs as he takes aim at Jerusalem’s prophets. With inflated visions of peace and prosperity, they have lulled the people of Israel into a state of spiritual drowsiness. Instead of proclaiming the certainty of the promise, they have peddled the sweet security of the flesh. Thinking themselves to be pastoral they say: “It shall be well with you; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jer 23:17). It is a soothing homiletic to be sure; but it is devoid of consolation for it is not true. It is not a message that God has authorized. It is a lie that edifies only by building up a hardened resistance to repentance. No talk here of God’s wrath and judgment on unbelief; no mention at all of a God who both kills and makes alive. Just sweet spiritual nothings whispered into ears plugged to the voice of God.

Instead Jeremiah harangues against prophets whose lips God did not open, whose mouths give exposition to dreams woven out the deceit of their own rogue hearts. With their reckless sermons they lead the Lord’s people astray, so that the Lord is not remembered as the God that He is. Rather than awakening faith which is bold to call upon the name of the Lord, these preachers lull their hearers into complacency with unauthorized promises of well-being: No disaster will come upon you. They cannot preach the invasive God, this wild God of the Old Testament, the Lord who is jealous to have a people exclusively for Himself, so they advertise a domesticated deity who will put his benediction on the desires, the plans, and the programs of the heart whatever they might be.

Jeremiah denounces this as idolatry, no different in substance from the way that Israel’s fathers had been seduced into the worship of Baal. God’s ears are not closed to these lying words. From his sight nothing is concealed and no utterance is so quietly or softly spoken so as to be beyond his ears. Truth and falsehood have no more in common than wheat does with straw. God comes, and his coming is in judgment. The fire of his Word ignites the stubble of unbelief. The hammer of his law pulverizes hearts that have become granite monuments of unrighteousness. The Lord sets his face against these lying prophets. That’s about as far as today’s text takes us. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! Not a very good place for teachers and students at a seminary to be! There is plenty of dire warning in Jeremiah for us who are preachers or aspire to the preaching office lest we be numbered with those lying prophets who preach peace when there is no peace, who proclaim that all is well when disaster is imminent. There is much here to remind us that we are to “afflict the comfortable if we are ever to comfort the afflicted.” But there is not much in our text to give opportunity for the comfort and consolation of the Gospel to predominate. Not much, but something. Listen again to verse 28: “let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.”

We have the promise of the Righteous Branch proclaimed by Jeremiah, the One who for all time will be known as “The Lord is our Righteousness.” We have Jesus’ word and his “words are spirit and life” (John 6:63). His word is truth–the truth of God’s attitude toward sinners for the sake of his Son. The truth that when we confess our sins God “is faithful and just and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We have the word of the cross, the certain truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself through the blood of the cross. We can live without the lie, because we have the truth in Jesus Christ. It is him that we proclaim. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.

Prof. John T. Pless

 

 

Prof. John T. Pless is associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

C.F.W. Walther Sermon for Trinity 15 (Matthew 6:24–34)

Translator’s Preface

This Sunday’s Gospel in the three-year series is the account of the rich young man from Mark 10:17–22. Jesus preaches a sharp law sermon against greed to this rich young man. Here you will find a similar sermon, this time from the pen of C. F. W. Walther.

One wonders what was going on in the congregation when Walther preached this sermon. It is an attack on the sin of greed and the love of mammon, so much that precious little gospel is found in the sermon. This is striking as the sermon comes from the lecturer on The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, who insisted there that the gospel ought to predominate in preaching. Walther’s sermon, much like Jesus’ sermon in Mark 10, reminds us that repentance must clear the way for Jesus, casting greed from its throne in the heart of man to clear that same throne for its rightful possessor, Jesus. Until that repentance occurs, as Walther notes in this sermon, preaching God’s word to a heart possessed by greed is futile.

Also striking in the sermon are the similarities of attitudes toward money today to those in Walther’s day. Walther excels in this sermon at unmasking greed as it hides behind any number of disguises. We may very well disagree with some of Walther’s critiques, particularly of charging interest, but still appreciate his approach that cuts sharply to reveal greed where it lies hidden in the heart of man. Indeed, we may note new disguises for greed. There may be some, untouched by the current economic slowdown, who still use the slow economic environment as an excuse to be lazy in giving. Walther’s sermon gives us a method to assess such claims—to unmask the greed that lies behind them.

Today, as in Walther’s day, there is great need to preach against greed. This sermon is offered as one example of a Lutheran sermon against greed.

Aaron Moldenhauer

Pentecost 20, 2012

 

Trinity 15

God grant to all of you full grace and peace through the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

In Him, our faithful Savior, dearly beloved!

When we read the history of the Jewish people as it is recorded in the diving writings of the Old Testament, we cannot but be amazed at how inclined to idolatry they were. As soon as one idol is disposed of by a prophet, another one is immediately set up in its place. As soon as the poor people have been saved from the burdensome slavery of Egypt through the greatest, unheard-of deeds and miracles of the true God—passed through the Red Sea with dry feet, drank from the rock, fed miraculously with manna from heaven—as soon as God has revealed himself on Mount Sinai in awe-inspiring majesty, with thunder, lightning, and trumpet-blast and called to them: “Hear, O Israel! I am the Lord, your God, who has called you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an image or any likeness, neither of what is above in heaven, nor of what is below on earth, nor of what is in the water under the earth. Do not worship and do not serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, who visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” As soon as this has happened, the idolatrous people have arranged a service worshipping idols like the Egyptians. They have Aaron cast a golden calf and, drunk with happiness, proclaim: “These are your gods, Israel, who led you out of Egypt.” They celebrate a great festival, offer burnt offerings and thank offerings, and thus, eating, drinking, and playing, ascribe divine honor to the dead image.

When the world of today reads this, it blesses itself in its heart and says: Praise God, that we are now more enlightened than the ignorant Jewish people. A foolish worship can no longer occur among the educated peoples of the old and new world. Idols have fallen and will not rise again. The world has stepped forward. The light of the all-present truth has eliminated the darkness of heathendom. Now we worship God in spirit and in truth. Oh, how good it would be if this were true! How good, if at least the world living under the light of the gospel had renounced all idolatry and given itself truly to the worship of the only true God! To be sure, the world of today has progressed so that it will not easily fall down before the golden image of an animal and say: “Behold, these are our gods!” However, we would be greatly mistaken if we thought that now, instead of the old, gross idolatry, the worship of the true God in spirit and in truth had arisen and had become universal in the so-called Christian world.

Rather, I assert that at no time has more idolatry prevailed than in our day, and certainly also in our new, so-called Christian fatherland. There is one particular idol that is worshipped by young and old, by great and lowly, by rich and by poor. No special temples are erected to this idol. Its temple is the whole world, its priests all children of this world, and its altars their hearts. This god reigns all-powerful in every place. Its praise sounds forth day and night from the tongues of millions and its altar fire, blazing up to the throne of this great god, is never extinguished.

Dearly beloved, do you not know this god? Have you never bent the knees of your heart before it? Have you never kindled the incense of your love to it? I fear that none of us remain completely clean of this idolatry, indeed, that perhaps many of us have devoted ourselves completely to its service. Should I tell you the name of this idol? It is money, it is wealth, it is good days, it is vanity. In a word, it is “mammon.” Indeed, dearly beloved, this is the god before whom all now bow. This is the god who now has countless worshippers, the god who reigns over all and whom all serve with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their power and with all their mind. The true God must everywhere step aside and make way for this god. “Money rules the world,” as the proverb says, and so must agree everyone who even glances at the life and character of the world.

Christ warns us against this idolatry in today’s gospel. Let us now hear this warning.

Matthew 6:24–34

No one can serve two lords. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will cling to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat and drink; nor about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: they do not sow, they do not harvest, they do not gather into barns. And your heavenly Father still feeds them. Are you not much more than they? Who among you may add a cubit to his life, though he worry about it? And why do you worry about clothing? Look at the lilies of the field, how they grow. They do not work, they do not spin. I tell you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of them. If then God clothes the grass of the field that is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, should he not do that much more for you, O you of little faith? Therefore you should not worry and say “what will we eat?” or “what will we drink”? or “what will we wear”? The heathen seek all these things. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all of this. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will come to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. It is sufficient that each day has its own trouble.

“You cannot serve God and mammon.” These words are the theme which Christ speaks on extensively in the entire gospel just read. “Mammon” is an Aramaic word and means the same as wealth, money, and chiefly temporal goods. Christ depicts this “mammon” as a god whom man cannot serve alongside the true God, but only in his place. Christ shows in the following what this worship consists of, but also how corrupting and damnable it is. Let me therefore now speak to you:

 

About the corrupting and damnable worship of money;

in this I will show you:

  1. that mammon truly is the god of and world which it serves, and
  2. that this worship brings ruin her and damnation there.

I.          What is a man’s god? A man’s god is that which he holds to be the greatest and highest thing in the world, in heaven and on earth; what he loves as the highest good above all; the loss of which he fears more than anything, and what he trusts above all; in which he seeks his highest joy; from which he expects preservation in his entire life, protection in every danger, deliverance from every need, in short, from what he expects his true salvation. Whoever holds something in this way, whoever believes that about a being or about a thing and is wholeheartedly devoted to this being or this thing, that thing is this man’s god, in whom he actually believes and whom he serves.

If this is true (and it cannot be denied), then it is also undeniable that the world’s real god is not the true God, not that invisible being who made heaven and earth. Rather, the real god of the world is nothing other than “mammon,” in whom it believes and whom it serves. Yes, mammon is the all-powerful god for which the hearts of men in every land beat, and to whom the most sincere adoration is offered in every kingdom. This god mammon has its faithful servants in every class without exception. The richest, who do not want to serve anyone, are nevertheless the most zealous servants of mammon. Emperors, kings, and princes, who want to be subject to no one, are nevertheless obedient subjects of this high monarch. Most of those who are called to be messengers of the heavenly king nevertheless stand secretly in the pay of mammon. The world views the poor man who is without mammon as abandoned and cast off by God. On the other hand, wealth catches the attention of the world and makes its possessor an honorable man in the eyes of the world. In city and country, in every house, in the palace and in the hut, in every shop, in every factory, in every market, and in every street and alley this god has its altars and its priests sacrificing to it.

Ask yourself, what do most men seek and love above all? It is not mammon? Does not an increase of temporal goods delight the hearts of most men more than anything else? Do not most find in gold and silver, in a growing, profitable business, in beautiful houses and expansive estates their greatest enjoyment and comfort in this world? Why does one get up so early in the morning and burn the midnight oil? What is the source of that restless feeling and drive through city and country? What is the gain of all this speaking and speculating and chasing and running? At what does everyone snatch so eagerly, as if it could avail to win a heaven? It is vexatious mammon. One sacrifices everything else to it, even what is most dear to him. Only to acquire mammon one sacrifices health, works and worries himself sick. Only to win mammon one denies himself a thousand friends, denies himself rest and ease, sacrifices friendship, oftentimes honor and his good name, virtue and a good conscience, yes, even life, and goes down to an early grave as a martyr for mammon.

Further, what does one fear more than the loss of this god’s favor? Do not nearly all men consider themselves completely unhappy when they have lost it? Do not many fall into deathly sorrow over this? Are not most sighs breathed out over the loss of mammon, or over the mere danger of losing it? Do not most feel as though a piece of their heart would be torn out if they should give even a small gift to a poor man or give even a small offering for charitable or churchly use? Indeed, have not countless ones in complete despair taken their life because they saw themselves completely robbed of the comfort and help of mammon?

And in whom, finally, does the world trust? Does it not believe that it is at peace if only it possesses great mammon? Does it not regard it as the key to its happiness? Does it not ever increasingly strive for it, in order that it may finally be without worry for the future? Is it not the highest wish of most, to hunt down so much capital that they can finally lay their hands in their lap, live only from their money, that is, from the interest, so that they retain their money in a wonderful way, indeed, that the money even increases, while they continue to do nothing but live on it?

Yes? Is not mammon the god of the world, for the world loves, fears, and trusts it above all? Does the world not serve mammon zealously day and night with body and soul? Does it not sacrifice everything for mammon? Undoubtedly this is true.

Still, dearly beloved, the worship of mammon, or stinginess and greed, does not always appear in this easily recognizable form. It is not always so crass. Thousands serve mammon as their god and no one suspects it. Stinginess and the worship of mammon appear as a knave in many disguises and under many false names throughout the world and nowhere want to be known by their true name. Here it puts on the dress of thrift and hatred of waste. Here it calls itself diligence, faithfulness in earthly things and faithfulness in fulfilling one’s earthly calling. Here it answers, if one asks its name, that it is nothing other than care for one’s own, or the innocent pursuit of a good livelihood. Yes, the secret worshipper of mammon declares, mammon does not adhere to his heart at all, his heart is disgusted by stinginess. Even though nearly all men serve mammon wholeheartedly, nearly everyone is ashamed to admit that this is his god. Indeed, most seek to be so persuaded that in no way could they boast of their faithfulness in its service.

Let the servants of mammon conceal themselves, even behind virtues as though it were generosity; Christ removes their mask in our Gospel and brings them into the light. Namely, Christ says that whoever does not commit himself in true love and childlike faith to the rule and care of the Heavenly Father, but worries anxiously about tomorrow, about his body and his life; who, worrying anxiously, says and asks: “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” yes, “who does not seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” this man is no Christian. According to his faith and his heart’s condition he is still a heathen. In short, his god is still mammon.

Is that not a hard, terrifying judgment? How many it now shows to be greedy, covetous, money-loving, worldly-minded servants of mammon, who do not realize it. See, only he is not a servant of mammon whose heart does not cling to money and worldly goods; who, if God blesses him with these, sees them only as an opportunity to do good for others; who regards himself only as an instrument for divine goodness, as the caretaker of God’s charity, and who finds his own joy only in the joy of his neighbor. Further, only he is not a servant of mammon who thinks that it is God’s command that you work. Because God wills it and it is pleasing to him you work, but not out of worry about your food and clothing, which you expect not because of your work and toil, but from your Heavenly Father. Finally, only he is not a servant of mammon who regards temporal things as merely a minor matter in this world, the world which admittedly wants to worry; but who “seeks first,” that is, most zealously, most dearly, most enduringly, most seriously, “the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” that is, the grace of God, after the salvation of his soul, in a word, to be saved.

However, all those who say that they do not wish to become rich, but seek only so much that they would be assured of a carefree living; indeed, they all think that they are certainly not servants of mammon. But by this attitude they confess that they only want so much that they need not trust God alone, as the birds in the trees who must daily wait and see where God has scattered their food for them. No, a sum with which they would expect to get by according to their rough calculations is more certain for them than God’s care. Therefore this sum is—their god! Another one says: I am content with what I have and therefore thinks that surely he is free from the accusation of greed. But look! The little that he has is his comfort, therefore—his god! Another one certainly cares for the kingdom of God, he prays, he goes to church and to communion, he considers himself a Christian, he separates himself from the godless world and so forth. But a greater care, which lies daily on his heart, is how he will get by, or how he will improve his business and become richer. What is such a man’s god? As pious and Christian as he may appear, his god is still mammon. To be sure, many others rejoice over God’s word and grace and are saddened to lose the one or the other; but if he gains something similar from temporal goods, if his joy is even greater, or if his sadness is greater when he loses his temporal good, so great that he cannot be comforted—also such a man is (however he may posture) a secret worshipper of the god mammon. Not the heavenly father and his spiritual goods, but temporal good really possesses his heart. Many others do not seek wealth because they know that this seeking would be in vain. He who wants to become rich is angered at this. He does not appear to depend on worldly things, but when his heart laughs at the thought that he might become rich: behold, mammon is also his god. Many a one indeed gives, however, not as much, but as little as he can give with honor. He can, from love of money, let a supplicant go without the alms requested from him. He can turn away hardhearted from the one who is in need and wants to borrow from him. With a smiling face he can pocket the appointed interest from a debtor who can only expound to him with sighs. He can strike a burdensome deal, or cancel the wages of the poor. Such a man is a servant of mammon. Money is his idol, to which he has pledged his soul. The love of the true God, though he may have it on his tongue, does not live in his heart.

Nevertheless, who may seek out greed and the worship of mammon in all its hideouts, to which it often retreats in the heart to elude the eye of men and to avoid being seen for what it is? By nature we are all servants of mammon. Man must have a god. Once he has lost the true God in his heart, the world with its goods has taken his place. Who has been freed again from greed, if not by a special work of grace by the Holy Spirit? Otherwise man is undoubtedly still ruled by it. Alas! Many a heart is purified from this idolatry through true repentance, yet how common it is that mammon first finds again an open temple in that heart. Countless Christians have endured everything—trouble, shame, poverty—but mammon has finally betrayed them, for there is almost no other vice with which a man can appear always as a good Christian as when he serves mammon in his heart and seeks his rest, his joy, his comfort, his hope—in a word, his god—in temporal good.

II.        Now that we have heard how common the worship of mammon is, let us hear the second part, how corrupting and damnable it is.

The holy apostle expresses briefly how corrupting is it with the words: “Greed is a root of all kinds of evil.” See what a vile thing greed or the worship of mammon must be. Could anything more vile be said of it than that it is a root of all evils? No evil is too great, there is no abundance of evil too large; the worship of mammon produces them all! From it grows self-love, indifference to neighbors, hatred, envy, apathy towards Christ, his word and his grace, yes, enmity against God, despising of heavenly bounties, robbery, murder, hardening against the work of the Holy Spirit and the like. Christ in our gospel names only the chief evil from this list when he says: “No one can serve two lords. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will cling to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” It is here stipulated: where the love of money and property permeate the heart, the love of God is pushed out. Wherever an altar for mammon is erected, there the heart becomes a temple of idols, there the true God must yield at once.

No matter how many outward works of worship the servant of mammon performs, his heart does not take part. And where the heart which clings to mammon is turned away from God, his whole worship of God is a miserable illusion, an abomination to God. No matter how faithful a servant of mammon shows himself to be, he hates God in the depths of his heart. He hoped that he could be saved without God’s grace, so he was not the least bit concerned about God’s grace. If he could abide eternally in the world in earthly joy he would gladly remain forever far from God, gladly forsake his heaven and be content with the world. In vain God’s sharp law or sweet gospel is preached to a servant of mammon. Worry, wealth, and the bliss of this life choke out the heavenly seed. The word of God is written in his heart as letters in sand. The next gust of wind quickly blows it all away again and it is seen no more. One who loves temporal property sometimes is indeed troubled in his heart, for he would like once to possess, beyond earthly goods, heavenly goods. But no sooner do his thoughts turn back to temporal things, and they wash over him like waves of the sea and once more extinguish the glowing spark of faith. Often a servant of mammon comes to the firm resolve to be a true Christian and to follow Christ even to death. But when he finally hears: “Sell all that you have and give to the poor,” namely, when he hears that he must tear his heart free from everything temporal, that he must posses this merely to do good with it, then he goes away sad like that young man. This gate is too tight for him, this way too narrow, this requirement too difficult.

But what is his lot? Already here it is heartache, grief, worry, discontent, unhappiness. Always he thinks: If only you had this or that, then you would be happy. But the more he gets, the greater his desires become, just as thirst grows continually worse as one drinks more salt water. Death is a dreadful messenger for a servant of mammon. Either he is terrified to lose the world and its good, or he is still not certain how he stands with God. He suspects that Christ will not acknowledge him as one of his own. He suspects that he has forgotten and frivolously lost the heavenly in favor of the earthly.

Oh, already for many a man in the hour of death his money and property—much of it obtained unjustly, or still anxiously accumulated, and for its wearying acquisition he had set aside seeking the kingdom of God—oh, for many a dying servant of mammon his property has come crashing down on him like a mountain! Then, with the ship of his life about to founder, he would have gladly thrown all his treasures, his gold and silver, his houses, his estates into the sea, if only he could be saved by this. Oh, many a man has woken up from his dream in the hour of his death and finally departed with a doleful cry, without hope and without comfort.

But despair in the hour of death is only a harbinger of what awaits a servant of mammon in eternity. Here he has not sought his joy in God, but in base mammon. God will therefore say to him there: Depart! Be saved now by your dead idols. God’s anger and eternal condemnation will be the interest which those will receive there, who here used their temporal property only for themselves, who delighted only their eyes in it and would not let it abound for the poor and for the spread of the kingdom of God. In vain then the servants of mammon will excuse themselves and say: What evil have we done that we should be condemned? God will answer them: All right, if you have done nothing evil, where is the good that you should have done? Not only the tree which bears bad fruit, but also the tree which bears no good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I had blessed you with temporal things, but where is the interest from the talent loaned to you? The undried tears of the poor accuse you to me. The rust on the gold and silver in your chests, the sighs of the oppressed and swindled, indeed, your life entirely devoted to seeking temporal things testifies against you, that you accumulated treasures for yourself, that you loved yourself, and that you have not served me, but mammon. Therefore depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared from the devil and all his angels.

Oh, let everyone be terrified by this abominable worship of mammon! Time spent serving it is dismal, and horrible is its final pay. Here it robs man of rest and peace in his heart, there of God, his soul, and salvation. Let everyone look in his heart and ask: Whom do you serve? If you serve God not with your whole heart, you do not serve him at all, and certainly then mammon is your god, for “no one can serve two lords.” Consider that a man can drown even in a small brook. He need not fall into the sea to find death. In the same way the service of mammon may not be so obvious in you as it is in another, yet still your heart may cling to it secretly, in order to steal God, soul, and salvation away from you.

Oh, seek God with all his grace. Taste and see how gracious he is. Give him room in your soul, and mammon will quickly be pushed off of its throne in you and you will sing out continually:

 

Depart, O world, with your idols,

Depart with your silver and gold;

I have God with his treasures,

I am already saved through Christ’s blood.

There, moreover, I will be fully pure

And ever, evermore be saved. Amen.

 

Translated from Carl Ferd. Wilh. Walther, Amerikanisch-Lutherische Evangelien Postille: Predigten über die evangelischen Pericopen der Sonntage und Hauptfeste des Kirchenjahrs (St. Louis: Druckerei und Stereotypie der Synode von Missouri, Ohio, u. a. St., 1871), 295–301.