Saturday, June 24, 2006

B, Augsburg Confession, Commemoration of


Today we are not going to hear a sermon, in the usual sense. Today we are going to hear some of the confessions from the Augsburg Confession (1530). We do so not to remove the Word of God, especially the gospel, from its centrality. The Word of God is our life line, through which God comes to us! But we look at these confessions in accordance with, and under the authority of, the Holy Scriptures.

Many in our church today don't even know what is in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, contained in the Book of Concord, let alone the spiritual climate in which they were written. So here, on the web site and in the handout, I am listing the first 13 articles of the Augsburg Confession. Why 13? Because 13 articles fit neatly onto the page I am handing out to the congregations today (a very practical reason).

"Why do we need to have the confessions? Surely we can know of Jesus' love, and hear from the bible!" This might be some of the thoughts that come to mind on being presented with this document.

Our confessions were written and presented to encourage the church of the day back under the umbrella of God's Word, when it had erred from the Word of God and the Holy Tradition Christ had put in place for his church to receive the benefits of his death and resurrection. The Augsburg Confession was primarily written by Phillip Melanchthon and was signed by like minded believers to demonstrate before the church that what it was doing was misguided, and it was also written to clear up misinformation spread about the beliefs of the reformers calling for correction in the church.

Later on in the Book of Concord, the Formula of Concord (1580) was written to correct Lutheran and other reformers' beliefs that had swung so far to the other extreme that they too had, or were in danger of, removing the centrality of the gospel from its rightful position. They were throwing out the Christ child with the dirty bath water!

We need these Confessions today as much as they did then, so we don’t, wittingly or unwittingly, throw Christ out of his church. There is nothing new under the sun, and so many of the movements today are replications of things that have been thrown out of the church as wrong in the past. It is difficult to not err from the centrality of gospel, and in its place, run after a staunch conservatism that is dead, or a radical liberalism that dilutes God’s word as it seeks prosperity, or emotionalism, for the sake of entertainment. Human nature always seeks to lead us away from the truth to an extreme. And both extreme views end up doing the same thing, namely, they push Jesus Christ from the centre into the peripheral then out. Tradition or radical change for the sake of enforcing one's rights, over against serving each other in love, deceives people and leads them to ignore the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ "for us", and the means of receiving this grace, spiritually and physically, in the Word and Sacraments (mysteries), which Christ has ordained.

In an age of much spirituality, we need to know what we believe about the bible, and not just blindly accept those who say they are Christian, and use the bible to preach a message other than the one God intends us to hear for our salvation. We need to be discerning people, holding onto the things that lead us to Christ, and, letting go of the things that lead us into ourselves. WE LIVE BY FAITH AND NOT BY SIGHT! (2 Cor 5:7).

Therefore I present the following which comes from the Book of Concord online. Pastor Heath Pukallus (aka: Friarpuk)

Chief Articles of Faith: Articles 1-13

Article I: Of God.

1] Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; 2] that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and 3] yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term "person" 4] they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

5] They condemn all heresies which have sprung up against this article, as the Manichaeans, who assumed two principles, one Good and the other Evil: also the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and all such. 6] They condemn also the Samosatenes, old and new, who, contending that there is but one Person, sophistically and impiously argue that the Word and the Holy Ghost are not distinct Persons, but that "Word" signifies a spoken word, and "Spirit" signifies motion created in things.

Article II: Of Original Sin.

1] Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.

3] They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ's merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

Article III: Of the Son of God.

1] Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in 2] the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably enjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and 3] buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

4] He also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day; afterward He ascended into heaven that He might sit on the right hand of the Father, and forever reign and have dominion over all creatures, and sanctify 5] them that believe in Him, by sending the Holy Ghost into their hearts, to rule, comfort, and quicken them, and to defend them against the devil and the power of sin.

6] The same Christ shall openly come again to judge the quick and the dead, etc., according to the Apostles' Creed.

Article IV: Of Justification.

1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

Article V: Of the Ministry.

1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit (that is to say), that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.

Article VI: Of New Obedience.

1] Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God's will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification 2] before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17, 10. The same is also taught by 3] the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, etc. Matt. 23, 2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

Article IX: Of Baptism.

1] Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary 2] to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God's grace.

3] They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

Article X: Of the Lord's Supper.

1] Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed 2] to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise.

Article XI: Of Confession.

1] Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession 2] an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Ps. 19, 12.

Article XII: Of Repentance.

1] Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted 2] and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these 3] two parts: One is contrition, that is, 4] terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of 5] the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts 6] the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.

7] They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may attain to such 8] perfection in this life that they cannot sin.

9] The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.

10] They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.

Article XIII: Of the Use of the Sacraments.

1] Of the Use of the Sacraments they teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather to be signs and testimonies of the will of God 2] toward us, instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Wherefore we must so use the Sacraments that faith be added to believe the promises which are offered and set forth through the Sacraments.

3] They therefore condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify by the outward act, and who do not teach that, in the use of the Sacraments, faith which believes that sins are forgiven, is required.

There are 28 articles all up in the Augsburg Confession and it was written largely by Philip Melanchthon and was presented at Augsburg to the Emperor Charles V on 25 June 1530.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

B, Pent 2 Proper 6 - 2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17 "Faith Fencing - Before we go Home"

A farmer goes to buy supplies to build a fence — three kilometres long! He has saved up all his money and estimates how much of everything he will need. He buys rolls and rolls of tie wire and netting wire, apparently to stop the sheep getting out and the wallabies getting in. He buys roles and roles of plain wire and barbed wire as well as insulators to electrify these top wires to stop his bulls fighting with the next door neighbour’s bulls. He loads onto his vehicle bundles of star pickets, or steel posts. Then he goes off to the forestry. For days he works to cut out strainer posts, split posts and stay rails. He eventually arrives back at home with loads of Ironbark timber. The work has been hard and his hands are stained from sap from cutting and barking trees.
Now the farmer is ready to build his fence. He trusts he has everything he needs to complete the task of constructing the fence. For the next couple of days he digs holes for the fence posts and flogs the star pickets into the ground; two steel posts to every split post. He believes this fence is going to be the straightest, tightest, neatest and newest fence in the district. He has great faith it’s going to stop everything from lambs to bulls.
He attaches wire to the posts, section by section, until he gets to the last one-hundred metres. But tragically as he unrolls the barbed wire, the spindle whirls to a stop — he’s run out of wire. He unrolls the plain wire — the same thing happens. And likewise the netting runs out too. The wire is too short, some of it by ten metres, some of it by seventy metres, and some of it by just three metres. None of it makes the distance to the final strainer post and so the fence stands unfinished.
How many people there have been and are today, who on approaching Christ, apparently come so near to him, yet never truly touch him! Unless the final contact of faith is achieved, all is lost. Like the newly constructed fence standing as the neatest, straightest, and tightest, stops nothing, so too faith that is not bound to Christ, stops and saves no one.
St Paul tells us, “[W]e are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17)
We live by faith, not by sight! Unless faith is connected to Christ what really is the faith we possess. True faith makes us one with Christ; it takes us out of ourselves, it takes us from the familiar homes of our bodies. Therefore, faith takes us away from trusting our feelings, faith leads us from our limited understanding so we might trust him alone, and faith puts no trust in the greatest works we might accomplish. We live by faith not by sight. Unlike sight, or touch, or feelings, or understanding, or physical strength, faith is not a faculty of our bodies. Faith is not at home in us but it always seeks to lead us home.
Faith comes to us from God. In fact it is sent from the Father and the Son, to you and to me, when the Holy Spirit comes to us in God’s word. Just like a removalist moving house, the Holy Spirit comes to us and is in the process of relocating us to be with God. But unlike a furniture removalist this shift is taking a lifetime. We might become frustrated with this move God is making within us. We would be frustrated if a furniture removalist took a lifetime to move our furniture from one house to another. However, God calls us to trust this lifelong shift, rather than try to understanding it and become frustrated with it. As Martin Luther once described faith as glue, we are called to let our hearts be stuck fast to the promises of God.
God moves us to be with him throughout this life, naturally we are called to be less and less reliant on the things with which our bodies are furnished. God’s will is that we look more and more to him; to live by faith and live less and less by sight and the other things we once relied on in the home of our person — the temporary home of our bodies.
The farmer’s fence was faulty, he built it by sight and his own understanding, and it came up short. He was lacking in judgement, discrimination, and discernment. However, a fence built by faith is tied to God; it protects a person from the smallest errors hopping into the heart, just as the farmer’s fence would have stopped wallabies if finished. Faith also guards us from the greatest of evils bellowing at us and barrelling us; just like a finished fence would have saved the farmer’s bull from the neighbour’s bull looking over the fence for a fight.
As people who live by faith, we are called to be discerning and make judgements over what is right and what is wrong, or what is truth and what is filled with error, so that the faith fence is not untied from Christ and the move from the home of our bodies to the home of heaven is not severed through confusion and deception.
In an age of political correctness, we are tempted to fall into line with the thinking that we must see every view as an alternative truth. We are tempted to see that “It’s all good” without stopping and discriminating false belief for what it is — deception.
It often comes as a surprise and shock to the person who thinks they are doing the right thing when they find out they have in fact been deceived — but that’s why it’s called deception. And the deception many Christians fall into is a quasi-faith that leads away from God, back into trusting personal traits and emotions as faith, and therefore leaving the fence of faith disconnected from God in a haze of confusion and chaos.
So if we are called to use sight, or feelings, or human understanding, less and less, to make sense of things, what should we use? If we are called to discern and judge without the use of our bodily faculties, then what do we use? How are we to view ourselves if sight and the other senses are things of the past? And should we discern and judge the fence building of others, or how the moving from the body to the home of heaven is going with others?
As we have already heard, faith allows us to be glued to the promises of God. To discern with faith, we don’t turn back to our human faculties, rather we view all things with, in, and through, the word of God. The word of God becomes our eyes and ears, and through it our hearts and minds are moulded toward the will of God. We hold all things up against the word of God; what others say to us, or seek to teach us, even our own Lutheran confessions can only stand under the authority of God’s word.
Through his word we are being made new creations in Christ, the old is gone, the new creation has come. In fact our re-creation is still coming to completion, and our re-creation will be finished and perfected in the future as God continues to move us from our old house into his new heavenly home.
So too we are called to see and hear each other through the lens and voice of God’s word. We are called to use the same divine word through which God has saved us and first given us faith, to judge and discern what others are doing.
Why must we do this? Not to knock each other down, but to help one another be freed from error, so we might all be built up in our saviour Jesus Christ through his word and the promise of his presence through his gifts to his church.
Why is this so important? Because through his word, the water and the word, and the body and blood, the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and faith leads us out from ourselves and into the heavenly home of God the Father forever.
Live by faith not by sight! Seek the house of the Lord, and his home in eternity, over against the security we once found in ourselves. We have been baptised into Christ, so view each other in faith—with the eyes and ears of his word—and encourage each other into repentance and forgiveness, as does faith continue to encourage each of us. The ways of the world and the faculties of our bodies are doomed to death, so allow these things to be pruned off forever and be tied to Christ with the fence of faith forever. Amen.

Friday, June 02, 2006

B, Pentecost (Confirmation Day) - Ezekiel 37:1-14 "Life & Death: What is the Point?"

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”


What is the point of all this church stuff? It seems to be disconnected with the reality of the world today, completely boring. It doesn’t do much to stir up excitement and bring in the numbers that have wandered away in recent years!

Why should we bother with teaching, and with being taught, what’s the point of confirmation class, learning the catechism, the books of the bible, and bible texts? What’s the point of learning about what we believe we receive, when we are baptised, when we eat and drink the bread and wine, when the pastor says in Christ’s stead, “I forgive you all your sins”? What’s the point of going to church on Sunday; trying to stay awake while the bloke in the white dress waffles on, up the front, and performs a bunch of antiquated rituals.

Even more so — what’s the point of life, living, going to school, working, falling in love, getting married, having a family, and growing old? What’s the point of it when at the end of it all, death awaits us!

Today is Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost is all about the Holy Spirit coming and giving life. In the northern hemisphere Easter and Pentecost fall in spring and early summer; just as the land is springing to life, Pentecost Sunday falls and our northern hemisphere neighbours celebrate the life the Spirit gives to the church.

But for us, Pentecost falls in early winter. Death appears to be evident in nature; the frosts are devouring what little green there is after twenty odd years of increasing drought on the Darling Downs. We celebrate the life of the Spirit, but as we leave and go out, evidence of death is all around us. What is the point of life, when at the end of it comes death?

As we go out from the church and live our lives, we might try to do the right thing for a period but eventually we fail, in fact our natures are like deciduous green trees that fight the deathly frosts of winter but without fail the leaves fall from the tree, and without fail the coldness of our sinfulness makes us wither and die. What is the point?

On Friday at our last confirmation class we went on an excursion to the Chinchilla Lawn Cemetery. One might think this is a strange place to take a bunch of teenagers, bustling with youthfulness and life. But it’s arguably the one place with which everyone needs to come to grips. It brings home the reality that all of us face death. In the midst of life we are in death.

But death also opens the way for us to begin to understand the reality of the Church — Jesus dying on the cross, being raised to life, ascending into heaven, and his sending of the Holy Spirit into our lives through things done in the church. Such as baptism, confirmation, holy communion, the forgiveness of sins, and the proclamation of God’s word. In the midst of death we are in life! In the face of death what Christ does through his church becomes ever so clear, and critically important for every one of us.

What is the point? The point is this: without God’s intervention in our lives there is no point to life, and those who live without Christ, as well as those who think they can live as Christians without receiving the gifts he gives — are the living dead, living without hope, living pointless lives.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is pointless, coming to church is pointless, being taught, being called to repentance, being forgiven, this building, blokes like me in white dresses leading divine rituals, are all pointless if death did not exist. But it does!

We were never meant to die you know! The scientists all know it. They constantly seek the secret of life, but never find it. They know that a body should keep on growing and replicating the cells that die, continually making the living thing new. So why then do we decay, grow weak, weary, old, and die? Science can’t work it out. So what is the point, why do we all die?

There is one reason for death and one reason alone! We die because each and every one of us is engrained with a sinful nature! If there was no sin, there would be no pain and suffering in the world, no accidents, no illnesses or sicknesses, no crime, no starvation, no greed. Make no mistake it’s not ‘their’ sin that causes your death and my death, but ‘my’ sin and ‘your’ sin that causes us to die. But because there is sin and death, God brings us life through Jesus’ death and resurrection and through the means of this grace given to the church; it’s as simple as that! The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) This is exactly the point!

Ezekiel is led by the Lord in the Spirit to see the results of sin on the Israelites. He is led back and forth through a valley of dry bones; thousands upon thousands of bones, parched weathered and dry; a drought of life caused by the deathliness of sin. Son of man can these bones live?” the Lord asks Ezekiel. O Sovereign Lord, you alone know” is Ezekiel’s response. And God then commands Ezekiel to prophecy to the bones, and the Word of God brought both, life to the bones, and breath to the thousands of bodies he'd recreated.

Just like Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones, God is revealing the mystery of life and salvation to us as we succumb to the deathliness of earthly life. We have been given new life by the Spirit in baptism; our bones bound in death have been given eternal life by water and the word. We have learnt about the reality in which we live—living between death in baptism and eternal life through death—and have been taught about the life giving presence of Christ in the bread and wine, sustaining us in this life to eternal life. We learn this as we hear the Word of God, and our Lutheran understanding of that Word in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. And through it all the Holy Spirit is restoring, regenerating, and re-creating you, as you hear the word of God, and receive the replenishing gifts of forgiveness and assurance given by Christ in his Word through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just as our Almighty Lord, said to Ezekiel, he says to all of us, “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14)

Jesus Christ died for sins, once for all. He, the righteous, died for you and me, the unrighteous, to bring us to God the Father. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18). And we through baptism and being instructed in the Word receive constant replenishment by the Holy Spirit. We, like Christ, are made alive by the Holy Spirit. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of faith and open our hearts to his unseen hidden presence in this life.

Jesus is taking our bones heaped up like rubbish in death, cleansing them of sin, connecting them, and building them into his temple. Just like Michelangelo who took many useless pieces of marble and carved them into priceless treasures. Just like the Apostle Paul whom God carved out of the murderous Saul, and whom out of a despairing monk carved Martin Luther, and through him returned the Gospel to its centrality in the Medieval Church. Jesus takes our sinful existence and through the Holy Spirit fills us with the life-giving fullness of his death and resurrection.

We, like the season of winter, are heading towards the coldness of death, the greenness of life is slowly getting frosted away, and the leaves of our existence might be falling from the branches of our earthly life. But in the midst of death we are in life. Think of the tree that comes to life in spring after loosing its old leaves. So too we will have the old sinful nature stripped away in death, but the new life of the Spirit will remain. God will lift us from the graves and the Spirit which gives us life will implant us in the new land of heavenly eternity.

What is the point of all this church stuff? It is this: that we receive the life-giving body and Spirit of Jesus Christ, and he to take our sinfulness to the cross, so we might trust this and have eternal peace with God the Father in heaven forever. Amen.