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Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 24 + 5th and 6th Petitions

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

If the forgiveness we give to others is the measure of the forgiveness that God grants to us, then we are doomed. Measurement, dear Christian friends, is of the Law. The Law counts good works and sins. It puts them in the scales and finds that the lead of our iniquity entirely outweighs the feather of our righteousness. To God, all of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. They are worth less than nothing. They avail much before the world, but they are worthless to God.

Measurement is of the Law. If God is only going to forgive us to the degree that we forgive our neighbor, then our neighbor is definitely going to get the last laugh. You know it’s true, and so do I. We all bear grudges. We all have our limit. We all have the point when we think that we’ve forgiven enough. We all have a moment when we say, “If they were really sorry, they’d stop doing it.”

What, however, is God’s limit? When does He say, “Enough!” When does the Lord decide that He’s through with us sinners? As I ask this question, you might be trying to come up with an answer. How far is too far? But as you grope for that answer, another question might occur to you. Have I gone too far? Am I beyond the Lord’s forgiveness? Have I crossed the line and come to the point where all I have to look forward to is eternal condemnation?

Measurement is of the Law, but forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is without measure, especially where our Lord is concerned. There is no sin of yours that the Lord has not forgiven. There is no trespass that has not been taken to the cross. If you were to live a thousand years and every day of them was filled with the most wicked of iniquities, all of those sins would still have been forgiven by Christ on the cross.

The fact that our forgiveness does not measure up to the perfect standard that our Lord demonstrated when He died in our place shows us how much we need that forgiveness. Sinful humanity can never measure up to the perfect love shown by our Lord.

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21 October 2010 @ 12:24 pm
Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 21 + Gen. 1:1-2:3, 4th Petition

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The planet earth is a small rocky world in the Orion Spur, a minor arm in the Milky Way galaxy. Earth is about 26,000 light years from the center of our galaxy. This means that it if you turned on a flashlight and aimed it toward the constellation Sagittarius, the light would reach the center of the Milky Way in about 26,000 years.

We are 93 million miles, or eight light-minutes, from our sun. Our sun is one of 200 billion stars in our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of many galaxies in the universe. Scientists currently estimate that there are 125 billion galaxies. Each of these galaxies has billions of stars.

In one popular science fiction series, there is a torture device called the Total Perspective Vortex. Anyone that enters this machine goes completely insane. The reason for this is rather simple. Douglas Adams describes the Total Perspective Vortex this way in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here.’” The immensity of the universe cannot help but lead the person into the depths of an absolutely inconsolable depression.

This sort of despair is not unknown in the Scriptures. David writes, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens… When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

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01 October 2010 @ 12:02 am

Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 18 + Matthew 22:34-46

In the Name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the church, we are always trying to speak when we should be listening.  This is nothing new.  When the Israelites were on their way out of Egypt and faced Pharaoh’s army on one side and the Red Sea on the other, they thought they were doomed.  In their terror, they asked Moses why he had brought them out of Egypt so they could be killed in the wilderness.  Moses’ reply couldn’t have been more pointed than it was.  “The Lord Himself will fight for you.  You need only to keep silent.”

God the Father has sent Jesus to the cross to suffer in our place.  He has done all that is necessary for our salvation.  After our fall into sin, God’s action to save us was immediate and unequivocal.  He promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.  In Christ this was accomplished once and for all.  But how is it delivered?  It is delivered with words.  Simple, plain words are the means by which God gives out the salvation that He has won for us.

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The title of this post is drawn from a famous saying of the Roman soldier and statesman, Marcus Porcius Cato.  Cato the Elder had the reputation of always ending a speech with a call for the destruction of Carthage, even if the speech really had nothing to do with the war.  The reason was that Cato believed that the survival of the Republic depended on that city's destruction.

We know from archaeology that Carthage deserved to be utterly destroyed, just as the Canaanite cities did during Joshua's conquest of Palestine.  Though Cato had no divine command to burn Carthage and salt the ground afterward, I have no doubt that it was a just end for the city.  A cemetery has been uncovered in Carthage that contains the burned skeletons of thousands of babies.  Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. by Phoenician colonists from the city of Tyre (just north of biblical Israel).

Tyre was part of the same wicked, violent, and bloodthirsty culture as the Canaanite cities that God commanded be completely destroyed.  The Canaanite cities, along with Tyre, practiced the same sort of child sacrifice that the cemetery reveals was happening in Carthage.

The pagan worship of the Canaanites involved heating a bronze statue of their false god Molech with fire until the bronze glowed red.  Then a baby would be placed into Molech's hands and roll backward into the furnace.

Of course, infanticide wasn't a purely Carthaginian or Canaanite practice.  In ancient Rome, even though it eventually became illegal, the paterfamilias was traditionally allowed to choose whether or not a newborn child would be received into the family or left outside in the elements to die.  Pharoah ordered all male Israelite babies to be thrown in the Nile.  Herod slaughtered an entire village of Israelite babies in hopes of killing just one particular child.

In the United States and all of Europe babies are routinely murdered by their mothers before they are even born.

"This corn is well grown, and Carthage must be destroyed."

Yesterday I was reading the interesting book, A Landscape With Dragons by Michael O'Brien.  It is worth reading, even though it has many glaring defects.  One of O'Brien's most brilliant observations was that the dragon's attempt to kill the baby in Revelation 12 is emblematic of Satan's constant desire to murder children.

The thought that O'Brien's observation prompted in my mind was this:

Particularly in the ancient world, Satan did all that he could to murder as many babies as possible.  There are a lot of reasons that Satan would have wanted to do this.  The most important of these has to do with his desire to prevent the salvation of the world.  Satan knew that God had promised that his power would be destroyed when the seed of the woman crushed his head.  The more babies Satan killed, the better his chances of killing the Messiah.

But it goes further than that.  Satan still loves to stain his hands with the blood of children.  A culture that no longer values the lives of the most helpless will find it difficult to draw the lines anywhere at all.  Once infanticide is legalized, active euthanasia can be considered a legitimate medical treatment (as it is in Oregon, Washington, and Montana), hospitals can convene "futility committees" to decide whether to deny treatment to the old or infirm, and courts can order a woman to be starved to death because her husband wants to marry the woman he's been shacking up with for the past few years (Terry Schiavo).

O brave new world that has such creatures in it.
23 September 2010 @ 10:46 pm
Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 17 + Proverbs 25:6-14, 2nd and 3rd Petitions of the Lord's Prayer

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Solomon’s words don’t sit right with Americans. We are a proud people. We balk at the idea of social classes. Our nation was founded in the midst of a war of revolution against King George III of England. And even though we sometimes think romantically about the days of kings and knights in movies and on TV, Americans really don’t want the idea of nobility to have any place in our day to day lives.

We have no princes, dukes, barons, or kings. Americans acknowledge no titles of nobility. Our President has traditionally been addressed simply as, “Mr. President,” and the United States Constitution prohibits both the federal government and the states from giving noble titles to our citizens.

Nevertheless, Solomon’s words do have a place even in the land of opportunity. He writes, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”

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16 September 2010 @ 05:12 pm

Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 16 + Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Lots of folks want to find God, and they look for him in the strangest of places.  In some churches, they look for Him in some sort of emotional experience.  They think that if church doesn’t make them feel good every week, then something is wrong.  Their version of spirituality is moving from one emotional mountaintop to another.  For those who think of God in this way, church is a happy pill that is expected to last until you come back next week for another dose.

But if you want to have an emotional experience, there are lots of ways that are far more reliable than listening to the Word of God, singing to the Holy and Blessed Trinity, and receiving His gifts of life and salvation through Word and Sacrament.  Heroin can make you feel better than a thousand church services.  Marijuana can wash all of your cares away.  Alcohol can bring an immediate sense of peace that you’ll never get from listening to one of my sermons.

But drugs and alcohol aren’t the only way to get those feel-good chemicals into your system.  Some of us find it through reading a good book, watching a certain TV show, playing a video game, or going to a movie.  Some of us feel the flood of those endorphins when we work hard at physical labor or get a good hour of exercise in.  Sometimes there’s no better feeling than eating a good meal with someone we love.

If feeling good is the essence of Christianity, then God has is merely one option among thousands.  Drugs, alcohol, exercise, work, and family can all make us feel great.  In this scenario, God simply becomes one option among many.

But not everyone tries to find God by going from one feel-good experience to another.  Some see God as a path to self-improvement.  They see the Scriptures as God’s instruction manual on how to live our day to day lives.  You can go to all sorts of seminars at churches these days.  You can learn about personal finance.  You can get principles on how to raise your kids.  You can learn ten steps to a happier marriage.  There’s nothing wrong with those things, but if we see them as what the church is for, then we are again making the mistake of forcing God to compete with all sorts of other paths to financial independence and a good family life.  Dr. Phil, Laura Schlesinger, or Dave Ramsey can do as good of a job in these areas as the church can… probably better.

God offers something in the church that is absolutely unique.  Though science works toward it, it will never achieve it.  Though the world wants us to think it can do anything, it can’t do this.  Drugs, alcohol, books, movies, TV shows, video games, hard work, exercise, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, and Dave Ramsey can’t do it.  No created thing can or ever will.  Only God can raise the dead.  Only God can “Young man, I say to you, arise” to a dead man and be obeyed.

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02 September 2010 @ 10:27 pm

Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 14 + Galatians 5:16-24

            In the Name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Sometimes it’s just hard to pay attention to what you’re supposed to be listening to.  Your thoughts wander.  You start thinking about what you’re having for lunch.  You debate in your mind what you’re going to grill for the Labor Day barbeque.  You might start feeling the weight of your own head.  It might start bobbing back and forth.  In a few moments you might feel a sharp poke in the ribs when the person sitting next to you throws an elbow your way.  Some of you probably had that experience when you were listening to the epistle reading.  Some of you are probably having that experience right now.

When it comes to the epistle, I can certainly relate.  Who wouldn’t have trouble paying attention to it?  It’s just a list of sins, and fifteen sins are listed without even a pause, it’s hard to be attentive to them.  One blends in quite easily with the next.  Our minds tend to focus on what we consider the “big ones.”  Sexual immorality, sorcery, drunkenness, orgies.  Those are big.  Those are serious.  These are the big headliner sins that get you on Oprah or an episode of Cops.

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26 August 2010 @ 08:52 pm

Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 13 + Luke 10:23-37, 3rd Article


            In the Name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The lawyer in today’s Gospel text gets everything wrong.  First he asks a ridiculous question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  What shall you do to inherit eternal life?  Surely he must be joking.  We do not earn what we inherit.  An inheritance is not a wage paid for a job well done.  Though the children of a rich man might do all sorts of things to try to earn their father’s favor, there is no guarantee that they will receive anything when the will is read.  An inheritance is not earned.  It is a gift.  It is promised in life and delivered in death.

As wrong-headed as the question is, Jesus is willing to play along.  He asks the lawyer about the commandments, and after he summarizes them, Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  Our Lord isn’t kidding.  If we want to earn our salvation, there is only one way to do it.  Keep the commandments.  Do it perfectly.  Do that, and you will live.

But we can’t do it.  We can’t keep them perfectly.  Apart from the faith that the Holy Spirit gives, we can’t keep them at all.  But the lawyer still doesn’t get it.  He’s trying to find a way to keep the commandment manageable so that he can convince himself that he has a chance at accomplishing it.  He asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

This is where Jesus stops playing the game.  He turns the entire question on its head.  He tells a story about a man who is robbed and left half dead in a ditch.  Without help, the man is doomed.  He’ll bleed to death and die destitute.  A priest and a Levite pass by and ignore the man in need.  But the Samaritan stops, uses oil and wine to bind up the man’s wounds, and takes him to an inn.  He gives the innkeeper two days’ wages, asks him to care for the man, and promises to pay the rest of the bill when he comes back.

At this point in the story we and the lawyer are thinking the same thing.  The man in the ditch is the neighbor and we are to take care of anyone whom we find in need.  That’s just what Jesus wants us to think at that point in the story.  But the question our Lord asks at the end changes everything.

Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the one who fell among thieves?”  The man in the ditch isn’t the neighbor.  He’s not even given to us as one of the options.  The neighbor is the one who cares for the man in the ditch.

If we think about Jesus’ question and its answer, we also learn what the answer is to the lawyer’s question.  Jesus is the lawyer’s neighbor, and the lawyer is the one in the ditch.  The lawyer is the one who has been set upon by thieves and left in the ditch to die.  The lawyer is the one who will surely die unless he is saved.  The lawyer is in exactly the same situation that all of us would be in without Jesus: half-dead and headed for eternal death.

The point of the story of the good Samaritan is not so that you will be guilted into helping those in need.  It’s not that helping those in need isn’t a good thing.  It is.  It’s a wonderful thing.  It’s a thing that we are commanded to do throughout the Scriptures.  It’s just not what we are commanded to do in the parable of the good Samaritan.

The point of this story is to show how desperate your situation is.  The point of this story is to demonstrate just horribly sin has hurt you.  You cannot save yourself.  You cannot bind up your own wounds.  You cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps and turn your life around.  You can’t follow biblical principles and start living your best life now.  You need a Savior. You need Jesus.  You need all that He has won for you on the cross.

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26 August 2010 @ 08:46 pm

It is absolutely impossible to overstate the role of a father in the spiritual life of his family.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church.  In the church we gather together to hear the words of Christ so that we can be strengthened and nourished by them.  At home, it is the father to whom God has given the responsibility of giving spiritual care and nourishment to his household.

There are, of course, times in our sinful world that the spiritual upbringing of a child cannot take place at home in the way the Lord intends it.  Some families do not have Christian fathers.  Some families do not have fathers at all.  In these situations, it is given to the mother to fulfill the role that the father would normally have.  Such faithful women should always be supported and encouraged by the church.

But it is not only when there is no Christian father that the mother should take a role in the spiritual lives of her children.  Though the spiritual care of the family is ultimately the father’s responsibility, he doesn’t have to do it alone nor should he need to.  A Christian mother has many important things to offer her children.  Working with her husband, a Christian mother can and should play an important role in bringing her children up in the Christian faith.  The Scriptures put it quite simply and directly, “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 30:31).

No pastor, no matter how faithful he is, can fulfill the role of a Christian father for the members of his congregation, and more to the point:  he shouldn’t even try.  It is not the pastor’s responsibility to raise the children of the congregation in the Christian faith.  It is also not the congregation’s responsibility to raise its children in the Christian faith.  This responsibility belongs to the children’s parents and no one else.

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21 August 2010 @ 08:42 pm
Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 12 + Mark 7:31-37, 3rd Article

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

It has always been God’s intention to have a relationship with His creation. The Scriptures know nothing of a God who is remote and distant. They know nothing of a God who is so transcendent that He never relates in any way to the human beings whom He has created.

Even four thousand years before our Lord’s incarnation, God was already intimately involved with humanity. It started on the same day that He created us. In Genesis 1, we see that God created man in His own image. In Genesis 2, we see that God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. In Genesis 3, we see that God wants to be with us when He walks in the garden in the cool of the day.

The gift of language is arguably the most important of the created gifts that God has given us. In giving us this gift, God has given us the ability to hear and speak. He has given us the ability to use and understand the very means which He used to create the universe: words. Nothing is more powerful than the spoken and written word. Nothing can do more good or more harm. Nothing can be more ugly or more beautiful. Empires have been created and destroyed by words. Reputations have been built and destroyed by them. “I do” can change two people’s lives forever, and “so help me, God” can precede the speaking of some of the world’s greatest lies and truths.

But there is one reason that God has given language that is greater and more important than every other. God has given us language so that we can listen to and speak His word. It has always been this way.

When God first gave the garden to Adam, He spoke a word of command about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Satan tempted Eve to sin, he accomplished it by convincing Eve to change and ultimately deny those words that God had spoken. That is when everything changed. When Eve believed Satan’s lie and ate, the truth was stolen from her ears and replaced with lies.

The next time that God walked in the garden, Adam and Eve were afraid to speak with Him. The voice of the One who had given them life and breath and all things terrified them. The voice of the One who had given them dominion over all of the universe brought fear instead of delight.

When God confronted them, instead of speaking the truth of their sin, Adam and Eve blamed others for their sin. Adam blamed God. He said, “The woman you gave me… she made me do it.” Eve blamed the serpent. Neither of them spoke the plain truth, the truth that King David would speak when he was caught in his sin. “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Adam and Eve were deaf. They’d closed their ears to the words of the Lord. They were mute. They couldn’t speak the truth about themselves and their sin.

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