God’s Jurisdiction

During the sermon yesterday, I did a little bit of preemptive work with Paul’s understanding of Sin so that when we got around to his words in Romans 5:1-5 we’d get the fullest measure of the joy from the Gospel proclaimed there. Part of that preemptive work included confronting the fact that in this day and age, we do a pretty good job of writing Sin off as no big deal, calling both the badness within us and the badness we produce by different names, hoping to find a way to wiggle out of it. I mentioned the current popularity of referring to our Sin as obsessive behaviors, as results of our genetics or pathology, or as simply disorders or lifestyles different from the mainstream.

I certainly wasn’t arguing that the capability for particular sins isn’t written into each of us in a unique way. It most certainly is. You know your own tendencies. I know mine. The problem I was attempting to confront is the excuse-making that sets itself in place to block the guilt associated with the sins. If we are not to blame, if we are not guilty, then we don’t need a Savior and we miss the measure of Christ’s expense on the cross. Falling into this devilry, we produce the fruits that accompany such disregard. We find the loophole we need to never be wrong in any discussion, to never be guilty of offense in any situation coming undone, to never be the one who isn’t carrying his fair share of the load, to never be the one who actually bears responsibility. In essence, we get to avoid using the word “Sin” altogether, as if it applies to everyone else except us.

I went a little further—even touching on it in the adult Bible study later in the morning—and I offered that Sin really only makes sense when it is considered within the context of God. What I meant was that if we are going to understand it rightly, and most especially how it meets with us, then maybe one place to start is with acknowledging the fact that we are under the jurisdiction of an ultimate judge of right and wrong. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we are subject to a divine Someone who can actually determine what human conduct is supposed to be.

This may sound somewhat strange, but one of the best aspects of the season of Lent, especially as it is designed to recalibrate us toward objectively true things, is to be confronted with the true nature of Sin and what that means for Mankind’s future. To know this, is to know the need—a very personal need. It is to then be found at the foot of the cross, a place where we can breathe a sigh of relief as having narrowly escaped destruction because the One hanging on that cross paid the price for our deliverance.

Knowing the weight of our Sin is a good way to understand the weight of the Gospel of our salvation through Jesus Christ. And that’s where we must reside—in the Gospel. The Gospel is powerful. It gives us the ability to confess our sin in true repentance and faith—not to excuse our Sin away as a bad habit, or justifiable in certain circumstances, or as nothing at all—but rather to admit whole-heartedly that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It supplies us with a brightly beaming hope in the One who by His work raises us from the dust and sets us into His resurrected life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

This is a big part of the theology of Lent. And I pray that this message is resonating with you, that you are embracing it and carrying it forth into the world around you. With this supernatural knowledge pacing through your spirit, you’d be amazed at how the sun shines a little more brightly and the days are just a little more splendid, even when facing some pretty hefty struggles in this world.

With that, God be with you in the oncoming day and week. Call if you need me.

The Tragedy in Las Vegas

Last night in Las Vegas, a gunmen on the 30th floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened fire on an outside gathering of concert goers below. The last I heard, 50 people were killed and over 400 were seriously injured. The news report I was just listening to said that even as this is already the largest mass-shooting in America’s history, with the condition of many of the injured, most likely the death toll will continue to rise.

Why…?

What…?

How…?

We’re left breathless and without words.

Just this morning, I was sitting with the school staff, and after reading a portion from Ephesians 3 (v. 16 in particular, where Paul speaks of the strength given by the power of the Holy Spirit), these were the words from Luther that I shared as they related to the text:

“Worldly people are full of courage and of high spirits, and so are Christians. Christians are much stronger through the Holy Spirit, for they fear neither the world nor the devil, neither death nor misfortune. This is called spiritual strength… Worldly courage endures no longer than there is some earthly good on which to rely; but the true courage trusts in God alone and has no other good or gold than God alone; in Him it withstands all evil and wins an altogether different heart and courage from that of the world.”

It would seem that we need that unearthly courage more than ever before these days.

I read another report from, of all places, CNN, which is a news network that is typically hostile to Christianity. Interestingly, the reporter was speaking with a survivor of the incident whose words came back as rather startling, “I arrived at the concert an agnostic. I’m leaving a believer.” While I don’t know the fullness of what he means, I’m going to assume from the context that his agnostic beliefs—that is, the belief that it’s impossible to know whether or not there is a God, and so the person neither claims faith or disbelief—this man’s agnostic position changed to one that admits God is real. Whether he saw God at work through the people involved in the rescue and caring for others (Matthew 5), or he’s willing to admit that only devilry could move a heart to such darkness, thereby inferring such evil must have an opponent, either way, this man took a step toward recognizing this world is coming undone and it needs rescue.

Yesterday, Sunday, those of you who made it to church, you heard of that rescue. You met with and received from the One who provides that rescue. You were forearmed for today’s news. You were fed by His Word and Sacraments for the courage Luther described in the portion above. This supernatural food met you where you were, and it instilled the very message that supersedes the world’s hope and gives true Christian hope. You heard, quite literally that Christ, on the cross, gave Himself over—horrifyingly, grotesquely, vividly. He plunged into Death’s mouth, down its throat, and into its belly to be digested. From there, he was the poison that killed Death. And then He tore back up and out of Death’s corpse by way of His resurrection at Easter. You learned that never before has there ever been someone who could contend with the terrors of this world, namely Death, and win. And yet, the Gospel declares that the day has come, and that One is Jesus.

My prayer for you—dearest Christian of Our Savior Lutheran Church and School—is that even as you watch and listen to the newscasts, as you behold the sadness, the terror, the hopelessness, that you would first be calmed by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel—a message not just of God’s existence, but one that actually displays and works His wonderful love revealed in Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Sturdied by this, emboldened by this, made courageous by this and by this alone, go out into the world to be salt and light. Be the ones whom God will use to show a suffering world that He exists, He loves us, and He has reached out to us in our greatest need. In Him, no matter the terrors that appear to consume this fallen world, we are and have been well cared for in and through Jesus Christ.

This is who you are in the Savior, someone with a resilient hope that not even a barrage of bullets can kill.

Share that hope with others right now. We all know they need it.