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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Acts 2: Pneumatology, Passage and Practical Application

Image result for pneumatology
Three points are easier to remember if they all begin with the same letter. Case in point: Business owners know that it’s all about people, process and product. Marketing professionals place the logical order of products as price, place and then promotion. Relationship professional advise men to protect, provide and profess their love for family. The key ingredients to being a chef are patience, presence and practice. Finally, if you practice first aid, then you must preserve life, prevent further injury and promote recovery.
While I do not expect you to remember all those Ps, they illustrate that points are easier to remember if all the words begin with the same letter. That said, for Pentecost, I focus on pneumatology, passage and a practical application.
First, pneumatology. Pneumatology refers to a particular discipline within Christian theology that focuses on the study of the Holy Spirit. We derive the term from the Greek word pneuma meaning breath or spirit that symbolically describes a non-material being or influence; and logos meaning teaching about. Pneumatology includes study of the person and works of the Holy Spirit. Works of the Holy Spirit includes teachings on new birthspiritual giftssanctification, the inspiration of prophets, and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity.
The early Church engaged in debates over the divinity of Jesus which led to similar arguments about the Holy Spirit. Later, during the Medieval period, a debate ensued regarding the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Church situated in Constantinople asserted that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds’ from the Father alone, as stated in the original Nicene Creed, while the Western Church added to the Creed the clause filioque meaning that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
During the Reformation and Counter-reformation the relationship between the Spirit and the Scriptures was re-examined. Martin Luther and John Calvin held that the Spirit has a certain ‘interpretive authority’ to ‘illuminate’ scripture, while Counter-reformation theologians responded that the Spirit authorized the Church to serve as authoritative interpreter of Scripture.
Contemporary pneumatology, marked by the Pentecostal movement in various denominations, understands a distinctive relationship between the Spirit and the Church community. Various contemporary theologians see the Spirit as the authority that governs the church, liberates oppressed communities and creates experiences associated with faith.
Now, before I move to my second point, your word for the day is pneumatology. Start a conversation about pneumatology at Sunday dinner, while watching the Cubs or Sox or around the water cooler or coffee pot at work. Discuss pneumatology with conviction and certainty – like you are filled with the Holy Spirit. And so, we move from pneumatology to passage.
In Acts 2, Luke focuses our attention on Pentecost. Pentecost was an agricultural feast where Jews celebrated not only the harvest but also the giving of the Torah. It was known as the Shav – u’– oth or the Feast of Weeks. This festival was celebrated 7 weeks or 50 days after Passover. It brought farmers from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Asia, Egypt, Libya and Rome to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. They came to thank God for the harvest and for the Law.
The original agricultural feast later became a commemoration of God giving the Covenant and Law on Mt Sinai. For Christians, the celebration of the gift of the Law embraced the giving of the new law in the spirit, the writing of the law on the heart.[1] We read in Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”[2]
Paul echoed the Second Letter to the Corinthians, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”[3]
The coming of the Holy Spirit fulfilled this meaning of Pentecost. The opening verses introduce the festival of Pentecost. It declares a salvation event of highest importance, the actual turning point when Israel begins to separate itself from unbelievers to become the Church.[4] To illustrate this Luke assembled a vast representation of all Israel to hear the apostles.
The signs that manifested the Spirit, the loud noise like a strong wind and the tongues of fire, evoked divine appearances on Mount Sinai to Moses and Elijah.[5] Yet, the sign that Luke most emphasized that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit was their speaking in different tongues or languages.[6]
The fact that many Jews from different nations heard the apostles speaking in their own tongues of the mighty acts of God signified that the ancient tragedy of Babel was reversed.[7] And the apostles’ “drunken state” symbolized joy and abundant blessings. Yet, the onlookers’ reaction was astonishment and bewilderment. At Pentecost it was clear that the new wine of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s love, was poured into human hearts, as Paul remined Christians in Rome.[8]
Again, we move from passage to a practical application. Here, today, we confirm 3 young people: Abigail Howard, Brett Seivert and Christian Woerner. Lutheran confirmation is a public profession of faith prepared for by long and careful instruction. This mature and public profession of the faith marks the completion of the congregation's program of confirmation ministry. Thank you for preparing these young people. ….
And now, since these young people have been studying Luther’s Small Catechism for some time, a bit of catechesis for the rest of you. As Lutherans, we do not treat confirmation as a sacrament of the Gospel in the way we do Baptism and the Eucharist. Yet, we lack a universally accepted definition of confirmation and a consistent approach to it.[9] It’s the Lutheran way.
Luther approved the 1540 Brandenburg Church Order and subscribed to the 1545 Wittenberg Reformation. His emphasis on instruction, especially in preparation for the Lord's Supper, proved to be a major contribution to a new type of confirmation associated not only with Baptism but also with the Lord's Supper.
Where confirmation is associated with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as is usually the case, 3 essential elements of confirmation are: (1) a course of instruction preceding the rite; (2) profession of faith, usually made through an examination and summarized in formal questions in the rite; (3) and intercessory prayers by the congregation, normally with imposition of hands.
Baptism, not confirmation, normally marks the beginning of one's membership in the church. But here we are preparing to celebrate the confirmation of Abigail, Brett and Christian.
And so, it behooves me to ask you how the Holy Spirit is active in your life today. It is a question I ask all of you. Applying the passage practically, how is the Holy Spirit active in your life today?
Preparing for this sermon, I sent the passage from Acts to some friends along with this question: How is the Holy Spirit active in my life today?
My friend, David from Naperville, responded with this: When I think “living in the Spirit” or walking with God, I focus on three priorities that your love and resulting time should have: God first, family second, and all others third.
When I read the scripture in Acts that you forwarded I am taken to every conference or function where Christians from all over get together that I have attended. The lack of personal or other agendas is gone. Focus is on God first, and what he is doing, or not, in your life. It gives me insight into what heaven will be like.
One of the first times I felt this, and I have felt it many times since, was when I attended the first Urbana (yes, I am that old). It had Christians from all over, and we were of one mind, and one focus. It was a great experience.
A friend named from Pittsburgh wrote this: The Holy Spirit is probably my go to. Since I have never had an original thought in my life, when reading Scripture, and particularly when preparing to preach I seek the guidance of the Spirit. On a day to day basis I pray to the Spirit to make me aware of and alert to opportunities to bring God's presence into every day circumstances. Over the last 35 years, I have repeatedly trusted in and acted upon His/Her urgings. That's how I wound up [being ordained as a deacon, and then living] in Tennessee and now Mississippi.
My cousin’s wife in San Diego said this: My religious education is pretty slim, having gone to public school, the only thing we got was an hour a week at CCD. I'm not sure I can directly say how the Holy Spirit influences my life, but I know there are times when things mysteriously work out and I say it's a “God Thing.” So, since the Holy Spirit is part of God, I suppose I’m getting guidance and comfort from him at those times too.
The signs I like best are the many, I mean many, times a hummingbird has appeared just when I needed it. The hummingbird is my connection to my mother who passed away 30 years ago. I believe God sends a sign of her angel existence in this form to show love and constant companionship. Is that the Holy Spirit maybe helping? Probably.
Finally, my college friend living in St. Louis replied with these words: I visited Rome for the first time with my daughter three years ago. We had a tour through the Vatican, starting at the Vatican Museums. The only part of the tour which I was interested in was The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. The Chapel was magnificent; and filled with lots of people and tour groups; yet everyone was reverent and respectful. I noticed an Asian tour group, in St. Peter's Basilica, in a line touching the feet of some statue. So, I joined the group at the end of the line to see what was so special about this statue. When I touched the feet of the statue, some powerful force came through me, then I knew something was special. I went back to the statue to read that it was a bronze statue of St. Peter, holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
She concluded her remarks with: The Holy Spirit is definitely dwelling among us. The Holy Spirit is definitely dwelling among us. The Spirit may not present itself in the same manner as it did to the Apostles on that original Pentecost, but in some manner or form, the Spirit is present among us.
Friends the Holy Spirit did not cease being active in the Church with the last page of the New Testament. Rather, throughout the centuries Scripture and the Holy Spirit have infused the lives of countless men and women that they themselves became living gospels.[10] You are the living gospels because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As you depart from here, reflect on how the Holy Spirit makes you a living gospel and share that good news with others, and when you do may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] William S. Kurz, Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 44.
[2] Jeremiah 31:31, 33.
[3] 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.
[4] JBC, 730
[5] See Exodus 19:16-19; 1 Kings 19: 11-13.
[6] Kurz, 45.
[7] Kurz, 45. See Genesis 11:1-9.
[8] Romans 5:5.
[9] See Confirmation at
[10] Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1998), 35.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Celebrate Earth Day. Celebrate Easter

Image result for environmental christian shepherd

God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. My sermon title is Celebrating Earth Day, Celebrating Easter. My focus is our Gospel. Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”  Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.

2018 is the first time since 1945 that Ash Wednesday coincided with Valentine’s Day and Easter with April Fool’s Day. Some people exchanged Valentine’s treats before receiving their ashes, and others pranked their friends as they celebrated the Resurrection. Easter on April Fool’s Day is fitting, because Jesus played one of the biggest jokes on the world that killed him by rising from the dead. However, unlike 1945, Good Shepherd Sunday also coincides with another secular celebration, Earth Day. No joke, but a reason to celebrate; and so, let me lay out this sermon by looking at Celebrating Earth Day and Celebrating Easter.
First, Celebrating Earth Day. We all enjoy celebrations. Whether we are celebrating the birth of a child or Christmas, a wedding or a graduation, Thanksgiving or Easter, we enjoy the moment. To celebrate means to acknowledge a significant or happy day or event with a social gathering or enjoyable activity.
Celebrate comes from the Latin word celebratus meaning much frequented, kept solemn or famous. It also means to publish, sing praises of and practice often. In the 1550s, it generally meant to commemorate or honor with demonstrations of joy. Our demonstrations of joy include singing Happy Birthday. Last month, my family gathered to sing that song to me, and last weekend, we sang Happy Birthday to our older grandson.
Today, people are celebrating the birthdays of footballer Marshawn Lynch, actor Jack Nicholson and Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson. Apart from birthdays, later this week, some will celebrate Administrative Professionals Day.
In 1970, a few people celebrated the original Earth Day, and today, people in 193 countries celebrate it. The first Earth Day celebrations took place in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. It brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. Earth Day is the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people annually. Environmental groups sought to make Earth Day into a day of action to change human behavior and provoke policy changes. They even have an anthem sung to the tune of Ode to Joy.
Today, Earth Day is a recognized secular holiday. It does not enjoy the notoriety of Independence Day or Labor Day but ranks with Cinco de Mayo and Ground Hog Day. Yet, my point is not to extol the virtues of secular environmentalism, but to tie the celebration of the environmental movement to our celebration of Easter. And so, I move to my second point, Celebrating Easter.
Easter is more than a Sunday. It is a Season. The Season gives us time to reflect upon Christ’s Resurrection. It gives us time to ponder death swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15: 54-56), how the power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you today (Eph 1:15-23), and how the Resurrection of Jesus is a precursor to your own resurrection. The Season affords us an opportunity to view Jesus’ words and deeds through the prism of His Resurrection. Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter or Good Shepherd Sunday is our opportunity to understand Jesus’ compassion for all people as well as all creation.
Our passage falls between the narratives of Jesus restoring sight to the man born blind and raising Lazarus from the dead. The structure of these passages is important because in chapter 9, John wrote of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind and the blindness of the Pharisees. Chapter 10 opens with five verses of Jesus speaking of the door and the sheepfold before He retells his parable to the Pharisees who failed to understand it. In fact, Jesus’ original words are directed against the Pharisees whom he accused of being blind (9:40-41). His parable kept outsiders in the dark and disciples in the know. In his time, Jesus aimed his words at the Pharisees, but by the time John wrote the gospel, he aimed Jesus’ words at Christians who introduced human shepherds (pastors) who seemed to rival the claims of Christ.”[1]
Today’s passage opens with Jesus stating that he is the Good Shepherd. God, himself the shepherd of his people, would choose a shepherd for them in the messianic age. We read in chapter 23 of Jeremiah, “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”[2] In Ezekiel 34, the prophet proclaims, “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”[3]
Ezekiel is attractive to John because in chapter 34, people “know” God. “They shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.”[4] To “know” is not merely the conclusion of an intellectual process but the fruit of experience, a personal contact. In John 14, when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, he said, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”[5]
In our chapter today, Christ asserts he is that good shepherd that people will know through his words and deeds. Unlike politically-ambitioned messianic pretenders,[6] Jesus will tend to his flock, gather the lambs in his arms, carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.[7] In short, Jesus is the Good Shepherd fulfilling Scripture.
Here, good does not simply mean professional or skilled at a craft, like dentistry or medicine, writing code or baking cupcakes. Rather, good means ideal, model or noble. Unlike the bad shepherd who lets the wolves eat the sheep, Jesus dies for them, the ultimate act of love demonstrated by the Good Shepherd.
Now, other passages throughout the gospels speak of Jesus as a shepherd. In Mark, chapter 6, when Jesus took his disciples away to rest and people sought to see him, we read, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”[8] There, Jesus fed the 5,000.
In Luke 15, Jesus told this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”[9]
In Matthew’s Final Judgment scene, we hear, “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.”[10]
Yet, it is John’s image of Jesus the Good Shepherd that has endured centuries and cultures. This is because of the relationship we read between Jesus and his Father and his friendship with his disciples. John recorded this relationship in chapter 15, where Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”[11]
So, vv 14-15 of today’s Gospel are analogous to Jesus’ relationship to His Father and his friends: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” And the conclusion of today’s passage reminds us of the relationship between God the Father and His Son, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”
Early Christianity emphasized the fact that Jesus offered his life in willing obedience to God. Paul wrote, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[12] Hebrews reminds us that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”[13] John emphasized this theme of love between Father and Son and the sovereign freedom of Christ’s death. That freedom is evident in the fact that unlike humans condemned to mortality unless they receive life from Christ, Christ can “take up his life again.” The stress on the fact that Christ offers his life for the sheep should make it clear that John did not interpret Christ taking up his life again as never suffering death. At the same time, John also guarded against the misrepresentation that Jesus’ death is the victory of his enemies. It is likely that Johannine Christians found their opponents arguing that Jesus could never have had the unity with the Father that he claimed or been the source of life for humans if he himself was executed among the lowest criminals.[14] But he was executed among the lowest criminals, and yet, he rose, which is why we celebrate Easter. Christ is risen, alleluia!
We celebrate Easter because Christ is risen, and his Resurrection means many things for us, primarily the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Pastor Travis Berg of Latimer, Iowa, wrote recently, “Indeed, the Lutheran Confessions are peppered with references to our Lord’s resurrection. But, surprisingly, not much is written defending or explaining Christ’s resurrection. It is assumed. The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross receives the spotlight, since the article of justification was at stake.
However, there is one beautiful passage concerning Christ’s resurrection for us. The Formula of Concord, reads: “We also believe, teach, and confess that it was not a mere man who suffered, died, was buried, descended to hell, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and was raised to God’s majesty and almighty power for us. But it was a man whose human nature has such a profound, indescribable union and communion with God’s Son that it is one person with Him.”[15]
He goes on to relate the Resurrection and the Incarnation, concluding, “Why do we speak of the incarnation in conjunction with Christ’s resurrection? During the Easter season, it is incredibly comforting for us Christians to hear that God not only died for us, but also rose for our justification.[16]  
Justification allows us to live free from the bondage and mental anguish of guilt, sin and condemnation. It means that we live the Resurrection. And that means that we do not lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions. Living the Resurrection gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down – not the tomb of despair, discouragement, doubt or even death. Instead, we live joyful and peaceful lives, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives. It means my life is captured in this psalm verse: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”[17]
Friends, this is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad. Celebrate this day. Celebrate this day and every day because of Him who rose for you. Celebrate Easter daily by following the Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd. Live your life as He lived His. Love the Father as the Son loved Him. Be willing to lay down your life for others for He laid down His life for you.
Friends, as we wait for the Good Shepherd to gather us one last time into eternal life, remain faithful to Him in words and deeds of prayer, and as you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] John 10:16. Brown, 348.
[2] Jeremiah 23:3.
[3] Ezekiel 34:11.
[4] Ezekiel 34:30-31.
[5] John 14:20.
[6] See John 10:8.
[7] See Jeremiah 40.
[8] Mark 6:34.
[9] Luke 15:4-7.
[10] Matthew 25:32-33.
[11] John 15:12-15.
[12] Philippians 2:8.
[13] Hebrews 5:8.
[14] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 968.
[15] Kolb, 511.
[17] Psalm 118:24.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Homer Matters. Christ Matters.

Image result for homer

God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … My focus is the First Letter of John where we read: “[Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[1]
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”[2] Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
Homer. Google Homer and three results populate your screen. First, a fictional character in an animated television series, The Simpsons. Next, a fishing city in southwest Alaska. Finally, the ancient Greek author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Fishing aficionados and animation fans aside, the ancient Greek author who had a lasting effect on classical literature impacts our culture today more than the longest running American sitcom. Homer, I will save for my final point and open with an introduction of John’s Letter and its meaning to our church.
John’s letters emerged from an environment of conflict and appear to provide a window onto the history of the early church where John served as pastor. Unfortunately, since our knowledge of his church is vague, we cannot reconstruct a precise picture.
The surface issue appeared to be the proper understanding of Jesus. The abiding center of life and unity in John’s Gospel became the focal point of dissension and division. Those who shared fellowship and friendship in the Fourth Gospel[3] clashed over the proper understanding of Jesus. Mutual excommunication challenged the infant church’s identity and existence.[4]
Unlike Paul’s letters that encouraged Christians, John’s First Letter warned the community against the views of dissidents.[5] John’s contrast between light and darkness distinguished believers from dissident evildoers. Believers walked in the light; evildoers preferred darkness.[6]
John based his image of believers walking in the light from the attributes of God: light, fidelity and righteousness. He wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness … He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[7] Believers walked in the light, claimed fellowship with God and one another, and lived lives free of sin.
John opened with a phrase that echoed the Gospel and Genesis – the beginning. He then captured the listener’s attention and interest; stated his purpose for writing; and divulged his essential plan.[8] He did this by claiming to be an eyewitness, which underscored that he personally heard, saw and touched Jesus – the eternal Word. Then John set before his readers this: Life is in Jesus Christ. He advanced nothing new, visionary or imagined; rather, made his focus that which eyewitnesses heard, saw and handled. In short, John established that no faith was certain unless its object, foundation, origin and end are from the beginning.[9]
No faith is certain unless its object, foundation, origin and end are from the beginning. John said, if you have fellowship with us – eyewitnesses, tradition-bearers, apostles – you have fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word.[10] Fellowship is not simply a conglomeration of people with some things in common; fellowship is grounded in what the eyewitnesses saw and heard.[11] In creating fellowship or church, John did it in order that OUR joy may be complete.[12]
John wrote that phrase as the last of the apostles in the last of his days. He sought to preserve the integrity of the apostolic message.[13] Knowing those in fellowship with him believed and lived right, John strengthened their resolve to continue their beliefs and lifestyles, and warned them about the very real possibility of sin, that is, committing apostasy and wandering off into the dark[14] as some did already.
Secessionists who committed apostasy and wandered into the dark were deceived by the day’s deadly philosophies.[15] One danger that influenced Christians was to view the physical world, including one’s body as intrinsically alien to one’s true self. Those who embraced this philosophy actively disdained all things material and denied the reality of the incarnation and any need for blood atonement.[16] Their remedy to overcome sin was to flee this material world, to escape this sinful world of flesh and blood. To counter this, John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. … [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[17] Therefore, the sinner should not fear, for the sinner’s friend is Jesus, the righteous one, the Son of God who is love.[18] With that in mind, as Christians, we walk by faith. In fellowship with the Apostles, we walk as children of the light,[19] and our joy is complete.
Walking as children of the light in fellowship with the Apostles, we recognize that we are still sinners who need forgiveness. Regarding this, Martin Luther observed, “We should always be suspicious of ourselves and fear and grieve that perchance some puffing up of the mind be in us still. For who will boast that he is pure spirit and does not still have the flesh in opposition to the spirit? … If you have flesh and are in the flesh, then certainly this pride is also with you and you in it, until this body becomes altogether spiritual. Always, therefore, we sin, always we are unclean. And if we say that we have no sin, we are liars, because we deny that we have the flesh, when yet the flesh is all around and has with it these evils in order to attack the spirit.”[20]
In another place, Luther said, “Those who are truly righteous not only … plead for the grace of God because they see that they have an evil inclination and thus are sinful before God, but also because they see that they can never understand fully how deep is the evil of their will and how far it extends. [They] believe that they are always sinners, as if the depth of their evil will were infinite. Thus they [humble themselves, plead and cry] until they are perfectly cleansed – which takes place in death. This, then, is the reason why we are always sinners.”[21]
Our Lutheran Service Book reminds us that to confess our sins is not merely to benignly admit to them. Rather, it is to acknowledge them as justly deserving of temporal and eternal punishment, knowing our unworthiness, and confessing all we did in thought, word, and deed – including the good we failed to do – as that which contributes to a deadly bondage from which we are unable to free ourselves.[22]
We are unable to free ourselves; but Christians differ from other people in that sin does not rule them. Christians must accuse sin and fight against it throughout life.[23] For that reason, we find pray these words in Luther’s Morning Prayer: “I pray that You would keep me this day from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you.”[24] … It is important to me to recognize the reality of sin in my life and pray this way daily. Otherwise, I too may become a sinful secessionist.
Having examined John’s Letter and our Lutheran tradition, what might John say to us today? What practical application does John’s Letter have for today’s Christian?
For assistance, I turn to Homer. Adam Nicolson’s book, “Why Homer Matters,” rediscovers and re-presents the ancient Greek poet, best known for the “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” Homer’s epic poems ask eternal questions about individual and community, honor and service, love and war, and tell us how we became who we are.[25]
I mention Nicolson’s work because I want you to think about who influences your life today. Who shapes you? Who acquires you? Who’s your daddy?
Ask yourself these questions because in our world, as in John’s, Homer mattered and Christ mattered. Homer influenced his world’s philosophers and teachers, legislators and leaders. Likewise, the Risen Christ influenced people then and now.
Homer influenced men like Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. In turn, their work in the fields of logic, ethics, metaphysics, scientific method, politics and religion profoundly influenced people like Alexander the Great and Greeks for centuries before Christ. 1st century Christians and pagans put stock in the teaching of the Ancients, which forced John to open with “That which was from the beginning ...”[26] No faith is certain unless its object, foundation, origin and end are from the beginning.
Today, we may not consider the influence of Homer and other thinkers on our personal formation but consider their influence on our culture.[27] Francis Bacon: scientific method. Confucius: social relationships. Machiavelli: politics. Thomas Paine: individual rights. Adam Smith: economics. Tolstoy: anarchism. Thoreau: civil disobedience. Nietzsche: religion. C.S. Lewis: apologetics. John Stuart Mill: utilitarianism. Dewey: pragmatism and progressivism. Calvin: predestination. Thomas Hobbes: social contract. Albert Schweitzer: reverence for life.
Ask ten people who influence them. Most will say parents. Some might say siblings, spouse, relatives or mentors. Few say pastors or theologians like Luther, Walther or Pieper. On second thought, a number might add Jesus.
However, when you consider the big picture, that is, our culture, ideas proposed by thinkers thousands of years, centuries and decades ago, influence it more profoundly than parents do. Homer matters more than we think. …
Christ matters more than we think. For the ideas of men may control cultures, but apart from the one who is the propitiation for our sins and … the sins of the whole world,”[28]who offers salvation?
Homer Alaska or Homer Simpson may sway me more than great Greek minds; but as a Christian in this culture, how often do I consider what Jesus Christ did for me? How often do I consider that I may be walking in darkness because I am influenced not by Christ and His teachings, but by other teachings? How often do I consider that I may not have fellowship with Apostolic teaching, but with false philosophies? How often do I say, “I have no sin”?
The Law shows me my sin. It convicts me rightly to condemnation. The Gospel frees me of my sin. Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[29]
Jesus paid my debt with the only payment that can forgive me of my sins – his blood. Jesus paid the world’s debt with the only payment that can forgive it of its sins. He is propitiator and propitiation. … How often do I consider that Good News?
Let us give Homer and others their due for their great ideas but let us give God glory for His great deed. Let us give God glory in one word: forgiveness.
Forgiveness is my greatest act of love to my enemy, my fellow man, as well as my Lord and my God. When challenged by Pharisees for keeping company with sinners, Jesus quoted Hosea, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”[30] When scoffed on the cross, Jesus pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[31] When bestowing the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, Jesus instructed, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”[32]
Tell me, friends in Christ, whom shall I not forgive? If Christ was crucified for my sins and the sins of the world, who in this world is not deserving of forgiveness, my forgiveness? If my Risen Lord instructed me to forgive sins, who in this community is not deserving of my forgiveness?
Employees who embezzled my profits? Siblings who got what I wanted from my parents’ estate? Students who lied about me? Neighbors who gossiped about me? Teachers who failed me? Coaches who made an example of me? Principals who punished me? Pastors who reprimanded me? Police officers who ticketed me? Bosses who fired me? The list is as endless as God’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness distinguishes Christians in this world from everyone else, but forgiveness is not an idea to discuss like fishing holes, sports teams, politics or economics. Forgiveness is an act practiced daily. Forgiveness shapes you, acquires you. If you are a child of the light, forgiveness is your daddy.
Friends, know Christ forgives you and the sins of the world. Believe the Risen Lord grants you peace and forgiveness. Share the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection and what His forgiveness means to you when you are forgiving the undeserving. Praise God when you forgive and know that our joy will be complete.
You may never propose new ways of thinking or post 95 Theses. You may never craft epic poems or create a Homer Simpson, but if you forgive the unforgiveable and love the unlovable, you will make a difference – and you will give God the glory. And your joy will be complete. For that, children of light, pray to our Holy Trinity. In Jesus’ Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.[33]

[1] 1 John 2:2
[2] Psalm 122
[3] See John 15:1-17:26
[4] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: Third Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2010) 495-497.
[5] Pheme Perkins, “The Johannine Epistles” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall (1990) 986.
[6] Ibid., 989
[7] 1 John 1:5, 9.
[8] Bruce G. Schuchard, 1 – 3 John. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (2012), 79.
[9] Ibid, 81.
[10] Ibid, 92.
[11] Ibid, see, fn 237.
[12] 1 John 1:4
[13] Schuchard, 122.
[14] Ibid, 123.
[15] Ibid, 128.
[16] Ibid, 135.
[17] 1 John 1:9; 2:2
[18] Schuchard, 146.
[19] Today’s readings inspired LSB 720 and 411.
[20] Schuchard, 138.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid, 139f.
[23] Ibid, 144.
[24] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1991), 33.
[26] 1 John 1:1
[27] See a list here
[28] 1 John 2:2
[29] 1 John 2:2
[30] Matthew 9:13
[31] Luke 23:34
[32] John 20:23
[33] Philippians 4:7