Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 22:34-46

                                                                                                   Trinity 18
                                                                                                   Mt 22:34-46

Last Sunday a member made my day. It wasn’t because of a comment made about the sermon or Bible class. Instead, it was because she said to me: “Pastor, you look like you’ve lost weight.”

When I turned forty, it was like a switch flipped. Formerly I could eat whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted, and it was never a problem. But once I turned forty the weight gained over the holidays didn’t disappear. And over the course of about five years my weight gradually continued to rise.

Finally in August, I decided that it was time to do something about it. I went on a diet and since then have continued to modify what I eat. I’ve lost about twenty pounds, and want to lost five more. What’s made it easier has been the fact that Amy and I have done it together.

Now, not everyone in the Surburg house has been thrilled with the changes. In particular, there have been complaints that we don’t have bratwurst as often as we used to in the past. This is certainly true. And it pains me as well. I love bratwurst and what can be easier for dinner in grilling season than to fire up the grill and throw some bratwurst on it?

We’ve stopped eating as much bratwurst. But that doesn’t mean we no longer eat it at all. We just eat it in moderation. Yet the fact we eat it at all is rather remarkable. For we have the Book of Leviticus in our Bible that explicitly tells God’s people Israel that they are not to eat pork because it is unclean.

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus talks about the Law as he answers a question. The question deals with the Torah that God gave to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Yet in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ answer about the Law points us to our Lord and what he means for our life.

Our text this morning takes place during Holy Week. In a series of questions the Jewish religious leaders attack Jesus in the hopes of tripping him up. They are trying to get something that they can use against our Lord.

The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, had just been silenced by Jesus when their question about the resurrection failed to trap him. So now, the Pharisees take a shot. As a whole the Pharisees were devout laymen who voluntarily chose to live according to a particular interpretation of the Torah. They had elevated this interpretation to the point where they basically saw it as being on par with the Torah itself. The “tradition of the elders” as they called it could not be violated.

The Pharisees also had their scribal experts, and so one of them asked Jesus the question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” We know that Jews at the time of Jesus debated this sort of thing. Our Lord answered the question with a simple reply. Yet the reader of Matthew’s Gospel knows this answer points us to Jesus himself. Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus’ answer provides a summary of the two tables of the law. The first three commandments all deal with God, while the next seven all deal with the neighbor. The law is first about God – about loving God with all that we are. And whenever we hear the world “love” in the Bible we need to remember that biblical love is not limited to an emotion. It certainly may include this, but far more importantly it is an action.

Next the law is about how we treat others – a point that Jesus summarizes as: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Consider how often you think about what you want; about how you want to be treated. Now imagine what it would be like if you directed the same attention toward others and their well being.

Of course we don’t. We don’t do either of these. Both God and our neighbor lose out to the great “Me” that guides our actions. We do what is best for me. We do what pleases me. We do what is easiest for me. You see it at home, at work and at school. In fact, you see it in every setting where we find ourselves.

After summarizing God’s law in this fashion, Jesus goes on to say in our text, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Our Lord says that all of the Old Testament depends or “hangs” on these statements. Now that is rather remarkable because the Old Testament is very extensive in what it prescribes. It covers what sacrifices are to be offered, what people can eat, what days they worship and how they are to deal with disagreements. Yet Jesus says that all of this depends on these two truths: love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s not the first time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus has said something like this. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Here again, our Lord summarizes the law and says that this is the Law and the Prophets. He says that the Old Testament can be boiled down to this basic truth: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Now that seems to leave out a great deal - all of that stuff about sacrifices and food, for example. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” 

Jesus was quite clear that he had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. In fact, he said that until all was accomplished not the smallest letter in the writing of the law would pass away. And sure enough, we see that Jesus is living as a faithful Jew who has come to the temple at Passover.

But Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets so that all would be accomplished. The nation of Israel and its covenant with God was not an end in itself. Instead, it was the means by which God was keeping his promise to send the descendant of Eve who would crush the head of the serpent. It was the means by which God kept his promise to Abraham that in his offspring all nations would be blessed.

Jesus same to be fulfillment of all the Law commanded about sacrifices. He came to be the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words: “But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament because he loved God the Father with all that he is. He fulfilled it because he loved his neighbor – he loved you – more than himself. That is why Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He did this for you as he received God’s judgment against your sins on the cross. 

And then on the third day he rose from the dead. On Easter Jesus began something new. He began the resurrection of the Last Day. In his death he accomplished all that God had commanded and promised in the Law and the Prophets. And in his resurrection he began the task of including all people in God’s saving work. Before Easter Jesus told the disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” After Easter Jesus commanded them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. And because they have been fulfilled; because Jesus has fulfilled Israel’s role of being a light to the nations, that Torah no longer is binding on God’s people. If you like bratwurst this is great news! We, the nations, have now been grafted into God’s people which is Jew and Gentile. The Torah’s goal and purpose was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and so the requirements of the Torah are no longer binding on us.

We have received forgiveness because Jesus Christ loved God the Father with all that he is. We have received forgiveness because Jesus Christ loved us more than himself. We have been freed from sin. But our Lord teaches that this has not been done so that we are free to do what we want. Instead we are now led by the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of our Lord.

That way is what Jesus describes in our text today as he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Loving God in this way will mean sacrifice. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Most likely you are not going to face the decision between your life and confessing Christ. But you will face the decision of speaking about Christ to others, or playing it safe and remaining silent. You will face the decision of the sports event on Sunday morning, or Jesus gifts in the Divine Service. You will face the question of doing what you want to do with your time on a Wednesday night, or coming to an Advent or Lent service.

Loving others as you love yourself also means sacrifice. It means putting others and their needs before yourself. It means helping others – even other people who treat us poorly. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

This is not something you can do on your own. It is only Jesus Christ who has included you in the reign of God who can make this possible. It is his Sprit who has given you rebirth through the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism. It is his Spirit who continues to strengthen you in faith and form you to walk in the way of Jesus as you hear God’s Word and receive Christ’s true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is his Spirit who enables you to cling to your Lord in faith for forgiveness and salvation.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Commemoration of Jonah

Today we remember and give thanks for the prophet Jonah.  A singular prophet among the many in the Old Testament, Jonah the son of Amittai was born about an hour’s walk from the to wn of Nazareth. The focus of his prophetic ministry was the call to preach at Nineveh, the capital of pagan Assyria (Jonah 1:1). His reluctance to respond and God’s insistence that his call be heeded is the story of the book that bears Jonah’s name. Although the swallowing and disgorging of Jonah by the great fish is the most remembered detail of his life, it is addressed in only three verses of the book (1:17; 2:1, 10). Throughout the book, the important theme is how God deals compassionately sinners. Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of the fish is mentioned by Jesus as a sign of his own death, burial, and resurrection (Mt. 12:39–41).

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jonah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the truth faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness.  Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mark's thoughts: Contact your LCMS District President

Update: On Friday, Sept. 23 the individual resigned from membership at Cornerstone Lutheran Church, Carmel, IN.
Today an older and more experienced pastor encouraged me and other pastors to understand that now is not the time only to complain privately about how a LCMS congregation in Carmel, IN has received into membership a man who identifies himself as a "woman."  This situation has been intentionally publicized by the man on the internet as he seeks to be the prophetess of transgenderism in the LCMS.  Instead, the pastor encouraged us to contact our District Presidents and urge them to contact Indiana District President May.

Normally I have no interest in the arcane rules by which the LCMS operates and deals with issues.  I don't write letters to synodical officials about controversial events.  But I see this as such a critical moment in the life of the LCMS as we respond to the culture's sexual ideology that I actually took the the time to write my District President.  I encourage other pastors and lay people to do the same.  I provide my letter here in the hopes that it will assist others.  It was sent to my excellent and faithful District President in the Southern Illinois District, President Scharr. 

President Scharr,

As I understand it, the proper channel by which a LCMS pastor outside the Indiana District should respond to the situation in Carmel, IN is by contacting his own District President.  I am writing to urge you to contact Indiana District President May and impress on him the importance of dealing with the pastors and congregation in Carmel in a way that is true to the biblical witness about God’s creation of man as male and female, and the body God gives to each individual. 

The congregations of the LCMS share in fellowship with one another.  As the Church has confessed since the beginning on the basis of 1 Cor. 10:16-17, the Sacrament of the Altar is the sacrament of unity.  Those who commune together confess that they believe the same thing.  It is not possible for there to be a congregation in the LCMS that publicly accepts a transgender “woman” into the fellowship of the altar without fracturing the fellowship of the synod.

I shared this situation with my congregation yesterday at Bible class and taught about the biblical response to transgenderism.  I did so in order to prepare them for the likelihood that it will appear in the national news. They were shocked by this development and asked in disbelief how it was possible for a congregation of the LCMS to do this.  They are of course correct.  And their response raises a larger issue.  If the LCMS is unable to answer this clearly and desively, and instead allows the situation to stand, how can Good Shepherd be in fellowship with the congregation in Carmel?  And by extension, how can Good Shepherd continue to be in the fellowship of the LCMS that allows a public denial of God’s ordering of creation to exist within it?

Naturally I understand that one must allow some time in order to deal with this.  But by the same token, the LCMS has a history of avoiding issues and allowing them to drag on.  This is not an occasion when this can be allowed to happen.  I know I am not the only pastor who is asking the questions I raise in the previous paragraph.  I write in order to urge you to see this as a decisive and critical moment as the LCMS deals with the sexual ideology of our culture and to act accordingly as you interact with President May. 

In Christ,

Mark Surburg

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mark's thoughts: Transgenderism and the Church

‘”Transgenderism” has been in the news constantly. Though many of us had just barely heard about the “T” of LGBT prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same sex marriage, the developments since then have proven beyond all doubt that same sex marriage was simply one more goal checked off in the ongoing agenda that seeks to transform completely our culture’s views about sexuality. Almost immediately, the push for transgender “rights” began as activists focused on one of the last places in society where the absolute distinction between male and female was maintained: the bathroom.

Our culture now says that gender is not the same as sex. Biologically we may identify an individual as male or female, but what really matters is their gender and this is not determined by biology. Instead, a person is whatever gender he decides he is (for the purpose of simplicity I will use the male example in this post, but obviously all of the same things are true for females). So if a biological male decides that he is in fact a woman, then that is his gender and no one can question this. All people who interact with that individual must acknowledge and operate on the basis of this self-identification.

This cultural influence directly impacts the Church. There are members in our congregations who adopt the culture’s thought about transgenderism. There are individuals outside our congregations and fellowship who identity in these ways and come to us in the hopes of being received as members. What are Lutherans (and Christians in general) who believe and confess the truth and authority of God’s revelation in Scripture to think about this? How are we to respond to these individuals?

Naturally, the place to begin is with God’s Word. We read in Genesis 1: 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

                              So God created man in his own image, 

                              in the image of God he created him;             
                              male and female he created them. 
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV) 
We learn here that God created man to be male and female. He then commanded them to reproduce and have children.

Next in Genesis we read: 

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 
                          Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones
                           and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman,
                           because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24 ESV)
We learn in this text that God created woman from the man in order to be the helper corresponding to him. He created them to be different from one another, yet complementary. This fact is bodily demonstrated in sexual intercourse as they become one flesh – a union with profound implications for how God now views the couple. This one flesh union also produces the children that God commanded in Genesis 1.

Finally, Jesus expresses this very same view:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
(Matthew 19:4-6 ESV)
These texts describe how God has ordered his creation. One does not need to know these texts in order to recognize this ordering. Thus all through history people have recognized that there are men and there are women, and that they are different. They are distinguished by obvious differences in anatomy. They have different genitalia. Only a woman can carry a developing baby and give birth to the child. It is necessary for a man and a woman to have sexual intercourse in order to conceive a child. Two men cannot achieve this, nor can two women. When a baby is born, it is either a boy or a girl and this basic fact can never change. Scientific advances have revealed that the difference between male and female extends all the way down to our chromosomes. A person is either XY or XX and this determines whether the individual is male or female.

The claims about transgenderism exist because there are individuals who have feelings and thoughts that lead them to question whether they really are the sex that their anatomy and chromosomes so clearly declare them to be. A man may feel that he is “really” a woman, even though his body is that of a male. When the mind tells the individual something that contradicts the reality of his body to such an extent that the individual decides his body is “wrong,” the mind is profoundly disordered. This is a clear case of mental illness.

When a man tells you that he is really a woman, something is obviously very wrong with the person. In the past this was always the common assessment of society. Formerly, this condition was known as gender identity disorder. Today it is called gender dysphoria. The change in terms removed the word “disorder” and this has been prompted by the new ideology that has arisen in our culture. Rather than saying the person is mentally ill, the world now says that the person is expressing what he really is. A biological man who claims that he is a woman defines reality for himself and all those around him. They must accept and embrace his self-identification.

When considering transgenderism, we need to start with the biblical view about the human body. A basic presupposition of the biblical worldview is the fundamental goodness of God’s material creation. As God makes the material creation in Genesis 1, six times we hear the refrain that it was “good” (1:4, 10, 12,18, 21, 25). This reaches its crescendo on the sixth day when we hear in 1:31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”. God thinks his material creation is “good stuff.”

A second presupposition of the biblical worldview that we meet in Genesis 1-2 is related to this. God’s creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7 prepares us to understand that in the biblical worldview, a human being is comprised of a body and a soul joined together in a unity. We hear in this verse, "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). We learn that human beings are a dichotomy of body and soul, for as Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 ESV).

The important thing to note is not simply that we are a dichotomy of a body and soul. It is instead the fact that a living human being as created and intended by God is the unity of a body and a soul. Human existence apart from a material body does not match God’s original creation and divine intention. That is why the ultimate goal of the Christian faith is the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day when he will raise and transform our bodies to be like his resurrected body (Phil 3:20-21; Rom 8:22-23; 1 Cor 15:51-52).

Human life cannot be lived apart from the body that God has given to each one of us. It is his gift. In the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther wrote: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul eyes, ears, and all my members….” God has made each one of us as male or female. If he made us male, then our body has chromosomes that are XY and male genitalia. If he made us female, then our body has chromosomes that are XX, female genitalia, breasts, ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus and a vagina.

The creature does not get to tell the Creator that he was given the wrong body. To do so is to reject the gift God has given and to try to be one’s own god. The creature does not get to mutilate the body God has given in the attempt to refashion it according to his own thoughts and will. For this reason, transgenderism is a sinful rejection of God and his will for the individual.

This is not to deny that people experience mental illness in which their thoughts and feelings may tell them that they have the wrong body. Sadly, in a small percentage of people the condition of gender dysphoria is all too real. I can say this on the basis of my own pastoral experience. Such an individual knows that he was born as a male and has a male body. However, persistent feelings and thoughts tell him that he is really a woman and that his male body “doesn’t match” what he really is.

As Christians, what are we to make of this condition and how do we minister to these individuals? The first thing to recognize is that gender dysphoria finds it source in the same cause as depression, addiction, homosexuality, Down syndrome, cancer, diabetes, and the flu. They all have been caused by the sin that entered the world in the Fall. Sin brought sickness and death to God’s creation. We are now warped and twisted by sin all the way down to our genes and this fact manifests itself in different ways in our lives (this includes those who experience the different and rare condition where they have a mix of male and female identifying features or a chromosomal abnormality).

We minister to people experiencing gender dysphoria with love and compassion. They are suffering and they need to hear about the God’s love in Christ for them which promises forgiveness and support in the present, and final victory in the resurrection on the Last Day. At the same time, we also speak the truth of God’s Word to them. God has created the man as male, and that body is God’s gift. He cannot ignore or reject this basic fact. It is a reality of his existence before God, and nothing that he may think or feel can change this. 

God’s Word about his creation of the individual as a male and the ordering of his creation is more real than the individual’s thoughts about his own body to the contrary. We tell the person that when those thoughts and feelings arise, the Christian needs to reject them as false. They come from the father of lies who told the first lie to Eve, “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5). Their source is sin and what the Fall has done to the individual – something for which Christ by his death and resurrection has already provided the answer, even as the individual awaits the final arrival of God’s kingdom on the Last Day. As we live in the “not yet” and look for Jesus’ return it is necessary to struggle against these feeling and thoughts, and to reject them as false just as we struggle against other ways that sin manifests itself in our experience (see Gal 5:24; Rom 8:12-13).

The issue with a person experiencing gender dysphoria is not whether he has these thoughts and feelings. All people experience thoughts and feelings that find their source in sin and our fallenness. What matters is how a person chooses to view those thoughts/feelings and to deal with them.

A man suffering from gender dysphoria experiences thoughts and feeling that he is really a woman and that he has the wrong body. A Christian will struggle against these thoughts/feelings and reject them as false because they contradict God’s Word and the body which God has given to him. He will recognize that he experiences such thoughts because he is a fallen sinner and will confess his sinful condition. He will pray for God’s help against these thoughts/feelings, and receive the Means of Grace for forgiveness and strength for the struggle. He will seek encouragement and support from fellow believers who are part of the Body of Christ – the Church.

What he will not do is to embrace and accept these thoughts/feelings because he considers them to be true. He will not listen to the world which tells him that these thoughts/feelings are true, and that in fact they determine what he really is. He will not decide that he really does have the “wrong body.” He will not seek to act on these thoughts/feelings by declaring publicly that this is his reality – that he is a woman – as he changes his name to that of a woman and dresses as a woman. And finally, he won’t take medical actions to transform his body into the partial imitation of a woman (for he never can actually be a woman).

Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32 ESV). Christians are sinners who repent and receive forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Those who do not repent and confess sin, cannot be received into Christ’s Church or remain in her. This description includes the individual who accepts the thoughts/feelings of gender dysphoria as being true and chooses to act upon them while persistently ignoring God’s truth that is spoken to him. Instead, all who listen to God’s Word and allow it to determine what is true find forgiveness and fellowship in the Church as they live in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.