Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Is Extra-Terrestrial Life Consistent with the Christian Faith or a Diversion From It?

Space travel and exploration intrigue me. I’m fascinated by NOVA episodes on the Kepler space telescope or probes sent to the edges of our solar system and beyond. One of the things that has clearly animated several space missions in recent decades is the desire to find evidence of extra-terrestrial life in some form. NASA devotes a whole page to how that might be done here. Our culture’s fascination with alien life in science fiction, together with recent Congressional hearings on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), is bringing the possibility of alien life to the forefront of many people’s minds again. Some have come to believe that we simply can’t be alone in this mind-blowingly vast universe. 

How do we approach this question as Christians? For those who worship Jesus Christ as Lord of all creation, our faith is not unrelated to the question of whether or not there is life “out there.” We should approach this question carefully and from a proper Scriptural standpoint. What are the implications of alien life to the Christian faith? 

It is important to state at the beginning that not only is there no evidence in the Scriptures for any sort of extra-terrestrial life (beyond angels and demons), there is also an overwhelming amount of evidence against it. Genesis 1 and 2 teach that God made Adam and Eve to be the crown of His creation, giving them dominion over all living things that He had created. It is made clear that all of this life was located on earth where Adam and Eve could exercise their divinely given dominion. The existence of life where they could not exercise such dominion is inconsistent with the creation narrative. 

This also would seem to debunk any notion that there are higher or more intelligent forms of life. For when God made man His highest creation, He made him to be in His own image. The idea that there is other life with greater capacities than humans, who alone are in the image of God Himself, seems rather foolish. 

The argument against other intelligent life in the universe is also strengthened when one considers what happened when mankind fell into sin. The Scriptures say in Romans 8 that all of creation, the whole universe, was put into the bondage of man’s sin and its decaying effects. Since man was given dominion over creation, all creation fell with him into sin. If there really were extra-terrestrial creatures equal to or higher than us but not under our dominion elsewhere in the universe, God would certainly not be so unjust as to put them under the curse of our sin. The fact that all creation has been “subjected to futility” as St. Paul says, indicates that there are no other forms of life in the universe like ourselves or greater than us. 

But for me, the key thing to ponder regarding this question pertains to who Jesus is. In order that we might be saved, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, became a true human being, fully and permanently taking on our human nature. Christ Jesus is Himself the very image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). His divine and human natures are joined together in such a way that Jesus is eternally both God and man. Jesus rose bodily from the grave and ascended bodily into heaven where He will forever be true God and true man. Our humanity is redeemed because the Son of God has purified it. He became like us so that we might become like Him. The point is this: If there was other intelligent life like us “out there,” how would they be saved from the curse of sin that all the universe is under? For Christ is forever incarnate as our brother. He could not be truly and literally human and also be incarnate as some other created being. The reason Christ’s death on the cross saves us is because He died as one of us. All creation is redeemed because He now has dominion as a true man; all things have been placed under His feet (Psalm 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:25ff.; Ephesians 1:22; Romans 8:21). In this way, even the very Gospel of Christ itself seems to exclude alien life on some other planet. 

There is another fundamental error that drives the belief in extra-terrestrial life: the theory of evolution. Most who believe that life could exist elsewhere in the universe base those thoughts on the anti-Scriptural philosophy which says that life can come into being on its own and evolve into higher and higher forms of life under the right conditions without any God or Creator. The account of creation in Genesis simply doesn’t allow that possibility—nor does science itself, which has yet to explain how non-living things can become living things apart from a Creator. Indeed, there is now a good body of scientific evidence seriously undermining the theory of evolution. 

Why then is the universe so huge? Carl Sagan liked to say that if it’s just us here on earth, it would be an awful waste of space. But, of course, that’s not for us to say. Rather, Scripture says this, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). And Romans 1 states that, “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” It’s just as logical from a Christian perspective to think that the massiveness of the universe is a declaration of the majesty and power of God, a thing of beauty for us to enjoy and marvel at. 

What then about all the various UFO/UAP sightings that have been reported? While several have proved to be fabrications or misperceptions by those who witnessed them, others are certainly worthy of further investigation as to their source. However, we should not exclude the possibility of the powers of darkness, demons, being at work here. Scripture clearly speaks of “signs and wonders” being produced by those powers arrayed against Christ to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). Demons could certainly make use of this kind of deception to distract and draw people away from the true Christian faith. 

Clearly then, I think the focus on and the desire for there to be extra-terrestrial life is a diversion from Christ and the truth of His Word. This is certainly not a neutral topic. It directly involves such doctrines as creation, sin, and the Gospel itself. 

Our culture’s interest in life on other planets betrays a real spiritual hunger for something higher and greater than ourselves. It's an indication to us of how much our neighbors need to hear the truth about that One who truly is higher and greater than us, the only true God, who in love for us sent His Son to come down to where we’re at in order to raise us to Himself. 

We do believe in “extra-terrestrial beings.” They’re called angels, sent by God to protect His people. We do believe in an “alien” invasion, the coming of our Lord in the flesh to rescue us from our eternal enemies—sin, death, and the devil. And we do believe in life in another world, or better said, in a renewed world (Romans 8:21ff), the new creation to be revealed in all its glory when Christ comes again. 

So enjoy those science fiction movies. Just don’t forget that they are indeed fiction. And let people’s interest in life “out there” be a reminder to you to share with them the real life “down here” to be had in Christ and in the blessing of forgiveness and life that He gives in divine service. 

 -Pastor Koch

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

There Was No Room for Them in the Guest Room

Contrary to the traditional telling of this story, there was almost certainly no innkeeper refusing Mary and Joseph for lack of a room. Luke makes it very clear that Mary and Joseph had already been staying in Bethlehem for several days, and “while they were there” the days were completed for her to be delivered. Mary and Joseph would undoubtedly have been staying with extended family who also were of the house and lineage of David.

The word that is used here for “inn,” kataluma, is much more accurately translated as “guest room.” (Luke uses a different word for “inn” in 10:34.) Homes in Israel at this time would usually have had their sleeping quarters and guest rooms upstairs. Because of the census, all the places for family guests to stay were already full up, and so Joseph and Mary had to stay in an area of the lower level where animals would often be kept at night indoors, especially when the weather was colder. Mary and Joseph are in the overflow area. Mary gives birth in the lower level of a full house, in a somewhat more secluded section of the ground level where some of the animals had been brought in for the night.

So consider this scene: in a house filled with sleeping relatives, there is a first time mother ready to give birth.  Joseph and Mary likely had their bedding set up in the main living area downstairs, back near the animal pens--sort of the "garage" area of the house.  And the time came for her to be delivered–with little privacy, right in the middle of the clutter and chaos of life.  And she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son, our Lord Jesus, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth as was the custom, and laid Him in the nearby manger, an animal feeder full of soft hay.

What an unexpected way for the King of kings to be born!  But what a marvelous message it sends to us.  For it shows us that our Lord Jesus truly is Emmanuel, God with us–right in the middle of the messiness of our lives.  He’s not a royal elitist carefully avoiding the life of the common folk.  He doesn’t keep a safe, antiseptic distance from us. He’s with us right in the middle of our untidy existence and our less-than-perfect families and our strained relationships and our anxiety and fear and sin and brokenness.  He literally puts Himself at the lower level.  He humbles Himself to share fully in your human life so that through faith in Him you may share fully in His divine life forever.

Jesus lies with the animals in order to rescue us from our beastly sin and inhumanity, and to make us fully human again in Him.  Among the animals we are now given to see Jesus as the new Adam.  For just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Very interestingly, kataluma is the same word used in Luke for the upper room where Jesus instituted Holy Communion on the night before His death (Lk 22:11). Bethlehem, which means house of bread, is now quite literally housing the Bread of Life, the same Jesus who will give Himself to us, the Living Bread from heaven, in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus is laid in a manger, a feeding trough, because He has come to be holy food for us. We feast on His life-giving words and preaching, as it is written, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps 119:103). And the Living Bread from heaven makes His manger in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, that we may receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins.  

(For further reference see this article.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Two Martins, One Christ


Lord Jesus Christ, enable Thou me to preach no one but Thee

Blessed Martin Luther, Reformer of Christ’s Church, was born on November 10, 1483.  Luther’s birth occurred on the eve of the burial of St. Martin of Tours, an event that had transpired more than a millennium before, on 11 Nov. 397.  For this reason, the newborn son of coal miner Hans Luther and his wife Hanna was baptized at the church at Eisleben in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and christened “Martin.” Blessed Martin Luther was named after St Martin of Tours.  Martin’s naming with the name of this great saint would prove to be prophetic.  The collect appointed for the feast of S 1. Martin of Tours seems almost to have been written with the work of Reformer Martin Luther in view.  It reads:

Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with a spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the Catholic faith: give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord . . .

Indeed, we might say that Martin of Tours was the type of Martin Luther.

The first Martin was born about 330 in Hungary.  Because he was the son of a Roman soldier, Martin was drafted into the army at an early age despite his desire to become a Christian.  While stationed at the French city of Amiens, the young soldier met at the city gate a poor man nearly naked, who was shivering in the winter frost.  Martin, seeing that no one else would give this poor wretch any alms, took his great soldier’s cloak and cut it in half with his sword.  Half he gave to the freezing beggar, for he had nothing else to offer besides his cloak and weapons.  That night in his sleep Martin saw Jesus Christ, dressed in the half of the cloak with which he had parted, saying, “Martin, yet a catechumen, has covered me with this garment.” Soon thereafter, the young soldier was baptized and became a Christian.

Martin Luther, a millennium after Martin of Tours, beheld a naked, shivering beggar as well.  That poor, shivering beggar was the whole of poor Christendom, trying to find shelter from the gaze of the God who hates sin by hiding behind the few filthy rags of her own righteousness.  Martin Luther, just like his namesake, Martin of Tours, had at hand a great and ample garment.  This garment was the robe of righteousness, large enough to cover the whole sinful world by faith in Jesus Christ.  It was Christ’s gracious “issue” of equipment to his soldier of the Cross, Martin Luther.  Luther clothed the shivering, naked Church with this garment as he preached and taught poor, misled Christendom the pure Gospel of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone.  This Gospel of forgiveness of sins in the Promised Savior is the only thing that can clothe Adam and Eve and all their fallen children rightly in the eyes of a Righteous God.  Anyone who would be clothed in his own good works, good words, and good thoughts, needs to open up his eyes and see how naked and poor he is apart from the freely given garment of God’s righteousness in Christ Crucified for our sins.  This Gospel of Martin Luther was identical with the Gospel of St. Martin of Tours, with the Gospel of St. Paul, with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the Gospel of the whole Church Catholic in all places and in all times.

It is a point of considerable interest to us that our word “chapel” seems to be derived from the incident of the cloak freely given to the shivering beggar by. Martin of Tours.  The place of prayer in which the cloak of St. Martin was afterward preserved was called in Latin the cappella, after the diminutive for “cloak.” In Old French, this word was pronounced chapele.  If any chapel, then, is to be true to its name, it must be a place where nothing is offered to sinful mankind but the covering of righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Just as the cloak of St. Martin of Tours covered the poor beggar, so the Gospel of Blessed Martin Luther covered the deluded, works-righteous souls of those touched by the evangelical message of the Reformation.  Would that it were so now, as well, among us! Have mercy, Lord Christ, upon any poor, naked, and shivering souls where your Gospel is no longer preached in all its purity, where your Sacraments are no longer administered rightly! Enable your Church, gathered in this place and clothed in your grace alone, to retain her hold upon on you, the true Robe of Righteousness, for the blessed covering over of the sins of all who come here for your Gospel and your Sacraments!

St. Martin of Tours secured from Caesar release from military service in order to be a soldier of Christ.  As a monk, Martin came under the salutary influence of St. Hilary of Poi tiers, bishop of that city, and was ordained by Hilary into the priesthood.  Martin founded the first monastic community in France.  He would have preferred to spend the rest of his life in solitary study of God’s Word and in preaching to the peasants of the countryside about the monastery.  Martin, however, was pulled away from his own chosen way of life by the will of God.  God’s will was expressed through the people of Tours, who demanded that Martin be made bishop of their city.  Blessed Martin Luther, a millennium later, undertook the life of a monastic like his namesake.  Similarly, Luther, was not allowed by God to remain separated from the world as a monk.  Through the Biblical studies enjoined upon him by Johann von Staupitz, his superior in the Augustinian order, Martin began to know the grace of God in Jesus Christ Crucified.  It was not enough for God that Martin Luther should study and teach quietly at the University of Wittenberg.  The rediscovered Gospel was a light that could not forever be hidden under a basket.

On the Eve of All Saints’ in 1517, Luther posted on the Wittenberg church door his Ninety-Five Theses against the supposed selling of forgiveness of sins through indulgences.  Roland Bainton writes that Luther was like a man climbing in the darkness a winding staircase in the steeple of an ancient cathedral.  In the blackness he reached out to steady himself, and his hand laid hold of a rope.  He was startled to hear the clanging of a bell.  No more than the first Martin ever thought to become bishop of Tours did this Martin ever think to become the Reformer of Christ’s Church.  Luther had not planned to begin a Reformation in which the pure Gospel would be revealed clearly not only to himself but also to the whole of Christendom.  Despite Luther’s own wishes and plans, that is what God wrought through Luther.

During the time of the bishopric of St. Martin of Tours in the Fourth Century, paganism began to decrease greatly in France.  While Bishop Martin stood staunchly against the Church’s- physical persecution of heretics and unbelievers, nonetheless he lent a strong hand to the pulling down of pagan temples and the felling of sacred trees.  Once, when this great overthrower of paganism had demolished a certain temple, he desired also to cut down a sacred pine that stood near it.  The pagan priest of that place and others agreed that they themselves would fell the tree-upon condition that Bishop Martin of Tours, who trusted so strongly in the Christ whom he preached, would stand wherever they should place him.  Martin consented, and let himself be tied on that side of the great tree toward which it was leaning.  When the sacred pine seemed about to fall and crush him, St. Martin made the Sign of the Holy Cross and the tree fell harmlessly to one side.

Blessed Martin Luther took his stand, as well, upon dangerous ground, protected by nothing but the Word of God.  When he was called upon by Emperor Charles V and the papal legate at the Diet of Worms in 1521 to recant the Gospel he preached and bow to the authority of a Church that had long denied that Gospel, Luther refused.  The Reformer declared:

Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth.  Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.  Amen.

The Emperor’s quick response, promulgated in the Edict of Worms, enjoined all imperial subjects “not to take . . . Martin Luther into your houses, not to receive him at court, to give him neither food nor drink, not to hide him, to afford him no help, following, support, or encouragement, either clandestinely or publicly, through words or works.  Where you can get him, seize him and overpower him, you shall capture him and send him to us under tightest security.” For the next twenty-five years, Martin Luther stood beneath that “great falling tree” of an imperial decree and saw God deflect it by nothing more powerful or glorious than the simple preaching of the Cross.  The preaching of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but unto us who are being saved-even from the persecution of our own church body’s Christless bureaucrats—it is the power of God for salvation.  So also was this preaching of the Cross the only salvation of Luther, whom God used to overthrow the papistical paganism which had overgrown Christ’s Church.  That papistical paganism is still with us today, and it needs to be toppled once again from the perch on which it lords it over us by means even of our own synodical seal!

For Luther to be put under the imperial ban in 1521 was nothing new to him.  Earlier that year, Luther had been excommunicated from the Church by Pope Leo X.  In 1518 Luther had already been condemned at Rome for his Ninety-Five Theses of 1517.  Also in 1518 he was released from the Augustinian order by von Staupitz, Luther’s former dear father in Christ, who now disowned Luther.  For the sake of the Gospel of his dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Luther took his place as the last and the least of Christ’s brethren: a man sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men, a fool for Christ’s sake, weak, held in disrepute, hungry, thirsty, ill-clad, buffeted, homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered, relegated to the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.  Think how quickly our own hearts would recoil at the prospect of having to be hidden away for a whole year simply as the result of our confession of the Faith.  Which one of us would willingly court even social ostracism or economic privation, much less suffering and death, in order to return to a God-given calling of preaching Christ with no guarantee of personal safety? We cannot clothe Luther, the least of Christ’s brethren sent in Christ’s stead to preach Christ’s Gospel, with too much honor—especially that honor of emulation in bold evangelical deeds as well as that of mere lip-service by our grand evangelical words.

Martin Luther, though; does not want us to speak of him.  He wants us, rather, to speak of Christ, Blessed Martin Luther’s Savior from all his sins.  Ever since the time of the Reformation, nearly five hundred years ago, Lutheran exegetes have taken our epistle reading from the Apocalypse to have been a prophecy of the God-wrought work of the Reformer.  That angel in mid-heaven proclaiming an eternal Gospel for all those dwelling on earth, they have said, is a picture of the evangelical ministry of Blessed Martin Luther.  “Perhaps that’s true,” Luther would answer, “but listen well to what the angel proclaims”: “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water.”

Luther’s God is first and last our Lord Jesus Christ, True God and True Man.  Luther’s God is he who says on the Last Day to those at his right hand: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Now, an inheritance prepared for us cannot be earned by our good works; it can be bestowed upon us only by the grace of the Lord who has willed it to us.  What has been prepared for us from eternity cannot be earned or won by us in time; it can only be foreordained for us by God’s unmerited favor in Christ.  The Father saw us in Christ, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, and the Father called us blessed in Christ, before ever time began! Christ, the Blessed Redeemer, is the God of Luther, the Blessed Reformer.  If there had been no sinless Redeemer in Christ, designated by God from eternity for man, there would never have been any redeemed Church for the poor, sinful Reformer, Luther, to reform!

If Luther was able to offer Christ’s hungry and thirsty people both the Bread and the newly-restored Cup, it was only because Luther’s Lord Jesus had first given up his Body and his Blood for Luther and for all.  If Luther was able to live out manfully the latter half of his life as a “stranger in a strange land” under ecclesiastical and imperial bans, it was because Luther’s Lord Jesus had first manfully come unto his own while knowing full well that he would find no welcome from but a bitter Cross.  If Luther was able to clothe poor, shivering Christendom with the righteousness of Christ in the preaching of the pure Gospel, it was only because Luther’s Lord Jesus had first been stripped naked in order to be covered with the shame of Luther’s sins, my sins, your sins, the world’s sins.

If Luther was able to break the yoke of false doctrine and let thousands upon thousands of oppressed consciences go free, it was only because Luther’s Lord Jesus had first come to liberate us from Satan’s prison-house of the Law, Sin, Death, and Hell—yes, even to die so that we might be healed from our sickness unto death.  If Luther was able to pour himself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted with a fruitful lifetime of preaching and teaching the pure Gospel, it was only because Luther’s Lord Jesus had first poured out his blood from the Cross and given his Body as the offering for our sins.  If Luther was enabled to become the Repairer of the Breach by restoring the doctrine of Justification to the Church, it was only because Luther’s Lord Jesus had first justified by his own precious suffering and death both Luther and the world to which Luther preached.

Despite all his prodigious accomplishments for the cause of Christ, Blessed Martin Luther never forgot the fact that he was a poor, miserable sinner in need of a Savior.  Even his best works, he freely confessed, were shot through with sin.  He, Luther, was the one whom Christ had fed and welcomed, clothed and healed, rescued from destruction with his death and resurrection.  Blessed Martin Luther could clothe others in Christ’s righteousness only because he, himself, had first been clothed by Christ-just as that poor, naked, shivering beggar had once been clothed by Luther’s namesake, St. Martin of Tours.  Martin of Tours was the patron saint of beggars.  True to his namesake, the last words that Martin Luther ever wrote, found by the side of his deathbed, read, “We are beggars-that is true.” These two Martins were both soldiers of the one Lord Jesus Christ.  We honor St. Martin of Tours and Blessed Martin Luther best when we follow in their train as soldiers of Christ.  Let us bravely echo them-even against those who would gainsay us within our own church body-in confession of the pure Gospel of our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:

Through the midst of hells of fear our transgressions drive us.
Who will help us to escape, shield us and revive us?
Lord, you alone, our Savior.
Your shed blood our salvation won; sin, death, hell are now undone.
Holy, most mighty God! Holy and most merciful Savior! Forever our Lord!
Give us grace abounding; keep, us, keep us in the faith.
Have mercy, O Lord!
(LW 265)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Fearing God or Fearing COVID?

What is the First Commandment?  You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

When the pandemic started approximately 18 months ago, there was a great deal of uncertainty about what we were facing.  From the beginning, we did our best as a congregation to obey government mandates while still faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating Holy Communion in our 10 people or fewer divine services. 

Now we have a much better idea of what COVID is and is not.  We know that we can assemble safely by taking some basic precautions and ventilation measures, by getting vaccinated if we choose, by spreading out in the pews, and by asking people with cold and flu symptoms to stay home.  By the grace of God, our congregation has had ZERO transmission of the virus in divine service. 

That doesn’t mean that there is no future risk in coming to church—just as there is always risk every time you get in your car and drive to work or to the store.  But it does raise the question that we all should ask, especially those who are still staying away from divine service: What do you fear more, God or COVID?  Are you more concerned about the power of death or the Lord of life?  Crisis events like these have a way of revealing our gods, the people and things we love and trust in more than the true God.  Whatever it is that is keeping you away from the Lord’s preaching and the Lord’s supper—even if it’s something good of itself—that thing is an idol in your life, and you must learn to recognize it as such.  If you fear losing health or loved ones or money or anything else more than you fear losing communion with God, you are not fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. 

Of course, the response to this usually is that we can pray to God privately and read the Bible privately, etc.  True enough.  But the Christian faith is not merely a private thing; it is the communion of saints, those who together form the Body of Christ.  The Christian faith is not merely an individual and spiritual thing; it is a communal, physical, and bodily thing.  It involves the preaching of the Word out loud into your ears.  For faith comes by hearing the proclaiming of the Word of God (Romans 10:17).  It involves receiving into your mouths the true and literal body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28).  It involves teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord, letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3:16).  These things cannot be done alone.  “Where two or three are gathered…” (Matthew 18:20). That’s why it is written, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Last Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25), the day of our bodily resurrection.  If we can be kept away from church because of the real but minimal threat of a virus, what are we going to do when we face actual persecution and more significant threats to ourselves and our families in this ungodly world?

I urge and exhort all of you, then, to return to the Lord Jesus and the weekly receiving of His gifts in divine service.  For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13).  If you’ve been away for a while and feel funny about coming back, know that you will be received with open arms and glad hearts.  The Lord’s invitation is still in full force, “Come, for all things are now ready!” (Luke 14:17-18).  And if you are unable to make it to church for whatever reason, I will be glad to come to you to have a devotional service of Holy Communion.  There is no reason to be cut off from the Lord’s goodness in His Word and Sacraments.  “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

            -Pastor Koch

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Believing Without Church?

by the Rev. Dr. Karl Fabrizius 

 I heard it again this week: I still believe, but I do not need to go to Church. Everyone thinks of this at times or knows someone who tells them that on a regular basis. Do we need church attendance if we believe, or not? As Lutherans we desire that all our practices answer the basic question: Who is Jesus? He refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd (Jo 10), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jo 14), the Bread of Life (Jo 6), and the Vine (Jo 15). We should also note His words regarding His preachers: “Whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent Me.” From these alone we can draw some conclusions about the life of the Church and the need for Christians to go to Church. 

 First, Jesus says that the Sheep, the baptized, hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him. You need to hear that Jesus laid down His life and then took it up again at the Resurrection. This message is so foreign that you need to hear it each Lord’s Day. Jesus sends out His preachers so that the sheep may continually hear His voice. The Church is defined as those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Thus, the life of a believer is a life of hearing God’s Word and doing it (Mt 7:24-27). Those who do not build their house on this solid foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone will crumble in the face of the storms of this life.

Jesus also says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him. He brings you to the Father through the waters of Holy Baptism. He continues to teach you all things in the Church through preaching and catechesis just as He com-manded in Matthew 28:19-20. The Church is His Body and He is the Head. The Body cannot live without the Head. There is a constant need for Jesus, and He has promised to be with His Church always through the preaching of the Church’s pastors so that the Head is always bringing life to the whole body. 

 As the Bread of Life, He invites you to come to His altar when you are weary and He will give you rest. Through His own Body and Blood He nourishes your weak souls that they may flourish in the true faith to life everlasting. Here He feeds your weak bodies that they may inherit the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Here He gathers His Body together to be made one through His own flesh that was sacrificed at the altar of the cross and rose again on the third day for your justification. Gathering around the altar you remember the Lord’s death and resurrection as the source of all your hope and comfort until the day He returns. You who are many are made one, baked together as one loaf and crushed together as one cup. 

Finally, He reminds you that He is the Vine and you are the branches, and apart from Him you can do nothing. When you were baptized, you were grafted into the Vine. Each time you eat His flesh and drink His blood you are joined firmly to the Vine. Yet He warns that those who do not abide in Him are cut off and thrown into the fire of eternal damnation. That word for abide echoes back to John 8:31-32 where He says, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” And so, we are back to Jesus who is the Truth and is known only through His Word where the Son sets you free. 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do not be deceived. If you think that you believe but need not come to Church, you are really denying yourself the true freedom that is given there through the Gospel that is bestowed in baptism, preached on in the congregation and freely offered at the Lord’s Supper. Lord, grant that all who are joined to the Vine remain in Him. Amen 

(from the newsletter of Our Father's Lutheran Church, Greenfield, WI)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Ethnic Jesus

Christmas Eve, 2007
Luke 2:1-20
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
Greenfield, Wisconsin

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    It used to be bother me a little bit when I would see Nativity scenes from other countries that depicted Jesus as being of the same race as that country–in a Chinese painting Jesus looked oriental, in an African portrayal Jesus was black, or for that matter, in a German or Scandinavian portrait Jesus looked like a blue-eyed European.  It bothered me because the Christmas narrative is a true story, real history, and Jesus is a middle-eastern Jew.  To depict the Nativity in some other way seemed to me to be making it into a bit of a fairy tale that we can mold and shape and change to fit our desires and needs.  But the account of Jesus’ birth is no myth.  It doesn’t belong in the same category as flying reindeer and all the fantasy that has become so much a part of our culture’s Christmas holiday.  What I read to you is for real.  Luke emphasizes that point by even giving you some of the historical details about who the Caesar was and the census and the tax and who the governor of that region was at that time.  The Christmas story is an actual, literal account about the real Jesus and His birth.

    And yet the more I think about it, the more I believe that those may paintings have it right, at least in this sense: The angel came with the message of good news for all people, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  The Savior Jesus is born to you, for you; He is yours.  He’s your kind, humankind.  You see, when the Son of God took on our human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, He did not just became a man.  He became man.  He took all of humanity into Himself in His incarnation.  For He came to bear the sins of all humanity in His body.  That includes every nation and race and people and language.  Though Jesus was indeed a Jew, His birth reveals the truth that there is in fact only one human race, the fallen children of Adam.  And in this newborn baby in the manger, every sinner is redeemed and restored to God.  Jesus is the embodiment of all people from every corner of the globe, and in His body all people are put right with God again.  And so when Jesus is portrayed as African or Oriental or European, theologically speaking that’s true.  By becoming man, Christ becomes one with all people to deliver all people.  The Savior is born to you, for you.  He’s one of you, your very flesh and blood, your true human brother.  There’s no one that’s left out of the new life that comes from His holy birth.  He’s like you in every way, except without sin, that you might become like Him in every way and share in His divine glory.

    This alone is the basis for the peace on earth of which the angels sang.  In Christ, God and sinners are reconciled.  We sinners are no longer under God’s wrath; we are at peace with Him again through His self-giving mercy.  The warfare between heaven and earth is now ended.  The case of God against the human race is set aside, and His love for the world is revealed.  Our flesh has been joined to God.  Heaven and earth are at peace.  God and man are brought back together in Jesus, for Jesus is God and man together in one person.  Baptized into Christ, we are put right with God.  And living in Christ, we are put right with each other, too.  The only peace on earth that lasts is the peace of Christ, forgiven sinners united as one in His holy body.

    Whoever you are, the message of this night is that Christ came for you to rescue you, to forgive you.  He was willing to deal with the indignities of His lowly birth and His humble life and His humiliating death in order that you might be dignified and exalted and lifted up with Him in His resurrection to everlasting life. 

    In truth this Christmas narrative foreshadows the reason why Jesus came into this world.  Even as He was born outside of the inn with the animals, so He would be crucified outside the city with common beastly criminals.  Even as He was wrapped in strips of linen and laid in a manger, so later He would be wrapped in cloths and laid in a tomb.  Even as the shepherds came to worship Him, so it is that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The wood of the manger would later be traded for the wood of the cross.  As one song puts it, “Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn, tiny heart whose blood will save us unto us is born.”  We must never forget on this Christmas night that our Lord took on flesh and blood so that He might sacrifice His flesh and shed His blood to cleanse us and make us holy, His own special people.  He was born to die for us that we might be reborn to live in Him eternally.

    The place of Jesus’ birth was Bethlehem, which means literally, “house of bread.”  Even as He was laid in a feeding trough, so He is given to be holy food for us, the Bread of Life, which one may eat of and live forever.  Let us then come today to the Bethlehem He has prepared for us, to the swaddling clothes and manger in which He now lies, the bread and wine which holds and which is His true body and blood given for the forgiveness of our sins.  Let us feast on the Living Bread from heaven, that our humanity may be restored in Him who became fully human for us.  You need not go to the holy land to feel close to Jesus.  For this is the holy land, where Christ is truly present for you.  You get to kneel with the shepherds right here at this altar.

    To all of you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you’ve done, know this:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  In Him you are forgiven, you are put right with God.  All is well.  “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Merry Christmas!

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Best Pro-Life Sermon I've Ever Read or Heard

Dr. David P. Scaer
Matthew 2:16-18

            The Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion should be commemorated on December 28, the day of the Holy Innocents.  Churches should be decked in black for the hideous American crime of abortion which matches in its brutality Stalin’s extermination of the Ukranians in the 1930's, Hitler’s destruction of Jews in Germany and Poland in the 1940's, and the near obliteration of the Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's.  Our slaughter is more thorough and covers the 70's, 80's, and now the 90's.  We could very well pray the collect for the Day of the Holy Innocents:

“O God, whose martyred innocents showed forth Thy praise not by speaking but by dying, mortify all vices within us that our lives may in deed confess Thy faith which our tongue doth utter; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

            With these words we are at the very foundation of Christian truth–not that we speak the right things and sigh in horror at the abominations of others, but, as the collect says, “that our lives may confess” that which “our tongue . . . utters.”  For the time comes when the Christian faith is only inadequately expressed by words and must be brought to perfect completion by action.  The slaughter of the holy innocents is for the church an unrefusable crusade call to repentance, faith, and action.

            Our opposition to abortion is part of our confessional commitment.  With Luther in his explanation to the Fifth Commandment, we say that we should “help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need.”  And no bodily need of our neighbor’s has a greater claim on us than the unborn who die their deaths not by their own desire or God’s, but by the will of those whose bodies have given them life.  Though burdened with inherited sin from Adam in their conception, they have not been born to a life of sin.  Though they are among those who are redeemed by Christ, they hear not the Gospel of that redemption.  Their infant bodies, washed in salt, never are comforted by the saving flood of baptism.

            Thomas Jefferson said that: “A single human being is of infinite worth.”  This non-religious principle is sufficient to oppose abortion with every fiber of our bodies and every thought of our souls and every emotion of our spirits.  But the sacredness of human life has been raised to an even higher dimension by the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.  “In Him was life and this was the life which lightens everyone who is coming into the world” (John 1:9).  Now through the incarnation, the Son of God shares in the life of every man, woman, and child; and not only those children who are born, but those who were conceived and never born.  The incarnation is bound to one place and time, but it has a universal dimension infiltrating every life, filling every place, and affecting every time.  We human beings are not a collection of individuals, but we are all taken out of the flesh of Adam so that we are part of one another.  By His conception the eternal Logos permeated all of humanity, and all of humanity became part of Him.

            In the moment of our conception we are all without visible race or gender, without culture or inheritance, without language or skill.  We stand coram Deo, before God, with the first Adam to hear a verdict of condemnation and death: “in sin did my mother conceive me.”  And more importantly we stand coram Deo, before God, with the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, to hear a verdict of righteous acquittal and justification, of holiness and innocence, of life and resurrection.  “This was the light which lightens everyone who comes into the world.”

            If life which exists between the conception of one simple cell and a fully developed baby is so insignificant that it can be arbitrarily snuffed out for whatever reason, then our Lord’s life within His mother’s womb was equally unimportant and we would be without hope and salvation.  But life within the womb is the most significant of all lives, and our Lord’s conception of His pure mother and His life within her womb raised to a level of perfection that life already sacred before God.  The womb of the virgin was, as Luther says, the throne room of God.  It was here as St. Paul says, that the man Jesus saw Himself with all of the attributes which are God’s.  The womb of His mother was the temple of God where Christ ruled the world and still offered Himself in continual prayer to God and His Father not for His sake, but for ours.  Here even He before He received the adoration of the shepherds and the worship of the magi, He received the worship and adoration of the Baptist, who though still unborn was already the greatest of all the prophets and in whom all the prophets from Adam to Malachi were present.

            We are here to commemorate those who were once alive, but are never born.  Yes, we offer our prayers for ourselves and for a nation which permits the holocaust to continue and even for the mothers who out of ignorance or willful design or simple inconvenience or apparently legitimate financial reasons abort their own children.  These, however, still have time to pray for themselves, to perform their own penitential vows, and to cry their own tears of sorrow.  But let us shed our tears for those who were never able to shed their own tears of repentance.  Let us ask God to remember in His mercy those who will never be able to ask mercy for themselves.  As did Luther and the fathers of Lutheran orthodoxy, we pray that God in His mercy would provide a way for those who forever remain unborn in this world to be born into the next world.  For if John the Baptist could at the voice of the mother of God confess the faith by leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, perhaps God in His infinite grace and mercy may provide a word of redemption which these children may hear and believe before their lives are snuffed out.  They no less than the Holy Innocents slaughtered by Herod are entitled to be called innocent and deserve our commemoration on this day of remembrance.  “Rachel is still weeping for her children, because,” as Jeremiah says, “they are not.”

            If their lights are not permitted to shine on earth before men to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, perhaps they can still shine in heaven.  God can perfect praise from unborn babes, as easily as He can from sucklings.

            If with these words we trespass into the land of divine mysteries, we have done it not only out of a sense of our own frustration, but out of the knowledge that these children have been redeemed by the one who lived His life in the womb specifically for their sakes.  When the church confessed, “incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est,” “He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man,” let the church not only genuflect in devotion to this greatest of mysteries, but may her corporate heart bend in sorrow and contrition for those who go from conception to grave without birth, for those whose mothers’ wombs are not temples of safety but halls of slaughter.

            Will He, who reigned over heaven and earth from His mother’s womb and who in his infancy escaped the butcher’s hand of King Herod, not hear our prayer and join His prayer with ours before God and His Father in heaven even now for those for whom no way of escape is provided?

            I am not one for drawing banners.  But I would be pleased to march with the community which is Concordia Theological Seminary this Saturday morning at the City-County Building behind a banner which said, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  Let us pray.

O almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength and madest infants to glorify Thee by their deaths, mortify and kill all vices in us and so strengthen us by Thy grace that by the innocency of our lives and constancy of our faith, we may glorify Thy holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I ran across this sermon early in the 1990's (though I don't recall exactly where).  A very similar sermon is included in “In Christ: The Collected Works of David P. Scaer — Volume 1, p. 282. Published by Concordia Catechetical Academy. Used by permission.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Choosing Between Science and Christianity?

It is incredibly frustrating when people stay away from church and Christianity because they think embracing it means they have to leave science behind.  I’ve been watching the National Geographic docudrama on Mars, and one scientist who was interviewed made this revealing comment, “There’s almost a religious belief that we will find [life on Mars] eventually if we just keep looking, and it’s based upon faith and not knowledge, in the same way that religion is based upon faith and not knowledge.”  What a statement! It’s interesting, first of all, that the scientist admits that much of what passes for (pop) science today is not really science at all.  But it’s especially troubling that anyone would think that the Christian religion is not based on knowledge, that it’s pure blind faith in fairy tales or something. 

The fact is that Christianity is thoroughly grounded in history, in reality.  It speaks of real people and real places that archaeologists have studied.  It is based on historical events and eyewitness testimony.  Now it’s true that faith is required to believe what those events actually mean, but the Christian religion is most certainly based on knowledge.  You don’t have to be a Christian to believe that Jesus existed or even that He died on a cross.  Those things, that knowledge can be demonstrated pretty convincingly through both Biblical and non-biblical documents.  What takes faith is to believe that a man who received the death penalty is the Savior of the world and that salvation was accomplished precisely in that shedding of His blood.  But the writers of Scripture are very clear that what we’re dealing with is real, tangible, knowable stuff.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).  For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). 

It is precisely the Biblical and Christian worldview that makes science possible, the belief in Laws of nature that can be consistently applied from place to place and time to time, which of course presupposes a Creator of those laws, a unchanging Creator who has dominion and authority over all places and times.  And who really is being un-scientific in today’s cultural context anyway, the Christian or the “scientific” agnostic or atheist?  It’s not Christians who are denying the biological reality of the full humanity of the unborn.  It’s not Christians who are denying the reality of the DNA in every single cell of our bodies and claiming that men can become women, and vice versa.  It’s not Christians who hold to the irrational belief that life can randomly arise out of non-living things if given enough time—something which has never been observed or reproduced in a laboratory or anywhere else. 

It is perfectly rational and logical to believe in the existence of a Creator (Romans 1:20).  For life always comes from life.  Either matter is eternal and somehow has no beginning, or God is eternal and is the source of life and all that is.  Science is simply the study of God’s creation and how it operates.  The Bible is not in contradiction with real science, though it most certainly goes well beyond what science can look into or explain.  Our God is the God of creation, of wisdom and knowledge, of Wisdom made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who redeemed and renewed creation by His life and death and resurrection (Romans 8:20-23). 

Anyway, all of this is meant as introduction to this helpful video.  It has to oversimplify some things for the sake of time (for instance in the “how” and “why” portion).  But it’s a reminder that while the Word of God is the highest revelation of knowledge and wisdom, science is a good gift of God to learn about and rejoice in His good creation.