Posts Tagged ‘Office of the Keys’

Two Kingdoms: Man vs. God

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Twenty Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 30th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

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“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 3:20]

churchstate-300x186Tomorrow is the official 499th anniversary date of the Reformation of Christ’s Church. It all began when Martin Luther, a simple parish priest and monk published a professional paper now know as the 95 Theses. This document was meant to begin debate and discussions about what Luther felt were grievous sins and errors of the church. What began Luther on this life-long journey with God were really two distinct passages of Scripture. Let me share them with you now: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9] And second is this Word: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” [Romans 1:16-17] From these two portions of scripture the very basis of the Reformation was born, and that basis can be summed up like this: “Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. All under the banner of Christ alone!”

But the reformation also brought us another very important doctrine of scripture that I am afraid seems to be neglected in our current time, and it is this…

We live in two kingdoms. The kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God.

Christians are citizens of two worlds. First, we have a heavenly citizenship, where Christ is our King. This Kingdom is more than a future hope it is a present reality as we gather in Christ’s church where we are given new birth, and nourished and sustained by His very Word and Sacraments. As Christians, we are at home in this Kingdom of God. But we are also citizens in a community, in a nation of communities where we are subject to its laws.

And there is no contradiction between these two citizenships. We don’t have the same relation in this world as we enjoy with God, to be sure. So, in regards to the two Kingdoms, we must always be sure that we are not serving two masters. But to serve God and the nation we live in does not mean that we serve two masters. Because behind the nation we live in is the authority of God.

The Bible teaches that the government with all its orderly processes of law—those things the Bible calls “human institutions”—is also a creation of and maintained by God. The Bible goes so far as to say that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exists have been instituted by God.” [Romans 13:1] And those words were written at a time when the authority of the Roman Empire was in pagan hands.

To understand this we must remember that God rules the world also through the powers He has placed in the hands of men and women. He has given us a natural intelligence, a sense of what is right and wrong, a love for home and family, the ability to organize society and to enact good laws. These powers function just as clearly among people who do not know Christ or believe on Him as they do with Christians. This is why communities are found and maintained wherever people exist. Now, because these institutions are made up of sinful imperfect people, problems are bound to arise. But however defective these governments might be, they are still an effective deterrent to violence and wild individualism. They become one of the means by which God shows His concern for our earthly welfare. This is why God’s Word commands us to be loyal and obedient to human authorities, not simply because of the fear of punishment but also for the sake of a “good conscience.”

The duty of all governments is to uphold justice and to show concern for those who otherwise would be wrongly treated. So the government and those who serve within it are “a servant of God for the righteous.” And everyone who has been granted power by God to rule over others must one day answer to God how he has used that power.

But the state can misuse its powers. It is not true to say that if something is “lawful” it must also be right in the eyes of God. There are rules concerning marriage and abortion for example, which cannot be observed without sinning against the commandments. This is why Jesus’ teaching this morning is so important for us to understand.

In our gospel lesson [Matthew 22:15-22] Jesus is confronted with a trap devised by the Jewish leaders.

It was a pit so to speak that was dug for Jesus to fall into and be trapped by His own Words. Foolish men; they were told Who Jesus was and where He came from, but they would not believe that the very One they were attempting to discredit was in fact God in human flesh. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The popular answer that was sure to garnish public support for what they saw as Jesus’ campaign to be the Messiah was, “Heck no, it’s not lawful! We are sons of Abraham and have never been enslaved by anyone! We are sons of King David and I, Jesus of Nazareth am a direct descendant of David, so let’s get rid of Caesar and I’ll be your Messiah-king!”

But Jesus was not that kind of king and He had not come to lead a rebellion. So seeing the trap they set, He allows them to fall in it instead. “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And this dear friends is where God both gives to you wisdom and demands that you use it. We are called to give to the government what is theirs and give to God what is His! So what are we to do when the law of the government is in direct contradiction with the Word of God. In such a time, we must obey God rather than man. Christians in the early church suffered martyrdom rather than give sacrifices to Caesar. And the Bible speaks clearly about a day in the future when we will have to reckon with a state that is under the dominion of the Antichrist. This is why our Gospel lesson and Jesus Words this morning must be taken very seriously.

Today in our own time, several pits have been dug for you dear Christians. Our government by the people has presented two great traps for us to fall into which will then lead us to withhold giving honor to God and His Word, and thus abandon our Christian faith. These two great traps are the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of unborn human life. These are watershed issues on which your Christian faith will either stand or fall. They are just as important as grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, because they are also under Christ alone.

Marriage is not a relationship instituted by man but by God. When a man and woman wish to live together, God commands that it be done not in simply living together, but within the bonds, within the blessings of Holy Matrimony. These rules for marriage were not invented by the church but they were commanded by God. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife (his woman) and the two will become one flesh.” So intimate relations between two people are to be within the confines of marriage and they are to be between a man and a woman.

But society and even our government will counter with, “What is the harm of two people living together first before they are married? What is wrong with making sure they are compatible? And what is wrong with that couple being of the same sex if they are in love. Shouldn’t we celebrate their marriage just as we celebrate a heterosexual marriage?”

Beware dear friends, this is a trap just as real as the one set for Jesus. On it’s own, there is nothing wrong with love. And on our own who are we to judge what makes others happy? We are no one but fellow sinners, struggling to find happiness just as they are. But we cannot ignore what God has spoken.

Human life is sacred. It’s sacred because God’s Word says that we were created in His image. Throughout God’s Word, He speaks this truth and He reaffirms that in the womb He knows us; He knows and loves all human life. When we read these Words we are moved by the Spirit to agree with God! But when confronted with the trap of society, the edict of the government, we begin to see the issue of unborn life from a different perspective. “Does not a woman have a right to choose what she does with her body? What about the future of a young pregnant teen, and what about exigent circumstances? Surely you can’t be saying that God has no compassion for these women?”

Do you see the trap? You are being asked to speak for God about something that He has not spoken to you of. You are being asked to defend God or deny Him by abandoning what He has spoken.

So what are we to do? Well, in both of these circumstances of life we are to love our neighbor. We are to understand the pain and the fear that is behind both examples. We are not to judge them but to love them. We love them when we simply repeat what God has said and we encourage them to embrace God’s truth and do as we do everyday, repent. We repent when we simply surrender to God and admit that He is right and we are wrong. We repent when we turn to the cross of Jesus, and receive His forgiving love, which was poured out upon us within the waters of holy baptism. We demonstrate our love for those who are caught within these two life styles that conflict with God’s Word by being both friend and brother or sister. We do not abandon them but we accompany them on their journey of turning back to God; giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving to God what is God’s.

Our love for sinners is given under the same manner and authority as it is given to us, through…

The Office of the Keys. Each of you I trust remembers this teaching from your catechism. The Office of the Keys is…

A spiritual power, which must always be clearly distinguished from the temporal power of governments and societies. It’s a spiritual power because it pertains to the spirit and soul of men and women; it offers and gives spiritual blessings, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. It does not use force but the very Word of God.

It is a power that was given by Jesus Himself to His Church here on earth. A church that also exists within the confines of a temporal government. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 21:22-23]

The Office of the Keys is also the power of the Word of God. By the Word we are to be sanctified, brought to faith, and gathered together as one in Christ Jesus. As the church, we have no right to use violence to institute change that is pleasing to God. That is the power of the state not the church. Our power is found in the Word of God and our trust and faith is in it alone.

The Office of the Keys is simply repeating to all who will hear what God has said in His Word. The church is to teach men to observe all that Christ has commanded, and only what He has commanded. This is the only power the church has, and beyond the Word, the church has no power.

Finally, the cardinal truth of the Word and the commission of the Church within the office of the Keys is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the cross of Jesus, God has forgiven all people their sins for Christ’s sake. This is the truth that the church must always proclaim to this world of sinners who are trapped as we once were. We speak God’s forgiveness to sinners who are then convicted to repent of their sins just as we are convicted and just as we too must repent.

The church is to perform her mission by preaching and teaching the true Word of God, both the law and the Gospel, and we are to bring that Word with the love of God. We are to administer the sacraments, which are also the Word of God, and we are to release and bind sins as God Himself works to offer grace and forgiveness to all men and women by these means of grace alone. And as the church works to administer these means of grace, we are ever watchful for our loved ones and neighbors who have turned to Jesus by faith alone. We stand ready to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to them by reminding them they are part of a greater community of fellow forgiven sinners who were also saved by Holy Scripture alone.

I pray that each of us will be empowered to continue giving to Caesar what is Caesars while standing strong under the banner of grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, and serving Christ alone unto eternal life… AMEN!

 

 

It’s Already Forgiven!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 16-C, September 8th, 2013

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“Confident of your obedience, … I know that you will do even more than I say.” [Philemon 21]

Our Epistle lesson this morning (Philemon 1-21), is a little different from our usual epistles, and here’s how; all of the other Epistles in your Bible are general letters to all of the people in a local congregation, or they are intended for many congregations that make up the Church.  But this one, … this one is different.  It is a private letter from the Apostle Paul to a pastor and leader of a local church; a man named Philemon.

Philemon was not only a pastor he was also a wealthy one.  How do I know that?  Because he owned slaves!  Slaves?  Wait just a minute, why would a pastor own slaves?  Because that was an accepted practice within the Roman Empire, and specifically in the area that he lived, a town called Colossae.  The ranks of slaves were not only made up of those who were conquered in war, but also of persons who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so that they would have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little money to spend.  Now within the roster of slaves working for Philemon, was one named Onesimus.  What he did for Philemon, and how he became a slave is unknown, we only know that he was a slave in the household of Philemon.

But what we also know is that Onesimus ran away and eventually found St. Paul in a Roman prison waiting for a trial that would eventually lead to his death.  Why did he run to find Paul?  Because St. Paul was the founder and Bishop of that church in Colossae and Onesimus knew it.   He must have known many things about Christianity while observing the worship services in Philemon’s home.  He also must have observed many qualities of the Christian faith that he admired but which also confused him, so it only made sense that when he ran he would seek out the only authority he knew of within the Christian church, the Apostle Paul.

So here are three truths we must realize so that this message will make sense.  1. This is not a message on the morality of slavery.  2. When Onesimus ran away, he committed theft; he was depriving his master Philemon of the income or service that he would have rendered had he stayed.  3. Onesimus was attracted by the Christian faith, from what he heard and witnessed, but he was not yet converted; that is, when he ran away, he was not a Christian.

Now let’s look at the letter.  In verse 4 Paul reminds Philemon of his true identity in Jesus Christ.  He is not just a wealthy business owner; he is not just a husband and father; he is not just an owner of slaves; and he is not just a leader of a local congregation… he is Christ’s own Ambassador in all of the vocations or positions of life that he lives.  Through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ he has been set free, pardoned of all of his sins.  In his baptism this pardon engulfed him and recreated him into the image of His Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words he was made one with God through a relationship of love and faith with the Son of God.  Now this is the truth that empowers St. Paul’s entire message contained within this letter.  The underlying question throughout this whole letter is this: Shouldn’t this relationship with God through Jesus Christ direct every thing we do in life and guide the way we live and behave with all people?

In verse 6, Paul talks about the fellowship of believers and how we relate to each other in the body of Christ and how we treat those outside of the church who hopefully will be attracted to the faith because of how we treat them.  Sometimes I mourn over the damage done to the image of the church because of our public persona.  The church may no longer be seen as a group of ordinary people who love in an extraordinary fashion, by celebrating joyfully with others over their great fortune, and weeping and mourning intensely with still others because of their misfortune and tragedies.  Instead, I am afraid we sometimes may be seen as a group of individuals who just want to get our praise on and avoid letting others into our tight circle because either we are jealous that their blessing isn’t our blessing, or because their sorrow is bringing us down and threatening to take the joy out of our own lives. Paul’s letter is encouraging us to go back to our relationship with God through Christ, and he is commanding us to be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters in true Christian love!

In verse 7, Paul asks us to consider a couple things.  Are we being a blessing and useful to others in the church by how we spend our time talent and resources and are we allowing others to bless and be useful to us with their time, talent, and treasure?  Or are we so caught up in the moment and with those in our little cliques that we have no time for others who may be different than ourselves?

In verses 8-15, Paul acknowledges that Onesimus sinned against Philemon, and he admits that this sin has separated the two.  But Paul points out that Onesimus not only acknowledges this before Philemon and Paul, but before God Himself.  You see, Onesimus has turned and received God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ; he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and now being reconciled to God through Christ, He also wishes to be reconciled to Philemon.  In other words, Paul is once more turning Philemon’s eyes and heart to Christ and His cross.  He is showing Him that forgiveness has already been accomplished at Calvary, now all that is lacking is for Philemon to pronounce and live out that same forgiveness towards Onesimus, who once was only a slave, but now is so much more than that, he is Philemon’s brother!

In verse 18, we have perhaps the most beautiful part of the letter.  Here we see Paul, who points Philemon and us to the cross, and he takes up that same cross himself on behalf of Onesimus.  He says that what ever Onesismus owes you, what ever harm he has done that you feel demands restitution, charge it to me, Paul, personally!  “In other words,” says Paul, “as Christ paid my debt of sin and freed me from that burden, I too can not help but do the same for Onesimus.”  Now this is beautiful and it is important, because it sets up what comes next.

In verse 21, Paul says that he is confident that Philemon will take back Onesimus as his brother in Christ without penalty and with complete forgiveness, in fact he is confident that he will do something even better. Paul is certain that Philemon like himself, through the power of the Spirit of Christ, will also take up his cross, and absorb what every financial or social loss that Onesimus’ disobedience caused, just as Christ did for Philemon and Paul upon His cross, where His death brought life for all sinners, even sinners such as Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

Dear friend, may I speak to you personally through the grace and forgiving love of Jesus Christ?  Do you know that I thank God for your salvation; I can’t help but celebrate that like me, He has snatched you too out of the grasp of the devil by paying for your sin Himself.  What a joy it is to know that He has also washed you and recreated you into His own image in your baptism, so that like me, you too need never fear the punishments of death.  The fact that you are listening to these words this morning is proof of your love for Christ, even as weak as it may be, it is present by the work of God, and for that I truly am joyful.  I know that it is this same love of Christ that has moved you to give freely and abundantly in your time, talent, and treasure to the church and in other places and ways.  Through your giving, you have truly refreshed the lives of so many.

Now because of this wonderful gift of grace that is active in your life, I must be bold to speak a command of God.  “You must be reconciled with your brother or sister.”  You are required to do this thing, not asked.  Yet you are forgiven through grace, so this command will not cause you any fear or worry, because it will actually be Christ within you forgiving, becoming reconciled to the one that has hurt you and deserves, in the worlds eyes, only punishment and retribution.  You know as well as I that any good works that God commands, which are done out of fear or obligation, do not count for a thing in His eyes.  Instead, we know that God loves a cheerful giver, one who gives of their time, talent, treasure, and even forgiveness, voluntarily out of a heart filled with love and abundant thankfulness for what Jesus has done!

So I, a simple pastor who at times can also be a sinner, ask you to forgive that person who has sinned against you.  Let it go and allow the cross of Jesus Christ to absorb it.  When you see them living their life as if they had never sinned against you, why not do the same.  Let all anger and animosity go and be reconciled to that person.  Sit down, speak truthfully with them; talk about sin, their sin and your own, and talk about grace, Christ’s grace that forgives each of you completely.  Think of how you were baptized and know that the very same waters also cleansed them.  Allow them back into your life after God’s own Word has restored both of you.  This is my prayer for each of you and it is the very thing that I celebrate even now, because I know that by the Spirit of Christ, you will do even more than I ask.

As we close our message, I thought that I would share one more bit of information with you about the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.  Not only did Philemon forgive Onesimus and take him back, he took him back just as Paul asked, as a dear brother, fellow redeemed sinner through Christ Jesus.  Now to strengthen our faith, allow me to show you what God can do when brothers and sisters are willing to be reconciled with each other through Jesus Christ.

Some time latter after Onesimus’ return, Philemon released Onesimus and had him go back to Paul and serve as a missionary as Paul directed him (Colossians 4:7-9).  Church tradition teaches that later Onesimus went on to become a bishop of the Church in the city of Ephesus at the age of 70, and latter he probably died as a martyr in the Christian faith, refusing to recant his faith in God and his love for his Savior Jesus Christ.

All of this, because Philemon obediently followed the Spirit of Christ and was willingly reconciled to Onesimus.  I wonder whose lives we can influence and change by also being obedient to the Spirit of Christ?  May God bless each of us Onesimuses, and may we also be reconciled to those we have hurt and to those who have hurt us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!