Text: Titus 3:3-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was in seminary, my professor Micheal Rogness said, “One thing that we need to accept as Lutheran pastors is that our kids will always lose arguments to Baptist kids regarding the age of Baptism.”
The case is simple and appears to be convincing “There are never any babies baptized within the Bible”.
For if you can’t provide evidence that Baby John was baptized at three months, then this means that Jesus’ followers wouldn’t baptize babies.
The problem with this argument is that it completely ignores what the Bible actually does say about Baptism.
Point number #1- There seems only to be one passage in the entire New Testament, which ties Baptism to a particular age.
The passage of note is Colossians 2:11-12 which says “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
The reason that this verse is so important is because it connects Baptism to the Old Testament act of Circumcision. We know from the days of Abraham that Circumcision took place at eight days old (there is no argument from anyone regarding that matter). Circumcision was the means throughout the Old Testament by which God made children recipients of the promises of his kingdom. So the connection between Circumcision and Baptism points us towards the truth that God’s promises can be received by those even at eight days old.
We must also note that the history of the earliest followers of Jesus takes place in the Book of Acts. On three separate occasions within Acts, whole households were baptized: Acts 16:15- Lydia and members of her household , Acts 16:33- The family of Phillipian jailer, and Acts 18:8- the entire family of the synagogue leader Crispus. It stands to reason that very, young children or even babies would have been included in these entire households.
What is noteworthy about the tales from Acts as described my friend Cliff Hanson is “The only people who demonstrate faith are the heads of households—they have faith and are baptized, but the rest of the members of the household (presumably children) are baptized with not one word mentioned about their belief or lack thereof.”
Point number #2- There is never one example given from within the pages of the New Testament telling someone not to baptize someone else (nada, zip, zilch).
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit,”-Matthew 28:19.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”-Acts 2:38-39
Using phrases like “all nations” which presumably would include children and “every one of you” would seem to speak to the audience of God’s promise.
So the simplest response when someone says “There are no babies baptized in the Bible” is to only reply that “There is not one example from within the entire scriptures where someone is said to be too “young” or some other discriminating factor to not receive Baptism. Ulitmately, the burden of proof rests on those who wish to withhold God’s grace from the entire world ,not on those who wish to extend it.
So this Biblical background on Infant Baptism leads into an important question of “Why is Infant Baptism so important?”
One of the great teachers in Church history is Saint Augustine of Hippo. You know a church father has made it big when the TV show The Simpsons references him.
Augustine’s most famous work is Confessions. One of the main things that Augustine writes about within Confessions is his behavior as a baby. Augustine recalled his life as a baby, by looking out onto other babies that he encountered. Augustine says the defining trait of “infancy” is how one views the world. As an infant, everything in the world is centers around seeing your “needs” and your “wants” met. When Augustine would not get something that he wanted as an infant, he would “cry”. Augustine’s attitude as an infant was no different than the attitude of Adam and Eve within The Garden as his individual desires become placed at the center of creation. People tend to only think of babies as “cute” or “ignorant”, yet what Augustine realizes is that a baby is just as selfish as the most wretched of adults.
Augustine understood the spiritual truth that human nature does not become sinful over time (due to bad influences), human nature is born sinful. To which we recall King David’s words in the 51st Psalm “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.
The excuse that many people make to not baptize infants is that one needs to be aware or posess knowledge about their sins to be guilty of them. These people tend to think about God’s judgment like the legal system does in doling out sentences for children and adults differently depending on their level of age or understanding. The Bible never distinguishes though some being more guilty than others. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”-Romans 3:23
So if infants sin then infants need forgiveness of sins. This is precisely why infants need Baptism. Yet we often cannot grasp how Baptism actually works, where mere water brings forth God’s grace.
We might wonder how can water do such great things? Plenty of people wondered such a thing when Luther wrote his Catechism.
The crucial thing though is not the water; water is just water. When water becomes connected with the promises of God’s word only then does it become life-giving water.
A famous conversation takes place between Jesus and Nicodemus within the 3rdchapter of John’s Gospel regarding the meaning of being “born-again”. Nicodemus could not understand the discussion. Nicodemus couldn’t grasp how he could be “born-again”, when he was old. The best translation of this passage is “born from above”. The promises of Baptism are such that they serve as a reminder that we participate about as much in our spiritual birth as we do within our natural birth.
The other question is can infants possess Faith (especially if Baptism requires faith)?
We believe that Faith is required for salvation. The scriptures say so in numerous places. The scriptures in Matthew 18 also cite “very young children” as examples of Faith. Many people can’t grasp the disconnect, as they think of Faith as being purely “What we know”.
For if Faith is dependent on our knowledge to be valid then the mentally handicapped along with those who have lost their mental capacities cannot possess it. We cannot separate the way we think about Baptism from the way that we understand salvation.
People misunderstand Baptism when it’s thought to be something that we do. The important thing from within the scriptures is that they never describe Baptism as our personal confession of Faith.
Baptism is “The act of being buried with Christ into his death”- Romans 6.
Baptism is “The washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit”- Titus 3
Baptism is the act which “now saves you”- 1 Peter 3.
The scriptures describe Baptism continually as something that God does for us, not the other way around. The scriptures describe Baptism in such a way that God is always the actor, and we are always the audience. If Baptism is God’s activity rather than our own than age or mental status is irrelevant.
I have a friend whose name is Ben. Ben grew up in a church that would have never baptized someone less than say six years old. Ben goes off to Bethel College where he hears perhaps the best argument for Infant Baptism that “Infant Baptism is the purest expression of the Gospel”. An infant can do nothing to receive the Gospel. Ben was forced to rethink his position after hearing this argument.
The truth about all baptisms, whether they take place at the hospital right after birth or on one's deathbed at age 110, is that all Baptisms are Infant Baptisms. Baptism is a reception of a promise. The promise is given to forgiveness after you spend years of your life astray. The promise of Baptism is such that it assures us that God sustains our faith even if we cannot begin to explain it.
Tonight we reflect on the meaning of Baptism as given by Luther’s Catechism.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not merely the act of getting a baby wet. Baptism is the act of giving everlasting salvation to all who believe what Christ has promised.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved;” - Mark 16:16
Baptism is the great Christian hope. Luther saw one’s Baptism as being the very central event in the Christian’s life. Luther saw Baptism’s meaning as being the act by which God draws us back to his arms after we run off every conceivable way in the other direction. Baptism is the ulitmate expression of God’s relationship to his children. Amen
 Hanson is the Pastor at Faith Lutheran in Isanti, Minnesota. Hanson’s article is from the March 2015 newsletter entitled “Lutherans Anonymous #2: Why does your church baptize babies?”
 The Simpsons episode is from season 7 entitled “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doddily”.
 Psalm 51:5
 The section of Luther’s Small Catechism for tonight is part four on Baptism. Luther addresses this issue by considering four questions surrounding Baptism including “How can water do such great things?” Augsburg Publishing House/Fortress Press. 1979.
 h/t to Saint Martin on this one.
 John 3:1-15.
 The Greek term for “again” would be the same as the Greek term for “above”. Considering that the person with whom Jesus was having this conversation in Nicodemus was known as one of the most spiritual men in all of Israel, it would seem the phrasing has more to do with justification( above) rather than sanctification (again).
 John 3:18, and John 3:36 just to cite a couple examples.
 Matthew 18:2-5
 This is so important.
 Point is made by Hanson which I expand a bit.
 Luther’s first question from the Baptism portion of Small Catechism
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin tonight by telling you the story of two pastors named Pastor Phil and Pastor Tom. Pastor Phil worked as a hospital chaplain, and Pastor Tom was the associate minister at the church where Pastor Phil attended.
Pastor Tom’s wife Shirley was very sick. The prognosis for Shirley didn’t look very good at all. So Pastor Tom and Shirley pursued every medical course imaginable as a way to bring healing.
Around the same time, Pastor Phil’s wife Kate also had become very ill. Kate was a bit different from Shirley though in that she didn’t seek to pursue traditional medical healing. Kate believed instead that the power of prayer would lead to her survival. In other words, Kate believed that if she trusted in God enough then she would be healed of her ailment. As the months passed, Kate grew well against all odds, whereas Shirley would pass away.
Soon after Shirley’s death, Kate was talking to a grieving Pastor Tom. Pastor Tom had taken Shirley’s loss especially hard because she was his one constant support throughout years of the ministry. Kate is hoping to be helpful when she informs Pastor Tom that the reason she lived and Shirley died was because Shirley had relied on traditional medicine, instead of the power of prayer. Kate’s statement outraged Pastor Tom because Tom and Shirley had prayed, they had visited doctors, they were devout in their faith, and yet in the end no healing had come Shirley’s way. All Pastor Tom got to hear afterward is that his lonely nights were taking place because his faith wasn’t strong enough. Bad feelings existed between Pastor Phil’s and Pastor Tom’s family from that day forward over the power of prayer.
So we ask on this evening “Why did God heal Kate but not Shirley?” The simple answer to this question is that God willed to bring Shirley into his presence, before Kate’s work on Earth was done.
The story of Kate and Shirley though points how we often misunderstand healing as Christian people. Kate was healed this much was true; Kate also died a very painful death nearly a decade after Shirley. Kate’s belief in faith healing only worked for so long. For whether one believes in faith healing or not, everyone must admit that faith healing is merely a temporary solution. The true healing work of God takes place within Resurrection where the body is born again free of the decays that corrupt it within this world.
For when Jesus engages in healing miracles through the Bible. The overall point of these miracles was not to verify the faith of the individual recipients, who often came more diverse variety of faith backgrounds than Lutherans and snake-handlers. The point of healing miracles was the point toward God’s ability to restore life when it was thought to be impossible. The context of any healing miracles within the Bible’s pages is to point towards Christ’s Resurrection.
God’s pouring out of physical healing is a rare occurrence even throughout the Christian scriptures. For example in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians, The Apostle Paul pleads to take away a physical ailment (often assumed to be epilepsy) on three separate occasions to the Lord. Paul kept hearing a “no” from God in response. The Apostle Paul eventually comes to terms with God’s response by citing one of the most important lines in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 saying
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For Paul’s point is that God’s plan for our lives doesn’t consist of serving as our personal genie. God’s will can only be made known at the moment of our salvation. It is in our own unique struggles and hardships that the need for God’s grace is made known.
We can be comfortable with prayer and advocate for prayer while acknowledging that it does have limits. In 1 Timothy 5, Timothy had been suffering from common medical ailment of an upset stomach. Paul’s advice to Timothy is not to rely on faith healing/prayer, but rather to use the traditional medicine of wine.
For nowhere in the scriptures does God give a promise of healing if you have a certain amount of faith. The one great spiritual truth is everyone dies. The twelve disciples all often died in brutal fashion, the Apostle Paul died, and Kate even died after thinking that she possessed the ability to overcome death.
So the question comes then “Why do we pray?” We don’t get the answer to this question.
As we reflect, we remember that throughout the New Testament, Jesus warns against certain types of prayer. Jesus warns against making massive public displays of your prayer-Matthew 6:5. Jesus warns against babbling on like Pagans, who think God will hear them because of their many words- Matthew 6:7. Jesus condemned the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18 for using his prayer as means to demean the sinfulness of others.
So when Jesus condemns prayer throughout the scripture. Jesus is saying that one has a misunderstanding of prayer if they make it about themselves. We misunderstand prayer if it’s about how much you can do for God. Prayer is not a saving work.
Within Confirmation, we’ve talked about the question of praying at school lunchrooms. Bowing your head for a moment of silent reflection and gratitude would be an appropriate use of prayer. Standing on the table and praying to smite the heathens in your math class would be an inappropriate use of prayer.
As we reflect on prayer tonight, we remember that Jesus openly speaks of the power of prayer throughout the New Testament.
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”-Matthew 21:22
Jesus isn’t promising you a million dollars or that you will never get sick as long as you pray within this verse. What Jesus is promising instead is that those who call on his name shall receive the Kingdom of Heaven.
For our prayers are answered when we turn from our sinful ways of trusting in ourselves and seeking to run the world in our image and instead place the focus on seeing God’s Kingdom built instead.
With these things in mind, Jesus tonight gives us an example of how to pray in his Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is a terrific prayer for a couple reasons. Number one, It’s simple, it says all that we need to say in any prayer. The Lord’s Prayer serves as our prayer when we don’t even know the words that we should pray. Number two and most important is the Lord’s Prayer teaches us a proper understanding of prayer by placing the focus on God’s work rather than our rewards.
For the power of prayer in the scriptures is revealed perhaps best through the story of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s story like the story of many people is a story of hard times. Decades before Nehemiah’s birth his homeland of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Nehemiah’s ancestors were forced into exile and scattered from their friends and the family for decades. Eventually though the Babylonians fall at the hands of the Persians. Persian rule would begin to allow the Jewish people to return home. The Jews were returning home to a land that was in shambles. The Jews were returned home to a land that gates burned down, and the walls had been broken down as a result of war. Nehemiah upon hearing this news is devastated. Nehemiah began to weep for his people. In a final act of desperation, Nehemiah turns to prayer calling out for help.
God soon answered Nehemiah's prayer but not in the way he expected. The Persian King Artaxerxes decided to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem as its governor upon hearing of Nehemiah’s sadness.
Nehemiah’s move was not going to be easy. Nehemiah was enjoying a good life as cupbearer to the Persian king. Nehemiah was walking into a situation like the new football coach whose team hasn’t won a game in three years. Nehemiah upon entering Jerusalem faced opposition from his people. Nehemiah saw people tired of being beaten down by years of losing, who didn’t think anyone could rebuild the wall. The People of Judah didn’t believe that God was watching out for them after years of suffering. Soon with God’s help, Nehemiah completed the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the broken wall within 52 days. Nehemiah’s story points to how God answers Prayers, even if we can’t necessarily envision how he answers them.
The essential point that Luther makes about prayer in the Small Catechism and the central belief of the Lutheran faith is God’s will cannot be stopped, even in the seemingly most impossible of circumstances.
For when we call on the Lord in prayer, his answer may not always be clear. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says as Christian people that “We live by faith and not be sight”. These words serve as an excellent description of our prayer life. The answers to prayer might not always come to us in dramatic or visual ways, yet God promises to hear our prayer. For in the words of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.
So to “Live by faith” means the proof of God’s work in the world isn’t always to be obvious. To “Live by faith”, we take hope that God’s ways can only be made known through his Gospel. The Gospel promises assure us of the words of Romans 8:28 “God works all things for good of those who love him”. What we remember tonight is that the ultimate sign of God’s grace takes place not in extending our stay in this world, rather God’s grace will be revealed in the world that is to come. Inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven is how God ultimately answers our prayers. Amen.
 The following tale is based on a true story involving pastors and people that I know. I used different names to protect animosity.
 1 Timothy 5:23
 The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.
 The following is a historical overview of the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the last written book of the Old Testament composed about 400 years before the Birth of Christ.
First Lesson: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31
Second Lesson: Romans 4: 13-25
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 31-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. I have a friend who worked for a while as a preacher in North Dakota. Her congregation was in the midst of some hard times. One day, she is giving a sermon when she says something that the Council President doesn’t like. The Council President proceeds to get out of his seat, walk down from the balcony, and walk up the center aisle. The Council President interrupts the middle of her sermon to openly criticize all that she was saying. A lot of the stoic Icelanders within the congregation had no idea what to make of this scene. Finally, the sheer uncomfortableness of it all put the scene to rest, and the North Dakotans resumed their daily lives. My friend and her husband shortly afterwards left this call.
Gracia Grindal who was a preaching professor of mine at Luther Seminary tells stories of when her father was a preacher those occurrences were common place. Pietistic congregants would openly disrespect the minister’s authority by interrupting the sermon with shouts of lines like “If you keep preaching like that then we’re all going to Hell”.
Just like a football coach, people often think they know better than a preacher, even if this preacher is God’s own son. We all know of the twelve disciples. Jesus a few years back had given a really unpopular sermon where he said “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”- John 6:53.
Many of Jesus other disciples left him until only twelve stuck around. Some might say that Jesus’ initial beginnings into the ministry weren’t all that successful.
Fast forward a few years into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus built up his reputation once again. Jesus had just fed thousands of people; he had just recently healed a blind man outside Bethsaida. The Disciples seemed to be finally grasping the meaning of Jesus’ message to be the Messiah.
I remember one of the most traumatic moments of my adulthood was watching the Vikings play the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game.
I went into the game thinking there was no way that the Vikings would be able to win in New Orleans. The game goes back and forth. Vikings get the ball back with 4:00 left in regulation in a tie game. Chester Taylor catches a screen pass and rumbles down to the New Orleans 33’ yard line. I finally leap out of my seat. I figure I’m minutes away from watching my Vikings play in the Super Bowl after investing a quarter century of my life waiting for that moment. I’m getting ready to scream for joy at the top of my lungs. Knots are in my stomach. I figure one of the happiest moments of my life is around the corner. Everyone who knows the Vikings knows how this story plays out: twelve men on the field, interception, lost coin flip, Saints win the Super Bowl. There is no more painful feeling than watching hope fade before your very eyes.
The Sermon that Jesus was to give was going to be a punch directly to the guts of the Disciples. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”-Mark 8:31
Jesus predicting his crucifixion would have stung the Disciples. The Disciples probably felt misled upon hearing these words. They felt like the kid who believes his parents are taking him out for ice cream, only to end up at the dentist. The Disciples had been following him for years, even when others had abandoned him. The reason that they followed Jesus had to do with the hope that he would be different that the people of Israel would finally be set free from their cruel Roman oppressors.
Tired of being beaten down by the powers above them is why people would have followed Jesus in the earliest stages. Jesus was the number one pick for the sports team whose fandom rests solely on hopes and dreams for generations. Jesus was the good looking, charismatic, articulate candidate for the political party that dreams of winning an election. Jesus’ whole ministry for many people wasn’t so much about what he said or did, but rather that he sold “hope” and “change”.
Now Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to flame out. We can imagine the scenario; imagine the girl who thinks that she has finally met the guy of her dreams, only to hear that she’s never going to get the ring. Imagine waiting all day to eat the perfect steak, only to see it charred to the point where it’s barely edible.
Jesus in this lesson is describing the end-game to an audience that wanted to hear anything but it. Jesus was about to die with the Disciples looking on from the stands.
Peter comes into the scene at this point. Peter is the leader of the disciples. Peter is the Church Council President. Peter knew he was going to hear grumblings about this message. Peter didn’t want to have conflict, yet Peter didn’t desire to see another incident where a congregation of twelve became a congregation of two. Peter decides to take Jesus aside. Peter was probably telling Jesus that the disciples had given a lot of time, money, and nights away from home for him. Peter had to let Jesus know that what he was preaching was not what they had signed up.
Jesus was stubborn though in the face of Peter. The Kingdom of God would not be made known in Jesus’ life, but rather in Jesus’ death. “To save your life you must lose it.” Peter had his opinion, but it was merely his opinion.
It was at this point that words of Isaiah rang true “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The way of the cross would be Jesus’ way.
When Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me”, it is a saying about how we view success.
Just like the disciples we probably evaluate success very differently then Jesus did. If I was to ask people in this room to evaluate success the answers you might hear include the person with the biggest house, the person who drives the nicest car, the person who wears the best clothes, and the person that is able to afford any dinner that they desire from the local supermarket.
Last Saturday, I was having lunch with my dad where we ran into a lady who serves on the city council with him. This woman helps out as a youth leader at her church in the cities. Everyone knows this church’s name, even up in Lindstrom thirty miles away. She said that they got seven hundred kids on Wednesday night. These numbers are what many people would deem to be a prosperous church in they never have to worry about paying the pastor or being able to afford the heat. If one person out of twelve gets mad, they can ignore them then move on. Her church would seem to be the definition of a successful church. Staring at a powerful church was Europe throughout the life of Luther, yet it was this church that had lost something important.
What our lesson reminds us though is how power isn’t always a good thing. When we have power, we have control. We always leap to the question of “What can we do?” “Whom can we control?” or “How can we control it?”
Tullian Tchavadian tells the following story.
There was a young woman one night browsing on Match.com whose eyes notice a gentleman named John Fitzgerald Page. The woman expresses a token of interest in Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page would seem to be a great catch: Ivy League educated, great shape, MBA degree, drove a BWM and a sharp dresser. John Fitzgerald Page believed his hype and believed himself to be the biggest catch in the city of Atlanta. So when this lady tries engaging with John Fitzgerald Page, he wanted to know that she demanded excellence for herself. He needed to know that she had a top-notch education, that she kept herself in impressive shape. When Fitzgerald Page’s admirer responds “no thanks” upon hearing his series of expectations for a mate “he lost it”. “How dare she”, she was a fool to not try to prove herself to him. She was never going to find another guy like John Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page’s angry email quickly spread across the internet exposing his pride for the whole world to see.
There are plenty of Christians who think this way. They think only in terms of their resume. Jim Nestingen tells the most common thing he encounters in the church is hearing people talk about all the great things that they’re doing in the name of the Lord. The way many Christians talk you’d think Jesus Christ will soon be out of a job as there are no sinners to save.
John Fitzgerald Page couldn’t grasp the meaning of love. Love is not accepting someone who meets our standards; Love is standing by someone even as they fail to meet our standards. The Love of God would soon be fully known on a cross.
As Jesus predicts his coming demise, Peter begs him not to go. We all know Peter. Peter thought he was the nice guy. Peter assumed his leadership was being productive. Peter wanted everyone to get along. The trouble though with the self is that it gets into the way. There is nothing that we can do. Jesus’ sermon probably wasn’t all that good. Call committees probably wouldn’t have been clamoring to hear more. He didn’t tell funny stories, he didn’t deliver brilliant analogies, and he didn’t bring the audience to tears with control of their emotions. The thing about salvation is that it isn’t even the result of effective preaching versus ineffective preaching. Salvation only comes through death.
The Disciples were never going to be able to grasp this. A few months later upon Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane they brandish swords trying to fight death off.
This morning, we confront the harshest of spiritual truths best expressed by Gerhard Forde. We die; death is not something that we do. As we look towards Christ’s death, we see a preview of our death. The cross is a preview of our funeral. The only thing we can do to get ready is do what Jesus did upon the cross. We can climb Calvary’s mountain unto the brink of death, and then stand with helpless arms at our side. Coming to terms with the powerlessness within our spiritual existence is the meaning of the words “Take up your cross and follow me”.
The thing about death is that it is not the end, death is rather the beginning.
Peter identifies something crucial in our Gospel lesson for today. Peter recognizes that there are only two ways to view God. Peter sees God the first way as the ultimate power, as the greatest good in the universe. God is the entity that we can’t grasp. God above us, yet Jesus proclaim God to us today in an entirely different way.
Jesus proclaims God’s way as he is “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as “he journeys to his own grave”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as he stands alongside The Girl that Mr. Atlanta John Fitzgerald Page rejected.
A few years ago, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was jilted by the loss of his best player LeBron James. Gilbert gave an off the cuff rant in the midst of his pain. Within Gilbert’s rant though he spoke a profound spiritual truth when he said “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.”
What we hear today is that Heaven comes only after Death. We can’t get to heaven without having to die. We can’t have a resurrection without a cross. “Take up your cross and follow me” Amen
 John 6:66
 Mark 8:1-10
 Mark 8:22-26
 Mark 8:27-30
 My old preaching professor Michael Rogness wrote a terrific commentary on this passage (Mark 8:31-38) over at Working Preacher. Rogness’s commentary was accessed on February 23rd, 2015 for March 1st, 2015 services.
 Mark 8:32
 Mark 8:35
 Tying in this passage to Isaiah 55:8-9 is a connection made by Rogness.
 Mark 8:34
 Rogness draws this passage into connection with one of Luther’s most important bits of theology in the distinction between the “theology of the cross” and the “theology of glory”. The theology of the cross means that God’s connection to human beings is most revealed in weakness (sin) rather than strength (sanctification).
 The Cross Alone website has an old sermon by Gerhard Forde “On Death to Self”. This sermon tends to put a different spin on the verse “Take up your cross and follow me” than how people often grasp it.
 Tchavadian, Tullian. “Grace and Personal Identity”. Liberate.org. 2.Sept.2013. Web. Feb. 24.2015
 This insight was made by Nestingen when I had him for Lutheran Confessions in 2005 at Luther Seminary.
 Forde makes this connection.
 Forde, Gerhard. “Dying to Self”.
 Mark 8:34
 Lannon, Nick. “Billionaire Dan Gilbert: Theologian of the Cross”. Mockingbird. 15.July.2010. Web. Feb.24.2015.
 Mark 8:34
2 Samuel 11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we consider the meaning tonight of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism, I wish to begin by reflecting upon a story. It’s a story that seems to be the plot of bad reality TV. It’s the Bible story that is our lesson for tonight in David, Bathsheba, and Uriah.
King David was one day walking on the roof of his palace. David saw a beautiful woman off in the distance bathing named Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the most beautiful thing that David had ever seen with his eyes. David was going to get with Bathsheba by any means necessary. Bathsheba wasn’t going to be able to say “no” to the king. Bathsheba then becomes pregnant. David knew that if this got out it would damage his rep. David wanted to do anything to get this child problem to go away.
Bathsheba had a husband named Uriah. Uriah was a soldier in King David’s army off fighting battle. David decides as a way of putting an end to the scandal to demand Uriah comes home from the battle to lay with his wife. David didn’t want to lose a soldier, yet if he didn’t it would soon get out that Uriah wasn’t the baby daddy. Uriah though was a much better man than David. Uriah refused to leave his fellow soldiers behind in the midst of a battle. Uriah was the ultimate teammate. Uriah was the guy on the end of the bench still encouraging his teammates when losing by thirty points. David wished that his whole army was like Uriah. David knew that his Uriah and Bathsheba problem would need resolution.
So David then decides to notify his commander to place Uriah at the front-line of battle, and have his fellow soldiers abandon him in the midst of a fight. Uriah would soon lose his life. David then quickly marries Bathsheba after Uriah’s death. King David in this story is every negative trait that you could every assign to a guy: he’s a creeper, a sleazeball, a jerk. David only got the girl because he was the King. What I want to talk about tonight is why King David’s story matters.
King David’s story ties into one of the biggest separations that took place during Luther’s life between himself and the church he left. The Church of Rome believes there are two types of sin in this world. Venial sins that are sins that merit temporary punishment say a few Hail Mary’s, sprinkle some holy water and make some penance then you can be forgiven.
Catholics would contrast venial sins with mortal sins or sins that merit eternal punishment and cannot be forgiven. It’s hard to classify what the Roman church considers a mortal sin since according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church one’s you must consider one’s intentions when differentiating between venial and mortal sins. No different than the legal system treats the reckless driver who kills a person differently than someone who commits an act of premeditated murder. The Catechism of the Catholic Church for this reason cites violence against your parents being a graver sin than violence against a stranger because there is a much more deliberate thought process involved in hurting your parents (Hence the commandment: Honor your Father and Mother).
So are there certain sins that can’t be forgiven. Back to the story of King David, King David’s intentions were rotten from the very start. King David’s sins were not momentary weaknesses, but rather deliberately hatched schemes. Look at all of the Ten Commandments that King David broke “Thou shall not commit adultery” “Thou shall not kill” “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife”.
Bosses have banished employees from their presence and teachers have thrown students out of the classroom for way, way less than King David committed with Bathsheba and Uriah.
So how does God respond to King David’s crime? God sees to it that King David is the greatest king that the nation of Israel shall ever possess. For what the story of King David illustrates to me is that there is no such thing as an unforgivable or unpardonable sin.
What about the sins that can be forgiven? Do we need to make amends? Do we lose jewels off our crowns in heaven? Must we spend time in purgatory to pay for everything that we’ve done wrong? Must we spend time in a place between Heaven and Hell for all that we’ve done in this life?
Questions like this cause me to consider one of Jesus’ famous most famous encounters in the Christian Gospels with the Thief hanging alongside him on the cross as he echoed his famous words “Today you will be with me in paradise?” This Thief is an interesting character. Like King David, he was probably a jerk, he was underhanded, and he was deceptive. Purgatory would seem to exist for people like this thief. Jesus promises unto him “The Kingdom on the day of his Resurrection”. Just think this guy violated the commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal.” The Thief broke this comment so frequently that he even had the nickname of “The Thief.”
So what good are the Ten Commandments then if they don’t keep out the very people they ultimately should. The one thing that our Confirmation students know is the Ten Commandments.
They know that all sin is a violation of the First Commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.”
They know the Commandments can be broken down into two tables. The first table has to do with our relationship with God “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”; these are the first three commandments.
The second table has to do with our relationship with our neighbor and the world around us in talking about “Parents, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting.”
These commandments exist because we are a fallen people, which God continually needs to reign in. These commandments shed guidance for the Christian Life because we can all relate on a personal level to seeing the world break before our very eyes.
We know the Eight Commandment. We have heard people say false and nasty things about us. We have gone home with our feelings hurt. We have been bothered by how little people seem to care how we feel. “Sticks and Stones might break our bones, but words do hurt us.”
We know the Ninth and Tenth Commandments as we figure that our life would be so much better if we just had a prettier girlfriend, a nicer phone, or more money to spend.
What these commandments do is not only remind us of our calling to the world around us, but they also point us towards our need for God’s grace.
Within the Gospels, Jesus encounters a woman who married five times and was now shacking up with another guy. Jesus does not condemn her; Jesus instead gives unto her a word of forgiveness. As Jesus proclaims forgiveness, his point was not that the past is irrelevant. The past was very relevant. Every broken relationship came with a significant degree of pain and hurt. What Jesus’ word of forgiveness illustrates is that the Ten Commandments were given not to save, but rather to reduce harm in a fallen world.
If the Ten Commandments don’t save us, I close tonight with a reflection on the question of “How does salvation happen?” “Does salvation happen over the course of a lifetime?” or “Does salvation happen within the course of a moment?”
When I was seminary, I had a professor named Walter Sundberg. A student asks Sundberg if he had heard of the death bed conversion of Jeffrey Dahmer. For those of you too young to know Jeffrey Dahmer, let’s just say he was a sicko. Dahmer would lure young men into his apartment: rape them, kill them, and dismember their body. Dahmer would then pleasure himself to his victim’s remains, before consuming their flesh. The courts charge Jeffrey Dahmer with fifteen counts of murder. Could God actually save such a disgusting individual? To Which Sundberg answered that if God had saved all sorts of terrible people before, just like King David and the Thief.
How salvation happens was the central question at the heart of all of Luther’s life teaching in justification by faith alone. When does salvation occur? If salvation occurs over the course of a lifetime, then Jeffrey Dahmer as one of the most deranged individuals ever to live would be in big trouble. The question about salvation and Jeffrey Dahmer brings us to the most important of our faith questions.
Roman Theology believed in Infused Justification. Infused Justification means that Salvation is a process that occurs over time. Salvation is like weight loss (slow and gradual). Where the differences lie is that Luther believed that salvation was not a process, salvation took place in an instant. It would have taken place at the moment that the Thief upon the Cross came to believe, it would have taken place the moment that Saul was blinded on the Road to Damascus, and it would have taken place on the day of your Baptism. Lutherans believe that salvation comes to us like a tornado, we cannot prepare for it; it happens then we are left to sort out the consequences. Truly, the one thing that Luther believed someone contributed to their salvation was their sin in need of saving.
When Luther wrote the Small Catechism to German families, this was the spiritual truth that he wanted them to grasp. Christ was not the new “Moses”; Christ was not the new “law-giver”. Christ did not come to place a series of religious demands on top of your school demands, and on top of your family demands. Christ came because we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. The Commandments remind us of this, but what the Cross reminds us of is God’s last word on the matter. Amen
 The Catechism of the Catholic Church.(CCC) The definitions of sin are lines 1852-1853, where as the difference between mortal and venial sins are lines 1854 to 1864.
 Luke 23:43
 CCC- 1987 TO 1995.
Evening Lesson: Genesis 3: 17-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight, we begin a six-part Lenten sermon series based on the teaching of Luther’s “Catechism”. Tonight, we start with the topic of “confession”.
I want to begin by asking you to picture a particular time in your life. Picture a time that you got in trouble. A time when you did something that you know you shouldn’t have done, and people weren’t going to let you hear the end of it. I want you to keep that moment in your head.
Let me tell a story from my life. When I was about four years old, my Dad bought a new VCR. VCR’s were the latest hip technology at this time. This VCR cost a few hundred bucks. Mom and Dad gave four-year-old me, very concrete instructions, not to go near the VCR. Although as everyone knows when you tell a four-year-old not to do something, this only motivates them to do the exact opposite. So one day after eating a popsicle, I needed to do a little exploring of the VCR. I decided to use the popsicle stick like a Doctor might use a scalpel. The popsicle stick falls in, and no one could fix the VCR. Now my dad was mad!!! Dad is a yeller. Out of fear of punishment, I kept saying “sorry” over and again. Now when I was four years old, I would have done anything or said anything to put an end to my punishment.
Fear of confession was a major issue during Luther’s life. People thought the way that four-year-old me thought during Luther’s day. People weren’t sure how to rightly confess their sins before God. People believed that when you confessed your sin that you needed to confess every single detail or else God couldn't forgive you. The perfect memory standard means remembering every mean and angry thought towards your neighbor; this means remembering every word that you really shouldn’t have said. The burden of confession was thought to be impossible.
For the reason the Roman church required such detail in their confession is because the way that you would make amends for your sins would be to do some type of work (such as saying Hail Marys of writing Bart Simpson like sentences on a chalkboard) as a way of avoiding punishment for your sin. For correcting this understanding of confession was the basis for Luther’s most famous work, his 95 Theses.
Luther realized that remembering every sin a person committed throughout the day or week was impossible. Especially, if you have an understanding of sin as Jesus spoke about throughout the Gospels.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire”.- Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”-Matthew 5:27-28
For Luther recognized that confessing every individual sin was impossible for any mere human being to complete. If the standard at the pearly gate was confessing every particular sin to receive God’s forgiveness then “No one could be forgiven”.
Luther’s issue was that confession had become misunderstood. People feared confession when they should have drawn comfort from it. Confession is a two part act in the Word of Law or judgment followed by the Word of Gospel or forgiveness. Luther wanted people to understand confession as a reminder that no matter how much of a jerk someone might be that no one is outside the possibility of God’s grace.
So in looking at some of Luther’s beliefs about confession we turn to Ash Wednesday tonight. Ash Wednesday is the day of confession within the church.
People often wonder “Why do we use Ashes?”
The reasons are both Biblical and Historic for our Ash Wednesday practice.
The first reference to ashes within the Bible occurs from our lesson tonight right after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis. In words that we speak at every funeral, we are reminded of the curse of death.
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
For just as the Lord created Adam out of the ground, the Lord would see to it that Adam’s sin brought him back into the ground.
So ashes serve as a reminder that we shall all face death because of our sin.
The second significant mention of Ashes from within the scriptures come from the New Testament where Jesus encourages the city of Bethsaida to confess in sackcloth and ashes as a way of expressing sorrow for their sins.
Within Church History, the first mention of ashes being used in the history of the Church occurs in the third century. When those who were viewed as really bad sinners and had been kicked out of the Church, such as murderers and adulterers would put ashes on their forehead to state their sorrow for their sin, and hope to be let back into the Church.
But during the Middle Ages, the most common time for public sinners to try to get back into the Church was during the season of Lent.
So ashes on the forehead soon took on a different meaning.
In the 12th century, Ash Wednesday became the beginning of the Lenten season. By placing the ashes on the forehead, we give a confession of our sins, and one’s need for forgiveness by the Cross of Christ. When we place Ashes on our forehead tonight, the statement is simple “I Am A Sinner.” Nothing more, nothing less.
So we’re as we might face sorrow for our sins (I still feel bad about the VCR!). We need not leave tonight in a state of despair because a message of hope and forgiveness comes with it.
This world is not the end for us. Because it was on the Cross, Christ experienced our death, so that one day we shall be raised to life eternal. Whereas we sin, Christ endured the Cross so that we may be forgiven of all our sins. So that as we leave tonight we can look to our confession with ashes like Luther looked upon confession as a joyous event that frees us. While assuring us of the victory over sin and death won by Lord and Savior on the Cross.
To close with the words of Luther from the Catechism, “This is most certainly true”. Amen
 Genesis 3:17-20 is the evening lesson.
 A section of Genesis 3:19
 Matthew 11:20-24
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.