Since Lent has arrived it seems appropriate for me to make a confession: When I was about 12 years old I was hired as a baby sitter. The kids liked me because I played with them and read them books. Before leaving the parents told me that I could eat anything in the refrigerator (which was cool because my parents would not have given me the same privilege). There was a half-watermelon in that refrigerator. I would have sliced off a piece and tried to eat it had it not been for the fact that I had to deal with all those seeds, so in my infinite wisdom I dug out the center of the watermelon, made a plug and gently placed it back into the hole so that the watermelon looked untouched. For some strange reason I was never asked to babysit again, but I do remember how sweet that core was when I ate it. To put your mind at ease, I felt very bad about eating that core, but I can assure you, the core is always the best part.
Our midweek Lenten worship this year is about the best part of our Christian watermelon—the core. In this case, however, we don’t have to feel guilty about consuming it. The core of Christianity are the “solas” of the Christian faith: Christ alone. Scripture alone. Grace alone. Faith alone. The Word alone. God’s glory alone. Always Alone = without seeds.
Consider how we use that word “core” today. Core values. Core muscles. Core arguments. Core curriculum. Cores of cities, magnets, computers and nuclear plants. By definition, a core is the foundation, the part of a thing that does not change, the part of the whole that is pure and without seeds. Seeds are our entertainments, our possessions, the things we do for ourselves. Seeds are human thoughts, human actions, human accomplishments. Honestly, even God spits them out because they have no worth to Him. But He wants us to spit them out as well, if and when they get mixed into our spiritual food.
The core is seedless and it is pure. It is Christ alone as our Savior. It is Holy Spirit alone speaking pure truth in Holy Scripture. It is forgiveness, pardon, heaven, undeserved gifts of God given through Grace alone. It is faith receiving all that God has to give because it trusts in God ‘s Grace alone without any merit or worthiness on our part. It is through the power of the Word alone we receive sacramental cleansing. And it is to God alone that we give our thanks and praise for all these "alones."
What then is our Lenten challenge? To spit out the seeds and stick to the core!
It is hard to reflect upon the life of our Christian Church when the world is in such commotion. There is a culture war underway, and like in the days of the Civil War, where slavery divided a nation and one had to choose one side or the other, where intractable opinions, hatred and violence turned brother against brother, such is the condition of the world today. Yet I do not think that things were much different five hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago in the land of Germany a man named Martin Luther walked up to the door of his ruler’s church and plaquered 95 statements. He wanted to right a wrong in the Christian Church. The wrong was an abuse of God’s Word. Albrecht of Brandenburg, Cardinal and Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, acting in league with Pope Leo X of Rome, was wrangling to increase his family’s wealth and power. Like a bribe to a judge to reduce a criminal’s sentence, Albrecht wanted to sell time out of purgatory to living souls on behalf of deceased souls. Luther’s hammer drove a nail into his plans.
God’s grace and mercy cannot be purchased, Luther said. Yes, it came at a price. But the price was his own Son. Just as a criminal’s pardon cannot be purchased, God’s forgiveness cannot be purchased. None can pay the price of salvation. We are all lost and without hope. There is no purgatory, only heaven and hell, and the prison doors of hell are one-way doors. The great joy of the Christian is that out of his great mercy and kindness, God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, as John’s Gospel says – the world is condemned already – but to save the world. And this, the Apostle Pauls says, comes to us as a gift of God, not by works. It cannot be bought, purchased, earned, deserved. It is without a price because it is priceless. It can only be given as a gift.
What, then, is the reason for Christians wanting to do good? What is the great motivator of Christians to love and forgive and show patience and kindness, even, if necessary, to our enemies? Works are the fruit of faith, Luther said. We are moved to do them out of gratitude and love for a gracious God. The Holy Spirit; the gift of a knowledge of God through the Gospel; the gift of a heart that can love God and neighbor; the gift of the food of heaven, the body and blood of the Son of God under bread and wine; the gift of forgiveness; the gift of eternal life.
Everything is a gift. Free. Apart from anything we can do. All because of Christ, moved by His one-sided love for us and not our deeds or love-ability. This, dear Lutherans, is what defines us both as Christians and as Lutherans. Many today regard the name “Lutheran” to be an insignificant denominational label. Every farmer has his plow and his seed. The word “Christian” tells us who the farmer is. He or she is one who belongs to Christ by faith.
The word “Lutheran” tells us about the plow - the beliefs that turn the soil of men’s heart to repentance, preparing them for the seed of the free and unmerited gifts of God. Luther was a man of courage and conviction. Lutherans are but Christians who proudly and courageously follow the farmer’s plow with the pure seed of the Gospel.
Dear Saints of Advent: Shepherds stood in awe as the angels praised God. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men.” Often omitted are the words, “on whom His favor rests.” The favor of God is His grace. How privileged we are to be recipients of God’s undeserved kindness! Those poor people in Syria¬—death everywhere, bombs falling from the sky upon both the good and the evil, people starving, children writhing in pain from poisonous gas. What would we feel like if we lived there and peacekeepers, somehow and by some miracle, broke through and brought an end to the conflict? “The war is over!” we would shout. That would be nothing by comparison to what happened on that starry night. The birth of Christ meant that God had broken into our world. Everyday and everywhere, people are dying, starving for hope, spiritually weak; unable to defeat the diabolical forces of evil. And there He was, the Redeemer, who came to bring peace. Wrapped in a manager, lying in a stall for animals, He brought true and lasting peace to a dying and war-torn world. The promised Savior of the world had scaled the walls, broken down all barriers. And he brought with Him eternal peace. That is why I am so grateful to be among you as your shepherd. Just as the shepherds were privileged to be present at the manger that Bethlehem night, so also I have been privileged to be with you at the manger of today, at the baptismal font, where men, women and children are born again to be children of God. Just as the angels experienced joy at the appearance of the Son of God, my joy rises each and every Sunday as our Savior appears in the Lord’s Supper, giving to us His body and blood. Thank you, Advent for all that you have been throughout this past year; for your faithfulness, support, prayers and gracious love. Thank you for being Christ to me and for accepting Christ through me. So along with my dear wife, Solveig, and all the Fiene family, I pray that you will have a most blessed Christmas. May God’s joy enter your minds and hearts as you praise God for the appearance of Christ, and as His favor descends upon you. In His Name,
How Christians Show & Tell
For many years now I have written to the Indianapolis Star’s editors with the plea for them to place a feature on their front page that would tell the story of Christians and their worship of God throughout Holy Week. Whatever mention they make of Palm Sunday or Maundy Thursday or Good Friday (if there is any mention at all) will be buried on a back page. We are fortunate to get an additional picture. When it comes to Easter, what we usually get is a picture of the Pope on his balcony in Rome. Not exactly our home nor how we have chosen to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
Only Christians can make these sacred days into something special. What is so special? Just that Jesus was and is the Son of God, the Word of God who created the entire universe. Just that this Second Person of the Godhead became flesh and gave his flesh over into death to destroy the power of death. This past Sunday in my sermon I spoke about the privilege of being a citizen in the Kingdom of God, a citizenship given to us in Holy Baptism. It is our privilege to worship God and to eat at His “wedding banquet,” the feast of salvation. And this is not just a feast of earthly things. It is a heavenly feast. It is a feasting upon the immortal flesh of the Son of God. It is a feast that drinks the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This is how we tell the story of Easter and make the Gospel known to the world. We celebrate. We worship. We confess.
So I am exhorting, urging, ever compelling your Christian hearts to tell the world about the true meaning of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday is a Feast of forgiveness. Good Friday is a visual feasting upon the death of Christ. Easter is the heavenly feast. He is risen from the dead! Hallelujah.
So place this story and picture upon the front page of your hearts:
We are celebrating the hope of everlasting life, of divine pardon, of the future restoration of our flesh in a glorified paradise of eternity.
Do you think a newspaper could ever properly and accurately portray such a story? Maybe this is the reason for why the Star never really tried. Christians are the only ones who can truly tell the story. Like they said to us when we were in kindergarten: This week is the time for “Show and Tell.”
In the Name of the Crucified and Risen Lord,
Pastor John Fiene
Feel free to join us at Advent for our "Show and Tell" during our Holy Week services.
- Maundy Thursday 7 pm
- Good Friday 7 pm
- Easter 8 & 10:45 am