“Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer
subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
– Galatians 3:23-27

Dear friends in Christ,
As sons and daughters we have been called through baptism to live freely in the Spirit, not by the letter of the law but by grace. The Christian faith has always struggled with this freedom. The New Testament itself grapples with it. Paul embraces this freedom with a frightening certainty. James seems to be hedging his bets. Has God given us in this freedom a load that is too much for us to bear? Is the water too deep? That depends.
As the freedom of the gospel coaxes the Christian into deeper water the old sinner in us, standing comfortably in the shallows and equipped with the life preserver of the law, immediately mounts a defense; ‘You just can’t do what you want! God wants obedience after all! You have to do something to show God you have a serious faith!’
If freedom only serves to evoke this self conscious awareness of my lack of freedom, I will be tempted to turn to the Law for remediation, balance and security. And when I do I may discover a kind of relief being moored to the Law. I will find a kind of comfortable certainty there that freedom simply does not give. When the Christian lives this way, daring only to wade into the shallows of freedom, a little bit of freedom is all you get. The Church has stood in the shallows of freedom, wearing the life preserver of the Law, for much of its history.
If my freedom, however, is informed not by fear and self-consciousness but by the Cross, something else happens. I am taken out of myself and taken up into the spontaneous life of faith, the life in Christ. When the Cross is the starting and ending point of faith, Christ becomes the end of the law. In Him I have permission to remove the life preserver of the
law and plunge headlong into the deep waters of faith, hope and love, into the depths of the grace that has set me free.

Grace to you,

Pastor Mark


Pastor Mark Anderson Lutheran Church of the Master Corona del Mar, California

Jesus loved us first. Jesus is love as it was meant to be. Love that takes the initiative, makes the first move. Love such as this opens blind eyes, deaf ears, gets the lame skipping for joy and raises the dead! But nowhere is this love more evident than in God’s decision to love sinners. The love of Jesus that frees sinners saw a woman, weeping with joy, wash His feet with her hair; saw a corrupt, despised tax collector breathe the free air of a new life, took hold of a condemned, dying thief with a word and promised him paradise, had St. Paul storming across the ancient world proclaiming the freedom of faith.

That same love of Jesus has baptized you into His righteousness and keeps you in His grip all throughout life, constantly picking up the debris of your past and opening the future according to His purposes. In His love, you are free to live your life, really free, since the good you do will not save you and the evil you do will not condemn you, as Marin Luther noted. We often can’t distinguish between them anyway. It is not so much that we are doing for God as it is that He is making use of us – in the midst of whatever choices we make. Christians can be confident of this. St. Paul expressed it when he wrote “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”

Therefore you and I may go forward into the day in baptism’s promise, held in God’s love and mercy, taking up it’s opportunities and responsibilities without self consciousness, trusting only in Christ.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“…the younger son got together all he had, and set off for a far country.”

Two young men went to work in the same company. After a time a friend of the one of the families inquired after their son. “He is doing very well”, his father reported. “He has received two promotions and is making good money. His hours are good and everyone seems to like him” .

At about the same time, the other young man was fired from the same company. He had received no raises and no promotions. When his wife heard the news she was quite upset until she learned that he had lost his job because he would not participate in the corruption that was the standard in his office.
The first young man ‘succeeded’ according to the standards he was willing to abide by. The second young man ‘failed’ for the same reason.

In a real sense it would not have mattered if the Prodigal Son had failed or succeeded in the far country. Either way, his life was measured by the sordid standards of that place. Success would have been just as damning as was his groveling with the whores and pigs.

You and I were created for the standards of the Father’s house. No matter how high we may fly by any others, they are not sufficient measures by which can claim success. Our s0- called success may actually be nothing more than evidence of our corruption.

In Jesus Christ God calls us all, His sons and daughters, to return from the far country to the Father’s house. The shape of our shabbiness, whether rich or poor, is immaterial. What matters is that we know we are His. The Church has been given the Gospel for just this purpose. For it is through its’ gracious, merciful message that we are awakened to the standards of the Kingdom and drawn into the forgiving, loving arms of the Father, for Jesus’ sake.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Pastor Mark Anderson

“…every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Linda and I spent part of a day in the company of Franco Fadda as he drove us through his native Tuscan countryside, visiting happy vineyards along the way. At one stop, near the graceful hilltop town of Montepluciano, we watched the vine dresser carefully pruning the ancient vines that would produce the vintage bearing that famous name.

The vine dresser worked carefully with a skill and wisdom that could have only been the result of years of understanding. These vines were the survivors after younger, less promising branches had been pruned and discarded. He anticipated the hanging fruit, could see the hidden parasite that would devastate and destroy. He would not permit the precious branches to bear the strain of the unnecessary and harmful.

Jesus knew the imagery of faith’s vineyard. Jesus knows that no unpruned branch can bear the strains of either too much trouble or an excess of success. He must prune His faithful, His chosen of lives too full of self and pride.

And what do the vines, the faithful elect, make of the vine keepers ruthless work? Faith learns to trust Him that wields the blade, to see the patient, divine wisdom of God’s love and mercy in the steady and relentless pruning hand of grace.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Pastor Mark Anderson

“Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Why, indeed. The door has been shut and our limits have been reached. There is nothing to be done. Dead is dead and that is the end of the story. The usual litany of hopeless talk in the face of life’s most brutal fact: the world is a graveyard. This Jesus is quite a fellow, an excellent teacher to be sure, but let’s not ask Him to do what we all know cannot be done. Let’s not trouble him.

Actually, troubling Jesus is precisely what we may do. For we are dealing here with far more than a teacher, even a doctor of medicine whose limited powers are all too obvious in the face of death. Faith always knocks, sometimes pounds, on Jesus door in the name of hope.

“She is not dead but sleeping”, He said. And they laughed. They laugh, and they still do, because they do not see that in Jesus the future breaks into our present, a present that always ends at the mortuary, and brings the living Word of a new creation from God’s future.

Therefore, trouble him, my friend in Christ. Trouble Him in all manner of grief and loss, in the midst of dying and death. Trouble him with every fear and longing, in tears and turmoil, in every moment of despair and sorrow.

Remember Jairus, the dead girl’s father? He did not laugh, but listened and heard and dared to trust to Christ’s hope-filled words: “Do not be afraid, only believe”.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Pastor Mark Anderson

“He is the Vine, we are the branches”

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel of John proclaims and promises that Jesus deserves all the credit in declaring us forgiven and reconciling us to Himself. For Christ’s sake we, as dead helpless branches, have been grafted into the true Vine, Jesus.

But here we have to be careful about the move we make. Our life in this world is all about being better, improving, climbing higher. But connection to Christ through baptism’s promise is not a calling for us to work towards becoming ‘more’ connected or ‘more’ grafted into Christ, but the calling is to abide/remain, to be patient and trust. As a result faith can confidently know that we have been cleansed, forgiven and are fully and completely grafted into the Vine; we are completely sanctified saints. For Jesus Christ, and not our virtuous lives is our sanctification, our righteousness and holiness. This is why the Christian life begins on the basis of God’s promise in baptism and not our decision. Grace some before and inspires faith.

A businessman told me that he once worked for someone whose business philosophy was ‘Success and winning through intimidation’. The strategy was to keep up a constant stream of demand on the employees. Nothing but success was acceptable. The atmosphere in the business environment was complete insecurity and lack of assurance. And it is when we believe our lives are finally evaluated on the basis of our performance in whatever law is hounding us, barking at us.

It is not so with life in Christ. We are completely sanctified, forgiven and free. We may disregard those annoying enemies of assurance, those enemies being those intimidating adjectives. Adjectives like: be more, be greater, go further, go higher, be better. These law words all say that although you have been grafted to the Vine who is Christ, there is still in you something lacking. Adjectives can strip assurance and create the impression that the goal of the branch (the Christian) is to move closer or upward towards the Vine in order to obtain that something that is lacking. But this is not the Gospel. For the Good News declares that it is not dependent on you and me to move up to the Holy One, but rather it is the Holy One who has and continues to come to you and me in the down to earth Word and sacraments.

Being completely sanctified also means that it is not up to the branch to try and produce fruit (good works) as a bargaining tool or payment in exchange for the status of being connected to the Vine. Rather, Christ is the source of all our good works. The implications of this are clear. The good works that each of us live out in daily life have no power to make you and me ‘more’ clean or ‘more’ connected to the Vine or more forgiven than you already are. The good works that we walk in are a result of Jesus binding Himself to us, not the cause. The fruit of good works can be thought of as marks of faith and grace; they are descriptive of sanctification not prescriptive for justification.

While good works are not the cause of our justification and do not preserve faith, it must be noted that it is certainly true that evil works do distort faith in our life here as creatures. What this means is that even though we are cleansed by God’s forgiveness, we are daily in need of the Vinegrower’s work upon us, because the old Adam and Eve still cling to us. And since we are at the same time justified and sinful, it is not possible for us to finally label or judge even our own works as righteous or good. Every one of our thoughts, words and deeds are tainted with sin. This is what the prophet Isaiah meant when he wrote that “Even our righteous deeds are filthy rags.”

So the Father does not act upon us by applying spiritual cosmetics to gloss over our sin in order to masquerade our sin as legitimate fruit. Furthermore, the solution to the old Adam is not a pep talk to encourage us to tap into our willpower so as to motivate the old Adam in producing really good fruit.

Rather, what is needed is an end to the old Adam and Eve and their sin and their preoccupation, their self-consciousness regarding good works. What is needed is death to the old. The old Adam needs to be cut off and drowned in the waters of baptism and raised daily in the promise. The old sinner needs to be crucified and raised with Christ. The Vine grower needs to act upon the branch by pruning and stripping the branches of unneeded leaves. In this way, quite apart from our knowing and awareness, God works to improve and perfect faith to keep baptism’s first promise by taking up in His grace our crosses and suffering, so that faith is increased and the remaining uncleanness and sin are daily diminished and purged. The branch needs to be acted upon by the Father who will not permit this Vine to lie unfertilized and unpruned. Otherwise it would degenerate into a wild and unfruitful vine which would finally perish entirely. But when it is well cultivated, fertilized, pruned, and stripped of its superfluous leaves, it develops its full strength and yields fruit that is not only abundant but also good and delicious.

The branch is pruned to make it bear more fruit, but fruit for whom? Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need our works, but our neighbor does.” This is also certainly true in our parable before us, for the Vine does not produce fruit as a means of circular consumption. The branches are not a means that the Vine uses to bear fruit for itself. Furthermore, as branches, you and I are not the source of good works, the Vine is. What this means is that we don’t produce good works, we bear good works. Good works are prepared in advance for us to walk in, which teaches us that we don’t do good works to become a Christian, rather we do good works because we already are Christians. Thus, our Lutheran understanding of Vocation helps us understand that God not only prepares good works, but He gives us the opportunity to serve our neighbor with these good works in our callings. Think of Vocation as avenues that God has called us to bear fruit.

There are several cautions for us to consider at this point in assessing the life of the Christian through this parable of the true Vine and the branches.

The first item of caution is for us to note that the branch does not turn into a Vine and the branch is not established as a separate entity from the Vine. Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing.
Historically we have seen that some Christian traditions err in ‘not’ treating the terms justification, regeneration and sanctification as synonyms, but as separate events. Therefore, one is justified in Christ, but then they need to be regenerated and then sanctified. In this way of thinking Christ is the basis of justification but one’s individual piety is the basis of regeneration and sanctification.

Secondly, in light of this parable, when a person speaks about cooperation he must confess that he cooperates, as Luther writes, “…to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God.”Luther is saying we neither cooperate in being the source of fruit nor do we prune or clean ourselves. Rather, we participate when we bear and walk in the good works that have been prepared in advance for us. We participate as the direct object, the people who are connected to the Vine and acted upon.

Thirdly, since good works are the fruit of Christ’s justifying grace and sanctification in our lives, we do not want to overemphasize the fruit of sanctification. Frankly, when I examine my own spiritual fruit, I end up hearing all those adjectives begin to prod me onward in the law’s demands. When I look at my progress, so to speak, in the faith all I hear is that voice which says, ‘Have you done enough? Are you serious enough about God? Do you really love God? How well are you serving your neighbor? And on and on the questions roll.

But because good works, as the Christian life itself, are the fruits of the Spirit, you, a beloved child of God grafted onto the Vine of grace, may confidently look to Christ Jesus rather than yourself. And in this confident faith you may dare to trust that the very unspectacular, often messy business of your daily living is precisely where God is pouring out His good gifts, bestowing them upon the neighbor through you, for Jesus sake.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Pastor Mark Anderson

God’s Will

“He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stay His hand, or say to Him, ‘What are you doing?’…” Daniel 4:35

“Thy will be done”, we pray in the Lord’s prayer. And it is. In truth, it is God’s will that finally matters for only God’s will is truly free. This means that only God’s will is pure enough, perfect enough and enduring enough to bring a holy, righteous, unalterable and gracious purpose to all things. To claim such a free will for ourselves, therefore, is nothing short of blasphemy, for it is to claim something that belongs to God alone.

The undiluted witness of the Bible is to the sovereignty of God’s Holy will over what we call history. He rules the world with relentless, gracious and almighty power. Providentially, the Bible tells us that God wills to send the rain upon the just and the unjust, freely extending the blessings of creation to all.

Through the course of time God’s will sets up and overthrows all rulers and earthly authorities. Good and evil alike are summoned into the task of governance, for judgment and mercy, where the wicked may be restrained and the benefits of life may be protected and extended.

Within the Church God’s will governs through His Word and the Sacraments, through which He exposes our sin and brings us to know and trust Him in Jesus Christ through the forgiveness of sins, restoring us to Himself and preparing us for an eternal inheritance.

Therefore, you may enter yet another day of COVID complexities with the confidence that God will rule your trembling heart and tentative steps, helping you to grow in the knowledge of faith and freeing you for the capacity to love. You may trust that in all the circumstances of life, even when you are tested beyond what you think of as your limits, you are never beyond the working of God’s good, holy and gracious will for you in Christ.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord”

  • Pastor Mark Anderson

The Logic of the gospel

Measure up. Make the grade. Prove yourself. Pass the test. These and many other commands are part and parcel of life under the law. Whether it is qualifying for a job, an athletic team, or any other endeavor, these words command attention. We know how this works. For all of us have spent our lives under these demands in every domain of life. They are relentless.
So, when we turn to the Christian life, why should it be any different? God has commandments, that’s clear enough. And the logic should be that if I am going to get anywhere with God, the world and the neighbor, I had better be about paying attention to these commandments and measure up. God lays out the expectations and it is up to me to meet them. It is up to me after all. Right? My efforts will make the difference. So runs the logic of the law.

But this is not the logic of the gospel. Jesus Christ is never going to expect you to see to the life of faith yourself. Instead, Christ gives what He commands. He bestows upon you and creates within you what He wants for you. And He does this by creating faith in you in three ways. We have come to call these the ‘means of grace’. These are the routes or instruments by which Christ Jesus brings to you what He desires for you.

The first of these means is His Word. The gospel stories give us the picture of Jesus time and again as He bestows His Word upon those who are hemmed in, bound and broken by life. When Christ brings His Word He looses what is bound and heals what is broken, sin is forgiven. And when you hear that same Word proclaimed to you, faith takes hold of your heart and you dare to trust that this same Word will make a future for you also.

The second means is baptism. When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, He went down into the water with sinners. And the voice of the Father came from heaven validating what the Son of God was doing by joining sinners and identifying with them in this way. So in your baptism Christ Jesus adds His Word to the water. He forgives your sin and claims you, names you as His own. You are His. So, when you find yourself in life’s deep water and wonder how things will work out you may claim your right as a daughter or son and say, “I am baptized. There is no water too deep for Christ my Lord. He is here with me.”

The third means is the Lord’s Supper. As the community gathers around the table the bread and wine are bestowed with these words, “…given for you.” In this meal, this intimate encounter, the Lord Christ gives Himself to you. We gather at the meal as those first of His disciples. Our hearts are torn with the cares, doubts and fears of life, even to the point where we are faithless. But He is faithful, he breaks bread with His betrayers and remains faithful to them. In the same way you may receive your Lord in the supper, knowing that your Lord will never leave you or forsake you.

In these means of grace your Lord Jesus gives the righteousness of faith to you as His child. He will never demand payment or take it back. You are His forever!

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord”

-Pastor Mark Anderson

The Law

Friends in Christ,
During Lent we are examining Lutheran basics. Today, I pass along a portion of an essay by the late Gerhard Forde. Dr. Forde addresses quite clearly and helpfully, the futility of looking to the law for any assistance in the Christian life. To take seriously that we have died with Christ means that our life in relation to God, now, is defined solely by His mercy and Grace in Jesus.
“The law does not end sin, does not make new beings, it only makes matters worse. Where the old continuity is maintained, sin does not end. No matter how much religious pressure is applied, sin only grows. But, Paul has the audacity to say where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. But this is disaster for the old and its thinking. For then, it seems, the floodgates of iniquity are opened! Shall we not sin the more that grace may abound?
Here we arrive at the crucial point. Here the pious old Adam can only recoil in horror from the thought of unconditional grace and try to protect the continuity of the old self by making compromises: some fateful mixture of grace and law, a little bit of human cooperation, perhaps the addition of a third use of the law, some heavy breathing about sanctification, and so on.
But the radical gospel will have none of that. Shall we sin the more that grace may abound? By no means! Why? For you have died and how can you who have died to sin still live in it? The reason why abounding grace does not lead to sin lies in the fact that in its radicality it puts an end to the old, not in some species of compromise with the old. Furthermore, we miss the radicality of that if we do not see that this death is announced as accomplished fact: you have died. The death is not something yet to be done, one last act of spiritual suicide for “free choice.” If Jesus died for all, then all have died (2 Cor 5:14).”

Gerhard Forde (Radical Lutheranism Essay)

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord”

“Jesus’ Righteous Anger”

Jesus and His disciples entered the temple grounds that day along with many others at a time in the Jewish year when Jews came to Jerusalem to make sin offerings at the temple. The animals that could be purchased ranged from expensive cattle to cheap pigeons, reflecting the varying social status of those who had come to make sacrifice. The money changers were there to exchange Roman coins (which displayed the head of the emperor) for temple coins. To use a Roman coin in the temple that portrayed the image of the emperor was considered idolatry. So the money had to be exchanged. Both areas of transaction – the purchasing of animals and the exchange of coins, were abused for profit.

So, again, it would be easy to portray Jesus as being outraged at this unjust practice of hiking up prices, and no doubt that was of concern to Him. But Jesus Christ was no two-bit social reformer demanding that the scales used to weigh the coins be re- calibrated or that the temple authorities set fair prices on the animals to avoid price gauging. Jesus displayed righteous anger to be sure, but He did not come that day to ‘speak truth to power’ or insist that there would be no peace if there were no justice.
The Lord came that day to a temple where it was taught that God’s mercy comes with a price. The Lord came to a temple where one’s knowledge of sin against God demanded payment. And we can fully understand this equation. For we, too, often operate on the same basis. We demand payment, compensation, retribution – there are many words – for the deficiencies in others that result in their sinning against us. Sin must be compensated for. We want our pound of flesh, too.This is the picture of God that the people received in the temple. God expects us to make amends for our sin.

And it was this, ‘this for that’ image of God, portrayed by the entire temple system, that angered Jesus to such a degree. Jesus righteous anger was leveled at those who were distorting God’s actual disposition toward sin and sinners. For Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal the true heart of God and to declare that God’s mercy is never earned and requires no payment.

So now we have come to the very heart of the Gospel: No sacrifice of ours can or will ever compensate for our sin. For every one of our thoughts, words and actions are tainted with this deadly disease. Compared to the devastating effects of sin, COVID is a minor malady. We have nothing in our power to compensate for sin, the theft of our existence from God. Sin must be forgiven and only God can forgive sin totally and completely.
In the heat of the moment, the temple priests confront Jesus and demand a sign to reveal by what authority he has caused such a scene.
“Destroy this temple,”, he replied, “and in three days I will raise it up.”
They thought, of course, that the Lord was referring to the physical temple, the building. But He was referring to His body. The sign of His authority to sweep away the law and forgive sin would be nothing less than the Father bringing Him from death (the law’s last move) to life and the beginning of a new creation; a creation grounded not in the law but in God’s mercy.
The temple building would be destroyed some 40 years later and with it the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant, would be destroyed. But now, Jesus Christ has become both the sin offering and the mercy seat of God, where His atoning forgiveness is located for all sinners who recognize they have sinned against the God of heaven.
And this is what the disciples remembered, as our gospel lesson tells us, after the Lord’s resurrection. This is what, years later, Paul came to understand as the foolishness of the cross. They came to understand that in Christ Jesus God had not come to be one law set against another. Rather, in Jesus, God is revealed as the one who turns the legal scheme up side down, who takes your sin upon Himself, as the God who does not demand payment, for Christ has paid your debt of sin, the God who wants sinners to know Him as the Good Shepherd who loves and forgives His wandering sheep.

So, this morning, we, too, are about to remember the Risen Lord. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are called to the remembrance of the Lord who gives Himself out of love and mercy to sinners who know their need and recognize in Jesus Christ the God of mercy who meets that need. And our dear Lord is so determined that we know Him in this way, that he gives His very self, His very life and Spirit to us in this simple meal, in this means of grace, His last will and testament to us. In this remembrance Christ Jesus actually comes among us and gives Himself to us.
This morning Jesus Christ comes among us not to speak truth to power, but to proclaim the word of mercy and forgiveness to sinners. This is His awesome glory – and our hope.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Pastor Mark Anderson