Sunday, August 05, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 10 - 2018


5 August 2018

Text: Luke 19:41-48 (Jer 8:4-12, Rom 9:30-10:4)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

“But you have,” those three little words can be applied to each and every sin. 

God created a perfect world, “but you have” turned it into a place of death and decay.  

God has revealed Himself to you and invited you to be His dear child, “but you have” turned to false gods.  God gave you the privilege of calling upon His name, “but you have” turned it into an empty interjection, or even a curse.  God gave you the gift of a Sabbath Day to rest in Him, “but you have” turned it into a day for other things.  

God has given us neighbors to love, but we have turned them into objects for us to get what we want.

God blesses you with parents and other authorities, “but you have” despised and angered them.  God gave you the gift of life, “but you have” made death and violence a matter of entertainment and convenience.  God gave you the gift of marriage, “but you have” cheapened it with infidelity and with the mockery of chastity.  God gave you the gift of private property, “but you have” figured out ways to cheat and steal and use social institutions to take things from others that aren’t yours.  God gave you the gift of truth and words to express it, “but you have” lied about your neighbor, and in some cases, denied that there is absolute truth at all.  God gave you people and things in this life by which He takes care of you, “but you have” coveted people and things that are not given to be part of your life and calling, and you have become discontent, and even angry with God and jealous of your neighbor.

Indeed, God created a world of peace and harmony, but we have sinned by misusing His gifts, by distorting His purposes, by rebelling against His will, and by exchanging peace for a conflicted existence in which there is no peace.

Jesus weeps over His people, over Jerusalem, over Salem.  “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.”

When Jesus speaks of peace, He doesn’t mean a lack of war.  “Peace” calls to mind the original creation, when it was “very good,” when every electron and every galaxy were right where God intended them to be.  “Peace” refers to the original harmony between people and between all of God’s creatures – even concerning weather patterns and natural phenomena.  It is a peace that passes understanding.  

We had that perfection and that peace, dear friends, in Eden.  It was God’s gift, but we have decided that we know better than God.  And so, through the prophet Jeremiah, God asks: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ – only to go on doing all these abominations?”

For turning the Lord’s house into a den of robbers or a house of merchandise is more than simply the buying and selling and money-changing that went on in first century Jerusalem.  What about twenty-first century Salem?  Do you break God’s law with no intention to repent?  Do you think coming here is a form of a marketplace where you buy God’s favor with your good works, instead of, as St. Paul says, pursuing righteousness “by faith”?

If so, dear friends, you are like the people Jeremiah called to repentance for saying, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”  As Jeremiah points out, every one of us “turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.”

How does this battle end?  How do we have peace once more?  How can we restore Eden and put the electrons and galaxies back into their proper places, with people and animals living together without conflict?  We cannot do it, dear friends, but Jesus not only can, but does!

The reason that our Lord was drawing near to Jerusalem was to die, to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  He was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill the reason that He took flesh to begin with: to atone for our sins, to pay for our turning the Lord’s peaceful creation into a violent den of robbers.  Jesus has come to restore peace in such a way that we could not and cannot.  

Our Lord came to call us to repent, and to forgive us by means of His body and blood – given and shed for you.  And just as He created the perfect, peaceful world out of the chaos of the waters by means of His Word, He comes to each one of you in water and the Word to make you a new creation, a creature at peace with God and with your neighbor.  The peace represented by the dove comes down at baptism, for as St. Paul speaks of our Lord, “whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

Dear friends, the first words out of the mouth of our risen Lord when He first appeared to the disciples after His glorious resurrection was, “Peace be with you.”  And this was not just a flowery way of saying “hello.”  Nor was this a pious wish.  This is a promise that Jesus delivers by means of the cross and the empty tomb.  Jesus has come to restore us to peace in body and soul, to bring to an end the warfare between good and evil by vanquishing evil; to deliver to us a new heaven and new earth in a new body raised from death on the last day.  And this peace is that peace that passes all understanding, a peace that we cannot even begin to imagine, but a true peace that we can know is coming to us according to the will and timing of God.  Indeed, this peace has come to us at the cross, it was delivered to you at the font, it is given to you again and again in absolution, and the peace of Jesus comes to you physically in the body and blood of Christ Himself at the altar – it is the peace that will come to fruition on the Last Day!

You are hearing this good news yet again, dear friends, from this pulpit, by means of the preaching of the Word, and by the proclamation once more that Jesus has declared and mandated peace – in spite of all of those “but you haves.”

For we have an answer to the Lord’s “but you have” in the Law that we have not kept.  We have the “but You haves” that we say back to our Lord Jesus Christ in sorrow for our sins and in repentance, calling to mind the Gospel.  We reply to our Lord: “But You have died so that I might live.  But You have forgiven my sins.  But You have baptized me into your death and resurrection.  But You have proclaimed good news to us poor miserable sinners.  But You have given us your true body and blood as a ‘sure pledge and token’ of the peace that You have won for us by that same body and blood given and shed for us on the cross ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’”

This is the peace that Christ has won for us, the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that is proclaimed in this House of Prayer, the peace offered and proclaimed by the risen Christ to the disciples and to the whole world!

This is the peace, the Shalom, the Salem, for which this House of Prayer was named.  This peace is yours, dear brothers and sisters, this peace is yours in Christ Jesus!

Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 9 - 2018




29 July 2018

Text: Luke 16:1-13 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There’s a word we hear a lot today: passion.  I don’t mean our Lord’s passion, which is His suffering that culminated in His death on the cross for our sins.  The “passion” we hear so much about today means something along the lines of things that are really important to you.

Are you passionate about sports or collectables, or your family, or all things Italian?  Do you have a passion for cooking, or real estate, or video games?  “Passion” in that sense means that it is a priority in your life, and you are willing to sacrifice for it.  Maybe you’ll discipline yourself to save up a lot of money to take that vacation.  Maybe you’ll willingly give up your poker games for the good of your family.  Maybe you’ll get up early every day to study to earn that degree.  Passions can also be bad things: maybe you’ll sacrifice your family’s needs to satisfy an addiction.  Maybe you’ll throw away a good career for the sake of being passionate about laziness.  Maybe you have a passion for someone who is not your spouse.

Our Lord’s parable of the dishonest manager is a little bit weird, because we have this crook being praised.  It’s typical of our Lord Jesus Christ to throw us a curve like that.  I mean this with all due respect and affection when I say that our blessed Lord is a rascal.  Jesus loves to send us away scratching our heads, and He wants you to think, to really think, about the kingdom of heaven – and your role in it.

Yes, you have a role: a part to play, a job, a vocation, a calling – in God’s kingdom.  That’s why you were baptized.  In fact, that’s why you were created.  If you weren’t part of God’s grand plan for the universe, you wouldn’t exist.  But you do.  You are here.  You are baptized.  Your life matters.  In fact, you are of infinite value to God.  Jesus has a passion – a literal passion, a  willingness to suffer excruciating pain out of love for you, in order to rescue you.  And He rescues you for some purpose. 

You are an important part of the Lord’s kingdom.  In that sense, your life is not your own.  

To make us all think about the kingdom, our Lord gives us an example: this story, this parable about a man with a passion: a passion for his managerial job.  And in this case, the manager isn’t just really enthralled with wheeling and dealing.  Maybe he is, but in this case, he has a different motivation: he is being fired.  He is losing his livelihood.  That is quite a call to action.  He says to himself: “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Being able to earn a living is a powerful motivation.  It turns even people like me who are not morning people into early risers.  It’s better to get up early and contend with traffic rather than get fired and become impoverished.  People all over the world perform jobs they don’t really like because they are paid to do it.

Maybe we’re not so “passionate” about our work, but we are passionate about earning money, keeping a roof over our head and food on the table – especially if others are dependent on us.

The crooked manager is passionate about having a job, and so he figures out a way to make friends with people who can help him start over after he is fired.  Without the boss’s permission, he slashes the bills of his boss’s customers: “How much do you owe my master?”  A hundred?  “Take your bill and sit down and write fifty.”  To another he says, “How much do you owe?  A hundred?”  You, “take your bill and write eighty.”

Of course, this is dishonest.  It is in effect stealing from the boss.  But the boss sees something else in the manager’s behavior, something that the boss calls: “shrewdness.”  To be shrewd is to be wise, although it may be on the dishonest side.  But it doesn’t have to be.  One can be shrewd and honest as well.  What is motivating the dishonest manager to be so shrewd?  He wants another job.  He needs connections.  It is important to him.  In fact, it’s so important to him that he came up with a plan and executed it.  He is so passionate about making a living and not becoming a beggar that he applies himself to getting what he wants.

At the very end of the story, Jesus adds a surprise twist: the boss “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  Jesus observes: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

Jesus is critical of us for our lack of shrewdness when it comes to the kingdom.  We are not shrewd, dear friends, not like the sons of this world.  Jesus criticizes us because we lack passion to apply such shrewdness for the kingdom.  We are not motivated.  Why?  Because we serve two masters.  We all do.  In addition to the true God, we serve ourselves.  Why?  Because we are poor, miserable sinners.  Even this crooked manager acts with more passion and more motivation out of self-preservation than we “sons of light” do in God’s kingdom.

There are things that we would just rather do than study God’s Word, than attend Divine Service every week, than teach our children the catechism, than pray, than forego spending money on ourselves in order to pitch in and give offerings to the church or to charity.  We are not as passionate about God’s kingdom as we ought to be.  All across America, churches are becoming empty, but the malls and the stadiums and the bars and the resorts remain crowded.  On Monday through Friday, the roads and bridges are bumper to bumper with people hustling and bustling to get to work, but on Sunday mornings, the roads are as empty as the churches are.  It’s just not that important.

We are passionate about TV and entertainment and sports, but not so passionate about the kingdom of God.  We are lukewarm.

Jesus warns us that we can’t have two masters, for “either [we] will hate the one and love the other, or… be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  If we love and serve our Master, if we are passionate about God’s kingdom and our place in it, it will be reflected in our shrewdness.  We will devote time and resources and mental and physical energy to expanding God’s kingdom, to finding a way to bring our friends and neighbors into the ark of the church, so that they too might find rescue, a rescue built on the Lord’s passion: His death on the cross.

For the ultimate shrewdness is displayed by Jesus.  When Satan got to mankind through the woman, Jesus rescues mankind by being born of a woman.  When the devil brought evil to the world through eating that which was forbidden by God, Jesus overcomes that evil by bidding us: “Take, eat.”  When man was cursed to make his living by the sweat of his brow to contend with thorns and thistles and live on bread, the Man Jesus defeats this curse by the sweat of His own brow upon the brow of a hill called Golgotha, being crowned by thorns, and giving us that same body that suffered the passion in the form of bread: “Take, eat, this is My body.”  When Satan bruised the heel of our Lord causing Him to bleed out His lifeblood, our Lord crushed the head of the serpent and places His lifeblood – His life-giving blood – in the cup of the New Testament, and offers it to you to drink.  “Take, drink, the New Testament in My blood.”

When the forces of darkness saw the lifeless body of Jesus placed into a tomb, the last thing they expected was to see His deathless body risen and victorious, turning tombs into temporary cots.  

The ultimate shrewd One is our Lord Jesus Christ.  He shrewdly defeats the devil by means of His passion, with the unswerving vision to accomplish His mission of our salvation.  You, dear friends, are that important to Him.  Our Lord is shrewd, but honest.  He calls you to follow Him, to be shrewd, to be motivated to serve the kingdom, to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  The kingdom needs to be important to us, even as the dishonest manager was willing to go to great effort to preserve his income.  For what is more important to us and to our children than eternal life?  Even the things that we’re so passionate in providing for us and them in this life, pale in comparison to being received “into the eternal dwellings.”

Let us be passionate, shrewd, and honest, dear friends.  And let us alone serve our Master who has already served us with His own passion, His own righteousness, and His own shrewdness that has rescued us and has given us everlasting life!  Amen.

 In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 8 - 2018


22 July 2018

Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Jer 23:16-29, Rom 8:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Beware,” says Jesus.  This is a word of warning.  It literally means: “hold your mind to.”  It means, “Watch out!”  It means, “Be on your guard!”

This is a word that you use when someone is in imminent danger.  It is a word that you might shout at someone in a dire emergency: a life-or-death situation that requires a clear head and quick action.

“Beware” is a word of love, a word that saves lives.

“Beware of false prophets,” says Jesus, “who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

False prophets have been around since the beginning.  The first one was Satan, who appeared to Eve and said, “Did God actually say…?”  Jesus called him the “father of lies.”  False prophets tell lies, and you are to beware, dear friends, lest you believe them.  This is a matter of life and death, because you are in danger if you take their bait.  False prophets dogged the early church, even in the Book of Acts, including a fellow named Simon Magus (his name gives us the word “magic”), who wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit.  The spirit of Simon lived on to the days of the Reformation, when wicked bishops practiced what was called “simony,” that is, they bought their way into positions of authority in the church.  

False teachers come as angels of light, with big smiles and private jets.  They might call themselves “bishop” or “prophetess.”  They often yammer on about being “anointed,” when they really should talk about being “greased.”  They lie to people to gin up their own wealth, and they prostitute the faith by being those very ravenous wolves that Jesus warns us about.  “You will recognize them by their fruits,” he says.

“Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs, or thistles?”

The most popular religious figures today are people who tell you what you want to hear: Oprah giving away cars, Joel telling you that you can live like a tycoon just like him, Jesse and Kenneth and Creflo with their gaudy jewelry and fake gold dust, Joyce with her confession that she left the Lutheran Church because she is not poor, she is not miserable, and she is not a sinner.

Being wealthy doesn’t make you a false teacher.  Being on TV doesn’t make you a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  But, dear friends, Jesus says, “Beware,” indeed, beware when a religious teacher is very popular, when he or she implies that if you follow his or her formula, you will get rich, people will love you, and you will lead a charmed life.  Beware when there is plenty of talk of money and precious little of Jesus, of Holy Baptism, of sins and their forgiveness, of eternal life, and of bearing the cross.

Beware when teachers emphasize the Spirit over and against the Son.

Indeed, what does St. Paul teach about the Holy Spirit?  “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him.”

“Provided we suffer with Him.”  St. Paul is not talking about the suffering of private jets and Rolexes and palatial homes.  He is talking about the suffering that Christians have always faced at the hands of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.  He is talking about Asia Bibi and our other brothers and sisters facing prison and death under the tyranny of Islam.  He is talking about the suffering of having one’s life ruined for the sake of confessing Christ instead of worshiping the government and its evil decrees to allow the baby to be killed and to force the cake to be baked over and against the God-given liberty of conscience and of doing what is right.

We suffer on account of sin, and we suffer on account of telling the truth about sin.  We suffer because we Christians are countercultural.  We suffer because people hate us.  Our Lord Jesus Christ had no Rolex and no private jet.  Instead, He had a crown of thorns and a cross.  And He calls you to come and follow Him, dear friends, follow Him, taking the narrow road, the road that leads to Golgotha, and the road that leads to the tomb with the rolled away stone.  For St. Paul says that the Spirit bears witness, and we are heirs, “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

“Glorified with Him,” dear friends!  Jesus was glorified by doing His Father’s will, by dying for us in a life of love and service.  And He was glorified and vindicated, destroying death  by rising from death in the body.  Jesus calls us to be baptized, to give up any prideful boast of salvation by works, to renounce Satan and his works and his ways, to be in the world, but not of the world, to store up riches in heaven, to worship Him alone, to confess our transgressions, for we are indeed “poor, miserable sinners,” and to rejoice in the body and blood of Christ – through which we are saved, by which we have communion with the One True God, and in which we find belonging with our dear brothers and sisters in the Holy Church, the Bride of Christ – not some traveling circus with fake healings and tawdry parlor tricks that serve only to mock our dear Lord and His Word.

Beware!

Indeed, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”  Take the Ten Commandments seriously!  Confess your sins and be forgiven!  In gratitude, participate in the work of the church to which God has called you, in whatever holy vocation you find yourself.

Don’t be like the fraudulent TV preachers, dear friends.  Don’t lie to yourself.  Don’t think that you are good enough and have no need to examine your life, to repent of your sins, to recite the catechism, to read the Holy Scriptures, to assemble together and partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Don’t think that you already know it all, as though you are saved by facts alone.  You don’t, and you’re not.  Don’t think that you are a good person, as though you are saved by your own delusion of your own goodness.  Don’t think that you are exempt from bearing the cross, as if you were better than Jesus Himself.  For indeed, we are not.  And a false prophet will not tell you that.

For even those who claim to be prophets, who claim to cast out demons, and who claim to work miracles in the name of Jesus will be cast away, thrown into Hell: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,’” says our Lord.

When people claim to have seen visions, when they claim special “spiritual gifts,” when they purport to be blessed by being rich, when they tell you what you want to hear, such as, “no disaster will come upon you,” or “you can have your best life now,” or some other such sugar-coated garbage, beware, lest these bottom-feeding charlatans drag you down to the pit with them.  

“I did not send the prophets,” says the Lord to Jeremiah, “yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.”  Beware of self-proclaimed prophets.  Beware of the prosperity gospel.  Beware of the “charismatic movement.”  Beware of the feel-good religion of niceness.  For hear the word of the true prophet Jeremiah: “But if they stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed my Word to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”

Dear friends, the true “prophet” of our day does not send himself; rather he is called through the Holy Church – even as the apostles did not choose themselves, even as Simon Magus could not buy the authority to preach and teach and baptize and absolve.  The true “prophet” of today does not say, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” but rather speaks the Word of the Lord faithfully: the Word that is Holy Scripture.  For “what has straw in common with wheat?”  We are not here to cozy up with the world and store up treasures on earth.  We are not called to tell people what they want to hear.  We are called to proclaim God’s truth: the Law and the Gospel, and to draw people into the Ark of the Church, to be forgiven and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and to be willing to suffer with Him for the sake of the truth: the saving truth, the truth that sets us free: free to love our neighbor and to praise God, not free to strut around like a peacock aping the worse scoundrels of the secular world.

Indeed, dear friends, “Beware!”  “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.”  Take comfort in your Father who art in heaven, in the truth of the Word and in the proclamation of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves you enough to warn you, and to die for you, and to carry you, in truth, to life everlasting!  Amen.

 In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sermon: Funeral of Jane Sanchez

21 July 2018

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Job 19:23-27a, Rom 6:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Crystal, Violet, Carolyn, dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: Peace be with you.

We’re never really ready for death – not for our own, and not for the death of our loved ones.  We know that it is coming, but we just don’t expect it when it does.  And why should we?  We were not created to die.  This was not God’s plan for us.  We were created with the intention to live forever.  Contrary to what many well-intentioned people say, death is not normal.  Death is not natural.  In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul says that death is an “enemy,” and it is, in fact, the final enemy to be “destroyed.”

None of us were ready for our dear sister in Christ to be called home.  She suffered with declining health.  She was struggling in the hospital.  But it was a shock to me when I heard that she had passed away.  I was not ready for that news.  Like you, I was saddened by it.  Jane was the parishioner that every pastor knows: that parishioner who serves to bless the pastor when he came to see her.  Sometimes I would leave Jane’s room wondering who benefitted more from the visit, who was visiting whom with comfort and blessing: me or her?  And this was true even when she was suffering and uncomfortable.

I know that Jane’s family and friends were not ready for this news.  You may not be ready for this day.  But, dear friends, there is a subtle difference between being “ready” and being “prepared.”  For Jane herself may not have been ready to die, as of course, she submitted to the care of doctors and nurses with the hope and the intention of getting better.  But I can say most certainly that Jane was prepared for death.  She was prepared because Jesus had prepared her.  She was prepared because Jesus says she was.

Jane was prepared!

What I mean is this: God chose to create a unique person who was born on August 25, 1938 and given the name of “Jane.”  That was God’s doing.  The Creator fashioned His universe deliberately, according to a plan that included her existence.  She was to leave an indelible effect upon our world by carrying out the calling that He had for her as a wife, mother, relative, friend, and parishioner.  It was God’s will that Jane should make a difference in His world by touching the lives of all whom she encountered.  Jane’s nearly eight decades on this side of glory was no accident, but rather part of God’s vision for creation.

And seventeen days after being born, it was God’s will that this beloved baby be born again, by water and the Spirit, in Holy Baptism, as my predecessor, Pastor Eugene Schmid, poured water upon her little head three times and pronounced those holy and powerful words, according to the institution of Jesus Himself: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  This took place in that very baptismal font right there.  That font has stood defiantly against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature for more than a century now.  And it speaks powerfully to us right here and right now by its abiding presence in our midst.

We heard about baptism again a few minutes ago, dear friends, in the words of St. Paul from Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  St. Paul goes on to say that if we died with Christ in baptism, we will rise with Him “in a resurrection like His.”

Jane was prepared!

Jane was prepared for death because God Himself had prepared her.  Jesus died on the cross for her, for her renewal, for the forgiveness of her sins, for her victory over death, for “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  And this is why we make the sign of the cross when we hear those mighty baptismal words of Jesus: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  

Jane would cross herself whenever I pronounced those very words in the liturgy.  She was not only baptized by Pastor Schmid, but also taught the catechism by him as well.  Jane was confirmed by Pastor Schmid on May 13, 1951 at the age of twelve.  And from that time forth, she knew and publicly confessed that “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word” that “it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”

Yes, indeed, Jane was prepared!

She knew that Jesus was her Redeemer, and she confessed the words of Job that we have sung so many times in this very sanctuary: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  We will sing it yet again in a few minutes!  We will sing it until we die, and even then, we will continue to sing of our Redeemer!  Jane sang of the resurrection of our Lord and His victory over death and the grave year in and year out as she celebrated Easter Sunday, decade after decade, right here where we call the resurrection to mind yet again.

Jane was prepared!

Our dear sister in Christ was prepared for death just like Simeon was, in our Gospel reading.  Upon finally experiencing the promised Christ in the flesh, Simeon said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”

“You have prepared,” says Simeon to God.  In Christ, God prepared Simeon for this moment, this encounter with the Christ, and now the aged Simeon was prepared to “depart in peace.”  Simeon was prepared.

Jane sang the words of Simeon week in and week out over the course of her life, right here in this holy house, even as we will sing it again today with her, with the angels, with the saints, and with one another yet again.  For we are prepared!

Pastor Schmid not only baptized and confirmed Jane, but over the course of many years, he placed the body of Christ on her tongue and gave her the cup of the Lord’s blood to drink.  Jane made the sign of the cross and said, “Amen.”  And when Pastor Schmid himself went to be with the Lord, Jane would continue to receive the Holy Sacrament from the eight pastors who succeeded him in this parish, including me.

I had the joy and the honor to share Holy Communion with Jane one final time at the end of her life on this side of glory, and we prayed together those very words of St. Simeon: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”  Jane made the sign of the cross and said, “Amen.”  The day before she was called home, I read the Word to her, prayed for her, and retraced the sign of the cross upon her forehead as Pastor Schmid had done nearly eighty years ago.

Jane was prepared.

She has departed in peace, in Christ, in baptism, and according to His promise of life everlasting.  And now she waits in glory, waiting to be reunited with all of us, waiting for the resurrection of the flesh, waiting for the new heavens and the new earth.  She waits without pain or suffering, she waits triumphantly, she waits in the presence of Jesus and of all the hosts arrayed in white who rest from their labors, and she will praise Him without end.

Jane is prepared!

While we may not be ready, let us, like Jane, remain prepared in Christ.  Let us be prepared joyfully to see Jane again, prepared for eternal life in Jesus’ name and by His promise!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 7 - 2018


15 July 2018

Text: Mark 8:1-9 (Gen 2:7-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“The Lord will provide” is a statement that people sometimes say.  And in fact, it comes right out of the Bible, from the Book of Genesis. It was said by Abraham in response to a dramatic act of God.

Although this exact verse isn’t in today’s reading from Genesis, this section from Chapter Two screams out to us that the Lord does indeed provide, and does so dramatically.  He provides us with our body and life, forming the man from the dust, and then filling our bodies with the spirit, with the “breath of life.”  He doesn’t just create mankind and walk away.  Instead, He cares for and curates our ongoing life, placing the man in “a garden in Eden,” a place where trees spring up, “pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

Indeed, food is necessary to sustain life, and the Lord provides for the ongoing nourishment of mankind.  The plants effortlessly multiply through the ongoing command and provision of God, being literally programmed in their DNA to grow from tiny seeds and to produce fruit for us to eat.  And what’s more, the fruits contain seeds so that the trees reproduce, and they multiply, providing food exponentially beyond what is necessary.  In fact, the Lord God provides mankind with not just food for survival, but food to savor and enjoy, bread and wine to gladden the heart.

God also provides mankind with beautiful things: gems and minerals from the good earth: gold, bdellium, and onyx.  The Lord God provides mankind with flowing rivers, sources of fresh water, beautiful to look at, and delightful to drink: water that irrigates the garden, and continues to provide life for the man and the woman in paradise.

God’s provision even extended to specific directions for human flourishing: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God graciously provided a warning of the one tree that would be toxic to the man and woman, the one thing for which man was to avoid for his survival, under the gracious provision of the Creator who watches out for His creation and His creatures.

And even when we sinned, the Lord provided mankind with mercy, with skins to cover their shame, and with the promise of a Savior and Redeemer to rescue us from the suffering of scarcity and want and death to come.

Yes, indeed, the Lord will provide!  That is what He does.  

As we recite with Dr. Luther, even though we do not deserve it, the Lord provides us with “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house home, land animals, money, goods,” and so on.  This is what is meant by “daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer.  We need more than mere food, and the Lord not only provides food, but also the provision to make food, calling people all over the world into vocations of service to their neighbor, through whom the Lord provides for all of our needs.

In the 1800s, a great French thinker named Frédéric Bastiat wondered how it was that Paris had a million people who lived in a big city, and didn’t grow their own food, and yet they did not starve.  There was no food czar to feed the people.  So how did they eat?  Human cooperation in the various vocations to which God called them: the farmers grew the food far away, workers harvested it, people gathered it into warehouses and markets, teamsters transported it, merchants bought it and sold it, and it made its way to kitchens and tables throughout the big, bustling city.  Royalty and servants alike were provided for, and Bastiat marveled.  It was as if the hand of God provided the planning for this great act of mercy of feeding an enormous number of people.

God’s gracious provision is demonstrated dramatically in our Gospel, as our Lord Jesus Christ looks upon the want and lack of the hungry multitudes who had come to hear Him, and He said, “I have compassion on the crowd.”  He knew that they needed food.  They had stepped out in faith and followed Him for three days to hear His Word.  Their faith was not to be in vain, for even though they were not in a lush Edenic garden, but rather the “desolate place” of our fallen world of scarcity and poverty, the Lord will provide.

Jesus mocks the idea of scarcity, for what is that to Him?  “How many loaves do you have,” He asks.  And the answer “seven” must have seemed like a joke.  What are seven loaves of bread for four thousand people?  Well, for Jesus, for His compassion, for His Word, for His creative power, the answer is “plenty.”  Like seeds that multiply, like Paris being fed through the plying of godly vocations, like Abraham’s earlier statement of faith from the Book of Genesis: “The Lord will provide” – the people are to be fed.

The Lord Jesus does not complain.  He does not curse the ground for its stinginess.  He does not worry.  Rather, He provides.  “He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and set them before the crowd.”  And He also multiplied a few fish into a feast for thousands.  And by the Lord’s provision, the crowds “ate and were satisfied.”

They were “satisfied,” which means literally, they were filled to capacity.  Their scarcity was replaced by overabundance.  Their hunger was replaced by satisfaction.  Their worry for the well-being of their families was replaced by faith in God’s gracious provision for all of their needs.

This, dear friends, is why the Lord Jesus has come into our world: to provide.  And this is also why we are here: to be fed.  Jesus was born in a village called “Bethlehem,” which means “the house of bread.”  Jesus was laid in a manger: which is a food trough.  And of course, Jesus comes to us through bread and wine, blessed by His Word very much like the bread that He blessed and “set before the people” for whom he had compassion.

In fact, the feeding that Jesus gives is not merely for the temporary sustenance of the body, but also for the eternal provision for body and soul in eternity.  The bread that Jesus provides is His flesh for the life of the world.  And we partake of it here in this “desolate place” of our fallen world, turned into a lush garden by His Word.

For what was it ultimately that the Lord God provided when Abraham made his statement, “The Lord will provide”?  On that dramatic occasion, the Lord provided a substitute, a lamb, whose blood would be shed as a sacrifice, so that Abraham’s own son would be spared.  The Lord provides the death of His own Son, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  The Lord provides the sacrificial atonement and redemption of the entire world, a gracious gift offered to every son of Adam and daughter of Eve, a gift that is received by as many as have faith in these words: “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Lord provides, dear friends, and indeed He provides not just bread, but also His very body; not just wine, but also His very blood: given and shed for you in the dramatic act of God at the cross.  And so we eat and we drink to our abundance, to our salvation, to our life – a life that has no end.  And the bread that He provides for the life of the world is His flesh. 

“The Lord will provide!”  Amen.

 In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 6 - 2018




8 July 2018

Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If you decide to play a game, the first thing you have to do is learn the rules.  Without the rules, the game is meaningless.  Without the rules, the winner of the game is the one with the biggest muscles or the loudest mouth.  Without the rules, a game isn’t even really a game.

When it comes to the Ten Commandments, the Law as handed down by God to Moses, it’s a tragedy that we need to be taught the rules.  For we were created not only knowing them, but also with an innate desire and ability to keep them.  But after we fell into sin, we became so pathetic that we actually had to be told such things as killing people is not allowed.  What should be obvious to us requires an instruction book with rules on how to live.

For us fallen humanity, we now have to read the rulebook.  And Doctor Luther, in compiling his sort-of Frequently Asked Questions about the Christian faith and life, designated the Ten Commandments to be the First Chief Part of the Christian Faith.

So we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Ten Commandments.  We memorize them from Scripture and we memorize their explanations from the Catechism.  Jesus Himself explains, teaches, and preaches on the commandments in a way that nobody else does, a way that closes loopholes and takes away every opportunity to boast or brag.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He says, “but to fulfill them.”  He says that we are not to even take away a stroke of the pen from the Law.  In fact, we are expected to teach them, and to do them.  Our righteousness is to exceed that of “the scribes and Pharisees,” that is, the most religious people in Jerusalem.  And by way of example, Jesus says regarding the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” it isn’t enough to refrain from actually slaying someone.  In fact, you are not to think violent thoughts or even verbally insult someone – lest you break the commandment.  He will go on to explain the Sixth Commandment similarly, “You shall not commit adultery” doesn’t refer to the technical narrow definition of the word, but rather any kind of sexuality in thought, word, or deed, outside of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman, violates the commandment.

Doctor Luther applies this same technique in giving us our explanations of all of the commandments.  And God expects us to keep them.  But of course, we don’t.  We fail miserably.  And that’s our great dilemma, dear friends.

Since we can’t keep them, should we assume that God grades on a curve?  Should we see God as our indulgent uncle who winks and looks the other way when we fail to live up to His standard of perfection?  Or should we go the other direction, and claim that we are in fact keeping the Law, but do so by means of loopholes, hypocrisy, and outright lying to ourselves and others?

Our Book of Concord confesses that Scripture teaches three uses of the Law.  The first use is to keep order in society.  The law against murder is intended to deter violence among us through various legal definitions and punishments.  This use isn’t the church’s use, but that of secular authority.  The second use is the main one that we Christians partake of: the commandments being a mirror that show how sinful that I am.  I may not actually take lives, but my attitude is ungodly, and cannot stand the scrutiny of the mirror of the second use.  The third use is a guide to the Christian life as it is to be led, for example, when Dr. Luther explains that “we should help and support [our neighbor] in every physical need.”  This guides me to a godly relationship with my neighbor, and though we are far from perfect, we know that we are to strive after these ideals, and by the grace of God, grow in sanctification and a desire to lead a godly life.

For what does St. Paul say?  That we should just give up on trying to keep the Law, chuck the whole thing, and since I’m forgiven, just “continue in sin that grace may about?”  The apostle answers his own question: “By no means!” 

St. Paul reminds us of our baptism.  We are baptized into Christ, into His death – His death upon the cross that atones for our sins, His death by which death is destroyed, His death that reconciles us to the Father, the Father who with the Son sends the Spirit to us, to draw us to lives of holiness, so that “we too might walk in newness of life.”

Does newness mean perfection?  By no means!  Does newness mean continuing to surrender to sin, death, and the devil?  By no means!  We are saved by grace, and by grace we are given Christ’s holiness.  We struggle to keep the Law, we fight, we fail, we stumble, we grow, we have our ups and downs, and by God’s grace and mercy, we are forgiven and, day by day, we are given a new heart that is eager to do what is right.  This Christian life requires both discipline and patience.  You will fall, and your Father will pick you up.  You will disappoint your Father, and He will discipline you.  You will struggle, and will sometimes be victorious, thanks to Christ, by whom you are alive to God and dead to sin.

And when you fall, you cannot blame God.  For our failure is our fault.  When you manage to be obedient even in an imperfect and halting way, you cannot take credit, for it is God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit to inch you toward godliness through the means that God has given us: the preaching of the Word and the participation in the sacraments.

Our Lord Jesus, like St. Paul, also preaches this third use of the Law, teaching us how to live our lives as poor miserable sinners bound by the Law, and struggling as Christians in a fallen world.  He teaches us – as an extension to the fifth commandment against murder, to strive toward reconciliation with our brother who might have “something against [us].”  Before we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice at the altar, let us examine ourselves and our lives to see if we have “murdered” our brother, so to speak, perhaps with thoughts or words.  And let us seek reconciliation if we have sinned.  Our Lord compared this reconciliation to an out-of-court settlement.  For if we can settle with our brother, we don’t need to get the judge involved.  In reconciliation, the case against us is thrown out, as opposed to putting us on a path that leads to prison.

The ultimate judgment is death.  We have been under the sentence of temporal death since the fall in Eden.  But thanks be to God that our Lord has kept the Law even as we have proven ourselves unable.  Just as David was the champion of the people of Israel, slaying Goliath, beating back the oppression of the Philistines and becoming the King of Israel, so too is the Son of David our champion, who slays Satan, beating back the oppression of sin, ruling over us as the King of the Universe, a King who has come not to be served, but to serve; a King who doesn’t just command others to obey the Law, but who keeps the Law Himself, even dying for us when He was not required to do so.

“We know,” says St. Paul, “that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”  For “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Doctor Luther gave us the Ten Commandments as the first chief part because Jesus taught us that He has not abolished the Law.  The Lord revealed the Law to Moses, even as the Law is written on our hearts, though we need to be reminded of the “rules of the game” so to speak, as well as where we have broken them.  But thanks be to God that we are not disqualified, but rather forgiven, and in being forgiven, we are given to “walk in newness of life.”  

Let us continue to honestly apply the Law to ourselves as our Lord does.  Let us sincerely repent and be reconciled to our neighbor and to the Lord.  Let us be both disciplined and patient as we live out the Christian life, having died with our Lord in Holy Baptism, even as “we believe that we will also live with Him,” now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Liberty and Tolerance





There is a debate in England about their national flag - the St. George's cross, which has been around since 1188 AD.  It has been a component of the Union Jack since 1606.  But in 2018, some people in England like it, and some people don't.  Some argue that the flag is a symbol of patriotism, and some argue that it is a symbol of racism.

So, who is right?  Which is it?

The truth of the matter is that people are entitled to their opinions.

One person may like a Jackson Pollock painting, and even be willing to pay millions of dollars to own it.  Another person may look at the same painting and not believe it is worth a dollar.  This is a manifestation of what is known in economics as the subjective theory of value (to go a little deeper, check out Dr. Robert Murphy's article here).  At any rate, the first person has no right to force the second to sign a letter expressing his love for the painting, or compel him to purchase a print of it and display it on the wall.  Likewise the second person has no right to make the first person afraid to write an article praising Pollock's work, or displaying it at his home.  Both parties would be wrong to turn to the coercive power of the state to either compel or ban the work.

Opinions regarding value are subjective.

Like opinions about art, how people view and value symbols is subjective.  A US veteran may see the US flag as a symbol of his beloved fallen comrades and of the country he defended with his own life.  By contrast, an American Indian who has just been studying the history of his ancestors' battles against the US may well not share our veteran's affection for the US flag.  We may agree or disagree with either of these people.  The bottom line is that in a civilized and free country, people are entitled to have opinions, and to peacefully express them.

And this freedom of expression includes the flying of flags and the display of symbols, their subjective value notwithstanding.

Discussion and debate are well and good.  But attempting to use intimidation, threats, and force to compel someone to agree (or comply) with your opinion is wrong.  Worse, it is evil.  To attempt to make an opponent afraid to hold a certain opinion or to express it - by force - is really a form of soft terrorism.  And this is common in our day, by means of doxing, bullying, contacting employers, posting signs, making anonymous threats, de-platforming, etc.  Sometimes mobs are dispatched to create civic mayhem and to instill fear among those of a different opinion.

Ironically, these tactics are often used by self-declared Social Justice Warriors and so-called Antifascists.  The irony is itself ironic, as the SJWs display behavior that is antisocial, unjust, and cowardly: seldom willing to go toe to toe in open debate, instead relying on mindless and dangerous mob violence and shouting down any attempt at genuine dialogue.  These people are the real fascists, exerting whatever kind of force - even street-hooliganism - to achieve the silencing of dissenting views.

So what is the solution?  Actually, it's quite easy: it's a two-sided coin.

On one side is liberty.  Liberty is the right of a person to hold opinions and to express them without fear of aggression or repression.  It is the birthright of all people.  It is enshrined in the founding documents of the United States, which of course, trace their own origins to the Common Law of England and Natural Law.  And on the other side of the coin is tolerance.  Tolerance means tolerating people, opinions, and things one might not like.  It is the humble realization that we are not the lords and masters of the world, and our opinions, wants, desires, and wishes do not compel the obedience and subjection of others.

As such, people are entitled to hate the English flag.  They are entitled to hate England.  They are entitled to hate English people, or a subset of those people.  They are entitled to be offended at seeing the English flag.  They are entitled to boycott businesses that fly it.  They are entitled to write books and give speeches as to why people ought to change their minds about it.

But the opposite is also true.  People are entitled to love the English flag, the country, its people, to feel a sense of patriotism, and to patronize businesses that fly it.  They are likewise entitled to write books, give speeches, try to change hearts and minds, and to fly the English flag unmolested from their own homes and businesses.

The advantage of the approach of liberty and tolerance is that it leads to peace.  It is a path to unity even in disagreement.  It doesn't empower fascist and communist dictators to gain a toehold and pick sides in subjective differences of opinion.  Having a legal system and a general culture of liberty and tolerance is the only way to manage actual diversity of different groups with different histories and different opinions, and to permit them to coexist.  The only alternative is a monolithic repressive society in which one has the opinions that his masters impose upon him, one that crushes dissent, and does so through fear and intimidation.

Those who oppose liberty and tolerance are manifesting what St. Augustine called "libido dominandi" - the lust for domination - the sinful desire to bend others to one's own will, to lord over them.  And while thugs and dictators always couch their lust to dominate in terms of niceness and brotherly love, the common good, and even ironically "tolerance," underneath the silk glove is a set of bloody brass knuckles.  Once the mask is removed from the yellow smiley face, the toothbrush mustache and the funny haircut come into focus.  The fuzzy slippers become the Orwellian boot in the face.

We must remember that symbols are subjective, and subjective implies human disagreement: diversity of how they are understood and valued by different people.  In our current culture, "being offended" is a weaponized path to dominate others.  But to be a peacemaker, to be a truly civilized and loving person, is to extend tolerance especially to those with whom one disagrees.  Maybe that piece of cloth means nothing to you, but maybe it means a great deal to your neighbor.  The loving and peaceful thing to do is to respect his property rights, his intellectual rights, and his human rights, work on being a more tolerant person, get over yourself, and get on with your life.

Sermon: Funeral of Betty Childress



7 July 2018

Text: John 11:20-27 (Isa 25:6-9, Rom 6:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Robert, Rhonda, Robert Jr., family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: “Peace be with you.”

These were the first words that Jesus spoke to His disciples after He rose from the dead.  The reason that Easter is so important to us Christians is because of times like these: the loss of a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a mentor, a co-worker, a friend.  Although death comes to all of us, we try not to think about it.  But sometimes we simply cannot avoid its sting.

We mourn our loved ones.  And we should!  We love them.  We miss them.  This is very hard.  There are no words of my own that I can offer that will bring you comfort, but God has words of comfort for you, dear friends.  I am merely the spokesman, the bearer of good news.  The Good Shepherd Psalm of David, Psalm 23, includes the words “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”  That comfort comes from our Good Shepherd, Jesus, the one who defeated death, who rose from the dead, and who promises to raise His followers from the dead, just as He did His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha from our Gospel reading.

The prophet Isaiah speaks comfort to us, promising us a new earth, one freed from suffering and death, a world of “rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined….  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…. Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

Our Lord Jesus swallowed up death by His own death on the cross: forgiving our sins – including Betty’s sins, my sins, your sins, and even paying the price of the sins of the whole broken, fallen world by His sacrifice.  Jesus also promises to wipe every tear from our eyes, as He is the one whom Isaiah speaks of doing that very thing.  For He will do for His friend Betty just what He did for His friend Lazarus.  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  What came next was Jesus visiting the grave of the brother of Mary and Martha, and Jesus called the name of His friend Lazarus, who then rose from death upon Jesus’s command, walking out of his own tomb, and embracing his sisters and his friends. 

In Christ, death doesn’t get the last word! 

St. Paul spoke to us anew today in the Scriptures, reminding us that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” and “we were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

By God’s design and will, Betty Hartmann Childress was born into this world in the year of our Lord 1939. She was baptized into Christ Jesus and lived a life of 78 years by God’s grace.  She was called home just over two weeks ago, and now waits for her loved ones to join her.  And she also waits for Jesus to call her body forth from her own tomb: a new body, one without age and disease, one incapable of death, one in which she will enjoy that “feast of rich food… of well-aged wine.”  Her tears and ours will be wiped away forever.  Whether we feel worthy or not, we are baptized into Christ – who lived and died and rose again, who raised Lazarus, and who promises to raise Betty and all of us who believe and are baptized, all of us who confess Him as our Lord and our God, our Savior and our Master, as the one who died to defeat death.

And all of this, dear friends, is packed into that little phrase that Jesus said when He greeted His disciples after His own death and funeral, after He walked and talked again (even as will Betty), saying, “Peace be with you!”

For that is the peace of God that passes all understanding, the peace that brings us comfort even in sorrow, the peace that reminds us that death doesn’t get the last word.

Peace be with you, dear friends.  Peace be with you!

Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Sunday, July 01, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 5 - 2018




1 July 2018

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Pet 3:8-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“From now on you will be catching men,” says our Lord to Simon the fisherman.  

This promise of our Lord is both humorous and serious, both joyful, and somber.  For on that one morning after a night of failure as a fisherman, Simon’s life will change.  Even his name will change to “Peter,” which means the rock-man.  For he was to become the leader of the Lord’s disciples, and the world itself will change as the rock-man and his friends will become the foundation of the largest institution in the history of mankind, an worldwide organization that will not only change the world, but will bring about the salvation of those very men being caught in the net that the church will cast at the command of Jesus: the net of the Gospel.

Fish resist the fisherman’s net and try not to get caught, because they do not want to give up their lives.  We fallen men resist the net of the Gospel for a similar reason: we do not want to give up our lives either.  We foolishly think that life apart from Christ, apart from the Gospel, apart from the church, is real life, when it is, in fact, the process of dying a slow death.  True life, abundant life, eternal life is found inside the net, dear friends, for Christ doesn’t gather us in to devour us, but to exchange the fallen life in this world for eternal life.

We often hear people talk about “safety nets” – a desire for institutions of society to protect people from ruin.  And that, dear brothers and sisters, is what the net of the Gospel is all about.  

Think about a tall building that is on fire.  The horrible dilemma is whether to stay inside to be burned to death, or to jump and fall to one’s death – unless there is a savior waiting to catch you in a net.  This is the net that the fishers of men bear, the net of Christ.  We are escaping the fire and ruin that is our fallen world, our broken humanity, our rotten natural state.  We take a leap of faith because Jesus calls us, saying: “Do not be afraid,” as He bids us to follow Him – and in following Him, we are caught in His net.  And while we have to leave behind a sinful, broken world, a life of ruin and devastation, an eternal death and the fires of hell, we land in a safety net – a net woven together in the shape of a cross, fashioned by the very body and blood of Christ, a net that draws us up through baptismal water – water combined with the Word of God that saves us from death and hell.

Peter and his associates “left everything and followed Him.”  For as Peter would later say to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  What else can a fisher of men do but cast his nets to save men?

Following Jesus, taking that leap away from our comfortable but fallen world, is a frightening prospect.  When Peter realized that He was face to face with something and someone that he could not understand, that transcended the ordinary in this world, “he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’”  He saw the miracle of the fish, and was “astonished.”  To be in the presence of such power is frightening, especially as we reflect on our sins, knowing what we deserve.  But again, dear friends, our Lord says, “Do not be afraid.”  He has come to forgive us.  And He has work for us to do: whether we are preachers of the Word, or hearers of the Word.  For whether we are casting the nets, cleaning the nets, repairing the nets, making the nets, or purchasing the nets – we are all engaged in the saving work of the church, that is, the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whether we are preachers or hearers, we are all confessors of the Word.

St. Peter truly took our Lord’s invitation, “Do not be afraid” to heart.  For we heard anew from St. Peter’s epistle, from him who was to suffer and die for his own confession of Christ, to urge us on even in persecution.  St. Peter says the same thing as our Lord: “Have no fear of them.”  He adds, “Nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

This “defense” – which in Greek refers to defending yourself against accusations in court by means of your words of testimony – is an important part of the net cast by Christians to save others who face the doom of a world destined for fire.  We Christians are attacked by people who don’t even realize that they are in a burning edifice.  And it is part of that “sympathy” and “brotherly love” and “humble mind” that St. Peter urges us on to when we respond to the hatred of the world with love.  Our calling as Christians is not to win arguments, but to win our brother – even when our brother is our enemy.  We are called to invite others to take the leap with us from the fire into the safety net, and we need to articulate a reason why they should.  

We should train ourselves in order to “be prepared to make a defense” for our faith – for eternal salvation is at stake.  They will ask us why we believe the Bible is reliable, why we believe Christianity isn’t just one more religion, why we believe that all lifestyles are not equal, why we believe in objective truth and things like good and evil.  We are called to give a defense of the cross, of the forgiveness of sins, of the holy sacraments.  And we are called to “make a defense” against things like evolution, the claims that the Bible is filled with contradictions, and false narratives that Christianity is just a retelling of myths, that our faith is the invention of kings and politicians to control us, and we must respond to the nihilistic belief that life has no meaning or purpose: the culture of death that is ravaging our civilization.

And that last belief, dear brothers and sisters, is especially common and dangerous today, as modern people live lives of emptiness and depression in a vain, self-obsessed pursuit of some kind of meaning in entertainment and pleasure.  The net we bear is the net of love and joy and purpose.  It is the net that draws people out of sin and death and into righteousness and life.  People are dying to find such a net – and we have had it all along.

There are times when we, like the prophet Elijah, seem overwhelmed by the world’s hatred and unbelief.  We are increasingly outnumbered as our culture teeters on self-inflicted destruction.  As hopeless as things seemed for Elijah (who was hunted and stalked and vilified by those in power), there was indeed a remnant of those who did not bow the knee to the false gods.  And the true God raised up Elisha to succeed Elijah, even as Jesus raised up St. Peter, the unlikely bishop, to lead the small band of apostles in casting the net of the Gospel around the world.

Indeed, dear brothers and sisters, let us be “prepared to make a defense to anyone” regarding why we have hope even as we dwell in our fallen world and in our own sinful flesh.  Let us boldly and joyfully cast our net, knowing that this is what our Lord calls us to do, knowing that those who are captured by this net are saved from death, from the flames, from the father of lies, confident that the nets catch men not because of our own skill or worthiness, but rather, by His Word, the same Word that brought forth Peter’s miraculous catch.  For the net we cast is the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And let us also humbly confess our sins and fall down before Jesus, like St. Peter, knowing that our Lord will not, in fact, depart from us.  Let us confess this reason for the hope that is in us: our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, the one whose net saves us and redeem us, the one who invites us by His might and by His mercy, by means of His Word, saying: “Do not be afraid.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.