Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 20 – 2015

7 October 2015

Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Isa 5:1-9, Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

God invites all of mankind to a feast, and our sinful flesh thinks we have better things to do.  There are other feasts: parties, festivals, sports events, rest and relaxation, flashing screens and shiny things, or even just staying in bed.

Why does our sinful flesh behave this way? 

One would think that free food would entice us, or perhaps the opportunity to be near the king.  Of course, if nothing else there is a political advantage, and the opportunity to be seen.  Even in the world, if the boss throws a party, we are wise enough to attend, or at least put in an appearance.

Indeed, the invitation should get our attention: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…. Delight yourselves in rich food.”

It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, or even of eternity.  God Himself is offering to throw an eternal and magnificent banquet, and admits us to the head table.  And in the case of this banquet, it includes a complete pardon of every sin we have ever committed in this life; it includes citizenship in the kingdom of God and fellowship with God Himself.

And yet, the excuses for not showing up are legion.  They are also weak and unconvincing.  For the real reason people turn down the offer is that they think they can hold the ticket in their back pockets and use it any time.  Meanwhile, there is fun to be had and a self to serve.  For in the minds of the sinful flesh, wisdom can wait.  Now is the time to walk unwisely, “because the days are evil.”  There is time to be foolish, to “get drunk with wine” and “debauchery” or with any number of hobbies and diversions from God’s gracious invitation.  For there will always be time later for “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  I am baptized, and therefore, I can repent later, so says the sinful flesh.

The prophet Isaiah warns us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

For the sinful flesh ignores the invitation. It refuses to come to be where the Lord invites us to be.  The sinful flesh focuses upon the self instead of the Savior, paying mind to the clock instead of the cross.  The sinful flesh is even capable of murdering the prophets and treating the king’s messengers shamefully.

And to those who refuse to repent, the King becomes angry.  He eventually revokes the invitation and sends forth the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify others into His holy Christian Church, those who participate in the wedding feast of the Son through all eternity.  God calls others instead of those who continue to harden their hearts.  Some of the refuseniks even become violent: murdering the prophets, shooting up schools and churches, mangling the institution of marriage, killing children and planning the profits of the sale of their yet beating hearts over glasses of wine.

The Lord sends His servants to the main roads, gathering in those who repent, who heed the call of the Gospel, those who are baptized and saved and participating in the pardoning feast of the Lord’s Supper, hearing the prophetic word, and enjoying a seat at the head table with the Lamb and the Ancient of Days and the Spirit, reigning with them unto all eternity.

And so here we are, dear friends.  It may not look to the eyes like a grand banquet hall, but that is exactly what it is.  It is a sanctuary, an embassy of heaven.  We gather here around a bowl of water, a lectern, a pulpit, and a table with wafers of bread and a cup of wine that we share.  It is not course after course of decadent and expensive foods, and yet it is the richest meal in history: the body of Christ.  It is not the most expensive and exclusive of drinks, but it is the choicest of all in the universe, for it is the blood of Christ.

The banquet starts here, but it never ends.  It begins in time, but will continue into eternity.  To the eyes of the world it looks like a pathetic affair: a handful of people with aches and pains and ailments hobbling to a wooden rail to be hand-fed a tiny piece of bread and poured a sip of wine by a guy in what looks like robes.  Some words are said.  An old book is read. 

But what a banquet this is, dear friends!  For God Almighty, the Creator and King of the universe, is here with us physically and intimately in space and time, joining us at this table, which by His presence, becomes the head table, the Holy of Holies, the divine throne.  He declares us forgiven and worthy by the cross and the empty tomb, to be regarded as righteous and able to sit with God at a never-ending feast.  He fills us with food that always satisfies, and drink that always slakes.  He transforms us by His mighty Word and by His ever-present transformative Spirit.  He packs His banquet hall even with the likes of us, “both bad and good,” forgiven sinners, redeemed saints, men, women, and children from every walk of life.

And for us men and for our salvation, He has prepared His dinner, dear friends.  The Lamb Himself has been slaughtered, and He is risen!  The bread of life has come down from heaven.  His flesh is bread for the life of the world.  By His Word, we are made alive.  By His stripes we are healed.  By His cross we are reconciled.

And though His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways His ways, and though the heavens are higher than the earth, and though His ways and thoughts exceed ours, He has nevertheless filled His heavenly banquet hall with us, dear friends, with each one of us, with believers of every time and place, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  

We are at this banquet because we have been invited.  We wear the baptismal garment.  We have been called.  We have been chosen.  And this is why, dear friends, we can receive this admonition from St. Paul with joy: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Our sinful flesh has been crucified with Christ.  We have been invited, the bad and the good, we are clothed with the wedding garment, we are here to buy and eat, without money and without price.  Welcome to the feast, dear brothers and sisters, now and even unto eternity! Amen.

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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 16 – 2015

20 September 2015

Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Gospel reading is incredible, dear friends.  Jesus goes to a small town called Nain, and encounters a funeral procession.  The deceased was an only child of a widow.  Jesus has compassion on her.  He tells this women whose husband is dead, and whose only child is dead, “Do not weep.”

He stops the pallbearers and orders the corpse in the coffin to arise.  The young man sits up and starts talking.  And Jesus reunites this family separated by death.

This is an incredible reading, but the things that we probably find incredible should not be, and the things that we probably don’t find incredible should be.

Think about what we might find rather normal and ordinary: a woman who outlived her husband, a young man who died, a small-town funeral.  But according to God’s will, none of this is normal.  Death is not normal.  Death separating spouses is not normal.  A young man dying is not normal, nor even an old one for that matter.  The whole idea of the funeral is foreign to the good world that God created in the beginning by His Word.

But now, let’s ponder on the things we might find extraordinary.  Jesus, God in the flesh, commands a mourning woman, a widow who is burying her only beloved son, not to weep; Jesus interrupting a funeral procession and stopping it in mid step; Jesus, with nothing more than His Word, bringing the dead to life.

Our reaction would probably be like that of the crowds at first: “Fear seized them all.”

But consider just how normal this really is: Jesus, the One who has compassion, comforting this woman by not only telling her not to cry, but by taking away the cause of her suffering by His merciful and mighty Word.  This is indeed what God always does, He who loves His creation and redeems His people, bringing life out of seemingly hopeless situations, and wrenching victory from the jaws of death.

Jesus, the one whose own death destroyed death, whose own funeral procession as an only beloved Son was to lead to the tomb from which He would emerge in glory, this Jesus shuts down a funeral procession and calls the whole thing off.  Jesus, who is God, and by whose mighty Word the universe spring into being, uses His Word again to say: “Young man, I say to you, arise,” and just as the universe came obediently into being, “the dead man sat up and began to speak.”

Jesus behaves just as we ought to expect God to behave: with compassion and power, with mercy and might, with glory and salvation.  What else should we expect from God who is a man, who has come to save us, to rescue us?  What else can possibly happen when the one who rose from death, encounters another one who is dead, and commands him to rise?

And in spite of the people’s fear, they nevertheless “glorified God.” 

They recognized what has just happened.  After God’s centuries of silence, they have seen a repeat of the prophet Elijah’s miracle of raising the widow’s son from 900 years before.  The prophet prophecies, by Word and deed, of the coming Christ.  For the prophet prays to God for His miracle, whereas our Lord Jesus does the very work of God in commanding the young man to rise, all by means of His Word.

Indeed, a prophet has come again, only this prophet Jesus is not merely a prophet.  He is rather the fulfillment of all prophets and all prophecies.  This Jesus is God, whose Word creates the universe, whose Word crushes death.

For Jesus has crushed death just as surely as He has crushed the head of our ancient enemy, the devil.  For Jesus not only wakes the dead from their slumber, He casts death along with the devil into the Lake of Fire.  For death is the wages of sin, what we deserve according to our deeds.  But by His deeds, by His death and resurrection, by His very blood shed at the cross, and by the baptismal waters, He commands by His Word, by His unequivocal absolution, and by the Good News He has commanded to be preached unto every creature, He forgives our sins.  Our wages are no more death, but life.

This was true when God worked through Elijah to raise a widow’s son.  This was true when the Son of God raised a widow’s son.  And this is true today, for all people, men and women; married, single, and widowed; with one child, many children, or no children.  Jesus has defeated death, once and for all.  Jesus interrupts our own funerals by declaring us to be with Him, and promising to raise us and all of His beloved redeemed at the last day.

The wages of sin is death, indeed, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

And yet, we suffer in this life.  We suffer pain and illness, and the death of loved ones.  And we suffer our own mortality and death.  Until the Lord recreates heaven and earth, our world remains a place of decay and dying. 

But not for long, dear friends!  For just as surely as Jesus touched the coffin and that young man woke up, so too will your grave be opened and you will sit up and be restored to your loved ones alive and well.

This is why St. Paul can say to the Galatian Christians: “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.”  For Paul, for us, for every widow, every mother and father, every son and daughter, we all will suffer, and yet our sufferings will come to an end.

Paul says: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.”

For like those who witnessed the power of Jesus’s Word, a Word that has power over death itself, we also join with those who spread the report of Jesus “through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country,” praising Him who raises us from the dead, saying: “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

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

Sermon: Michaelmas – 2015

27 September 2015

Text: Matt 18:1-11 (Dan 10:10-14; 12:1-3, Rev 12:7-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

And they were both good, perfect in fact.  But something happened in heaven: Satan and his rebel angels defied God’s will.  And in this context we are taught about the Archangel Michael: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.” St. Michael is a warrior. 

And though angels exist in a plane of reality outside of our universe, being eternal and having no fleshly body, artwork depicting St. Michael the Archangel shows him not only with angel’s wings, but with a muscular, masculine form, and carrying a weapon.

And as is often the case, this cosmic conflict was not contained. It spread from the heavenly plane to the earth, from the invisible to the visible, from the realms of spirit to the world of flesh.  The angelic rebellion was then joined by the humans, by Adam and Eve, who in their greed to “be like God,” were tricked into joining Satan’s rebellion.

And so the entire creation is at war.  We cannot see with our eyes the underlying reality of this vast War Between the Angels. But as with any war, there are casualties, atrocities, death, destruction, and both courage and cowardice, as well as both honor and horror.

And in this epic conflict, St. Michael is the chief archangel, whose name means “Who is like God.” 

In the days of our Old Testament reading from Daniel, God’s people were under the domination of the Persians.  And this earthly conflict seems to spill over into the heavenly realms, as St. Michael, “who is like God” in his faithfulness, contends for the people of God, even though they are descendants of Adam and Eve who wanted to “be like God,” but who most certainly were not “like God” in their sin.

And even today, the warfare is all around us, even when we can’t see it. 

Our Lord Jesus even tells us that the “little ones” are under the divine protection of “their angels” who “always see the face” of the Father in heaven.  Even children who innocently snuggle in with their mothers are targeted for death and destruction by Satan and his ruthless rebellious demons.  What a great blessing that St. Michael and his holy legions defend us, though we can’t see them.

Before the two falls, both the one in heaven and the one on earth, there were no conflicts.  Everything was just as it should be.  Every creature carried out the will of God like a precisely running clock.  Every galaxy and every electron spun perfectly in its orbit without conflict or collision.  But when sin was introduced, it all changed.  Now things crash into other things: be they inanimate objects, animals, or humans.  The clock is broken, and is winding down thanks to wear and tear and friction and competition for space and time.

And this is the warfare, dear friends.  This chaos explains everything from dying stars to hurricanes, cancer to genocide, violence to vainglory.  And angels are dispatched by God to protect His people.  This is why Luther’s morning and evening prayers both ask God to send his holy angel to be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.

Most of these warriors are not known to us by name.  But Michael (who is like God), is mentioned by name in Scripture, as is Gabriel (whose name means “God is my strength”), and as is Raphael, (whose name means “God heals”) mentioned in the Book of Tobit.  All throughout the Bible we are told that there are legions and myriads of angels. 

And just as all of these names end in “el” – which means God – they are all under the command of a man whose name also ends in “el” – that is Immanuel, “God with us.”  Immanuel is our imminent God, the God who is indeed with us as one of us.  Jesus is not merely like God, but is God who has come to restore humanity to communion with God.  He is not merely one who reminds us that God is our strength, He is our strong God who defeats death and the devil for us.  He is not merely a messenger who reveals that God heals, rather He is the God in the flesh who heals us by His Word and Sacraments.

For as high and exalted as the angels and archangels are, we humans have cause to consider ourselves of even higher estate. For one of us, Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, is God.  He is the commander of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, of angels and archangels, and of all the company of heaven.

What comfort, dear friends, to know that God doesn’t leave us on our own to face sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has conquered all of these, and sends His angels to keep us safe.  For how many temptations have we been spared from because Michael, under the orders of the God that he is like, threw the dragon down?  How many accidents have been diverted and never happened because Gabriel is strong on God’s behalf and protected us?  How many illnesses never took hold of us because Raphael heals us under the authority of Christ, our great physician?

Indeed, how many children avoided falling into the minefield of sin and death and the devil because “their angels always see the face” of our heavenly Father?

And while the war rages on until the second coming of our Lord, we know who the victor is.  He won the victory at the cross when He paid for our sins by His blood and declared once and for all, with the authority of the One who is God: “It is finished!”  He celebrated that victory when He descended into hell to strongly proclaim His kingdom even to death and the demons.  He made that victory known when He healed His own dead body when He rose from death.

He shares that victory with the very little ones whom He protects through His angels, by calling men to forgive sins by His authority, to baptize in His name, to give out the Holy Supper in accordance with His Words of Institution and life-giving gospel.  And at the preaching of this Word and the administration of the sacraments, there is truly joy in heaven that cannot be contained.  For the final victory in the heavens and the earth is imminent and certain. 

And, dear friends, when this happens, chaos will be replaced by communion; our crashing and clashing universe will again run like a perfect clock; discord will give way to concord; swords will be beaten into plowshares; no more will galaxies and electrons crash into one another; no more will accidents, natural and manmade, occur.  Thus will all sadness and sorrow come to an end.  There will be no more separation, conflict, want, misery, warfare, rebellion, punishment, nor death itself.

And Michael will lay down his sword and join us in the perfect peace of eternity.  Gabriel will no more have to be the messenger of the strength of God, for we will all be in God’s presence.  Raphael will no longer have to communicate to us the healing power of God, for there will be nothing left to heal. 

And these guardians, these watchers and holy ones, will no more have to protect the little ones from harm, for there will be no more harm.  Indeed, dear friends, we look forward to the end of the strife, the spoils of victory, and the triumph of harmony over and against the evils of chaos.  And these angels and archangels will join us, the company of heaven, to laud and magnify the name of the Lord, praising the Triune God with us, we who will “shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Amen.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sermon: Funeral of Betty Lachute

17 September 2015 at Mothe's Funeral Home, Harvey, LA

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Toni and Michael, (Christy), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, Ann, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: peace be with you!

One of the parts of the Church’s liturgy, a passage from the Bible that we will repeat at the end of this service, as well as the text of our Gospel reading, involves the elderly saint Simeon.  The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had encountered Jesus.  And when he had that encounter, he spoke these words:

“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.”

Nearly every time that I visited Betty over the many years that I had the privilege to be her pastor, every time we took the Holy Sacrament together, we prayed these very words of St. Simeon together.

These words are true for Betty today, dear friends. 

For her eyes have seen the salvation that the Lord had prepared for all peoples.  Betty was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  She was absolved of her sins many times in her eight decades of life.  She received the Lord’s body and blood again and again, experiencing Jesus in the flesh just as surely as our dear brother Simeon did on that glorious day in the Temple cradling the baby Jesus just as surely as Betty cradled her own children, grandchildren, great-grand-children, god-children, and other children. 

And like St. Simeon, she was ready to depart in peace, to depart this fallen world to meet with her Lord and God, to await the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

And that is indeed why we were created, dear friends, to live forever. 

We might be tempted to see death as a kind of ally, a kind of blessing to someone who was suffering.  We might be tempted to see it as something normal for someone who is elderly.  But although we have come to accept death as something that happens, it is not normal.  It’s not even fair to call it natural.  It isn’t.  God created us to live forever.

It is our sinful flesh that has brought about death: Betty’s, yours, and mine.  We inherited our sinful flesh from our ancestors, and death is the result of our sinfulness as well.  And there is nobody who is perfect, nobody who is righteous, nobody, not one person, who does not need the salvation of Jesus Christ, the Savior, whose life becomes our life by faith.

Betty confessed this.  Betty lived this.  It is in this faith that she took Holy Communion from me over the many years.  It is why her parents brought her to the baptismal font so that she could be reborn.  For in that encounter with Jesus, she became ready to “depart in peace.”

And though death is not normal or natural (God did not make us to die), though death is terrible (which is why we mourn), and though death is the enemy (it is the wages of sin as Scripture teaches us), it has been defeated by our Lord at the cross.  He died to defeat death, and to give us life.  And He rose from the dead to prove it.

And this is why even when we mourn, even in our sadness, even when we do not want to say goodbye, we can say defiantly with St. Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  And we declare with him: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And so, we claim victory, even now, dear friends.  It is Betty’s victory, because it is Christ’s victory.  We Christians are the victors over sin, death, and the devil; we are victors in Christ.  And this is our sure and certain hope, and Betty’s sure and certain hope: to rise again in the flesh and be reunited in bodies made new and incorruptible. 

One thing that Betty always said when I visited her was how much she loved her children and grandchildren.  This was her favorite topic in the world.  And that love continues, dear brothers and sisters, for Christ has won the victory.  By the promises of our risen Lord, we too will rise triumphant from the grave, and we too will meet her again, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

And in Christ, and according to His ever-reliable Word and promise, we look forward to that great and marvelous day.  Meanwhile, it is normal to mourn.  Mourning is the pain of separation.  But that separation is temporary, dear friends. 

We Christians all around the world greet one another with the word “Peace.”  It is the old Hebrew word “Shalom” with which our Lord greeted the disciples after He rose from the dead.  When Jesus says “Peace,” He means it. He has won it.  And He gives it to us.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  It is peace between God and man, and the peace that gives us the strength to see the joy of victory even as we mourn.  It is the peace of the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.  It is the peace that comforts us to where we too can say, with St. Simeon, with Betty, with all Christians living and departed, declaring victory over death, and peace without end:

“Lord, 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, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 15 – 2015

13 September 2015

Text: Matt 6:24-34 (1 Kings 17:8-16, Gal 5:25-6:10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“What is the first commandment?  You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Our Lord explains the problem with idolatry: it is contrary to the way things are designed to work.  There is only one God.  If one has more than one god, or vacillates between different gods, there is going to be a problem, a conflicting loyalty: “either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

This is why, for example, corporations and governments have an organizational chart and a chain of command. If one person reports to multiple bosses, there will inevitably be conflicting orders and confusion.  But if there is a clear chain of command, that confusion can be diminished.  This is especially crucial in the military, where the rapid carrying out of specific and well-understood plans is necessary to save lives.

But our Lord is dealing with something even more important than life and death on the battlefield.  For He is talking about eternal life and eternal death in a spiritual battlefield.

And so there is indeed a chain of command.  There is a place for all of us creatures in God’s universe.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel struggled with idolatry.  There is a reason why this is the first commandment. When they weren’t carving golden calves, when lay people weren’t usurping the offices of priest and prophet, when they weren’t setting up unauthorized altars, when they weren’t worshiping the goddess symbolized by the asherah pole, when they weren’t offering animal sacrifices to Baal or even human sacrifices to Molech, the people who were redeemed by the living God were committing the more common kind of idolatry, the kind that is also our problem today: refusing to trust in God above all things.

Many times the princes put their trust in the armies they could raise and the chariots they could equip instead of trusting in the God who fought for them.  Many times the people put their trust in princes instead of the God who is the Prince of Peace. And this is also our problem today.

Sometimes it is unreasonable, even outrageous to believe that God can deliver us from the perilous situations we find ourselves in.  But this is precisely what it means to fear, love, and trust – trust – in God above all things.  This is also called “faith.”

The widow of Zerephath had run out of food.  There had been a severe drought, and there was just nothing left to eat.  As for  her and for her son, she was down to her final measly handful of flour and last scarce drops of oil.  This was to be her last meal, and she was preparing to eat it and die with her son.  However, the prophet came to her with an outrageous suggestion: “Make me a sandwich.”  That’s not exactly what he said, but it’s close.  Imagine, this prophet of God ordering her to feed him, even as she was watching her only son whom she loved condemned to a slow and agonizing death by starvation.

But notice what Elijah the prophet tells her on behalf of the living God: “Do not fear; go and do as I have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

He tells the woman not to fear death, but to rather fear God – for no man can serve both death and God.  He bids her to trust God enough to make an immediate offering to God through his prophet, trusting God, even in this outrageous situation, even though all seems so bleak.  For indeed, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

At this point, she could have feared death instead of fearing God; she could have loved her own life and that of her son before she loved God; she could have trusted in the time she could have bought by this one final meal instead of trusting in God above all things.

But hearing this Word of God preached by the prophet, the widow has faith.  Her faith was reflected in her works.  For “she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and he and her household ate for many days.  The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.”

“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

For “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money.”

Our Lord cautions that we are not to be anxious about our life, but rather to trust in God above all things.  Because life – the life that is a gift from our Creator, the life that He has redeemed by the blood of Christ, the life that is sustained by the Holy Spirit – life is “more than food” and the body is “more than clothing.” 

Our blessed Lord calls us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  For even the birds of the air do a better job of this than we do. 

This is indeed one of the great weaknesses we Americans have.  We are a wealthy people.  We may not feel like we are, but compared to the billions of people on the planet, we live like kings.  We enjoy conveniences and technology and housing and medical care and leisure time and the choicest of food and clothing that the planet has to offer – and we are tempted to fear, love, and trust in them above all things.

For money is simply a trading device so that we can buy stuff: possessions, be they necessities or luxuries.  Money is a convenient medium of trade, but it can give us the illusion that it is what creates wealth rather than the blessings of God.  For crops grow only when God provides good weather.  Our labor thrives only when God provides good health.  Our commodities make it to market only when God provides peaceful commerce.  And this is why, dear friends, it is a custom among Christians to say “grace” that is “gratias” – thank you – by offering a table prayer before every meal.

For we cannot and dare not serve two masters.  Money is to be our servant, not our master.  Money is a creature, not our Creator.  We are to offer the first fruits of our labor, typically in the form of money, to God; we are not to sacrifice God and His worship upon the altar of work and leisure and money.  For God has given us His Word and calls us to “fear, love, and trust” in Him above all things.  This is what Christian stewardship is.  He blesses us, and we return ten percent of our blessings in gratitude.  We return a portion of our time (being here) our talent (our works) and our treasure (our money), to the God whom we fear, love, and trust above all things.  And these love offerings and thank offerings keep our church going.  They take care of those in need. They insure that the continuation of the proclamation of the prophetic Word of God in our community and around the world continues.  They invest in the future by providing now for our children and descendants yet to come.

And like the widow of Zerephath, we are called to be faithful and to trust in God’s providence for us and for our children, in good times and in bad, in feasts and in famine, in the slums of India and in the suburbs of Indiana, among the poor widows and among the blessed comfortable.

For no matter who we are, how much we have or what we lack, we are called upon to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” For indeed, “no one can serve two masters” – be they pagan gods or pounds of gold.  For we have a promise that God has made to us, to each one of us, dear brothers and sisters. He claimed us at baptism, forgiving us all of our sins, and receiving us under His chain of command, His divine organizational chart within His divine Church.  He celebrated a last meal of bread and wine with us – a Eucharistic (thanksgiving) meal that continues until He returns, until the day that the Lord returns and sends his reign – His kingly reign – upon the entire new heavens and new earth in eternity.

He assures us that we matter more to Him than the carefree sparrows.  For God did not become a sparrow, but a Man – a Man who went to the cross as the complete payment for our sins, our redemption and ransom, the One who also rose from death to defeat death once and for all, and to subdue Satan forever. Indeed, death is not to be feared, loved, or even trusted – as many in our culture of death seem to embrace it today. 

Rather embracing a culture of life – eternal life - we are to joyfully serve Him who has served us, our Master who has become our Servant.  For no one can serve two masters.

What does this mean?  It means that by His grace and love and mercy, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  Amen.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sermon: Funeral of Bonnie Schexnayder

12 June 2015

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Job 19:23-27a, Rom 8:28-39)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Merlin, (Carol), Kelli, Kris, Rachel, grandchildren, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, “Peace be with you!”

That greeting, “Peace be with you,” is not just a pious expression.  It is a powerful reminder of why we are here.  We mourn Bonnie’s passing, dear friends.  How can we not?  But that is not why we are here.  Neither are we here to celebrate Bonnie’s life.  Indeed, we do remember her with joy, as we should.  But again, dear brothers and sisters, that is not why we are here in this place at this time.

We are here, gathered as the Body of Christ, hearing His Word, because when Jesus died on Good Friday, his disciples were crushed.  But on Easter Sunday, they were filled with joy to hear of His rising again.  And the following Sunday, they saw the Lord appear physically in His resurrected body, and the first thing He said to them was, “Peace be with you!” 

Our Lord Jesus means something by this greeting.  It’s important.  It’s profound.  It’s comforting.  He means that by His peace, the warfare is over.  He means that the struggle against sin, death, and the devil are all ended.  He means that sickness and sorrow and doubt and fear and worry and pain and suffering are all finished and done away with.  

“Peace be with you!”

That peace that passes all understanding is why we are here, dear friends, here with Bonnie’s body that was baptized, that was fed with Holy Communion, that was forgiven, and that has the promise of rising again, just as our Lord Jesus Christ did!  For Jesus came to us where we are: in the flesh, in a body that feels pain, living in a world of sin, surrounded by brokenness, subject to suffering.  This is the price of our sins: Bonnie’s, yours, mine, and that of every person ever born in this world except for our Lord Himself.

For He came to save us from our sins. He died for us, so that we might live, dear friends.  He paid for all of our sins at the cross so that we might be forgiven.  He died so that death might be destroyed.  And He has given this new life to Bonnie and to all who believe and are baptized.  Bonnie lived in this truth, taught in this truth, died in this truth, and will rise again in this truth.  That is what the Lord means by: “Peace be with you!”

That is why we are here, dear friends.  We are here to declare victory over death.  For we have received His peace, even as He says to us anew: “Peace be with you!”

To the unbelieving world, death always wins.  It claims everyone.  Money and power and fame cannot abolish it.  To unbelievers, death is horrifying.  But, dear friends, there is One who has abolished it: our Lord Jesus Christ.  That is the promise He made to Bonnie; that is the blessing He gave to the disciples when He appeared to them.  And He extends the offer of that peace to every person ever born.  That is what we believe, what we confess, and what we teach, dear friends.

In her 23 years of teaching children – not only teaching them their letters and numbers and colors and how to treat one another – but also teaching children about Jesus and His cross and His empty tomb – Bonnie brought the peace of Christ, the risen, living, victorious Christ, to countless children – children who grew up and in many cases now have children of their own.  Bonnie touched the lives of people too many to be numbered, young and old – most of all, her beloved husband of 53 years.  For the peace of Jesus is also the love of Jesus.  That love is demonstrated in her ongoing love for Merlin, his ongoing love for her, and the ongoing love between Bonnie and her daughters and their families.  Love never ends.

This love, dear friends, this life of devotion, is rooted in Christ, in His gospel, in what St. Paul teaches us about His love: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  For, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing, dear friends, nothing, can separate us from God’s love in Christ.  Bonnie’s death does not separate her from Christ, nor us from Christ.  And in Christ, and in His love, we are eternally connected to Bonnie and all the saints.  Nothing can separate us!  This is what He means by, “Peace be with you!”

And what’s more, even though we have our memories of Bonnie, and in a sense she lives on through those memories and through her children and grandchildren, nevertheless, we have something even greater: we have the promise of God in His Word, “inscribed in a book” as if written with “an iron pen and lead… engraved in the Rock forever”  that we will rise in our flesh, that our bodies will be made anew: perfect, without aches and pains, without diseases and infirmities, without the effects of age, and without all of those things that we consider “normal” – including death itself – all of which come from sin.  

For as Job said in his suffering, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and “after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”  We Christians confess “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  Think of what this means, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  It means that we will hold Bonnie’s hand again, we will hear her speak, we will see her smile, we will share hugs and laughter and joy.  That is what the physical, risen Jesus means when He says: “Peace be with you.”

For Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd.  He knows His sheep, even as His sheep know His voice, the Word of Jesus, who comes to us in His Holy Word, and who calls us when it is time for Him to take us to eternity.  And listen to what He says about His beloved sheep: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Fathers hand.”

This good news, dear friends, this blessed assurance, this care of the Good Shepherd for His sheep, including Bonnie, is what our Lord means when He says: “Peace be with you!”

He is our Shepherd, and we shall want for nothing.  He makes us to lie peacefully in green pastures, beside the peaceful still waters.  He restores our souls.  He leads Bonnie, and He leads all of us who hear His Word, who receive His love as a free gift, and who believe His promises.  This is truly what our Good Shepherd means when He says: “Peace be with you!”

Peace be with you, dear friends.  Indeed, peace be with you!  Amen.

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

Monday, June 08, 2015

Restoring the Sacred!

St. John Cantius, Chicago

Here is a remarkable 30 minute, exquisitely beautiful video about restoring the sacred in Chicago's St. John Cantius Church.

In a decaying culture that celebrates death, embraces mediocrity, and revels in the perverse and ugly, this is a refreshing and inspiring respite.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Again, click here!  You will be inspired.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2015

7 June 2015

Text: Luke 16:19-31 (1 John 4:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“God is love,” says the apostle John, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world.”

So, God is love, and yet there is a day of judgment.  God is love, and yet there are Ten Commandments for us to obey.  God is love, and yet our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about hell and anguish and torment.

Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?  Why would God be judgmental?  If God is love, why would he call people “sinners” for just being who they are?

These are actually very good questions that people ask, and it cuts to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is as God’s creatures.  

And without understanding the sin that infects all of us, none of this makes sense.  We have all chosen to go our own way, to rebel against God by breaking His commandments.  This is why things are the way they are.  We live in a world of crime and violence, of sickness and sorrow and sadness, of money problems, family problems, health problems, conflicts between people and between nations.  Who, dear friends, is not disappointed with parents, with children, with bosses, and with workers – and if we’re honest: with ourselves.

God did not do this, dear friends, we did.  And if God is just, as He must surely be to be God, there has to be justice.  We all intuitively understand this.  We don’t applaud the bully; we don’t emulate the coward and the traitor; we don’t hope that a deranged person succeeds in an act of terrorism; we don’t smile when children are abused, animals are tortured, or the elderly are taken advantage of.

So we have this dilemma.  We want justice.  But we want it for others, and not ourselves.  We want to see sinners get what’s coming to them, but we want an exception for ourselves.  It is when we look at ourselves that we most seek a forgiving God, a merciful God, a God who is love.

How can God be both just and merciful?

Our Lord’s story of Lazarus and the Rich Man teaches us that God’s kingdom is not like the world.  For here we see both justice and mercy, heaven and hell, a reversal of the ways of the world, and finally, a promise of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, the ultimate act of love.

The rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen and… feasted sumptuously every day.”  Lazarus was a “poor man… covered with sores.”  Let me ask you, dear friends, whom would you rather see visiting our church: a rich, well-dressed man who knows how to put on fancy dinners, or a beggar with festering sores?  Whom would you rather see your daughter marry, a well-dressed wealthy man or a disfigured homeless person?  Which type of person would you rather be seen with in public? 

We know how the world works, what the world admires, and whom the world wishes to emulate.  And as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are guilty of being “of the world” even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

But what about the kingdom of God, dear freinds?  We learn about God’s kingdom from the rich man and Lazarus.  We learn that the rich man was indifferent to suffering.  He lacked compassion.  He lacked love.  Clearly, he lacked repentance, for by virtue of his sins and lack of forgiveness, he finds himself in hell, in torment.  By contrast, the rich man’s fellow sinner Lazarus finds himself “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”  He is not being rewarded for being poor.  He was not being rewarded for being a victim.  Rather, Lazarus receives God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and life.  

For the kingdom of God does not work like the world, which favors the wealthy, the well-dressed, and the well-connected.  Indeed, God, being love, offers something better than being wealthy in the worldly sense (offering instead treasures in heaven); He offers something better than being well-dressed by clothes that will eventually wear out (offering instead a garment of righteousness that will never fade); He offers something better than being well-connected to powerful people in this life (offering instead communion with God Almighty).  God gives all of these to Lazarus as a free gift, even though he suffered in this world, was shunned and scorned because he lacked these qualities that we poor miserable sinners love and admire.

We love the rich and powerful because, dear friends, as sinners, according to our fallen flesh, we do not know what true love is.  But God is merciful, dear brothers and sisters.  Jesus has come into the world not merely to teach us about love, but to demonstrate it to us, and most importantly of all, to love us as only he is capable of doing: dying for us to save us from our own sins, transferring them to Himself and taking them to the cross, though He is truly the only innocent Person who ever lived.  This is love, dear friends.  He offers Himself for us, dies so that we might live, suffers the punishment of suffering so that we might be comforted.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”

So what about justice?  It is fulfilled in Jesus, who takes the wrath of God for us.  And this, dear friends, is the greatest love of all: the innocent dying for the guilty.  For the Lord Jesus Christ died for both Lazarus and the rich man.  The love of God is neither excluded from a poor man with sores, nor from the wealthy who wear fine clothing and feast like kings.  

The bad news is that the rich man died in his sins.  He refused the free gift of salvation.  Like his brothers that remain on earth, the rich man was impoverished in one area: repentance.  He lacked this, and suffering the consequences of his impenitence, sought to find a way to warn his brothers to repent.

Our Lord says: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

That “someone” dear friends, is Christ.  He loves you, sores and all.  He redeems you, not because you are wealthy, but because He is merciful.  He gives you everlasting life, not because you have earned it, but rather because He has earned it, and gives it to you out of divine love.  

And the most loving thing the Lord is doing in this gospel is warning us, dear friends.  For He did rise from the dead, and He bids us to heed His warning.  Repent!  And believe!  Acknowledge your sinfulness, and then receive the gift of grace.  Turn away from the world’s evil so that you might receive the Lord’s kingdom of righteousness!  

Listen to Moses and the Prophets, for they testify of Him who is love.  Receive the Holy Supper, for it is given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  Remember your baptism, for in that sacred washing, you have been covered by the blood of Christ out of sheer love.

“God is love,” says the apostle John, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sermon: Trinity – 2015

31 May 2015

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Christian faith is very inconvenient.  We insist upon saying that our God is the only true God, and that “whoever desires to be saved” must “worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”  And whoever does not believe this faith “faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

Our Athanasian Creed has something in it to offend just about everybody.  

And in case you missed all the beheadings of Christian men, women, and children in the last few years, we’re hated around the world, and not just by Muslims.  Totalitarian states of every kind revel in violence against Christianity.  And while no-one is beheading Christians in our own country, we are being targeted as bigots, homophobes, insensitive, hypocrites, and – just as we were called in the days of the persecutions of the Roman Empire, we are today labelled as “haters.”  Our people are being fined huge amounts by extrajudicial tribunals – right here in the United States – for refusing to violate their consciences, even as supposedly conservative governors throw our religious liberties under the bus.

Dear friends, this may come as a shock to you, but we Christians are not liked in our society.  We insist on being different.  We insist on being exclusive.  We insist that Jesus be our top priority in life, and that there is no other way to be saved but through Him.  And in our society, this is heresy. 

For as the church confesses, and as Scripture testifies, Jesus is both God and Man.  The Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and neither of them is a Man.  There are three distinct persons who are clearly called “God” and “Lord” in our Holy Scriptures, even as God is not three Gods, but one God.  

Our Lord Jesus Christ even went so far as to say, “I am the… truth.”  At the Lord’s trial, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”  Our Lord answered Pilate with His silence.  Pilate was looking truth in the divine face, and allowed truth to be crucified and put to death.  Today, most people scoff at the idea that there is a single truth.

And according to our doctrine of the Trinity, Pilate allowed God to be murdered.  For in the Christian faith, God can die, because God is a Man.  And God does indeed die on the cross.  And who kills God?  Sinful men from every walk of life.  The government killed God.  Ambitious men killed God.  Ordinary soldiers killed God.  Religious people killed God.  Priests and Scribes and Pharisees killed God.  Ordinary Jews in the mob killed God.  And in fact, you killed God.  I killed God.  We all killed God, from Adam and Eve, right up to those being born at this very moment.  Our hands are stained with the blood of God, dear friends.

There is enough here to offend everyone.  And we are also offended, dear friends, because we poor, miserable sinners do not like the truth and more than the rest of the world, comprised of sinful men, does.  It is a most inconvenient truth that God is Triune, that God is Human, that God died, and that God’s creatures murdered God.  And the greatest marvel of all is that God the Son foreknew this, and even planned to take human flesh and die a sacrificial death for us.  “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!.... For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”  

The world tells us this makes no sense.  The world tells us we must repent of our foolish faith.  The world tells us to shut up and agree with them that we are self-aware blobs of cells, that we have no purpose, and that our highest good is to do what’s best for us alone.  But because we don’t submit to them, the world would like to kill us even as the world conspired to kill our God and Lord on the cross.  The world does not understand love, sacrifice, or atonement.  The world does not understand sin, or why death happens.  The world certainly doesn’t understand Jesus or the meaning of His death.

Not even Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, understood who Jesus is and why He came into the world.  But to his credit, Nicodemus did come to Jesus in order to understand.  Jesus explained to him: “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  And the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the great and glorious gospel to Nicodemus: “So must the Son of Man we lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The world should rejoice, brothers and sisters, because this Gospel is actually not exclusive, but rather inclusive of all who believe.  The Gospel calls all people to repent of their sins and believe the Good News, regardless of one’s sex or sexual desires.  The Gospel calls all people to become part of Christ’s bride, regardless of race, tribe, tongue, socio-economic status, or politics.  The Gospel affords no-one a special privilege, but offers privilege as sons of God and heirs of eternal life to all sinners who confess and are absolved, to all who call upon the name of the Lord, to all who are baptized and who believe, to all those who faithfully and firmly hold the catholic faith.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Because of who He is, we bow before our Triune God, dear friends, in humble and yet joyful worship.  And we can indeed love God because He first loved us: by creating us in the garden of Eden, by redeeming us at the cross, and by sanctifying us in our very flesh where He comes to us.  We join the prophet Isaiah in the Most Holy Place, singing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!”  And even though we are men of unclean lips, the Lord uses His servants to place a cleansing coal upon our lips, even Christ’s very body.  And indeed, our “guilt is taken away, and [our] sin atoned for!”

And, dear friends, the God who died for us men and for our salvation, also rose again, to defeat death and the grave, to conquer sin and Satan, and to deliver to us everlasting life.  This is most certainly true, most inconveniently true, most gloriously true,

The Christian faith is most inconvenient, dear friends, and thanks be to God that it is!  For the object of this faith is Christ Himself, God in the flesh, who breaks through sin, sorrow, and even the ultimate enemy death itself, to deliver unto us forgiveness, faith, salvation, and life that has no end!

For we have been baptized, dear friends, not in the name of the world, not in the name of a Unitary God, not in our own names, the name of our country, the name of our accomplishments, and not in the name of the world’s heroes and idols.  But rather, we have been baptized, set apart, redeemed, and born again of water and the Spirit in that most inconvenient name, that most glorious name…  

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon: Pentecost – 2015

24 May 2015

Text: John 14:23-31 (Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Not long after receiving a second chance after the flood, mankind blew it again.  When told to repopulate the earth and spread out, our ancestors decided to gather together, saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city yand a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves.”

Mankind had discovered “technology” – in this case, bricks.  This enabled him to build a skyscraper.  And instead of obeying God’s will to repopulate the globe, he decided to use technology and project management to glorify himself.

But the project would fail as God confused the languages.  Reluctantly, man spread out and re-peopled the planet, but at a terrible price: the confusion of languages resulted in misunderstandings, divisions, wars and walls between races of people who were in fact all sons of Noah.

In the late 1800s AD, a son of Noah named Ludwig Zamenhof, a Polish Jew, felt the effects of the curse of Babel.  His own small town had ethnic tensions, in part, because there were four languages being spoken.  This boy grew up to be an eye doctor and a linguist.  He created a new language to fix the Babel problem.  He called it “Lingvo Internacia” – The International Language.  It was intended to be a second language for everybody.  It was easy to learn, and took off rapidly.

Being Jewish, Dr. Zamenhof knew about the curse of Babel.  And though he knew about the Garden of Eden and the Fall, He did not confess Jesus nor the Holy Spirit.  But he had hope that his language would be the secret to world peace, and would undo the damage of Babel.  He published his language under a pen name: Dr. Esperanto.  “Esperanto” means, in the International Language: “one who hopes.”  The language itself became known as Esperanto.  It is still spoken around the world.

Of course, Dr. Zamenhof’s dream of a worldwide language and world peace didn’t materialize.

But, dear friends, we are not without hope.  In fact, we have a hope rooted in an ironclad promise.  The hope for mankind and for true peace is not found in one more human language, nor in fallen human words.  Rather, our hope is in the Word, the eternal Word, the Word of God, the Word made flesh: the same Word by whom all things were made; the same Word that creates us, breathes the Spirit of Life into us, redeems us from the effects of the fall into sin, cures us from death, liberates us from the devil, and gives us everlasting life – all as a free gift of love, given to us on the cross, received at the font, pulpit, and altar.

For even if Dr. Zamenhof’s dream were to be fulfilled, and the whole world learned to speak Esperanto, it would only bring us back to Babel.  It would not cure the curse of sin that came to us at the Fall.  

To be sure, understanding is a good thing.  Learning one another’s languages is a good thing.  Esperanto is a remarkable language and it is good to learn it for many reasons.  But, dear friends, our hope is not to undo the curse of Babel, but rather to be cured from the curse of sin.  Our hope is not to get on with human cooperation in order to pursue technology and make a name for ourselves, but rather our hope is to return to our state of innocence and blessedness of the Garden of Eden.

The world doesn’t need to fix a symptom, but rather to be rid of the problem.  And on the Day of Pentecost, God did more than Esperanto could ever hope to do!  For on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and bridged the gap, not with words, but with the Word, not with human hopes, but with a divine promise.  On Pentecost, the Gospel was proclaimed across languages, cultures, and peoples.  For the Church transcends all the divisions of Babel by a common hope, the hope that is eternal, sure, and given to us by grace through faith.  It is the hope of eternal healing and transformation in Christ, through the Gospel, and by means of the Holy Spirit.  We have this gift, dear friends, right here, in this place of hope and healing and peace, in the preaching of the Word, in your Holy Baptism, in the hearing of the divine words of forgiveness, and in the sharing of Holy Communion.

The languages that became our curse, have also become a blessing.  For in these human languages, the Gospel is preached.  And through words comes the Word.  And in this sense, all human languages – even Dr. Zamenhof’s “Lingvo Internacia” – actually do deliver hope.  Not in and of themselves, but in Christ through the Holy Spirit who came to the Church at Pentecost.

The Lord Jesus Christ has not left us as orphans, dear friends, ascending to the heavens to leave us as sitting ducks here in an increasingly  hostile, violent, and satanic world, but rather He has given us “another Helper, to be with [us] forever, even the Spirit of Truth.”  And according to the Lord’s word and promise: “He dwells with you and will be in you.”

For the ministry of the Holy Spirit empowers us, dear friends, for He is the “Lord and giver of life.”  “You know Him,” says our Lord, “for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  He dwells with you in faith from the moment of your baptism.  And He will indeed be with you “forever” according to the Lord’s Spirit-bound Word and promise. 

And the Work of the Spirit is so much more than undoing the curse of Babel.  Indeed, He undoes the curse of Eden.  He restores paradise by His divine means of delivering Christ to us, to the Church, the Holy Spirit’s creation.  For He “has called me by the Gospel.”  He has “enlightened me with His gifts.”  He has “sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Dear friends, “in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

Moreover, the Holy Spirit “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”  This is what happened that first Pentecost, and continues to happen in the life of every believer.

This, dear friends, is a hope that transcends human language, that reaches past Babel to Eden, that promises not just world peace, but eternal peace, divine peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  For within every Christian is an Esperanto, “one who hopes,” hoping in Him who is the Word whose Word delivers peace.  His Word is forgiveness.  His Word is love.  His Word is life.  His Word is hope, the hope of Pentecost, the hope of eternity!  Thanks be to the Word, to the Holy Spirit, and to the Father, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

En la nomon de la Patro kaj de la + Filo kaj de la Sankta Spirito.  Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) – 2015

17 May 2015

Text: John 15:26-16:4

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord makes several promises in our Gospel.  First, He promises the coming of the “Helper” – that is, the Holy Spirit.  Then He promises that the Spirit will bear witness about Him, about Jesus.  And then He promises that the disciples will bear witness about Him, about Jesus as well.

It must have been strange for the eleven apostles just after Jesus ascended, but not yet Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would come to them in the future.  It must have been confusing, a calm before the storm, not knowing what would happen, and yet having a promise from Jesus that something huge was about to happen; it must have been a strange feeling.  

Perhaps this is why so many passages from the Old Testament are about waiting on the Lord, being patient, and holding fast to the promises.  For when it comes to promises, we either believe them, and plan around them (even though they have not yet happened), or we take a more skeptical stance, and adopt a wait-and-see attitude before committing to anything.

Dear friends, in our modern life – in both our secular life and in our church life – this inability to commit is one of our greatest problems.  Young people complain bitterly and often that they would like to be married, but the people of the opposite sex in their lives will not make a commitment.

How often we start a project and not see it through to the end!  How often we join a gym or a club and then find excuses not to go!  And how easy it is to be baptized and confirmed, maybe even married in the church, or perhaps serving on a board or committee – but then fall away from church attendance, from bible class, from giving regular offerings, and eventually falling away from the Christian life itself.

Church membership is not a choice.  It is not based on feelings.  Rather it is a commitment, and it is based on promises: promises we make at our baptisms (and the baptisms of our children), and at our confirmations.  We may make additional promises if we are married in the church or if we are serving in some office.  But even more important, dear friends, is our Lord’s promises to us.  For this is what motivates us to commit to Him and to His bride: the gifts He promises us when we live in Him and He in us, through the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, through the sacraments, and through communion with God and with one another.

When we consider the Lord’s promise to us of forgiveness of all of our sins, of victory over Satan and death, and of eternal life – committing to attend Divine Service and Bible class, commitment to pray and give alms, commitment to the Christian life in all that we say and do seven days a week is not a terrible burden, but rather a response of gratitude and love.

The disciples acted based on many promises from Jesus.  They waited on the Lord.  They followed Him and confessed His name in good times and in bad times.  His Word empowered them, as Jesus told them, “to keep you from falling away.”

If you want to stay in the faith and not fall away, if you want your children to remain in the faith and not fall away, then listen to His Word, dear friends!  “I have said all these things to you,” Jesus said, dear brothers and sisters, “to keep you from falling away.”

Don’t fall away because you are bored, don’t feel like coming to church, want to spend money and time elsewhere, or because you think you know everything already.  Don’t tell me that you read your bible at home.  Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus tell you to read your bible at home.  It’s not bad to do it, of course, but not as a substitute for joining your brothers and sisters in prayer and in the Word.  He tells us to gather in His name.  He tells us to pray not to “my Father,” but to “our Father.”  He tells us to “take eat” and “take drink” and “do this in remembrance of Me.”  It is a communion, because the life of faith is lived out in community.

And, dear friends, that means service and commitment.  It does not mean showing up when you feel like it.  It does not mean putting a few bucks in the plate every now and then.  Our Lord committed Himself to go the cross for us.  Our Lord committed His Spirit to the Father.  Our Lord committed to sending the Holy Spirit to us.  Our Lord commits to us today in His Word and Sacrament.  This promise is for you and for your children!

“I have said all these things to keep you from falling away.”

Times have changed, brothers and sisters.  Once more, it costs something to be a disciple of Jesus.  “They will put you out of the synagogues,” promises our Lord.  “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”  We live in a society that does not know Jesus, does not know the Father, does not know the Scriptures, and doesn’t even know the basics of reality, such as what a man is, what a woman is, what vice is, and what virtue is.  And we Christians have once more become “Enemies of the State” and “Enemies of the People” because we hold to the Word of God.  If we want our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren to remain in this one true and saving faith, we have to remain in the faith, dear friends.  We have to commit.  The days of fair-weather Christianity are over.  We need to allow God’s Word to have its way with us.  The time is now.  And we need for our children to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives by contact with Jesus: with the Word and the Sacraments, in the worship life of the church, in committing to the support, financial and otherwise, of this parish.

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.”

Our Lord wants us in the faith because He wants us in eternity, in the new heavens and the new earth, in a renewed paradise, in our resurrected bodies, in flesh no longer held captive to sin and headed to death.  He wants us because He loves us! 

Dear friends, listen to our Lord’s promises!  Indeed, He promises us the Holy Spirit.  He promises that we will be His witnesses.  He promises us His righteousness.  He promises us His life that will have no end.  We can indeed commit to Him, dear brothers and sisters, because He is committed to us, come what may.  “I have said these things to you,” says our blessed Lord, “that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”  Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Word is mighty and merciful!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sermon: Ascension – 2015

14 May 2015

Text: Acts 1:1-11 (2 Kings 2:5-15, Mark 16:14-20)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Jesus has a lot of surprises. 

After teaching the disciples for three years about His kingdom, after performing miracles and changing the world, He submits to death on a cross.  And then, He surprises them by rising from the dead.  He surprises them by appearing to them for 40 days, continuing His ministry of teaching them.  And then, on that Thursday six weeks and four days after that first Easter, Jesus surprises the disciples again: by ascending into Heaven, at the right hand of the Father, disappearing into the sky.

But He also surprised them by a promise before He ascended on high, in a similar manner as did the prophet Elijah, blessing the disciples, like Elijah did to Elisha: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Great surprises indeed!  The world has never been the same since!

For the apostles – that is, the ones whom Jesus sent in His name, ordained under His authority, called by the Holy Spirit – preached the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, and did so as our Lord said, in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth – even as preachers are today sent far and near with this self-same good news of the cross, of redemption, and of the reality, dear friends, that your sins are forgiven, and that you have been baptized into Christ, and that you are called by the law to repent, and that you are graced with the Gospel unto the certain promise of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”!

These eleven apostles were transformed from cowering sheep into bold shepherds – because of the Spirit that animated them, and by the Gospel that motivated them.  They were empowered by the same Lord Jesus Christ who continued to appear to them under the forms of bread and wine, even as He continues to come to us bodily today in this same Holy Supper, dear friends.

Indeed, Jesus is full of surprises!

On that Thursday, our Lord went up out of their sight, but He did not abandon them.  No indeed!  He continued to teach them through the Word.  He continued to forgive them through Absolution.  He continued to comfort them in their Baptism.  He continued to forgive and fortify them in the Eucharist.  Our Lord had promised them, and us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And so He is!

But being ascended, the disciples – and that title includes us, dear brothers and sisters – could not simply sit idle and depend on our Lord to put His hand to the plow.  By ascending to the Father, the Lord has delegated the management of the kingdom to us, to the church.  He has given the pastors of the church the authority to forgive sins, to preach the Gospel, and to administer the sacraments.  And like a baby bird getting nudged out of the nest, the once-cowering disciples were to take up their crosses, spread their wings, and become courageous martyrs, witnesses of our Lord, indeed, in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.

Our Lord had told them: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

But He doesn’t just tell the church to do these things alone.  He doesn’t leave them powerless.  For He says: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Dear brothers and sisters, though we in the church appear weak – subject to tyrants and mullahs and dictators and bullies and Supreme Court justices – in Christ, we are strong.  In the Spirit, we are bold.  In the Word and Sacraments, we are redeemed and live forever.  We exorcise demons, we preach in languages that didn’t even exist when our Lord ascended, we continue to strive against the evil serpent that beguiled Eve and intimidated Adam, we handle the deadliest poison this world and its prince have to offer, and yet we live.  We preach a Gospel that forgives sins and gives immortality to the mortal.  And through it all, our Lord is still working: working through His church, working through His ministers, working through His Word, working through His sacraments.

Yes indeed, Jesus never ceases to amaze and surprise!

And yet, it seems at times like we have been abandoned.  We cannot place our fingers in the hole of the nails as did St. Thomas.  We can’t recline next to Him at table like St. John.  We cannot hear Him call out our name like St. Mary.  Nor do we see Him bodily ascend as did the Men of Galilee.  

But He does not abandon us, dear friends.  He is here with us, in body and in Word.  He is here with us even in His lifeblood, which was poured out for us, and which is given to us, to restore our life and bolster our faith.  In fact, dear friends, it is we who abandon Him in our constant sinning: when we find something to do other than to receive Him in the Sacrament at the Divine Service; when we spent time with the television or radio instead of studying His Word; when we pursue a life of entertainment in place of a life of prayer.  We must repent, dear friends!  Our Lord is calling us to a better way, and He doesn’t leave us or forsake us!  He will be here, in space and time, where we dwell, here for us in Word and Sacrament, until He returns in glory.

For Jesus is not yet done with the surprises!

The angel testified: “Man of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.”

Jesus will surprise us with His coming again “with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end.”

Hear, O brothers and sisters!  Hear the Word of the Lord, the Good News that Jesus has atoned for your sins!  Hear the good news that you have been baptized into His name!  Hear His call to repent, and His declaration of absolution!  Our blessed Lord continues to give Himself to you, in His body and blood and in His Word, unto forgiveness, life, and salvation, even as we await His coming again in glory.

Jesus continues to surprise His beloved people, with peace and forgiveness and joy and renewal and life – now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.