Sunday, November 01, 2015

Sermon: All Saints – 2015

1 November 2015

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Dear friends, the word “saint” means many things and has many contexts.  It also has many misunderstood meanings.  On this day in which we honor all of the saints of the Church, known and unknown, great and small, those who were martyred for the faith, and those who died comfortably in their beds, it is particularly fitting that we ponder what it is to be a saint.

The popular culture has it all wrong, as usual.  To them, a saint is judged solely by how nice he is, how much of a humanitarian he is, and how famous he is for his work.  To the world, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are saints.  John Lennon is a saint.  All soldiers who die in battle are saints.  Teachers  who take interest in them or idealists who wished to change the world are examples of saints as far as the world is concerned.

But this is not what is meant in the Scriptures by sainthood.

Many Christians likewise have a wrongheaded view of sainthood, thinking that a saint is a person who has lived so holy a life that he or she is admitted directly to the gates of heaven upon death because of his or her goodness. 

Others may get caught up in the bureaucratic definition of sainthood, a matter of jumping through procedural hoops, filling out the right forms, and getting the proper rubber stamps to be officially canonized by a church hierarchy.

Dear friends, when St. Paul’s addresses his letters in the Bible to the “saints,” he is not even referring to the dead, but rather to the ordinary living and far-from-perfect Christians who work hard during the week, who raise their families, and who attend the services of the Church on the Lord’s Day.

On this day, dear friends, we are honoring the saints who have gone before us, those who have passed from this life to eternity, and who now sing the praises of God for forever, taking their rest from their labors, and waiting for the day when their bodies will rise, and they will be reunited with us as well in the flesh.

But what makes a saint is not a seal from a church bureaucrat, nor is it a person’s righteous deeds.  Now, to be sure, we do emulate the great acts of the saints.  We all need heroes and role models after all.  But they didn’t get to be saints by earning the title through their sweat.  Rather they are saints because of our Lord’s blood shed on the cross and by the waters of Holy Baptism, which claimed them in the name of the Triune God to be God’s own child, given a new birth.  The saints live in their baptism, and their deeds reflect their faith that was given to them by grace.

But notice again what our Lord says: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Of course, our blessed Lord is not using the words “hunger” and “thirst” in a literal sense.  These words both have a figurative meaning, “to long ardently” for something.  For these words indicate a lack of something.  To be hungry in the literal sense goes back to the garden of Eden, after the fall, when humanity had to struggle with the soil just to eke out food to eat, food which is often denied because of draught or disease or insects or just plain uncooperative land.  To be thirsty in the literal sense also goes back to the garden of Eden after the fall, when the perfect rivers no longer brought fresh waters in abundance, as draught and polluted water supplies and the malice of enemies mean that there is no assurance of a drink of water at any given time. 

Jesus uses these powerful words that remind us of the fall, namely “to hunger” and “to thirst”, in a figurative way, meaning that we lack something that we really want, something that we desperately yearn for and seek after, as though our life depends on it – because it does!

For our Lord isn’t talking about food and water, but something far more elusive since the fall: righteousness.  To be a saint is to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness, not because we are righteous, dear brothers and sisters, but precisely because we aren’t!  We hunger and thirst for it first and foremost because we lack it, and we know it.

This perplexes the world.  How can we honor people who lack righteousness as saints?

Well, in order to hunger and thirst for it, you must desire it.  The unholy trinity of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh do not desire righteousness, but rather satisfaction.  We want to be comfortable and rich.  We want to feel good.  We want to be entertained.  We want what we want, and we want it when we want it.  As one popular song puts it: “I want it all, and I want it now.”

But, dear friends, sainthood seeks after something the world scoffs at because it is considered worthless: and that is righteousness.  To be righteous is to be freed from sin.  It is to have a new nature, one that seeks after spiritual things (treasure stored up in heaven) rather than corrupted material things (those things that rust, are eaten by moths, and are stolen).  To hunger and thirst for righteousness seeks communion with God in love, rather than that which the world admires: money, fame, power, comfort, entertainment, and control of others.  But before one can be righteous, one must recognize that one is not righteous, but desires to be. There is a desire to be changed, transformed, and made into something different.

In other words, the saints we honor today are people who understood how unsaintly they were, but wanted to be changed.  They also knew that they could not become righteous through prayer, by buying a token from the church, by good works, by being social justice warriors, or by will power.  One who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is drawn to the cross, to the preaching of the Word, to the Holy Absolution, to the body and blood of the Lord, to the transformative and life-giving power of the Word and Sacraments.

Sainthood is humility, not pride.  It is love, not ambition.  It is being blessed by Christ in spite of our mourning and meekness, and our lack.  It is rooted in mercy and purity instead of power and might.  It is to be a peacemaker instead of a warmonger. And it is to bear the cross of mockery, hatred, oppression, and perhaps even the loss of life itself for the sake of Jesus Christ and the confession of the Gospel.

For notice the promise, dear friends.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who know their lack of righteousness and yet who desire it, will be blessed.  By the blood of the Lamb, through His Word, by means of Holy Baptism, they who hunger and thirst “shall be satisfied.”  Their hunger will be ended by eating living bread from heaven.  Their thirst will be quenched by living water.  Their desire for righteousness, their acknowledgement that they are poor, miserable sinners will be replaced by the very righteousness that they seek after.

It is an alien righteousness, that is, a righteousness won for you by someone else at the cross.  That someone else is Christ.  And yes, dear friends, you are saints.  You are still feebly struggling in this fallen world, even with your own fallen flesh.  You still hunger and thirst, and struggle, and fall into sin, to be raised to life again and again by the promise of the Lamb. And when your life in this vale of tears comes to an end, those who persevere in the promise will be saved and made anew, to be received into the Church Triumphant, they who in glory shine, those who rest from their labors, who worship God, saying: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen.”

We honor these beloved saints today, our heroic brothers and sisters in Christ, and we look to their examples of faithfulness to spur us on to good works.  And yet we also know that it is Christ who lives in us, the Holy Spirit who guides and protects us, and the Father’s love for us that satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

For it is by God’s grace that you saints have gathered here in this saintly, holy place to join the saints triumphant in this very worship of the Lamb, to unite around the altar to eat and to drink His body and blood, to be satisfied with the food that cures hunger, and to drink the blood of Him that ensures that we shall never thirst again when we join that heavenly band.  For as St. John bids us: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are…. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”

For indeed, our blessed Lord has declared it unto us: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sermon: Reformation – 2015

25 October 2015

Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rev 14:6-7, Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, the world has been the very opposite of what it was created to be.  It fell from being a paradise, becoming instead a war zone.  Conflict is everywhere.  Man fell out of favor with God, men fell to other men, and even the natural world fell into becoming a bloody place of predators and prey. 

The red on our altar and in our sanctuary today is, in part, a reminder of this, because red is the color of bloodshed.  Red is the color of martyrdom.  And indeed, red is the color of the Reformation.

The Reformation was a sad and sorrowful time of violence.  The areas in Germany where the reforms were first being made in the churches became places of violence, places of conflict, places of bloodshed.

Confessors of the faith, pastors and lay people alike, were imprisoned and put to death.  Families were devastated. Books were burned.  The peasants had a bloody revolt, and the princes put it down with vicious cruelty. Governments were overthrown.  Armies clashed in the fields as the emperor tried to force Lutherans back under the pope at the point of a sword – something we today associate more with radical Islam than with the religion of the Prince of Peace.

Although today we remember the incident of Martin Luther quietly nailing an academic paper to the church door, something that was nothing more than an ordinary debate between Latin-speaking scholars at a remote university, the fallout of this event would change the world.  Dr. Luther’s paper was translated and published.  Ordinary people were reading it.  And before long, the streets would run red with the blood of people from every walk of life who believed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, and that the bishops of the church were under the authority of the Bible, and not the other way around. 

And yet, in remembrance of this monstrous time of bloodshed, our church is bedecked in the festive color of red, and we are celebrating.  To be sure, we do not celebrate cruelty or war, violence or bloodshed.  Christians are lovers of peace, even as our Lord is the Prince of Peace. But we do celebrate courage and steadfastness, faithfulness, and the witness of the testimony of the saints who loved the kingdom of God more than they loved their dear life’s-blood itself.  For at no point in history has the Church’s life in this fallen world been peaceful. Christian blood has run from our veins and dyed the earth red since the very beginning of the Church. And all of the enemies of the cross, outside the church and inside, all who have sought to muzzle the Gospel, have ended up in ruin.  But yet, as St. Peter the apostle wrote, citing Isaiah, “The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.”

The armies who defended the Lutheran territories from the pope’s armies had the letters VDMA on their flags, Latin for: “Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum: the Word of the Lord endures forever.”  For as all Christians know, all flesh is indeed like the grass.  It is like a flower.  Like all things in our broken world, everything is temporary, everything except the Word of God.  And that Word is worth dying for, and it is worth living for.  For the Word-made-flesh Himself died to give us life.  And He, Jesus, is the heart of the confession that makes people so angry and filled with hatred and rage so as to want to spill our blood.

As our Lord said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  We are a sinful people who are never happy.  We grumbled at John the Baptist for not eating and drinking.  We grumbled at Jesus for eating and drinking. We beheaded John. We crucified Jesus.  We are most certainly poor, miserable sinners for whom Christ died.

And indeed, the red in our sanctuary stands for the blood of the saints and martyrs, but also for the blood of the One whose blood sets us free from death itself: the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blood of Him who saved us.

For our Lord’s blood ran from His veins at the cross, and His blood covered the whole world’s sins. This is the confession of our forbears who would at some point be called “Lutherans” by their attackers.  Being saved from sin, death, and the devil is free – it is a gift.  You don’t need a pope to interpret or even mangle the words of the Bible.  You don’t need to buy an indulgence or attempt to earn your way into the kingdom of heaven.  For the kingdom of heaven suffers violence whenever the work of our Lord on the cross is minimized or obscured by false doctrine or by false prophets.

It took Dr. Luther and the so-called Lutherans to remind the world what the Word of God actually says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

Dear friends, this is not some kind of “Lutheran” doctrine, it is the Christian faith in a nutshell.  It is the Word of the Lord, and it endures forever. It is the Gospel testified to by the blood of every holy martyr, including the holy confessors of the Reformation.

For just as the grass withers and the flower fades, and just as all flesh is grass, everything in this fallen world is temporary, dear brothers and sisters.  The things we love and hold so dear are all temporary: our homes, our country, our vehicles, our friendships, our hobbies, our heirlooms, our treasures – all of it.

Bloodshed is also temporary and will cease, as swords will be beaten into plowshares.  Conflict is temporary and will cease, as the lion will lie down with the lamb.  Sin, death, and the devil are temporary and will cease, as the Lord Jesus Christ defeated all three by His own death upon the cross, and promises to cast them all into the lake of fire. 

And that victory, the victory of the cross, belongs to you, dear friends, to each one of you who have been baptized and who believe this Gospel.  That victory is a free gift. For the word “Gospel” simply means “good news.”  The war has been won.  The enemy has been defeated.  Our own sinful flesh that is in rebellion has been recreated anew by the flesh and blood of the Savior. And He speaks to us today in His Word that endures forever, and His flesh becomes your flesh through eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper: His very body and blood given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and eternal communion with the Triune God, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.

And so, yes, dear friends, we are so bold as to celebrate, even festively decorating our church in the red of the blood of our fallen brothers and sisters.  For that blood is also Christ’s blood, spilled for our behalf and given to us in a saving communion with the One who created a perfect conflict-free world in the beginning, and who has saved us by that same blood at the cross, paying for something that we could never earn or afford, and sharing it with us free of charge right here in this sanctuary. 

And He promises us an even greater Reformation: the reforming of heaven and earth, one that will endure forever.  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 21 – 2015

11 October 2015

Text: John 4:46-54 (Gen 1:1-2:3, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created…”

Once more, dear brothers and sisters, we have heard the account of our origin, of the world’s origin, of the universe’s origin, from the very Word of God itself, from the Word Himself.  For there was a beginning, and there was a creation.  There is a Creator, and there are creatures.  God created time and matter and energy from nothing, and the will of God created the laws of the universe, by which all things move and have their being.  Our existence is purposeful, meaningful, and holy.

The Creator, moreover, is no mad scientist, no tinkerer.  He is a Father.  He loves His creation, even to the point of granting us freedom: freedom to love Him or reject Him.  He created matter and energy and time, and set them into motion according to the laws of nature.  But He gave us minds by which we can act with a will of our own.  We are free to love God, and we are free to reject our Creator, even to the point of self-destruction.

Dear friends, we all know what happened with our first parents in that “very good” creation, that perfect creation.  We invited disharmony and discord.  We invited disease and disfigurement.  We invited death and damnation.

And with that He was wounded with the cruelest blow of all, with betrayal and unrequited love, with treason and treachery. And yet, nevertheless, He loves us.

The world hears this and laughs, mocks, rages, and hates.  The world patronizingly pats us on the head as though we believe in genies in lamps and leprechauns in the woods, but it rages against us with raw hatred and maliciously seeks to cut off our heads.  Our brothers and sisters are, at this very moment across the world that God created, suffering in lonely cold prison cells, being tortured, being beheaded, and worse.  Even here in a liberal, free, civilized society, Christians are jailed for conscientious objection to rulings that defy the laws of nature and the laws of the people.  Christians are subjected to brutal and cruel fines from unelected commissioners who have admitted that they are motivated by hatred.  Christians are gunned down methodically in schools.  All the while, those who hate us mock us and assure us that we are not being persecuted.

Tell that to confessors Pastor Saied Abedini and Mrs. Asia Bibi – for whom we have been praying for years.  Tell that to confessors Aaron and Melissa Klein.  Tell that to the nine martyred students at Umpqua Community College who were shot after confessing their Christian faith.

The betrayal that we feel at the hands of our fellow men, whom we love and for whom we pray, is a small taste of the cross of our Lord, whom we betray by our sins, whom we deny when it is inconvenient to confess, whom we ignore when we look for other gods to serve.

And yet, dear friends, in spite of our sins, in spite of our betrayals, in spite of our persecution of Jesus Himself, He endures the shame of the cross; He suffers death; He permits His dead body to be sown into the earth like a seed.  And that seed, the Seed of the Woman, blasted through the shell of the tomb, like a plant-yielding seed, that is for us, the very Tree of Life.  He rises from the death we deserve, even as He shed the blood we ought to have shed.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the meaning of the miracle of the healing of the son of the official of Capernaum.  For officials understand the power of the word. One little word with the seal of an important enough official can give life to a condemned prisoner, or send an innocent man to his own execution.  But this official at Capernaum knew that all the signatures and seals and fancy parchments in the world were powerless to save a dying son.

This official goes to where true power resides and is wielded, to the One who has more than a fancy letterhead or luxurious robes of royalty.  This official of Capernaum has true faith, for he knows that he is powerless in the face of death, but knows One who is to defeat death and the grave: Jesus.  This man prays.  He asks the Christ: “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  And the man “believed the Word.”

For Jesus is the Word.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “In the beginning God created...”  “And God said, ‘Let there be… and there was…’”

Our Lord Jesus is not a creature, but the Creator. He is not the word that is spoken, but the Word that speaks.

He came to set the tottering creation right.  He came to heal the broken universe.  He came to restore harmony: peace between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.  He came to love us even though we are unlovable.  He does not betray us, though we betray Him.  He comes to hold out the olive branch from the nail-pierced hand of God Himself, so that we might find not just requited love, but unconditional and eternal love.

“Go; your son will live” – even as the Son of God likewise lives, though He was crucified.  

Jesus has come to give His life as a ransom for the world.  Nobody is excluded from the Father’s grace. Though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” He “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And yet, even then, most people opt out of the gift.

Many find the creation account repulsive.  Many refuse to believe in objective truth as we Christians confess. Many simply hate us because they hate Christ – and as Jesus asks, can a disciple be above his teacher?  If they crucified Christ, how can we expect to be treated by the world?

How has the world treated the confessors Pastor Saied Abedini and Mrs. Asia Bibi?  How has the world treated the confessors Aaron and Melissa Klein?  How has the world treated the nine martyred students at Umpqua Community College who were shot after confessing their Christian faith?

Dear friends, it is not an easy thing to be a Christian.  St. Paul encourages us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  For our fight is a spiritual fight.  Behind the madmen with bullets and fanatics with swords and malicious bureaucrats with power to levy fines are “spiritual forces of evil.”  We must look past our comfortable modern American lifestyle to see, with the eyes of faith, the pitched battle being waged in the world that we confess in the creed that is “invisible.”

Gird yourself with truth, dear friends.  Never give in to the lie.  Wear the breastplate of righteousness, never fight this battle in an unrighteous way.  Shoe your feet by means of the readiness of the Gospel, a Gospel of peace, and never forget that we are the people of peace and the people of good news.  Don’t neglect to shield yourself, dear friends, not with anything in this material world, but with faith, faith in Christ, the faith of the official of Capernaum and his household who believed.  Wear as a crown for your head the salvation given to you as a gift, and avoid the temptation to be crowned with the worldly honor of this crooked generation.  And do not forget, dear friends, your one offensive weapon in this spiritual warfare, your sword, the sword of the Spirit, the very Word of God.

We know what that Word is, what that Word says, and most importantly of all, who that Word is.  He is the Word who created us, the Word who redeems us, the Word who declares us righteous, the Word who loves us, heals us, saves us, and recreates the universe anew.  

“In the beginning was the Word…” Amen.

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

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: 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.

Sunday, September 20, 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.

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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 13 – 2015

30 August 2015

Text: Luke 10:23-37 (2 Chron 28:8-15, Gal 3:15-22)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, once more we hear one of the most famous and best-loved passages from Scripture: the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

And there is a real danger in being so familiar with the text.  It sometimes gives us the illusion that we have mastered the Word rather than allowing the Word to master us.  Jesus is not merely imparting knowledge here, but He is rather raising us from the dead by means of His Word.  The Gospel is a jolt of life in the midst of a dying world and decaying flesh. 

Allow this magnificent Word of God to come to you anew, even as the Lord Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, comes to us again and again, week in and week out, in His Word and Sacrament.  He comes to us to make our dead flesh walk by the forgiveness of sins, and to empower us to carry out the good works He has given us to do by the Holy Spirit, not so that we can justify ourselves and have salvation, but rather because He has justified us and has given us the free gift of salvation.

Listen, dear friends, listen and live!  Hear these Words as the very elixir of life!

For Jesus tells us: “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  We are fortunate beyond measure, dear friends, living in the age of the Kingdom of God, partaking of His body and blood, and being freely redeemed by His most powerful Word.  Of all peoples in history, we are the most blessed, dear brothers and sisters.

But in spite of this, we in our sinful flesh, seek to justify ourselves like the lawyer that sought to put our Lord to the test.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” we are tempted to ask, as though we can do something to earn salvation.  We want our works to merit redemption, as if we have something in ourselves to make Jesus stand up and take notice.

Yes, He takes notice, all right.  He notices our unwillingness to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind.  He notices our refusal to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Instead, we love ourselves.  We serve ourselves.  We enrich ourselves.  We entertain ourselves.  We worship ourselves.  And yes, we try to justify ourselves. 

In other words, Jesus notices us as we are: fallen among the devils, stripped and beaten by our sinful flesh, and abandoned by the world.  Jesus notices us lying in this fallen world half-dead.  For the wages of sin is death.  He sees our life flowing out of us, as the goodness in which we human beings were originally created, ebbs out of us, leaving us ever closer to death and decay and damnation.

And all we have to do is to be perfect: “Do this, and you will live.”  So, how is that working for you?

Jesus notices us, dear friends.  But He doesn’t notice us with contempt, like the priest, who passed by on the other side.  He doesn’t notice us with indifference, like the Levite, who passed by on the other side.  He doesn’t look down upon us with the hypocrisy of the self-righteous or with the mercilessness of the Law.  Rather Jesus notices us as the Samaritan notices us, coming us to where we are.  He sees us and has compassion.

Jesus is the One who was wounded for our transgressions, and so He binds up our wounds.  Jesus is the One who is anointed with oil, the Messiah, the Christ, and so He pours oil upon us to heal us.  Jesus is the One whose saving blood is given to us as Holy Wine in a chalice, the New Testament in His blood, for the forgiveness of sins.

And though we have ruined the harmony between man and beast, the Lord places us upon His own animal; though there was no room for Him to be born in the inn, the Lord brings us to the inn of the church, where we find rest for our souls; though we did not take care of Him in His time of need, abandoned by His disciples whose flesh was weak – even as we continue to abandon Him in our sins – nevertheless, He takes care of us through Word and Sacrament, sparing no expense to deliver to us true health and eternal wholeness through the Gospel.

Yes, indeed, dear friends, Jesus notices us, and He loves us.  He notices us, and He forgives us.  He notices us, and He gives us eternal life as a free and full gift.  And He is the despised Samaritan: stricken, smitten, afflicted, condemned, crucified, and placed into a tomb.  He has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows, and was pierced for our transgressions. 

And with His wounds we are healed! 

For our Lord is a true and faithful priest, not passing by on the other side, but offering the sacrifice of Himself for us and for our justification.  Our Lord is also a true and faithful Levite, not passing by on the other side, but caring for that which is holy, the temples of the Holy Spirit that is our own redeemed fleshly bodies, showing us mercy as only the Son of God can do.  For Jesus is not only God, but He is also our neighbor.  He has mercy.  He binds up our wounds.  And even as He rose victorious from the dead, He promises triumphantly to come back.

“You go, and do likewise,” says our Good Samaritan.  Not because in doing good works we can “justify ourselves,” for we cannot.  But rather because we have been justified, we are now free to love our neighbors by showing them the mercy shown to us. 

For when we show mercy to our neighbors, the Lord works His mercy through us.  We have been freed from the notion that we can justify ourselves, freed from the selfishness that would see us pass by on the other side.  We have been freed to receive the free gift of justification, forgiveness, and everlasting life from our Good Samaritan, whose mercies are new every morning, whose mercy endures forever, who shows us mercy at the cross, who delivers that mercy to us at the font, pulpit, and altar, who declares that mercy again and again in the Word of the Gospel.

Dear friends, Blessed indeed are the eyes that see what we see!  For Jesus tells us yet again that many prophets and kings desired to see what we see, and did not see it, and to hear what we hear, and did not hear it.

Hear His Word!  Live in His mercy!  Receive His body and blood!  And when the Lord returns as He has promised, get up out of your grave and live forever!  For He has shown you mercy, now and forever.  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.