Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 17 - 2018

23 September 2018

Text: Luke 14:1-11 (Prov 25:6-14, Eph 4:1-6)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Everything has a place in the pecking order.  We see it in nature.  We see it among animals.  We see it in human beings across time and cultures.  God designed the universe to be orderly.  And so it is.

The writer of the Proverbs acknowledges that for the sake of worldly wisdom, in the realm of kings and politics, there is an advantage to being humble.  For if you humble yourself before the king, the king will exalt you.  And that is far better than the humiliation of being “put lower in the presence of a noble.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ noticed how few people follow the advice of His ancestor, King Solomon, as He observed banquet attendees scurrying about to get the “places of honor.”  For this is a risky business.  What if you think more highly of yourself than you ought, or what if an unexpected dignitary shows up, and “he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.’”

Of course, our Lord isn’t instructing on etiquette here, or even coaching people in how to secure political advantage.  For this is a parable, a story, a teaching not about this world, but about the kingdom of God.

For as great as Solomon was, there is one greater than He who is here with us, who invites us to the eternal banquet, at whose table we gather on this day, and even forevermore.  

For even as God created an orderly universe, and even as He calls us to various vocations in our lives – some with greater honor than others – your exalted position, be it king or general or leader of your family; be it manager, parent, or the smartest kid in the class; be it one who can sing, or build things, or win a race; be it pastor, board member, or one who attends services regularly – whatever reasons based on merit or vocation that cause you to be worthy of the “places of honor” in the world, those reasons do not make us worthy of honor at the table of the Lord.  

We said it all together just a few minutes ago.  We confessed together, but spoke as individuals: “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities.”  We confessed not that we deserve a “place of honor” at the banquet, but rather that “I… justly deserve [God’s] temporal and eternal punishment.”  I do not even deserve the worst seat in the house, and neither do any of you.  We deserve expulsion and death and hell.  And so how dare we presume to put ourselves “forward in the king’s presence”?

And yet, dear friends, we have been invited.  It would be an insult to the King to spurn the invitation and stay home.  Our dilemma is that we are unworthy, and yet are bidden, even ordered, to be here at the “wedding feast,” at the banquet over which one who is greater than Solomon presides.

And this is why we have the Law, dear friends.  This is why we meditate with horror upon our sins.  This is why we recite and pray the Ten Commandments as part of our Small Catechism.  For what does this mean that I do not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things”?  It means that I am unworthy to sit in the presence of the Lord, to have a place at His table in His house among His angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  And like the “son or the ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day,” our Lord Himself, who rested on the Sabbath in the beginning, and who rested on the Sabbath after His crucifixion, comes to us on this Lord’s Day to immediately pull us out.  

For we do not come to this banquet scurrying for places of honor to be counted worthy by our fellow guests and by our Host.  Rather we are drawn here out of the pit by the very wounded hand of Christ.  We are gathered by the Holy Spirit and made worthy to stand before the Father, not by our merit, but by His worthiness, His atonement, His grace.  

And so we approach the table humbly, kneeling if we are able, to be fed, even served, by our King: the bread of heaven and the most precious wine on the planet: His very body and blood.  As we kneel in humility before our King, He declares us worthy before all, before friend and foe, before men and angels, before the devil and before the Father.  We are forgiven and fed and bidden to take a place of the highest honor, as our Host says to us: “Friend, move up higher.”

We rise from our knees in gratitude, and we take our place with the King, we are brought from the lowest place to the highest place, even exalted by the One who is most exalted.  And we are not put in the presence of a mere noble, nor merely rewarded in the fickle world of politics – but rather we are given everlasting life by the King of kings and Lord of lords.  

For the kingdom is not an aristocracy or meritocracy like the world.  It doesn’t matter who your ancestors are or how well you compete.  For there is none righteous, no, not one.  And over and against the objection of the lady TV preacher who abandoned the true church in exchange for celebrity, wealth, and fame, we confess that we are indeed poor; we are indeed miserable; and we are indeed sinners – even as we are forgiven by the blood of the Crucified One, in whom our riches, happiness, and righteousness are truly found.

So we do well be on guard against spiritual pride, dear friends, by comparing ourselves to others, like the Pharisees, and for pretending that our parsing phrases in the Law makes us worthy of ourselves to stand before God, like the lawyers who were invited with Jesus to the “house of a ruler.”  We do well to keep that sense of realism that leads to humility, and to avoid all self-serving pretense.  And then the Lord will raise us up.

Don’t put your trust in your delusions of grandeur, or in that old trick of saying, “Well, I’m a pretty good person.  I’ve never murdered anyone.”  For that’s what we do.  We set the bar where we can easily get over it.  The problem is, God sets the bar, not us.  And not one of us can clear that bar. 

St. Paul knew a thing or two about being humbled, even as a “prisoner of the Lord,” being treated like a common criminal in chains for the sake of His confession of Christ.  He gives us similar advice as that of our Lord: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” says the apostle, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”  And he points out the essence of this calling.  It is not our worthiness, our skill, our works, or our righteousness.  Rather, the “hope that belongs to your call” is centered somewhere other than on yourself: rather, in that “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

And so, dear friends, we kneel, we confess, we receive absolution.  We hear His Word.  We come to receive His body and blood.  And we hear Him say yet again, “Friend, move up higher.” 

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 16 - 2018

16 September 2018

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Why are you a Christian?  

Father Duddleswell, the lovable character from the BBC TV show: “Bless Me, Father” once quipped, “‘Why’ is an ugly Protestant word.”  I’m inclined to agree with him if the “why?” is directed at God.  For unless God reveals something to us, it must remain a mystery.  But we do well to ask “Why?” when it comes to ourselves.

So, dear brothers and sisters, why are you Christians?  Why are you here today?  Why do you belong to this, or some other church?  

If the answer is because we’re trying to please our parents or honor our ethnic heritage, or because we like the parishioners or we like the pastor, or we like the music, or we want to learn how to become better people, or we want to train our children to be virtuous, or it just seems like the right social thing to do in our community – those are all wrong answers.

The key to why we are here and why we are Christians is in our Gospel reading.  We are dying.  We are surrounded by death.  We are stalked by death.  Our life on this side of the grave will end.  We are all suffering from a terminal disease, and we are immersed in it, like fish swimming around in the sea.  

In our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has broken into our dying world, stumbles upon, of all things, a funeral.  And tragically, the dead man’s mother has outlived him.  He was her only son.  Moreover, she is a widow.  She has outlived her husband.  Death is everywhere.  The entire town, it seems, is mourning.  

This is why we are here, dear friends.

For we all confessed together that we are “poor, miserable sinners.”  We know from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans that “the wages of sin is death.”  We know what happened in the Garden of Eden.  We call it to mind each Ash Wednesday, “Remember, O man….”  And we are reminded of our own mortality every time we go to a funeral – like the funeral that Jesus attended at Nain.

For what happens at this funeral is also why Jesus is here, dear friends.  He came into our sinful world to exchange our sin for His righteousness.  He came to our dying world to die in our place, so that we might live.  He came to shed His blood in order to share His blood with us.  He came to receive what we deserve, and give us what we don’t.  

In short, Jesus came to raise us from the dead!

And in light of this, how silly are all other reasons people may give for being Christians and for coming to church.  We are Christians, dear friends, because we have been received by Christ through baptism.  We have been cleansed and born again, born that the old, sinful, mortal Adam may die, and in his place, a new man might arise.  Not merely a “better” or “nicer”  person” but rather an immortal and transformed person, who bears the unblemished image and likeness of God, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has compassion on us in our mortal state.

For what does our Lord do concerning this widow whose only son had died?  First, he has “compassion on her.”  He invites her to cease her weeping.  For he is taking away the cause of her mourning.  He stops the funeral, literally.  He halts the pallbearers.  He interrupts the usual march to the grave.  He disrupts this unnatural order of death that we are so warped as to believe is normal and natural.  Jesus touches the coffin, which is itself an unnatural use of wood.  And then the most natural thing in the world happens: in response to the touch and the command of Jesus, who says, “I say to you, arise,” the “dead man sat up and began to speak.”  For that is what death does in the presence of Christ: it ceases to exist, being crowded out by life upon the will and Word of God in the flesh.  And what else can we do but testify and confess what the Lord has done for us?

This is why we are here, dear friends.  For death cannot abide the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose own death destroyed death, and whose resurrection points the way to our own resurrection.  Jesus will, in due time, likewise touch our lifeless bodies and command them to arise.  For he conquered death while himself died on another unnatural use of wood: the cross.  

The people who witnessed this most wondrous and glorious and joyful miracle announced “God has visited His people.”  And this visitation is no social call.  Rather it is the coming of the Lord to conquer death, and to offer eternal forgiveness, life, and salvation to all.  And by grace, we receive this glorious gift through faith, that is, by believing in His promise, by trusting in His name, by receiving His compassion and mercy, and by being raised from the dead to die no more.

This is indeed why we are here!  And this is why Jesus is here!  He came as the only son of a mother who seems to have become a widow herself.  

Jesus has come into the world to abolish widowhood and to end the suffering caused by the death of loved ones.  For Jesus destroys the underlying cause of death: sin.  He has come not to condemn, but to save.

Jesus has come to restore the perfection of the Garden of Eden, where mothers were never to bury their sons, and where children were never to bury their parents, where wood was never to be fashioned into a cross or a coffin, and where nobody would even know what a funeral is.

Jesus comes to say, “I say to you, arise,” even as He Himself rose from the grave, and was reunited to His mother and to all whom He has come to save.  

And this is what it means that God has visited His people.  It is why He is here, dear friends.  And is why we are here, dear brothers and sisters.  

Remember these words of Jesus, for you will hear them at your own glorious resurrection: “I say to you, arise.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 15 - 2018

9 September 2018

Text: Matt 6:24-34 (Gal 5:25-6:10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Christian life, like old age, is not for sissies.  

The Christian life is difficult.  As the great Lutheran theologian Blessed Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945) famously put it: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  For indeed, we Christians are to take up our crosses and follow Him.  Salvation costs us nothing, but it cost the Son of God His life.  And the cost of following Jesus is that He becomes the center of our lives.  Hence, Pastor Bonhoeffer’s words.

But the reality is that most of us will not die as martyrs at the hand of a monstrous government.  God willing, anyway.  Most of us will not be called to confess Christ in the face of the loss of our freedoms and our lives.  But the Christian life is still difficult, dear friends.

Of course, it is difficult to fight our sinful nature and uphold the Ten Commandments.  We fail miserably.  We confess, repent, receive forgiveness and mercy, and we fail again.  But there is something even more difficult for us Christians, and that is what our Lord preaches as recorded by St. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount that we got to hear a bit of once more this morning.  Jesus tells us “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”

This is perhaps, for us, the hardest part of the Christian faith.  Why do we worry?  We worry because we are not in control.  At any moment, a hurricane or tornado or fire can take everything from us.  Without warning, cancer or a heart attack or a stroke can result in death or disability, for ourselves or our loved ones.  Accidents happen out of the blue.  Stock markets crash, skyscrapers collapse, wars are declared – and we cannot control any of this.  We worry for our children and grandchildren as western civilization seems headed for the ash heap.

And of course, there is also money.  We need money to live.  Without money, we would starve, or wander about homeless.  We rely on many things to survive financially, and again, many of them are beyond our control.  At any moment, any of us could become destitute. 

But in the face of these very rational concerns, what does Jesus say?  “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

The same Lord who created the birds created you, dear brother, dear sister, and He continues to care for them and you.  This is why He bids you not to worry.  He is in charge.  He has it under control.  Our job is to be faithful, to discern His will, and carry it out to the best of our abilities.  We are not to make an idol out of money, for “No one can serve two masters,” says our Lord, “You cannot serve God and money.”  Money is not evil.  Money is a tool for us and for the Kingdom.  But we are not to serve money as a master, but rather money is to serve us as its master, even as we are to serve our Lord and Master, who has bidden us not to worry.

For what good can it do anyway?  “And which of you,” asks Jesus, “by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  

Jesus points out that our heavenly Father has it all under control.  And again, He points to creation itself: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

We look around, dear friends, and we see the Lord’s providence all around us.  We see His grace and mercy in our lives and in our world.  Think of what we deserve, and then think of what we have!  Think of what might have been, and then think of what is.  God, in His wisdom and love and providence, has not only created you and brought you to life, He has sustained you to where you are right now.  For where are you?  You are in the very presence of the Lord.  Each one of us has more access to Him than did even the High Priest of Israel.  For we have been baptized and set apart as Holy to the Lord, cleansed by water and the Word, according to Christ’s command and promise.  You have been baptized, dear friends, and you have been called.  You have been given the Word of God, and what’s more, in this beautiful historic church building that has weathered so many storms, both literally and figuratively.  You have been invited to the communion rail to partake of the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, in a union of physical nearness with Christ Jesus as close and as miraculous as His physical, incarnate presence with the apostles.  

Jesus indeed bids you to die, to lay down your life to take up your cross, and to do so triumphantly as a Christian, as one whose sins have been exchanged for Christ’s righteousness.  You are here, dear friends, here to hear anew the preaching of Jesus, His very words recorded and preserved for us by the work of the Holy Spirit.  You are not just a bird of the air, but you are a child of God, you are one for whom Christ died to give you everything – not just a few bucks, but rather all the riches of His kingdom, all by grace – and all by faith.

And having that faith is indeed hard, dear friends.  It means letting go.  It means letting God be God, and not trying to control every aspect of our lives, the lives of our families, the lives of our fellow parishioners, the lives of our co-workers, and the lives of people who seem to pull the stings of our world.  For in the final analysis, God is the one who is in control – not us, and not those who claim lordship over us.  For all men must bow before Christ, whether joyfully, or fearfully, whether in loving obedience to His will, or in terror of His judgment.

You, dear friends, are here not for judgment, but for grace.  And so let us embrace the words of our Lord and take them to heart.  Let us joyfully die to ourselves so that a new and better self may emerge from the death of the Old Adam, drowned in the font, and arisen with our Lord Jesus Christ in the resurrection.

The Christian life is not for sissies, but for sinners who have heard the Word of God, who are given the grace to receive what Christ has won for us at the cross, and the faith to receive Him without serving idols, like money, or worrying about things that He has under control.  Instead of worrying about ourselves like the Gentiles, let us praise Him and put all things in His nail-scarred hands, hands that receive you as you “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” knowing that “all these things will be added to you.”  This is how Christians can live the Christian life as St. Paul encourages us: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 14 - 2018

2 September 2018

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

At his inauguration in 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  In a sense, he was calling on Americans to seek to serve rather than to seek to be served.  Implied in this quote is a sense of gratitude.  We ought to be grateful for what has been handed down to us, and out of gratitude, we ought to be willing to serve rather than demand that others serve us.

It seems that fewer and fewer people think in this way, as so many seem to want to take, and so few wish to give.  We have sadly become a nation of ungrateful people.

This is a manifestation of our fallen nature.  We are self-centered and thus lacking in gratitude.  We want others to bend to our will.  We get angry if we don’t get what we want when we want it, and exactly how we want it.  We have become a spoiled people that can break out into a fistfight with a fast food worker if our burger isn’t exactly as we want it.

We are a culture that sees service as beneath our dignity.  And indeed, the word “service” is based on the Latin word for “slave.”  And slavery is something we detest – especially we Americans whose country was founded on liberty.  In our culture, serving others, even if voluntarily as a free person, is seen as demeaning.

Our Lord Jesus Christ says of Himself that He came not to be served, but to serve.  St. Paul teaches us that Jesus came in the form of a slave in order to save us.  He did this out of love.  Jesus was not above scrubbing the dirty feet of His beloved students.  Jesus serves us His flesh and blood at the cross, serving up His life as a ransom.  And He continues to serve us in the Lord’s Supper, feeding us with His own body and blood in the holy meal of the Eucharist, which is Greek for “thanksgiving.”  

And for all of this, perhaps we ought not ask what Christ’s church can do for us, but rather, what can we do for Christ’s church.  And the greatest patron saint of this kind of gratitude is our unnamed healed leper in the Gospel reading.

Our Lord healed ten men of the dreaded disease called “leprosy” – known today as Hansen’s Disease.  In our day, it is rare, and curable.  But in the first century, it was a slow death sentence that was contagious.  If you caught it, you were forced out of the community, from your home, away from loved ones.  You became an outcast for fear of spreading the infection.  The disease was painful and disfiguring and fatal. 

Jesus was traveling in a village between Samaria and Galilee.  Ten lepers “stood at a distance” and cried out to Him, praying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  They were desperate and sought a cure.  Jesus promptly sent them on their way to be declared clean by the priests, according to the Law of Moses.  While on their way, “they were cleansed.”  This means that they were cured of this horrific disease that normally left people without hope.  

After this great miracle, this new lease on life, nine of the men went their way and never came back.  But, “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”  And to top it all off, this man was not of the chosen people, for he was a Samaritan.

While the other nine had gone on their way, not bothering to come back out of gratitude, this Tenth Leper (who was not a leper any longer) returned to give thanks and praise and to worship Jesus.  

There were many other things he could have been doing with his new life.  He could now walk into a restaurant or a public festival.  He could visit his family or share a meal at home with friends.  He could travel without being ostracized.  He could sleep in his own bed without pain.  But before doing anything else, this Samaritan came back to give thanks and praise to God, to publicly thank him for giving him the priceless gift of life.

And Jesus contrasts this man’s gratitude with the others’ attitude of taking Jesus for granted: “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Our Lord looks upon this man’s actions as a confirmation of this man’s faith.  For we receive the gifts of life and salvation by grace, through faith.  Jesus saw the evidence of this man’s faith in his deeds of gratitude.  His actions don’t make him well, but the faith that led to his grateful actions certainly do, even as our blessed Lord tells him: “Rise and go your way.  Your faith has made you well.”

But what do the nine say instead?  We don’t know, as Scripture is silent.  But what people whom Jesus has healed often say is that they don’t see the need to come to where Jesus is.  They already know this stuff.  They’re already baptized.  The church is filled with hypocrites.  The pastor is a jerk.  Well, sometimes they might be right about that.  

But more often than not, dear friends, our problem is that we lack gratitude.  For when we are sick or in trouble or in danger, we pray, we plead with God, we may even bargain and think of a list of things we’ll do if God will just help us out of this jam.

But when we have been healed, we, like the nine, go about our merry way and think about other things, rather than coming to Jesus and praising Him.

The good news is this, dear friends, Jesus cures us not only of things like leprosy, but also of ingratitude, of misplaced priorities, of asking what others will do for us rather than acknowledging gratefully what others have done for us – especially Jesus, who has done more for us that anyone else, including our parents, our spouses, our children, our best friends, our teachers, and those who have defended our liberties in times of peril.  For Jesus has cured us of the leprosy of death and hell.  He has given us a new lease on life.  He has redeemed us.  He has saved us.  He has sent us forth healed.

The Christian life is not about trying to be holy, dear friends.  The Christian life is a response of gratefulness to our Lord for making us holy by His blood, through His passion and death, and in the certainty of the resurrection: His, and ours.  And in gratitude, we come to Jesus, we fall on our faces at His feet.  We continue in the prayer, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  We praise Him with a loud voice.  And we ask Him in prayer as well what we can do for Him and for our neighbors.  We thank Him in service, whatever that service looks like for us.  We thank Him in the Divine Service, for indeed “it is our duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.”

In our gratitude, we ask what we can do for our Lord and His church.  Our Lord looks upon His grateful little flock, those who have been delivered from the leprosy of sin, and He says yet again: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.  Amen.

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

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The Economics of Death

One of my colleagues in the ministerium of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the Rev. Graham Glover, wrote an anti-abortion piece in a blog called The Jagged Word.  Our church body opposes abortion and is active in the pro-life movement.

Interestingly, Pastor Glover looks at the issue not from the moral, cultural, or ethical aspect, but rather from the political viewpoint of "policies and laws."  He goes on to express ambivalence toward the political issue of Supreme Court justices, even a bit of skepticism, while also expressing the possibility that Supreme Court appointments might help.

The real answer, the author opines, is politics of a different stripe: "policies and laws that end, or at least seek to radically reduce, poverty."

His well-intentioned argument is that abortion is not at its root an ethical or philosophical issue, but rather one of economics, and that as such, it is actually rooted and grounded in poverty.  Poverty is the keystone.  If we can "end" it or "radically reduce" it, that would in fact "end" the "hundreds of thousands of abortions that occur every year in America."

Of course, poverty is not something that can be cured with enough research, the right policy prescription, technology, or even the milk of human kindness.  Poverty is caused by scarcity: demand exceeding supply, which, according to Christian anthropology, is a consequence and curse of the Fall.  Poverty will always be with us in this age, if we are to believe Jesus.  This is not to say that we should not seek out behaviors which bring relief to our fellow man.  Quite the opposite!  That is what charity and alms-giving are all about.  Though we cannot cure poverty in the abstract, though we cannot overcome the Fall by our own prowess, though we cannot scientifically make supply exceed demand - we can love our neighbor in need.

Pastor Glover, however, proposes that the road to the ending or the radical reduction of poverty lies in Socialism.  Interestingly, he begins his argument by an appeal that we "imagine."

Pastor Glover writes: "[I]magine a nation that insures every one of its citizens from conception to death."  Has socialized medicine resulted in fewer abortions in nations where it is the norm?  And how does it work for a fertilized egg to have health insurance, but at the same time, can be aborted?

The author invites us to "imagine a nation that guarantees a living wage to every one of its citizens."  He invites us to "imagine a nation that has more generous maternal leave policies and begins to have a serious conversation about paternal leave."  He alludes to the myth of "the gross income disparity between men and women."  He calls for "radically expanding foster and adoptive services and supporting them in ways far beyond what our budgets currently allot" meaning more government intervention in the economy.  Do all these things, and "maybe" says the author, "just maybe, more women will choose not to have an abortion."

Of course, the argument that Socialism alleviates poverty is monstrous.  What brings countries out of poverty are markets, not Marxism.  This is not opinion; it is empirically and historically demonstrable.

Moreover, even Europe's soft democratic-socialist countries already have these very policies and laws that the author asks us to "imagine", as if such Utopias were only a glimmer in the mind of Lennonesque dreamers.  Has abortion ended in these countries?  Has it been radically reduced?  Or have we seen a further degradation of the value of human life by an increase in related atrocities such as euthanasia and its related boon for tourism in countries that champion such policies?

What about the Soviet Union?  In its seven decades of socialized medicine from cradle to grave, its guaranteed living wage, its maternal leave policy, its unabashed advocacy for women's rights, as well as its famous government-run orphanages - did the USSR end or radically reduce abortion?

There are two fatal flaws in Pastor Glover's argumentation:

1) That Socialism is a way out of poverty, and
2) That abortion is primarily a matter of having more money as opposed to how one views human life.

A little perspective is also called for.  In the United States today, most of the people we consider poor have a place to live, clean potable drinking water, indoor plumbing, electricity, television, and telephones.  They typically have access to free health care through Medicaid, greatly reduced food bills through EBT and other welfare programs, breakfasts and lunches for their children enrolled in the nation's free public schools and free head start programs. People that we consider poor often have luxuries like cellphones, cable TV, sports tickets, pets, tattoos, video games, jewelry, cigarettes, air conditioning, automobiles, etc.  Moreover, they also often manage to find the money to get abortions.

I do agree that we should support policies and laws that push back against poverty (even though it is impossible to eradicate it in this fallen world).  I believe that the free market system, not Socialism, has demonstrably proven itself to be exponentially and consistently superior in that endeavor.  Socialism has not only given us more abortions - paid for by tax money - but has also given the world a hundred million corpses and a legacy of the concentration camp and the mass grave.

Pope St. John Paul II - a player in the downfall of the very Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that championed Pastor Glover's various policy prescriptions - put his finger on the problem.  At its root, the issue of abortion is not economic or political.  Politics follows the anthropological philosophy, of the culture.  Economics is about choice and human action based on one's subjective values.

The root issue which underlies the politics and economics of abortion, according to Pope John Paul, is the "culture of death."  And so it is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Sermon: Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist - 2018

29 August 2018

Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Rev 6:9, Rom 6:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In our fallen world, evil wins.  If you hold fast to your Christian faith and confession, you will be hated, abused, mocked, sued, fired, your life ruined, your reputation trashed, and in some places, you will be arrested, tortured, and put to death.

But if you celebrate evil, you will be loved.  You might become a celebrity.  You may well become wealthy.  You will have opportunities for pleasure beyond your wildest dreams.  You will be able to take from others, and not even have a twinge of conscience about it.  You can put children to death for convenience, use people for sexual pleasure, and destroy anyone that gets in your way – while claiming to be virtuous as you lead a life equivalent to an open sewer.

Is it any wonder that our churches are becoming increasingly empty, and our movies, magazines, and music, our television and internet programming on demand, our sports and their heroes, our politicians and barons of business are ever more course, vulgar, hateful, sexually deviant, self-serving, pro-death, antichristian, and dedicated to pleasure without boundaries, without consequences, and without criticism?  Is it any wonder that those who disapprove are silenced by force?

While we have seen things in our culture degrade ferociously, this isn’t anything new.

John the Baptist was called to usher in the Messiah in a day and age when those who believed in God were a tiny, persecuted minority, when the nation’s rulers worshiped pagan gods, and when even within the people of God, their rulers were sexual deviants, political collaborators with their enemies, and ambitious hustlers who rode the backs of their own people.  Sexual deviancy and preying upon minors was a badge of honor.  Children were aborted and killed after their births for frivolous reason.  Public entertainment included death-sports, live torture, and open and perverse sexuality on stage. 

And of course it was all justified, because, after all, might makes right.  Those who didn’t approve were the “barbarians.”  If you were a believer in the true God, you better just keep your religion to yourself and play along.

This is the world Jesus came into, dear friends.  And St. John the Baptist announced His arrival to a world obsessed with debauchery, violence, deviancy, and death. 

John was called directly by God to preach the Word of God: to proclaim the Gospel, but to also proclaim the Law.  He preached and implored the people to repent.  And he did not spare the rich and powerful, not even the king.

The king was a half-breed pretender to the throne, a vile collaborator with the Romans, and a sexual pervert to boot.  And John’s message – which was actually God’s message – was “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”  And as Luther said, when one throws a stick into a pack of dogs, the one that howls is the one that got hit.  The Law hit the amoral Herod.  Not in the sense of guilt, but in the sense of his perceived entitlement to be beyond criticism, to be above reproach.  Who did this bizarre, miserable preacher think he was, anyway?  How dare he call the king out for sin!  Of course, John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s ancestor was Israel’s greatest king, David, who when called to repent, confessed his guilt and became repentant.  We sing King David’s very words again and again: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me….  Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.”  Instead, the unrepentant King Herod “seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her.”

And it was the amoral self-serving Herodias and her daughter who manipulated Herod into ordering John’s execution.  For they wanted to carry out their perversions with the approval of everyone.  The fact that John had no power other than the words he preached (he had no standing in government, no army to prohibit evil behavior) didn’t matter.  Then, as now, is it any wonder that those who disapprove are silenced by force?

For everyone knows right from wrong.  The Law is written on our hearts.  The preaching of John pricked the consciences of Herod and his clan of perverts.  The testimony of the saints in our reading from the Book of Revelation caused the Roman government to behead them, feed them to lions, and use them as props in their vile death-sports.  They knew it was wrong to kill babies and use people – including minors of both sexes – for sexual gratification.  They knew it was wrong to torture people and to be titillated and entertained by their fear and their pain.

Today, our brothers and sisters from the ages of ages continue to await the Lord’s return and their vindication, having prayed: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete," who were to be killed as they themselves had been.  They continue to rest as Christians in countries ruled by Muslims are imprisoned and tortured and beheaded.  They continue to rest as Christians in Communist countries are imprisoned and executed.  They continue to rest, as Christians in even supposedly free countries are silenced on social media, are marginalized in the popular culture, are sued and crushed by the state for refusing to play along with the current lie that marriage is anything other than what God made it to be.

And of course it is all justified, because, after all, might makes right.  Those who don’t approve are the “barbarians.”  If you are  a believer in the true God, you better just keep your religion to yourself and play along.  The more things change…

But ultimately, dear friends, what is the message of John, then and now?  What did he really preach to Herod and his family?  He told the truth.  He confessed God’s Word.  He preached the Gospel in its beauty.  For this is John’s proclamation, the Church’s proclamation, our proclamation – to a world that has lost its way: “repent and believe the Gospel!”

The kingdom of God is at hand, not to condemn you, but to forgive you.  Jesus has come not to imprison you and behead you, but to change you and glorify you.  Jesus paid the price of your iniquity.  He took all the violence and hatred and deviancy and lust for domination upon Himself, dying in your place, exchanging your guilt for His righteousness!  Jesus has come not to condemn but to save, not to put to death but to give life!  

Jesus invites all of us to repent and believe the Gospel, and John invites all of us to follow Jesus.

For in the long term, evil does not win.  If you hold fast to your Christian faith and confession, you will be saved, vindicated, given the gift of eternal life, and dwell with God and man and all creation forever in glory, happiness, joy, and riches beyond the wildest imaginations of any king or celebrity.

For as St. Paul, another murderer who repented upon hearing the Law, preached and wrote: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

John does not call us to repent to shame us, but to glorify us.  For that is what Jesus does.  The martyrs of the Church staked their souls upon it.  And we all rest with them, hearing the unsilenced Word preached by John, even as that Word shapes us and saves us, transforming us from the ugliness of sin to the beauty of the eternal.

And the very thing that Herod feared will come true, as John the Baptist will be raised from the dead, those who gave their lives for the sake of the Word will be avenged, and our confession of Jesus Christ will continue to bring those who repent to everlasting life and glory.  Amen.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 13 - 2018

26 August 2018

Text: Luke 10:23-37 (Gal 3:15-22)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s best known stories.  And to people who are hostile to the church (at least if they knew enough about the Bible to even know this parable), at least at first glance, this ought to be one of their favorites.

For who are the villains in this parable?  The priest and the Levite, who are the clergy, who represent organized religion.  They are the bad guys.  And who is the hero in this story?  The Samaritan, who is a guy from an oppressed and mistreated ethnic group.  And what does the Samaritan do?  He avoids doctrinal disputes or arguments about marriage and abortion, and instead helps the victim in a non-judgmental way.

And indeed, all of this is true!  But sadly, most of our university students (who are taught to hate Christians) are so alienated from their own western civilization in their educational experience, so removed from the history of Christianity and its great foundational text, the Bible, that they don’t even know what they don’t know.

So is Jesus telling us to abolish the church, get rid of the clergy, adopt an anything-goes approach to doctrine, to ditch our creeds for deeds?  No indeed!

In fact, the main teaching of this parable is about Jesus Himself.  He is the Good Samaritan.  He is the one who is treated as an outcast by His own people.  He is the one who comes into the highways and byways of our fallen world, who happens upon all of us who have been beaten and battered and bruised by Satan and by our own sinful nature.  And even when the same people who hold Jesus in contempt likewise ignore the suffering of those victimized by the devil, Jesus, by contrast, has “compassion.”  Jesus binds up our wounds.  Jesus applies the oil of Holy Baptism and the wine of the Holy Eucharist as a balm and a medicine to cleanse us, and to heal us.  Jesus gives of Himself and oversees our rehabilitation.  Jesus provides a home for us to receive care.  Jesus provides people to look out for us and places us in their care under His orders.  And Jesus promises to come back.  

Much to the consternation of those who hate Christianity, those who see Jesus as nothing more than a sort-of storybook Mister Rogers with a beard, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is actually about the doctrines of the incarnation, the cross, and the atonement; it is about Jesus: His victory over the devil and the grave; it is about forgiveness: the doctrine of justification.

Jesus does not entrust our spiritual care to the Old Testament priests or to the Levites, not to the “blood of bulls and goats,” and not to ceremonial cleanliness.  Rather, Jesus entrusts us to Himself as our High Priest, our Messiah, our Savior, our Redeemer, whose blood literally atones for us.  Jesus works His mercy and compassion through the men whom He calls, who are charged with proclaiming the Word of Christ, and who are under holy orders to administer Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, who are ordered to forgive sinners who confess and repent, the innkeepers who take in those victimized by the devil, the world, and their own sinful nature in order to care for them, with Christ’s mercy and Christ’s compassion.

And yes, all of us, in our various callings, pastors and laypeople alike, are charged to “go, and do likewise.”  For Jesus works through Christians in all of our holy vocations to be merciful and compassionate to those who are “half dead” in our own journeys from Jerusalem to Jericho – wherever that may be for us.

But what started the whole parable in the first place is something that is indeed both “creed” and “deed.”  For the lawyer did not come to Jesus humbly, to learn, to hear His Word, and to live out a daily life of repentance.  Instead, he came to Jesus filled with pride and oozing with hubris.  He came to put Jesus to the test.  He came to pit his education against the Word of God.  He came with arrogant contempt and pride in himself.  And though his answers were correct in a technical sense, the lawyer needed to hear this lesson about mercy.  And so do we, dear friends.  This parable is for us as much as it was for the lawyer.

For what was our lawyer seeking to do?  He was trying to “justify himself.”  In other words, he was trying to declare himself righteous by his own understanding, his own words, his own works, his own reason.  He was trying to tell Jesus that he was already righteous.  Like the priest and the Levite, he lacked compassion and mercy.

Dear friends, we all need the compassion and mercy of Jesus, and we all need to “go and do likewise.”  We need to stop justifying ourselves for whatever reason, be it our position in the church, our standing in the community, our education, our lack of education, our church attendance, our lack of church attendance, or any other reason that our sinful flesh likes to boast in as self-justification.  We need to repent of this pride.

We cannot justify ourselves, whether we are Christians or haters of Christianity.  For in our sins and trespasses, we are half-dead.  In the fallen world that we live in, breathe in, work in, and will die in, we are constantly under assault.  And as St. Paul points out, if the “law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”  And if that were true, our lawyer could indeed “justify himself” through the law.  But St. Paul says, “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  In fact, the Greek text says that what is given to us is “the faith of Jesus Christ.”  It is the faith of our Good Samaritan, His compassion and His mercy, that justify us.

And so, dear friends, Jesus again teaches us that we are not rescued by our own knowledge, our works, our position, our education, or any other way in which we might justify ourselves.  Rather, we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ: the faith of Jesus Christ, according to His promise and through His means of grace, through which He binds up our wounds, applies oil and wine, brings us to safety, and promises to return for us.  

Let us indeed believe, that is, have faith in what our Lord teaches us.  Let us humbly receive His gifts, His merciful care, His compassionate redemption, let us go and do likewise, even as imperfect as we are, striving to be a more merciful and compassionate innkeeper to whom the Lord brings people who have been beaten half to death – by the evils of this world and of our own flesh.  Let us not justify ourselves, but rather praise the One who justifies us by grace through the “promises of God.”  

Jesus tells us 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.”  So let us see and hear our Good Samaritan’s merciful compassion, and let us rejoice in it!  Amen.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Don't Mess With Chris!

Here is a clip from the December 17, 1986 Times Picayune about Chris Ziifle that Facebook keeps deleting. 

Violent pictures of Antifa mobs assaulting people and destroying property with rants of profanity are okay for Facebook, but not a 32 year old picture of a law-abiding citizen working in her gun shop. 

Chris retired in 2014, and the Picayune ran this piece about Chris's life and career.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 12 - 2018

19 August 2018

Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isa 29:17-24, 2 Cor 3:4-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We live in confused times.  In our day and age, we are eager to describe moral failings not as sins to be repented of, but of diseases to be treated or cured.  This gets the sinner off the hook, and can even become a source of empathy.  After all, we wouldn’t blame a man who had a heart attack while driving and killed someone, so why would we treat a person diagnosed with alcoholism or drug addiction the same way if he were also to cause an accident?  Or if a person threatens others or is a persistent thief, maybe we can call this “mental illness”: diagnosing it as bipolar disorder or kleptomania – and then it’s really nobody’s fault when crimes just so happen against person or property.

We live in a world where apparently none need to repent; they merely need treatment.  None are held accountable, but all are entitled to excuses for their behavior.  None are perpetrators, but all are somehow victims.

But even though this is a demonic distortion, there is some truth to the relationship between sin and sickness.

But this too, is offensive.  To say that deafness or blindness or being crippled are related to sin makes people angry.  It is as though we are insulting the hard-of-hearing, the visually-impaired, and the person in the wheelchair. What a confused culture we have, dear friends!  It’s okay to reimagine sins as illness, but not acceptable to say that illness is the result of sin.

Sins (meaning sinful acts of our own will and fallen nature) and illness (meaning things that ail us in mind or body that we have no control over) have a common source: the fallenness of our world and of ourselves.  This is not to say that the deaf-mute committed a specific sin that he was being punished for.  Far from it.  But everything that makes us suffer is a deviation from the perfection that was, and is, God’s will for us!  

Think about it, dear friends.  We were created to live in a perfect world without deafness, blindness, or lameness, without colds and allergies and upset stomachs, with not even the knowledge of cancer and ALS and heart disease.  This is because we were free from anything that could lead to death in both body and mind.  Those things didn’t even exist. We were mentally and physically perfect, just as God is perfect – and just as was the world that He had created.

But now, dear brothers and sisters, we are mortal.  Ever since the fall in Eden, we live with the inevitability of death.  Each day that we live on this side of the grave is one less that we will live.  We are terminal.  Our bodies wear out.  We have diseases.  We have accidents.  Many of us have defects that we were born with.  All of us will have some kind of disease or disorder or turn of events that will kill us.  And this is because of our will, not God’s will.  God gave us the freedom to choose, and we chose badly.  We still do.

This is the harsh reality.  And it not only affects our bodies, but also our minds.  Thanks to our fallen nature, we make bad, and even deadly, choices.  When we sin, we are acting contrary to what God has in mind for us in His love, in His all-knowing mercy for us, in His plan for us.  When we sin, it is as though we are beating ourselves in the head with a hammer – and then cursing God for the pain that we experience.

Once again, this is not to say that every ache and pain and disease and disorder is because we have committed some individual sin that we’re being punished for.  This is a Satanic lie.  The truth is that we are simply broken.  And far from desiring our punishment, God is interested in our restoration – because He is not only just, but also merciful.

And this is why Jesus comes into our broken world of disease and disorder: to fix it.  In our Gospel, we get a little preview of what is to come in eternity.  The deaf and mute man is suffering.  His friends beg Jesus to “lay His hand on him.”  For they know that Jesus has authority, and His authority usually carried out through direct physical contact.  Jesus is not just a spirit, but is fully human.  He inhabits space and time with us, in flesh and blood.  And His real presence disrupts the universe, and does so in a good and wonderful way, beyond our understanding.

So, Jesus “put His fingers into his [the man’s] ears, and after spitting, touched his tongue.”  Jesus uses His physical nature to deliver physical and spiritual blessings.  Jesus is perfect in body and soul.  In His perfection, He has come to perfect us.

And through the same means by which the universe was created: a spoken Word, a command from God – we see reality conform to what Christ, the enfleshed Word of God, has uttered.  For God said, “Be opened,” and it was opened.  “His ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

Once again, dear friends, this restoration of the man’s hearing and speaking is just a little preview of the world to come: a world without death and disease, because it is a world without sin.  How can this be?  Because Jesus has broken into our broken world in order to forgive sin and heal us from its consequences.  He allows Himself to be broken so that we might be perfected as a consequence.  He does this at the cross.  He declares victory over death.  He does this walking out of His own tomb.  He continues to speak and forgive and give Himself to us.  He does this through the Church, through the ministers of the Church, men whom He calls and sends with this same command on their lips, this same message: Ephphatha: “be opened.”

This is the fulfillment of Isaiah, whose words rang out again among us: the barren desert will become a field, and the field will become a forest – teeming with life.  The deaf shall hear and the blind shall see.  “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord.”  The poor shall exult.  All of those who suffer on account of sin will be restored.  But the prophet also has a warning: “the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease.”  For being ruthless is not a disease to be cured, but rather a sin to be repented of.  And likewise for being a scoffer: for those who mock the Word of God are unbelievers.  Jesus won’t cure unbelief in the way that He gives hearing to the deaf.  For unbelief is rooted in the stubborn will of an unrepentant man.  

Jesus only heals the unbeliever if the unbeliever yields to Jesus.  Jesus will not compel you.  You are free to reject Him.  But you are not free to reject Him without consequence.  So if you are ruthless and unbelieving, you are in need of repentance.  But in this repentance, there is hope, dear friends.  For Isaiah says: “Those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

If you are on the outs of the church’s proclamation, come back in!  If you murmur against Christ, submit to His instruction!  For His instruction is His Word: the same Word that said, “Be opened!”  His Word is still opening hearts and minds today.

And that Word, dear friends, is a double-edged sword!  St. Paul spoke of this two-fold purpose of the Word when instructed the Corinthians: “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…. For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.”

For the Law that condemns us, and the Gospel that redeems us – are both the Lord’s Word.  They’re both His “ephphatha.”  The Law opens us to the horrific truth that we are “poor, miserable sinners,” that we are in rebellion against the Word of God, that we justly suffer the effects of the fall, and that as sinners, we are destined to die.  But, dear friends, the Gospel opens us to healing: the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of sins that makes us whole, just as the laying on of hands and the Word of Jesus opened the ears and mouth of the deaf and mute man – bringing him to health and wholeness through forgiveness and restoration.

This Word is for you, dear friends!  This Word still forgives, still redeems, still renews, and still heals!  Jesus speaks to you here and now, dear brothers and sisters, opening your body and mind to cleansing and eternal life: “‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’”  Amen.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Magnificence from Russell Kirk!

“We are dwarfs mounted upon the shoulders of giants,” Bernard of Chartres told his scholars in the eleventh century. The great Schoolman meant that we modern folk incline toward the opinion that wisdom was born with our generation. We see so far only because of the tremendous stature of those giants, our ancestors, upon whose shoulders we stand. Gothic architecture in the eleventh century could not have existed without its foundations in the ninth and tenth centuries—or for that matter, in the architecture of ancient Syria. Atomic physics in our sense could not have come into being without the speculative spirit of the seventeenth century—or for that matter, without the intuitions of the pre-Socratic Greeks. Our civilization is an immense continuity and essence. Bernard, Bishop of Chartres, was right: If we ignore or disdain those ancestral giants who uphold us in our modern vainglory, we tumble down into the ditch of unreason.

Read more here (thank you Memoria Press)!