Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 7 - 2018

15 July 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Lord will provide!”  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 6 - 2018

8 July 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Liberty and Tolerance

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

So, who is right?  Which is it?

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

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

Opinions regarding value are subjective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Funeral of Betty Childress

7 July 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 5 - 2018

1 July 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Simplification

"So it was that, after the Deluge, the Fallout, the plagues, the madness, the confusion of tongues, the rage, there began the bloodletting of the Simplification, when remnants of mankind had torn other remnants limb from limb, killing rulers, scientists, leaders, technicians, teachers, and whatever persons the leaders of the maddened mobs said deserved death for having helped make the Earth what it had become.  Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they had served the princes, but then later because they refused to join in the bloodletting and opposed the mobs, calling the crowds 'bloodthirsty simpletons.'

"Joyfully the mobs accepted the name, took up the cry: Simpletons!  Yes, yes!  I'm a simpleton!  Are you a simpleton?  We'll build a town and we'll name it Simple Town, because by then all the smart bastards that caused all this, they'll be dead!  Simpletons!  Let's go!  This ought to show 'em!  Anybody here not a simpleton?  Get the bastard, if there is!

"To escape the fury of the simpleton packs, such learned people as still survived fled to any sanctuary that offered itself.  When Holy Church received them, she vested them in monks' robes and tried to hide them in such monasteries and convents as had survived and could be reoccupied, for the religious were less despised by the mob except when they openly defied it and accepted martyrdom.  Sometimes such sanctuary was effective, but more often it was not.  Monasteries were invaded, records and sacred books were burned, refugees were seized and summarily hanged or burned.  The Simplification ceased to have plan or purpose soon after it began, and became an insane frenzy of mass murder and destruction such as can occur only when the last traces of social order are gone.  The madness was transmitted to the children, taught as they were - not merely to forget - but to hate, and surges of mob fury recurred sporadically even through the fourth generation after the Deluge.  By then, the fury was directed not against the learned, for there were none, but against the merely illiterate."

~Walter M. Miller, 1959
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sermon: St. Cyril of Alexandria - 2018

27 June 2018

Text: Luke 12:8-12 (2 Sam 7:17-29, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today, the Church remembers St. Cyril, who was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt during the years 412-444.  His time, like our own, was a turbulent age, with a lot of fighting over the crucial question: “Who is Jesus?”

For no matter what era we live in, that is always the most important question: “Who is Jesus?”  Our response to this question is not to be taken lightly.  Nor was it in the fifth century.  

While others were watering down Christ and thus watering down the Gospel, Bishop Cyril stood firm.  He knew very well our Lord’s warning that we heard anew in today’s Gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

This is where we are today, dear friends.  It is more difficult to confess Christ today in our country than it ever has been since its founding.  For the first time in American history, Christians are subjected to a soft persecution: being pressured to renounce Jesus by our hostile culture, being bullied to act outside of the Christian faith by our increasingly tyrannical courts, and being marginalized and impressed into silence by our politically-correct governments.  

The easy thing is to remain silent, or to outright deny one’s Christianity.  The hard thing is to confess Christ and let the chips fall.  Canada has begun to revoke the accreditations of law schools run by Christian institutions that uphold the traditional, common law, natural, and biblical definition of marriage.  In our own country, respectable Christian ministries are being shunned by banks and other businesses because Christians are today accused of “hate speech” by very powerful people simply for confessing the Word of God, just as we were already doing for four centuries before Cyril’s time.

So will we continue to confess Christ before men in these last days?  Or will we blaspheme the Holy Spirit?  St. Cyril surely knew the Lord’s admonition: “When they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

St. Cyril had much to say about his Lord Jesus Christ, and never pulled punches, never held back, never counted the political cost of his confession.  He made more than a few enemies in both church and state.  Some heretical bishops declared him a heretic and referred to him as a “monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church.”  It’s no wonder that our Lutheran confessions quote St. Cyril twice.  For being called a heretic by heretics, and being called a monster by monsters is just something faithful Christians of every age and tradition can expect.  

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Cyril’s biggest fight involved whether or not the blessed virgin Mary is “the mother of God.”  The heretic Nestorius condemned such language.  But Cyril pointed out that if Jesus is God, we have no choice but to call Mary the “mother of God”, saying:

“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills me with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers.”

And this is the same thing that the Book of Concord says, and that Lutheran churches are all committed to preaching and teaching – including Salem Lutheran Church.  In that sense, we are not only Lutherans but also Cyrillians.

Like many of the faithful church fathers of old, St. Cyril was removed from his service as bishop and sent into exile by the heretics who seized the reins of the church’s bureaucracy.  But Cyril stood firm, wearing the “whole armor of God” and wielding the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God”, confessing the faith once delivered to the saints.  He chose to be driven out rather than compromise with false doctrine, rather than to confess a false Christ.

In due time, Bishop Cyril was recognized as St. Cyril, as well as being named a doctor of the church.  He is lovingly called Pope Cyril by the Coptic Christians, a few of whom still bravely confess Christ in Egypt today.  Cyril’s theological writings are also still studied to this very day in Christian seminaries and other schools. 

And while St. Cyril wore many hats, so to speak: that of a patriarch, the bishop of one of the most important cities in the Empire, that of a theologian: a writer and doctor of the church, that of the confessor of the faith, suffering for the sake of Christ, let us not forget that Cyril was first and foremost a pastor, a preacher, a giver of soul-care to the members of his congregation.  St. Cyril proclaimed the law to those who needed to repent, and he proclaimed the Gospel to the contrite.  St. Cyril administered the sacraments to his parishioners great and small, young and old, those who could read and those who could not, those who understood the theological controversies of his day, and those who could not.  He taught the faithful to love the Lord and to be blessed by His gifts.  And that is what every pastor, bishop, and theologian is called to do.  

St. Cyril has advice for us who also live in perilous times, in a culture hostile to the truth of Jesus Christ, of Him who is both God and man, who was crucified for us, whose blood was shed for our atonement, whose body rose from death and walked out of the very tomb that was impotent to contain Him.  As every true preacher of the true faith, St. Cyril points us to Christ, and He shares Christ where He Himself promises to be found: in preaching and in sacraments.

On this day in which we remember our dear brother, let us allow him to preach to us from this pulpit, and let us rejoice to allow his proclamation to ring in our ears yet again.  Listen to the pastoral wisdom of St. Cyril, whose life and ministry were a testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ:

“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon: Nativity of St. John the Baptist - 2018

24 June 2018

Text: Luke 1:57-80 (Isa 40:1-5, Acts 13:13-26)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

At first glance, John the Baptist doesn’t really seem that important.  He’s a little like the person at the banquet who introduces the main speaker.  He’s like the warm-up act, whom people forget about once the headliner takes the stage.

Unlike his namesake, St. John the Evangelist (who wrote five books of the New Testament), St. John the Baptist wrote no books of the Bible.  The other John was at the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and Pentecost – and lived until the end of the first century.  John the Baptist barely saw Jesus get started in His ministry.  While Peter, Paul, and John had influential disciples of their own, St. John the Baptist’s disciples all left him to follow Jesus.

But our Lord said that among those born of women, no man was greater than John the Baptist.  John was the youngest person to ever confess Christ, leaping in the womb when his cousin Jesus, Himself in His own mother’s womb, drew near.  John set the standard of courageous preaching, proclaiming truth to power, calling the king to repentance.  John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and was a New Testament martyr for Christ years before St. Stephen would become known as the Church’s first martyr.  To this day, Eastern churches are all required to have a prominent icon to John displayed before the altar, for John does what every pastor and layman are to do in their vocations – to point to Christ!

What higher calling, what more exultant work is there, dear friends, than to point sinners to their Savior, to confess or preach Jesus as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”?  Yes, this line in our Liturgy, in the Agnus Dei, was first spoken by John – and we sing it three times every time we celebrate Holy Communion.  We also sing John’s confession in the Gloria in Excelsis, when we draw our attention to Jesus and point to His atoning word on the cross – just like John the Baptist did three years before our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Indeed, we must remember that John’s ministry was miraculous.  Even his birth was supernatural, being born to a woman who had been barren, to parents past the age of childbearing.  In order to bring John into the world, the Lord God suspended the normal order of the limitations of age.  For age leads to death, and barrenness is a limitation on the Lord’s command to “bear fruit and multiply.”  Zechariah and Elizabeth were object lessons in the Lord’s plan to overcome death and aging, and to bring fruit out of the wilderness.  And like his cousin Jesus, John’s birth was heralded by an angel and accompanied by signs.

Even his name was not of the ordinary.  Instead of being named after his father Zechariah, this future baptizer of Jesus was named “John.”  The name Zechariah means “the Lord remembers.”  But this son of Zechariah is given a new name in accordance with the Lord’s instructions: John means: “The Lord is gracious.”  Yes, indeed, God remembers His covenant, but He does not remember our sins when they are covered by the blood of the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world.  Instead of focusing on remembrance, John the Baptist’s name centers around God’s grace.  Even the name of John points to Jesus, whose own name means: “God saves.”

And as soon as Zechariah obeyed the word of God and commanded his son to be called “John,” the judgment was lifted, and the temporarily mute Zechariah “spoke, blessing God.”  And this caused those who witnessed this miracle to fear God, which the Psalmist teaches us, is the beginning of wisdom!

Zechariah the priest of the temple, the husband of Elizabeth, the father of John, himself prophesied on that day of the circumcision and naming of his son.  First, he prophesies of Christ: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”  Zechariah’s canticle describes Jesus as the “horn of salvation” in the “House of… David.”  He remembers the prophets, he reminds us of salvation, and he confesses the Lord’s mercy.  And this priest who is at the end of his own ministry at the end of the age, he whose name means to “remember,” reminds us of God’s promise to “remember His holy covenant.”  Zechariah proclaims our deliverance from our enemies, the most vexing of which are sin, death, and the devil – not to mention the world and our sinful nature.  And we are delivered so that we might “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

But Zechariah’s time of service is fading fast.  He is passing the torch to his miraculous son, the cousin of Jesus, the one who will preach Jesus and die for Jesus, who will be the voice crying in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” Jesus.

And Zechariah prophesies about his son the prophet: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.”

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Zechariah lays out what St. John will do: “give knowledge of salvation” in the “forgiveness of their sins.”  And by God’s “tender mercy,” those who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” will find themselves in the Lord’s “sunrise” to “give light” to those who do sit in darkness, guiding their “feet into the way of peace.”

This is John’s mission, dear friends.  John is not the Savior, even as his preaching included words such as these: “I am not He.  But behold, after me One is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.”  John will follow his calling to decrease, even as Jesus is to increase.  John will preach the law and the gospel without compromise, and he will die for the truth of the very Word of God – the living Word being Jesus of Nazareth, his own cousin whom he will baptize in the Jordan.

The preaching of John is the preaching of the church: a call to repent, an invitation to the waters of Holy Baptism, a pointing to the Lamb of God, and the good news of forgiveness, that is: “comfort.”  For the prophet Isaiah prefigured John and prefigured all preachers in his prophecy, words given to him by God to speak: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned… for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Indeed, dear friends, the mouth of the Lord continues to speak in His Word.  We continue to hear this Word, receive this call to repent, focusing our eyes on Christ the Lamb of God, remembering the cross and the grace of God in our atonement, calling to mind the waters of Holy Baptism, and proclaiming to the world that Jesus has come to bring comfort, to bring forgiveness, to bring peace with God and with men, and to remind each one of us that in Christ, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Not even the sword can silence that mouth.  John has spoken because the Lord has spoken.  And because the Lord has spoken, the church continues to speak.  We speak of Jesus, of forgiveness, and of the Gospel.  Thanks be to God for His mercy and for bringing His holy prophet St. John the Baptist into the wilderness of our fallen world, a desert transformed into a garden by the work of the Christ that John proclaimed, that we might indeed serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 3 - 2018

17 June 2018

Text: Luke 15:1-10

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord teaches us yet again in parables.  St. Luke records three of them in this one chapter, two of which are contained in this week’s Gospel: the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  The third parable is the Prodigal Son, which is better entitled, the Lost Son.

Jesus gives the same lesson in three different ways – which means that this is important to understanding God and His kingdom.  The idea of being lost and then being found is crucial to Christianity.

We may be tempted to trivialize the idea of being lost.  Losing a coin and then finding it may not seem like that big of a deal to us if we see coins as annoying and worthless bits of change.  Losing a sheep may be hard for us to relate to, given that few of us are animal herders that make a living from them.  In our culture, if you lose something, it’s usually not that big of a deal.  We can always get it replaced on Amazon with two-day shipping.

But these parables are actually timely.  For our culture is drifting away from its moorings.  Younger people are increasingly finding themselves lost.  This has fueled levels of depression and angst and risk-taking and self-injury not seen since perhaps the Lost Generation of World War I a hundred years ago. 

To be lost is to be without a home.  And one can be homeless while living in a massive house surrounded by luxuries.  This is increasingly what we see today: people who have money and fame and the freedom to travel the world, and yet they commit suicide.  They are lost. 

And while the movers and shakers of our culture and society wring their hands looking for explanations, once again, the answer is here in the dusty old book that sits on the coffee table, or worse, is held up for ridicule as a silly old myth written by dead white men to oppress everyone else.  Meanwhile, Jesus will speak to anyone with ears to hear.

Interestingly, Jesus recounts the joy of the owner upon finding something that was lost.  In the first parable, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, we aren’t taught what the sheep thinks about it.  Maybe the sheep was eyeball to eyeball with a wolf and was happy to see the shepherd.  Or maybe the sheep finally felt free and saw the shepherd coming to take him back as his “oppressor.”  But at any rate, the sheep is safe, and the shepherd “calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” 

In the second story, the Parable of the Lost Coin, a woman has lost one of her ten silver pieces.  She is so motivated to find it that she doesn’t even wait for the morning light to look for it (remember, in those days, there were no bright electric lights to  turn on and off like magic with the flick of a switch).  She spends precious oil on lighting a dimly-burning oil lamp to search for it.  “And when she has found it,” says Jesus, “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.’”

In these stories, God is represented by the shepherd and by the woman.  We are the lost ones.  We are the ones who need to be found.  Jesus calls being found “repentance.”  And what started this lesson of three stories was the fact that self-righteous scribes and Pharisees were grumbling that Jesus allowed some of these “found” people to join Him at the table: “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they gossip to one another.

Jesus reminds them of the joy that ought to break out among everyone when the lost are found. 

Think about when a child goes missing.  The parents become hysterical.  They call the police, who go into high gear to search the neighborhood.  Social media lights up as the story goes viral.  Amber alerts are issued.  There may be helicopters and canine teams dispatched.  Nobody can rest until the child is found safe and sound.  And when that happens, there is a huge sigh of relief and great joy.  There is no grumbling about the cost or the trouble expended to reunite a little one to his or her parents.

And think about this from the perspective of the lost one, dear friends.  A lost coin might well fall through the cracks of the floor to be buried in the dirt for the rest of time, never again to be carried and traded, treasured and saved.  It is out of place with no hope of again being useful.  A lost sheep is in grave danger of being hunted and eaten by predators.  Being lost is not freedom; it is not liberty from an “oppressor.”  Being lost is being away from the love and kindness and protection of others, from a sense of usefulness and belonging.  Being lost is to be subject to unseen dangers.  Being lost risks eternal displacement. 

Being lost is a tragedy, dear brothers and sisters.  I recently drove a passenger home from a bar.  It was on a Sunday night at midnight.  One of her friends paid for the ride and another friend came along with her to get home.  I believe that she was in her twenties.  In spite of having her whole life ahead of her, living in a nice home in one of the richest countries of the world, having the luxury to spend time and money on going out, she was utterly lost.  She had no friends other than her “bar friends.”  She had no family, and apparently nothing to look forward to except drinking every day.  She was suicidal.

This is a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost child.  This is what our Lord is talking about, dear friends.  And she is far from alone.

The problem is that she has a house, but no home.  She is free from responsibility and the demands of husband and children, but she is actually oppressed by loneliness and despair.  She knows her way around the city, but she is lost.  Hopefully, she will be found.  There is One who searches diligently for her.  There is a shepherd who will leave the ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes to seek after this one lost sheep; there is a lady of the house who will burn the midnight oil to seek after her to prevent her from falling through the floor.  There is a Father who gave her freedom, and even though she has misused it, will run after her and have a feast for her when she comes back home.

So where is home?  How are the lost sheep and coins and children found?  Jesus says that they are found in repentance: a change in mind.  When we stop seeing God as a rule-maker who imposes on us and start seeing Him as our dear Father and protector, we repent and are found.  When we stop rejecting ourselves by rebelling against whom God made us to be, accepting ourselves as His creature, His creation, His design, when we submit to the reality of His will to us, we repent and are found.  When we embrace the sense of usefulness that God has given us through creation, when we willingly provide for others out of what God has given us, when we seek to serve rather than being served, we repent and are found.

Our Lord Jesus had no need of repentance, and yet He endured the cross for us.  He shed His blood for us.  He came looking for us.  He took human flesh as one of us and for all of us.  He taught us what it means to be lost and to be found.  And He, the Good Shepherd, became the sacrificial Lamb for the sake of the lost sheep that we are.  He was betrayed for us at the cost of some of those silver coins.  He rose again from death and returned to the Father, and proves to us that we can even triumph over the grave, that the end of this life is not loss to the Christian, but rather to be found to eternal glory with the Father.

And in repentance there is joy, dear friends, in heaven and on earth, to the one who is found and to the Finder.  This joy is also found among the rest of those who were formerly lost but who have been found by the unrelenting love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the calling of the Holy Spirit.  Let us pray for the lost.  Let us provide a home for those who need to hear good news.  Let us be the instruments of God in recovering the sheep that have wandered, the coins that have rolled away, and the prodigal sons and daughters who think they have found freedom, but instead are enslaved to despair.  

And in carrying out the work the Lord has given us to do, we too find ourselves at home.  Amen.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 2 - 2018

10 June 2018

Text: Luke 14:15-24

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Why are you all here?

There are other things that you could be doing right now: sleeping, watching a movie, having a cup of coffee, eating, getting some work done around the house, working outside before it gets hot, hanging out with friends, participating in social media, taking in a round of golf…  The possibilities are endless.

So why are you here?

Is it a habit?  A chance to catch up with friends?  Do you feel like you did something for God by coming here?  Are you getting a friend or relative off your back who nags you to go to church? 

Why are you here?

Are you bored?  Do you wish the pastor would just stop talking and get this over with?  Do you think this ritual is meaningless and stupid?  Is what we’re doing old fashioned and out of touch with the modern world?  Is your mind wandering as you think about other things?  Are you resentful that you have to be here?

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a story about a great banquet.  And let’s face it, banquets can be boring: bland food, people you would rather not hang out with, long-winded speeches, boring rituals – and worst of all, it takes time away from what we would rather be doing.  But in our Lord’s story, this man throws a banquet and “invited many.”  He prepares the food, the drinks, the venue, the agenda, and now he sends out servants for the RSVPs.  “But they all alike began to make excuses.”  These reasons given for refusing to come seem to make sense: work, business, family obligations, etc.  The banquet looks like it will become an embarrassing fiasco, a hall filled with empty seats.  The servants report back to their master that this banquet is shaping up to be a failure.

The “master of the house became angry” according to Jesus, as He continues His story, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  The servants do this.  Those who were invited but who had made excuses are being replaced by people who are more likely to be grateful to be there.

Jesus has the master in the story bring in still more outsiders.  And He’s pretty angry at the ones who spurned the invitation: “None of those men who were invited shall taste My banquet.”

So what is the point of this story?

Just before Jesus told this story (which was at a banquet), a man said something that is both simple and profound: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 

Do you see yourself as blessed?  Are you happy to be here where the Word of God is proclaimed, where Jesus is present in the bread and wine of the sacrament?  Of all the places where you could be right now, is this the place you would most rather be at this moment?  Would you prefer to have the freedom and the opportunity to come to the Divine Service, or would you rather be a billionaire.  Before you answer the question, dear brother, dear sister, think about it honestly.

For we are all poor, miserable sinners.  There are indeed times when this banquet is tedious: it’s too hot, it’s too cold, the hymns are not to our liking, the sermon is boring, we don’t like the wine, certain people annoy us, the service is too long, too early, too late, too different than what I grew up with, too high church, too low church, too whatever.

And there are times when we, like the original invitees in the Lord’s story, just opt out.  We just stay home.  We just figure that it isn’t that important anyway.

The Lord has a warning for us, dear friends.  This banquet is important.  You have been invited by God.  This is where your sins are forgiven.  This is where Jesus speaks to you.  This is where you have actual communion with the Triune God.  This is where God truly speaks to you: not some kind of vague sign or superstition, but the pure, unshakable, and perfect Word of God.  And God will fill His kingdom: with us or without us.  If we are unfaithful, our American churches will shrink and die off while churches in China and Africa are filled with those who aren’t making excuses, but who are blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of God.

If we are not studying and reading the Word of God, if we don’t pray, if we don’t teach our children the catechism, if we aren’t regularly communing and being absolved, if we aren’t supporting our church and the work of the kingdom with our time, talent, and treasure, if we feel annoyed and put upon to be here, if we are making excuses – then others will be called and we will be left to our own devices.  And even as the finest of foods is set at the heavenly table, even as a precious chalice of the choicest of wine sits at a place with our name on it, we will content ourselves to eat garbage out of the dumpster – the rot and the crud that the world has to offer.

Dear friends, let us not take this banquet for granted!  Our Lord suffered on the cross.  He died so that you will live!  He rose so that you too will conquer death!  He has given you His body and blood as the greatest banquet ever!  He surrounds you in words of love and forgiveness, calling us back when we wander, and placing us upon His shoulder to lead us as His beloved sheep.  He provides for us a place at His table, a place of honor.  This participation in the banquet of the Eucharist is a time-transcending foretaste of eternal life, of the great reunion with our loved ones, a little glimpse and an actual participation into the new heaven and the new earth, a life in which there will be no suffering, no death, no sorrow, no regrets, no boredom, and no excuses.

Why are you here, dear friends?  You are here because you are a sinner, and you are loved, and you are to be fed and lovingly doted upon by Your Father.  You are here because you have been invited by Jesus Himself, baptized, named as one of His own, worthy to sit at His table, one who has been chosen to live eternally.  You are here because of all the places on planet earth, there is no place better than to be at the table of the Lord and listening to good news.

There are indeed valid reasons that we may have to miss this banquet from time to time.  But there are also excuses, and we know the difference.  And the good news is that even your past excuses and grumbling are forgiven, and your name is still engraved in gold at the head table.  You were issued a garment to wear at this banquet, and you have been invited, even if you are poor and crippled and blind and lame, plagued by doubts, haunted by a past, weak in willpower, or even bearing the scars of a hostile world and your own sinful flesh.  None of that matters!  You are here at the eternal banquet by the Lord’s grace!  You are His beloved child!  You are surrounded by His peace and joy even if you desire to run away.  Resist the devil, and rejoice in what is offered to you at this banquet, this feast of feasts, each and every week, dear brother, dear sister!

For indeed, “blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  Amen.

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