Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 26 - 2018

18 November 2018

Text: Matt 25:31-46 (2 Pet 3:3-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” says St. Peter.  The old heavens and earth, created perfect by God, have been corrupted by our sin.  The result is chaos, conflict, pain, suffering, and death.  Every single bad thing in this world can be laid at the feet of this reality: we are sinners in rebellion against God’s perfect will.  We have allowed Satan’s question: “Did God actually say?” to live rent-free in our minds.  And were it not for our Lord’s coming, His death on the cross, the full atonement for our sins, the grace of the full pardon that we receive in His name – our universe, that is, the heavens and the earth, would be without hope, just grinding along in increasing dysfunction, until one day, it all just falls apart.

But, dear friends, we are not waiting for the world to come apart at the seams.  No indeed!  “We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  Yes, the old universe will “pass away with a roar” and “be burned up and dissolved,” but only so that, through the Lord’s coming, they may be refashioned in a new beginning in which God will recreate the heavens and the earth, again, “in which righteousness dwells.”

And we long for this righteousness, dear friends.  For a world in which righteousness dwells is a world without pain, sorrow, suffering, or death.  For it will be a world without sin, without the diabolical question that isn’t really a question: “Did God actually say?”  This “world in which righteousness dwells” will be a homecoming, a return to Eden, a recapitulation of Paradise.  It will be as glorious as life was before the Fall.  

But, of course, we’re not there yet.  We await the Lord’s return.  And while we wait, the Lord bids us to be prepared, to wait expectantly, to wait wisely.  We wait with joy, and we wait yearning for that righteousness which will dwell in our new earth.

And so St. Peter asks, while you are waiting, “What sort of people ought you to be?”  Does it make any sense that while we wait and yearn for righteousness, we spurn righteousness and seek to lead ungodly lives?  Or as St. Paul put it, should we sin all the more so that “grace may abound?”  St. Peter comes out and says that we ought “to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”  And “since you are waiting,” he says that we should “be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

Of course, we will not actually be “without spot or blemish” not at perfect “peace” until the old heaven and earth pass away, until our own sinful flesh is remade by God Himself, but we should at least see that this is the goal.  We should be striving in this direction.

But aren’t we saved by grace alone, through faith, apart from works?  Of course!  That is the Word of God.  But what happens now that we have received this immeasurable gift?  Does the gift somehow change us?  Does the gift somehow reorient our minds?  Does the gift manifest itself in our lives?  How could it not, dear brothers and sisters?  Of course, we are still sinners who sin in “thought, word, and deed,” and of course, we are still trapped in our mortal, sinful flesh, and of course, the devil and the world still conspire against us.  But we are also redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and we are indeed waiting for the consummation of His kingdom, holding fast to His promise.  This Good News changes us, even as the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings about our growth, our love for holiness, our increasing desire to dwell in this coming eternal and perfect world, and to be found by our beloved Lord “without spot or blemish.”

But what does this even look like as we wait, dear brothers and sisters?  For we still live in our sinful flesh in a sinful world?  How can this kind of righteousness – even when it is a gift of grace – actually be lived out in the fallen world?

Our Lord tells us that when He returns, there will be two kinds of people: the sheep and the goats.  The sheep will hear these words: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  They will hear the Lord recounting those times when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, and the “righteous” came to Him in His need and was given food, drink, welcoming, clothing, and visitation.  The sheep were too busy doing good works, that he had no recollection of doing them.

The righteous person does good works without thought of buying his way into the new heaven and the new earth.  He just acts out of love, the love of Christ.  And that is why Jesus says that whatever good works we do to our neighbor, we are actually doing to Christ.

The sheep are not redeemed as a reward for doing these works.  Indeed, the kingdom was prepared for them “from the foundation of the world.”  But these good works are a confirmation of the saving grace of God.  The one who does these true good works doesn’t even think about it.  But, dear friends, our neighbors need these acts of love for our Lord.  Our neighbors are hungry, thirsty, alone, in need, suffering, and bound by chains of various kinds.  Love impels us to help.  Love seeks no reward, but is rewarded nevertheless.  Our good works do not save us, but they do save our neighbor from suffering.  

Our good works matter.  And while they are not necessary for salvation, our Lutheran confessions bluntly declare that “good works are necessary.”  For this is what it means to yearn for the new heavens and the new earth.  We desire that restored Paradise to the point where we begin (though imperfectly) to live it even before it gets here.  We don’t wait in despair or passivity, but rather, we wait in victory and in expectation!

But what about the goats?  The goats will be denied the new heavens and new earth, and instead will be cast into the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  For in despising their neighbors, they despise Christ.  And in despising Christ, they spurned His gift of Paradise.  For they rejected the way of love: the way of the cross.  And in rejecting the love of the cross, they rejected the grace of the cross.

And so we see how it is that we are saved by grace alone, and yet it is equally true what we say in the Athanasian Creed: “Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”

And so, what we do matters: not as the price of admission to the new heaven and the new earth, but rather as a picture of the love that Christ has given us and how that love has transformed us – even when we ourselves are ignorant of it.  This is why St. Paul urges the Christians at Rome to “Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.”  He exhorts us and encourages us in our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, in love for our neighbors, and as our Lord Jesus Christ has bid us, to love even our enemies.  

And knowing that these are the works of the Spirit in us, and not works for which we can take credit, we would do well to pray for the Holy Spirit to come to us and instill in us a zeal and fervency, a burning desire for the “new heavens” and the “new earth in which righteousness dwells” even here while we wait.  And indeed, dear brothers and sisters, we wait in hope, even in joy, even in the midst of the darkness of sin and the assaults of the devil.  For we know how this all ends.  God did “actually say.”  The Lord Jesus did actually come into our broken world to heal us.  He did actually pardon us on the cross.  He has actually saved us by grace alone.  And the Spirit continues to implant in us a love of righteousness and a desire to actually serve our neighbor in gratitude for this free gift.  

Indeed, we are waiting, dear friends, “waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 25 - 2018

11 November 2018

Text: Matt 24:15-28 (Ex 32:1-20, 1 Thess 4:13-18)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

A hundred years ago today, the most horrific war up to that time came to an end.  November 11, 1918.  Every year, this date is celebrated around the world as “Armistice Day.”  “Armistice” means “to stop fighting.”  It usually precedes a treaty that formally ends the war.

The war that came to an end a hundred years ago was the first modern war.  Today we call it World War One.  This was the first war to feature planes and tanks and chemical warfare.  The entire globe was involved, and about 15 million people were killed outright.  It was so horrific, that it was called “the war to end all wars” – and yet, only twenty years later, World War Two would begin and would add to the global horrors with even more destruction, including the atomic bomb.

World War One was a frightening time to be alive.  People wondered if they were on the cusp of Christ’s return.  The death and destruction were apocalyptic.  Humanity still bears the scars of this war, nobody can even really explain why it happened.

Ultimately, all such things happen because our world is fallen.  Humanity is broken.  Scarcity causes men to fight against men, tribe against tribe, and nation against nation.  The lust for domination propels tyrants and dictators upon a quest for world domination.  

In our Gospel, our Lord gives us a glimpse of the world at the time of His return.  As bad as World Wars One and Two were, this truly apocalyptic time will be all the more horrific.  It looks like there will even be demonic deception or some kind of technology to fool us into thinking that Christ may be on the earth.  But Jesus has warned us: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There He is!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.”

This future “abomination of desolation” – that the future reader will understand when the time comes – will precede a “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, and never will be.”

We Christians will look to the heavens in hope, knowing that the Lord will come.  He will come the way He went up – not according to the lies of those who will say, “Look, He is in the inner rooms.”  We are not to believe them.  For when our Lord comes, there will be no mistake, no wondering who He is.  All the world will see, “For as lightning comes from the east and shines in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

We need to know this and remember this.  We need to teach our descendants this.  When the time comes, they (or we) will need to be ready.  That is why Jesus said, “See, I have told you beforehand.”

For as horrific as this Great Tribulation will be, we have been told that it is coming.  Like a woman’s birth pangs and labor pains, we know that this agitation will precede something great and magnificent: the coming of our Lord, our redemption, the vindication of the saints – as we heard in last week’s first reading: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  In Christ, they are sheltered by “His presence,” they suffer no want or hunger, and all of their tears have been abolished by God, Himself.

So how do we prepare for this eventuality, dear friends?  By being washed in the blood of the Lamb, by being baptized, by believing in Him and in His Word, being immersed in the Holy Scriptures, and the frequent reception of the Lord’s Supper.  Pray, dear brothers and sisters, pray without ceasing!  Pray for your children and those yet to be born, pray for our families, and pray for the Holy Christian Church throughout the world!

Pay heed to the lesson of the Israelites, who having been freed from bondage, in the short span of forty days as Moses went to the top of the mountain, the people forgot about God and His mercy, and their concerns became nothing more than eating and drinking and playing.  They elevated entertainment to the level of worship.  They replaced the Divine Service with a party.  They replaced the true God with an idol.  They led their own children into destruction by their unfaithfulness.

Please don’t repeat their mistake, dear friends!  Listen to what St. Paul taught us about these lessons of old: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’  We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”

The end of the ages has come upon us, dear friends.  For Christ has come, and Christ is coming again.  We need to be prepared, and we need to prepare our children.  What could be more important? 

Only the blood of the Lamb can prepare us for this great tribulation: the very same blood that He offers you here, along with His body, along with His Word of warning and of comfort, of Law and Gospel, along with His Holy Absolution that declares you forgiven, along with your own Holy Baptism that washed you with the blood of the Lamb and bound you to the saving cross!

For like the Passover, when the children of Israel were spared the angel of death, we too will be raised from death in a bodily resurrection.  This, dear friends, is why we Christians do not “grieve as others who have no hope.”  For, says the holy apostle, “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”  And “we will always be with the Lord.  Therefor encourage one another with these words.”

The entire history of mankind is one of domination and destruction.  But with our Lord’s coming, by His death upon the cross, an abomination that results in our redemption, we are assured of our salvation, even amid this unknown future abomination of desolation, and this great tribulation against the people of God.  

For in the midst of war and destruction, of rubble and smashed buildings, of blood and gore, and the wholesale slaughter of millions of people, it seems as if peace is never going to come.  But even in the midst of that Great War such as had not been seen from the beginning of the world until that time, on this very day one hundred years ago, the last gun fell silent.  The last bullet came to a stop.  The last combatants crawled out of their foxholes, shook hands, and went home.  It was sudden.  The silence was deafening.

One day, our broken world’s warfare will come to an end.  Satan will be cast into the lake of fire.  The last sin will be no more.  The last tears to stream from the face of the redeemed will dry up.  We will stop fighting.  There will be no more strife: no more attacks from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  There will be no more scarcity or hatred between men, tribes, and nations.  There will be an armistice that will have no end, followed by a treaty signed in in the blood of the Lamb.  

And this, dear friends, will be the peace to end all wars.  Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters.  The peace of Christ be with you, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sermon: All Saints Day - 2018

4 November 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him,” says the Apostle John.  Since the world doesn’t know God, the world cannot comprehend us.  And not understanding us, they fear us and they hate us.  

There has not been a time of greater persecution of the church than now.  Not even the days of the Christians being persecuted in the Roman Empire compare to the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world today.  

Our brethren in Muslim countries are, at best, second class citizens, though often they are openly persecuted: their homes, churches, and schools burned, their property taken, and in some cases, they are imprisoned or executed for being disciples of Jesus.

Our brethren in the remaining Communist countries suffer a similar fate, even though our brethren in Russia, the Baltics, and Eastern Europe now enjoy relative religious liberty as Communism fell nearly thirty years ago.  Christians in China, Cuba, and North Korea are still persecuted.

But now we are seeing hostility to Christians in secular states, like Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and even the United States – where religious liberties are under attack, and where attitudes toward people of faith are becoming more hostile.

And St. John is right: the world doesn’t know us because the world doesn’t know God.  

The world cannot know the Father because the world does not know the Son.  And this is in spite of the fact that the Son took flesh and dwelt among us, left eyewitnesses and a written record, and created the Holy Christian Church that has become the largest religion in the world.  The Church brought the world respect for human rights, civilized warfare, the abolition of slavery, respect for private property and the rule of law that created never-before seen prosperity all over the world.  Christians preserved civilization through the dark ages, created science, invented the modern university, and established hospitals, orphanages, and societies to help the poor.

And yet, the world is filled with hatred and rage.  

Our reading from John’s Revelation speaks of a “great tribulation” and angelic forces with “power to harm earth and sea.”  And yet, amid this chaos and turmoil, the Lord preserves His Church, as God commanded: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads.”

In the ancient church, it became the custom that when a person was baptized, the sign of the cross was sealed on his or her forehead with oil.  The name “Christ” means one who has been anointed with oil.  When we are baptized, we are “Christened” as well, sealed with oil and marked by the cross of Christ.  These customs illustrate and confess what baptism does, dear friends.  As St. Peter says, “Baptism now saves you.” 

For baptism washes us in the blood of the Lamb, as the elder spoke in John’s vision: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

For even in our time of tribulation, we Christians are made clean by the blood of the Lamb, by our Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. 

Why the tribulation?  Because the world doesn’t know God.  The world doesn’t know us.  The world doesn’t understand our origins: how we got here, why the world is messed up, and how God has taken human flesh to rescue us – all of mankind if each person will simply believe and be baptized.  But the world overwhelmingly rejects our Lord.  And as He has told us, if they have hated Him, they will hate us.

And we are promised blessedness, even in our poverty, our mourning, our meekness, our yearning for righteousness; we will be blessed in our mercy, our purity, and in our desire for peace.  We are even blessed when we are persecuted, when others “revile and persecute” us and speak evil of us falsely on account of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And this is why we are able to “rejoice and be glad” even in persecution and tribulation, “for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Dear friends, we are given a little glimpse into what is to become of persecuted Christians whose blood has been shed in the great tribulation.  And what we see is the Church Triumphant, a great celebration of victory: the victory Christ won for us at the cross, the victory over death and the grave.  We see the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  And this multitude is rejoicing, singing – even singing with us in our liturgy – “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!....  Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen.”

This is not a dirge of a defeated people, but the celebration of a victorious people!  For we have been vindicated, dear friends, vindicated and redeemed by the Lamb, set free by His blood, and given the gift of eternal life!

That is indeed the “kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.”  These are the saints that we remember today, dear friends: the great saints of history: martyrs, bishops, theologians, men and women of courage, as well as saints whose names we will never know until eternity: our grandfathers and grandmothers, children who died too young with the name of “Jesus” on their lips, those who quietly read their Bibles and took part in the sacraments, and those who lived long, happy lives of service to their neighbors.

What they all have in common, dear friends, is that they have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  His victory is their victory.  They wear the white robes and wave the palms.  They “serve Him day and night in His temple,” and they await the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

And this blessedness is not only something to expect in the future, dear friends.  For “we are God’s children now.”  We are blessed now.  We sing the worthiness of the Lamb now.  We join now with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven singing:

Now let us worship our Lord and our King,
Joyfully raising our voices to sing;
While for Your grace, Lord, their voices of praise
Your blessed people shall evermore raise.


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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sermon: Reformation Day - 2018

28 October 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“But to what shall I compare this generation?” asks our Lord.  For what does “this generation” do?  It mocks John the Baptist because he doesn’t drink, and then mocks Jesus because He does.  “This generation” is not concerned with the truth, but only with adopting a narrative and then using it to arrive at a pre-conceived conclusion.

Why do they do this?

Power.  The “powers that be” like being in charge.  John the Baptist, the final prophet, is a disrupter, a disturber of the peace, that peace that the king enjoys because of society’s looking the other way regarding his immorality and corruption.  But like the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” John refuses to play along with the narrative.  John tells the truth.  The powers that be cannot have that.  John has to be killed.

And this is how many of John’s the Forerunner’s own forerunners in the office of prophet were treated in centuries past.  For as Lord Acton would famously put it: “Power corrupts.  And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

And if John was considered a disruption, they haven’t seen anything yet.  For John has come to usher in the manifestation of God in human flesh, who comes to turn the universe upside down, to fill the valleys and make the mountains low, to straighten the crooked and level the rough places.  Our Lord Jesus Christ defies the narrative because He is the True Narrative, the Word of God made flesh.  The story of Jesus is the story of the universe, and His story is not just a convenient narrative to be exploited politically, His story is the story of the redemption of mankind.  His Narrative is the truth.  For He is the truth.  The powers that be cannot have that.  Jesus also has to be killed.

But of course, that is the very Narrative that our Lord has in mind.  It is why He takes flesh in the first place.  He comes to die, and He dies to rise.  He rises to give us life.  And we rise to the glory of God, according to His will, which He carries out at the cross, in love for us and for all of His creation.  That is the one Narrative that is both true and eternal.  And Jesus is the One who does indeed have absolute power, and yet, as the Psalmist says, “You will not… let Your Holy One see corruption.”  

In order to hold fast to the narrative opposing Jesus, they must cling to a lie: that he is “a glutton and a drunkard.”  But the rest of their narrative is true, for our Blessed Lord is indeed a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  He is the sinner’s greatest friend.  For He is the sinner’s Savior!

And “this generation” continues on throughout history.  The mighty and powerful lie about the disrupter, the whistle-blower, the boy who points out the Emperor’s nakedness.  And in order to hold on to power, they will lie, they will kill, they will destroy.

Martin Luther grew up among “this generation.”  For when the church of his day, reeking with corruption and wielding power that staggers the imagination, pushed a narrative that conflicted with the Holy Scriptures, a narrative that salvation was a commodity to be purchased, in the words of the preacher John Tetzel: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”  This narrative stands against the clear Word of God: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received in faith.”

Once again, we are all “justified by His grace as a gift.”  How many of you pay for your gifts, dear friends?  Do your children anxiously run to the Christmas tree with their wallets in hand looking to make purchases?  How many husbands buy flowers for their wives and attach a bill?  What did the pope and the cardinals and the bishops think the word “gift” meant?  

On October 31, 1517, Father Martin published an academic paper that we now call “Ninety Five Theses” that includes this question (number 82): “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?”

The good doctor was also a disrupter, also one who challenged the narrative of the one wielding power, and so Doctor Luther must also die.  He was condemned by pope and emperor.

But in His infinite mercy, the Lord God would not permit Luther to be tied to a post and burned alive – which is how Dearest Mother Church dealt with whistleblowers in those days.  God had other plans at that time of Reformation.  For there is an “eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth.”  And there were others who would not buy the narrative.  There were other men in power, faithful men, who sought the truth rather than the lie, who wanted to know what Scripture taught rather than simply silence the one who preached it.

Thirteen years after Luther’s “Ninety Five Theses,” the emperor would command the German princes to reject their churches’ reforms and return to loyalty to the pope.  These princes bared their necks and dared the Emperor to behead them, for they were prepared to die rather than surrender the faith that they had come to know, the faith that Scripture teaches: that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

For these men had finally heard that “eternal gospel” to be proclaimed to “those who dwell on earth” – that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  The princes saw through the narrative that Luther was a heretic, that the pope is above scripture, that salvation is not by grace alone, that the common people could not have the Bible in their own language, and that the blood of Christ is not sufficient as a “propitiation… to be received by faith.”  They knew that this narrative was ultimately about power: power to control the people by means of fear, power to control the princes by means of taxation, and power to amass fortunes by prostituting the faith in exchange for secular power.

“This generation” continues today, dear friends.  For if you uphold the Scriptures, you might find yourself out of a job, unable to attend a university, hounded out of polite society, or perhaps even in a jail cell.

For the powerful continue to push an unbiblical narrative, one that calls good evil, and evil good.  We need to follow in the footsteps of St. John and Blessed Martin, and most of all, our Lord Jesus Christ, in believing, teaching, and confessing the truth of the “eternal gospel” – even in the face of the mighty who push a narrative grounded in the lie for their own retention of power. God may allow us to die in that confession, or He may permit us to live: but whether we live or die, we must confess that which is true.  

As St. Paul also teaches us by the power of the Holy Spirit, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  The world mocks us just as they did John.  The world seeks to gag us just as they tried to do with Luther.  The world seeks to crucify us just as they did our Blessed Lord.  But as our Lord has said, dear friends, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”

Let us not be swayed by the narrative of the corrupt.  Let us “worship Him,” the incorruptible, “who made the heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water,” and do so without concern for what “this generation” will do next.  Let us “fear God and give Him glory” – now, and even unto eternity!  Amen!

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 21- 2018

21 October 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Begin at the beginning” said the king in Alice in Wonderland, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”  The author, Lewis Carroll, knew about the importance of beginning at the beginning, for he was an ordained deacon in the Church of England.  He would have been very familiar with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

When God wants to reveal Himself to us, to reveal history to us, to tell His story and the story of our universe – He begins at the beginning.

For none of the Bible makes any sense at all without this understanding that God created all things in the beginning: time, space, light, matter, energy; the electrons and protons, atoms, and molecules; the solar systems, the galaxies, and the universe.

And most of all, we need to understand the beginning of mankind: for we are created in God’s image, and entrusted to care for God’s completed creation.  “And behold, it was very good.”  But mankind broke it.  We sinned.  We invited evil and distortion and death into our world through our disobedience, believing the devil’s lie instead of the Lord’s truth.

This is why Cain killed Abel.  This is why there was a flood.  This is why there was a Tower of Babel.  This is why God chose a people for Himself from whom would come the Savior.  This is why Jesus was born, lived, preached for three years, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And this is why He is coming again.  For what we have broken is being fixed.  The world that we have made “very bad” will give way to a new heaven and a new earth.  Death will be no more.  Creation will again be “very good.”  And unlike Lewis Carroll’s king, our King Jesus does not tell us to come to the end and then stop, for there will be no end and no stopping!

And when a “man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee,” He went to find Jesus, fearing that his son’s life was coming to an end.  For “he was at the point of death.”

This man may or may not have really known who Jesus is, but it is clear that He believes that Jesus can, and will, heal his son.  Jesus, who spoke the universe into being “in the beginning,” saying, “Let there be,” (and there was), speaks another almighty word: “Your son will live.”  At that very hour, the child’s illness abated, the “fever left him,” and he recovered – all at, and by, the Word of Jesus.

“And he,” the child’s father, “he himself believed, and all of his household.”  Faith followed upon the heels of faith, and his faith came from the Word of Christ.

For this, dear friends, is the very reason Jesus came into our broken world.  He has come to reverse the destruction that leads to death.  He has come to forgive our sins and restore the perfection, the “very goodness” of His original creation.  Jesus has come to make war against the devil who sought to ruin creation by seducing mankind, and Jesus becomes a man in order to defeat the tempter who sought to seduce Him.  Jesus came to die in order to defeat death.  Jesus rose again to everlasting life so that we too might live forever.  

But we still live in time, dear friends, in this currently-broken world: assaulted by the devil, attacked by illness, and harassed by death.  We are still in the midst of the Lord’s re-creation project.  We are still surrounded by the ugliness and rottenness of sin: within ourselves and within our world.  

And this is why St. Paul speaks in militaristic terms about the Christian life, encouraging us to “put on the whole armor of God” in order that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  For indeed, we are still in time, still in the flesh, and still at war against the evil one – even though our Lord Jesus Christ has defeated Him at the cross and at the empty tomb.  

We are still the Church Militant, and our Lord still bids us to fight.  This is no time for wavering; this is not the time for weakness.  For our Lord has truly armed us for this fight which is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

St. Paul describes our being equipped for battle as Christian warriors: bearing the “belt of truth” that protects our vitals, the “breastplate of righteousness,” that covers our hearts, the “readiness given by the gospel of peace” that acts as shoes for our feet, preparing us to run into battle wherever we are called.  And always we are to bear the “shield of faith,” that is, the belief that clings to Christ’s Word and His promise, which itself has the power to “extinguish all the flaming darts” of the evil one who is destined for the lake of fire.  Our heads are protected by the “helmet of salvation,” and finally, we are entrusted with one offensive weapon to strike with: a sword.  But this is no ordinary sword, like the one that our Lord told Peter to put away.  This is the double-edged “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

The Word of God made all things, brought all things into being, and sustains all things.  The Word took flesh and dwelt among us.  The Word spoke to the father of the dying boy, healing him by grace through faith.  

Dear friends, we must continue to take up this sword: hearing God’s Word, meditating upon it, and most of all, believing it!  It must be in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts!  We must understand that the Word of God is not just blobs of ink on a page, but rather the living, breathing sword that defeats the devil.  The Word is the breath and command of God that brings all things into existence, and the Word is God Himself, incarnate, and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth, who destroyed sin, death, and the devil, but who also shows mercy to His broken creation, including to us fallen creatures created in God’s image who went astray.  The Word has come to redeem us for eternity.

And so here we are, dear friends, trying to get back to the beginning, the perfect beginning, the “very good” beginning when all of creation acted according to the perfect will of God, a world that did not know warfare or evil or strife or fever or death.  

“In the beginning” appears twice in the Holy Scriptures: at the beginning of divine revelation of the creation account, and at the beginning of John’s Gospel in the divine revelation of who Jesus is.  We not only “begin at the beginning,” as the king in Alice in Wonderland said, but we also “go on” just as he added that we should do.  We go on, but we do not stop, for in Christ there is no end.  We die, but we do not cease to be.  We come to the end of this age, but it is only the beginning of the age that has no end, the new heaven and the new earth, and the restoration of the universe that God Himself created “in the beginning.”

For God will yet again see “everything that He had made,” and declare it to be “very good.”  Our warfare will end, and our lives will have no end.  Let us believe, dear friends, let us believe in the Word of God: let us believe in our Lord Jesus Christ!  Let us believe and all our households!  Let us believe the Word that Jesus speaks to us as we go our way, even unto eternal life!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Sermon: St. Ignatius of Antioch - 2018

17 October 2018

Text: John 12:24-26

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

It has become trendy in many churches – Lutheran churches included – to refer to those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb as “Jesus-Followers” rather than “Christians” or “disciples.”  Focus groups and market research suggest that the old names are a turnoff for modern-day unbelievers.  And so, it seems, we must change with the times, reinvent ourselves, forget the old, embrace the new, and stop being so traditional.  A popular edgy bishop named John Shelby Spong wrote a book called Why Christianity Must Change or Die.  Bishop Spong doesn’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or rose from the dead.  He doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word, or that we are saved by the blood of Christ shed on the cross.  He thinks that most of the Bible, including the life of Jesus, is a myth designed to teach us to be, among other things, accepting of same sex marriage and other such things.  He doesn’t believe that Christianity is about sin and redemption, about dying and rising again.  

But when we stop talking about discipleship, we stop talking about discipline (something our modern culture hates).  When we refer to “Jesus followers,” it sounds like Christianity is as easy as friending or following someone on social media.

And so we’re doing something that many trendy pastors of big, wealthy, edgy churches would disapprove of.  For we are doing what our Lord said to do: “Take, eat.  Take, drink… in memory of Me.”  It isn’t about us and what we like, but rather it is all about Jesus.  And when Jesus is central to the life of the church – whether in this sanctuary, at your job or school, around your table, in your community, among your family, and out in the world – you will see discipleship and Christianity lived out as it was in the case of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

The church of Antioch was founded by St. Peter – and Ignatius became the third bishop of this important city.  Antioch was the first place the term “Christians” was applied to disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ignatius (as a young man) was a parishioner of the Apostle John.  

Bishop Ignatius was arrested and condemned to death for the sake of his faith – which was illegal in those days.  Bishop Ignatius was made to endure a long final journey to Rome in order to be executed as part of a “reality entertainment show” in the stadium in which Christians – young and old, men and women, even the elderly and infants – were fed to hungry lions.  During his extradition to the capital city, Ignatius wrote seven letters to various churches, encouraging them in the faith.

In his Epistle to the Romans, the bishop wrote: “I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of life, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the Drink of God, namely His Blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”

What a great example for all of us today, more than one thousand nine hundred years after St. Ignatius became a martyr for the faith of Jesus Christ!  For what does it mean to follow Jesus?  It doesn’t mean tapping a button on your phone.  It doesn’t mean going to church when you feel like it or being entertained while you’re there.  It means that your entire being is wrapped around your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  Where He is, there you are.  Where His body and blood are, not even hungry lions could keep you away.  Where His Word is proclaimed, that is where “incorruptible love and eternal life” are to be found.  And that is where Christians are found.  And that unbreakable chain to the Lord Jesus Christ goes with you everywhere you go, whether to work, to school, to your kitchen table – or even to your death for following the Lord if you are called to give such a testimony.

Ignatius understood the Lord’s preaching when Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

The Christian life is about Christ and Him crucified.  His blood is indeed “incorruptible love and eternal life.”  And Jesus does not hoard this love and life, but sheds it upon the cross and shares it.  He bathes our sin-soaked and death-laden earth with His very life and life-giving divinity that have come to us in His flesh and blood on the cross.  And His gift of life doesn’t stop there, but continues to come to us in His holy body and blood of the Eucharist, including His flesh, the “Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of life.”

So much of this life centers around food: for we work to earn money to buy food.  We go to school to get a job to buy food.  Much of our day is devoted to preparing and eating meals: both the ordinary and the feasts.  Much of our society centers on food: festivals and celebrations, ethnic cuisine and social gatherings.  There are entire channels on television devoted to food.  Food is so plentiful in our country that an alarming number of people suffer with obesity.  But as much as we love our food (and, dear friends, we should enjoy and relish our daily bread that the Lord provides us), think about what all of this food is compared to the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, that we partake of together on this evening!  Think about the faith and the joy that sustained Ignatius while he was transported in chains, and when he was pushed out onto the floor of the stadium, and as the beasts pounced upon him.

This is what it means to be a disciple: to understand that the Lord Himself is that grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies.  And His death upon the cross and His burial in the tomb is the sowing of the seed of everlasting life!  For the death and resurrection of Jesus did not remain alone.  Not only is Bishop Spong wrong about the resurrection of Jesus, he is also wrong about our own resurrections.  For the death of Jesus “bears much fruit.”  We are that fruit.  The wheat is planted, it germinates, it grows, it matures, it is harvested – and it is made into bread that nourishes us for life.  Some of that bread is sanctified by the Word of God and becomes that “Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of life” that sustained Ignatius, and sustains all of us Christians, all of us disciples who follow our Lord to death and to the resurrection.

For like Ignatius, we bear the promise of Jesus, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  We are pilgrims here, strangers and aliens.  We are just passing through this desert.  Our true home is eternity: the new heaven and the new earth, in our new bodies that will bear much fruit after we are also sown into the earth.

For if you want to follow Jesus, you cannot do it by clicking a button on your phone.  Jesus has called you.  He bids you “Follow Me!”  For you were baptized into His name and the Holy Spirit has drawn you inexorably to Him.  “If anyone serves Me,” says our blessed Lord, “he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.”

This is why Ignatius served at the altar, font, and pulpit in Antioch.  This is why we are gathered around the altar, font, and pulpit in Gretna.  We are here to hear the Word of Jesus and to partake in the Holy Sacrament.  And like Ignatius, the Word of God transforms us unto eternal life and empowers us to confess Jesus before a hostile world, even a world that hates us and would like to see us all fed to beasts and wiped out.

“If anyone serves Me,” says Jesus, “the Father will honor him.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch is honored by the church, as a bishop, as a preacher, as a theologian, but most of all, as a Christian disciple.  Well done, faithful servant, Bishop Ignatius of Antioch.  Thanks be to God for His example, his own seed falling into the ground, his testimony (which is what “martyrdom” actually means), his testimony of Jesus: the Seed who falls into the ground that we might rise!  Let us continue to joyfully and steadfastly partake of the “incorruptible love and eternal life” of Christ Jesus our Lord!  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 20 - 2018

14 October 2018

Text: Matt 22:1-14

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord explains the kingdom of heaven by means of another story known to us today as the Parable of the Wedding Feast.  It could have just as easily been named: the Parable of the Ungrateful Invitees.  

As the story goes, a king gives “a wedding feast for his son.”  Servants are sent to the invitees with invitations.  Of course, this is a really big deal: a royal event.  It is a privilege to be invited to something like this, a high honor.  And when the invitees “would not come,” the king tried again, using different servants to deliver the message this time.  But again, the king’s gracious invitation is spurned.  Some preferred to work the farm rather than join the wedding feast.  Others ran businesses that kept them away.  And there was a third group that did what we call today “shooting the messenger.”  For they “treated [the servants] shamefully, and killed them.”

Now we have moved beyond contempt to actual violent rebellion against the king and his rule.  So he is angry.  He makes war on the rebels and burns their city.

But even after all of that, there is still a wedding to be held.  There are still seats to be filled.  So he tells another group of servants: “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.”  He tells the servants to go bring in anyone to fill the seats, “both bad and good.”  And so the wedding hall was “filled with guests.”

This sounds like a happy-ending fairy tale.  But it doesn’t stop here.  For there is an impostor at the wedding: a man who snuck in without the required wedding garment.  He was removed and put into prison: a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is a story that can be understood on many levels.  

Of course, God the Father is the king, and the son is our Lord, the Son of God.  Our Lord Jesus is often called the “bridegroom” and the Church is His bride.  God chose His people, the descendants of Israel, to be His very own, His beloved bride.  But of course, many times in their history, they ignored the Word of God, and they even mistreated and murdered the prophets who carried the invitation to welcome the coming Messiah.  At times, Israel is cast as an unfaithful wife.

And so the promise to be the people of God was extended to the roads leading all over the known world.  The kingdom of heaven was extended by grace to “both bad and good.”  God calls people who will repent and be baptized into the name of the Father who invites them, the Son who redeems them, and the Holy Spirit who draws them in.  Being the people of God is no longer about being part of the right family or nationality.  It is a matter of being called and chosen, of wearing the right garment: a garment given by God Himself.  

And so this explains the last part of the parable: the “man who had no wedding garment.”  He was trying to enter the eternal heavenly banquet by some means other than what God designed.  He had no invite.  He had no ticket.  He was not wearing the uniform issued by the king.  He thought that didn’t matter.  Maybe he thought that he deserved to be there by his own merit.  Maybe he was depending on his ancestry.  Maybe he thought the king just invited everyone.

But he was wrong.

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord is trying to teach us that “many are called, but few are chosen.”  He is trying to teach us to wear the wedding garment of being baptized and of believing. For being part of the great eternal banquet has nothing to do with how wealthy you are, who your parents are, what your reputation is, or how much you think you deserve to be there.  Instead, Jesus uses the word “chosen.”

We do not choose Jesus.  We do not make a decision for Jesus.  We do not choose to be a Christian.  We don’t even really choose to come to Church.  We aren’t that good or that smart.  As we confess in our catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Jesus chooses us.  “Come, follow Me,” He says to His disciples, including us.  He calls us through Baptism, and He chooses us when we respond to His call, taking up our cross, and following Him.  And when we do, we are given a wedding garment.

Dear friends, let us not spurn the gracious invitation.  Of course, we have to tend to our farms and businesses, but let us not make them our priority.  Let us not mistreat the Lord’s servants who come to us with an invitation.  Let us not take the invitation for granted or claim that we are entitled to be at the banquet because of something our grandfathers did, because of our nationality, or because we think that we’re better than those “bad and good” that we find ourselves eating with.

Let us rather come to the table of the Lord graciously and gratefully, knowing that this little feast to which we are invited on this Lord’s Day is a foretaste of the grand feast to which we have been invited in eternity.  For this Supper is a small preview of the wedding feast of the Bridegroom.  Here in time, we who have been called and chosen join the Bridegroom at the table.  We eat the choicest bread and the most magnificent wine, for they are His very body and blood.  Jesus Himself invites us: “Take eat, take drink.” 

And even as our Lord was dressed in royal robes of mockery at His trial before He was stripped of His garments at His crucifixion, He clothes us more magnificently than Solomon in all His splendor, giving us a baptismal garment to wear that grants us admission to the Everlasting Feast.  His blood is the Lamb’s blood that makes death pass us over, but it is also incorporated into that robe that sets us apart as worthy guests at His banquet.  

“Everything is ready,” dear friends.  “Come to the wedding feast,” both here in time, and there in eternity.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 19 - 2018

10 October 2018

Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17, Eph 4:22-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When Galileo was put on trial by the Inquisition of the corrupt church of his day for saying that the earth moves around the sun, he was forced to recant.  And by doing so, he saved himself from the death penalty.  Supposedly, he muttered under his breath in Italian: “e pur si muove,” (“and yet it moves”).  

The ancient Greeks referred to God the Creator as  “ὃ οὐ κινούμενον κινεῖ” (“the Unmoved Mover”).  

God’s entire creation is in motion: the galaxies, the solar systems, the planets, the molecules, the atoms – and even light waves: the first thing God set in motion at the creation.

Life moves, as even grass and trees grow and lunge toward the heavens, while shooting roots into the earth.  Animals move: they walk, they swim, and they fly.  And when God breathed His Spirit into the dust of the earth, mankind was animated with life, and he was able to move.

In time, man would also learn to use technology to routinely travel along roads at 70 miles per hour, fly through the air and even blast into space.  God made us to move!

Our worst move, however, was in the Garden of Eden, rebelling against God, taking hold of forbidden knowledge of good and evil before we were ready and authorized by God to do so.  The result is that movement in our universe is no longer orderly and harmonious, but now is chaotic and destructive: hurricanes and collisions between stars and planets, animals eating each other, friction between man and nature, and hostility between man and God.  Also, our bodies slow down due to disease and wear.  We age.  And we die, becoming again dust of the earth, paralyzed and unable to move.  

This is why paralysis is so horrible.  Being immobile is not what God had in mind when He created us.  And so the paralytic in our Gospel account is seeking a restoration to wholeness.  He came to the right place.  For Jesus does what no doctor could do.  He not only cures the disease, He takes away the cause of the disease.  “Take heart, My Son; your sins are forgiven.”  And to the consternation of His critics, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator, the Unmoved Mover, orders the once-crippled man whose sins have been forgiven to move: “Rise and walk” He is able to command, and the man’s body obeys and moves.

This movement is authorized by God, for “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ moved from the realms of eternity into our broken, chaotic, paralyzed world to free it from its impediments by removing the cause of all of our problems: sin.  Jesus came to destroy the unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil, and the paralysis of fear and helplessness that follow in their wake.

The earthward movement of the Unmoved Mover was prefigured as a vision by our Lord’s ancestor Jacob.  While he was camping out near what is today Jerusalem, Jacob dreamed a vision from God: “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.”  This ladder became a torrent of movement: of angels ascending and descending, preparing the place where heaven would intersect with earth, where eternity would meet time.  The Temple would be built here, and the Eternal Presence of God would be present there, as sacrifices would be tokens of the forgiveness of sin.  And in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus Christ would be born not far from there.  And He would eventually make His way to the cross, the true ladder to heaven upon which we ascend, through Christ in whom we live and move and have our being.  He would fulfill the Temple sacrifices.  He would allow Himself to be paralyzed by death, but the Unmoved Mover would rouse Himself into motion yet again.  He would send His church into motion around the globe, baptizing and teaching, preaching and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, forgiving sins, and establishing churches through which sinners are moved to forgiveness and eternal life.

That movement continues to this very day.

Our Christian life is a moving away from death toward the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus through the very same forgiveness offered to the paralytic.  For in your baptism, the Unmoved Mover said to you: “Take heart, My Son, take heart My daughter, your sins are forgiven.”  And you will indeed rise from that narrow chamber of the tomb.  And then from death our Lord Jesus Christ will awaken you.  Your eyes will joyfully see the Son of God.  You will move.  You will rise.  You will pick up the bed of your grave, and you will go home: home to a new heaven and a new earth, one in which the galaxies, the solar systems, the planets, the molecules, the atoms – and even light waves – will move in perfect harmony, just the way the Unmoved Mover designed them and commanded them to move in the first place by His Word!

It is this motion away from sin, death, and the devil and toward the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that St. Paul refers to when he says: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This renewal of the mind will be brought to completion in the renewal of the body: the resurrection, the movement from paralysis to vigor, from despair to hope, from shackles to freedom, from sin to forgiveness, life, and salvation by the grace of the Unmoved Mover.

For even when the world doubts God’s existence, when our culture mocks and denigrates the Unmoved Mover Jesus Christ, even as people all around us, unknowingly paralyzed by sin, death, and the devil tell us that there is no resurrection, there is no restoration to movement again, there is no new heaven and new earth to look forward to – they are playing the role of the backward church of the middle ages and the renaissance, that resisted the truth and oppressed those who told the truth.  

Modern skeptics are cut of the same cloth as the Inquisition that put Galileo on trial, wanting to dictate to all of us what to believe, how to think, and whom to serve.  They want us to think that they have all the answers, and that their distortion of science is the truth.  They want us to believe that dissent is deadly, and that they have ultimate power over us.

We are Galileo (who was also a faithful Christian).  We are those who look at God’s creation and see the handiwork of the Unmoved Mover.  We know Jesus Christ, have read and heard His Word, and we participate in His life-giving sacraments.  We are moved by His cross and blood shed for us.  We are moved by Holy Baptism which washes away the paralysis of sin and death.  We partake in the Holy Supper that moves us to eternal life.

And like Galileo, we dissent from the oppressors who would have us accept a lie.  We hear yet again the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Your sins are forgiven.”  We look forward to the resurrection when our Lord, the Unmoved Mover, will say to us: “Rise and walk.”

And here in time, like the crowds who witnessed this miracle, we glorify God “who had given such authority to men.”  And when we are told to shut up and obey, we are not afraid to offer our own resistance to the devil’s tyranny, saying: “E pur si muove!”


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