Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) – 2017

28 May 2017

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord’s warning seems to have been ripped from the headlines: “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

In the history of the church, Christians have been persecuted and killed by Jews, Romans, factions within the church itself, by native peoples served by missionaries, by Atheist revolutionaries such as the Jacobins in the French revolution, the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution, and their Communists comrades in Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and other Marxist totalitarian states.

But today, we are seeing more persecution of Christians by those who truly believe they are “offering service to God” – those who hold the religion of Islam.

Just this past Friday, yet another incident happened in Cairo, Egypt.  A caravan of Christians on a trip to visit a monastery was stopped by men impersonating police forces.  All of these Christians: men, women, and children, were ordered off the buses.  Twenty eight were shot in old blood.  Twenty eight men, women, and children were killed in the name of offering service to a false god called Allah in devotion to a false prophet named Muhammad.

And Jesus explains why they do this: “They will do these things because they have not known the Father nor Me.”

These people do not worship the true God.  For if they did, they would not consider it “offering service to God” to slaughter those created in the image of God in this way.

Our Lord tells us that this would happen immediately after reminding us that “the Helper” is coming, He whom Jesus “will send to [us] from the Father.”  This Helper bears witness about Jesus, even as this Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, brings us into all truth.

We know who this Helper is, for Jesus told us that He is the Holy Spirit, who indeed came to the Holy Christian Church on Pentecost, accompanied by signs and miracles and courageous preaching and the baptism of some three thousand people.  Next week, the church throughout the world will hear and ponder anew this fact of history and this remarkable empowerment of the church through the Third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

But there are some who think they know better than two thousand years of Christianity, than the fathers of the church, than the Bible, than even our Lord Jesus Himself!  There is a Baptist pastor named the Reverend Ian Mevorach who claims to have the answer to the violence that plagues the church at the hands of Islam.

Instead of understanding that the Helper that our Lord spoke of refers to God the Holy Spirit, we could just change our interpretation to believe that this Helper is Muhammad, as the Muslims do, as the terrorists who shot our martyred brothers and sisters do.  Yes, this activist pastor with a doctorate degree from Boston University and a journalism job with the powerful Huffington Post actually suggests that if only Christians become Muslims, then we could stop the violence.  He says, “the time has surely come to recognize [Muhammad] as a prophet.”  He says, “I invite Christians everywhere to look carefully at our scriptures, search our souls, consider our history, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in answering the question: ‘Has the time come for Christians to see Muhammad as Spirit of Truth?’”

I find it very hard to believe that we are not living in the very end of time.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Our Lord Jesus warned us that things would begin to get very grave for the church as that time approaches.  Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart – not in 30 AD, not in 1530 AD, not in 2017 AD, and not when He returns amid the tribulation and persecution of those whose hope lies in Him and in His cross.

Dear friends, more Christians are being martyred today than ever before in history.  Our Lord warned His disciples, which includes us, concerning these things, “to keep you from falling away.”  Indeed, as the Lord’s apostle St. Peter spoke to us anew: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Indeed, in the history of the church, what is strange is when we Christians have been at peace, unafraid of violent attacks from those of other religions, from Atheists, and from governments, foreign and domestic.  Those are the unusual times in our history.  We Americans still live with a great degree of freedom to believe, to worship, and to express our faith.  But that could change, dear friends, and it could change quickly.  Remember what our Lord said, “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.”

For nothing is more important that your Christian faith.  Nothing.  Not your education.  Not your job.  Not your house.  Not your life.  

We must not take our faith for granted, nor ever tire of hearing His Word and partaking of His sacrament.

We must pray for strength in times of persecution.  We must pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit.  We must pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, for our country, for our churches, and for our children.  We must study and teach, learn and catechize.  We must worship and join in the church’s ongoing eternal liturgy in song and in sacrament.  We must fortify ourselves and our youth, for Jesus says: “They will do these things.”  They will. 

And St. Peter tells us that when these things happen, “rejoice, insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Peter cuts to the chase: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

We must truly take to heart what Dr. Luther taught us to recite: “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.”

The True Faith, dear friends, the faith given to us by the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to Jesus, to the One who suffered infinitely more for us than we could ever suffer for His sake, He who died upon the cross as the complete and final sacrifice for our sins, whose blood brings us into perfect communion with God by the forgiveness of sins and the full and free gift of eternal life.  And not even death can sever us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

No matter what happens, in times of prosperity or want, in times of comfort or persecution, let us remember and confess the Word of God, the promise spoken through the true prophet Ezekiel, “I will put My Spirit within you….And you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” 

“To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sermon: Ascension – 2017

25 May 2017

Text: Acts 1:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

One of the last things our Lord said to His disciples before His ascension into heaven was: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

And He wasn’t going to be with them in the same way after his impending ascension, to answer questions, to straighten them out, to strengthen them for the tasks at hand.  He was to be with them as He is with us: in Word and Sacrament.  But they were still going to be His witnesses in His returning to the Father.

A witness is one who sees, and then tells what he has seen.  A witness testifies, usually in some official way.  For testimony is a very serious thing, often a matter of life and death.

Some 30 years ago, I worked for a county sheriff in Ohio.  He was a godly and honest man who liked police work but did not like politics.  One day he vanished.  He disappeared into thin air.  This is because he was in the Witness Protection Plan.  He was called upon to testify against some very powerful people, and in order to protect his life, he was given a new life: a new name, a new city, a new job, a new driver’s license, and a new made-up history.  For his protection, his former life had to be extinguished, and he could never again see the people he knew in that former life.

Being a witness, especially one who testifies, is indeed a life and death matter.  

The Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, which is where we get the word “martyr.”  A martyr is a witness who gives his testimony, and that testimony costs him his life.  The witness of a martyr is very powerful, for the martyr values the truth of what he has seen and heard, and the confession of that testimony, even more than he values his life.  The testimony of a witness is powerful, because if it weren’t true, it would be easy to avoid torture and death and walk away from the resultant suffering.

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells the eleven that they will be His witnesses, and that they would spread out from there to the city, to the region, and to the very ends of the globe.  And within a few decades, the entire Roman Empire would be flecked with Christian congregations, with bishops and deacons and adult converts and baptized babies.  The church would grow mightily through the preaching of the apostle-witnesses.  For Jesus also promised them something else to empower their testimony and proclamation, namely, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

The Holy Spirit was to be sent in a few days, at Pentecost, and the apostolic preaching would go forth from that Upper Room in Jerusalem literally into all the earth, in every language, to every tribe and tongue and people.  And within less than 300 years, less than the age of the City of New Orleans, the Holy Christian Church was to conquer the unholy Roman Empire itself, not with spears and swords, but with preaching and Holy Baptism.  

And the eleven would themselves suffer for their testimony.  All but one would die as tortured prisoners for their testimony of Christ, and the only one who was not killed, St. John, would suffer exile on the Island of Patmos.  

These apostles would also ordain other men into this preaching office.  They would baptize children and adults and administer the Lord’s Supper to people who would themselves become martyrs in many cases.  And though these preachers and these hearers would die, some in their beds, others at the stake or at the arena, the witnesses would never run out.  The work of the Holy Spirit continues anew.  The preaching goes forth with each succeeding generation.  The sacraments are administered and received.  Satan is defeated.  The grave is defanged.  Sin is cast aside.  Communion with God continues to go forth among the people gathered around the witnesses and their proclamation.

And after the eleven watched the Lord ascend back to the Father, as they gazed in wonder at the heavens, as they now had to lead the church without the familiar sight of the Lord Jesus Christ in their midst, two angels scold them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?”  Indeed, there is work to do.  There is testimony to give.  There are disciples to be made through baptism.  There are sins to be forgiven through absolution.  There is communion with God to be had through the eucharist.  These apostles will write and they will preach.  They will teach, and they will serve as bishops of the Church.  But most of all, they will be our Lord’s witnesses, bearing the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, for as long as the Father gives them life and breath in this world.

And so we continue, dear friends, we continue to carry out our work here on earth, in this fallen world, being a lifeline to those who will hear and heed our testimony, those who are moved by the Holy Spirit to be redeemed and made new, even in this age of skepticism and martyrdom, even as the Church continues in the work her Lord has given us to do, spreading the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, until that day in which He “will come in the same way as [they] saw Him go into heaven,” the day of judgment and the day of the restoration of paradise.

This is our testimony, for we too are witnesses.  Amen!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6) – 2017

21 May 2017

Text: John 16:23-33 (Numbers 21:4-9, Jas 1:22-27)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“I have said these things to you in figures of speech.  The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

Sometimes, it’s best to beat around the bush.  We sometimes soften bad news by using softer language.  We sometimes avoid things not appropriate for children by using figurative language.  Sometimes, our audience may not be ready to hear everything we would like to tell them, so we start small, and work our way toward full disclosure.

Jesus often spoke in “figures of speech” – often in parables.  And some people would “get it,” and others would be puzzled.  Our Lord’s revelation of Himself wasn’t spoken to the disciples all at once.  He spoke in parables, performed miracles, and preached on the prophetic Scriptures that referred to Him.  He gradually revealed more and more about Himself and the divine plan. 

At first, the only ones who seemed to know the whole truth about Him were the demons, who confessed that Jesus is the “Son of the Most High” – and Jesus silenced them.  It wasn’t yet time for everyone to be told everything.  Learning about Jesus was a process.

And so, some people would get frustrated and leave, while others were willing to leave absolutely everything behind to follow Him.

In His three years of ministry, Jesus would reveal various truths about who He is and what He is doing in our world.  And Jesus did indeed speak in figures of speech.  But when they saw Him die on the cross, and when they saw Him rise again – there was no more need for figures of speech.  For they saw the revelation of who He is and what He does for us: the Lamb of God who came into the world to die in our place, to grant us forgiveness of sins, and to bring us to everlasting life.  For the lamb was just a figure pointing to the reality of the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.  And the Passover was just a figure pointing to the reality of the true flesh and blood of the Son of God being given to us to consume and receive, holy things for holy people, so that the angel of death would indeed pass over the tent of our flesh once and for all!

It was at the cross where Jesus truly revealed the Father – for Jesus is the very icon of the self-sacrificing, limitless love that is God in the flesh. 

But even before His passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus begins to fill in the missing pieces of our understanding of who He is: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.  I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world, and going to the Father.”

Here we see the plain truth, with no beating around the bush.  Jesus speaks plainly.  For our Lord came from the Father into the world, “of the Father’s love begotten,” and He did so because the Father loves us.  For we love the Son, the image of the Father, who has come to save us.  And so in Christ, the Lord answers our prayer.  And our greatest prayer of all, dear friends, is “Lord, have mercy!”  For apart from that divine mercy, we are left with nothing other than sin and death and hell.  But in Christ, in the love of the Father, in the One who is going to the cross and ascending to the Father, in Him, our greatest enemy is vanquished: death itself.

I was recently challenged by a young person as to what our church does.  I told her that we raise the dead.  For we baptize, and preach, and absolve, and commune.  Jesus comes to us where and how He has promised to do so, and He does so plainly without figurative language: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…; Take, eat, take drink…; Father, forgive them.”  And as St. Paul teaches us, “We were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united in a resurrection like His.” 

“Ah, now You are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!” we can say with the original disciples in response to the Word of God.  Jesus has come to raise us from death by forgiving our sins. 

For Jesus speaks plainly through the Word.  And so “we know that [He knows] all things.”  We do not need to question Him. And we believe that He came from God.

For just as the children of Israel saw the figure of the bronze serpent on the pole, that moved them from death to life, so now in Christ, there is no figure, but rather the Man Jesus lifted upon the cross, so that all who look to Him “shall live.”

Indeed, dear friends, in Christ, we do not need to beat around the bush.  We are given forgiveness, life, and salvation as a free gift, and we are called to live holy lives, even as James speaks plainly and without figurative language, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  For in doing, that is, in living and following and being shaped by the plain-spoken Word of God, we are “blessed in our doing.”

Dear brothers and sisters, the plainspoken truth is this: Jesus has died to give you everlasting life as a gift, and having received that gift, you are freed up to have religion that is “pure and undefiled before God, the Father” – a religion that not only hears, but does, – a religion that, without figures of speech but speaking plainly – raises the dead!  Amen!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) – 2017

14 May 2017

Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Before His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples what was going to happen.  He told them that they were going to Jerusalem.  He told them He was going to be arrested.  He told them He would be tortured, mocked, and crucified.  He told them He would die.  He told them He would rise again.

Their response typically was to just ignore it.  Maybe they thought this was some kind of parable.  Maybe they just couldn’t wrap their heads around the promised Messiah dying on a cross. Maybe they had visions of crowns of gold for them rather than a crown of thorns for Him.

Jesus notes that none of them asks Him: “Where are You going?”  And our blessed Lord tells them why they don’t: “Sorrow has filled your heart,” He says.

They were sorrowful because they knew deep down that things were going to change.  We don’t like change, but change is part of this fallen world.

If our world were perfect, it wouldn’t change.  It would remain perfect.  And James tells us in our epistle reading that God Himself, the eternal and perfect Creator is the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

The first change that removed us from our perfect unchanging condition of perfect unity with God and with creation was sin: the disobedience of our ancestors in the garden.  God didn’t change, but our relationship to Him did.  Our communion with Him was broken.  We changed because we then knew good and evil.  We chose evil.  We became mortal.  We invited death and corruption to be part of our fallen human existence.  

Of course, in our fallen world, not all change is bad.  Sometimes things change for the better.  And we certainly thank God for those kinds of changes.  But there is one change that we all have to look forward to, one that in the words of our Lord, causes sorrow to fill our hearts: we are mortal.  We will die.  Death is the wages of sin, and it is where we are all going.  Death separates us from those we love.  And no amount of money or power can prevent it.  Death is the great equalizer, and it is ruthless.

But, dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus does what we cannot do: He defeats death.  He slays the devil.  He forgives our sins and restores us to perfect communion with God.  And He is restoring the world to its perfection, where we will once more enjoy unity with God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

And part of our Lord’s going away involved a change of a different kind: His ascension to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church, “the Spirit of Truth” who “will guide you into all the truth.”

Our Lord goes to the Father and encourages us to change for the better, to grow up, to take leadership.  For though He doesn’t abandon us, He chooses to work indirectly in this world through His church.  He uses pastors to baptize us, to forgive us, and to feed us with the body and blood of Christ.  He uses fathers to sire us, mothers to birth us, parents to nurture us, and all of the above and many others to teach us the truth: to educate us about the world and to catechize us about the faith.  

Our Lord sends the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to gather us into the church and to “declare to us the things that are to come.”  The Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life, has given us the Holy Scriptures: the living, breathing, revelation of God.

And though we, like the disciples, often do not want to face the truth, though the truth sometimes brings us sorrow, we also know that our sorrow is temporary.  For Jesus has not come to bring us sorrow, but rather joy.  Jesus has not come to leave us slumbering in the grave, but rather to awaken us to everlasting life.  Jesus has not come to preside over a fallen world in constant need of repair, but rather to reign over a restored and perfect universe of the redeemed who will live forever in peace and joy.

Dear friends, though we surely deserve the wrath of God on account of our sins, because of the cross, by virtue of the blood of the Lamb, though the love of the Son for us and by His obedience to His Father’s will, we receive pardon and peace and mercy and joy instead.

As the prophet Isaiah prayed, so do we: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.”

This comfort spoken of by the prophet is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, dear friends, He who went away for our advantage, who has sent the Helper to guide us into all the truth, and who is coming again in glory.

This is our comfort!  This is our joy!  “Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”

This is why more than a billion Christians on the planet refer to this Sunday as “Cantate” – “sing.”  For we opened this service by singing together the song of the Psalmist: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!  Alleluia!  His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.  Alleluia!”

We sing, dear friends, because Jesus has triumphed.  Our song is new because we are made new: victorious over sin, Satan, and yes, even death itself.  And though this fallen world seems to lord over us and beat us down, the world’s seeming victory is just an illusion.  For Christ has triumphed over sin, over the evil one, and even over the grave.  They have no power over us.  They are defanged, crushed, and pulverized into chaff to be blown away with the wind.  For “His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.”

And His victory is our victory.  Our new song is the eternal song of the angels.  Jesus told us what was going to happen.  And He has done it.  Let us cast away all sorrow and celebrate our eternal victory.  Let us sing our song in the faces of our friends and foes alike, for our song is a hymn of adoration to our victorious Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and glory, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) – 2017

7 May 2017

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In all of our ongoing celebrations of the resurrection of our Lord, amid our rejoicing in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and even as we rightfully continue the feast of Easter – a triumph that will indeed continue on into eternity – we dare not forget that we still live in this fallen world. 

Even as we wait for our Lord’s return, we must still contend with the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  Although the war has been won and the ultimate victory is ours, we still find ourselves squaring off in battle.  And though we know how the war turns out, battle is still painful, for this world still conspires against us, the devil still hates us, and our own flesh betrays us.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says our Lord, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”  For lest we become too comfortable and cozy with the world, let’s not forget that the world is our enemy.  We’re in it, but not of it.  And until our Lord’s return and the restoration of paradise, Satan remains the prince of this fallen world, the chief demon at the top of the dunghill, the lord of flies.  And though flies cannot kill us, they nevertheless buzz around us and remind us, like miniature vultures, of the nature of this world: a place of death.

Jesus died to defeat death.  Our Lord’s death assures us that we too will conquer our own death.  And yet this fallen world remains a place of death.  So let’s not become too comfortable in it.

Dear friends, dear Christians, dear brothers and sisters, we are not here in this world to become comfortable with sin, death, and the devil, to excuse them, to see them as benign, or to invite them to dine with us.  We are here to fight the enemy.  We are here to rescue the victims.  We are here to treat the wounded.  We are here to let our light shine in the darkness.  The world is our enemy, and our enemies are prisoners of the darkness.  We are here to show them a more excellent way; we are not here to camouflage ourselves to the shapes and contours of the world.

This reality becomes most apparent to us when the world steps out from behind its façade of tolerance and acceptance and bares its hateful teeth toward us.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  It reminds us of to whom we belong.

Dear Christians, the world hates you.  The world (meaning the larger culture in which we live and work) is hostile to Jesus, hostile to the church, and hostile to you.  They may tolerate you so long as you don’t express any opinion contrary to those positions approved by the world.  They may tolerate you if you keep your religion to yourself.  Maybe.  Don’t be fooled. 

For what does our Lord – the Lord who was Himself crucified as the enemy of this world – what does He tell us will happen?  Not might happen, but will happen: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

The world mocks us and calls us bigots.  The world takes great joy at the fact that the Kleins, followers of Christ Jesus, have been fined $135,000 for not baking a cake. The world cheers when courts who claim to support the constitution rule against our God-given liberty.  The world mocks Baronelle Stutzman, a soft-spoken gray-haired Christian florist who is looking at losing her life savings and even her house, because she refused to accept a job that would have violated her Christian faith and conscience. These are our brothers and sisters whose lives are devastated by the hatred of the world.  And all around the world, our brothers and sisters are being imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded.

When sports, movies, and television, the public schools, the universities, popular music, and every aspect of the culture  all array themselves to be openly hostile to Christianity, and conspire to target your children to pressure them to give up their faith – the world makes it clear that it is not our friend.  We are not welcome in this world, dear friends.

The sooner we come to grips with this reality, the better.

So what do we do?  We do what we have always done: we baptize our babies, we read the Bible to our toddlers, we catechize the youth, we attend worship with our children as they grow, we take part in Holy Communion, we pray, we read scripture, we support our congregation with our presence, with our time, and with our money, we do not back down or compromise, nor do we go out of our way to look for trouble.  We confess our sins and we confess our faith.  We are prepared to give an answer for the hope within us even as we live in the desert of this world that seeks our destruction.

That, dear friends, is how Christians address the sorrow of the world’s hatred.  This is how early Christians could gather at the stadium, not to cheer the team, but to pray and sing hymns before being fed to wild animals in the face of a cheering crowd.  It was abundantly clear that the world hated them.  But they remembered our Lord’s word: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

But, dear friends, we are not abandoned in our sorrow and in the hatred of the world.  We are not left to the tender mercies of our fallen nature, of Satan, nor of the grave.  For we have a Savior who has come to rescue us from the prison of this world and the shackles of the grave.  For our Lord said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joy, dear friends.  Even when the cheering mob assaults us.  Even when the government and the courts seek our destruction.  Even when it seems like our faith will die in a generation because the minds of the young have been poisoned.  Jesus said that our sorrow will “turn into joy.”

It is like when a mother gives birth.  She suffers immensely during labor.  But once the baby has been born, her sorrow turns to joy, and her pain is pushed to the back of her mind, because pain endured out of love is not resented.  Such pain is offered to the beloved, for it is endured for the sake of love.  The love a mother has for her child may be the closest thing we have in this fallen world to the kind of love God has for us, the love we see impaled upon the cross, the love that forgives our sins (though we do not deserve it), the love that destroys the power of the devil (though we often allow temptation to have its way with us), the love that delivers to us everlasting life: the very opposite of the death and decay offered by the world.

Our Lord told us that we are not of the world, the He has overcome the world, and that we will not be overwhelmed by the world.

In fact, dear friends, we should see our trials and tribulations in this world as a blessing.  For we can clearly see who the enemy is.  Far too often, we try to befriend our beguiling foe.  Far too often we think we fit in – when we never will.

Let us take up our cross and remember whom we follow.  Let us not be discouraged, for we know that we will rejoice.  Let us endure our sorrow in good cheer, knowing that the war has already been won by Him who has overcome the world, all for you.


Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2017

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2017
30 April 2017
Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

One of our fathers in the faith, the Blessed Doctor Martin Luther, wrote this:

“Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do,” says Dr. Luther.

This, dear friends, is a beautiful expression of what our Lord says, “I know My own, and My own know Me.”

For our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  He is not just any shepherd, for He isn’t a “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep.”  No indeed!  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd because “He lays down His life for the sheep.” 

Rather than allow the wolf to come and snatch us and scatter us, our Shepherd gathers us into one flock, and He protects us from the wolf.  He will even suffer death upon the cross before He will allow you to become the wolf’s prey.  Is there any other shepherd who stands up for you like this?  Is there any other shepherd so good?

Jesus doesn’t just make promises and talk, rather He takes up His cross, and He speaks words of condemnation to the devil, and words of comfort to His flock.  Our Shepherd’s goodness is in His love for us.  For out of this boundless love and mercy for us, He is willing to suffer and bleed and die – all so that we might live.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is the hallmark of the Good Shepherd. 

He is not just working to make a few bucks off of us, but rather He works in order to take the sins away from us.  He doesn’t only save our lives by defeating the devil, but what’s more, He gives us life – eternal and joyful life – by being our one true Good Shepherd.

For what did the Lord speak through the prophet Ezekiel?  “Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out…. I will seek out… I will rescue.”  He goes on to say that He will bring them out, gather them, bring them in, and feed them.”  The Lord God Himself does this.  He doesn’t leave this to a hired hand.  The Lord, the Son of God Himself, is this very Shepherd!

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus defied evil by rising from the dead.  He confounded the devil and the grave by forgiving our sins and restoring us to the Father unto eternal life.  And so whenever sin tempts you; whenever death haunts you; whenever the devil lies in wait for you, you have a Good Shepherd to defend you: to crack the head of the devil, to defeat death by dying, and by destroying the power of sin.  You do not have a hireling.  No, you have a Good Shepherd, one who wields the shepherd’s crook mightily, all for you, and He does not back down.  And so you can trust Him!  This, dear friends, is the very faith that Luther writes about.

Perhaps in your life you have had a pet that trusted you without wavering – even in frightening or difficult times.  Your animals perceive that you love them and will take care of them.  And if you are a good shepherd of sorts, your pet will show unwavering faith in you.

But in the case of Jesus, He is our truly Good Shepherd.  He is perfect.  His love is perfect.  His care for us is perfect.  And we are not brute beasts, but human beings created in the very image of God.  We are valuable not because of what we can do, but rather because of the love God has for us.  Christ died for us.  That is how valuable we are to Him.

“He Himself,” declares St. Peter, “bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Because of His perfect love toward us, we can perfectly trust Him, for He is the Good Shepherd.

Dear friends, Dr. Luther is right.  Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, we can follow Him implicitly, even trusting our lives to Him a thousand times over without question.

This is the source of our faith: our Good Shepherd in whom we trust, in His promises, in His atonement of us, in His resurrection that points forward to our own resurrection as well.

Dear friends, Your Shepherd is calling you to follow Him.  He is beckoning You to the rich pasture of the eternal feast.  He is inviting you gather with the flock, to remain faithful, to trust Him, and to enjoy the blessings of eternal life.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2017

23 April 2017

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In this second Sunday of Easter, we often focus on the person of St. Thomas the apostle, “Doubting Thomas” as he is often nicknamed.  And Thomas’s confession is dramatic.  But what is far more important than Thomas and his doubt and confession, is the object of his confession: our risen Lord Jesus Christ!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that He was truly dead, and now He truly lives.  What the disciples saw at the cross was not some sort of illusion or trick.  The wounds they saw – including St. John’s gory account of the Roman spear being thrust into our Lord’s side to assure His death through the issue of “the water and the blood” from His body – these mortal wounds were not a clever conspiracy.

But there is so much more that our Lord is teaching us to confess about Him.  For example, our Lord confirms the Most Holy Trinity: “As the Father has sent Me,” He says, “I am sending you.”  And then He breathes on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.  If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

Here we see the Father sending the Son, and the Son sending the Holy Spirit.  Here we see the Most Holy Trinity coming to sinful men, authorizing them to speak on behalf of God, bearing the keys to forgive or to withhold forgiveness from others.

Our Lord gives this authority to those whom He is sending out, which is what the word “apostles” means.  He gives the Holy Spirit to them, so that they can forgive sins.  And they in turn will lay hands on other men to give them the Holy Spirit, so that this ministry of forgiveness and the use of the keys will continue for as long as people need to be forgiven their sins.  Our Lord also passes to them the burden of church discipline, to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant.  

St. Thomas had seen the Lord forgive sins.  He had heard our Lord delegate authority to preachers and send them out bearing Good News, even being empowered with authority over demons.  None of this was Thomas’s stumbling-block.

Rather it was the bodily resurrection of the Lord.  This was, and is, the most difficult – and the most liberating – teaching of the Christian faith.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus being born.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus preaching and teaching.  Nobody has a problem believing that Jesus died.  And truth be told, most people would have no problem with Jesus “going to heaven” and doing whatever disembodied spirits do.  Most people love the idea of Jesus’s “teachings” – especially in matters of ethics, of tolerance, of love, of acceptance, of turning the other cheek and of not being judgmental – even as there are other teachings of Jesus most people would rather ignore.

But where we Christians get real pushback is from what really put Thomas to the test: the physical, bodily resurrection.

Unbelievers tell us it’s a myth (though they cannot explain the empty tomb, the historical accounts of appearances of Jesus, the fact that the apostles chose to die rather than renounce their belief in the risen Jesus, and other such dilemmas).  Some unbelievers weave together laughable theories, such as a botched crucifixion, or a conspiracy to steal the body of Jesus, to lie about it, and then to die under torture rather than admit the truth.  Jews tell us Jesus died, but deny the resurrection.  Muslims deny the execution of Jesus.  Some heretical groups argue that Jesus ceased being divine when He died, while others claim He became an angel after the crucifixion.  

The resurrection of Jesus is both the central tenet of Christianity, and the one that is hardest to believe.  Even Thomas, who witnessed Jesus’s miracles for three years – including the raising of Lazarus from the dead – had trouble believing the testimony of the Marys – and now of the other disciples – that they “had seen the Lord.”

Thomas expresses his resistance to a bodily resurrection by invoking the flesh of Jesus: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”  He simply will not believe in the physical resurrection of the once-dead Jesus.  

He might have believed that the disciples saw an apparition or ghost.  He might have believed that they had some kind of vision or trance.  He might have believed that Jesus spiritually rose from the dead.  But what he could not fathom was a revivified body walking out of His own grave.

But, dear friends, think about what the bodily resurrection of Jesus means!  It means that Jesus has truly overcome sin, because sin leads to death, and death leads to corruption.  Jesus has reversed the process.  Just as His body saw no corruption, and His body rose from death, and because He, the sinless one paid the ransom for us poor miserable sinners, that means that we too can look forward to standing upon our feet, a great army of the redeemed, former dead, dry bones revivified by the Holy Spirit: not to be ghosts or angels or fond memories in someone’s heart, but rather to be restored with sinews, flesh, and skin, to have the spirit blown back into our dead bodies so that, yes indeed, these bones can live!

This is what it means that our Lord Jesus Christ “has overcome the world.”  We live in a fallen world.  Everyone and everything dies.  Every human being is sinful and corrupt and mortal.  That is our world.  We accept it as normal.  “To err is human,” we say.  But Jesus says that to be human is to be in the image of God.  And He leads the way from the tomb to the newness of life, to incorruptibility, to eternal communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

And that communion is fleshly, dear friends.  Jesus communes with us the same way He communes with Thomas: physically, in the body, in the blood of His wounds.  “Put you finger here,” He says to Thomas.  “Take, eat; take drink,” He says to us.  “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And like St. Thomas, many Christians find it hard to believe that the physical Christ is among us.  He is with us in His Word, forgiving our sins by means of the Holy Spirit that He sent to us as pastors bear the keys.  And He is with us in the same risen fleshly body presented to Thomas, being offered to us in the sacrament.  

And what is far more important than our ability to explain what happens in the Lord’s Supper is just who is physically present with us when He comes to us.  He bids us: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And on this day and on every day in which the Lord comes to us in His body and blood, we receive with great joy the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, even as we confess with St. Thomas that the risen Lord Jesus is: “My Lord and my God!” and with St. John that “by believing you may have life in His name.”  “Blessed are those,” says our Lord, who have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon: Easter – 2017

16 April 2017

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

If you ask Lutherans all around the world, “What is the First Commandment?” they will recite, “You shall have no other gods.”  Then if you ask them, “What does this mean?”  They will reply in whatever language is spoken in their part of the world: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Loving God and trusting God are things that are easy to understand.  Of course, God loves us, so we love Him in return.  Of course, God is faithful, so we trust Him implicitly.  But what is it about God, that the first item on the list is “fear”?

Why should we fear someone that we love and trust?  Several times in the Psalms we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Not the love of the Lord, nor faith in Him, but fear of Him.  

As we get to know God through the Scriptures we learn that we shouldn’t fear Him because He is petty and mean, but rather because He is righteous and just, and we are anything but.  We shouldn’t fear Him because He is sadistic and loves to see us hurt – far from it.  That’s more our attitude toward others. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom because to fear God is to acknowledge His holiness and our unrighteousness.  And it is in understanding this reality, that the entire Bible makes sense, that the Christian faith falls into place, and that we can really grow in our love and trust of God.

One of my former professors observed a few days ago that what plagues our culture and society more than anything (and we, the church are included in this observation), is that we no longer fear God.  I agree with him. For we have reduced God to a fuzzy idea, a superstitious belief not in an Almighty One, but an All Tolerant One.  We don’t feel the need to repent, because God is love.  And since we are saved by grace alone, we don’t have to work hard in the kingdom.  We can be lazy and just take and take without ever doing our duty as believers.  We don’t need to support our brothers and sisters by being at Divine Service, because we are instead thinking about whether or not “we get something out of it.”  It’s all about us.  And if we think we “get more out of” watching TV preachers or looking at facebook stories about religion, or reading our Bible at home instead, then that’s what we do rather than obeying the Lord’s command and invitation.  And since God is a big pushover who doesn’t ask anything of us, we don’t fear His wrath at our self-justifications, that we know deep down inside, are wrong.

As Luther says, “We should fear His wrath and not do anything against” the commandments.  The disciples of Jesus saw firsthand the wrath of God, as did the chief priests, the scribes, the soldiers, the Pharisees, the crucified robbers, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, and all of the witness of the crucifixion, friends and enemies alike.  They saw the skies darken, the earthquake, the bodies of some of the saints emerging from the graves, the curtain of the temple torn from top to bottom.  They saw Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in real time.  They saw blood and gore and torture, the worst miscarriage of justice in history, and the confirmation that the most righteous Man the world has ever seen, was truly dead, as blood and water poured from a gash in his chest made by a Roman spear.  They saw the bloodied and mangled corpse of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead, the One who fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, the One who cast out countless demons and cured myriads of the sick – hastily laid out on a slab in a garden tomb as the High Sabbath Day came rushing in with the setting of the sun.

Good Friday was a frightful time, a day when the fear of God was on full display, and the wrath of God was poured out upon the Lamb.

But we are now at Easter morning.  Jesus has risen!  He has borne the wrath of God for us, and now He lives!  What is there to be afraid of?

It has always struck me as ironic that the last word in the Easter Gospel reading is: “afraid.”  It is said about the Marys, the very first witnesses of the resurrection: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

After all the terrors that they saw on Good Friday, why are they afraid now?

Actually, it makes perfect sense.  Fear is a natural reaction to being jolted out of a normal situation.  Our hearts race, our breathing quickens, and adrenaline courses our veins, making us tremble, and filling us with nervous energy.  This is how our bodies react to the unknown, to things that perplex us, to situations that unnerve us.

The Marys went to the tomb on Sunday morning expecting to find the body of Jesus so they could complete the embalming ritual.  The first thing that set them on edge was that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  It was very large, so this was no accident.  Had robbers come?  Would they encounter a group of violent men hiding inside?  Their hearts must have begun to race.

They went inside and found “a young man sitting on the right side dressed in a white robe.”  We are explicitly told that “they were alarmed.”  The word translated as “alarmed” could be thought of as “stunned” or “gob-smacked.”  The angel immediately told them not to be alarmed.  He also told them the good news: “He has risen; He is not here.”  He showed them so that they could see with their own eyes.

Now, dear friends, if you could only put yourself in their place.  Can you imagine going to the cemetery and finding the tomb of one of your loved ones open, and an angel were to appear and tell you such a thing?

Imagine the power and might of God to raise Jesus from the dead, to send an angel to tell the good news, and ponder that these two humble women have been chosen to bring this most extraordinary news in the history of the world to the world by breaking the news to the disciples.

In the span of seconds, their lives have changed.  The entire world has changed.  History itself has changed.  Death has been conquered.  Sin has been destroyed.  The devil has been defeated.  In spite of the workings of the mighty Roman Empire and the powerful chief priests and Council of Judea – our Lord has walked right out of the tomb –under the noses of a guard detail, in spite of the governor’s seal placed on the door. And even before the stone was rolled away, Jesus was alive, and had departed what was supposed to be the place where His body would decay, where one day His bones would be collected and put into a box, eventually to be forgotten in a cave somewhere.

Not today, dear friends.  Not today.  And not any day.  Those days are over.  We have the promise of the resurrection of our own flesh.

For God is in charge.  God’s will has been done.  The love of God has raised Jesus from the dead and has cleansed us from our sins, from our mortality, and from our bondage to the evil one.  The faithfulness of God has proven flawless, as the will of God from before the foundation of the world was carried out, according to the Scriptures, by the word of the prophets.  Jesus has come, has conquered, and now lives again.  And so it is fitting that we love and trust in God above all things.

But let us not forget the healthy fear that the Marys experienced on that greatest and most wondrous day.  Their fear was a holy fear, borne of the knowledge that God is almighty and that He is carrying out His will – and even using them as His humble instruments to do so.  They are dealing with the mightiest power of the universe, the One against whom death itself is ineffectual and the seeming power of the grave is nothing more than an annoyance to be swept away by the nail-scarred hand of Him who has overcome.

Let us celebrate the resurrection!  Let us hurl defiant curses against the evil one!  Let us say to death, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Let us praise God with great joy!  Let us love God all the more as the one who loves us and all of His creation.  Let us trust in God that His plan is always good, even when we cannot see its inner workings, knowing that our dear Father only intends our benefit.

And let us also fear God, dear friends, knowing that His power is without limit, that He has saved us as a free gift for the purpose not that we should be lazy, but that we should work all the more fervently, with gratitude for all the blessings that He has bestowed upon us: even our own resurrection in the fullness of time.

The fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.  

Let us “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” with “boldness and confidence asking Him as dear children ask their dear father.”  Let us joyfully sing the praises of our risen Lord for all eternity, for we know that our Redeemer lives.  And let us pray that the Holy Spirit would direct us to carry out our own labor of love for the Kingdom with the obedient fear of the Marys, ready to live out our vocations in the church in a life that will have no end!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon: Good Friday – 2017

14 April 2017

Text: John 18:1-19:42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Good Friday detailed account of our Lord’s arrest, trial, flogging, crucifixion, death, and burial, very little is said about the crucifixion itself.  St. John writes: “He went out bearing His own cross, to the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.”

There are no other details about the crucifixion itself.

And yet, the cross is central to the church: to salvation, to the faith, to the liturgy, to the doctrine, and even to the history of mankind and of all creation.  The death of the Lord upon the cross is the pinnacle of the entire Bible: the fulfillment of prophecy, the culmination of the Divine plan and will, the one great atonement to restore the universe to its right existence after mankind’s tragic fall into sin and death. 

The cross is the very expression of Jesus in His Kingdom, the reason why the King was born in the flesh, the purpose for which He came into the world. The cross is where the Lord bears full witness to the truth: the truth that God loves His creation and will stop at nothing to save and redeem sinful men.

The cross is the entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

Our Lord said that to follow Him, we must all take up our own cross.  For no disciple is above his Master.  We follow Jesus, dear friends.  That means we follow Him by gathering where He is to be found, hearing His Words, following in His footsteps – even to the place of a skull, the place of death, the place that is called “Golgotha.”

For in this fallen world, there are many crosses.  We are all to bear our own, and to help our brothers and sisters in their burdens.  And this is unnatural for us fallen men.  We all seek to avoid pain and run to pleasure.  But Jesus says that to follow Him means to bear the cross. That is because bearing the cross is an act of love and an act of faith: love, because the Lord suffered for the sake of our sins, and faith, because we trust that our suffering is part of a Divine plan from which will come good, just as His cross is – even though we cannot see the meaning behind our own crosses.

On this Good Friday in which we are saved by the cross, we do well to consider our own crosses and how we are bearing them.  Are we embittered or angry?  Are we jealous of others?  Are we enraged at God?  Do we see our own suffering as cosmic meaninglessness?  Do we find ways to avoid our crosses and seek our own pleasure – even at the expense of others?

The cross is the most beloved symbol in the Christian faith, and that is true for a very good reason.  Without the cross, we remain in our sins. Without the cross, our suffering is truly in vain.  Without the cross, there is no love for us, to us, or by us.  But in the cross of Jesus, we have love, life, victory, hope, communion with God, and strength to face our own crosses.  This is not to say that bearing the cross is easy.  This is not to say the old slogan that “God won’t give you what you can’t handle.”  But rather, God has given us His Son, in love for us, so that we might conquer death and the grave, and ultimately, the crosses that we suffer are conquered in eternity.  We may not be able to handle our crosses, but Christ has, does, and will until He returns in glory.

The cross did not stop with our Lord’s execution on Good Friday.  All of the apostles suffered because of their confession and their preaching of Christ and Him crucified.  All but one of the twelve were themselves executed, and some of them by literal crucifixion.  The earliest days of the church saw cruelty beyond imagining, and no Christian was exempt: not the very old, nor the very young.  Not the pregnant woman, nor the invalid.  Because of the cross of Jesus and the faith given to them by water and the Word, they, our martyred brothers and sisters, were willing to bear their own crosses, even unto death, as a living testimony of the Lord’s cross.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, 49 Christians were killed in Egypt during their worship service.  While waving palms and singing “Hosannas”, they were martyred for the sake of Christ.  They were called to bear an enormous cross with no warning.  Our beloved martyred brothers and sisters include a little girl barely old enough to walk, and a young altar boy vested and serving at the altar.

There is a recent video for all the world to see of Arab Christians whose church was recently bombed.  The people are standing around the ruins and saying the Nicene Creed together in Arabic.  They are bearing the burden of a weighty cross, and there is no end in sight to their suffering.  And yet they confess the Creed.

Our sister in Christ, Asia Bibi, for whom we have been praying for many years, has just passed her seventh Good Friday bearing the cross of living in a cruel dungeon, separated from her husband and children, for the sake of her Christian confession.

For many people around the world, our Lord’s command to “take up your cross” is much more than putting money in a plate and getting up early on Sunday. The Lord calls us not to go to church, but to be the church.  Five days ago marked the 72nd anniversary of the martyrdom of Lutheran theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose book “The Cost of Discipleship” ponders the meaning of bearing the cross.  He writes: “The cross is laid on every Christian.  The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world…. When Christ calls a man, He bids Him to come and die.”

Confessing Christ in this country will not likely get you killed, but it could very well cost you your life’s savings, your business, your house, and everything you have accumulated in a life of hard work, simply for following your conscience as a Christian.  Again, American brothers and sisters in Christ who have had to pay this price to follow Jesus did not ask for this cross, and they were not warned.  But they bore it when it came.

You may be passed over for a promotion at work or may get a bad grade in school because of your Christian confession.  You may be ostracized and mocked by people you thought were your dear friends.  You may be disowned by your family. You may be confronted and asked questions out of the blue by people with power over you, and your life will radically change based on that one answer that you give in that one moment.  Will we bear our crosses if and when that time comes?

Dear friends, by our own strength, we would all certainly fall.  But in Christ’s cross we glory, because in Him we can do all things.  He comes to you as a sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who pays your admission to eternity, the ransom for your own resurrected body that will never see decay. He offers His body and blood to the Father, and He shares it with you this very day in the Holy Sacrament.

We bear the cross because we know what is coming next.  We endure this Friday that pains us to call “Good,” because we know the “very good” that is to come Sunday morning.  We pray for strength to bear our own crosses, for He has born the cross for us. 

Let us keep vigil with the body of the crucified Christ, dear brothers and sisters.  Let us keep watch at the cemetery.  Until Sunday.  Until the Lord’s return.  Until eternity.  Amen.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2017

13 April 2017

Text: 1 Cor 11:23-32

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There wasn’t much reason to expect anything extraordinary.  Everyone knew how the meal was going to work.  It was a traditional ritual that the disciples had done every year of their lives.  It was scripted.  The leader of the meal said prayers, and the attendees replied with responses and “amens.” 

There was bread and wine.  There was a roasted lamb.  There were bitter herbs.

These things took place to recall the ancient history of Israel’s exodus from slavery under Pharaoh to freedom in the Promised Land.  The holy meal commemorated the time when the blood of the lamb delivered the children of Israel from death, as the angel passed them over. 

Although this meal was a holiday tradition, it was repeated so often that much of its meaning was probably lost amid thoughts about the other people gathered around the table, as well as mundane thoughts, like, “Did we buy enough wine?”, “Was the lamb overcooked?” and “Will someone drink too much and make  fool of himself this year?”

And everyone looked forward to this feast.  It was a time for family, fun, and friends.  And it was so regular that everyone was comfortable with his part in the drama.

And then came this particular Passover meal.

Unbeknownst to the disciples, every Passover they had ever attended, and every Passover their ancestors had taken part in, every Passover ever celebrated on the planet for some fifteen centuries was leading up to this one.

For the fullness of time had come.  The “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world” has taken His place at the table to be eaten, the bread that is His body, the wine that is His blood, He, the priest and the offering, He, the host and the guest, He the Master and the servant, He, the new and greater Moses, the true Promised Land, and the One who delivers the world from its slavery to sin and leads all who join Him and this table – all who are washed, all who believe – to everlasting life, to pure and perfect righteousness, to eternal communion with God.

What seemed so ordinary and common has become extraordinary and holy: bread that becomes His body, wine that becomes His blood, Words spoken by a man that bear within them the very power of God Himself.

For the God who created the universe in six days by means of His Word has delivered us to a new day, a new week of creation even, by means of the word of the Word Made Flesh, words of institution that the apostles themselves would speak as called and ordained servants of the Word over bread and wine, and the miracle of the Lord’s presence continues – through them, through us, through those who will come after us, and even unto the Lord’s return.

And indeed, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

The Lord Jesus also did something shocking and unexpected that had never been done in the ordinary ritual before: He stripped down and wrapped Himself with a towel.  He washed the feet of each one present as if He were a lowly slave.  He explained that this cleansing with water was necessary in order to have a share with Him.  And having washed them unto their regeneration, our Lord quizzed them: “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  Yes indeed.  He washed us – we did not cleanse ourselves.  He made us worthy – we did not make ourselves fit to be in His presence.  He used water and His Word to act upon us physically to prepare us to receive the holy feast that He had planned for us upon the table of the altar.

He did this out of love, and He bade us to love one another.  It is not an option, but a command, a mandate, something that is as much a part of Christianity as the cross itself.  “By this,” says our Lord, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The time of instruction for the disciples was coming to a close.  Our Lord was preparing them to become apostles, to be sent out among all the people of the world, to wash them with water, to repeat His Word, to announce His coming, and to share this ongoing meal with all who have been washed in His name.

For this meal, this last Passover, this first Eucharist, was the Lord’s last will and testament: the testament of His blood, the blood shed upon the cross, the blood of the Lamb without blemish.  Jesus was giving to them the benefits of His sacrificial death, and commanding them, “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” – bringing Himself closer to them than they ever thought possible, even sharing in a mysterious bodily communion that continues in the church – we who are called “the body of Christ” to this present day.

For in this ritualized meal that seems so ordinary and scripted, with its prayers and its “amens,” with its bread and wine, with our wandering minds and the ordinariness of it all, is something truly extraordinary: the Lamb who was roasted, the burnt offering of the Son upon the cross, whose offering was a sweet aroma in the nostrils of the Lord, a sacrifice willingly offered out of love and a desire to save and redeem, that Lamb is with us, dear friends.  Not as a carcass of meat, but as a resurrected body given to you to eat and to drink unto salvation and everlasting life.

Our Lord’s Supper is at the same time ordinary and extraordinary.  For it is bread and wine and the same prayers and ritual we do every week, and nevertheless, our Lord is with us each and every time, the Shepherd feeding the Sheep, the Lamb whose blood sets us free, giving us His body and blood, leading us to eternal life.  Take eat!  Take drink!  Amen.

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

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sermon: Palmarum (Lent 6) – 2017

9 April 2017

Text: Matt 21:1-9

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The sixth week of Lent has begun, dear friends.  Holy Week is finally here.  It begins the same way that the First and Holiest of all Holy Weeks began: with palms and Hosannas to the Son of David.  It began by a royal welcome to our King. It will reach its pinnacle with the cross and the empty tomb.  We remember our King’s regal Palm Sunday entrance to claim His throne, leading on that Good Friday to His coronation that is like none other in history, and culminating in next Sunday’s Paschal victory celebration in the most unlikely of all places: a grave.

Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus is not just a great teacher or a really nice guy or a role model.  He is not our buddy, nor our genie in a lamp.  He is a King.  He is our King. He is the King.  He is the Creator and the Ruler of the universe.  He is being welcomed to Jerusalem in the exact same way that David’s son Solomon was brought into the Holy City to receive his crown.  And make no mistake, Jesus is the Greater Son of David, and He will likewise receive a crown – not of gold or silver, but of thorns.  He will be hailed as a King – not in reverence, but in mockery.  He will be brought to the palace – not as the potentate but as a prisoner.

His Kingdom is not of this world.  Nor is it like anything this world has ever seen. 

Very seldom will a king lay down his life for his countrymen.  And never does a king willingly die for his enemies – but this King does just that, and more. 

In our day and age, most of the kings still left in the world are mere figureheads: hollow men with portraits on paper money and stamps, human props trotted out on national holidays to wave to the crowds and pose for pictures, powerless men who have nothing to do with actual governance. 

And King Jesus seems even more pathetic at first blush.  Here is a King who goes about barefoot.  He has no throne to sit upon, no palace to live in, no country to call His realm.  Instead, this King is destined to hang upon a cross, take up His abode in a tomb, and be rejected by the very people of whom He is King.

But what is really happening, dear friends?  Here is the King of the Universe who is truly God and yet who takes upon Himself human flesh and blood.  He willingly enthrones Himself upon the cross out of love, to rule as no other Sovereign in history, to reign eternally in love and forgiveness, with both unlimited power and boundless mercy.  And He allows His dead body to be laid in a tomb – the abode of the dead, the fate that awaits every sinner from Adam and Eve, to the present, and until the last day.  He takes up His Sabbath residence in the cold stone grave in order to blow it up, to turn the grave from the place where even every king is defeated, transforming it into a place where even the lowliest servant of Christ is victorious.  Jesus has come to turn the world on its head, to turn a sign of torture into a sign of life, and to turn a place of mourning into a place of celebration.  He has come to pay for your sins with His blood, and to offer His righteousness as a trade for your sinfulness.  And only He has the power to do this.  And so we sing: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Our modern-day powerless kings cover themselves in gold and furs and jewels, though they can do nothing.  But our True King, the Son of David, our King who comes to us humble, and mounted on a donkey, comes to us without even a robe to cover Himself upon the cross, and yet His might is limitless and His power beyond all reckoning.  He is covered with a burial shroud that explodes with light and energy as His body is reanimated, as He walks effortlessly out of the tomb, and as He appears to His disciples.  He clothes Himself to this day humbly, mounted by His Word, coming to us by means of bread and wine, His triumphant body and His sacrificial and saving blood, bursting from the tomb, blasting through space, and transcending time, reigning from the altar, given to you, here and now, more powerful and fearsome than an exploding galaxy, and yet as tender as a flower swaying in a gentle April breeze. 

That one wafer and that one sip, dear friends, contain the power to destroy and rebuild the entire universe in the blink of an eye.  And it is given to you, as a free gift, a merciful King’s Ransom from your Lord, the gift of Himself, the gift that means you will live forever, and even your body itself will rise from the grave, as His has done.  All of this is given to you as a free gift, which you claim unto yourself by simple faith in His Word, calling to mind your second birth by means of baptism – all of which is what we are expressing when we say each and every time: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

For all of this is embedded in that little word “Hosanna” – which means “Save.”  Unlike today’s figureheads and even unlike the kings of the past who actually ruled, King Jesus is not merely a Ruler, but a Savior.  He has come to rebuild our broken world and to place us upon His throne.  He has come to reconcile and renew and re-create.  He has come to forgive sin.  He has come to destroy death.  He has come to obliterate Satan.

It may have been the understatement of all time when our Lord told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” 

Let us pray that this holy week will be a time of holy joy as we ponder our King, as we hear the Word of the King, as we are rescued by the King, and even as we are allowed to sit at table to eat and drink with our King, as we ponderZ anew that our King has come to defeat our bitterest enemies and to bring us victory and peace.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”


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