Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 13 – 2016

21 August 2016

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The word “Samaritan” is one of those biblical words that has come into our language and is even used by people who have never read the Bible it all.  The fact that we have this word, and it is usually preceded by the word “good,” – the “good Samaritan” – is a testimony to the influence of Jesus even among unbelievers.

Most people know that a “good Samaritan” is someone who helps someone else, a volunteer, sometimes a person who just happens to be on the scene and gives aid to another person.  Maybe there’s someone choking in a restaurant, and a stranger gives him a squeeze and dislodges the food from the victim’s windpipe.  Or a good Samaritan might be the guy who is seen changing the tire for someone on the side of the road.

There are good Samaritan vans that help motorists, good Samaritan centers that feed the hungry, and even good Samaritan laws that protect people from being sued for doing a good deed in an emergency.

In the modern, secular world, most people think about the word Samaritan in that way: as a good guy.

But to those listening to the story, the Samaritan is not a good guy, not a beloved person.  And this is an important part of our Lord’s story.  For at that time, a Samaritan was a hated person.  He was an outcast.  If you associated with him, you were afraid that some of his unpopularity might rub off on you.  You avoided and hated Samaritans.  You made fun of them and told jokes about them.  They were certainly not the heroes of any stories.

This is part of what makes our Lord’s parable so utterly remarkable.  Jesus is like no storyteller in history.  For He is the author of history itself.

This story came about because of a lawyer’s question, a man who would have grown up hating Samaritans.  He wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life.  Lawyers know that inheritors don’t do anything.  You inherit stuff by virtue of the kindness of the deceased person.  So he asks a flawed question.  Maybe he is trying to trick Jesus.  There was a lot of that going on in those days.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Our Lord answers the lawyer by asking him to recite the law and to interpret it.  And the lawyer knows the law.  You can have eternal life by keeping the law: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  So Jesus matter-of-factly tells the man to do that.  Jesus tells him to just be perfect and it’s all good: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  

But the lawyer misses the point.  He should have said: “But I can’t be perfect!  I fail to keep the law!”  And he would not have been far from the kingdom.  But instead, “desiring to justify himself,” our proud lawyer, “said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

For if you can narrow the definition of “neighbor,” you can make it easier to keep the law.  If you are only required to love your family and friends, that’s a lot easier than loving strangers, or even enemies.  So the lawyer seeks a loophole.

Jesus does not deal in loopholes.  Instead, the lawyer gets a story that has changed the world.  And this is that story:

A guy gets robbed and beat up.  A priest sees the victim bleeding in the street, and ignores him. A Levite, that is, a priest’s helper, also sees him and ignores him.  And then comes the Samaritan, the dirty foreign half-breed that we have been taught to hate, mock, and avoid for as long as anyone can remember.  And this filthy Samaritan “had compassion.”  “He went to him and bound up his wounds” and administered medicine.  He transported him to an inn.  He paid for his lodging.  He promises more money if it is needed.  He promises to come again.

And Jesus asks the loophole-seeking lawyer is own question: “who is the neighbor: the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?”  Our lawyer cannot get out of it.  He has been backed into the corner.  He answers: “The one who showed him mercy” – because he can’t even bear to say: “the Samaritan.”  

“You go and do likewise,” says Jesus.  He calls the selfish and proud lawyer to repent and to love his neighbor.

But Jesus is telling another story between the lines.  In the kingdom of God, the Samaritan, the one who is hated, the one who is accused of being illegitimate, the one who is the enemy of the priests and the Levites and the lawyers, is the One who is good: the One who shows mercy.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Though hated by the priests, he shows mercy.  Though reviled by the Levites, he blesses but does not curse.  Though He is beaten to death through a corrupt legal system, He applies the medicine of immortality: His very body and blood and healing Word – to a world that hates Him.  Though He is nailed to a tree and offered vinegar to drink, He is the one bearing oil and wine, who binds up our wounds of sin and suffering and death, offering Himself as a ransom.  He transports us from the broken road of sin and suffering to the inn of eternal life.  He pays for our lodging with His very own lifeblood, shed upon the cross, and shared within the chalice.  He promises even more, as His treasury of mercy is limitless.  And indeed, He promises to come again.

He, who was rejected by this world, by His nation, by the priests and the Levites and the scribes and the lawyers, He shows mercy, even where the Law is merciless toward us, where the Temple sacrifices in and of themselves do not save us.  This Samaritan, this Savior, is the only one who is “good,” for “His mercy endureth forever.”

Indeed, dear friends, our Lord is the only truly Good Samaritan, who saves us in our greatest need, who rescues us in our moment of our most fearsome peril.  He takes the wrath of God that we deserve, and exchanges it for the eternal reward that we don’t deserve.  He does this out of love and mercy for each one of us.  This is a cause of rejoicing, dear friends.  We do not need a loophole, because we have a Savior.  We do not need to justify ourselves by manipulating the Law, because He has justified us by manumitting us by grace. 

Yes, indeed, dear friends, let us rejoice in our Good Samaritan, our good and merciful Savior. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”  Amen.


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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 12 – 2016

14 August 2016

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When something is really important, we say that it is a “matter of life and death.”  Christianity is of the highest importance of anything in this world, and St. Paul calls it a matter of death and life, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

The way the world works, you start out alive, and end up dead.  You do anything and everything to stave off death, for you love your life, and will do anything to save it.  But according to the Spirit, we are born dead (in sin), and end up alive (in Christ).  At the first opportunity, we take a child and drown his or her sinful nature in Holy Baptism, making the child a disciple and killing off the Old Man so that a New Man might arise in its place.  And our Lord Jesus says that whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

And though we Christians understand the death of a Christian to be a portal to eternal life, we, unlike the world, don’t see death as a part of life, a friend, or the solution to a problem.  No indeed, we Christians see death as a vile enemy, but, a conquered enemy, a defanged tiger, a grounded dragon, a subdued foe.

Indeed, the letter of the Law kills.  It kills our pretensions and claims to righteousness.  It kills our hypocrisy and dishonesty with ourselves.  It kills any hope of salvation through works.  And once the sinful flesh has been put to death, this flesh is restored, just as Jesus restored the flesh of lepers, restored sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, and restored speech to the mute. As St. Paul says: “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters of stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”

The apostle tells us that the “ministry of righteousness” given by the Spirit under the Gospel is of greater glory than the “ministry of condemnation” given under the Law.

So we Christians start off dead and end up alive by the Spirit, who is the “Lord and giver of life.”  And yet we are surrounded by a kind of walking dead in this world, people whose bodies function but whose spirits are not made alive by the Spirit.  We are surrounded by a culture of death in which the solution to pain is euthanasia, the solution to unplanned pregnancy is abortion, and the solution to conflict is murder.

We look around at our shrinking churches and the growing hostility to the faith.  Christians are forced to take part in antichristian ceremonies, children are forced to bear with the opposite sex in their restrooms, the elderly must live in fear of being declared a burden and put to sleep like a sick pet, Christians are threatened around the world by militant jihadists, and the popular culture mocks us, marginalizes us, and draws our children into secularism and selfishness.

But hear anew the promise of the Prophet Isaiah, dear brothers and sisters: “The ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off.”  “For when he sees his children, the work of My hands in his midst, they will sanctify My name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe at the God of Israel.”

These are promises of hope, dear friends, and they were first given to the people of God who were held captive in Babylon, defeated by their enemies, enslaved, force-fed a new language and a new culture, and kept by military might from ever going home.  And yet, the Lord uttered these promises to these very people.

These words have been fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, in, and by, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel, our Lord is brought a victim: a victim of sin, of death, and of the devil, a man whose body bears the scars of the Fall, not only marked for death, but impeded by silence, by the inability to hear and to speak.  In his distress, this poor man from the Decapolis cannot cry out to Jesus for help.  He cannot hear the word of Absolution, the words of forgiveness, the words of the Gospel.  He cannot hear the words of the prophets and the words of promise of hope.  Moreover, he cannot speak words of prayer, words of praise, words of thanksgiving.  There is something of death in his prison of silence.

But Jesus has come to rip the prison doors off the hinges, to burst the very bars of the portal to the grave, and to blast open the gates to heaven itself.  That which has been silenced is to be heard.  That which has been slammed shut is to be flung open.  That which has been condemned to death is to be restored unequivocally to life.

“And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’”

And, dear brothers and sisters, look at what was opened: his ears to hear the condemnation of the Law and the forgiveness of the Gospel; ears to hear the words of the prophets, the words of Christ, the words of the apostles, the promises of God and the assurance of the resurrection!  And what else was opened?  His mouth was opened, “his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”  His mouth was opened to thank His Lord and Master, to praise His God and Savior, to tell his neighbors the good news of his restoration, to sing, to pray, to praise, and to give thanks unto the Lord, even as the Psalmist prays: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.”

And what’s more, heaven was opened to this man as the sin-induced closure was unobstructed.  Righteousness was opened because the impediment to hearing the Gospel was taken away.  The path to victory over evil was opened as the Word of the Lord, delivered by Word and by earthly element, presented by hands, and testified in Scripture – broke through the oppressive silence with the Word of Life.

And the same miracle happens to us, dear friends. For sin closes us up, turns us in on ourselves, shuts our ears to the Word of God, and clogs our mouths so that we do not pray, praise, or give thanks.  In reflecting on this miracle from our text, the great preacher St. Ambrose noted: “In this way the minister is now touching your ears, that your ears may be opened to this sermon and exhortation.”

And so, once more, my dear brothers and sisters, this “Ephphatha” that you hear yet again in the Aramaic language of Jesus, in the very sound that reverberated in the ears of this man from the Decapolis twenty centuries ago, this “Be opened” is not my word, and not my command.  It is rather the word of Jesus.  It is a command that not even Satan himself can silence.  Hear this word, dear people of God, “Ephphatha, that is, be opened.”

And by the power of Christ, may your ears be opened to the Holy Word, and may your mouths be opened to receive the Holy Sacrament, and may your tongues be loosened to sing the praises of Him who won eternal life for you at the cross, and may all of our tongues confess and profess ever more zealously and boldly that our Lord “has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  And let us add that He has saved us from our sins and given us the gift of new and everlasting life.

Ephphatha!  Be opened! It is a matter of death and life. Amen.


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

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Olympics: Sometimes the Tiny Triumph

The Summer Olympics are usually dominated by major sports: gymnastics, swimming, track and field, basketball, etc. and by major nations: the USA, Russia, Canada, China, etc.

Every now and then, a tiny country like Fiji is victorious in a sport that many Americans are not familiar with, such as their recent gold medal in Rugby Sevens, the mini-nation's very first.

But here is a winter sport that a very small country, like the Stateless Micronation of Beanelandia, could actually compete in.

Pyeongchang 2018?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sermon: St. Lawrence - 2016


10 August 2016

Text: Mark 8:34-38

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Like all days in which we celebrate the Divine Service, today is a day of remembrance. For our Lord said, “Do this in memory of Me.”  And so we do this in remembrance of Him.  On this day, we also remember the words of our Lord, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”  Moreover, we don’t just remember these words, we hopefully live them out, and hopefully we call to mind and honor our faithful brothers and sisters who did just that: who took up their cross to follow our Lord, and who lost their lives in order to save them.

On this date, one thousand six hundred and fifty eight years ago, our dear brother in Christ, the Deacon Lawrence of Rome, lost his life in order to save his life; he took up His cross and followed our Lord to the grave and to heaven.

In times past, dear friends, we have had the luxury of viewing the Christian martyrs as interesting tidbits of history, safely removed from our lives as we sit on comfortable couches in air conditioned rooms with no thought that we ourselves might be called upon to offer our blood as martyrs.

But no more.

More Christians are being martyred today than in the days of the ancient Romans.  Islamist jihadists routinely slaughter Christian people in the Middle East, and now in Europe, and perhaps soon, in the United States.  We certainly hope and pray to be delivered from this scourge.  But, dear friends, we must understand what it means to bear the cross.

St. Lawrence was a beloved servant of the church, the head deacon in Rome.  And when the emperor began yet another systematic extermination of the Christians, and after the bishop of Rome had been killed, the government came after the head deacon.  Since deacons were responsible for overseeing the church’s charity, Lawrence was ordered to turn over the treasures of the church to the government.

After a short delay in which the deacon quickly gave everything to the poor, he was asked to produce the treasures of the church.  St. Lawrence brought in the poor of Rome, and told the government that this was the church’s treasure, the poor, the people in need, the people whom the Church had given the treasure of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

For his insolence, Deacon Lawrence was tortured to death on a hot gridiron.  As the legend goes, he was defiant to the very end, even telling his tormenters that they could turn him over because this side was done.  It was remembered that St. Lawrence went to his death with joy, knowing that he did indeed lose his life for the sake of the Gospel, and thus saved his life for eternity, being a baptized and forgiven sinner made new by the blood of the Lord Jesus at the cross.

In his ministry, the deacon likely assisted the bishop at the altar, very likely bringing the chalice of the Lord’s blood to the lips of the parishioners, these very treasures of the church, with the words: “The blood of Christ.”

And so we remember the blood of Christ, the blood of St. Lawrence, and the blood of Christian martyrs ancient and modern, even as we receive the same blood of Christ and hear the same Word of God, the same teaching of Jesus, the same Gospel on this day of remembrance.

And we not only remember St. Lawrence, but we treasure his example of service, his courage, his mercy, and his witness of the faith.

In a day and age in which boys want to emulate LeBron and girls look up to Beyonce as a role model, we do well to remember and teach about brothers like Lawrence instead, and sisters like Perpetua – heroic men and women whose blood testifies to the blood of Christ, whose crosses are mirrors directing all of us to the very cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For when it comes to remembrance of Christian saints, we not only remember them in the way of history, but knowing that we will meet them in eternity.  We will see them face to face.  We will talk to them.  We will join with them, side by side, in worship of Him who lost His life in order to save our lives.

For our lives have been saved through Christ’s cross and blood, even as St. Lawrence has been given the crown of everlasting life by grace and through faith.  And even as we look to the past to the heavenly birthday of Lawrence on this date, and even as we look toward eternity future to our joyful reunion with St. Lawrence and all the saints, we are present here, in this holy place, taking up our cross and confessing the Lord’s cross, perhaps one day to shed our blood, but certainly to receive the Lord’s blood.

We may never be put to death for the sake of the Lord, but certainly the Lord was put to death for the sake of us men and our salvation.  And in life or death, in good times and in bad, in joy and in sorrow, we, like St. Lawrence, are witnesses, martures in the Greek, we whose lives are testimonies to our Lord and His Gospel.

We thank our Lord not only for the blessings of St. Lawrence, the courageous martyr, but we also thank Him that we are indeed the treasury of the Church, so beloved of the Lord that He would deny Himself, take up His cross, shed His blood, and lose His life for our sakes, and for our everlasting life.

For faithful deacon Lawrence,
We praise Your name, O Lord.
Upon the poor and suff’ring
The Savior’s love he poured.
When ordered to surrender
The Church’s earthly wealth,
He claimed the martyr’s laurel
By sacrificing self. (hymn stanza © 2014 Walter P. Snyder)

Amen.


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

A letter to the Jefferson Parish Council

Dear Councilman Templet

I was present for the August 10 council meeting and was hoping to speak.  However, as the ordinances concerning ride-sharing were delayed, it turns out that my 17-mile drive each way across the river and my entire morning were wasted.  It is my understanding that this has happened repeatedly, and for people who work multiple jobs, this makes it very difficult to have a voice in government.  And so I am writing this letter to you instead.  I may still address the council at a later time.

I have served as the pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna since two weeks before Katrina. As with many other people, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance and other expenses has resulted in my accepting several jobs to make ends meet. 

I have driven for Uber since November of last year, and with Lyft since they began operations in our area.  Ride-sharing enables me to work a flexible schedule and still carry out a full-time ministry serving my congregation and my family.

Ride-sharing provides many benefits to our parish and to our community.  Most important is keeping drunk drivers off the road.  I have given more than 800 rides and have excellent ratings.  A majority of my customers have been drinking (they are mainly tourists, conventioneers, and college students).  In particular, my younger passengers often drink excessively, and it is not only money in my pocket, but also a community service to make sure they are not on the road.  I believe quite firmly that if Jefferson Parish regulates Uber and Lyft out of Jefferson Parish, many, if not most, of these young people will not call cabs.  They will get in their cars and drive. Their entire culture is lived out through technology.  They are used to very short wait times and being able to track their driver – as well as to rate their driver, and to know what they are paying up front, paying by phone app, and all without the suspicious use of a meter.  As a rule, they loathe taxicabs.

Studies have proven that Uber and Lyft significantly diminish drunk driving and thus save lives.  I urge you not to regulate us out of business and thereby cause the unnecessary deaths that would inevitably result.

This is also an issue of liberty.  For example, in my ministerial duties, I fly to other locations to speak and teach.  I have never been picked up at the airport by a cab. Instead, someone from the church will come and get me at the airport – a person whom I have never met.  There has been no drug test, background check, vehicle inspection, or check of driving record.  As an adult, I can choose whose cars to get into.  It is not the business of government at any level to tell me with whom I can ride, or whom I can drive. 

Ride-sharing is the wave of the future.  It is now possible and thriving due to technological innovation and the business culture of peer-to-peer marketing.  Government is not our nanny or our parents.  As the namesake of our parish wrote in the Declaration of Independence, government exists in order to secure our rights and to protect our liberties.  It is the duty of parish government – and all government – first and foremost to respect our freedom – which includes our freedom to travel and our liberty to engage in free trade.

I would also like to add that given that I am using my personal car – the one in which I drive my wife and children – there is greater incentive for me to maintain and keep my car clean. I am routinely told by passengers that Uber cars are cleaner and appear better maintained than taxi cabs – which are often smelly, dinged-up, and messy – government regulations notwithstanding.

Finally, in reading the arguments of the cab industry, this isn’t about safety.  Rather it is about a protection racket to bottleneck entry into the marketplace and thus inflate prices, a cartelization that is detrimental to the consumer and stifling to the economy.  It is not government’s job to economically manipulate an industry so as to inflate prices.  The fact that cab companies are not joining us to call for reduction or abolition of regulations is evidence of this fact.  They can afford the costs of compliance, where a part-time Uber or Lyft driver – perhaps a single mom, or a person saving to buy a house, or a professional person defraying healthcare costs – cannot.

Again, if a person feels calling an Uber or Lyft to be risky, he or she can continue to call a cab.  I still see a lot of cabs while I am out driving.  It is the nature of competition to increase innovation and cause prices to fall for customers.  By contrast, it is the nature of monopolies and cartels to stifle innovation and delink customer service from the product being offered.

In short, ride-sharing is here to stay.  It is not going to go away from Orleans Parish, but it could leave Jefferson Parish.  If that happens, count on tourists avoiding Jefferson Parish hotels and Jefferson Parish restaurants and bars – since they will have to take a cab instead of a ride-share.  Ride-sharing is used successfully around the country and world.  It is part of the evolving business model of peer-to-peer marketing.  Change is hard to navigate, especially for government, which itself is under no pressure to innovate and streamline.  But I do believe in this case, the people and government of Jefferson Parish will be well-served by welcoming Lyft and Uber, but will be ill-served by regulating them out of Jefferson Parish.

I would also like to make the political argument that Uber and Lyft are extremely popular.  This is an issue that people will not just shrug and walk away from.  If you kill ride-sharing, I do believe that you will pay for it at election time.  There are just certain issues that are political hot-potatoes.  I believe this is one of them.

I urge you to either deregulate the car-transportation industry, or take a minimalist approach (perhaps like Orleans Parish) with our commerce and thereby encourage and enjoy the benefits to our economy, to the people of the parish, to drivers, and to your own standing with your constituents. 


Thank you,

Rev. Larry L. Beane II

Note: If you would also like to write to the Jefferson Parish Council regarding what you think about ride-sharing and how it might affect your potential visits to Jefferson Parish, here is the info,,,

Christopher L. Roberts, Councilman-at-Large, Division A, ChrisRoberts@JeffParish.net
Deano Bonano, Assistant (East Bank), DBonano@JeffParish.net
Brett J. Lawson, Assistant (West Bank), BJLawson@JeffParish.net
East Bank: Suite 1016, Yenni / Phone: 736-6615 Fax: 731-4646
West Bank: Suite 6200, GGB / Phone: 364-2616 Fax: 364-3499
Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Councilwoman-at-Large, Division B, CynthiaLeeSheng@JeffParish.netGreg Giangrosso, Assistant, GGiangrosso@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1018, Yenni / Phone: 736-6016 Fax: 736-6598
West Bank: Suite 6200, GGB / Phone: 364-2624 Fax: 364-2657
Ricky J. Templet, Councilman, District 1, RickyTemplet@JeffParish.net
Terry Talamo, Assistant, TJTalamo@jeffparish.net
West Bank: Suite 6400, GGB / Phone: 364-2607 Fax: 364-2615
Paul D. Johnston, Councilman, District 2, PaulJohnston@JeffParish.netBryan St. Cyr, Assistant, BSTCyr@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1013, Yenni / Phone: 736-6607 Fax: 731-4433
West Bank: Suite 6300, GGB / Phone: 364-3446 Fax: 364-3417
Mark D. Spears, Jr., Councilman, District 3, MarkSpears@JeffParish.netCasey Jumpiere, Assistant, CJumpiere@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1011, Yenni / Phone: 736-6591 Fax: 736-6598
West Bank: Suite 6500, GGB / Phone: 364-2603 Fax: 364-3704
E."Ben" Zahn, III, Councilman, District 4, BenZahn@JeffParish.netJeff Zapata, Assistant, JZapata@JeffParish.netEast Bank: Suite 1015, Yenni / Phone: 736-6622 Fax: 736-6639
Jennifer Van Vrancken, Councilwoman, District 5, JenniferVanVrancken@JeffParish.net
Jeffrey Simno, Assistant, JSimno@JeffParish.net
East Bank: Suite 1014, Yenni / Phone: 736-6634 Fax: 736-6632
Eula Lopez, Parish Council Clerk
West Bank: Phone: 364-2626 Fax: 364-2633
East Bank Council Address
Joseph S. Yenni Building
1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., 10th Floor
Jefferson, LA 70123-2337
Receptionist: 736-6600
 
West Bank Council Address
General Government Building
200 Derbigny Street, 6th Floor
Gretna, LA 70053-5850
Receptionist: 364-2600

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 11 – 2016

7 August 2016

Text: Luke 18:9-14

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The basis of any kind of thinking or doing anything in this life is to accept reality.  Things are what they are.  If you need a small Phillips screwdriver to do a job, no amount of wishful thinking is going to make a sledgehammer do the trick.  Things will probably not end well.

The importance of accepting reality is also the case in matters of faith.  Dr. Luther once said that a true theologian, a theologian of the cross, calls a thing what it is.

One of the most popular expressions among Louisianans is the concession, “It is what it is.”

It is what it is.

Of course, nowadays we are told that things are not what they are, but what they are identified as.  This is why such formerly uncontroversial topics such as men’s and ladies’ restrooms are now topics for the Supreme Court to figure out.  For nowadays, especially with human beings, it is becoming controversial to say that a person is this or that, even when reality itself says so.

Our Lord’s Parable, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector”, could also be called “It Is What It Is.”  Of the two characters in the Lord’s story, one of them is a true theologian of the cross, while the other is condemned to hell because he has not been “justified.” And like many of the Lord’s short stories, your expectations are challenged.

Let’s consider the Lord’s story in which two men come to the Temple to pray.

The first man is a Pharisee.  This means he is a very clean-cut religious guy. He “stands by himself” – which is a way of saying that he perceives himself to be holy, that is, set apart from other men.  And in fact, he thanks God for that kind of separation: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” – and then he lists a bunch of sins that he thanks God that he doesn’t commit.  Then he regales God with a litany of his own good works: “I fast… I give tithes.”

In fact, our Lord actually instructs us Christians to pray, to fast, and to give alms, teaching us this in the Sermon on the Mount.  And so our Pharisee is obviously doing all three.

But the Pharisee is not addressing reality in his own self-examination.  For the Lord Jesus Christ invents this character as a rebuke to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

Where is our Pharisee’s trust?  Is it in the blood of the sacrifice?  Is it in the grace and mercy of the Lord?  Is it in the promises of God revealed to the prophets and in the Scriptures?  Or is his faith ultimately a faith in himself, in his supposed goodness, and in his own works?

And what is our Pharisee’s view of others?  Does he treat the struggling tax collector with love and encouragement?  Or is he using prayer as an excuse to insult the tax collector who has come seeking the mercy of God?

Before we can really think too much about the Pharisee, the Lord introduces us to another character, a tax collector.  This means that he is a dirty collaborator with the enemy, a cheat and a thief, a liar, and one greedy for gain who intimidates and threatens his way to other people’s money. 

And notice that the tax collector stands “far off” – perceiving himself to be damaged goods and unclean, unworthy of the holiness of God’s presence.  He won’t even raise his eyes for fear of offending God on account of his sins.  He beats his breast, a sign of sorrow.  And he makes no reference to the sins he is innocent of, to the guilt of others, or to claimed good works.  Instead, he cries out simply: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

In his humility, the tax collector faces the reality of his own sinful condition, one that no man is exempt from, corruption springing from Adam and Eve, and carried about by every man ever born of woman with one sole Exception – who is Himself telling the parable.

Our tax collector does not trust in himself, but in the mercy of God as his only hope of righteousness.  He does not attack or insult the Pharisee, but simply focuses on his own sins and his own need for a Savior. 

The Lord Jesus Christ dies on the cross for every fallen son of Adam and daughter of Eve.  The sins of all have been paid for by the blood of the one who not only tells parables but who works forgiveness by His atoning death on the cross.  And what’s more, He has been raised from death for our justification, a justification that is applied to every poor miserable sinner ever born.

And yet, our Lord says something very exclusive and shocking to modern ears: one of these men is not justified.  One of these men is bound for hell.  Only one of these men goes down to his house having received the free gift of justification that Jesus has won for everyone. 

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Who has exalted himself, dear friends?  Was it the religious Pharisee or the filthy tax collector?  Who has humbled himself?  Our aloof self-righteous braggart or our broken and sorrowful tax collector?

Which of these two men acknowledges the reality about himself?  Which is the real theologian of the cross?  Before one can repent and believe the Gospel, as our Lord preaches to us, one must see the reality of who he is.  The tax collector saw reality, confessed reality, and received the reality that Jesus has forgiven his sins and won for him everlasting life.  The Pharisee ignored reality and followed a fantasy, identifying himself with something not real, and thus there is no repentance here, and no desire for God’s mercy.

The tragedy is that Jesus truly justified the Pharisee on the cross, but the Pharisee chose instead to justify himself with a lie.  And as a result, he never asks for that which God would gladly give him: mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Dear friends, the Christian faith is not about self-righteousness and earning a place in heaven by good works.  The Christian faith is not about seeing oneself as good and looking down at others.  For this is to deny reality.  The Christian faith is receiving the mercy of God because we need that mercy.  We lack righteousness on our own.  For we are sinners. That is the reality.  But Jesus has come to save sinners and restore us to life.  It is what it is.

We Christians call a thing what it is.  We confess the simple reality of the Gospel.  We are not justified by anything other than the mercy of God which we receive only in humility.  “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Yes, indeed, it is what it is!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.


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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sermon: Trinity 10 – 2016



31 July 2016

Text: Luke 19:41-48

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of the charges against our Lord Jesus that got Him in trouble with the Romans was this false story that Jesus was threatening to destroy the Temple.  Our Lord’s enemies were trying desperately to get Him in trouble with the Romans so that they could execute Him, and one way to do that would be to portray Him as a revolutionary, a rabble-rousing zealot who wants to blow things up and overthrow the government: in other words, a terrorist.

In fact, when Jesus spoke about rebuilding the Temple three days after its destruction, He was referring to the Temple of His own body.  But a rumor got started that Jesus was threatening to destroy the Jewish Temple as some kind of terrorist plot.

And maybe His prayer recorded in our Gospel lesson was twisted and distorted to promote this false narrative.  For Jesus is prophesying not only the destruction of the Temple: “And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation,” but also of “the city” – that is Jerusalem itself.  For Jesus draws near and sees the city, and “weeps over it.”  He laments, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side.”

Jesus is describing a military maneuver known as the siege.  The Romans were good at sieges, in which a city is surrounded.  Nothing goes in or out.  And gradually, a city has to surrender because it is starving and lacking water.  This process often takes years, but it is very effective.

And our Lord’s prophecy came true about forty years after He spoke this prayer.  In the year 66, the Jewish zealots revolted, and the Romans laid siege to the City.  In the year 70, the Romans entered Jerusalem and attacked it ruthlessly, flattening the Temple.  It has never been rebuilt to this day.  Not one stone stands upon another.

After reporting on this prophecy, St. Luke tells us that our Lord entered the Temple and drove off the merchants, saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’”

And so when they were groping around for some imperial crime to pin on Jesus, treason and terrorism, supported by provocative speech and actions regarding the Temple, was seen as a solution. 

Ironically, our Lord did not destroy the Temple, nor Jerusalem.  In fact, in His knowledge of these events yet to come, Jesus weeps for the city.  He loves the city.  He loves the chosen people of God.  But they did not love Him, for they “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”

So what brought on this shocking destruction of Jerusalem and the toppling of the ancient treasure that was the holy Jewish Temple?  One could argue that the Romans – whose bloodthirsty legions under General Titus – who was later to become Caesar – were to blame in their lust for domination and power.  One could also argue that agitators and rebels among the Jews, the party of the Zealots, were responsible by their rioting.  But there is a much more basic reason: sin.

For in rejecting their visitation, the Herodian kings, the Sanhedrin, the priests, the Levites, the Temple police, the Temple merchants, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Essenes, the scribes, the “principal men of the people” and finally, most rank and file Jews “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”  Their God, their Messiah, their Savior, the living embodiment of their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, the living bread from heaven, had come to visit them – and the vast majority of them rejected Him.

And like a terminal patient who refuses life-saving treatment, there was nothing to do but watch the people die – while all the while, the cure was in their midst, visiting them.

Thus Jesus weeps at what is to come.

Of course, Luke doesn’t record this to give us an interesting history lesson or a classical study in military tactics.  The Evangelist isn’t reporting this for the sake of giving us a sense of superiority over the Jews, nor hatred for the Romans, nor to teach us about politics, nor to encourage us to scold people that they should have listened to Jesus.  No indeed.  We have heard this Word of God yet again, dear friends, right here and right now, because we need to hear and to heed the Lord’s warning.

For God’s people can stumble and fall away.  God’s people can become ignorant of their time of visitation.  God’s people can put more faith in their leaders or their politics or their own status as God’s people than in Jesus Himself, who comes to visit us, to call us to repent, to forgive us, to make us new, and to dwell with us in Word and Sacrament.

For like our Lord’s listeners, we have many distractions.  Like the first century Greco-Roman Jews, we have the circus of politics.  We have theaters and sports.  We have shopping malls.  We have road-trips and getaways.  We have money and families and jobs.  We have our own reputations and self-esteem.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, so long as they don’t interfere with, or eclipse, what is truly important: that we recognize the time of our visitation from our Lord Himself.

Jesus continues to visit us, dear brothers and sisters.  I am not giving you a history lesson today, but the very Word of God.  Jesus is not telling us what we want to hear, but telling us what we need to hear: that we are sinners in danger of hellfire, and that we are sinners for whom He gave His lifeblood at the cross.  He calls us to repent and believe the Gospel, to fix our eyes upon Him.  He calls to know and live out our visitation.  He bids us to take and eat, and to receive the gift of eternal life, of the promise of the resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth.  He invites us to this House of Prayer where He visits us, and He turns our lowly flesh into Temples of the Holy Spirit.  And though our flesh will die, we will live yet again according to His promise and His baptism that He has given us as part of this “visitation” of which He speaks.

Dear friends, our Lord warns us and He invites us: to pray, to study and meditate upon His Word, to live out the forgiven baptized life, to confess our sins and receive absolution, and to receive His bodily visitation in Holy Communion. 

For we do not have Romans seeking to besiege us, but we have rather the far more dangerous and cruel world, devil, and sinful nature.  But Jesus has visited us, dear friends, and He is our impregnable wall and mighty fortress!  He is our food and drink, our sustenance, our defense, and our life.  He is our victory!  And even as “Jerusalem” means the “City of Peace,” our congregation’s name “Salem” is the part of the word “Jerusalem” that means “Peace.”  The peace that stands in stark contrast to warfare and destruction and rebellion and the attacks of the devil, the peace that passes all understanding, is ours, dear brothers and sisters, by Him who is the very prince of Peace, through His visitation, and by His grace, by His blood, and by His cross. 

Peace be with you in this time of your visitation!  Amen.


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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 9 – 2016



27 July 2016

Text: Luke 16:1-13 (2 Sam 22:26-34, 1 Cor 10:6-13)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Trouble comes to us in this fallen world, and sometimes very quickly.  And nobody is exempt.  You may enjoy perfect health, but that will fail.  And it could happen suddenly.  Your family relationships may be perfect, but they can sour in a moment.  You may be at the top of your game in terms of your job, but out of nowhere, downsizing and layoffs can and do come.

Father Jacques Hamel, a Roman Catholic priest in Normandy, France, lived a quiet life as a retired pastor.  He served the same parish for over 30 years.  Though 86 years old, he was still able to conduct the liturgy and preach.  He was beloved in the community and lived a peaceful life – until yesterday.  During the church service that he was leading, ISIS terrorists stormed in and beheaded the pastor, took hostages, and killed and wounded parishioners.  All in a few minutes.

Remember, we live in a fallen world.  We are mortal.  And no matter how well things are going, they will not always be this way.  We cover this reality up by escapism: turning our work and money and family and prosperity and entertainment into gods.  We avoid uncomfortable subjects and convince ourselves that no harm will come to us.

But it inevitably does.

And Jesus tells us Christians that we are often stupid about it.  He tells us that we can learn a thing or two from the crooks of this world, who though they are crooked, are often wiser in confronting reality than we are.

So, he tells us a story about this guy who had a great life.  He was a manager.  His boss was rich.  And in fact, the manager’s life was even more luxurious because he was a crook.  He treated the boss’s assets like they were his own and wasted them.  Of course, he never thought he would get caught, but he did.  He thought the gravy train would run forever, but it didn’t.

He got word that he was being fired.  “What shall I do,” he asked himself, “since my master is taking the management away from me?”  He didn’t want to dig ditches, and he was too proud to beg.  So this shrewd crook came up with a plan: he had meetings with people who could help him later on, and cut deals with them.  He did nice things for the very people who could do nice things back to him.  Thus the crooked manager arranged for his own soft landing after being fired.

Of course, he was still cheating his boss right up to the bitter end, but even the boss was amazed, and “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  The dishonest manager knew where to turn in order to get what he didn’t deserve and to receive that which he did not earn.

Jesus is telling us that we Christians are foolish.  For we know that tough times will come to us – even if all is well now.  We are surrounded by a world of evil, and we are harassed by the devil and betrayed by our own sinful nature.  We have relationships that go awry, bodies that wear out, we have jobs that disappear, money that dries up, social and political security that can vanish in a moment.  Our money won’t save us, our entertainments won’t prevent our suffering, our friends and family may even betray us.  We might even find ourselves at the point of a Muslim sword one day.

And even if we live an enchanted and wealthy life until we are 120 years old, our bodies will decline and we will die.  We may live long, but we will then outlive our loved ones. 

And so what shall we do, dear friends?

Jesus is telling us to be shrewd.  Not dishonest, but shrewd.  Where do we turn to for help? 

Like the dishonest manager, we should know where to go in order to get what we don’t deserve, and to receive that which he we do not earn.  And more than just knowing, we ought to act shrewdly on this knowledge. 

For where, dear friends, can you go to have your bill torn up, to have your debts forgiven, to be received into a house as a guest, to be fed without paying, and to have your own acts of crookedness and dishonesty covered up? 

The truly shrewd sinner makes friends with the one who can give him that which he doesn’t deserve and hasn’t earned.  That is called grace. And it comes as a free gift of God.  It was earned at the cross and given to you by means of love.  It is handed over to you in the form of a torn-up bill and a debt forgiven.  You are welcomed under this roof and invited to this table.  You are washed by baptismal water, and you are received into the eternal dwellings by the very Christ who shrewdly defeated the devil and won for you the perfect and eternal life that is elusive on this side of the grave.

But how foolish we are, dear friends, when we refuse to pray, instead squandering our time on things that will not be of help to us in times of trouble.  Or when we opt not to hear the Word of God, the good news of the Gospel, and turn down the Lord’s gift of Holy Communion because of competing pursuits and desires.  How sad it is when we opt to squander opportunities to read and study God’s Word and instead use that time for something that will not bring us help in time of need.

And even money itself can help us when it is used to advance the kingdom instead of only filling our bellies.  We should use our time, talent, and treasure in the service of God rather than sacrificing God for time, talent, or treasure.

Father Hamel’s life of struggle is over.  As a forgiven sinner, he is truly a saint, and one who is an example for us of confessing Christ in the face of the enemy.  He was ready to meet death and evil, even though he did not have much warning of what was to happen. 

Such is life in this fallen world, dear brothers and sisters, but we have a Friend in the highest of places, who truly desires that you be in communion with Him in this life, in daily and faithful prayer, in study of His Word, and in a continuous and ongoing commitment to receiving forgiveness, life, and salvation in this holy place. 

Be wise. Be shrewd.  And receive that which you don’t deserve but that which He nevertheless gives to you by grace.  And when those inevitable times of trouble come, you will find peace – the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sermon: Consecration of Deacon Richard Iverson

Consecration of Deacon Richard Iverson


3 July 2016

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen. 

There are not many things we can count on, but one thing we certainly can count on is that history repeats itself.

In the aftermath of our Lord’s ascension, the apostles found themselves with the difficulty of confessing and preaching the faith in a pagan culture.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and thousands of people were converted through the Word of God.  Holy Baptisms took place as our Lord commanded the apostles: “Therefore, go and make disciples…”  The Lord’s Supper was administered every Sunday, with hymns and preaching and scripture readings.

But there were many things in the life of the early church that caused pastors to become so busy as to make it difficult to carry out the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

So, in Acts Chapter 6, in response to the needs of distributing charity, the pastors were overwhelmed.  So the apostles “summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid hands on them.”

These were the first deacons of the church.  And the first one mentioned, Stephen, was to become the first martyr of the church.

Deacons were very important in the New Testament.  St. Paul always greets them with the pastors.  In fact, in First Timothy, Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons, and they are nearly identical to the qualifications of pastors.

Over the centuries, as the Christian Church became the dominant religion, the role of the deacon sadly became diminished.  Sometimes, it was just a hoop to jump through in order to become a pastor.

But in modern times, churches began to once again appreciate the service of deacons.  In our sister church in Siberia, a man must serve at least five years as a deacon before ordination as a pastor.  But a deacon may remain a deacon and serve in that ministry for his whole life.  Wherever pastors are spread thin, the Lord has raised up deacons to serve the church and serve the pastor.  In fact, the word “deacon” means “servant.”  And it is a fitting custom that pastors be deacons as part of their formation.  I was consecrated a deacon while I served on vicarage.

I was once at a diaconal consecration in an Anglican church, and the preacher told the man being consecrated to remember that even if he were to become a priest, even if he were to become a bishop, he would always also remain a deacon, a servant.  Those are indeed wise words.  Our Lord Jesus taught us to be servant-leaders, and diaconal service is a way for a man to be a servant of the congregation and to help his pastor even though he is not called to preach and to administer sacraments.

And Rick, you may be wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  You may feel unworthy of this holy office.  You may question whether or not you are ready to wear the stole and be placed into this holy order.  And that is completely normal.  Of course, it is only by God’s grace and the blessing of the Holy Spirit that any of us can carry out the vocations to which we are all called.  The Lord cares for His church through servants of every kind, all living day to day by God’s grace, fueled by the Word and the Lord’s Supper, empowered by Baptism, and re-invigorated  through the Words of Absolution.  We are strengthened by prayer and fortified by study.

Rick, you stand in the train of the thousands of deacons who have come before you, even as you stand within the great cloud of witnesses of all of our brothers and sisters from every time and place who, by God’s grace, confess Christ, and are transformed by His blood shed upon the cross and given to us in the chalice.

Today, dear friends, we are reminded yet again that the Lord works through instruments, and He has promised to preserve His church and provide for her needs until the end of time.

We have heard anew the Ten Commandments, knowing that we do not keep them, knowing that they convict us of our sins, and reinforcing the fact that we need men to preach the Word and to absolve us.  We also know that our pastors cannot be everywhere at once, that the burdens of the office are great, and that some men, like St. Paul, must make tents in addition to carrying out the Holy Ministry.  And we know that with our time being limited, it is a great blessing to have deacons and other servants of the church whose service makes time for us pastors to proclaim Law and Gospel to the church and to bear that prophetic voice of right and wrong to a broken world.

We have heard anew St. Paul’s beautiful discourse on the forgiveness of sins and how that free and full gift is delivered through being baptized into Christ’s death.  And we know that for our pastors to be able to baptize, to catechize, to teach, to hear confessions and absolve sins, to visit the sick and bear with our parishioners’ burdens, to carry out marriages and funerals and administrative duties in the church, we need brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.  We have many people in this congregation who have answered that call, those who serve officially and unofficially on behalf of our parish’s needs.  And to have a deacon in the parish is one more way for us all to live out the baptismal life to which we have all been called.

We have heard anew our Lord’s reminder that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.  We are reminded of the importance of the entire counsel of God, Law and Gospel, of the importance of the Christian life as laid out in our teaching and in our doing; in our doctrine, and in our practice.  We are reminded of our need to be humble, as servants, as always on guard lest we fall into hypocrisy.  We are reminded to be a people of peace and reconciliation.  Once again, having the assistance of a deacon greatly helps the pastor in that endeavor to bid the congregation to not only believe in the Christian faith, but to walk the way of the Christian life.

Indeed, there are not many things we can count on, but one thing we certainly can count on is that history repeats itself.  Even as the early church found itself in a pagan culture, and even as the pastors were bogged down in matters like making a living in the secular world, overseeing church programs, and providing care for the flock, and even as the early church laid hands on men of good repute, full of the Spirit, and consecrated them as deacons, so also we do this today.  The church will always need deacons, and the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace, will continue to raise them up, provide for them, bless them, and consecrate their labors for the people of God.

And as St. Paul reminds us: “Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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


Investiture of Deacon Richard Iverson


Sunday, November 01, 2015

Sermon: All Saints – 2015



1 November 2015

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sermon: Reformation – 2015

25 October 2015

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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