Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5) - 2018

18 March 2018

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Old Testament passage, the non-sacrifice of Isaac, is one of the most maligned and misunderstood passages in the entire Bible.

When I was a little kid, I had science books that included records that taught various lessons.  One record told the story of Abraham and Isaac as mankind’s first rebellion against primitive superstition and believing in the supernatural, replacing those beliefs with science.  According to this child’s record, Abraham, who believed the thunder and lightning of a storm had to be appeased by human sacrifice, refused, and instead offered a goat.  Thus mankind freed himself to believe in science.  Other skeptics criticize the text based on the supposed cruelty of God, whose sadism is finally expressed by abusing and torturing His own Son to death on the cross.

Unless you have the key, the Bible remains a locked and mysterious book.  Unless you have the key, it all seems pointless.  The key is Christ, dear friends, and the shape of that key is the form of the cross.  Without connecting Abraham and Isaac to their descendant Jesus, and without understanding sin and atonement, without seeing this passage through the lens of the cross, passages like our text just sound like mythology or bad pop psychology.

In the beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned, bringing death and disorder to our world, God promised a Savior.  That Savior was also to be a descendant of Abraham, born of the line of Isaac: the miracle baby born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.  God promised Abraham that the blessing would come through Isaac – not Isaac’s half-brother, and not from the children of one of the family’s slaves – but from Isaac.  So when God tested Abraham by ordering him to sacrifice his one and only son whom he loved, Abraham obeyed.  He loved his son, but he also trusted the promise of God.  He knew that somehow, the Lord would provide, and that his son, his one and only son whom he loved – would indeed live somehow.

So after Abraham watched his son carry the wood of his own execution and sacrifice up the hill, Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the sacrifice was.  Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham then bound his son to the wood on the altar atop the hill.  Before Abraham could slay his son, the angel stopped the execution.  God praised Abraham’s faith: “Now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Abraham’s faith was rewarded by the appearance of a substitute, a ram, “caught in the thicket by his horns.”  And the son of Abraham, Isaac, lived because of the substitute that the Lord Himself provided.  Isaac and the ram both served as previews of the Son of Abraham, the Lamb of God to come: Jesus Christ, who was born two thousand years after Abraham, but who, being God, preceded Abraham.

When the Lord Jesus was still in Mary’s womb, blessed Mary called Him her God and her Savior.  He was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the royal line of David, born of the virgin, conceived by the word of the angel.  He was, and is, His Father’s only begotten Son, His one and only Son whom He loves eternally.  And for the sake of love, God the Father withholds nothing from us, dear brothers and sisters, even watching His own Son carry the wood of his own execution and sacrifice up the hill.  He watches His Son laid out upon the wood for the sacrifice.  And God provides for Himself the Lamb for the sacrifice: Christ, the Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world.

And upon that hill called Golgotha, where God withholds nothing from us, we see Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, even being caught in the thicket of thorns around His head, being the burnt offering, that is, the holocaust, the atonement for the sins of the world, the substitute who dies in our place. 

For on that day, that Good Friday, the Lord provided, “on the mount of the Lord” it was indeed provided.

Abraham did not refuse to sacrifice his son because of science, nor because of rejecting the supernatural, but rather He did so because the angel told Abraham to stop.  Abraham had faith, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Isaac was not the son of Abraham to be sacrificed, rather that Son of Abraham is Jesus.

As the author of Hebrews says, “He entered once and for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For it is the “blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God,” which purifies “our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Jesus is the new and greater Isaac, but also the new and greater Lamb.  Jesus is the Son of Abraham, but also the God of Abraham.  Jesus appears in the flesh two thousand years after Abraham, but according to His divinity, lived eternally before Abraham.  Our Lord Jesus made it clear when He said, to the raging of the mob: “Before Abraham was, I am.” 

And indeed, Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ come, the day when the mystery of the lamb provided by God would be made clear, when Abraham would see His descendant, that is, his Son Jesus, offer Himself as the sacrificial Lamb provided by God Himself.  Indeed, it is Jesus Himself who dies in the place of Isaac, and in our place as well, dear friends. 

Just as Isaac lived because of God’s merciful intervention, so too do we live, dear friends, so too do we live forever.  We live forever by the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb provided by God Himself, the Lamb that is the Son of God Himself, the God who provides, who gives us life – even life eternal. 

We Christians have the key to understanding this passage, because we Christians have Christ.  Christ the crucified is the key that opens the door not only to understand the Bible, but to receive the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation through the sacrificial death of the Son of God, the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lamb of God.

The Lord will provide.  


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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) - 2018

11 March 2018

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but … by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” says Moses when he preached about Manna to the children of Israel. And thus says our Lord Jesus when He preached about stones to the devil.

And the children of Israel were certainly vexed by the devil as their flesh got the best of them in the desert. Their growling bellies made them irrationally yearn for their former bitter days of slavery, forgetting the signs and wonders given them by the Lord’s prophet Moses.

The Lord heard their pleas, and literally rained bread from heaven upon them. Even in their unbelief, He reminded them to believe. Even as they complained against His prophet, the Lord commanded His servants Moses and Aaron to oversee the feeding of the Lord’s people.

Every year, at Passover, the children of Israel would call to mind their escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. This memorial took the form of a meal, a meal in which the sacrificial lamb’s blood brought about the passing over of the angel of death. A meal in which blessed bread and blessed wine were consumed.

And it is as Passover approaches that our Lord took bread, “And when He had given thanks,” broke it, gave it to His disciples, and invited the five thousand to sit on the grassy hillside and eat with Him. This miracle was a kind of a memorial of Passover, though the people did not realize that the Passover Lamb Himself stood in their presence, that the One who is the Word of God, the very One through whom all things were made, the One who sustains us not only by bread, but by His every Word – was Himself distributing miraculous bread through His ministers, bread that combines with the Word of God to nourish, strengthen, and give life.

Like the Manna and like the Passover, this feeding of the multitudes was a great sign of something better to come, a foretaste of the real feast. That later Passover feast would be the day before the Passover Lamb to end all Passover lambs would be sacrificed, that He would once more take bread, give thanks, break it, and give it to the disciples saying: “Take, eat,” giving His flesh for the life of the world. He would also give them the cup of the New Testament, saying: “Take, drink,” giving His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

It is through this miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, that our Lord would proclaim Himself to be the bread of life. And it would be through this proclamation that the Lord would explain that in eating the bread of life, we are eating His flesh – given for the life of the world. Indeed, unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life in us.

Our Lord, in His mercy, doesn’t only feed the five thousand because they were hungry, but also because we are hungry – not merely for earthly food, but for supernatural food. For we live not by bread alone. The Word of God that creates, also forgives, also re-creates, also makes new, also gives eternal life.

And just as not everyone in the days of Moses would receive this blessing, refusing to heed the words of the Lord’s prophet, seeking to hoard, acting without faith in the Lord’s providence, so too we see such rebellion in the days of our Lord’s earthly sojourn. For after using the feeding of the five thousand as a lesson of the Eucharist to come, one third of our Lord’s followers would abandon Him, refusing to accept and trust in His Word that we are to eat His flesh and drink His blood unto eternal life.

And we see a similar lack of faith in these last days. Many of our brethren in the Christian Church refuse to believe our Lord’s clear words that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Many in our own communion believe these words, but attach greater importance to turning worship into entertainment, measuring “success” according to numbers. And even if we confess the Lord’s presence in the sacrament, and even if we profess it to be of the highest importance, and even if we strive to do so reverently - our lives do not bear out this confession and profession.

Too often we ponder things earthly minded instead of the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. Too often we find other priorities competing for our time on those days when the Lord’s ministers are distributing the miraculous bread of life and the holy blood of the New Testament to starving sinners who trust in these words: “given and shed for you.” Too often we see the liturgy as a show of reverence that comes to an end when the final chord of the postlude sounds, and when we leave the sanctuary and return to our secular vocations. And far too often, we, like the Israelites in the days of Moses, grouse and complain, gripe and moan, rant and rave – all in the face of the Lord’s abundant and boundless mercy.

And like the multitudes that wanted to make Jesus a king by force, we too depend on our own means, seeking to take the will of God into our own hands – rather than humbly submitting to Him and to His will.

How often do we try to make the Kingdom of God into our own image? What kind of faith is shown when we think we have all the answers, when we try to impose our vision of the kingdom of God into others instead of, as Luther said, letting God be God.

The Christian life is about submission and surrender, about putting our faith and trust in Him by whose every Word we live. He will give us this day our daily bread. He will not let us starve in the wilderness. He will feed us according to His own means and measure. And look at His measure! None of the children of Israel lacked food in the form of daily provisions of Manna. And when the True Son of Israel provided bread for those who came to hear the Word of God, twelve baskets of this miraculous bread were left over!

Dear children of God, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom.”

Let us receive the Bread of Life Himself. Let us commune with the Word of God, from whose mouth comes “all that we need to sustain this body and life.” Let us continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Let us repent of our complaining and lack of faith. Let us joyfully receive the good gifts of the Lamb of God, who gives Himself for us, “for us men and for our salvation,” “for the life of the world.” Let us continue “daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,” eating our daily bread “with gladness and simplicity of heart.”

And “let us give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.” Amen.

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

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) - 2018

4 March 2018

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of the most popular books for high school students to read is a 1954 novel by William Golding called Lord of the Flies.  Like most great novels, it’s disturbing and thought provoking.  It tells a story of the underlying evil inside of human beings – even in children.  I wonder how many modern readers of Lord of the Flies know why that expression is used in the book, where it comes from, and why that became the book’s title.

In our Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ casts out a demon.  But some people, reflecting that underlying evil inside of human beings, attack Jesus for doing this good work.  They come up with a ridiculous accusation.  They accuse Him of casting out demons “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.”  “Beelzebul” is a nickname of the devil taken from the name of one of the false gods of the Philistines.  The name “Beelzebul” translates into English as “the lord of the flies.”

It’s a fitting name for the devil, for he fancies himself to be a lord, when he is really just a rotten imitation.  And his lordship is found in dead bodies and on dungheaps.  Flies begin their lives as maggots eating rotting things and end up in filth.  They carry disease, and are associated with death.  Flies are loathed by man and beast alike.

This lordship of flies represents everything that Jesus came into our world to change.  And it is ironic that even as He is casting out demons He is Himself accused of working for the lord of the flies, that is, Satan.

Satan was created by God and rebelled.  Jesus was begotten of the Father and obeys.  Satan is filled with hatred and rage to be beneath God and seeks to become God’s superior.  Jesus is equal to the Father, but submits to the Father out of love.  Satan is a lion seeking whom He may devour unto damnation. Jesus is the Lamb of God who offers Himself to us in the form of bread and wine to be eaten and drunk for our salvation.  Satan commands demons to possess and oppress people.  Jesus commands demons to depart in order to liberate and release people.  Satan is a liar.  Jesus is the Truth.  Satan brings death to Adam and Eve and their descendants through disobedience and disbelief of God’s Word.  Jesus is obedient even unto death and brings life to Adam and Eve and their descendants who believe in Him as the Word Made Flesh.  Satan is king of nothing and the lord of the flies.  Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

You cannot get more opposite than the Lord of Life: Jesus Christ, and the lord of death, Beelzebul.

Even as our Lord is healing the sick by delivering them from the power of the devil, He is attacked by the mob.  Jesus shows how ridiculous their accusation is, saying, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.  And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

In other words, the charge doesn’t even make logical sense.

But our Lord Jesus doesn’t stop there.  For the problem isn’t just that our Lord’s detractors have committed a logical fallacy.  The issue isn’t that they made a mistake in their reasoning.  No indeed!  They are acting out of evil and spite.  Jesus turns the tables on them with an insult of His own: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”

Our Lord warns them: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you….  Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

So who is Jesus?  Is He the Son of God who casts out demons by His own power, or is He a demon who only has power over demons because Satan has given Him power?

This is the crucial question, dear friends. 

What is your confession?  In the words of a book title by one of our Lutheran professors, “What do you think about Jesus?”  Do you think Jesus is a fictional character?  Do you think Jesus is just a first century Jewish rabbi?  Do you think Jesus is some sort of manifestation of evil?  Do you think Jesus is God in the flesh who died for the sins of the world on the cross, rose again from the dead, defeated Satan, destroyed sin’s power, and now calls us to follow Him to eternal life – which He gives us as a free gift?

Our Lord’s attackers – then and now – allow their jealousy, hatred, and refusal to confess their own sins to blind them to the only Man in history who is truly righteous, and who loves them, and is willing to die for them.  And even though He works miracles before their eyes, they refuse to believe.  They refuse to believe out of stubbornness and selfishness.  They refuse to believe because deep down inside, they are the ones who worship the lord of the flies, still hoping beyond hope that Satan can deliver on the promise that he made to Adam and Eve, that by disobeying God, we can all be like God.

The enemies of our Lord don’t simply disbelieve, they are consumed with hatred for those who do.  The enemies of our Lord don’t simply disbelieve that He is God, rather they hate Him because they know that He is God, and they refuse to bow down to Him.  They would rather worship their pathetic little buzzing maggot god that eats garbage and dung.  And it’s little wonder that what we see in Hollywood and on our TVs, in our news reports, and on social media, in our schools and among our politicians, is a continuous diet of garbage and dung.

Jesus has come to deliver us from this sad, nihilistic life that ends in death and hell.  He comes to give us life that we might live it abundantly.  He comes to deliver us from sin and lead us to righteousness.  He comes to conquer the devil who deceived us, hates us, and corrupts us, so that by means of the cross and through our Holy Baptism, we might enjoy eternal fellowship with the God who created us, loves us, and redeems us.

Jesus has come to sweep our house and put it in order, to cast out our demons, to forgive our sins, to heal us from our mortality, and to bring us to everlasting life.  For blessed indeed are “those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) - 2018

25 February 2018

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, 1 Thess 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” says our Lord Jesus. 

Jesus is able to say this because children are more important than dogs.  As much as we love our animals, we love our children more.  “Children” in this case doesn’t simply mean a random young human being.  “Children” means “descendants,” and in this case our Lord means descendants of Israel.  As he told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

In this case, “children” means children of the promise, heirs of the covenant.  Under the old covenant, this Canaanite woman is not a child, she is a “dog.”  She is not an heir, she is an outsider.  She is, as St. Paul tells us, a Gentile, one of the people “who do not know God.”  She is not a child of God, but an unclean person whose own child is possessed by an unclean spirit.

If you think about it, to be a child of someone is to enjoy privilege.  Children receive extra attention from their parents, more so than the children of others.  Our children have a claim on our time, our attention, our property, but even more so, they inherit our identity and they are recipients of our love; they are extensions of us and of our own ancestors.  To be a child is to be someone special.  This is part and parcel of what it means to be human.

But think, dear friends, about what it means to be a child today.  Millions of children have their lives snuffed out while still in the womb, as they are seen as inconvenient.  Millions of children who are allowed to be born are abused or neglected or made subject to the whims and wants of their parents.  Millions of children have no sense of home or identity or love. 

But according to the ancient covenant, to be a child, a descendant, of Israel, is to inherit a sense of belonging to the people of God, or as we say today, to be part of the Church.  To be a son or daughter of Jacob was to be one of God’s chosen, one to whom the kingdom is passed down from parents to children according to the promise of God, validated by the prophets, and sealed in blood by the priests who sacrificed according to God’s covenant and command.

But this poor Canaanite woman is no child of Israel, no daughter of Jacob, no inheritor of the covenant.  And nor is her daughter, who is “oppressed by a demon.”  She is a Gentile. In short, she is a “dog.”  She is a living creature made by God, but she has no inheritance in the covenant made with Jacob.

And what was this covenant with Jacob, whose name became Israel?  The covenant was a continuation of the promise made by God to his grandfather Abraham, to be his God, and that his children, his descendants, would be God’s people – and from that people would come a Savior.  And this Savior would not only save Israel but all people.  For this Savior has come to make all things new, even the dogs, even the Gentiles, even the Canaanites whose children wrestled not with God but with demons.

And that mysterious Man whom Jacob wrestled with was none other than God in human form.  Jacob said, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  And this God in human form actually changed Jacob’s name to Israel, that is, “he strives with God.”  We know who this Man is: it is Jesus before Jesus was born.  And this Man with whom Jacob wrestled was to be born a Child not only of Israel, but of God.  His is the Savior who has come not only for the biological descendants of Israel, but in whose name even the Gentiles are called to be children of Abraham, children of the covenant, children of God.

And this includes the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

For she too wrestled with the same Man whom Jacob wrestled with.  And like Jacob, she refused to yield.  Like Jacob, she demanded to be blessed.  Like Jacob, she worships the true God.  She “knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

Even though according to the usual order of things, she is a dog, a Gentile, an outsider, not one with a claim on the covenant, in Christ, the usual order of things has been overturned.  She is not a dog, but a child.  She is one of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” because she calls upon the name of the Lord. Like Jacob, she persists, she wrestles, she makes demands of the same Man from whom Jacob demanded a blessing.  Like Jacob, she asserts the right of the child, the heir.  She demands the “children’s bread” – the bread of life come down from heaven, knowing that even a crumb of that bread has power over demons, over sickness, and over death.  She has faith, and nothing will stand in the way of her faith in the power and mercy of God, in Jesus Christ.

And our blessed Lord recognizes this faith, this saving faith displayed by this adopted daughter of Israel, this adopted daughter of God.  She is no longer a dog, but a child; no longer a child of Canaan, but a child of God.

For this Man who blessed Jacob and who blessed the Canaanite woman will go to the cross, to shed His blood for their sins, for the sins of the world, for all of us born since, for Jews and Gentiles, for those whom the world exalts and those whom the world treats like animals, for children beloved of their parents, and for those who are treated with contempt or even killed.  He is the fulfillment of all of the priestly sacrifices, even as He is the fulfillment of the priesthood.  He is the sacrifice that is the covenant.

And Jesus has come to teach us once more what it means to be human: which is, to be an heir, a beloved child of the covenant by virtue of the cross, by virtue of the blood of Christ, by virtue of the “children’s bread” that is the body of Christ, of which even a crumb saves the world, restores that which was lost, heals that which was corrupted, and re-creates that which was destroyed – even raising the dead. 

And note, dear friends, the beloved child of this new child of God, the daughter of this woman of great faith, “was healed instantly.” 

This is why Jesus, the Son of Israel, Himself became a child in our dog-eat-dog world.  He came to heal, to save, to restore, by means of His blood and by means of His Word, by means of His promise, and by means of the Gospel.  He has come to elevate all who call upon Him to be children: children of Israel, children of the promise, children of God.

He comes to you today as the children’s bread, offering you His body and blood.  He comes to you to give you His blessing, offering you absolution and the proclamation of good news.  He comes to you to say: O child of God: “Great is your faith.  Be it done for you as you desire.”  


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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) - 2018

18 February 2018

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The lie is the most dangerous thing in the world.  To go about our daily lives, we have to be able to know what is true.  We make decisions based on information that we receive – often from the word of other people.  One lie can cause us to make a decision that could result in death and destruction.  One untruth can destroy the world.

And in fact, it did.

God gave us a perfect world.  Our ancestors Adam and Eve lived in that perfect world.  They didn’t know what pain, suffering, poverty, or death were.  They didn’t know what sorrow, regret, heartache, or fear felt like.  They had no knowledge of such things, until they were tempted to secure the knowledge of good and evil through partaking of forbidden fruit.  God had forbidden that fruit out of love and mercy for Adam and Eve.  Perhaps he was preparing them for it at some point in the future. 

But one day, the serpent came.  And he did something Adam and Eve had never experienced before: he lied to them.  “You will not surely die,” said the serpent, contradicting God’s warning not to eat of that tree, that one forbidden tree.  Satan lied.  They believed the lie.  They enjoined the lie.  They reveled in the lie.  They lied to themselves and to God.  “You will not surely die,” said the serpent, “for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

But it was a lie.  It was the most destructive lie ever, and that lie ruined life on our planet – for every person and every animal born in history.  It meant not only death, but economic scarcity, struggle to survive, war and conflict, natural disasters, diseases, and every kind of pain and suffering imaginable.  It meant inexplicable evil.  It meant the lust for domination by the strong over the weak.  It meant hatred and covetousness by the weak towards the strong. It meant revolutions and genocides and cruelty beyond imagination over the course of thousands of years.

All because of one lie.

But in the words of a hymn that we will sing in a few weeks, God did not allow the lie to remain, sending our Pascal Lamb to set us free… “Let truth stamp out the lie.”  Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to restore truth and crush the head of the serpent, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

And a confrontation between the Truth and the Lie came as “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” where the lie came to Him to tempt Him, to turn Him from the truth, to enlist Him in the cause of the Lie.  And the serpent did to the second Adam what he did to the first: plying him with temptation.

First, he tempted him to turn stones into bread to appease His hunger, as He was fasting.  Our Lord Jesus Christ truthfully quoted the true Word of God: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Second, the Father of Lies took the Incarnate Truth to the temple, the place where the First Lie in the Garden of Eden continued to result in death on a grand scale through the slaughter of innumerable sacrificial animals.  There the Liar tried to deceive our Lord by means of a distorted truth, urging Him to destroy Himself based on the Scripture: “He will command His angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up” – two passages that referred to our Lord being protected by the angels. 

Jesus replied, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Finally, the serpent brought his targeted victim of the Great Lie to a mountain, and “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” in the telling of a lie that these kingdoms were his to give away, demanding that Jesus worship him. 

Our Lord replied in truth: “‘Be gone, Satan.  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

And indeed, the truth stamped out the lie, even as the Truth will trample the Liar’s head at the cross.

“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

Dear friends, we live in an age where truth is not only distorted, but many people claim that there is no truth.  This is a Satanic lie.  For Christ is the truth, his Word is true, and the gifts He gave to you at your Holy Baptism: forgiveness, life, and salvation, are truly yours.

And yes, Satan comes to us all the time, lying, tempting us to put faith in ourselves instead of God; tempting us to treat life – even our own – with contempt; tempting us to dominate rather than serve.  Satan tempts us with the same lie uttered to Adam and Eve: “You shall not surely die,” lying to us that our sins don’t matter, that we can justify our rebellion against God, and that there are no consequences for our transgressions.

But there are consequences, dear friends: deadly consequences.  There is a cross: the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, the bloodshed of the only one of our race who stamped out the lie.  He who is true suffered and died for us poor miserable sinners who have chosen to revel in the lie.  He truly died in our place, and how calls us to live in the truth of His love, His mercy, and His triumph over the father of lies.

For when we resist the devil and fight his lies by means of the true Word of God, the devil leaves.  And by the cross and the blood of Christ, the serpent’s head is crushed.  By clinging to the truth, the lie is extinguished.

This is what St. Paul is referring to when he says to us: “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  For in truth, the apostle says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  He speaks of the things the “servants of God” have to commend themselves to this great work of the Gospel, which includes, “truthful speech, and the power of God.”

For in truth is power, dear friends, the power of God.  The darkness of the lie cannot stand against the light of the truth.  Temptation and the tempter cannot stand against the Word of God.  Satan cannot stand against the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The lie, “You will not surely die” has become an ironic truth in Christ, by His cross, through your baptism, empowered by the truth of God’s Word, yes, indeed, the serpent’s lie has become the Lord’s truth.

You shall not surely die because He has surely died, He has surely risen, and He will surely come again.  He comes to stamp out the lie and deliver truth, dear friends, the truth of the Gospel.

The lie is the most dangerous thing in the world.  One untruth can destroy the world.  But conversely, the truth is the most powerful thing in the world.  One truth can and does restore the world: the truth of Christ.  Indeed, dear friends, let truth stamp out the lie!  “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  This is most certainly true! Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2018

14 February 2018

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When a person knows that death is imminent, he sometimes says things like, “I need to get my affairs in order.”  Dying has a tendency to focus us on what is important, on seriously setting priorities. 

Our Lord says as much when He tells us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t save money or be wise with our possessions.  What He is saying is that we need to have our priorities in order.  Should our hearts be set on temporary things?  Should our treasure be on the things of this life that just rot away?  Everything that money can buy will eventually turn to dust and be forgotten.  But think about the non-material things: love, faith, hope, joy.  These things are part of you and will last beyond the grave.  Your soul, your personality, that too is eternal.  Of course, you will rise again bodily, and we Christians will live physically in a new heaven and a new earth, but the old and corrupted and dying and fading away are only temporary. 

Why put your heart and your soul and your treasure into a doomed project?  There are truly better ways to invest.

This is why once a year, six weeks before Easter, and the day after Mardi Gras, we come to church on a Wednesday.  The mood is serious.  The parties are over.  There is a somberness and a renewed sense of purpose about our Christian faith as we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We are all reminded that we suffer from a terminal illness: sin.  On this day, instead of going along as if we will live forever, we reflect on the shortness of our time.  One way or another, whether in our sleep at an old age, whether suddenly in an accident, or after suffering by means of a painful illness, we are all going to die.  It is as certain as that smudge of black dust in the shape of a cross upon your forehead.  Look around at your brothers and sisters.  Look at their faces.  They are dying too.

God is not telling us this in order to depress us, but rather to make us face reality, and put our affairs in order.  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” dear friends.  Commit to being where Jesus is, each and every week.  Come prepared to hear the Gospel.  Come humbly to the communion rail “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Come and joyfully take part in the one thing that will carry you beyond the grave and will bring you to life eternal: your faith in Jesus Christ.

This is not a call for you to go to work to save yourself, but rather a call for you to get out of the way and allow Jesus to work on you, to prepare you for your own death, so that you might live forever.

Store up your treasures in heaven, dear friends!  Commit to come here to pray.  Commit to financially support your church and other charities.  Commit to offer your time and service not only to this congregation in the abstract, but to your brothers and sisters here, to those elsewhere, and to the Lord Himself! 

For this is the Christian life: our response to the Lord’s grace given to us at Calvary’s cross, and delivered to us at the baptismal font.  The Christian life is that we store up these heavenly treasures when we give to the needy (secretly, not looking for the reward of men); when we pray (not by putting on a show, but by genuinely praying to your Father in heaven); when you fast (not for the sake of the praise of others, but genuinely, as a discipline to deny yourself for the sake of spiritual strengthening).

Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting: these are all “whens” in the life of the Christian according to our Lord’s preaching.  We have just heard it in His own Words recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, and chosen for us to hear as we begin our Lenten journey, striving now to “lay up… treasures in heaven,” getting our affairs in order, and setting our priorities based on what is eternal rather than what is passing and temporary.

The discipline of Lent is not easy, dear friends.  You are not going to be perfect, which itself is a reminder of our need for God’s grace and mercy.  If you could perfectly live the Christian life, you wouldn’t need a Savior.  But of course, dear brothers and sisters, we do. 

And so this Ash Wednesday, this season of Lent, is a holy time, a time of refreshment, a time of prayer and meditation, a time to think about our priorities, to get our affairs in order in response to what Christ has done for us.

No amount to discipline will make you a disciple.  But Jesus has called you in baptism.  He has bidden you to walk with Him day in and day out.  He has enabled you to be absolved of all your sins.  He has made the Word of God available to you like never before.  He has provided proclamation and teaching for your benefit.  He has given you a holy house in which to gather for His gifts.  He has given you His very self upon the cross, His flesh and blood as the atoning sacrifice, His true body and blood also given to you miraculously here in this parish and in churches like it around the world.  Our Lord offers you the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and make you a blessing to others.

He gives all of this to you as a free gift, dear friends!

That, brothers and sisters, is what it means to be a disciple.  That is why you were baptized.  That is why you have been brought here today.  That is why Jesus calls you yet again to put your priorities right. 

That is also why Jesus, in His mercy, has caused your forehead to be marked by the ashes that remind us of our fall into sin and the death that we deserve.  “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  But remember something else, dear brother, dear sister.  Remember the cross.  This is why these ashes are shaped like a cross.  The death that we deserve has been borne by our Lord Jesus Christ.  That sign of the cross is not only a reminder of death, but also of our Lord’s conquest over death.  His victory is your victory.

And even as our Lord rose from the grave, so shall we.  There will be time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, when our time of joy returns, but as for now, we are called to a time of fasting and repentance.  It is a fast that looks forward to the feast.  It is a Lenten repentance that looks forward to our eternal Easter reward in heaven. 

So, dear friends, as we have been reminded once more of our mortality, of the shortness of our time on this side of the grave, even in that sobering reality, let us be joyful, knowing that our Lord bore our sins and carried them to the cross, winning for us victory even over death itself.  Let us gratefully put our affairs in order, prioritize our lives, and lay up treasures in heaven. 

Let us be grateful for the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us, and let us cheerfully share that bounty with others.  Let us reflect on eternity, and live our lives to the fullest, knowing that our time on this side of the grave is fleeting, even as our promised life in eternity is never-ending.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2018

11 February 2018

Text: Luke 18:31-43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished,” says Jesus.  He tells the twelve, as they make their way to Jerusalem, exactly what is going to happen: Jesus will be arrested and given over to the Roman government, mocked, abused, spat upon, flogged, and executed.  And He will rise from the dead.

For Jesus is the Son of Man prophesied by the Old Testament that the disciples had been reading and praying all their lives long.  They knew about the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior predicted by the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms – and now Jesus is clearly telling them that He is that Messiah. 

He is the one that Isaiah predicted will suffer for the sake of the people in order to redeem them from their sins.  And this redemption will be violent.  In fact, it will be a fulfillment of the Passover, in which a spotless lamb’s blood is shed, and its flesh roasted and eaten, in order for the angel of death to pass over the Lord’s chosen people. 

Our Lord’s ministry began when John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  This Lamb comes to bleed, to die, and to become a meal for those whose sins are forgiven. 

Jesus has come into the world to die on a cross, and to rise from death all for the forgiveness of sins, all to make the world right again, all for you, dear friends.

He spells it out to His disciples, “but they understood none of these things.”  For “the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

They would, in time, come to understand.  But as for now, they are blinded to the reality of who Jesus is and what His mission in this world is.

Ironically, right after this shocking blindness of the Lord’s closest students comes an incident with a blind man.  Doing what he can to earn a living, that is, to beg and depend upon the charity of others, the blind man senses that something is happening.  There is a crowd.  He asks what is going on.  “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” he is told.

And then the blind man responds in a way that the disciples do not.  For this blind man sees something that is hidden from them.  He addresses Jesus as “Son of David.”  For the blind man knows his scriptures.  He knows that the Messiah is a descendant of David, the rightful King of Israel.  And he understands that the kingship of Jesus isn’t just one more political office.  For unlike even the great King David, this King, David’s Son, can do miracles.  He can even heal blindness – something doctors and medical technology are unable to do even to this day.

The blind man not only knows the scriptures well enough to see who Jesus is, he also believes the scriptures, that is, he has faith: faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, and faith in His power to bring sight to the blind.

And so the blind man yells with all his might, praying, “Have mercy on me!”  He is so insistent that “those who were in front rebuked him.”  The verbalization of his faith, and his persistence in asking for Jesus to work a miracle is embarrassing and annoying to the rest of the people, those who can see with their eyes but cannot see with the eyes of faith.

“But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

Hearing his prayers, Jesus stops before him.  Jesus asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

The blind man asks for what might seem obvious: to see again.  But there is something profound in his request.  For unlike the disciples who seem to be temporarily blinded about the Messiah before their eyes, the blind man sees who Jesus is, and also sees what His ministry is.  For as a result of this encounter with Jesus, he is made “well.”  This is to say, his imperfection was removed; his heath was restored; he was healed.  And in the Greek language of the New Testament, to be “healed” means to be “saved.” 

Jesus has come to heal, that is, to save.  He has come to cure us of death itself, which is to say, to take away our sins, to be that blood-soaked Lamb whose body receives the wrath of God, and whose flesh is eaten by those whom death passes over.

We too see this, dear friends, in our Divine Service.  For immediately after the bread and wine are consecrated, the pastor holds the host and the chalice before your eyes, and we all sing together: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us!”

The prayer of the blind beggar is our prayer, dear brothers and sisters.  We too pray for mercy.  We too pray for forgiveness.  We too pray to have our eyes opened to the reality of eternal life in Christ by the grace and mercy and love of God, though we don’t deserve it.  The angel of death has passed us over, and we cry out, “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord, have mercy.”  We know who the Son of David is.  And like the blind man, we see well enough in our blindness to cry out all the more, even if the world is annoyed or embarrassed and it rebukes us.

And even as the Lord told the blind man who recovered his sight: “Your faith has made you well,” so too, dear friends, does our faith make us well.  Jesus offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation according to the promise of the Holy Scriptures, and when we believe the promise, the promise becomes a reality, and salvation is ours, by the grace and mercy of the Lord, the Son of David.

And this is what it means to be a Christian, dear friends.  We did not heal ourselves, but we have been healed, by the Son of David, by the Lord.  And in faith, we receive the promise and the gift, and we are made well.  We recover our own sight, we follow Jesus, and we glorify God.

The story of the blind beggar is our story.  It is the church’s story, the Holy Christian Church whose members never cease, day in and day out, century after century, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” when we gather together to glorify God, and to pray for His gifts, when we worship Him, hear anew the prophecies and promises of Scripture, and when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb.

We see Him in the breaking of the bread.  We see because we have been made well through our faith in Him who heals us, who saves us.

“Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us,” now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Get Off My Lawn!

For my 54th birthday yesterday, we did something decadent: we watched a movie. Gran Torino is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it is a Christian film.

Mind you, it's filled with a plethora of untamed vulgar language (the trailer has been cleaned up considerably) and enough ethnic slurs to turn just about any woke millie college student into a hyperventilating quivering mess desperately seeking the dean of diversity and a pacifier. So refreshing and funny!

It is classic Eastwood: a tough guy - Walt Kowalski - scarred by his dark past who finds heroic redemption when faced with injustice in his neighborhood. The ironic and iconic imagery is unquestionably Christian (at least if you know what to look for - most people probably won't catch it) - but I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. It is one of the few movies since the 1940s in which the priest is a good guy. The movie has held up well in the ten years since its release.

This is a great underrated piece of moviemaking. All of the classic elements of profound narrative are found in this film. It is a story of good and evil, of love and redemption, of sin and forgiveness, of unapologetic masculine courage - so unlike most of the useless and limp soft-porn dullard-slop SJW agitprop that comes out of WeinsteinTown these days.

One of the funniest and most enigmatic quips in the film comes from Eastwood's character: "Everybody blames the Lutherans." I would love to know where that line came from!

This is one you can watch and enjoy again and again.

Now get off my lawn!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2018

4 February 2018

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

You are dirt! 

Well, Jesus says so anyway.  The nicer way to put it is “soil.”  This parable of Jesus is called “The Parable of the Sower,” but some of the church fathers called it: “The Parable of the Soils.”

Like all of our Lord’s parables, this is a story of analogies.  Each person and thing in the story stands for something else: something in the kingdom of God.  And in this parable, our Lord actually helps us to understand it by explaining it to the disciples.  By the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we are allowed to listen in.

The story is a familiar one, and begins with a scene that dates back to the days of Adam.  “A sower went out to sow his seed.”  A farmer is planting.  Every human being on the planet eats because of this simple, and yet powerful action: a person putting a seed into the dirt, whether manually or with a machine, whether haphazardly – as in this parable – or with great scientific precision.  This is a story that pretty much everyone can relate to: even people who live in the city.  For we all eat food grown in the soil.

In our Lord’s story, there are four classes of soil: the path, the rock, the thorns, and the “good soil.” 

Our sower casts his first seed onto the path.  This is ground that has been hardened through people walking on it.  The seeds can’t break through the tough exterior.  And since the seed just sits there, birds come and take it away.  The second seed is sown in the shallow rocky soil, where it grows quickly, but the dryness and the shallowness of the soil cause the death of the little plant.  The third seed lands among thorns, where it grows, but cannot compete for what it needs to remain alive, and the plant dies.  But the fourth seed lands on “good soil,” where it does what seeds are naturally programmed to do: to grow, mature, bear fruit, and reproduce – even yielding a hundred new seeds.

Of course, the first three soils represent various degrees of failure, but the fourth represents success: the seed doing just what it was designed to do.  And it will do just that if not interfered with by bad soil.

And that’s it.  That’s the end of the story.  It is remarkable for its unremarkableness. Some of Jesus’ listeners were probably puzzled.  Some were probably bored.  Some probably didn’t get it at all, wondering why they are getting a lecture on farming from a carpenter and rabbi.  For without the key, without knowing the analogy, this story is a mystery. 

We know this because St. Luke revealed a post-parable conversation with the disciples, who had asked their professor “what this parable meant.”  Their rabbi, our Lord, replied, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

Our Lord then breaks down the symbolism of the parable, beginning with, “The seed is the Word of God.”  The sower of the seed is the preacher of the Word.  The soils that receive the seed are the hearers of the preacher.  And, just as different types of soil receive the seeds with varying degrees of success, it’s the same with us, dear friends.  Sometimes the Word of God sinks into us, and sometimes it doesn’t. 

If we harden our hearts and don’t care about the Word, it will not imbed itself into us.  It will lie there, vulnerable, to be snatched away by Satan.  If we resist the Word and only allow it to come to us in a shallow way, we may see some growth, but we will quickly see decline, as our faith is not rooted.  We can especially lose our faith in times of “testing.”  Additionally, we may not actively resist the Word, but our lives may be so busy with “the cares and riches and pleasures of life,” that our faith is crippled, choked out by other things that take priority, whether work or pleasure.  The result is the same: death.  And in that kind of death, there is no “maturity,” no bearing of fruit, and no passing along the faith to others. 

Jesus is warning us about all the ways we can push away His life-saving Word.  For the Word of God is the power of the Gospel.  It is forgiveness, life, and salvation.  It is the defeat of sin, death, and the devil.  It is the fruit of the cross.  To be the good soil is to enjoy our eternal destiny in the kingdom of God, bearing fruit just as we were created to do, meant to do, and will naturally do – unless we ourselves get in the way.

And that, dear friends, is really the lesson of the Parable of the Sower: don’t get in the way of the Word of God – not by indifference, not by shallowness, not by putting priority on things of lesser importance.  This is how we squander our baptisms; this is how we throw away the riches that God gives us by His free grace and mercy; this is how we freely choose to condemn ourselves instead of getting out of the way and letting God be God, letting the Word do its work, letting Jesus save us and make or lives complete.

For ultimately, dear friends, we are dirt. 

And dirt can do nothing good.  Dirt just sits there.  Dirt doesn’t make the seed grow.  But dirt can crush the natural work of God to nurture His beloved creation the way a farmer tends his field.  So as dirt, our job is to receive the Word, to get out of the way, to let the “seed” make things happen according to its nature.  And make no mistake, dear brothers and sisters, the Word of God does make things happen.  You may find it hard to believe, but it is as natural as a little seed being put into the dirt where it grows.  You don’t have to know how it works, but it does.  You don’t have to have a degree in biology for the complex imbedded DNA to multiply cells and turn the tiny speck into a massive plant – bearing fruits to feed creation, and bearing more seeds to sustain creation.  The seed is the work of God; the soil does nothing but get out of the way.

The lesson of the Parable of the Sower is to be where the seed is cast.  Don’t resist the work of the seed, or foolishly become shallow or too busy for the Word of God to work in your life.  The Word of God is a free gift.  It will change you, save you, and sustain you throughout your life.  It will likewise change, save, and sustain your children and your children’s children, your coworkers, your friends, your relatives, and anyone else God puts in your path.  That is how you received the Word, and it is how others will receive the Word in the future.  After all these centuries, and with all of our tools and technology – it still boils down to this: a sower, a seed, and soil.  That is where life comes from!  That is how we are fed!  That is how life is multiplied on our planet and in the kingdom of heaven.

Yes, indeed, dear friends, we are dirt. 

Jesus has said so.  For we are where the Sower, that is, God Himself, has chosen to sow the seed of His Word: into us.  His Word changes us from sinners to saints, saves us from death and hell, and sustains us even unto eternal life.  Let us get out of the way, receive the Word, and rejoice in wonder at the growth and life that are ours by virtue of the power of the Word and the loving work of the Sower.


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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sermon: Septuagesima - 2018

28 January 2018

Text: Matt 20:1-16

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We live in a culture of contradictions. 

On the one hand, we live in the age of the participation trophy, where everybody gets a prize just for playing.  On the other hand, we practically worship the players and coaches of the teams that win the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NCAA National Championship.

On the one hand, we live in the age of expecting equal outcomes for everyone based on every imaginable way to categorize people.  On the other hand, we’re a status-driven culture, where we’re judged by our houses, our cars, our watches, our tennis shoes, and by just about any other silly way to establish a pecking order between people, where having bigger and more expensive stuff adds to one’s personal value and reputation.

So it’s especially interesting to see how people respond to the truth of what Christianity is, what Jesus actually teaches, why our Lord came into our world, and why it makes a difference to be a Christian instead of something else.

Almost nobody really understands what Christianity is, and that includes a lot of Christians.

Christianity is not about being nice.  Sometimes Jesus just plain isn’t.  Christianity isn’t about being a good person and going to heaven.  Nobody is that good.  Christianity isn’t about short-term political and social considerations.  Those change with every generation, and as it seems now, with every month.  Jesus isn’t here to validate your feelings about sexuality, or to promise you a private jet if you have enough faith, or to teach the world that everybody gets a trophy and nobody is wrong, nor to only bring people into His kingdom who happen to be the right ethnic background.  Jesus is not here to reward you because He is impressed with you, because He’s really not.

All the attempts to make Jesus into one’s own image fail.

And this is why our Lord tells parables.  He teaches us about Himself, about us, and about His kingdom.  “The kingdom of heaven is like…” begins many of His parables, including this one: the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  This story is delightfully shocking, as it has the power to offend just about everyone: those on the Left who think Jesus offers “social justice” to people based on identity politics, as well as those on the Right who think that somehow they earn God’s favor for being right.  The Lord’s kingdom is based on equality, but not the kind that most people say they want.  The Lord’s kingdom is based on the right of the property owner to do whatever he wants, but of course it is God who owns everything.  There is something here to scandalize everyone in our fallen world.

The kingdom of heaven is not like anything on this earth!

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house,” says Jesus, who goes out to hire workers.  This master pays them each a denarius a day, the going rate set by the market – not by law, not by intimidation, not by a sense of charity.  He offers a denarius a day, and strikes a contract with these all-day workers.

Two hours later, he needs more workers.  He offers them “whatever is right.”  And they agree.  There is agreement about “what is right.”  There are no arguments based on “your reality” and “my reality” or objections that “right” is subjective and unknowable.  The deal is struck, and the workers enter the vineyard.

He finds more workers at noon, and then at three.  He makes the same deal with them.  And then, with one hour left in the twelve hour workday, the master hires these poor guys who have been passed up all day, and they work only an hour.

“And when evening came,” says, Jesus, “the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”

And here, dear brothers and sisters, is where things get really interesting.  The guys that worked only one hour were paid a denarius.  A whole denarius!  That’s a whole day’s wage for one hour!  The guys who worked all day heard about this, and they were excited, as they presumed that they would get a lot more than a denarius.

But they didn’t.  They received just what the master told them they would receive: one denarius.  A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.  And they are furious.  They grumble.  They object that it is unfair to pay them a denarius, the same as the guys who worked one hour.  After all, they bore “the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

And here is where Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of heaven.  The master replies, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

Dear friends, we have an over-inflated view of what we are worth.  We really think God “owes us something.”  We really think that we deserve God’s grace.  We really think that we are better than others.  It’s called sin.  And if you don’t suffer from it, then you don’t need a Savior.  But if you do need a Savior (and you do), then you need the Savior’s grace.  That is what this parable is about.  That is what the kingdom is about.  That is what Jesus is about.

That’s what the denarius coins represent, dear brothers and sisters.  God graciously “pays” his workers not what they deserve, but what they need.  Because, frankly, if we were paid what we deserve, we would be cast into hell.  But instead, we are baptized and redeemed, paid the “denarius” of Christ’s blood that admits us into the kingdom – whether we live to be a hundred, or die in infancy, whether we suffer martyrdom for the sake of Jesus, or whether we live a long comfortable life.  It isn’t our business how God shows mercy to others.  He is allowed to do what He chooses with what is His.  And far be it from us to begrudge His generosity! 

Instead of grumbling, dear friends, let us rejoice!  Instead of complaining that someone else got a denarius, let us live a life of joy that we have been made rich by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, offered as an atonement for your sins, and even poured into the cup for you to drink as the very Word of God delivered to you in Holy Communion.

Don’t begrudge someone else eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood!  Don’t be offended that someone else receives Holy Absolution!  Don’t look at the screaming baby at the baptismal font with contempt that he also receives the denarius of salvation even though he has arrived at this world in the eleventh hour.  Rather let us enjoy the kindness of our master and the richness of His grace!  Let us be grateful that the Lord calls others to work in His vineyard and join us in the field to work for Him who makes us rich beyond measure! 

Let us remember that the kingdom of heaven is not like this fallen, brutal, dog-eat-dog world.  Rather the kingdom of heaven is the realm of our King, who knows all, who sees all, who loves all.  And in His mercy, “the last will be first, and the first last.”  And that is not a contradiction, but rather a demonstration of the Lord’s boundless grace and mercy, a denarius given to us for His labor, though we don’t deserve it.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon: Transfiguration - 2018

21 January 2018

Text: Matt 17:1-9

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is a dramatic event.  It was, of course, something the three apostles Peter, James, and John would never forget.  And it is something that we don’t forget either, as the church remembers this remarkable revelation of who Jesus is each year as we make our way to Lent, to Good Friday, and to Easter.

Our Lord takes the three of them up a mountain.  His face and clothes glow with a blast of radiant light.  Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.  Peter says something about building tents for the three of them.  Then there is a cloud and the voice of God the Father announcing approval of His Son Jesus.  The three disciples are “terrified” and they fall to the ground.  And then it is all over, that quick.  Everything goes back to normal, and all they see is Jesus: “Jesus only.”  And then Jesus tells them to keep quiet about all of this, “until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

I gave you a quick rundown of this incident as recorded in our Gospel reading, but I left out a detail.  Maybe you missed it.  It goes by so quickly, and it doesn’t seem important, so you might not have caught it.  But it is a detail that was so important that the Evangelist made sure that it was included in his account right at the beginning, and the Holy Spirit has made sure that you heard it today.

The three words at the beginning of this reading are: “After six days.”

“After six days.”

So why is this important?  Well, six days prior, Peter, the leader of the apostles and of our Lord’s inner circle of Peter, James, and John, confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God.”  And Jesus told Peter that this confession was revealed to him by the Father. 

This is a crucial turning point for our Lord and for the church.  For the revelation of who Jesus is hasn’t been completed – even after Peter’s confession.  Our Lord is going to take Peter with two witnesses and really make it clear who He is, why He is here, and what is going to happen in the future. 

And once again, this entire revelation is set off by the words “after six days.”

What happens after six days, dear friends?  After six days, comes the seventh day, the Sabbath, the weekly Day of Rest that we Christians keep as “The Lord’s Day,” that is “Sunday.”  While the pagan world chose to honor the sun, the brightest star in our sky that blazes with light, we Christians honor a different kind of Son: the Son of God and Son of Man, whose light is uncreated and divine.  Their sun is created, whereas our Son is the Creator.

“After six days” reminds us that the universe was created in six days, and “after six days,” God rested.  He rested from His labors, and He called creation “very good.”  “In the beginning, God created,” says the first verse of the first book of the Bible.  “In the beginning was the Word,” says the first verse of the last Gospel in the Bible.  In the beginning was God, and in the beginning was the Word by whom all things were made.  “After six days,” after the creation, after the Word declared, “Let the be light, and there was light,” after the universe was created and after the man Adam, who was to become the earthly ancestor of Jesus, after the six days of creation, Jesus comes into our world to fix it, to rescue us, to shine light into the dark places of our sinful world and our sinful flesh, to enlighten us with the Gospel and the revelation that He is God in the flesh, that the Father is well-pleased, and that the “Son of Man” will indeed be “raised from the dead.”

“After six days,” Jesus speaks to Moses and Elijah, conversing with the Law and the Prophets, as the One who fulfills both the law and the prophets.  He reveals who He is to the disciples, and He blazes with glorious and frightening light.  This is the unvarnished and unveiled glory and might of God.  “After six days” He has come into the world to be the world’s Sabbath rest, to spend the sixth day on the cross and in the tomb, to die for us and in our place, to defeat Satan himself by atoning for us and rescuing us from the devil’s clutches.  “After six days,” He announces, “It is finished,” and the Father’s words, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” are brought to their fulfillment upon the cross, as the Son flawlessly and faithfully obeys the Father’s will, and creation is redeemed, all “after six days.”

“After six days” comes the Sabbath, His rest in the tomb, and at the end of that Sabbath, comes the Eighth Day, the First Day of the new creation. “After six days” Jesus will come again to restore creation to its glory with a New Heaven and a New Earth!

Dear friends, we don’t see the Lord in His full transfigured glory “after six days,” but we do see a revelation of Jesus as He has revealed Himself to us.  For “after six days” comes our own mountaintop experience, the revelation of Jesus Christ, as we too hear the voice of God in the Scriptures, and we too see Jesus change form before our eyes.  We see bread and wine, but we know that by His Word and mighty power, by His promise, and by His fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, we hear the voice of God proclaim: “This is My body.  This is My blood.”  We fall to our knees, and we too pray, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” 

For we too experience the cross and the resurrection, the creation and the condummation of time, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the “after six days” of the Lord Jesus Christ coming among us, revealing Himself to us, and shining the light of His grace and His countenance upon us.  And “after six days” we too lift up our eyes and see “Jesus only” as our weekly Divine Service is all about His Word and His presence, His faithfulness to us in the forgiveness of our sins, in His perfect obedience to the Father, and with His invitation to us to “rise and have no fear” having eaten His body and having drunk His blood unto eternal life. 

We too come down the mountain, and we too leave this holy ground to go back to our own ordinary lives.  But “after six days,” we have the privilege to return.

But unlike Peter, James, and John, we are not under a restriction.  For the Son of Man has indeed been raised from the dead.  We confess His resurrection, and we confess His coming among us in the flesh.  And “after six days” we will confess yet again that He comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, that He appeared to Peter, James, and John, that He was indeed crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day, He rose again.  “After six days” we will again remember our baptism, confess our sins, hear the good news, and meet with Him anew in the miracle of His presence in the Holy Communion, week in and week out, on the Lord’s Day and wherever and whenever the Church gathers in His name by His grace. 

And when our last hour on this side of the grave comes, we can die in the faith “after six days,” knowing that we will have our own Sabbath rest, assured of lifting up our eyes and seeing “Jesus only” when He raises us to eternal life, “after six days.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sermon: Epiphany 2 - 2018

14 January 2018

Text: John 2:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If there is one human institution that shouldn’t be controversial at all, one that binds all people of all times together because of overall agreement, it should be marriage.  For the entire gamut of human history, men and women have left their parents, married a partner of the opposite sex, and typically have brought forth children from this union.  The marriage usually begins by a ceremony and a celebratory meal, and is shared by the families and the community.

This pattern is virtually universal across times and places, across cultures and religions.  It is natural, biological, seems to be psychologically and sociologically satisfying, and is the basis of society and civilization.

It should be no surprise that our Lord chose a wedding feast to perform this “the first of His signs.”  For there is nothing more human, ordinary, natural, and joyful than a wedding.  But there is also something supernatural as well, for our Lord said that God puts men and women together in marriage, and that the two become “one flesh.”  This transcends what we see with our eyes when men and women join together in holy matrimony.

It is also interesting that our Lord chose water and wine to be the substances involved in this first miracle, this first manifestation of His glory in His ministry.  For our earth is mostly water, and wine is a result of the natural fermentation of the fruits of the earth.  But there is also something supernatural in this miracle of Jesus as well, for water doesn’t naturally become wine.  And even the natural rules of hospitality are turned on their head by our good and merciful Lord Jesus, who unlike “everyone” who “serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine,” instead has kept “the good wine” until the end.

Given that in Scripture, Jesus is called the Bridegroom and the Church is called the Bride, we can see how He uses the example of marriage and a wedding feast to teach us about the kingdom, and about Himself.  For in a marriage, the two become one flesh in a way that is both natural and supernatural.  Our Lord Jesus was born into our world both naturally, as a boy borne by His mother, but also in a supernatural way, born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the eternal Word made flesh.

And what about the Bride?  We Christians are natural human beings living in a natural world.  And when we partake of the intimacy of Holy Communion, we truly eat bread and truly drink wine – even as the attendees of that wedding feast at Cana in Galilee did, even as people have been doing in ordinary meals for thousands of years.  And yet, our Holy Communion is also supernatural, for our Lord said, “This is My body” and “this cup is the New Testament in My blood,” all “for the forgiveness of sins.”  This is indeed a meal, but it is not ordinary.  It is just as miraculous and wondrous as that first of the Lord’s signs when He turned the water into wine through His Word and by His own will and power, delegating authority to the servants by whose hands our Lord worked the miracle (even as His mother told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you”).

Our Lord’s sign: His use of His Word to transform brokenness into completeness, lack into plenty, shame into joy, and disbelief into faith, is repeated every time His Bride gathers in His presence and celebrating the eternal feast according to His Word.  In this ordinary and extraordinary meal, we enjoy a physical and spiritual union with our Lord and our God, who joins Himself to us in a great sacramental mystery, forgiving our sins, and drawing us to Himself in an extraordinarily ordinary way.

We do just as Blessed Mary advised the servants that day: “Do whatever He tells you.”

He has told us: “Do this in memory of Me.”  He has told us: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  He has told us, “If you forgive anyone His sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  He has told us to preach and to teach and to confess Him according to our various callings and vocations.  He has told us to forgive others their sins, to ask forgiveness of those whom we sin against, to partake of His body and blood, to hear His Word, to pray, praise and give thanks, to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Our Lord has come to us who were starving in brokenness, and has given us a banquet in fulfilment.  He has come to us in our poverty of alienation from God, and has given us riches beyond measure in His grace and mercy and divine communion.  He has come to us in our mortal life of struggle with sin, and has delivered to us eternal life and His very righteousness as a free and full gift, won for us at the cross, and delivered to us by His Word, and placed before us as a meal of union and of communion under bread and wine.

This was indeed the first of our Lord’s signs, but it was not to be the last.  Nobody could have predicted what was to come when the Lord turned water into wine at Cana in Galilee that day, but we know what happens, dear friends.  We have seen not only this manifestation of His glory, but also its fulfillment in His laying down His life for His Bride at the cross, in His glorious resurrection from the dead, and in His miraculous ongoing feast of bread and wine (now become His body and blood through His Word spoken by His servants).

For our Lord has saved the best for last, that is, the wine of His blood and the bread of His body, the Word of His cross, the proclamation of His Gospel, our redemption by His sacrifice, and our resurrection to eternal life by means of His resurrection.

And while the world has taken even the simplicity of marriage and twisted it into a confused mess out of step with nature and stripped of that which makes it supernatural, our Lord Jesus Christ does the very opposite, dear friends.  Rather taking the natural and blessing it with the supernatural, taking something ordinary and making it holy, and elevating the common to the realm of the glorious: all as a wedding gift for His Bride.  

We continue to “do whatever He tells” us in this celebratory meal and eternal feast, as He manifests His glory, and we believe in Him!


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