Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 12

12 November 2019

Text: Matt 26:1-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

The poor body of Christ is criticized at every end by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  We Americans are among the richest people on the planet.  Even the poorest among us live like kings compared to our great-grandparents’ generation.  And yet we are criticized for not doing enough “for the poor.”

The Church is criticized for being rich – as if every pastor rolls around in gold coins while drinking champagne every night, as if our congregations have a fleet of private jets and expensive real estate holdings.  Most of our churches are hanging financially by a thread.  And yet, as we are able, we have beautiful vestments and dignified church architecture.  In some cases, these altars, fonts, pulpits, and pews were paid for by laborers a hundred years ago, whose offerings were counted in cents, not dollars.  And today, the pastor’s albs and stoles and chasubles are often gifts of the people, offered in love for their pastors to wear for the sake of the dignity of the Gospel.

Notice how Jesus dismisses the crass criticism of the disciples: “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Nobody begrudges a family for spending thousands of dollars on their daughter’s wedding.  Nobody criticizes a man for buying his beloved a diamond ring.  Why?  Because these are sacrificial acts of love.  What kind of parents would host their daughter’s wedding in a McDonald’s restaurant – assuming that these parents were not genuinely impoverished?  And what kind of a man would buy his bride-to-be a plastic ring from a gumball machine – assuming that he had the means to buy her a real ring?

These things are tokens of love.  And they are not things that are often repeated.  They are symbols of sacrifice, and gratitude.  For we are the Bride of Christ, dear friends.  And what has He done for us?  He has given His life as the perfect Bridegroom.  He has died to save us.  He gives us eternal life!  And we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in response to His propitious sacrifice of blood that saves us.  And we join in the Eucharist, that is, the Thanksgiving meal of His body and blood for our salvation.  Our gifts to the Lord are not to be scorned – especially when they are treasures to be lovingly used for generations, proclaiming the Gospel without words, and confessing the Lord Jesus’ saving act upon the cross.

“You will always have the poor with you,” says our Lord.  Indeed, we will always have opportunities to help our brethren in need.  But in our state of relative wealth, we don’t need to rob Jesus to feed the hungry.  In fact, we can do both if we are willing to give up some of our own creature comforts out of love: both for our neighbor and for our Lord.  For we do a beautiful thing when we adorn the Gospel in beauty.  And what’s more, we make all rich in faith by proclaiming the Gospel – in word and in deed.  Amen!

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 21 - 2019

10 November 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus returns to the city of Cana, where He performed His first miracle.  And while there, He performs another miracle – this one a healing.  A government official approaches Jesus to tell Him that his son was “at the point of death.”  This official was probably working for the administration of King Herod – the same phony royal family that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering the baby boys at Bethlehem.  It’s also possible that this official was actually a Roman soldier serving in King Herod’s court – as Herod’s kingdom was puppet administration.

At any rate, he asks Jesus to come and heal his dying son.  Our Lord’s reply is interesting; He says “Unless you [and it’s the plural ‘you’ as in “y’all”] – “unless [you people] see signs and wonders y’all will not believe.”  However, the official is undeterred in his prayer to Jesus for healing.  “Sir,” he says – and the actual word used is the word “Lord,” – “come down before my child dies.”

As a government official, he certainly understands that if you want something done, you don’t waste your time asking someone for something if that person doesn’t have the power or the authority to grant your request.  The official comes to Jesus, asks Him as “Lord,” and then he requests a miracle.  

Indeed, it sounds like this official – who at very least works for the corrupt Herod, and may well also be a Gentile – somehow knows who Jesus is, and believes in Him.  For who other than God can do such “signs and wonders.”  And notice that unlike the others around him, the official actually doesn’t need a sign in order to believe – for he has come believing already, believing that Jesus has the power and the authority to heal his son.

“Jesus said to him, “Go, your son will live.”  And as confirmed later by the official, when Jesus said that it was so, it was so – at that very hour.

Of course, this healing of the son is a great miracle – far more wonderful and wondrous than turning water into wine.  For death was turned away on that day.  But even this isn’t the greatest miracle of our Gospel reading – for we are specifically told: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

He believed.  In other words, He had faith in the Word of Jesus.  And that, dear friends, is the greater miracle!  Faith is a gift, and indeed, a miracle.  For on what basis does he believe that Jesus has the power and the authority – by means of His Word – to heal and save?  Maybe he heard about our Lord’s last visit to Cana, when the Word of Jesus changed the molecular structure of a substance.  At any rate, he believes; he has faith.  And through this faith in the Word of Him whom he called “Lord,” his son was saved from death.

It may seem strange that this reading was paired up with the creation account in Genesis as our Old Testament reading, but we see the Word bringing all things into being.  “And God said…”  God speaks the Word, and it is so.  God speaks, and the universe comes into being.  God speaks the word, “Your son will live,” and it is so.  The Lord Jesus, the Lord God, has both power and authority not only to create the universe, but to restore that which is broken in the universe – including mortal human beings who suffer their mortality on account of sin.  St. John, whose Gospel teaches us about this official in Cana, had previously described Jesus as “the Word” who “was God” and who was “with God” “in the beginning.”

Jesus is the Word who speaks the Word, and John records the Word, and we read and hear the Word.  St. Paul teaches us that “faith comes by hearing… the Word of Christ!”  And this Word is preached to you at this very hour, dear friends!

And so look at how magnificent this passage is, dear brothers and sisters: “The man believed the Word.”  He believed in the Lord, and He believed the Lord’s Word of promise applied to him.  Such faith!  Such saving faith!

And look what else happened – a third miracle: “all his household” believed.  For they witnessed the miraculous healing, and the official had discussed this healing with others.  The Word of God has this kind of power.  And you, dear friends, are hearing this Word, and you are hearing it by the Lord’s divine providence.  It is no accident that you heard this Word today – at this very hour.  And this Word of God – proclaimed from the Scriptures and preached as the Gospel, the Good News – creates faith in you – healing, saving, death-destroying faith.  

Our Epistle lesson also mentions the power of the Word.  For St. Paul compares various attributes of the Christian like the armor of a Roman soldier.  The apostle describes faith as a shield – a piece of armor necessary for survival.  Without a shield, a soldier was easily knocked off by an arrow or cut by a sword.  The shield, that is, faith, is our protection from the attacks of the evil one.  And faith comes by hearing: hearing the Word of Christ.  St. Paul describes the Word as the “sword of the Spirit.”  The Word is the only offensive weapon in this soldier’s armory.  And with a sword, he can counterattack an enemy.  He can parry with his shield of faith, and then strike back using the Word of God.  

For the Word creates, the Word redeems, and the Word repels the evil one.  And when we have faith in the Word – specifically in the Word Made Flesh and all that He promises us from the cross and the empty tomb – we are healed and rescued from death – eternal death – saved just like the official’s son.

Dear friends, we need the shield of faith, and our faith is given to us by means of the Word.  We desperately need the Word of God.  We need to hear it read aloud in this holy place.  We need to hear its Good News preached where the Word has authorized preaching in His name.  And we need to eat the body and drink the blood of the Word Made Flesh, whose Word makes it clear that His body and blood are given to us “for the forgiveness of sins.”  And when we hear this Word, when we believe, when we have faith, we are healed that very hour!

And the Word has the power to create in us faith – and not only us, but our entire household.  May the Eternal Word dwell in us, restore us to life, and sustain us in faith for all eternity! 


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

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 5

5 November 2019

Text: Matt 23:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Most non-Christians – and even many Christians – think that the central message of Christianity, of the Church, and of Jesus is to “be nice.”  And if that’s all there is to it, you really don’t need to go to church, give money to the church, and read that massive book.  Just be nice. 

Today’s reading is one of those times when Jesus is not nice.  There is no way Joel Osteen (the popular TV preacher from Houston with the pearly white smile and books about personal happiness) – would ever preach or speak like this.  If Jesus were on a college campus and spoke these words with this tone, He would, no doubt, be accused of triggering his listeners and perhaps even be guilty of hate speech.  Today’s reading is part of a longer rant called the “Seven Woes” in which Jesus rails against the Scribes and the Pharisees and makes no effort to be nice.  Jesus is not averse to piling on.

And while being nice is overall a fine thing, being sensitive to others’ feelings and being tactful is good behavior in general – there are times when truth trumps politeness.  For Christianity isn’t a call to civility – it is a call to repentance, a call to receive forgiveness, a call to a life of grace that never ends.  And that must begin not with self-esteem, but rather self-examination.  Contrary to the title of the famous self-help book, I am not OK, and you are not OK.  We are dying sinners.  We are broken.  We are mortal.  And no amount of lipstick can beautify this pig, dear friends.

The Law exposes us for what we are: hypocrites who do not practice what we preach, narcissists who revel in attention and titles.  In our wicked sinful hearts, we believe that we are good, and that we deserve to be put on a pedestal.  But Jesus says that we are hypocrites.  We need to repent.

But we do have a Father who is good.  We do have an Instructor who is righteous.  The Lord teaches us the truth – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And our instructor is the Christ, the Messiah, the one who suffers death on the cross to remove our sin, guilt, shame, and culpability.  He says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

When we confess the truth of our sinful nature – in thought, word, and deed – and when we submit to Christ, the Word of God, as our Instructor, and when we pray to our Father in heaven, when we call to mind our humble baptism – we are exalted, dear friends.  We are exalted by forgiveness, life, and salvation – and we become beacons of hope to a dark world entrapped by hypocrisy and death – even with its fake cult of niceness.

The truth is more important than niceness, but what is the nicest truth of all is that Jesus has come to seek and save the lost, that he gives us life that we may have it abundantly – life that never ends.  Amen!

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

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Sermon: All Saints Day - 2019

4 November 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In our country, we have various holidays that call to remembrance various aspects about what it means to be an American.  We celebrate the Fourth of July as Independence Day, in which we call to mind the momentous events of 1776 that led to the United States of America – honoring the patriots who took up pen and musket to secure our independence and liberties.  We also celebrate Memorial Day – a solemn commemoration of Americans who died in service to our country in all wars.  And we also celebrate Veterans’ Day – an opportunity to express gratitude for the service of all in the military, past and present (a holiday that was originally called Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War One).  

The Church is, in many ways, like its own country.  We are citizens of a kingdom.  We have our own laws, history, heroes, and government.  We also have our own rememberance of war and peace, of heroes and villains, and important events that we deem worthy of calling to mind.

We celebrate the birthday of our King on Christmas Day, and we commemorate His death and Resurrection during Holy Week and Easter.  And we also have lesser holidays in our calendar in which we honor our “soldiers” if you will.  We celebrate the feast days of the Apostles and Evangelists.  We celebrated Reformation Day last week, and this week, we join the entire western Church throughout the world to celebrate All Saints Day.

Today is a bit like Veterans Day, in that we honor all who served, all who followed Christ, all those “soldiers of the cross” known and unknown, those who died as martyrs, and those who died in their beds.  We remember the men and women known the world over for their holy and heroic deeds, and we also remember our own friends and relatives who will never be honored by a feast day in our hymnal, and who will never have a church named after them – and yet they are the saints we honor today.

For even as we need role models and heroes to look up to, we know that Christian saints are born, not made – and we should rightly say that they are “born again” – by water and the Spirit, sanctified by the Word of God and called to eternal life by grace.

In John’s vision in the book of Revelation, he sees the saints being “sealed” in symbolic numbers from the twelve tribes of Israel – the twelve tribes that are carried forward in the Church through the twelve apostles.  We Christians are “sealed” by means of Holy Baptism.  We are signed by the holy cross.  We are delivered from death and the devil.  In other words, we are called to be saints by our Lord, and we are sanctified by His blood.

And our saints come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” For what makes us and our brethren saints is that we are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  This, dear friends, is why we see the lamb illustrated on our altar.  You are standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  And notice that those who are standing before the Lamb are singing a hymn: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”

This is what all saints do: they gather around the Lamb and they sing His praise.  All saints gather at the Divine Service where Jesus comes to them – the Lamb who gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.  All saints participate in the eternal Passover sacrifice, the Lamb that takest away the sin of the world at the cross, for all saints “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” 

And per John’s vision, we serve God “day and night in His temple,” gathering “before the throne of God,” and by “His presence,” God Himself shelters us, promises us a new and greater world with no hunger, or thirst, or suffering on account of weather – and that the Lamb Himself will shepherd us, and even our tears shall be no more.

This is what it means to be a saint, dear friends – to receive the Lord’s grace and His superabundant mercy.  And that quickens in us love for Him and a desire to be where He is – like a loving little child who clings to His parents – so too do all saints hold fast to the God who has given us life, redeemed us from sin, and called us into the throne-room of God, being made worthy by the Lamb who alone is truly worthy!

And, of course, even as we honor all saints, we certainly call to mind those who suffered persecution and even martyrdom as their particular call to sainthood.  “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation,” those saints past, present, and future who are called to bear the cross of suffering for the sake of their confession of Christ.  Even as Memorial Day calls to mind those veterans who died for our country, so too do the feasts of the martyrs, of the Reformation, of Pentecost – and other feasts – bring us to remembrance of those whose testimony was written in blood and anguish.  Lest we forget, dear brothers and sisters!

To be a saint is to be a child of God.  How?  Because, as John teaches us, because the Father has given us a remarkable kind of love.  The world does not know this love, but we do.  The world does not know us or Him – but we do, dear friends.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now,” and even as His children, we have so much more to look forward to in the future!  For “we shall be like Him,” even as we grow in faith and love in this life, and being perfected in the life to come.

And this is the life of Christ lived through the saints, being blessed by His mercy, blessed by a poverty of spirit through which the kingdom is ours; blessed even in our mourning, for we will be comforted; blessed in our meekness, for we will inherit the earth; blessed in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, for we will be satisfied; blessed by showing mercy, for we will receive mercy; blessed with a pure heart, by which we will see God; blessed as peacemakers, for we will be called sons of God.  And dear friends, even when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the kingdom will be ours, and when we are reviled for the sake of Christ, we will rejoice in the kingdom for our reward will be great.

And so, dear friends, let us honor our saints, for in doing so, we honor Him by whom they, and we, are called and gifted with the saintly life, with membership in the kingdom, citizens of an eternal country, and an eternal King.  

Let us join with all the saints – past, present, and future – in waving our palm branches and singing: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  Amen.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 29

29 October 2019

Text: Matt 19:16-30

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the fallen world, we cannot have everything.  So we have to prioritize, and act upon the most important thing to us.  In Economics, this is known as “scarcity.”  So if you can either buy a cup or water or a cup of diamonds, but not both, which one would you buy?  If you were in the desert and dying of thirst, you would be foolish to buy the cup of diamonds.  In that situation, the water would be worth more.  Under different circumstances, your priorities might be different.

Jesus invokes this principle with the rich young ruler.  After running through the commandments, our Lord gives him a choice: he can either “have eternal life” along with selling all of his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, or he can keep all of his riches and forget about eternal life.  St. Matthew reports, “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” 

Having a God to fear, love, and trust above all things is the ultimate example of scarcity.  As Jesus said elsewhere, “you cannot serve two masters… you cannot serve God and money.”  So which one is the top priority?  In this case, the rich young ruler chose his possessions.  They became his god.  And this is the curse of riches, for wealth makes it difficult to worship God.

But it isn’t only money that is an idol.  

I once had a conversation with a freemason who had been out of the church for decades.  He was older now, and asked if he could return to the church and take the Lord’s body and blood.  I asked him if he had renounced freemasonry.  He assured me that he could be both, that freemasonry was just a fraternity, and that its connections to Lucifer were not the devil, but rather to the goddess Venus.  (Yes, he actually said that).  So I posed a question to him.  I said that if he could only have one, which would he choose: the body and blood of Christ, or membership in the Masons.  He remained silent. 

Sadly, he developed cancer.  I visited him in the hospital, but he clung to his Masonic lodge.  He died without the comfort that comes from worshiping the one true God and putting his faith in Christ alone.  So though to my knowledge he did not have great possessions, he too made an economic decision based on priorities in the face of scarcity.  He too “went away sorrowful.”

Dear friends, we have many distractions that compete for our worship: money, organizations, the secular world, popularity, and even good things like our families, our health, and our work can replace the Holy Trinity as that which we “fear, love, and trust” in “above all things.”  And so how can we remain faithful?  Our Lord says, “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”  Our ability to leave even “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands,” for the Lord’s sake if need be, is not of ourselves.  It is a grace of God.

In our fallen world, we cannot have everything, but in the kingdom of heaven, we do have everything: we have forgiveness, life, and salvation, we have the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we sing in Dr. Luther’s hymn: “The kingdom ours remaineth.  Amen.”

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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sermon: Memorial Service of Aline Plaisance

27 October 2019

Text: John 14:1-6 (Isa 25:6-9, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Friends, peace be with you.  

It is a rule that pastors are not supposed to be friends with their parishioners.  And it is also true that there are rare exceptions to the rules.  Aline is certainly a rare exception in many ways! 

She had her own language: a combination of World War II slang, lines from fifties tunes, and other quirky turns of phrase that became her own.  I think my favorite was her reference to her home as “the little old shack by the railroad track.” 

When my family moved to Gretna in 2007, we had no family here.  Aline opened her home to us every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  She cooked for us.  She welcomed us to her table.  She took us under her wing and befriended us – and it was only later that she joined our church and become my parishioner.  

But she was not an exception in one important way – because among us children of the fall there are no exceptions.  Aline was, like all of us, as we confessed, a “poor, miserable sinner” who needed the blood of Christ shed at the cross to redeem us, and give us eternal life as a free gift.  If you look at the picture of Aline here, you will see her cross around her neck.  Aline understood the cross, and she understood the Scriptures.  And that is why she came to this holy place week after week.  For this holy place is not a place for holy people, but rather a place for sinners who need forgiveness.  

And the fact that Aline is mortal, that she is no longer with us in the flesh, is proof that she was right about that – and so are we, dear friends.  

Aline understood the Good News that Christ died on the cross to redeem us by His grace.  Our Gospel reading, in which Jesus speaks of preparing a place for us – a home of many rooms – is a fit Gospel reading for Aline’s memorial service.  For Jesus provides hospitality to us, dear friends.  He provides a home.  And just as Aline’s “little old shack” was Aline’s place of love and food and laughter – so too does this describe what our Lord prepares for us.  

Aline prepared meals for us – including some of you too – out of love.  Hospitality is love in action.  Bringing people into your home and sitting at table is love in action.  And this is what Jesus did for Aline: He invited her to feast at His own table here in this sanctuary week in and week out.  Aline received the sacrament every Sunday until her health made it difficult, and then she received the Lord’s body and blood at home.  

And we heard from the prophet Isaiah just what eternity will be like, dear friends.  How sad that people picture a horridly boring heaven of floating spirits instead of vibrant, joyful, fleshly human beings made new by our Lord!  Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection.  For the cross of Good Friday led to the empty tomb of Easter Sunday – and Aline always shared a meal with us to celebrate Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  

Aline was not fond of wine, and at her table, the beverages were root beer and lemonade, but Scripture speaks of eternity as a banquet.  I recently heard a German band sing the old Oktoberfest song: “In Heaven There is No Beer.”  And I realize that it’s a joke, but it’s a bad joke, dear friends.  For what does the Lord actually promise us that eternity will be like?

Isaiah speaks of eternity in fleshly terms: “The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined.”  Scripture is filled with such joyful images of eternity in the flesh, of feasting, of sitting at table with loved ones.  Whoever wrote that Oktoberfest song has clearly never read the Bible, and knows nothing about Jesus.  

Our Lord prepares a place for us, and promises to raise us from the dead.  “He will swallow up death forever,” says Isaiah, and St. Paul confirms this with the great Christian confession: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

Right here and now, we feel the sting of death, for is it a separation.  It is painful.  But it is temporary, dear friends.  And it has been destroyed by Jesus.  And so we mourn, but not as unbelievers.  Rather, we mourn in hope.  For we are the people of the resurrection.

Yes, I was honored to call Aline a friend, and to enjoy her hospitality and love, but it is my double honor that I call her my parishioner.  For even as she prepared meals for me and my family, we celebrated the greatest meal of all as a church family: the Lord’s Supper.  And now, Aline has gone to the place Jesus has prepared for her.  She awaits the resurrection even as we all do, when we will be reunited, when we will feast on the finest food and drink with our loved ones, when we “will be raised imperishable” never to suffer the effects of sin, suffering, and death, with renewed vigor, and enjoying divine hospitality that will have no end.

Thanks be to God for the earthly life of our dear sister Aline, for her example of hospitality and of laughter.  And let us give thanks to God for our Lord Jesus Christ, who prepares a home for us forgiven sinners, who prepares a feast for us by His grace and mercy, and in whom we celebrate the victory of life over death – the life that Aline now enjoys for eternity.  

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sermon: Reformation Day - 2019

27 October 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? 

“John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

The people that hate Jesus have their ‘talking points.’  No matter what He does, it is evidence that He is a scoundrel.  This is called a “narrative” – which is in a way sad, because a “narrative” really just means a “story” or an “account.”  But today, you never get the facts – you get a “narrative” to advance someone’s agenda.  It may be true.  It may be false.  It may be a mixture.  But in the world of the narrative, what matters is making people hate what you hate at all costs.

Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy, and He continually left them with egg on their faces.  They hated Him enough to send Him to the cross.

Sadly, over the course of centuries, the church had become corrupt.  Its leaders were more interested in politics than preaching, in the wealth that is measured in gold coins than the wealth of God’s grace.  Sometimes the church told the truth.  Sometimes it lied.  And sometimes it was a mixture.  But all that mattered was to keep the vast majority of Christians giving money and obeying their leaders.  If they believed in Jesus, fine.  If not, well, that was okay too.  But if they could be kept frightened and confused, all the better!

This went on for centuries, dear friends.  Great men and women of the church complained and agitated for reforms.  Some were burned at the stake.  Most were simply ignored or silenced.  By the sixteenth century, the church was a cesspool of corruption and false doctrine.  Even faithful Roman Catholics knew it, and were ashamed. 

And so a group of professors who started a department of biblical studies began to call out the narrative.  They saw that what the church was teaching was not true.  And they took to their pens and their pulpits and their classrooms.  And the Gutenberg press put their writings in the hands of ordinary people.  One of their leaders was a monk, priest, and doctor of theology named Martin Luther.  He was a scholar, but often wrote in the common manner of ordinary people.  He was rude, sometimes crude, often very funny, and he could be downright mean.  He published articles so fast that it could be said that he was the father of social media.  And if he were around today, he would, no doubt, be in Facebook jail.  He even published memes that would make a sailor blush.

But for all of his bluster, Luther was a pastor.  He loved his flock of believers, and he hated how they were being fleeced by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  On October 31, 1517, he became a theses-poster, nailing a world-changing document to the church door.  However, Luther thought this was going to be an obscure Latin text for intellectuals to debate – until his students translated it into common German and it went viral among the common people.

His opponents learned quickly that this was no mere troublemaker, but a deeply intelligent theologian.  And so, unable to beat him man to man, the Roman theologians did what the enemies of the cross always do: they spun a false narrative.  They called Luther a “heretic” and anyone who agreed with him was a “Lutheran” they said.  Not a Christian.  Not a Catholic.  A heretic.  When Luther asked to be shown by Scripture and plain reason why they thought he was wrong, they cited contradictory witnesses from outside of Scripture.  They attributed beliefs to him that belonged to others.  They also threatened to burn him at the stake if he didn’t recant.

And that, dear friends, is how you can sniff out a false narrative like a chicken farm in North Georgia: instead of a reasoned argument, you get called names and threatened with violence.  And they shut down your ability to speak and write.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now,” says our Lord, “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

And what was the church’s false narrative, dear brothers and sisters?  It was that you must earn your salvation, by good works.  And those good works include giving money to the church.  For to them, the Gospel was a commodity to be bought and sold – a form of false love prostituted for filthy lucre.  The church was selling what Christ gives away for free by virtue of His blood shed on the cross.  And when the narrative was exposed, people were very angry.  For centuries they had been scammed.  And those days were over.  The German princes – many of whom may not have cared about religion – certainly understood the flow of money from German princedoms to a Roman bishop.  And it also must be said that many of the German princes really were faithful Christians, and they risked life and limb to protect Luther and the other reformers – as well as the little flocks of faithful who were being threatened with physical harm for nothing other than confessing what we heard read from the Epistle to the Romans: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Our reformation forbears confessed the pure Gospel because they were once more studying the Bible.  They learned Hebrew and Greek so as to read it in the original languages.  They went back to the sources, and they saw the blazing light of truth that exposed the darkness around them.  They were filled with joy, and they were filled with rage.  They were motivated by zeal, and they were motivated by love.  Once more, churches would resonate with the Word of God in the language of the people.  Pastors would once more preach sermons.  Choirs and congregations would once more sing hymns proclaiming the Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The sacraments were once more administered out of love, not out of threats.  

The false narrative was destroyed in our churches, dear friends, and the people of Wittenberg, of Germany, of Europe, and even to the ends of the earth sang, even as we do today, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  They taught their children the catechism.  They took part in Masses in their own languages.  They studied the Scriptures with their pastors, and even began reading the Bible at home.  The Reformation was electric.  It was so extraordinary, and instilled such a reinvigorated faith that it was like the prophecy in Revelation: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”

The glorious Gospel stands in stark contrast to the narrative that sought to bilk the people of God out of their coins.  The church’s narrative was not just a filthy lie, it led people away from our Lord Jesus Christ.  There will be hell to pay for what the leaders of the church did, dear friends.  Even the Roman Catholic writer Dante, in his satirical story about Hell, pictured certain popes by name burning face down in their own filth.  This kind of writing may be shocking, but when people realize that they have been lied to by fat-cats and hypocrites, it makes them mad.

But rather than wallow in our anger, dear friends, let us wallow in the love of Christ.  Let us honor our reformation heritage by continuing to confess the clear words of Scripture with all due humility and joy: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

There it is, dear friends.  From St. Paul and from the Holy Spirit.  This is what the narrative was designed to hide.  But it is hidden no more!  This Gospel is for all of us: “every nation and tribe and language and people.”  And if they want to call us “Lutherans,” so be it.  Add it to the list of what we are called in the Bible and the confessions: Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and Christians.  We are those washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, forgiven, and given the free gift of eternal life.  We know this from Scripture, and no narrative and no threat from church or state can take that away from us.  Here we stand.  God help us.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 22

22 October 2019

Text: Matt 16:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We are all guilty of the desire for a sign from heaven.  Sometimes we genuinely don’t know what the will of the Lord is, and we must discern it.  But we are by nature impatient and unclean, and we want to know right now.  “If you want me to buy the Camaro, O Lord, make a bird fly past the window.”  Such seeking for signs might take the form of fortune-telling – which as we know from the catechism, is actually breaking the commandment not to misuse the Lord’s name.

A desire to know that which God hasn’t revealed is a sinful intrusion upon the hidden will of God.  Everything He needs us to know He has revealed in His Word.  He has not authorized us to practice divination – as was the practice of the Pagans of old.  We are to be content with the Word, and to use prayer, reason, and wisdom in concert with His Word to discern His will.

The Pharisees and Sadducees took this sin even further.  They wanted Jesus to know that they really didn’t believe Him – which is why our text says that they came “to test Him.”  They are essentially saying, “If you are the Messiah, do a trick for us.”  It is not unlike the impostor king Herod who mocked Jesus when Pilate sent Him over for trial.  Jesus didn’t respond to the repulsive Herod’s command to jump through hoops, and neither does He do so for the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times,” He tells them.  Plain reason testified that Jesus is the Messiah: His miracles, His preaching, His fulfillment of prophecy.  As our Lord said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” 

And the only sign you’re going to get, says our Lord, is the sign you’ll find in Scripture, the “sign of Jonah,” who was contained in the belly of the fish, and on the third day rose again.  And Jonah then preached to the Gentiles, and they heard the Word of God, and were saved by the Word.

If you want a sign, dear friends, read the Word.  Pray the Word.  Study the Word.  Hear the Word.  For it is God’s sign, and the sign of the Word points us to the Word Made Flesh.  All that we need to know about the revelation of God is found in the Holy Scriptures – for they all point us to Christ, to the cross, to the tomb, and to eternity – an eternity without sin, suffering, and Satan – an eternity without death.

Let us confess our sinful desire for a sign, and let us be content with the sign of the cross, the sign of forgiveness, the sign of Jonah, the sign of our Lord Jesus Christ – now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 18 - 2019

20 October 2019

Text: Matt 22:34-46 (Deut 10:12-21, 1 Cor 1:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Pharisees are always missing the point.  They are very good at being keepers of a law that has been watered down and filled with loopholes.  And of course, their favorite topic is the Law.  They’re not particularly interested in Jesus, in who He is or what He is doing.  They don’t want to talk about the prophecies that He fulfills, or the miracles that He performs, or even His preaching and teaching.

So when they gather around Jesus to ask questions, they ask Him questions about the Law – hoping that He will justify their delusion that they actually keep it.

On this occasion, they especially like Jesus because He “had silenced” their rivals, “the Sadducees.”  So they assume that Jesus is on their side, and will join in their word games and legal trickery.

One of the Pharisees, a lawyer, “asked Him a question to test Him.”  Notice that He isn’t there to learn.  He is there to “test” Jesus, to see if He is good enough to be around them.

His question is: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law.”  Of course, this is an easy one.  We just heard it read from our Old Testament lesson.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus says that these commandments are the pegs upon which the entire Law hangs.  We sometimes speak of the command to love God as the “First Table of the Law” – being Commandments One through Three, whereas the “Second Table of the Law” has to do with how we love our neighbors, in Commandments Four through Ten. 

So, of course, the lawyer was not able to trip Jesus up.  And now it is His turn to pose a question.  And instead of asking them about the Law (what more is there to say, dear friends, then the reality that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves?), Jesus asks them about Himself, about the Messiah.

He wants to know what they believe, teach, and confess about Him.  And since Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets, He asks a question concerning a prophecy that He fulfills from the Book of Psalms, written by His own ancestor, King David.

And since this has nothing to do with the Law or trying to make people think they are good at keeping it, the Pharisees, and especially the Lawyers, are just not that interested. 

Jesus poses them a kind of riddle about Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  He asks them about the Messiah: “Whose Son is He?”  Well, everybody knows that the Messiah will be the male descendant of King David, in other words, the Son of David.  But in the Psalm, King David refers to the Messiah referring to Him as “my Lord.”

And as the Lawyers and the Pharisees know full well, this use of the word “Lord” has nothing to do with an aristocratic title or politeness.  When “Lord” is used in this way, it means “God.”  And so, King David speaks of his own human descendant as “God” – so the Messiah will be God and man at the same time.  And presumably, a man who is at the same time God, must be able to work miracles, forgive sins, and preach and teach with authority that nobody else has.  Jesus is presenting Himself to them as the Messiah, and He uses the Scriptures to prove it.

But look at their reaction, dear friends: “And no one was able to answer Him a word.”  They are dumbfounded.  They cannot answer the question.  Their entire world has been stood on its head.  But instead of looking at this situation and saying, “Is Jesus the Messiah?” and instead of examining themselves to see if maybe they have been teaching in error with their legalistic shortcuts, instead of asking this rabbi for more information – they simply refuse to talk to Him anymore, “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.”

For these are lawyers.  They don’t ask questions to learn, they ask questions to show off.  Jesus has outsmarted them and outwitted them – and they will never forgive Him for that.  This is why the lawyers and the Pharisees will soon join forces with their rivals, the Sadducees, their sworn enemies, the Romans - not to mention Judas and false witnesses – to send Jesus to the cross – knowing full well that He is innocent.

In all of their expertise of the Law, they have forgotten that murder and the bearing of false witness are infractions of the Ten Commandments – along with their refusal to confess Him as God, as the “Lord [that] said to my Lord” as King David speaks of Jesus, his descendant. 

Dear friends, the Law is important, for it is the Word of God.  The Law has several uses.  And when we don’t look for workarounds and loopholes, the law indeed teaches us about ethics, about the behavior that God expects and demands of His creatures, and most importantly of all, that we are left without excuse for our failure to keep the Law – even as we confessed together: “We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”  Indeed, the Law is there for us to honestly compare with our own thoughts, words, and deeds, so that we might come to the conclusion that we, in fact, do need David’s Son to rescue us.

And the Man that the Pharisees and Sadducees and lawyers and scribes and priests and Romans and Judas Iscariot would conspire to crucify, would, by means of the cross and His atoning blood shed upon it, would bring about the forgiveness of sins that is the only answer to our failure to obey the Law.  For by virtue of His blood, and by His authority, the pastor speaks on His behalf when he says: “I therefore forgive you all your sins.”  It is not the pastor who has the power to forgive sins, but rather it is the pastor who has the authority from Christ, from the Son of David, from the Lord who said to David’s Lord: it is He who has the power to forgive your sins, commute your sentence, and cleanse you white as snow in the blood of the Lamb.

Dear friends, let’s not get bogged down in whether or not this or that is a sin, or whether this sin is worse than that sin, or whether our sins are somehow justified.  Again, as we confessed together, praying to God: “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.”  And when we truly make that confession, dear brothers and sisters, the Law has done its work.  We are in need of a Savior, and it is David’s Son who has come to rescue us.

And as St. Paul says, we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”  We are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”  The apostle speaks of the “grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,” about whose “testimony… was confirmed among you.” 

This is not what the proud Pharisees and cleaver lawyers want to talk about, dear friends, but it is what Jesus talks about, and it is what we poor, miserable sinners live to talk about!  For Jesus is our life and salvation!

And in Him, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

This is the point that the Pharisees missed.  Let us not miss the point like they did, dear friends.  For Christ is the point.  He is our life and salvation.  He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  He is the one King David calls “Lord” – and so do we, dear friends, so do we – even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Posting a Mark Dice video...

... is now "against community standards."

I posted a link to this video on Facebook without comment.

Facebook removed it and said that this post violates community standards.

When I clicked for more information, to my surprise, it didn't say that this was a thoughtcrime or wrongthink or not in lockstep with the goosestepping anti-Christian and anti-science worldview of Facebook - but rather because this post somehow violated their policy on "Spam."

How is posting a YouTube video to my own account considered "Spam"?

Let's call it what it is.  This is tyranny.  And it is only going to increase as Big Tech tries to interfere in the upcoming presidential election.  This is part of a larger coup.

As are all tyrants, from Nero, to George III to Hitler to Stalin to Mao, the Hard Commie Left in this country - with their allies in Big Media, Big Government, Big Tech, and Big Entertainment - do not respect our God-given rights - and they especially fear the pen even more than the sword.  And they want to overthrow our republic.  They want to destroy our civilization grounded in private property and the right to hold and express thoughts freely.

They want to enslave our minds.

They are diabolical.

And they have already been defeated at the cross.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wittenberg Academy Sermons

I've been teaching at Wittenberg Academy since 2014.  We are an accredited online classical Lutheran High School (grades 7-12) - and we also offer a free homeschool curriculum for K-6 Grammar School as well.

This year, I was also appointed to serve as chaplain.  One of my joyful duties is to lead the weekly online Vespers service on Tuesday afternoons.  I decided to start posting my short sermons here.

Here are the links since the beginning of the year:

For the rest of the year, I'll be posting them here.

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 15

15 October 2019

Text: Matt 13:1-23

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Parable of the Sower is a text that preachers preach on, and hearers hear, year after year.  And there is always more to be said, and more to hear!

And with our Lord explaining the parable, there is no way that it can be misunderstood.  The sower casts the seed everywhere, and whether or not it takes root, grows, matures, and produces fruit – depends on the receptivity of the soil. 

In this one parable, our Lord teaches us about preaching, hearing, faith, justification, sanctification, and how the church actually grows.  He teaches us about the Word of God, which is to say, dear friends, he teaches us about Himself. 

One aspect that I find interesting is the sower’s indifference about where he sows.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Franzmann, the professor, poet, and hymnwriter, uses the word “reckless” to describe how the sower sows: “his reckless love scatters abroad the goodly seed.”  Modern scientific agriculture would consider this a waste, knowing full well that casting seeds on bad soil will just result in dead seeds.  Nevertheless, the sower sows.

There is an old farming term for this kind of sowing: “broadcasting.”  It is funny how words are adapted to each new generation.  To broadcast is to sow seeds recklessly, without a central plan.  It means to “cast,” that is to “throw,” broadly.  The farmer doesn’t make judgments about which soil is worthy of his attention, he just broadcasts it everywhere.  He figures God will take care of the rest.  The term “broadcast” was appropriated in the early days of radio, as programs were “broadcast” over the airwaves.  In our day, we have altered the word to “podcast” – as these audio broadcasts can be accessed individually on demand, like “pods” of words.

And so we preachers broadcast – sometimes over radio, sometimes over the internet, though most often in a church sanctuary.  But in any case, we cast the Word of God abroad, not knowing or caring where the seeds land.  For though the soil may appear to us to be a hardened pathway, or a thorny ground, or a place of shallowness – often the grit and tenacity of the little seed’s embedded DNA of life can be shocking.  We’ve all seen stubborn little plants pushing up through the cracks between sidewalks, or even growing out of the sides of brick buildings. 

The Word of God takes root wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit wills.  Luther said that the Word did everything in Wittenberg, while he and Melanchthon were drinking beer.  And that is the beauty of the Word of God, dear friends.  Its effectiveness, or as we say in theology, its “efficaciousness” isn’t about the skill of the preacher, the piety of the lay people, the wealth of the congregation, or the beauty of the church’s architecture.  It’s not dependent upon the quality of the sound system or the beauty of the vestments.  Preaching the Word is not like selling or marketing. 

It’s a simple seed: the Word bearing the DNA of Jesus that God Himself created.  The seed is sown in our hearts, and by faith, it grows.  Its fate is in God’s hands, not ours.  As the poet said: “The Harvest Lord Who gave the sower seed to sow Will watch and tend His planted Word.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 17 - 2019

13 October 2019

Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”

Our sinful flesh just loves rules and regulations.  We can use them to boss others around.  We can use them to make ourselves look good.  We can use them to claim that we are righteous by our works.  We can use them to tear others down.

But what our sinful flesh doesn’t understand is that God made the law for our good.

For when we keep the Law – even in a superficial manner – things go better for us and for our life in a community of people.  When we break the law, the opposite is true.  And so every group of people from the tiniest village to the mightiest empire has had some kind of rules, regulations, and laws.

When God created the universe in six days, and then rested, He set a precedent for all of creation: a Sabbath Day of rest.  And God commanded this rest for all people – and even for the animals who work for mankind.  This rest is a joy, not a burden.  It is for our good, not for our manipulation and control.  As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

But what does our sinful flesh do, dear friends?  We figure out how to take the gift of God and turn it into a curse.  We creatively find ways to pervert something beneficial into a burden.  And those who seek power over others use the Law to leash others rather than to liberate them.

Our Lord had to deal with this from the Pharisees and the scribes and the lawyers all the time. Instead of using the Law as a curb, a mirror, and a guide – as we Lutherans are taught are the godly purposes of the Law – the lawyers and Pharisees were using it as a snare to try to trick Jesus into breaking a law so that they could arrest Him, discredit Him, and, of course, to do what they really wanted to do: kill Him.

This is why, dear friends, they “were watching Him carefully.”  And they got their wish to see Jesus fall into the trap, for a man was very sick.  Now this was the Sabbath Day, and the Law says that a man may not work, but must rest, on this Seventh Day of the week.  This sick man had a disease called dropsy. 

Jesus knew that He was under constant surveillance and that the lawyers and the Pharisees were trying to trick Him.  Jesus wastes no time in turning the tables on them.  They are the ones who fall into the trap.

Seeing the man with dropsy, our Lord poses a question to the lawyers (and as every lawyer knows, you never ask a question in court that you don’t know the answer to).  Jesus throws the lawyers a curve ball: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”  

“But they remained silent.”

They already know where this is headed.  The Law says that work is prohibited on the Sabbath.  But does this mean that doctors may not cure someone?  Does this mean that an emergency worker must sit idle when a person is in distress?  Does this mean that pastors must not preach and parents must not feed their children?  For we all know what the spirit of the law is, and we also know how the lawyers and the Pharisees – just like lawyers and politicians and others do today – play fast and loose with the meanings of words to get the outcome that they want.

But not today, dear friends.  Not on this day.

Our Lord has cut right to the chase: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”

They refuse to answer because they are lawyers and they know that the rabbis have all addressed this question.

Jesus shows compassion for the sick man, heals him, and sends him away.  Then Rabbi Jesus addresses the legal question as have teachers of the law for centuries: “Which of you,” He asks, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

And once again, the cat has got the tongue of this proud cadre of Pharisees and lawyers.  Jesus has made them look foolish by means of their own beloved Law.

Dear friends, we are not under the various Old Testament regulations that applied to the Sabbath Day – which was from Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday.  We are free from these ceremonial laws.  But we are still subject to the principle of the seventh-day rest, as well as setting aside a day as holy to the Lord in order to allow Jesus to come and heal us, just as He did this man with dropsy.

For we suffer with something far worse: sin.  Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, and His body was removed before sundown as the Sabbath Day approached.  He was laid in the tomb and enjoyed His Sabbath rest.  But on the first day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the visitors to the tomb found that He had risen.  His death and resurrection is our cure.

We Christians have sanctified the Lord’s Day ever since, and this is, for us Christians, a new and greater Sabbath – not one of rules and regulations, but one of liberation, one in which we are free to worship the Lord, free to hear the Word of God, and free to partake of His body and blood!  And we are indeed free regarding this Sabbath, for if necessity prevents our worship on the first day of the week, we may well worship on another day, such as Wednesday night, as has been the custom of our own congregation for more than a century.

The Law does not exist to enslave us, but to free us.  And though we fail to keep the Law, our Lord cures us of the dropsy of our sins.  For as hard as we try to keep the Law, we fail.  For we are like the son or the ox that has fallen, and we are rescued, we are pulled out of the well by our Lord.  

And this is what the Sabbath of the Lord’s day is all about, dear brothers and sisters.  We don’t come to church to show how holy we are, but rather because we aren’t.  We come to where Jesus is because only He can cure us.  We come on this day of rest because it is indeed lawful for Jesus to heal us.  

And this is no cause for boasting.  Indeed, we have been invited to this wedding feast, and yet we “go and sit in the lowest place,” right here in the pews of this sanctuary – which are reserved for sinners only.  This sanctuary is like the waiting room of a hospital.  We are all here because we suffer affliction and are looking to be healed.  And while lawyers and Pharisees may mock us for being here, we know where we need to be in order to be healed.  We are not too proud to take a seat here in this waiting room.

For our Lord Jesus Himself comes to us, right here, and He says to us: “Friend, move up higher.”  And we take our seats with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  We join in their unending praise, their Hosannas, and their joyful celebration of eternal life.

For it is when the Lord declares us worthy to eat at His table, to come to this altar, to kneel and feast with Him and upon Him, and we are “honored in the presence of all who sit at table with” us.  

So let us come to the table, unworthy of ourselves, but made worthy by the blood of the Lamb, by His never-ending Sabbath, and through His mercy in healing us from all that ails us.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Amen.

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