Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 5 – 2017

16 July 2017

Text: Luke 5:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the very first prayer St. Peter offers to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we knew him as St. Peter, the world knew him as Simon.  Before we knew him as the leader of the apostles and the first bishop of Rome, the world knew him as a common fisherman.

And here, Jesus crosses paths with this Galilean fisherman, borrowing his boat as a sort of portable podium.  It is morning, and Simon has been fishing all night, but caught nothing.  And so he cleaned his nets while the rabbi preached.

After the sermon, the preacher Jesus suddenly tells Simon, “‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’  And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.  But at your word I will let down the nets.’”  And here is where something extraordinary and miraculous happened: not just the remarkable haul of fish, but the revelation of Jesus and the realization of Simon of just who Jesus is.  Simon has just learned that this rabbi with unusual fishing advice is none other than God. 

And so he kneels before God and prays.  And what is this prayer?  Is it a praise, a thanksgiving, a request for healing, or of some wish for a miracle?  No, Simon the fisherman’s first prayer is completely unexpected.  He makes his petition on His knees before Jesus, saying, “Ἔξελθε.”  The Latin translation of a form of this word is seen on the walls of this church.  It’s not a word that the church placed here, but rather the government.  You’ll see this word over the doors: “EXIT.”

The very first prayer uttered by Simon Peter to the Lord Jesus Christ is: “Exit.”  He prays for Jesus to “Go away.”  He is pushing God away from him.  That’s his prayer.

Now, many people do this very thing today: they push God away.  Some people reject God because they think belief in God is unscientific, that science has disproven God’s existence.  However, the scientific method involves hypotheses and proof through observable experimentation. What experiment in a laboratory disproves God?  To assert this is to miss the entire point about science.  And in fact, modern science was the creation of Christian men.

Other people push God away based on logic and reason.  Belief in God is not rational, they argue.  But it is actually the opposite.  For a painting logically requires a painter; a sculpture logically requires a sculptor; a book logically requires an author, and creation logically requires a Creator.  This kind of critical thinking and use of reason has been a hallmark of Christian wisdom and education for centuries. 

Others push God away because they are angry at Him.  Often it involves a prayer that was not answered the way the petitioner wanted, or a tragic event in life.  This often makes for a curious kind of atheist, not one that simply doesn’t think there is a God, but who rather refuses to believe in Him because the person is angry at Him.  This not only makes no sense, but it blames God for the mess that we poor miserable sinners have made of the world.  And as Scripture clearly teaches, God’s ways are not our ways.  We pray that His will be done, not ours. 

And so we see St. Peter pray for Jesus to leave Him.  This is his prayer, which Jesus answers with a firm “No!”

For St. Peter’s reason to pray to the Lord to “depart from me,” is not based on a belief in science or human reason or in a refusal to let God call the shots.  It’s actually for a good reason: “Depart from me,” says Simon Peter, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Simon realizes that Jesus is God, and that he, Simon, is sinful.  He understands that God is holy, and sinful men are not.  He understands that he is not worthy to be in the presence of God – like Isaiah, who, when he found himself before God, protested, “I am a man of unclean lips.”  For Simon knew the Ten Commandments, that he has not kept them.  He knew his unworthiness to look God in the face.  He knew that according to the righteousness of God, he had no right to be in the Lord’s presence. 

So He asks the Lord to leave.

Jesus answers his prayer, but not in the way Simon expected.  Instead of exiting, the Lord Jesus abides with him, and declares Simon to be worthy to be in the presence of God.  For He tells Simon Peter: “Do not be afraid.”  And he further tells the fisherman that he will be casting a different kind of net, and will be catching men instead of fish.  Thus Jesus does not exit, does not depart from Peter, and moreover, Simon “left everything and followed Him.”

The Lord Jesus would nickname Simon as “Peter,” which means “Rocky.” For Peter was to confess Jesus as Lord, and was to become an apostle, one sent to preach.  Jesus says that he was to build the church upon the rock of Rocky Peter’s confession and apostolic ministry.  This Simon the fisherman was to become Simon Peter the Apostle, Bishop Peter of Rome, and St. Peter the martyr.

And Peter’s life was to be a rocky road.  He was not always the Lord’s rock.  For he would deny Jesus three times as the Lord was led to the cross, only to be forgiven three times and restored to office after the Lord rose again.  And more than thirty years down the road, St. Peter was to be led and nailed to a cross of his own by the government who would demand Peter’s exit from life on this side of the grave. 

And though Peter will make that exit, he will rise again, as will we, even as the Lord Jesus made His own exit at the cross on Good Friday, but entered once more in the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  Our Lord Jesus has exited this world at the ascension, but He will come again at the end of time, even as He continues to come to us in His Word and Sacraments!

And though we may feel the desire to push Jesus away because of our sin, even beginning our divine services with the acknowledgment that we too are sinful men, our Lord Jesus does not depart, does not exit, but rather absolves us, loves us, and says to us: “Do not be afraid.”  The Lord Jesus abides with us to the very end.

And Jesus calls all of us to follow Him, each in our own way. Our Blessed Lord has taken away our sins at the cross, and delivered this forgiveness to us at the font.  And no matter how rocky our own road, no matter what crosses we must bear, no matter how much our own sins grieve us, the Lord Jesus abides with us, refuses to depart from a sinner who confesses, like Peter, that “I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Our Lord answers the humble sinner’s prayer with these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid.”  The Lord Jesus abides.  Glory be to Jesus, now and evermore!


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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon: Monday of Trinity 4 – 2017

10 July 2017

Text: John 1:9-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, it goes without saying that we live in dark times.  The light of our culture here in America is indeed a dimly burning wick, and around the world, the lamp of those who hold to goodness, truth, and beauty grows ever dimmer.  The holy Christian church on earth is surrounded by deep shadows of hatred and restlessness and resentment.

That which is good is called evil.  That which is evil is called good.  And any attempt to shine the light of the Gospel upon the darkness of this world is met by resistance, and in some cases, violence.

“In the beginning,” before there was light, there was the Word.  He was “with God, and the Word was God.”  And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”  And in Him, the Word, “by whom all things were made,” there “was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

This struggle between light and darkness is more than just the cyclical rotation of the earth that brings us night and day.  Nor is it a struggle between two equals.  This contest that pits the chaos of darkness over and against the goodly order of light is the history of the universe.  It is the story of man.  And it is the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over evil.  

For even in our fallen state of sin and of our dark night that seems to have no end, there is good news: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  And this world, dear friends, was so smothered by the darkness, that “it knew Him not.”  His own people, darkened by sin and the specter of death, “did not receive Him.”  And yet, in spite of the rejection of the light by a people who “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” some did reach out in faith through the murky shade toward this Light, and to those who received Him, who “believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.  

And when light chases away the darkness, we see ourselves as we are: broken, sinful, in a state of decay, of ourselves with nothing to look forward to but the eternal darkness of death and hell.  Perhaps this is why our base instinct is to reject the Light and those who bear witness about the Light.

But something else happens, dear friends.  This illumination has not come only to expose our blemishes, and certainly not to use them to condemn us, but quite the opposite.  For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And in the midst of this blazing Light, this eternal Light, this uncreated Light who created light, “from His fullness we have received grace upon grace.”

We are truly enlightened.  The darkness that clung to our souls to drag us down to the grave and to hell itself, has vanished, being vanquished by one single Light: for “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

We are transformed into being creatures of light ourselves, reflections of the Light who is Christ.  And our blessed Lord sends us into the darkness where He sees fit, to obliterate the darkness, bringing the light of Christ to those whom we find in this dark and dreary world.

His glory is His cross, and His cross illumines men’s souls and ignites them with forgiveness, life and salvation.

Yes indeed, we live in dark times.  We are surrounded by darkness.  But this just means that the darkness has nowhere to escape!  

For “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.  Stay with us Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.  Let Your light scatter the darkness and illumine Your Church,” O “joyous Light of glory.” Amen.

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

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 4 – 2017

8 July 2017

Text: Luke 6:36-42 (Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

I recently saw an internet cartoon that featured today’s text with all of the words crossed out, except for two: “Judge not.”

The reason this is so witty is that this is how a lot of people treat Scripture: they grab hold of two words and ignore the entire passage.  And the reason that “Judge not” is so popular is because we live in a society that refuses to use the Bible – or even nature and common sense – as a means of sorting out right from wrong.  Because to say that something is wrong is to “judge” – and didn’t Jesus just say, “Judge not?”

Didn’t Jesus just say not to exercise judgment in matters pertaining to life in this world?  Didn’t Jesus just say all lifestyles, thoughts, words, deeds, religions and worldviews are equal?”  Didn’t Jesus just encourage Supreme Court justices, circuit court judges, and justices of the peace to quit their jobs?

“Judge not.”

According to those who repeat these words of Jesus (without the rest of His words), we should not say that anything is wrong (well, except for being judgmental, that’s wrong, along with violations of political correctness, that’s wrong too).  But to make use of Dr. Luther’s question from the catechism, “What does this mean?”

Well, if the Judge-notters are correct, then what about religion?  We cannot distinguish between idolatry and the worship of the True God. So there goes the first commandment.  We can’t render a judgment concerning the appropriateness of cursing with the name of God or Jesus, as that would be to judge.  Number Two is gone.  And we shouldn’t judge the practice of avoiding weekly worship, despising preaching and His Word to binge-watch TV or stay on bed.  There goes the first table of the law.

Similarly, we should not judge those who dishonor parents and other authorities, or judge between the killing of a mosquito and a human being, judge between sexual practices, judge between stealing and not stealing, judge between telling the truth or lying, or judge the practice of coveting.

There goes the entire ten commandments, which is most convenient for those who wish to break them.  To those who cling to the Lord’s command to “judge not,” we are to look the other way when people are being bullied or robbed or raped or beaten.  We are to accept anything and everything – no matter how destructive, unnatural, or harmful to children – without criticism.

Do such people really think this is what our Lord Jesus is teaching us to do?

But if they were to read beyond these two words, they would see the context of “judge not.”  We are to be judicious when we do judge.  We are to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  And we are to forgive – which presumes that there is something to forgive, which presumes that there are sins, which presumes that we need to judge whether something is sinful or not.  Indeed, Jesus says we are to judge, but we are not to judge in such a way that indicts ourselves.

For a judge that sends a person to prison for being a crook, but is himself taking bribes, is not a good judge; he is a hypocrite.  Don’t judge like that!  A judge who makes a great show of wanting to “throw the book” at an unfaithful spouse, all the while he is himself unfaithful, is not a good judge; he is a hypocrite.  Don’t judge like that!

In fact, if it isn’t your job to pass sentence on someone, don’t.  But this is not to say that we are not to tell the difference between right and wrong, or that we are not to confess publicly that there are universally true morals, or that we should not teach our children to be upright and obedient to God’s Law.  But the Lord does say to be careful, very careful indeed: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus doesn’t say that we should all just throw our hands in the air and accept the secular worldview that all religions are equal, all systems of morality are the same, and that we should simply embrace immorality as a virtue.

But he does say that we have a primary responsibility of self-judgment.  “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

And here is where Jesus Himself becomes very judgmental: “You hypocrite,” He says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Our blessed Lord is in no way saying that every human action is morally equal.  Far from it.  And in fact, He wants us to help our brother with that speck in his eye, to serve him in love, not in hatred or mockery or smug self-righteousness, but out of a genuine desire to help bring our neighbor to healing and wholeness – the kind of help that comes from a life led as a struggle to keep the commandments and to strive for righteousness. And we can’t help our brother by pretending that he has no speck in his eye.

But we can’t look to others until we look to ourselves, until we repent, until we take the logs out of our own eyes.  This is the danger of hypocrisy, dear friends.  Hypocrisy chases people away from the church and repels people from the glorious Gospel by which Jesus has come to judge us “not guilty” and forgiven.

This brings us back to the beginning of our text: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  For our Father was merciful to the point of sending His Son to the cross on our behalf, to rescue us from the judgment of death and hell.  Instead, by the only Man who is not a hypocrite, by the only Man who is sinless, by the only Man who is God, our merciful Father judges us, and that judgement is that we are freely forgiven and brought graciously to the blessing of eternal life, for by this judgment, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

That is the Lord’s judgment, and it should be our desire that all men are so judged!

And so let the Lord’s words not be crossed out, but rather let them go forth and work the miracle of redemption.  And let us judge not as hypocrites, but as forgiven sinners, seeking to humbly and lovingly share the Lord’s favor with all others who, like us, “sin and fall short of the glory of God,” and yet, by God’s merciful judgment, have obtained that gift of God, which is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Thanks be to our merciful Judge, now and forever.


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

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sermon: The Visitation – 2017

2 July 2017

Text: Luke 1:39-56 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The visitation between Mary and Elizabeth looks like something very ordinary.  And it is.  Two cousins, both pregnant, enjoying one another’s company, visiting, and sort-of comparing notes.

To the world, this looks entirely normal, and it is.  It is a beautifully ordinary image of humanity: two mothers, one young and one old, both carrying what they were told are boys.  And yet, in this visitation, we see something even more extraordinary about our mutual humanity, for we see the divine will in action, the miraculous, the love that God has for each one of us – even though the eyes see nothing more than two ordinary pregnant mothers.

And yet, one of these mothers, Mary, is the mother of God.  She is a virgin, or more accurately, she is The Virgin, the one prophesied by Isaiah who would miraculously bear the Messiah: the one who would save His people, yes, even save all of humanity.  For in her womb, is God Himself, in His fetal humanity: Son of God and Son of Man, the One who will rescue Adam and Eve and avenge mankind from the crafts and assaults of the devil.

The other mother, also pregnant by means of a miracle, is the once-barren Elizabeth, the elderly wife of an elderly priest, who endured the shame of having no children, but now, her shame has been lifted by the merciful Lord.  And in her womb is John the Baptist, the one Jesus would thirty years later call the greatest of men born of a woman.  John was to be the last of the prophets, the baptizer of the Christ, and the one who will introduce the world to her Savior.

Four remarkable and miraculous people clothed and cloaked in the ordinary flesh of ordinary humanity.

In this visitation, mankind is visited also by the Holy Spirit, who fills Elizabeth with the confession of her cousin, the Blessed Virgin, and her cousin’s Holy Child: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” even as the fetal John leaped in his mother’s womb as an expression of joy: joy of humanity in the presence of humanity’s human Savior.

And the Holy Spirit also inspires the Blessed Virgin Mary to sing the song that she has given humanity as a gift, her song known as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The Blessed Virgin acknowledges and confessed the very Lord that is her unborn Son, even as she confesses her own need for that Son to be her Savior, even her Son whom she confesses to be God in her womb.

She acknowledges her humble estate as the Lord’s handmaiden, and yet is exalted by the mercy of her Lord and God.

And what a picture of all of us, dear friends, we of humble estate, we poor miserable sinners, we who deserve nothing but death and hell, and yet we rejoice with Blessed Mary, indeed, our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, who was brought into the world by this “mother of my Lord.”  For because she is blessed among women, we are blessed among not only all of humanity, but even among the angels in heaven.  We are blessed because we are exalted – even exalted to the Godhead, because one of us, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, our brother according to the flesh, is very God of very God, and is to be worshiped.  

And what’s more, He is God who takes flesh, who dies on the cross, who gives us the free gift of eternal life, and who continues to give us His gifts, his mercy, the strength of His arm, filling the hungry with good things, by preaching and absolution, by baptism, and by the sacrament of His very body and blood, the very same body carried by Mary in her womb, observed by Mary upon the cross, and who appeared to Mary triumphant from the tomb.

This remarkable and miraculous meeting of these two mothers and their two sons took place thirty years before the ministry of both of these men would change the world.

Both would preach the Gospel.  Both would make powerful enemies.  Both would be executed as criminals as a result of evil and petty men exercising corrupted power.  And both will rise from the dead: Jesus on that first Easter, and John, who will walk out of his own grave when we do, when His holy Cousin comes again to judge the world and to reign forever.

This is the cause of Elizabeth’s excitement, John’s rejoicing, and Mary’s holy song.  For each of them are responding to the youngest among them (yet who is eternal): the baby Lord Jesus, the one who will save all of them from sin and death, and who has come to deliver the world and remake creation as a free gift: a human being come to redeem humanity.  And because of this Man all the vault of heaven also rejoices.

Dear friends, it is fitting that we remember this scene of visitation, the otherwise ordinary-looking visit between two pregnant cousins – for it is a glimpse into the wonder of what it is to be a human being, a creature made in the image of God, a sinner unworthy of life by virtue of our sins, and yet saints worthy of eternal life by virtue of the One in the womb of Mary: Jesus, our God and Savior, the One whose name is holy, the one who comes in mercy, and yet who is mighty, with strength in His arm, the scatterer of the proud and the One who brings down the haughty, the One who exalts the humble, fills the hungry, casts out the avaricious, helping His people, the very selfsame God who speaks to Abraham and who speaks to us by His Word.

So, dear friends, with St. Elizabeth, we honor Blessed Mary and her Son; with St. John, we leap for joy that our Lord draws near to us; with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we sing the Magnificat and offer praise, thanksgiving, and adoration to our God and Savior, to Him who has taught us what it means to be truly human.  And indeed, our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.


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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sermon: St. Irenaeus – 2017

28 June 2017

Text: Luke 11:33-36 (Amos 3:1-9, 4:11-12, John 2:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We like to name our children after heroes.  Some from our own families, others from the history of our country or the world, or simply other people in our lives whom we admire.  For Christians, it became common to name our children after one of the saints, because our heroic brothers and sisters in the faith are the greatest role models of all.

And it is a shame that I’ve never met a boy named Irenaeus – the saint whom we honor and celebrate today.  St. Irenaeus was born in the early one hundreds, and died in the year 202.  His pastor was the martyr Polycarp, whose pastor was, in turn, the apostle John.  Irenaeus heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus from one who heard it from the last living apostle of our Lord in the flesh.  

Irenaeus grew up to become a priest and bishop of what is now the city of Lyon in what is today France.  Bishop Irenaeus not only lived in a day and age when confessing Christ was dangerous, he was willing to put his faith in writing to argue against heresies.  He did this because he was committed to the truth, no matter the consequences.  For truth matters to Christians, and it matters what we believe: “No one lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.”

We Christians are lighst on lampstands, illuminating the truth – for we confess with Irenaeus and all of our fellow saints and confessors that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. 

St. Irenaeus used his gifts as a writer and thinker and communicator to place the truth of the Gospel on a lampstand, and never put it under a bushel for the sake of safety or politeness or political correctness.

We live in times where it isn’t fashionable to speak about politics or religion – and in some cases, it is dangerous to do so.  In the interest of being nice and not offending anyone, how often we hear people assert: “We all worship the same God… All religions teach the same thing… and it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.”

But, dear friends, it does matter.  What you believe matters. The Lord revealed His prophetic Word to us in the Bible, not the Koran.  The Lord took human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, not the Buddha.  The Lord gathers His people around Word and Sacrament, not philosophy and politics.

Indeed, it matters what we believe.  It matters that we believe that the Word of God is infallible.  It matters that we believe that we were created in God’s image, but fell through sin.  It matters that we believe that God the Son took human flesh in Jesus.  It matters that Jesus died for us on the cross, that He forgives our sins, and that He gives us the free gift of eternal life.  It matters that He rose again from the grave.  It matters that His true church continues to send men in the train of the apostles, who following behind bishops like Irenaeus, men who preach and teach, baptize, absolve, and distribute the Lord’s Supper.

For as Irenaeus’s pastor’s pastor teaches us again through His written and inscripturated Word: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come… Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.”

Yes indeed, dear friends, Irenaeus teaches what Polycarp teaches, what John teaches, and what Jesus teaches: it matters what you believe, teach, and confess about Jesus.  We don’t get to pick and choose what beliefs we like, what doctrines are comfortable, what supposed truths make us feel good, as if we were “cafeteria Christians.”  No indeed, we are people of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  As the prophet Amos teaches: “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.” Truth is a matter of revelation, and that revelation is one of the marks of the Church.

Now, more than ever, we need Christian people: pastors and laymen, men and women, confessors of all ages and from every background to stand firmly and unshakably upon the truth.  It may offend some, and it may make many angry, but it will also save many from hell.  

Indeed, it is fitting that the church throughout the world honors St. Irenaeus on this date.  For he is a hero to be admired, a Christian brother to be embraced, a bishop to be revered, a preacher to be heard, and a Christian who teaches us by word and deed to let our light shine before men and glorify our Father in heaven – for the sake of the truth, for the sake of the lost, for the sake of Christ.


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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sermon: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – 2017

25 June 2017

Text: 1 Tim 6:11-16

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther nailed the “Ninety-Five Theses” to the church door at Wittenberg.  And that was an important event.  Unfortunately, that date will not fall on a Sunday this year.  But today marks a date that is actually more important, and it does fall on a Sunday.  On June 25, 1530, four hundred and eighty seven years ago today, a document called the “Augsburg Confession” was presented to the emperor.  

It was not a declaration of war, but rather an offer of peace.  It was not a break with the Catholic past, but rather a restoration of the Catholic past.  It was not an outline of a new religion, but rather, the good confession of the old one.

The confessors at Augsburg, lay and clergy alike, extended a hand of friendship to the emperor and to the pope.  Their confession was a call to unity.  But that hand was rejected.  And when the emperor, whose mind had already been made up, attempted to command and threaten the German princes into becoming obedient again to the pope, they literally bared their necks, and fearlessly told the young, brash emperor that he might as well chop off their heads, because they were not going to recant their confession of faith.  They would rather die right then and there.  The startled emperor backed down.

Most people, including a lot of Lutherans, get the Reformation all wrong.  It was not a radical revolution, but just the opposite; it was a conservative reactionary movement to replace the new with the old.  It was not about a Lutheran faith to replace the Catholic; but rather the ancient Catholic faith to replace the new and corrupted version.  Our opponents insulted us with the name “Lutheran”; our forbears referred to themselves as catholic and evangelical Christians.

In one sense, our reformation was a failure.  For it resulted in a divided church.  Roman Catholics and Lutherans no longer share altars and pulpits, and have not done so officially for 477 years to this very day.  But in another sense, our reformation was a success, for in accordance with our confession, we continue to practice what page 319 of your hymnal calls “the catholic religion” and we continue to confess what pages 319 and 320 of your hymnal call “the catholic faith.”  There is nothing new under the sun or in the Augsburg Confession, for it is the confessional catholic faith of more than a thousand years before Luther.  

St. Ambrose’s fourth century catholic preaching of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith could have been proclaimed by Luther.  St. Augustine’s fifth century catholic theology that we are not saved by works could have been taught by Melanchthon, who wrote the Augsburg Confession.  Indeed, the catholic position on the Gospel of the sixth century was the very same Lutheran position on the Gospel of the sixteenth century.

Our Augsburg Confession itself says: “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers” and “our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons.”

For there is nothing we properly practice, teach, preach, or confess in this parish, in this synod, and in the confessional Lutheran churches around the world that can’t be found faithfully taught by popes and councils in ancient Roman Catholic history, and most importantly of all, in the Bible.

For as St. Paul instructed another faithful pastor, preacher, and theologian as recorded in our Scriptures: “O man of God…. Pursue righteousness… Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Indeed, we are the church, the people of God, and we teach the universal faith, the catholic faith.  We pursue righteousness, the righteousness that Paul continuously teaches is a gift of the grace of God, and not of ourselves or by our own works.  And indeed, we fight for this faith, and we will fight and contend and scrap and refuse to bow before any idol, whether commanded by president or potentate, by king or commissar, by pastor or pope, or by professor or pop-culture. We will fight. We will not surrender.  We will confess.  We will bare our necks if necessary.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to take up the cross of Jesus, to confess Jesus, and to also confess with Jesus, “who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.”

And this is why, dear friends, this remarkable document – short enough to be read in a single setting, profound enough to be studied for an entire lifetime, is called a “confession.”  To confess is to say the same thing.  That which Jesus said at Jerusalem, that which Paul said at the Areopagus, that which Ambrose said at Milan, that which Augustine said at Hippo, that which Luther said at Wittenberg, that which Melanchthon said at Augsburg, and that which we say at Gretna, is the same thing that Scripture teaches.  This is what St. Paul means by “the good confession.”

And, dear friends, confession is not always easy.  The princes who bared their necks could have had their heads removed, as St. Paul did.  Ambrose and Augustine lived in times not far removed from when Christians were fed to lions.  Martin Luther was himself condemned to death, and had he not been protected by faithful princes, he would have been burned at the stake – even as many faithful Lutheran confessors were.  His widow Katie Luther was to die penniless in a Germany ravaged by the pope’s vengeful armies seeking to wipe our confession from the face of the earth.  But Katie Luther was also to die a faithful confessor, saying on her death bed: “I will stick to Christ as a burr to a topcoat.”

We don’t know what Paul’s counsel to us today to “fight the good fight of the faith” and that we make “the good confession” will mean for us in our own lifetime in our own country.  But to be a Lutheran, to be an Evangelical Catholic, to be a believer in the Holy Scriptures, to be a believer in Jesus Christ, is to be a confessor: of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith, of the cross and the blood of Christ that pleads before the Father on our behalf, of the truth and reliability of the Holy Scriptures over and against every shred of human opposition, and of the hope of the world to come.

And with our fathers and mothers in the faith for 487 years, we continue to confess before God and men, “that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic” and “If there is anything that any one might desire in this Confession, we are ready, God willing, to present ampler information according to the Scriptures.”  That is our confession.  Christ is our confession.  Amen.

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2017

18 June 2017

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a word that is used a lot in our culture, in the movies and TV, in internet memes, on bumper stickers and in casual conversation: the word “karma.”

Karma is about people getting what they deserve. Karma is a sense of justice, where the thief gets his stuff stolen, the bully gets bullied, and the tables are turned.

It is very easy to interpret the Lord’s story about Lazarus and the Rich Man through the eyes of karma.  In this parable, the rich man was uncaring and selfish.  He ignored the pleas of poor Lazarus, and instead enjoyed the luxuries of his own life.  And he, according to our Lord’s words, who received “good things” in his life, ends up in hell, in “anguish,” begging for a single drop of water.  But poor Lazarus, whom the Lord says, “received… bad things” in this life, now enjoys the bliss of heaven, being “comforted.” 

Everybody can see this great turn of the tables.  And who cannot relate to the idea that the rich, the one percent, the privileged, the bosses, the brass, the white collars, the CEOs, the elites, whom we assume all got their wealth by oppressing others, dishonestly, hatefully, and probably illegally as well.  Certainly not morally.  This parable is a passage that Karl Marx might have appreciated, but of course, he thought Christianity was a trick of the rich to deceive the poor.  At any rate, there is always someone richer, more blessed, with possessions that we can’t afford, enjoying a life that we might be envious of. And even someone who is consider rich can be dissatisfied with what he has in this life, for there is always someone richer.

And who cannot identify with poor Lazarus?  Who hasn’t been bullied or mistreated or ignored?  Who hasn’t fantasized about revenge on those who got over on us, who bullied us, who raised themselves up by tearing us down?

In fact, a very easy reading of this lesson of our Lord would fit on a bumper sticker about karma.

Karma turned on the rich man, and he is in hell.  Karma elevated the poor man, and he is in bliss.  Karma seems great!  At least as long as you are the oppressee and not the oppressor; as long as you are the poor guy, not the rich guy.

But there are a couple problems here, dear friends.  First, karma is not a Christian concept.  It comes from Hinduism.  It comes from a religion that teaches that there are many gods, and that human beings reincarnate after they die to move up or down the food chain based on karma.  In the religion of karma, there is no grace, no forgiveness, no cross, no Son of God, no divine mercy - “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky” as John Lennon said in the famous song.

Secondly, in the religion of karma, there is a great impersonal cosmic scorekeeper that records every sin “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”  Karma purports to compare everyone’s life to the standard of cosmic goodness, to divinity or sainthood, and then bump you up or down at the end of your life.  And with no mercy, no forgiveness, and no loving God to drag you out of the pit of hell, you simply come back to life as a dog or a toad or an earthworm, only to repeat the cycle again and again and again.

So how does karma sound now, dear friends?

Christians should never speak of karma.  It is a deception of the devil to make you self-righteous.  For in the religion of karma, everybody sees himself as Lazarus, and not the rich man.  Everybody judges himself not by the Ten Commandments but by some attainable goal of external good deeds, without looking too much under the hood.  

Now, to be sure, Scripture does warn us that we will reap what we sow.  If we persist in lying, we will eventually get caught.  If we persist in drinking and driving, we will eventually get arrested, injured, or killed.  If we treat others contemptuously, we will eventually get our comeuppance.

But this is just common sense, dear friends.  It isn’t karma. 

For we don’t worship many gods, we worship the one true God, the one who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And the Son took flesh.  The Son died a sacrificial and substitutionary death for you, and for the life of the world.  The Son shed His blood on the cross not so that we would get what we deserve (as in the religion of karma), but rather so that we would get what we don’t deserve (which is the religion of grace, the way of the cross, the mercy of God).

So where is your karma now?  Would you rather be judged by your deeds, or by Christ’s deeds?  Would you rather appeal to your own goodness, or to the blood of Christ?

But what about our Lord’s text?  Doesn’t it say that the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven?  Doesn’t the Lord promote a kind of karma because of the turning of the tables?

No indeed. For we have to be honest with ourselves, dear friends.  Even if you are poor by American standards, you are rich according to the lives of seven billion people on the planet.  You enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of most of the people on the globe.  And how much money do you send to poor people around the world?  How much do you give to the poor here in America?  Maybe you do, but is it enough?  Is it ever enough?  Do you give enough to satisfy karma?  Do you give enough to satisfy the Ten Commandments?  Do you selflessly love your brother and sister even to the detriment of your own life?  Are you perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect?

If not, you need grace, not karma.  You need the Lord Jesus Christ, not the lord Krishna.  You need forgiven of your sins, not rewarded and repaid for those times when you have been bullied and put upon.

For in our text, we have to avoid the karmic temptation to envision ourselves only as poor Lazarus, while we imagine someone we don’t like cast in the role of the Rich Man.

Dear friends, we are the Rich Man in the story.  Even if we give to the poor, we have mixed motives.  We are selfish and we delight in our own entertainments – great and small.  We are indeed poor miserable sinners just as surely as the Rich Man was.  We are no better.  The critical difference is that the Rich Man did not heed the warning of Moses and the Prophets.  And the rich man did not have someone who did, in fact, rise from the dead.  Dear friends, we Rich Men have been warned by the One who truly did come to us from the dead, who rose again, and who has sent to us the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth by Word and Sacrament.  We have Jesus who comes to us from beyond the grave in the means in which He has promised, washing us with Holy Baptism, absolving us, preaching to us, and serving us His very body and blood, bearing a promise: not of karma, but of grace, the forgiveness of sins and eternal communion with God.

And there is more good news, dear friends.  We are indeed Lazarus as well.  We come to the gate of heaven laden with sores – physically and mentally wounded, festering with aches and pains and sins and injuries.  We carry heavy baggage, perhaps not unlike the chains we forged in life, as the character Marley from “A Christmas Carol.”  And yet, we are comforted by the Gospel; we are graced by the Word of God calling us to repentance and new life now, and not when it is too late. We have the promise of being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”

And we don’t get what we deserve – Lord, have mercy!  We get what Christ deserves – Christ have mercy!  We are not saved by our own works of karma, but rather by the Lord’s works of grace – Lord have mercy!

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sermon: Holy Trinity – 2017

11 June 2017

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Religions that are made-up by men generally have either one singular god and are monotheistic, or they have a plurality, that is, many gods, and are polytheistic.  

But of course, the real world is never quite so simple.  The real God is both singular and plural at the same time.  The real God is indeed one, but the real God is also three.  

You can’t make this up.

For Christianity is the only religion that has an eternal and yet incarnate God who died and rose again – and there is an empty tomb that bears witness that this isn’t just a myth told by men.  For once again, the human myths either describe a logical unitary god, or a great logical hierarchy of competing gods.

Christianity is the only faith that can say, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “God loved the world.”  And in the Old Testament, this word for “God” is plural, though every verb that goes with it is singular.  And this God sent “His Son,” – whom John had just a couple chapters past called “the Word” and said that “in the beginning” this “Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, how can the Son be God and be with God at the same time?

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  We believe, as Scripture teaches, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is into this one name that we are baptized: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  We are not baptized into three names, but “in the name.”  Or as we said in the creed: “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”  We say this because “the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.”

This is why St. Paul uses an unusual word in the letter to the Romans that we just heard: “inscrutable.”  God’s ways are “inscrutable.”  The word in Greek means that it can’t be traced out on paper.  It cannot be grasped by the human mind.  God’s ways are simply unknowable to us.  God Himself is a mystery.  But we do know quite a bit about Him from His own revelation to us in the Bible.  We can’t understand the Trinity, but we can confess it.  We can’t explain it, but we can teach it.  We can’t wrap our minds around it, but we can believe it.

And, dear friends, to believe in God is to worship God.  For if you truly believe that He exists, that He created all things, if you truly believe that a man can be “born again” being born this second time “of water and the Spirit,” being baptized into this inscrutable and mysterious name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then you will worship this God.  For the faith, the true faith, the Christian faith, the “catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

The one true faith is the Trinitarian faith.  Everything else is a human, manmade religion, a mere myth that suits the mind of man.  But our God, as revealed in Scripture, doesn’t conform to our logic, but rather calls upon us to conform to His will.

Now, maybe all of this just sounds like theological jargon, something for ivory tower debate that has no effect on our lives in the real world.  Nothing can be further from the truth, dear friends.  For it matters what you believe.  Do you worship the true, inscrutable God, the one who is “holy, holy, holy,” the “Lord of hosts,” the omnipotent and omnipresent almighty Creator, or do you worship a God who can safely be tucked away within the confines of a logic textbook?

The fathers of the church understood that without faith in the true God, man is lost: for the true God “so loved the world” that His Son became incarnate, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus Christ, the one who in the beginning was both “God” and one who was “with God,” for He hasn’t come to us to confuse us, but to save us.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  

This, dear friends, is why we are born again of water and the Spirit, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for as our Lord explicitly taught us: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  Saved, dear friends, that is, rescued from sin, death, and the devil, pulled out of the grave and out of hell that we might not perish “but have eternal life!”

We don’t have to understand how this works, we simply have to believe it, trusting in the Word of God, in His mercy, in His love for us, and in His desire that we be saved.  For that is the message of the cross, the result of the Lamb’s pure sacrifice, and the very reason we are born again by water and the Word.  This is why we are here: to worship this God, to sing praise to the Father, to joyfully receive the Son in His body and blood, and to be drawn into this one true faith by the Holy Spirit.  And through this faith which we confess, which receives the grace and love of the Triune God, the faith that confesses the Holy Trinity and the person of Jesus, we are born again, born to eternal life, born to walk out of our own graves, born to live forever in joyful communion with the one true God.

And like Isaiah, the “mighty seer of old” who was “high and lifted up” to the throne of the thrice-holy God, a “burning coal” from the altar is placed upon our lips, and though we are people of unclean lips, we have the promise of the Triune God Himself: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.”  “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “This is the catholic faith” into which we are baptized,

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

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sermon: Pentecost – 2017

4 June 2017

Text: John 14:23-31 (Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The people of God have places to go and things to do.

At the end of our Lord’s teaching, He says, “Rise, let us go from here.”

Not long after this, our Lord will indeed “go from here,” from life in this fallen world to death.  And He will also “rise.”  He will destroy death.

And after He has risen, He will again say, “Go… Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  He tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The people of God have places to go and things to do.

And “when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”  They didn’t stay huddled together in one place for very long.  For the Holy Spirit came to them, and dispersed them, spreading out over the known world, making disciples by baptism and teaching, by Word and Sacrament, establishing churches and spreading the Gospel.  

And not even the language barrier from the curse of Babel got in the way, because the Holy Spirit gave them the gift to speak in foreign languages – and this jump-started proclamation enabled the Gospel and its preachers to disperse themselves all over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all over the known world of their time.  And their successors would board ships and bring the Gospel to the New World, to Asia, to Australia, to Africa, and into great cities and tiny villages around the world.  Places to go, indeed!

Just before the events of the Tower of Babel, Noah’s family left the ark.  The Lord told them to “fill the earth” with new life.  But the flood did not eradicate all sin from the earth, and the people found a great location, a “plain in the land of Shinar,” and instead of dispersing and filling the earth, they “settled there.”  Rather than establishing villages around the world, they concentrated in one place, and even set about building a skyline with their new technology of brick and mortar.  They began to dream of divine power.  Their technology made them think they were godlike: “Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

They had places to go, but didn’t want to go.  They had things to do, but didn’t want to do them.  They had become arrogant and disobedient, full of themselves and forgetful of their own history.  The “children of man” began to regard their tower to the heavens more highly than the Creator of the heavens.  

And in spite of their desire to remain and not do as God instructed them, God Himself would let them know that they indeed had places to go and things to do.  He confused their tongues along tribal lines.  They could no longer engage in a massive building project. The tower came to naught, and was abandoned.  They could no longer cooperate and live together in one place as a multilingual multiculturalism split their once unified city into rival factions.  “And from there, the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

This was a renewal of the Lord’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” and to exercise dominion over the world.  The “children of man” indeed had places to go and things to do.  For God has a plan and a will, and it is His will that human beings multiply and rule the earth.

It was God’s will that one of those tribes, the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Judah, who had been dispersed to the fertile land between Egypt and Syria, in their fruitfulness and multiplication, would bring forth the Messiah, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice would redeem man from the curse of sin, including the curse of Babel.  For the Lord’s coming to forgive our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift is good news indeed.  And good news is meant to be told, not hoarded.  It is meant to be spread abroad, not kept bottled up in a single place.  The disciples were to be witnesses – those who see and testify, and their testimony is to spread abroad like a fire raging out of control, a proclamation that does not respect border or tribe, but which subsumes every race and ethnicity that it encounters, like a flame that cannot be controlled.

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” – independent of language or location or parentage.  Baptism transcends language; the Lord’s Supper transcends location; the Fatherhood of God transcends all earthly parentage.  

And though we may not see the unique signs and wonders of that first Pentecost today, we nevertheless still experience the Holy Spirit’s work as He “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  We still experience the power of the Word of God to transform individuals and build up the church in faraway nations – bringing entire tribes of people into the ark of salvation, and calling men to preach and teach and evangelize in even more languages and tongues.

And while most of us are not called to serve in foreign mission fiends, dear friends, our own country has become a mission field.  We are getting closer to that time when African missionaries may need to be dispersed to our Babylonian cities: technological wonders lined with skyscrapers, in order that we hear the word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel, the call to repent, and the good news that Jesus has come to redeem us from death and hell itself, to bring us out of Babel into the City of God, a glorious metropolis of the saints that extends from earth into the heavens for all eternity.

And there is a world that needs to hear this good news.  Yes, indeed, dear brothers and sisters, the people of God have places to go and things to do.

“Rise, let us go from here.”  Amen.

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sermon: Funeral for Shirley Peterson

30 May 2017

Text: John 10:10b-15; 27-30 (Job 19:23-27a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

To those of you with military connections, you know just how glorious that word “peace” is.  Peace means being with those whom we love.  It means being freed up from the worry of suddenly being deployed elsewhere.  It means not being in harm’s way.

It is also the first word used by Jesus when He spoke to His disciples after His resurrection.  Ever since that day, Christians have greeted one another with: “Peace be with you.”

For ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, we, humanity, have been at war: with God and with one another.  Is any family not affected by this warfare?  Think about life in this fallen world: violence, disease, broken families, addictions, relationships gone bad, greed, lust, dishonesty – even things beyond our control like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other things that bring us harm.  God did not create a world like this.  It was brought into chaos that first time our ancestors disobeyed God and sought their own way.

And the worst plague of all is death.  None of us are exempt.  It takes everyone, regardless of how good we may seem on the exterior, for we are all sinners, and we are all at war with God – whether openly or secretly.  We all suffer the marks of that first sin, and it has been passed on to us, like a genetic disease.

But the good news is that Jesus came to rescue us.  He broke into our world, behind enemy lines, and He died in our place, paying the price of our sins: yours, mine, and Shirley’s. And in rising from the grave, Jesus set a course for us to rise also.  For death has been defeated, and Jesus bids us to follow Him.  

He commanded His disciples to themselves make disciples: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Shirley was placed under Christ’s protection when she was baptized.  For just as Jesus is a fierce warrior against the enemy, He is also a gentle “good shepherd” to those who follow Him.

“My sheep hear My voice,” He says, “and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will be able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  This is what Jesus says today concerning your beloved Shirley.

Jesus knows Shirley, because she was baptized according to His command and promise.  God worked that out as part of His rescue plan.  And though death is still a reality in this fallen world, Shirley, and all who have been baptized, all who confess the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, all who die in this reality, being baptized into His death, look forward to a resurrection like His, as scripture teaches us.

And so even in our fallen world of war and disease and crime and broken families, broken relationships, and even the devastating pain of the temporary separation that is death itself, we have peace, the kind of peace that isn’t merely a lack of fighting, but a true peace that passes all understanding, the peace of Christ, the peace of Him who died and rose again, and who promises the very same bodily resurrection that life in a perfect world to be remade without death.

We look forward to the resurrection, when we will again stand in our bodies made new, as Job said, “in my flesh I shall see God.”  In the flesh, dear friends, meaning you will again be reunited with Shirley.  You will hug her and look into her eyes, she will smile at you, and you will have all of eternity to spend together.

This peace of Christ means that the war is ended.  In Christ, we can say with St. Paul: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory.  O death, where is your sting?”  Yes, we feel that sting now, but Shirley doesn’t.  And that sting is ultimately temporary, for all who are baptized and believe will likewise rise again to newness of life in the flesh.

So, dear friends, it is fitting that we mourn.  It is natural that we are grieved.  But we grieve in hope.  For Jesus has come to give us this peace: the peace that conquers death itself. 

“Peace be with you.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) – 2017

28 May 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must truly take to heart what Dr. Luther taught us to recite: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

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

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

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

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sermon: Ascension – 2017

25 May 2017

Text: Acts 1:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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