Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sermon: Funeral of Cleveland R. Jouglard

Reformation Day, 31 October 2007 at Mothe Funeral Home, Harvey, LA
Text: Matt 11:12-15 (Jer 31:31-34, Rom 3:21-28)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear family and friends. Death is a terrible thing. It is the ultimate expression of violence. Death demonstrates the violent nature of our fallen, sinful world. Our Gospel reading speaks of violence: “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

Whether death comes to children or to the elderly, whether on the battlefield or in the bed – death is violent. It is not part of God’s design.

In my visits with Cleveland – all of which came late in his life – I found him to be a most nonviolent man – a gentleman in the finest sense of the word. He explained to me the reason for his difficulty in hearing – a violent explosion while he was in a foxhole in Guadalcanal that blew out both eardrums. While there, he also contracted the malaria that would continue to plague him the rest of his life.

Cleveland explained these things to me matter-of-factly. He was not boasting or complaining – just explaining. He would shrug and say: “That’s just how it is.”

The violence of sin and death visits everyone – the humble and the braggart, the soft-spoken and the boisterous, the stoic and the grumbler. Death overtook even the low-key warrior Cleveland Jouglard – just as it eventually claims each of us. For we Christians are all soldiers serving the kingdom of God, the Church Militant. We fight under our Commander in the war between good and evil. And no matter how brave our struggle, we will all be casualties of this conflict. We sin. We struggle. We die.

It is fitting that Cleveland, not only a battle-scarred veteran of the U.S. Navy, but a fallen comrade in the forces of the kingdom of God, is being committed to his maker on this day known to Lutherans as Reformation Day. This red stole symbolizes the blood of the martyrs and the fire of the Holy Spirit’s purgative work on the fallen world. On this day, Lutheran Christians around the world sing the stirring anthem: “A Mighty Fortress is our God” – in which the martial theme of the war between God and Satan, between eternity and mortality, between life and death – are played out in song.

As Cleveland’s life drew to a close, he had to deal with increasing attacks from the devil. He had cancer and other painful health problems. He had to leave his home and take up residence in a nursing home, leaving behind his life of privacy and self-sufficiency. His vigor had given way to frailty and weakness. And it is in our weakness, says St. Paul, that Christ is strongest for us. Every time I visited Cleveland, he was eager to receive the body and blood of Christ. He was grateful to hear the Word of God. He received holy absolution with joy. He knew his days on this side of the grave were drawing to a close, but he also knew he had the free gift of everlasting life promised by God’s Word. “That’s just how it is” he would say again and again.

For Cleveland understood that the violence and chaos of fallen creation and its master, Satan, have already been overcome by our Lord Jesus Christ. Cleveland understood the Good News, the Gospel that we baptized and believing Christians are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” And that our crucified Lord is a “propitiation by His blood, through faith.” This is how it is that every soldier in God’s army will die, and yet the kingdom of heaven remains forever victorious. Battles are lost, yet the war is already won. And though fallen, every soldier will rise again in his flesh to live forever. That is the promise of God, demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus Himself, into whose death and resurrection we have been baptized. That’s just how it is.

As St. Paul asks: “Where is boasting then?” And answers the question himself: “It is excluded.” For “we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”

In the words of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”:

With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is;
Of Sabaoth Lord,
and there’s none other God.
He holds the field forever.

“That's just how it is.” Amen.

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sermon: Festival of the Reformation (Transferred)

28 October 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 8:31-36 (Jer 31:31-34, Rom 3:21-28)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is a famous proverb: “The best things in life are free.” You won’t find it in the Bible, but it is a conclusion we can draw from Scripture – especially from our epistle reading. “Being justified freely by His grace” is how St. Paul sums up the Christian life.

To be “justified,” as St. Paul explains it, to partake in “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” to receive the “propitiation by His blood,” to benefit from having our “previously committed” sins “passed over” is not just one of the “best things in life” it is the one very best thing in life. It is life itself. And it is free.

This forgiveness, this righteousness, is not for sale at any price. It is purely offered to us gratis, by grace, at no charge. It is received by faith, by belief. It is never purchased by gold or silver or earned by the sweat of the brow. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”

The very best thing in life, life itself, eternal life, is free.

And this is good news indeed. It is “the” Good News, the Gospel so often spoken of in the Word of God. This gift has been given away by the Christian Church since the days of the apostles – who were given the authority and the duty to give away this Gospel freely through preaching and the administration of the sacraments.

But in every human endeavor, con men and racketeers will make their appearance. The greatest of all con men are the ones who can extract payment for that which is free in the first place. For they pay nothing for the commodity they vend, but they charge a lot of money to distribute it. Fortunes are amassed this way – and sadly, the Church in the middle ages was chock full of such flimflam men.

The medieval church was rife with corruption: bishops bought and sold their offices, popes routinely broke canon law and acted as tyrants, church and state conspired together to enrich nobles on the frightened backs of pious peasants. But worst of all, the Gospel, Christ’s Gospel, the very reason the Church exists at all – was being sold like trinkets and baubles. What the Church was given to give away became a racket to enrich both popes and princes.

We might wag our heads and express shock that this happened. But the medieval churchmen were no different than the believers in Christ in today’s gospel. For the notion that the truth could give them freedom was offensive to them. And that implied that they were in need of release. “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.” Not only were they offended at the Gospel being offered for free to anyone (given that they felt a sense of entitlement, being sons of Abraham), they were offended that Jesus was offering it to them.

Jesus is offering them freedom with no strings attached, no charge, not even an obligation to earn it. And this is offensive.

That’s our sinful nature. We know the offer must be too good to be true. For in this sinful life, nothing is free. According to our worldly “wisdom,” the old Latin saying: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” applies not only to armies with big wooden horses, but also to a Hebrew Preacher offering eternal life. Thanks to our natural distrust, rather than depend on someone’s mercy, someone’s grace, we’d rather make a purchase and save the receipt. Thanks to our sinful pride, we would rather earn than beg.

The medieval churchmen knew people would pay dearly for justification, for everlasting life, for making peace with God. And so hucksters and hawkers went far and wide, selling indulgences and filling chests with ducats and florins, shiny coins of gold and silver. The people were being taken advantage of by ruthless marketers, but they were also to blame. For they liked buying a piece of paper that absolved them from even coming to church, to make confession, to receive the body and blood of Christ. They liked being able to point to their own money and their own labor for their place in heaven they think they earned. They were content to play the game and purchase these certificates for family and friends – even the dead.

But it was all a lie.

The pious and godly priest and scholar, Dr. Martin Luther, and his fellow theologians from Wittenberg - told the truth. They studied Scripture inside and out. They knew the history of the Church, and grasped what she had taught in times past. They also understood sin. It simply can’t be atoned for with filthy lucre or a babbled quota of prayers.

As a result, the Gospel was once more given free reign. But that part was not without price. The red in our sanctuary today is a somber reminder of the martyrs who gave their lives for the sake of the free Gospel. This time, it was not pagan Roman emperors spilling Christian blood, but Christians in Rome that assumed the role of the tyrant.

But lest we become too proud of ourselves, let us remember that we too are sinners. We also have our pride and spurn the grace of God by sinfully thinking highly of our own deeds and doctrines. We too shun the free Gospel by sinfully putting our trust in our intellectual ability to articulate doctrines, in our denominational and synodical affiliations, in our sharing a name with Martin Luther.

But as Luther pointed out, Luther did not die for our sins. And as the 4th century church father St. Ambrose of Milan wrote, we are not saved by cleverly arguing doctrine. Nor are we saved by our hearty Lutheran hymns, our rigorous Lutheran theology, or our Lutheran tradition of beauty in liturgy and church architecture. We are freely saved because the Son Himself makes us free. We have been redeemed not by our own blood and sweat, but rather by the death and suffering of Christ alone.

Just as the church at Rome in St. Paul’s day needed to be reminded of the Gospel, and just as the Church of Rome in Blessed Martin Luther’s day needed to hear the good news anew, so do we, dear brothers and sisters, so do we!

In this day and age where Lutherans around the world now have contact with one another, we’re finding out that not everyone shares our American customs – which we too often equate with what it means to be Lutheran. For example, our brethren in Africa and Scandinavia have retained bishops, their pastors are still referred to as priests, the people address their pastor as “father,” and the faithful still kneel and genuflect when the bells ring and the incense smoke wafts heavenward at the Sunday High Mass. Some in America charge these faithful Lutherans with “Romanizing” as though the reformation were fought over such things as bells and terminology.

In the early days of the Missouri Synod, the first president C.F.W. Walther had to deal with the charge of “Romanism” because our churches used candles and crucifixes, our pastors wore vestments and chanted, and our services followed the ancient liturgical form of the Western Mass.

To toss around the term “Romanizing” over such things is sadly to miss the whole point of the Reformation. Though the Reformation did of necessity address such topics as the role of the papacy and bishops, the place of Scripture in the rule of faith, and the role of tradition in the life of the Church; the issue that ties it all together is the free Gospel.

The issue of the Reformation is the Gospel. It is free, because God’s Word says it is. It is by grace, because our loving God wants to rescue us solely by his mercy. It is not a matter of ancestry or tribe – for those who sin are slaves, regardless of ancestry, and it is the Son who makes all believers sons – Jew and Greek, male and female. It is not a matter of labor. Working by the sweat of the brow is a curse of sin, not a solution. It is not a matter of obeying the law, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

For even in the days of Jeremiah, the Lord sums up the meaning of the covenant He has with His people in this way: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

That, dear brothers and sisters, is good news. That, dear friends, is the Gospel. The Lutheran martyrs gave their blood and the Reformers gave their sweat so that we might remember that neither our blood nor our sweat can earn that which is free, that which is a gift.

But lest we think free grace is cheap grace, let us heed the preaching of another Lutheran martyr, one from the last century, Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We cannot buy or earn God’s mercy. But Someone did. Our Lord Jesus Christ shed the blood and the sweat, He earned and purchased us, He redeemed us, “not with gold or silver,” as Luther says in his Small Catechism, “but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded.” Neither being a son of Abraham, nor holding a papal indulgence, nor calling oneself a Lutheran is cause for boasting. For the best things in life are free. Eternal life is free. “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” This is most certainly true!

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

American History Pop Quiz

Take out a sheet of paper, boys and girls. Time for an American History pop quiz.

Read the except from the essay (below) and answer the following questions:

1) Who said it?
2) When?
3) What political party is the author from?
4) Who is the president cited at the end of this excerpt?

(Googling is cheating).

[Don't worry about your grade. I would have failed had I not stumbled across this essay on the internet. +HW]

Here is your reading assignment:

We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night; the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say: "You now are entering Imperium." Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: "Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible."...

There is no comfort in history for those who put their faith in forms; who think there is safeguard in words inscribed on parchment, preserved in a glass case, reproduced in facsimile and hauled to and fro on a Freedom Train."

The history of a Republic is its own history. Its past does not contain its future, like a seed. A Republic may change its course, or reverse it, and that will be its own business. But the history of Empire is world history and belongs to many people.

A Republic is not obliged to act upon the world, either to change or instruct it. Empire, on the other hand, must put forth its power.

What is it that now obliges the American people to act upon the world?

As you ask that question the fear theme plays itself down and the one that takes its place is magnifical. It is not only our security we are thinking of—our security in a frame of collective security. Beyond that lies a greater thought.
It is our turn.

Our turn to do what?
Our turn to assume the responsibilities or moral leadership in the world.
Our turn to maintain a balance of power against the forces of evil everywhere... —evil in this case being the... barbarian.
Our turn to keep the peace of the world.
Our turn to save civilization.
Our turn to serve mankind.
But this is the language of Empire. The Roman Empire never doubted that it was the defender of civilization. Its good intentions were peace, law and order. The Spanish Empire added salvation. The British Empire added the noble myth of the white man's burden. We have added freedom and democracy. Yet the more that may be added to it the more it is the same language still. A language of power.

Always the banners of Empire proclaim that the ends in view sanctify the means. The ironies, sublime and pathetic, are two. The first one is that Empire
believes what it says on its banner; the second is that the word for the ultimate end is invariably Peace. Peace by grace of force.

One must see that on the road to Empire there is soon a point from which there is no turning back....

[The president] said: "We will accept only a world consecrated to freedom of speech and expression—freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—freedom from want and freedom from terrorism."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Secret history revealed?

In my last post, I pointed out how ignorance of, and ambivalence to, history and to the truth itself results in history being used as a political propaganda tool. In that instance, the ignorance of the story of Confederate soldiers and the question of race, has been twisted and taken advantage of by left-wing political opportunists.

Well, propaganda is an equal opportunity villain. The Left has no lock on it. Here is an example of how ignorance of American history is also used to score petty ideological points in a dishonest way by the Right as well.

"Secret history revealed!" Indeed. Why, all this time the Powers That Be have kept it all under wraps that the Ku Klux Klan was a creation of Democrats - until now. The cat is out of the bag, the big secret has been told, the bomb has been dropped, the cover-up has been exposed! Please.

Any fifth grade American history student ought to know as much. But then again, there is a TV show called "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" that is based on the premise that adult Americans are stupid. Both the Left and the Right political establishments are operating under the premise that they are.

Here is what it seems most Americans don't seem to grasp: In the 19th century, the Democrats were the "conservatives" and the Republicans were the "liberals." They have since swapped places on some (but not all) issues. In the period surrounding the War Between the States, the Democrats stood for small government, low taxation, and state's rights. The Republicans stood for big government, high taxation, and a centralized national government. The right-wing South stood with the conservative philosophy of government of the Democratic Party, whereas the more socialist government of the former Whigs found a home in the more leftist North. This isn't rocket science.

But here is where the exploitation of the ignorance comes in.

This fact is now being used as a club by "conservatives" to beat up "liberals" (I'm not a big fan of the labels as they aren't really very accurate). But think about the idiocy of modern-day right-wing "conservatives" using the excesses and violent behavior of past right-wing "conservatives" to try to skewer modern day left-wing "liberals"! They can get away with this because of the continued use of the labels "Democrat" and "Republican" - as though a 2007 Democrat from New England shares any political ideology with an 1860 (or even 1960) Democrat from the Deep South. Similarly, the average 19th century Republican would be hounded out of the GOP by today's Republicans and branded as a member of the "loony left."

It is the classic "bait and switch" motivated by political partisanship.

And that's not even addressing the fact that the 14th amendment was not solely about race and the status of the freedmen. There is the huge issue about the repudiation of Confederate war debts as well as the heavy-handed way the amendment was compelled to be "ratified" (which resulted in some Northern states balking at ratification) that the article conveniently omits as well. But your average Johnny Republican and Billy Democrat don't need to know about such things.

Rather than history being something to learn from - our own foibles as well as those of others - history is increasingly a bludgeon for one side of the political aisle to hammer the other for short-term political gains and bragging rights. Whether or not the argument has any real integrity at all is irrelevant. Little factoids that can be used in name-calling, "talking points", and one-upsmanship have replaced real discourse, debate, deep reflection, and recounting of facts.

The sad part is that history is increasingly held captive by partisans - the dissent-stifling academic elite on the left, and the screaming talk show smart-alecs on the right.

A Sons of Confederate Veterans Member

I've been meaning to post this article about a fellow SCV member, Nelson Winbush, for some time. The tone of the article is better than most - though it is, not surprisingly, snarky and condescending in places.

I've had the honor of meeting Mr. Winbush at a couple of SCV reunions. His story is not all that unusual, though most Americans of every nationality have long since forgotten their own family's history (how many people of any race can tell you what their ancestors were doing in the 1860s?). Lacking a sense of connection to history or any obligation to those who came before us, most Americans have just decided to "move on" - with much of the past being forgotten or even rewritten by revisionists and those with a political agenda. Instead of being personally involved with American history, it has become a boring and disconnected school subject or a politically-charged source of one-liners to be used and abused by "activists" with their hands in the public treasury.

But American history is our history. It is about our ancestors and their struggles - their defeats, their victories, and their true to life stories.

Nelson Winbush is a square peg who refuses to be pounded into a round hole - not by white supremacists, not by black race hustlers, not by grant-hungry conformist academicians, and not by the Orwellian keepers of History. He loves his family, is a keeper of tradition, has integrity about the truth, and is a patriot.

Good for him! We need more Americans like him. Deo vindice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Latin Quote of the Day

"Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum."
--- Aurelius Ambrosius, 378 AD, De Fide I:5, 42

"It is not the will of God to save his people through dialectics."
--- St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (333-397 AD), On the Faith I:5,42

Old American Quote of the Day

"The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it."

--- Robert E. Lee, 1866 from his correspondence with Lord Acton.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More "Lost in Translation"

Again, a little silliness is good for you.

I had previously posted a funny clip from a Japanese television show in which Japanese people are asked to translate things into English - with funny results.

The Asian butchery of English is the Oriental equivalent of the Occidental hilarity of westerners getting tattoos of Oriental characters on their Occidental bodies. Now, these mystical-looking runes might mean "strength" or "love" or "look at how great I am" - but every now and then, someone finds out that their trendy character indelebilis in fact means "evil" or "employees must wash hands" or something. Somewhere in Tokyo, there is a rascal laughing at someone in Detroit that he will never meet.

At least the Japanese don't permanently carve words into their skin because a tattoo parlor owner (who is likely not fluent in Japanese) told them it means something really flattering. It takes American ingenuity to do that.

Nevertheless, there is a fascination with English words around the world, and sometimes the translations are baffling or downright funny.

This website is a funny archive of how languages are often butchered when translated across linguistic and cultural boundaries - especially in the Orient. Although, I have to admit that my speaking French is a great source of amusement (which is French for "amusement") to my relatives in Canada.

Although it was punishment, the curse of Babel proves that God does have a sense of humor. And so should we - especially when it comes to our human condition.

"I gotta have more cowbell!"


1) A little silliness and laughter are good things.
2) Christopher Walken has a real gift for playing goofy characters.
3) Will Ferrell revels in irony and comedic timing.
4) "Rockumentaries" are pretentious, pompous, and delusionally self-important.
5) I can never again listen to "Don't Fear the Reaper" without hearing the cow bell over everything and laughing.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 20

20 October 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Isa 55:1-9, Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord’s parable for us today is both horrifying and comforting. It is filled with violence and murder, with rejection and retribution, with an impostor being found out and cast into the most terrifying prison imaginable. But it is also filled with people crowded into a banquet hall who did nothing to earn a ticket. They didn’t even know the master of ceremonies. Rather they were just people who happened to be standing around when they were handed an invitation to the royal feast – both good and bad – with the banquet hall being filled with such fortunate guests.

Obviously, if we are in the first group, those who were invited but deemed unworthy, those who took the invitation for granted, we should be worried. Likewise, if we want to be in the wedding feast, but we don’t belong there, lacking the wedding garment issued by the king (instead opting for trickery and deceit to try to fool the king), we will be sorry for all eternity.

Equally obvious is the fact that if we are in the second group, those who were both “called” and “chosen” – we will have an eternity of royal joy and celebration.

How do we know if we are “called” and yet not “chosen,” (and thus destined for eternal punishment) and how can we know if we are both “called” and “chosen” (and destined for eternal joy)?

Our human nature – being tainted with sin – immediately looks to our own works. We want to be in the number of the redeemed. We want some sign that we are in the elect. We might look at our behavior and conclude that we are worthy based on our conduct and surmise that we are not rejecters of the King’s Son, nor are we party-crashers who are at the feast under false pretenses.

The only problem is that without exception, our behavior condemns us. As much as we view ourselves with rose colored glasses, if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, we see a poor, miserable sinner. We see a pathetic excuse for a Christian. We see a person tormented by Satan and harassed by our own flesh. We see a person unworthy to be in the presence of the King – let alone eating at His table.

If we don’t see this in ourselves, we are the fool trying to get into the banquet without an invitation. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That self-deception is what allows a man to sit in a banquet hall without an invitation, whose very garments betray his credentials. Such self-deception enables men to deny that they need help, beating up the messengers and killing the very One who has come to rescue them.

“But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These words are not merely human words uttered in a ritual, but rather Divine Words, holy oracles from the Word of God itself, and Himself. If our sins convict us to the point of confession, if we have been broken by God’s demands to the point where we drop our defenses and confess – there is a promise attached.

Such is the group our Lord speaks of, the good and the bad, who were invited to take the place of the self-assured, complacent, arrogant, deluded, and hypocritical. Those who confess, those who are contrite by the grace of God, those who make no pretense of worthiness in themselves – these are the beneficiaries of the King’s grace. They are the ones invited to sit at table with the King for eternity. It is they who are called and chosen.

The called and the chosen do not call and do not choose. They don’t somehow merit the mercy of the King by their honesty and by their contrition. Rather the King Himself calls and chooses – lest the called and the chosen have any right to boast – even to boast in their unworthiness.

But how does the King call and choose? Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord calls the thirsty, those who lack, those who are in need. He calls everyone who needs salvation. He lovingly bids and joyously invites the whole world: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The call is for “everyone.” For our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb who “takes away the sin of the world.” The King is calling the whole world, every creature under His domain. He sounds the trumpet of a royal jubilee for every subject in His realm! “Come to the waters…. Come, buy and eat… without price.”

However, not everyone wants a handout from the King. After all, we do have our pride. We want to prove our worth, and not be a welfare case. We like to earn our daily bread, for who knows what strings are attached when we take handouts? When we reject the King’s benevolence, we spurn Him and turn up our noses at Him.

This arrogance is what led the children of Israel to murder the prophets – “treating them spitefully and kill[ing] them” – including Holy Isaiah whose inspired words have been placed in tandem with our Blessed Lord’s parable. Such pride is what led to the rejection of the King’s Son who was sent to declare the jubilee and bring the gifts of God to the thirsty and hungry world.

Through Isaiah, our Father in Heaven lovingly calls us: “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you -- The sure mercies of David.”

The very invitation, the Word of the Lord itself, has the power to save us. “Hear, and your soul shall live.” Those who stop up their ears stand in the way of being chosen. But those who drink from the Living Water, those who “hear” the Word of God - the Word that has the power to create the world in six days and rebuild the Temple in three, the Word that destroys death and the devil – they who hear this Word and believe, they are both called and chosen.

The hearing of this mighty Word brings faith, repentance, and salvation. The Lord’s call and gracious invitation includes this declaration of what He will do when He chooses a man: “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”

And as much as our sinful flesh itches to take credit for our being called and chosen – as though we call and choose God – that is not the case. When we repent, God is working faith in us through His Word and through the gracious living waters of baptism. When we resist God’s mercy, and God-forbid if we resist to the point of not being chosen – it is not God who has failed to choose us – rather we are the ones who choose to rebel against the One who invites us, calls us, dies for us, and promises to be with us forever.

There is a mystery here. To those who are called and chosen, it is not their choice. But to those who are called but not chosen, it is their choice. How can this be? “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

We dare not put our trust in our works, our goodness, or our worthiness. For that is a delusion of the flesh. If we do that, we will find ourselves in the “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But the good news, dear brethren, is that when we confess, when we do not stand in the way of God’s Word, when we have partaken of the living waters of Holy Baptism, then we are forgiven. We are also empowered to sing “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

And having confessed our sins, repented, and received the grace of God, all claim upon our good works comes to an end. The fruits of the Spirit that grow forth from this repentance do not merit God’s grace, but rather are the overflow of our souls from the boundless grace and mercy of the Lord – Christ working in and through us.

And by virtue of that mercy, we can indeed look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb which has no end. We have a foretaste of that feast here, in this imperfect banquet hall. Here, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has gone into the highways and called and gathered us here for the purpose of choosing us to receive the gifts of His Word and His salutary presence in the holy mysteries – which bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation unto eternity. Amen.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Musing on Leadership, Part Deux

As a postscript to my earlier post about why there are so many "leadership" books out there, and why our pastors seem to need instruction in this area, I'd like to recommend the following film. It just came in the mail yesterday, and I just viewed it this morning.

It's very well done. It is from a Reformed perspective - using a 16th essay by the Scottish reformer John Knox (The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women) as a foil to critique the feminist movement - its incompatibility with traditional and biblical Christianity as well as the social destruction it has wrought on modern women and men alike - especially with regard to family and home life.

I'm impressed with the film.

It isn't for viewing with young children. There are some adult themes discussed, as well as some graphic footage of an aborted child. This footage is not gratuitous, but is illustrative to the point being made in the documentary. The viewer is given a 5 second warning before it begins in case you don't want to see it. It is quite disturbing. But again, it contrasts with the "it's just a bunch of cells" argument being made by the pro-abortion folks being inteviewed.

The movie deals with the many deceptions of the feminist ideology - and how several Christian women came to the realization that feminism and egalitarianism are not compatible with Scripture and God's created order.

It also exposes how insidious feminism is. I believe it has entrenched itself even among conservative Missouri Synod families, congregations, and institutions. Even if you don't agree with all of its premises, this film will make you think about the order of creation and its implications for living out the Christian life in a hostile culture.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Letter of St. Ignatius to Polycarp

[As today, the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch winds down, I'm posting a translation, available here of his Letter to Polycarp, his friend and fellow bishop who would likewise be martyred in the second century. St. Ignatius's writings are chock full of both Scripture and pastoral wisdom. +LB]

Ignatius, also called Theophorus, sends heartiest greetings to Polycarp, who is bishop of the Church of Smyrna, or rather has for his bishop God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. I am so well pleased with your God-mindedness, firmly built, as it were, upon an immovable rock, that I am exceedingly grateful for the privilege I had of seeing your saintly face. May it, please God, be a constant joy to me! I exhort you, clothed as you are with the garment of grace, to speed on your course and exhort all others to attend to their salvation. Do justice to your once with the utmost solicitude, both physical and spiritual. Be concerned about unity, the greatest blessing. Bear with all, just as the Lord does with you. Have patience with all in charity, as indeed you do. To prayer give yourself unceasingly; beg for an increase in understanding; watch without letting your spirit flag. Speak to each one singly in imitation of God's way. Bear the infirmities of all, like a master athlete. The greater the toil, the greater the reward.

2. If you love good disciples, you can expect no thanks. Rather, reduce to subjection, by gentleness, the more pestiferous. Not every hurt is healed by the same plaster. Allay fits of fever by means of poultices. Be wary like a serpent, yet always guileless like a dove. You consist of body and soul for the reason that you may deal graciously with whatever meets your eye; but pray that what is kept secret may be revealed to you. In this way you will be lacking in nothing and abound in every gift. As a pilot calls on winds and a storm-tossed mariner looks heavenward, so the times call on you to win your way to God. As God's athlete, be sober; the stake is immortality and eternal life. Of this you are firmly convinced. For your sake I sacrifice myself--chains and all, which are your delight.

3. Men that seem worthy of confidence, yet teach strange doctrines, must not upset you. Stand firm, like an anvil under the hammer. It is like a great athlete to take blows and yet win the fight. For God's sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us. Increase your zeal. Read the signs of the times. Look for Him who is above all time- -the Timeless, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible, the Impassible, who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything.

4. Widows must not be neglected. After the Lord, you must be their guardian. Nothing must be done without your approval; nor must you do anything without God's approval, as indeed you do not. Be calm. Let meetings be held as frequently as possible. Seek out all by name. Do not treat slaves, male or female, with a haughty air, but neither must they give themselves airs; on the contrary, for the glory of God they should render all the better service so as to obtain a better freedom from God. They should not pine for release at the expense of the community; otherwise, they turn out to be slaves of unruly appetites.

5. Pay no attention to their wily stratagems; and do more preaching on this subject. Tell my sisters to love the Lord and to be content with their husbands in body and soul. In like manner, exhort my brethren in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives as the Lord loves the Church. If anyone is able to remain continent, to the honor of the Flesh of the Lord, let him persistently avoid boasting. The moment he boasts, he is lost; and if he is more highly esteemed than the bishop, he is undone. For those of both sexes who contemplate marriage it is proper to enter the union with the sanction of the bishop; thus their marriage will be acceptable to the Lord and not just gratify lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.

6. Heed the bishop, that God may heed you, too. My life is a ransom for those who are obedient to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons; and in their company may I obtain my portion! Toil together, wrestle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, rise together, since you are stewards in God's house, members of His household, and His servants. Win the approval of Him whose soldiers you are, from whom you also draw your pay. Let none of you turn deserter. Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply. Your deposits should be your works, that you may receive your savings to the exact amount. To sum up: be long-suffering toward one another and gentle, as God is with you. May you be my joy always!

7. Since, as I was informed, the Church at Antioch in Syria enjoys peace through your prayer, I, too, gather fresh courage, carefree and confident in God. If only I win my way to God, for at the resurrection I want to be found your disciple! It is fitting, my dear God-blessed Polycarp, to convene a council invested with all the splendor of God and to appoint someone who is dear to you and untiring in his zeal, one qualified for the part of God's courier; then confer on him the distinction of going to Syria and extolling, for the glory of God, the untiring charity of your community. A Christian is not his own master; his time belongs to God. This is God's work; and it will be yours, too, once you have accomplished it. Yes, I trust in the grace of God that you are ready for a noble work which concerns God. Knowing your intense zeal for the truth, I confine my exhortation to these few words.

8. To conclude. Because of my sudden embarkation from Troas for Neapolis-- for such is the order of the day. I cannot personally write to all the Churches. Therefore, God-minded as you are, you will please write to the principal Churches and tell them to do the same thing: those that can afford it should send messengers; the rest should send letters through the kindness of your personal delegates. You are qualified for this task. In this way you all will reap honor from a work destined to live forever. Remember me to all by name, especially to the widow of Epitropus, with her whole family and those of her children. Remember me to my dear Attalus. Remember me to the man who will have the honor of going to Syria. God's grace will forever be with him, as also with Polycarp who sends him. I say good-bye to you all forever in Jesus Christ our God, through whom I wish you to be united with God and under His watchful eye. Farewell in the Lord!

Sermon: Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch

17 October 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 9:1-8

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus gave the paralytic two great gifts. The greater gift, the one that our Lord tells him is reason for him to “be of good cheer” is that his sins were forgiven. The lesser gift is the restoration of his power of movement. The latter is related to the former, but it is entirely possible to have complete forgiveness of sins and still suffer in this life.

In fact, that’s pretty much how the Christian life is. We are baptized, forgiven, given salvation and everlasting life. And yet, we still suffer the ongoing consequences of sin. We get sick. We suffer incurable diseases. We have family problems. We endure natural calamities. We die.

In this evening’s Gospel, our Lord removes the cripple’s paralysis. He does this out of mercy toward the paralytic, of course. But he also did it “so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins.” Our Lord cures the paralytic as a retort to the scribes who accuse Him of blasphemy. For accusing Him of blasphemy is to accuse Him of fraud, of claiming to be God while not being God.

Our Lord claims to be God, is God, and proves that He is God. God forgives sins. God heals cripples. But the greatest thing He does is forgive sins. For in forgiving sins, we aren’t merely cured of symptoms – like paralysis. We are rather cured of the cause of the paralysis: sin. In the forgiveness of sin we find everlasting life and communion with our Creator. Fellowship with the Triune God is restored. That’s why nothing in this life is more important than the Gospel. Not even life on this side of the grave itself.

Our Lord was crucified to release us from our suffering. Our Lord died so we might live. A few years after our Lord died and rose from the dead, a boy named Ignatius was born. He grew up as a Christian, learning the faith from Jesus’s apostle John. Ignatius would become a bishop himself, serving as the pastor of Christians in Antioch – the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

Shortly after the turn of the century, as the 100s were just under way, the Romans began yet another purge of Christians. Bishop Ignatius, the defender of the faith against various heresies, was arrested and condemned to die in the arena. He was chained to a detachment of Roman soldiers and marched to Rome where he was to meet his fate.

During the course of his transportation as a prisoner, Bishop Ignatius wrote various letters to the churches. Today commemorates his martyrdom for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

St. Ignatius explains in his Letter to the Romans why he was so eager to follow Jesus, even to the point of being tortured to death:

“Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil – only let me get to Jesus Christ! Not the wide bounds of earth nor the kingdoms of this world will avail me anything. I would rather die and get to Jesus Christ than reign over the ends of the earth.”

Why was the Bishop of Antioch so intent on dying for the sake of Christ? He explains: “That is whom I am looking for – the One who died for us. That is whom I want – the One who rose for us.”

St. Ignatius takes up his cross and follows Jesus, because Jesus died for us and rose for us. In his Letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius implores us to frequent participation in the Lord’s Supper, the “medicine of immortality” the “antidote which wards off death but yields continuous life in Union with Jesus Christ.”

St. Ignatius is willing to sacrifice all – his possessions, his comfort, even his life itself rather than forfeit the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whom he calls “Savior” in his Letter to the Ephesians.

For Ignatius, who learned the faith from St. John the Apostle, understands that the work and ministry of Jesus, very God in the flesh, the One who died and yet lives, is all about the Gospel. No price is too dear in order to remain in Christ. And indeed, Ignatius considers it an honor to be counted worthy of martyrdom for the sake of His Lord.

St. Ignatius stood up to the same doubters and naysayers as our Lord, the scribes who denied that Jesus was truly God in the flesh. As a bishop, Ignatius battled against a heresy known as Docetism – that denied that our Lord is truly the fleshly incarnation of God. For the Gospel itself hinges on the incarnation, and it is through the miracle of the incarnation that we, like the paralytic, find life in our once-useless flesh.

Let us confess with the holy bishop in his own words as we celebrate his heavenly birthday:

“I am giving my life (not that it’s worth much!) for the cross, which unbelievers find a stumbling block, but which means to us salvation and eternal life. ‘Where is the wise man? Where is the debater?’ Where are the boasts of those supposedly intelligent? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary, in God’s plan being sprung both from the seed of David and from the Holy Spirit. He was born and baptized that by his Passion he might hallow water.

“Now, Mary’s virginity and her giving birth escaped the notice of the prince of this world, as did the Lord’s death – those three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God’s silence. How then were they revealed to the ages? A star shone in heaven brighter than all the stars. Its light was indescribable and its novelty caused amazement. The rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a ring around it; yet it outshone them all, and there was bewilderment whence this unique novelty had arisen. As a result, all magic lost its power and all witchcraft ceased. Ignorance was done away with, and the ancient kingdom [of evil] was utterly destroyed, for God was revealing Himself as a man, to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Hence everything was in confusion as the destruction of death was being taken in hand.”

It is only through this Gospel of Jesus that emboldened Ignatius against death and against suffering. And it is only this Gospel of Jesus that we, nineteen centuries later, can in the words of our Lord: “be of good cheer” for our sins are forgiven!

The Gospel is more dear to us than even life itself – for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is life itself: true life, sanctified life. eternal life.

Dear sons and daughters, “be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven…

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

Musing on Leadership

Nearly every scrap of mail I get from synod or district involves "leadership." Polls are cited, business and marketing books are commended for our reading, and the church bureaucracy is constantly talking about "leadership" - to the point where it's beginning to sound more like a rah-rah company sales talk instead of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I do see why leadership is such a hot topic. There is a real leadership component to the pastoral office - especially in parish ministry. The word "episkope" literally means "overseer" (e.g. 1 Tim 3:1). The pastor is where the buck stops when it comes to the running of the congregation. A pastor must be able to manage time, resources, staff, money, volunteers, salesmen, phone calls, internet use, shut-ins, etc. He has to oversee various boards and committees. The term "pastor" presupposes leadership, as it is simply the Latin word for "shepherd." The shepherd is the boss of the sheep, not the other way around. Sheep do not vote on which oasis to drink from, nor do they govern themselves when it comes to where to find pasture. God provides pastors to lead them.

Of course, the Christian pastor is not to be a dictator (Luke 22:25-26). His leadership is both firm and gentle. There are times when he must be rigid and stern, though most of the time, flexible and kindly is the better way to lead. Though he doesn't need the mandate of a vote, consensus from those whom he leads is always preferable to jamming things down their throats. Leadership is an art, not a science. Sometimes a good leader will back off if too much force would be harmful. Conversely, he may have to push a matter even when it would be more comfortable just to shrink from the issue.

But a lot of guys don't know how to lead. Leadership can't really be taught at seminary, like Greek linguistic morphology, the History of the Early Church, and the Doctrine of Justification. Rather, it is something you learn by observation and by doing. It comes with experience.

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was a first-century bishop who was martyred around 107 AD. He was a disciple of John the Apostle - who in turn heard our Lord's instructions about leadership with his own ears. John was present at the Last Supper when our Lord washed the feet of the apostles and told them not to "lord over" their parishioners. St. John's disciple Ignatius has much to say to pastors. He is an advocate of pastoral leadership. He has mush to say about the episcopal office and its necessity to the Church. I believe a reading of his seven letters to the churches as he faced his own martyrdom to be a worthy "leadership study" for pastors. Far better than the latest mega-pop business book with trendy metaphorical titles about parachutes or cheese.

Anyway, I believe the current difficulty a lot of the brothers are having with leadership is that our culture now denigrates two things that are crucial to the very concept of episkope: 1) the male headed household, and 2) hierarchy.

A lot of guys don't know anything about being a leader because our generation has been brainwashed into believing we men aren't leaders in our own families. Feminism has been normalized and pushed to the point where men are afraid to be men. It is no accident that Scripture and Church tradition require an all-male pastorate. Men are supposed to be natural leaders - simply by growing up in male-headed homes and living in a male-headed society. The "Reverend Father" is a parochial version of the "pater familias." Just as it is unnatural for a woman to rule over her husband, it is equally contrary to God's created order for a woman to have episkope over the church.

However, a good number of Christian men essentially allow their wives - if not outright encourage them - to "wear the pants." Any husband who won't "wear the pants" in the family is not likely to "wear the cassock" in the congregation. I believe this is one reason why there is a plethora of books out there about leadership. We have been severed from our manly tradition of leadership, so we rely on Google, Wikipedia, sociologists, and bestselling business books to help us figure out how to "do" it.

The other social matter that seems to me to contribute to our malaise is feminism's evil twin egalitarianism. Especially as Americans, we resent any kind of hierarchical authority - top-down ordering and organization. However, hierarchy is the biblically-ordained order of creation. The family is not a democracy. Fathers are to rule the wives (Eph 5:22-24) and children. Children are to obey their parents (Eph 6:1, Ex 20:12). There is a totem pole, a pecking order. Even in nature, pack animals tend to have an "alpha male."

However, modern family life is not nearly as hierarchical as it once was. In the popular culture, it is fashionable for children to sass their parents, and for wives to rebel against the husband's authority. Fathers are treated with disdain and contempt. Fathers are never to exert their authority over their households. In fact, fathers are often treated as patsies and buffoons. This has become acceptable even in Christian homes. So why should we expect men to know how to be ecclesiastical leaders?

God's order of creation is hierarchical. That's just a fact of natural law. Every creature in creation has a place. Even the human body has a hierarchy (and it is a biblical metaphor of the church). All parts are important, but not all parts are leaders
(e.g. 1 Cor 12:27-31). The arms take orders from the brain, not vice versa. Mankind rules over cattle, not vice versa (Gen 1:28). Generals give the commands and the privates obey them - not vice versa. It is a component of order that there be a chain of command. The alternative is chaos. We're seeing the results of such anti-hierarchicalism in the chaos of modern society.

Even heaven is typified by a hierarchy of angels (e.g. the archangel of 1 Thess 4:16, Jude 9). Moreover, within the Trinity itself, the Son obeys the Father's will, and the Holy Spirit carries out the will of the Father and the Son. The chain of command does not imply inequality. To the contrary, as the Athanasian Creed confesses, the persons of the Godhead are equal. Similarly, according to the Scriptures, though men and women are equal before God (Gen 1:27, Gal 3:28), nevertheless, the husband is bid to govern his family and lay down his life for his bride. Mankind, having dominion over the beasts of the field, has the responsibility to be faithful stewards of the earth's resources. Fathers are not to be cruel of domineering over their children (Eph 6:4).

Our Lord bids us not to govern ourselves like the Gentiles, based on fear and domination ("lording over"). Rather, our leaders are to be servant-leaders (Luke 22:25-26, 1 Tim 4:6). Our leaders are to wash the feet of those whom they lead. Our leaders are to imitate the leadership of Christ - who became servant of all to save all (Phil 2:5-7). But servant leadership is not chaos. It is not democracy. It doesn't overturn the order of creation. Rather it confirms the order of creation and is rooted in love. The leader loves and is willing to give his life for God and for his beloved out of service. The one who follows the leader is obedient, out of love of both God and the leader. Servent leadership is still leadership. Being a shepherd still means being a herder of the sheep. Being a bishop ("overseer") means being "over" those under his charge in order to "see" (supervise) them. That's a terribly unpopular sentiment in America and in the Missouri Synod, but it is simply the teaching of God's Word and is demonstrated in natural law and the order of creation.

Ignatius of Antioch never had to read books about how to be a leader. In his day, men simply knew how to be men. Fathers simply knew how to be fathers. Bishops simply knew how to be bishops. Men knew these things from living these things. Today, men have to read books and do research to try to figure out what our fathers simply lived out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sermon: Funeral of Whitney S. "Buddy" Trosclair

16 October 2007 at Mothe’s Funeral Home, Harvey, LA
Text: John 14:1-6

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Christian brothers and sisters. When death claims a loved one, we are tempted to take comfort in the wrong things. We may even be tempted to take comfort in death itself.

We live in a culture of death. Death is often viewed more as a friend than as the ultimate enemy. We treat death like it is natural, rather than unnatural. We convince ourselves that it is peaceful instead of violent. We believe the unchristian myth that death is just part of some circle of life, rather than the wages of sin and the result of mankind’s rebellion against God.

Our culture of death treats death like an old friend who comes to relieve us from our suffering. Death is treated as a solution to a problem, rather than the result of the problem of sin itself. If the problem is unwanted pregnancy, the answer is abortion. If the problem is expensive medical care, the answer is euthanasia. If the problem is many years of suffering with illnesses, the answer is the release of death.

However, death is not a release – it is the end result of suffering. Death is not a natural part of the life cycle, it is the unnatural consequence of our alienation from God. Death is not a sweet friend, but a bitter enemy.

The Christian life is a life of war against death, against Satan, and against sin. There is nothing good about death in the least. There is a reason why you all are mourning. What would be more natural than to feel grief at the loss of your husband, your brother, your friend, or your grandfather? Death hits us hard. Death shows us no mercy. Death is a vile foe and relentless opponent.

And though it may seem to all the world like death got the final say over Buddy Trosclair, it did not. Death did not defeat Buddy, but rather Buddy defeated death. We Christians understand that Jesus, in dying on the cross for our sins and in rising from the dead on Easter, used death to destroy death. And those who are in Christ share in that victory. Death is no friend. Death is a vile and evil enemy. But this most reprehensible foe is also a defeated foe.

Because of the sacrificial death of our blessed Lord, and because we Christians have been baptized into His death, and because Christ was raised from the dead - we too shall be raised. Death, which seems so final, so irreversible, will be overturned in the blink of an eye. In the Creed we confess with Scripture that we believe in the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

In that moment, our momentary sorrow will be transformed into eternal joy. When the Lord recreates all things new, our frail bodies will be made perfect, incorruptible, without ache or pain, and death will be no more. Those who have died will be raised. Those who have been baptized, those who bear the name of Christ, those who believe, trust, and call upon His name – will be saved.

Buddy suffered much in his body. He no longer suffers – not because death is a friend, but in spite of this most vicious attack of the enemy. Buddy no longer suffers for the same reason that death has no claim on him. Buddy’s suffering is over because Jesus suffered in his place. The sin we all bear that leads to all of our deaths has been atoned for. Death has lost its sting because death has been shown to be the paper tiger it is after having been defeated by Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, our Champion and Savior.

For we Christians can confess with Job, and with Buddy, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth, and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”

Dear Christian friends, let us comfort one another not with false hope that death is a friend, or that Buddy’s goodness has brought him peace. For we have the promise of the only One to ever defeat death by walking out of His own grave under His own power, who says: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also…. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

We take comfort not merely that Buddy no longer suffers, but that he reigns triumphant. We put our trust not in anyone’s righteousness, save that of Christ alone – into whom Buddy was baptized. God’s Word assures us that Buddy has conquered death, and we will see him again in the flesh and in eternity. Death is a mighty enemy, but Jesus is a mightier champion. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 19

14 October 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Son, be of good cheer,” Jesus says to a paralytic. Why? Because he will be walking around, running, even dancing within the next couple minutes? Well, that’s not the reason our Lord gives. Listen to what He says: “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”

Our blessed Lord specifically gives the reason for the “good cheer” – the forgiveness of sins. To a person who sees the world only in terms of the physical flesh, this must seem to be a heartless and even odd thing for Jesus to say. “Be happy,” He tells this paralyzed, frustrated, and probably desperate man, “your sins are forgiven.”

What good is that when all the man can do is lie helplessly on a cot? How can anyone be expected to be of “good cheer” in such a circumstance?

The second miracle only happens in response to what happens next. The scribes, the skeptical legal experts, gasp inwardly at our Lord’s declaration of the forgiveness of sins. For how can this flesh and blood man stand there and forgive sins – when every educated Bible scholar knows that this is a divine attribute – only God Himself has the power to do any such thing. For a mere man to claim divine authority is nothing other than blasphemy! Of course, the scribes won’t utter such things out loud. Perhaps they have seen Jesus working miracles already. Maybe they have been burned before by picking a debate with Him. For whatever reason, their objections go unvoiced. However, along with forgiving sins, there is another divine attribute: omniscience. God knows everything. He isn’t limited to knowing those thoughts which are spoken by the mouth and received as vibrations upon the eardrum. God simply knows all things – and Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus reads their thoughts, and instructs them no differently than if they had the courage to accuse Him with their mouths.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?” He asks them. For instead of believing the Word of God spoken in love to a man imprisoned by the consequences of sin, instead of rejoicing that God saw fit to pardon a poor miserable sinner of his offenses, the scribes react with unbelief, with false accusations, with perhaps even jealousy. And they do so in a cowardly fashion. They are afraid to confess what they belief with their mouths. Perhaps their fear is at least in part driven by the fact that deep down inside, they know this is no mere man standing before them. For they certainly know what is coming next.

Jesus challenges them with a rhetorical question: “Is it easier to tell a cripple to walk, or to tell a sinner that he is forgiven?” Before they can answer, our Lord continues his instruction, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins...” Notice that our blessed Lord does not complete his sentence. The Greek word for “scribe” was “grammateus” – from which our word “grammar” is derived. If the scribes were sticklers for grammar, Rabbi Jesus using a fragment instead of a proper sentence may have struck them odd. It’s not that our Lord fails to complete the sentence, rather He truly completes it with deeds. He utters a prophecy with one breath, and fulfills it with the next: “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Just as God, through the Word, in the beginning said: “Let there be light” and there was light - the incarnate Word of God speaks: “Arise” - and he arose.

The healing of the cripple’s paralysis was not the greater of the two miracles. For Jesus told him to be of good cheer, to have courage, to trust, to take heart - upon being forgiven. The forgiveness of sins does not merely give temporal physical health, but rather eternal health to both body and soul. This one little sentence spoken by the lips of Jesus has power that belittles the might of atomic bombs and even the energy of the sun. When the Creator speaks, reality happens. And when the Creator forgives sins, they are forgiven. And where sins are forgiven, there is life, there is health, there is wholeness, and there is salvation!

In response to this most spectacular miracle of all, the scribes could only grumble inwardly. Lacking the eyes of faith, they didn’t see the extraordinary miracle that was happening before them. In fact, their sight was so blinded by evil that they not only failed to recognize the merciful God standing right in front of them, but they accused God himself of blasphemy!

But our Lord does not simply walk away and leave them to suffer in disbelief. He performs a work of mercy. For knowing that they only believe in what they see with their sin-blinded fleshly eyes, our Lord gives them a sign. He was under no obligation to do so. Nor is He simply driven by ego to win the argument and garner the praise of men. Rather, our Lord knows what will challenge them, what will shake their foundations – hopefully unto repentance. He gives them a miracle their eyes see. He demonstrates that He is truly Lord of creation, Master of the world, the very King of the universe.

As He did with their ancestor Jacob, God is giving them a little peek into the Kingdom of Heaven, proof that the Ladder between earth and heaven is but feet from them, hopefully so that they will join their father Jacob in saying: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

The holy evangelist doesn’t reveal to us if the scribes were converted, but he does tell us: “when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.”

Our Lord heals the paralytic not only as an individual act of mercy to a suffering man, but also to demonstrate the Kingdom of God Where sins are forgiven, there is healing, there is life, there is “good cheer,” there is the house of God.

And notice also that the crowds do not marvel that God has given such power to a man, but rather St. Matthew clearly tells us they were amazed that God “had given such power to men.”

For Jesus, the God-Man, does not hoard this authority. The authority He receives from the Father He passes on to men who further this ministry of reconciliation. Our Lord will explicitly give this same divine gift through the giving of the Holy Spirit to other men. The apostles will likewise amaze the multitudes and challenge the scribes by likewise freeing men from sin and its consequences.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is the very essence of the Kingdom of God. God continues to speak this declaration of forgiveness, through His Word, through Jesus Christ, through men who have been given this authority. And where His Word is, there God is, there Jesus is, there life is. Where this Holy Absolution is proclaimed, there is the house of God, the gate of heaven.

Just as our Lord bids the cripple to “be of good cheer,” to “take heart,” He bids us to “lift up your hearts” – as we prepare to meet Him in the flesh in this house of God, this gate of heaven. Even as angels ascend and descend in God’s merciful vision to Jacob, He reminds us here in this holy place that we are not alone, but rather our prayers are united “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”

And while miracles of healing are rare (though they do happen), the greater miracle of the forgiveness of sins happens every time we meet in this holy house where we offer our worship and praise. While we may never see a paralytic rise and walk, we routinely see sinners kneel before Jesus, receive His life-giving body and blood, and then arise and walk with the blessing of Jesus that they may “depart in peace.”

The peace our Lord gives is not the peace the world gives. It is true peace, true reconciliation, true communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is the peace that conquers death, overcomes the flesh, and is victorious over the very devil himself.

Let the modern-day scribes grouse, let the skeptics doubt, let the devil be condemned, and let the life-bearing Word of the Lord resound in this place and in every house of God now and unto eternity!

“Sons and daughters, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you…

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