Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sermon: Sunday after Christmas

30 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 2:22-40 92 Sam 7:1-16, Gal 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Creator of the universe doesn’t need a house to live in. He doesn’t need to dwell in a body of flesh and bones. He is not obligated to live in the prison of space and time, like we are. The cartoonist lives outside of his drawings. The software programmer lives apart from his instructions to the computer. The sculptor lives beyond the block of marble he transforms into something beautiful.

Human imagination has long wondered what it would be like for an author to step inside of his own story, or a painter to suddenly find himself stuck on his own canvass, or a computer gamer to find himself trapped in a video world with fantasy weapons, animated monsters, and the looming threat of “game over.”

And yet, we have just celebrated the incarnation and birth of God into the world He created from nothing. Our God is not merely a figment of our imagination, like a genie that lives inside a lamp, or a spirit that dwells in a stone idol. For our God, the eternal God, the Triune God, is the One who has always been, who created all matter, and who set time itself into motion “in the beginning.” And yet, according to His plan to repair the damage we have done to His creation, He humbles Himself to step inside His creation, to enrobe Himself with flesh and to bind Himself to time. He meets us where we are in order to rescue us.

In our Old Testament lesson, King David is upset that God dwells in a tent while the king lives in a palace. He wants to surround the Lord’s Presence among the people with dignity and beauty – and God tells the prophet Nathan to express His approval of David’s desire.

For ugliness is of the devil. Beauty is of God. Ugliness results from chaos, breakdown, and violence, while beauty is the result of order, building up, and peace. Beauty inspires and calls us to cry out to our Creator. Furthermore, as the people of Israel were ceasing to be nomads and were becoming permanent inhabitants of the Promised Land, their God could now establish a permanent Temple in which to dwell, a place of beauty, awe, and majesty.

And yet, the real House of the Lord is the Eternal Kingdom to be established by the Seed of David – “who will come from [David’s] body.” The Temple would be built by David’s son Solomon – whose name is derived from “Shalom” (meaning “peace”). And this Temple was to foreshadow the New and Greater Temple: the Greater Seed of David, the Prince of Peace, in whose flesh the fullness of the Godhead was to dwell.

Jesus Christ is this Temple, the Temple that was destroyed and rebuilt in three days, the Temple in which the glory of the Lord shines with uncreated light, the One whose very flesh and blood give eternal life.

Though God is everywhere, like the radio waves and television radiation that bombard our bodies 24 hours a day, we only receive His gifts, hear Him, see Him, experience Him when He chooses to reveal Himself to us in space and time – in the same way that without an antenna and a receiver, radio and TV signals are part of the unrevealed “all things invisible” as opposed to the revelation of the “visible.”

By His grace, God becomes visible, He is able to speak to us, He is able to be heard, He is able to be understood, and He has wonderful news for us!

Notice how God emphasizes His Real Presence in space and time in our Gospel. First, we are in the holy city of Jerusalem – a name also derived from “Shalom” or “Salem” (which means “Peace”). And not just in David’s City, but we find ourselves in Solomon’s Temple, where Mary is meeting her obligations under the law. For her priestly Son Jesus is the firstborn – “holy to the Lord.” Under the law, there is to be a sacrifice.

Mary is herself a temple, for God was conceived and dwelt for nine months within her body. Her flesh was genetically transmitted to her Son, her milk nursed God, and her maternal protection gave our Lord Jesus a safe home in which to dwell with mankind.

God and the fleshly temple from which He came venture to the Temple of Jerusalem, the place where God dwells, where God forgives sins by means of sacrificial acts carried out by the priesthood. And there is another temple of sorts – a prophet in whose body the Word of God dwells. And this Word uttered by Simeon declares that the boy Jesus is “salvation” in the flesh. Another of the Lord’s “temples,” the prophetess Anna, is also there to “give thanks to the Lord” and to speak to those who came to the temple where the Real Presence of the Lord was to be found.

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. and the grace of God was upon Him.” For this Christ Child, this Emmanuel, this God whose mother calls Him her Savior is where God dwells in space and time for His people.

This Temple isn’t made of cedar or stone. This Temple is not a building with rooms and furniture. This Temple doesn’t contain symbolic representations of God. Rather, this Temple is made of flesh and blood. This Temple is a Man. This Temple is no idol, but is rather the living Icon of the living God. The Author has jumped into His story. The Artist has become part of his own handiwork.

Mankind can now look upon the face of God and live. Mankind can now make statues and paint pictures of God and not be committing idolatry. Mankind can hear God speak, because God has a mouth. Mankind can feel the healing and forgiving touch of God, because God has hands. Mankind can look into the eyes of God and see that God looks back at Him – not with vindictive eyes of wrath, but with gentle eyes of mercy.

But the dwelling of God doesn’t stop with the incarnation of Jesus. For God doesn’t merely want to look at us, speak to us, and touch us – as wonderful and mysterious as that is. He wants us to partake in His divine nature. He wants to become part of us – not in a symbolic way, not in a sentimental way, but in the way of physical communion. God wants every person – designed in His image – to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Sonship of Jesus, through which Jesus calls God his “Abba” – His Father, is to be our sonship. For when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we don’t address God as “Jesus’s Father,” but rather as “Our Father!” Because Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, we are adopted Sons of God. For we are baptized into Christ Jesus, united with Him in His death and resurrection, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and given the right to be children of God (just like little Madelyn was made into an eternal temple of the Holy Spirit a few moments ago).

We baptized Christians can pray “Our Father” and mean it in a real sense. God isn’t a symbolic Father, God is not a metaphor, God is not some philosophical construction or faraway cosmic force, but rather He dwells with us, tabernacles with us, temples with us. He is as real as the baptismal water that pours over our heads, water that has been united by God’s Word to become a holy water, water that is a Temple of the living God.

God dwells with us in His eternal Word that is proclaimed by His preachers, a Word that is miraculously templed within human language. God dwells with us when He uses His ministers to speak forgiveness to us. And He dwells with us, lives in our bodies which have become a physical Temple, when His flesh and blood are placed into our bodies. Like the temple Mary, our bodies become holy shrines in which the Real physical Presence of God dwells.

And though our senses see only the flimsy tent of our bodies, only the ragged, sin-drenched canvas of our tainted flesh, the Lord God gives His promise that we are being transformed stone by stone into a living Temple. God is a God of beauty, and by faith, we do not see merely a frail and tottering tabernacle, but rather a magnificent and eternal Temple, a place where the Holy Spirit dwells in His fullness, a body that carries within it the very body of Christ, a person made in the image of God the Father, whom we, as His dear children, can call upon as our own “Abba,” to whom we can pray “Our Father,” and with St. Simeon we can sing: “Lettest now Thy Servant depart in peace… for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.”

And as sons, as heirs, the kingdom belongs to us – not by conquest or by our purchase of it, but by the free gift of God’s grace. For we are indeed heirs! For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” And, as St. Paul continues, we have become holy temples in our very flesh, for “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father.’”

No, God doesn’t need to live in a house – neither a palace of gold nor in a body of flesh – but he freely chooses to do so. God doesn’t need to come in the humble forms of water, bread and wine, and human speech – and yet this is just what He does. He comes to save you, to redeem you, to dwell in and with you out of love, out of mercy, out of a burning desire to be at one, to be in communion, with you. He is not driven by our being lovable – for we know and confess the truth that we are not. But rather, He loves us because He is love. And greater love has no man than this: that He would die for His friends. And He who dies among us, lives among us, dwells in us, and works through us.

“The body of God’s Lamb we eat, / A priestly food and priestly meat; / On sin-parched lips the chalice pours / His quenching blood / that life restores.” Amen.

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

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The War Against Satan

I'm glad someone is taking the war against evil seriously - while the hierarchy of the LCMS is busying itself with Ablaze, pushing contemporary worship and church marketing, selling bobbleheads of Martin Luther, and finding ways to ordain pastors with barely any education at all.

... sed libera nos + a malo. Amen.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sermon: Funeral of Thelma Ruth Baudean

27 December 2007 at Westside/Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home, Marrero, LA
Text: Mark 5:21-24, 35-43 (Isa 46:3-4, 2 Cor 4:7-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s Gospel reading is not only comforting, but it also demonstrates why Jesus came into the world, and why we are here today. As Christians, we aren’t here merely to mourn, but to celebrate the victory Jesus won for Ruth and wins for all those who are baptized and believe in Him.

In our reading, a heartbroken man named Jairus implores Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. While on the way, Jairus receives the worst news any family member could receive – she has died. All hope seems lost. And yet Jesus does not turn away. In fact, He says to Jairus: “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

Our Lord Jesus continues to the house. When he tells the mourners that the little girl is merely asleep, they laugh at Him. Undeterred, Jesus puts everyone outside, tenderly takes the girl’s hand, and speaks two beautiful Aramaic words to her lifeless body: “Talitha cumi.” He tells her to wake up. And she does. Jesus’s concern for the girl’s wellbeing is even shown after He has restored her life by His suggestion that she be given food.

This powerful miracle shows us Jesus at His mightiest, and yet also at His tenderest. He loves the little girl. He uses His power to raise her from the dead. St. Mark recorded this miracle to show us what our Lord will do for us. And especially on this day as this Gospel is proclaimed anew, He wants you to know that this will happen also to our beloved sister Ruth.

Although the girl was only twelve, and Ruth was ninety, let us not fall for the false belief that Ruth’s death is normal, or somehow more acceptable to our Lord and God. Yes, Ruth led a full life by human standards, but death is anything but normal – whether for twelve-year-old daughters or ninety-year-old grandmothers. We feel profound loss when anyone is taken from us. We mourn for old and young alike. For it is not God’s will for any of us to die. He created us to be eternal.

But we, in our stubborn rebellion, in our sinfulness, have chosen death over life. We have done so since the fall in Eden. No-one is without sin, nor without the wages of sin – which is death. For “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” as the apostle Paul testifies. And yet, Jesus is there to die for us, to pay the price for our sins, to baptize us, to take our hands, and say “child, arise.” This promise of eternal life is for all believers, old and young. For Isaiah has proclaimed to us anew today: “Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” This is a promise of God given to you, me, Ruth, and all of His dear children, we who are baptized and believe in Him for our salvation and life.

And as St. Paul proclaims: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” – which are our mortal bodies that will return to clay. “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair… always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

In other words, dear friends, even in our dying bodies, our Lord is working in us – just as he worked in Jairus’s daughter and restored her life. Just as He worked through Ruth in the many ways she touched your lives in motherly and grandmotherly love. And though to our eyes, her life has ended, let us not trust our eyes (the way those who made fun of Jesus did) – rather let us trust the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the one with the power to raise the dead.

Heed the comforting words of St. Paul: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day… we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Ruth is part of that divine plan of reconstruction. She has been called and set apart, made holy through baptism. And she was called to a life of faith – a faith validated by the Lord Jesus Himself – the One who rose from the dead, and who promises to raise all of us.

Dear friends, our mourning and sorrow are very real, but they are also temporary. Let us look forward to that day when we will be reunited. Let us follow in Ruth’s saintly example as the Lord’s baptized and redeemed. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the one who takes Ruth by the hands and treats her as His dear child, saying: “Talitha cumi – My little one, I say to you, arise!” Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sermon: Nativity of our Lord

25 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 1:1-18 (Ex 40:17-21, 34-38; Titus 3:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

God was with His people, His beloved people, in the tabernacle – which was basically a tent in which God chose to be present in a special way. The Israelites knew when the Lord was present because of the cloud that served to let them know that the glory of the Lord was inside. At night, this cloud took the form of a fire. Inside the tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant, with its special lid called the mercy seat. Under the mercy seat, inside the Ark, was the Testimony, the written record of the Law.

And while such a sight of pillars of cloud and of fire sounds frightening, the Israelites of old must have taken great comfort in knowing that their God was there for them, that He was present in their coming in and in their going out, in war and in peace, night and day – tabernacled with them.

Aside from the bright lights, this tabernacle doesn’t sound much like Christmas – but it truly is!

The same word – “tabernacle” – is used in our Gospel. “The Word became flesh and dwelt” – literally: “tabernacled” – “among us.”

But unlike the cloud in the Old Testament tabernacle, this Presence of God shows His face in the New and Greater Tabernacle: the face of a Man – Jesus Christ. The face of a baby born of a virgin mother. The face with a mouth that speaks the Word of God from the Word of God in the flesh.

And like the ancient tabernacle, He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness.” Not a pillar of fire glowing in the dark, but rather a beacon of light, of uncreated light, “God of God, Light of Light,” the Light through which men might believe, the Light that confounds the darkness, the Light that is not comprehended by the darkness.

The light of this New and Greater Tabernacle shines from His face at His transfiguration – unlike the temporary light that reflected from the face of Moses. For the Light of Christ is not simply created energy bouncing off of matter, but rather is the very Creator, the One through whose Word “Let there be light” created all other light in the universe.

Within the New and Greater Tablernacle, within the Babe of Bethlehem, is the Testimony, the law, that is upheld by Him and Him alone. For “the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He fulfills it for us. Where fallen man only breaks the law, the New and Greater Man, the Second Adam, keeps the law – not with technicalities and loopholes, but with perfect love.

And just as the ancient tabernacle boasted of a “mercy seat,” the lid that kept the Law inside, and above which the Presence of God hovered, the New and Greater tabernacle, the Lord Jesus Christ born on the very first Christmas, contains God’s wrath with a lid of mercy, a seat that is for Him a throne of a New and Greater Kingdom, a Kingdom not of law, but of grace, a Kingdom not typified by power, but by restraint, a throne not made of the gold of the false God Caesar, but rather a throne of the wooden cross of the slave who is truly divine.

Our Lord Jesus rules from a throne of mercy, not a seat of judgment. For He did not come into the world to condemn, but rather so that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.”

The Ark of the Covenant, cradled within the old Tabernacle of God’s presence also contained a bit of heavenly bread, the manna that miraculously sustained the Israelites in their pilgrimage from slavery to freedom. And the New and Greater Tabernacle is the very Bread of Life whose flesh is given for the life of the world. The manna in the tabernacle, whose name is literally a question: “What is it?” is answered by the New and Greater Tabernacle Himself when He replies: “This is my body.”

For the Israelites ate the manna in the wilderness, and yet they died. But He who eats the flesh of the Son of Man, the Bread of Life, will live forever.

And this New and Greater Tabernacle was born to us in a placed called Bethlehem, (whose name means “House of Bread”), and was placed in a trough to feed animals used by the Israelites for sacrifices. For He is the very sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the Bread of Life from Heaven.

Our Lord Jesus is not merely a fulfillment of the Old Tabernacle, but rather the pinnacle of “the kindness and the love of God” – for as a result of that love toward man, “our Savior… appeared.” And not by the “works of righteousness which we have done” – not by the testimony of the law – but rather “according to His mercy He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” This baptismal grace is “poured out on us abundantly” as Paul writes to Titus.

As wonderful and miraculous as the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were, they were merely foreshadowings of the glory to come when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” For the New and Greater Tabernacle, the living Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was to be miraculously born to Mary by the Father through the coming of the Holy Spirit upon her. Jesus is not merely a collection of boards and bars and sockets and pillars, but rather the flesh-and-blood incarnation of God Himself.

That incarnate God, dear brothers and sisters, is much better than a tent. For the Body of Jesus isn’t merely a shell to contain God’s glory, rather He is God’s glory: “This is my beloved Son.” The New and Greater Tabernacle is not merely a container, but is salvation Himself.

Through Him, we not only see the power of God, but we can also receive Him in His Word and in His sacramental Presence – a presence that in turn “tabernacles” with us as we eat His body and drink His blood, as we receive His forgiveness, as we are given that “washing of regeneration,” and as the Word is proclaimed by John and all preachers who “bear witness” and who “cry out.” For in this New and Greater Tabernacle, we are indeed “justified by His grace” so that we “should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

That hope took the form of the Christ Child, and He continues to tabernacle among us, continues to shine in the darkness, and continues to give us the greatest gifts of all: eternal life, victory over death, and eternal communion with God. Amen.

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

Sermon: Christmas Eve (at Midnight Mass)

24 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 1:18-25 (Isa 7:10-14, 1 John 4:7-16)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

People break laws for basically two reasons. First, because they want something that the law prevents them from having. So, in rebellion against the rules, they break the rules. They assert their own selfish desires against the authority that says they must obey the law. This kind of lawbreaking is sin. And it always gets us into trouble and creates unintended consequences that come back to haunt us or hurt others.

But there is a second kind of lawbreaking, the kind that is done out of love, out of mercy, out of a concern with human life. The classic example from the movies is the husband heroically running red lights to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. In fact, he may even get a police escort to break the speed limit and disregard traffic signs. Of course, in today’s world, you might get tasered instead. But nonetheless, there are good and noble reasons to break the law.

You may need to hurt another person to protect someone else. You may need to give an emergency tracheotomy to a choking person, even though you’re not a licensed medical doctor. Such lawbreaking is not sinful, is not selfish, and in fact is done out of love for someone else.

In addition to traffic regulations and criminal codes, there are other kinds of laws: laws of nature. There is the law of gravity that keeps us from flying off the planet. There is the law of identity that says a thing is what a thing is. There are biological laws by which a child receives DNA from his father and mother and becomes a separate living being.

Again, we can try to circumvent the laws of nature for either selfish purposes, or out of love. For the most part, we humans are stuck with the laws of nature – but God isn’t. As the author of the laws of nature, God certainly has the power to break those laws – or at least temporarily suspend them.

If God were selfish, hateful, violent, and twisted, it would indeed be terrifying if he were to suddenly suspend the law of gravity, the law of identity, and the law of reproduction. But if God were to take extraordinary measures out of love, it would be a different story.

We call such suspensions of natural law “miracles”. These serve as signs, things designed to get our attention and to help us. God doesn’t do miracles to toy with us, or because He’s bored, or even to impress us. He breaks natural laws in order to save us, motivated by love for His creation.

In our Old Testament lesson, a promise is made that God will break one of the most basic laws of nature. Seven hundred years after Isaiah made the startling statement that a virgin would give birth, it happened. We commemorate that act of God’s lawbreaking here today, as we celebrate Christmas, the incarnation of God by being born of a virgin woman without a human father. The laws of physics were put on hold that day, not for divine revenge or retribution, not as a parlor trick, not to introduce chaos into an otherwise orderly world, but rather because God took an extraordinary measure out of love.

The Lord Himself has given us a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” – which means “God with us.” Not only does God make a virgin have a baby, but that baby is the very presence of the eternal God placed into space and time. Out of love, God has rewritten the laws of the universe. Like the heroic father running red lights to get to the hospital, God Himself overrides the normal rules that govern existence for the purpose of bringing a baby safely into the world.

For just as Isaiah prophesied, a virgin did conceive and bear a Son. This child Immanuel was named Jesus – which means “God saves.” This “God with us” is also “God saves us.” He is not simply here in space and time, He is here with a purpose: salvation. “For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” And “He will save the people from their sins.”

For as our Lord’s beloved apostle John confesses: “in this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Indeed, God is a lawbreaker. He breaks the laws He Himself created. He performs miracles as a testimony not only of His power, but of His mercy. The coming of God among us is not a display of “shock and awe” but rather a display of mercy and forgiveness. For the real “shock and awe” of Christmas is that God became a baby, a meek and mild infant cradled by His mother and under the protection of a stepfather. He would grow up not only to teach us the way of the Kingdom of God, but would also die as the very Way, the Truth, and the Life, through whom our sins are paid for by an act of propitiation, by a sacrifice. And even after this greatest of all miracles, the most extraordinary breaking of the laws of nature imaginable – the death of God on a cross – the miracles, the signs of His love, are far from over. For the God who died also rose. Thus death was defeated by death. The second law of thermodynamics that ultimately means that everything in creation, including us, must die and decay – has been repealed. The law of mortality has been replaced by the law of mercy. The decree of death and darkness has been overturned by the proclamation of peace and the law of light.

For by the Light of the world, our darkness is dispelled. And by that Light “we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” For “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him and He in God. And we have known and believed the love God has for us. God is love, and He who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.”

God loves us, God is with us, God saves us, and God abides in us – even if it means God has to break every law to make it happen.

God continues to break the rules out of love for His people. For even though the laws of physics prevent water from becoming wine, yet out of mercy for an embarrassed wedding host, Jesus breaks that law and performs the miracle, turning water into wine. And just as the laws of the universe do not permit bread to be multiplied so that a couple of loaves can feed five thousand, yet out of mercy for the hungry, Jesus breaks that law as well and performs the miraculous sign that provides bread to those in need, Jesus continues to break the laws for us today.

For we all “know” that bread cannot become the flesh of Jesus, the man who is at the same time God, the same literal body born to Mary on that first Christmas. We also “know” that wine cannot become the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very same literal blood shed on the cross as a propitiation for our sins, blood shed on Good Friday, and blood that would again flow on Easter Sunday. And yet, our Lord suspends these laws of the cosmos for His beloved. Just as God said: “Let there be light” and there was light, and just as God said: “The virgin will conceive” and the virgin conceived, so too God says: “This is my body… This is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God breaks the laws of the universe every Sunday and Wednesday in this place and in Christian churches around the world every day. For every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the miracle of Christmas is repeated – “God with us” in the body born to Mary. Every time we partake of Holy Communion, the miracle of Easter is repeated – the Risen One coming to us in the very blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

And thanks be to God that we can partake in this miracle! For just as the laws of the universe are suspended by Him who is love, the law that condemns us is set aside by Him who “loved us and gave Himself for us.”

Every Sunday is Easter. Every Sunday is Christmas. And like the shepherds that first Christmas, let us come to this holy place at every opportunity to “see this thing that has come to pass,” to not only witness, but also to partake anew in the loving lawbreaking of our mighty Lord and merciful Savior – Immanuel, the Babe of Bethlehem.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sermon: Christmas Eve (with Lessons and Carols)

24 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Isa 7:10-14, Mic 5:2-4, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-14

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“In the beginning,” we are told in the Book of Genesis, “God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s how Scripture begins, the first verse of the first book. But we also know more about “the beginning” from St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning,” the Evangelist proclaims, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The same Word through which God created all things is at the same time Himself God. He is the second person of God. He is the light that “shines in the darkness,” the Light through whom all things were made, but also through whom “all… might believe.”

For this “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” “Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!” In Bethlehem’s “dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light.” “Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”

But the mighty Creator doesn’t come in a golden chariot with thousands of soldiers and weapons of mass destruction, rather He slips into our space and time as a humble baby. He is born not to a mighty queen in an opulent palace, but rather “away in a manger” to the one we hail as our “Most highly favored lady,” “gentle Mary” who meekly bows her head, whose soul magnifies the Lord and whose spirit rejoices in God her Savior.”

And this “Mighty God,” this “Everlasting Father,” this “Prince of Peace” who rules with “judgment and justice” is none other than the “little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” The very stars which were created through Him then “looked down where he lay.” The Creator has now become the Redeemer. Through his humble birth in the “little town of Bethlehem,” though “little among the thousands of Judah,” the entire world will be blessed, for “He shall be great to the ends of the earth.”

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The Prince was born to bring you peace, of Him the angels sing.” His creation that has fallen into wicked rebellion is being reconciled with her Creator. Fallen man is being redeemed by a Man who would fall under the load of the cross, but would never fall into sin. Mortal man is being raised to immortality by Him who would conquer death by death, and rise to life again.

For He is not only Immanuel: “God with us,” He is also Jesus: “God saves” – and “He will save the people from their sins.” Yet this Savior lies in a manger, and animal’s food trough.

“Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian fear, for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you, hail, hail, the Word made flesh, the babe, the Son of Mary.”

The Word made flesh is worshipped by His creatures who can now encounter Him in space and time. The “wise men from the east” “haste to bring Him laud” to “bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh.” And though these are humble gifts to bring the one through Whom all things came into being, He receives these creaturely offerings, just as He receives us, the very creatures for whom he has come to be born and to die. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His name.” “True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us.”

Dear Christians, we worship this Man because He is God, and we have access to God because He is a Man. We come to this sanctuary week after week, year after year, to receive His gifts and to join the “heights of heaven” who “adore Him; angel hosts His praises sing.” For “powers, dominions bow before Him, and extol our God and King.”

“In the beginning was the Word.” And yet, that Word doesn’t remain in our distant past. He is here with us in the present. Just as He came humbly in a food trough born in Bethlehem, which means the “house of bread” – He continues to come to us humbly in food, in bread and wine, creaturely gifts He has created and redeemed. Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a renewal of Christmas, of Bethlehem, of the Word made flesh, of our redemption,

And He will be with us through the end of the age. “He is Alpha and Omega, He the source and ending He. Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see.” Even into the eternal life He offers us through the gift of Himself, whose body was not only to lie in a food trough and would hang on a cross, but will be held before your eyes and placed into your mouth: “The body of Christ, given for you.”

To those who believe, those who have been baptized, those who eat His flesh and drink His blood, those who have been redeemed by the Word made flesh, Christmas is a glimpse into the eternal celebration of eternity, for we are being created anew, perfect, without pain and suffering, without blemish or death – with no merit or worthiness in us, lest we should boast. And so for all eternity, we who have been rescued by this Child born of Mary, we humbly offer:

“Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and O Holy Ghost to Thee, hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unending praises be. Honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal, victory. Evermore and evermore! Amen.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sermon: Advent 4 (Rorate Coeli)

23 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 1:19-28 (Deut 18:15-19, Phil 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Even one day before Christmas Eve, the Lord is still using prophets and preachers to warn us. On the day when our blessed Lord returns, nobody will be able to say: “But nobody told me!” Warnings have been coming for thousands of years. In fact, in our Old Testament reading, God speaks through the prophet Moses to warn us of the coming of the Prophet to end all Prophets, the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth.”

God’s people have heard sermons and have pored over the Scriptures for thousands of years. And century after century, we have been told to repent, for as St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “The Lord is at hand.” He is near, close-by, so close you can reach out and touch Him. Paul tells us to rejoice, don’t despair, for God is not some far-away impersonal force in the universe, but rather He is an incarnate, flesh and blood person, occupying our physical space, as near to us as the bread and wine we consume before this altar!

He is not only at hand in location, but in time as well. He is coming back soon to reign without a rival over a newly restored heaven and earth.

This announcement is indeed good news. For who would not be thrilled to learn that we are moving toward a time and place in which there is no sin, no sickness, no death, no misery, no treachery, no impairments to communion with God? But indeed there are many who don’t want to hear this proclamation. There are some who simply refuse to believe, such as our proud and arrogant skeptics of today, or the theologically liberal priests and Levites from our Gospel. Either they think the news is too good to be true, or they don’t believe God is capable, or that he simply won’t, deliver as promised. Others believe in God’s power, but don’t like the terms of the arrangement – like the Pharisees. For they questioned such things as Baptism, things in which the believer receives gifts instead of earns a reward. They wanted a pat on the back rather than a handout. But mercy doesn’t work that way, and God’s warnings are exactly that: mercy.

The Lord has mercifully been warning us, his fallen creatures, to repent, to have a change in mind about our place in the universe. We are not to cave in to our temptations, but rather to submit to Him whose we are. And we can only submit to Him by His mercy. And, dear people, that mercy is extended to you by the Lord’s prophets and preachers – from Moses, to John the Baptist, and through the Lord’s called and ordained servants since the apostles.

But look how we receive God’s mercy! How often do we simply roll our eyes and refuse to believe that the Lord is at hand? How often do other things take priority over coming here to listen to the Gospel and be fed by His Word and His very flesh and blood? How often do we think we have a whole lifetime to repent, since after all, Jesus has been telling us He is at hand for a couple thousand years now?

But the Lord is being merciful in giving us a lot of lead time. Just as through technology, the Lord has enabled people to know about a hurricane when it is still thousands of miles away, giving us time to prepare. In the same way, the people whom God created have been warned by prophets for millennia. This is not so we can disregard the messenger, but rather so we can heed the message. We have been told again and again to get ready, to repent, to shed the skepticism of the priests and Levites and to disavow the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Repent and believe the good news! Make straight the way of the Lord! For the kingdom draws near!

And just as Christmas is right upon us even as we are still in the fourth week of Advent, so the Kingdom of God will appear out of nowhere. Your very next breath could be your last. This may be the last proclamation of the gospel and the last call to repentance you may ever hear.

Repent and believe the good news!

The Lord is at hand, and He may well return as promised even before the presents get opened this year. We dare not misinterpret the Lord’s patience and gracious opportunity for us to hear His Word as a call to laziness.

Repent and believe the good news!

This is the preaching of John, as it was the preaching of all the prophets of old. This is the preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is the preaching of the Church. This will be the preaching of the Church until the time of mercy and repentance are at an end and He suddenly returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.

The prophet and the preacher are embodied in John the Baptist. He baptizes unto repentance, but always in light of Him of whom none of us is worthy to untie His shoes. The servants of the Word are to declare without ambiguity: “I am not the Christ.” I am only one called to point you to Christ, to baptize you, instruct you, to encourage you, to rebuke you, to plead with you, to feed you, and to always hold the Lord Jesus Christ before you.

Such preaching is a stumbling-block to both the secular world and much of the Christian world. For preachers are to preach the coming of the kingdom, the nearness, the proximity, the closeness of our Lord. They are to call to repentance, and warn their hearers not to take this Word lightly – but to embrace it, submit to it, and “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” The secular world scoffs, “where is your God now” they taunt, since they misinterpret our Lord’s mercy for weakness. Much of the Christian world scoffs as well, choosing to believe a very convenient so-called prosperity gospel, in which you are promised riches in this life as a reward for your faith.

But again and again, from the lowliest pastor, from the most obscure prophet, right up to the Lord Jesus Himself, we hear this preaching: Repent and believe the good news!

Today is known as the Sunday of Rorate Coeli, which is Latin for the first words of the Introit we sang together: “Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down the Righteous One. Let the earth open her womb, and bring forth Salvation.”

This, dear people, is the Good News. Salvation rains down from above like a gentle shower. Life-giving water simply appears, whether we deserve it or not. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. The sky opens and gives life to all of God’s creatures, even as the earth opens her womb, as a human woman, part of our fallen creation, gives birth to God our Savior.

The Good News is that you don’t have to make the rain. It falls upon us all as an act of mercy from our Creator who steps into the role of our Redeemer. The Good News is that we continue to live under God’s grace, we can still hear the warning, we can still repent and believe the Good News. The door is open. There is still time. But remember, dear friends, the door is closing, whether we are prepared or not, Advent is quickly coming to a close, and our Lord is at hand in Christmas.

And yet, to those who believe, that door closing is itself good news. For like the door of the ark, it will close to protect those who believe. The waters raining down from heaven are baptismal waters that destroy sin, drown the Old Adam, and give way to a new creation. The Lord is merciful, and he is indeed at hand!

“Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down the Righteous One!” Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 3 (Gaudete)

19 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 24:1-14 (Zech 6:12-15, Jas 5:7-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The second to last verse in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible includes a portion of a table prayer many Lutherans say before eating: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The early Jewish Christians used to say this very thing using the Aramaic expression: Maranatha. It can mean “the Lord has come” in the past, “the Lord is coming” in the future, “the Lord is come,” which is to say, He is present with us in Holy Communion, or it can mean the prayer: “Come, Lord!” And, of course, all are equally true.

Back in the 1970s, the name “Maranatha” was adopted by a new company that produced cheesy Christian folk-rock music that has ruined the decorum of a lot of our churches – causing many of us thirty years later to pray with even more vigor: “Maranatha!” “Come, Lord!” “Come Lord Jesus, while there is still some dignity left in your holy sanctuary.”

It is no accident that “Come, Lord Jesus” is St. John’s prayer at the very end of the book of Revelation. For we are, like John, in the last days. We’re waiting for the end to come. All around us, the world is coming apart at the seams – and so the whole Church on earth prays: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

St. John the Apostle was exiled for the Christian faith. All of the other apostles were dead – all killed as martyrs to the Lord. Only John remained, and he was under a kind of house arrest. If there was any time to quit, now would be the time – even as Christians were being slaughtered by the Roman government. But the Lord Jesus had more revelations to bring to His people, a final word of encouragement to close out the Holy Scriptures, to seal up the scroll until He comes again. And so, St. John prays at the end of this book: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

This prayer of Maranatha is the basis of the hymn we Christians are singing around the world, even as we will sing this evening as our Lord will come to us in the holy sacrament: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The traditional prayer antiphon for December 19 refers to our Lord as the Root of Jesse, which is sung in stanza 4 of “O Come Emmanuel” – translated as: “O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, / Free them from Satan’s tyranny / That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, / And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”

And this triumph over death and Satan are prophesied by Zechariah, who has spoken to us anew this Advent night: “Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch!” The prophet promises that this Branch will branch out, will rebuild the temple, will bear the glory, will sit on a throne and rule, will be a priest, and will be a counselor of peace.

And though our Gospel sounds anything but peaceful, it is only so because Satan will not submit without a struggle to the Branch of Jesse, the Prince of Peace.

Our Lord warns us that when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are asking for the hastening of the end, a cataclysmic series of events that officially began when the temple in Jerusalem was leveled – exactly 40 years after our Lord’s death and resurrection. Indeed, not one stone is left on top of another, just as St. Matthew grimly reports according to our Lord’s warning.

Other terrible things will happen before the Lord comes: false teachers, bogus christs, wars and rumors of wars, all sorts of military invasions and political retaliations, starvation, epidemics of disease, and violent natural disasters will happen. And Jesus says that “all these are the beginning of sorrows.”

Then there will be more tribulation against Christians – not merely the refusal of a clerk to say “Merry Christmas” – but rather real physical persecution. Jesus specifically tells us that before He comes, there will be a period of intense “political correctness” that expresses offense at the name of Jesus. Should we be surprised at what we see around us? There will be an unleashing of lawlessness, of callous regard for human life, and a universal culture of lovelessness.

So, it is easy to see why the early Christians, who were being tortured, imprisoned, and executed prayed: “Maranatha. It’s easy to see why John the Apostle ended His final prayer to appear in Christian Scripture with “Come, Lord Jesus.” The Church’s prayer, the Bible’s prayer, the martyr’s prayer, is our prayer too, dear brothers and sisters. “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But we must also “endure to the end” as our Lord encourages us. “Don’t give up” He tells us in so many words. For in endurance you will find salvation. The Gospel will be preached all over the world, and then, the end will come. Our persecutions will cease, our enemies will be destroyed, and Paradise will be recreated anew.

But in the mean time, we must endure, and be prepared to endure much more. We need to fortify ourselves on the Word of God, in the consolation of the forgiveness of sins, in the eating and drinking of our Lord’s body and blood, taking refuge in our baptisms, and strengthening and encouraging our brothers and sisters who are under the violent assaults and attacks of the devil.

St. James exhorts us: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” Just as a farmer must be patient in watering the seed until it grows to the harvest, we too must be patient and be nourished with baptismal water and the nurturing Word. “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We’re so close, dear friends. Our Lord’s advent is very near! This is why James tells us not to sweat the small stuff: “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”

Advent is an important time for Christians around the world. This is not only a time for shopping, for parties, for sending out cards, and for baking. It is indeed a time to prepare for the Lord’s coming in the flesh – for He has not completed His work with our world, nor with us. He is coming again to save “those who endure to the end.” Those who endure will submit to His power, for only by His power can any of us have the endurance we will need to remain faithful, to not be swayed by false teachers nor be frightened by the rapid decline of our world into madness.

The last of the great prayer antiphons of the Christmas season is traditionally prayed the evening before Christmas Eve: “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God.” And the Good News, dear Christians, is that He is indeed coming.

And so we join with the Church catholic around the globe on this week known as Gaudete (which is Latin for “rejoice”), this week of the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath, as we sing in true Christian unity: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel!”

In the midst of tribulation, we are bold to hope – for we have His promise. He is coming again, and He is coming soon! Come, Lord Jesus! Maranatha Come and save us, O Lord our God. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Voting: privilege, right, or compulsory duty?

The mayor of New Orleans has caused yet more controversy - this time not by saying something controversial or stupid, but rather by something he didn't do.

Citizens and pundits all over Louisiana are shocked, indignant, and angry because it seems that Mayor Nagin hasn't voted in the last three elections.

In fact, there is a bill in the state legislature that would require all "public officials" to vote. One of our radio talking heads (a former politician and co-author of the current state constitution) proposes that any elected official that doesn't vote be removed from office. He claimed that voting was "the bedrock upon which this country was founded."

Of course, like most politicians, this fellow either doesn't know his history, or he does know it and is simply lying. I'm not sure which - since both ignorance and mendacity seem to come natural for Louisiana politicians.

When the Republic was founded, only white male property owners over the age of 21 were permitted to vote. The founders even deprived the individual voter of electing the federal president, the federal judiciary, and federal senators! Some "bedrock."

Voting was originally seen as a privilege - and the word "democracy" was never used to describe the American political system. The founders understood that democracy is fickle, that universal suffrage would soon lead to chaos. Alexis DeTocqueville predicted a time when the electorate would figure out that they could simply vote themselves a share of the public treasury (known today as "the pork barrel") - and that prediction was greatly helped when suffrage became closer and closer to universal - and the electorate could vote on more and more things - such as federal senators (beginning in 1913).

As the Republic became more and more friendly to "democracy," voting shifted from being a privilege and began to be treated as a right. Over time, "democracy" became almost a religion with voting as its High Mass. Not to vote became akin to treason.

As our country becomes more and more authoritarian, voting is moving from being a privilege-turned-right into a compulsory duty.

If Baton Rouge makes voting mandatory for public officials, such legislation for ordinary citizens can't be far behind. There is an assumption that high voter turnout will guarantee better elected officials and better government - which makes no sense at all - especially when a large percentage of those voting can't tell you where their own states are on the map, or that the War Between the States came after the American Revolution. Do we really want people who are clueless about history and republican government to vote? Are we really better off when those who have no clue what the federal or state constitution says exercise their franchise?

Of course, the major political parties have a virtual stranglehold over the process, with money, marketing, and laws on their sides. The media christen the "front-runners" and participate in the manipulation of the largely-uninformed voters.

I am a citizen of the United States and of Louisiana. If there is an issue about which I believe a vote one way or the other will matter, or if there is a candidate that reflects my values, I will exercise my voting privilege. If the issue involved is not relevant, or if I don't have enough information to decide, or if there are no candidates that I support - I don't vote.

Although we Fort Wayne grads are often accused of seeing the sacraments everywhere, I don't see one behind the little curtain in the booth. Voting is not supernatural, magic, or sacred. Nor is it, in fact, a right.

But for the sake of argument, let's call voting a right. If it is a right to cast a ballot, it follows that there is also a right to refrain from voting. Otherwise, if it becomes mandatory - as it is in some tin-horn dictatorships - it is no longer a right, but a form of compulsion.

If Ray Nagin doesn't support any candidate on the ballot, I don't believe anyone should compel him to cast a ballot. It's none of my business if he votes or not. In fact, a "secret ballot" isn't very secret when anyone can check to see if you voted and how you are registered. But such compulsion (as our legislature is considering) is the natural next step in the evolution of polity. Our founders rejected democracy because democracy inevitably leads to tyranny and mob rule. Liberty inevitably suffers at the hands of mobs. This is how it is that we, like Imperial Rome, can convince ourselves that we are a free Republic - when in the name of democracy, we are moving toward a police state, governed by force and fear in the name of "freedom."

I am registered to vote in this election. I will be voting in the primary for federal president. Being a pastor who serves a congregation of Christians of every political stripe, I'm hesitant to publicly announce my choice for president. As much as I would love to put a sign in my yard and a sticker on my car - I won't be doing so.

Instead, I'm sipping a cup of tea on this date, and reflecting on how much my ancestors were willing to sacrifice to overthrow an out-of-control empire and replace it with a Republic.

Sermon: Advent 3 (Gaudete)

16 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Matt 11:2-11 (Isa 40:1-11, 1 Cor 4:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

John the Baptist is one of those preachers who is both loved and hated. The people thronged to him like no other prophet or rabbi. Our Lord Jesus describes him as being among the greatest of men ever born of women. The prophet Isaiah not only prophesies the coming of our Lord, but also the coming of John the Baptist, the forerunner, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” When John was a baby, his father, a priest, prophesied: “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways. To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.”

John is a preacher of the Gospel, a messenger of the Good News, the one commanded to “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”

But the Word of God that John preaches is a double-edged sword. Not everyone is happy with either message or messenger. For as Isaiah prophesies, valleys are to be raised, mountains are to be cut down, the crooked will be made straight, and the rough will be smoothed out. The humble person who is exalted will naturally be happy with John for raising him up, while the proud person who is brought low will, of course, not be thrilled with this preacher for cutting him down to size.

While multitudes came to John for a baptism of repentance, there were also those who sought to silence him. And, of course, the Object of John’s preaching, the One who came after Him, was received in the same way: the humble and the sin-sick heard good news and received healing, whereas the arrogant and the sin-secure heard judgment and received condemnation.

This is how it is that two people can hear the same piece of news and one will cheer while the other will hang down his head, one will be uplifted while the other will be enraged.

Isaiah’s announcement – that the warfare has ended, that iniquity has been pardoned, that the beaten down are to be raised up – is the Gospel, the greatest news in the history of man, the most blessed tidings to be heard since the terrible fall in Eden. But there are those who benefit from this war, a sort-of cosmic version of the military-industrial complex. There are preachers and religious practitioners who have no interest in offering comfort, for they enrich themselves by promoting fear, by perpetuating the enmity between God and man, by obscuring the mission of our Lord Jesus to redeem and re-create the world into the glorious paradise it was always intended to be.

For though John the Baptist was one of the greatest men ever born of a woman, even born in miraculous circumstances - he too was conceived in iniquity and in sin did his mother bear him. The bold preacher John – shackled, cold, hungry, and in prison – begins to doubt. The preacher also needs to hear the comfort of the Gospel spoken to him. He too needs to be on the receiving end of the Lord’s command: “Comfort, yes, comfort My people…. Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if one of the greatest of all prophets, preachers, and men born of woman, a cousin of our Lord, the forerunner himself needs to be reinforced by the preaching of the Gospel, what do you think you need to hear regularly in order to keep your faith from faltering? What do your husbands, wives, children, and grandchildren need to hear on a regular basis to keep them out of the clutches of the evil one, to keep them from the dungeon of hell?

Those who hated John, those with a vested interest in keeping alive the hostilities between God and man, those who wanted to stifle the Good News and keep people on a path to death and hell, to hopelessness and rebellion, away from the love of God and removed from the forgiveness of sin – those people, led by their master Satan, wanted to make sure the people did not hear the proclamation of the Gospel that John was so faithful in preaching.

Again, parents, I’m pleading with you: Bring your children to hear the Good News preached – even if you have to physically drag them here. If you wouldn’t let them play Russian roulette, or shoot up with drugs, or get drunk and drive, why would you give Satan free reign over their hearts and minds by allowing them to absent themselves from the Gospel and despise the Word of God? Isn’t this even more dangerous to them?

Even the faith of John the Baptist was dependent on the Word of God. And what was that Word? How does Jesus bolster John’s wavering faith? He instructs John’s disciples to “go and tell.” Jesus sends John’s disciples back as preachers: “Tell John the things which you hear and see.”

Jesus explains to them that what is happening is an undoing of the fall. Blindness, leprosy, deafness, and even death itself are being undone. The once-hopeless poor are hearing Good News, and God is blessing those who hear the Gospel, those who hear it without being offended, without reacting in arrogance or pride, but rather in repentance and joy at being rescued.

If preachers need to hear the proclamation of the Gospel, if prophets themselves thrive spiritually on prophecy from God, if John the Baptist himself was dependent on a lifeline of preachers bearing Good News from the lips of Jesus, how much more are we, dear friends, completely reliant on being where the Word of God is preached, proclaimed, taught, expounded, and even given for you to eat and to drink?

For John was not only the forerunner of Jesus, he is the prototype New Testament pastor, the shepherd whose disciples are to be Jesus’s disciples, the preacher whose proclamation is that he must decrease, while the Lord Jesus Christ must increase, the one who holds up the Lord in His body and blood while crying out for the people to behold the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world!” John is indeed a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God.

The steward is not the master. He is a servant. He is a manager. He is there to make sure the master’s material things – such as his bread and his wine – are used properly and accounted for with propriety. “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”

A steward of the mysteries of the kingdom of God is not faithful if he is not proclaiming the Word of God with both edges of the sword. And the people of God, the hearers of the Word, are not faithful if they do not hear the Word and take heed.

I do indeed have Good News for you right here and right now, dear people! Listen to what the prophet Isaiah has to say about the coming of our Lord Jesus: “Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”

These are not words of thundering judgment, but of gentle affection and care of the One who loves you with a perfect love.

I have been charged to speak comfort to you, dear people. I’m pleading with you to listen, to hear, to be where comfort is spoken, where the Gospel is preached, where Jesus Christ is given to you in the very ways He has promised to be present with you.

For what do you hear and see?

You hear: “I forgive you all your sins.” You hear: “Comfort, yes comfort My people!” “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins,” “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” “Forgive us our trespasses,” “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” “takest away the sin of the world,” “mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” and you hear “You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.”

You see: the sign of the cross traced over you, a gesture hated by the devil and the ultimate reminder of the victory of Jesus over sin and death. You see: water poured over children and adults in a miraculous show of force against the evil one, You see: bread and wine that has become the body and blood of Jesus by the power of the Word of God, and your fellow sinners kneeling around the most holy place being transformed together as a family in faith and in the miraculous power of the Gospel.

What we receive in this place is not only comfort, but a divine promise that the comfort is for us. We not only hear Good News, but that Good News of Jesus is spoken with His authority into our ears and hearts. We not only see the physical presence of our Lord under the forms of bread and wine, but this body and blood of God in the flesh Himself is taken into our own bodies as an eternal antidote to all sickness and death according to His Word and promise.

The kingdom of God is at hand! The Good News is that you can repent, you can start over, and you can do so now! The Good News is that the Lord is bombarding us with His Word, the Gospel that ends our warfare against God and removes the curse of sin that has laid claim on us since the fall.

“The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of [our Lord Jesus Christ].” Amen.

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