Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2011

27 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Isa 55:10-13, Heb 4:9-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“As for the good soil,” explains our blessed Lord, “they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Patience is the hardest thing in the world. Patience is also the easiest thing in the world. Our Lord teaches us that we are good soil when we receive the seed and it sprouts and grows and bears fruit, when we not only hear the Word and hold onto the Word, but when we are patient with the Word.

Again, that is both hard and easy.

The hard part is the waiting. We live in a culture of instant gratification. We are used to getting things right now. As hard as it is for young people to fathom, there was a time when people used to travel to places called “record stores.” They had to shop for music, hope that the store had what they wanted in stock, wait in line, and then go back home to listen to their purchases played on big bulky equipment. Now, we can browse, purchase, download, install, and listen to music directly into our ears in a matter of seconds. Who has time to wait? And books are becoming this way too.

And just because books are made up of words, we should not think that God’s Word works the same way, even as a seed hitting the ground doesn’t mature and bear fruit in a matter of seconds – though it would be surprising indeed if there isn’t an agribusiness research company working on it. Such planting, growing, maturing, and bearing fruit takes time. Even eating a fruit that is not yet ripe defeats the whole process. There is a waiting period. God determines how much time is to pass. There is a need for patience. There comes a time when time itself has reached its fullness. And it simply isn’t our decision.

God’s Word comes to us according to His will: by hearing, by our being surrounded by His Word read and proclaimed, by His Word of the Gospel sounding forth, and by His Sacraments administered. The Word is implanted and watered at Holy Baptism, is protected from harm by Holy Absolution, and is nourished by Holy Communion. And in the course of a life of faithful care by the Holy Spirit and by being surrounded by the Word, we grow into the creatures we were meant to be – even though we will not reach full maturity until after death itself. For even as Jesus taught us: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

There will come a time, actually when time is no more, in eternity, when we will be fully ripened and matured to perfection. But until that day, we must contend with worldly assaults on the seed of God’s Word.

First, the devil lunges at us, hoping that we are like the path, where the seed can be easily snatched away from us. Second, our own shallowness threatens the Word of God, for if we have no root in the heavenly things, instead investing ourselves in the fallen world that is passing away, we may experience temporary growth – but all for naught as our own shallowness causes us to fall away at the first sign of trouble. Third, the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” also distract us and draw us away from maturity, threatening to kill us by choking out the Lord’s life-giving, life-bearing, and life-saving Word. Like thorns and weeds choking out a struggling seedling, such things that take our hearts and minds off of the kingdom of God threaten to extinguish our lives that were given to us at baptism.

And yet, we cannot make God’s Word grow. We cannot force ourselves to become good soil. We are unable to compel God’s Word to do anything. We cannot speed up the process. We cannot control where or if the Word takes root. We cannot earn God’s favor or buy His grace.

And this is where the easy part of patience comes in. We need not worry about that which we cannot control. God’s Word is a gift, and it comes to us when and how God Himself chooses. The easy part of patience is acknowledging that we cannot force God to do our bidding. What makes patience bearable is that God is in control and He has promised to bless us.

But, dear friends, surrendering to God’s will is not an invitation to become idle or lazy. For the writer to the Hebrews warns us: “Let us strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” We can pray for the Lord’s Word to be effective among us, even as a “two-edged sword,” rejecting neither the Law which calls us to repent, nor the Gospel which gives us the promise without strings attached. We are indeed “naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” We cannot fool God, and we should not try to fool ourselves. Patience with God’s Word doesn’t mean license to sin nor taking the gift for granted, but rather the patience expounded by Jesus calls for us to wait upon the Lord with expectant eyes, fixing our gaze on Him, regardless of what the world hurls at us, in spite of what we see with our eyes of fallen flesh in this broken world. Our patience is a prayerful patience, a hopeful surrender to the Lord’s mercy, an active faith that indeed produces fruit – even if imperfect and unripe. We trust in the Lord and the riches of His Word. And in that light, we can afford to be patient.

For we have the ancient promise from the prophet Isaiah, the promise fulfilled by Jesus, the Seed of the woman Himself, who not only gives us the Parable of the Sower, but who is the Sower and who is the Word: “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Dear brothers and sisters, that is the glorious promise given to God’s people, the promise fulfilled in Christ, the promise received by the world, and the promise that we Christians shall see brought to maturity in us by the miracle of God’s Word.

This is how it is that we can wait patiently, while not waiting idly. We wait expectantly, because the Word has power: power to give life, power to bring to repentance, power to save, and power to bear fruit that never ends. Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sermon: St. Polycarp - 2011

23 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 10:26-33

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Do not fear those who kill the body,” says our Lord Jesus. And this is something He knows about. For our Lord, even God in the flesh, was killed in such a way. He was put to death by an angry mob that used the government to give itself cover for its wickedness and cruelty. And in the face of such things, the Lord tells us not to be afraid. For though evil people can, do, and will, harm Christians physically, they cannot hurt them where it is important – in their communion with God, in the righteousness they bear in their flesh because of the Lord’s cross, and the resurrection they in which they share because of our Lord’s rising from the dead.

St. Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of a disciple. He was taught the Christian faith by his pastor the apostle John, whose own pastor was Jesus Himself. On this date 1,856 years ago, Bishop Polycarp took the Lord’s words to heart, as was also persecuted by a mob claiming legitimacy because they were allied with the government.

The elderly bishop had refused to treat the emperor as a god. He was led to a stake and threatened to be burned to death unless he would “revile Jesus.” St. Polycarp had spent his entire adult life preaching the faith, confessing Jesus, and providing a living link to the apostles. He fought like a lion against heretics, and he spread the love of Christ with the gentleness as a lamb among his flock. He oversaw a church that was under persecution, and he stood firm in his conviction. He was neither bitter nor intimidated, but when called upon to renounce Christ, replied simply and clearly: “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” With an almost matter-of-fact statement of faith, Polycarp was then burned alive at the stake.

For St. Polycarp knew the passage well: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father in heaven.”

The saints teach us what is important – especially those who have given their lives for the faith. They keep us grounded. They provide real examples of how the faith is lived out – especially in a world and culture that is hostile to God, opposed to the holy, ever at odds with the Church, and at enmity against our Lord Jesus Christ. Twice in this short text, our blessed Lord tells us not to be afraid. For even if our opponents can kill the body, even if they have that kind of power – it is nothing compared to the benevolent power of the God who created us, redeemed us, loves us, guides us, calls us, and gives us everlasting life as a free gift of grace and mercy.

St. Polycarp died because of his confession of Jesus, but Jesus actually died for Polycarp, for the apostles, for you and me, and for every person in the world who was ever conceived – even as we confess together that Christ is “the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” And this reality is nothing that can be taken away by anyone – not even a mighty emperor, not even a lynch mob, not even a Muslim court that claims the right to extinguish the precious lives of innocent Christians because of their confession of Christ.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” asks our Lord. “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.” It is not God’s will that even a sparrow should die. For our Lord created a world in which nothing died – not even a little bird. But this is the reality we live and die in, dear friends. We live in a broken world of sin and death. And though the Lord didn’t create it, He understands it. He gets us through it. He redeems us from it. And He promises to end it and give us a new and greater world, perfect as the Garden of Eden was perfect before our human sin put us where we are today.

And, the Lord continues, “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Dear friends, God loves you. He cares about you. It matters to Him when you hurt, when you are stressed, when you are mistreated, and even when you suffer terrible pain and illnesses. God did not create anything to suffer and die, but God will use all things – even pain and suffering, even persecution, even death itself – to accomplish His will in this world, His will that the saving Word go forth, His will that all people see the testimony of those who give their lives for the faith and come to know that the Christian faith is the one true faith, and to understand the mystery and the reality that God does not abandon us in our suffering.

In fact, when we look at the cross, that is where we see God’s love the most. We see the price the Father is willing to pay for us, we see the sacrifice the Son is willing to be for us, and we see the work of the Holy Spirit to call us, gather us, enlighten us, and sanctify us, the church, and to keep this church “with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

For if a faith is not worth dying for, it is not worth living for.

Christianity is not a preference, a hobby, or a choice. It is the very truth that God became man, took flesh, willingly suffered to save us, defeated death by dying, rose again, and then bids man and women of every time and place to take up their own crosses and follow Him, to follow Him not only to the cross, but to the empty tomb, not only to the pain and suffering of this broken world, but through that suffering to the triumph of eternity when we will all bask in the glory of Christ the victorious King!

Polycarp’s life was a ransom for the sake of the confession of Jesus. But Jesus’s life is a ransom for the sake of the sins of all the world, even unto the salvation of all who call upon His name and seek His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Polycarp was a beloved pastor and bishop, writer and teacher, saint and martyr. His example of faithfulness unto death only makes his memory sweeter and serves to underscore the truth of His confession. And no matter how old we are, we can say with our dear brother in the faith: “I am a servant of Jesus, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” even as the Lord’s words ring in our ears, come what may: “So have no fear.” Amen.

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

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sermon: Septuagesima - 2011

20 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 20:1-16 (Ex 17:1-7, 1 Cor 9:24-10:5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Lord has created us, has given us our very lives, and we grumble. He gives us our daily bread and all that we need for this body and life, and we grumble. He placed us in one of the richest and freest countries on the planet, and we grumble. He gives us the opportunity to freely gather as Christians, to sing, to pray, to hear God’s Word, to be forgiven of all of our sins, and we grumble.

It goes to show how much like the Israelites we are.

For God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and they grumbled. He led them safely across the Red Sea and drowned hard hearted Pharoah and his pursuing army, and they grumbled. He provided quail and manna for their sustenance, and they grumbled. He gave them His very presence in the tabernacle, and they grumbled.

It is our sinful flesh’s inability to be content that causes us to grumble, to covet, to bear false witness, to steal, to commit adultery, to kill, to dishonor our parents, to forget the Sabbath, to misuse God’s name, and to have other gods before Him who gave us life in the first place.

Our sinful flesh grumbles at unfairness – most especially when it is against us: real or perceived. For we always think of ourselves more highly than we ought, as greater than we truly are, even as we perceive our neighbors to be less than we are. And so, when we observe others receiving a greater reward for less work, rather than share in our neighbor’s good fortune, rather than “rejoice with those who rejoice,” instead, we grumble – even when it means someone has received salvation and eternal life.

For how much in need of repentance must we be to begrudge the Lord’s generosity? How much more could we dishonor God than by questioning what He does with what belongs to Him?

Our Lord’s parable is all about the grumbling. And it is a call to repent of it. It is also a reminder not to judge others, but to be content with what the Lord has given us. Most importantly of all, it is a call to see salvation for what it truly is: a free gift and blessing that none of us are worthy of in the first place! For which one of us – in spite of our delusion that we have earned God’s favor, and in spite of our self-righteous grumbling – deserves anything other than death and hell based on our own works? We are all sinners and we don’t deserve even a denarius for a lifetime of our works.

And yet, here is our merciful Lord handing out rewards for work not done, with the lavish liberality of a float rider tossing out bags full of doubloons and beads as fast as his hands can move, to people who hold their hands heavenward in petition and beg to be given something. God gives all of those who labor in His kingdom – be they preachers or hearers, teachers or students – not what we deserve, but rather what Jesus deserves. He does not give us what we think we need, but rather that He knows we need. He calls us to repent of our sins. And by His grace, our sins are forgiven, our failures are forgotten, and by means of the cross, we are made alive forever, to be paid in full when the foreman calls our labors in the vineyard to cease.

This freedom, this generosity, this kindness and graciousness of our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus and in the workings of the Holy Spirit is what makes it possible for us to train like an athlete. The prize is already ours. And we’re not talking about perishable wreaths: trinkets, material goods that are eaten by rust and moth, things that are stolen and which end up in the landfill. No indeed! The Lord gives us the best of what He has to offer, the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, a resurrected body without sin and without death, even everlasting life without sickness or sorrow. In the race that St. Paul speaks of, “all the runners run, but only one receives the prize.” Jesus has won that crown, and it is a prize He shares with us with the generosity of the master of the house who pays the laborers more than they deserve. And so we are free to run with confidence, with faith, and with joy, for we know that a glorious crown awaits us at the finish line. And that, dear friends, gives us the energy and the encouragement to discipline our bodies, keeping them under control, in anticipation of receiving the imperishable crown, the denarius, the living water from the Rock.

For “our fathers were all under the cloud,” all covered by the darkness of sin and death, and yet by God’s kind providence, “all passed through the sea” being rescued by God in His mercy. And “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” – all rescued through the water together, regardless of age or sex or intelligence or perceived righteousness. “All ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

And so, dear friends, we have received our undeserved denarius, the crown won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the gift of watery life received in the dry wilderness of sin, the salvation that “unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor.” We are not paid according to our transgressions but according to Christ’s righteousness. And for that we can sing now and forevermore:

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by His grace;
All glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav’n above,
You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow.


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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sermon: Transfiguration - 2011 and Baptism of Eric Edrington

13 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 17:1-9

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In His mission to rescue us “poor miserable sinners” from destruction, death, and the devil, our Lord came into our sinful world with His unspeakable glory hidden under a fleshly veil. He came as a tiny infant. He lived in a simple family. He grew in stature and wisdom. He preached and taught. He called people to repentance and forgave their iniquities. He healed their infirmities, cast out their demons, and raised people from the dead.

He called disciples, taught them to pray, proclaimed the Gospel to them, and gave them the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood. He ordained the apostles into the preaching ministry to draw men into the nets of salvation, dying on the cross and rising from the empty tomb.

And yet, Jesus kept the full measure of His glory under wraps, only revealing who He is by little glimpses at a time.

One of those apostles, those fishers of men in the preaching ministry, St. Peter, had the reality of who Jesus is, revealed to him “not by flesh and blood.” Six days before the Lord’s transfiguration on the mountain, Peter confessed with his mouth what was revealed to him in His heart: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And six days after this earth-shattering confession that the New World was being wrought in the transformative work of the Creator God, in the Redemption of God the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, six days after this eruption of faith by the one whom our Lord would nickname “the rock,” – six days later, the same amount of time that the Lord took to create the heavens and the earth, the Lord Jesus raises the veil some more: for Peter, James and John. Heaven was to come to earth for a longer glimpse. That which was normally veiled was to shine uninhibited like the sun, white as light, transfigured and changed in form, the curtain peeled back to reveal and confirm St. Peter’s confession (which is the Church’s confession) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God!

This is the confession that Jesus is who He Himself says He is. He is as human as any of us here, and He is divine even as His Father is God. And His mighty power is not wielded in wrath, but graced in love. He has come in dazzling array not to frighten, but to bring peace. And in their confusion and terror, the veil was replaced, they were comforted, and “they saw no-one but Jesus only.”

This was no fantastical story, a “cleverly devised myth,” or an optical illusion. Three men – two of whom would later die as followers of Jesus confessing this reality until their dying breath – experienced this lifting of the veil together. And the Holy Spirit has caused a word to be used, “overshadowed” – a word that is only used in Scripture to indicate the presence and the power of God.

Dear friends, even as the meek and mild imagery of the Christ child comforts us with the confession that God condescends to our level, wraps Himself in our flesh, joins us in the depths of our sinful world, we can also take comfort that this is no ordinary baby, no typical adolescent who debates with His elders, no mere magician who turns water into wine, not just a healer of diseases and caster out of demons, no mere prophet or preacher – but this is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the one whose power and might chases the demons away, transforms the very particles of the matter of the universe, and who fulfills the Old Testament promises of both the Law and the Prophets.

For Jesus does what the Law cannot do.

The Law cannot save, but can only accuse. The transformative might and compassionate redemption of Jesus melt our sin and guilt away and change our hearts like the beams of the sun irresistibly turn the hardness of ice into the softness of water.

Jesus does what the Prophets cannot do.

The Prophets cannot save, but can only point to the One who can. Like St. Peter, the Church, like a rock, confesses Him who is the true Stone, the One the builders rejected who has become the Cornerstone. And He is the founding stone upon which the new heavens and the new earth are hewn and edified, even calling us imperfect pebbles to be transformed into the living stones of a new and greater temple!

Dear brothers and sisters, take comfort in the hidden power of God, for Jesus hides His power that we might experience Him as one of us, a fleshly man who traverses the same highways and byways that we do. He hides His power under the misery of the cross (the same cross that saves us) and under the humility of baptism (the same humble water and word that saves us, that has drawn Eric into the Lord’s mighty transformative power along with Christians of every time and place).

For we worship a God who is both a helpless child in the manger and a bombastic vision of energy glowing like the sun. His power is not used for destruction or for revenge for what we have done to the Lord’s good creation, but rather His might and glory are used for redemption and for forgiveness of what we have done to the Lord’s good creation.

Jesus has come to make all things new, to restore goodness to that which has become corrupted, to wash away sin and death, to drown the Old Adam in the watery grave of baptism, and to give all of us a little glimpse under the veil of the Lord’s might – which is His mercy.

“Lord, it is good that we are here” we join St. Peter in saying. The presence of God is good. By His grace, His presence restores us, refreshes us, forgives us, makes us new, and energizes us with the very restorative power of God. And the Lord encourages us: “Rise and have no fear.” For we have been absolved of our guilt and we are being remade into what our Creator has meant us to be all along. He is powerful and He is in charge.

And this transformation is accomplished for us, dear friends, in the same was as it was for Peter, James, and John: as we shun the false glitter of the world and look to where real power and real mercy originate, seeing “Jesus only.” For the Father proclaims: “This is My beloved Son… listen to Him.” He has good news for us today and forevermore!

The peace of our transfigured mighty God and merciful Savior shine upon you as the very light of Christ, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 5 - 2011

6 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 13:24-30 (Gen 18:20-33, Col 3:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord tells a story that calls to mind creation.

The plants of this earth reproduce by seeds “each according to their own kind.” After the fall, sinful man had to put up with weeds, which steal vital resources from the good fruit, which cause mankind to struggle in order to eat, which also lead the poor and handicapped to poverty and envy, while tempting the skilled and ambitious to greed and avarice and self-righteousness. The weeds lead to division among people, and are the source of seemingly endless strife.

Our Lord’s story, the Parable of the Weeds, follows on the heels of the more popular tale of the Parable of the Sower – in which God’s Word is compared to a little seed, that is often ignored, choked out, or scorched – but which sometimes takes root in good soil and multiplies by producing heads of grain that not only feed mankind but also replicate the wheat.

This parable, however, is not so much about God’s Word (which is always true), but rather about the Satan’s word (which contains falsehood). For Satan is the father of lies, and while he cannot create, he can distort. He can mutate and corrupt. And it leads to death. His word, though it can mimic the Word of God, is truly deadly and poisonous.

Since the fall, our world has been caught in a crossfire between the spawn of the “good seed,” the wheat, versus that of the “weeds” sown by “the enemy.” Jesus teaches us how we are to live in such a mixed and corrupted environment, and to do so in such a way as to minimize the work of Satan in our midst while enjoying the fruits of the Word in such a mess.

In describing the weeds, our Lord employs a word that translates into English as “darnel” – a particular kind of weed that mimics wheat. However, the seed of the darnel plant is actually poisonous. It is no accident that our Lord frames the story in this way.

The Word of God sprouts and grows in direct competition with the progeny of poisonous plants. And even as the good seed matures, multiplies, and feeds mankind – so too do the poisonous imitations of the Word. The corrupted imitations grow side by side with the good plants.

In the end, wheat is harvested, beaten into flour, sifted, and becomes the bread that also becomes the body of Christ. So too, the wheat in the Lord’s story is harvested, beaten into flour, sifted, and becomes the body of Christ, the Church. Christians are grown from the Word. Christians are fed on the Word. Christians are sowers of the Word.

And yet, the weeds are still here – even as they have been since the fall. They impede the progress of God’s Word and tempt man into further sin. By imitating what is good, mankind is often tripped up by evil.

And so, what do we do?

Our impulsive nature says to rip out the weeds by the roots and give the Word of God (and the wheat it produces) a chance to thrive. And yet, at the same time, sometimes the “cure” is worse than the disease. God does not immediately uproot that weeds, but waits and will call upon the angels do this at the end of the age – when the weeds will be cast into the flames along with Satan and his fallen angels and “all causes of sin and all law-breakers.”

Dear friends, people get anxious when Jesus speaks about hell. But the destruction of evil is what allows the good seed to thrive for eternity, as “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” as a result. Good cannot triumph unless evil is defeated.

Dear friends, our Lord is beseeching us to cling to God’s Word at all costs. Don’t seek after the seduction of some other seed because it may be less costly, or promises greater yield, or makes claims of a tastier bread. Don’t be fooled by Satanic imitation. And don’t allow yourselves to be merely imitators of the wheat.

For we delude ourselves if we think we have no weeds in our midst. The work of the devil is spread by the poisonous seeds of malice, gossip, distortions, threats, greed, envy, and self-righteousness. The weeds do their work by distracting people from the cross and from the forgiveness of sins, from God’s Word and from the holy sacraments. Dear friends, we must all examine ourselves. We must all resist the devil’s siren song, no matter how slick the packaging or how convincing the message. For Satan’s poison never comes in a box with a skull and crossbones on it. The devil always masquerades, always deceives, always allures. And yet his seed is always poisonous.

Let us not take the Lord’s grace for granted, as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. As the Lord promised, he would indeed spare Sodom for the sake of ten righteous men – and yet there were not even ten to be found there. The weeds spread and prosper and choke out God’s Word. The Lord is calling us to caution and diligence, dear friends, to hard work in the kingdom and to integrity, even as He calls us to submit to Him as the ultimate Judge, the one who casts evil into the fire.

And how do we beat back the onslaught of the devil’s weeds, of the poisonous darnel, of the influence of those who seek to destroy God’s Word and tear apart his holy Church? St. Paul has taught us what we need to know, brothers and sisters: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.”

Do not allow evil to embitter you, to make you imitate evil, to cause you to fall into the devil’s snare in your frustration with the tangled weeds in either the world or the Lord’s vineyard. Our almighty and merciful Lord has it all under control, and He has promised a good and healthy yield in the fullness of time and at the harvest.

If you are cooperating with the devil’s work, now is the time to repent. The harvest could come at any moment. The reapers are always at the ready. Now is the time to renounce the spread of poison that threatens to take over your body and soul and leave you cast into “the fiery furnace” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In this fallen natural world, darnel cannot be transformed into wheat, but just as Christ turned water into wine, the Lord can miraculously change a tangle of weeds into beautiful stalks of grain in a supernatural way! Jesus does this every day. It is the work of repentance, and it is the cause of rejoicing in His entire creation.

Repent, dear friends! Repent and live!

For the good seed is a pure gift, pure grace, offered in pure mercy, and received purely by faith. It is indeed an act of faith to be patient with the weeds, knowing that their damage will be limited by God’s mercy. In the fullness of time, the wheat will be rid of the weeds, and the Church will be rid of oppression. How we long for that day, as we pray “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Meanwhile, nurture the Word; “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

And we can do this, dear friends, because we have been forgiven. Our weeds have been transformed into wheat. The darnels have been displaced by the Good Seed. We are fed with the Word, the very Bread of Life. We can resist the poison of the weeds because we are connected to the True Vine, the Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to cast the devil into the furnace.

For the Lord created His good creation out of love, even as He encourages us, His beloved creatures: “Above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body.”

“He who has ears, let him hear.” Amen.

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

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A great tribute to a great sainted parishioner

Mrs. Hilda Ziifle Jung +
The following tribute to Hilda Jung appeared in today's Times-Picayune.  Many people never knew that Hilda, a constant presence at Salem Lutheran Church, was a retired world-renowned physicist and chemist.

Hilda was remarkable parishioner in many ways.  I had the honor to be Hilda's pastor and to officiate at her funeral.  She is already sorely missed, by her close-knit family, by her brothers and sisters in Christ, and by friends all across the City of Gretna.

In giving Hilda pastoral care, I received the lion's share of God's blessing.  Her closeness with her two surviving sisters (also talented and remarkable ladies) and brother (who is 98 years old) was the very picture of Christ's love for the church.  Where one sister was to be found, all three were to be found.  And as often as not, they are taking care of one sibling or another who was in need, or in many cases, looking after younger relatives who are ailing.

But in spite of our grief of having Hilda taken from us on this side of the veil, we can take comfort in that while she awaits the resurrection of the body, Hilda is in the divine presence of our Lord in all His manifest glory! 

Thanks be to God for this extraordinary woman and the privilege we had (and will have forever) to call her a beloved sister in Christ!

“Oh what [her] joy and [her] glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.”
Hilda (left) with sisters Ruth Ziifle and Myra Thalheim

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Sermon: The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord - 2011

2 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (1 Sam 1:21-28, Heb 2:14-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“And when the time came,” says God’s Word concerning the Lord and His mother visiting the temple. That phrase is better translated “when the time was brought to completion,” or “in the fullness of time.”

For what we see in Mary’s purification and in Jesus’s presentation is the universe being changed. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the new has come and the old has passed away. The Old Covenant with its sacrifices unto the forgiveness of sins, with its static location, and its longing for the time of the coming of the Messiah is being brought to its fullness. For the Messiah has come to be the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and the temple has been brought into the world to all nations.

Our Lutheran confessions speak of Mary as being holy and pure. And that she is. For she has been sanctified and cleansed by the One to whom she gave birth. Even as she brings God to the temple to present Him, Jesus brings Mary to the temple to purify her. Even as Mary seeks forgiveness from the temple where sacrifices have been made for thousands of years, the One who will go to the sacrifice of the cross in 30 years brings eternal forgiveness to the temple that bore Him.

“Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” And our Lord Jesus is the first of the first, for He is the first to open the virgin’s womb, even as He will later be the first to open the virginal tomb. He is the first of our race to emerge from the sinful flesh, from that which found its ancestry in Adam’s body that was made of the dust of the earth, and our Lord opens that womb and is uniquely holy among men – in order to offer the gift of holiness to all men.

Our Lord emerged from the fleshly temple of His mother in order to be the sacrifice for His brothers in obedience to His Father.

But before He fulfills the Law on our behalf, He brings the Law to completion by His own presence. And Mary, being too poor to afford the customary sacrifice of a lamb, offers pigeons. But nevertheless, the Lamb without blemish is there, the very fulfillment of the thousands of lambs whose blood was spilled on the temple’s altar has come Himself in the flesh to consecrate the altar, even He whose blood would be shed on the cross to sanctify all of us whose sins are covered by the blood of the cross.

Indeed, we see the old become new, the sacrifices become the Sacrifice, and we see a woman born of her sinful father Adam being made pure by her sinless Son Jesus.

The old man Simeon has become the new man Simeon, fully prepared to depart this world in peace, according to the Lord’s Word. His eyes have seen our salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples. Simeon’s song is our song, and like Simeon, we are prepared to depart in peace when our days have reached the fullness of time.

Old Anna also became new Anna, spending her years of widowhood praying the temple and waiting for the Christ. “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

The word translating “waiting” really means “to watch out for in expectation.” Anna and the others in the temple were not just idly waiting around, they were prayerfully anticipating the fulfillment of the Word, and they were to experience the Word in the flesh, the Word made flesh, the Word carried in flesh from the flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.”

Dear friends, like Mary, we have been purified by our Lord. We have been made holy through the flesh of Him whose flesh is the holy and living Word of God. Indeed, our Lord has Himself “performed everything according to the Law of the Lord” and has brought reconciliation and forgiveness between us “poor miserable sinners” and our Most High God. And even as we sing with St. Simeon, “Lord lettest now Thy servant depart in peace,” we do depart in peace and go to our homes. We go out upon the highways and byways of the world. And like Mary, we bear Christ in our bodies, His flesh connected to ours, His blood mingled with ours, His righteousness having become ours, and His eternal life given to us by grace as life eternal which is also ours.

And when the time comes for us to leave our home, to “depart in peace” according to the Word of God, when we are called to our fullness in heaven to await the resurrection of the body, we will do so by the sacrifice of the cross, the purity of the temple cleansed by the physical presence of Jesus, and the presentation of His very flesh and blood before the Lord that wins for us purification and everlasting life.

The time has indeed come. The fullness of time has been brought to completion. The old has passed away, and the new has come! Amen.

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