Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sermon: Oculi - 2011

27 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 11:14-28 (Jer 26:1-15, Eph 5:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The prophet Jeremiah had a big problem. God told him to speak. That wasn’t the problem. Jeremiah was a prophet, and that’s what prophets do. The problem was in what God wanted Jeremiah to speak. God told Jeremiah to say something unpopular, something that would make the people mad, something that ran afoul of political correctness in the new Jehoiakim administration.

And to top it all off, Jeremiah was not even permitted to be tactful, gentle, or pastoral about it. He wasn’t allowed to consider the feelings of his listeners, or even his own safety. For God explicitly told him: “Do not hold back a word,” knowing what was in store for the prophet. For this is the message Jeremiah was sent to preach: “‘Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’”

In other words, Jeremiah was sent to call the people to repentance: bluntly, clearly, and unequivocally. And there is nothing that angers people more than this. The people responded by laying hold of him saying: “You shall die!” The call to repent often arouses such a replay, even as it brought a beheading to John the Baptist, a stoning to Stephen, and a cross for our Lord Himself. Indeed, this is often the fate of a faithful prophet.

Jeremiah would be spared a martyr’s death, but several times in his ministry, he came close. For instead of hearing God’s Word, instead of repenting, instead of submitting to the prophetic message and the warnings of the Lord, the people arrogantly demanded that the prophet recall his words, change his message, and tell them what they wanted to hear – or else.

The Word of God – especially the call to repent of our sins and to seek a holy life of obedience and submission to the Lord’s will – has been mocked since the Garden of Eden, and will be a stench in the nostrils of every Old Adam – believer and unbeliever alike – until the Lord returns in glory to vindicate Jeremiah’s proclamation to, and lamentations over, the people to whom he was sent.

Following Jeremiah, St. Paul also preached the unpopular Word of God, and many times found himself at the business end of a lynch mob: pelted with rocks, beaten with sticks, arrested, and persecuted. For listen to what St. Paul preaches to the Ephesian Christians – not pagans, mind you, but to pious church members. After telling them to “be imitators of God,” the holy apostle gives specific pastoral counsel in his call to repentance: “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

For Ephesian Christians of the first century were surrounded by a lowest-common-denominator culture of sexuality and crude joking. Twenty-first century Americans have the added complication of television and the internet, as well as their children being indoctrinated in false religion and atheism from sources thought to be wholesome because they cater to children’s entertainment.

For modern American Christians, we have the option of attending church on Sunday morning and watching cartoons on Sunday evening that not only include “sexual immorality” and “impurity” and “filthiness” and “crude joking,” but also outright mockery of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God. We Americans can offer an “Amen” to the Word in the morning, and serve up giggles at jokes about the Word in the evening. And since many of these shows are animated, children can get a head start on this religious and cultural schizophrenia at an increasingly younger age.

And to our sinful flesh’s impulsive claim that we can enjoy such things that “everyone else” participates in without spiritual damage, St. Paul retorts: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

As for our forays into darkness, St. Paul says to stop it! Jeremiah says: “walk in my law… and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened.” For just maybe, “it may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that [God] may relent of the disaster that [He intends] to do to them because of their evil deeds.”

For the Old Adam always excuses sin, blocks his ears to correction, and finds a way to shoot the messenger rather than heed the message. Dear friends, the call to repentance from Jeremiah and Paul are as relevant today as ever. Listen to them! Heed their words! For their words are God’s Word, their call to repentance is God’s call to repentance. He is speaking to you now, pleading with you to hear Him, to really and truly listen, to resist the urge to be defensive and to lash out at the messenger. He is calling each one of us to turn from our evil ways and live. And God does not want to hear us go on about our good works or how well we know our doctrine. God is not impressed, and He is calling us to repent – not because He hates us, dear friends, no indeed! But rather because He loves us beyond what we can ever conceive.

He backs up His warnings in His own blood. He beckons you to follow Him to the cross, to the atonement, to forgiveness, to redemption, and to everlasting life! And that good news follows the call to repent. So hear it anew, dear brothers and sisters, hear it again, hear it fresh, and hear it with all the seriousness of the prophet Jeremiah being threatened with execution for speaking the Word of God: “repent!”

For our Lord wants to heal you, forgive you, save you, and restore you. He has come to you to redeem you, to revive you, and to remove every trace of the Old Adam from you. He continues to come to you to exorcise you, to call you to repent, to declare you to be forgiven and righteous, and to offer Himself to you in His Word and in His most holy body and blood, to comfort and to strengthen.

He has not come to condemn, but to save. But dear friends, if you refuse to be saved by your hardness of heart, all He can do for you is to continue to call you to repent. He will not abandon you to the devil, and so He continues to plead over and against all of our Old Adams: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord is telling us that repentance is not child’s play, not something to be taken for granted. For like Jeremiah before Him, our Lord is demonized for calling the people to repent, for not telling the people what they want to hear, for not heaping praise upon those who think more highly of themselves than they ought. So deluded are they in their hardness of heart that they think His casting out of demons is evidence that He does so by the devil’s help. Sin can cause people to be so warped that even their logic and reason – let alone common sense – is perverted by the evil one.

Our Lord warns us that a demon once cast out, if courted back, “goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Dear brethren, let your repentance be repentance. Hear this good news that Jesus casts out the demons on our behalf, not by Beelzebul, but instead by the “finger of God.” He has the authority to reach out to you; He has the will to save you; He has the power to redeem you; He has the love to forgive you. He is merciful in His call to repent, and He is gracious in His response to our cries for mercy.

For Jeremiah was a precursor of the Lord Jesus who overcame the Old Adam by being the New Adam, the one who not only calls us to repent, but who delivers salvation to us in proclamation and preaching and the promise that is signed, sealed, and delivered by His crucified body and shed blood itself.

And St. Paul tells us what is yet to come for those who remain in the Word and do not turn from the Lord. Though we cannot do it perfectly in this life, we are called upon to strive against sin and struggle against evil and anticipate the time when we will indeed by God’s grace: “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”

“Return to the Lord your God,” dear brothers and sisters, “For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and abounding in steadfast love.” Amen.

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sermon: Reminiscere - 2011

20 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

At the Introit of the service, we sang: “Remember, O Lord.”

Of course, to a bystander, this could seem like an odd prayer. We are praying, after all, to God Almighty, who has no need of tying a red yarn around His finger, or covering everything with Post-It notes, or sending Himself reminder e-mails. And to someone unfamiliar with the Christian faith, it might seem bizarre, if not downright disrespectful, to give God an order – especially a command to “remember” as if we were a frustrated boss telling a sloppy subordinate not to mess up at work.

In the Gospel, we see a subordinate likewise demanding God’s remembrance, and we see God’s reaction to being spoken to in such a fashion. And like everything else in God’s kingdom – it isn’t what we might expect!

The Canaanite woman is even lower than a subordinate. Not only is she a woman living in a time and culture when polite women did not initiate speech with a man, but she is also a Gentile, a descendant of the enemies of God. She lives in the hinterlands of Tyre and Sidon – regions not inhabited by God’s chosen people, but rather populated by those whose religion was, at best, a mix of truth and error. And to top it all off, the Canaanite woman has a demon living under her roof oppressing her troubled daughter.

This is the last person who should be telling God what to do and debating Him. Which is exactly the point. God’s kingdom is made up of the humble, the weak, the unworthy, the despised, the lowly, those of little education, those who are looked down upon by people who think they are their betters. And yet, what is the ultimate cause of this poor woman’s misery? Sin. And the same sin infests all of Adam’s descendants. And in her lowliness and humility, she has as much right to stand before God and make demands as anyone: which is to say, she has no right to do so at all.

And yet she does indeed stand before God. And she speaks to God. And she gives a command to God. And God listens. And God praises the woman and blesses her!

For, dear friends, God’s kingdom is not about worthiness, but unworthiness; not about personal rights, but about imputed righteousness. God’s kingdom is not who you are, but rather, whom you know – or more importantly, who knows you, in spite of who you are.

Jesus knows this woman and her plight even before she asks. And yet she does ask for help. More accurately, she demands help: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” She does more than ask; she orders. And while her prayer is also a form of begging, it is an aggressive plea that takes the form of a command – much like our prayer that God “remember.” The Canaanite woman calls Jesus to remember as well – not to remember the ancient history of the Gentile people, not to remember her sins and the sins of her daughter, not to remember the old covenant that excluded her – but rather, she prays essentially what we have prayed: “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your loving-kindnesses, for they are from of old.”

In invoking mercy, the Canaanite woman reminds Jesus that He is God, and she also reminds God that He is merciful. But along with reminding God, she is confessing to herself and to those within earshot just why it is that she can “await from the Lord great and abundant mercy” in answer to her prayers. For she is not so much reminding God as she is reminding herself, calling to mind God’s mercy, and doing so in faith in the promise that God has come to save not only the children of Jacob, but ultimately, all of His creation racked by sin and rent by death.

Jacob wrestled with the God-Man to a draw, and had a sore hip to show for it, but the God-Man defeated Satan at the cross, crushing His head and Himself suffering the bruised heel as a result. Jesus was not only crucified for the sins of the sons of Israel, but also for the sins of the daughters of Canaan. In His passion, our Blessed Lord feels the suffering of the Canaanite woman, her anguish over her daughter’s lost soul and possessed body. He has compassion on her struggle and depression, her desperation, her lovesick cry for help for her daughter. Jesus feels it along with us. And He is there with us in our family problems, our health issues, our anxieties, and our mortality.

And yet, how hard it must have been for the Canaanite woman to hear Jesus respond at first with silence. She has cried out for help, and God is silent. She suffers and God is silent. And the disciples even try to send her away empty-handed. But she patiently continues with her litany of “Lord, have mercy!” and she kneels where Jesus is to be found. She prays again: “Lord, help me!” And yet again, what disappointment she must have experienced as the Lord coldly brushed her off with something that must have hit her like a blow from a sledgehammer: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

How her heart must have ached, and how her head must have pounded. And yet, undaunted, she disputed with Jesus, turning His metaphor on its head and throwing it back in His face: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

The Canaanite woman’s retort is not impertinence, but rather faith. She is not showing disrespect to Jesus, but rather demonstrating respect for God’s promise. She refuses to take “no” for an answer because she knows that the answer is already “yes.” The Lord remembers His promise, and Jesus gladly hears the woman’s strong plea for Him to “remember,” to call to mind, and to act on the Word of God – which is powerful, effective, and always true.

“O woman,” our Lord pronounces, “great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And “her daughter was healed instantly.” The demons cannot abide God’s Word, and God’s Word cannot fail when it comes to faith. The demon flees, sin is forgiven, health is restored, and prayers are answered. This, dear friends, is the Christian faith and life in a nutshell.

For as the apostle reminds us: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace.” For even as the Canaanite woman held on to faith in the midst of her sufferings, we are reminded that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

“Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David.” “Remember, O Lord.” Remember! Amen.

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sermon: Invocabit - 2011

13 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

God created the first man, Adam, out of the dust of the earth, the Adamah. For in those days, even the dirt from which God made our first ancestor was clean. The universe was perfect. Adam was flawless, created without sin, living in an unspoiled creation – and there was no death to be found anywhere.

“Now the serpent was more crafty…” The serpent was the manifestation of the rebellious angel known to us by the title “Satan” – also known as “the tempter.”

The tempter was also a liar, drawing Adam’s helpmate Eve into doubting God’s Word and God’s truthfulness. “Did God actually say…?” inquired the tempter. He appealed to the woman’s vanity, and she appealed to the man’s weakness. They both sinned, and the perfect became flawed, the saints became sinners, and the immortal became mortal. We became dead men walking.

The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe; 
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight; 
On earth is not his equal.

In their temptation by the serpent, our first parents failed. They sinned, they died, and they left us all with the mess – and no possible way to clean it up.

With might of ours can naught be done
Soon were our loss effected.

This, dear friends, is why, to this very day, we live with sin, with evil, with struggles and sorrows of all kinds, and with death. God’s good creation has been corrupted. God’s beloved people have turned on him. And today we hear in God’s Word the same sobering message Christians around the world heard Wednesday night, as the dust from which we were made, now dirty and menacing, reminders of death, were smeared on our own sinful foreheads: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Man 1.0 was a dismal failure. God gave him a will, freedom to obey or disobey, a mind to be able to interact with other beings – and in encountering the serpent, he believed the word of the creature over and above the word of the Creator. Seeking to be greater than God, he became worse than the dust from which he had been fashioned.

And yet, dear friends, even as we sang today the words of the Creator: “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation,” our Creator did not give up on us. Though He gave Adam and Eve the sad news of their punishment, the worst was given to the tempter. For a promised future man, a Man 2.0, would be born of a woman to get even, to put things right, as God told the serpent: “[The Seed of the woman] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Meanwhile, the tempter still tempts, death comes to all, and sin rules this corrupted and broken world. Power and avarice still tempt starry-eyed human beings as they plunge headlong into destruction. And yet, we are not without help and without hope.

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpower us.

For we do indeed call upon God, and He answers us. He hears our cry for pity, for mercy, for forgiveness, and for life. He sends Man 2.0, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, God’s very Son in the flesh, the promised Seed of the woman, to crush the tempter’s head.

But for us fights the Valiant One
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Man 2.0, the New and Greater Adam, the immortal God who puts on mortal human flesh, our Champion and Redeemer, defeats the tempter and avenges all mankind, living sinlessly to defeat sin, dying and rising to defeat death, and shedding His blood as an atonement for all the sins committed from Adam until this very moment and beyond.

Our Lord not only defeats the tempter, crushing his head at the cross, defying our death by leaving behind an empty tomb, but also demonstrates to us how to repel the serpent, how to beat back temptation, how to fight back against evil. Three times, the tempter repeats his tactic that defeated Adam, and three times our blessed Lord says: “It is written.” For it is written in God’s Word that the Word of God is mightier than a two-edged sword.

In the face of hunger and want (a fate unknown to Adam before the fall, but known to Jesus in His fasting), the devil taunts Him to turn stones into bread. “It is written,” says our Lord by way of reply, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.

For the Word is not only written, but made flesh; not only given to us as a book to read and recite, but in the form of the God-Man to be shared and proclaimed. The Word of God is with God and is God, the Word by whom all things are made offers re-creation, renewal, and renaissance, holy rebirth and a second chance, the opportunity to likewise join Him as Man 2.0 in repentance and forgiveness, all offered as a free gift, dear friends, a free gift received in faith – faith in the words of God, and faith in the very Word of God.

In Christ, the tempter, the old evil foe, the serpent, the one who brought ruination to creation, is himself ruined. For Christ’s victory is our victory – even as Christ’s life is our life – come what may in this broken world that, in spite of it all, is being remade anew.

And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife
Though these all be gone,
Our victory has been won;/The Kingdom ours remaineth.

“Behold,” dear friends, “now is the favorable time. Now is the day of salvation.” For even in God’s kingdom, we servants of the Word, servants of Him who defeated the serpent, often endure the fallout of the fall: “hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger,” and yet, in the Word made flesh, all of these are overcome.

Do not be discouraged, brothers and sisters. The tempter’s days are few. The serpent’s time is limited. The power of sin has already been broken. The world corrupted by the devil is already on the mend through the Word. And so we cling to the Word, we lay claim to salvation, we hold onto the gift given to us by God’s mercy, and through the clouds and the gloom we see hope and life! He has won salvation for us, dear friends, and now is the day of salvation; now is the day to hold onto the gift, and by the strength only He can give to us, refuse to turn loose. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Man 2.0, is restoring paradise by means of the cross and by the power of the Word, and our Old Adams are being remade back into His image, even as creation itself will be made anew.

This world’s prince may still,
Scowl fierce as he will,/He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

“It is written.” Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2011

9 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pet 1:2-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” cautions our Lord Jesus Christ, “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our Lord tells us to treasure that which is incorruptible, not the stuff that is only eaten by moths, rusts, decays when exposed to the elements, falls apart over time, and runs down. For we have all been reminded of the ultimate corruption, decay, and falling apart: death.

You have been bodily marked with a cross of ashes, and in the words that call to mind the Lord’s sad pronouncement to Adam, through whom all men have fallen into sin and by whom death came into our once-perfect world: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We need to be reminded of this. We push it to the back of our minds. We live like we will never die. We don’t even like to talk about making preparations for death. And we have every kind of lotion and pill and surgery and gimmick imaginable to mask the reality that we are indeed dust and that we shall surely and certainly return to dust.

And that is why we hear again the imperative: “Remember.” Remember, dear friends. Don’t forget! Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can escape death, that you will not age, that your body will not wear out over time. “Remember, O man,” for you are a mortal human being whose sinful nature not only needs to be reminded of its mortality, but also needs to be called to repentance.

The point of the ashes is not to drive us to despair; God is not taunting us by reminding us that we will die. Rather, He is reminding us why we die, and what’s more, promising us that we will live! He is calling us out of the ashes of death, inviting us to wash our faces in the fresh waters of baptism, to rise anew with clean souls to a second chance, a life that will never end. He is calling us here and now, to acknowledge our wretchedness, to remember the Garden of Eden, to confess our sins of thought, word, and deed, those of omission and those of commission, those we know and those of which we are ignorant, those we have committed in weakness, and those we have committed willfully.

Remember those sins! Remember the wages of sin. And remember the somber proclamation given to Adam: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And yet this is not the only talk of returning that we hear on this day of sackcloth and ashes. He also says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” He bids us, “return to the Lord Your God,” dearly beloved. “Return” to Him! Come back to Him with all your heart! Restore your communion with Him. Renew your friendship with Him. Revive your place at His table, your openness to His Word. For we not only remember that we are dust, but we also remember that our Lord Jesus Christ returned to the dust of the grave, and yet He returned anew as the victor over sin and death and the devil. Remember the resurrection! Remember the promise!

This is what it means to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Our treasure is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, proclaimed in the Word and proffered in the Sacraments. And such treasure is not to be found in the decaying material things of this world, the things that distract us, deceive us, and if allowed, will destroy us.

As those marked by the cross of death, we bear the cross of our own sinfulness. We live in a world of death that we have inherited, but we have contributed to the world of sin that we have committed.

“Remember, O man…” For you are not called upon to remember someone else’s mortality, nor to confess another’s sin. The Lord calls you to remember. The Lord calls you to repent. This call to repent is issued to you, on this day, delivered to you by your God, the one who created you, redeemed you, sanctified you, and who now calls you to “remember.”

For our Creator has chosen to save us from ourselves and our sins. He abhors nothing He has made. By His mercy, He forgives us and offers us new life. By His Son He saves us and offers us eternal life. By the cross He redeems us and in dying on the cross, our Blessed Lord restores us to abundant life.

This is what repentance is about, dear brothers and sisters. It isn’t about fear and condemnation, but rather comfort and forgiveness. “Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” It is not a brutish command but a gracious invitation!

Repentance is part of that remembrance, the remembrance that we are mortal, that we are sinners, but also that He is immortal and that He defeated death to save sinners.

For even as we are reminded today of our corruption, of our sin, and, yes, of our mortality, we are also reminded that in Christ, we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Though we die, we will live. Though we are sinners, we are forgiven. And though we are corruptible, we shall put on incorruptible bodies by the grace, mercy, and “divine power” which “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness... by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”

We are not only marked with an ashen cross of death, but also marked with a watery cross of life!

Ash Wednesday is about remembrance: the calling to mind of our sins and our sinfulness, as well as the calling to mind of our Savior and our salvation.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; He shall send from heaven and save me; He reproaches the one who would swallow me up.”

“Remember, O man!” Remember, and live! Amen.

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

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2011

6 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:31-43

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

God’s kingdom is filled with contrasts, with unexpected twists, with surprises. In God’s kingdom, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see. In God’s kingdom the proudly religious are condemned, the mighty are weak, and those with eyes to see and ears to hear are spiritually blind and deaf.

For the third time, Jesus has explained to the twelve – His chosen students who have been with Him for three years – just what was going to happen: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

He tells this to them plainly, without figures of speech, without using a parable, and without any accompanying sign. And yet, they didn’t get it. “They understood none of these things.” Their ears heard Him say it, but they did not truly “hear” Him. Their eyes saw Him explain this to them in person, yet they didn’t “see” the reality right before their eyes. They didn’t believe Him because they didn’t want to believe Him. His kingdom was not what they expected, not what they hoped for, not what they desired. They wanted no talk of suffering and of the cross.

And that, dear brothers and sisters, their desire, is what gets in the way of their faith. Their own will (that is contrary to God’s will) interferes with their belief – even something so simple and direct as the Lord’s clear and unequivocal explanation of what was going to happen in Jerusalem.

The foundation of the Church, the apostles, the Lord’s first wave of preachers, these twelve men who would first receive the Lord’s Supper and first be commissioned to administer it to others, eleven of whom who would be filled by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, these men destined for greatness in spreading the Gospel through preaching and signs and wonders under great hardship, even unto martyrdom, who saw Jesus perform three years worth of miracles with their very eyes – were on this day, blind as bats.

Their own expectations and desires made them so.

How different is the blind man! He had not walked with Jesus for three years. His eyes have never beheld even a single miracle. His crippling debilitation had made it necessary for him to beg for a living. He knew no sense of pride, no identity as part of the inner circle. In fact, he was shunned by polite company, by the establishment. And that, dear friends, is a beautiful picture of God’s kingdom. For what better explanation is there of prayer and God’s grace and the Christian life than to confess before God and man that we beg for a living? That is all we can do. We are shunned and scorned by the world, and all that we can do is hold our empty hands heavenward and humbly plead for divine grace and mercy. Unlike the apostles who have their sight but do not see, this blind beggar sees the reality of the kingdom.

In his faith and in his reliance on the grace of God, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He knows who Jesus is. He is the Son of David, “written about… by the prophets.” He is the Messiah, the One who comes in hope to usher in a new kingdom, a kingdom in which “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” In His blindness, he sees, and in his faith, he cries out for mercy. And in His mercy, the Lord comes to him, hears his prayer, and delivers his sight back to him.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’”

Who could have predicted or imagined that the holy apostles, the men upon whose ministry the Lord would build His Church, would be so lacking in faith after three years of seeing miracles and hearing the Gospel, while the real example of faith, the one who truly understands the kingdom of God, would be this beggar that the world holds with condescension and contempt.

Indeed, God’s kingdom is filled with contrasts, with unexpected twists, with surprises. In God’s kingdom, the lost are found, the confident are brought to self-doubt, the blind see, the proud are humbled, the lowly are lifted up, the deaf are serenaded with the sweet music of forgiveness, the mute are empowered to sing and pray and praise God with a loud voice, the sinner is forgiven and made righteous, given a new life and a fresh start, the haughty are brought down a peg and the despicable one who repents finds everlasting life and salvation.

Dear friends, let us give thanks and praise to God for raising up this blind beggar, for he is our teacher in the faith as surely as Sts. Peter and Paul and the whole lot of the apostles, the Church fathers, the theologians, and the doctors of the faith. This simple blind beggar has given the Church a part of her liturgy that she has sung for century upon century – even as we continue to sing today: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.” This is our greatest prayer in our time of trouble and distress. For this prayer identifies the cause of our misery – our need for God’s mercy. Only a sinner is in need of mercy. And only from a world of sin do we seek refuge.

And this is why the blind beggar’s prayer is not only a liturgical prayer of the Divine Service, it is also a deeply personal meditation prayed by Christians around the world, an individual cry for mercy from a soul in distress. It is fittingly known as “the Jesus prayer,” and it is often prayed as follows: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

It acknowledges our own sin. It does not try to cover up our need for a Savior. It makes no boasts or haughty claims. It is a cry of a beggar. It is a cry for pity. But most important of all, it is a cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the fleshly God, the One who has mercy, the One who is mercy, the One who gives mercy. Ironically uttered by a blind man with the faith to see with spiritual eyes, in contrast to those who see, who accept the world on reason alone, who can see creation’s beautiful sunsets but cannot see the need for the Creator to die on the cross to become our Savior, whose desires get in the way of spiritual sight – even the twelve.

And yet, thanks be to God, the Lord doesn’t give up on His apostles. He gives them the same mercy sought by the beggar. He gives them the same heavenly vision that He had already delivered to the blind beggar. And though we do not know his name, the Lord does, the Lord who hears his prayer and answers his cry for mercy with healing and blessing. And though his name is lost to history, his prayer rings out in churches of every time and place and by Christians seeking divine help in every corner of the globe: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sermon: Funeral of Anne Rhodes

2 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 14:1-6 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

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

It was a joy to cross paths in life with Anne and with several members of her family. The Lord in His mercy brought Anne into the fellowship of this congregation and gave me the privilege to visit with her, to deliver the Gospel to her, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with her, and to give her pastoral care in her time of struggle. And now her struggle is over. She has won the victory. She has finished the race. She has gone home to her merciful Father. Thanks be to God!

And yet we are left behind to continue in this valley of tears where we suffer many temptations in this life – even temptations that have good intentions. In our mourning and suffering, we sometimes seek comfort where it can’t be found. Sometimes with very good intentions, people will say that “death is a part of life” or “death is natural” or even that “death is a blessing.”

None of this is true.

Dear friends, death is a terrible thing. That is why we mourn. That’s why we miss our loved ones who pass away. Death is not a part of life, not natural, and not a blessing. Scripture teaches us that death is the wages of sin. Death is the penalty for the transgressions of our ancestors from Adam and Eve right down to babies born this very moment. We die because of sin – which we have inherited and which we have committed. And we’re all in this mess together. Our world is broken, and we are broken. And death is the worst expression of that brokenness. There is no good to it at all, dear friends.

For in the beginning, God created a perfect world free from sin. He declared it “good.” He created all living things to live forever, and He created mankind in His own image to manage all of this perfect creation. It was beautiful beyond what we can even imagine. But our ancestors rebelled against God, and so do we. We sin every day, every hour, every moment. We are surrounded and imbedded with sin.

And this is why we have funerals.

But, dear friends, God takes that which is bad, that which we deserve, and He uses it for good. God redeems us, He reclaims us, He recreates us, as His own dear children. God washes away our sins at Holy Baptism, forgives us by Holy Absolution, and restores us in the Holy Supper – even as He promises: “Listen to Me… even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

As awful as death is, our Heavenly Father is greater. As evil as death is, our Lord Jesus Christ rose from it to save us. As final as death seems, the Holy Spirit comes to us as the Lord and Giver of life, who calls us out of the perishable body of sin and death and resurrects our body imperishable, to new and everlasting life through forgiveness – all because of the cross of Christ. God could have simply given up on us, but instead He saves us. He became one of us, and He transforms us. That promise is for our dear sister in Christ, Anne, and it is for you who believe and grasp the promise, we who have the gift of faith in the Christ who died for us to save us.

Listen to the promise from the lips of our dear Savior Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer Himself: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

Dear brothers and sisters, what a joy to hear that Jesus has prepared a place for us. We are not destined to become spirits floating around in the clouds. No indeed! Spirits don’t have to live in a house with rooms. The Lord has promised that Anne’s body – though it has returned to the dust of our creation, will live again, as we confessed in the creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Just as our blessed Lord walked bodily out of His own tomb, so will Anne, so will all the saints, and so will each one of us who confesses Christ, having received the free and full gift of forgiveness and new life.

And this, dear friends, is of more comfort than any talk about death being natural. For what kind of a God would create us simply to die? No, our Creator has made us to live; He is the God of the living, and our Redeemer has defeated death, even as the Holy Spirit draws us to the one God who gives us life.

That is how even in our sorrow and grief, even as we miss Anne, our mother, our grandmother, our sister in Christ, our relative, and our friend, we can still proclaim with joy along with St. Paul and with Christians of every time and place: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Anne is the victor! She has been adorned with Christ’s righteousness and crowned with eternal life. She bears the sign of Christ’s cross by virtue of her baptism, and she lays hold of the resurrection by virtue of the unbreakable and sure Word and promise of the living God.

Dear friends, we miss Anne. We grieve for ourselves and our loss. Though death is not natural, our mourning is. Healing will take time, and it won’t be complete until we are all reunited in eternity. And so we grieve, but not as the unbelievers. For we have hope. We have cause for joy. We have the promise! We know that death has been defeated at the cross by our Lord, who has risen to give us His righteousness and His life and a free and gracious gift.

And we pray with St. Paul, with the entire Church triumphant, and yes even with Anne herself, who now sees Christ face to face in glory unveiled and beauty unlimited, as we pray together: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” now and forever! Amen.

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