Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sermon: Easter – 2011

23 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The reason St. Paul can taunt death with these words is because of our Lord’s victory over death and the grave on that Easter morning that Christians around the world remember joyfully on this great and glorious day. But make no mistake – the Lord was the victor on Good Friday, at the cross. For in dying, He defeated death and outwitted the craftiest of all God’s creatures – the devil. This was clear from His victory cry from the cross just before He surrendered His Spirit: “It is finished!” This is a curious thing for a man dying by execution for a supposed crime to say: a military term for “Mission accomplished!” Even though the world saw the image of a humiliated man being conquered by death, what really happened is that the exalted God defeated the death intended for us men by dying Himself as a Man. Even the centurion at the foot of the cross recognized the Lord’s victory when he realized that what Jesus accomplished was in fact a classic ambush.

Jesus defeated both sin and the death at the cross. For “behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

In response to these clear signs of divine intervention, the centurion, himself a military officer, declared: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Death itself was to be routed. The “saints who had fallen asleep” walking around Jerusalem were the preview of the resurrection to come. But the real declaration of victory came in Jesus’ own rising from the dead. For in His Easter resurrection, our Lord swept away the final enemy of mankind, one that seemed so immune from defeat.

Death is our common ancient and most cruel enemy. It nips at our heels our whole lives long. It eventually catches up with everyone, people of every tribe and tongue, rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Death is the wages of sin, and indeed, “the sting of death is sin.” Dear friends, one way or another, our lives will end in this world. It is very likely that a preacher somewhere in this fallen world and at some point in time will recite this very passage of Scripture as your body lies in a casket: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

And the reason Christian preachers of the Word and Christian hearers of the Word can join St. Paul in his taunt of death – even at the sad time of a funeral – is the same reason St. Paul invites us to offer thanks to God: “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


This is what the centurion recognized when he confessed the Crucified One to be the Son of God. This is what St. Paul reveals to us, that which was revealed to him. For it is indeed a mystery: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” For “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” And it is “when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.”


Dear friends, Easter is about victory: our Risen Lord’s triumph over sin, death and the devil, His victory over the grave and guilt, His conquest over everything that impedes full communion between sinful men and the righteous God. Jesus has defeated them all, and moreover, He hands this victory over to us as a free gift, giving us a full share in His victory through being baptized into His death and resurrection, being given the gift of faith that can look death in its cold and cruel eyes and reply with a taunt: “Where is your victory?”

In the resurrection of Jesus, the words of Job came to pass. Job: the man who suffered the most horrible things a person can experience in this life, all the while clinging, even if barely, against all hope and against all odds, to the promise that he has engraved forever in the inscribed and inspired Word of God: “I know that my Redeemer lives…. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

The cross is a victory for life over death, and it is also a victory for faith over unbelief. Job held on to the promise for dear life, and without seeing evidence for it, was able to confess and write the words: “I know….”

And we know as well, dear friends, because the tomb is empty! The Marys found the stone rolled away! The angels announced it! Jesus appeared to hundreds of people! The Church has borne witness and confessed this reality for two millennia! And we continue to sing with Job – whose faith was vindicated, whose life was restored, whose sins were forgiven, and who will indeed join us at our own resurrection: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

And like the Marys, the Church continues to bear witness, to tell the truth, often with trembling, always with astonishment, at times even while afraid: the truth, the life-changing truth, the history-altering-truth, the death-defying truth, that Jesus has died for us sinners to give us His righteousness, and He has risen from the dead to give us life. His victory is our victory. And we join ourselves to Him, proclaiming His death in a holy communion with Him in His body and blood, until He comes, saying, singing, confessing, and proclaiming: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sermon: Good Friday – 2011

22 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 18:1 – 19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

There are great milestones in history that mark a passing away of an old order and the entrance of a new order. Sometimes, the living witnesses to these milestones realize the significance of what their eyes behold, and other times, it falls to people in the future to see the change.

In world history, there were many examples of such irrevocable changes in history, things that happen that simply make going back impossible, such as when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor, when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door, when the Berlin Wall was torn down, or when planes flew into the World Trade Center.

Once these historic events happened, there was no return to the former order of things.

And as significant as all of these events are, none of them is as history-changing as two closely related events having to do with wood: one at the beginning of creation, and one involving the restoration of creation. For in the beginning, the Lord created a perfect habitat for humanity and placed the first perfect man and the first perfect woman in a perfect garden. They were given a perfect existence without sin or death. They were even granted the privilege to stand face to face with God, and were surrounded with trees heavy-laden with edible fruits, the sweet taste of which our fallen senses cannot even begin to imagine. But our once-perfect ancestors chose to eat from a tree that was off-limits. That fateful decision changed the world forever. There was no going back to the garden.

We have struggled with sin and death and the devil ever since. The trees that sustained us gave way to weeds that strangle out our food and create hard labor for us. Thorns injure us. We suffer and we die. There is no going back to the garden. Sadly, “The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” And in this present world order, “new” does not mean “improved,” but rather corrupted and fallen.

But, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the “love of Christ controls us.” God, in His infinite love and mercy, does not leave us stranded from the garden forever. There is a hopeful coming of the “new” and a joyful passing away of the “old.”

In another universe-altering event, God took the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The baby Jesus was laid in a manger of wood, constructed out of a fallen and dead tree from the fallen and dead world by a fallen and dead man.

But this perfect Man grew in stature and revealed Himself to be God – but what’s more, He revealed Himself to be our Savior. And His destiny was to mark a milestone in the history of creation that dwarfs everything that has come before: including the fall in the garden.

Our agony in the Garden of Eden gave way to His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He took on our sin and death, He surrendered His privilege to stand before God (crying out in the words of the Psalm, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?). And He submitted Himself, heavy laden to the fruits of His passion, and was nailed to the cross, constructed out of a fallen and dead tree from the fallen and dead world by a fallen and dead man. He was given sour wine to drink, the decaying fruit from a corrupted earth. “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see Him dying on the tree!” And bringing the old order forever to a close, He proclaimed: “It is finished.” And “He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.”

Our blessed Lord struggled with sin and death and the devil because of our sins, and He, the sinless One, was victorious for us. The tree upon which He was crucified became for us a Tree of Life. Thorns injured Him on our account, but He overcame them in our place. He was to suffer and to die to take away our suffering and give us life. There is no going back to the garden of sin and death. Indeed, this is a Good Friday in which “The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” By virtue of the cross, “new” means immortal and incorruptible. For He was not to remain in the garden tomb, dear friends, but following His Sabbath rest, He has given the universe a new and equally wondrous milestone – one in which death is replaced by life, grief with hope, mourning with rejoicing, and alienation with “the ministry of reconciliation.”

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

There is no turning back, dear friends. By means of the cross of dead wood descended from the fallen trees of the corrupted old garden, our Lord is creating for us a new garden, freed from sin, death, and the devil, teeming instead with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Our Lord’s cross of death is our Tree of Life, bearing perfect fruits for all eternity.

“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Amen.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2011

21 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.”

Our Lord has given us a new commandment, a new mandate – which is why this day is known as Maundy Thursday. Love is mandatory. It isn’t an option. It isn’t an add-on. It isn’t a warm fuzzy feeling. It isn’t only for our family, friends, and those who love us. We are to love our enemies, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are to love to the point of laying down our lives. We are to love as Jesus loved, taking on the role of a lowly foot-washing slave.

In our sinful nature, we don’t even know what love is. We throw the term around in vain. We love TV shows, we love the local team, we love ice cream. We sometimes substitute “lust” for love and confuse hormones, impulses, and temptations for this new commandment of Jesus.

And so, our Lord and Savior also acts as our teacher. We need to be taught not only how to love, but what love is itself: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it to His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”

There is love, dear friends. God Himself, the Creator, the King of the universe, having taken the form of a man, acting as a lowly slave, sloshing the filth off of the feet of the men who will be abandoning Him to His cross in just a few hours. There is Love. And He says: “I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”

Love is a giving of the self, an emptying of the self, a sacrifice of the self – all for the sake of the beloved. And it is done without thought of reward. There is Love.

Our Lord did some other extraordinary things on the night in which He taught us what love means. He took bread. He gave thanks. He said: “This is My body, given for you.” He took a cup after supper. He said: “This cup is the new testament in My blood.” He said this was for the forgiveness of sins. He said: “This do in remembrance of Me.” He gave His body and blood to His beloved, and to all of us. He also allowed Himself to be betrayed, arrested, accused, tortured, condemned, and crucified.

There is Love.

And as the Good Teacher, He teaches not merely with words but with deeds. For His Word is God’s Word, and God’s Word has the power to create reality. When our Lord says: “This is My body… This is My blood… for the forgiveness of sins… This do…”, He makes that miracle happen.

For, dear friends, it was on Maundy Thursday that the Lord gave us His Holy Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar. It is a sacrament because it is a mystery. It is given at the altar because our Lord’s flesh and blood is the one all availing sacrifice for the sins of the world, offered as a pure oblation to the Father out of love for both us and the Father. Our Lord’s death on the cross is a sin offering, and what’s more, it is a love offering. For no man has greater love than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends. And our Lord even offers Himself to His enemies, His betrayer, His denier, His cowardly disciples, His attackers, His executioners, and His countrymen who acted as the lynch mob. In fact, our Lord is the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.

There is love.

That kind of love is indeed a mystery, a sacrament. No-one can explain it, make it make sense, or appeal to reason for an explanation. No-one can rationalize love or put it in intellectual terms. Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross was indeed irrational and unexplainable – even as it is the greatest act of love in the history of the universe.

Dear brothers and sisters, love is not something we can choose to do or choose not to do. It is indeed a mandate. It is why we have been created. And we lost the very presence of God that empowered us to love when we chose the love of the lie over the love of our Creator back in the Garden of Eden. That Garden brought us death and alienation from God. But in another Garden, on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord prepared to receive our death and our alienation from God. Our Lord loves us enough to take the blows we have earned, to absorb them in our place, to suffer in our place, to die in our place.

There is love.

Dear friends, our Lord commands us to do something we cannot do in our sinful state. But He gives us forgiveness, an example to follow, a second chance. He gives us life and salvation and hope. He gives us the bread of His body and the wine of His blood, miraculously present in the mystery of love known as Holy Communion. He washes us body and soul with baptismal water, taking the humble estate of a servant.

Our Lord does not just give us the mandate. Indeed, He only asks of us what He has given us first: love. There is love: on His cross, upon His altar, at His font, in His Word, implanted in His people: “just as I have loved you.” There is love. Amen.

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

There is a new movie out: Atlas Shrugged

I have not seen the movie.  I have read the book.

The author of the book, Ayn Rand, was a refugee from Communism.  Seeing first hand as a child the destruction of freedom through government collectivism and coercion during the Russian revolution, she became an advocate of human liberty.  She found Communism to violate the rules of logic.  She delved into a philosophy of objective reality - which she called simply "Objectivism" - which stood out like a sore thumb in the 20th century world of Subjectivism.  As a novelist, essayist, and philosopher, she opposed Big Government at every turn in her adopted country, the United States.

Ayn Rand was a complicated, if not convoluted, figure, whose legacy is even more complex.  In her lifetime, she was a rather unlikeable tyrannical grumpy self-centered and morally-challenged Atheist who is today often quoted by tea-partying Fundamentalist Christian political activists.  She heroically opposed Communism, but also berated any act of love to another person as morally evil.  One of her close disciples was Alan Greenspan, who though at one time was a champion of the Randian notion of a hands-off government (which included a separation of currency and state through the gold standard) was to become the chairman of the Federal Reserve - the very institution devoted to the destruction of hard currency and the very motor behind Big Government itself.  The Fed is the American version of central economic planning and the state control of capital.  The continued legacy of Ayn Rand is filled with such ironies.

Karen De Coster has a balanced and nuanced consideration of Ayn Rand and her lasting legacy here.

Here is an Issues, Etc. podcast about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, an interview with Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University.  I think Dr. Jones does a very good job of showing the good, the bad, and ugly - and even more ugly (the latter "ugly" I disagree with him) - about Ayn Rand and her philosophy (of which the novel Atlas Shrugged is a manifesto).  I do take exception with a couple of his statements, however, first his assertion that U.S. senator Dr. Rand Paul (the son of U.S. representative Dr. Ron Paul) was named after Ayn Rand.  This is not true.  He also criticizes Alan Greenspan for not proposing enough regulation.  I think that is a fantasy.  Alan Greenspan held the levers of Big Government in ways utterly contrary to the principles of small government and sound money.

One excellent point that Jones makes - which is another Randian irony - is the fact that one of the reasons Communism fell is that it did not consider original sin.  Like most Utopian schemes, it falls flat because it is based on a flawed view of humanity.  Communism fails (as Rand points out) because it does not account for human selfishness.  The great irony is that Rand also denied original sin - thus sowing the seeds of her own Utopia's demise.

In spite of all of this, I think the book is a good read.  It is tedious, plodding in plot, and often plastic in its characters.  The dialogue is wooden and at times reads like a philosophy tome.  But the premise is brilliant, and the overall story is clever.  Besdies, it's an important work for many reasons.  It will make you think about the role of government intervention in the free economy, innovation, capitalism and capital, labor and markets, and what the limits of freedom are.  It is a thought-provoking work that has - for good and bad - made a huge impact on our modern life and political discourse in the western world.

I'll probably check out the film when it gets to Netflix. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermon: Palmarum – 2011

17 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-11, Matt 27:11-54

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.

As our Lord “drew near to Jerusalem,” He was given a welcome fit for a king. In fact, He was received and acclaimed as a king. He did not walk through the city gate, but was “mounted on a donkey,” a beast of burden. And though such a mount was humble, it reflected the same ride into David’s Royal City by David’s son (and our Lord’s ancestor) Solomon when he was also received as a king.

The crowds cheered. They waved branches from the trees and spread them on the road. “Hosanna! Blessed is He!” they cry out with excitement. They know the kingdom is indeed at hand, and that their King has drawn near in fulfillment of the prophets.

And watching this scene unfold, the people begin to write the rest of the story in their minds. Even the disciples think they know what is to come – even arguing among themselves who will sit at the King’s right and the King’s left. As with any transfer of power, there is a gathering of the ambitious, of flatterers, of hangers-on, and of those seeking to ride behind the king in majesty.

But the story was to take a shocking and unpredictable turn.

For our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday was to yield to His shameful expulsion on Friday. His Sunday parade was to become His Friday passion. The acclamations of “Hosanna!” on the first day of the week were to give way to cries of “Crucify!” as the sixth day waned into the Sabbath.

For the kingdom was not what the people wanted, and nor was the King. Instead of a mighty mover of men, they saw a submissive Savior of sinners. Instead of driving out the Romans, the people of Judea heard Jesus preach about a kingdom not of this world. Instead of a commander of an army of vengeance armed with firepower, they saw a Rabbi teaching a fickle assembly of disciples bearing only the Word of God.

And just as now, when what you have received is not what you wanted, you return the merchandise for a refund. “Give us Barabbas!” they demand. “Crucify Jesus!” instead is their desire.

And so the Lord’s departure from Jerusalem did not have the air of a triumph. He was given a send-off fit for a criminal. In fact, He was mocked and accused of being a false king. He did not ride out of the city gate as a hero, but was himself forced to bear the beam of his own cross in the manner of a beast of burden, pushed, shoved, whipped, and made sport of. Nothing of the Kingdom of David and Solomon was to be seen on this procession save the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, and the mockery of a scepter-like reed with which He was beaten by soldiers who bent the knee in order to humiliate him who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The crowds jeered. They waved their fists and spat at Him along the road. “Save yourself!” they were to shout at Him at the Place of the Skull. “Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him!” they mock and cry out with excitement. They know not what they do, and they mistakenly believe that He whom the prophets foretold is now calling for help to one of the prophets.

Gone are the ambitious, the flatterers, the hangers on. There is no-one left to cheer. No-one waving palms. Of His followers, only His mother and the disciple whom He loved are there to Him in His agony. They remain to watch the man declared by the acolyte of Caesar to be the “King of the Jews” take His humble throne. For this King’s ride is one of lowly pomp, as He rides on to die.

Even the singing of the children has been silenced for the time being, as the enemies of Jesus sought. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin and the Romans all gather like vultures waiting for this King to close His eyes in defeat. As they gloat, He suffers. As they shout and celebrate the seeming victory over their enemy, He struggles to breathe. As they drink merrily and carry on, He thirsts while His bones pop out of joint. And hearing Him sigh heavenward, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” before yielding up His spirit, the enemies of the kingdom of God believe that it is back to business as usual: might makes right, money and power defeat goodness and mercy, Satan is the ruler of this world and the king of this fallen creation.

After a frightening three years for those in power, it seems like everything is back to normal. The Sanhedrin is back in charge over the “little people.” The High Priest can once again carry on like a demi-god. Herod has no more rival claims to His puppet-throne. The Pharisees can go back to lording over the tax collectors and other sinners. The Sadducees can continue in their oh-so-sophisticated disbelief. The Romans can go on with their rapacious and murderous empire-building. Satan can get on with his business of driving men to despair and destroying God’s good creation.

Or so it seemed. But again, the story was to take a shocking and unpredictable turn.

For when our Lord, the Son of God died, the sacrifice was offered and accepted by the Father. When the Lord yielded up His spirit, the Spirit was unleashed upon the forces of evil. In seeming defeat, the cross’s hatred was conquered by Jesus in the true victory of divine love. The Victim was in fact, the Victor. The devil had been swindled. Four millennia of enmity between God and man had suddenly been reconciled on the cross. The blood of the Passover Lamb was spilled upon the doorpost of the entire world.

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two…. The earth shook…. The tombs were also opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

And when these children of the grave made their entrance into the holy city, they caused many to sing “Hosanna!” anew to the King who rules a kingdom in which the dead are raised, sinners are forgiven, and the powerful and mighty are toppled. And the Church has repeated the refrain that came originally from the lips of children ever since.

From his vantage point at the foot of the cross on Calvary’s hill, the Roman centurion saw all that had happened. He and his soldiers who served Caesar were compelled to shift their allegiance from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God. As a witness to the victory of the King and the consummation of the kingdom, the hardened officer of a hundred confesses the reality of the Lord’s victory with the matter-of-fact bluntness of a man under orders filling out a postmortem battle report: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

And so we sing anew: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermon: Judica – 2011

10 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 8:42-59

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We’ve walked in on Jesus in the middle of an argument. This is the kind of conversation in which nervous parents might scoot the curious children out of the room, and where people shift around and look at their shoes in embarrassment.

Jesus and His opponents are trading barbs. Speaking to the crowds, Jesus calls into question whether or not God is their father. In fact, He comes right out and tells them that their father is actually the devil, and that they too are liars just like him. Not the kind of language one might condone in Sunday School.

And for their part, our Lord’s opponents likewise question His ancestry. “Are we not right,” they ask, “in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” The crack about being a “Samaritan” is an ethnic slur, for the Jews took pride in their racial purity. Samaritans were considered impure because of their mixed-race background. And this may well be a snipe at our Lord on account of His mother, who was not married at the time of His conception, and who may well have been the subject of rumors and ugliness.

They also deny that our Lord is the Son of God. They try to contradict Jesus by saying that He is the one who is actually the son of the devil.

At the end of the day, the mob resorts to the only thing it has in its bag of tricks: force and violence. “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” The lynch mob was cheated on this occasion, as it was not yet time for the Lord to carry out the will of His Father by going to the cross to conquer sin, by dying to defeat death, and by rising incorruptible to reign victorious over the sinful flesh by means of His sinless flesh. This time, Jesus just vanishes, leaving the stone-wielders to scratch their heads and plot for another day.

The reason our Lord’s listeners were so angry is, as He told them: “You cannot bear to hear My Word.” For we know that God’s Word is a two-edged sword, a spiritual weapon that, as Dr. Luther pointed out, is a Word “that kills and makes alive.” Jesus preached the Gospel of who He is: their Savior. And this is indeed Good News! But what they heard was not the Good News that they were rescued, but rather the “insulting” news that they needed to be rescued. For these were proud people, Abraham’s children, God’s chosen, and who did this preacher think He was to call them to repentance anyway. Haven’t we all heard the rumors about His ancestry?

And actually, some of those rumors are true. Jesus does indeed come from questionable ancestry, a long line of sinners and rebels, people who died in the flood, murderers, adulterers, idol-worshipers, liars, and cheats – as is truthfully recorded by the evangelists Matthew and Luke. For His ancestry is our ancestry, and we are every bit as sinful as our forbears – unlike our Savior who came from the same place as we, according to His flesh, though without sin, and yet who is also God. And this is the real mixed ancestry of Jesus that is most resented by His opponents. They do not want to believe that this Man is also God. For this God-Man is calling them to repent. If He is God, then what He speaks must be true. But they don’t want it to be true, dear friends. They want Jesus to tell them what they want to hear. They want flattery. They want fluff. They want no talk of repentance. And in light of such preaching, they would rather believe that He is a devil.

And likewise, there is some truth to the intended insult that Jesus is a Samaritan. For Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, who finds a broken and bleeding man, symbolic of sinful mankind beaten about by Satan. Jesus is the merciful Samaritan who is the Rescuer of mankind, who puts upon the injured man’s wounds the medicinal oil of Holy Baptism and the healing wine of Holy Communion, and who carries the broken man to the innkeeper – though there was no room for Him at the inn at His own humble birth. And the Good Samaritan even pays for the victim’s lodging, even as our Lord Jesus has paid for our place in the kingdom “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Indeed, Jesus is a “Samaritan” of sorts, a Good Samaritan who, though stricken, smitten, and afflicted, does not waver in His mission to save, to rescue, to forgive, and to make alive.

The Lord Jesus prayed for His enemies even as He died by their own blood-stained hands, balled up in fists of rage, spitting insults upon Him as His life ebbed away: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” He is the truly Good Samaritan, even though the Jews meant the name to sting, to hurt, to wound. Indeed, Jesus knows what it is to be wounded. He knows what it is to pray with us: “Deliver me, O Lord… from the violent man.”

Our Lord leaves no room for doubt about who He is. For the most offensive thing that the Lord says is the good confession that He is indeed the Lord. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He says, for His Word is always truth, “before Abraham was, I am.”

I am.

This is the divine name, the name that is not to be pronounced, for it is the name that is above every name, the name before which every knee shall bow. It is the name into which we are baptized, the name by which we must be saved. His name is “Jesus” and He is the Almighty God, the great I AM, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier, the Holy and Mighty Lord, who is also the merciful Savior.

And His good confession is our good confession, dear friends. And this confession still causes men to take up stones in their hands seeking to kill, seeking to silence the Word, seeking to do to the Good Samaritan what the Good Samaritan seeks to save mankind from. Jesus still causes grown men to argue, to debate, and even to commit and suffer violence. Jesus continues to stir up controversy wherever His Word goes forth.

For Jesus has Good News for all who will swallow their pride, admit that they are in need of a Savior, and will humble themselves before the Lord. Jesus has Good News to those who will hear the Word and bear with it, even when it exposes things about ourselves that we do not like. Jesus has Good News for sinners who know they are sinners and who know that they need to repent. Jesus has Good News for us today, dear brothers and sisters, for He not only calls us to repent and to believe, but also to receive Him for who He truly is, and to receive Him as divine charity: God in the flesh, sent to the cross to redeem us in our flesh, given to us in His Word and His flesh and blood.

For here is the very same Good News proclaimed by our Lord Himself to friend and foe alike: He is our Redeemer. He is our Savior. He is our Life. Now and forevermore. Amen.

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

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Lutheran Satire

Funny stuff! More can be found here. And to answer the question of "some people," no, I am not Hans Fiene and no, I didn't write this. :-)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Fifty Years Ago...

While leafing through an antique book that belonged to my great-grandfather as a school boy, I ran across a relic from my parents: two attached drive-in movie coupons from 1961 - the year before they were married.  These tickets have sat dormant in that old book for exactly fifty years. 

Just what the significance of the discovery is - if there is any significance - I don't know.  But I think it's nifty just the same.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sermon: Laetare - 2011

3 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 6:1-15 

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord teaches us many things today. For we see Him not only performing a grand and glorious miracle, but providing for the ordinary needs of common people. We see not only the Man Jesus, who is God in the flesh, flexing His divine muscles and showing the world who He truly is, but we also witness the Almighty God, who is a fleshly Man, gently displaying compassion and teaching the world about divine mercy.

Our blessed Lord also teaches us about “providence.”

We often think about divine providence as being an unexplained coincidence or turn of events that can only be explained as the work of God in the execution of His plan for the ages. And that is indeed what divine providence is. But providence has a deeply personal and individual side as well. For the word “providence” is based on the verb “to provide.” And we all know what it means to provide. It means to give us the things we need: our daily bread in both the earthly and spiritual sense.

And the word “provide” is based on the Latin word that means “to look ahead.” You might see it more clearly when you think about the related word “provision.” The Lord’s providence is his providing for us, provisioning us because He sees what we need even before we need it. In fact, the Lord has known what we need right at this moment before the foundation of the world.

And as a loving father provides for his family, and a loving mother provides her infant with food, so too does our loving Lord provide for all of our needs.

Jesus saw ahead of time the need of the people to be fed. He provides them with what they hunger for. Our Lord is almighty and yet compassionate, willing to display inexplicable signs and wonders, and even more willing to show unbounded love and mercy.

The Lord provides daily bread – even as He has taught us to pray for the same in the Lord’s Prayer. Without food for the body, we will die. And so, in response to the hunger of the crowd, Jesus accepted the meager offering of the young man of five loaves of bread and two fish, and He said, “‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”

While no-one else was thinking about how to feed five thousand people who had come to hear the Lord preach, the Lord was already practicing what He preached regarding mercy. He knew what these people needed before they did, before they woke up in the morning, and even before the dawn of the first day in creation itself.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is providence, divine providence, divine love for us poor miserable sinners, whose stomachs rumble as a result of the first sin in the garden of Eden, a sin involving the eating of that which God did not provide for us.

And ultimately, the Lord’s providence goes far beyond bread for the belly. For the really providential food served on the mountainside on that day was not the bread itself. For man does not live by bread alone. Indeed, the bread that came down from Heaven, the manna, the bread that is broken and eaten among prayers and Eucharistic joy, is given to us as the Word. For we also live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God, the Word by whom all things were made, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, the Word that declares unto us today yet again, “Your sins are forgiven, and you have everlasting life for My sake.”

The children of Israel understood the hunger of the belly, and they did indeed rejoice in the manna that fed their bodies. And yet a Greater Manna was yet to come, the Bread from heaven broken on the cross to win forgiveness for us, and broken into pieces at the altar to deliver salvation to us.

And even as the five thousand of that day bore witness to the lavishness of God’s grace and providence in the form of twelve baskets of leftovers, we two billion of the Lord’s followers in our own day continue to bear witness of the lavishness of God’s Grace and providence in the form of the faith transmitted to us by the twelve apostles and the manna of the Lord’s Supper that never runs out.

The Lord has foreseen the needs of all of His children, and before time began, He had resolved to save and redeem us, and to use bread: providential bread, life-saving bread, miraculous bread, the bread of His body and the wine of His blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins – all in order to provide for us out of His love and our need, out of His mercy and our hunger.

For our Lord Jesus Christ is the living fulfillment of that which we sang: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her… that you may feed and be satisfied.”

Our rejoicing is caused by nothing less than the Lord’s providing, His provision for us out of not only His foresight, but also (and more importantly) by virtue of His grace and mercy.

Our Lord has taught us not only with words, but also with deeds, that “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” He truly does bless those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” “He has filled the hungry with good things.”

Lord Jesus Christ, life-giving bread,
May I in grace possess You.
Let me with holy food be fed,
In hunger I address You.
Prepare me well for you, O Lord,
And, humbly by my prayer implored,
Give me Your grace and mercy.


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