Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon: Rogate – 2011

29 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:23-33 (Num 21:4-9, 1 Tim 2:1-6)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“The hour is coming,” says our Lord, “when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

For much of His ministry, our Lord teaches in parables. He uses stories and examples and drops hints. He reveals who He is and what the Kingdom is like in a roundabout way. But now as the time is drawing near for Him to go to Jerusalem, to suffer, die, and be raised from death – He is starting to speak bluntly with the disciples. And He promises them that the time is coming when He will completely drop His guard and fully reveal the Kingdom to them.

Indeed, they will see the full revelation of the Lord’s glory when He dies on the cross. For when the sacrifice is offered and accepted, when “it is finished,” when they see the Lord “crowned as Lord of all” with thorns, with the power of Jesus’ name being hailed by mocking soldiers, and with the wormwood and the gall – there they will see the Lord “speaking plainly” from the cross, taking our punishment so that we might be pardoned, and dying so that we might live.

This revelation is why St. Paul can say that the “Word of the cross is the power of God.” The Word of the cross is the Word of the Law: of confession and repentance. The Word of the cross is the Word of the Gospel: of forgiveness and new life. The Holy Spirit guides us, the Church, sinful and yet beloved of the Father – into “speaking plainly” our confession of sin, of guilt, of unworthiness, and even of our helplessness to help ourselves out of our predicament. There is nothing for us to do other than to “speak plainly” the same confession as the snake-bitten children of Israel: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.”

The serpent has been tormenting us since the Garden of Eden. The Lord permits him to tempt us, but not to separate us from the Christ’s love. The serpents can bite and the serpents can even take our lives – but no serpent can take away our salvation and eternal life. And in fact, Moses was instructed to nullify the power of the serpent by means of a serpent, raised high on a pole, a sign of the love and healing power of God, raised up so as to draw ailing sinners to healing righteousness.

But the serpent’s days are numbered. Indeed, the Seed of the woman was promised to come and crush his head. The serpent continues to tempt us, but the Lord’s love has fallen upon the serpent in the form of the heel of the Son of man. The serpent can torment us and even kill the body with its venom – but no serpent, no malignant being, no manifestation of evil, can destroy body and soul in hell. And in fact, our Lord Jesus Christ was sent to nullify the power of death by means of death, raised high upon a cross, a sign of the love and healing power of God, raised up so as to draw ailing sinners to healing righteousness.

And yet, we still live in a world broken by sin and corrupted by evil. The final encounter between the serpent and the Son is yet to come – even though our Lord has already triumphed over the old evil foe, taking all of us as prisoners of war, as trophies won in battle, spread at His feet, not to be imprisoned as captives, but rather as captives to be liberated.

And in every war there are casualties, there is combat, there is struggle, uncertainty, and there are those who do not come back from the front lines alive. “In the world you will have tribulation” says our Lord to His beloved Church militant. We are at war, dear brothers and sisters, we are in constant battle against the fiery serpent Satan and in mortal combat against the venom of evil that courses our veins, seeking our destruction. We struggle, we fight, we win battles, we lose battles, we grow weary, we take our lumps, we regroup and rejoice to see reinforcements on the horizon, and in the final analysis, we look to the cross, knowing that it is in that battle, won by our Lord, that we too are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be a warrior, to follow Him into battle, not knowing where we will be led other than knowing that we will be led to victory. For He tells us “plainly and not using figurative speech” that we shall “have peace.” For again, dear friends, our Lord speaks plainly to us the comforting revelation in the midst of our warfare that “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Take heart, dear Christians, take courage, be brave, hang in there, fight the good fight – for the Lord has already won: “I have overcome the world.”

This is how it is that our Lord can exhort and promise us: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

For the one thing that a warrior values and appreciates more than anything else is peace. He knows the cost of warfare, and he knows the blessings of peace. He knows that peace is not merely the absence of war, but rather the benefit of having conquered the foe. The enemy of the church is the serpent, and the Lord, lifted high on the cross for all mankind to see, has “overcome the world” and its serpentine prince.

As a result of this victory, we can indeed pray as St. Paul urged St. Timothy, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” When the war is concluded in victory, it is indeed the peace itself that has been won and secured. Jesus is the almighty Prince of Peace, and He has won eternal and living peace over and against the wretched prince of this temporal and dying world. For our Lord “gave Himself as a ransom for all.”

And the Lord tells us plainly, without figurative language, that He “desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And we look upon this truth, this incarnate truth, this eternal truth, and we live: forever, abundantly, and in peace. Amen.

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, May 27, 2011

True Love and Christian Marriage

This news report of a heroic husband in Joplin is a modern-day example of Christian marriage as laid out by St. Paul in Ephesians 5.

Sadly, the part of this passage that implores wives to submit to their husbands is often mocked, omitted from the wedding vows, or even deliberately censored from the reading at the wedding service.  However, what woman would not want her husband to heed the apostle's exhortation for husbands to love their wives and give up everything for them - even to the point of giving his life for his beloved?

The two go hand in hand; a godly wife submits to her husband and a godly husband places his wife's (and family's) well-being before everything else in his life.  When each is so wrapped up in love for the other, the selfishness and self-centeredness that threatens marriage (both in the form of selfish women who want to assume headship of the family and selfish men whose hobbies and toys are more important than serving his family) are overcome by mutual love for one another - as taught to us by O Henry in his 1906 short story The Gift of the Magi.  Indeed, I believe that what is missing in the modern view of marriage is love itself.

And, as St. Paul concludes: godly Christian marriage gives us a picture of our Lord Jesus - who both lays down his very life for His bride, the Church, and who submits selflessly to His Father's will - all out of love.

Let us pray for the victims of the rash of tornadoes and let us be inspired by the heroic deeds of men like Don Lansaw.  And let us reflect on the wisdom of Christian marriage and the timeliness of the Holy Scriptures.

Why we still need seminaries...

If this is a joke, they fooled CNN.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sermon: Cantate – 2011

22 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our Lord did not return yesterday. Some Christians are today confused. Some will lose their faith. The world mocks. The Church looks foolish. This happens every time one of these predictions fails to materialize, even though our Lord clearly said to us: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

On this day, our Lord Jesus repeats to us: “But now, I am going to Him who sent me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.”

Our Lord ascended to the Father, and the disciples were sorrowful. They loved their Master, their Savior, their Redeemer. Being separated from Him caused them grief. And yet Jesus tells them it is for their good.

How can the Lord use grief to bring us blessing? How can suffering be beneficial to us? How can a cross be used for good?

How can a cross be used for good? There, dear brothers and sisters is the beating heart of our faith. The Lord indeed uses the cross, the suffering, passion, and death of His innocent Son – He who knew no sin to become sin for us – to turn bad to good, to conquer evil with righteousness, to discipline His children and to make them strong.

The cross is where the Law and the Gospel intersect, where the vertical and the horizontal combine into one, where sin meets atonement, where suffering meets joy, and where death meets life. For the evils of our fallen world are pasted over even as the bloodied body of our Lord covered the cross and absorbed God’s wrath in our place.

And even as the Lord bore a cross for the sake of us poor miserable sinners, the Lord tells us that we too must take up our cross and follow Him who has atoned for us and made us saints by virtue of the cross.

The crosses we bear in this life – sadness, sorrow, disappointment; anger, frustration, physical sickness; temptations, trials, and death itself – only exist because of sin, and yet the Lord turns these crosses into crowns even as He draws life from death and pulls Easter out the stingy and seemingly impenetrable fingers of Good Friday.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” says our brother St. James, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Even our crosses are a gift, an opportunity to overcome sin through Christ’s righteousness, a time to demonstrate mercy instead of vengeance, and even to show love where one is shown hatred.

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…. Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Our crosses give us the opportunity to focus on the Word. Our struggles encourage us to depend on the Lord above. Our sorrows turn us to Him in ways that we don’t when all is well.

And when we are being chastened, we can pray with Isaiah: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.”

The Lord Jesus ascended to His Father, but did not leave us as orphans. He sent us “the Helper,” literally, a “comforter” or an “advocate” – one who is fighting for us when we are too weak or overwhelmed to defend ourselves. He is the “Spirit of Truth” who guides us into all truth.

And what’s more, the Lord has promised to remain with us to the end of the age – be it the year 2011 or 20,011. He is with us in His Word, in His Sacraments, in His forgiveness, in those who bring comfort and service to us, in those who speak the Word of God to us, in those who show mercy, in those who teach the Word, in those who support us in good times and bad, and yes, the Lord is even hidden in those crosses sent to us that we cannot figure out.

For just as we are not given to know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return – even as the Word of God tells us not to bother trying to figure it out – so too are our crosses a mystery. We do not know why we must endure them, why they have been sent to us, nor what is the ultimate purpose. In many cases, our crosses seem almost arbitrary and of no purpose at all. But one thing is for sure: crosses and sorrows will come in this fallen world – and we do well to ask the Lord to strengthen our faith for when they do.

In the words of the ancient prayer, may we “bear all crosses, sickness, and trials with patience and trust until You grant us deliverance, peace, and health.” And, dear friends, an even older prayer of the Church comes from one of the last words of the Holy Scriptures: “Come, Lord Jesus.” This is not just a children’s table prayer, it is also the eternal prayer of the Church Militant who bears her cross, who suffers in this world, who struggles against sin, death, and the devil, and indeed who has conquered in Christ, but yet awaits the final coming of the Lord.

Let those who see the Bible as a book of secret clues continue to chase around the trees and miss the forest. Let the world laugh and mock. Let Satan continue to accuse us and abuse us. But come what may, let us remain faithful to the end, with the prayer ever on our lips as we wait expectantly the for Lord’s return: “Come, Lord Jesus.” For “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.” Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon: Jubilate – 2011

15 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:16-22 (Lam 3:22-33, 1 Pet 2:11-20)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Alleluia. Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious. Alleluia.”

So begins the worship of millions of Christians around the world on this Sunday known as “Jubilate” – which means: “Rejoice.”

And yet, we dwell in a world of suffering, sadness, sickness, uncertainty, depression, disappointment, broken homes, broken lives, broken hopes and dreams, and death itself. It seems as though our rejoicing in this world is temporary and tied to shortly-lived joys: a birthday party, a vacation, a victory for the home team, a new car, a new love in one’s life, a new electronic gadget. But our jubilation over such things often fades away quickly. The new car smell gives way to the stifling air breathed out by the prince of this world. The thrill of something new becomes boredom with just another gadget on the heap. And there is no-one exempt from the ravages of an aging body and of death itself.

And yet, we are invited and even exhorted to “rejoice.” Indeed, the kind of rejoicing called for by the Psalmist has nothing to do with short-lived thrills in this world. We are called upon to make our “joyful shout to God” and to “sing out the honor of His name” and to “make His praise glorious.” We rejoice not in ourselves, but in the One who made us. We rejoice not in what we can do for ourselves, but in the One who has redeemed us. We rejoice not in our own spirit, but in the One who has sanctified us. Our rejoicing even in the midst of trials and tribulations is an act of faith, dear friends. And that kind of rejoicing looks ahead to the great joys to come in eternity, when all of our suffering will be so far in the rearview mirror that it won’t even qualify as a memory. For we know that that day approaches, and that each passing second brings us yet another click nearer to that final, eternal, glory-filled victory won for us by Jesus – in spite of the sins we still cling to that bring us so much heartache.

“A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me.” Like the disciples who saw our blessed Lord die, rise, and ascend to the heavens, we too await His return. We too live and struggle and lament and suffer – and yet find our rejoicing in Him and in His promise. We rejoice because we believe, and we believe because He has promised that we shall rejoice.

“Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is only in this promise of our Lord that we can rejoice, that we can have contentment, joy, peace, and happiness. For the world hates us, persecutes us, disbelieves us, tries to tear down the work of the Church in bringing people to Christ – and the world gloats over its illusion of victory. And we are sorrowful upon looking at our wretched state. But when we focus not on ourselves but upon the Word, the promise, the joy of redemption, the liberty of forgiveness, the victory of communion with God and the defeat of sin, death, and Satan – then we can have true, lasting joy down to the marrow of our bones and into the depths of our very souls – a joy that no amount of money or prestige or material possession in this world can rival.

You are baptized. You are forgiven. You are a child of God. You are promised a place of glory in eternity. You have a share in the resurrection glory of our resurrected Lord.

For we have the promise: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning… therefore I will hope in Him.”

“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Meanwhile, while giving the “cheek to the one who strikes,” the follower of our Lord Jesus Christ can look to His Master and Savior, “as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,” to hold back the temptation to retaliate in the way of the world, to always maintain our peaceful demeanor for the sake of the Gospel, and to accept that we will be mistreated, “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Dear friends, “the day of visitation” is where we find our glory, our happiness, our hope, and the cause for our rejoicing. For we know that come what may: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes; cancer, heart disease, accidents; family struggles, employment uncertainties, anxieties; temptations, trials, testing; rumors, false accusations, betrayals; pain, aging, and mortality itself – we can still rejoice in our Lord, in His victory, in His redemption of us, in His re-creation of the world, in His Word and promise.

There is no pain, suffering, anxiety, temptation, fear, anger, depression, or agony that we suffer that our crucified Lord did not suffer for us and with us. He is no absentee landlord, but shares our flesh even as he shared in our suffering beyond what any of us could ever know. He knows what we are going through, and He has perfect compassion. And He Himself suffered to bring our suffering to an end.

And even if we are crippled with pain and devastated by the sufferings of life in this fallen world, we yet come to this rail to partake of Him who has promised us: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” No one will take your joy from you.

Therefore, in any stage of life – in plenty or in want, in health or in infirmity, in happiness or in sorrow – we join each other and Christians around the world in every time and place and in every possible circumstance, singing: “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Alleluia. Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious. Alleluia.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gold Standard and Secession in the News

How times have changed! 

Just a couple years ago, any talk of returning the United States to the gold standard was dismissed and even scoffed at as some kind of crackpot tin-foil-hat theory.  However, having seen the results of allowing the Federal Reserve to print money at will and pay the government's bills in increasingly devalued paper - thus stealing from the citizens and putting us at risk of Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation - the idea of restraining the government suddenly sounds good - even among more mainstream economists.

Also, secession was, until recently, a discredited idea as a means to restore home rule and local control to people.  In this case, we're seeing a left-wing secession movement - which flies in the face of the stereotype that secession is some kind of right-wing code word. 

Hopefully, we're seeing an awakening of Americans from the left and the right who understand that liberty and fiscal responsibility are not things that belong to one side or the other, and that neither the left nor the right should place their cherished freedom in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats.  In these terribly divided times, the things that should unite all Americans are the facts that we want to be left alone, we want to raise our families as we see fit, we do not want people sitting in marbled halls hundreds of miles away telling us how to live, taking our hard-earned money from us, and printing money to systematically destroy the value of that which we work so hard to save. 

Smaller and more responsible government is a better way to go.  Staying out of debt and actually encouraging savings and investment instead of mindless borrowing, printing, and consuming is a better way to go.  And it doesn't matter whether one is a left-winger, right-winger, something in between, or neither!

If you want to see the real-world effect of allowing the Federal Reserve to print paper money, click here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Leo the Apprentice...

... gettin' the job done with Uncle Ron.

Josh: Jesus comes to Hollywood

Hollywood (California, that is, not me) addresses the story of our Lord Jesus Christ - not perfect, mind you, but I think quite well done (even with the attendant postmodernism) in the aptly named episode "Josh" from the 1998 Outer Limits episode.

The above-linked Wikipedia article amazingly makes no mention of Jesus - even though the parallels in the story are (as a friend of mine likes to say) so obvious that even Stevie Wonder could see it.  In fact, without the backdrop of the Gospels, the story makes no sense.  Even the name (Josh) is a clue, as Yeshua (Joshua) is the original Hebrew form of the Greek name Iesous (Jesus).

An Interview with Leo the Hero

Another harrowing exploit of explorer and animal rescuer, Leonidas Beane in his own words in an exclusive Father Hollywood interview on the heels of his expedition to save Vicar.

Salem Parishioner Helping Keep New Orleans Dry

Mrs. Susan Maclay
is the president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority West.

It seems that the Feds are going to open the Morganza Spillway, thus sparing (God willing) New Orleans of the Army Corps' worst-case scenario of New Orleans (and much of Gretna) being under 25 feet of water.

"From lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death; Good Lord, deliver us." (The Litany, LSB 288)

Issues, Etc. Interview

I was interviewed by the good folks of the world's greatest Lutheran talk radio program, Issues, Etc. Wednesday afternoon regarding the topic of my May 3 Gottesdienst Chicaco presentation in Brookfield, Illinois (which I have yet to blog about): Are the Lutheran Confessions Prescriptive or Descriptive?

Click here to listen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sermon: Sts. Cyril and Methodius – 2011

11 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Ps 119:89-105

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


The word stirs up romantic notions of far off lands, of adventure, of heroically converting cannibals into Christians and living among exotic plants and animals that one typically only finds in zoos.

Sometimes the mission field is a far away land, but what makes a mission a mission is that one is sent to a place and to a people that are in need of Jesus.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius were two brothers – both priests and preachers, both evangelists and missionaries. In order to preach the Gospel to the Slavic peoples to whom they were sent, they had to invent a new alphabet.

The Slavs were in need of an alphabet, but what they really needed was Jesus. The system of writing simply facilitated communication. What the Slavs of Eastern Europe really needed to have communicated to them was Jesus.

For Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the whole world, even the world of the non-Roman peoples of Eastern Europe – often considered Barbarians by those who had already been enlightened by the Gospel. For “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

The Lord called these two faithful brothers, men of skill and talent, men under holy orders, men with a zeal to preach the Gospel of our Lord and of His cross to peoples still stuck in the darkness of Paganism and superstition. Cyril and Methodius invented the alphabet used to this very day by our Russian brothers and sisters in Christ in their continued use of the Holy Scriptures of the Word of God and the Holy Liturgy of the Church of God.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”

And not even the brutality and totalitarianism of Communism could turn those ancient letters completely away from Christ and the Gospel. For today, Christians again confess the truth of God’s Word using the Cyrillic alphabet invented in the ninth century by these brothers to each other and fathers to the Slavic Christians.

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.”

Dear friends, you may never be called upon to invent an alphabet. You may never receive holy orders to serve in the ministry and preach the Gospel. You may never be called upon to leave your home to proclaim Christ to people of another language and climate. But you are missionaries of a sort.

For a missionary is one who goes out. And every Christian exits the sacred portals of the Church and goes out into the fallen world – bearing Christ in His baptized body, in his catechized mind, in his very soul imbued with the true body and blood of Jesus, given to strengthen us for those times when we must give a witness to the hope that is within us.

Not every Christian is called to preach, but all are called to confess. Not every Christian is called to teach, but all are called to believe. Not every Christian is called to proclaim Christ in a foreign land, but all are called to be Christs to one’s neighbor – whether that neighbor lives in Marrero or Moscow, Lafitte or Liberia.

“Forever, O LORD, Your Word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You have established the earth, and it stands fast.”


The word is not so much about where one is sent, but what one is sent with. And whether we are preachers or hearers of the Word, we are all called upon to be confessors and doers of the Word. We Christians have been sent into the world, to bear Christ with us according to our individual callings and to bring the love of God to our neighbors by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

For people around the globe still need Jesus. They still crave the forgiveness of sins and the glorious proclamation of the truth that God has been reconciled to us by Christ’s ministry of the cross, and we have been given this ministry of reconciliation even as ministers of Word and Sacrament, like the sainted Cyril and Methodius, have been sent with a mission to “make disciples of all nations.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that missionary work continues! It began with the apostles and with Sts. Stephen and Paul. It continued with St. Gregory the Great, with Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and with St. Boniface whose missionary preaching brought Christ to the German people, the ancestors of the Lutheran reformation itself.

And it continues with us, with every prayer for our brethren around the world, with every hymnal donated to Africa and every dollar given to Siberia. It continues with every child taught the catechism and every cup of cool water given to one of the least of the Lord’s brethren in need of a drink. It continues with baptism and forgiveness, with the Holy Eucharist and with preaching, with Bibles translated and the Scriptures read and taken to heart. And it begins in our own homes, dear friends.


The greatest missionaries of all are godly parents who read the Bible to their children, bring them to the services of the Lord’s House, carry them to the life-giving waters of baptism, who pray at home, forgive at home, sing at home, and constantly invoke the sacred name of Jesus at home. We continue to teach the children for the same reason and with the same zeal as Sts. Cyril and Methodius bringing Christ to the Slavs – because they need Jesus!

And we join anew with the Psalmist: “If Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life. I am Yours; save me, for I have sought Your precepts.”

Thanks be to God for Sts. Cyril and Methodius and all missionaries who bring Christ to the world, now and until the Lord returns! Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Sermon: Misericordias Domini– 2011

8 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ez 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

One might be tempted to think of a shepherd as a less-than-manly occupation. Taking care of fluffy animals, giving them each a name, and feeding and watering them just doesn’t sound like something a boy would daydream about becoming when he grows up.

And most of the time, being a shepherd is tedious, spending countless hours walking around with bleating sheep under the stars, often in dull isolation. It isn’t exactly the kind of thing that young people aspire to, not the kind of work that would inspire action figures.

But then there are those times when the shepherd must be a soldier, a warrior, a protector. There are indeed those times when the sheep are under attack by predators who not only consider the sheep to be dinner, but who have no qualms about killing the shepherd as well. In such times, the shepherd is a fighter. And a good shepherd will not run from danger. A good shepherd will stay and fight. A good shepherd will turn and face the foe. A good shepherd will battle the enemy of the sheep to the very death if necessary.

By contrast, a hired hand is only there to get a paycheck. A hired hand, when confronted by a ravening wolf will say: “This is above my pay grade,” and he will flee. And woe to the flock of sheep who are under the leadership of such a phony and shallow shepherd.

Sheep need a shepherd because of their tendency to wander, to stray, to get themselves into trouble by losing their way from the safety of the flock. And when the sheep are thus scattered, they are as good as dead.

That is, unless their shepherd will “seek out” his sheep that have been scattered, and “rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered.”

Such a shepherd is no ordinary keeper of flocks, but is a heroic mighty-man, a warrior who defends the lives of the weak not merely for pay, but because of the principle that defending the weak is the right thing to do, according to his calling and according to the will of God.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, dear friends, Jesus is the Good Shepherd!

The prophet spoke the Word of God: “Behold I, I myself will search for My sheep and I will seek them out.” Our Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, fulfilled this Word when He Himself proclaimed this Word of truth: “I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

And while much of the artwork that depicts our Lord Jesus focuses on His gentleness and tenderness – often showing Him sweetly tending to little lambs or young children – there is an aspect of the Good Shepherd that is anything but meek and mild. For as a shepherd carries a crook to deliver blows against the enemy, our Lord Jesus Christ wields His Holy Word, His passion and death, and His bloody cross itself to crush the head of the vile predator Satan who seeks to devour the sheep – especially the weak and the wandering, the ailing and the lonely.

Our Good Shepherd is not afraid to get dirty and bloody, to jump into the fray and interpose Himself between the devil and us, His sheep, His people, His beloved whom He has come to save.

Unlike a hired hand who is only in it for money, our Lord Jesus Himself spends all that He has – His very lifeblood – to protect, defend, and redeem us from sin, death, our flesh, the devil, and from hell itself. For like a soldier falling on a grenade to save his comrades, our Lord Jesus heroically withstands and absorbs the excruciating pain and suffering that we deserve by our willful wandering from the path of righteousness, suffering and dying heroically to save us from the wrath that we deserve.

And instead of being decorated for His militant heroism with a Purple Heart, His own heart was pierced by a Roman soldier’s sword, issuing forth the water that reminds us of baptism and the blood that reminds us of the Eucharist.

For our Good Shepherd isn’t just a smiling face in a fictional painting. No indeed! Our Good Shepherd is a mighty-man, a warrior who defends the lives of the weak. He is the God Man. Our Good Shepherd saved us at the cross and continues to come to us as our Savior in His Holy Supper, in His Word, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the proclamation of the Good News of the Good Shepherd’s Good Friday triumph. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness,” says St. Peter, to whom the Lord commanded “Feed my sheep.”

Dear friends, let us never forget that we are sheep. We wander carelessly and recklessly when we sin, and we do so repeatedly and without excuse. We deserve to be eaten by the wolf. And yet we wandering sheep have a Good Shepherd, the one who “lays down His life for His sheep.”

Indeed, our Lord is the pinnacle of manhood, the mightiest of all men who is also God in the flesh. He is the Good Shepherd who does not flee, but who turns to face the evil one, conquers Him, and rescues us.

Let us ponder anew the reality that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti – 2011

1 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:19-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Often our first reaction to something shocking, something out of the ordinary, something life-changing – is denial. “This can’t be happening!” we may even say out loud as our brains scramble to process something that makes no sense. In fact, when a person is told that he is dying, this is such a common first reaction that it is considered the normal course of beginning to come to grips with the reality that we are passing from life to death.

And yet, here we see this same denial, the “This can’t be happening!” reaction by St. Thomas as he comes to grips with the reality that the Lord has passed from death to life. For Thomas was told something shocking, something out of the ordinary, something life-changing: Jesus had not only come back to life, but had appeared to the disciples – and did so at a time when Thomas was absent.

The resurrection of the dead is so far beyond our comprehension, our reason, our normal life experience, that we should not be so hard on Doubting Thomas for his initial refusal to believe the word of his fellow apostles. Perhaps he may have thought that they were playing a cruel joke on him. People do such things. Or maybe he believed that they saw someone who looked like Jesus, and in their grief, were so eager to believe He was alive, that their imaginations concocted the story. People make such claims all the time.

St. Thomas was clearly devastated by the death of His Teacher, His Lord, His Master, His God – and you can hear the pain between the lines of his great “unless” statement: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

What greater expression of the sinful, stubborn, faith-defying fallen flesh than the statement: “I will never believe”? But thanks be to God that the Lord Jesus comes to take away Thomas’s doubts, to restore his faith, and to bless him with not only a blessing of peace, but also a Word of life that overcomes not only doubt, but death itself. Jesus has come to take away Thomas’s sins!

“My Lord and My God!” Thomas exclaimed when confronted with the mind-boggling reality that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead!

Jesus had mercy on Thomas. He did not condemn His weak faith, but commended him to His Father as a forgiven and redeemed sinner. Our Lord did not scold him for his stubbornness, but softened his heart by presenting Himself to Thomas in His flesh and blood, in a way that Thomas could perceive bodily, even in Thomas’s own sinful flesh.

For our Lord appeared “eight days later,” also on another Sunday, the second Sunday of that first Easter season, and “although the doors were locked,” our Lord appeared. For no bolted human portal can keep our Lord out: not the sealed entrance of His tomb, and certainly not the closed gate of the hardness of St. Thomas’s grieving heart. For Jesus burst forth from the grave, even as He appears gloriously among His disciples.

Our Lord invites Thomas to come, to see, to touch. He urges Thomas to receive the Lord’s blessing of “peace” – peace between God and man, peace between men of a fallen world, a peace secured by the defeat of Satan. The Lord bids St. Thomas to step forward and examine the evidence. “Put your finger here,” He beckons, “and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

“Believe” dear friends. “Believe!” That is the message of Easter, the Good News of the resurrection, the life-changing reality that death has been overcome by life, that sin has been vanquished by righteousness, that the darkness has been banished by the Light of the World. It is the Word of the cross and the Good News of the sepulcher.

“My Lord and My God!” we confess today with St. Thomas. For we not only know that there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem that stands as a witness of the resurrection, and we not only know the irrefutable evidence of so many witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection – even the testimony of hostile witnesses of that time and place who were at a loss to explain it – we also confess with St. Thomas that this risen Man is the risen God. With St. Thomas, we believe, we worship, and we confess.

Some disbelieve. Some claim that St. Thomas was merely using the Lord’s name in vain, just blurting out the divine name to no-one in particular, that he was not confessing Jesus as God. Some claim that the account of our Lord’s appearance that Second Sunday of Easter was just a mythical story to make us feel good about ourselves. Some even go so far as to claim that Jesus never lived. Our Lord bids us to examine the evidence. Look at the historical testimony. Read the accounts of that time and place. Pore over the Scriptures. Consider the words of the friends and foes of Christianity alike! Those who do so honestly will indeed come to the same conclusion as some of the greatest minds in history: Jesus truly rose from the dead. This is an irrefutable fact of history. And this undeniable fact is something shocking and something out of the ordinary.

But what’s more, dear brothers and sisters of our risen Lord, this miracle was done not only to get our attention, but to secure our salvation. It is something life-changing as well. For Jesus not only conquers death and claims victory for Himself over the devil, but He also shares that victory with us, presenting the marks upon His hands, feet, and side before the Father, interceding for us as the one all-availing sacrifice for our salvation.

And Jesus speaks of us, and to us, when He breathes out this benediction upon His beloved disciples: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Lord does not appear to us and invite us to place our fingers in His wounded hands and side as He did with St. Thomas. But He has left the empty tomb, He has risen to the Father, and He continues to come to us in His chosen means: being present for us as His Word: His mighty and merciful Gospel is preached around the world, and in His sacrament of the altar, in which we experience the flesh and blood of our Lord just as surely as St. Thomas did on that first Second Sunday of Easter.

And though we are tempted to ponder this reality and protest: “This can’t be happening!”, we hear the Lord’s proclaimed Word of invitation: “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” and we receive this faith as a free and full gift, offered up by Him who was offered up for us.

We confess with believing joy the little creed: “My Lord and My God!” and our risen Savior blesses us, His joyful believers with the great benediction: “Peace be with you,” promising that we “may have life in His name.” Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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