Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Salem Pics Uploaded!

Here is the link to the album of today's Easter pictures.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Accidental Kitchen Sink Engine

Sermon: Easter – The Resurrection of our Lord – 2013

31 March 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Marys went to the tomb that first Easter morning as the sun rose, bearing spices and oils with the intention of slowing down the corruptibility of death.  For in our fallen world, bodies break down very quickly upon dying.  Our sinful flesh rapidly begins its journey back to dust.  And the best we can normally do is to delay the process a bit, or at least cover up the effects long enough to show our respects to the deceased.

In love and respect for their seemingly-defeated Master, they came to perform this one last act of mercy.

But instead, the tables were turned.  For it was Jesus who went on the offensive against death, corruption, and decay, not merely in a cosmetic way, but in a cosmic way.  It was the risen Lord who has come to perform a universal act of mercy, halting the corruptibility of the Marys and of all believers, by dying for our sins and by rising again to blaze the trail to eternal life.  And our Lord Jesus Christ does so in a way that no application of spices and oils could ever do. 

For “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.’  ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’”

Death is a formidable foe.  But death has been in God’s crosshairs since that fateful day when the serpent overcame humanity by means of a tree.  And now, the Lord Jesus, in His own humanity, overcame the serpent by means of the tree of the cross.  And indeed, now death is swallowed up in victory.

The Marys discovered to their astonishment (and to their salvation) an empty tomb.  In spite of the warnings of the Jews and the military guard of the Romans to appease them, the grave was wide open.  There is no force on earth that could contain the Word of God made flesh.  The sealing boulder had been rolled away like a pebble.  And instead of the decaying body of their crucified friend, they saw an angel in the form of a vibrant youth lounging in a white robe.  They were understandably alarmed.  The Greek word can also be translated as “astonished” or maybe even more colloquially as “gobsmacked.”  This is not what they expected to see when they made that early Sunday morning walk laden down with spices and oils.  Not what they expected at all.  And their minds were now racing to make some sense of it all.

The angel sitting in his robe says bluntly to them: “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.”  Then the angel reminds them that Jesus predicted this all along.  And the angel gives them instructions to take this good news to Peter and the disciples – who in turn would take this gospel to the very ends of the earth, their proclamation continuing to reverberate throughout the entire world to this very day.

For we continue to ask rhetorically with St. Paul: “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 

The spices and the oil were not to be used for embalming on that day, dear friends.  Perhaps they were used to prepare a feast instead.  The Marys were not to clean and treat a dead body on that day.  Instead, their own mortal bodies were given proof that they too would rise because of their Redeemer.  For the Marys, and indeed, all believers had “put on immortality” thanks to our Lord’s final and eternal victory over the grave, over corruptibility of the flesh, over sin, and over our ancient serpentine enemy, the devil.

For that is the meaning behind the empty tomb.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives….  In my flesh I shall see God.”  Indeed, “death is swallowed up in victory.”  In our flesh we shall see God in the flesh, the God who takes flesh, the God who comes to us in His flesh, the God who continues to give us His flesh and blood “for the forgiveness of sins.”

There is nothing more repugnant to the devil, who lacks flesh, than the fleshly Christ who redeems our flesh by offering His own flesh to us fleshly men out of love.  Satan has no concept of love, no concept of flesh, and no longer any dominion over us!  For in being baptized into Christ, His empty tomb is our empty tomb, His resurrection is our resurrection, and with St. Paul, we cry out: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  His victory is truly our victory!

Dear brothers and sisters, it is AD 2013, and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is still empty.  Death is still swallowed up in victory: His victory and our victory.  He has taken our punishment once and for all; He has shed His blood to redeem us; He has won the battle for us, and now He gives us His own body and blood as a ransom of our own bodies so that we too might put on the imperishable.  He is our Redeemer.  He is our Savior.  He is our victorious Lord and Master.  He has risen, never more to die!  And He shares this incorruptibility and eternal life with us by grace, through faith, in His name and by His Word.  It belongs to the Marys and it belongs to us!

This is the greatest news of all, dear friends.  Jesus has won the battle, and has done so on our behalf.  He has triumphed where we and all of our ancestors have failed.  He has slammed the door on death itself, and has rolled way the stone that holds us in bondage to sin and beholden to the grave.  And as the angel told the Marys, we have no reason to fear: neither death, nor the devil, nor the grave.

Do not be alarmed.  He is risen.  He is not in the tomb.  Death is swallowed up in victory.  For I know that my redeemer lives. 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sermon: Funeral of Robert Bealer

30 March 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:14-15, 27-30 (Rev 7:9-17, Rom 8:28-39)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Claire, Amie, Jennifer, Robert, Charles, Christa, Michael, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you!

Today is Holy Saturday, a day of “now” but “not yet.”  For on this day, Christians around the world are caught in the middle of two extremes of sadness and joy.  We have commemorated the Lord’s crucifixion on Good Friday, in which our blessed Lord declared victory over death and the grave by crying out: “It is finished!” – and yet, on the day after Good Friday, He lies in a tomb awaiting His resurrection.  The Creator who created the world in six days takes His Sabbath rest in the tomb, and on the eighth day, the first week of the new creation, will rise again in glory to claim His victory to the world.

This “now” but “not yet” is where Robert is right now.  For Robert has borne his own share of crosses, of sorrows, of suffering in this fallen world.  And indeed, “now” he rests in peace, taking His place as a baptized child of God called to his heavenly home, but “not yet” being raised bodily from the dead.

Dear friends, we find ourselves in this same Holy Saturday no-man’s land, caught between the “now” of the cross, of our baptism, and of the promises of God in Christ, and the “not yet” of our own “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  We also seem to be stuck between the “now” of life in this fallen world – a vale of tears, a world of mourning and loss, of pain, suffering, struggle, and yes, our own deaths – between this “now” and the “not yet” of the promised world to come, in which we will surround the throne of the Lamb rejoicing and “crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  Our dear brother Robert has preceded us to this heavenly banquet where, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore….  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  For Robert, this is an eternal “now,” even though for us, it is a promised “not yet.”

Robert has this existence in eternity not owing to his own goodness.  For nobody is perfect.  We are all poor, miserable sinners, none righteous, no not one.  We are all sheep that have gone astray, all of us are condemned to death by virtue of our own iniquities.  For the wages of sin is death.  It was because of our iniquities that our Lord was crucified and suffered death for us.  And when, in His death, He was pierced for our transgressions on Good Friday, water and blood flowed from the side of His sacrificial body.  Dear friends, Robert was washed in that baptismal water, and partook of that saving blood, and lives forever in the promise of one who has eaten the saving body of Christ, taking part in that cosmic sacrifice of the Lamb who bears the guilt of our sins unto forgiveness and eternal life.

And starting tonight, Christians around the world will joyfully proclaim the resurrection of our Lord.  And because He lives, Robert lives!  For just as I read to Robert only hours before he left this side of the grave, it was our once-dead and now risen Lord Himself who promised: “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.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”

Dear brothers and sisters, no one is able to snatch the Lord’s redeemed out of His nail-scarred hands that have rescued us, that embrace us, and that protect us from the assaults of the devil, the fallen world, and even our own flesh.  Robert is one of the Lord’s sheep, marked with the sign of the cross and forgiven of all his sins, all by the work of our Lord on the cross, and given to him as a free gift through the Lord’s ministry of Word and sacrament.

It was my great privilege to give Robert this good news of Jesus Christ and to share with him the body and blood of the Lord over the course of many years.

And this is how even in the face of death, even in our sadness and mourning, even in our own mortality, we can proclaim with St. Paul: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

And we are comforted by the words of the holy apostle: “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against?.... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

Paul answers his own question: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This promise is for Robert, dear friends, and it is for all of us who likewise confess the faith once delivered to the saints.  For us, Holy Saturday bridges the gap between Good Friday and the Easter that is sure to follow.  For in Christ, life is wrenched from death, and death itself is swallowed up in victory: Christ’s victory, Robert’s victory, and our victory!

We are indeed in that Holy Saturday gap between the “now” and the “not yet.”  But we have the promises of the Risen Christ, dear friends, and we have the testimony of His empty tomb.  

Tomorrow, we will rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, Robert’s Good Shepherd who promises eternal life to Robert and all who believe.  And let us join Robert and all the saints gathered around the throne of the Lamb to sing their unending hymn: “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen.

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, now and forever.  Amen. 

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sermon: Good Friday - 2013

29 March 2013 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.

“His appearance was so marred beyond human semblance.”  “His form beyond that of the children of mankind.”  “No form or majesty.”  “No beauty.”  “Despised and rejected.”  “Man of sorrows.”  “Acquainted with grief.”  “Men hide their faces.”  “Despised.”  “We esteemed Him not.” 

“Stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  “Pierced.”  “Crushed.”  “Chastisement.”  “Wounds.”  “Iniquity.”

“Oppressed… afflicted… slaughter.”

“Oppression and judgment… He was taken away… Cut off from the land of the living.”

“Stricken.”  “Grave.”  “Death.” 

“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him.”  “Grief… offering… anguish.”  “Poured out His soul to death… numbered with the transgressors… bore the sin of many.”

These are hardly the word-pictures of one who has triumphed, of a hero, a rescuer, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  This is the last thing one would expect of God in the flesh, the conquering general who has crushed the head of the source of all evil forever.  Instead, these are disturbing images of torture that one might expect in a dungeon, the fate of a horrific criminal suffering under the oppression of sadistic criminals in a horrific and oppressive justice system.

Dear friends, that is what Good Friday is all about.  The prophet Isaiah paints a picture that is disturbing and repulsive, right out of our worst nightmares, something that could only have been dreamed up by the most deranged and evil people who ever lived.

For that is what we are.  We are those who delivered the blows upon the innocent Jesus, by our sins in thought, word, and deed; by our sins and iniquities by which we have offended God.  We surely deserve punishment both temporal and eternal.  And that punishment is laid out for us in shocking graphic imagery by the holy prophet, “the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death” of the Lord’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

It is enough to make us hate ourselves and the sin-laden world we inhabit with billions of others just as deranged, disturbed, demented, and death-destined.  It is enough to make us lose hope.

But dear friends, hope is exactly why this terrifying prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.  All of the punishment we deserve was diverted to Jesus, to the suffering Servant, to the Lamb of God pure and holy, to the Atonement, the Sacrifice, the Scapegoat, to Him whose love controls us.  The cruel passion and scandalous death of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a random act of meaningless violence, but rather the supreme act of love by the Supreme God who is Love in the very flesh, a flesh that was “pierced for our transgressions,” and “crushed for our iniquities.”  For “all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespass against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”


The ancient enmity between God and man has been ended by  God who is a Man, a Man who is God.  The punishment demanded by divine justice was absorbed and fulfilled by divine mercy.  The blood that had to be shed to pay the penalty was paid by our Lamb, for “He died for all.”

The Lord Jesus endured a heart-wrenching betrayal to save us.  He allowed Himself to be taken into custody – even though the mention of our Lord saying “I am” hurled His captors to the ground by the sheer power of His Word, and by the divine revelation of who he is.  He endured this to rescue us.

He allowed Himself to be bound and marched to kangaroo religious trials even as the wicked so-called high priest Caiaphas was to prophetically declare that Jesus is that “one man” who “should die for the people.”  He suffered exactly that for us.

Our Lord was denied, struck, tried in a civil case under the mighty and cruel Roman Empire.  He was again betrayed, this time by a mealy-mouthed politician.  He was passed over and sacrificed by the people for the sake of releasing a terrorist whose name ironically means “son of the father.”  He was flogged.  He was mocked.  He was crowned with thorns.  He was exposed for ridicule in His suffering.  And He did all of this so that we, who deserve the treatment He received, might be reconciled to God.

He was condemned.  He carried His own cross.  He was crucified.  And though He was, is, and ever shall be, our true King, He was treated as an impostor by the real impostors.  Even His only remaining possessions, His clothes, were stolen and made the object of a dice game.  He was reduced to poverty in order that we might be rich.  He suffered anguish so that we might be spared.  He permitted Himself to taste the bitterness of death so that we might savor the sweetness of life.

“It is finished,” He proclaimed, fulfilling the demands of God’s perfect law.  And even in death, He was still saving us by freely lavishing upon the world His atoning blood and saving water as He was indeed “pierced for our transgressions.”

And in a final act of humiliation in which was mankind’s redemption, the Lord Jesus was put into a borrowed tomb, where His lifeless corpse awaited a visit from the Marys, to be given one last act of kindness in the form of treating the body, an act that turned out differently than they expected.

For even though the universe-shattering events of these few days in April nearly two millennia ago were prophesied by Isaiah seven centuries prior, it is still shocking and surprising to us, still appalling to our ears, and yet music to our desperate and dying souls.

No, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is no random act of violence, but rather a carefully planned act of love, a heroic rescue, a redemption beyond that which any mere human author or tale-teller can come up with.

For “behold My Servant shall act wisely… high and lifted up… exalted.”  “So shall He sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him.  “The will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.”  “He shall see and be satisfied.”  “Many to be accounted righteous.”  “He… makes intercession for the transgressors.”

This is the imagery of victory, of healing, of reconciliation, of the destruction of death.  These are word-pictures of love, of mercy, and of everlasting life.

“For the love of Christ controls us.”  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come.  All this is from God.”

“Therefore,” we preachers repeat to the beloved people of God, people redeemed by Christ Jesus, in the very words of St. Paul, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ…”  “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We implore you, dear friends, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For we know what is coming.  We forgiven sinners loved by God know the great surprise that awaited the Marys.  And with our fellow redeemed around the globe, we wait in joyful hope and expectation to see what they saw. 

“It is finished.”  Amen. 

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2013

28 March 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35, Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The true story of a daring rescue in space was told in the 1995 movie Apollo 13.  In the face of life-threatening mechanical problems, the flight director on earth rallied his team by saying: “Failure is not an option!”

When something is not open to choice one way or another, we say it is a “mandate” or we might say that something is “mandatory.”  It is not an option.

Today is Maundy Thursday, and the title of this holy day is based on the Latin word translated as “mandatory.”  And it is a curious name for something as gracious as the Lord’s Supper.  But it comes from our Lord’s remarks after He demonstrated in a shocking way what it means to love.  In this poignant act, the Lord Jesus, the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, the One who is the Word Made Flesh whose breath called all things into being, stripped off His clothing, knelt on the floor and washed the filthy feet of his disciples, wiping them up with a towel.

Peter was shocked, scandalized even, by this humble act of mercy, and it took words of wisdom from the Word who is Wisdom Himself to get Peter to humbly receive this grace and this surprising act of love.

And here is where the word “mandatory” comes into being.  Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”

A commandment is not a choice, not a preference, not something we do if we feel like it.  A commandment is not an option.  “Love one another.”

The Lord Jesus performed this act of love after He “rose from supper.”  And this was not just any supper, it was the Lord’s Supper, the final Passover in which the True Lamb appeared in space and time, in the flesh, the reality foreshadowed by thousands if not millions of sacrificial beasts whose blood was shed, pointing to this one final and all-availing sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross as the full atonement for our sins.  For what the apostles “received from the Lord,” they have delivered to us, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you.”  And after giving them, and us, this most infinite and miraculous gift, He made this mandatory for us by commanding us: ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’  “In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.’”  And again, the Lord mandates: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

This command to “take eat” and “take drink” is part and parcel of the command to love one another.  For that phrase “one another” is an expression of unity, of community, of communion.  It is fellowship, an act of participation.  It is the community meal of brothers and sisters who love one another.  And this meal is a miraculous meal, for it is, not that is symbolizes or represents, but is the participation in the Lord’s body and blood according to His universe-creating Word.  And when it comes to the Word of God, failure is not an option. 

The Lord also mandates that we who join in this Holy Communion “examine” ourselves.  We are to honestly consider our sins.  For when it comes to our spiritual condition on this fallen planet, failure is our only option.  We are damaged goods living in a damaged world.  And like the crew of the Apollo 13, we are hurling through space on this once good, but now broken, vessel traveling at thousands of miles an hour, reeling out of control for a sure destruction unless we are saved by someone from the outside.  And what’s even better, dear brothers and sisters, our Savior comes to us to rescue us.  He takes flesh and blood in space and time.  He offers His flesh and sheds His blood in space and time.  And He continues to come to us in His flesh and blood in space and time – under the forms of the Paschal bread and wine, the meal of the Passover, brought to fullness and completion “for us men and for our salvation!”

And when it comes to this rescue mission, failure is not an option, because our Lord is both almighty and all merciful.  He has come to save us.  He has come to offer His body and blood.  He has come to wash us in baptismal water.  He has come to serve, not to be served.  And indeed, He has set an example of the conduct that proclaims Him in this fallen world.  For in keeping this mandate to love one another, our Lord says emphatically: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This familial love among brothers and sisters in Christ is a witness before the world of the love of Christ Himself.  It is an invitation to be washed clean by Jesus, to participate in His saving action on the cross, to come to His table to commune with Him and with one another in this one eternal “memorial day” – for we have been mandated to “keep it as a feast to the Lord” throughout our generations, “as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”

It is not an option.  It is a mandate.

But, dear friends, this is no work of drudgery.  This is not a command like paying taxes or cleaning our rooms.  This is a loving command, an invitation to receive the love of Christ, and then to share that love of Christ, by Christ, through Christ, and to the glory of Christ and of His Father.  For like a cup that is filled to the top, it begs to be poured out again, even as Christ was poured out for us as a final and eternal sacrifice, even as His cup is poured into the mouths of His rescued people day after day, week after week, year after year, and century after century, proclaiming the Lord’s death “until He comes.”  Indeed “Forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”

Failure is not an option!

The Lord has come into our world to save us, redeem us, love us, recreate us, give us life, and set us at liberty – just as the children of Israel made their exodus from slavery in Egypt, and just as the crew of the Apollo 13 were given the gift of life anew as they were safely brought home and rescued from the jaws of certain death that lurked over every inch of that space-and-time odyssey back to earth.

And this holy blood signifies to the angel of death to pass over.  “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”

This promise of rescue, of salvation, of life is given to us, dear friends, for the Passover celebrated to the children of Israel is the foreshadowing of our own saving paschal feast of the Lamb, as His blood marks the doors of our hearts so that death itself is not an option.

And though we fail in our obligations, dear friends, let us take comfort that our Lord never fails.  His love never fails.  His mercy never fails, for it endures forever!  The body and blood of our Lord never fail.  Baptism never fails.  Absolution never fails.  Forgiveness, life, and salvation never fail!  And this is all true because for our Lord, our merciful rescuer, the One who calls all things into being, “failure is not an option.”  Glory and honor, thanks and praise be to our Paschal Lamb, the One who loves us in His infinite mercy, forever and ever.  Amen. 

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.