Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon: Trinity 5 – 2013

30 June 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Pet 3:8-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus did something that we might think would be entertaining.  Before a crowd, He made multitudes of fish appear in a lake where seasoned fisherman had just worked all night and had come up with nothing.  And what’s more, Jesus knew this would happen.  He told them where to cast the nets.  And even in the face of their skepticism, it came to pass in dramatic fashion.

It’s a little like Babe Ruth pointing with his bat to predict a home run, and then actually hitting the ball over the fence right where he said he would.  It’s a little like a magician showing that he has nothing up his sleeve, and then making things seemingly come from nowhere.

But instead of cheering or clapping, Simon Peter’s reaction is one of horror.  He is stunned.  He is terrified.  For this was no boastful prediction by a flamboyant athlete.  This was no playful magic trick by a showman.  Jesus truly commanded the forces of nature to do the impossible, and the impossible happened before St. Peter’s wide eyes.  Or more accurately, Jesus did what was only possible for God to do.

It did not take St. Peter very long to figure out who this boat-preaching rabbi truly was.  In retrospect, Peter realized to whom he was actually speaking when he earlier said rather flippantly: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at Your Word I will let down the nets.”  Peter knew two things that prompted his unusual response to ask Jesus to depart.  Peter understood: “This Jesus is God, and I am a poor, miserable sinner.”  And Peter concluded: “Because of my sins, I am unworthy to stand before this Jesus of Nazareth, the Man who is God.”

And so St. Peter the sinner kneels before the Lord and confesses his sins, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Peter confesses his sins, but he also confesses Jesus as God: by kneeling and by calling Him Lord.

And that, dear friends, is the greater miracle.  Making fish appear in a lake is nowhere near the greatness of the miracle of faith, of the confession of one’s sins and of the confession of Jesus Christ as God, of the forgiveness of sins, and of life everlasting.

And thanks be to God that St. Peter’s prayer “Depart from me” was not fulfilled.  For Jesus would never abandon the apostle Peter, even when the apostle denied His Master three times.  And he does not abandon us, dear brothers and sisters!

“Do not be afraid,” says our Lord, with a startling, if not humorous prophecy, “from now on you will be catching men.”  And Peter, James, and John all walked away from their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, to study as his students for three years, in order to proclaim the good news that this Jesus, this Man who is God, has come not to frighten, but to forgive – and to draw people into the nets of the gospel using “fishers of men” who were themselves snagged by the Master.

Peter would see greater wonders, and perform many miracles himself.  But the greatest miracles of all involve confession – the confession of sins and the confession of Jesus Christ as God and Lord, as Savior and Redeemer.  This double confession is what it means to repent.  And that is the single miracle that brings the hosts of heaven to rejoicing.

The Lord taught this same lesson to his holy prophet Elijah.  Terrifying blasts of wind, horrific earthquakes, and raging fires may indeed demonstrate God’s mighty power on this created earth.  But it is nowhere near the magnitude of the power of the “sound of the low whisper,” that very Word of God that calls us by name and breathes life into us.  Whether shouted from rooftops or whispered in hushed tones, the real power of God is not in flamboyant displays or sleight-of-hand, but in the truth of His Word, the same Word that brought all things into being, that same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, that same Word that declares us to be holy.

That is the real miracle, dear friends.  To confess our sins is a far greater miracle than a whirlwind.  To confess that Jesus has come into our world to forgive us poor, miserable sinners is a far greater miracle than an earthquake.  To hear the “sound of a low whisper” pronouncing the holy absolution is a far greater miracle than a fire. 

Jesus told Peter “Do not be afraid,” because Peter was made worthy to stand before our Lord, to enjoy His communion, and to never depart from the Lord’s grace and mercy.  Peter would enjoy that communion in good times and in bad, in his triumphs and his failures, in his wisdom and his foolishness.

Dear friends, we partake of the same miracle today: casting our nets into what appears to be emptiness only to be rewarded with abundance beyond measure, poured out upon us at the Lord’s Word, with such lavish grace that we think our nets will break.  And through everything, the good and the bad, the rejoicing and the sorrow, He also refuses to depart from us. 

St. Peter would later offer advice to his fellow redeemed sinners by teaching them likewise not to be afraid: “Now who is to harm you if you are zealous for what is good.  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The forgiving Word of God, even as a “low whisper,” is more powerful than all the tempests and storms this fallen world has to offer.  For we can stand in the presence of the Lord, for it is this mighty voice that says: “Do not be afraid.”



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.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon: Trinity 4 – 2013

23 June 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 6:36-42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged.”

If we were to interrupt our Lord at this point, a lot of people would be out of work: the entire judicial branch of the federal government, anyone who tastes chili at a cook-off, and even Judge Judy would be removed from her bench.

Of course, our Lord is not against the hearing of cases before magistrates – in fact, there is a book in the Bible called “Judges” – as this was the way Israel was governed before she had a king.  There is nothing in Scripture for us to speak against chili cook-offs, and it would be hard to imagine Judge Judy drawing up wills for a living.

No, the Lord is not denouncing the concept of judging.  In fact, he is calling upon all of us – whether we are official judges or not – to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Just about every vocation in life must render judgments.  Every parent who has had to settle a family dispute, every teacher who has to figure out which student (if any) is telling the truth in a classroom argument, every umpire that rules “fair” or “foul,” is engaging in judgment.

Pastors are sometimes called upon to render judgments – sometimes involving ethical questions, or when parishioners are faced with difficult choices, or even in cases where a person may be impenitent of a sin. 

Our Lord is warning us that when we do render a judgment – whether within our vocation or not – that we will be judged the same way by God.  “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

So, we would indeed do well to “be merciful” – even as our Father “is merciful.”

The word “merciful” can also be translated as “compassionate.”  The word “compassion” in English actually means to suffer with someone else who is suffering.  It means to be in sync with another person or living being, to internalize their pain, to be filled with the desire to alleviate their anguish as if it were our own.  To be “merciful” in this sense is to empathize, to see things from another’s perspective rather than our own, and then try to find a way to ease their pain and suffering.

And in this fallen life, we all suffer.  That is what it means to be a sinner in a sinful world.  We are in this together.  We all feel pain.  We all are saddened by disappointment.  We all grieve misfortune.  We all mourn for those who die while we yet live.  And each day that goes by, we are ourselves one day closer to dying.

And when we look at it that way, the things we get so angry about, so worked up over, suddenly don’t seem so important. 

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Our Lord encourages us in showing mercy by making a joke – or at least a humorous exaggeration.  For in our sins, we magnify the faults of others into skyscrapers, while we shrink our own down to the level of an anthill.  Our Lord asks the rhetorical question: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”  Our Lord identifies this mis-proportionality of which we are all guilty.  He says to us: “You hypocrite,” and yes, dear friends, this means you, it means me, it means every person who has ever walked on this planet except for one, and it is He who is speaking.  “You hypocrite,” He says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

This is the context of the “judge not” statement.  It does not mean that the courts should wink at injustice, that foul balls should be called fair, nor that Judge Judy should refuse to render a verdict in a case (nor hold back in her entertaining way of running her courtroom).  But it does mean that we need to judge ourselves with the strictness that we so love judging our brothers and sisters.  We need to take the log out of our own eye.  We need to humbly realize that “a disciple is not above his teacher.”  And our Teacher is merciful and compassionate.

But let us not forget why this is the case.  Let us not simply add our Lord’s exhortation to the Ten Commandments and chalk it up to one more thing we fail at.  For once more, dear friends, our Lord’s point was what He said right up front: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Our Father is merciful.  He is compassionate toward us.  He is saddened by our disappointments.  He grieves our misfortune.  He mourns for us as we die – even if one day at a time.  He is merciful because He is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving.  Rather than lash out at us in anger, He sympathizes with us, suffers for us, and dies in our place.  And, dear friends, even as “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher,” our Teacher rose from the dead, and trains us to walk in His very footsteps to overcome our crosses, to conquer sin, death, and the grave.

Dear brothers and sisters, listen to the promise the Lord makes to us as a sign and seal of His mercy: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap.”

For the Lord measures His gifts to us out of His mercy, and the measure He uses is generous – certainly a measure that we in no way deserve.  The Lord heaps His blessings upon us to overflowing, so that we can hardly even carry it around.

And when we focus on the Lord’s mercy, when we meditate on His kindness to us (in spite of our petty judgmentalism and vain hypocrisy), when we read the command “judge not” in light of the Lord’s mercy toward us, it becomes clear that there is no cause or reason for us to lack compassion, to be quick to anger and condemn, or to be stingy and self-centered.

Dear friends, our good, gracious, forbearing, patient Lord is merciful beyond measure.  And it is this grace and mercy that empower us according to His Word: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  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.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sermon: Trinity 3 – 2013 and Baptism of Hayden Rumfield

16 June 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Mic 7:18-20, 1 Pet 5:6-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

You don’t have to be a child of the eighties to be familiar with the song “We Are the Champions.”  This anthem is played at nearly every sports championship around the world, be it the World Cup, the Super Bowl, or the World Series.  It is a reminder that in this fallen world, only one can be the champion, and everyone else is a “loser.”

“No time for losers,” says the song, because “we are the champions of the world.”  And in today’s parlance, it’s pretty bad to be a “loser.”  If you are a loser, you sit alone at lunch.  If you are a loser, nobody wants to speak to you.  If you are a loser, you are not going to be seen socially with the winners and the champions.

The champions of first century Jewish society in the Roman Empire – the Pharisees and the scribes – were grumbling at Jesus, as usual, saying: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  In other words, Jesus has time for losers.  Jesus “receives” them, will be seen with them, talks to them, and even eats with them.  Jesus has broken the rule against allowing the losers to eat at the table with the champions, the winners, the cool kids.

For in their world, to be a “sinner” was to be a loser.  You did not associate with them, did not speak with them, and you most certainly did not eat with them, people like “the tax collectors and sinners” who were, incidentally, the ones who were “drawing near to hear” Jesus.

“So he told them a parable.”  Actually, he told them several, teaching them about the importance of the lost.  For Jesus is actually more interested in the humble lost than he is in the self-aggrandizing champion.

Our Lord first speaks of a lost sheep.  And in this case, the sheep is only one of a hundred.  Should a shepherd leave the 99 sheep who have not wandered to seek out the lost?  Well, that is just what a good shepherd does.  He will “go after the one that is lost… until he finds it.”  A lot of terrible fates can befall a lost sheep, but if the shepherd finds it, it is a cause for rejoicing.  It is a reason to throw a party.  It may not be the World Cup or the Super Bowl, but to the lost sheep, this is his life; and to the shepherd, this is his beloved sheep – even if to the world, this is a “loser,” a “sinner,” a creature that deserves to bear the consequences of his bad mistake.

Of course, that is not how God’s kingdom operates.  The King of love my Shepherd is.”  Our Good Shepherd is interested in saving the lost, not teaching them a lesson.  He has come to save us, not to condemn us.  And in fact, our Lord says: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And consider the lost coin.  The woman in our Lord’s story does not give up on the coin just because it is lost.  No indeed!  She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and “seeks diligently until she finds it.”  She has time for the lost coin and doesn’t simply allow it to slip between the cracks or write it off as a loss.  “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”  And again, Jesus reminds us of the “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Although Jesus is the Champion of the world, in the literal sense of the word, Jesus is the only one of our race to have never fallen into sin, the only Man who was not a “loser.” And yet, Jesus is willing to be treated as a lost sheep or a lost coin.  “My God, My God,” He cried out from the cross, “Why have You forsaken Me?”  Our Lord was not lost, but cast away.  He was the goat sent into the wilderness to bear the sins of the people, the scapegoat.  He was the coin used to redeem us back from sin, He who was himself sold to sinners for thirty pieces of silver.  And though the hosts of heaven wept at what our Lord suffered, they rejoice eternally for what He has gained.  For He has gained us, dear friends, us “poor, miserable sinners,” losers the lot of us.  All of us “lost and condemned persons.”  Lost, that is, until we have been found, redeemed, and rescued by our Champion who has time for us, and who draws us into eternity.

Dear friends, we have additional cause for joy, for rejoicing, on this holy Lord’s Day.  A little lost lamb has been found and delivered safely to his home, Hayden Rumfield.  By water and the Word, according to the promise of our Good Shepherd, the lamps have been lit, the house has been swept, and by God’s diligence, Hayden has been found in the Lamb’s Book of Life!  Heaven rejoices, and there is joy before the angels and before men.  And Hayden will sing with all of us: “God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ.”

He is yet another fulfillment of the Word of the Lord, who “will again have compassion on us: He will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast our sins into the depths of the sea.”  For Hayden’s sins, including those inherited from his parents, and those of his own, have all been drowned with Pharoah’s hosts and with the evil of the world at the great flood.  He is preserved in the Ark of the Church, found and rescued by the one Champion who has time for losers, who finds the lost, and who makes each one of us “more than conquerors” by the cross, by the forgiveness of sins, by His Word, and through His very body and blood.  And the vault of heaven resounds!

And having been found, we can indeed “be sober-minded; be watchful,” although “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” because the Lord has rescued us.  He has rescued Hayden and all of the lost.  He has found us and lays us on His shoulders, the same shoulders that bore the cross for us, and He leads us in rejoicing!

There is no room for grumbling here, dear friends.  There is no need to seek a championship that excludes losers and tries to marginalize the lost.  For we are all lost.  And yet we are all found: champions by virtue of the victory of the One Champion, of the world and for the world, who has redeemed the world, who has found it lost and fallen and is remaking it new and glorious, who declares us to be “more than conquerors.”

And so, let us rejoice, dear brothers and sisters!  Let us rejoice in the Lord’s victory over the devil on our behalf.  Let us rejoice for all the baptized, including little Hayden, and ourselves!  Let us rejoice over every sinner who repents, over every wandering sheep who finds his way home, over every valued person created in God’s image who has slipped through the cracks of this fallen world to be found by our merciful Lord, everyone who is brought to repentance and everlasting life.  For in being found by Him who has sought us and saved us, we are champions indeed.  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.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sermon: Trinity 2 – 2013

Lutheran Mass, Brandenburg, 1539

9 June 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 14:15-24

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord is one of many who have been invited to a meal, and while at this meal, He tells a story about people invited to a meal.  And in fact, the Lord Jesus did not initiate the comparison between the kingdom of God and dining.  It was one of the Lord’s fellow diners “who reclined at table with Him” that started it.  That unnamed man said: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

And he has said something very truthful.  Blessed indeed is every person who breaks bread with God Himself, who is invited to the feast, who reclines at table with Jesus, who enjoys communion with God the Son, who sits in His presence and hears His Word, who are blessed to receive His holy absolution, those who kneel before this holy altar to “eat bread in the kingdom of God.”  Blessed, indeed, are such people!

Jesus does not dispute the man’s statement, and even builds upon it.  But the catch that the man at the table hadn’t really considered is this: who has been invited?  And what about people who are invited but do not respond? 

And in consideration of this, the Lord teaches us about the nature of God’s kingdom.  It is a place for misfits, for sinners, for beggars, and for the “poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  And to the world, this is not where we want to be.  Our sinful flesh would much prefer to be where the beautiful people are, where there is money and power and the fawning of men.  And yet, dear brothers and sisters, here we are.  We are here in a rather humble building.  In the eyes of the world, this is a pretty meager banquet: a sip of wine and a wafer of bread.  There is no six course spread.  There is no motivational speaker teaching you how to get rich, nor a wise-cracking celebrity telling you all about his Hollywood connections.  There is instead a preacher proclaiming the Word.  There will be no write-up in the society pages, no clip on YouTube, nothing on the newscast tonight, and as icing on the cake: the majority of our own members are not even here.  It is hardly an impressive banquet by the world’s standards.

But just the same, dear friends, this is the greatest feast of all!  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

For you have taken your place in this banquet house poor with sin, crippled with guilt, blind to God’s mercy, and lame to the point where you cannot even help yourself by walking into the kingdom of your own power.  You joined me in a public confession that we are “poor miserable sinners.”  And there are probably a thousand things you would rather be doing now: house work, yard work, parties, travel, TV, sports, and a million other tasks and chores that need to be done.

Maybe you own property that must be maintained.  Maybe you have some equipment that must be looked after.  Maybe family responsibilities are pressing.  It is hard to see the point of coming here to be told what you already know about Jesus, to hear the same words again: “I forgive you all your sins…,” and to ritually eat bread and drink wine as most of you have been doing for years.

Is there really any point, dear friends?  Are we “getting anything” out of the service?  I do hear that, you know: “I just don’t get anything out of” the standing, kneeling, sitting, singing, listening, and taking communion.  Usually, this is said by people who want rock music, dancing girls, a stand-up comic for a preacher, and “practical advice” for “daily living” that reduces our blessed Lord Jesus into a self-help guru.

But, dear friends, listen to Jesus!  He is no psychotherapist or talk show host.  He is the Son of God, the Son of Man; He is human, He is divine; and most importantly, He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins; He is the atonement that restores our communion with God; He is the cure to death itself.  And this is what the kingdom is all about, for Jesus is our King, and He has given Himself for us to live in His kingdom.  He brings eternal riches to the poor, healing to the crippled, sight to the blind, and restoration to the lame.  It is He who uniquely has the power and the mandate and the will to forgive our sins!

What goes on in this house, this holy house, this banquet house, this house which is indeed the very gate of heaven on earth – are the most important things in your life.  For at this banquet, you are healed, restored, showered with God’s mercy and love, and you partake of the miracle, the divine and eternal miracle, of His body and His blood unto eternal life!  This place is an ark that weathers the storms of this fallen death-laden world, and it is a refuge, for here, in this place, we meet Jesus Christ in His kingdom, where He promises to be with us!

And even though we are teeming with excuses, even though our sinful flesh is tempted toward other banquets and other gods, this is where the Lord God Almighty shepherds us, the invited subjects of His glorious kingdom.  And what’s more, dear friends, our King doesn’t sit at the head table and leave us afar off.  No indeed!  He reclines at table with us, among us, even as He walked in our sandals and tasted our death.  He even bore our cross, and all to give us His righteousness.

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

But our King doesn’t stop there.  He not only invites us, we the outliers from the “highways and hedges,” we who are despised in the eyes of the world, we whose sins have set us against our Lord and Creator, but what’s more, our Lord becomes our very meat and drink indeed!  His flesh is bread for the life of the world!  His blood, shed for us men and for our salvation, is the New Testament, the cup He blesses with His Word, and which He shares with us “for the forgiveness of sins.”

One molecule of this consecrated bread upon which we feast has more power than all the atomic weaponry of the world.  One tiny drop of this consecrated wine is a sufficient portion of the sacrificial blood to save every “poor, miserable sinner” that has ever lived or ever will draw a breath in this polluted, fallen world.

We, dear friends, miraculously “eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  We poor, crippled, blind, and lame “miserable sinners” recline at table with God the Son.  We who are despised by the world and mocked by our flesh, we who are under the assault of the devil and dogged by death itself feast with, and upon, our Lord and our King – by His gracious invitation and unto our own salvation!

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  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.