Friday, February 28, 2014

Papers of J. B. McLaughlin

James Buchanan McLaughlin (1843-1940)
Thanks to my cousin Deborah for sending me the following account written by our mutual uncle who served the 25th Virginia Infantry, Company C of the Army of Northern Virginia during the War for Southern Independence.  His name was James Buchanan McLaughlin.

As I blogged earlier, he and his brother both served in the same company and were both POWs.  James's brother Richard died in the notorious Point Lookout POW camp, while James would not only survive the Point, but was also sent to the horrific Elmira prison camp, where he also survived.

Here is the brief biography of J. B. McLaughlin:

He was born April 1, 1843 in Rock Camp, Braxton County, Virginia. 
He enlisted in Company C of the 9th Virginia Battalion (later, the 2nd Company C of the 25th Virginia Infantry at Sutton, VA, now WV) on May 18, 1861. He was captured (along with his brother Richard, see below) at the Wilderness (May 15, 1864), sent to Belle Plain, then to Point Lookout POW Camp, May 17, 1864. After the death of his brother as a POW at Point Lookout, James was sent to the notorious POW camp at Elmira on August 10, 1864 (which had a 24% death rate among the more than 12,000 POWs who were held there). He survived ten months at Elmira, and was released at the end of the war, June 23, 1865. 
On December 13, 1868, James married Elizabeth Mary Fox (1848-1927). They lived in Glendon, WV and had ten children. James died on July 4, 1940 (at the age of 97) in Glendon, and he and his wife were both buried in the so-called James B. McLaughlin cemetery near Glendon - which I have as of yet not been able to find even with the detailed county map. 

But now, some thirty years after first learning about my great-great-great-granduncle, we now have his own recollections of the war.

Papers of J. B. McLaughlin

ca. 1865
Company C, 25th Virginia Volunteer Infantry, C.S.A.

Captain - P. B. Duffy
1st Lieutenant - J. M. Boggs
2nd Lieutenant - E. D. Camden
3rd Lieutenant - J. M. McCorkle
1st Sergeant - W. T. Lawrence

We left Sutton in May went to Flatwoods and camped there about two weeks.  The first night after leaving Flatwoods, we camped on the farm of Ira Cutlip on Holly River.  Camped the next night at Hacker's Valley.  Was there two days over.  Next camp was on Buchannon farm at Mingo Flats.  Camped on Valley River at Elk Water.  Next day went to Beverly where we camped about two weeks.  Moved down Tygart's Valley to the Round Barn where Elkins is located now.  Camped near where the Court House now stands.  Moved back up a few miles.  When the Confederates were driven from Locust Hill, we crossed the mountain to the back fork of Cheat River.  Went down the river to where Parsons is now located.  Went down a creek the name of which I think was Horse Shoe.  From that time I do not know where was (sic) until we reached Monterey.  Went up one branch of the Potomac River to Monterey in Highland County Virginia.

Traveled day and night for about eighty days.  Never ate any bread all this time.  Got a little beef at times, about three times, I believe.  And when we got to Monterey, they gave us one big round hardtack as hard as a stone.  There we drew some clothing and a blanket and a big heavy overcoat.  As much as a man could carry when wet, and to have to toat (sic) this garment in July and August was enough to make a man say bad words.

Left Monterey by way of Staunton and Parkersburg Pike.  Our first camp was Laurel Fork, a branch of the Potomac.  We next camped on the top of the Allegheny Mountain.  Moved from there to Camp Bartow on the Greenbriar River, where Durbin is now located.  We camped here the balance of the summer of 1861.

Was on one scouting party that went to the top of Cheat Mountain but did not accomplish anything.  The Union troop from Cheat Mountain paid us one visit during the summer and drove in our picket.  Got up in range with their artillery and opened fire.  This was my first time under fire of artillery and the noise that the shot and the shell made,  made me feel cheap.  The Greenbriar River was on a rampage and neither side could cross it.  Our pickets had to hide in the woods to keep from being captured.  Our next move was back to the summit of the Allegheny Mountains.  For winter quarters, we were camped on the highest peak of the mountains where camp put in for the winter.  On the 13th of December, the forces from Cheat Mountain came very near surrounding our camp in the night.  At daylight, we were attacked and had a considerable battle which lasted until the afternoon.  When the Union force was driven off and left us here, we lost some good men.  In killed and wounded, we lost John Green and Thurmond Tinney, killed and several wounded.  Capt. Mollohan of Webster County was killed here.

In the spring, we moved back to Buffalo Gap on the railroad.  Camped a short time and moved back near Staunton.  Early this spring, we were joined by forces of Stonewall Jackson, and then moved back and attacked the Union forces at McDowell.  Here was one of the hottest engagements yet pulled off in this part of the Confederacy.  We drove the Union forces under General Milroy down the South Branch to Franklin in Pendleton County.  We turned back at Franklin and came back to the valley.  Went down by way of Bridgewater to Harrisonburg, then the force divided one portion going down the Shenandoah, the other down at the Page Valley.  At Front Royal, we routed the 1st Maryland Bucktails at Straussburg.  The other force came upon the main Union force and we drove them to Winchester where Banks made a stand but when our forces all got up he was soon dislodged.  And from here he was never let stop until he reached Harper's Ferry.  At Winchester, we captured a large amount of supplies of camp equipment and a large amount of provisions.  Just above Charles Town, we were about faced in the road and marched to Winchester.  That night, I slept on two rails where the water was two or three inches deep.  Out next morning at daylight and never halted until we reached Straussburg.  When we left Valley Road and marched out the Pike toward Romney one and a half miles where we met Milroy and his forces endeavoring to cut us off at this point and it was a close call.  Here we had a little brush with him and gave him a set back.  We continued our march up the Valley, the Union forces following us up and every once in a while we had a brush to keep them back.

At Harrisonburg, there was a considerable fight.  Gen. Ashby was killed here leading an Infantry Charge.  The next day, we had a fight at Cross Keys.  The next morning our forces crossed at the South Branch of the Shenandoah and when the last of our troops crossed over, the bridge was burned.  Our forces then marched down the valley and attacked General Shields, taking all of his artillery and many prisoners.  This ended the Campaign in the Valley for a time.  In the evening, after the battle with Shields, our forces marched up the West side of the Blue Ridge and camped there for two of (sic) three days.  Then, returning to the valley, went into camp near Weir's Cave, below Waynesboro, where we remained for a short time.

The next move was to break camp and head toward Richmond.  We crossed the Blue Ridge near the Big Tunnel.  I walked through the tunnel which is near a mile in length.  I don't remember how many days we were on the road.  It was said that the agent of the RR at Gordonsville asked Jackson if he wanted to get at Richmond.  We were taken up by the trains and were hauled for some distance.  The train returned and took up the hindmost troops.

We arrived in the vicinity of Richmond the evening of the 7 days battle opened and were under fire every day from that time until it closed.  We camped around Richmond a short time and I left there on a train which brought us up the road next toward Gordonsville, to a river where Stoneman's Cavalry had burned the bridge.  From there to Gordonsville, we walked the RR.  We were at Gordonsville a short time and then the maneuvering for to get around John Pope, who said that he had never as yet got to see the face of a Rebel.  This marching and countermarching was kept up for some time until the battle of Cedar Mountain was fought.  After a short time, Jackson began maneuvering to get in Pope's rear and after so long a time, he succeeded and struck the RR at a station a short distance above Manassas Junction where we captured all sorts of army equipage, a large amount of provisions, all sorts and kinds of arms and ammunition, harness, and everything that goes to equip an army.  Here Jackson had men behind him that he wanted and had begun to work around until he could form a junction with Lee and Longstreet which he soon accomplished.  And then the general battle was on which lasted for two or three days and ended with victory for the Confederates.  There we took up the march for Maryland by way of Leesburg, crossing the Potomac at Fallen Rock.  Our next stop was at Frederick City.  We were here a short time then we were off for Harper's Ferry.  We crossed the Potomac at Williamsport and marched on for Harper's Ferry which was then surrounded on three sides and we closed the fourth side.  The 3rd day after we reached (sic) the garrison surrendered with about 1100 men and a vast amount of arms and stores provisions etc.  Then we were ordered to join Lee at Antietam.  We recrossed the river at Shepherdstown and were in the battle I think on the 17th of Sept. 1862.  We had to get back to the Virginia side and crossed at Shepherdstown moved around in the Valley and went into camp at Bunker Hill.  Camped here for some time.  Tore up the B&O RR for several miles burning and crooking the rails so they could not be used until sent to the shop and straightened.  Our next move was to cross the Blue Ridge at some gap, I don't remember, where the object being to get to Fredericksburg.  We went into camp somewhere in that vicinity until the 13 of December, when Gen. Burnside with his host crossed the Rapahannoc at that town and brought on a general engagement which proved disastrous for Mr. Burnside.  We went into winter quarters in that county until about April.  We (the 25th Va. Regt.) was sent to Buffalo Gap to join General Imboden and we took up the march through West Va. by way of Monterey, crossing the Allegheny and Cheat Mountains to Beverly by way of Buckhannon, Weston, Bulltown, Braxton C. and through Nicholas County, Greenbriar, Bath, and Augusta.  By joining the Army of Northern Virginia, somewhere near Richmond, then General Jackson was wounded and died just after Chancellorsville.

Immediately after joining the Army of Northern Virginia, we recrossed the Blue Ridge and advanced on Winchester from the Front Royal road, driving Milroy from Winchester, we crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown.  We marched through Maryland into Pennsylvania, somewhere near Carlisle.  We were ordered to join Early at Gettysburg, arriving at that place the first day of the engagement and remained throughout the siege.  We were on the extreme left of the Confederate line.  After this fight we recrossed the Potomac at Williamsport.  We waded the river just at daybreak when it was up to my chin.  I had to hold my head as high as I could in order to keep my mouth out of the water.  After this fight, we were located somewhere near Orange I.C.H. and when the campaign opened in the spring of 1864 was captured on the 5th of May 1864 and was taken to Point Lookout where we were kept until August, then removed to Elmira, New York, where I remained until the close of the war.  Was released from prison about the 15th of July, 1865.

Was out.

J.B. McLaughlin
Co "C" 25 Va Vol Inft
Confederate States of America

This is only an outline of my experiences in the Confederate Army.

When we were at Beverly, at the first of the war.  We first had the old mountain rifle.  Then, we turned them over and drew the old army musket which had been made for a flint lock afterward changed to the percussion lock.  I do not know how much execution they done in front, but always coupled the one that done the firing.  Our first supply of ammunition was one cartridge to each man.  This was the old style ball and buckshot.

The Army of the Confederacy was poorly supplied the last two years for clothing and rations.  They did not get anywhere near enough to eat or wear.  The fare we had in the northern prisons was scant in the prison that it was held at the morning about 8 o'clock we went to the Cook House and our breakfast consisted of a slice of light bread and a very small piece of meat - sometimes a bone.  In the evening, about 3 or 4 o'clock, we got a slice of bread and a tin plate of bean water - sometimes there would be a few beans in it.  We were allowed one fire a day in the Barracks in the winter time.  This one fire was out of anthracite coal and had to last 24 hours.  When President Lincoln was killed at Washington, they fired stones out of the cannon they had around the prison into the prisoner's quarters.  Fortunately, there was no one hurt.

J. B. McLaughlin

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon: Funeral of Bertha Laborie

Feb 6, 2014 - our birthday: my 50th and Bertha's 97th

23 February 2014

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Job 19:23-27a, Heb 12:1-2)

 In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Don and Jackie, grandchildren and great grandchildren, family members, friends, honored guests, brothers and sisters in Christ, peace be with you!

When someone lives a full life of nearly a century, there is much to reflect upon regarding that person’s life and the profound impact they have had on the lives of those around them. Our dear sister in Christ Bertha was born as the First World War raged, the Model T was less than a decade old, and the first movie with sound was still a decade away.

We have mixed thoughts about saying goodbye to someone of such a long life and influence. On the one hand, we know that death on this side of the grave is inevitable, but on the other, very few people that we know ever knew a time when Bertha was not yet born.

She grew up in an era when motherhood was respected by society. She took her holy vocation as wife and mother seriously. Her children always came first. And even though she couldn’t drive, and for a time was unable to bring her children to church, she purchased Lutheran Sunday School materials and taught her children the holy faith from home.

We Lutherans are taught to revere the saints. We love them and follow their examples. Bertha is such a saint and a hero to those of us left on this side of the veil.

But there is also a temptation when someone lives such a long life, dear friends.  And that temptation is to see death as natural, as a kind of friend. And while we are grateful that Bertha did not suffer, and while we are blessed to know that the last earthly meal she ate was the Lord’s Supper – and how magnificent is that, dear friends? But we don’t delude ourselves into thinking of death as anything other than it is: a tragic consequence of sin and of the fall in the Garden of Eden. We mourn because of death. Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus, even as He raised him from the dead. We miss our loved ones, whether they die at seven or at ninety-seven.

Death is not God’s will; it is painful; it is not our friend; it is not natural. And yet, for us poor miserable sinners, it is inevitable.

And this is why we are here, dear friends, in a church, a holy sanctuary where the Word of God is proclaimed in the face of death, where the Gospel is proclaimed in spite of the devil, and where the sacraments are administered unto the forgiveness of sin. The old evil foe has no power in this place, dear friends! This is where the altar, the font, and the pulpit sustain us and restore us to the innocence we lost when our first parents ate unto their judgment. For here, dear friends, we eat unto our salvation! Here, dear friends, in this very font, the little baby Bertha was baptized and redeemed by her Savior. Her sins were forgiven. She was redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

As Job confessed, so Bertha confesses, and so we confess: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.

This is the glorious news Bertha heard from the day of her baptism while soldiers waged war on horseback in Europe, right up until the very end of her life on this earth less than a week ago. And as we confessed it yet again in the creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” We do not believe as Pagans do in floating disembodied spirits or that people become angels with wings. No, dear friends, we have the promise of the bodily resurrection, just as surely as our blessed Lord called Lazarus out of his grave, and just as surely as our Lord Himself walked out of His own tomb in the flesh: “Yet in my flesh I shall see God.” We have a glorious reunion to look forward to, dear brothers and sisters, with our human bodies made perfect, bodies that will not wear out, bodies that will not die.

This is how the author of the letter to the Hebrews can exhort us: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, every sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

St. Paul also compares the Christian life to a race. It is more of a marathon than a sprint. And, dear friends, to those who endure, there is a crown, an imperishable reward to those who cross the finish line signed by the cross, washed by Holy Baptism, and covered with Christ’s atoning blood. For ultimately, the prize is won for us by Jesus, our Redeemer, who indefatigably defeated death and triumphantly won life for us, giving this crown to us by grace, through faith, and by means of the Word declared to us.

Our sister Bertha has completed the race. She has fought the good fight. Jesus has triumphed for her. And not even the vile devil and his great weapon death have any power over her, dear friends!

And just as the scriptures teach us about another elderly saint, St. Simeon, the faithful temple priest who held true to the promise of the Redeemer, who held the Christ child in his arms, it was always my privilege to pray together with Bertha after partaking of the Holy Sacrament together, Simeon’s song:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Blessed Bertha’s life on this side of the grave has been completed in victory, dear friends, because of this same Christ seen by the aged eyes of Simeon, partaken sacramentally by Bertha for nearly a century, and confessed by her and by the whole Christian Church on earth since the days of the apostles.

And so we carry on in our walk with Christ, bridging the gap of our current century to those whose lives we impact by our life and confession. Let us join our dear sister in Christ in that great cloud of witnesses to the cross and resurrection of our blessed Lord, to the Good News of eternal life that we have the privilege to confess just as Bertha did for 97 years in Christ. And let us look forward in joy, hope, peace, and expectation of the resurrection to come that is ours in Christ Jesus.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,” now and even unto eternity. Amen.

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

Sermon: Sexagesima – 2014

23 February 2014

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Isa 55:10-13, 2 Cor 11:19-12:9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Preach you the Word and plant it home
To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flow’rs and men shall be forgot.

In the British comedy series “Bless Me, Father,” based on true life events in a London church in 1950, the great actor Arthur Lowe portrays a wise and loveable Irish pastor named Father Duddleswell.  In one episode, the church prepares for its annual bazaar, and the pastor sets a nearly impossible fundraising goal of 600 pounds.

A terrific storm rages on the day of the bazaar, and it seems to be a total disaster...  until the check from the insurance company comes in.  For we learn that Father Duddleswell always took out a policy in case of inclement weather.  In addition, it is revealed that he has also put up a bet with the local bookie, at 20 to 1 odds, that it would rain, thus making an additional $600 for the parish.  The associate pastor and housekeeper are scandalized.  But of course, the pastor’s wise planning turned a disaster into a grand success.

At the end of the episode, Father Duddleswell, with a twinkle in his eye, confesses to them, “Sometimes I think your parish priest has no faith at all.”

And we are often like the disciples whom our Lord chided as having “little faith.”  We try to take the bull by the horns.  We plan and strategize.  We look for angles.  We apply the world’s ways to the kingdom of God.  Planning and looking for opportunity is not wrong, dear friends, but how often we rely on our own strength, instead of harmonizing with St. Paul, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness” and taking to heart the Lord’s counsel: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Indeed, dear friends, the church just looks foolish and impotent in the eyes of the world.  We have no bombs, no armies, no guns, no way to compel anyone to do anything.  We are despised by the world.  We are hated by dictators.  We are mocked by the media.  We are scorned by the mighty.

And yet, dear friends, the church has conquered the world.  The Bible exists in every language.  Churches flourish in the open on the very sites of Stalin’s death camps and in vast numbers though in secret all across Communist China.  Christians like Asia Bibi confess Christ in Pakistan even under sentence of death.  Pastors like Saaed Abedini proclaim the Gospel in dungeons in Iran.  With nothing more than the Word, confessors of Christ, mostly poor and despised, number in the billions all over our planet.

Christians have been subjected to beheading, the stake, the arena, and the gulag camp.  And yet the faith continues to spread around the world.  The church grows.  Christ is confessed as Christ forgives and is present in His Word and sacraments.  In the words of the ancient Latin hymn: Christ conquers!  Christ reigns!  Christ rules!  All without a single weapon, not so much as a sling shot.  It’s utterly miraculous.

This, dear friends, is all done by means of the Word.  It is all accomplished by the confession that Christ is Lord, by the Gospel proclamation of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and what Jesus continues to do in our fallen, sin-sick world.  The Word we proclaim is Christ crucified; the Lamb and His saving blood; His victory over sin, death and the devil; and His glorious resurrection.  The Word we proclaim is Holy Baptism, Holy Absolultion, and Holy Communion.  The Word we proclaim is the Word Made Flesh.  And that mighty Word is implanted into you, dear brothers and sisters, by means of what seems utterly ridiculous in its weakness: by preaching.

Our Lord compares the Word to a seed.  A seed is tiny.  It lies dormant.  It’s of no consequence in a world that respects power, wealth, and might.  But a seed, dear friends, has more power than all the atomic bombs on the planet.  For within the seed is life encoded in the DNA programmed by the Creator Himself.  And in the seed of the preached Word is the self-reproducing DNA of eternal life.

That, dear friends, is what makes tyrants quake in their jackboots.  This is what frightens dictators more than anything.  It is the power of love over and against hate.  It is the might of forgiveness over and against sin.  It is the conquest of the cross over the concentration camp.  Lenin is still rotting away for all the world to see in a glass box, a maudlin relic of the failure of the enemies of the cross.  But our Lord Jesus Christ is risen, and His tomb is a church, a living house of the proclamation of the Word of the cross that frees men from imprisonment to the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

The sower sows; his reckless love
Scatters abroad the goodly seed,
Intent alone that all may have
The wholesome loaves that all men need.

In his recklessness, the sower casts the seed everywhere.  Some falls on the path and is trampled and eaten by birds, snatched away by Satan.  Some falls on rocky ground, grows quickly and dies quickly, lacking roots to draw in water.  Some falls among thorns, choked out by distractions.  In all three of these examples, the seed dies.  It never matures and bears fruit.  Its explosive creative power encoded in its DNA goes to waste for lack of a receptive heart in which to prosper.

Our Lord is giving us a stern warning, dear friends.  For we are most certainly poor miserable sinners.  We are tempted to allow God’s Word to die unproductive within us.  We do not resist Satan the way we ought, and the danger is that we “may not believe and be saved.”  We are tempted to “fall away” in “time of testing” because we are not grounded in God’s Word, choosing to devote huge amounts of time to other things that seem more powerful, more important, more relevant in this modern age than a tiny seed, than God’s Word, than that which seems so weak.  We are tempted by the “cares and riches and pleasure of life” – worldly matters that take priority over and against the Word of God.  And so we are choked by things which ultimately are meaningless, while we do not mature, but instead allow the Word to be strangled by the thorns of sin’s lasting legacy.

We would be wise to listen to our Lord’s Word, dear friends.  For as the prophet yet again preaches to us: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

And, dear friends, the Word bears the promise, and it is deceptively mighty and eternally powerful, much as the inconsequential-looking seed of the sower contains the power of the Creator embedded therein.  For when the seed falls on good soil, it yields “a hundredfold.”  As our Lord both observes and promises: “those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

This is how the Lord’s kingdom works, how the church triumphs over the world, how Christ conquers, reigns, and rules in love, how against all odds and beyond all imagination, slavery yields to liberty, fear yields to joy, war yields to peace, hatred yields to love, sin yields to forgiveness, infirmity yields to health, and mortality yields to immortality.

For in spite of our “little faith,” even when it seems that we have no faith at all, the Lord is in control.  He is imbedding the seed, dear brothers and sisters, with the most explosive power in the universe: the power of the cross, the power of the Gospel, the power of redemtion – even as the sower can only look upon the Lord’s work and say: “Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that.”

Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend His planted Word.



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, February 16, 2014

Sermon: Septuagesima – 2014

16 February 2014

Text: Matt 20:1-16 (Ex 17:1-7, 1 Cor 9:24-10:5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord’s parable is usually called something like “The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.”  But it could also be named something like: “The Parable of Entitlements.”

There is a lot of talk about “entitlements” these days, as arguments over the national budget and financial deficits come into conflict with the promises made by governments and their agencies to the people.  The word “entitlement” includes the word “title.”  Anyone who owns a house or a car – or anyone who has ever played Monopoly – knows that to hold the title to something means you have rights to that property.

If you hold the title to something, then something is owed to you, whether it be rent or a payment or some kind of privilege of ownership.  And if you make an agreement with someone, whether to work for them for pay, or to pay them for work – both sides are entitled to something.  Workers are entitled to wages.  Bosses are entitled to work. 

And so the workers in our Lord’s story feel entitled.  They are not working for the boss out of the kindness of their hearts.  They are being offered a wage, a contractual amount agreed upon before the job started. 

Early in the morning, about six a.m., the boss goes out in search of laborers.  He hires some of them to work the vineyard, and he offers them the standard pay of that time: 12 hours of work for a denarius.  The workers agree, and so a contract is made.  The boss is entitled to a fair day’s labor; the workers are entitled to a fair day’s pay, in this case, the specific amount of a denarius.

But as the day goes on, the owner of the vineyard still needs more workers.  About nine in the morning, he hires on additional help, and he offers not a specific amount , but promises the wage will be “right.”  The workers agree, and they take the job.  The same thing happens at noon, and at three p.m., as workers agree to a fair salary for their six or their three hour work days. 

At five p.m., the vineyard owner sees unemployed workers standing around.  He offers them a job for an hour’s work.  Whether he is offering these men a kind of charity, or if he truly has more work to be done is not made clear.  But the same conditions of a fair wage is implied.

Six p.m. is quitting time, and it is also payday.  The owner asks the foreman to pay the workers in reverse order.  Those who worked a single hour received a full day’s pay: a denarius.  Hearing this, those who worked the full 12-hour day expected to be paid much more than they deserved.  After all, wouldn’t it be fair to get paid more than those who worked but a single hour?  Especially as these men have “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”  And so, when they were also paid the denarius for which they agreed to work, they grumbled. 

The owner replied: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go.  I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”  And Jesus, our storyteller and narrator concludes the tale and gives us the moral of the story: “The last will be first, and the first last.”

“The last will be first, and the first last.”

This flies in the face of how we view fairness.  Why shouldn’t the long-timers get more?  Why should the one-hour wonders get paid the same?  But in determining fairness, dear friends, we need to consider who is the owner, and what were the agreements that were made.

For in God’s kingdom, we are in a very weak position to argue for entitlements.  Addressing the wages we are due is not very wise, as St. Paul reveals to us that the wages of sin is death.  And so, what are you entitled to, dear friend?  What are we entitled to, dear sinners?  What does God owe us for all that we have done?  We most certainly deserve God’s “temporal and eternal punishment.”  And this means death in time and hell in eternity.  That is our rightful denarius for a lifetime of our sinful works.  That is what we deserve, dear friends, our rightful wage, our just desserts, our fair treatment by the Owner of the vineyard.  That is our entitlement.

And yet we grumble against God.  We expect to be fawned over and rewarded.  We compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves worthy, not of death, but life; not of hell, but of heaven.  And we demand that God pay us according to our perceived worth.  The children of Israel, who were freed from slavery by God Himself using His servant Moses, grumbled against Moses again and again.  On the occasion of our lesson, their grumbling had to do with their thirst.  They wanted water, and they were ready to stone Moses because he was not giving them what they wanted and when they wanted it.  For we all know that the customer is always right.  And yet in spite of their grumbling, the Lord did not reward them according to what they deserved.  The Lord provided them with life-saving water from the rock.

And this is the good news, dear friends.  We may grumble with an entitlement mentality that we deserve to be treated better in God’s kingdom.  But given that our works actually merit hell, given that the wages of our sin is death, the fact that we are paid out of the divine treasury and rewarded and renumerated according to the labor of our Lord Jesus Christ in the vineyard, taking the wages He earned, wages of forgiveness, life, and salvation even as He was paid our deserved wage of His passion and death – we have no cause to grumble, dear friends.  In fact, we have cause to rejoice.  We have no grounds to be angry with God, dear brothers and sisters, but rather we have the privilege to praise Him for all that He has done for us, including the promise of everlasting life.  Instead of griping that others are shown undeserved mercy, we should thank God every moment of every day that we, like the grumbling children of Israel, are baptized and deemed worthy to eat spiritual food and drink spiritual drink.  For the rock from which the life-giving water flowed and flows, was and is: Christ!

And though we are entitled to death, our Lord does what He chooses with what is His, which includes us.  The Lord is kind, gracious, and merciful: “the last will be first, and the first last.”  And rather than begrudge the Lord’s generosity, we are grateful for His kindness in paying us not the wages of sin, which is death, but rather giving us the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

And this life of gratitude and praise takes discipline, dear friends.  We are disciples, and so we discipline ourselves.  As Olympic athletes do not run aimlessly, but train with their eyes on the prize, and just as martial artists do not prepare by simply flailing their arms about, but demand their bodies’ obedience to training, we Christians train ourselves spiritually, “lest after preaching to others,” we ourselves “should be disqualified.”

Dear friends, the Lord is gracious and merciful.  He does not pay us according to the wages we have earned by our sins, but rather He is generous to us, paying us according to the wages our Lord has earned by His blood shed on the cross.  We have been baptized not merely into Moses, but into Jesus, and we not only eat and drink spiritual food and drink, but the physical body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ!  For we who are last have become first!  We who deserve death have been compensated with life.  We who are entitled to hell have been re-titled as heirs of the heavenly kingdom of our generous Master who does not pay us “whatever is right” nor what is fair, but rather what is gracious and merciful.

The last are the first, and the first are the last.  Thanks be to God, now and even unto eternity!  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, February 09, 2014

Sermon: Transfiguration of our Lord – 2014

9 February 2014

Text: Matt 17:1-9 (Ex 29-35, 2 Pet 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As we move along from the Christmas season to the Easter Season, we track along from our Lord’s entrance into our world as a helpless baby in His mother’s arms, through His visit from the magi and His teaching in the temple, through His young adulthood and preparation for the ministry, His baptism and preaching and gathering the apostles unto Himself.

Our Lord has grown in stature and in wisdom, and He is revealing Himself to the world, which He came to save, by various signs, revealing who He is and proving what His mission is.  All the while, He forgives sins and rolls back the effects of sickness and death.  He speaks not as one of the scribes or Pharisees, but as one who has authority, one bearing the authority of God Himself.

And on this extraordinary day, Jesus brings His inner circle of Peter, James, and John with Him on a “high mountain by themselves.”  They know Jesus is like no-one else.  Is He a prophet?  Is He the Messiah?  Is He the Son of the living God?  And who testifies and verifies His claims?  Jesus is about to unmask Himself, to lift the veil, to let the three in on the fullness of the mystery.

And Jesus also takes off the gloves in His battle with Satan.

In His holy transfiguration, in His metamorphosis, to use the Greek term, Jesus shows what is normally hidden; Jesus manifests what is normally held in reserve.  Jesus opens the throttle for just a few seconds.  Jesus gives the three a few moments of the dazzling power and glory that beams from His divine nature, in the form of His face shining “like the sun” and His clothes becoming “white as light.”  For a short while, the dazzling, brilliant beams of light radiate from the divine face of Jesus, that same glow that reflected off of Moses’s face, the glory of God that so attracts us and appalls us at the same time, drawing in the new man and repelling the old Adam.  And as Moses’s face shone with the reflected glory of God, our Lord’s face shines eternally with uncreated light, for He “is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

And what’s more, Jesus reveals something else.  Jesus makes a point to show that He is in communication, which is to say, in communion, with Moses and Elijah, with the Law and the Prophets.  He who is the Word speaks through the Law and the Prophets, who in turn speak to testify of Him.  And furthermore, lest anyone doubt the veracity of this vision, God the Father Himself speaks intelligently and miraculously to the bewildered disciples, testifying and claiming His Son, and instructing the Church what we are to do with Jesus: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.”

“Listen to Him,” commands the Father, or more accurately, invites the Father.  Our loving almighty God and Father invites us into the heavenly realms with Peter, James, and John, inviting us to see Jesus as He is, inviting us to be saved and transformed in our own right, by the forgiveness of sins, through the blood of our Lord shed on the cross, through the good news that He speaks to us.  And this is why our God and Father invites the apostles and all Christians to “listen to Him.”

This is a gracious invitation, dear friends!  For Jesus has not come into the world to condemn, but to save.  “Listen to Him.”  Hear His Word!  Pay close attention to His absolution.  Partake of His gifts!  Be cleansed through living in your baptism in daily repentance.  And listen to what has been inspired and written in the Word of God.  “Listen to Him,” for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  “Listen to Him” to receive God’s mercy and grace.  “Listen to Him” to learn who He is and what He has done for us poor miserable sinners.

Peter, James, and John listened and watched.  It was more than they could handle.  “They fell on their faces and were terrified.”  For no mortal man living in the sinful flesh can handle very much of this.  They are not only looking at God in the flesh, they are seeing God’s face in its unveiled glory.

And even in the midst of this wonderful and yet terrifying manifestation of the power and might of God the Son, our Lord shows His mercy.  “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

At this point, Moses and Elijah have vanished from sight.  The Father’s booming voice is again silent.  The blinding glow of the Lord’s face and clothing have returned to their previous normalcy.  Everything returns to its prior state, except for Peter, James, and John.  They have been changed.  They have been transfigured.  They have been metamorphosized, even as Moses, centuries earlier, continued to reflect the Lord’s light upon coming down the mountain.

Peter, James, and John have been changed as they come down the mountain with Jesus.  They have seen and experienced the Lord in His full majesty, in His infinite power, in His unbridled divine magnificence.  They now know just who Jesus is.  And what they saw and heard will help them when their faith will be severely and sorely tested after the coming crucifixion of the Transfigured One.

For on the cross, they will see a different figure, a different form.  Instead of a glowing face they will see a dark and battered and bruised countenance.  Instead of beaming white clothing they will see bloodied skin.  Instead of the conversation with the Law and the Prophets, they will see the condemnation of the Law and the Prophets, a condemnation earned by us and yet borne by Him.  Instead of the approving voice of the Father they will hear the suffering Son cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

God was merciful to allow the three leaders of the holy apostles to witness this transfiguration, and to cause the Holy Spirit to record its account for us to read and hear.  “Listen to Him,” the Spirit bids us today.  Listen to this testimony and manifestation of Jesus, who is almighty God, who lays aside His glory for the shame of the cross, who receives death so that we might be transfigured and metamorphosized from sinners into saints, from the dead into the living, from those bound by time to those dwelling in eternity!

And we can listen to Him in His Word, for as one of those witnesses, St. Peter, teaches us: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  Indeed, Peter was one who heard the voice “borne to Him by the Majestic Glory,” saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Peter testifies, “We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

And like St. Peter, we too “have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

We have the Word of the Law and the Prophets, the Word of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins.  We have the Word of God, for Jesus is the very Word Himself, revealed on the mountain to Peter, James, John, and to us.

“Listen to Him!”  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, February 02, 2014

Sermon: Presentation of our Lord – 2014

2 February 2014

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (1 Sam 1:21-28, Heb 2:14-18)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Most of our great literature deals with heroes and villains.  In fact, most of the great stories in the world follow the theme of redemption.  The basic story goes like this: the world (or the planet or the land or the city or the village) is messed up.  Evil is having its way with good.  But there is a promise of a future savior.  Time goes by.  And then the hero comes, defeats the villain, restores things the way they should be, redeems the bad and turns it to good.  This redeemer is also a savior, who risks (or even loses) his own life to save those whom he loves.

Sound familiar?

Art imitates life, dear friends.  In most of the great novels and movies of our time there is a redemption theme.  We see it in the 1912 science fiction story John Carter (whose hero saves the people, and has a resurrection experience, and whose initials are J.C.).  And in the story of Superman, who comes to earth to fight against evil, to be a savior, and yet who is a real man with two natures (a superheroic nature and an ordinary, Clark Kent nature).  And in such diverse films as The Matrix, in which an ancient prophesy comes true in the form of a man who redeems the world from captivity to evil, and in the yet to be released The Lego Movie, in which an ordinary guy manages to be the prophesied hero and savior, who defeats evil and saves the world.  Indeed, we know this narrative well.

The great Christian authors Tolkien and Lewis believed that the human condition plagued by sin, death, and the devil, and the promise of a Savior, are themes that are so imbedded into our human nature, that even pagan stories and myths reflect this universal human cry to be rescued and redeemed.  The world is crying out for a Savior.  And, dear friends, we know who He is.  He is here with us today.  It is our commission and privilege to confess this Savior and make Him known to a dark world that is desperate for a glimmer of hope, a dying world that yearns to be made alive, a world of evil run amok that so wants the earth to be a Paradise Restored.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is this Savior and Redeemer.  He came into our world from afar, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, a man who appears to the eye like any other man, and yet a Man who is the incarnate Word of God.  He came to die so that we might live, and He came to rise again so that we might be victorious over death and the grave.  He took our sins to the cross that we might be forgiven.  He suffered His body to be crucified and His blood to be shed so that we might partake in the mystical communion of His Eucharist.

Through Him, all people are offered the gift of redemption, of salvation, even as He has come to destroy Satan and to rid the universe of every vestige of evil.

As was prophesied in the Old Testament, Jesus came into our world as a child, born of a virgin, “holy to the Lord” as being the first to open His mother’s womb.  And He, though the King of the universe, came to an impoverished mother and step-father, so poor that they could not afford the customary lamb to sacrifice as a substitutionary offering for their firstborn son.  And so they offered the “turtledoves or pigeons” as the Law permitted.  But look at the beauty of this offering, dear friends.  How often we skip over such parts of Scripture.  For there was no need to offer the lamb to fulfill the Law, for the Lamb was there – the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”  While the doves died as a substitute for Him, the Lamb was to die as the substitute for all creation!  While the sacrifices of the Old Testament had to die in the place of sinners as a preview of the coming Messiah, Jesus is that Messiah who dies in the place of sinners once and for all.  And in opening Mary’s womb, He opened Mary’s path to heaven, to redemption, and opens the tombs of all believers.

Jesus fulfills, completes, and brings to a fitting conclusion every prophecy and hint from the Old Testament.  He is the new and greater Samuel, offered to the Lord in the temple as a boy, destined for a priesthood that would save the people from their sins. 

Jesus fulfills not only the prophets and the prophecies, He also fulfills the Law, keeping it even as He was killed by those who broke the law and disregarded the prophets.

For this, dear friends, is what we commemorate today: the presentation of our Lord and the purification of Mary.  The Lord has been presented at the temple, the Lord, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, the Temple not built with stone but made incarnate with flesh, the Redeemer and Savior whose Word remakes the world and whose body and blood are given as a mystical gift traversing space and time to deliver forgiveness, life, and salvation unto us!  For just as the Blessed Virgin Mary was purified by the first One who emerged alive from her womb, all of mankind is purified by this One who emerged alive from the tomb.  Just as Blessed Mary sings to Him who is her Savior, so do we sing praise to the God of Israel, He who lets us, His servants, depart in peace, according to His Word, for He is the Word.

And, dear friends, our eyes have seen His salvation, for He is our salvation, manifesting His presence among all peoples, a light for revelation to all nations, and the glory of His people Israel, the Church, His beloved bride, those to whom He has come to heroically save and redeem.

As the author of Hebrews spells out clearly for us, this is not just a redemption story, but it is the redemption narrative, the true story of the salvation of the world by a hero, the destruction of evil by His sacrificial atonement, the heroic and epic historic account of the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate, and of the restoration of the goodness of Paradise. 

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery….  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Jesus has been presented.  Mary has been purified.  Mankind has been saved.  The world has been redeemed.  This is our story, our true, historic narrative.  Jesus is the realization of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of every man who ever put pen to paper, of every person who has hoped for a better world, of every soul tormented by sin and guilt, and of every created being of every species and kind that groans under the old order crying out for redemption. 

Jesus is our Savior!  Jesus is our Redeemer! 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.