Monday, June 30, 2014

Dear Parishioners...

"Dear Parishioners:

I have some good news for you.  An eccentric billionaire has given our congregation a large monetary gift, along with the following instructions: the first hundred people to show up for this Sunday's Divine Service will each leave with a check for a million dollars.  

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.


Assuming that you are not travelling or working, and are physically healthy enough, what you do this Sunday morning is going to be determined by what you believe about this good news.  Indeed, it is an offer that sounds too good to be true.  There is reason to disbelieve this message.  There are several links along the chain that must individually be true for there to be reason to come to this church's services in expectation of receiving riches.  First, the "eccentric" must actually be a "billionaire" and not some random guy off the street who believes he's a tycoon.  He must not be a con-man.   Second, he must actually have the money to back up the claim.  Third, he must keep his promise.  Fourth, the pastor and congregation entrusted with this treasure must be able to carry out the charge given them by the eccentric billionaire.  Fifth, the hearer of this message must believe he is capable of receiving such a gift.

If any of the above cannot be believed, the story is indeed too good to be true, and the hearer will go about his business on Sunday morning, sleeping in, drinking coffee, golfing, hunting, fishing, reading, watching TV, or any number of other things that don't require faith in an extraordinary claim.  There is also the consideration that the message may actually be true over and against what logic and reason would favor.  For don't illogical and unreasonable things happen every day?  So even though one's confidence in the announcement may be weak, it may be there nonetheless.  Even a small amount of faith could incite one to take the risk and make one's way to the church building at the given time.  And in fact, one might make sure the entire family is there.  One might invite one's friends as well.

But of course, Christian churches aren't in the business of handing out money.  Churches are not involved in such trivial matters.

Instead of an eccentric billionaire instructing churches and pastors to confess and proclaim good news about free money, rather they are commanded by God Himself (Matt 28:19-20) to proclaim the good news of salvation through the death of Jesus, God Incarnate, on the cross: His blood atoning for the sins of the world, freely by grace (Eph 2:8-9).  The good news is the forgiveness of sin, the abolition of death itself, and the eternal participation in a restored paradise: a heaven and earth that will be devoid of sin, suffering, and death.  And we, the Church, present this good news every Sunday in the Divine Service.  We hand out the instrument of the blessed exchange, signed in blood, and drawn upon the infinite store of divine promise.  We preach the good news of Jesus in the assembly gathered in His name.  We participate in the Holy Supper of His true body and blood, which is received physically and in faith bearing the promise of the Word: "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28).  We administer Holy Absolution according to the instructions (John 20:21-23) of the God of unlimited riches (Ps 24:1) whose ways seem eccentric in the eyes of the world (Isa 55:8-9).  We mark poor miserable sinners with the seal of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) in Holy Baptism, making them heirs of the kingdom (Gal 3:26-29).  And all of these gifts are offered to the entire world (John 3:16) - not limited to a hundred or even a billion people - although we have not, nor ever could, deserve it.

And how you respond to this good news is a measure of your faith.  God doesn't force anyone to believe or to accept His gifts.  You can refuse them.  Maybe you think they are too good to be true.  Maybe your treasure is elsewhere.  Maybe you don't believe yourself worthy.  It truly boils down to faith, to belief.

If you don't believe, then you will not come to the Divine Service.  You will make excuses.  You will find other things to do.  If you lack faith, then indeed, you will go about your business on Sunday morning, sleeping in, drinking coffee, golfing, hunting, fishing, reading, watching TV, or any number of other things that don't require faith in an extraordinary claim.

But if you actually believe that the Church's good news originates with the true God, that God has the resources to back up His promises, that God will keep His Word, that the preacher and parish are trustworthy and are accurately conveying the good news, and that this good news is offered collectively to the whole world through His only begotten Son, and in fact this offer is made and given "for you" (1 Cor 11:24), then you will show up to claim your treasure on Sunday, receiving gifts far more lavish than mere money.  And even a small amount of faith (Matt 17:20) could incite one to take the risk and make one's way to the open doors of the church building for the Divine Service. And in fact, one might make sure the entire family is there.  One might invite one's friends as well.

But what if one lacks faith, how does he receive it?

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?' So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:15-17).

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sermon: Sts. Peter & Paul – 2014

29 June 2014

Text: Matt 16:13-19 (Acts 15:1-21, Gal 2:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of the beautiful things about the greatest of saints is how unlikely they are.  While the world admires the strongest, fastest, best, and greatest – in God’s kingdom, the first are last and the last first.  Two of the greatest heroes of Christendom – sometimes described as the two apostolic pillars of the Church – so often portrayed heroically in marble, are two such examples.

St. Peter was among the Lord’s first disciples.  And he was the leader of the apostolic band.  Peter was a big talker, but often he wrote checks with his mouth that the rest of him was unable to cash.  Jesus scolded St. Peter for being “Satan” on one occasion.  He also fell into the water while taking a turn at walking on the sea, claimed he would never deny the Lord just before denying the Lord, and painfully had to be reconverted and restored to the faith when the risen Lord Jesus asked him three times if he loved Him (calling to mind the three betrayals before the prophesied rooster crowed). 

And yet in spite of these foibles, St. Peter was also the first to be given the keys of the kingdom, was at the Transfiguration, was one of the first at the empty tomb, heroically proclaimed the faith in the midst of trials and persecutions, performed signs and wonders, left us two books of the New Testament, and went to his own death as a crucified martyr.

The greatest of the blessed apostle’s works, however, was not all of these deeds, but rather his mighty and yet humble confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  For flesh and blood did not reveal this to Peter, and upon the rock of St. Peter’s confession, the Lord built His church.  The name “Peter” itself is a nickname given to Simon by the Lord Jesus Himself.  It is a name that means “Rock” or “Rocky.”  For in the world’s eyes, Peter was flighty and unreliable.  But in the service of the Lord and His kingdom, the church, St. Peter was a steadfast rock, confessing Christ as the Son of God, trusting in Him and Him alone for salvation, and receiving the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Not bad for a man the world mocked as an uneducated fisherman. 

Our second hero of the faith we commemorate today, St. Paul, began his religious life not just as a non-Christian, but as an antichristian.  Under his old name Saul, he was a learned rabbi, a Pharisee, a devotee of the law who denied Jesus and eagerly persecuted the church.  He was feared by men, women, and children as a kind of one-man secret police, dragging Christians to the synagogue in chains.  And as the very first Christian blood was spilled as St. Stephen’s eyes closed one final time, preaching Christ in between the blows of rocks hurled by the lynch mob, it was Saul who was approving of it all, watching the cloaks of the murderers.

But once again, the Lord in His kingdom does what the world and the devil least expect.  He miraculously appeared to St. Paul, forgave him, called him, baptized him, and ordained him into service as an extraordinary apostle.  And preaching to Jews and gentiles alike, the blessed apostle spoke forcefully with not only the power of the mind, but more importantly, with the power of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul made three missionary journeys around the Mediterranean, ordaining pastors, baptizing Christians, planting churches, and writing letters that became books of our New Testament. 

St. Paul suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually as a result of his proclamation of Jesus Christ.  His entire life was marked by suffering.  In the eyes of the world, Paul’s life must have been seen as a waste, a colossal failure, and yet the churches he founded would eventually outgrow the mighty empire itself, and conquer it without firing a single arrow.

Church tradition and early historical accounts teach us that these two pillars, these two unlikely saints Peter and Paul would find their way to the great city of Rome, and would be sent back to their Lord on the same day.  St. Peter was crucified like his Lord, only asking to be turned upside-down upon the cross, suffering the painful death of a slave – a slave of Jesus Christ.  St. Paul was beheaded, like the forerunner of our Lord Jesus, St. John the Baptist.  St. Paul died the death of a citizen of Rome for the offense that he was truly a citizen of heaven.

Both of these sinner-saints shed their blood as a thank offering unto Him who shed His blood as a sin offering unto them and for the whole world.  In both cases, these men showed courage, wisdom, obedience, pastoral insights, theological brilliance, but most of all – and really the only thing that truly counts in the final analysis– they confessed the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified, to the very end. 

The red we see all around us reminds us of the blood shed on account of this confession, which points us to the blood shed by our Lord for us – blood that saves us, blood that we drink in the Holy Sacrament, blood that becomes part of us in our very bodies, blood that nourishes us in body and soul to life everlasting.

One day, dear friends, we may be called upon to shed our blood.  It may not be heroic.  It may not be the stuff of the great saints.  And it may not even be real blood shed for the faith – as we may suffer far less than death.  But just as these men gave their lives making the good confession, so too do we, dear friends, as we confess Jesus Christ as our very life and salvation. 

We confess the same confession as St. Peter, and we worship the same Lord as St. Paul.  The Lord has built upon the rock of this apostolic foundation His church.  And, dear friends, the keys continue to be wielded by pastors, forgiving sins and unlocking heaven’s gates to those who also make the good confession.

And so, with Sts. Peter and Paul, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud, magnify, and confess the Lord of the Church, and we receive this truly glorious promise of the Lord concerning His church, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  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. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sermon: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – 2014

25 June 2014

Text: Matt 10:26-33 (Neh 8:1-2. 5-6, 9-12; 1 Tim 6:11-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

To most people, what happened on June 25, 1530 is irrelevant.  And I fear that it is equally irrelevant to most Lutherans.  But it truly is of great relevance.

Today is an important day, because on this date, the reformers presented a statement of their faith to the emperor in the city of Augsburg.  It was an attempt to reunite the church from division.  It failed to meet that goal.  But there was another more important goal: to publicly confess the truth, the biblical truth, the Christian truth, the truth of the ancient Catholic faith that had been corrupted over the centuries.  And insofar as the Augsburg Confession did that, and still does today, it was, and is, a great success.

These men who gathered at Augsburg to confess, the vast majority of whom were not pastors but laymen, laid their lives on the line.  At one point, when the Emperor attempted to bully them into abandoning their confession of faith, prince after prince approached the emperor and bared his neck, saying that he would rather die than surrender his confession.  The emperor was stunned, but did not cut off any heads that day.

But in time, his armies would invade Lutheran lands, seizing people’s property, making war against the small nations that existed in those days, and burning Lutherans at the stake.  And these martyrs indeed heard Paul’s words: “Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  For these men and women, like Nehemiah and Ezra, rediscovered the ancient faith as recorded and proclaimed in the Word, a Word that the rulers and powers sought to silence and distort.  But they made the good confession, clearly confessing, that is to say, repeating, what Sacred Scripture teaches with clarity: namely that we are saved by grace through faith, not through works, and that the object of our faith is Christ Jesus, whose death on the cross atones for the sins of the world.  And that He comes to us in Word and Sacrament: in Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation, by virtue of His victory over sin, death, and the devil.

This is the ancient Catholic faith that had nearly been lost by the then-current Roman Catholic hierarchy.  Our reformation was a bottom-up phenomenon, driven by God’s Word, newly discovered and liberated from corrupt popes and bishops.

And though this document was written in 1530, it remains fresh today.  It outlines what we believe, teach, and confess.  It shapes both our doctrine and practice.  It is a living document, not in the sense that it can change and evolve – God forbid!  But rather in that it lives in our churches.  For it’s only an accident of history that we bear the name “Lutheran.”  Luther himself hated this label.  It was put on us by our opponents.  In fact, we are the Church of the Augsburg Confession.  That is our true name and our true heritage.  We believe this confession because it is true.  It is true because it is rooted in God’s infallible Word, not fallen man’s feeble and corrupt word.

It is not a complicated or long confession.  And it proves that we have not added or changed any ancient belief.  It consists of 21 articles of faith and 7 articles explaining our position on controversies. 

Quite simply, we believe: 1) in the Triune God, 2) in original sin, 3) in Jesus as the Son of God, 4) in our justification by grace, not works, 5) in the office of the holy ministry through which we are given the gift of faith, 6) in a new life of new obedience, 7) and 8) in the Christian Church, 9) in Holy baptism for all believers, infants included, 10) in the true body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper, 11) in confession of sins to the pastor, 12) in repentance, 13) in the effectiveness of the sacraments, 14) in only ordained pastors preaching and administering sacraments, 15) in the retention of traditional worship  and customs in our churches, 16) in that Christians may serve in civil government, 17) in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18) in the limitations of free will, 19) in the devil and our wickedness as the cause of sin, 20) in that good works are indeed necessary, and 21) in that we do not pray to or worship the saints.

In addition to these simple articles, we addressed timely controversies: 22) we receive both the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist, 23) we allow our priests to marry, 24) we retain the Mass as our weekly service of worship, 25) we retain private confession to the pastor, 26) we don’t insist on certain types of fasting, 27) we believe monastic vows are voluntary, and 28) we believe that church and state are separate offices.

And as our confession asserts: “This is about the sum of our teaching.  As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers.”

Dear friends, this document is important: not because of its history, and not because of the courage of its original confessors, but because it is true.  We are Lutherans not because it is our preferred brand, not because of who our ancestors are, not because of what language they spoke, nor where they were baptized.  We confess this Augsburg Confession because, as the Roman Catholic bishop of Augsburg candidly admitted on June 25, 1530: “It is the truth!  We cannot deny it!”

Indeed, dear friends, it is the truth!  We dare not deny it!  We must believe, teach, and confess that which is true.  And it is true because it is grounded in the Holy Scriptures.  This is indeed as relevant to us in 2014 as it was to them in 1530, because the Scriptures continue to testify to our Redeemer, who was crucified for us to atone for our sins, and give us everlasting life.  And our confession is grounded and rooted in the one whom our entire confession is about: Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, 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. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2014

22 June 2014

Text: Luke 16:19-31 (Gen 15:1-6, 1 John 4:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a very popular movie in the theaters called “Heaven is For Real.”  Our Lord’s parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man could well be entitled: “Hell is For Real.”  Of course, we like it when little boys tell us how beautiful heaven is, but who really wants to hear our blessed Lord fill us in on the terrors of hell?

Hell is an embarrassment to modern Christians.  And let’s face it, we really don’t want to believe anyone is condemned except for a few mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin, as well as terrorists, pedophiles, and people we don’t like.  Some people who call themselves Christians refuse to believe in hell at all.  It must not be for real.  There must be some kind of mistake.  Jesus is a nice guy.  He’s not the kind of guy that gets mad and overturns tables and chases people out of buildings with homemade whips or anything like that.

Atheists often think they have a “gotcha” when they ask how a loving God can send anyone to hell.  After all, you heard it with your own ear from the pen of St. John: “God is love.” 

But, dear friends, it is because God is love that he separates the sheep from the goats, He drowned the world that refused to repent and He saved eight people on the ark, those who were counted righteous, who believed in Him and His promises.  Had God not been loving, His people would have had to endure further degradation and corruption by the world that had gone mad with selfishness, violence, hatred, and unbelief.

But consider the Lord’s parable.  Think about this “rich man” who is in hell.  Are you any different?  You may not see yourself as rich, dear friends, but do you have a house?  Running water?  Food every day?  Air conditioning?  A telephone?  How about a flat screen TV?  Cable?  A car?  Maybe more than one?  How about books and movies and games and hobbies and spare time and vacations?  Now consider how the vast majority of the world’s seven billion souls live each and every day.  So now, do you think all of us might actually be materially rich?

To be sure, this man is not in hell because he is rich, but because of his attitude.  He is not in the eternal flames because he “was clothed in purple and fine linen” and “feasted sumptuously every day.”  But rather the way he held his neighbor Lazarus in contempt.  This poor man was “covered with sores.”  He longed for the rich man’s table scraps.  Did the rich man ever allow Lazarus to pass his gate?  Would the rich man have ever considered easing Lazarus’s suffering?  Or was he too busy enjoying his wealth and looking the other way?

Dear friends, do we ever look down on the poor?  Do we ever shun the homeless?  Do we know of people who are suffering in our families, our neighborhoods, our congregation, our circle of friends, or even within eyeshot – and we pretend not to see?  Do we spend more on entertainments and trifles than we do actually doing good with the money the Lord has blessed us with?  It is, after all, His money, isn’t it?  We are only managers.  Do we tithe and trust in the Lord’s provision?  Or do we instead hoard our wealth, burying our talents in the ground, and thinking about how to make ourselves increasingly more comfortable while the Lazaruses in our own lives continue to have their sores licked by the dogs?

So, dear friends, are we Lazarus in the story, or are we the rich man?  Whom do we most resemble?

This parable is not a cute happy Hollywood story like Heaven is for Real.  This is truly real, because it is God’s Word and it does not skirt the issue of sin. 

The rich man is in hell because of sin – unrepentant, unforgiven sin.  He carries it in his sinful flesh, and it comes out in his sinful actions.  He carries this sinful nature with him to the grave and beyond.  And in the end, he begs, and to no avail, for just a drop of water, or even to go back and warn his family that hell is for real.  Abraham tells him it wouldn’t matter, for “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Our Lord Jesus did just that, dear friends.  He rose from the dead after He descended into Hell.  And Jesus does tell us Hell is for Real.  Jesus wants your attention, and He wants it right now.  Jesus wants you to listen carefully to this parable, for it is a warning.  Read it again when you get home.  Meditate on it.  Do you hear Moses and the Prophets?  And where do you go to hear them?  How often do you hear them?  Where can you read what Moses and the Prophets wrote?  Or is it more important to be entertained, to be well-clothed and to feast sumptuously, to waste hour after hour on things that in the end, in eternity, mean nothing?

Dear friends, please listen to our Lord.  He is calling all of us to repent.  We are the rich man in this parable, and it should fill us with dread – dread that drives us to the cross, dread that compels us to seek the Lord while He is to be found.  We should indeed “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” and there is a part of us that should fear condemnation and hell.

“For fear has to do with punishment,” says St. John, “and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  Are you perfect in love?  I’m not.  And you’re probably not either.  And if you don’t fear God’s wrath, you are in greater danger than this rich man in the parable.  For again, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

So where is our hope, dear friends.  It’s not in a Hollywood movie, but rather in the forgiveness of sins, in the Jesus who was testified about by Moses and the Prophets.  Our hope is in the cross and in the blood and the water.  It is not in our riches and perceived self-righteousness.  Our help is in the name of the Lord!

For we are justified only by God’s great mercy.  Abraham, while he was still childless and yet clinging to the hope of an heir, “believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”  Counted to him as righteousness.

Dear friends, you are not only the rich man according to your sins, but you are also Lazarus according to the Lord’s mercy.  We have the gift of faith, of baptism, of repentance, of the Word, of Moses and the Prophets, and of the opportunity to share the Lord’s mercy with others who are in need – be it material need, physical need, or spiritual need.  Our hearts can indeed be changed in this life, comforted in the world to come.  For when we realize our poverty before the Lord, when we see ourselves as helpless and sin-sore, being licked by dogs and waiting to die, when we come to grips with just how unlovable we are, it is then that we see God’s love for us, His mercy toward us, His compassion for us, and His redemption of us – though we certainly do not deserve it.

Someone has indeed risen from the dead, to call us to repent, and to count us as righteous.  Let us hear Moses and the Prophets, and most importantly of all, dear brothers and sisters, let us hear – really and truly hear – our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and let us be convinced.  For not only is hell for real, but so is heaven.  Our Lord Himself testifies to this.  And what’s even greater, the Lord is recreating the universe.  He who made heaven and earth is making all things new – yet without sin, without suffering, without death – and we will be comforted not only in heaven, but in an eternal, bodily existence in a new Eden, a Paradise Restored that is most certainly for real.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world,” now and even unto eternity.  Thanks be to 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. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Do lay people "have the power to forgive sins (the office of the keys)"?

I recently heard from a lady attending a convention for Lutheran women.  There was a pastor there who gave a presentation articulating that the laity "have the power to forgive sins (the office of the keys)."  She snapped a picture of the Powerpoint slide on the big screen that included this statement and sent it to me.

Now, the office or power of the keys is explained in the Book of Concord in the Smalcald Articles, 3:7:1-3:

1] The keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin, not only the gross and well-known sins, but also the subtle, hidden, which are known only to God, as it is written in Ps. 19:13Who can understand his errors? And in Rom. 7:25 St. Paul himself complains that with the flesh he serves the law of sin2] For it is not in our power, but belongs to God alone, to judge which, how great, and how many the sins are, as it is written in Ps. 143:2Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified3] And Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:4For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified

So far, so good.  The keys are given "by Christ to the Church."  But does this mean that every individual member of the Body of Christ, pastor and layman alike, has the authority to make use of the power of the keys in his vocation?

Augsburg Confession 28:5-9 also addresses the keys, what this office entails, as well as who is authorized to use them:

5] But this is their [our teachers'] opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. 6] For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20:21 sqq.: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. 7] Mark 16:15: Go preach the Gospel to every creature.  8] This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, according to their calling either to many or to individuals. For thereby are granted, not bodily, but eternal things, as eternal righteousness, the Holy Ghost, eternal life. 9] These things cannot come but by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

Of course, the life of all Christians is a life of giving and receiving forgiveness.  But this personal forgiveness is something entirely different than the sacramental office of the keys ("the power of the bishops") as explained in our Symbolical writings.

Unless someone can explain how the statement that the laity "have the power to forgive sins (the office of the keys)" can be reconciled with AC 28, it seems to me that one cannot believe what this pastor is presenting and be authentically Lutheran.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon: Holy Trinity – 2014

15 June 2014

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity: Let us give glory to Him for He has shown mercy unto us.  Amen.

Dear friends, this feast of the Holy Trinity may well be the most politically-incorrect day of the church year.  I know we tend to focus on the whole “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” thing – but it seems like those fights are often just about words and about our rights.

Today is not a day about words and the shifting sands of culture, but of eternal substance.  Today is a day in which we Christians offend the entire world by saying that the only true God is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Today is a day in which we Christians exclude not only pagans and Buddhists and Hindus and Atheists who believe in no god, but also Jews and Muslims who worship one god.

As a chaplain, I know that some who serve in chaplaincy are pressured to never mention the Trinity nor to pray in the name of Jesus.  Such things are divisive and exclusive.  And as a Christian, I could never comply with such a request or order if it were given me.  For there is no generic God, like in the Pledge of Allegiance, no God apart from Jesus as many of our politicians would have us speak of, no “Father God” as many of our Protestant brethren pray to – just as there is no Zeus, no Venus, and no Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But there is a Creator, dear friends, for we are His creatures.  There is an exclusive God that has truly revealed Himself to us.  And He reveals His intimate mystery of “God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity”, of “Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.”

But what difference does this dusty old creed make, except to a few pastors and theology geeks?  Well, do you desire to be saved, dear brothers and sisters?  Do you want to know and believe that which is true?  Do you care what God Himself counted important to reveal to us in His divine Word?  Do you want to know your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?

It matters enough that our Lord gave us this holy and mighty name into which we are baptized: the name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  For we pray “in the name,” not “in the names.”  “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  And yet, Jesus is also Lord, also God, who took flesh, dwelt among us, was crucified, died, and was buried. 

Jesus does what only God can do: forgive sins and work miracles – including the rising from the dead.  Jesus does what only a man can do: eat, sleep, hunger, thirst, suffer, and die.  It is God Himself who humanly teaches Nicodemus about the kingdom of God.  It is God Himself who humanly teaches Nicodemus about the mighty power of baptism: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God… You must be born again.”  It is God Himself who humanly teaches Nicodemus “heavenly things.”

For this God is not a second god.  He is not a role that the Father is playing.  He is the Son, the eternal uncreated Son.  And like every Son, He has a Father.  On this day in which we reflect on the blessing of the vocation of fatherhood, we are often reminded of how children resemble their fathers – in physique, personality, temperament, and in how they raise their own children.  Many sons are the likeness of their fathers.  And the Son of Man is not only made in the image of God the Father, according to St. Paul, He is the “icon” of God the Father.

Our Lord Jesus also speaks of God the Spirit: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

Dear friends, there is no other God.  Anything other than the Holy Trinity is a fairy tale.  And you cannot be saved by a fairy tale.  You cannot be redeemed by a fictional character.  You cannot be given eternal life by a legend or a myth.  You need the One who is true, the One who took human flesh, the One who shed His blood for you on the cross, the One Name by which you were saved through the waters of Holy Baptism. 

But what we have, dear brothers and sisters, is not only the command to be baptized in the name of the Trinity, but the promise of the Father, Son, and Spirit: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

The Father did not die on the cross as a sacrifice for Your sins.  The Holy Spirit has no flesh to be nailed to the tree.  But Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, Son of the Father, did just that, dear friends.  It took a Man to live sinlessly in this world and to die as the one atoning sacrifice, and it took God to redeem us by mercifully forgiving us our sins. 

This Godhead is a great mystery that taxes our logic.  There is much that the Lord has not revealed to us, much that we do not understand.  But we are not called to understand, but to believe, to trust, to confess that which is true, and to look to Jesus as the Israelites looked to Moses’s serpent on the pole, for salvation and for everlasting life.

For our God is not merely Triune and mysterious, surrounded by smoke and angels, He is also loving and merciful, coming to us in His Word and sacraments.  Just as Isaiah trembles before the throne of the living God, so too do we confess: “Woe is me!  For I am lost.”  And just as the angel places the saving coal from the altar on Isaiah’s lips, so too does our Lord Jesus Christ take a wafer and  chalice from His altar, from the cross, and He places this bread of His body and this wine of His blood on our lips, transcending space and time even as He defeats death and the devil: “Behold, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  And we join with the angels in their Trinitarian hymn: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!” here at this altar, before this cross, in the presence and praise of the Triune God.

And this good news, this Gospel, is the most politically-incorrect thing about this Christian truth, this catholic religion, this faith of which we confess: “whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved,” even as our Lord Jesus promises that if we believe in Him, we will have eternal life, born again of water and the Spirit, and thus enter into the kingdom of God.  The world and our flesh seek to exclude sinners from heaven, and they also seek to exclude ourselves from the ranks of sinners.  But we are indeed, poor, miserable sinners, dear friends, even as we are baptized, believing, redeemed sinners who confess this Christian truth, this catholic faith, this “God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.”

God Himself said of Himself, “I am who I am,” and indeed, He is who He is.  We confess Him in His mysterious divinity, His loving mercy, and His eternal glory.  We confess Him incarnate, crucified, and risen.  We confess Him as our Father who art in heaven, and as the Sprit who blows where He wishes, as the one who baptized us in His triune name, promising us eternal life in His kingdom.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.”  Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity: Let us give glory to Him for He has shown mercy unto us.  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, June 12, 2014

Sermon: Votive Mass of the Most Holy Sacrament

12 June 2014 

St. Cecelia's Chapel, Toddhall Retreat Center, Columbia, IL

Text: John 6:55-56, 1 Cor 11:23-29

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear fathers and brethren, we are here in this place because of sin and its consequence death.  Our primal ancestress, the woman Eve, brought sin into the world through her disobedience, and our primal ancestor, the man Adam, participated in her sin contrary to God's charge that he should protect creation.  And "just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."

And so we are here in this place.  We are dying sinners.

The cycle of sin and death was set into motion by eating.  It was a forbidden fruit.  It was the attempt to taste the divine that was not given to us.  And we fully participate in the eating and drinking to our damnation whenever we eat the fruits of our sinful flesh and drink from the cup of demons.

But in His mercy, our Lord has come to rescue us from sin and its consequence death.  "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  And He dwells among us in His flesh, freely given to us.  That is why we are here, sharing in His Word, partaking of His flesh, dwelling in the Holy Communion of His blood.

For "the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed," - a long night of betrayal from the Garden to this very moment, in the face of the betrayal of sin, death, and the devil, the betrayal of the world and our sinful flesh - "He took bread" - made of the grains of wheat that must fall to the earth and die in order to bear "much fruit."  "And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me."

And so we are here in this place.  We are dying sinners.

"In the same way also He took the cup after supper" - a cup not of demons but of redeemed creation - "saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me."

"For My flesh," says our Lord, "is true food and My blood is the true drink.  Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day."

Our Lord Jesus, who throughy the woman Mary, brought redemption into the world through her obedience, this Man Jesus participates in our life, but without sin, and participates in the life of the Father, obedient to His charge as God the Creator to protect creation.  For "by one Man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

The cycle of sin and death is broken by eating.  For this Holy Eucharist is a bidden fruit.  It is our invitation to taste the divine freely given to us.  And we fully participate in the eating and drinking to our salvation whenever we feed on His flesh and drink the cup of the New Testament in His blood.

Dear fathers and brethren, we are here in this place because of forgiveness and its consequence life!  Amen.

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

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sermon: Pentecost – 2014

8 June 2014

Text: Acts 2:1-21 (Gen 11:1-9, John 14:23-31)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We humans were created in the image and likeness of God.  And we, along with all of God’s creation, were good, perfect, and exactly according to our Creator’s plan and handiwork.  Like Him, we have a mind.  Like Him, we have the ability to reason.  Like Him, we have a tendency toward the creative.

And the Lord God put our perfect ancestors in a perfect garden, and all was perfectly good.

But, with our minds, we chose to rebel.  With our reason, we chose to circumvent His Word.  With our creativity, we found a clever way to seemingly swap places between creature and Creator, and it all went terribly wrong.

Through sin, we brought misery and suffering, bitterness and strife, decay and death.  We broke communion with God and we estranged ourselves from the rest of His once-perfect creation that we ruined.

And even when our ancestors were given a second chance after the flood, when the Lord God commanded us to spread around the world to repopulate it for the good of all creation, instead with our minds, we chose to rebel.  With our reason, we chose to circumvent His Word.  With our creativity, we found a clever way to seemingly swap places between creature and Creator, and it all went terribly wrong.

Our ancestors refused to scatter, having discovered a technological innovation called “bricks.”  Our forefathers resolved to build a skyscraper to heaven, seeking to ride technology up past the place where the Creator dwells. 

“So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because the Lord confused the language of all the earth.  And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

Thus the curse of Babel.  Thus the divisions between man.  Thus the misuse of technology that made our lives worse, not better.  The confusion of languages has brought on war between nations, violence between ethnic groups, hatreds between countrymen, friction between neighbors, and even generational hatred. 

We are suspicious of those who don’t speak like we do, look like we do, share our customs, culture, and use of words.  Not only is our communion with God broken, but our communion with man is in tatters.  Moreover, technology, while in fact making our lives better in many ways –has also been used to incinerate human beings by the thousands, to destroy children in the womb, to promote pornography and hatred and misinformation and false doctrine.  Technology is used by totalitarian governments to control and oppress.  And today, many seek to use technology to manipulate the genetic building blocks of human life.  And this too will all go terribly wrong.

The problem of war and hatred and rebellion against God can’t be fixed by Google Translate or by learning one another’s languages.  They can’t be fixed by more technology.  The problem is sin, and sin requires atonement.  Sin requires forgiveness and salvation.  Sin requires a Savior, and that, dear friends, is what God gave us: our Lord Jesus Christ, the very Word of God, by whom all things were made.  His atonement at the cross has paid for the sins of Adam and Eve, of the world before the flood, of the builders of Babel and of the nuclear bomb, of our own rebellion against God, our own excuses and reasons and justifications to sin, our own enthrallment with technology instead of our submission to God.

The Lord Jesus came into the world to save the world.  And this is good news indeed.  But now has come the time to spread this good news.  The apostles were ordained into the preaching office and told to make disciples, baptizing and teaching, to be His witnesses to the very ends of the earth. 

But how is a witness to testify when he can’t speak the language of the hearer?  How can the confused babble of many tongues be overcome so that the world can hear this Gospel it so desperately needs?

This is what Pentecost is all about, dear friends.  The Lord didn’t train these first preachers of the resurrection of Jesus to speak Parthian and Mede, Elamite, and the various dialects spoken by the residents of Mesopotamia.  He did not empower them through technology.  Instead, He sent His Holy Spirit to them and miraculously gave them the gift to speak in foreign languages, speaking in “other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  And in the midst of the babble of languages in Jerusalem, “each one” of these foreigners “was hearing them speak in his own language.”
The confusion of tongues yielded to commonality of language.  The sin of worshiping a false god was healed and forgiven by the grace of the True God.  The idolatry of the stone tower was defeated by the atonement of the wooden cross.  The wages of sin were overcome by the gift of God.

And by this miracle, the good news, the Gospel, went into the world, far and wide.  The Church’s proclamation spread like fire, even as tongues of flames appeared to rest on these first witnesses and proclaimers of Jesus in Jerusalem.  And as the good news spread, churches were established among every tribe and tongue, and the Word of God proclaimed in languages across the globe – even in languages yet to be born, such as our own English language.

And while today ethnic strife and war continues to plague our existence, consume our old sinful Adam, and threaten our decaying and fallen world, the new Adam takes joy in the saving Gospel that transcends space, time, ethnicity, and even language itself.  The Church, God’s new creation, by the very work of this same Holy Spirit, knows no boundaries, calls no language its own, includes people of every ethnicity, and excludes no race nor tribe nor tongue.

And with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Lord’s promise has been fulfilled: “The Holy Spirit… will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

For this is what our Lord Jesus brings us, overcoming sin and division and guilt, defeating death and the devil, and calling us back to communion with God and with men by means of the Holy Spirit: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Pentecost is truly a feast of victory, a triumph over sin and its consequences, a celebration of the true diversity of the one true faith – not the phony politically-correct “diversity” of the world, but true unity of faith and life that transcends tribe and tongue and space and time.  For in the events of Pentecost, we see the Son’s redemption being proclaimed by the work of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. 

For it is our crucified Lord who, with His mind, gladly obeyed;  with His reason, chose to fulfill His Word; with His creativity, found a clever way to swap places between sinful creature and sinless Creator, a happy exchange of our sinfulness for His righteousness. 

And in the coming of the Holy Spirit, it all went terribly right.  Our Lord repeats it to us again, dear friends, in every language and to Christians in every metropolis and settlement on the globe: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” 

Peace be with you!  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 01, 2014

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) and Baptism of Clara Hart – 2014

1 June 2014

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

This seventh and final Sunday of the Easter season is a bit awkward and confusing.  For Jesus has ascended to the Father, but the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet come down at Pentecost.  For the Lord’s first disciples, this was not only awkward and confusing, but scary.  Maybe the appearances of Jesus weren’t real.  Maybe this promised Helper to come is equally unreal.  But what is most certainly real is that the Church has a lot of enemies: the mighty Roman Empire that put the Lord Jesus to death on a cross, and the entire Jewish establishment, that could now point to the death of Jesus as “evidence” that He was a false Messiah.  The Church had become a target.

But the disciples had something more powerful than their doubts and fears, namely, the promise of Jesus, the Word of God.  They could trust His Word and look to the future coming of the Holy Spirit.  “But when the Helper comes,” Jesus had told them, “whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”  And history was to prove our Lord’s words as the Holy Spirit did come and embolden the once-frightened apostles with their death-defying and world-changing confession of Christ.

And even as we bridge Easter and Pentecost, we bear witness to Jesus today, and we do so on this Lord’s Day by welcoming our newest Christian, Clara Hart, in the holy waters of Holy Baptism.  For the Holy Spirit has descended upon her according to the holy promise and Holy Word of God, the Helper, the Spirit of truth.  All of our Lord’s benefits that He earned at the cross have been given in their fullness to Clara, and she has received those gifts in faith.  And she too bears witness about Jesus Christ by her very existence, by her baptismal regeneration, by her faith, which like her very life, is a gift given to her purely by grace.  Clara is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and she is a living reminder of the Lord’s promise, fulfilled in her and in all the baptized: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…. I will put My Spirit within you.”

People who are filled with the Spirit of Truth cannot but speak the truth.  This is why all baptized Christians are confessors: confessors of their sins, confessors of Jesus Christ, confessors of the one true faith.  This is why the Lord tells the future recipients of the Holy Spirit “you will bear witness.” 

And sometimes, as our Lord warns, that witness causes people to hate us and to oppress us.  “I have said these things to keep you from falling away,” says our blessed Lord.  “They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

A few days after Anna gave birth to Clara, another Christian woman, Meriam, gave birth to a baby girl named Maya.  Meriam, a young doctor, gave birth to Maya while chained to the floor of a filthy dungeon in Sudan where she lives with her 20 month old son, imprisoned away from her husband, under a sentence of death by hanging before which she is to receive 100 lashes – all because of her confession of Jesus, all because she trusts in Him alonefor her salvation.  Meriam was given an opportunity to walk free, simply by denying Christ.  She calmly and steadfastly refuses to renounce the faith of her Lord, the faith of her baptism.

“Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”  Meriam and her family are witnesses about Him, for they bear the Helper, the Spirit of Truth sent by the Father.  And unlike Meriam’s stony-hearted captors who do not know God, this family has hearts of flesh, careful to obey the Lord’s commandments, bearing the promise: “You shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

Such is the Spirit put into each one of us at Holy Baptism.  For if we were to rely on our own reason or strength to confess the Lord Jesus Christ, we would most certainly fail.  As we confess: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Being kept in the one true faith is the work of the Helper, dear friends!  This is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, promised by our Lord Jesus Christ, sent by our Father in heaven, and poured into us at Holy Baptism!  The power and courage of the confession of our sister Meriam has been given to our sister Clara, by the word and promise of Him who was crucified for us and who rose from the dead!

We do not know what life has in store for Clara, nor for us.  We do know that it is getting more and more difficult to be a Christian in our decaying culture.  We do know that we Christians are increasingly challenged as to whether we will fall away or remain in the faith of Jesus Christ, the faith of Holy Baptism, the faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.  Most of us will never be called upon to display the steadfast confession of Meriam and of the many martyrs and confessors of our faith throughout the ages.  But we do have this comfort, dear friends, the Lord has sent us the Helper.  The Spirit of Truth is in us and with us, just as “He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

Our little sister in Christ bears the name “Clara.”  This is Latin for “clear” or “bright.”  Her name is a reminder to all of us to be clear in our confession of Christ, who is the very light of the world.  And today, Clara has been given not only a new heart and a new spirit, but another new name as well: “Christian.”  She is a believer, confessor, and witness to the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, our crucified and risen Savior, “the world’s Redeemer, the lover of the pure, the font of heavenly wisdom, our trust and hope secure.”

St. Peter’s Spirit-inspired words become more relevant with each passing day in this corrupted and fallen world: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers….  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”

This inspiring and inspired courage to face the lash and the noose with the calm faith of our dear sister Meriam is the work of the Helper, dear friends.  It is the Spirit who calls us and keeps us in the only faith by which we have salvation, the one true faith of Jesus Christ and faith in Jesus Christ.  It is the clear and bright faith of Clara, and of all of us who have been baptized into Christ.

God’s own child, I gladly say it:
I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it,
Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many?
I have one worth more than any.
That brought me salvation free.
Lasting to eternity!” 


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.