Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Block vs. Blundel: Atheist Economist vs. Christian Theologian



The above debate pits two colleagues from Loyola University (New Orleans) against one another in an academic disputation on the minimum wage law.

Dr. Walter Block (left) is an Economics professor, and Dr. Boyd Blundell (right)  is a Theology professor.  Dr. Block, a free-market economist of the Austrian School, believes the minimum wage should be abolished, whereas Dr. Blundell believes it should be raised, and is sharply critical of the Austrian School and its libertarian underpinnings.

Dr. Blundell sets the tone of the debate early on by calling Dr. Block a "fundamentalist."  He posits that Block is opposed to any scientific inquiry or the use of statistics in Economics - an assertion which Block denies.

Part of the reason behind Block's critique of the minimum wage stems from his understanding of Economics.  Block believes Economics is a branch of logic, and he believes that as it is a social science rooted in human action, that certain axiomatic principles don't need statistical verification.  In other words, Block believes that some things are just plain true on their face and don't need to be proved.  They are economic law, and are as much a given as gravity.

Block doesn't oppose minimum wage because he's mean, he hates the poor, he has some rich crony buddies he wants to help get richer, or any of the other common assumptions and assertions as to why people would oppose the raising of the minimum wage.  Block's argument is that minimum wage legislation hurts the people it claims to help, by increasing unemployment among the poor.  He believes this is a self-evident truth based on the demand curve.

In a nutshell, the demand curve says that as something becomes more expensive, demand drops.  As something becomes cheaper, demand rises.  In the case of wages, if employers are required to pay workers more than their productivity, they will lose money.  And in order to stay in business, those workers who are paid more than their productivity warrants, will eventually be done away with - often through automation - and entry level jobs disappear.  And this hurts the poor in the long run.  Block cites examples of this phenomenon, such as the disappearance of elevator operators and service station attendants.

Blundell denies that this is the case when it comes to the price of labor, and he claims that there are studies which deny this relationship between minimum wage and unemployment.  Blundell claims that demand curves hold true for the cost of material goods, but fail in the realm of labor costs.  When Block points out the principle of the demand curve, and explains why studies in the real world are very hard to isolate direct correlation between shifts in unemployment and shifts in minimum wage, owing to the complexity and volatility of costs and prices (the real world is not a controlled laboratory after all), Blundell dismisses him as a "fundamentalist."

Here is an example of an axiomatic truth: If I hire a hundred people to work for me, and if I give every potential employee a choice between accepting the exact same job for $1 per hour or $100 per hour, it doesn't take a double-blind experiment or a longitudinal study to state the fact that the vast majority (if not all) of the people would choose the latter salary over the former.  This is because, all things being equal, people act in their self-interest.  The same is true with the demand curve.  This is not rocket science.  If Walmart has a surplus of eggs, they know what to do: lower the price.  That will cause demand to increase and will relieve the glut.  Walmart doesn't have to hire Ph.D.s in Economics to run their business.  And if studies were to show that raising egg prices increases demand, or if most people would choose to work for one dollar instead of a hundred dollars, it would suggest a flaw in the study - because such a study would simply defy logic, common sense, and human nature.

The demand curve is axiomatic.  It is a fact of human nature.  But Blundell calls Block a "fundamentalist" for believing it.

I find Blundell's approach to this debate especially interesting given that Block is an Atheist and Blundell is a theologian.  I'm going to go out on a limb and presume Blundell to be a Christian, likely a Roman Catholic.  And if he isn't, he is certainly swimming in the waters of Roman Catholic Christianity as an instructor of religious studies at a Jesuit institution and himself bearing a Ph.D. from a Jesuit institution.  At one point in the debate, Blundell mentions God to make his argument.

But Block is the "fundamentalist" for believing in the demand curve.

The two men have two differing philosophies of epistemology, or approaches to knowing.  Block does not believe in the supernatural or in divine revelation.  He believes in logic and reason.  Blundell believes in logic and reason but adds faith.  Blundell (assuming he is a Christian) believes in God and that God reveals some things to men through prophecy, scripture, and (assuming he is a Catholic) through the teaching magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.

Christians believe in the epistemological value of faith.  They believe in revelation.  They believe in a God that cannot be proved philosophically or scientifically - and this faith shapes their worldview.

In mocking Block as a "fundamentalist", Blundell also took a jab at Christians who believe in the creation account of the Book of Genesis and likewise labeled them as "fundamentalists."  Most Roman Catholics deny the historical veracity of Genesis 1-11, considering that portion of the Old Testament to be mythological.  Most modern teachers of Roman Catholicism accept Darwinian evolution in conjunction with faith in God.  But what kinds of things does Blundell actually believe from the Bible?  He believes that in first century Roman Judea, a Jewish girl named Mary was visited by a creature that has never been captured or shown to exist: an archangel.  This archangel (named Gabriel) appeared to Mary, and the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Triune God) came to her and she conceived a child without any genetic material from a male human.  In other words, she was a virgin who became pregnant.

The son she bore (so would claim Blundell) grew up and was perfect.  He could defy the laws of nature and physics by changing water into wine, spontaneously healing cripples and lepers, and on at least two cases, raised the dead.  He was also to rise from the dead himself.

Now, I don't know if there are longitudinal studies or metadata or double-blind experiments regarding human parthenogenesis, transformation of chemical substances, unexplainable healings, or resurrections, but these do seem quite contradictory to science - at least as much as belief in a six day creation or Noah's Ark.

Blundell also believes that this man named Jesus is still bodily alive today, being nearly 2,000 years old, and that he mystically appears when a priest says words over bread and wine.  Jesus is the second person (the Son of God) of the Holy Trinity.  These dogmatic beliefs he is willing to accept, but scoffs at the demand curve and argues that it be subject to scientific studies.

For Walter Block is the "fundamentalist" for believing in the demand curve.

Now, I don't say these things to mock Blundell.  In fact, I agree with him.  I'm a Christian.  I'm a Lutheran pastor.  And I say Mass twice a week.  I believe Jesus is alive and is physically present according to His word in Holy Communion.  I believe in miracles.  I believe in revelation.  I believe the Bible is inerrant - including Genesis 1-11.  I perhaps recite the scientifically-unverifiable Nicene Creed more often than Blundell does as part of my liturgical duties.  But I find it bizarre that Blundell would mock an opponent for accepting the demand curve axiomatically when he has an entire epistemology that defies science and reason.

Moreover, as a Roman Catholic, Blundell may be more of a "fundamentalist" than I am.  For he holds to other dogmatic beliefs apart from scripture, such as the immaculate conception, a teaching that the virgin Mary was herself conceived without sin.  I have no problem with this belief, and lean toward it myself - but I'm not dogmatic about it as scripture is silent on the matter.  Blundell (again, presuming his Catholicism) must accept this dogma because it has been declared ex cathedra, infallibly, by the bishop of Rome in 1854, as a matter of faith and morals.  Again, I don't know if there have been any studies on immaculate conceptions or papal infallibility, but I suspect not.  Roman Catholics also believe in transubstantiation, which posits that the bread and wine cease being bread and wine when they are consecrated, that the body and blood of Christ only appear to be bread and wine, a kind of illusion to the senses.  I wonder what a scientific study of consecrated elements taken from a Catholic altar would show?

But Block is the "fundamentalist" for believing in the demand curve.

Blundell also attempted to change the topic of the debate into a debunking of libertarianism.  He based this largely on a statistic in which he claims a study shows 94% of libertarians are white.  Most of them are also male.  Therefore they are wrong (is his implication).

The fallacious (if not racist) logic is pretty clear here.  And I think it is rhetorically quite obvious that Blundell is seeking to appeal to emotion instead of reason.  I wonder if the 94% figure is limited to Americans or includes the entire world?  Korea is nowhere near 94% white.  And yet, the South is much more libertarian than the North - and is also much more prosperous than the North, which is by contrast repressive and very un-libertarian.  This great libertarian divide across Korea has nothing to do with being male or Caucasian.

Likewise the difference between East and West Germany, or between capitalist Hong Kong and mainland Communist China - are not race-based and clearly show (or at least strongly imply) the superior power of markets to raise the standard of living far greater than legislative "solutions," which based on the twentieth century alone, are a proven path to poverty if not the concentration camp and the Gulag.

And if being white and male is an indicator of being wrong economically, there is one area in which I might be tempted to agree with Dr. Blundell.  For the whitest, most male bastion in history is the papacy.  And the bishops of Rome are pretty dismal when it comes to the "dismal science" of Economics (though to give my Roman Catholic brethren credit where credit is due, there was a school of 16th century Jesuits who would have tracked with Block in this debate!).

Perhaps Dr. Blundell isn't cut out to debate Economics with an economist - especially the likes of a Walter Block.  It becomes painfully apparent upon watching this debate.  It was a rather one-sided affair, and is almost embarrassing after a certain point.  Dr. Blundell is simply outgunned intellectually.  And though Dr. Block is in no wise a Christian man, I would like to take the liberty to describe his gracious and gentlemanly demeanor toward Dr. Blundell - who, by contrast, displayed rather crude and provocative conduct toward his opponent, in my opinion - to have been truly "Christian" in his respect, humility, restraint and human decency in response.

Jesus told us to be loving toward those who hate us.  And I admit that Dr. Block seems to do a better job of it than I do.

Thank you, as always, to Dr. Walter Block for defending liberty even when it is unpopular to do so.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Louis Oscar Fried Ceremony



This past Saturday (April 26) I had the privilege and honor to give the invocation and benediction at an event sponsored by the Gretna Historical Society.  It was a wreath ceremony at the monument of Louis Oscar Fried (pronounced "freed"), who died 100 years ago this month.





Fried was a Navy seaman and was among the first casualties of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Veracruz - part of the little-studied or remembered period of the "banana wars."  Fried was the youngest of the seven children of Matthew and Mary (Meisner) Fried of Gretna, and was only nineteen years old when he died on the first day of the battle.  After a long trip home via New York City, his body lay in state at the Jefferson Parish Courthouse (currently Gretna City Hall) on Copernicus Avenue (since renamed Huey P. Long) and was watched over by a Naval Color Guard.

On May 15, 1914, ten thousand people turned out for his burial at Hook and Ladder Cemetery on Lafayette Street in Gretna.  His tomb and monument had been donated by thousands of people giving small offerings to help the family with expenses.  The beautiful marble obelisk is the tallest structure in the cemetery to this day.  This was, and still is, the largest funeral in the history of Gretna.  The day was declared a city holiday for workers and school children, and ferries busily shuttled thousands of mourners across the river from New Orleans.

Pastor Wismar of Salem - Gretna in a 1910 picture, front row, first from the right

The funeral was conducted at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church on 4th Street (where the Fried family were all active members) by my predecessor, the Rev. A Wismar (seen here in 1910, front row, all the way to the right).  Of course, only a fraction of the crowd could be accommodated in the church building.  The procession on foot made its way to the monument at Hook and Ladder, where many of us in turn gathered 100 years later to honor Louis Oscar Fried and to commemorate this unique and extraordinary event in Gretna.  Never before or since has there been such an outpouring of support, compassion, and community solidarity to honor a son of Gretna and to comfort his grieving family.

I would like to thank historian and writer Sevilla Finley for organizing this event and allowing me the privilege to offer the prayers (not to mention for sending me many of these pictures), as well as Paul Coles, president of the Gretna Historical Society for his enthusiastic leadership and tireless devotion to our city and its noble heritage.  Several family members were present to participate in the event, along with Gretna's mayor Belinda Constant and a representative of the president of Jefferson Parish.  Just as was the case a century ago, a Naval color guard was present at the monument (which had also been magnificently cleaned and restored in preparation for the centennial).


Rev. Larry Beane


My invocation follows:

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
Lord God, heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the privilege to gather here in Your name, in this sacred place, to remember, to ponder, to meditate, and to pay tribute to Your servant Louis Oscar Fried. 
We do so, O Lord, with both sadness and joy, calling to mind the extraordinary events of a hundred years ago that culminated on this very spot. 
We call to mind the shock and the grief suffered by the Fried family, his mother and father, his immediate family and those whose lives were changed with that somber knock at the door and the dreaded words, "We regret to inform you..."  We are reminded of the grief of his church family, his community, his city, state, and nation, mourning for a 19-year old cut down in his promising youth wearing the uniform of his country. 
And yet there is also joy, O Lord, in knowing how this community rallied to comfort the Fried family, how our forbears came together in respect, love, and in patriotic and religious duty, to help this family bear the cross. 
We pray for all those in our current age who are likewise visited by the shock and grief of death: the wages of sin and the consequence of the Fall in Eden.  We pray that we may meet our obligations to those today who have sworn to defend our country and its people.  We pray that our elected officials would only send our young men, and now our young women as well, into harm's way only as a last resort, only after sober reflection, and only in accordance with the Constitution and the Christian principles of just war.  We pray for peace, O Lord, and we pray that current and future generations would take to heart the example of the people of Gretna in 1914 in showing compassion and tribute to a fallen brother. 
Finally, O Lord, we call to mind an earlier April, an earlier death of a young Man, who was likewise laid into a tomb provided for Him by donation, a tomb He left behind empty, giving the promise of the resurrection of the dead.  We await this resurrection , O Lord, with joy, knowing that by the death and resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Louis Oscar Fried and all Your saints will rise again bodily, and we will meet him in the flesh, even as our Savior Jesus Christ has conquered death and atoned for the sins of the world. 
And it is in His name that we pray.  Amen.

Navy color guard


Richard Thalheim, Paul Coles, Michael Smith (left to right)


Pastor Beane


The restored monument


Refreshments at the Gretna Historical Society

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sermon: Funeral of Doyle Murry

Sermon: Funeral of Doyle Murry
27 April 2014
Text: John 20:19-31 (Ez 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Deb, Danielle, Holly, Lorraine, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  As our Lord said to His disciples upon rising from the dead: “Peace be with you.”

I know that for Doyle’s family, this has been one of the hardest and most trying weeks of your lives.  And I also know that it has been a time of love and comfort and closeness within your family.  Your church family grieves with you as well, and supports you during this time of sadness and loss. 

Sometimes people will try to bring comfort to those who mourn by saying things that are just not true.  But here is what is true, dear friends:

Death is not a part of life.  Death is not natural.  Death is not our friend.  Death is the enemy.  It is ugly and unnatural.  It is the opposite of life.  Death is the wages of sin.  Death is what each one of us deserves because of our own sins and because of the original sin of Adam and Even in the Garden.  For their sinful nature has been handed down to us ever since.  Death is bitter and awful.  There is nothing good about it.    

There is an ancient statue that says all of this without a single word.  It’s known as the Pieta.  It shows Mary holding the lifeless body of her Son Jesus in her arms.  [The casket selected by Doyle’s family has this powerful image on it, around the base].  The pain and anguish on the face of our Lord’s mother captures the grief of a mother mourning her beloved Son.  It powerfully illustrates the pain caused by death – which even came to our Lord Jesus Christ.  And the reason is sin.  Not His, but ours.

For as we all confessed together in the very words of scripture: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  And our only hope is to have a champion who can forgive our sins and conquer death for us.  And that Champion is our Lord Jesus Christ, who died in order that we may live.  He paid for our sins at the cross, and as St. Paul teaches us in the Book of Romans, when we are baptized into the Lord, we are baptized into His death, and St. Paul then explains: “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

But living in this fallen world as we do, dear friends, we all experience the loss of our loved ones.  There are no exceptions.  It is part of the world we live in, a fallen world of sin and suffering.  And it comes to all of us, whether we are 27 years old, 107 years old, or 7 days old.  No-one is exempt from death, and our loved ones will grieve – even as we will grieve our loved ones.

To deal with this reality, some people just never think about it or talk about it.  Some people deal with it by making up stories about people becoming angels or ghosts or by believing that death simply ends our existence.  Some people believe in things like reincarnation.  But we have the explanation, dear brothers and sisters.  We know why we die, and we know what happens.  And as sad as we are to lose Doyle in this life, on this side of the grave, there is happiness and joy for all Christians in eternity who die in the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ!

For the same lifeless body held in the arms of His mother, the body of Jesus, was laid into a tomb, and on the third day, He rose again.  And He promises the same resurrection to His redeemed people, as St. Mark teaches us in his Gospel: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” 

The resurrection of Jesus is not a myth or a story.  Even the enemies of Jesus could not explain away the empty tomb.  You can still visit it today, as today it is a church.  It’s still there.  We celebrate something remarkable during this Easter season, because it is not our common experience for people to simply rise from the dead so as to live forever.  But this is true for Jesus, and true for us Christians.  For the one who rose that first Easter promises that we too will rise, that our bodies will be raised just like the magnificent vision that Ezekiel saw of the dry bones being reassembled in the valley, covered with flesh, and having the spirit breathed into them.  “Thus says the Lord to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live….  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” 

This is a promise from Him who rose from the dead and came back to tell us all about it.  He promises that we shall live.

But it is hard to believe, isn’t it?  To see a casket closed makes it difficult to imagine our graves being opened.  But that is the promise.  And it is okay that this is tough to believe.  For think about Thomas, dear friends.  All over the world, this very week, Christians have listened to the Gospel account of Doubting Thomas.  In his own grief, he struggled to believe.

Jesus came to Him, not to scold or condemn, but to save, saying: “Peace be with you” and showing Thomas His wounded hands and side.  Thomas then believed in Jesus, saying, “My Lord and my God.” 

Jesus lovingly invited Thomas, saying: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  And then Jesus, speaking about all of us, says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus is speaking of faith, of belief.  That, dear friends, makes all the difference.  Yes, we mourn, but not in the same way as unbelievers do.  For we have hope.  Hope of eternal life, hope of the forgiveness of sins, hope of a reunion with Doyle and with all those who died in Christ.  That hope is borne of the Word, as St. John said to us again: “Jesus did many other signs… which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

That same apostle John also testifies in God’s Word: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.”

And he says: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Dear friends, Mary’s grief-stricken face was to be replaced by unspeakable joy as her Son rose again from the dead.  And better even than that, Jesus offers eternal life to all who are baptized and who believe.  Jesus overcomes sin and death and the grave.  Jesus conquers Satan on our behalf. 

Jesus lives!  The victory's won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives!  Death's reign is done!
From the grave will Christ recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence.

“Peace be with you.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

His
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.

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2014


27 April 2014

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ez 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

What makes us Christians different than everyone else is not that we’re better than anyone else, not that we have earned our salvation by our good works, and not that we know some secret knowledge.  What makes us different, dear brothers and sisters of our risen Lord Jesus Christ, is our confession.

For we confess about Jesus what St. Thomas, sometimes called the Doubter, himself confessed: “My Lord and my God!”  But Thomas’s confession took some convincing.  Thomas was plagued by sin, including the sin of doubting the very Word of God.  Thomas did not believe that our Lord had risen from the dead, because Thomas doubted the divinity of Jesus.  Thomas had not yet been converted to the religion of the crucified and resurrected Jesus, the only religion that promises forgiveness of sins and eternal life by virtue of the grace and mercy of God, won for us at the cross, and confirmed for us at the empty tomb.  St. Thomas had ceased being a Christian, and had fallen away from the true faith, that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, that He came “by water and blood” and that “the Spirit is the one who testifies.” 

And as St. John also reveals to us by that same Spirit: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.  Whoever does not believe God, has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son.”

And in His mercy, our Lord Jesus Christ comes to Thomas.  He doesn’t come to scold or to condemn, but the Good Shepherd comes to comfort and to re-gather Thomas into the flock of His beloved sheep.  He greets the disciples as He so often does: “Peace be with you!”

A week before the reconversion of St. Thomas, the Lord had appeared to the other disciples.  At that point, He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, the one who testifies to the truth.  And He also authorized them to forgive sins under His command and authority. 

Thomas was not present that first time.  The Lord allowed him to spend a week wrestling with the testimony of those given the Holy Spirit to forgive and to testify in the name of Jesus.  And when our Lord appeared to Thomas, when the Lord manifested Himself physically, it was then that Thomas confesses: “My Lord and my God!”

The fact that God is a Man is part of that testimony given by the Holy Spirit, testimony that can either be believed or rejected.  The fact that God took human flesh, that God was born to a mother, that God experienced life in our fallen world without sin, was condemned by our sinfulness, was crucified, died, and was buried, and who rose again to offer Himself to us in Word and Sacrament, so that we might be saved from sin and death – is difficult to believe.  In fact, we say it together with our brothers and sisters around the world 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.”

In the same way, the Spirit led Thomas to His confession, as the Lord Jesus Christ used His Word and His flesh to invigorate Thomas with the very faith by which he receives God’s grace, receiving eternal life as evidenced by that bold and death-defying confession: “My Lord and my God!”

And as St. John, who reports these events to us himself confesses: “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

There are many ways to doubt this truth, this testimony, this confession of the one true faith.  Many believe Jesus is only a man, now dead, nothing more nothing less.  Others believe that Jesus is some kind of angel or saint.  Others deny the true humanity of our Lord, considering Him to be some kind of consciousness or energy.  Others believe in false gods, be they made of wood or metal, or gods made out of money, entertainment, or the self.  Some desperately want to believe, but are dying for their lack of contact with the very Word of life that will restore and revive them, as our Lord did to Thomas.

Dear friends, we are like the dry bones in the valley that Ezekiel saw while “in the Spirit of the Lord.”  And though the bones were dry, disconnected, and lacking flesh, Ezekiel saw them transform before his very eyes.  He watched the Lord reassemble them in their flesh and breathe life and spirit into them.  He watched them rise again, a resurrection.  And He heard the Lord speak a promise: “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people….  And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live…. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Dear friends, amid the world’s mockery and disbelief, amid the maze of false doctrine and confused cults, amid a culture that openly embraces evil, amid the sinful nature of our own flesh, amid a life in which Satan is the prince of this world, amid an existence in which we must always confront death and mortality, by virtue of the Word and in debt to our Lord who likewise manifests Himself to us in His very flesh and blood, by the Spirit’s testimony of the truth, and through the proclamation of men speaking by Christ’s command and authority, we confess with St. Thomas concerning our Lord Jesus Christ: “My Lord and my God!”

He is a Lord and God who is merciful.  He is a Lord and God who saves us.  He is a Lord and God who comes to us as a human being.  He is a Lord and God who dies for us to redeem us.  He is a Lord and God who rose from the dead, and who promises resurrection to all who are baptized and who believe.

Let us receive the blessing of Peace from our risen Lord as we too meet Him in His wounded flesh and shed blood in a communion even more wonderful than the communion our Lord shared with Thomas in His gracious invitation to examine His wounds.

Let us examine our own wounds, let us examine our consciences and our sins, and let us confess “My Lord and my God” of Him who has come that “by believing” we “may have life in His name.”

“My Lord and my God!”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

His

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, April 20, 2014

Sermon: Easter 2014



20 April 2014

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

There is a theme we see in the movies in which there is to be a wedding, and the bride or the groom is stood up at the altar.  Often such films are romantic comedies, even though when such things happen in real life, as they rarely, but sometimes do, they are a source of great pain and hurt to those left standing at the altar.

And so maybe we turn such darkness into comedy as a way of sort-of whistling in the graveyard.  It is a common human fear to be left alone, to be deserted by our loved ones, to be abandoned.  And so by making a bit of fun, maybe that is our way of dealing with our deepest, darkest fears.

But there is a fear that is even worse than abandonment: the fear of death.  For we can recover from all sorts of physical and psychological pain, but death is not something we can heal from and get up and just walk away from.

Or is it?

For the events of the first Easter morning are a comedy of a sort, a joyful turn of events that makes us cheer and sing for joy!  It is something that is even more out of place and remarkable than being left standing at the altar.  For at the first Easter, “very early on the first day of the week,” people came to a tomb to ceremonially anoint a body, a funeral service of sorts, but the guest of honor was not there.  He didn’t show up.  In the ultimate comedic twist in the plot, the one to be embalmed had gotten up and walked away from His own funeral.  He stood up His own funeral guests.  He left them standing at the grave.

Jesus has done more than whistle in the graveyard – He got up and went for a walk, exiting the tomb that was unable to contain Him.  He overcame man’s greatest fear and overpowered man’s greatest enemy.  The victorious Jesus openly mocked sin, death, and the devil by destroying them at the cross, and then by triumphing over them at the tomb, the very location that Satan hoped would become a monument to the power of evil.  Satan’s hopes are all in vain, dear friends.  Instead, the empty tomb is a monument of love, a real physical place where Christians visit every day, it is today a church where the risen Christ is proclaimed to the entire world, a holy altar where the guest of honor has caused the whole Church on earth and in heaven to join His feast of victory, saying with St. Paul:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 

And though our Lord was abandoned by nearly everyone during the most horrific week in the life of anyone: being betrayed by Judas, being denied by Peter, being left standing by the other disciples – as well as being beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified by the very people He came to save – He did not abandon us.  No, dear friends.  He died for us, He rose for us, He comes back to us to rescue us, and He forgives us.  He has promised never to forsake us.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives!”

And as part and parcel of dying to forgive us, and rising for our justification, He has also disarmed death, so that we shall “put on the imperishable” and “put on immortality.”  Jesus has taken away the sting by suffering the pain for us.  Jesus has taken away our guilt by bearing the punishment for us.  Jesus has taken away death by dying for us.  And He has done so out of love for us poor, miserable sinners who have been redeemed, though we most certainly do not deserve it.

That is the message of hope the Church has for the world.  It is a message of rebirth and restoration, of rejuvenation and renewal.  It is the triumph of peace over war, of life over death, of joy over sadness, and good over evil.  It is the victory given to us as a gift, and it has been signed, sealed, and delivered by the cross, received by baptism, and made our very own by faith. 

And maybe the world’s current fascination with stories of the walking dead, with zombies, and other comical depictions of death is just another way of whistling in the graveyard.  But the Church of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, especially on this day, celebrates the only one to truly walk out of His tomb by His own power, not as a grotesque dead man walking, but as a gloriously living man who is God, graciously forgiving sins and gloriously giving life.

And unlike the poor bride who has been stood up at the altar, the Church is the Bride of Christ, whose Bridegroom has instead stood up death at the tomb, who stands up and appears to the world arisen and glorified, and who promises that nothing shall ever separate Bride and Groom at His holy altar.  He will never leave nor abandon His people.  Death no more has dominion over Him, and death can frighten us no more.

And what’s more, He is here with His Bride at the altar week in and week out, in His Word, in the Gospel, in His body, and in His blood.  He continues to live not merely at the right hand of God in heaven, but wherever two or three are gathered in His name.  He lives not in some kind of figurative way of speaking, not in some kind of fuzzy spiritual way, and not as a warm memory in our hearts, but, dear brothers and sisters, He lives literally, in the flesh, gathering with us in a glorious and victorious bodily way in Holy Communion, in a way that confounds the devil and declares victory every time the Church gathers in His name.  “And He will come again to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

And like the story of a bride left standing at the altar causes us to cringe with awkwardness, so too does the Lord Jesus perplex His followers when He left behind an empty tomb.  “Do not be alarmed,” says the mysterious young man in the white robe.  “He has risen.”  Against all expectation, and in defiance of any script that anyone would ever write, the angel invites the stunned women to look around the empty tomb.  And then he gives them a job: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

The situation of being stood up at the funeral is awkward, joyful, frightening, and surreal for these women, these unlikely first messengers of the resurrection, who had come for a funeral, but who left with remarkable and world-changing good news to tell.  “Trembling and astonishment had seized them…. For they were afraid.”

But their shock was soon to yield to unspeakable happiness, and the awkwardness of being left at the tomb is to be replaced by the joy that has filled the Church with faith and hope for nearly twenty centuries.  The soon-to-be-apostles, who received word of this good news from the women, would themselves see the risen Lord many times, and would fan out around the known world, bearing witness to the resurrection, baptizing and preaching in His name and by His command, making disciples and spreading this good news that death is done for, that sin has been forgiven, that Satan has been conquered, and that the fallen world as we know it has been turned upside down by our Lord who has redeemed us.

“I know that my redeemer lives!”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

His

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sermon: Good Friday – 2014



18 April 2014

Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” we sing that when it comes to the devil, “one little word can fell him.”  Dr. Luther doesn’t tell us what word he had in mind, but a good candidate for such a single word appears in St. John’s detailed and agonizing account of our Lord’s crucifixion.  It is a single Greek word: Τετέλεσται.  It is one little word, but we need three English words to translate it: “It is finished.”

“It is finished!”

The English doesn’t really capture the meaning of the original language.  It’s really a daring and gutsy word, approaching what we might even call “trash talk.”  It is a declaration of conquest over a vanquished foe.  It is a fist raised triumphantly.  It is the war cry of the survivor.  It is a celebration that one’s mission has been accomplished.  It is the ticker-tape parade.  It is a shout of joy and of happiness.  It is victory.

“It is finished!”

And here, in the account of our Lord’s death, it seems so out of place – at least when said by Jesus as He bows His head and gives up His spirit.  It is not what we would expect at all.

Judas might have said: “It is finished” when his plan to betray Jesus bore fruit (as well as a payday).  But Judas ended up hanging himself.  Peter might have shouted “It is finished” after playing the hero and slicing off Malchus’s ear, but instead he took a scolding from Jesus and then turned into a sniveling coward.  The soldiers who arrested Jesus, mocked him, beat him, flogged him, and crucified him might have claimed victory by saying: “It is finished,” a term they knew from their military careers, but they ended up with a few pieces of cloth and wringing their hands in fear of the day’s events, proclaimed Jesus to have been righteous.  The high priest and the Sanhedrin might have proclaimed, “It is finished,” after illegally putting Jesus on trial and successfully getting him crucified by the Romans, but in fact they became shameful collaborators with their occupiers, murderers of one of their own.  Pilate might have claimed the right to boast, “It is finished,” when he asserted Rome’s power, but all he did was put an innocent man to death because of cowardice, unmanly fear of those over whom he ruled. 

Finally, Satan ought to have been able to claim “It is finished,” because of the crucifixion of Jesus, having murdered God in the flesh, having placed Him in unspeakable agony, and having wrought cosmic havoc on the earth and seemingly making chaos among the Godhead.  But, the crucifixion of Jesus was the very crushing of the serpent’s head prophesied in the Garden of Eden.  For in paying for our sins at the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from Satan’s power, liberated us from the curse of death, and redeemed us from our rightfully earned place in hell.  The hateful Satan has been thoroughly defeated by the greatest act of love in all of history.

And so, contrary to what reason may tell us, against all expectation, and beyond every expression of love ever imagined, our Lord Jesus Christ truly won this greatest battle ever in the history of the universe.  He has conquered the old evil foe, the serpent, Satan, our accuser, the tempter, the father of lies, the destroyer, the one whose rebellion inflicted sin upon God’s good creation.  With this one word, “It is finished,” his power was broken.  With this one word, he has been reduced to being of less worth than the lowliest one celled animal.  With this one word, he has become not merely impotent, but mortal.  With this one word, Jesus has signed the death warrant of the devil.  Such is the power of the Word.

“It is finished!”

To a world that admires Satan, that hates God and His commandments, that revels in sin, that worships raw power, that calls evil good, and good evil, that places a premium on selfish gain and holds love in contempt, to a world that loves to mock, that thrills at the spectacle of human beings suffering and being put to death, that cozies up to injustice if it appears to be beneficial, that lives only for the moment without regard to eternity – our Lord’s crucifixion appears to be the ultimate victory of evil over good.

Jesus was utterly overpowered, humiliated, inflicted with pain, robbed of all respect – and this was the master-stroke, the genius of the plan.  For in dying, Jesus destroyed death; in His obedience, Jesus overcame our disobedience; in suffering for us, His act of supreme love trumped all hatred.  And on this Friday nearly two thousand years ago, good triumphed eternally over evil.

“It is finished!”

The prophet Isaiah, who lived seven centuries before these events, who was likewise saved by our Lord’s sacrifice upon the cross, whom we joined in the liturgy singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” before the Triune God, and who suffered in his earthly life for the sake of his preaching about the coming Messiah, calling his countrymen to repent, whose preaching was largely ignored, Isaiah likewise joins with our Lord in crying out: “It is finished!”  For he prophesied about the cross, and indeed, it came to pass.

“It is finished!”

St. Paul, who suffered beatings and stonings and imprisonments for the name of Christ, whose preaching was attacked and whose confession of Christ earned him reproach in the community, and who was finally beheaded for the sake of His Lord by a tyrannical Caesar – likewise joins in unison with our Lord: “It is finished!”  “For,” St. Paul confesses, “the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all.” 

“It is finished!”

And we, with blessed Isaiah, with St. Paul, with our Lord and Savior, the crucified One, Jesus Christ, with all the saints of every time and place, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, cry out on this day that so baffles the world, the day of our Master’s death, a day for which we have the audacity to call “good,” celebrating the cross – a symbol of death, singing in a voice so united and so victorious that it causes Satan and his demons to cringe in terror, and rocks the very foundations of hell itself: “It is finished!”

For we confess with St. Paul: “For our sake, He made Him to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Our sins are no more, dear friends.  They are forgiven.  They have been expunged by the blood of the Lamb Victorious.  Our death is no longer something to be feared.  It has been ransomed for life – the life of our Lord given to us on the cross and shared with us in His holy body and blood.  Satan is no more a foe to be feared, for he was defeated by his own plot, luring Judas to deliver Jesus over to the very cross upon which He would defeat the forces of evil and finally deal the prophetic mortal blow to the devil.

It is finished, dear brothers and sisters.  That one little word makes all the difference in the world, in the cosmos, in the heavens themselves.  That one little word transforms our lives and the lives of all who are baptized and believe.  That one little word fells the devil and brings immortality and eternal joy to us.  Τετέλεσται!

“It is finished!”  Amen.

His

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, April 17, 2014

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2014

17 April 2014

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Christian faith has always been misunderstood. 

Even on the night before He was betrayed, even the day before His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus Christ is clearing up misunderstandings about Christianity – not with the Pharisees and the chief priests and the scribes, not with the Romans and the Pagans, not even with his rank and file followers – but with the very ones who will be sent out to preach as ordained ministers of the Word within a few weeks.

The soon-to-be apostles still do not understand the essence of what their Master is teaching them.

For all religions – Christianity included – make a common observation that the world is messed up.  There is injustice, pain, ugliness, and death.  All religions teach that such things are off-script, unintended consequences of something gone haywire in creation.  And so the natural inclination of man is to fix the problem using brainpower, reason, and maybe a little duct tape.

We think we can fix the world’s brokenness by following a few simple rules.  And even Christians sometimes fall into the trap of believing that Christianity teaches that we can restore this paradise (usually described incompletely as “going to heaven when we die”) by simply obeying the Ten Commandments.  We apply worldly reason to the problem of the corruption of sin, and this is what all of the religions of the world come up with: “Follow the rules.”

Except for the religion of Jesus Christ.  Except for the only religion that is actually true.

For if we could fix the problem using reason and rules, we would not need a Savior.  And so the Savior saves us by correcting us.  Our corruption is so great that we cannot save ourselves by willpower, by resolving to follow rules.  We need to be cleansed.  We need a bath.  And it is a kind of bath that doesn’t merely remove dirt from the surface of the body.  We need washed from embedded sin and corruption in a way that transcends nature and reason and human limitation.

And in order to teach this radical truth called “Christianity”, Jesus “laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.  Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” 

Our Lord is not interpreting the Ten Commandments with clever loopholes to make them accessible as the Pharisees did.  Our Lord is not interpreting the scriptures as mythology the way the Sadducees did.  He doesn’t say that everything is meaningless the way some of the Greek philosophers did.  He doesn’t teach that the body is bad and the spirit is good the way the Greeks and Romans did and the way Eastern religions continue to do.  He doesn’t condemn the drinking of alcohol and dancing and other joyful acts that can and are done innocently and responsibly, the way some Christian groups do.  Instead, He gives a lesson on the need to be cleansed from our sins, and He points us to Holy Baptism – which in a few weeks after His resurrection, He will send the eleven out to do as the means of making disciples.  He is about to give them the Lord’s Supper, which He will ordain the eleven to celebrate and consecrate.  And He teaches us about the very thing that overcomes our sinful nature, and that is love.

Peter’s rational and worldly side initially rejects this new religion in which the Savior serves and the saved are served.  But Jesus converts Peter to the true faith by means of His Word, saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”  Peter’s conversion is complete, as He confesses: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.”

Cleanliness, indeed, is next to godliness, but Jesus is pointing to a genuine and complete cleansing, not merely of grease and dirt and paint and sweat under the fingernails, but rather of the total corruption of sin that soils us in body and spirit.  That cannot be removed by water alone, but rather by water administered by Jesus according to His Word and promise.

Our Lord commands the eleven to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”  “For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”  He does not command them to love and to follow His example because it will save them, as the false religions teach.  But rather for the advance of the kingdom: “By this,” He says, “all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Dear friends, this is not an eleventh commandment, it is the essence of all the commandments – which we fail so miserably at keeping.  But it is also the essence of Jesus as Savior, as the incarnate love of God, as the mercy of the Father in the flesh, as the head, heart, and hands through which the Holy Spirit calls us and cleanses us.  The love of Jesus is manifested in the washing of Holy Baptism, in which the promise of salvation is given.  Our Lord asks all of us, “Do you understand what I have done to you?”

He has cleansed us, forgiven us, redeemed us, saved us, restored us, and given us the free gift of eternal life – by means of the promise of God, the covenant, the New Testament in His body and blood.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for His friends.  And even when we were yet His enemies, Christ loved us by shedding His blood for us, by cleansing us through water and the Word, and by offering, that is sacrificing, Himself for us men and for our salvation in sharing with us the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves of His body and of the miracle of changing mere wine into a wine that is also His blood: blood that cleanses the spirit by being taken bodily, blood that cleanses the body for everlasting life by renewing the spirit. 

For this cleansing is our Passover.  The Lord shares it with the church of every time and place, and calls men to administer these Holy Sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  The Lord calls all men and women to partake of this cleansing, to become disciples, to be baptized and eat and drink of this sacrifice, and to participate in the one thing that bears the promise to fix us and recreate the world.  And what fixes us, dear friends, is not reason, know-how, will power, or duct tape.  It is the love of God made manifest in the flesh, offered at the cross, shared by means of the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and all of the promises given thereunder. 

The only solution is love.  What fixes us is love.  What recreates the world is love.  And that, dear brothers and sisters, is the Christian faith.  It is Christ’s love.  Amen.

His

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, April 13, 2014

Sermon: Palmarum (Lent 6) – 2014

13 April 2014

Text: John 12:12-19 (Matt 26:1-27:66, Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today is a both/and day in the church year.  It is both Lent and a celebration.  It is both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion.  It is a day of two Gospels, the first of which welcomes the King with royal palms and cheers, and the other which crucifies the King with criminals nails in his hands and jeers.

And yet, these are not two accounts of two different men, but one account in one week in the life of the greatest Man who ever lived, who lives yet, and who has not just changed the world but who has remade the entire universe.  And He did so while dying on a cross.

Moreover, dear friends, He did not do it for glory or money, nor even to win the favor of God and man.  Rather He did it for us, He “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” and yet who is God.  He did not carry out this mission to serve Himself but to rescue us – from sin, from death, and from the devil.  He did it not motivated by the adoring crowds, but rather in spite of the hateful crowds.  He did it motivated by love: obedient love for His Father and in saving love toward us “poor miserable sinners.”

And just as the crowds waved palms and sang “Hosanna,” crying out to the King for salvation, so do we, dear friends, waving branches and singing our Hosannas, we thank and praise Him for the salvation He won for us at the cross, salvation earned by blood and given to us in our baptism, delivered to us through our faith which He Himself gives us as a gracious gift, and presented to us in the flesh every time we partake of His body and blood.

And in the midst of the joyful paradox, we are saddened by the spectacle of it all: the cheering crowds who would turn deadly, the betrayal with a kiss, the hypocritical religious leaders, the police and soldiers who betray the public trust in their service by becoming thugs, the government that was there to protect and to serve becoming shameless murderers and purveyors of injustice, the crowds whom Jesus came to save becoming a lynch mob.  The cowardly disciples who scattered.  Peter who denied, repeatedly.  The abuse heaped upon Him in His dying woes.  The mockery of the true criminals.  The thorns.  The nails.  The spear.  The bitter gall to drink.  The frightening darkness.  The tearing of the temple curtain.  The death of God Himself.

And amid all of this confusing and disturbing turn of events, dear friends, this is how we have been redeemed and how creation is being renewed.  For the lifeless body of Jesus was borne to a tomb that could not contain Him.  The ones who fled gathered anew.  The cursed serpent who cleverly asked Eve: “Did God actually say?” has heard the sentence of death from the lips of the human body of God.  Death itself was forced to yield to the author of life. 

And out of death came life.  Out of darkness came light.  Out of betrayal came love.  Out of the cross came redemption.  Out of the side of Jesus flowed water and blood, out of which Christians are born of water and the blood and the Word.  And once more, the children of God sing Hosannas and wave palms.  The king no more wears a crown of thorns, but the crown of righteousness.  He is no more knelt to in mockery, for “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We kneel before our Lord, we worship the crucified One, we eat and drink His blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, we pray, praise and give thanks, we acknowledge our King for His substitutionary death for us, we celebrate with joy and humility our place in His kingdom though we are the ones who deserve to have been crucified.  We celebrate the Lord’s victory over death and the grave, and we glory in the triumph of the evil one whose lies in the Garden of Eden brought about destruction and death in the first place.

Dear friends, even as the Book of Revelation tells of the saints in heaven dressed in white robes, waving palms, and singing the praises of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so too do we join Christians around the world in taking up our own palms, knowing that this most Holy Week will see Passion Sunday lead us to Good Friday and to Easter Sunday.  The purple and black will yield to white, celebration will return to our liturgy, and we will be unable to contain our joy any more than the gloomy grave could contain the beaming countenance of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us wave these branches and hail our King, knowing that His mission is not to create a worldly kingdom, but to create a kingdom of a new world.  Let us sing Hosanna to our King, knowing that He is not a ruler like Caesar to whom we are forced to bow, but that He is a ruler like King David, the man after God’s heart, before whom we gladly kneel, and to whom He gives crowns, making us kings and priests with Him for all eternity.

Moreover, this king exacts no taxes, but pays us the dividend of the forgiveness of sins.  This king does not conscript and send us to war, but has won the war for us.  This king does not seize our possessions, but shares all good things with us.  This king does not restrict our liberty, but gives us true liberty that the world cannot give, that is, freedom from the bondage of sin and from the tyranny of Satan.  And unlike other kings in history, this King did not build a tomb to glorify Himself, but was placed into a borrowed grave, from which He departed, an edifice which became a church, that is, a place from which the Gospel of His word and sacrament flow to His grateful subjects.

And this church is where we gather, dear friends, to receive the gifts of our king, where we are given anew the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  Today is a both/and day for us who are both sinners and saints!  Let us sing for joy even amid Lent.  Let us give thanks for both the cross and the empty tomb, looking forward to both Good Friday and Easter.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey.”

Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Hosanna in the highest!  Amen.

His

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, April 09, 2014

Sermon: Wednesday of Judica (Lent 5) – 2014

9 April 2014

Text: Ps 43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The world has a message for the church: “Don’t judge me!”  And the world often reminds the church of our Lord’s words: “Judge not.”  And so the church is often bullied into silence.  For according to the world, the church is to have nothing to say to matters of good and evil, of ethics and morality, as though there is no difference between the ethical systems of Adolph Hitler and Mother Teresa.

“Don’t judge me!” we are told.  And sometimes we are told such things by judges in black robes.

But here we are in the church’s week of “Judica” – from the first words of the Psalm in Latin: “Judica me (judge me).”  Indeed, the church has a very different command than the world’s “Don’t judge me!”

And yet, dear friends, in our sins, we are like the world.  For we are all poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed.  How can we cry out to a righteous God: “Judica me!”?  It sounds foolhardy and presumptuous.  For let’s take a brief tour through the Ten Commandments.

Do we fear, love, and trust in other things above God?  Do we misuse the Lord’s name by vulgarity or by failing to call upon Him in every trouble?  Do we do violence to the Sabbath by despising preaching and the Word?  Do we dishonor our parents and other authorities?  Do we kill, commit adultery, and steal in thought, word, or deed?  Do we gossip and fail to explain our neighbor’s actions in the kindest possible way?  Do we mope and daydream about our neighbor’s lifestyle, his spouse or job or circumstances or possessions?

Are we in the position to chant the antiphon: “Judica me” or should we join the world’s chorus of “Don’t judge me!”?  Do the guilty normally seek out a judge to have his case heard, or is it the innocent that seek judicial vindication?

You’ll note that our English translations don’t say “Judge me,” but are actually more bold to say: “Vindicate me.”  For we Christians are boldly, if not recklessly, demanding a verdict of “Not guilty” – and so we do not cry out “Don’t judge me.”

How can this be, dear friends, dear fellow sinners?  It can only be through Christ that we can pray this Psalm, for it is only through Christ, by Christ, and in Christ, that we poor miserable sinners are indeed vindicated, and judged to be innocent, adjudicated to be saints, and rewarded with eternal life – only
by Christ’s atoning blood sacrificed on the cross.  And this is why the church gathers around the Lamb that “takest away the sin of the world,” and this is why we sing together: “Lord, have mercy upon us.”  This is why we assemble here in this holy house to hear the words authorized by our judge: “I forgive you all your sins.”  It is in this gospel, this good news, this forgiveness, that we, the church, voice our “Judica me” and cry out for vindication from Him who judges all.

We are vindicated because of the “holy hill” spoken of in the Psalm: “Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!  Let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill.”  That holy hill is Calvary, the place of the skull, the very plot of sacred ground that became the final altar of blood sacrifice, once for all, not by the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of Christ Himself, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  “Then” sings the church, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.”  For this is where we see God, even our Judge, with joy, knowing that by the Lord’s sacrificial and atoning blood, we have been vindicated, joyfully declared “not guilty” by our judge in the very presence of our vicious enemies, in the face of a hostile world, even in the very jaws of the devil.  We go to the altar with exceeding joy in our vindication, participating in that body and blood, wrapped in the white robe of baptism, having put all need for self-justification and fear of being judged behind us.

And so dear brothers and sisters, even as the Lord has a message for the church, the church has a message for the world: “Judica me!”  Let us all examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments and to the reality of our sin and inability to vindicate ourselves.  Let us throw ourselves upon the mercy of the court, upon the mercy of God, “God my exceeding joy.”  Let us be judged, let us be vindicated according to the blood of Christ shed upon the holy hill, blood  distributed to those who are baptized and who believe, at joyful altars of God here and all around the world.  Let the church not be bullied into silence, but let her joyfully and boldly proclaim right and wrong, law and gospel, and especially Christ’s vindication to a world that fears judgment more than anything.

And let the world join the church in being vindicated, in being forgiven, in having the courage to confess clearly right and wrong, and in spite of our sins, to remain steadfast and assured by the vindication that has come to us by grace, through faith, as revealed in the scriptures, in Christ alone!

Vindicate me, O God…. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy!”  Amen.

His

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, April 06, 2014

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5) – 2014

6 April 2014

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We live in an age in which we are all encouraged to have opinions about anything and everything, and we can express these opinions publicly in many ways and formats.  And people become passionate about their opinions, from current events and politics, sports and leisure, what kinds of foods they like, what is the best kind of weather, to fashion and music.  People will argue with one another, and in many cases, will pay to watch others argue about differing opinions.

But if you really think about it, none of these things matter.  At the end of the day, and the end of a life, at the end of the age, what difference does it make whether Joe Smith or Mary Jones won a congressional seat, whether Victor Newman got married for the 54th time, or if the Saints ever won another Super Bowl?  Is it really all that important what kind of chocolate you like or how baggy your jeans are?

What does matter, dear friends, is what you confess about Jesus.  And this question, “Who is Jesus?” has been asked by mankind in some form or other dating back to the Garden of Eden, when God promised a Savior to vindicate us by crushing the serpent’s head.

Our Lord Himself gets into a discussion about who He is with people who think they know Him better than He knows Himself.  As Jesus preaches to them first concerning who they are – namely obstinate sinners who refuse to hear the Word of God – they in turn confess that Jesus is a “Samaritan” and “[has] a demon.”

This is how the sinful man responds to a call to repentance.  In our pride, we lash out at the messenger.  We kill the prophets.  We spread rumors about others.  We engage in personal destruction as a means of propping up our wounded pride.  We plug up our ears to the life-saving Word of God, as our Lord asks: “Why do you not understand what I say?” and answers his own question: “It is because you cannot bear to hear my Word.”

For when the Lord speaks the Law, it stings.  And yet, like applying medicine to a wound, the sting is necessary for healing.  We must humble ourselves, dear friends, to hear the Lord’s Word, lest we bear the Lord’s rebuke: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

And just as we may or may not receive the preached Word of God, we may or may not receive the Word Made Flesh who has come to save us.

So we are back to the question: “Who is Jesus?” What do we confess about Him?

Our Lord Himself plainly tells His hearers, including us, just who He is.  “I came from God and I am here.  I came not of My own accord, He sent Me.”  “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father….  I do not seek My own glory; there is one who seeks it, and He is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.”

And finally, the Lord Jesus Christ confesses and reveals Himself to us when He says: “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus is eternal.  Jesus is the “I am” who revealed Himself to Moses by that very name, that most sacred of names, in the burning bush: the name that is above every name, the name before which every knee shall bow, the name of the Word through which all things came to be, the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us. 

Just as when Jesus was in this discussion nearly 2,000 years ago, there is still a burning controversy about who Jesus is today.  Some say He is a fictional character.  Some say He was a preacher whose followers created a myth.  Some say He was a delusional madman with a messiah complex.  Some say He was a good man who was killed because He was a good man.  Some say He was a prophet but not God.  Most simply don’t care as they pursue the illusory and temporary things of this fallen and crumbling world.  Many mock.  Some persecute those who confess Christ as Lord.  Some are still accusing Jesus as being evil.

But, dear friends, we, the Church, the bearers of the Word of God, we who have the revelation of Jesus Christ by faith, have a different confession than the world.  And thanks be to God!  With our Lord, we confess that Jesus is the great “I am,” that He is eternal, that He is God, that He came into our crumbling world to save us, to rescue us, dying to defeat death, crushing the serpent’s head at the cross, shedding His own precious blood for us men and for our salvation, restoring us to Paradise in righteousness and peace!

Jesus is previewed for us in the account of Isaac, the only son of his father, whom his father loved, offered up as a sacrifice according to the command and will of God, bearing the wood upon his own back, climbing the hill to his own sacrifice, and stretched out upon a wood-covered altar.

God the Father is revealed to us in His mercy, when He sends the angel to intervene and stop the sacrifice of Isaac, as God would provide a substitute. 

Jesus is previewed as that substitute, the ram caught with his gory head encrusted by the thorns that first came to the world at the garden of Eden after the fall as a result of sin.  Jesus is previewed in the name: “The Lord will provide.”  Jesus is the world’s substitute.

We confess Jesus to be a “high priest of the good things to come” as is revealed to us in the Book of Hebrews.  “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

An eternal redemption, dear friends!  An eternal redemption!  Our struggle with the serpent is over!  Our subjugation to death is ended!  Our prideful sinful nature that kills the prophets and calls the Son evil has been defeated along with hell and the grave!

By His blood sacrifice we are forgiven all our sins!  By His bloody death we are all released from eternal death.  By His body and blood sacrament we partake of His eternal redemption, eating and drinking unto forgiveness, life, and salvation!  And in Holy Baptism, the blood of this once-for-all sacrifice was sprinkled upon us, dear brothers and sisters, “that our inheritance in light has been secured.”

Indeed, we have our opinions about everything, and we have more ways than ever before of expressing those opinions.  But only one opinion matters, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, only one opinion means anything at all.  And that is our confession about Christ, who is truly the “mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”

Then let us now draw near,
Washed in that precious flood
And enter the Most Holy Place
By Jesus’ blood.
From hearts that are sincere,
Let tongues our hope profess,
And trust anew God’s faithful grace
That we confess. 

Amen.

His
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, April 02, 2014

Sermon: Wednesday of Laetare (Lent 4) – 2014

2 April 2014

Text: Isa 66:10-11, Ps 122

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

This week in Lent is known as Laetare, that is “Rejoice!” –
which is one of the last messages the prophet Isaiah has for us in the sixty-six chapters of His book.  “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”  For Isaiah has written prophetically, proclaiming good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Isaiah informs the children of Israel of the promise that their time in exile will end, and the blessings of eternity, as conceived as a New Jerusalem, an Eternal Zion, the City of God, is coming upon the Lord’s beloved chosen people as the Messiah is coming.  And He comes not to punish sin, but rather to forgive transgression. Not to seek justice against Israel, but to atone for her.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”

In this week of Laetare, the prophet’s call to rejoice is woven together as an antiphon with King David’s great hymn to the New Jerusalem, the Eternal Zion, the City of God – the 122nd Psalm, which was sung as the people of God ascended higher and higher as they walked to the House of God to worship.

“I was glad when they said to me,” says King David, says the people of Israel, say the Church of every time and place and age, singing with great rejoicing: “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”  For here, dear friends, in this holy house, we experience this New Jerusalem, this city of peace where God and man have been reconciled, where our sins have been forgiven, where God Himself has given us hope, joy, and a reason to live.  God Himself has poured out upon us His grace, His mercy, His peace – through the atoning blood of our Lord upon the cross.  And what’s more, dear friends, this peace, this atonement, this life itself is here fed to you, as a mother satisfies her children “with the consolation of her bosom” in a holy meal of the Lord’s body and blood.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”

For the name Jerusalem, symbolic of our New Jerusalem, our Eternal City, our City of God is embedded in the name of our own congregation, Salem, chosen by our forbears as a reminder that we are part of this New Creation undertaken by God in Christ, a city not built on a river but on a baptismal flood, a city not protected with walls, but shielded by angels, a city not governed by a mayor, but overseen in love by the King Himself.  Salem is Shalom, Salem is peace, Salem is that reconciliation between our righteous God and us poor, miserable sinners, a reconciliation based solely upon Christ, given to us by grace, through faith, and secured by the Word of God and His holy sacraments.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”

King David implores us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” not only the earthly city of brick and mortar, but the eternal city of the living stones of the people of God.  We wish to have peace among those here in this sanctuary, peace between all those who are members of this congregation, peace between all of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe, peace between all people of every land and language, and peace between God and man in the cross of Christ.  “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.  For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’”

That peace, dear friends, that reconciliation, the ending of the war that we started with God in the Garden of Eden, the endless bloodshed between brethren of the human race, the interminable squabbles between brothers and sisters within the Christian Church, that peace that passes all understanding, is indeed what our Lord won for us at the cross, and what He has given us at the font, at the altar, and at the pulpit.  It is that Word of reconciliation that makes Jerusalem not only the great city, but the very city of peace, a peace which has no end.

So let us rejoice, dear friends.  Even in the midst of our sorrows, even as we still live in a world riddled by sin, a church torn by schisms, a planet ablaze in conflict, a body still plagued by death, and a life on this side of the grave still suffering the effects of sin.  Even in the penitential season of Lent, let us rejoice, dear friends.  Let us rejoice because we know where we are headed – to the cross and to the empty tomb.  Let us rejoice like the ancient Jewish pilgrims making their way with gladness to the City of Jerusalem, knowing that they were going to the house of the Lord to find eternal peace.  Indeed, let us rejoice in the New Jerusalem, the Eternal Zion, the City of God.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”  Amen.

His

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.