Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon: Michaelmas – 2015

27 September 2015

Text: Matt 18:1-11 (Dan 10:10-14; 12:1-3, Rev 12:7-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

And they were both good, perfect in fact.  But something happened in heaven: Satan and his rebel angels defied God’s will.  And in this context we are taught about the Archangel Michael: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.” St. Michael is a warrior. 

And though angels exist in a plane of reality outside of our universe, being eternal and having no fleshly body, artwork depicting St. Michael the Archangel shows him not only with angel’s wings, but with a muscular, masculine form, and carrying a weapon.

And as is often the case, this cosmic conflict was not contained. It spread from the heavenly plane to the earth, from the invisible to the visible, from the realms of spirit to the world of flesh.  The angelic rebellion was then joined by the humans, by Adam and Eve, who in their greed to “be like God,” were tricked into joining Satan’s rebellion.

And so the entire creation is at war.  We cannot see with our eyes the underlying reality of this vast War Between the Angels. But as with any war, there are casualties, atrocities, death, destruction, and both courage and cowardice, as well as both honor and horror.

And in this epic conflict, St. Michael is the chief archangel, whose name means “Who is like God.” 

In the days of our Old Testament reading from Daniel, God’s people were under the domination of the Persians.  And this earthly conflict seems to spill over into the heavenly realms, as St. Michael, “who is like God” in his faithfulness, contends for the people of God, even though they are descendants of Adam and Eve who wanted to “be like God,” but who most certainly were not “like God” in their sin.

And even today, the warfare is all around us, even when we can’t see it. 

Our Lord Jesus even tells us that the “little ones” are under the divine protection of “their angels” who “always see the face” of the Father in heaven.  Even children who innocently snuggle in with their mothers are targeted for death and destruction by Satan and his ruthless rebellious demons.  What a great blessing that St. Michael and his holy legions defend us, though we can’t see them.

Before the two falls, both the one in heaven and the one on earth, there were no conflicts.  Everything was just as it should be.  Every creature carried out the will of God like a precisely running clock.  Every galaxy and every electron spun perfectly in its orbit without conflict or collision.  But when sin was introduced, it all changed.  Now things crash into other things: be they inanimate objects, animals, or humans.  The clock is broken, and is winding down thanks to wear and tear and friction and competition for space and time.

And this is the warfare, dear friends.  This chaos explains everything from dying stars to hurricanes, cancer to genocide, violence to vainglory.  And angels are dispatched by God to protect His people.  This is why Luther’s morning and evening prayers both ask God to send his holy angel to be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.

Most of these warriors are not known to us by name.  But Michael (who is like God), is mentioned by name in Scripture, as is Gabriel (whose name means “God is my strength”), and as is Raphael, (whose name means “God heals”) mentioned in the Book of Tobit.  All throughout the Bible we are told that there are legions and myriads of angels. 

And just as all of these names end in “el” – which means God – they are all under the command of a man whose name also ends in “el” – that is Immanuel, “God with us.”  Immanuel is our imminent God, the God who is indeed with us as one of us.  Jesus is not merely like God, but is God who has come to restore humanity to communion with God.  He is not merely one who reminds us that God is our strength, He is our strong God who defeats death and the devil for us.  He is not merely a messenger who reveals that God heals, rather He is the God in the flesh who heals us by His Word and Sacraments.

For as high and exalted as the angels and archangels are, we humans have cause to consider ourselves of even higher estate. For one of us, Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, is God.  He is the commander of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, of angels and archangels, and of all the company of heaven.

What comfort, dear friends, to know that God doesn’t leave us on our own to face sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has conquered all of these, and sends His angels to keep us safe.  For how many temptations have we been spared from because Michael, under the orders of the God that he is like, threw the dragon down?  How many accidents have been diverted and never happened because Gabriel is strong on God’s behalf and protected us?  How many illnesses never took hold of us because Raphael heals us under the authority of Christ, our great physician?

Indeed, how many children avoided falling into the minefield of sin and death and the devil because “their angels always see the face” of our heavenly Father?

And while the war rages on until the second coming of our Lord, we know who the victor is.  He won the victory at the cross when He paid for our sins by His blood and declared once and for all, with the authority of the One who is God: “It is finished!”  He celebrated that victory when He descended into hell to strongly proclaim His kingdom even to death and the demons.  He made that victory known when He healed His own dead body when He rose from death.

He shares that victory with the very little ones whom He protects through His angels, by calling men to forgive sins by His authority, to baptize in His name, to give out the Holy Supper in accordance with His Words of Institution and life-giving gospel.  And at the preaching of this Word and the administration of the sacraments, there is truly joy in heaven that cannot be contained.  For the final victory in the heavens and the earth is imminent and certain. 

And, dear friends, when this happens, chaos will be replaced by communion; our crashing and clashing universe will again run like a perfect clock; discord will give way to concord; swords will be beaten into plowshares; no more will galaxies and electrons crash into one another; no more will accidents, natural and manmade, occur.  Thus will all sadness and sorrow come to an end.  There will be no more separation, conflict, want, misery, warfare, rebellion, punishment, nor death itself.

And Michael will lay down his sword and join us in the perfect peace of eternity.  Gabriel will no more have to be the messenger of the strength of God, for we will all be in God’s presence.  Raphael will no longer have to communicate to us the healing power of God, for there will be nothing left to heal. 

And these guardians, these watchers and holy ones, will no more have to protect the little ones from harm, for there will be no more harm.  Indeed, dear friends, we look forward to the end of the strife, the spoils of victory, and the triumph of harmony over and against the evils of chaos.  And these angels and archangels will join us, the company of heaven, to laud and magnify the name of the Lord, praising the Triune God with us, we who will “shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 16 – 2015

20 September 2015

Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Gospel reading is incredible, dear friends.  Jesus goes to a small town called Nain, and encounters a funeral procession.  The deceased was an only child of a widow.  Jesus has compassion on her.  He tells this women whose husband is dead, and whose only child is dead, “Do not weep.”

He stops the pallbearers and orders the corpse in the coffin to arise.  The young man sits up and starts talking.  And Jesus reunites this family separated by death.

This is an incredible reading, but the things that we probably find incredible should not be, and the things that we probably don’t find incredible should be.

Think about what we might find rather normal and ordinary: a woman who outlived her husband, a young man who died, a small-town funeral.  But according to God’s will, none of this is normal.  Death is not normal.  Death separating spouses is not normal.  A young man dying is not normal, nor even an old one for that matter.  The whole idea of the funeral is foreign to the good world that God created in the beginning by His Word.

But now, let’s ponder on the things we might find extraordinary.  Jesus, God in the flesh, commands a mourning woman, a widow who is burying her only beloved son, not to weep; Jesus interrupting a funeral procession and stopping it in mid step; Jesus, with nothing more than His Word, bringing the dead to life.

Our reaction would probably be like that of the crowds at first: “Fear seized them all.”

But consider just how normal this really is: Jesus, the One who has compassion, comforting this woman by not only telling her not to cry, but by taking away the cause of her suffering by His merciful and mighty Word.  This is indeed what God always does, He who loves His creation and redeems His people, bringing life out of seemingly hopeless situations, and wrenching victory from the jaws of death.

Jesus, the one whose own death destroyed death, whose own funeral procession as an only beloved Son was to lead to the tomb from which He would emerge in glory, this Jesus shuts down a funeral procession and calls the whole thing off.  Jesus, who is God, and by whose mighty Word the universe spring into being, uses His Word again to say: “Young man, I say to you, arise,” and just as the universe came obediently into being, “the dead man sat up and began to speak.”

Jesus behaves just as we ought to expect God to behave: with compassion and power, with mercy and might, with glory and salvation.  What else should we expect from God who is a man, who has come to save us, to rescue us?  What else can possibly happen when the one who rose from death, encounters another one who is dead, and commands him to rise?

And in spite of the people’s fear, they nevertheless “glorified God.” 

They recognized what has just happened.  After God’s centuries of silence, they have seen a repeat of the prophet Elijah’s miracle of raising the widow’s son from 900 years before.  The prophet prophecies, by Word and deed, of the coming Christ.  For the prophet prays to God for His miracle, whereas our Lord Jesus does the very work of God in commanding the young man to rise, all by means of His Word.

Indeed, a prophet has come again, only this prophet Jesus is not merely a prophet.  He is rather the fulfillment of all prophets and all prophecies.  This Jesus is God, whose Word creates the universe, whose Word crushes death.

For Jesus has crushed death just as surely as He has crushed the head of our ancient enemy, the devil.  For Jesus not only wakes the dead from their slumber, He casts death along with the devil into the Lake of Fire.  For death is the wages of sin, what we deserve according to our deeds.  But by His deeds, by His death and resurrection, by His very blood shed at the cross, and by the baptismal waters, He commands by His Word, by His unequivocal absolution, and by the Good News He has commanded to be preached unto every creature, He forgives our sins.  Our wages are no more death, but life.

This was true when God worked through Elijah to raise a widow’s son.  This was true when the Son of God raised a widow’s son.  And this is true today, for all people, men and women; married, single, and widowed; with one child, many children, or no children.  Jesus has defeated death, once and for all.  Jesus interrupts our own funerals by declaring us to be with Him, and promising to raise us and all of His beloved redeemed at the last day.

The wages of sin is death, indeed, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

And yet, we suffer in this life.  We suffer pain and illness, and the death of loved ones.  And we suffer our own mortality and death.  Until the Lord recreates heaven and earth, our world remains a place of decay and dying. 

But not for long, dear friends!  For just as surely as Jesus touched the coffin and that young man woke up, so too will your grave be opened and you will sit up and be restored to your loved ones alive and well.

This is why St. Paul can say to the Galatian Christians: “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.”  For Paul, for us, for every widow, every mother and father, every son and daughter, we all will suffer, and yet our sufferings will come to an end.

Paul says: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.”

For like those who witnessed the power of Jesus’s Word, a Word that has power over death itself, we also join with those who spread the report of Jesus “through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country,” praising Him who raises us from the dead, saying: “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sermon: Funeral of Betty Lachute

17 September 2015 at Mothe's Funeral Home, Harvey, LA

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Toni and Michael, (Christy), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, Ann, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: peace be with you!

One of the parts of the Church’s liturgy, a passage from the Bible that we will repeat at the end of this service, as well as the text of our Gospel reading, involves the elderly saint Simeon.  The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had encountered Jesus.  And when he had that encounter, he spoke these words:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”

Nearly every time that I visited Betty over the many years that I had the privilege to be her pastor, every time we took the Holy Sacrament together, we prayed these very words of St. Simeon together.

These words are true for Betty today, dear friends. 

For her eyes have seen the salvation that the Lord had prepared for all peoples.  Betty was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  She was absolved of her sins many times in her eight decades of life.  She received the Lord’s body and blood again and again, experiencing Jesus in the flesh just as surely as our dear brother Simeon did on that glorious day in the Temple cradling the baby Jesus just as surely as Betty cradled her own children, grandchildren, great-grand-children, god-children, and other children. 

And like St. Simeon, she was ready to depart in peace, to depart this fallen world to meet with her Lord and God, to await the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

And that is indeed why we were created, dear friends, to live forever. 

We might be tempted to see death as a kind of ally, a kind of blessing to someone who was suffering.  We might be tempted to see it as something normal for someone who is elderly.  But although we have come to accept death as something that happens, it is not normal.  It’s not even fair to call it natural.  It isn’t.  God created us to live forever.

It is our sinful flesh that has brought about death: Betty’s, yours, and mine.  We inherited our sinful flesh from our ancestors, and death is the result of our sinfulness as well.  And there is nobody who is perfect, nobody who is righteous, nobody, not one person, who does not need the salvation of Jesus Christ, the Savior, whose life becomes our life by faith.

Betty confessed this.  Betty lived this.  It is in this faith that she took Holy Communion from me over the many years.  It is why her parents brought her to the baptismal font so that she could be reborn.  For in that encounter with Jesus, she became ready to “depart in peace.”

And though death is not normal or natural (God did not make us to die), though death is terrible (which is why we mourn), and though death is the enemy (it is the wages of sin as Scripture teaches us), it has been defeated by our Lord at the cross.  He died to defeat death, and to give us life.  And He rose from the dead to prove it.

And this is why even when we mourn, even in our sadness, even when we do not want to say goodbye, we can say defiantly with St. Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  And we declare with him: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And so, we claim victory, even now, dear friends.  It is Betty’s victory, because it is Christ’s victory.  We Christians are the victors over sin, death, and the devil; we are victors in Christ.  And this is our sure and certain hope, and Betty’s sure and certain hope: to rise again in the flesh and be reunited in bodies made new and incorruptible. 

One thing that Betty always said when I visited her was how much she loved her children and grandchildren.  This was her favorite topic in the world.  And that love continues, dear brothers and sisters, for Christ has won the victory.  By the promises of our risen Lord, we too will rise triumphant from the grave, and we too will meet her again, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

And in Christ, and according to His ever-reliable Word and promise, we look forward to that great and marvelous day.  Meanwhile, it is normal to mourn.  Mourning is the pain of separation.  But that separation is temporary, dear friends. 

We Christians all around the world greet one another with the word “Peace.”  It is the old Hebrew word “Shalom” with which our Lord greeted the disciples after He rose from the dead.  When Jesus says “Peace,” He means it. He has won it.  And He gives it to us.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  It is peace between God and man, and the peace that gives us the strength to see the joy of victory even as we mourn.  It is the peace of the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.  It is the peace that comforts us to where we too can say, with St. Simeon, with Betty, with all Christians living and departed, declaring victory over death, and peace without end:

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

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 15 – 2015

13 September 2015

Text: Matt 6:24-34 (1 Kings 17:8-16, Gal 5:25-6:10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“What is the first commandment?  You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Our Lord explains the problem with idolatry: it is contrary to the way things are designed to work.  There is only one God.  If one has more than one god, or vacillates between different gods, there is going to be a problem, a conflicting loyalty: “either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

This is why, for example, corporations and governments have an organizational chart and a chain of command. If one person reports to multiple bosses, there will inevitably be conflicting orders and confusion.  But if there is a clear chain of command, that confusion can be diminished.  This is especially crucial in the military, where the rapid carrying out of specific and well-understood plans is necessary to save lives.

But our Lord is dealing with something even more important than life and death on the battlefield.  For He is talking about eternal life and eternal death in a spiritual battlefield.

And so there is indeed a chain of command.  There is a place for all of us creatures in God’s universe.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel struggled with idolatry.  There is a reason why this is the first commandment. When they weren’t carving golden calves, when lay people weren’t usurping the offices of priest and prophet, when they weren’t setting up unauthorized altars, when they weren’t worshiping the goddess symbolized by the asherah pole, when they weren’t offering animal sacrifices to Baal or even human sacrifices to Molech, the people who were redeemed by the living God were committing the more common kind of idolatry, the kind that is also our problem today: refusing to trust in God above all things.

Many times the princes put their trust in the armies they could raise and the chariots they could equip instead of trusting in the God who fought for them.  Many times the people put their trust in princes instead of the God who is the Prince of Peace. And this is also our problem today.

Sometimes it is unreasonable, even outrageous to believe that God can deliver us from the perilous situations we find ourselves in.  But this is precisely what it means to fear, love, and trust – trust – in God above all things.  This is also called “faith.”

The widow of Zerephath had run out of food.  There had been a severe drought, and there was just nothing left to eat.  As for  her and for her son, she was down to her final measly handful of flour and last scarce drops of oil.  This was to be her last meal, and she was preparing to eat it and die with her son.  However, the prophet came to her with an outrageous suggestion: “Make me a sandwich.”  That’s not exactly what he said, but it’s close.  Imagine, this prophet of God ordering her to feed him, even as she was watching her only son whom she loved condemned to a slow and agonizing death by starvation.

But notice what Elijah the prophet tells her on behalf of the living God: “Do not fear; go and do as I have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

He tells the woman not to fear death, but to rather fear God – for no man can serve both death and God.  He bids her to trust God enough to make an immediate offering to God through his prophet, trusting God, even in this outrageous situation, even though all seems so bleak.  For indeed, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

At this point, she could have feared death instead of fearing God; she could have loved her own life and that of her son before she loved God; she could have trusted in the time she could have bought by this one final meal instead of trusting in God above all things.

But hearing this Word of God preached by the prophet, the widow has faith.  Her faith was reflected in her works.  For “she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and he and her household ate for many days.  The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.”

“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

For “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money.”

Our Lord cautions that we are not to be anxious about our life, but rather to trust in God above all things.  Because life – the life that is a gift from our Creator, the life that He has redeemed by the blood of Christ, the life that is sustained by the Holy Spirit – life is “more than food” and the body is “more than clothing.” 

Our blessed Lord calls us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  For even the birds of the air do a better job of this than we do. 

This is indeed one of the great weaknesses we Americans have.  We are a wealthy people.  We may not feel like we are, but compared to the billions of people on the planet, we live like kings.  We enjoy conveniences and technology and housing and medical care and leisure time and the choicest of food and clothing that the planet has to offer – and we are tempted to fear, love, and trust in them above all things.

For money is simply a trading device so that we can buy stuff: possessions, be they necessities or luxuries.  Money is a convenient medium of trade, but it can give us the illusion that it is what creates wealth rather than the blessings of God.  For crops grow only when God provides good weather.  Our labor thrives only when God provides good health.  Our commodities make it to market only when God provides peaceful commerce.  And this is why, dear friends, it is a custom among Christians to say “grace” that is “gratias” – thank you – by offering a table prayer before every meal.

For we cannot and dare not serve two masters.  Money is to be our servant, not our master.  Money is a creature, not our Creator.  We are to offer the first fruits of our labor, typically in the form of money, to God; we are not to sacrifice God and His worship upon the altar of work and leisure and money.  For God has given us His Word and calls us to “fear, love, and trust” in Him above all things.  This is what Christian stewardship is.  He blesses us, and we return ten percent of our blessings in gratitude.  We return a portion of our time (being here) our talent (our works) and our treasure (our money), to the God whom we fear, love, and trust above all things.  And these love offerings and thank offerings keep our church going.  They take care of those in need. They insure that the continuation of the proclamation of the prophetic Word of God in our community and around the world continues.  They invest in the future by providing now for our children and descendants yet to come.

And like the widow of Zerephath, we are called to be faithful and to trust in God’s providence for us and for our children, in good times and in bad, in feasts and in famine, in the slums of India and in the suburbs of Indiana, among the poor widows and among the blessed comfortable.

For no matter who we are, how much we have or what we lack, we are called upon to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” For indeed, “no one can serve two masters” – be they pagan gods or pounds of gold.  For we have a promise that God has made to us, to each one of us, dear brothers and sisters. He claimed us at baptism, forgiving us all of our sins, and receiving us under His chain of command, His divine organizational chart within His divine Church.  He celebrated a last meal of bread and wine with us – a Eucharistic (thanksgiving) meal that continues until He returns, until the day that the Lord returns and sends his reign – His kingly reign – upon the entire new heavens and new earth in eternity.

He assures us that we matter more to Him than the carefree sparrows.  For God did not become a sparrow, but a Man – a Man who went to the cross as the complete payment for our sins, our redemption and ransom, the One who also rose from death to defeat death once and for all, and to subdue Satan forever. Indeed, death is not to be feared, loved, or even trusted – as many in our culture of death seem to embrace it today. 

Rather embracing a culture of life – eternal life - we are to joyfully serve Him who has served us, our Master who has become our Servant.  For no one can serve two masters.

What does this mean?  It means that by His grace and love and mercy, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  Amen.

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