Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2017

18 June 2017

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a word that is used a lot in our culture, in the movies and TV, in internet memes, on bumper stickers and in casual conversation: the word “karma.”

Karma is about people getting what they deserve. Karma is a sense of justice, where the thief gets his stuff stolen, the bully gets bullied, and the tables are turned.

It is very easy to interpret the Lord’s story about Lazarus and the Rich Man through the eyes of karma.  In this parable, the rich man was uncaring and selfish.  He ignored the pleas of poor Lazarus, and instead enjoyed the luxuries of his own life.  And he, according to our Lord’s words, who received “good things” in his life, ends up in hell, in “anguish,” begging for a single drop of water.  But poor Lazarus, whom the Lord says, “received… bad things” in this life, now enjoys the bliss of heaven, being “comforted.” 

Everybody can see this great turn of the tables.  And who cannot relate to the idea that the rich, the one percent, the privileged, the bosses, the brass, the white collars, the CEOs, the elites, whom we assume all got their wealth by oppressing others, dishonestly, hatefully, and probably illegally as well.  Certainly not morally.  This parable is a passage that Karl Marx might have appreciated, but of course, he thought Christianity was a trick of the rich to deceive the poor.  At any rate, there is always someone richer, more blessed, with possessions that we can’t afford, enjoying a life that we might be envious of. And even someone who is consider rich can be dissatisfied with what he has in this life, for there is always someone richer.

And who cannot identify with poor Lazarus?  Who hasn’t been bullied or mistreated or ignored?  Who hasn’t fantasized about revenge on those who got over on us, who bullied us, who raised themselves up by tearing us down?

In fact, a very easy reading of this lesson of our Lord would fit on a bumper sticker about karma.

Karma turned on the rich man, and he is in hell.  Karma elevated the poor man, and he is in bliss.  Karma seems great!  At least as long as you are the oppressee and not the oppressor; as long as you are the poor guy, not the rich guy.

But there are a couple problems here, dear friends.  First, karma is not a Christian concept.  It comes from Hinduism.  It comes from a religion that teaches that there are many gods, and that human beings reincarnate after they die to move up or down the food chain based on karma.  In the religion of karma, there is no grace, no forgiveness, no cross, no Son of God, no divine mercy - “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky” as John Lennon said in the famous song.

Secondly, in the religion of karma, there is a great impersonal cosmic scorekeeper that records every sin “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”  Karma purports to compare everyone’s life to the standard of cosmic goodness, to divinity or sainthood, and then bump you up or down at the end of your life.  And with no mercy, no forgiveness, and no loving God to drag you out of the pit of hell, you simply come back to life as a dog or a toad or an earthworm, only to repeat the cycle again and again and again.

So how does karma sound now, dear friends?

Christians should never speak of karma.  It is a deception of the devil to make you self-righteous.  For in the religion of karma, everybody sees himself as Lazarus, and not the rich man.  Everybody judges himself not by the Ten Commandments but by some attainable goal of external good deeds, without looking too much under the hood.  

Now, to be sure, Scripture does warn us that we will reap what we sow.  If we persist in lying, we will eventually get caught.  If we persist in drinking and driving, we will eventually get arrested, injured, or killed.  If we treat others contemptuously, we will eventually get our comeuppance.

But this is just common sense, dear friends.  It isn’t karma. 

For we don’t worship many gods, we worship the one true God, the one who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And the Son took flesh.  The Son died a sacrificial and substitutionary death for you, and for the life of the world.  The Son shed His blood on the cross not so that we would get what we deserve (as in the religion of karma), but rather so that we would get what we don’t deserve (which is the religion of grace, the way of the cross, the mercy of God).

So where is your karma now?  Would you rather be judged by your deeds, or by Christ’s deeds?  Would you rather appeal to your own goodness, or to the blood of Christ?

But what about our Lord’s text?  Doesn’t it say that the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven?  Doesn’t the Lord promote a kind of karma because of the turning of the tables?

No indeed. For we have to be honest with ourselves, dear friends.  Even if you are poor by American standards, you are rich according to the lives of seven billion people on the planet.  You enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of most of the people on the globe.  And how much money do you send to poor people around the world?  How much do you give to the poor here in America?  Maybe you do, but is it enough?  Is it ever enough?  Do you give enough to satisfy karma?  Do you give enough to satisfy the Ten Commandments?  Do you selflessly love your brother and sister even to the detriment of your own life?  Are you perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect?

If not, you need grace, not karma.  You need the Lord Jesus Christ, not the lord Krishna.  You need forgiven of your sins, not rewarded and repaid for those times when you have been bullied and put upon.

For in our text, we have to avoid the karmic temptation to envision ourselves only as poor Lazarus, while we imagine someone we don’t like cast in the role of the Rich Man.

Dear friends, we are the Rich Man in the story.  Even if we give to the poor, we have mixed motives.  We are selfish and we delight in our own entertainments – great and small.  We are indeed poor miserable sinners just as surely as the Rich Man was.  We are no better.  The critical difference is that the Rich Man did not heed the warning of Moses and the Prophets.  And the rich man did not have someone who did, in fact, rise from the dead.  Dear friends, we Rich Men have been warned by the One who truly did come to us from the dead, who rose again, and who has sent to us the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth by Word and Sacrament.  We have Jesus who comes to us from beyond the grave in the means in which He has promised, washing us with Holy Baptism, absolving us, preaching to us, and serving us His very body and blood, bearing a promise: not of karma, but of grace, the forgiveness of sins and eternal communion with God.

And there is more good news, dear friends.  We are indeed Lazarus as well.  We come to the gate of heaven laden with sores – physically and mentally wounded, festering with aches and pains and sins and injuries.  We carry heavy baggage, perhaps not unlike the chains we forged in life, as the character Marley from “A Christmas Carol.”  And yet, we are comforted by the Gospel; we are graced by the Word of God calling us to repentance and new life now, and not when it is too late. We have the promise of being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”

And we don’t get what we deserve – Lord, have mercy!  We get what Christ deserves – Christ have mercy!  We are not saved by our own works of karma, but rather by the Lord’s works of grace – Lord have mercy!

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sermon: Holy Trinity – 2017

11 June 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Religions that are made-up by men generally have either one singular god and are monotheistic, or they have a plurality, that is, many gods, and are polytheistic.  

But of course, the real world is never quite so simple.  The real God is both singular and plural at the same time.  The real God is indeed one, but the real God is also three.  

You can’t make this up.

For Christianity is the only religion that has an eternal and yet incarnate God who died and rose again – and there is an empty tomb that bears witness that this isn’t just a myth told by men.  For once again, the human myths either describe a logical unitary god, or a great logical hierarchy of competing gods.

Christianity is the only faith that can say, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “God loved the world.”  And in the Old Testament, this word for “God” is plural, though every verb that goes with it is singular.  And this God sent “His Son,” – whom John had just a couple chapters past called “the Word” and said that “in the beginning” this “Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, how can the Son be God and be with God at the same time?

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  We believe, as Scripture teaches, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is into this one name that we are baptized: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  We are not baptized into three names, but “in the name.”  Or as we said in the creed: “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”  We say this because “the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.”

This is why St. Paul uses an unusual word in the letter to the Romans that we just heard: “inscrutable.”  God’s ways are “inscrutable.”  The word in Greek means that it can’t be traced out on paper.  It cannot be grasped by the human mind.  God’s ways are simply unknowable to us.  God Himself is a mystery.  But we do know quite a bit about Him from His own revelation to us in the Bible.  We can’t understand the Trinity, but we can confess it.  We can’t explain it, but we can teach it.  We can’t wrap our minds around it, but we can believe it.

And, dear friends, to believe in God is to worship God.  For if you truly believe that He exists, that He created all things, if you truly believe that a man can be “born again” being born this second time “of water and the Spirit,” being baptized into this inscrutable and mysterious name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then you will worship this God.  For the faith, the true faith, the Christian faith, the “catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

The one true faith is the Trinitarian faith.  Everything else is a human, manmade religion, a mere myth that suits the mind of man.  But our God, as revealed in Scripture, doesn’t conform to our logic, but rather calls upon us to conform to His will.

Now, maybe all of this just sounds like theological jargon, something for ivory tower debate that has no effect on our lives in the real world.  Nothing can be further from the truth, dear friends.  For it matters what you believe.  Do you worship the true, inscrutable God, the one who is “holy, holy, holy,” the “Lord of hosts,” the omnipotent and omnipresent almighty Creator, or do you worship a God who can safely be tucked away within the confines of a logic textbook?

The fathers of the church understood that without faith in the true God, man is lost: for the true God “so loved the world” that His Son became incarnate, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus Christ, the one who in the beginning was both “God” and one who was “with God,” for He hasn’t come to us to confuse us, but to save us.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  

This, dear friends, is why we are born again of water and the Spirit, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for as our Lord explicitly taught us: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  Saved, dear friends, that is, rescued from sin, death, and the devil, pulled out of the grave and out of hell that we might not perish “but have eternal life!”

We don’t have to understand how this works, we simply have to believe it, trusting in the Word of God, in His mercy, in His love for us, and in His desire that we be saved.  For that is the message of the cross, the result of the Lamb’s pure sacrifice, and the very reason we are born again by water and the Word.  This is why we are here: to worship this God, to sing praise to the Father, to joyfully receive the Son in His body and blood, and to be drawn into this one true faith by the Holy Spirit.  And through this faith which we confess, which receives the grace and love of the Triune God, the faith that confesses the Holy Trinity and the person of Jesus, we are born again, born to eternal life, born to walk out of our own graves, born to live forever in joyful communion with the one true God.

And like Isaiah, the “mighty seer of old” who was “high and lifted up” to the throne of the thrice-holy God, a “burning coal” from the altar is placed upon our lips, and though we are people of unclean lips, we have the promise of the Triune God Himself: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.”  “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “This is the catholic faith” into which we are baptized,

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

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sermon: Pentecost – 2017

4 June 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The people of God have places to go and things to do.

At the end of our Lord’s teaching, He says, “Rise, let us go from here.”

Not long after this, our Lord will indeed “go from here,” from life in this fallen world to death.  And He will also “rise.”  He will destroy death.

And after He has risen, He will again say, “Go… Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  He tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The people of God have places to go and things to do.

And “when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”  They didn’t stay huddled together in one place for very long.  For the Holy Spirit came to them, and dispersed them, spreading out over the known world, making disciples by baptism and teaching, by Word and Sacrament, establishing churches and spreading the Gospel.  

And not even the language barrier from the curse of Babel got in the way, because the Holy Spirit gave them the gift to speak in foreign languages – and this jump-started proclamation enabled the Gospel and its preachers to disperse themselves all over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all over the known world of their time.  And their successors would board ships and bring the Gospel to the New World, to Asia, to Australia, to Africa, and into great cities and tiny villages around the world.  Places to go, indeed!

Just before the events of the Tower of Babel, Noah’s family left the ark.  The Lord told them to “fill the earth” with new life.  But the flood did not eradicate all sin from the earth, and the people found a great location, a “plain in the land of Shinar,” and instead of dispersing and filling the earth, they “settled there.”  Rather than establishing villages around the world, they concentrated in one place, and even set about building a skyline with their new technology of brick and mortar.  They began to dream of divine power.  Their technology made them think they were godlike: “Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

They had places to go, but didn’t want to go.  They had things to do, but didn’t want to do them.  They had become arrogant and disobedient, full of themselves and forgetful of their own history.  The “children of man” began to regard their tower to the heavens more highly than the Creator of the heavens.  

And in spite of their desire to remain and not do as God instructed them, God Himself would let them know that they indeed had places to go and things to do.  He confused their tongues along tribal lines.  They could no longer engage in a massive building project. The tower came to naught, and was abandoned.  They could no longer cooperate and live together in one place as a multilingual multiculturalism split their once unified city into rival factions.  “And from there, the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

This was a renewal of the Lord’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” and to exercise dominion over the world.  The “children of man” indeed had places to go and things to do.  For God has a plan and a will, and it is His will that human beings multiply and rule the earth.

It was God’s will that one of those tribes, the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Judah, who had been dispersed to the fertile land between Egypt and Syria, in their fruitfulness and multiplication, would bring forth the Messiah, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice would redeem man from the curse of sin, including the curse of Babel.  For the Lord’s coming to forgive our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift is good news indeed.  And good news is meant to be told, not hoarded.  It is meant to be spread abroad, not kept bottled up in a single place.  The disciples were to be witnesses – those who see and testify, and their testimony is to spread abroad like a fire raging out of control, a proclamation that does not respect border or tribe, but which subsumes every race and ethnicity that it encounters, like a flame that cannot be controlled.

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” – independent of language or location or parentage.  Baptism transcends language; the Lord’s Supper transcends location; the Fatherhood of God transcends all earthly parentage.  

And though we may not see the unique signs and wonders of that first Pentecost today, we nevertheless still experience the Holy Spirit’s work as He “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  We still experience the power of the Word of God to transform individuals and build up the church in faraway nations – bringing entire tribes of people into the ark of salvation, and calling men to preach and teach and evangelize in even more languages and tongues.

And while most of us are not called to serve in foreign mission fiends, dear friends, our own country has become a mission field.  We are getting closer to that time when African missionaries may need to be dispersed to our Babylonian cities: technological wonders lined with skyscrapers, in order that we hear the word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel, the call to repent, and the good news that Jesus has come to redeem us from death and hell itself, to bring us out of Babel into the City of God, a glorious metropolis of the saints that extends from earth into the heavens for all eternity.

And there is a world that needs to hear this good news.  Yes, indeed, dear brothers and sisters, the people of God have places to go and things to do.

“Rise, let us go from here.”  Amen.

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sermon: Funeral for Shirley Peterson

30 May 2017

Text: John 10:10b-15; 27-30 (Job 19:23-27a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

To those of you with military connections, you know just how glorious that word “peace” is.  Peace means being with those whom we love.  It means being freed up from the worry of suddenly being deployed elsewhere.  It means not being in harm’s way.

It is also the first word used by Jesus when He spoke to His disciples after His resurrection.  Ever since that day, Christians have greeted one another with: “Peace be with you.”

For ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, we, humanity, have been at war: with God and with one another.  Is any family not affected by this warfare?  Think about life in this fallen world: violence, disease, broken families, addictions, relationships gone bad, greed, lust, dishonesty – even things beyond our control like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other things that bring us harm.  God did not create a world like this.  It was brought into chaos that first time our ancestors disobeyed God and sought their own way.

And the worst plague of all is death.  None of us are exempt.  It takes everyone, regardless of how good we may seem on the exterior, for we are all sinners, and we are all at war with God – whether openly or secretly.  We all suffer the marks of that first sin, and it has been passed on to us, like a genetic disease.

But the good news is that Jesus came to rescue us.  He broke into our world, behind enemy lines, and He died in our place, paying the price of our sins: yours, mine, and Shirley’s. And in rising from the grave, Jesus set a course for us to rise also.  For death has been defeated, and Jesus bids us to follow Him.  

He commanded His disciples to themselves make disciples: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Shirley was placed under Christ’s protection when she was baptized.  For just as Jesus is a fierce warrior against the enemy, He is also a gentle “good shepherd” to those who follow Him.

“My sheep hear My voice,” He says, “and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will be able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  This is what Jesus says today concerning your beloved Shirley.

Jesus knows Shirley, because she was baptized according to His command and promise.  God worked that out as part of His rescue plan.  And though death is still a reality in this fallen world, Shirley, and all who have been baptized, all who confess the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, all who die in this reality, being baptized into His death, look forward to a resurrection like His, as scripture teaches us.

And so even in our fallen world of war and disease and crime and broken families, broken relationships, and even the devastating pain of the temporary separation that is death itself, we have peace, the kind of peace that isn’t merely a lack of fighting, but a true peace that passes all understanding, the peace of Christ, the peace of Him who died and rose again, and who promises the very same bodily resurrection that life in a perfect world to be remade without death.

We look forward to the resurrection, when we will again stand in our bodies made new, as Job said, “in my flesh I shall see God.”  In the flesh, dear friends, meaning you will again be reunited with Shirley.  You will hug her and look into her eyes, she will smile at you, and you will have all of eternity to spend together.

This peace of Christ means that the war is ended.  In Christ, we can say with St. Paul: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory.  O death, where is your sting?”  Yes, we feel that sting now, but Shirley doesn’t.  And that sting is ultimately temporary, for all who are baptized and believe will likewise rise again to newness of life in the flesh.

So, dear friends, it is fitting that we mourn.  It is natural that we are grieved.  But we grieve in hope.  For Jesus has come to give us this peace: the peace that conquers death itself. 

“Peace be with you.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) – 2017

28 May 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord’s warning seems to have been ripped from the headlines: “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

In the history of the church, Christians have been persecuted and killed by Jews, Romans, factions within the church itself, by native peoples served by missionaries, by Atheist revolutionaries such as the Jacobins in the French revolution, the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution, and their Communists comrades in Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and other Marxist totalitarian states.

But today, we are seeing more persecution of Christians by those who truly believe they are “offering service to God” – those who hold the religion of Islam.

Just this past Friday, yet another incident happened in Cairo, Egypt.  A caravan of Christians on a trip to visit a monastery was stopped by men impersonating police forces.  All of these Christians: men, women, and children, were ordered off the buses.  Twenty eight were shot in old blood.  Twenty eight men, women, and children were killed in the name of offering service to a false god called Allah in devotion to a false prophet named Muhammad.

And Jesus explains why they do this: “They will do these things because they have not known the Father nor Me.”

These people do not worship the true God.  For if they did, they would not consider it “offering service to God” to slaughter those created in the image of God in this way.

Our Lord tells us that this would happen immediately after reminding us that “the Helper” is coming, He whom Jesus “will send to [us] from the Father.”  This Helper bears witness about Jesus, even as this Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, brings us into all truth.

We know who this Helper is, for Jesus told us that He is the Holy Spirit, who indeed came to the Holy Christian Church on Pentecost, accompanied by signs and miracles and courageous preaching and the baptism of some three thousand people.  Next week, the church throughout the world will hear and ponder anew this fact of history and this remarkable empowerment of the church through the Third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

But there are some who think they know better than two thousand years of Christianity, than the fathers of the church, than the Bible, than even our Lord Jesus Himself!  There is a Baptist pastor named the Reverend Ian Mevorach who claims to have the answer to the violence that plagues the church at the hands of Islam.

Instead of understanding that the Helper that our Lord spoke of refers to God the Holy Spirit, we could just change our interpretation to believe that this Helper is Muhammad, as the Muslims do, as the terrorists who shot our martyred brothers and sisters do.  Yes, this activist pastor with a doctorate degree from Boston University and a journalism job with the powerful Huffington Post actually suggests that if only Christians become Muslims, then we could stop the violence.  He says, “the time has surely come to recognize [Muhammad] as a prophet.”  He says, “I invite Christians everywhere to look carefully at our scriptures, search our souls, consider our history, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in answering the question: ‘Has the time come for Christians to see Muhammad as Spirit of Truth?’”

I find it very hard to believe that we are not living in the very end of time.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Our Lord Jesus warned us that things would begin to get very grave for the church as that time approaches.  Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart – not in 30 AD, not in 1530 AD, not in 2017 AD, and not when He returns amid the tribulation and persecution of those whose hope lies in Him and in His cross.

Dear friends, more Christians are being martyred today than ever before in history.  Our Lord warned His disciples, which includes us, concerning these things, “to keep you from falling away.”  Indeed, as the Lord’s apostle St. Peter spoke to us anew: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Indeed, in the history of the church, what is strange is when we Christians have been at peace, unafraid of violent attacks from those of other religions, from Atheists, and from governments, foreign and domestic.  Those are the unusual times in our history.  We Americans still live with a great degree of freedom to believe, to worship, and to express our faith.  But that could change, dear friends, and it could change quickly.  Remember what our Lord said, “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.”

For nothing is more important that your Christian faith.  Nothing.  Not your education.  Not your job.  Not your house.  Not your life.  

We must not take our faith for granted, nor ever tire of hearing His Word and partaking of His sacrament.

We must pray for strength in times of persecution.  We must pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit.  We must pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, for our country, for our churches, and for our children.  We must study and teach, learn and catechize.  We must worship and join in the church’s ongoing eternal liturgy in song and in sacrament.  We must fortify ourselves and our youth, for Jesus says: “They will do these things.”  They will. 

And St. Peter tells us that when these things happen, “rejoice, insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Peter cuts to the chase: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

We must truly take to heart what Dr. Luther taught us to recite: “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.”

The True Faith, dear friends, the faith given to us by the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to Jesus, to the One who suffered infinitely more for us than we could ever suffer for His sake, He who died upon the cross as the complete and final sacrifice for our sins, whose blood brings us into perfect communion with God by the forgiveness of sins and the full and free gift of eternal life.  And not even death can sever us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

No matter what happens, in times of prosperity or want, in times of comfort or persecution, let us remember and confess the Word of God, the promise spoken through the true prophet Ezekiel, “I will put My Spirit within you….And you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” 

“To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sermon: Ascension – 2017

25 May 2017

Text: Acts 1:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

One of the last things our Lord said to His disciples before His ascension into heaven was: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

And He wasn’t going to be with them in the same way after his impending ascension, to answer questions, to straighten them out, to strengthen them for the tasks at hand.  He was to be with them as He is with us: in Word and Sacrament.  But they were still going to be His witnesses in His returning to the Father.

A witness is one who sees, and then tells what he has seen.  A witness testifies, usually in some official way.  For testimony is a very serious thing, often a matter of life and death.

Some 30 years ago, I worked for a county sheriff in Ohio.  He was a godly and honest man who liked police work but did not like politics.  One day he vanished.  He disappeared into thin air.  This is because he was in the Witness Protection Plan.  He was called upon to testify against some very powerful people, and in order to protect his life, he was given a new life: a new name, a new city, a new job, a new driver’s license, and a new made-up history.  For his protection, his former life had to be extinguished, and he could never again see the people he knew in that former life.

Being a witness, especially one who testifies, is indeed a life and death matter.  

The Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, which is where we get the word “martyr.”  A martyr is a witness who gives his testimony, and that testimony costs him his life.  The witness of a martyr is very powerful, for the martyr values the truth of what he has seen and heard, and the confession of that testimony, even more than he values his life.  The testimony of a witness is powerful, because if it weren’t true, it would be easy to avoid torture and death and walk away from the resultant suffering.

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells the eleven that they will be His witnesses, and that they would spread out from there to the city, to the region, and to the very ends of the globe.  And within a few decades, the entire Roman Empire would be flecked with Christian congregations, with bishops and deacons and adult converts and baptized babies.  The church would grow mightily through the preaching of the apostle-witnesses.  For Jesus also promised them something else to empower their testimony and proclamation, namely, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

The Holy Spirit was to be sent in a few days, at Pentecost, and the apostolic preaching would go forth from that Upper Room in Jerusalem literally into all the earth, in every language, to every tribe and tongue and people.  And within less than 300 years, less than the age of the City of New Orleans, the Holy Christian Church was to conquer the unholy Roman Empire itself, not with spears and swords, but with preaching and Holy Baptism.  

And the eleven would themselves suffer for their testimony.  All but one would die as tortured prisoners for their testimony of Christ, and the only one who was not killed, St. John, would suffer exile on the Island of Patmos.  

These apostles would also ordain other men into this preaching office.  They would baptize children and adults and administer the Lord’s Supper to people who would themselves become martyrs in many cases.  And though these preachers and these hearers would die, some in their beds, others at the stake or at the arena, the witnesses would never run out.  The work of the Holy Spirit continues anew.  The preaching goes forth with each succeeding generation.  The sacraments are administered and received.  Satan is defeated.  The grave is defanged.  Sin is cast aside.  Communion with God continues to go forth among the people gathered around the witnesses and their proclamation.

And after the eleven watched the Lord ascend back to the Father, as they gazed in wonder at the heavens, as they now had to lead the church without the familiar sight of the Lord Jesus Christ in their midst, two angels scold them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?”  Indeed, there is work to do.  There is testimony to give.  There are disciples to be made through baptism.  There are sins to be forgiven through absolution.  There is communion with God to be had through the eucharist.  These apostles will write and they will preach.  They will teach, and they will serve as bishops of the Church.  But most of all, they will be our Lord’s witnesses, bearing the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, for as long as the Father gives them life and breath in this world.

And so we continue, dear friends, we continue to carry out our work here on earth, in this fallen world, being a lifeline to those who will hear and heed our testimony, those who are moved by the Holy Spirit to be redeemed and made new, even in this age of skepticism and martyrdom, even as the Church continues in the work her Lord has given us to do, spreading the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, until that day in which He “will come in the same way as [they] saw Him go into heaven,” the day of judgment and the day of the restoration of paradise.

This is our testimony, for we too are witnesses.  Amen!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6) – 2017

21 May 2017

Text: John 16:23-33 (Numbers 21:4-9, Jas 1:22-27)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“I have said these things to you in figures of speech.  The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

Sometimes, it’s best to beat around the bush.  We sometimes soften bad news by using softer language.  We sometimes avoid things not appropriate for children by using figurative language.  Sometimes, our audience may not be ready to hear everything we would like to tell them, so we start small, and work our way toward full disclosure.

Jesus often spoke in “figures of speech” – often in parables.  And some people would “get it,” and others would be puzzled.  Our Lord’s revelation of Himself wasn’t spoken to the disciples all at once.  He spoke in parables, performed miracles, and preached on the prophetic Scriptures that referred to Him.  He gradually revealed more and more about Himself and the divine plan. 

At first, the only ones who seemed to know the whole truth about Him were the demons, who confessed that Jesus is the “Son of the Most High” – and Jesus silenced them.  It wasn’t yet time for everyone to be told everything.  Learning about Jesus was a process.

And so, some people would get frustrated and leave, while others were willing to leave absolutely everything behind to follow Him.

In His three years of ministry, Jesus would reveal various truths about who He is and what He is doing in our world.  And Jesus did indeed speak in figures of speech.  But when they saw Him die on the cross, and when they saw Him rise again – there was no more need for figures of speech.  For they saw the revelation of who He is and what He does for us: the Lamb of God who came into the world to die in our place, to grant us forgiveness of sins, and to bring us to everlasting life.  For the lamb was just a figure pointing to the reality of the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.  And the Passover was just a figure pointing to the reality of the true flesh and blood of the Son of God being given to us to consume and receive, holy things for holy people, so that the angel of death would indeed pass over the tent of our flesh once and for all!

It was at the cross where Jesus truly revealed the Father – for Jesus is the very icon of the self-sacrificing, limitless love that is God in the flesh. 

But even before His passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus begins to fill in the missing pieces of our understanding of who He is: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.  I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world, and going to the Father.”

Here we see the plain truth, with no beating around the bush.  Jesus speaks plainly.  For our Lord came from the Father into the world, “of the Father’s love begotten,” and He did so because the Father loves us.  For we love the Son, the image of the Father, who has come to save us.  And so in Christ, the Lord answers our prayer.  And our greatest prayer of all, dear friends, is “Lord, have mercy!”  For apart from that divine mercy, we are left with nothing other than sin and death and hell.  But in Christ, in the love of the Father, in the One who is going to the cross and ascending to the Father, in Him, our greatest enemy is vanquished: death itself.

I was recently challenged by a young person as to what our church does.  I told her that we raise the dead.  For we baptize, and preach, and absolve, and commune.  Jesus comes to us where and how He has promised to do so, and He does so plainly without figurative language: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…; Take, eat, take drink…; Father, forgive them.”  And as St. Paul teaches us, “We were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united in a resurrection like His.” 

“Ah, now You are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!” we can say with the original disciples in response to the Word of God.  Jesus has come to raise us from death by forgiving our sins. 

For Jesus speaks plainly through the Word.  And so “we know that [He knows] all things.”  We do not need to question Him. And we believe that He came from God.

For just as the children of Israel saw the figure of the bronze serpent on the pole, that moved them from death to life, so now in Christ, there is no figure, but rather the Man Jesus lifted upon the cross, so that all who look to Him “shall live.”

Indeed, dear friends, in Christ, we do not need to beat around the bush.  We are given forgiveness, life, and salvation as a free gift, and we are called to live holy lives, even as James speaks plainly and without figurative language, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  For in doing, that is, in living and following and being shaped by the plain-spoken Word of God, we are “blessed in our doing.”

Dear brothers and sisters, the plainspoken truth is this: Jesus has died to give you everlasting life as a gift, and having received that gift, you are freed up to have religion that is “pure and undefiled before God, the Father” – a religion that not only hears, but does, – a religion that, without figures of speech but speaking plainly – raises the dead!  Amen!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) – 2017

14 May 2017

Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Before His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples what was going to happen.  He told them that they were going to Jerusalem.  He told them He was going to be arrested.  He told them He would be tortured, mocked, and crucified.  He told them He would die.  He told them He would rise again.

Their response typically was to just ignore it.  Maybe they thought this was some kind of parable.  Maybe they just couldn’t wrap their heads around the promised Messiah dying on a cross. Maybe they had visions of crowns of gold for them rather than a crown of thorns for Him.

Jesus notes that none of them asks Him: “Where are You going?”  And our blessed Lord tells them why they don’t: “Sorrow has filled your heart,” He says.

They were sorrowful because they knew deep down that things were going to change.  We don’t like change, but change is part of this fallen world.

If our world were perfect, it wouldn’t change.  It would remain perfect.  And James tells us in our epistle reading that God Himself, the eternal and perfect Creator is the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

The first change that removed us from our perfect unchanging condition of perfect unity with God and with creation was sin: the disobedience of our ancestors in the garden.  God didn’t change, but our relationship to Him did.  Our communion with Him was broken.  We changed because we then knew good and evil.  We chose evil.  We became mortal.  We invited death and corruption to be part of our fallen human existence.  

Of course, in our fallen world, not all change is bad.  Sometimes things change for the better.  And we certainly thank God for those kinds of changes.  But there is one change that we all have to look forward to, one that in the words of our Lord, causes sorrow to fill our hearts: we are mortal.  We will die.  Death is the wages of sin, and it is where we are all going.  Death separates us from those we love.  And no amount of money or power can prevent it.  Death is the great equalizer, and it is ruthless.

But, dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus does what we cannot do: He defeats death.  He slays the devil.  He forgives our sins and restores us to perfect communion with God.  And He is restoring the world to its perfection, where we will once more enjoy unity with God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

And part of our Lord’s going away involved a change of a different kind: His ascension to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church, “the Spirit of Truth” who “will guide you into all the truth.”

Our Lord goes to the Father and encourages us to change for the better, to grow up, to take leadership.  For though He doesn’t abandon us, He chooses to work indirectly in this world through His church.  He uses pastors to baptize us, to forgive us, and to feed us with the body and blood of Christ.  He uses fathers to sire us, mothers to birth us, parents to nurture us, and all of the above and many others to teach us the truth: to educate us about the world and to catechize us about the faith.  

Our Lord sends the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to gather us into the church and to “declare to us the things that are to come.”  The Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life, has given us the Holy Scriptures: the living, breathing, revelation of God.

And though we, like the disciples, often do not want to face the truth, though the truth sometimes brings us sorrow, we also know that our sorrow is temporary.  For Jesus has not come to bring us sorrow, but rather joy.  Jesus has not come to leave us slumbering in the grave, but rather to awaken us to everlasting life.  Jesus has not come to preside over a fallen world in constant need of repair, but rather to reign over a restored and perfect universe of the redeemed who will live forever in peace and joy.

Dear friends, though we surely deserve the wrath of God on account of our sins, because of the cross, by virtue of the blood of the Lamb, though the love of the Son for us and by His obedience to His Father’s will, we receive pardon and peace and mercy and joy instead.

As the prophet Isaiah prayed, so do we: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.”

This comfort spoken of by the prophet is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, dear friends, He who went away for our advantage, who has sent the Helper to guide us into all the truth, and who is coming again in glory.

This is our comfort!  This is our joy!  “Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”

This is why more than a billion Christians on the planet refer to this Sunday as “Cantate” – “sing.”  For we opened this service by singing together the song of the Psalmist: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!  Alleluia!  His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.  Alleluia!”

We sing, dear friends, because Jesus has triumphed.  Our song is new because we are made new: victorious over sin, Satan, and yes, even death itself.  And though this fallen world seems to lord over us and beat us down, the world’s seeming victory is just an illusion.  For Christ has triumphed over sin, over the evil one, and even over the grave.  They have no power over us.  They are defanged, crushed, and pulverized into chaff to be blown away with the wind.  For “His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.”

And His victory is our victory.  Our new song is the eternal song of the angels.  Jesus told us what was going to happen.  And He has done it.  Let us cast away all sorrow and celebrate our eternal victory.  Let us sing our song in the faces of our friends and foes alike, for our song is a hymn of adoration to our victorious Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and glory, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) – 2017

7 May 2017

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In all of our ongoing celebrations of the resurrection of our Lord, amid our rejoicing in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and even as we rightfully continue the feast of Easter – a triumph that will indeed continue on into eternity – we dare not forget that we still live in this fallen world. 

Even as we wait for our Lord’s return, we must still contend with the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  Although the war has been won and the ultimate victory is ours, we still find ourselves squaring off in battle.  And though we know how the war turns out, battle is still painful, for this world still conspires against us, the devil still hates us, and our own flesh betrays us.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says our Lord, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”  For lest we become too comfortable and cozy with the world, let’s not forget that the world is our enemy.  We’re in it, but not of it.  And until our Lord’s return and the restoration of paradise, Satan remains the prince of this fallen world, the chief demon at the top of the dunghill, the lord of flies.  And though flies cannot kill us, they nevertheless buzz around us and remind us, like miniature vultures, of the nature of this world: a place of death.

Jesus died to defeat death.  Our Lord’s death assures us that we too will conquer our own death.  And yet this fallen world remains a place of death.  So let’s not become too comfortable in it.

Dear friends, dear Christians, dear brothers and sisters, we are not here in this world to become comfortable with sin, death, and the devil, to excuse them, to see them as benign, or to invite them to dine with us.  We are here to fight the enemy.  We are here to rescue the victims.  We are here to treat the wounded.  We are here to let our light shine in the darkness.  The world is our enemy, and our enemies are prisoners of the darkness.  We are here to show them a more excellent way; we are not here to camouflage ourselves to the shapes and contours of the world.

This reality becomes most apparent to us when the world steps out from behind its façade of tolerance and acceptance and bares its hateful teeth toward us.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  It reminds us of to whom we belong.

Dear Christians, the world hates you.  The world (meaning the larger culture in which we live and work) is hostile to Jesus, hostile to the church, and hostile to you.  They may tolerate you so long as you don’t express any opinion contrary to those positions approved by the world.  They may tolerate you if you keep your religion to yourself.  Maybe.  Don’t be fooled. 

For what does our Lord – the Lord who was Himself crucified as the enemy of this world – what does He tell us will happen?  Not might happen, but will happen: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

The world mocks us and calls us bigots.  The world takes great joy at the fact that the Kleins, followers of Christ Jesus, have been fined $135,000 for not baking a cake. The world cheers when courts who claim to support the constitution rule against our God-given liberty.  The world mocks Baronelle Stutzman, a soft-spoken gray-haired Christian florist who is looking at losing her life savings and even her house, because she refused to accept a job that would have violated her Christian faith and conscience. These are our brothers and sisters whose lives are devastated by the hatred of the world.  And all around the world, our brothers and sisters are being imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded.

When sports, movies, and television, the public schools, the universities, popular music, and every aspect of the culture  all array themselves to be openly hostile to Christianity, and conspire to target your children to pressure them to give up their faith – the world makes it clear that it is not our friend.  We are not welcome in this world, dear friends.

The sooner we come to grips with this reality, the better.

So what do we do?  We do what we have always done: we baptize our babies, we read the Bible to our toddlers, we catechize the youth, we attend worship with our children as they grow, we take part in Holy Communion, we pray, we read scripture, we support our congregation with our presence, with our time, and with our money, we do not back down or compromise, nor do we go out of our way to look for trouble.  We confess our sins and we confess our faith.  We are prepared to give an answer for the hope within us even as we live in the desert of this world that seeks our destruction.

That, dear friends, is how Christians address the sorrow of the world’s hatred.  This is how early Christians could gather at the stadium, not to cheer the team, but to pray and sing hymns before being fed to wild animals in the face of a cheering crowd.  It was abundantly clear that the world hated them.  But they remembered our Lord’s word: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

But, dear friends, we are not abandoned in our sorrow and in the hatred of the world.  We are not left to the tender mercies of our fallen nature, of Satan, nor of the grave.  For we have a Savior who has come to rescue us from the prison of this world and the shackles of the grave.  For our Lord said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joy, dear friends.  Even when the cheering mob assaults us.  Even when the government and the courts seek our destruction.  Even when it seems like our faith will die in a generation because the minds of the young have been poisoned.  Jesus said that our sorrow will “turn into joy.”

It is like when a mother gives birth.  She suffers immensely during labor.  But once the baby has been born, her sorrow turns to joy, and her pain is pushed to the back of her mind, because pain endured out of love is not resented.  Such pain is offered to the beloved, for it is endured for the sake of love.  The love a mother has for her child may be the closest thing we have in this fallen world to the kind of love God has for us, the love we see impaled upon the cross, the love that forgives our sins (though we do not deserve it), the love that destroys the power of the devil (though we often allow temptation to have its way with us), the love that delivers to us everlasting life: the very opposite of the death and decay offered by the world.

Our Lord told us that we are not of the world, the He has overcome the world, and that we will not be overwhelmed by the world.

In fact, dear friends, we should see our trials and tribulations in this world as a blessing.  For we can clearly see who the enemy is.  Far too often, we try to befriend our beguiling foe.  Far too often we think we fit in – when we never will.

Let us take up our cross and remember whom we follow.  Let us not be discouraged, for we know that we will rejoice.  Let us endure our sorrow in good cheer, knowing that the war has already been won by Him who has overcome the world, all for you.


Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2017

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2017
30 April 2017
Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

One of our fathers in the faith, the Blessed Doctor Martin Luther, wrote this:

“Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do,” says Dr. Luther.

This, dear friends, is a beautiful expression of what our Lord says, “I know My own, and My own know Me.”

For our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  He is not just any shepherd, for He isn’t a “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep.”  No indeed!  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd because “He lays down His life for the sheep.” 

Rather than allow the wolf to come and snatch us and scatter us, our Shepherd gathers us into one flock, and He protects us from the wolf.  He will even suffer death upon the cross before He will allow you to become the wolf’s prey.  Is there any other shepherd who stands up for you like this?  Is there any other shepherd so good?

Jesus doesn’t just make promises and talk, rather He takes up His cross, and He speaks words of condemnation to the devil, and words of comfort to His flock.  Our Shepherd’s goodness is in His love for us.  For out of this boundless love and mercy for us, He is willing to suffer and bleed and die – all so that we might live.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is the hallmark of the Good Shepherd. 

He is not just working to make a few bucks off of us, but rather He works in order to take the sins away from us.  He doesn’t only save our lives by defeating the devil, but what’s more, He gives us life – eternal and joyful life – by being our one true Good Shepherd.

For what did the Lord speak through the prophet Ezekiel?  “Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out…. I will seek out… I will rescue.”  He goes on to say that He will bring them out, gather them, bring them in, and feed them.”  The Lord God Himself does this.  He doesn’t leave this to a hired hand.  The Lord, the Son of God Himself, is this very Shepherd!

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus defied evil by rising from the dead.  He confounded the devil and the grave by forgiving our sins and restoring us to the Father unto eternal life.  And so whenever sin tempts you; whenever death haunts you; whenever the devil lies in wait for you, you have a Good Shepherd to defend you: to crack the head of the devil, to defeat death by dying, and by destroying the power of sin.  You do not have a hireling.  No, you have a Good Shepherd, one who wields the shepherd’s crook mightily, all for you, and He does not back down.  And so you can trust Him!  This, dear friends, is the very faith that Luther writes about.

Perhaps in your life you have had a pet that trusted you without wavering – even in frightening or difficult times.  Your animals perceive that you love them and will take care of them.  And if you are a good shepherd of sorts, your pet will show unwavering faith in you.

But in the case of Jesus, He is our truly Good Shepherd.  He is perfect.  His love is perfect.  His care for us is perfect.  And we are not brute beasts, but human beings created in the very image of God.  We are valuable not because of what we can do, but rather because of the love God has for us.  Christ died for us.  That is how valuable we are to Him.

“He Himself,” declares St. Peter, “bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Because of His perfect love toward us, we can perfectly trust Him, for He is the Good Shepherd.

Dear friends, Dr. Luther is right.  Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, we can follow Him implicitly, even trusting our lives to Him a thousand times over without question.

This is the source of our faith: our Good Shepherd in whom we trust, in His promises, in His atonement of us, in His resurrection that points forward to our own resurrection as well.

Dear friends, Your Shepherd is calling you to follow Him.  He is beckoning You to the rich pasture of the eternal feast.  He is inviting you gather with the flock, to remain faithful, to trust Him, and to enjoy the blessings of eternal life.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2017

23 April 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In this second Sunday of Easter, we often focus on the person of St. Thomas the apostle, “Doubting Thomas” as he is often nicknamed.  And Thomas’s confession is dramatic.  But what is far more important than Thomas and his doubt and confession, is the object of his confession: our risen Lord Jesus Christ!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that He was truly dead, and now He truly lives.  What the disciples saw at the cross was not some sort of illusion or trick.  The wounds they saw – including St. John’s gory account of the Roman spear being thrust into our Lord’s side to assure His death through the issue of “the water and the blood” from His body – these mortal wounds were not a clever conspiracy.

But there is so much more that our Lord is teaching us to confess about Him.  For example, our Lord confirms the Most Holy Trinity: “As the Father has sent Me,” He says, “I am sending you.”  And then He breathes on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.  If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

Here we see the Father sending the Son, and the Son sending the Holy Spirit.  Here we see the Most Holy Trinity coming to sinful men, authorizing them to speak on behalf of God, bearing the keys to forgive or to withhold forgiveness from others.

Our Lord gives this authority to those whom He is sending out, which is what the word “apostles” means.  He gives the Holy Spirit to them, so that they can forgive sins.  And they in turn will lay hands on other men to give them the Holy Spirit, so that this ministry of forgiveness and the use of the keys will continue for as long as people need to be forgiven their sins.  Our Lord also passes to them the burden of church discipline, to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant.  

St. Thomas had seen the Lord forgive sins.  He had heard our Lord delegate authority to preachers and send them out bearing Good News, even being empowered with authority over demons.  None of this was Thomas’s stumbling-block.

Rather it was the bodily resurrection of the Lord.  This was, and is, the most difficult – and the most liberating – teaching of the Christian faith.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus being born.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus preaching and teaching.  Nobody has a problem believing that Jesus died.  And truth be told, most people would have no problem with Jesus “going to heaven” and doing whatever disembodied spirits do.  Most people love the idea of Jesus’s “teachings” – especially in matters of ethics, of tolerance, of love, of acceptance, of turning the other cheek and of not being judgmental – even as there are other teachings of Jesus most people would rather ignore.

But where we Christians get real pushback is from what really put Thomas to the test: the physical, bodily resurrection.

Unbelievers tell us it’s a myth (though they cannot explain the empty tomb, the historical accounts of appearances of Jesus, the fact that the apostles chose to die rather than renounce their belief in the risen Jesus, and other such dilemmas).  Some unbelievers weave together laughable theories, such as a botched crucifixion, or a conspiracy to steal the body of Jesus, to lie about it, and then to die under torture rather than admit the truth.  Jews tell us Jesus died, but deny the resurrection.  Muslims deny the execution of Jesus.  Some heretical groups argue that Jesus ceased being divine when He died, while others claim He became an angel after the crucifixion.  

The resurrection of Jesus is both the central tenet of Christianity, and the one that is hardest to believe.  Even Thomas, who witnessed Jesus’s miracles for three years – including the raising of Lazarus from the dead – had trouble believing the testimony of the Marys – and now of the other disciples – that they “had seen the Lord.”

Thomas expresses his resistance to a bodily resurrection by invoking the flesh of Jesus: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”  He simply will not believe in the physical resurrection of the once-dead Jesus.  

He might have believed that the disciples saw an apparition or ghost.  He might have believed that they had some kind of vision or trance.  He might have believed that Jesus spiritually rose from the dead.  But what he could not fathom was a revivified body walking out of His own grave.

But, dear friends, think about what the bodily resurrection of Jesus means!  It means that Jesus has truly overcome sin, because sin leads to death, and death leads to corruption.  Jesus has reversed the process.  Just as His body saw no corruption, and His body rose from death, and because He, the sinless one paid the ransom for us poor miserable sinners, that means that we too can look forward to standing upon our feet, a great army of the redeemed, former dead, dry bones revivified by the Holy Spirit: not to be ghosts or angels or fond memories in someone’s heart, but rather to be restored with sinews, flesh, and skin, to have the spirit blown back into our dead bodies so that, yes indeed, these bones can live!

This is what it means that our Lord Jesus Christ “has overcome the world.”  We live in a fallen world.  Everyone and everything dies.  Every human being is sinful and corrupt and mortal.  That is our world.  We accept it as normal.  “To err is human,” we say.  But Jesus says that to be human is to be in the image of God.  And He leads the way from the tomb to the newness of life, to incorruptibility, to eternal communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

And that communion is fleshly, dear friends.  Jesus communes with us the same way He communes with Thomas: physically, in the body, in the blood of His wounds.  “Put you finger here,” He says to Thomas.  “Take, eat; take drink,” He says to us.  “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And like St. Thomas, many Christians find it hard to believe that the physical Christ is among us.  He is with us in His Word, forgiving our sins by means of the Holy Spirit that He sent to us as pastors bear the keys.  And He is with us in the same risen fleshly body presented to Thomas, being offered to us in the sacrament.  

And what is far more important than our ability to explain what happens in the Lord’s Supper is just who is physically present with us when He comes to us.  He bids us: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And on this day and on every day in which the Lord comes to us in His body and blood, we receive with great joy the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, even as we confess with St. Thomas that the risen Lord Jesus is: “My Lord and my God!” and with St. John that “by believing you may have life in His name.”  “Blessed are those,” says our Lord, who have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon: Easter – 2017

16 April 2017

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!

If you ask Lutherans all around the world, “What is the First Commandment?” they will recite, “You shall have no other gods.”  Then if you ask them, “What does this mean?”  They will reply in whatever language is spoken in their part of the world: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Loving God and trusting God are things that are easy to understand.  Of course, God loves us, so we love Him in return.  Of course, God is faithful, so we trust Him implicitly.  But what is it about God, that the first item on the list is “fear”?

Why should we fear someone that we love and trust?  Several times in the Psalms we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Not the love of the Lord, nor faith in Him, but fear of Him.  

As we get to know God through the Scriptures we learn that we shouldn’t fear Him because He is petty and mean, but rather because He is righteous and just, and we are anything but.  We shouldn’t fear Him because He is sadistic and loves to see us hurt – far from it.  That’s more our attitude toward others. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom because to fear God is to acknowledge His holiness and our unrighteousness.  And it is in understanding this reality, that the entire Bible makes sense, that the Christian faith falls into place, and that we can really grow in our love and trust of God.

One of my former professors observed a few days ago that what plagues our culture and society more than anything (and we, the church are included in this observation), is that we no longer fear God.  I agree with him. For we have reduced God to a fuzzy idea, a superstitious belief not in an Almighty One, but an All Tolerant One.  We don’t feel the need to repent, because God is love.  And since we are saved by grace alone, we don’t have to work hard in the kingdom.  We can be lazy and just take and take without ever doing our duty as believers.  We don’t need to support our brothers and sisters by being at Divine Service, because we are instead thinking about whether or not “we get something out of it.”  It’s all about us.  And if we think we “get more out of” watching TV preachers or looking at facebook stories about religion, or reading our Bible at home instead, then that’s what we do rather than obeying the Lord’s command and invitation.  And since God is a big pushover who doesn’t ask anything of us, we don’t fear His wrath at our self-justifications, that we know deep down inside, are wrong.

As Luther says, “We should fear His wrath and not do anything against” the commandments.  The disciples of Jesus saw firsthand the wrath of God, as did the chief priests, the scribes, the soldiers, the Pharisees, the crucified robbers, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, and all of the witness of the crucifixion, friends and enemies alike.  They saw the skies darken, the earthquake, the bodies of some of the saints emerging from the graves, the curtain of the temple torn from top to bottom.  They saw Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in real time.  They saw blood and gore and torture, the worst miscarriage of justice in history, and the confirmation that the most righteous Man the world has ever seen, was truly dead, as blood and water poured from a gash in his chest made by a Roman spear.  They saw the bloodied and mangled corpse of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead, the One who fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, the One who cast out countless demons and cured myriads of the sick – hastily laid out on a slab in a garden tomb as the High Sabbath Day came rushing in with the setting of the sun.

Good Friday was a frightful time, a day when the fear of God was on full display, and the wrath of God was poured out upon the Lamb.

But we are now at Easter morning.  Jesus has risen!  He has borne the wrath of God for us, and now He lives!  What is there to be afraid of?

It has always struck me as ironic that the last word in the Easter Gospel reading is: “afraid.”  It is said about the Marys, the very first witnesses of the resurrection: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

After all the terrors that they saw on Good Friday, why are they afraid now?

Actually, it makes perfect sense.  Fear is a natural reaction to being jolted out of a normal situation.  Our hearts race, our breathing quickens, and adrenaline courses our veins, making us tremble, and filling us with nervous energy.  This is how our bodies react to the unknown, to things that perplex us, to situations that unnerve us.

The Marys went to the tomb on Sunday morning expecting to find the body of Jesus so they could complete the embalming ritual.  The first thing that set them on edge was that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  It was very large, so this was no accident.  Had robbers come?  Would they encounter a group of violent men hiding inside?  Their hearts must have begun to race.

They went inside and found “a young man sitting on the right side dressed in a white robe.”  We are explicitly told that “they were alarmed.”  The word translated as “alarmed” could be thought of as “stunned” or “gob-smacked.”  The angel immediately told them not to be alarmed.  He also told them the good news: “He has risen; He is not here.”  He showed them so that they could see with their own eyes.

Now, dear friends, if you could only put yourself in their place.  Can you imagine going to the cemetery and finding the tomb of one of your loved ones open, and an angel were to appear and tell you such a thing?

Imagine the power and might of God to raise Jesus from the dead, to send an angel to tell the good news, and ponder that these two humble women have been chosen to bring this most extraordinary news in the history of the world to the world by breaking the news to the disciples.

In the span of seconds, their lives have changed.  The entire world has changed.  History itself has changed.  Death has been conquered.  Sin has been destroyed.  The devil has been defeated.  In spite of the workings of the mighty Roman Empire and the powerful chief priests and Council of Judea – our Lord has walked right out of the tomb –under the noses of a guard detail, in spite of the governor’s seal placed on the door. And even before the stone was rolled away, Jesus was alive, and had departed what was supposed to be the place where His body would decay, where one day His bones would be collected and put into a box, eventually to be forgotten in a cave somewhere.

Not today, dear friends.  Not today.  And not any day.  Those days are over.  We have the promise of the resurrection of our own flesh.

For God is in charge.  God’s will has been done.  The love of God has raised Jesus from the dead and has cleansed us from our sins, from our mortality, and from our bondage to the evil one.  The faithfulness of God has proven flawless, as the will of God from before the foundation of the world was carried out, according to the Scriptures, by the word of the prophets.  Jesus has come, has conquered, and now lives again.  And so it is fitting that we love and trust in God above all things.

But let us not forget the healthy fear that the Marys experienced on that greatest and most wondrous day.  Their fear was a holy fear, borne of the knowledge that God is almighty and that He is carrying out His will – and even using them as His humble instruments to do so.  They are dealing with the mightiest power of the universe, the One against whom death itself is ineffectual and the seeming power of the grave is nothing more than an annoyance to be swept away by the nail-scarred hand of Him who has overcome.

Let us celebrate the resurrection!  Let us hurl defiant curses against the evil one!  Let us say to death, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Let us praise God with great joy!  Let us love God all the more as the one who loves us and all of His creation.  Let us trust in God that His plan is always good, even when we cannot see its inner workings, knowing that our dear Father only intends our benefit.

And let us also fear God, dear friends, knowing that His power is without limit, that He has saved us as a free gift for the purpose not that we should be lazy, but that we should work all the more fervently, with gratitude for all the blessings that He has bestowed upon us: even our own resurrection in the fullness of time.

The fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.  

Let us “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” with “boldness and confidence asking Him as dear children ask their dear father.”  Let us joyfully sing the praises of our risen Lord for all eternity, for we know that our Redeemer lives.  And let us pray that the Holy Spirit would direct us to carry out our own labor of love for the Kingdom with the obedient fear of the Marys, ready to live out our vocations in the church in a life that will have no end!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


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