Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 9 - 2017

13 August 2017

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is not part of today’s Gospel, but it certainly helps us to understand it.  In Matthew 10:16, our Lord says: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  The word translated as “wise” can also be translated as “shrewd” – as it is in our Gospel reading.

We are to be both shrewd – even like the serpent that beguiled Eve – but not at the expense of innocence – like that of the dove, that since the days of the ark of Noah, has come to represent gentleness and peace.

Shrewd and innocent, dear friends, that is how our Lord instructed the apostles to carry out their work in proclaiming the Gospel.  It is great advice for anyone engaged in any kind of work: be honest but be smart; be innocent, but be clever; be good, but be wise.

In our Gospel, our Lord tells a story, the hero of which is a crook. Some people are scandalized by this – which is exactly what our Lord likes to do.  For in telling a story about the kingdom of God in which the hero is a crook, Jesus gets our attention and actually makes us think.

And if you were listening carefully, the crook is not commended for his crookedness.  He was not praised for his lack of being innocent as a dove, but rather for his being as wise as a serpent.  He was commended for his shrewdness.  And that is our Lord’s lesson for us today, dear friends.

Our Lord is scolding us for not being shrewd.  Hopefully, we are teaching our children to be innocent, to be honest, to be moral, and to upright.  But that is not enough!  Are we also teaching them worldly wisdom: how to navigate a world filled with crooks and liars and thieves, a culture filled with those who hate Christ and who hate Christians.  Are we teaching them to be shrewd – like this dishonest manager?  Or are we setting them up to be eaten alive by predators, like sitting ducks, or doves in this case?

In our text, the dishonest manager is about to be fired.  The jig is up.  The boss is onto him.  But before he gets fired, he shrewdly arranges a soft landing for himself.  He makes friends with his boss’s customers, cutting them special deals, so that when he does get fired, he can call in favors and land on his feet.

Now in order to carry out this plan, he had to be dishonest – which we already know that he is.  He is cheating his boss out of money that is rightfully his.

Of course, the boss is probably most unhappy about this when he finds out, but he is nevertheless amazed at the dishonest manager’s “shrewdness.”  Anyone has to admit that this is a bold and audacious act – or as we might say in the Deep South: “bodacious.”  Like a supervillain in a movie, we may not like him, but we cannot help but admire his ingenuity.

Our Lord tells us that we should be as ingenious, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  The dishonest manager acted with passion and motivation, with calculated intelligence, and with courage – as dishonest as it was.  We Christians ought to be equally passionate and motivated, intelligent and courageous as the enemies of the cross – without surrendering our dovelike innocence, of course.

We should “make friends” with “unrighteous wealth,” so that “when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

We do not serve money, but money can serve the kingdom of God.  And if we aren’t dishonest and greedy, if we don’t serve money as a master, then we can indeed intelligently muster resources of all kinds for use in the kingdom.  

Shrewd, and innocent.  That is how we are to live the Christian faith, how we are to teach our children, and how we are to carry out our vocations in service of the church and of our fellow human beings.  

The greatest example of this shrewdness and innocence is our Lord Himself, dear friends.  For He is sinless, perfectly innocent, the very opposite of our dishonest manager.  And yet He is far more shrewd than the Serpent: the Devil.  As God Himself told Satan in the garden, the Seed of the woman would one day crush the Devil’s head even as this Seed of the woman’s own heel would be bruised in the process.

That came true in such a way that outsmarted the Devil.  For Satan struck the heel of the Lord Jesus on the cross.  He injected the venom of death into His body, shrewdly employing a conspiracy of Jewish priests and scribes and Pharisees, a Roman governor and soldiers, false witnesses, and a betrayer named Judas – in order to strike the heel of the Seed of the woman.  He brought about the death of Jesus on the cross, even as a spike pierced the heel of that Seed of the woman.  But God is more shrewd than the serpent.  In dying, Jesus paid the wages of sin and undid four thousand years of Satan’s evil corruption of mankind.  For by dying on the cross, Jesus shrewdly and sacrificially redeemed mankind from death and restored the communion with God that Satan had destroyed by his own shrewdness and his own wickedness.  In His own shrewdness and innocence, the Lord Jesus Christ defeated the Devil.  And by rising again, He destroyed the power of death, promising a resurrection to all who are baptized and who believe.

Wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.  That is our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is how we, dear friends, are redeemed by the blood of Him who died upon the cross.  

The Father commends His honest Son for His faithful shrewdness, for the Son of God is more shrewd in dealing with our own lost generation than the sons of darkness.  The Holy Cross is our own symbol of innocence and shrewdness, the dove and the serpent, the bruised heel of the Lord and the crushed head of the Devil.  

And in carrying out this bold and audacious plan, the Lord Jesus tells you to take your bill – the wages of your sin – and He tells you to write “zero.”  For by the cross, He has given you a receipt, inscribed with His blood, that your debt is paid in full.  

For He, the Lord Jesus, is the shrewd and honest manager of the universe, the only one who is truly wise as serpents and innocent as doves, through whom we are entrusted with true riches, even unto eternity!


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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Prayer for the Birthday of Gov. Francis T. Nicholls

Gov. Francis T. Nicholls (1834-1912) was a remarkable man who served the State of Louisiana in many capacities, including as a West Point graduate, 2nd Lieutenant, and combat veteran of the United States Army in the Third Seminole War, and as a Brigadier General in the Army of the Confederate States of America during the War for Independence (thrice-wounded: losing an arm, a foot, and an eye, and yet who continued to serve), as well as two terms as the state's 28th Governor (during the challenging Reconstruction Era), and afterward, Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court.

I was honored to be invited by Cmdr. Steve Alvarez of the Lt. J.Y. Sanders Camp #2092, Louisiana Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, of Morgan City, to give the invocation today at the annual ceremony held around the time of the governor's birthday (August 20) at St. John's Episcopal Church in Thibodaux, Louisiana, where he is buried along with other Confederate Veterans.

Here is my prayer:

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

Lord God, Heavenly Father, We thank You for the gift of memory: the power and the freedom to call to mind great people and heroic events from our past.  We thank You for the noble heritage of honorable men and women who took part in the maintenance of independence: our grandfathers courageously on the front lines of battle, and our grandmothers who stoically kept the fires of hearth and home aglow.

We thank You also, O Lord, for examples of manly leadership: for Your servant Francis Nicholls, a leader of his people in times of war and in times of peace.

We pray for ourselves and our descendants, O Merciful Father, that we may display a courage and fortitude worthy of our heritage, willing to sacrifice for that which is just and right and honorable, and also willing to defend liberty and independence, family and community, if and when they are imperiled.  

We implore Your defense, O Almighty God, of our monuments and memorials, landmarks of bronze and stone, and of the preservation of our history, recorded in pen and ink, and that we may be living monuments, memorials created in Your image, examples and guides to generations yet unborn, who will, according to Your will, take our place as defenders of civilization, liberty, and independence.

We humbly offer these petitions in the name of Jesus, with whom You reign in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 8 - 2017

6 August 2017

Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Jer 23:16-29, Rom 8:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord says things that are so politically incorrect, that if this chapter were to be read in a university classroom, it would require a trigger warning.  Some college students would be so traumatized that they would have to report to the school’s official “safe space” for coloring books and hugs from the dean of diversity.

For in this one reading, Jesus says such shocking things as: there is an objective truth, some people are wrong, natural law is a guideline for judging morality, and people who lead other people away from that which is true and right and just, will be cast into the fires of hell.

But where is the nice, happy God of the New Testament?  This Jesus sounds like the mean old patriarchal God of the Old Testament!  Of course, we can hear the critics: “My Jesus would never judge, never condemn, never point to natural law as an arbiter of some objective truth” – so says the wisdom of our age.  For Christianity is about being nice.

Nice and happy, dear friends, that is what we want to be, what we want for our children, what we want for the world.  We want niceness and not conflict.  We want peaceful coexistence and not insistence upon divisive dogmas and religious intolerance.  We don’t want to be called “fundamentalists” or “religious fanatics.” And we certainly don’t want talk about hell and right and wrong and natural law.

Because think about what this means, dear friends: it means that the nice lady pastor (whether on TV or in the local church) is a fraud, a “false prophet,” a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and she needs to repent, in the words of a former lady Lutheran “pastor” from Sweden who repented, of “leading people to hell.”  For there is right and wrong, and Jesus was not, nor is not, wrong to exclude women from the holy ministry. 

It also means that there are two genders – even as science and nature, not to mention the Word of God – speak with one voice: there is male and female, for “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Nature confesses what the Author of creation has designed.

“Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs, or thistles?  So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

A boy is not a girl.  A girl is not a boy.  What is obvious to science and natural observation is today considered bigotry and hate.  Our culture truly has degraded to this point, dear friends, to a level of delusion not seen since the days of Communist Russia.  And speaking the obvious – as Jesus has done – can get you fired, fined, or in some places in the civilized western world, jailed.  Canadian parents who tell their children the obvious can actually lose custody of those children.  If that is not a diseased tree, dear friends…

In England, a once civilized Christian country, disabled babies may now be seized by the government and left to die rather than being placed in the hands of their loving parents in order to get treatment for disease.  And while little Charlie Gard’s diseased body bore the fruit of the sin of this fallen world, his murderers, the bureaucrats and lawyers and judges who lack respect for the created order, and for the Creator, had better repent, or these wolves in sheep’s clothing will be “cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Our Lord is not telling us this to be mean or to be politically incorrect.  He is telling us the truth, because we need to hear it.  Truth matters, and Jesus is the truth.  Pontius Pilate asked the question that many if not most in our society are too afraid to ask: “What is truth?”

In fact, many people who call themselves Christians, many who say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” many who claim gifts of prophesy and exorcism and miracles, many who boast of being teachers and prophets and experts, many who are powerful and respected in the eyes of the world, will find themselves on the blunt end of the Lord’s judgment when He declares to them: “I never knew you; depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”

This is a frightening prospect, dear Christians.  It is a warning for us to always yield to the truth, to pay attention to the natural order, to call out the false prophet and rise up against them, chase them away, and make sure that it is clear where you stand, what you confess, and in whom you place your trust.

The true prophet Jeremiah warned us: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”  Such prophets tell you what you want to hear: “It shall be well with you,” and “no disaster shall come upon you.”  He warns us – all of us – that “wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.”

We know who our Good Shepherd is.  We know what His Word is.  We know what nature teaches us.  We know what the objective truth is.  We know what a man is, what a woman is, what marriage is, what is moral and what is immoral.  We know that every human life is a life of dignity, created in the image of God.  We know also, dear friends, that we are sinners, that we deserve this wrath as well, but we also know that the truth is on our side, because Jesus is on our side!

For we know, dear friends, from the mouth of a true prophet, St. Paul, that “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

By virtue of the Spirit and the Word that He inspired to be written and proclaimed and placed into your hearts, you suffer with Christ – suffering the indignity of speaking truth to power and confessing what we know to be true, in the words of St, Paul, “in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

And while the world is enamored of the lie, enamored of the liar, and enamored of the father of lies, we can refuse to believe them.  We can refuse to be intimidated by them.  We can scorn them and mock them and confess them to be nothing more than a diseased tree to be thrown in the fire.

For there was another tree, one that bore disease, for it bore sin – sin placed on the shoulders of the One who was nailed to that tree, the One who was and is the very Truth, the true prophet, the Good Shepherd, the Savior, the Atonement, the love of the Father incarnate.  For in Him, dear brothers and sisters, we can take heart and take courage.  In Him we can tell the truth, for He is the Truth.  In Him, in His cross, in His blood, and in His Word, we confess, we believe, and we receive the blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation.  That, dear friends, is the truth!

In Him, we have the true safe space of Truth itself and Truth Himself – a Truth that promises us redemption.  And as Jeremiah told us anew this morning by virtue of the Word of God: “In the latter days you will understand it clearly.”  Indeed, dear friends. Indeed.

Come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

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

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Sermon: Funeral of Larry Medina

3 August 2017

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

That was how Jesus greeted his disciples after He rose from the dead and appeared to them.  And for Jesus it wasn’t just polite words or a way of saying hello.  When Jesus says something, it is a reality.

When someone dies, a lot of people are at a loss for words.  And that’s understandable.  What can we say?  Especially when someone dies young and suddenly – as Larry did.  There were so many things that needed to be said, but went unsaid.  There were things that should have been done, but went undone.  And words can’t bring someone back from the dead – or can they?

Dear friends, Christianity isn’t what most people think it is.  It’s not about Jesus the nice guy or the great teacher.  Nice guys and great teachers are a dime a dozen.  Christianity isn’t even about going to heaven when we die, floating around like a ghost with a harp for eternity.  Christianity is rooted in the life of Jesus: God in the flesh.  He came to fix what is broken with the world.  And who can deny that the world is terribly messed up?  It is not normal or natural or “for the best” that we die.  According to what God revealed about Himself in the Scriptures, God created us to live forever.  We die, however, because we are all sinful.  We are all broken.  And that brokenness shows up in our broken bodies, broken families, broken communities, broken politics, and broken dreams.

Worst of all, we can’t fix it any more than we can fix ourselves.  

But there is good news, dear friends.  Jesus came into our world to rescue us.  He says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

Jesus died in our place, and rose again from death, so that we too might rise again – all according to His Word and His promise.  And we will not rise as a spirit or an angel, but as a flesh and blood person, made perfect, and united with all of those who “believe and are baptized” in a new heaven and a new earth.  It sounds like an offer too good to be true, but it is as true as the fact that Jesus has a tomb in Jerusalem, and it is empty.  Nobody else in history ever walked out of his own well-guarded grave.

We Christians are brought into the faith by baptism.  Jesus names us as His own when we are washed in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Our sins are forgiven, and we have the promise that we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, buried with Him in baptism, and “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father…. We shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His,” dear friends.  This is what the Word of God says, the Word of the one who walked out of His own grave.

It is a great mystery why some people die young and unexpectedly, as did Larry.  They leave questions unanswered and loose threads hanging.  But rest assured, dear friends, in Christ, we have the promise to be reunited – bodily and in the flesh, in a new and greater world without sin, without suffering, without death – where time is not a burden and where the brokenness of our current existence won’t even be a memory.  We look forward to this joyful reunion, where everything will be made perfect and new!

All of this good news, this truly uplifting comfort, is packed into that greeting that Jesus had for His disciples after His own resurrection, a greeting that we Christians have been saying to one another for nearly two thousand years: “Peace be with you.”  Amen.

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 7 – 2017

30 July 2017

Text: Mark 8:1-9 (Gen 2:7-17, Rom 6:19-23)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Garden of Eden, before the Fall, our ancestors Adam and Eve did not know what it meant to be hungry.  They were surrounded by glorious trees bearing a superabundance of fruits so perfect that we can’t even imagine it.  But in eating of the one tree that was forbidden, our superabundance became deadly scarcity, and our perfect world became rotten with corruption.  We became mortal, and we learned the hard way what God meant when He said, “You shall surely die.”

Throughout the history of mankind since the Fall, the word “hunger” has been frightening.  It’s truly hard for us to relate to this, as even the vast majority of the poorest Americans have a refrigerator and access to cheap meals at fast food restaurants.  It has been a good 150 years since Americans were forced by circumstances of warfare to retreat into caves and eat rats to survive.  

Some of our older veterans living today knew true hunger in enemy prison camps.  Of course, some people here in America and in many other countries do know what it is to be truly hungry.  It’s not just the physical pangs, but the weakness and the helplessness, and the knowledge that death lurks just around the corner, even as other people are comfortably satisfied and are eating in great luxury, that is also vexing and horrific.

In our Gospel, great crowds followed Jesus, willing to make any sacrifice just to hear Him proclaim life-bearing words, so much so that even making provisions for this body and life became of secondary importance to being where He was, and listening to His Word.  

And our blessed Lord has “compassion” – literally a sympathetic reaction in His gut – with the crowds who have determined that there is nothing more important than the Word.  They even risk starvation so as to be fulfilled by the Bread of Life Himself.  

What faith, dear friends!  They don’t even plan to eat because they know that the Word of Christ is life itself.  

Their faith was not misdirected, because what does our blessed Lord do for them?  He feeds them by means of a miracle.  The Creator of the universe takes bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them.  His ministers, the disciples, distributed this life-bread to the hungry people who had gathered to hear Jesus. “And they ate and were satisfied” – literally, they had eaten until they were full!  St. Jerome translates it into Latin using the word “saturated.”  This is the very opposite of hunger.  For this is a feast as opposed to a famine.

Dear friends, this is the Christian life!  It is a feast in the midst of famine; It is light in the midst of darkness; it is life in the midst of death.

The Fall brought shortages, suffering, and starvation.  This leads to fighting and theft and even warfare.  And in the midst of this want and deadly lack comes our Lord Jesus Christ, even He who is the Bread of Life in the flesh.  He has compassion.  Though the wages of our sin is death, He gives us the free gift of eternal life: He feeds us – not only with the daily bread of “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home,” and “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body,” but even more!

Our Lord knows that in our sinful and fallen state, we are hungry, we suffer want and lack on account of our sins.  We are starving for Good News!  We are ravenous for reconciliation.  And He comes to us in His compassion, in His mercy, pouring out His guts on the cross, giving His body and blood to feed us in His mercy, even as He feeds us here and now in His compassion at the altar.

In the Lord’s prayer, we pray to our Father: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  And indeed, this daily bread includes all of those daily needs we have in this flesh and blood life.  But the original word for “daily” has a kind of double-meaning.  It also means that we are hungry for a kind of supernatural bread that comes to us from above on a continual basis, a bread that never runs out, and which sustains us even unto eternal life.

This kind of bread calls to mind the manna by which our Lord miraculously and mercifully fed the children of Israel in their vulnerability and want, and yes in their desperate and deadly hunger – in the desert.  It also calls to mind the flesh of the Passover lamb, as well as the blood that marked the door of the children of Israel.  The Passover is fulfilled in the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, who told the astonished crowds: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh…. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Our Lord also said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Dear friends, this feast in the middle of a desert is truly the Christian life.  This promise of life even as we are surrounded by death is the resurrection.  This conquest of righteousness over sin, death, and the devil is what it truly means to be satisfied.

Come to the feast, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness!  Come and enjoy the fruit of the Tree of Life from Him who has compassion upon us poor miserable sinners, upon us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve!  For you are no longer “slaves of sin” eating the fruit that leads to death.  No indeed, dear brothers and sisters!  For “you have been set free from sin, and have become slaves of God,” and “the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Come and partake of this fruit!  Feast upon it!  No more are we terrified by our lack and our hunger, nor even by death itself.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 6 – 2017

23 July 2017

Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Ten Commandments. 

Just recently, a display of the Ten Commandments was run over by an angry Atheist.  The Ten Commandments are depicted in the halls of Congress.  The Ten Commandments was the title of a hugely influential movie back in the days of the Hollywood Biblical epic.  And the Ten Commandments are one of the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith that Luther insisted every Christian know as part of the Catechism.

Today, the Ten Commandments remain a subject of great debate, from whether they should be displayed on public property, to how they are properly numbered, and even today as a dispute among Lutherans who argue about the value of the Ten Commandments as a guide for holy living.

We Lutherans say that in the life of the Christian, there are three uses of the Law: First, the Curb, which describes the law as a civil code to keep social order, second, the Mirror by which we examine ourselves to see our sins and as well as our need for a Savior, and third as a Guide, by which we Christians are taught how to live a Christian life.

I do believe these are all correct ways of looking at the Law, but in the case of the Ten Commandments, I think there is still another way to understand  them: as a prophecy.  And I think that this understanding of our fulfilling the Law perfectly after the resurrection can be seen as the completion of the Third Use of the Law.

In other words, we know that we are not to have other gods.  We know that this is a sin.  We know that we are guilty of this sin and need a Savior to rescue us.  And we know that to lead a God-pleasing life, we must struggle to avoid this sin.  But think about the good news that St. Paul has preached anew to us in the epistle: “We were buried therefore with Him (Christ) 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” and that “we would no longer be enslaved to sin…. So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In baptism, our Old Adam is drowned.  We rise again to “newness of life.”  And in our own resurrection, we truly will not have other gods, nor misuse His name, nor defile preaching and His Word, nor rebel against authority, nor kill, nor misuse sexuality, nor steal, nor lie, nor covet that which was not given us.

For as St. Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.”

Dear friends, after the resurrection, with the coming of a new heaven and earth, after we have been raised again incorruptible, when our course in this fallen and corrupted world is over and we have been restored to incorruptibility, we will live once more in a world where everyone keeps all the commandments.

Can you even imagine it?

The Book of Revelation tries to put the unspeakable into human words.  It is like the Garden of Eden all over again, only without the Fall.

I believe that this is the true message of the Ten Commandments, or maybe more accurately, the completed message – and it is Jesus who completes it.  

Yes, it is true that the civil law is still necessary in our fallen world to keep order.  And yes it is also true that we poor miserable sinners still need to be reminded of our sorry state, our need to repent and to be driven to the cross, to the blood of the Lamb, so that we can be rescued.  And yes it is true that we also still need to be guided to live the life the Lord has called us to live, even as we struggle against sin, death, and the devil in this world of darkness.  

But let us not forget our ultimate destination: being restored to our original glory, not as spirits floating around the sky, but as resurrected human beings, created in God’s image, designed to experience life through the senses in a physical existence in a physical world – one that will not wear out or run down, one that will never end!

Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

“To fulfill them,” dear brothers and sisters.  Yes indeed, we need civil law to keep social peace, and we need to be called to repent and look to our Savior, and indeed we need to be guided along our journey in this fallen and dangerous world.  But let us not forget that Jesus has fulfilled the Law – not only for us (not so we can ignore the Law and live any way we want “that grace may abound…. by no means!”), but He fulfills the Law for us and with us, redeeming us, and leading us to overcome sin and death, so that we will indeed live perfect lives for eternity.

Our Lord warns us not to be like the Pharisees, who “will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  For our righteousness must exceed “that of the scribes and Pharisees.”  Our righteousness must be true, not merely a hypocritical show.  It must be real and genuine, in thought, word, and deed, in the heart, and expressed in good works.  And yet, we know that of our sinful selves, we cannot keep even one of the commandments, nor can we grow into mastery of them by trying harder. 

And yet, in Christ, we can “walk in newness of life” and we can “be perfect” as we have been commanded.  We can and we will be perfect, not only because Jesus is perfect, but also because He is merciful and He gives us His righteousness as a free gift, because He loves us, and we receive this gift by grace – even if we were baptized as infants, incapable of anything other than to receive that which is given to us in love.

And so, dear friends, the only way that our righteousness can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees is if our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness.  And that is precisely what we celebrate this day, knowing that in baptism, we are given this gift, and in hearing His Word and receiving His body and blood, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness – and that righteousness transcends space and time and even the grave, even unto eternity, when our Lord fulfills the Law and the Prophets in us, in our deathless bodies and sinless souls.

Yes, indeed, the Ten Commandments are a crucial part of God’s Word, for they are also God’s promise in Christ Jesus – by whose blood we have been redeemed, and by whose Word we shall arise to eternal life.  Thanks be to Him now and even unto eternity!  


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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 5 – 2017

16 July 2017

Text: Luke 5:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the very first prayer St. Peter offers to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we knew him as St. Peter, the world knew him as Simon.  Before we knew him as the leader of the apostles and the first bishop of Rome, the world knew him as a common fisherman.

And here, Jesus crosses paths with this Galilean fisherman, borrowing his boat as a sort of portable podium.  It is morning, and Simon has been fishing all night, but caught nothing.  And so he cleaned his nets while the rabbi preached.

After the sermon, the preacher Jesus suddenly tells Simon, “‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’  And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.  But at your word I will let down the nets.’”  And here is where something extraordinary and miraculous happened: not just the remarkable haul of fish, but the revelation of Jesus and the realization of Simon of just who Jesus is.  Simon has just learned that this rabbi with unusual fishing advice is none other than God. 

And so he kneels before God and prays.  And what is this prayer?  Is it a praise, a thanksgiving, a request for healing, or of some wish for a miracle?  No, Simon the fisherman’s first prayer is completely unexpected.  He makes his petition on His knees before Jesus, saying, “Ἔξελθε.”  The Latin translation of a form of this word is seen on the walls of this church.  It’s not a word that the church placed here, but rather the government.  You’ll see this word over the doors: “EXIT.”

The very first prayer uttered by Simon Peter to the Lord Jesus Christ is: “Exit.”  He prays for Jesus to “Go away.”  He is pushing God away from him.  That’s his prayer.

Now, many people do this very thing today: they push God away.  Some people reject God because they think belief in God is unscientific, that science has disproven God’s existence.  However, the scientific method involves hypotheses and proof through observable experimentation. What experiment in a laboratory disproves God?  To assert this is to miss the entire point about science.  And in fact, modern science was the creation of Christian men.

Other people push God away based on logic and reason.  Belief in God is not rational, they argue.  But it is actually the opposite.  For a painting logically requires a painter; a sculpture logically requires a sculptor; a book logically requires an author, and creation logically requires a Creator.  This kind of critical thinking and use of reason has been a hallmark of Christian wisdom and education for centuries. 

Others push God away because they are angry at Him.  Often it involves a prayer that was not answered the way the petitioner wanted, or a tragic event in life.  This often makes for a curious kind of atheist, not one that simply doesn’t think there is a God, but who rather refuses to believe in Him because the person is angry at Him.  This not only makes no sense, but it blames God for the mess that we poor miserable sinners have made of the world.  And as Scripture clearly teaches, God’s ways are not our ways.  We pray that His will be done, not ours. 

And so we see St. Peter pray for Jesus to leave Him.  This is his prayer, which Jesus answers with a firm “No!”

For St. Peter’s reason to pray to the Lord to “depart from me,” is not based on a belief in science or human reason or in a refusal to let God call the shots.  It’s actually for a good reason: “Depart from me,” says Simon Peter, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Simon realizes that Jesus is God, and that he, Simon, is sinful.  He understands that God is holy, and sinful men are not.  He understands that he is not worthy to be in the presence of God – like Isaiah, who, when he found himself before God, protested, “I am a man of unclean lips.”  For Simon knew the Ten Commandments, that he has not kept them.  He knew his unworthiness to look God in the face.  He knew that according to the righteousness of God, he had no right to be in the Lord’s presence. 

So He asks the Lord to leave.

Jesus answers his prayer, but not in the way Simon expected.  Instead of exiting, the Lord Jesus abides with him, and declares Simon to be worthy to be in the presence of God.  For He tells Simon Peter: “Do not be afraid.”  And he further tells the fisherman that he will be casting a different kind of net, and will be catching men instead of fish.  Thus Jesus does not exit, does not depart from Peter, and moreover, Simon “left everything and followed Him.”

The Lord Jesus would nickname Simon as “Peter,” which means “Rocky.” For Peter was to confess Jesus as Lord, and was to become an apostle, one sent to preach.  Jesus says that he was to build the church upon the rock of Rocky Peter’s confession and apostolic ministry.  This Simon the fisherman was to become Simon Peter the Apostle, Bishop Peter of Rome, and St. Peter the martyr.

And Peter’s life was to be a rocky road.  He was not always the Lord’s rock.  For he would deny Jesus three times as the Lord was led to the cross, only to be forgiven three times and restored to office after the Lord rose again.  And more than thirty years down the road, St. Peter was to be led and nailed to a cross of his own by the government who would demand Peter’s exit from life on this side of the grave. 

And though Peter will make that exit, he will rise again, as will we, even as the Lord Jesus made His own exit at the cross on Good Friday, but entered once more in the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  Our Lord Jesus has exited this world at the ascension, but He will come again at the end of time, even as He continues to come to us in His Word and Sacraments!

And though we may feel the desire to push Jesus away because of our sin, even beginning our divine services with the acknowledgment that we too are sinful men, our Lord Jesus does not depart, does not exit, but rather absolves us, loves us, and says to us: “Do not be afraid.”  The Lord Jesus abides with us to the very end.

And Jesus calls all of us to follow Him, each in our own way. Our Blessed Lord has taken away our sins at the cross, and delivered this forgiveness to us at the font.  And no matter how rocky our own road, no matter what crosses we must bear, no matter how much our own sins grieve us, the Lord Jesus abides with us, refuses to depart from a sinner who confesses, like Peter, that “I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Our Lord answers the humble sinner’s prayer with these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid.”  The Lord Jesus abides.  Glory be to Jesus, now and evermore!


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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon: Monday of Trinity 4 – 2017

10 July 2017

Text: John 1:9-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, it goes without saying that we live in dark times.  The light of our culture here in America is indeed a dimly burning wick, and around the world, the lamp of those who hold to goodness, truth, and beauty grows ever dimmer.  The holy Christian church on earth is surrounded by deep shadows of hatred and restlessness and resentment.

That which is good is called evil.  That which is evil is called good.  And any attempt to shine the light of the Gospel upon the darkness of this world is met by resistance, and in some cases, violence.

“In the beginning,” before there was light, there was the Word.  He was “with God, and the Word was God.”  And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”  And in Him, the Word, “by whom all things were made,” there “was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

This struggle between light and darkness is more than just the cyclical rotation of the earth that brings us night and day.  Nor is it a struggle between two equals.  This contest that pits the chaos of darkness over and against the goodly order of light is the history of the universe.  It is the story of man.  And it is the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over evil.  

For even in our fallen state of sin and of our dark night that seems to have no end, there is good news: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  And this world, dear friends, was so smothered by the darkness, that “it knew Him not.”  His own people, darkened by sin and the specter of death, “did not receive Him.”  And yet, in spite of the rejection of the light by a people who “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” some did reach out in faith through the murky shade toward this Light, and to those who received Him, who “believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.  

And when light chases away the darkness, we see ourselves as we are: broken, sinful, in a state of decay, of ourselves with nothing to look forward to but the eternal darkness of death and hell.  Perhaps this is why our base instinct is to reject the Light and those who bear witness about the Light.

But something else happens, dear friends.  This illumination has not come only to expose our blemishes, and certainly not to use them to condemn us, but quite the opposite.  For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And in the midst of this blazing Light, this eternal Light, this uncreated Light who created light, “from His fullness we have received grace upon grace.”

We are truly enlightened.  The darkness that clung to our souls to drag us down to the grave and to hell itself, has vanished, being vanquished by one single Light: for “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

We are transformed into being creatures of light ourselves, reflections of the Light who is Christ.  And our blessed Lord sends us into the darkness where He sees fit, to obliterate the darkness, bringing the light of Christ to those whom we find in this dark and dreary world.

His glory is His cross, and His cross illumines men’s souls and ignites them with forgiveness, life and salvation.

Yes indeed, we live in dark times.  We are surrounded by darkness.  But this just means that the darkness has nowhere to escape!  

For “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.  Stay with us Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.  Let Your light scatter the darkness and illumine Your Church,” O “joyous Light of glory.” Amen.

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

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 4 – 2017

8 July 2017

Text: Luke 6:36-42 (Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

I recently saw an internet cartoon that featured today’s text with all of the words crossed out, except for two: “Judge not.”

The reason this is so witty is that this is how a lot of people treat Scripture: they grab hold of two words and ignore the entire passage.  And the reason that “Judge not” is so popular is because we live in a society that refuses to use the Bible – or even nature and common sense – as a means of sorting out right from wrong.  Because to say that something is wrong is to “judge” – and didn’t Jesus just say, “Judge not?”

Didn’t Jesus just say not to exercise judgment in matters pertaining to life in this world?  Didn’t Jesus just say all lifestyles, thoughts, words, deeds, religions and worldviews are equal?”  Didn’t Jesus just encourage Supreme Court justices, circuit court judges, and justices of the peace to quit their jobs?

“Judge not.”

According to those who repeat these words of Jesus (without the rest of His words), we should not say that anything is wrong (well, except for being judgmental, that’s wrong, along with violations of political correctness, that’s wrong too).  But to make use of Dr. Luther’s question from the catechism, “What does this mean?”

Well, if the Judge-notters are correct, then what about religion?  We cannot distinguish between idolatry and the worship of the True God. So there goes the first commandment.  We can’t render a judgment concerning the appropriateness of cursing with the name of God or Jesus, as that would be to judge.  Number Two is gone.  And we shouldn’t judge the practice of avoiding weekly worship, despising preaching and His Word to binge-watch TV or stay on bed.  There goes the first table of the law.

Similarly, we should not judge those who dishonor parents and other authorities, or judge between the killing of a mosquito and a human being, judge between sexual practices, judge between stealing and not stealing, judge between telling the truth or lying, or judge the practice of coveting.

There goes the entire ten commandments, which is most convenient for those who wish to break them.  To those who cling to the Lord’s command to “judge not,” we are to look the other way when people are being bullied or robbed or raped or beaten.  We are to accept anything and everything – no matter how destructive, unnatural, or harmful to children – without criticism.

Do such people really think this is what our Lord Jesus is teaching us to do?

But if they were to read beyond these two words, they would see the context of “judge not.”  We are to be judicious when we do judge.  We are to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  And we are to forgive – which presumes that there is something to forgive, which presumes that there are sins, which presumes that we need to judge whether something is sinful or not.  Indeed, Jesus says we are to judge, but we are not to judge in such a way that indicts ourselves.

For a judge that sends a person to prison for being a crook, but is himself taking bribes, is not a good judge; he is a hypocrite.  Don’t judge like that!  A judge who makes a great show of wanting to “throw the book” at an unfaithful spouse, all the while he is himself unfaithful, is not a good judge; he is a hypocrite.  Don’t judge like that!

In fact, if it isn’t your job to pass sentence on someone, don’t.  But this is not to say that we are not to tell the difference between right and wrong, or that we are not to confess publicly that there are universally true morals, or that we should not teach our children to be upright and obedient to God’s Law.  But the Lord does say to be careful, very careful indeed: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus doesn’t say that we should all just throw our hands in the air and accept the secular worldview that all religions are equal, all systems of morality are the same, and that we should simply embrace immorality as a virtue.

But he does say that we have a primary responsibility of self-judgment.  “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

And here is where Jesus Himself becomes very judgmental: “You hypocrite,” He says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Our blessed Lord is in no way saying that every human action is morally equal.  Far from it.  And in fact, He wants us to help our brother with that speck in his eye, to serve him in love, not in hatred or mockery or smug self-righteousness, but out of a genuine desire to help bring our neighbor to healing and wholeness – the kind of help that comes from a life led as a struggle to keep the commandments and to strive for righteousness. And we can’t help our brother by pretending that he has no speck in his eye.

But we can’t look to others until we look to ourselves, until we repent, until we take the logs out of our own eyes.  This is the danger of hypocrisy, dear friends.  Hypocrisy chases people away from the church and repels people from the glorious Gospel by which Jesus has come to judge us “not guilty” and forgiven.

This brings us back to the beginning of our text: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  For our Father was merciful to the point of sending His Son to the cross on our behalf, to rescue us from the judgment of death and hell.  Instead, by the only Man who is not a hypocrite, by the only Man who is sinless, by the only Man who is God, our merciful Father judges us, and that judgement is that we are freely forgiven and brought graciously to the blessing of eternal life, for by this judgment, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

That is the Lord’s judgment, and it should be our desire that all men are so judged!

And so let the Lord’s words not be crossed out, but rather let them go forth and work the miracle of redemption.  And let us judge not as hypocrites, but as forgiven sinners, seeking to humbly and lovingly share the Lord’s favor with all others who, like us, “sin and fall short of the glory of God,” and yet, by God’s merciful judgment, have obtained that gift of God, which is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Thanks be to our merciful Judge, now and forever.


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

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sermon: The Visitation – 2017

2 July 2017

Text: Luke 1:39-56 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The visitation between Mary and Elizabeth looks like something very ordinary.  And it is.  Two cousins, both pregnant, enjoying one another’s company, visiting, and sort-of comparing notes.

To the world, this looks entirely normal, and it is.  It is a beautifully ordinary image of humanity: two mothers, one young and one old, both carrying what they were told are boys.  And yet, in this visitation, we see something even more extraordinary about our mutual humanity, for we see the divine will in action, the miraculous, the love that God has for each one of us – even though the eyes see nothing more than two ordinary pregnant mothers.

And yet, one of these mothers, Mary, is the mother of God.  She is a virgin, or more accurately, she is The Virgin, the one prophesied by Isaiah who would miraculously bear the Messiah: the one who would save His people, yes, even save all of humanity.  For in her womb, is God Himself, in His fetal humanity: Son of God and Son of Man, the One who will rescue Adam and Eve and avenge mankind from the crafts and assaults of the devil.

The other mother, also pregnant by means of a miracle, is the once-barren Elizabeth, the elderly wife of an elderly priest, who endured the shame of having no children, but now, her shame has been lifted by the merciful Lord.  And in her womb is John the Baptist, the one Jesus would thirty years later call the greatest of men born of a woman.  John was to be the last of the prophets, the baptizer of the Christ, and the one who will introduce the world to her Savior.

Four remarkable and miraculous people clothed and cloaked in the ordinary flesh of ordinary humanity.

In this visitation, mankind is visited also by the Holy Spirit, who fills Elizabeth with the confession of her cousin, the Blessed Virgin, and her cousin’s Holy Child: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” even as the fetal John leaped in his mother’s womb as an expression of joy: joy of humanity in the presence of humanity’s human Savior.

And the Holy Spirit also inspires the Blessed Virgin Mary to sing the song that she has given humanity as a gift, her song known as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The Blessed Virgin acknowledges and confessed the very Lord that is her unborn Son, even as she confesses her own need for that Son to be her Savior, even her Son whom she confesses to be God in her womb.

She acknowledges her humble estate as the Lord’s handmaiden, and yet is exalted by the mercy of her Lord and God.

And what a picture of all of us, dear friends, we of humble estate, we poor miserable sinners, we who deserve nothing but death and hell, and yet we rejoice with Blessed Mary, indeed, our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, who was brought into the world by this “mother of my Lord.”  For because she is blessed among women, we are blessed among not only all of humanity, but even among the angels in heaven.  We are blessed because we are exalted – even exalted to the Godhead, because one of us, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, our brother according to the flesh, is very God of very God, and is to be worshiped.  

And what’s more, He is God who takes flesh, who dies on the cross, who gives us the free gift of eternal life, and who continues to give us His gifts, his mercy, the strength of His arm, filling the hungry with good things, by preaching and absolution, by baptism, and by the sacrament of His very body and blood, the very same body carried by Mary in her womb, observed by Mary upon the cross, and who appeared to Mary triumphant from the tomb.

This remarkable and miraculous meeting of these two mothers and their two sons took place thirty years before the ministry of both of these men would change the world.

Both would preach the Gospel.  Both would make powerful enemies.  Both would be executed as criminals as a result of evil and petty men exercising corrupted power.  And both will rise from the dead: Jesus on that first Easter, and John, who will walk out of his own grave when we do, when His holy Cousin comes again to judge the world and to reign forever.

This is the cause of Elizabeth’s excitement, John’s rejoicing, and Mary’s holy song.  For each of them are responding to the youngest among them (yet who is eternal): the baby Lord Jesus, the one who will save all of them from sin and death, and who has come to deliver the world and remake creation as a free gift: a human being come to redeem humanity.  And because of this Man all the vault of heaven also rejoices.

Dear friends, it is fitting that we remember this scene of visitation, the otherwise ordinary-looking visit between two pregnant cousins – for it is a glimpse into the wonder of what it is to be a human being, a creature made in the image of God, a sinner unworthy of life by virtue of our sins, and yet saints worthy of eternal life by virtue of the One in the womb of Mary: Jesus, our God and Savior, the One whose name is holy, the one who comes in mercy, and yet who is mighty, with strength in His arm, the scatterer of the proud and the One who brings down the haughty, the One who exalts the humble, fills the hungry, casts out the avaricious, helping His people, the very selfsame God who speaks to Abraham and who speaks to us by His Word.

So, dear friends, with St. Elizabeth, we honor Blessed Mary and her Son; with St. John, we leap for joy that our Lord draws near to us; with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we sing the Magnificat and offer praise, thanksgiving, and adoration to our God and Savior, to Him who has taught us what it means to be truly human.  And indeed, our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.


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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sermon: St. Irenaeus – 2017

28 June 2017

Text: Luke 11:33-36 (Amos 3:1-9, 4:11-12, John 2:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We like to name our children after heroes.  Some from our own families, others from the history of our country or the world, or simply other people in our lives whom we admire.  For Christians, it became common to name our children after one of the saints, because our heroic brothers and sisters in the faith are the greatest role models of all.

And it is a shame that I’ve never met a boy named Irenaeus – the saint whom we honor and celebrate today.  St. Irenaeus was born in the early one hundreds, and died in the year 202.  His pastor was the martyr Polycarp, whose pastor was, in turn, the apostle John.  Irenaeus heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus from one who heard it from the last living apostle of our Lord in the flesh.  

Irenaeus grew up to become a priest and bishop of what is now the city of Lyon in what is today France.  Bishop Irenaeus not only lived in a day and age when confessing Christ was dangerous, he was willing to put his faith in writing to argue against heresies.  He did this because he was committed to the truth, no matter the consequences.  For truth matters to Christians, and it matters what we believe: “No one lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.”

We Christians are lighst on lampstands, illuminating the truth – for we confess with Irenaeus and all of our fellow saints and confessors that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. 

St. Irenaeus used his gifts as a writer and thinker and communicator to place the truth of the Gospel on a lampstand, and never put it under a bushel for the sake of safety or politeness or political correctness.

We live in times where it isn’t fashionable to speak about politics or religion – and in some cases, it is dangerous to do so.  In the interest of being nice and not offending anyone, how often we hear people assert: “We all worship the same God… All religions teach the same thing… and it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.”

But, dear friends, it does matter.  What you believe matters. The Lord revealed His prophetic Word to us in the Bible, not the Koran.  The Lord took human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, not the Buddha.  The Lord gathers His people around Word and Sacrament, not philosophy and politics.

Indeed, it matters what we believe.  It matters that we believe that the Word of God is infallible.  It matters that we believe that we were created in God’s image, but fell through sin.  It matters that we believe that God the Son took human flesh in Jesus.  It matters that Jesus died for us on the cross, that He forgives our sins, and that He gives us the free gift of eternal life.  It matters that He rose again from the grave.  It matters that His true church continues to send men in the train of the apostles, who following behind bishops like Irenaeus, men who preach and teach, baptize, absolve, and distribute the Lord’s Supper.

For as Irenaeus’s pastor’s pastor teaches us again through His written and inscripturated Word: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come… Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.”

Yes indeed, dear friends, Irenaeus teaches what Polycarp teaches, what John teaches, and what Jesus teaches: it matters what you believe, teach, and confess about Jesus.  We don’t get to pick and choose what beliefs we like, what doctrines are comfortable, what supposed truths make us feel good, as if we were “cafeteria Christians.”  No indeed, we are people of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  As the prophet Amos teaches: “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.” Truth is a matter of revelation, and that revelation is one of the marks of the Church.

Now, more than ever, we need Christian people: pastors and laymen, men and women, confessors of all ages and from every background to stand firmly and unshakably upon the truth.  It may offend some, and it may make many angry, but it will also save many from hell.  

Indeed, it is fitting that the church throughout the world honors St. Irenaeus on this date.  For he is a hero to be admired, a Christian brother to be embraced, a bishop to be revered, a preacher to be heard, and a Christian who teaches us by word and deed to let our light shine before men and glorify our Father in heaven – for the sake of the truth, for the sake of the lost, for the sake of Christ.


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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sermon: Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – 2017

25 June 2017

Text: 1 Tim 6:11-16

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther nailed the “Ninety-Five Theses” to the church door at Wittenberg.  And that was an important event.  Unfortunately, that date will not fall on a Sunday this year.  But today marks a date that is actually more important, and it does fall on a Sunday.  On June 25, 1530, four hundred and eighty seven years ago today, a document called the “Augsburg Confession” was presented to the emperor.  

It was not a declaration of war, but rather an offer of peace.  It was not a break with the Catholic past, but rather a restoration of the Catholic past.  It was not an outline of a new religion, but rather, the good confession of the old one.

The confessors at Augsburg, lay and clergy alike, extended a hand of friendship to the emperor and to the pope.  Their confession was a call to unity.  But that hand was rejected.  And when the emperor, whose mind had already been made up, attempted to command and threaten the German princes into becoming obedient again to the pope, they literally bared their necks, and fearlessly told the young, brash emperor that he might as well chop off their heads, because they were not going to recant their confession of faith.  They would rather die right then and there.  The startled emperor backed down.

Most people, including a lot of Lutherans, get the Reformation all wrong.  It was not a radical revolution, but just the opposite; it was a conservative reactionary movement to replace the new with the old.  It was not about a Lutheran faith to replace the Catholic; but rather the ancient Catholic faith to replace the new and corrupted version.  Our opponents insulted us with the name “Lutheran”; our forbears referred to themselves as catholic and evangelical Christians.

In one sense, our reformation was a failure.  For it resulted in a divided church.  Roman Catholics and Lutherans no longer share altars and pulpits, and have not done so officially for 477 years to this very day.  But in another sense, our reformation was a success, for in accordance with our confession, we continue to practice what page 319 of your hymnal calls “the catholic religion” and we continue to confess what pages 319 and 320 of your hymnal call “the catholic faith.”  There is nothing new under the sun or in the Augsburg Confession, for it is the confessional catholic faith of more than a thousand years before Luther.  

St. Ambrose’s fourth century catholic preaching of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith could have been proclaimed by Luther.  St. Augustine’s fifth century catholic theology that we are not saved by works could have been taught by Melanchthon, who wrote the Augsburg Confession.  Indeed, the catholic position on the Gospel of the sixth century was the very same Lutheran position on the Gospel of the sixteenth century.

Our Augsburg Confession itself says: “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers” and “our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons.”

For there is nothing we properly practice, teach, preach, or confess in this parish, in this synod, and in the confessional Lutheran churches around the world that can’t be found faithfully taught by popes and councils in ancient Roman Catholic history, and most importantly of all, in the Bible.

For as St. Paul instructed another faithful pastor, preacher, and theologian as recorded in our Scriptures: “O man of God…. Pursue righteousness… Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Indeed, we are the church, the people of God, and we teach the universal faith, the catholic faith.  We pursue righteousness, the righteousness that Paul continuously teaches is a gift of the grace of God, and not of ourselves or by our own works.  And indeed, we fight for this faith, and we will fight and contend and scrap and refuse to bow before any idol, whether commanded by president or potentate, by king or commissar, by pastor or pope, or by professor or pop-culture. We will fight. We will not surrender.  We will confess.  We will bare our necks if necessary.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to take up the cross of Jesus, to confess Jesus, and to also confess with Jesus, “who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.”

And this is why, dear friends, this remarkable document – short enough to be read in a single setting, profound enough to be studied for an entire lifetime, is called a “confession.”  To confess is to say the same thing.  That which Jesus said at Jerusalem, that which Paul said at the Areopagus, that which Ambrose said at Milan, that which Augustine said at Hippo, that which Luther said at Wittenberg, that which Melanchthon said at Augsburg, and that which we say at Gretna, is the same thing that Scripture teaches.  This is what St. Paul means by “the good confession.”

And, dear friends, confession is not always easy.  The princes who bared their necks could have had their heads removed, as St. Paul did.  Ambrose and Augustine lived in times not far removed from when Christians were fed to lions.  Martin Luther was himself condemned to death, and had he not been protected by faithful princes, he would have been burned at the stake – even as many faithful Lutheran confessors were.  His widow Katie Luther was to die penniless in a Germany ravaged by the pope’s vengeful armies seeking to wipe our confession from the face of the earth.  But Katie Luther was also to die a faithful confessor, saying on her death bed: “I will stick to Christ as a burr to a topcoat.”

We don’t know what Paul’s counsel to us today to “fight the good fight of the faith” and that we make “the good confession” will mean for us in our own lifetime in our own country.  But to be a Lutheran, to be an Evangelical Catholic, to be a believer in the Holy Scriptures, to be a believer in Jesus Christ, is to be a confessor: of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith, of the cross and the blood of Christ that pleads before the Father on our behalf, of the truth and reliability of the Holy Scriptures over and against every shred of human opposition, and of the hope of the world to come.

And with our fathers and mothers in the faith for 487 years, we continue to confess before God and men, “that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic” and “If there is anything that any one might desire in this Confession, we are ready, God willing, to present ampler information according to the Scriptures.”  That is our confession.  Christ is our confession.  Amen.

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

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.