Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sermon: The Conversion of St. Paul – 2017

25 January 2017

Text: Matt 19:27-30 (Acts 9:1-22, Gal 1:11-24)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear friends, we have good reason to despair.  

Our culture is in a state of chaos and disarray.  In public life, we apparently no longer know what the difference is between a man and a woman.  Political disagreements are settled with rioting and looting.  College students and administrators cannot abide alternative points of view.  We are divided over issues of race and religion and politics and morality.  Traditional marriage is on life support, and an increasing number of children are raised in multiple households scared by serial divorces and remarriages.

There are rumblings of war in our world, and new threats of terrorism that frighten us nearly every day.  Our religious liberties are under constant assault.  And the massacre of the unborn continues.

Our churches are getting emptier and emptier – including our own.  The Christian gospel is ridiculed, the Bible is held in contempt, and anything the church has to say is shouted down.  We are a shrinking minority and the attacks upon us become more shrill and fierce every day. Around the world, there are more martyrs in our own era than ever were in the days of the Roman Empire.

Yes, indeed, we have good reason to despair.  

But thanks be to God that He is not merely a God of reason, but of love.  For love defies reason.  A computer can be programmed to follow logic and reason and make decisions by counting the cost.  But a machine cannot be programmed to count the costs – and then do what love would do: to at-times defy reason for the sake of the beloved.  And this is what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and in the cross.

In times like these, we need to reflect on St. Paul. We need to not only remember his courage in preaching the Gospel to Jews and Greeks, to rich and poor, to kings and high-ranking officials and soldiers and synagogue rulers, his missionary journeys all over the known world, planting churches and teaching, calling to mind his heroic steadfastness as a confessor even in prison, being beaten for the truth, and even as a martyr who died for the Lord, we also need to remember when he was known as “Saul” and was an enemy of God.

Saul was a former name of the man who led a former life: “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.”  Like many in our culture today, Saul hated Christianity, and was doing anything and everything in his power to eradicate it – even having men and women and children bound in chains and arrested.

In Paul’s own words regarding his “former life,” he says: “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”  

But something happened that shocked the world, the church, and most of all, Saul himself.  While on a road trip to Damascus, Jesus Himself appeared to Saul, as a blazing light from the heavens “flashed around him” and knocked him down.  And our Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke to His violent enemy who was to become his passionate apostle: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

Jesus isn’t expecting an answer.  We know the answer: unbelief, pride, a lack of respect for the life and liberties of those whom he arrested. In short: sin. Sin is what makes unbelievers, consumed with hatred, attack Christians and the faith itself.

But Jesus is now calling upon Paul to repent, to repent of his unbelief by heeding the voice and believing that Jesus is the Christ, by turning away from his pride, by being humbled to beg for help as a blind man, to leave behind violence and persecution of the Christians by becoming a Christian himself, one who would himself suffer for the faith and for Jesus.

And in this one moment of God’s choosing, this single encounter with Jesus, everything changed.  The men and women and children no longer had to fear Saul but rather could come to receive him as a brother and as a father.

For the Lord has changed Saul into a believer, a confessor, and soon to be, a preacher of the Gospel.  For Paul’s eyes were opened, and He received the Holy Spirit. He was baptized.  And he was strengthened by “taking food.”  And he took the food of the baptized Christian, the Holy Supper of the very Lord who converted him, called him, and gave him a new direction in life, a Supper he would likewise share with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The Lord himself spoke of the convert Paul: “He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”

For no matter how dreary and gloomy things were for the early church, no matter how much societal pressure from the Romans and how much political pressure from the Jews they were subject to, no matter the treachery and fear, the night raids and secret informers, the chains and the dungeons – the Lord God remained in charge.  He had not abandoned His people; He had not fallen asleep at the switch.  God allowed things to become dire as a way to prove that they were in fact not dire.  This is an easy situation to fix for our merciful Lord.  

Paul’s conversion not only paved the way for new churches to spring up across the Mediterranean world, but it also demonstrated that God is not subject to the whims and hatreds of men.  Our Lord Jesus called Paul out on his persecutions, and He converted Paul, brought him into the church for a reason: that he might be a blessing, a bringer of Good News to all people.

Paul’s conversion is our conversion, dear friends.  For just as Jesus came to Paul on the way to Damascus and disrupted his life forever, this same Jesus comes to us where we are: as babies brought to the font, as adults who hear the Gospel for the first time, as children with an innocent trust in the Word, or even as an elderly person on his deathbed seeking the peace that passes all understanding in exchange for a lifetime of sin. For all of us were converted to the faith, whether we were only minutes old, or after a century or more of walking this earth.

All of us were on the side of the devil until we were exorcised by the holy water of baptism and called by name by Jesus, and we were given a new name as well: the name “Christian,” one redeemed by the sacrificial Lamb, one washed clean in His blood, one declared righteous and forgiven and part of the church that was our enemy prior to our conversion.

For every single Christian has been converted and won over.  Christians are not born that way, but they are born again, and like unto St. Paul, once we are called into the kingdom by the King, “something like scales” fall from our eyes.  We see reality as it is.  We are changed, transformed, yes, converted from sinner to saint, from dead to alive, from an enemy of the cross to a friend of God.

And so, dear friends, while we have reason to despair, we have three things greater than reason: faith and hope and love.  We have faith in Him who offers us hope for eternity, and the love of Christ Himself who gave Himself for us even while we were yet His enemies.  And those who attack the church now may yet one day prompt us to likewise say: “He who once tried to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

And the Lord Jesus reminds us not to despair, but to cling to faith, come what may, saying, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

“O Lord, for Paul’s conversion,
We bless Your name today;
Come shine within our darkness,
And guide us on our way.”


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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sermon: St. Timothy – 2017

24 January 2017

Text: Matt 24:42-47 (Acts 16:1-5, 1 Tim 6:11-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear friends, today we thank God for the life of St. Timothy of Ephesus, bishop and confessor.  Two books of the New Testament bear his name, though he didn’t write them nor was he an apostle.  He was a disciple of St. Paul, who ordained him into the holy ministry, and who considered Timothy to be like an adopted son.  He was raised in the faith by his Jewish-Christian grandmother and mother, but his father was Greek.  “He was well spoken of by the brothers.”  He preached the gospel in season and out of season, and died while carrying out his calling.

St. Paul’s two letters to Timothy are beloved books of Scripture that provide not only doctrinal statements, but also practical advice for the young Servant of the Word in carrying out his ministry, as well as general guidance in his life as a Christian.

In that sense, we are all Timothy – pastors who stand in the train of the apostles, and laypeople who hear the Gospel and are transformed by the preaching of the Word even unto eternal life.  We are all Timothy, the old, the young, men, women, Jews, and Greeks.

For in Christ, we all look upon St. Paul and the other apostles of our Lord as our fathers in the holy faith, receiving with joy what was first penned to our forebears by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul tells all of us Timothys to be prepared, for our Lord is coming soon.  We are to be ready, “O man of God,” to  flee evil things, and instead, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.”

St. Paul, who wrote to Timothy from prison, starkly reminds him, and he reminds us, that we are at war.  The Christian faith is not a hobby or a job, not an interesting bit of western history or liturgical pageantry or something that makes us feel good.  The faith is a fight, a ruthless fight, and we are to serve in the church militant, in whatever rank or vocation that God has placed us, understanding that this is a life and death matter.  The stakes are eternal.  There is no room for slack, no place for complacency, no luxury of  slovenliness.  For as with any war, lives depend upon our readiness for battle, our diligence, and our ability to carry out our callings under fire.

How sad when pastors provide entertainment instead of fortification, and how horrific when lay people demand to be pampered instead of hardened for battle.  How tragic when we forget that the enemy is lurking about the perimeter and may pounce on us, our families, our brothers and sisters in our congregations, and on anyone, without warning, and without mercy.

Our blessed Lord tells us plainly: “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”  There is a finite time to carry out the work that the Lord has given us to do – works that He prepared for us before the foundation of the world, works that glorify Him and serve our neighbor, and may even save our neighbor from eternal death and damnation, all according to how our Lord uses us in the glorious kingdom.

“Therefore,” says our blessed Lord, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Meanwhile, the war rages, Satan attacks, we are sometimes wounded, we take casualties, we suffer setbacks, and, sometimes we gain ground, miracles happen that beat back the crafts and assaults of the evil one, and at all times, we fight the good fight of faith, knowing that He works through us, even as He has forgiven us, and continues to fortify us in Word and Sacrament.

This is what it means to confess, to be what we call “confessional” Lutherans, to join this battle – not a war of swords and arrows and bullets and bombs, but the war of the spirit that pits good against evil, life against death, our merciful God against the miserable devil.  “I charge you in the presence of God,” says St. Paul, “who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.”

Our Lord Jesus is a confessor of the truth, even as Paul and Timothy are confessors of Christ.  We too, dear friends, are confessors.  We confess the Gospel, the good news that in Christ Jesus, God took human flesh, to die upon the cross, to save us from sin, death, and the devil, and to give us eternal life in His name as a free gift, which we receive by faith.

This faith is our confession, our reason for living, through which we have eternal life.

So when we make the good confession, we make war on Satan, and we link arms with St. Timothy, St. Paul, the holy apostles, the martyrs, and all the saints, known and unknown, ancient and modern, living and dead, making this confession of the cross, standing under the cross, living by the cross, confessing through the cross, and with our eyes fixed firmly on Him who died upon the cross.

This is the good fight, dear brothers and sisters.  This is the good confession.  This is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, and it is the gift of the Lord Jesus to Timothy: to receive grace upon grace by which to fight this fight and confess this confession.  And we do so until we are called home or our Lord returns.

For in the end, this is what it means to confess, to be confessional, to fight the good fight as the church militant: to be eagerly prepared and joyfully ready to meet Jesus – at the end of the day, at the end of the life, at the end of the world – to be a servant of Christ, a faithful servant, and “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”  This is our Lord’s promise – to all of us Timothys of every time and place, confessors, fighters, believers, and recipients of Christ’s boundless mercy.

“To Him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.”

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: Epiphany 3 – 2017

22 January 2017

Text: Matt 8:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a great political debate in our country about health insurance and health care.  There are many different opinions about the role of government and the role of individuals to help those in need.  You might have seen some political cartoons that show Jesus healing or refusing to heal people, with Jesus purportedly saying things to support this political view or that political view.  

Indeed, Jesus has come to heal us, but not in the way that doctors and nurses do.  Their work is godly and noble, and indeed, God works through them.  But here’s the problem: doctors and nurses and insurance companies and technical marvels and drugs and therapies can only mask the problem.  They delay the inevitable.  They don’t cure us of death.  Again, this is not to minimize the good that they do, but when we speak of Jesus as the Great Physician, we mean that He really gets the job done.

Jesus hasn’t come to mask symptoms, but to eradicate the root cause of the problem itself.  For death is the wages of sin.  Jesus has come to destroy death by His own death – which was an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.

Thus all diseases are caused by sin: maybe our own, maybe someone else’s, maybe it has been lurking in our DNA since Adam and Eve’s fall.  

God did not create us to sin, to suffer, or to die.  God created us to partake perfectly in communion with Him and with all creation, to be filled with joy, and to live forever.

No politician can deliver that.  No doctor can prescribe that.  No insurance company can underwrite that.

Only Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior (which means, literally in the Greek of the New Testament: “healer”) can cure us from death and heal us from sin.

We see the Lord’s healing work when a “leper knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’  And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

Cleansed!  The cure was in the cleansing, the removal of dirt – not mere surface grime on the body, but the grunge of sin.  For this is the same word used to indicate ritual purity in the Old Testament, which itself points back to the pure creation before the Fall, before sin, suffering, and death.  This is reflected in two English words we don’t usually connect: “cosmetics” and “cosmos.”  Cosmetics are agents that beautify and cleanse, and the Cosmos refers to the universe created by God.

The original created world was “clean” – it was free of things like leprosy and death. And it is the Lords will: “I will,” He says, “be clean.”  That is, “be like you were, and were always intended to be, when I created the cosmos.”  For “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” – in the Greek, the text says that “God so loved the kosmos.”

There is a connection between God’s love and the kosmos, and that love is carried out by the will of God in Christ Jesus: to heal, to save, to give perfect and eternal life.

The Lord also heals the servant of a centurion, a military captain, in the city of Capernaum.  In a twist, the Lord does not heal by direct contact, but rather by His Word alone.  The centurion understands the concept of delegated authority, “for I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I say to one, ‘go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’”

For this is how authority works in the secular world, especially in the Roman world.  The emperor commands the tribune who commands the centurion who commands the soldier, and the will of the emperor is carried out by the soldier through this chain of command. Authority flows downward and duty flows upward.  The centurion understands that Jesus is the true emperor – unlike Caesar Augustus who claimed to be the Divi Filius – the son of a god, our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Filius Dei – the Son of the living and one true God.  Jesus isn’t just ordering soldiers about, He is ordering disease itself to flee.  And He has the power and the authority to carry out this kind of healing by His Word.

How marvelous is the centurion’s faith – this gentile soldier who did not count Himself worthy enough, that is, clean enough, for Jesus to come under his roof.  Yet he trusts the Lord’s very Word to heal and to save.  “When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, ‘Truly I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’”

The Lord uses means to achieve His healing and His salvation.  In some cases, He uses physical touch: such as baptismal water, such as the bread and wine that are truly His physical body and blood – in order to forgive, save, and give everlasting life.

The Lord also uses the means of His Word – the Word of God, inscribed in the Holy Scriptures and proclaimed by a servant of the True Emperor, the Son of God, who places men under His authority to proclaim His Word – the Word that heals and saves and restores to perfect life.

For the Lord Jesus has not come to temporarily bandage our wounds, rather He was wounded for us, so that we might be restored to cleanliness – the kind of cleanliness we enjoyed at the creation of the cosmos.  The Lord, the only begotten Son of the Father, the One with the authority of the Father and the authority to command all of creation, has come to save, to heal, and to bring to life.

And the Lord says to you, dear friends, you who have to this place, to Jesus, seeking salvation and life, healing and restoration, to each and every one of you hearing this Word proclaimed by His authority, the Lord says to you: “I will; be clean…. Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”  And by His Word, you are healed, saved, and restored to eternal life.  Amen.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Salem Lutheran Church (418 4th Street, Gretna, LA  70053) is welcoming some special guests on the weekend of January 28 and 29, 2017.

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and his wife Daria will be visiting from Novosibirsk, Siberia - where Bishop Lytkin serves as the bishop of our partner church body, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC), established after the fall of Communism as a missionary outreach of the Estonian Lutheran Church.  The Bishop will give a presentation at Salem's Schmid Hall on Saturday, January 28 at 6:00 pm.

Before Communism, 10% of the population of the Russian Empire was Lutheran.  The first Lutheran congregation in Russia was founded in Moscow in 1576.  Lutheranism enjoyed a respected status in Russia along with the Russian Orthodox Church.  However, as  result of Communism (especially during Stalin's purges in the 1930s), Lutherans were persecuted and scattered, their pastors executed and churches bulldozed.  Many faithful people were sent to Siberia - some into internal exile, and others into Gulag camps.  Some managed to practice their faith secretly for decades, only being able to worship openly with the establishment of the SELC, the re-establishment of destroyed parishes, and the establishment of new ones.

The Lytkins are a delightful couple with a warm sense of humor who grew up in the USSR and converted to Christianity.  Their stories, and those of their fellow Lutherans in Russia, are compelling and inspiring.

They will be accompanied by the Rev. Daniel Johnson and his wife Amy, who live in Iowa.  Pastor Johnson serves the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as a missionary liaison to Eurasia.  Bishop Lytkin will also preach at Salem's Sunday (Jan 29) Divine Service at 10:00.

If you want more information about the SELC and its work, the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society is a great resource - especially their newsletter archive dating back to 2003 - fascinating reading!  There is a 22-minute YouTube documentary about the SELC that includes the bishop and features the work of several of the Siberian clergy and their challenges of ministry in this unique setting.

If you'd like more information, please contact the Rev. Larry Beane at: 504-256-3440.  If you plan on attending, we'd appreciate a heads up for planning purposes.  All are welcome!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sermon: Confession of St. Peter – 2017

18 January 2017

Text: Mark 8:27-9:1 (Acts 4:8-13, 2 Pet 1:1-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Roman Catholic Church considers itself the “Petrine” church, that is, the church of St. Peter.  This is because St. Peter served as the first bishop of Rome, and this office later became known as the papacy, in which the bishop of Rome has pastoral responsibilities to all under his care, namely Roman Catholic Christians.

We Lutherans consider ourselves a “confessional” church, that is, the church that not only believes and teaches, but also confesses the doctrine of the one true faith.  And our confession is laid out in a collection of confessional documents known as the Book of Concord.

And on this day, we celebrate a feast in the church calendar known as the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter.  And on this day, I suppose it’s fair to say that all Christians who honor this feast are both Petrine and confessional churches.

We remember St. Peter and honor him first as an apostle, as well as the leader of the apostles during and after our Lord’s earthly ministry.  St. Peter was the first to confess Jesus as “the Christ.”  This bold confession came from St. Peter in response to our Lord’s question: “Who do people say that I am?”  And after giving the Lord a few different answers, Jesus puts the question directly to them, His disciples.  “Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’”

St. Matthew’s account of this incident tells us that Jesus acknowledged that Peter’s confession was revealed by God.  It was not of his own doing, his own study, his own intelligence, or his own research.

Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ was revealed from above.  And it is an act of courage and confession for Peter to repeat it and proclaim it.

The Lord’s question: “Who do you say that I am?” is really the pivotal question of the universe.  When Jesus asks the disciples, He is also asking us, his disciples of today. He is asking you: “Who do you say that I am?”

Your answer is your confession.  Do you confess that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the promised Messiah?  Do you confess that Jesus is the Son of God, both God and Man, the propitiation for the sins of the world?  For if you make this confession, if you submit to the one whom you confess, you will not only confess Him as Christ, but as Savior, and you will also confess your sins, and you will confess that He has come to release you from the chains of sin and death, and to free you from bondage to Satan.

This, dear friends, is the Petrine confession that we, the church, celebrate.  We confess Christ with St. Peter, for we Christians are both confessional and Petrine.

St. Peter is a beautiful example of the paradoxical life of the Christian.  For just a few verses after praising Peter for making the good confession, Jesus scolds him and calls him “Satan.”  Even as Peter would preach the Gospel courageously and “with boldness” the “name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” and the “salvation” that is to be found “in no one else,” and even as St. Peter would lay down his own life being crucified for his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, so St. Peter had another side.  For when Peter brashly decided to walk on water, he then lost his faith, and began to sink.  And when Peter boldly promised that he would die with Jesus, he would soon deny Jesus three times as the rooster crowed when our Lord was headed to the cross.

There is a little bit of St. Peter in all of us, dear friends, we whose words are bold, but whose deeds are weak.  At times, we confess Jesus as the Christ, and at other times, we dishonor Jesus as the Christ.  There are times when we live the disciplined life of the disciple, but other times when we live only for ourselves and our entertainment.  There are times when we confess Jesus at all costs, and there are times when we shirk our confession for the sake of appearances or seeking out the respect of men.

Peter was fickle, and so are we.  

And we have something else in common with St. Peter: Jesus really loves us, and He entrusts us with vocations in the kingdom even when we don’t deserve it.  

St. Peter denied Jesus three times.  And he watched Jesus die on the cross without having the chance to say that he was sorry before he died.  Fortunately for us, dear friends, death cannot contain our Lord.  When Jesus rose, He told Mary to go find the disciples, mentioning Peter by name.  Jesus would appear to the disciples including Peter.  And Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for His risen Savior three times.  

And three times, Jesus charged St. Peter to feed the sheep, to shepherd the flock, to be a bishop of souls.

Our Lord calls all of us: both preachers and hearers, to be confessional Christians, and in the sense that St. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ – and even denied himself and took up his own cross to follow Him and made his own life a witness to, and confession of, our blessed Lord, Jesus also calls us to be Petrine Christians, following the good example of St. Peter the martyr and confessor of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who urges us to become “partakers of the divine nature” in Jesus Christ, and who confesses rightly that “there will be richly provided to [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Let us live in the confession of St. Peter, which is really the confession of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory forever and ever.  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon: Epiphany 2 – 2017

15 January 2017

Text: John 2:1-11 (Amos 9:11-15, Romans 12;6-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We tend to treat the miracle at Cana as Jesus sort-of warming up with a small miracle, a kind of teaser for the really big stuff to come.  After all, in the grand scheme of things, what’s the big deal if wine runs out at a wedding?  Sure, there would be some immediate embarrassment, but at the end of the day, the couple would be married and life would go on.  

But let’s not forget that what Jesus did at Cana was to override the laws of physics and nature.  What our Lord did to the big stone jars of water was the equivalent of splitting atoms.  Jesus took one substance, and by His command, changed the chemical process of that substance into something else.  It is a mighty act of God.

We say it in the creed, that Jesus is the one: “by whom all things were made.”  And this is the great mystery of our Lord’s incarnation: He is positioned within the creation that He created, acting within the universe that He controls at will.  No-one had ever seen such a miracle.  And the purpose of this miracle is to bring joy, to assure delight, to celebrate the beauty of the institution of marriage that Jesus also built into the fabric of human life itself.

And before sin came to the world, wine could not be abused.  It is a joyful and delightful substance – one that is promised to again be perfect: at the end of time – when God will truly keep the best for the last.  The prophet Amos calls to mind this eternal sinless world as “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow from it.”

The master of the feast at Cana could tell the difference.  This was the “good wine” – the finest, that which is normally reserved to be served first.  For even as creation before the Fall was perfect, so too is our eternal destiny.  And this eternal existence has nothing to do with spirits floating around in heaven, but rather a flesh and blood restored paradise – a new earth, as the prophet says: “they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them, they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”

This is the eternal life that Amos prophesies, and that Jesus delivers.  It is a life of fertile fields, of perfect fruits grown in perfect gardens, of the good wine that, at this time, is treated as a commodity to be prized and rationed, but in eternity, will be common, and will drip from the very mountains.

Jesus has come into our world to deliver perfection – from the big to the small, from world peace and a renewed existence without predators and without death, as well as a world without mealy apples, without dried up oranges, without bitter beer, and without sour wine.  Jesus is turning our scarcity into abundance.  He is transforming our mediocre, and our broken and bitter, into something spectacular and glorious – all by His restorative work in our midst in His very flesh and blood.

Our Lord’s first miracle was at a wedding, even as the first man and first woman were united in Holy Matrimony.  Jesus has come to us as the Bridegroom: strong, loving, protective, and withholding nothing from His Bride, not even His life on the cross and the shedding of His blood as a sacrifice.  And we, as His Bride, come to Him in joyful and willing submission, honoring and respecting Him as our merciful God and as our perfect Man in the flesh who has been sent to rescue us and bring us into perfect communion, like a perfect glass of wine – sweet, smooth, delivering joy, and offered in love and hospitality.

The Lord Jesus has truly saved the best for the last: the wine that is truly His blood: the same blood offered on the cross, the blood which cries out to the Father to avenge us for the evil brought upon us by Satan, the blood which pays the horrific price of our guilt, the blood of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, the blood which restores life to us, even as those stone jars at Cana, dripping with sweet wine, restored joy to the wedding feast.

For when we receive the wine of the Lord’s blood, we receive a preview, a little taste of eternity, of the prophecy of Amos, of the perfect vineyard yielding perfect juice of the grape, perfectly aged into perfect wine.  We receive this not by virtue of the wine itself, dear friends, but by the Word of Christ – the same Word by whom all things were made.  This Word says: “This is My body… This is My blood… For the forgiveness of sins.”  This sacrament delivers the joy of the wedding feast, though we still live the fallen world, where wine can be too bitter or too sweet, and can be drunk in unhealthy quantities, and even in such a way as to destroy communion in marriages and families.

But we have the foretaste, dear friends, a little down-payment on the eternal feast, even as the Lord delivered such a delightful sample to the wedding party at Cana.

In Cana, the people needed wine, and our Lord provided it in both quality and quantity.  The Lord is equally generous and diligent in that which He gives His bride today.  As St. Paul says: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”

We all have different vocations in the kingdom, and by God’s grace, we can use them to serve the kingdom and to “live in harmony with one another.”

The miracle of the transformation of water into wine at Cana isn’t just an opening act – it is truly what the Lord has come to do: to bless marriage by being our Bridegroom, by taking the water that begins our life in the purification of baptism, bringing us to the altar, to partake of the wine that He offers us – His very own perfect blood.  Jesus is transforming the universe atom by atom, molecule by molecule, person by person, and even galaxy by galaxy, in a glorious reclamation and recreation so that we might live in perfection with God and with one another.

Yes indeed, while the world and our sinful flesh have only poor wine to offer, in the end, in Christ, in eternity, we have the very best served to us, the good wine, that has no end.  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sermon: Epiphany – 2017

8 January 2017

Text: Matt 2:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Every warrior, every strategist, every military historian knows about “the element of surprise.”  The Lord Jesus invaded enemy territory not by means of a bombastic wind, a raging fire, or by a terrifying earthquake, but in something even better hidden than the “still small voice” that Elijah heard when God came to him.

For God came to us as a microscopic, single human cell miraculously fertilized and implanted in the womb of a virgin.  He grew there in the safest palace of all, and was born in an obscure village, announced only to a few shepherds.

But God allowed the good news to slip out, and by means of signs in the sky, the announcement of the birth of the Messiah, the King, God in the Flesh, the One who has come to slay the devil and restore mankind to life, word was sent to “wise men from the east” – magi, men of great wisdom who were familiar with ancient Jewish prophecies as well as knowing how to read the signs in the sky – received this revelation, this Epiphany of Jesus.

They followed the extraordinary star that led them to the baby King, to Him “who was born King of the Jews.”  And in their familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures of the Jews who lived many generations in the east, they knew that they had to “worship Him.”

And so, dear friends, it was time for the gloves to come off, the troops were moved out into the open, the battle lines have been drawn, and it is time to commence firing in this war between good and evil.

The evil Herod, a half-breed Jew who stole the birthright of the kingdom by currying favor with the dreaded Romans, was “troubled.”  And he should have been.  For he was an impostor, a poser, an oppressor of, and traitor to, his own people.  The real King has been born, and the real King is coming for the throne.

So the malignant pretender drew his dagger.  And for once, the impostor king opened the scrolls of the Bible – not to hear the Word of the Lord, but in order to try to silence the Word by the sword.  He learned that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.  So he knew where to send his forces.  He knew where the opening battle of open warfare would play out.  

And he deceitfully sweet-talked the wise men, encouraging them to “go and search diligently for the child… that I too may worship Him.”

Of course, the alleged king had no such intention.  The magi were “warned in a dream” not to pass this intelligence back to Herod.  And this bought time for a brilliant maneuver to evade the attack.  Sadly, the attack was waged against the Holy Innocents, boys under the age of two, who were slaughtered as what would be called today “collateral damage,” civilians in the war caught in the crossfire.

But the wise men came to the baby Jesus, and they did indeed “fell down and worshiped Him.”  For He is the true King who has come to topple an even more pretentious pretender: Satan, the illegitimate prince of this world, the deceiver, the father of lies, the serpent, the accuser, the one who brought death to all of mankind and all of creation.

Satan mustered Herod and his cold-blooded murderers to do his bidding.  But he was to be outflanked by the King of the Universe who has come to reclaim His throne.

And in case there is any doubt about the recognition of the King by the magi, they came bearing regal gifts: “gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

Gold is the stuff of kings.  It was more precious than any other known metal of the day.  It was fashioned into expensive jewelry. It was cut into bars and stamped into coins – usually bearing the image of a king – for trade.  The bearer of gold was the owner of wealth.  It was made into crowns so that all the world can see who the king is.

Frankincense and myrrh were even pricier than gold.  These are rare resins painstakingly drawn out of specific trees in the far east.  They are burned, and the oils emit not only a beautiful aroma, but these resins have medicinal value as anti-inflammatories that increase longevity.  

Frankincense has a sharp aroma, calling to mind the sharp word of the Law as proclaimed by the prophets.  Myrrh has a sweeter smell, reminding us of the work of the Old Testament priests in the temple, who offered sacrifices as a sweet-smelling aroma to the Lord, whose forgiveness is sweet to mankind.

And in these three gifts, we see a public and open confession of the Christ Child in His triple office: Prophet, Priest, King, receiving frankincense, myrrh, and gold.

The element of surprise is over.  The revelation of Jesus Christ as Messiah, the promised Savior of mankind and restorer of the universe, is hidden no more.  Epiphany means a revealing, a shining forth, and the days of the silent Word secreted away in the womb are over and done.  The days of baby Jesus being spirited away to Egypt to escape Herod’s dagger are likewise in the past.  

And the ultimate epiphany of who Jesus is was revealed at the cross, dear friends.  For above the sacred head of Jesus was a declaration for all the world to see: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  The King willingly swapped a crown of gold for a crown of thorns.  The Prophet chanted the sharp, bittersweet aroma of Psalm 22 upon the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” as He suffered and died while fulfilling all prophecies in His own flesh and blood.  The Priest offered the sweet-smelling sacrifice of the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world,” a perfect oblation offered to the Father on our behalf, sprinkling the Lamb’s blood upon the ground, the same ground containing the remains of every dead man and woman from Adam and Eve to the present day.  The Priest offered forgiveness from His cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

And from the cross, the Prophet, Priest, and King spoke as a triumphant general: “τετέλεσται!” “Mission Accomplished!” – usually translated into English rather weekly as “It is finished.”  He completed the mission, crushed the head of the serpent, atoned for all sin, and destroyed the power of death by death.  And death itself could not hold Him, for He was to rise again in the ultimate Epiphany of Easter.

For the greatest surprise of all is the conquest of the cross and the triumphant celebration of the resurrection.  And for two thousand years, churches have been places of gold, myrrh, and frankincense, places of the Prophet, Priest, and King, places where wise men and women continue to fall down and worship Him, places where death is still crushed, where sins are still forgiven, and where the Word of God – both the sharpness of the Law and the sweetness of the Gospel are still proclaimed.

And though the element of surprise is over for the devil and his minions, the grace of God continues to surprise and amaze us, dear friends, even as we continue to bring our gifts to our King, offered in thanksgiving for His ministry as the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King who gives us even greater gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

This is our ongoing Epiphany of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and we will bask in the Light of Christ until He comes again in glory.  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sermon: Circumcision and Name of Jesus – 2017

1 January 2017

Text: Luke 2:21 (Num 6:22-27, Gal 3:23-29)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is no name more powerful.  It is the name above every name.  It is the name of God.  It is the name by which we are being saved.  It is also a name used as a curse by some.  It is a name reviled by many.  It is a name praised by angels and scorned by devils.  

So what’s in a name?  The name “Jesus” is the Latinized form of the Greek name “Iesous,” which is itself a Hellenized version of the old Hebrew name “Joshua” a name which itself means: “The Lord saves.”

Of course, many boys were and are named Joshua.  Their name is a confession of the saving grace of God.  But this Joshua whom we call “the Christ” is different.  He is the pinnacle of all Joshuas.  For He is the Son of God, who “was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”

There were and are Joshuas who proclaim the salvation of the Lord, Joshuas – like the leader of Israel who came right after Moses and led the people to the Promised Land – Joshuas who speak the Word of God – but our Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all of those declarations that “The Lord saves.” 

The name of the Lord Jesus was given to Him at His circumcision, at His official public reception into the people of God.  He is not simply one of God’s people, He is God in person.  He is not one being saved, but the One who saves.  He is not merely a spiritual being, but a flesh and blood boy with a flesh and blood existence, bound with humanity according to His flesh, and the Savior of humanity according to His blood.  “The Lord saves.”

What does it mean that Jesus saves?  To save is to rescue.  And in the Greek of the New Testament, to be saved is also to be healed, to be cured.  For we are all suffering from the malady of mortality.  We are all dying.  Day by day and year by year.  We celebrate that a new year has come, a time of fresh starts and opportunities to improve, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  But the paradox is this: we are also another year closer to our own death.  For fallen humanity has a common mortal sickness.  And what we really need goes beyond resolutions and new habits.  Dear friends, what we need is a cure.

Jesus is the cure.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is why we revere the Holy Name of Jesus. For words are not simply codes that point to things only for the sake of communication – we humans are hardwired to think in language.  And in fact, before the first man was created, “in the beginning was the Word.”  Jesus is the Word, He is the resonation of the very creative voice and will of God.  He was with God in the beginning, and He was God. He is God.  And even as a physical human being, He remains God even unto eternity.  And we call upon His name as our Cure and our Physician, our Savior who made us, and who fixes us.

And so the name of Jesus is truly like no other name.  We are baptized into His Holy Name when we are baptized into the name – the single name – of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  “For as many of you who as were baptized into Christ have put on His name,” says St. Paul.  This means that we have put on salvation itself: “The Lord saves.” His name is wedded to our name. He calls us by name even as a Good Shepherd beckons His sheep to follow Him.  His name is the God who saves, and our names, dear friends, as Christians, are the ones saved by God.  

His Holy Name was placed on a sign for all the world to see, in three different world languages, along with His title: the King.  This sign was nailed to a cross along with our Lord and Savior and King Himself.  And nowhere, dear brothers and sisters, is the mighty name of Jesus, more powerfully displayed than upon Golgotha, where our Savior, God Himself in flesh and blood, took upon Himself the sins of the world.  Jesus, God saves, as blood and water poured from His very heart – means by which we are saved.  And He has given us – according to His almighty Word – a means by which His perfect flesh and blood are transfused bodily to us, restoring us according to the promise of the Gospel, the Word of its proclamation, by His name in Baptism and by His crucified and victorious flesh and blood by the means of bread and wine.

Jesus: The Lord saves!  He saves us hanging upon the cross, at the font, by the Words spoken at the lectern and pulpit, and in the saving Eucharist distributed from the altar.  Our New and Greater Joshua likewise picks up where Moses left off, where the Law held us captive and imprisoned.  And like the Joshua of old, our Lord Jesus Christ leads us to the Promised Land, “in order that we might be justified by faith.”

And crossing the Jordan, we are baptized into His name even as we are led to everlasting life.  We are saved by no less than God Himself, even as God who allowed Himself to be circumcised on the eighth day – the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the new week of creation. And it was to be the first day of the new week when our Lord’s tomb was found empty, the day after the Sabbath, the day we now call “Sunday.”  And Sunday is the weekly return to the name of Jesus, to the confession that the Lord saves us, even a Lord of flesh and blood – whose flesh and blood are given out to the people who are being saved, given out on this first day of the new week, the first day of the year, the first day of the new creation.

The Lord saves, dear friends, for we gather in the name of Jesus.  We pray in the name of Jesus.  We live in the name of Jesus.  We die in the name of Jesus.  And we rise again in the name of Jesus.

Jesus.  The Lord saves.

And when we gather in the name of Jesus, when we receive the flesh and blood of Jesus, we also hear the benediction of Jesus as spoken through the priests who are authorized to speak the Word of God to the people, proclaiming that the Lord saves: The Lord blesses, the Lord makes His face shine upon you, the Lord lifts up His countenance upon you.

The Lord gives you peace because the Lord saves.  That is Jesus.  That is His name.  “So they shall put My name upon the people of Israel,” says the God who saves, “and I will bless them.”  Blessings in the name of Jesus, dear Christians, blessings for a new year and a new life that will never end, in His Most Holy Name. Amen.

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