Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) – 2017

26 March 2017

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Feeding people is an act of love.  It is the very first interaction between a newborn and his mother.  It is the very thing our grandparents insist on doing when we visit them as kids.  When we invite friends over, we share a meal.  When we meet new people, often we go out to eat.  When there is a celebration of a milestone in life: a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday, a promotion, a new baby – there is food.  And when there are sad times, we bring food to alleviate the sorrow.  In fact, we even have an entire category called “comfort food.”

We intuitively understand this connection between love and feeding people.

When Adam and Eve were first created, God put them in a garden, a place where they were surrounded by trees bearing fruit.  And they could eat of the fruit of all of the trees in the garden, except one.  And even the prohibition was an act of love, as that fruit at that time had bad consequences.  Perhaps when the time was ripe, Adam and Eve could have safely eaten that fruit as well.

When Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery, and when God was carrying out His wrath on the Egyptians there was a meal of bread and wine and the flesh of a lamb.

And when the wandering children of Israel were starving, God expressed His love for His people by feeding them  with the wondrous food called “Manna” – which is Hebrew for “What is it?” – the question the children of Israel asked in wonder as the Lord rained down bread from heaven just for them.

To feed people is an act of love, because food is a means of preserving life.  But it is also something that makes life joyful.

St. John the Evangelist’s sixth chapter is a magnificent text that includes our reading for today: the feeding of the five thousand.  Later in the chapter, Jesus will teach the people about the Bread of Life, the new and greater Manna – which is Jesus’s very own flesh and blood, which bears a promise of eternal life by eating and drinking in faith.

This feeding of the people is a constant theme in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and indeed, eternity is described as a never-ending banquet, a wedding feast in which Jesus is both the host and guest, both victim and priest, both the one beloved of the Father and the One who loves the Father even to the point of His obedient death upon the cross.

And there is indeed no greater love than that a man would lay down His life for His friends. And the Lord’s friends are all of the people in the world for whom He dies. And  Jesus doesn’t only die upon the cross – which forgives our sins, atones for our guilt, and destroys sin, death, and the devil – our Lord does something even more wondrous, in the words of the ancient hymn: “That last night at supper lying / Mid the Twelve, His chosen band, / Jesus, with the Law complying, / Keeps the feast its rites demand; / Then, more precious food supplying, / Gives Himself with His own hand.”

Of course, the author of the hymn, St. Thomas Aquinas, speaks of the Lord’s Supper.  

John Chapter Six does as well, only indirectly.  For what greater love could a man have than to lay down His life for His friends, and feed them as well?

For in our text, the Passover was coming: the feast with its demanding rites, the chief rite of which will be the Lord’s crucifixion as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.  And with the approach of the Passover, people by the thousands are coming to the Passover Lamb in the flesh.  They have come to hear Him speak and to experience His miracles.  

And knowing that the crowds needed to eat, and knowing that the logistics of feeding so many could not be done in the usual manner, Jesus gives us a glorious sign, teaching us about the Lord’s Supper, by performing a miracle involving food.

Yes, Jesus loves us, and so He feeds us.  And He doesn’t feed us merely with bread, for man doesn’t live by bread alone, but rather by bread that is also His body, and wine that is also His blood.  Jesus feeds us because He loves us, and His food, even more so than the Manna that fed the Old Testament believers in their journey, is the food that sustains us to eternal life.  

When the people sat down, the Lord Jesus “took the loaves, and when He had given thanks,” distributed the miraculous bread to those who gathered together to hear His Word, those who have come to be fed with the Word, or as Thomas’s hymn puts it:  by the “Word Made Flesh,  the bread He taketh, / By His Word His flesh to be; / Wine His sacred blood He maketh, / Though the senses fail to see; / Faith alone the true heart waketh / To behold the mystery.”

For it is truly a mystery, dear friends.  How can five loaves and two fish feed so many?  How can a wafer and a sip of wine deliver eternal life?  How can flakes fall from the sky to feed the people of God?  How can bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ by His Word and at His command?  It is a mystery, which is what the word “sacrament” means.

So many were fed that twelve baskets of leftovers remained, miraculous food that will feed others who hunger, especially them that hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Yes indeed, feeding people is an act of love.  It is the act of a Father who loves His children, of a God who loves His creation, of a Bridegroom who loves His bride, of a Holy Spirit who loves the Church that is His creation.  And dining together is an act of love, dear friends, love for the God who creates us, redeems us, and sanctifies us, as well as a sharing of a holy meal that calls us to “fervent love for one another.” 

Let us partake of the miraculous feeding of the billions at the hand of the Lord in His miraculous Supper.  For this feeding of His people is truly an act of love – a love that will have no end. 


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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) – 2017

12 March 2017

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There are two ways to react to Jesus: belief or unbelief.

Jesus is a completely unique figure in history.  Every country in the world uses the BC/AD scheme for numbering our calendar.  AD stands for “Anno Domini,” Latin for “the year of Lord,” or in other words, the number of years since the reign of the world’s king.

Jesus is the only major religious figure on the planet whose tomb is empty – not because it was robbed or vandalized, but because He just walked out of it. 

Jesus is quoted even by those who hate the church and want to justify sinful behavior, being quick to tell us that Jesus said, “Judge not…” and told us to love one another – as if Jesus is saying that it’s perfectly okay to break the ten commandments without being called to repentance.

Jesus is considered to be a great teacher by some Jews, a prophet by Muslims, an avatar by many eastern religions, a Buddha by the Dalai Lama, an enlightened soul by Zen masters, and when challenged for putting a sign on His cross that said, “King of the Jews,” the Roman governor who found Him not guilty, but permitted his execution anyway, was to say, “What I have written, I have written.”

Jesus has been worshiped by millions of people as God, including about two billion people living today.  What we know about Jesus mainly comes from the Bible, the most printed, purchased, translated, read, quoted, studied, loved, and hated book in the history of mankind. 

Jesus changed the world as no other man in history, and is still changing the world. 

Jesus was acknowledged to be a worker of unexplainable miracles even by His enemies who denounced Him in the Talmud, whose authors denied that He is the Son of God, but argued that He is a “sorcerer” – one who does miracles by means of the devil.

And this same dichotomy is as true today was true when the events reported by St. Luke in our Gospel happened.  Jesus is either the Son of God or a tool of Satan.

In our Gospel, Jesus has just cast out a demon and made a mute man well again, so that he was able to speak.  This was not a medical cure.  This was not a magic trick.  This was not a coincidence, but rather a constant pattern in the life of Jesus. 

And so, there are two explanations for this: either Jesus is who He says He is, who the church confesses Him to be, and who Scripture testifies that He is: God in the flesh, or, He is a sorcerer – doing miracles by means of the devil.

And just as today, we see opinion divided.  “The people marveled.  But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’”

So, in other words, either this Jesus is God in the flesh, the Lord and Savior of the world, the victor over sin, death, and the devil, the hope for mankind and for each individual soul in this fallen world, the ultimate incarnation of love who dies on the cross as an atonement for all our sins, the One who is creating for us a new heaven and a new earth and will raise our bodies at the resurrection so that we will live sinless and glorious lives for all eternity, or, He is an evil and duplicitous liar who can do miracles because He is the ultimate villain who hates mankind and who seeks to glorify Satan.

If we have to determine whether a person is good or evil, we typically look at his deeds.  There is very little debate about whether or not Hitler and Stalin and Mao carried out good or evil deeds.  It is not going out on a limb to call such people evil.  And similarly, when we read about people to risk their own lives to save others, when we hear of people who act in ways that are honorable and heroic and in love for their fellow men, we generally don’t look for some way to distort their good deeds into demonic behavior.

It simply doesn’t make sense to call good evil, and to call evil good.  And Jesus Himself points out the nonsense of it all: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.  And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?  For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”

Those who look at the works of Jesus: the casting out of demons, the curing of blindness, the restoration of hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, making the lame walk, healing people of crippled hands, paralysis, hemorrhages, fevers, dropsy, epilepsy, leprosy, and even raising the dead – and ascribing these works as evil and of the devil – are simply stuck in the prison of their own minds, being captured by a narrative that they are too stubborn to release.

The bottom line is that Jesus casts out demons because He is the God who created them, and they are the angels who have disobeyed Him.  These fallen angels go where they are forbidden to go, and they never help mankind, but always torture and imprison the sons of Adam.  Jesus has come to set the captive free, to cast out the works and workers of darkness, to forgive sins, to restore human dignity, and to even overturn our sentence of death by His own death upon the cross.

And what’s more, Jesus rises from His own tomb, and proclaims this victory to all.

Dear friends, it has become fashionable to look past all the hard evidence of Christ’s divinity and to join the false narrative that either considers Jesus to be a fraud or a worker of evil.  But don’t be deceived. 

A good tree bears good fruit.  Evil does not work to bring healing and health and completeness and life and restoration of communion with God.  Only God in the flesh can do this, only the “finger of God” can point to a demon and cast it away, while the hand attached to that finger can bear the scar of the nail that held Him to the cross, the same cross the church proclaims, the cross that is the altar upon which Lamb of God was slain.

Our Lord performs wondrous good works because He is both wondrous and good.  He forgives because He is God.  He loves because He is love.  He is with us here and now in His Word and sacrament.  His glorious work continues.  The demons are no match for Him.

And let us never forget what He taught us about mankind and what a man’s confession of Christ truly means: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

Let us continue to gather with Him, and let us not only believe, but confess and rejoice as well. For “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Amen.

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sermon: Funeral for Henry Wilty

17 March 2017

Text: John 11:20-27 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

Our dear brother Henry lived an extraordinary life on this side of the grave: nearly a century.  He was born just after the World War I veterans came home.  He lived through the Great Depression, and served honorably in World War II.  In his lifetime, he saw both horses and buggies, as well as rockets and satellites and the information superhighway.

Living so long is a blessing, but it also has great challenges, like outliving most of one’s immediate family and friends, and the physical aches and pains and infirmities and limitations of old age.  For the elderly, it is often a return to childhood in a way, being dependent for everything on loving family members.  And Henry had no shortage of that kind of loving family right up until the Lord called him home.

Something else happened in Henry’s life, when he was twenty-one days old.  On that day, baby Henry returned to his birth in a way, being dependent on loving parents to bring him to a new birth, in the words of Jesus, he was “born of  water and the Spirit,” according to the Lord’s words, “You must be born again.”

This new birth happened at the church that I serve, Salem Lutheran Church, at the hands of my beloved predecessor, Pastor Eugene Schmid – and in the very same baptismal font that stands in our church to this day.

To unbelievers, this is hardly an important event in the life of a man.  But for us Christians, this is an eternal milestone in our dear brother’s life.  For Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  And the Lord Jesus told us to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”  Pastor Schmidt applied water to the Lord’s servant Henry with these very words 35,244 days ago.

The Words and promises of Jesus have no expiration date.  This same Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and spoke to Martha, the sister of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  Those words were recorded in Scripture for us right here and right now, dear friends.

For this is the very reason our Lord Jesus Christ was born into our fallen world, where, because of our sins, we suffer, we age, and we die.  This is true for every single one of us from Adam right to the newborn babies born today.  Jesus came to us poor, miserable sinners, because He loves us, He redeems us, He restores us to holiness, and He brings us to everlasting life – not because we are worthy, but because He is worthy.  And He is coming again to create a new heaven and a new earth, to grant us “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and a glorious reunion with our loved ones who have been baptized into Christ’s death, for as St. Paul tells us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”  That promise likewise knows no expiration date. 

This, dear friends, is why we can be at peace even in our mourning.  For the Lord’s servant Henry was set apart as a child of God, and was given an inheritance of life through the cross of Jesus, through His body and blood, through the promise of the Gospel.  That promise is Henry’s, because our Lord Jesus Christ said so.  That makes it true.  It is not up for negotiation or interpretation.  The promise of the Lord as spoken through the prophet Isaiah belongs to Henry as well: “even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you, I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

And though this prophecy to the Lord’s people was made 700 years before Christ, the Word of God has no expiration date.  The promise was given to Henry as well, upon his becoming one of the Lord’s own beloved, chosen people.

One of the most comforting passages in the Bible comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth.  St. Paul speaks of the victory of Christ over the grave – which is today Henry’s victory as well.  The apostle says: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And so, we mourn the loss of our father, our grandfather, our relative, our friend, a man whose life touched so many, whose love shaped generations of people for the better.  It is fitting that we mourn.  But we mourn in hope, dear friends, and we are even so bold as to mourn with joy, an act of defiance against sin, death, and the devil, all of whom were defeated by our Lord at the cross, the same Lord whose words continue to be proclaimed by His people, the same words that have no expiration date.

We mourn in expectation of seeing him again, in expectation of our own triumph over the grave in Christ Jesus.  For Jesus walked out of His own grave by His own power.  We Christians are gearing up yet again to celebrate this Easter victory, this promise made to Henry and to all who believe and are baptized. 

Dear friends, take comfort in the words of Jesus when and where Jesus is proclaimed, where His Word continues to go forth, where His body and blood are freely given to you for the strengthening of your faith, where the Good News of our Lord’s triumph over death continues to ring out, now, and even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sermon: Funeral for Jack Weigel

13 March 2017

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Lam 3:22-26, 31-33; Rev 21:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Sandi, Jeff, Chris, Michelle, Tara, family, friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

Over the course of his nearly three quarters of a century of life on this side of the grave, Jack wore many hats.  There is no higher calling than to be a husband and father, and to serve other members of one’s family in love.  To run a business for half a century, helping people to buy and sell homes, to be trusted with those kinds of important decisions, requires not only knowledge, but an unrelenting trustworthiness and faithfulness.  And to save life and limb and property in the fire service for 25 years as a volunteer, and even serving as a captain, is a testament to Jack’s compassion.

And of course on this side of the grave, we all wear a different kind of hat as well: that of a sinner.  God spoke to our ancestor Adam, and He speaks to all of us as well, that because of our sins, we return to the clay from which we were fashioned.  You may have heard this said on Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  St. Paul teaches us that the wages of sin is death.  And sin is something that plagues all of us.  As beloved as our brother Jack is to all of us, he was not perfect (as none of us are), and neither his love for family, nor his faithfulness to the community, nor his compassion even to the stranger, could prevent Jack’s death, nor can it save him from the wrath of God, who is perfect, and who demands that we also be perfect.

But hear the Word of the Lord, dear friends: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…. Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”

For as a man loves His wife and children (and we do so imperfectly at times), so does our heavenly Father love us, yet unconditionally and perfectly.  And just as a person who lives in the community serves his fellow man faithfully (even as we do so imperfectly), God serves us faithfully and perfectly.  And just as our Lord taught us that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends, Jesus has offered His own life as a ransom – for Jack, for you, for me, and for all of us who need redemption and grace, and He does so perfectly.  He promises to save those who are baptized and who believe, who call upon His name.  For when St. Paul says that the wages of sin is death, he finishes the statement in this way: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

After his heart attack, I visited Jack in the hospital.  He had just heard very grim news.  According to the doctors, he had very little time left.  I shared the Word of God with Jack.  I prayed for him and with him. I anointed him with oil as the church has always done.  In His mercy, God granted Jack extra time to be with his family and friends.  I saw him a few times afterward, not in the hospital, but walking around and smiling.  It was a great blessing that the Lord gave Jack this second chance.  And it is a demonstration of the Lord’s mercy, and how His ways are beyond our understanding.

For we worship a God of second chances, who loves us even though not one of us deserves it.  He has carried Jack to his heavenly home, where he awaits the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and the great and marvelous reunion when we will see him again in glory.

Our Lord Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….  I am the good shepherd.  I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  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.”

Even as a firefighter puts his own life on the line to rescue one in need, so does our Lord Jesus Christ endure the Father’s wrath, the weight of our sins, and the suffering of the cross to save us – and that is the faith that Jack was baptized into.  That is God’s promise to him and to you, dear friends.

And though we mourn now – and it is natural that we do so, for we miss our loved ones who are taken from us – remember that this separation is only temporary.  For God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.”  

So on this day it is fitting to remember that Jack is a son of the Heavenly Father who loves him, that the Lord has faithfully prepared an eternal home for Jack, and that our Lord Jesus Christ has compassionately rescued Jack from sin, death, and the devil, saving him in victory, a victory won for Jack and for all of us through the cross and the resurrection – a resurrection that extends to all of us.

And it is in Christ’s victory, that is also Jack’s victory, that we Christians greet one another with Christ’s peace.  Peace be with you!  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2017

12 March 2017

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“O woman, great is your faith!” says our Lord to the Canaanite woman. “Be it done for you as you desire.”

Jesus has come into our world to mend it, to restore it, to heal it.  He has come to repair that which is broken – especially each one of us.  We suffer physically: sicknesses that burden us, accidents that suddenly incapacitate us, pains from the toll of age, and even death itself.  We suffer mentally: depression, frustration, mental health issues, and emotional pain.  We suffer spiritually: temptations, doubts, demonic harassment, loss of faith, and fear of God’s wrath, or perhaps even worse, a lack of fear of God’s wrath.

No matter who we are, we suffer.  No matter how fine we are at times, we are catastrophically broken at other times.  And nobody gets out of here alive. 

And it isn’t just us.  Everyone on the planet, great and small, rich and poor, men and women, famous and obscure – all of us suffer this brokenness.

The Canaanite woman had a lot of strikes against her.  Being a woman in her day and age was not easy.  Her toil was hard and the rewards were few.  She was not respected by men of any nationality.  And being a Canaanite, she was outside of the covenant of the people of God – who looked down upon her because of her ethnicity.  She was probably raised to believe in false gods.  And her daughter was disturbingly sick.  And to top it all off, her daughter did not suffer with an ailment that could be cured by doctors and medicine.  For she was possessed by a demon.  And being a Canaanite, who can cast this demon out?  Could her pagan priests?  Would a Jewish rabbi or prophet come near her?

Somehow, some way, she knew where she had to go to get help.  Against her own religion, and contrary to the customs of her heritage and even the whole region, she knew that she had to go to Jesus, to beg for His mercy, and for Him to exercise the power He has to cast out the demon and restore her daughter to health and wholeness.

She indeed believes that Jesus can do this.  And yet this is only part of the picture of faith.  Just knowing that Jesus can do something is not the same as knowing that Jesus will do something.  And what of her faith when that faith is challenged?  Does the faith hold on, or does it wither away?  

This Canaanite woman teaches us the complexity of faith, dear friends, the kind of faith that conducts salvation from Jesus, to us, and heals, the faith that taps into the grace of Jesus and delivers.  

This kind of faith isn’t knowledge – for even the demons “believe” in this way, and they shudder.  This kind of faith isn’t even asking Jesus for mercy, for the demons do that as well.  This kind of faith isn’t even a hunch that Jesus will do something for us – for this woman is given no indication that Jesus will heal her daughter.  For when she knelt before Jesus and begged for His help, His initial response was less than encouraging: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 

Such a reply could easily have destroyed any faith of this woman.  But it doesn’t.  She argues with Jesus: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  She doesn’t argue her own righteousness, for she lays claim to the very derogatory insult of being a dog.  But rather she points to the pity of the dog’s Master, the Master’s natural inclination to love His dog.  She holds God to His promise to be merciful to His creatures – not because they are worthy, but rather because God is God.

And she acknowledges Jesus to be God, breaking through her own paganism and confessing the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

But notice something about this faith of the Canaanite woman: her faith is stubborn.  It is unrelenting.  She refuses to take “no” for an answer.  She is spiritually clawing and kicking to receive the answer to her prayer – not unlike the stubborn Jacob, who wrestled God in human form, and refused to let go until he received a blessing.

This, dear friends, is true faith.  It is saving faith.  This is the faith that in a very real way compels Jesus to bless and heal and save the one who seeks His blessing.  Faith is not like answering a question on a test.  It is more like winning a wrestling match or a debate.  Faith – the kind of faith that heals the sick, casts out demons, and raises the dead is just this sort of stubborn faith.  It is faith that refuses to let go, will not take “no” for an answer, and somehow knows that Jesus has what we need, and is willing to make demands of Jesus by appealing not to our worthiness, but rather to His worthiness.

It is as though this Canaanite women were confessing Jesus as God so forcefully that she is almost daring Jesus to try not to be divine.  He cannot do it.  He cannot refuse her, because He is God, and God is love, and love will not refuse the one in need, the one who asks, the one who cries out to God in mercy.

Her confession is not rooted in knowledge or a theological education, but rather in her stubborn trust that Jesus is unable, by His very nature, to refuse her entreaties.  

And she is right.

Jesus tests her faith, and Jesus tests our faith.  True faith simply refuses to be shaken off.  True faith holds on for dear life – because that is exactly what we receive, dear friends: dear life.  We hold God to His promises, including the promise that is also a declaration: your sins are forgiven.  And because Jesus has come into our world to save us, because He went to the cross, because He shed His blood and died as the perfect ransom, we lay claim to eternal life, dear brothers and sisters.

So let us refuse to quit.  Let us refuse to give up.  Let us hold on to our Lord Jesus Christ with everything that is in us. Let us ever remind our Lord that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.  And let us receive an invitation to not just crumbs, but even to the Lord’s body itself, and the blood that saves us, and the Word that absolves us, and the Gospel that strengthens this faith into a holy stubbornness.  Let the Lord no longer call us dogs but rather His brothers and His sisters by virtue of His Sonship of the Father.

For He is God.  He is love.  He is merciful.  He is faithful.  We will not refuse your entreaty, O woman, nor yours, O man.  Your faith will make you well by placing your infirmities and iniquities in the nail-scarred hands of our merciful Lord.  He will cast out the demons that harass you and the doubts that assail you.  He forgives the sins that vex you and the weaknesses of faith that wear you down.

But He is not worn down.  He never tires of us or of our prayers.  His mercies are without limit and His grace without measure.  Hold on tight and remind Him of His Word and His promise.  And let us all hear this blessing as we refuse to let go: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) – 2017

5 March 2017

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Satan says: “Did God actually say…?”

Jesus says: “It is written.”

Satan lures us to doubt the Word of God, to reinterpret it according to our wants and whims, to exalt ourselves and “be like God” – even though Satan’s lusty invitation is a lie.  And Satan leads us to death. Jesus calls us to trust the Word of God, to submit to it according to God’s will, to praise the God who created us, and who invites us to live with Him forever in blessedness and truth.  For Jesus is the very incarnation of Truth.

Satan led the man Adam to darkness, destruction, and death.  The man Jesus has defeated Satan, and leads mankind to light, love, and life.

Three times, the lying devil sought to pervert our Lord Jesus: first, to tempt Him to feed Himself apart from God, second, to destroy Himself contrary to the will of God, and third, to seek worldly power in rebellion against God.  And three times, our Lord Jesus replied, “It is written…. Then the devil left Him.”

“It is written,” dear friends.  The weapon you need to subvert the devil, to resist temptation, to remain faithful, to claim the free gift of everlasting life that is yours by virtue of Him who defeated the devil at the cross, is found in the writings, the Scripture, the Holy Bible, the Word of God.

Jesus is the Word.  For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Word, dear friends, the same Word that, from the heavens, spoke all things into existence, in the beginning, is the same Word that, from the cross, bespeaks us forgiven and righteous, freed from guilt, and released from bondage to sin, death, and yes, the malignant and lying devil himself.  

The same Word cleansed you at your baptism.  The same Word absolves you of your sins.  The same Word nourishes you not merely with bread and wine, but with the body and blood of the Word made flesh, the Word that dwells among us.

The Word is not a dusty old book of meaningless history or trite moralisms.  The Word is not a magic book of spells and incantations.  The Word is not a book of trivia to master.

The Word of God “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” – and it is your only weapon with which to slay the dragon.

The Bible is at the same time the best selling book at any given time and the least read book that so often collects dusts in our homes.  The Bible is the greatest book ever written, and the greatest book ever forgotten.  The Bible is the book most sought after in history, and the book most misunderstood in history.

And so here we are, dear brothers and sisters, at the first Sunday in our Lenten journey, having the opportunity and the privilege to meditate on Satan’s defeat at the hands of the Word by means of the Word.  We hear anew of how lying words betrayed man into the clutches to the devil, and we also hear how true words betrayed the devil into the clutches of the Man Jesus, the Man who triumphed where Adam fell.

And the Lord Jesus offers Himself to all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, dear friends, giving Himself to us as the Word that destroys the devil.  

In our wonderful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Doctor Luther, reflecting upon the Word of God in Psalm 46, ponders the Lord’s battle with the devil, which is also our battle with the devil: “The old evil foe/ Now means deadly woe;/ Deep guile and great might/ Are his dread arms in fight;/ On earth is not his equal.”

Indeed, dear friends, we are not equal to the task of fighting the devil.  But, as the hymn continues: “But for us fights the valiant One,/ Whom God Himself elected./ Ask ye Who is this?/ Jesus Christ it is.”

And when it comes to Satan, when facing the Lord Jesus Christ, we sing in the hymn: “One little word can fell him.”

All the might and power and rage and destruction of the devil, and yet what defeats him?  One little word: one little baby inside His mother’s womb, one little book of Truth, one act of defiance and resistance by a Christian who hurls the Word of God into the face of Satan.  One little Word.

Dear friends, we need the Word of God.  The Word destroys the devil, fills us with grace, and raises us from death.  The Word’s power is mighty and merciful, crushing evil and bearing up the humble, calling sinners to repent, and restoring the penitent to a calling of holiness.

We opened this service with the Word of God, Psalm 91, a prayer and a blessing used in exorcisms.  In that Word, we heard anew the promise of Him who defeated Satan, the Word that declares: “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.  You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”  Because Jesus has trampled the head of the serpent, we too have victory over the devil.  And the Word delivers that victory to us, hardens us for battle, and comforts us in distress. 

St. Paul speaks of the preaching of the Word when he writes of “truthful speech, and the power of God.”  Truthful speech, dear friends.  The words of the devil are lies, but the Word of God is truth.  It is written!  Read it. Study it.  Hear it. Pray it!  And most of all, believe it – in this life and in the life to come!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Sermon: Ash Wednesday – 2017

1 March 2017

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Peter wrote to the church about “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

And that is the source of all of our problems, dear friends, a lusting for that which was not given us.  It plagued Adam and Eve when they chose to disobey God’s word at the temptation of the serpent.  

The word translated as “corruption” means decay or ruin, and it is closely related to the word translated as “jealousy.”  What could be a more fitting description of the fall in the garden?  What could be a more accurate – though unflattering picture – of each one of us?

Corruption is rot, and rot spreads, until it reaches its terminus at death.  “Remember, O man…”

Although it’s not something we deal with in our modern world, an example of this corruption from Scripture is leprosy.  Today, leprosy is known as Hansen’s Disease, and it can be cured.  But for most of human existence, leprosy was a death sentence.  And death followed the slow and painful march of corruption and decay of the flesh. And since this disease is contagious and so dangerous, because it is disfiguring and frightening, those who suffered with leprosy were cast out of the community and forced to live alone or in leper colonies.  If they came into contact with people not suffering with the disease, they had to call out “unclean!”  You could tell lepers by looking at them. 

Lepers sometimes came to Jesus calling out for mercy, seeking for Jesus to remove the corruption and restore them to life and to the community.  They had faith that He could do this, and prayed for His help.  They gathered where Jesus could be found, even risking the reproach of others, including the hypocrites who saw themselves as better than lepers, though they too needed Christ’s mercy.

And so, on this day, this first day of the great fast, on this day in which we ponder our own sinful nature and corruption, our own leprous sin and “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire,” we symbolically wear the rags of the leper, with the outstretched hands of the beggar, our faces marked for death, with ashes of sorrow and repentance placed upon us with a call to remembrance – as if we need to be reminded of sin and death.

And yet we do need reminded, for we hypocritically deny our sinful nature, our corruption, and even our mortality.  We change the subject when death comes up.  We avoid making wills and taking care of insurance needs.  We shy away from the topic.  But on this day, we look at one another as fellow members of a leper colony.  We see a token of the corruption that we hide so well.

In our own day and age, we are so clueless that many Christian churches have turned Ash Wednesday into an extension of Carnival.  Some churches allow people to drive up in their cars to get ashes as if it were a happy meal or a parade throw – without even being inconvenienced to the point of opening the car door – because people are too busy and too callous to hear the Word of God.  For whatever reason, they thing ashes are a fun thing to do.

Other churches make a mockery of this ancient practice by mixing glitter with the oil and ashes to produce a fashion statement that is intended to support sexual rebellion from the Word of God, and to celebrate it, thus losing all meaning that the ashes convey: the token of corruption and death and a call to repent of our sins and not take pride in them.

But even though we came to church, heard the word of God, and did not festoon ourselves with glitter on this day, this reminder is for us.  Our Lord Jesus reminds us of the sin of self-righteousness: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven….  And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen.”  Make sure you understand the meaning behind the ashes, dear friends.  It isn’t one of those little yellow stickers you put on to brag that you voted today.  This is a serious reminder that you are corrupt. You are a liar.  You are a cheater.  You are a thief.  You are a sexual scoundrel.  You are disobedient of authority.  You covet and despise preaching and the Word.  You abuse the Lord’s name and take idols.  

You are a leper, and we are members of a colony.  We have no cure to save ourselves from the corruption, and death is imminent.  We are a corrupting force to others.  We need to protect them from us.  

But, dear friends, the ashes placed on your foreheads are shaped like a cross: the symbol of death under the law, the death suffered by Jesus as the atonement for those sins. In the cross, we can call out to the Lord, “Have mercy upon us!” and He hears us.  With a Word He cleanses us.  With His flesh and blood, He takes away our leprosy, our shame, our reproach, and yes, even our death.  We are cured and healed and restored to the community: the communion of saints.  And in gratitude, we, like the Samaritan leper, continue to return to give thanks, struggling to lead repentant and holy lives.

This is what Joel means in saying: “Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  We return in repentance, and we return in thanks. 

And so let these ashen crosses that remind us of our sin and mortality in and of ourselves, also remind us of our forgiveness and immortality in Christ, though the cross, by His Word, and by means of the water and the blood and the flesh of Him who has healed the leper, raised the dead, and invited us to partake of eternal life.

For the Lord says to us anew, dear friends: “Behold, I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”

Remember, O man…  Amen.

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