Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 11 - 2017

27 August 2017

Text: Luke 18:9-14

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

At first glance, it appears that there are many different religions in the world.  But in fact, there are only two: the right one, and all the rest.  But to be more specific, as our theologians put it, there is the religion of the Law, and there is also the religion of the Gospel.

Religion is all about how man is reconciled to God, how we overcome the brokenness of this world of death, and how we transcend the fallen world and restore communion with the Creator.  In other words, how we close the gap between man and God.

And so there are only two religions in the world: the one where mankind climbs his way up to God (the religion of the Law) and the one where God condescends his way down to man (the religion of the Gospel).

In the religion of the Law, you can have salvation by obeying the simple little verse: “be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Just don’t sin in thought, word, and deed, and be like God.  And every religion in the world, except for Christianity, teaches this.  Every other religion has a program of steps to climb the ladder to righteousness: you have to pray, make pilgrimages, do good works, give money, avoid sin, and so forth.  But if you fall off the ladder, well, you either start over after being punished, or are sent to hell, or you come back in the next life reincarnated as a toad or something.

But in the religion of the Gospel, that is, Christianity, God Himself comes down the ladder; He meets us where we are.  He takes human flesh; He fulfills the Law on our behalf; He pays the penalty of our sins; He makes a “happy exchange” between our unworthiness and His worthiness.  And this is “good news” – which is what the word “Gospel” means.  In Latin, “good news” is called “Evangelium.”  And it’s why we do “Evangelism,” and why our Lutheran churches in Germany are called “Evangelical.”  Recovering the Gospel that had become buried under the Law was a big part of the Lutheran reformation.  We Lutherans became known as “Evangelical Catholics.” 

Jesus teaches this very doctrine by means of one of His compelling stories: “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”

These two competing religions are personified by these two characters.  Listen to the Pharisee’s prayer, and consider whether he is proposing the religion of the Law or of the Gospel.  He prays: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

By contrast, listen to the tax collector’s prayer, and consider whether he is proposing the religion of the Law or of the Gospel.  “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’”  Think of the contrast between these two men.

One of them is offering his works as payment to God, a sort-of admission price to the kingdom of heaven.  The other offers nothing, but instead, prays for God’s mercy.  And so only one of these men is a Christian, or as our Lord says in the story: only one of them “went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

Most of the religions of the world would side with the Pharisee.  For just look at all of his good works!  It’s a pretty impressive resume. He avoids the sins of “other men,” and he fasts (actually twice as much as the law requires), and he gives tithes of everything (not just after taxes).  He is clearly a “good person.”  And this was the goal of the Pharisees in the first century: they strove to be good people, to obey the law perfectly so as to climb the ladder to God.  And these were the people who hated Jesus and often got into fights with Him.  For in spite of their high and mighty attitude, they were still poor, miserable sinners.  Even their good works were tainted by sin.  They needed a Savior just as much as anyone else – and Jesus was not shy about telling them as much.  But they were too proud to ask for, or even to accept, help.  And this is why Jesus says: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The religion of the Law fails simply because we can’t keep the Law.  We’re too broken.  We need a Savior.

Of course, we are expected to strive to keep the Law, to really do the best we can.  The Law is good.  The Ten Commandments are the first thing we learn in our catechism.  Avoiding sin is good.  Fasting is good.  Giving tithes is good.  Showing mercy to one’s neighbor (like another of Jesus’ stories, “The Good Samaritan”) is good.  The Law keeps social order, shows us our need for a Savior, and gives us a guide to the good and virtuous life.  But the one thing the Law cannot do, dear friends, is save you.  It always accuses and always condemns.  And this is where the Gospel comes in: the Good News that our Lord shed His holy blood to redeem us from death and hell!  He keeps the Law where we fail.  He rescues us from our own wretchedness and helplessness.  And so we trust in Him rather than in ourselves.

The world (and even our own reason) recoils from the idea of a tax collector (which in that time and place essentially meant a crook and a thief), a man so convicted of his sinfulness that he cowers in the temple, and who has no good works to boast before God, but simply prays: “Lord, have mercy!”

And yet, there it is.  He is humble.  He confesses his sin.  He offers no works of his own to justify himself.  And because of his humility, he goes home justified, for Jesus has justified him!  That, dear friends, is the Christian faith, the faith of justification, the religion of the Gospel!

In receiving this Good News, our tax collector can now repent of his sins, joyfully confessing the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  He can struggle against sin, fast, and tithe, all as an offering to the Lord – not the kind of offering that claims to forgive sin, but rather the kind of offering the Old Testament calls a “thank offering.”

We poor, miserable sinners pray just as this tax collector prays: “Lord, have mercy!”  We plead for forgiveness.  We are forgiven.  Our sins are washed away in Holy Baptism – pure Gospel.  We hear the words of absolution – pure Gospel.  We eat and drink His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins – pure Gospel.  And we hear the proclamation of His Word, pure Gospel – and we believe – not in ourselves and our works, but in Him and His work on the cross, that is, in His Gospel!

And so, dear friends, let us never fall into the trap of the Pharisee.  Your good works don’t impress God or earn His salvation.  But having been justified, having been made holy by the blood of the Lamb, your good works are a “thank you” for what you have received from God as an answer to the prayer, the sinner’s prayer, the Christian’s prayer, the prayer that is answered by the Gospel: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  

This is good news indeed!  Amen.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 10 - 2017

20 August 2017

Text: Luke 19:41-48 (Jer 8:4-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The name “Jerusalem” – from which our congregation gets its name “Salem” – means “City of Peace.”  And there is a very real sense in which it is.  For Jerusalem is the site chosen by God for the Temple, the place where God chose to dwell in space and time with man, the place where the blood of the sacrifices were shed in order to make peace between man and God, sacrifices to prefigure the blood of the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world,” once and for all.

Jesus is Peace Incarnate, whose death on the cross is the cause of the peace that passes all understanding.  The first words spoken by the risen Lord to His disciples was: “Peace.”

But sadly, Jerusalem, the City of Peace, came to reject the Prince of Peace, and this causes our Lord to grieve deeply.  Jesus “wept over it saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

The beloved City, the Holy City, refused the peace that her Lord offered to her as a free gift.  Instead, she chose war: “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.  They will not leave one stone upon another in you.”

This prophecy was fulfilled in the year 70 AD after a long siege by the Romans.  Jerusalem was crushed.  The Temple was flattened.  And why?  “Because,” says our blessed Lord, “you did not know the time of your visitation.”

God visited His people, even as the holy prophets spoke for centuries of this very visitation.  The prophet Jeremiah called the people to repent, for they were saying, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.  Were they ashamed,” he asked, “when they committed abomination?  No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.  Therefore, they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.”

Not knowing how to blush sounds like our own culture, a culture, dear Christians, that we are all too quick to embrace.

To be clear, there were many people in Jerusalem who followed Jesus, for they were “hanging on His words,” but the leaders, the “chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him.”  And these “principal men” would become responsible for the shocking siege and ruthless destruction of the city forty years after these “principle men” thought they had destroyed Jesus upon a Roman cross.

“Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

History repeats itself, dear friends, as young people often greet one another with the word “peace,” even as our cities in America have become war zones.  Politics and social media have brought about broken relationships and simmering hatreds in our country.  Many people with bumper stickers that say “COEXIST” want nothing of the sort – at least not with followers of Jesus.  There are many in our society who hate us and see us as their enemy.  They would demand that Christians be compelled to take artistic commissions that violate their consciences.  They are appalled that Christians teach their children that the Bible is literally true, that there is an objective right and wrong, that marriage is just as it has been defined in every human society for thousands of years, and that God created man in His image: “male and female” in a biologically binary way and ordered family life by His Word and by nature, and that all lives matter, even the yet to be born.

There is no peace for people who do not want peace.  

Christians are being persecuted this very day by Muslims, by Communists, and even by liberal democracies in Europe that have become intolerant and hateful of the Bride of Christ.  

And we should plead for them, dear friends, because they are playing with fire.  We should pray for their repentance lest they perish.  We should intercede for them lest they destroy our country and civilization and enslave our children in a totalitarian state.  For the enemies of Christ and the cross do not know the time of their visitation.

We know the time of our visitation, dear brothers and sisters, we know how and where and by whom this visitation occurred.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Our visitation came in the person of Jesus Christ, and our peace came through Christ and Him crucified.  And indeed, we know “the things that make for peace.”

Those “things that make for peace,” dear friends, are those means of the Lord’s visitation of us: Holy Baptism, through which peace is made through the washing away of sin; Holy Absolution, through which peaceful reconciliation is made by the forgiveness of sin; Holy Communion, through which the peace that passes all understand is given to us to literally become part of us through eating and drinking; and the Holy Gospel is the very proclamation of peace because it is the good news of the Lord’s visitation.

Let us not take the Lord’s visitation for granted, dear friends.  Let us receive this glorious peace that He has given to us!

Peace is so much more than the lack of war.  And visitation is so much more than a quick encounter.  In Christ, dear brothers and sisters, peace is eternal harmony with God, a restoration of the perfection of the Garden of Eden, the conquest over death and the devil, and the promise of the resurrection and everlasting life!  And visitation means the continuous and abiding presence of Christ with us in His Word and Sacrament, where the Prince of Peace has promised to be with us and for us.

And while Jerusalem is a place of strife, there are countless New Jerusalems, such as our Salem, the Lord’s house that is “a house of prayer,” where the Lord’s beloved people – who know the time of their visitation – gather to joyfully receive the Lord’s peace, true peace, the peace that passes all understanding, the peace won at the cross and delivered at the font, the peace of forgiveness, reconciliation, and everlasting life.  Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, peace be with you!  Amen.

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

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.