Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) - 2018

29 April 2018

Text: John 16:5-15 (Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth,” says our blessed Lord, preparing the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Often, as reported by John in his Gospel, our Lord Jesus preaches and teaches, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you” and “I tell you the truth.”  And at our Lord’s trial, a frustrated Pontius Pilate, who at times sounds like he is on trial instead of Jesus, asks, “What is truth?”

Our Lord also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

The opposite of the truth is the lie.  Our Lord refers to Satan as the father of lies.  The first recorded lie in Scripture was spoken by the devil to Eve, “You will not surely die.”

This conflict between the truth and the lie is both ancient, and cosmic.  As thinking creatures crafted in the image of God, mankind takes in information about the world.  He assesses his situation.  He decides.  He acts.  Without truthful information, he can destroy himself or others.  This is why lying under oath in a court of law is itself a crime.  This is why the Eighth Commandment protects the reputation of each human being by condemning “false witness.” 

And this is why, dear friends, we need a Helper, to help us navigate this Satanic web of deception, this minefield of the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh.  The Lord ascends to the Father and sends this Helper to us, and this is indeed to our advantage.  For in truth, He convicts the world, “concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”

As our Lord promises, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”

The Holy Spirit’s main job, dear friends, is to lead us, to guide us, to be that lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, to keep us from stumbling into error and falsehood, to help us discern the truth from the lie, to embrace that which is real and accurate, and to flee that which is a mirage or a deception.

Our sinful flesh is quick to accept an enticing lie, especially when it fits a narrative that appeals to us.  We are eager to believe gossip if it is about someone we dislike.  We are eager to believe lies that are even obvious – if we think we stand to gain – which is how con men operate.  Our egos are especially open to the lie that we can be like God, a whopper that mankind has been believing since the serpent slithered up to Eve and whispered sweet monstrosities in her ever-willing ear.

There are many other lies Satan would have you believe, dear friends.  You may wonder if baptism really saves you, or if a pastor really has authority to speak forgiveness to you in Christ’s name and by His authority.  You may have your doubts about the reliability of Scripture, or if the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ.  You may think that your sins are either too great to be forgiven, or too trifling to worry about.  You may be tempted to believe that the Church is filled with hypocrites, and that you are not one.  You may think you have all the answers and really have nothing to learn from a sermon.  You may have heard that Christianity is a bunch of ancient myths cobbled together, or that it is a conspiracy theory designed by the powerful to oppress the world’s workers, or peasants, or minorities, or women, or those whose sexual lives to not conform to the truth of biology.

We are awash in lies, dear friends.  We not only live in the midst of a culture of death, but also in a confusing matrix of lies.  The only way to exist in this deceitful world is to have a guide, a truthful guide, a Helper, who will lead us into all truth.

The Holy Spirit has caused the Scriptures to be written, and they are true.  The Holy Spirit draws you to the Word of God and to the Sacraments, and they are true.  The Holy Spirit testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the truth.

“In the beginning was the Word.”  The Lord God, the Creator, commanded, and as a result, all things truly came into being.  This Creative Word was, is, and ever shall be, true.  The lie cannot create.  The lie can only corrupt.  The lie cannot generate.  The lie can only degrade.  The lie cannot edify.  The lie can only tear down that which is true.  The lie has no creative power or energy.  Only the Word who is God can bring the universe into being.

The Holy Spirit comes to the Church at Pentecost and fills her with zeal to proclaim the truth, to do so with courage and integrity, without guile and without deception.  The Holy Spirit comes to tell the truth far and wide: to friend and to foe, to believer and to unbeliever alike, the truth that Jesus Christ is the Lord, the true Word, the true God, the true atoning sacrifice, and the truly risen One.  He has truly defeated Satan by truly crushing the lie beneath His feet.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” says St. James. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth.” 

“When the Spirit of truth comes,” says our Lord Jesus, “He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”


Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) - 2018

22 April 2018

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose again.  For forty days, He appeared and preached and taught.  He baffled the authorities and filled the disciples with courage.  But this period of mentoring is drawing to a close.  The Lord will soon ascend to the Father, and “in a little while,” the Church will not see Him. 

At least not in the same way.

He will no longer walk and talk and eat with the disciples.  When they want to speak to Him, they will pray.  When they want to hear His Word, they will read the scriptures in the assembly.  When they want to hear His forgiveness, they will declare it in His name.  And when they wish to experience Him in the flesh, it will be through the Lord’s Supper.

And after a “little while,” says our Lord, we will see Him again.  He will return to turn our sorrow into joy: the sorrow of the fallenness of this world, to be changed into the joy of a new heaven and a new earth.

We wait for Him to return, dear friends, even as the angels told the disciples as they watched Him ascend into the heavens that He would indeed return.

This return, dear friends, is when we will see Him again, and when our “hearts will rejoice.”  It will be a “little while.”  Indeed, a “little while longer.”

But how impatient we are!  Instead of keeping our eyes on the prize of the promise, we wallow in self-pity and complaint of the cross.  We watch the world rejoice at our pain, our misery, our abuse – and we are indeed sorrowful.  We are often defeated in this hateful culture – by people who lie about us, about our faith, about our Savior, by people in power who abuse that authority given them from above, using that power to coerce, to torture, to curtail the liberties of our brothers and sisters around the world, and even here in our own country.

We are watching the world decay into not merely madness, but into a seething rage, a scapegoating our people in ways not seen since the days of the maniacal emperors of Rome.

St. Peter bids us to endure the privations placed upon us by emperors and Supreme Courts.  And when we are treated unjustly and yet endure the sorrows, “this is a gracious thing.”  Our forbearance in this fallen and violent world is a confession of faith – faith in something better to come.  We don’t have to overthrow the empire, for Jesus did that very thing, bringing the emperor Constantine to the faith without firing a single arrow, without rising up in mutiny, without living by the sword, which certainly means to die by the sword.

Our suffering is not a small thing, nor is our suffering in vain.  “So also,” says our Lord, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no-one will take your joy away from you” – no one, dear friends, not a mentally unstable emperor, not a crooked court, not a culture of death, not swarms of people filled with hatred and rage, not Communists, not Nazis, not secularists, not even our own sinful flesh – will take our joy from us.

The Lord compares this “little while” of weeping and lamenting to the “anguish” of giving birth.  Labor pains and birth pangs are excruciating, but when they are over, they are over.  And instead of haunting memories of agony, there is rather “joy that a human being has been born into this world.”

Our Lord teaches us that our burdens and crosses that plague us, that beat us down, that wear us out in body and in mind, the things that vex us, perplex us, anger us, hurt us, and seem to have no end – will indeed one great day come to a screeching halt, never to be repeated again. 

We live for this great day, dear friends!  And it is the promise of this New Day that empowers us to survive and to endure the present days of suffering and strife, the time of the cross.  For we know that after Good Friday comes Easter.  And we know that the Lord goes away for a “little while,” and we know that we will see Him again. 
We know that “He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.”  But what’s more, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might, he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

So, dear friends, let us not be puzzled like the disciples were, wanting to ask Him but perhaps afraid.  Let us pray fervently for His return, for our suffering to end, for the birth pangs of the fallen world to be replaced by a new and greater world, and above all, let us rejoice that a human being has been born into the world, a unique Human Being who is truly human, bearing completely the image and likeness of God, for He is God, even Jesus Christ our Lord, the man of sorrows whose suffering won true joy for us.

Let us yearn for that great and wondrous day when He will see us again, and our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take our joy from us!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) - 2018

18 April 2018

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The readings for this week in the church year all have to do with sheep and shepherding. In fact, many know this past Sunday as Good Shepherd Sunday, even though it is technically Misericordias Domini – that is “the goodness of the Lord” of which the world is full, according to the Psalmist, just as we sang in our Introit.

For indeed, our Lord is the Good Shepherd, whose goodness fills the earth. Our Lord’s mercy is without limit. His love for His sheep knows no bounds. He will sacrifice everything, even His own life, for the sake of His sheep – especially His lost sheep, His wounded sheep, His sheep that are constantly assaulted by wolves and lions.
Our Shepherd is no mere hired hand. He is the Owner of the sheep, the Creator of the sheep, the very Author of the sheep. His interest is vested, not by virtue of having a boss overseeing His work, but because He is the Boss, the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The metaphor of sheep and shepherd is perhaps the most comforting imagery in the Bible. Millions of saints have been laid to rest, amid peaceful green grass and still waters of cemetery grounds as statues of Jesus carrying a lamb look upon their graves, even as the pastor and his flock spoke the words of the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

In our culture, being free from want means “having it all” – anything our twisted hearts desire. It is a mindset of materialism and self-centeredness that seeks to bend or buy the wills of others to conform to our whims. “I shall not want” to most people means money, power, sensuality, and never having to submit to anyone. It is freedom from authority, and freedom to spend every waking hour playing games.

But the holy psalmist has something else in mind, as does our Blessed Lord.

In fact, the Hebrew word for “is my shepherd” in Psalm 23 is really understood as “leads me” or even “rules me.” The Lord is not my genie who grants all my wishes at my command, by my whim, and according to my will. Rather, the Lord is my overseer, my ruler, my master, and in submitting to Him is where we find green pastures and still waters.

We don’t “partner” with God, nor is he a kind of wizard who is there to make our wildest dreams come true if we follow the right spiritual program. Rather, He is the Lord, the slave-master, the ruler, and we find our happiness in submission to Him. The old Latin title for this blessed 23rd Psalm is “Dominus Regit Me” – which means literally: “The Dominator rules me.”

This is what it means to be a sheep. This is what it means to have a Shepherd. For when we sheep foolishly decide we don’t need to submit, when we become convinced we can “go it alone,” we wander off only to become food for the wolf. The last thing we sheep need to do is to listen to the world’s siren song to “think outside the box” and “leave our comfort zones.” Oh, what wonderful advice to sheep when it comes from a hungry wolf! But we are safe from the evil one in the “comfort zone” of our flock. There is safety in numbers, and most of all, we are protected when we are ruled by our Lord, when we let God be God, and we allow ourselves to be herded.

Our Lord Jesus is a true Shepherd. He is not a temporary employee and not a hired manager. He indeed “gives His life for the sheep.” The hireling, on the other hand, runs away from trouble and will not fight. But the Shepherd bears the crook, and does not hesitate to crack the skull of the enemy rather than see His beloved sheep
threatened. Our Lord both gave up His life for us sheep and was victorious over the evil wolf when He Himself, the Shepherd, became the Lamb; when He, the priest, became the victim; when he the Master, humbled Himself to become a Slave to His slaves.

The Good Shepherd knows His sheep by name, for they have been christened, that is “Christed” – anointed and named with Christ – in the still waters of Holy Baptism – as our little sister in Christ Anastasia was this past Good Shepherd Sunday. The Good Shepherd is also known by His own, by all of the baptized who submit to Him, for the Lord’s sheep do not follow the beckoning of every false shepherd and wolf in sheep’s clothing. He knows us, and we know Him. And it is in submission to Him who shepherds us that we want for nothing, we drink cool water, and we eat rich grass. It is in this submission that we are protected from the wolf, and are even rescued by the Good Shepherd when we, by our own rebellion and stupidity, wander from the flock. For as Ezekiel the shepherd prophesies: “I Myself” that is, the Lord, “will search for My sheep and seek them out… and deliver them…. I will feed them in good pasture.”

And listen to what this means for us sheep. Having been sought out, rescued, and led to safety by our Shepherd, listen to St. Peter, whom the Lord commanded: “Feed My sheep.” Peter, who was himself crucified for the Gospel, in turn shepherds us with this Word of the Good Shepherd: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth,’ who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered; He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Our Shepherd saves us from the evil wolf not only in protecting us from his wiles, but also in protecting us from our own sinful flesh. Our Shepherd is our Lord, not out of a lust for domination, but rather in selfless love for His dominion. And His use of authority - not for greed or self-aggrandizement, but rather out of love and mercy - serves as an example of authority for the whole Church on earth.
And this example is especially for pastors. “Pastor” is the Latin word for “shepherd.” Pastors are given stewardship over the Lord’s sheep. 

The pastor is to use his authority from above not for greed, gain, or domination, but rather in love, selflessness, and service to the sheep – even as the Shepherd of the shepherds, the Pastor of the pastors, the Bishop of the bishops, has done. Pastors need always remember that they must be willing to lay down their lives selflessly in service for the sheep, and the sheep, for their part, must realize that their pastor loves them, and lovingly guides them to the Lord who is our Good Shepherd, the Lamb who has ransomed the sheep, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. It is He, the Lord, who defends us all against ravening wolves and guides us to green pasture and still waters.

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am His
And he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever! 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Sermon: Funeral of Joan Frichter

18 April 2018

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Isa 25:6-9, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Shelia, Cynthia, Judy, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, honored guests: Peace be with you.

It was my privilege to be Joan’s pastor for many years, to visit her with the Word of God and the Holy Sacrament, to pronounce Holy Absolution over her, and to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to her.

This word “Gospel” is lost on a lot of people.  Either it calls to mind a certain style of music, or some kind of fluffy religiosity.  But that’s not what “Gospel” literally means.  “Gospel” means “good news.”  And in spite of the sadness of losing a beloved aunt and step-mother and friend, in spite of the normal mourning that we all do in the passing away of a loved one, I’m here to bring you good news, dear friends, just as I brought good news to Joan.

It’s the same Good News that we Christians have been proclaiming for nearly 2,000 years now.  Too many people mistakenly think of the Christian faith as rules and regulations, or some kind of mythology, or worst of all, just a code word for being nice and inoffensive.

Jesus was, and is, offensive.  He insulted the self-righteous Pharisees with frank and shocking language.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  And most offensive of all, He suffered crucifixion so that unworthy sinners might have everlasting life: unworthy sinners like me, like Joan, and like you.  None of us deserves salvation, and it doesn’t matter how nice we may seem.  There is nothing more scandalous than the cross of Jesus and the promise of salvation that it delivers.

Joan knew this.  It’s what Scripture teaches.  It’s what Jesus teaches.  It’s what the Church teaches. And this shocking truth makes the Gospel just that more unbelievably good news. 

Jesus didn’t come so that Joan would live on in our hearts and memories.  Jesus didn’t come so that Joan would be a good person and as a result, “go to heaven.”  Jesus came so that Joan would literally be rescued and raised from death, just as He literally walked out of His own tomb, was seen and touched by eyewitnesses, and began a worldwide movement that not even Caesars and Caliphs and kings could extinguish; not even Communist dictators, Nazi fascists, or even people in our own country who hate Christianity – can ever destroy.  For you cannot destroy the truth.

Jesus didn’t come so that Joan could become an angel or float around some imaginary sky as a butterfly.  Jesus came for the sake of true, literal, physical resurrection: His own and Joan’s: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” says Jesus, our good shepherd.  “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 is able to snatch them out of My hand.”

This comforting ironclad promise was made to Joan when she was baptized.  This promise was reiterated to Joan each and every time that she took the body and blood of Christ.  This promise to Joan was signed at the cross, sealed at the baptismal font, and will be delivered on the day of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Joan knew all this very well.  This was her confession.  It is the confession of the church catholic, that is, the Church universal, from the days of the apostles until the day when the Lord returns in glory, when “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed,” as St. Paul wrote to the ancient church at Corinth.  “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?”

That, dear friends, is what Christianity is.  Yes, we are hurting.  Yes, we are mourning.  Yes we grieve.  But we have hope: the hope the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that hope allows us to mock death, to taunt the devil, and to shockingly claim communion with God Himself, though we don’t deserve it.  It is a free gift given by grace, given by our crucified Lord, given for our eternal life.

That is indeed good news!  That is the Christian faith – the faith Joan confessed, the faith that delivers to her eternal life in Christ, the reason why I visited her with Word and Sacrament.  That promise is Joan’s, and it is hers for all eternity.

So many people think of heaven as a kind of Pagan paradise with clouds and spirits floating around.  That is not Christianity.  Our faith teaches something quite different: something infinitely better.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of a physically reconstituted earth.  And “on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces… for the Lord has spoken.”

And even in our mourning, even in our sadness that we are temporarily separated from our beloved Joan, in the promise of Christ’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we can indeed, “be glad and rejoice in this salvation.”

And so, dear friends, I challenge you, even in your grief, to take comfort in the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification, that He is the good shepherd who has come to give us life – real, physical life that will have no end.  This victory is Christ’s.  This victory is Joan’s.  This victory is ours – now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) and Baptism of Anastasia Tindell - 2018

15 April 2018

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Because of the Gospel reading this week, in which Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” this Sunday is often called Good Shepherd Sunday.  Our Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel prophesies that God Himself will shepherd His people (a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus, the Good Shepherd).  Our epistle lesson from St. Peter also follows this theme: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

And this is what has happened with little Anastasia this morning, dear friends.  As part of her baptism, you heard these words: “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil.”  This is what Peter means when he says, “You were straying like sheep.”  That goes for all of us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve – including Anastasia.

We strayed when we listened to the serpent.  We strayed when we disobeyed God.  We strayed with that first murder between brothers.  We strayed when we brought on the worldwide flood.  We strayed when we built the Tower of Babel.  We strayed when we followed after idols instead of the true God.  We strayed when we demanded to have an earthly king rule over us.  We strayed when we mocked the prophets who called us to repent and who faithfully spoke the Word of God to us.  We strayed when we took the Lord’s blessing for granted.

We strayed just by being born into this fallen world in our own sinful flesh, programmed by our broken DNA to be selfish and evil, riddled with sin, and destined for death and hell.

But, dear friends, St. Peter says, “you were straying like sheep.”  He uses the past tense: “you were.”  But now, because you “have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls,” you are now hearing the Good Shepherd as He gathers you into His “one flock” as “one shepherd.”  This is what Holy Baptism is all about.  The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He “lays down His life for the sheep.”  He, the Shepherd, is willing to die so that His sheep might live.  He defends His sheep against the wolf.  He doesn’t run away like a “hired hand,” but interposes Himself bodily against the enemy, out of love and devotion for the sheep. 

He is the good shepherd!  He is the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 

And that “your” now includes Anastasia, whose very name is a confession of the Good Shepherd.  Her name is the Biblical Greek word that means “resurrection.”  She is the new birth, born again from death itself, reborn by water and the Spirit, born to live forever according to the promises of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd!

In the baptismal liturgy, we heard that “the apostle Peter has written, “Baptism now saves you.”  This baptism, St. Peter explains, is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Anastasia now has a good conscience because of the death and resurrection of the Good Shepherd.  She has been made a disciple and named as one of the Good Shepherd’s little lambs, whom our Shepherd and Overseer specifically knows by name.  And again, that “good conscience” comes “through the resurrection,” that is, the ἀναστάσεως, of Jesus Christ.

Anastasia has been buried with Christ in Holy Baptism.  This means that she has been reborn by resurrection, and she will be resurrected by being reborn.  This is not of her own goodness or works, but rather by the grace of the Good Shepherd.  For “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  For by His wounds you have been healed.”

Little Anastasia has her whole life ahead of her.  We, her pastor, her brothers and sisters in Christ, her family, her sponsors, and all Christians whom the Lord will bring into her life, are called to teach this little resurrected one, by word and by deed, just what it means to “die to sin and live to righteousness.”  It doesn’t mean that she will be perfect, but she will learn right from wrong.  She will be taught the Ten Commandments.  She will also know of the Gospel and the love and redemption of Christ by being taught the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  She will be brought up in the Lord’s House, surrounded by the Word of God and prayer, by worship and praise, by forgiveness and acceptance.  She will, God willing, live a long life of mercy of partaking of the body and blood of the Good Shepherd, and constantly being drawn back to the safety of the flock by the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 

She will know what the cross is: the one that our Lord died on for the forgiveness of sins, by which His blood pleads for our forgiveness and life and salvation, as well as her own cross of life in this fallen world, dealing with pain and disappointment, and death.  But she will also know what it means to be “Anastasia,” to be a child of the resurrection!  She will know both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and She will know her Good Shepherd! 

But more importantly, her Good Shepherd will know her!  “So will I seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places,” thus says the Lord God.

This is why we sheep of the Good Shepherd have been singing our opening hymn for eighteen hundred years:

Shepherd of tender youth,
Guiding in love and truth
Through devious ways;
Christ our triumphant King,
We come Your name to sing
And here our children bring
To join your praise.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Crosses

The roadside cross in the first picture is in the United States (Bladensburg, Maryland).  It is a memorial to Americans who died in World War I.  The roadside cross in the second picture is in the Russian Federation (Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovskaya).  It is a memorial to Russian GULAG victims who died in Stalin's purges.

One of these memorials has been declared illegal by the government, and now must be torn down.

If you think that the illegal cross must be the one in Russia, you would be wrong.  The American cross is illegal; the Russian cross is legal.  The iconoclastic federal judges who ruled the nearly century-old memorial unconstitutional were overwhelmingly Obama-appointees.

It looks like we Americans are, in the words of the Beatles' song, "Back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR."

Sermon: Funeral of Jean Richoux

13 April 2018

Text: John 20:1-18 (Isa 49:13-16a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Liz, Jason, Matthew, Mark, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, honored guests: Peace be with you.

It might seem strange to the average person to come to a funeral and to look around and see the church decked out in the happy festive color of white, to be surrounded with gleeful lilies, to hear readings that encourage us to “sing for joy” and proclaim the “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and to sing hymns that, while acknowledging the reality of death in our fallen world, are nevertheless defiantly happy.

But for Christians, this makes perfect sense. 

Indeed, we are sad.  We are grieving.  We are stunned.  We miss our sister, mother, grandmother, friend, and parishioner.  We wanted her to recover, but it was not God’s will.  And this hurts.  And it will continue to hurt.  We Christians grieve, but, dear friends, we do not grieve in the same manner as everyone else.  For we grieve as those who have hope. 

For us Christians, death is a temporary parting.  And we know that our reunion will be joyful and glorious beyond anything our eyes will ever see in this fallen world.  And we know that Jean, a baptized child of God, who confessed Jesus as Lord over the span of her life, she whose sins were forgiven through the blood of the Lamb, she who partook of the body and blood of Christ, she who heard the Word of God and took to heart the Gospel – she has eternal life as a free gift of Jesus Christ.  She has been reunited to her Lord Jesus, to her husband Ronald, and to her loved ones who live eternally in Christ.

And this, dear friends, is why even in our sadness, we have joy.  And like Jean did all her life, and as she now does for eternity, we are bold to “Sing for joy,” even the mountains “break forth… into singing” because “the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted.”  These are the words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke the literal words of Christ in a promise made to Jean, to her family, to her friends, to all baptized Christians everywhere, saying: “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.”

Dear friends, that is why we sing these beautiful and joyful Easter hymns.  For they are hymns of the resurrection of Jesus, of His victory of life over death.  And that is Jean’s victory over death as well.  And that is something to sing about!  When you come to this sanctuary and you lift up your voice in song, your voice is intermingled with Jean’s voice.  She sings in the presence of Jesus – even as Jean loved to sing on this side of the grave – be it here in our sanctuary, or in a Karaoke bar!  These hymns that we sing on this day, and every other day in the church, are not merely entertainment – they are defiance against Satan, who would try to rob us of our joy.  Our songs defy the grave itself, the same grave that was powerless against our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is indeed something to sing about.

The Church’s song is Jean’s song.  So sing boldly, dear friends!  For you sing with Jean and with all the saints and angels of every age.

As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “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.”

Yes, we still feel the sting of death on this side of the grave, because we miss our loved ones who have departed.  But we also know that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil, and we can mock death and Satan himself –
because of our Lord’s victory.

Even as Jean was bearing her cross in the hospital, she was at that moment confessing the resurrection of Jesus – as the children of our congregation joyfully received the candy that Jean bought them for Easter.  For ultimately, the Christian faith is not about a beautiful church sanctuary and white lilies, but rather these things of beauty are signs and symbols that point to the most beautiful reality of all: that Jesus rose from death, to conquer death, and to give us life.

On that first Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.  She was mourning the loss of her Master and Lord.  But she found some unexpected things that day: a tomb that was a place of joy and victory, angels dressed in white, and folded linen on the table where the body of Jesus was supposed to be.  The angels asked her why she was weeping, for this was no longer a place of death, but of life. 

And then the risen Lord Jesus appeared, called her by name, and comforted her. 

And even as the Lord comforts us, He calls Jean by name.  Her mourning is no more!  And we all wait for that great and glorious day when we will see her again in the flesh.

And we can join with Jean and with all the faithful of every time and place, singing:

And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) - 2018

8 April 2018

Text: John 20:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“Do not disbelieve, but believe,” says our risen Lord Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t order us to believe based on blind faith, but He does require faith – faith in something that we experience in person, even as He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the case of doubting Thomas, our crucified and risen Lord was so merciful as to allow Thomas to touch the wounds made by the nails and the spear at His crucifixion, because, for whatever reason, Thomas was hung up on this point: that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Our Lord gave Thomas’s faith something to cling to.

And Thomas responds: “My Lord and my God!”

As for us, we are given the Scriptures, for as the Evangelist explains: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Often the difference between disbelief and belief is a thin line.  Consider St. Thomas: a disciple of Jesus for three years, who would become an apostle, carrying the Gospel as far as India, and, it seems, dying as a martyr, making the good confession of the faith of Jesus Christ.  Thomas witnessed the great miracles of our Lord: turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, curing lepers, the deaf, the blind, casting out demons, and even raising the dead.  But for some reason, the idea that His Lord Jesus Christ, whom he saw crucified, was raised from the dead, just did not seem credible – even when the other disciples claimed that they had seen Him.

Maybe this was part of Thomas’s stumbling-block: being excluded from that first appearance. 

For whatever reason, it seems remarkable that Thomas would be so filled with disbelief, and passionately so, stubbornly saying: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” 

Often the difference between belief and disbelief has less to do with evidence, and more to do with emotion.

Similarly, there are two kinds of atheists: those who do not believe in God, and those who do.  Honest atheists, for whatever reason, truly do not believe in God.  They generally don’t believe in the supernatural.  They are typically materialists, and in a sense, like St. Thomas, requiring a level of physical evidence that they are yet to see.  But there is another kind of atheist, one who is actually angry at God, or one who thinks God is horrible, or one who doesn’t want God to impose rules on his lifestyle. 

Of course, this latter form of atheist is a walking contradiction.  What he knows and what he “believes” are out of sync.  Often this is an atheist that is governed by emotion, not reason.  His disbelief is caused by resentment rather than reasonable doubt.

Similarly, Thomas’s doubt was unreasonable.  Perhaps he was hurt that the Lord had excluded him on that first appearance.  Maybe the disciples came across as condescending when they said, “We have seen the Lord” to Thomas, who did not see Him. 

At any rate, the Lord, in His mercy, provided Thomas with the gift of faith.  He allowed Thomas to see and to touch.  And He bade Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

“My Lord and my God!” says believing Thomas!

“My Lord and my God!” says the Christian confronted with the paradox of his own existence, when faced with the dilemma of creation out of nothing, when he comes to grips with the reality that not everything that is real can be put into a test tube and analyzed: things like love, things like personality, things like the blessing of “those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dear brothers and sisters, the story of Thomas and his week of doubt is of great comfort to us.  Our weak flesh often doubts.  We may doubt the existence of God.  We may wonder if Jesus is the Son of God.  We may question the incarnation or the resurrection.  We may be skeptical of the atonement.  We may simply lack the faith that our Lord’s death on the cross forgives my sins, or saves me from sin, death, and the devil.  Our doubts may not be addressed to Jesus at all, but rather towards ourselves. 

But let us remember Thomas, whose account has been placed before us by the Holy Spirit.  St Thomas walked with Jesus, saw miracles with his own eyes, and would himself be one of the Lord’s greatest evangelists.  Yet even Thomas struggled with doubt.  And what restored him, dear friends, was not his “own reason or strength,” but the Holy Spirit who “called [him] by the Gospel, enlightened [him] with His gifts” and “sanctified and kept [him] in the one true faith.”

And, dear brothers and sisters, “in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” you, “with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  This is how it is that the Lord Jesus, in His very flesh and blood, can simply tell Thomas: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

For we have “these [things that] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”  We also have His very flesh and blood in physical form, in the bread that we eat, in the wine that we drink, that are His true body and blood: the very same body touched by Thomas, and the very same blood that Thomas saw shed upon the cross from the very wounds that he handled.

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Jesus rose from the grave, and He has won the victory for us.  Jesus continues to come to us in Word and Sacrament, so that we too might see and hear and take and eat – and believe.  Jesus continues to convert the unbeliever into the believer, even as He strengthens our faith – especially given that by our own “reason or strength” we cannot believe in Jesus or come to Him.

But, dear brothers and sisters, by His own reason and by His own strength, Jesus believes in us and He comes to us.  He loves us; He dies for us; He atones for us; He forgives us; He instills faith in us, and He gives us eternal life.  By the Holy Spirit, He changes our unbelief into belief. 

And we respond in joyful wonder and in exuberant belief: “My Lord and my God!”

“Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Sermon: Easter Sunday - 2018

1 April 2018

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Gospel reading for Easter Sunday, the holiest and most glorious day of the church year, the feast in which we celebrate the victory of our crucified, dead, and buried Lord Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead – our Gospel reading actually ends with the word “afraid.”

The very first people on the planet to get this greatest of all good news in the history of mankind were “afraid.” 

This goes to show you how real, how authentic, our Gospel is.  This natural reaction of the Marys and Salome to this mind-blowing experience wasn’t doctored up.  Their very real human weakness in reacting to the supernatural with “trembling and astonishment” and not speaking to anyone because “they were afraid” truly captures the moment.  The fact that the Evangelist reports the first witnesses of this momentous change in the fabric of the universe being women is also something that a fiction writer would not make up.  For in those days, the testimony of women was considered unreliable.

But God has broken all the rules.  More accurately, He has thrown out the rulebook.  He mocks the rulebook (the rulebook being the way things are supposed to work in this fallen world).  Oh, that’s all done for now.  Death’s reign of terror has ended.  Satan’s tyranny has been abruptly shattered.  Hell’s frightening jaws have been snapped shut.  And starting now, the world is going to be turned upside down.  We are never going back to the way things were. 

In the span of a few minutes, everything changed. 

Think about what the women experienced that Easter morning at the tomb.  As the gloom of night begins to give way to the initial rays of daylight, they sadly trudged their way to the grave of the one Man in whom they had placed all their hope.  They watched Him perform Godlike miracles for three years.  They watched prophecy after prophecy fulfilled.  They saw Him heal the sick, expel the demon, and even raise the dead.  They listened to Him destroy the arguments of the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees.  They watched Him raise up the downcast, forgive the penitent, and preach about the Kingdom of God with authority never before seen, not even in the days of Abraham and Moses. 

They watched Him cheered as King, riding into the Holy City to inaugurate the Kingdom so long awaited by the people.  It was actually happening!

And then they watched Him arrested on false charges.  They watched Him caged like an animal and chained like a slave.  They watched Him being beaten and tortured like an enemy of the state, and condemned to death like a terrorist.  It seemed as if His powers had left Him.  It had all unraveled so quickly.  He was betrayed by one of his disciples.  The rest of them fled.  The one appointed for leadership denied even knowing Him.  His followers were nowhere to be seen.  And His poor mother, living this nightmare in real time!  Then they all watched Him die, nailed to a Roman cross, His body bloodied and misshapen, a monstrous sight as He heaved in agony for each breath.  They could do nothing.  He was finally pierced by a soldier’s spear as blood and cardiac fluid gushed from His side.  His lifeless body was hurried into a tomb so that the people could enjoy the feast of Passover, celebrating lustily with festal roast lamb, with bread and wine and fellowship around a table.  They watched life go on for the evil, while their Lord’s corpse lay in infamy and shame, without even a proper burial.

Not knowing why or how all of this happened, perhaps questioning the reality of the events of the past three years, the women nevertheless did their feminine duty, motivated by love and custom to provide the last dignity to their Master’s body – bringing “spices, so that they might anoint Him.”  Of course, He needed no anointing, as the title “Christ” means Anointed One.  Jesus is already ahead of them, having already risen and begun the First Day of a new and greater week, a new era, the inauguration of eternity.  Even as they are walking and weeping, He is working. 

The stone had already been rolled back, and the tomb has already been transformed from being a sad sepulcher of decay and death into being the epicenter of the good news of life and vibrancy.  At this moment, this is the center of the universe.  The women saw the curious sight of a tomb without a dead body, but with a living creature who appears to be a “young man… dressed in a white robe.”

His job is to be part comforter and part news reporter.  He encourages them not to be alarmed (easy for him to say…).  And then He reports the news, just the facts: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.”  And to drive the point home, our angelic reporter invites them to examine the tomb for themselves: “See the place where they laid Him.”

And now, our councilor and journalist also becomes a dispatcher.  For there is no time to waste.  The world must hear of this greatest news of all.  “Go” he tells them.  “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

Our angelic friend cannot help himself but to seemingly inject a little bit of “He told you so” at the very end. 

Mary, Mary, and Salome went from mourning, to puzzling, to being tasked with the most important job in the history of the universe in a matter of minutes.  There will indeed be time for rejoicing, but not yet.  They are still playing catch up.  Their heads are still spinning.  They are still trying to make sense of what is happening.  But how natural and how honest is St. Mark’s Gospel in describing the women as being afraid.

Through their fear, they will faithfully carry this Good News to the men who will carry this same Good News to the ends of the earth.  The testimony of these women will be believed – even by you and me, even by people on every corner of the globe, even by people spanning two millennia.  Joy will replace their fear, as they will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ, even as they will see the spread of this good news of His death and resurrection – as the miracles of Jesus will continue wherever His Word is preached and wherever His sacraments are celebrated.

The fear of the women is not a bad reaction.  Indeed, as we ponder the First Commandment, we are reminded that “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  The Psalmist teaches us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  And in their fear, they obey. They become “apostles to the apostles.”  The testimony of these Holy Women will be believed to this very day. 

The world has never been the same since that moment when our Lord rose again, nor since that moment when the first of our human race were told what had happened: one little word changed everything for our human race:  ἠγέρθη – which requires three words in English: “He has risen.”

“He has risen,” dear brothers and sisters!

He has risen, and death has been destroyed.  He has risen, and He continues to deliver His Word to us.  He has risen, and Satan’s counterfeit kingdom has been exposed and derailed.  He has risen, and we are justified by the forgiveness that He won for us at the cross.  He has risen, and so we have hope, and joy, and meaning in our lives.  He has risen, and there is a world in need of this greatest of all good news. 

He has risen, and so shall we!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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