Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sermon: St. Michael and All Angels - 2018

29 September 2018

Text: Matt 18:1-11 (Dan 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Rev 12:7-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We have been in a state of war since mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden.  This is more obvious at some times than at other times.  

It’s pretty obvious for us here and now.  Our country is divided worse than it has been at any time.  Suspicion, division, and hatred are everywhere to be found.  The Christian Church is seeing fault lines that we haven’t seen in five hundred or even a thousand years.  Even such united church bodies as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seem headed for schism as internal civil wars rage concerning matters of human sexuality and marriage and the place of the Word of God in the modern world.

There are times when it seems like faithful Christians are a shrinking remnant increasingly vulnerable to the hatred and violence of the enemies of the cross of Christ.  And nobody seems to be in the crosshairs more than children, as little ones are increasingly targeted by the perverted and the deviant.

It is no coincidence that Jesus, when asked “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” points to a small child.  Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Our Blessed Lord elaborates that children humble themselves.  We also know that children are filled with trust.  Children are quick to love.  Children – even very young infants – can and do “believe in” Jesus.  You heard our Lord say it in His own words: “these little ones who believe in me.”  The problem isn’t that infants are too young to believe, the problem is that we are often too old to believe.  As we grow, we lose that humility, and think we know better than God.  We think we can outsmart God by our technology.  We think that we can fool God with sophistry and pseudoscience.  We think that we can pull the wool over God’s eyes by means of our cleverness.  And some adults even think that they will get away with abusing children because they can overpower and intimidate the little ones.  

Our Lord says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  

This is a grave warning for those who make war on the children of God – especially the little ones – those who abuse their authority, whether given through church or state.  For those who lead the little ones astray are not only the perverted pastors and bishops and even cardinals and popes who aid and abet evil, but also those who lead the children astray by false teachings about the origin of the world and the denial of the reality that we are created male and female.

This very hour, Christian schools in Canada are being threatened with losing their accreditation if they uphold the Biblical and Christian doctrine of marriage.  

There is indeed a war going on, and the very children that Jesus holds up as examples for us are targeted – even to the point of the current ongoing worldwide holocaust of the slaughter of the unborn.

Jesus says, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!  For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”  Jesus tells us figuratively that it is better to remove a rotten body part than let it infect the entire body.  This is true for the human body, and it is true for the Body of Christ, that is, the church.

Our Lord again warns us not to “despise one of these little ones” saying that “their angels always see the face” of the Father.  Angels indeed watch over the children of God, and especially the little ones.  For they are targets of evil, of the devil, of the secular world, and of our rotten culture.  Angels are the pure spirits created by God, charged with divine protection.  Who knows what might befall us were angels not there to protect us, serve us, and look out for those whom they are called to watch?

The Archangel Michael bears the name that means “Who is like God?”  He is a warrior who fights not flesh and blood but makes war in the spiritual realm.  St. John speaks in the Revelation of the vision of St. Michael the Archangel “and his angels fighting against the dragon.”  The dragon is defeated, and thrown down.  This dragon is indeed “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

Indeed, without this explanation of the deceptive power of the devil, we may wonder how it is that it seems that the entire world has gone mad, believing in nonsense, and forcing such “beliefs” on normal people at the point of the sword.  Satan is the “deceiver of the whole world.”  He is the father of lies and the devourer of children.  He is the spoiler of that which is good and just and innocent, and the defiler of that which is holy.  Satan mocks Christ and His bride, the Church.  Satan seeks the weakest and most vulnerable to victimize. 

But, dear friends, empowered by our Lord’s victory upon the cross, Michael and his forces defeat Satan and his demons.  And St. John sees the vision and hears the “loud voice in heaven” saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”

Indeed, dear friends, the false accusations of Satan cannot withstand the truth of the Lamb.  For “they have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

The angelic hosts prevail against the demon hordes because the Lamb has prevailed at the cross.  Jesus won the battle for all the children of God, vindicating the little ones who believe in Him, by shedding His blood as a sacrifice, by dying as the atonement of “our brothers” and indeed of all the world, and by rising again as the Conqueror by whose conquests we are more than conquerors.

And behind the scenes, unseen by us, is St. Michael and His angelic hosts.  The war rages on, and yet, the war has already been won.  So take heart, dear brothers and sisters, even when it seems like our culture and country, our church and state, all seem to be on a crash-course to nowhere fast.  Remember the words of the prophet Daniel: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation until that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.  And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Let us give praise to our Lord and God for His watchers and His holy ones, for angels and archangels, for St. Michael and for all of those pure spirits who minister, who protect and serve the little ones, and whose faces always see the face of the Father.  Let us declare victory in Christ and in the cross even as we continue to battle evil here in time, awaiting that time when time shall be no more, our warfare ended, our enemy being no more.  

Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Avril vs. Pia

Sometimes the cover is better than the original.

The original by Avril Lavigne:

The cover by Pia Ashley (8,600 views in 6 days!):

I think Pia's voice is richer. Full disclosure: her husband Bryan (playing guitar) is Miz Grace's brother.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sermon: Funeral of Carolyn Wolfram

26 September 2018

Text: John 11:20-27 (Isa 25:6-9, 2 Cor 4:7-18)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen. 

Dear Michael and Randy; Beverly, Merlin, and Tommy; family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: peace be with you.

Although Carolyn had been battling cancer, this was unexpected, and so sudden.  She had received good news and we were assured by doctors that she was doing well.  But of course, there are no guarantees.  We are saddened.  We mourn Carolyn, and all of our loved ones.  Death is certainly not our friend.  In fact, death is our bitter enemy.

When she was just a year old, Pastor Eugene Schmid baptized Carolyn in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the command and promise of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Pastor Schmid also instructed Carolyn in the Christian faith that she knew so well, and she was confirmed at the age of 13.  Her confirmation verse was Jesus saying, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  All throughout her life, Carolyn heard the Good News that Jesus conquered death, the truth that sets us free.

Carolyn understood what death was and is: a consequence for sin, as Adam and Eve obeyed the voice of the serpent instead of God’s command.  God told Adam that “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  God told Eve that motherhood would now be painful.  God told the Serpent that the “Seed of the Woman” will destroy you.  Our world has been disordered ever since.

Carolyn was my parishioner and a faithful attendee of our Wednesday evening services.  One Wednesday every year was different for Carolyn.  On the day after Mardi Gras, I would take ashes and place them on Carolyn’s forehead – along with everyone else.  I remind all of us of the words God spoke to Adam: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  I would do this, and say this, to infants and the elderly, wealthy and poor, men and women, people of every race and ethnicity, those whom we consider good and those whom we consider not so good: “Remember, O man…”  And then, from the pulpit and from the altar, I see what you do not see: faces of people all marked for death.  I know that some of those with the ashen forehead, I will bury.  It is a reminder of something we live our lives trying not to think about.

But even on those somber Ash Wednesdays, there is cause for rejoicing.  For God told the serpent that the Seed of the Woman would come and redeem mankind, that He would be our champion and savior, and that death would be destroyed forever.  That Seed of the Woman is Jesus, who died to pay for the sins of Adam and Eve, of Carolyn, and of you and me.  And so those ashes are placed on the foreheads of the redeemed people of God in the shape of a cross.  

For at Carolyn’s baptism, Pastor Schmid traced a cross on Carolyn’s forehead and over her heart.  This is why many Christians have the custom of signing themselves with the cross: it is a reminder of baptism and its promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation!  

For Jesus, like Carolyn, died suddenly.  And Carolyn, like Jesus, will rise bodily just as suddenly.  Death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, and death will not hold Carolyn in the tomb!  The prophet Isaiah, whom we heard anew, speaks of a feast of “rich food” and “well-aged wine” after death has been swallowed up.  Death is like a veil, as it hides our loved ones from us.  But it is temporary, dear friends, for God “will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”  And even in the face of loss and death, even as we mourn, even through our tears that God promises to take away from us, we can say, “let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

St. Paul reminded us that life is a “treasure” – but it is contained in “jars of clay.”  The glory is God’s, not ours.  And “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  St. Paul speaks the promise of God: “We also believe, and so we speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.”

The Word of Jesus is the Word of life.  And God works through His Word.  He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And He commanded Lazarus in His tomb: “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus came out of the tomb.  

Just before raising Lazarus, Jesus met Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, at the funeral.  Jesus told Martha: “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha had faith in the words of Jesus, and she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  And “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though He die, yet shall he live.”

Some people may think that Jesus is just a wise sage from ancient times whose message consisted of telling us to be good and nice.  Some people may think Christianity is just a system of ethics and rules for living.  Carolyn did not believe this.  She knew better.  She knew, and she knows, who Jesus is.  When asked “Do you believe this?” – that Jesus is the resurrection and the life – Carolyn’s answer was, like Martha's: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Dear friends, Carolyn was taken from us suddenly.  We cannot explain it.  God did not tell us why.  But what He did tell us, and what He does tell us, is that He conquered death by dying on the cross, and by rising again from the dead: promising the same bodily resurrection of those who are baptized and believe.  This was, and is, Carolyn’s confession.  And just as suddenly as we experienced her departure, we will experience a glorious reunion with her and with all who believe.  

Think of this every time it rains, knowing that God provides the water and that God promises new life through water and His Word in Holy Baptism.  Think of this every time you visit a cemetery, knowing that death is only temporary.  It has been conquered, and it doesn’t have the final say.  Think of this every time you see a picture of Carolyn, knowing that God created her, and God redeemed her in Jesus Christ, and that you will see her again!

Let us remember that “God will wipe away tears from all faces” and we can indeed, even here and now, be so bold to say: “let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”  

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 17 - 2018

23 September 2018

Text: Luke 14:1-11 (Prov 25:6-14, Eph 4:1-6)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Everything has a place in the pecking order.  We see it in nature.  We see it among animals.  We see it in human beings across time and cultures.  God designed the universe to be orderly.  And so it is.

The writer of the Proverbs acknowledges that for the sake of worldly wisdom, in the realm of kings and politics, there is an advantage to being humble.  For if you humble yourself before the king, the king will exalt you.  And that is far better than the humiliation of being “put lower in the presence of a noble.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ noticed how few people follow the advice of His ancestor, King Solomon, as He observed banquet attendees scurrying about to get the “places of honor.”  For this is a risky business.  What if you think more highly of yourself than you ought, or what if an unexpected dignitary shows up, and “he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.’”

Of course, our Lord isn’t instructing on etiquette here, or even coaching people in how to secure political advantage.  For this is a parable, a story, a teaching not about this world, but about the kingdom of God.

For as great as Solomon was, there is one greater than He who is here with us, who invites us to the eternal banquet, at whose table we gather on this day, and even forevermore.  

For even as God created an orderly universe, and even as He calls us to various vocations in our lives – some with greater honor than others – your exalted position, be it king or general or leader of your family; be it manager, parent, or the smartest kid in the class; be it one who can sing, or build things, or win a race; be it pastor, board member, or one who attends services regularly – whatever reasons based on merit or vocation that cause you to be worthy of the “places of honor” in the world, those reasons do not make us worthy of honor at the table of the Lord.  

We said it all together just a few minutes ago.  We confessed together, but spoke as individuals: “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities.”  We confessed not that we deserve a “place of honor” at the banquet, but rather that “I… justly deserve [God’s] temporal and eternal punishment.”  I do not even deserve the worst seat in the house, and neither do any of you.  We deserve expulsion and death and hell.  And so how dare we presume to put ourselves “forward in the king’s presence”?

And yet, dear friends, we have been invited.  It would be an insult to the King to spurn the invitation and stay home.  Our dilemma is that we are unworthy, and yet are bidden, even ordered, to be here at the “wedding feast,” at the banquet over which one who is greater than Solomon presides.

And this is why we have the Law, dear friends.  This is why we meditate with horror upon our sins.  This is why we recite and pray the Ten Commandments as part of our Small Catechism.  For what does this mean that I do not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things”?  It means that I am unworthy to sit in the presence of the Lord, to have a place at His table in His house among His angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  And like the “son or the ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day,” our Lord Himself, who rested on the Sabbath in the beginning, and who rested on the Sabbath after His crucifixion, comes to us on this Lord’s Day to immediately pull us out.  

For we do not come to this banquet scurrying for places of honor to be counted worthy by our fellow guests and by our Host.  Rather we are drawn here out of the pit by the very wounded hand of Christ.  We are gathered by the Holy Spirit and made worthy to stand before the Father, not by our merit, but by His worthiness, His atonement, His grace.  

And so we approach the table humbly, kneeling if we are able, to be fed, even served, by our King: the bread of heaven and the most precious wine on the planet: His very body and blood.  As we kneel in humility before our King, He declares us worthy before all, before friend and foe, before men and angels, before the devil and before the Father.  We are forgiven and fed and bidden to take a place of the highest honor, as our Host says to us: “Friend, move up higher.”

We rise from our knees in gratitude, and we take our place with the King, we are brought from the lowest place to the highest place, even exalted by the One who is most exalted.  And we are not put in the presence of a mere noble, nor merely rewarded in the fickle world of politics – but rather we are given everlasting life by the King of kings and Lord of lords.  

For the kingdom is not an aristocracy or meritocracy like the world.  It doesn’t matter who your ancestors are or how well you compete.  For there is none righteous, no, not one.  And over and against the objection of the lady TV preacher who abandoned the true church in exchange for celebrity, wealth, and fame, we confess that we are indeed poor; we are indeed miserable; and we are indeed sinners – even as we are forgiven by the blood of the Crucified One, in whom our riches, happiness, and righteousness are truly found.

So we do well be on guard against spiritual pride, dear friends, by comparing ourselves to others, like the Pharisees, and for pretending that our parsing phrases in the Law makes us worthy of ourselves to stand before God, like the lawyers who were invited with Jesus to the “house of a ruler.”  We do well to keep that sense of realism that leads to humility, and to avoid all self-serving pretense.  And then the Lord will raise us up.

Don’t put your trust in your delusions of grandeur, or in that old trick of saying, “Well, I’m a pretty good person.  I’ve never murdered anyone.”  For that’s what we do.  We set the bar where we can easily get over it.  The problem is, God sets the bar, not us.  And not one of us can clear that bar. 

St. Paul knew a thing or two about being humbled, even as a “prisoner of the Lord,” being treated like a common criminal in chains for the sake of His confession of Christ.  He gives us similar advice as that of our Lord: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” says the apostle, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”  And he points out the essence of this calling.  It is not our worthiness, our skill, our works, or our righteousness.  Rather, the “hope that belongs to your call” is centered somewhere other than on yourself: rather, in that “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

And so, dear friends, we kneel, we confess, we receive absolution.  We hear His Word.  We come to receive His body and blood.  And we hear Him say yet again, “Friend, move up higher.” 

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 16 - 2018

16 September 2018

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Why are you a Christian?  

Father Duddleswell, the lovable character from the BBC TV show: “Bless Me, Father” once quipped, “‘Why’ is an ugly Protestant word.”  I’m inclined to agree with him if the “why?” is directed at God.  For unless God reveals something to us, it must remain a mystery.  But we do well to ask “Why?” when it comes to ourselves.

So, dear brothers and sisters, why are you Christians?  Why are you here today?  Why do you belong to this, or some other church?  

If the answer is because we’re trying to please our parents or honor our ethnic heritage, or because we like the parishioners or we like the pastor, or we like the music, or we want to learn how to become better people, or we want to train our children to be virtuous, or it just seems like the right social thing to do in our community – those are all wrong answers.

The key to why we are here and why we are Christians is in our Gospel reading.  We are dying.  We are surrounded by death.  We are stalked by death.  Our life on this side of the grave will end.  We are all suffering from a terminal disease, and we are immersed in it, like fish swimming around in the sea.  

In our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has broken into our dying world, stumbles upon, of all things, a funeral.  And tragically, the dead man’s mother has outlived him.  He was her only son.  Moreover, she is a widow.  She has outlived her husband.  Death is everywhere.  The entire town, it seems, is mourning.  

This is why we are here, dear friends.

For we all confessed together that we are “poor, miserable sinners.”  We know from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans that “the wages of sin is death.”  We know what happened in the Garden of Eden.  We call it to mind each Ash Wednesday, “Remember, O man….”  And we are reminded of our own mortality every time we go to a funeral – like the funeral that Jesus attended at Nain.

For what happens at this funeral is also why Jesus is here, dear friends.  He came into our sinful world to exchange our sin for His righteousness.  He came to our dying world to die in our place, so that we might live.  He came to shed His blood in order to share His blood with us.  He came to receive what we deserve, and give us what we don’t.  

In short, Jesus came to raise us from the dead!

And in light of this, how silly are all other reasons people may give for being Christians and for coming to church.  We are Christians, dear friends, because we have been received by Christ through baptism.  We have been cleansed and born again, born that the old, sinful, mortal Adam may die, and in his place, a new man might arise.  Not merely a “better” or “nicer”  person” but rather an immortal and transformed person, who bears the unblemished image and likeness of God, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has compassion on us in our mortal state.

For what does our Lord do concerning this widow whose only son had died?  First, he has “compassion on her.”  He invites her to cease her weeping.  For he is taking away the cause of her mourning.  He stops the funeral, literally.  He halts the pallbearers.  He interrupts the usual march to the grave.  He disrupts this unnatural order of death that we are so warped as to believe is normal and natural.  Jesus touches the coffin, which is itself an unnatural use of wood.  And then the most natural thing in the world happens: in response to the touch and the command of Jesus, who says, “I say to you, arise,” the “dead man sat up and began to speak.”  For that is what death does in the presence of Christ: it ceases to exist, being crowded out by life upon the will and Word of God in the flesh.  And what else can we do but testify and confess what the Lord has done for us?

This is why we are here, dear friends.  For death cannot abide the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose own death destroyed death, and whose resurrection points the way to our own resurrection.  Jesus will, in due time, likewise touch our lifeless bodies and command them to arise.  For he conquered death while himself died on another unnatural use of wood: the cross.  

The people who witnessed this most wondrous and glorious and joyful miracle announced “God has visited His people.”  And this visitation is no social call.  Rather it is the coming of the Lord to conquer death, and to offer eternal forgiveness, life, and salvation to all.  And by grace, we receive this glorious gift through faith, that is, by believing in His promise, by trusting in His name, by receiving His compassion and mercy, and by being raised from the dead to die no more.

This is indeed why we are here!  And this is why Jesus is here!  He came as the only son of a mother who seems to have become a widow herself.  

Jesus has come into the world to abolish widowhood and to end the suffering caused by the death of loved ones.  For Jesus destroys the underlying cause of death: sin.  He has come not to condemn, but to save.

Jesus has come to restore the perfection of the Garden of Eden, where mothers were never to bury their sons, and where children were never to bury their parents, where wood was never to be fashioned into a cross or a coffin, and where nobody would even know what a funeral is.

Jesus comes to say, “I say to you, arise,” even as He Himself rose from the grave, and was reunited to His mother and to all whom He has come to save.  

And this is what it means that God has visited His people.  It is why He is here, dear friends.  And is why we are here, dear brothers and sisters.  

Remember these words of Jesus, for you will hear them at your own glorious resurrection: “I say to you, arise.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 15 - 2018

9 September 2018

Text: Matt 6:24-34 (Gal 5:25-6:10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Christian life, like old age, is not for sissies.  

The Christian life is difficult.  As the great Lutheran theologian Blessed Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945) famously put it: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  For indeed, we Christians are to take up our crosses and follow Him.  Salvation costs us nothing, but it cost the Son of God His life.  And the cost of following Jesus is that He becomes the center of our lives.  Hence, Pastor Bonhoeffer’s words.

But the reality is that most of us will not die as martyrs at the hand of a monstrous government.  God willing, anyway.  Most of us will not be called to confess Christ in the face of the loss of our freedoms and our lives.  But the Christian life is still difficult, dear friends.

Of course, it is difficult to fight our sinful nature and uphold the Ten Commandments.  We fail miserably.  We confess, repent, receive forgiveness and mercy, and we fail again.  But there is something even more difficult for us Christians, and that is what our Lord preaches as recorded by St. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount that we got to hear a bit of once more this morning.  Jesus tells us “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”

This is perhaps, for us, the hardest part of the Christian faith.  Why do we worry?  We worry because we are not in control.  At any moment, a hurricane or tornado or fire can take everything from us.  Without warning, cancer or a heart attack or a stroke can result in death or disability, for ourselves or our loved ones.  Accidents happen out of the blue.  Stock markets crash, skyscrapers collapse, wars are declared – and we cannot control any of this.  We worry for our children and grandchildren as western civilization seems headed for the ash heap.

And of course, there is also money.  We need money to live.  Without money, we would starve, or wander about homeless.  We rely on many things to survive financially, and again, many of them are beyond our control.  At any moment, any of us could become destitute. 

But in the face of these very rational concerns, what does Jesus say?  “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

The same Lord who created the birds created you, dear brother, dear sister, and He continues to care for them and you.  This is why He bids you not to worry.  He is in charge.  He has it under control.  Our job is to be faithful, to discern His will, and carry it out to the best of our abilities.  We are not to make an idol out of money, for “No one can serve two masters,” says our Lord, “You cannot serve God and money.”  Money is not evil.  Money is a tool for us and for the Kingdom.  But we are not to serve money as a master, but rather money is to serve us as its master, even as we are to serve our Lord and Master, who has bidden us not to worry.

For what good can it do anyway?  “And which of you,” asks Jesus, “by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  

Jesus points out that our heavenly Father has it all under control.  And again, He points to creation itself: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

We look around, dear friends, and we see the Lord’s providence all around us.  We see His grace and mercy in our lives and in our world.  Think of what we deserve, and then think of what we have!  Think of what might have been, and then think of what is.  God, in His wisdom and love and providence, has not only created you and brought you to life, He has sustained you to where you are right now.  For where are you?  You are in the very presence of the Lord.  Each one of us has more access to Him than did even the High Priest of Israel.  For we have been baptized and set apart as Holy to the Lord, cleansed by water and the Word, according to Christ’s command and promise.  You have been baptized, dear friends, and you have been called.  You have been given the Word of God, and what’s more, in this beautiful historic church building that has weathered so many storms, both literally and figuratively.  You have been invited to the communion rail to partake of the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, in a union of physical nearness with Christ Jesus as close and as miraculous as His physical, incarnate presence with the apostles.  

Jesus indeed bids you to die, to lay down your life to take up your cross, and to do so triumphantly as a Christian, as one whose sins have been exchanged for Christ’s righteousness.  You are here, dear friends, here to hear anew the preaching of Jesus, His very words recorded and preserved for us by the work of the Holy Spirit.  You are not just a bird of the air, but you are a child of God, you are one for whom Christ died to give you everything – not just a few bucks, but rather all the riches of His kingdom, all by grace – and all by faith.

And having that faith is indeed hard, dear friends.  It means letting go.  It means letting God be God, and not trying to control every aspect of our lives, the lives of our families, the lives of our fellow parishioners, the lives of our co-workers, and the lives of people who seem to pull the stings of our world.  For in the final analysis, God is the one who is in control – not us, and not those who claim lordship over us.  For all men must bow before Christ, whether joyfully, or fearfully, whether in loving obedience to His will, or in terror of His judgment.

You, dear friends, are here not for judgment, but for grace.  And so let us embrace the words of our Lord and take them to heart.  Let us joyfully die to ourselves so that a new and better self may emerge from the death of the Old Adam, drowned in the font, and arisen with our Lord Jesus Christ in the resurrection.

The Christian life is not for sissies, but for sinners who have heard the Word of God, who are given the grace to receive what Christ has won for us at the cross, and the faith to receive Him without serving idols, like money, or worrying about things that He has under control.  Instead of worrying about ourselves like the Gentiles, let us praise Him and put all things in His nail-scarred hands, hands that receive you as you “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” knowing that “all these things will be added to you.”  This is how Christians can live the Christian life as St. Paul encourages us: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 14 - 2018

2 September 2018

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

At his inauguration in 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  In a sense, he was calling on Americans to seek to serve rather than to seek to be served.  Implied in this quote is a sense of gratitude.  We ought to be grateful for what has been handed down to us, and out of gratitude, we ought to be willing to serve rather than demand that others serve us.

It seems that fewer and fewer people think in this way, as so many seem to want to take, and so few wish to give.  We have sadly become a nation of ungrateful people.

This is a manifestation of our fallen nature.  We are self-centered and thus lacking in gratitude.  We want others to bend to our will.  We get angry if we don’t get what we want when we want it, and exactly how we want it.  We have become a spoiled people that can break out into a fistfight with a fast food worker if our burger isn’t exactly as we want it.

We are a culture that sees service as beneath our dignity.  And indeed, the word “service” is based on the Latin word for “slave.”  And slavery is something we detest – especially we Americans whose country was founded on liberty.  In our culture, serving others, even if voluntarily as a free person, is seen as demeaning.

Our Lord Jesus Christ says of Himself that He came not to be served, but to serve.  St. Paul teaches us that Jesus came in the form of a slave in order to save us.  He did this out of love.  Jesus was not above scrubbing the dirty feet of His beloved students.  Jesus serves us His flesh and blood at the cross, serving up His life as a ransom.  And He continues to serve us in the Lord’s Supper, feeding us with His own body and blood in the holy meal of the Eucharist, which is Greek for “thanksgiving.”  

And for all of this, perhaps we ought not ask what Christ’s church can do for us, but rather, what can we do for Christ’s church.  And the greatest patron saint of this kind of gratitude is our unnamed healed leper in the Gospel reading.

Our Lord healed ten men of the dreaded disease called “leprosy” – known today as Hansen’s Disease.  In our day, it is rare, and curable.  But in the first century, it was a slow death sentence that was contagious.  If you caught it, you were forced out of the community, from your home, away from loved ones.  You became an outcast for fear of spreading the infection.  The disease was painful and disfiguring and fatal. 

Jesus was traveling in a village between Samaria and Galilee.  Ten lepers “stood at a distance” and cried out to Him, praying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  They were desperate and sought a cure.  Jesus promptly sent them on their way to be declared clean by the priests, according to the Law of Moses.  While on their way, “they were cleansed.”  This means that they were cured of this horrific disease that normally left people without hope.  

After this great miracle, this new lease on life, nine of the men went their way and never came back.  But, “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”  And to top it all off, this man was not of the chosen people, for he was a Samaritan.

While the other nine had gone on their way, not bothering to come back out of gratitude, this Tenth Leper (who was not a leper any longer) returned to give thanks and praise and to worship Jesus.  

There were many other things he could have been doing with his new life.  He could now walk into a restaurant or a public festival.  He could visit his family or share a meal at home with friends.  He could travel without being ostracized.  He could sleep in his own bed without pain.  But before doing anything else, this Samaritan came back to give thanks and praise to God, to publicly thank him for giving him the priceless gift of life.

And Jesus contrasts this man’s gratitude with the others’ attitude of taking Jesus for granted: “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Our Lord looks upon this man’s actions as a confirmation of this man’s faith.  For we receive the gifts of life and salvation by grace, through faith.  Jesus saw the evidence of this man’s faith in his deeds of gratitude.  His actions don’t make him well, but the faith that led to his grateful actions certainly do, even as our blessed Lord tells him: “Rise and go your way.  Your faith has made you well.”

But what do the nine say instead?  We don’t know, as Scripture is silent.  But what people whom Jesus has healed often say is that they don’t see the need to come to where Jesus is.  They already know this stuff.  They’re already baptized.  The church is filled with hypocrites.  The pastor is a jerk.  Well, sometimes they might be right about that.  

But more often than not, dear friends, our problem is that we lack gratitude.  For when we are sick or in trouble or in danger, we pray, we plead with God, we may even bargain and think of a list of things we’ll do if God will just help us out of this jam.

But when we have been healed, we, like the nine, go about our merry way and think about other things, rather than coming to Jesus and praising Him.

The good news is this, dear friends, Jesus cures us not only of things like leprosy, but also of ingratitude, of misplaced priorities, of asking what others will do for us rather than acknowledging gratefully what others have done for us – especially Jesus, who has done more for us that anyone else, including our parents, our spouses, our children, our best friends, our teachers, and those who have defended our liberties in times of peril.  For Jesus has cured us of the leprosy of death and hell.  He has given us a new lease on life.  He has redeemed us.  He has saved us.  He has sent us forth healed.

The Christian life is not about trying to be holy, dear friends.  The Christian life is a response of gratefulness to our Lord for making us holy by His blood, through His passion and death, and in the certainty of the resurrection: His, and ours.  And in gratitude, we come to Jesus, we fall on our faces at His feet.  We continue in the prayer, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  We praise Him with a loud voice.  And we ask Him in prayer as well what we can do for Him and for our neighbors.  We thank Him in service, whatever that service looks like for us.  We thank Him in the Divine Service, for indeed “it is our duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.”

In our gratitude, we ask what we can do for our Lord and His church.  Our Lord looks upon His grateful little flock, those who have been delivered from the leprosy of sin, and He says yet again: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.  Amen.

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

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The Economics of Death

One of my colleagues in the ministerium of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the Rev. Graham Glover, wrote an anti-abortion piece in a blog called The Jagged Word.  Our church body opposes abortion and is active in the pro-life movement.

Interestingly, Pastor Glover looks at the issue not from the moral, cultural, or ethical aspect, but rather from the political viewpoint of "policies and laws."  He goes on to express ambivalence toward the political issue of Supreme Court justices, even a bit of skepticism, while also expressing the possibility that Supreme Court appointments might help.

The real answer, the author opines, is politics of a different stripe: "policies and laws that end, or at least seek to radically reduce, poverty."

His well-intentioned argument is that abortion is not at its root an ethical or philosophical issue, but rather one of economics, and that as such, it is actually rooted and grounded in poverty.  Poverty is the keystone.  If we can "end" it or "radically reduce" it, that would in fact "end" the "hundreds of thousands of abortions that occur every year in America."

Of course, poverty is not something that can be cured with enough research, the right policy prescription, technology, or even the milk of human kindness.  Poverty is caused by scarcity: demand exceeding supply, which, according to Christian anthropology, is a consequence and curse of the Fall.  Poverty will always be with us in this age, if we are to believe Jesus.  This is not to say that we should not seek out behaviors which bring relief to our fellow man.  Quite the opposite!  That is what charity and alms-giving are all about.  Though we cannot cure poverty in the abstract, though we cannot overcome the Fall by our own prowess, though we cannot scientifically make supply exceed demand - we can love our neighbor in need.

Pastor Glover, however, proposes that the road to the ending or the radical reduction of poverty lies in Socialism.  Interestingly, he begins his argument by an appeal that we "imagine."

Pastor Glover writes: "[I]magine a nation that insures every one of its citizens from conception to death."  Has socialized medicine resulted in fewer abortions in nations where it is the norm?  And how does it work for a fertilized egg to have health insurance, but at the same time, can be aborted?

The author invites us to "imagine a nation that guarantees a living wage to every one of its citizens."  He invites us to "imagine a nation that has more generous maternal leave policies and begins to have a serious conversation about paternal leave."  He alludes to the myth of "the gross income disparity between men and women."  He calls for "radically expanding foster and adoptive services and supporting them in ways far beyond what our budgets currently allot" meaning more government intervention in the economy.  Do all these things, and "maybe" says the author, "just maybe, more women will choose not to have an abortion."

Of course, the argument that Socialism alleviates poverty is monstrous.  What brings countries out of poverty are markets, not Marxism.  This is not opinion; it is empirically and historically demonstrable.

Moreover, even Europe's soft democratic-socialist countries already have these very policies and laws that the author asks us to "imagine", as if such Utopias were only a glimmer in the mind of Lennonesque dreamers.  Has abortion ended in these countries?  Has it been radically reduced?  Or have we seen a further degradation of the value of human life by an increase in related atrocities such as euthanasia and its related boon for tourism in countries that champion such policies?

What about the Soviet Union?  In its seven decades of socialized medicine from cradle to grave, its guaranteed living wage, its maternal leave policy, its unabashed advocacy for women's rights, as well as its famous government-run orphanages - did the USSR end or radically reduce abortion?

There are two fatal flaws in Pastor Glover's argumentation:

1) That Socialism is a way out of poverty, and
2) That abortion is primarily a matter of having more money as opposed to how one views human life.

A little perspective is also called for.  In the United States today, most of the people we consider poor have a place to live, clean potable drinking water, indoor plumbing, electricity, television, and telephones.  They typically have access to free health care through Medicaid, greatly reduced food bills through EBT and other welfare programs, breakfasts and lunches for their children enrolled in the nation's free public schools and free head start programs. People that we consider poor often have luxuries like cellphones, cable TV, sports tickets, pets, tattoos, video games, jewelry, cigarettes, air conditioning, automobiles, etc.  Moreover, they also often manage to find the money to get abortions.

I do agree that we should support policies and laws that push back against poverty (even though it is impossible to eradicate it in this fallen world).  I believe that the free market system, not Socialism, has demonstrably proven itself to be exponentially and consistently superior in that endeavor.  Socialism has not only given us more abortions - paid for by tax money - but has also given the world a hundred million corpses and a legacy of the concentration camp and the mass grave.

Pope St. John Paul II - a player in the downfall of the very Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that championed Pastor Glover's various policy prescriptions - put his finger on the problem.  At its root, the issue of abortion is not economic or political.  Politics follows the anthropological philosophy, of the culture.  Economics is about choice and human action based on one's subjective values.

The root issue which underlies the politics and economics of abortion, according to Pope John Paul, is the "culture of death."  And so it is.