Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sermon: Reformation Day - 2018

28 October 2018

Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rev 14:6-7, Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“But to what shall I compare this generation?” asks our Lord.  For what does “this generation” do?  It mocks John the Baptist because he doesn’t drink, and then mocks Jesus because He does.  “This generation” is not concerned with the truth, but only with adopting a narrative and then using it to arrive at a pre-conceived conclusion.

Why do they do this?

Power.  The “powers that be” like being in charge.  John the Baptist, the final prophet, is a disrupter, a disturber of the peace, that peace that the king enjoys because of society’s looking the other way regarding his immorality and corruption.  But like the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” John refuses to play along with the narrative.  John tells the truth.  The powers that be cannot have that.  John has to be killed.

And this is how many of John’s the Forerunner’s own forerunners in the office of prophet were treated in centuries past.  For as Lord Acton would famously put it: “Power corrupts.  And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

And if John was considered a disruption, they haven’t seen anything yet.  For John has come to usher in the manifestation of God in human flesh, who comes to turn the universe upside down, to fill the valleys and make the mountains low, to straighten the crooked and level the rough places.  Our Lord Jesus Christ defies the narrative because He is the True Narrative, the Word of God made flesh.  The story of Jesus is the story of the universe, and His story is not just a convenient narrative to be exploited politically, His story is the story of the redemption of mankind.  His Narrative is the truth.  For He is the truth.  The powers that be cannot have that.  Jesus also has to be killed.

But of course, that is the very Narrative that our Lord has in mind.  It is why He takes flesh in the first place.  He comes to die, and He dies to rise.  He rises to give us life.  And we rise to the glory of God, according to His will, which He carries out at the cross, in love for us and for all of His creation.  That is the one Narrative that is both true and eternal.  And Jesus is the One who does indeed have absolute power, and yet, as the Psalmist says, “You will not… let Your Holy One see corruption.”  

In order to hold fast to the narrative opposing Jesus, they must cling to a lie: that he is “a glutton and a drunkard.”  But the rest of their narrative is true, for our Blessed Lord is indeed a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  He is the sinner’s greatest friend.  For He is the sinner’s Savior!

And “this generation” continues on throughout history.  The mighty and powerful lie about the disrupter, the whistle-blower, the boy who points out the Emperor’s nakedness.  And in order to hold on to power, they will lie, they will kill, they will destroy.

Martin Luther grew up among “this generation.”  For when the church of his day, reeking with corruption and wielding power that staggers the imagination, pushed a narrative that conflicted with the Holy Scriptures, a narrative that salvation was a commodity to be purchased, in the words of the preacher John Tetzel: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”  This narrative stands against the clear Word of God: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received in faith.”

Once again, we are all “justified by His grace as a gift.”  How many of you pay for your gifts, dear friends?  Do your children anxiously run to the Christmas tree with their wallets in hand looking to make purchases?  How many husbands buy flowers for their wives and attach a bill?  What did the pope and the cardinals and the bishops think the word “gift” meant?  

On October 31, 1517, Father Martin published an academic paper that we now call “Ninety Five Theses” that includes this question (number 82): “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?”

The good doctor was also a disrupter, also one who challenged the narrative of the one wielding power, and so Doctor Luther must also die.  He was condemned by pope and emperor.

But in His infinite mercy, the Lord God would not permit Luther to be tied to a post and burned alive – which is how Dearest Mother Church dealt with whistleblowers in those days.  God had other plans at that time of Reformation.  For there is an “eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth.”  And there were others who would not buy the narrative.  There were other men in power, faithful men, who sought the truth rather than the lie, who wanted to know what Scripture taught rather than simply silence the one who preached it.

Thirteen years after Luther’s “Ninety Five Theses,” the emperor would command the German princes to reject their churches’ reforms and return to loyalty to the pope.  These princes bared their necks and dared the Emperor to behead them, for they were prepared to die rather than surrender the faith that they had come to know, the faith that Scripture teaches: that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

For these men had finally heard that “eternal gospel” to be proclaimed to “those who dwell on earth” – that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  The princes saw through the narrative that Luther was a heretic, that the pope is above scripture, that salvation is not by grace alone, that the common people could not have the Bible in their own language, and that the blood of Christ is not sufficient as a “propitiation… to be received by faith.”  They knew that this narrative was ultimately about power: power to control the people by means of fear, power to control the princes by means of taxation, and power to amass fortunes by prostituting the faith in exchange for secular power.

“This generation” continues today, dear friends.  For if you uphold the Scriptures, you might find yourself out of a job, unable to attend a university, hounded out of polite society, or perhaps even in a jail cell.

For the powerful continue to push an unbiblical narrative, one that calls good evil, and evil good.  We need to follow in the footsteps of St. John and Blessed Martin, and most of all, our Lord Jesus Christ, in believing, teaching, and confessing the truth of the “eternal gospel” – even in the face of the mighty who push a narrative grounded in the lie for their own retention of power. God may allow us to die in that confession, or He may permit us to live: but whether we live or die, we must confess that which is true.  

As St. Paul also teaches us by the power of the Holy Spirit, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  The world mocks us just as they did John.  The world seeks to gag us just as they tried to do with Luther.  The world seeks to crucify us just as they did our Blessed Lord.  But as our Lord has said, dear friends, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”

Let us not be swayed by the narrative of the corrupt.  Let us “worship Him,” the incorruptible, “who made the heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water,” and do so without concern for what “this generation” will do next.  Let us “fear God and give Him glory” – now, and even unto eternity!  Amen!

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 21- 2018

21 October 2018

Text: John 4:46-54 (Gen 1:1-2:3, Eph 6:10-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Begin at the beginning” said the king in Alice in Wonderland, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”  The author, Lewis Carroll, knew about the importance of beginning at the beginning, for he was an ordained deacon in the Church of England.  He would have been very familiar with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

When God wants to reveal Himself to us, to reveal history to us, to tell His story and the story of our universe – He begins at the beginning.

For none of the Bible makes any sense at all without this understanding that God created all things in the beginning: time, space, light, matter, energy; the electrons and protons, atoms, and molecules; the solar systems, the galaxies, and the universe.

And most of all, we need to understand the beginning of mankind: for we are created in God’s image, and entrusted to care for God’s completed creation.  “And behold, it was very good.”  But mankind broke it.  We sinned.  We invited evil and distortion and death into our world through our disobedience, believing the devil’s lie instead of the Lord’s truth.

This is why Cain killed Abel.  This is why there was a flood.  This is why there was a Tower of Babel.  This is why God chose a people for Himself from whom would come the Savior.  This is why Jesus was born, lived, preached for three years, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And this is why He is coming again.  For what we have broken is being fixed.  The world that we have made “very bad” will give way to a new heaven and a new earth.  Death will be no more.  Creation will again be “very good.”  And unlike Lewis Carroll’s king, our King Jesus does not tell us to come to the end and then stop, for there will be no end and no stopping!

And when a “man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee,” He went to find Jesus, fearing that his son’s life was coming to an end.  For “he was at the point of death.”

This man may or may not have really known who Jesus is, but it is clear that He believes that Jesus can, and will, heal his son.  Jesus, who spoke the universe into being “in the beginning,” saying, “Let there be,” (and there was), speaks another almighty word: “Your son will live.”  At that very hour, the child’s illness abated, the “fever left him,” and he recovered – all at, and by, the Word of Jesus.

“And he,” the child’s father, “he himself believed, and all of his household.”  Faith followed upon the heels of faith, and his faith came from the Word of Christ.

For this, dear friends, is the very reason Jesus came into our broken world.  He has come to reverse the destruction that leads to death.  He has come to forgive our sins and restore the perfection, the “very goodness” of His original creation.  Jesus has come to make war against the devil who sought to ruin creation by seducing mankind, and Jesus becomes a man in order to defeat the tempter who sought to seduce Him.  Jesus came to die in order to defeat death.  Jesus rose again to everlasting life so that we too might live forever.  

But we still live in time, dear friends, in this currently-broken world: assaulted by the devil, attacked by illness, and harassed by death.  We are still in the midst of the Lord’s re-creation project.  We are still surrounded by the ugliness and rottenness of sin: within ourselves and within our world.  

And this is why St. Paul speaks in militaristic terms about the Christian life, encouraging us to “put on the whole armor of God” in order that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  For indeed, we are still in time, still in the flesh, and still at war against the evil one – even though our Lord Jesus Christ has defeated Him at the cross and at the empty tomb.  

We are still the Church Militant, and our Lord still bids us to fight.  This is no time for wavering; this is not the time for weakness.  For our Lord has truly armed us for this fight which is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

St. Paul describes our being equipped for battle as Christian warriors: bearing the “belt of truth” that protects our vitals, the “breastplate of righteousness,” that covers our hearts, the “readiness given by the gospel of peace” that acts as shoes for our feet, preparing us to run into battle wherever we are called.  And always we are to bear the “shield of faith,” that is, the belief that clings to Christ’s Word and His promise, which itself has the power to “extinguish all the flaming darts” of the evil one who is destined for the lake of fire.  Our heads are protected by the “helmet of salvation,” and finally, we are entrusted with one offensive weapon to strike with: a sword.  But this is no ordinary sword, like the one that our Lord told Peter to put away.  This is the double-edged “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

The Word of God made all things, brought all things into being, and sustains all things.  The Word took flesh and dwelt among us.  The Word spoke to the father of the dying boy, healing him by grace through faith.  

Dear friends, we must continue to take up this sword: hearing God’s Word, meditating upon it, and most of all, believing it!  It must be in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts!  We must understand that the Word of God is not just blobs of ink on a page, but rather the living, breathing sword that defeats the devil.  The Word is the breath and command of God that brings all things into existence, and the Word is God Himself, incarnate, and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth, who destroyed sin, death, and the devil, but who also shows mercy to His broken creation, including to us fallen creatures created in God’s image who went astray.  The Word has come to redeem us for eternity.

And so here we are, dear friends, trying to get back to the beginning, the perfect beginning, the “very good” beginning when all of creation acted according to the perfect will of God, a world that did not know warfare or evil or strife or fever or death.  

“In the beginning” appears twice in the Holy Scriptures: at the beginning of divine revelation of the creation account, and at the beginning of John’s Gospel in the divine revelation of who Jesus is.  We not only “begin at the beginning,” as the king in Alice in Wonderland said, but we also “go on” just as he added that we should do.  We go on, but we do not stop, for in Christ there is no end.  We die, but we do not cease to be.  We come to the end of this age, but it is only the beginning of the age that has no end, the new heaven and the new earth, and the restoration of the universe that God Himself created “in the beginning.”

For God will yet again see “everything that He had made,” and declare it to be “very good.”  Our warfare will end, and our lives will have no end.  Let us believe, dear friends, let us believe in the Word of God: let us believe in our Lord Jesus Christ!  Let us believe and all our households!  Let us believe the Word that Jesus speaks to us as we go our way, even unto eternal life!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Sermon: St. Ignatius of Antioch - 2018

17 October 2018

Text: John 12:24-26

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

It has become trendy in many churches – Lutheran churches included – to refer to those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb as “Jesus-Followers” rather than “Christians” or “disciples.”  Focus groups and market research suggest that the old names are a turnoff for modern-day unbelievers.  And so, it seems, we must change with the times, reinvent ourselves, forget the old, embrace the new, and stop being so traditional.  A popular edgy bishop named John Shelby Spong wrote a book called Why Christianity Must Change or Die.  Bishop Spong doesn’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or rose from the dead.  He doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word, or that we are saved by the blood of Christ shed on the cross.  He thinks that most of the Bible, including the life of Jesus, is a myth designed to teach us to be, among other things, accepting of same sex marriage and other such things.  He doesn’t believe that Christianity is about sin and redemption, about dying and rising again.  

But when we stop talking about discipleship, we stop talking about discipline (something our modern culture hates).  When we refer to “Jesus followers,” it sounds like Christianity is as easy as friending or following someone on social media.

And so we’re doing something that many trendy pastors of big, wealthy, edgy churches would disapprove of.  For we are doing what our Lord said to do: “Take, eat.  Take, drink… in memory of Me.”  It isn’t about us and what we like, but rather it is all about Jesus.  And when Jesus is central to the life of the church – whether in this sanctuary, at your job or school, around your table, in your community, among your family, and out in the world – you will see discipleship and Christianity lived out as it was in the case of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

The church of Antioch was founded by St. Peter – and Ignatius became the third bishop of this important city.  Antioch was the first place the term “Christians” was applied to disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ignatius (as a young man) was a parishioner of the Apostle John.  

Bishop Ignatius was arrested and condemned to death for the sake of his faith – which was illegal in those days.  Bishop Ignatius was made to endure a long final journey to Rome in order to be executed as part of a “reality entertainment show” in the stadium in which Christians – young and old, men and women, even the elderly and infants – were fed to hungry lions.  During his extradition to the capital city, Ignatius wrote seven letters to various churches, encouraging them in the faith.

In his Epistle to the Romans, the bishop wrote: “I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of life, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the Drink of God, namely His Blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”

What a great example for all of us today, more than one thousand nine hundred years after St. Ignatius became a martyr for the faith of Jesus Christ!  For what does it mean to follow Jesus?  It doesn’t mean tapping a button on your phone.  It doesn’t mean going to church when you feel like it or being entertained while you’re there.  It means that your entire being is wrapped around your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  Where He is, there you are.  Where His body and blood are, not even hungry lions could keep you away.  Where His Word is proclaimed, that is where “incorruptible love and eternal life” are to be found.  And that is where Christians are found.  And that unbreakable chain to the Lord Jesus Christ goes with you everywhere you go, whether to work, to school, to your kitchen table – or even to your death for following the Lord if you are called to give such a testimony.

Ignatius understood the Lord’s preaching when Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

The Christian life is about Christ and Him crucified.  His blood is indeed “incorruptible love and eternal life.”  And Jesus does not hoard this love and life, but sheds it upon the cross and shares it.  He bathes our sin-soaked and death-laden earth with His very life and life-giving divinity that have come to us in His flesh and blood on the cross.  And His gift of life doesn’t stop there, but continues to come to us in His holy body and blood of the Eucharist, including His flesh, the “Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of life.”

So much of this life centers around food: for we work to earn money to buy food.  We go to school to get a job to buy food.  Much of our day is devoted to preparing and eating meals: both the ordinary and the feasts.  Much of our society centers on food: festivals and celebrations, ethnic cuisine and social gatherings.  There are entire channels on television devoted to food.  Food is so plentiful in our country that an alarming number of people suffer with obesity.  But as much as we love our food (and, dear friends, we should enjoy and relish our daily bread that the Lord provides us), think about what all of this food is compared to the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, that we partake of together on this evening!  Think about the faith and the joy that sustained Ignatius while he was transported in chains, and when he was pushed out onto the floor of the stadium, and as the beasts pounced upon him.

This is what it means to be a disciple: to understand that the Lord Himself is that grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies.  And His death upon the cross and His burial in the tomb is the sowing of the seed of everlasting life!  For the death and resurrection of Jesus did not remain alone.  Not only is Bishop Spong wrong about the resurrection of Jesus, he is also wrong about our own resurrections.  For the death of Jesus “bears much fruit.”  We are that fruit.  The wheat is planted, it germinates, it grows, it matures, it is harvested – and it is made into bread that nourishes us for life.  Some of that bread is sanctified by the Word of God and becomes that “Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of life” that sustained Ignatius, and sustains all of us Christians, all of us disciples who follow our Lord to death and to the resurrection.

For like Ignatius, we bear the promise of Jesus, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  We are pilgrims here, strangers and aliens.  We are just passing through this desert.  Our true home is eternity: the new heaven and the new earth, in our new bodies that will bear much fruit after we are also sown into the earth.

For if you want to follow Jesus, you cannot do it by clicking a button on your phone.  Jesus has called you.  He bids you “Follow Me!”  For you were baptized into His name and the Holy Spirit has drawn you inexorably to Him.  “If anyone serves Me,” says our blessed Lord, “he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.”

This is why Ignatius served at the altar, font, and pulpit in Antioch.  This is why we are gathered around the altar, font, and pulpit in Gretna.  We are here to hear the Word of Jesus and to partake in the Holy Sacrament.  And like Ignatius, the Word of God transforms us unto eternal life and empowers us to confess Jesus before a hostile world, even a world that hates us and would like to see us all fed to beasts and wiped out.

“If anyone serves Me,” says Jesus, “the Father will honor him.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch is honored by the church, as a bishop, as a preacher, as a theologian, but most of all, as a Christian disciple.  Well done, faithful servant, Bishop Ignatius of Antioch.  Thanks be to God for His example, his own seed falling into the ground, his testimony (which is what “martyrdom” actually means), his testimony of Jesus: the Seed who falls into the ground that we might rise!  Let us continue to joyfully and steadfastly partake of the “incorruptible love and eternal life” of Christ Jesus our Lord!  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 20 - 2018

14 October 2018

Text: Matt 22:1-14

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord explains the kingdom of heaven by means of another story known to us today as the Parable of the Wedding Feast.  It could have just as easily been named: the Parable of the Ungrateful Invitees.  

As the story goes, a king gives “a wedding feast for his son.”  Servants are sent to the invitees with invitations.  Of course, this is a really big deal: a royal event.  It is a privilege to be invited to something like this, a high honor.  And when the invitees “would not come,” the king tried again, using different servants to deliver the message this time.  But again, the king’s gracious invitation is spurned.  Some preferred to work the farm rather than join the wedding feast.  Others ran businesses that kept them away.  And there was a third group that did what we call today “shooting the messenger.”  For they “treated [the servants] shamefully, and killed them.”

Now we have moved beyond contempt to actual violent rebellion against the king and his rule.  So he is angry.  He makes war on the rebels and burns their city.

But even after all of that, there is still a wedding to be held.  There are still seats to be filled.  So he tells another group of servants: “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.”  He tells the servants to go bring in anyone to fill the seats, “both bad and good.”  And so the wedding hall was “filled with guests.”

This sounds like a happy-ending fairy tale.  But it doesn’t stop here.  For there is an impostor at the wedding: a man who snuck in without the required wedding garment.  He was removed and put into prison: a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is a story that can be understood on many levels.  

Of course, God the Father is the king, and the son is our Lord, the Son of God.  Our Lord Jesus is often called the “bridegroom” and the Church is His bride.  God chose His people, the descendants of Israel, to be His very own, His beloved bride.  But of course, many times in their history, they ignored the Word of God, and they even mistreated and murdered the prophets who carried the invitation to welcome the coming Messiah.  At times, Israel is cast as an unfaithful wife.

And so the promise to be the people of God was extended to the roads leading all over the known world.  The kingdom of heaven was extended by grace to “both bad and good.”  God calls people who will repent and be baptized into the name of the Father who invites them, the Son who redeems them, and the Holy Spirit who draws them in.  Being the people of God is no longer about being part of the right family or nationality.  It is a matter of being called and chosen, of wearing the right garment: a garment given by God Himself.  

And so this explains the last part of the parable: the “man who had no wedding garment.”  He was trying to enter the eternal heavenly banquet by some means other than what God designed.  He had no invite.  He had no ticket.  He was not wearing the uniform issued by the king.  He thought that didn’t matter.  Maybe he thought that he deserved to be there by his own merit.  Maybe he was depending on his ancestry.  Maybe he thought the king just invited everyone.

But he was wrong.

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord is trying to teach us that “many are called, but few are chosen.”  He is trying to teach us to wear the wedding garment of being baptized and of believing. For being part of the great eternal banquet has nothing to do with how wealthy you are, who your parents are, what your reputation is, or how much you think you deserve to be there.  Instead, Jesus uses the word “chosen.”

We do not choose Jesus.  We do not make a decision for Jesus.  We do not choose to be a Christian.  We don’t even really choose to come to Church.  We aren’t that good or that smart.  As we confess in our catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Jesus chooses us.  “Come, follow Me,” He says to His disciples, including us.  He calls us through Baptism, and He chooses us when we respond to His call, taking up our cross, and following Him.  And when we do, we are given a wedding garment.

Dear friends, let us not spurn the gracious invitation.  Of course, we have to tend to our farms and businesses, but let us not make them our priority.  Let us not mistreat the Lord’s servants who come to us with an invitation.  Let us not take the invitation for granted or claim that we are entitled to be at the banquet because of something our grandfathers did, because of our nationality, or because we think that we’re better than those “bad and good” that we find ourselves eating with.

Let us rather come to the table of the Lord graciously and gratefully, knowing that this little feast to which we are invited on this Lord’s Day is a foretaste of the grand feast to which we have been invited in eternity.  For this Supper is a small preview of the wedding feast of the Bridegroom.  Here in time, we who have been called and chosen join the Bridegroom at the table.  We eat the choicest bread and the most magnificent wine, for they are His very body and blood.  Jesus Himself invites us: “Take eat, take drink.” 

And even as our Lord was dressed in royal robes of mockery at His trial before He was stripped of His garments at His crucifixion, He clothes us more magnificently than Solomon in all His splendor, giving us a baptismal garment to wear that grants us admission to the Everlasting Feast.  His blood is the Lamb’s blood that makes death pass us over, but it is also incorporated into that robe that sets us apart as worthy guests at His banquet.  

“Everything is ready,” dear friends.  “Come to the wedding feast,” both here in time, and there in eternity.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 19 - 2018

10 October 2018

Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17, Eph 4:22-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When Galileo was put on trial by the Inquisition of the corrupt church of his day for saying that the earth moves around the sun, he was forced to recant.  And by doing so, he saved himself from the death penalty.  Supposedly, he muttered under his breath in Italian: “e pur si muove,” (“and yet it moves”).  

The ancient Greeks referred to God the Creator as  “ὃ οὐ κινούμενον κινεῖ” (“the Unmoved Mover”).  

God’s entire creation is in motion: the galaxies, the solar systems, the planets, the molecules, the atoms – and even light waves: the first thing God set in motion at the creation.

Life moves, as even grass and trees grow and lunge toward the heavens, while shooting roots into the earth.  Animals move: they walk, they swim, and they fly.  And when God breathed His Spirit into the dust of the earth, mankind was animated with life, and he was able to move.

In time, man would also learn to use technology to routinely travel along roads at 70 miles per hour, fly through the air and even blast into space.  God made us to move!

Our worst move, however, was in the Garden of Eden, rebelling against God, taking hold of forbidden knowledge of good and evil before we were ready and authorized by God to do so.  The result is that movement in our universe is no longer orderly and harmonious, but now is chaotic and destructive: hurricanes and collisions between stars and planets, animals eating each other, friction between man and nature, and hostility between man and God.  Also, our bodies slow down due to disease and wear.  We age.  And we die, becoming again dust of the earth, paralyzed and unable to move.  

This is why paralysis is so horrible.  Being immobile is not what God had in mind when He created us.  And so the paralytic in our Gospel account is seeking a restoration to wholeness.  He came to the right place.  For Jesus does what no doctor could do.  He not only cures the disease, He takes away the cause of the disease.  “Take heart, My Son; your sins are forgiven.”  And to the consternation of His critics, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator, the Unmoved Mover, orders the once-crippled man whose sins have been forgiven to move: “Rise and walk” He is able to command, and the man’s body obeys and moves.

This movement is authorized by God, for “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ moved from the realms of eternity into our broken, chaotic, paralyzed world to free it from its impediments by removing the cause of all of our problems: sin.  Jesus came to destroy the unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil, and the paralysis of fear and helplessness that follow in their wake.

The earthward movement of the Unmoved Mover was prefigured as a vision by our Lord’s ancestor Jacob.  While he was camping out near what is today Jerusalem, Jacob dreamed a vision from God: “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.”  This ladder became a torrent of movement: of angels ascending and descending, preparing the place where heaven would intersect with earth, where eternity would meet time.  The Temple would be built here, and the Eternal Presence of God would be present there, as sacrifices would be tokens of the forgiveness of sin.  And in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus Christ would be born not far from there.  And He would eventually make His way to the cross, the true ladder to heaven upon which we ascend, through Christ in whom we live and move and have our being.  He would fulfill the Temple sacrifices.  He would allow Himself to be paralyzed by death, but the Unmoved Mover would rouse Himself into motion yet again.  He would send His church into motion around the globe, baptizing and teaching, preaching and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, forgiving sins, and establishing churches through which sinners are moved to forgiveness and eternal life.

That movement continues to this very day.

Our Christian life is a moving away from death toward the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus through the very same forgiveness offered to the paralytic.  For in your baptism, the Unmoved Mover said to you: “Take heart, My Son, take heart My daughter, your sins are forgiven.”  And you will indeed rise from that narrow chamber of the tomb.  And then from death our Lord Jesus Christ will awaken you.  Your eyes will joyfully see the Son of God.  You will move.  You will rise.  You will pick up the bed of your grave, and you will go home: home to a new heaven and a new earth, one in which the galaxies, the solar systems, the planets, the molecules, the atoms – and even light waves – will move in perfect harmony, just the way the Unmoved Mover designed them and commanded them to move in the first place by His Word!

It is this motion away from sin, death, and the devil and toward the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that St. Paul refers to when he says: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This renewal of the mind will be brought to completion in the renewal of the body: the resurrection, the movement from paralysis to vigor, from despair to hope, from shackles to freedom, from sin to forgiveness, life, and salvation by the grace of the Unmoved Mover.

For even when the world doubts God’s existence, when our culture mocks and denigrates the Unmoved Mover Jesus Christ, even as people all around us, unknowingly paralyzed by sin, death, and the devil tell us that there is no resurrection, there is no restoration to movement again, there is no new heaven and new earth to look forward to – they are playing the role of the backward church of the middle ages and the renaissance, that resisted the truth and oppressed those who told the truth.  

Modern skeptics are cut of the same cloth as the Inquisition that put Galileo on trial, wanting to dictate to all of us what to believe, how to think, and whom to serve.  They want us to think that they have all the answers, and that their distortion of science is the truth.  They want us to believe that dissent is deadly, and that they have ultimate power over us.

We are Galileo (who was also a faithful Christian).  We are those who look at God’s creation and see the handiwork of the Unmoved Mover.  We know Jesus Christ, have read and heard His Word, and we participate in His life-giving sacraments.  We are moved by His cross and blood shed for us.  We are moved by Holy Baptism which washes away the paralysis of sin and death.  We partake in the Holy Supper that moves us to eternal life.

And like Galileo, we dissent from the oppressors who would have us accept a lie.  We hear yet again the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Your sins are forgiven.”  We look forward to the resurrection when our Lord, the Unmoved Mover, will say to us: “Rise and walk.”

And here in time, like the crowds who witnessed this miracle, we glorify God “who had given such authority to men.”  And when we are told to shut up and obey, we are not afraid to offer our own resistance to the devil’s tyranny, saying: “E pur si muove!”


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