Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sermon: Funeral of Bernadine Capdeville - 2018

28 November 2018

Text: John 14:1-6 (Ps 37:4, Rom 6:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Roy and Ralph; family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: “Peace be with you.”

1919 was quite a year.  Woodrow Wilson was president.  The treaty that ended World War One was signed.  Prohibition went into effect in the United States.  And Babe Ruth joined the New York Yankees.  Closer to home, the City of Gretna was six years old, there would not be a paved street for several years, and people were still getting around with horse and buggy, and of course, the ferry.  Our congregation had a new pastor named Eugene Schmid.

In November of that year, our beloved Bernadine was born, twice.  She was born in the flesh on November 4, to her loving parents Herbert and Edna Bennerfield.  She was born again of water and the Spirit on November 16, baptized in that font right there by Pastor Schmid, being carried to our church and to that font by her parents.  And being born of water and the Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ rescued her from sin, death, and the devil.  

At the age of twelve, Bernadine recited the catechism from memory and she was confirmed by Pastor Schmid, who gave her the verse that we heard as our Old Testament reading: “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  And as the years and decades rolled by, many things changed in our world, our country, and our city, but Dee continued to sit in these pews, confess her sins and receive absolution, hear the Good News of Jesus Christ from this pulpit, and partake of the Lord’s Supper at this altar – week after week, right up until the week of her departure.  Just three weeks ago, we sang Happy Birthday to Dee as she smiled right there, celebrating her 99th birthday.  Dee took the Lord’s invitation to “delight in the Lord” literally, and she faithfully lived it out here in the church her whole life long.

Dee also carried all three of her own children to this very same font, where they too were born again by water and the Spirit at the hands of Pastor Schmid.  She raised three faithful children who also take their delight in the Lord.  

And in her inability due to age to come to church on her own, Ralph brought her here to continue to delight in the Lord.

Dee’s faith, which was given to her at baptism, and which she passed along to her children, is a kind of circle of life.  But not in the morbid sense of the Disney song.  No, we mean a literal circle of life, for circles never end.  Bernadine’s eternal life began at the font, about which St. Paul teaches us: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Dear friends, just as Jesus rose from the dead, so too will Dee and all the redeemed of the Lord.  She is with Christ in heavenly glory, and we wait for the reunion in which we will all be reunited in a new body, in a new heaven and new earth, a new world free from sin, from sickness, from age, and from death.  That is the promise Jesus made to Dee at her baptism.  It is the promise that we share as Christians.  It is the ironclad promise testified to by the empty tomb that stands defiantly in Jerusalem, and the marble font that stands defiantly in Gretna. 

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his,” St. Paul continues, “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Dee knew this.  Dee confessed this.  Dee lived this.  And this Christian faith is Dee’s “delight in the Lord.”

Those who do not delight in the Lord do not share our hope, dear friends.  They are deprived of what fueled Bernadine Bennerfield Capdeville’s life of delight in the Lord of 99 years, and then even to eternity.  But the good news, dear friends, is this delight in the Lord that Dee enjoyed, and now enjoys forever, is there for anyone.  It’s for you.  It was earned by our Lord at the cross, and it is delivered at the font and in the Word.  Our Lord promises eternal joy beyond anything that we can imagine to those who are baptized and believe.  This is why we Christians mourn, but not in the same way as unbelievers.  We mourn because we miss our loved ones, but we mourn knowing that we will see them again, in the flesh, with perfectly re-formed bodies, and hearts and minds that are perfect.

That blessed assurance is the gift that the Lord gave to Bernadine, and the gift that she made sure her own children have.  That is the gift that is given to Christians young and old every day in every far-flung village on our planet, and it is the life of the delight in the Lord, the Good News that still resounds from this pulpit, and has consistently from many pastors over the decades.  

Hear the comforting words of our Lord, the one who claimed Bernadine as His own, who has taken her to Himself, and who redeemed her for all eternity: “Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. “Believe in God; believe also in me,” He says, tenderly inviting us to join Him.  He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  That is why, dear friends, Dee takes her eternal delight in the Lord.  

Jesus says, “And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

That magnificent revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” was true when He said this to Thomas, it was true in 1919 when He said this to Bernadine, it was true at your baptism, dear brother, dear sister, and it remains true for all eternity.

And so we Christians take heart, even as we mourn, for we are comforted.  We remember our baptism every time we hear the invocation at the beginning of the Divine Service: “In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  We gather here in this same holy house “with all who offer here their worship and praise,” with our dear brothers and sisters whom we see, as well as with “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven,” that are unseen to us: the company that includes our dear sister in Christ, mother, grandmother, parishioner, aunt, great-grandmother, and friend: Bernadine Bennerfield Capdeville.

It is our great joy to sing with her for eternity, to confess Christ with her, to remember our baptism with her, and to hear anew that verse that was given to her right here 86 years ago, and is, because of Bernadine, given to us again right here and right now: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Peace be with you!  Amen.

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

Economic Hedonism and the Federal Reserve

I shared this meme, and a lot of people didn't seem to grasp the problem.

Part of the problem is that the dollar is a unit of measure, like the pound or the gallon.  If the size of a pound or gallon changed over time, it would make economic calculation difficult, it would render contracts virtually impossible.  Everything would be a moving target.

This is especially true of savings.  If you were trying to put away, say, $500,000 for retirement, but if at the end of your work life, that $500,000 that you saved is actually only worth $50,000 - that's going to make saving for the future next to impossible.  This is why a lot of people bought pre-arranged funerals, so that their children and grandchildren wouldn't have to bear the burden.  But what actually happens is that a pre-paid funeral actually costs thousands of dollars - because of this very intentional devaluation of the dollar at the hands of the Federal Reserve.

Moreover, if you have the option to sock away a thousand bucks, and at the end of five years, you're going to see a profit of maybe fifty bucks, why tie that money up for all that time?  Why not use it as a down payment for a low-interest purchase of a new car?  The Federal Reserve (which was created in 1913) incentivizes debt and creates a disincentive to savings.

Governments also love this because they can crank up the printing presses to pay for ever-increasing entitlements and endless wars.  There is no need for fiscal discipline.  Inflation is a regressive and yet hidden tax that loosens all restraint on government spending - until, of course, it it too late, as with Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe, or Venezuela.

Here is a chart showing the relative value of the U.S. dollar since 1790:

A helpful documentary about how this all works can be found here:

Jeff Deist, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute (the Internet's leading source of free books, courses, videos, and other educational material about free market economics) spoke of the Fed's policies as "Economic Hedonism."  See also this issue of "The Austrian" for more.

Hedonism is a philosophy in which the pursuit of pleasure is the highest good and one's goal in life.  This leads to a short time preference in pursuing immediate consumption rather than planning for the future.  "Economic Hedonism" applies this idea to the economic policy of the Federal Reserve.

I got to talk with Jeff on the Jay Taylor podcast about this topic back in 2016.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Firefighter Graduation, 2018

I had the honor and privilege to give the invocation and benediction at the November 24, 2018 graduation of the Jefferson Parish Firefighter Class 2/18 at the Jefferson Parish Sammy P. Lazzara Fire Training Center.

The graduates include two of our own David Crockett firefighters: Skyler Goodwin and Brian Gueringer - who were presented their graduation certificates by Chief Michael Labruzza.

Here are my prayers:


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

Lord God, Heavenly Father, it is our privilege to gather here on the happy occasion of the graduation of these firefighters to celebrate their achievement and to pray for their continued advancement and safety in the Fire Service.  With gratitude for this holy vocation, we pray Your continued blessing upon them, upon their families, and upon the people and communities You have placed them into. 

May their training better equip them to serve You and those whom they are called to serve, and finally, O Lord, we pray that we may be ever grateful for their tireless, selfless, and heroic service.

In the name of Jesus, with whom You live and reign in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.


O God, the source and sustainer of all life, we thank You once again for the blessings You so freely bestow upon us.  We are bold to seek Your divine protection upon these firefighters and upon us - even as we vigilantly pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are at this moment risking life and limb - especially in California.

Dear Lord, be with them, protect them, and bless them, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon: Last Sunday of the Church Year - 2018

25 November 2018

Text: Matthew 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord’s parable about the Ten Virgins is a lesson that used to be taught in all schools, but no more.  Teaching students to be wise and to avoid folly is as old as teaching itself.  The Old Testament is filled with discourses on wisdom – especially in the Book of Proverbs.  The ancient Greeks put wisdom on a pedestal and saw wisdom as an important part of living the good life.

Wisdom vs. Folly was a staple in education until very recently.  Now we don’t want to say that some people are wise, or that certain lifestyle choices are better than others.  And even more so, teachers are not going to speak of people being “foolish.”  The Greek word used here is actually where we get the word “moron.” Woe be to a school teacher that would use such a word in a classroom today!

Instead of contrasting the wise with the foolish, our schools now just say that nobody is foolish, and wisdom is nothing more than a cultural construct.  We now teach lots of facts and things to memorize.  We teach our students to obey rules.  But we don’t dare teach our students to be wise.  And one look at our culture shows how well this is working out.

Dear friends, we need to understand and teach the difference between wisdom and folly.  The wise young women in our Lord’s story were prepared.  The foolish young women had their priorities mixed up, they were lazy, and they procrastinated.  And that contrast makes all the difference.  The wise knew that they were going on a journey and needed oil for their lamps.  So they brought what they needed.  The foolish did not.  And when the foolish demanded that the wise give up their oil, the wise did not give them any.  For that itself would have been foolish.  The wise were not penalized and forced to give the lazy and the foolish some of their oil.

Instead, the foolish virgins were forced to waste valuable time rectifying their folly.  They had to “go to the dealers” when they should have been waiting vigilantly for the bridegroom.  The wise were ready to go; the foolish were not.  The wise made it to the wedding feast; the foolish were locked out.  

And Jesus makes it clear that this parable has to do with His return.  We don’t know when He is returning.  And so we do well to be prepared.  We are to wait vigilantly.  We don’t know when we may breathe our last.  And so we do well to be prepared our whole lives long.  The wise hear the Word of God and keep it.  They keep it in their hearts and minds.  They treasure it.  The wise come to where it is proclaimed and taught.  The wise partake of the Lord’s Supper.  The wise avail themselves of Holy Absolution.  The wise remember their baptism and do not make important decisions in their lives without prayer and reflection upon how such a decision will impact their life in Christ.  “The fear of the Lord is,” as Scripture teaches us, “the beginning of wisdom.”

The foolish do not fear the Lord.  They do not prepare.  The foolish have other priorities.  The foolish have better things to do than pray, than read and study the Word of God.  The foolish don’t see the importance in gathering with other believers to hear the Word proclaimed, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, to be absolved of their sins, to remember their baptisms, and to avoid things that negatively impact their life in Christ.

Jesus is teaching us this important distinction.  For it really does matter.  People who do foolish things eventually pay a dear price.  We see people taking foolish risks on motorcycles.  We see people making foolish purchases and getting into debt.  We see people making foolish choices concerning their family life.  We see people foolishly procrastinating the things that they must do.  And eventually, something bad happens.

But conversely, we see wise people driving safely, being prudent with their resources, doing right by their families, and taking care of their responsibilities.  And by and large, their lives are better.

And in the case of eternal life, the stakes are much higher. 

Jesus is pleading with us to hear His Word, to meditate on His commandments and strive to keep them.  And when we don’t, to confess and be absolved.  Jesus is pleading with us to pray – not just in church and not just when we are desperate.  But we are to lead a life of prayer, in which praying is as natural to us as breathing.  Jesus is pleading with us to keep our commitments: to our parents, to our children, to our spouses, and to our church.  We need to make it an ironclad reality in our lives that we hear the Gospel proclaimed and we partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as possible.  We should not miss the weekly Divine Service unless we are sick or out of town.  It should be as unthinkable to go a week without the Lord’s Supper as it would be to go a week without eating.  For “man does not live by bread alone,” as the Scripture says, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Being a “good person” is not being prepared.  Besides, you’re really not a good person.  And neither am I.  Scripture teaches us this, and we know it even without Scripture.  Being nice is not being prepared.  Being a good worker or student or athlete is not being prepared.  Being happy is not being prepared (how many parents make their children’s “happiness” their highest goal?  Is that wise, or foolish, dear friends?).

Being prepared for the Lord’s return, being prepared for death, being prepared for eternal life, this preparation is rooted in Baptism and expressed in our faith – our faith that is fed and nurtured and confirmed and prepared by contact with the Word of God.

The Lord is pleading with us to be wise, to lead a life of wisdom, to put away all foolishness.  For where does folly lead?  It leads to nothing good.  It leads to a separation from God.  It leads to a selfishness that waxes cold and grows to hate God.  It leads to hell.

Jesus is warning us now, dear friends, for we do not want to hear these words from our Lord: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”  That is pure foolishness, for Jesus gives us everything we need to join the eternal banquet.  Everything we need is handed over to us with no strings, all for the taking.  For it was given to us as a gift on the cross.  It is all by grace.

And that is where what the world considers the foolishness of the cross is, in fact, our true wisdom.  For by holding fast to the cross, to Christ, to the Gospel, to the Word, to the Sacraments, and to an active struggle against sin – that is what it means to be wise unto salvation.  Jesus is telling us, or more accurately, pleading with us in love, to be wise.  Be wise, dear brothers and sisters!

And so Jesus says, “Watch.”  In Greek, it literally means, “Be vigilant, be awake and aware.  Don’t nod off.”  As you might have heard a wise old coach or a wise old sergeant say, “Keep your head on a swivel.”  Jesus says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  It could be today.  It could be this hour.  Watch and be wise, dear friends, for the Lord, our Bridegroom, is merciful, and He is coming to save us!


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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve - 2018

21 November 2018

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Thanksgiving Day has been through a few changes since the days of Jamestown, Plymouth, and the declarations by both American presidents of the national holiday during the War Between the States.  For what was once a day of prayer of gratitude for God’s providence – largely through the blessings of the harvest – has now been replaced by a day of gluttony, sitting on the sofa and watching football, and getting into political arguments with rarely-seen family members.

But there is indeed a “more excellent way.”  

Thanksgiving is just that: the giving of thanks.  And we give thanks in return for something done for us: which is what “grace” is.  The word “gratitude” is based on the Latin word “gratia,” and in Latin, that’s even how you say “thank you.”  For the harvest is not of our own doing.  It is the ultimate in human hubris to take credit for the Lord’s bounty.  For in spite of all of our work in planting, tending, weeding, and harvesting – all it takes is one storm, one freeze, one bout of fungus or insect infestation, and we are looking at famine.  It is only by God’s grace that we have food and drink, house and home, land animals, and everything that “has to do with the support and needs of the body.”  Only by God’s grace, dear friends.  And as St. Paul says to the Church at Ephesus: “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 tenth leper in our Gospel understood that.  He was a beggar, suffering a painful sentence of death known today as Hansen’s Disease: a disfiguring and highly contagious rotting away of the flesh.  Like all sickness, leprosy exists because of sin: all sin, our own sins that we commit continuously, and the sin that we bear in our flesh that was inherited from our ancestors, even Adam and Eve, in their own flesh.  And so the ten lepers plead with Jesus to save them from the death that awaits the destruction of their own flesh.  

And the Lord heard their prayer.  It was by grace that they were saved, through faith.  But only the tenth leper came back to give thanks.  

He understood that his salvation was by grace, not through his own works, lest he have grounds to boast.  And so, he is humble, falling at the feet of Jesus to worship Him, praise Him, thank Him, and serve Him, and obey Him.  And that, dear friends, is the Christian life.  It is to be a grateful recipient of God’s grace.  It is to be in the presence of Jesus, where He promises to be, to receive His gifts and to give thanks.  The Christian life is an eternal Thanksgiving Day.  It is an eternal Thanksgiving feast, a feast that has no end!

The ultimate thanksgiving meal is not one of turkey and dressing, but rather of the bread and wine that is the very body and blood of the Lord who graces us with His presence.  The Greek word for thanksgiving is εὐχαριστία.  This is why the Lord’s Supper is called “the Eucharist.”  It is both our reception of His gifts and our thanksgiving for that gift of grace by means of the Eucharistic miracle.  We kneel as we receive Him.  We eat and drink as we thank Him.  For that is what He bids us do in His own testament, dear brothers and sisters.

And our entire liturgy is a response to the Lord’s grace, His mercy, a celebration of the eternal feast, a giving of thanks for the Lord’s incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, and coming again.  It is the expression of our joyful gratitude for salvation, a salvation won for us by our blessed Lord at the cross.  In the Eucharist, we partake of that same body and blood that was given and shed for us.  And there is nothing, dear friends, nothing that should bring us to gratitude more than this.

Yes, indeed, we should give thanks for all things that we receive from the hand of our merciful God: the harvest, our freedoms, good health, technology, family and friends, material possessions, a bountiful land, and anything else that comes to mind.  But the one thing that lasts forever, the one thing needful, is our redemption, our forgiveness, our atonement, won for us by the blood of the Lamb, the blood that causes death to pass over us.

For that first Eucharistic meal established by our blessed Lord with the apostles was not just the Last Supper, it was the Last Passover.  It connects our life of thanksgiving for being freed from sin, death, and the devil with the thanksgiving of the Old Testament people of God for their liberation from suffering, bondage, and Pharaoh in their meal of bread and wine, in the sacrificial lamb whose blood set them free.

This thanksgiving Eucharist, dear friends, is the fulfillment of the Passover, for the angel of death passes over us by the forgiveness of our sins.
Indeed, it is a more excellent way than the way of the world: of gluttony, of selfishness, of political argument.  It is the Thanksgiving of the Lord, the Eucharistic feast, the celebration of our salvation, of coming back to Jesus to fall at His feet.  For this thanksgiving is to receive in full measure, selflessly, and in honor of our King, whose kingdom is not of this world.

All praise and thanks to God,
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.


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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 26 - 2018

18 November 2018

Text: Matt 25:31-46 (2 Pet 3:3-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” says St. Peter.  The old heavens and earth, created perfect by God, have been corrupted by our sin.  The result is chaos, conflict, pain, suffering, and death.  Every single bad thing in this world can be laid at the feet of this reality: we are sinners in rebellion against God’s perfect will.  We have allowed Satan’s question: “Did God actually say?” to live rent-free in our minds.  And were it not for our Lord’s coming, His death on the cross, the full atonement for our sins, the grace of the full pardon that we receive in His name – our universe, that is, the heavens and the earth, would be without hope, just grinding along in increasing dysfunction, until one day, it all just falls apart.

But, dear friends, we are not waiting for the world to come apart at the seams.  No indeed!  “We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  Yes, the old universe will “pass away with a roar” and “be burned up and dissolved,” but only so that, through the Lord’s coming, they may be refashioned in a new beginning in which God will recreate the heavens and the earth, again, “in which righteousness dwells.”

And we long for this righteousness, dear friends.  For a world in which righteousness dwells is a world without pain, sorrow, suffering, or death.  For it will be a world without sin, without the diabolical question that isn’t really a question: “Did God actually say?”  This “world in which righteousness dwells” will be a homecoming, a return to Eden, a recapitulation of Paradise.  It will be as glorious as life was before the Fall.  

But, of course, we’re not there yet.  We await the Lord’s return.  And while we wait, the Lord bids us to be prepared, to wait expectantly, to wait wisely.  We wait with joy, and we wait yearning for that righteousness which will dwell in our new earth.

And so St. Peter asks, while you are waiting, “What sort of people ought you to be?”  Does it make any sense that while we wait and yearn for righteousness, we spurn righteousness and seek to lead ungodly lives?  Or as St. Paul put it, should we sin all the more so that “grace may abound?”  St. Peter comes out and says that we ought “to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”  And “since you are waiting,” he says that we should “be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

Of course, we will not actually be “without spot or blemish” not at perfect “peace” until the old heaven and earth pass away, until our own sinful flesh is remade by God Himself, but we should at least see that this is the goal.  We should be striving in this direction.

But aren’t we saved by grace alone, through faith, apart from works?  Of course!  That is the Word of God.  But what happens now that we have received this immeasurable gift?  Does the gift somehow change us?  Does the gift somehow reorient our minds?  Does the gift manifest itself in our lives?  How could it not, dear brothers and sisters?  Of course, we are still sinners who sin in “thought, word, and deed,” and of course, we are still trapped in our mortal, sinful flesh, and of course, the devil and the world still conspire against us.  But we are also redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and we are indeed waiting for the consummation of His kingdom, holding fast to His promise.  This Good News changes us, even as the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings about our growth, our love for holiness, our increasing desire to dwell in this coming eternal and perfect world, and to be found by our beloved Lord “without spot or blemish.”

But what does this even look like as we wait, dear brothers and sisters?  For we still live in our sinful flesh in a sinful world?  How can this kind of righteousness – even when it is a gift of grace – actually be lived out in the fallen world?

Our Lord tells us that when He returns, there will be two kinds of people: the sheep and the goats.  The sheep will hear these words: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  They will hear the Lord recounting those times when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, and the “righteous” came to Him in His need and was given food, drink, welcoming, clothing, and visitation.  The sheep were too busy doing good works, that he had no recollection of doing them.

The righteous person does good works without thought of buying his way into the new heaven and the new earth.  He just acts out of love, the love of Christ.  And that is why Jesus says that whatever good works we do to our neighbor, we are actually doing to Christ.

The sheep are not redeemed as a reward for doing these works.  Indeed, the kingdom was prepared for them “from the foundation of the world.”  But these good works are a confirmation of the saving grace of God.  The one who does these true good works doesn’t even think about it.  But, dear friends, our neighbors need these acts of love for our Lord.  Our neighbors are hungry, thirsty, alone, in need, suffering, and bound by chains of various kinds.  Love impels us to help.  Love seeks no reward, but is rewarded nevertheless.  Our good works do not save us, but they do save our neighbor from suffering.  

Our good works matter.  And while they are not necessary for salvation, our Lutheran confessions bluntly declare that “good works are necessary.”  For this is what it means to yearn for the new heavens and the new earth.  We desire that restored Paradise to the point where we begin (though imperfectly) to live it even before it gets here.  We don’t wait in despair or passivity, but rather, we wait in victory and in expectation!

But what about the goats?  The goats will be denied the new heavens and new earth, and instead will be cast into the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  For in despising their neighbors, they despise Christ.  And in despising Christ, they spurned His gift of Paradise.  For they rejected the way of love: the way of the cross.  And in rejecting the love of the cross, they rejected the grace of the cross.

And so we see how it is that we are saved by grace alone, and yet it is equally true what we say in the Athanasian Creed: “Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”

And so, what we do matters: not as the price of admission to the new heaven and the new earth, but rather as a picture of the love that Christ has given us and how that love has transformed us – even when we ourselves are ignorant of it.  This is why St. Paul urges the Christians at Rome to “Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.”  He exhorts us and encourages us in our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, in love for our neighbors, and as our Lord Jesus Christ has bid us, to love even our enemies.  

And knowing that these are the works of the Spirit in us, and not works for which we can take credit, we would do well to pray for the Holy Spirit to come to us and instill in us a zeal and fervency, a burning desire for the “new heavens” and the “new earth in which righteousness dwells” even here while we wait.  And indeed, dear brothers and sisters, we wait in hope, even in joy, even in the midst of the darkness of sin and the assaults of the devil.  For we know how this all ends.  God did “actually say.”  The Lord Jesus did actually come into our broken world to heal us.  He did actually pardon us on the cross.  He has actually saved us by grace alone.  And the Spirit continues to implant in us a love of righteousness and a desire to actually serve our neighbor in gratitude for this free gift.  

Indeed, we are waiting, dear friends, “waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 25 - 2018

11 November 2018

Text: Matt 24:15-28 (Ex 32:1-20, 1 Thess 4:13-18)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

A hundred years ago today, the most horrific war up to that time came to an end.  November 11, 1918.  Every year, this date is celebrated around the world as “Armistice Day.”  “Armistice” means “to stop fighting.”  It usually precedes a treaty that formally ends the war.

The war that came to an end a hundred years ago was the first modern war.  Today we call it World War One.  This was the first war to feature planes and tanks and chemical warfare.  The entire globe was involved, and about 15 million people were killed outright.  It was so horrific, that it was called “the war to end all wars” – and yet, only twenty years later, World War Two would begin and would add to the global horrors with even more destruction, including the atomic bomb.

World War One was a frightening time to be alive.  People wondered if they were on the cusp of Christ’s return.  The death and destruction were apocalyptic.  Humanity still bears the scars of this war, nobody can even really explain why it happened.

Ultimately, all such things happen because our world is fallen.  Humanity is broken.  Scarcity causes men to fight against men, tribe against tribe, and nation against nation.  The lust for domination propels tyrants and dictators upon a quest for world domination.  

In our Gospel, our Lord gives us a glimpse of the world at the time of His return.  As bad as World Wars One and Two were, this truly apocalyptic time will be all the more horrific.  It looks like there will even be demonic deception or some kind of technology to fool us into thinking that Christ may be on the earth.  But Jesus has warned us: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There He is!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.”

This future “abomination of desolation” – that the future reader will understand when the time comes – will precede a “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, and never will be.”

We Christians will look to the heavens in hope, knowing that the Lord will come.  He will come the way He went up – not according to the lies of those who will say, “Look, He is in the inner rooms.”  We are not to believe them.  For when our Lord comes, there will be no mistake, no wondering who He is.  All the world will see, “For as lightning comes from the east and shines in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

We need to know this and remember this.  We need to teach our descendants this.  When the time comes, they (or we) will need to be ready.  That is why Jesus said, “See, I have told you beforehand.”

For as horrific as this Great Tribulation will be, we have been told that it is coming.  Like a woman’s birth pangs and labor pains, we know that this agitation will precede something great and magnificent: the coming of our Lord, our redemption, the vindication of the saints – as we heard in last week’s first reading: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  In Christ, they are sheltered by “His presence,” they suffer no want or hunger, and all of their tears have been abolished by God, Himself.

So how do we prepare for this eventuality, dear friends?  By being washed in the blood of the Lamb, by being baptized, by believing in Him and in His Word, being immersed in the Holy Scriptures, and the frequent reception of the Lord’s Supper.  Pray, dear brothers and sisters, pray without ceasing!  Pray for your children and those yet to be born, pray for our families, and pray for the Holy Christian Church throughout the world!

Pay heed to the lesson of the Israelites, who having been freed from bondage, in the short span of forty days as Moses went to the top of the mountain, the people forgot about God and His mercy, and their concerns became nothing more than eating and drinking and playing.  They elevated entertainment to the level of worship.  They replaced the Divine Service with a party.  They replaced the true God with an idol.  They led their own children into destruction by their unfaithfulness.

Please don’t repeat their mistake, dear friends!  Listen to what St. Paul taught us about these lessons of old: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’  We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”

The end of the ages has come upon us, dear friends.  For Christ has come, and Christ is coming again.  We need to be prepared, and we need to prepare our children.  What could be more important? 

Only the blood of the Lamb can prepare us for this great tribulation: the very same blood that He offers you here, along with His body, along with His Word of warning and of comfort, of Law and Gospel, along with His Holy Absolution that declares you forgiven, along with your own Holy Baptism that washed you with the blood of the Lamb and bound you to the saving cross!

For like the Passover, when the children of Israel were spared the angel of death, we too will be raised from death in a bodily resurrection.  This, dear friends, is why we Christians do not “grieve as others who have no hope.”  For, says the holy apostle, “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”  And “we will always be with the Lord.  Therefor encourage one another with these words.”

The entire history of mankind is one of domination and destruction.  But with our Lord’s coming, by His death upon the cross, an abomination that results in our redemption, we are assured of our salvation, even amid this unknown future abomination of desolation, and this great tribulation against the people of God.  

For in the midst of war and destruction, of rubble and smashed buildings, of blood and gore, and the wholesale slaughter of millions of people, it seems as if peace is never going to come.  But even in the midst of that Great War such as had not been seen from the beginning of the world until that time, on this very day one hundred years ago, the last gun fell silent.  The last bullet came to a stop.  The last combatants crawled out of their foxholes, shook hands, and went home.  It was sudden.  The silence was deafening.

One day, our broken world’s warfare will come to an end.  Satan will be cast into the lake of fire.  The last sin will be no more.  The last tears to stream from the face of the redeemed will dry up.  We will stop fighting.  There will be no more strife: no more attacks from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  There will be no more scarcity or hatred between men, tribes, and nations.  There will be an armistice that will have no end, followed by a treaty signed in in the blood of the Lamb.  

And this, dear friends, will be the peace to end all wars.  Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters.  The peace of Christ be with you, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sermon: All Saints Day - 2018

4 November 2018

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him,” says the Apostle John.  Since the world doesn’t know God, the world cannot comprehend us.  And not understanding us, they fear us and they hate us.  

There has not been a time of greater persecution of the church than now.  Not even the days of the Christians being persecuted in the Roman Empire compare to the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world today.  

Our brethren in Muslim countries are, at best, second class citizens, though often they are openly persecuted: their homes, churches, and schools burned, their property taken, and in some cases, they are imprisoned or executed for being disciples of Jesus.

Our brethren in the remaining Communist countries suffer a similar fate, even though our brethren in Russia, the Baltics, and Eastern Europe now enjoy relative religious liberty as Communism fell nearly thirty years ago.  Christians in China, Cuba, and North Korea are still persecuted.

But now we are seeing hostility to Christians in secular states, like Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and even the United States – where religious liberties are under attack, and where attitudes toward people of faith are becoming more hostile.

And St. John is right: the world doesn’t know us because the world doesn’t know God.  

The world cannot know the Father because the world does not know the Son.  And this is in spite of the fact that the Son took flesh and dwelt among us, left eyewitnesses and a written record, and created the Holy Christian Church that has become the largest religion in the world.  The Church brought the world respect for human rights, civilized warfare, the abolition of slavery, respect for private property and the rule of law that created never-before seen prosperity all over the world.  Christians preserved civilization through the dark ages, created science, invented the modern university, and established hospitals, orphanages, and societies to help the poor.

And yet, the world is filled with hatred and rage.  

Our reading from John’s Revelation speaks of a “great tribulation” and angelic forces with “power to harm earth and sea.”  And yet, amid this chaos and turmoil, the Lord preserves His Church, as God commanded: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads.”

In the ancient church, it became the custom that when a person was baptized, the sign of the cross was sealed on his or her forehead with oil.  The name “Christ” means one who has been anointed with oil.  When we are baptized, we are “Christened” as well, sealed with oil and marked by the cross of Christ.  These customs illustrate and confess what baptism does, dear friends.  As St. Peter says, “Baptism now saves you.” 

For baptism washes us in the blood of the Lamb, as the elder spoke in John’s vision: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

For even in our time of tribulation, we Christians are made clean by the blood of the Lamb, by our Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. 

Why the tribulation?  Because the world doesn’t know God.  The world doesn’t know us.  The world doesn’t understand our origins: how we got here, why the world is messed up, and how God has taken human flesh to rescue us – all of mankind if each person will simply believe and be baptized.  But the world overwhelmingly rejects our Lord.  And as He has told us, if they have hated Him, they will hate us.

And we are promised blessedness, even in our poverty, our mourning, our meekness, our yearning for righteousness; we will be blessed in our mercy, our purity, and in our desire for peace.  We are even blessed when we are persecuted, when others “revile and persecute” us and speak evil of us falsely on account of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And this is why we are able to “rejoice and be glad” even in persecution and tribulation, “for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Dear friends, we are given a little glimpse into what is to become of persecuted Christians whose blood has been shed in the great tribulation.  And what we see is the Church Triumphant, a great celebration of victory: the victory Christ won for us at the cross, the victory over death and the grave.  We see the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  And this multitude is rejoicing, singing – even singing with us in our liturgy – “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!....  Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen.”

This is not a dirge of a defeated people, but the celebration of a victorious people!  For we have been vindicated, dear friends, vindicated and redeemed by the Lamb, set free by His blood, and given the gift of eternal life!

That is indeed the “kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.”  These are the saints that we remember today, dear friends: the great saints of history: martyrs, bishops, theologians, men and women of courage, as well as saints whose names we will never know until eternity: our grandfathers and grandmothers, children who died too young with the name of “Jesus” on their lips, those who quietly read their Bibles and took part in the sacraments, and those who lived long, happy lives of service to their neighbors.

What they all have in common, dear friends, is that they have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  His victory is their victory.  They wear the white robes and wave the palms.  They “serve Him day and night in His temple,” and they await the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

And this blessedness is not only something to expect in the future, dear friends.  For “we are God’s children now.”  We are blessed now.  We sing the worthiness of the Lamb now.  We join now with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven singing:

Now let us worship our Lord and our King,
Joyfully raising our voices to sing;
While for Your grace, Lord, their voices of praise
Your blessed people shall evermore raise.


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