Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon: Laetare - 2019

31 March 2019

Text: John 6:1-15 (Ex 16:2-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Garden, before the Fall, there was no scarcity and no hunger.  Food was everywhere and was plenteous.  Adam and Eve had no concept of hunger, let alone famine and starvation and warfare waged over access to food.  It was all perfect.

But of course, the serpent convinced them that they had it rough.  “Poor, pitiful me,” thought Eve.  “Here I am stuck in this dead-end job,” thought Adam.  The Serpent marketed to them like an infomercial.  He told them that they “could be like God.”  He convinced them that God was lording over them, and they didn’t have to take it anymore.

We know what actually happened.  Everything fell apart.  No more would the ground yield its abundance.  Now things died.  Now seeds refused to germinate.  Now, floods and draughts and storms would cause famines.  Now, even when there is no flood or draught, we have to labor constantly to keep enough food in our bodies to stay alive.  And of course, not everyone has it as well as we do.  People around the world suffer horrific poverty and want.

It’s our fault, dear friends.  We choose our own way over the  Lord’s providence.  We do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  We are the children of Adam and Eve, and we live in the world they left to us.  

And so it is fitting that our redemption should come as the fulfillment of the Passover: the holy meal of the children of Israel as they were being freed from Pharaoh’s tyranny.  The Passover lamb that fed them with his own flesh was a sacrifice, a divine satisfaction for the death that the children of Adam and Eve deserve – the death that will be dealt on those who fear, love, and trust in Pharaoh above all things.  The lamb was slain to pay their bloodguilt, and the lamb’s blood marked the people redeemed by God’s mercy.  The flesh of the lamb was eaten to sustain the people on their journey, food that was a gift of God’s providence.

Of course, this Passover lamb finds its fulfillment in the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!  The Lamb who feeds the hungry with the bread of His flesh, given for the life of the world, the sacrifice, the divine satisfaction for the death that the children of Adam and Eve deserve.

And in John Chapter Six, our Lord is looking forward to the Passover Feast: a holy meal of bread and wine and the flesh of the lamb.

And as the crowds press in to hear Him proclaim the Word, the coming of the kingdom, the good news of His redemption of the people of God, our Lord Jesus Christ “said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’”

For this is not the Garden of Eden.  Food is not everywhere and is not plenteous.  Indeed, there is scarcity, and there is hunger.  There is not enough money to feed the crowds.  Nor does anyone have food enough to go around.  Of course, by grace, one does not have to buy the food that Jesus gives, and indeed, even a tiny amount in His hand is enough to feed everyone.  

For we are seeing the coming of the New Passover, the multiplication of bread that is the Lamb’s flesh, the abundance of wine that is the Lamb’s blood.  The New and Greater Passover will be for all of God’s people who have been freed from the tyranny of Satan.  

And on this day, as the crowds come to hear Jesus as the Passover draws near, as the multitudes hear the Word of God calling them anew to repent and believe the Good News that their sins are forgiven, that Satan is destroyed, that the old dilapidated world of scarcity is giving way to a restored Paradise without scarcity and want and hunger and death – as they press in to hear the Gospel, Jesus gives them more than just words.

“Have the people sit down,” He says.  Five thousand men, plus women and children, had come to hear Him preach the Gospel.  A thousand men and their families per each one of the barley loaves that a boy had brought.  They sat and awaited the blessing of the Passover Lamb, to be fed eternally by the flesh and blood of the Lamb.  And in this place, Jesus “took the loaves.  And when He had given thanks,” He distributed the miraculous bread to the multitudes.  He also multiplied the two fish into a meal for everyone.  

No scarcity.  No anxiety about where the next meal will come from.  No lack.  No poverty.  No hunger.  And no death!  Not on this day, for Jesus has come bearing the plenteousness of God, the blessing of a miraculous meal that staves off death.  

And this life-giving meal of bread from the hands of Jesus not only fulfills the Passover, but it also fulfills that miraculous meal that fed the Israelites in the desert: the manna.  For in spite of their wandering through the desert (the very opposite of a garden), the children of Israel would not go hungry, they would not suffer want, they would not die for lack of food.  The Lord Himself provides for them from His bounteous goodness: “At twilight you shall eat meat,” says the Lord, “and in the morning you shall be filled with bread.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ is that bread: the bread of life come down from heaven.  He was born in Bethlehem: the House of Bread.  He was laid in a manger: a food trough.  He is the manna provided from above by which the people of God are fed in the wilderness.  And “our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks…”

Jesus is our Passover, dear friends.  Jesus is our manna, dear brothers and sisters.  He is the Lamb that takes away our sins, the Lamb whose body was offered as a sacrifice, the Lamb upon whose flesh we feast, the Lamb by whose blood we are saved.  Take, eat.  Take drink.

In eternity, there will be no scarcity and no hunger.  Food will be everywhere and will be plenteous.  The children of Adam and Eve will have no concept of hunger, let alone famine and starvation and warfare waged over access to food.  It will all be perfect. 

Now the Passover is at hand.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Is Davis a Traitor? (1866)

Prof. A.T. Bledsoe
In 1866, a professor and former Episcopal priest (later Methodist minister) named Albert Taylor Bledsoe (1809-1877) wrote a remarkable book that may well have changed American history.

The War Between the States had ended a few months before, and Jefferson Davis, the ousted president of the Confederate States of America, was being held as a prisoner of war by the United States government.  He was imprisoned at Fortress Monroe in cruel conditions, indicted for treason, and looking forward to a trial and the opportunity to vindicate the Southern states.  However, many vengeful northerners waved the bloody shirt and were eager to see Davis hang.

The U.S. government, however, had a huge problem: the law was not on their side.

Is Davis a Traitor? or Was Secession a Constitutional Right previous to the War of 1861? came out as the country was in a quandary about the fate of President Davis.  This work is a scholarly refutation of the "national" theory of the United States, which was a repudiation and misrepresentation of the nature of the American Union according to the Constitution.

With grave concerns about the crisis of Davis (and thus the South) possibly being vindicated by a court of law, the federal government opted to release him from prison without a trial.  Many credit Bledsoe's book for Davis's liberation.  Owing to a loophole, unlike amnesty measures that restored citizenship to former confederate citizens, Davis's U.S. citizenship was not restored during his lifetime.  It was, however, reinstated posthumously in 1978 under U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

The book is today in the public domain and inexpensive.  Many people have asked me for the title of a concise book that presents the Southern side of the secession question.  This is a very good example.

As a bonus, historian Brion McClanahan of the Abbeville Institute led a five-part study of the book!    Dr. McClanahan was the last Ph.D. student of the legendary scholar and professor, Clyde N. Wilson, and is the author of numerous books pertaining to American History.

His videos of the study of IDAT? are linked here.  Thank you, Dr. McClanahan!:

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sermon: Oculi - 2019

24 March 2019

Text: Luke 11:14-28 (Ex 8:16-24, Eph 5:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Some people don’t know who Jesus is.  It’s our job as the church to tell them.  For me, especially as a preacher and teacher, I am specifically called to do this. 

Some people don’t know who Jesus is because they have never heard of Him.  Some have only heard distortions.  But there are others who know very well who He is, but refuse to believe that He is God in the flesh, that He came to rescue us from the devil, from the world, and from our own sinful nature.

This latter group is hostile to Jesus.  And rather than submit to Him, that is, rather than to submit to the Truth, they create an alternate “truth” in their own minds.  That is, they cling to a false narrative, one in which good is evil, evil is good, and each individual defines reality for himself.  In other words, where anyone can “be like God.”  And in this diabolical “did God actually say?” narrative, Jesus is not Lord, not Savior, but is rather some kind of fraud or magician.

In this false narrative, Jesus casts out demons by means of demons.  In this diabolical story, Jesus is more like the Pharaoh’s magicians who replicate some of the signs of Moses by means of tricks or by summoning dark spiritual forces.

To those who don’t believe in Jesus – for whatever reason – but whose minds are open, and whose hearts are held captive to the truth (wherever it may be found), to such people, Jesus is gentle.  He tells parables to teach the truth.  He quotes Scripture to prove who He is.  He teaches in some ways like Socrates.  For He is the Divine Logos, the very Logic of the universe that He created.  To such people, Jesus is the patient teacher.

But to those who know the truth but rebel against it, to those who choose the narrative of the alluring lie over the confession of the inconvenient truth, to those who call good "evil" and who call Jesus the lord of the demons – Jesus is not gentle.  He makes no attempt to win them over with parables, but rather condemns them in the language of those same parables.  To such people, he quotes Scripture as damnation, and rather than guiding the willing toward the truth, He lays bare the truth that enrage His hostile opponents.

In other words, He treats them the same way that He treats the demons: as their master, without mercy, and in such a way as to protect those who are willing to submit to the truth by casting out those who refuse to believe the truth.

Why wouldn’t Jesus just be nice?  Why can’t He just let people believe whatever they want to believe? 

Our Lord drops a line that could be described today as “trolling.”  That is, He says something deliberately offensive to those who are attacking Him: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?”  This term “finger of God” was used in our Old Testament reading.  Moses was bringing the judgments of God upon the Pharaoh – who believed himself to be a god.  Pharaoh’s priests and magicians complained that the plagues happening to the people of Egypt were caused by the “finger of God.”

Pharaoh wasn’t just innocently ignorant of the true God.  Pharaoh was “hard-hearted” that is, willfully stubborn and in rebellion against the Word of God.  And so the plagues escalated until finally, death itself would force Pharaoh to release the children of Israel from slavery.  But even then, Pharaoh did not repent.  Pharaoh sent chariots to attack the unarmed Israelites who were trapped on the beaches of the Red Sea. 

And in the process of this attack, the finger of God opened the waters, and Pharaoh’s world-class imperial army was wiped out, horse and rider drowned in the sea.  Pharaoh’s false narrative of divinity was indeed pointed out by none other than the finger of God.

And Jesus is telling His heard-hearted deniers of truth that He is casting out the demons by the very same finger of God that condemned Pharaoh.  The hands of Jesus, the hands that were to be pierced by nails at the cross, are the very hands that created the universe, the hands that reach out to us to save us, and are also the hands that will cast the devil and his adherents into the lake of fire.

“Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

Dear friends, what you think about Jesus matters, and matters eternally.  Jesus is not vain Pharaoh or ambitious Caesar.  Jesus is not the megalomaniac Napoleon or the madman Hitler.  Nor has Jesus come into our world to teach us to be virtuous.  You already know the Ten Commandments.  Jesus has come into our world to point the finger of God at the demons to cast them into hell, and to use the finger of God to point us to salvation and eternal life – by means of Truth, by means of Himself.

And anyone who calls Jesus "evil" is not merely misguided or mistaken, but is rather malicious, doing the work of the evil one, advancing the lie instead of confessing the Truth.  Our blessed Lord has no patience for demons and their Pharaohs, past or present.  In fact, Jesus has come to cast out the demons from us and to drown our Old Adam and his self-serving “Did God actually say?” narrative in baptismal water, so that a New Man might emerge, the redeemed sinner who looks to where the finger of God points, confesses this as truth, and follows that Truth wherever it may lead – even to the cross.

And that truth, dear friends, also leads to eternal life, life as God planned it, before we chose the lie over the Truth, before we sided with the demons who invade us over the angels who minister to us.  Our eternal life, dear friends, is a life of paradise, without sin, without suffering, and without death – according to God’s will, by means of His love.  The life delivered to us by the finger of God in Jesus Christ, by means of His blood shed upon the cross, delivered through His blessed Word and sacraments – is the life of love about which St. Paul speaks to us again.

“Walk in love,” says the Apostle, “as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  That eternal life, dear friends, is a life of love, of truth, and of conformity to what God created us to be when He fashioned us with His own hands.  “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  We were not created for “filthiness nor foolish talk, nor crude joking.”  We are not to engage in idolatry, sexual immorality, and covetousness.  We are not to associate with those who do.  We are called to repent, to leave the narrative of the lie and to confess the eternal and saving truth.

The reason that hard-hearted people reject Christ is because they reject the life to which Christ calls us, the life by which the finger of God leads us by the Holy Spirit.  The hard-hearted enemy of Jesus, of the Church, of the Scriptures, has an agenda of sexual immorality, covetousness, and idolatry – even as Pharaoh expected submission of others to himself, rather than  himself to the truth, that is, to God.  We are to repent of such things, and by means of our Lord’s cross, we are forgiven of all of them.

Jesus has come to cast out the demons and to save those who genuinely seek the truth.  And as merciless as He is to the demons, He is merciful and compassionate beyond measure to one who cries out to Him for salvation, for one who is willing to submit to the truth.

For even the demons know who Jesus is.  Even those most hostile to Christianity, who call good "evil" and evil "good" – know who Jesus is.  Let us confess Christ as the God who created us, as the Redeemer who saves us, and as the One who casts out demons and restores us to eternal truth.  Let us follow where the finger of God points, for it points to our Lord Himself.

And indeed: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Amen.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sermon: Reminiscere - 2019

17 March 2019

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Years ago, there was a fashion among some Christians to wear bracelets and tee shirts with the letters WWJD.  This stood for “What Would Jesus Do?”  I don’t think the first thing that comes to mind is that Jesus would ignore a woman who is crying out to Him for mercy, tell her that she is the wrong ethnic group, and then call her a dog.  

The disciples don’t seem to have a lot of compassion either, as they complain to Jesus: “She is crying out after us,” and asks Him to “send her away.”

If you think that Jesus is nothing more than a role model about how to be nice, this is not the passage from Scripture that you want to use as a proof text.  But here it is.  This is the Word of God.  This is a revelation of who Jesus is.

What is going on in this passage?  

Of course, Jesus doesn’t send her away empty handed.  He does hear the prayer of the Canaanite woman.  He does have mercy on her and her daughter.  He does take the children’s bread and give it to the ‘dogs’ that are not of the house of Israel.  He does remove the demon that is oppressing her daughter.  And He does something else: He comments on the woman’s faith.  More than that, He praises her faith and calls her faith “great.”

We realize that our blessed Lord does care about the Canaanite woman, that He does respond to her cry for mercy, but He allows her, and even requires her, to prove her faith.  He tests her faith, and then uses it as an example for the disciples.

We don’t even know the name of this dear saint whose faith is great, who does not come from the house of Israel, and there are no bracelets or tee shirts that say: "What Would the Canaanite Woman Do?” – but clearly Jesus wants us to imitate her example of persistence in faith and in prayer.

In our culture, it is very easy to quit, to walk away.  Is your marriage a little difficult?  Divorce lawyers advertise their prices on billboards – and they work cheap.  The government has made it all so easy with “no fault divorce.”  If there ever were an oxymoron, dear brothers and sisters….  Parents can walk out on their children at any time.  After all, parenting is hard, and it can get in the way with one’s dreams.

Think about how easy it is to walk away from the most important things in your life.  If your boss is a jerk, you can quit.  If your class is difficult, drop it!  Is school itself a lot of work, walk away!  Don’t like the music at church, or find the other members annoying, go find one that you like better.  We learned a long time ago that it’s easier to throw something away rather than take the time and effort to be part of the solution.

But look at the Canaanite woman.  Her daughter is “severely oppressed by a demon.”  She doesn’t walk away from her daughter.  Instead, she fights for her.  She is willing to debase herself for her.  She is willing to be ignored for her.  She is willing to step out of her comfort zone for her.  Why?  Why doesn’t she just leave?  What is behind this mother’s zeal?  

And look at the Canaanite woman’s confession of Jesus.  She is a Canaanite.  Who knows what gods or goddesses she was raised to worship?  Who knows what religious practices her family was involved in that invited a demon to harass her daughter?  But notice that she doesn’t allow her ethnicity and her family’s religious tradition to stand in the way of the truth.  Canaanites don’t call Jesus “Lord” or invoke His title as “Son of David.”  Canaanites don’t pray to Jesus. 

But she does.

One has to wonder what her friends and neighbors and family members thought of this.  We aren’t told, but whether or not they approve of her appealing to Jesus for help seems not to matter to her.  She sets out to find Jesus, and when she has found Him, she continues to pray: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David,” until He grants her prayer, or denies it. 

She doesn’t just quit.

And even when Jesus implies that He is not going to help her because she is unworthy, she doesn’t deny that fact.  She doesn’t appeal to equality, or claim that she had been oppressed and marginalized for her ethnicity.  She doesn’t start a Twitter hashtag campaign that Jesus is racist or sexist or Canaanitophobic.  She owns up to the reality of who she is: a poor, miserable sinner, one who is not worthy to sit at the table of the children of God. 

And yet, she still doesn’t quit.  

She holds Jesus to His Word.  Our Lord indeed came to redeem the children of Israel, but He also came to redeem the world.  The Canaanite woman has faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Son of David, and she demonstrates that faith in her persistence in prayer.  

So why does Jesus allow her to continue for so long?  Why doesn’t Jesus grant her prayer right away?  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that her persistent faith is praised by our Lord and is recorded in the Gospel.  Clearly, the Lord wants us to learn from her example.

The kingdom of God is not like the world.  In the world, if you get annoyed with Walmart, you can go to Rouses.  If you grow weary of the Big Mac, you can go up the road and buy a Whopper.  On your way, you can take a picture of the divorce lawyer’s ad.  You can move out of the house and leave your children in someone else’s care.  You can quit your job and pursue your dreams.  You can enroll in school, and then quit that too.  If your team is losing, you can pick a new one.  Something’s broken?  Throw it in the garbage.  You can do that with people too.

But the kingdom of God is different.  For when a bunch of people walked out on Jesus because they were offended by Him, by His teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, Jesus asked his disciples point blank: “Do you want to go away as well?”  Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go?”

The Canaanite woman likewise came to believe and to know that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of David, and there was nowhere else to go.  Jesus is the Lord.  Jesus has dominion over demons.  Jesus has mercy.  Jesus has the power and authority to heal her daughter.  Jesus will hear her prayer.  And this is the great faith of the Canaanite woman.

Her faith is unmoved and not discouraged by those around her.  She is not swayed by hurt feelings or anger or pride.  She is unaffected by her family’s religious identity.  Her love for her daughter and her single-minded pursuit of Jesus in prayer is a clear indicator of the faith of the Canaanite woman.

And Jesus indeed hears her prayer.  He doesn’t just throw her  crumbs, but invites her to sit at table.  “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.  And her daughter was healed instantly.”

While it’s not a bad idea to ask oneself “What Would Jesus Do?” when faced by an ethical dilemma, maybe it’s more helpful to turn to Jesus with the persistent prayer: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David,” and seek His healing and mastery over the demons.  Maybe we should approach Him as one unworthy of His blessings, humbly, without a sense of entitlement, and still persistently imploring God to hear us and to be merciful, because He is the Lord, the Son of David. 

May our faith be like the Canaanite woman, who persists in prayer, and who doesn’t walk away from the vocations to which she is called.  Let us pray for the kind of faith that doesn’t quit, knowing that Jesus is indeed merciful.  He is the Lord.  He hears our prayer.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sermon: Invocabit - 2019

10 March 2019

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the days before GPS, we used maps.  And if you took a wrong turn or got lost, you were not automatically rerouted by a computer.  You had to go back to the point where you got lost, back to the point of the wrong turn, and start over.

In Genesis chapter three, it is written, and we learn where we got lost, where we took the wrong fork in the road, where we chose death over life, evil of good, darkness over light, and the word of the serpent over the Word of God.

God had laid out a roadmap for mankind so that he would be all that he was created to be.  And at that particular time and place in God’s plan, we were not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Maybe we were never to have that knowledge.  But maybe we were, but we just weren’t ready for it yet.

And like children who see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to do all those things that adults can do, and like adolescents who often act impulsively based on emotion and not on what is reasonable, Adam and Eve did not need much of a nudge to be convinced that they knew better than their Father.

The serpent asked, craftily, “Did God actually say…?”  The serpent contradicted God, saying, “You will not surely die.”  The serpent promised (untruthfully): “You will be like God.”

Adam and eve were tempted.  God had given them the freedom to obey or to disobey.  He had trusted them.  But they betrayed His trust.  And this violation of the plan put mankind on a different road than the beautifully paved superhighway that God had laid out for them.  Now mankind found himself spinning his wheels on muddy trails with no map, surrounded by beasts and danger, lost, and at the mercy of the now-chaotic elements.

So now, dear friends, all sorts of things befall us that were not part of the original plan: the divine roadmap to becoming what God intended us to be.  Nature was affected.  Animals fear man and one another.  Animals (and men) are predators.  And we have things like earthquakes and floods and hurricanes and tsunamis.  None of that was in the original plan.

God told the serpent, “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”  God told Eve that bearing children would now become a painful experience: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”  And there would also be conflict between husbands and wives.  None of that was in the original plan.

God told Adam (whose curse is shared by all human beings): “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you.’”  God told Adam that the ground would bring forth thorns, and farming would be backbreaking work.  And worst of all, you will die.  You will die.  None of that was in the original plan.

We are lost, dear friends.  Our world is devastated by this wrong turn.  Our deviation from the plan, our willingness to eat the poison pill, our rejection of God’s perfection in favor of our rebellion have placed us where we are today. 

And some people still blame God for the existence of evil in the world. 

So how do we get out of the mess?  How do we turn around and get back to the fork in the road?  We can’t.  We cannot go back, at least not with ourselves in charge.  We need nothing less than God Himself to bring us back to that fork in the road and guide us back to His plan.  And this is why Jesus was born, dear friends.  This is why we have recently completed the “Christmas” part of the church year.  And this is why Jesus dies on the cross, dear friends.  This is why we have now moved into the “Easter” part of the church year.

The Second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, begins His ministry by encountering the serpent, who once again resorts to trickery and temptation to cause the Man to reject the Word of God.  The tempter entices Jesus to use His divine power for selfish reasons, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 

But instead of accepting the serpent’s word, Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh, hurls the Word of God back at him: “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The serpent returns and tempts the Man a second time, this time to throw Himself off of the top of the temple in a perverse use of the Psalms to test God.  Jesus again uses the Word of God correctly as a weapon: “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

A third time, the serpent tried to lure Jesus in the same way that he snared Adam, showing Him the “kingdoms of the world and their glory,” saying, “All these I will give You if You fall down and worship me.”

And this third and final time, our Lord casts away the serpent, revealing his true identity: “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’  Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

And so, our Lord Jesus took us back to that fork in the road, and reoriented us back toward God’s highway and away from Satan’s dirt road.  We begin our Lenten journey with these steps.  We confessed our sins and we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We acknowledged that we are lost, and we sought to “return to the Lord [our] God, for He is gracious and merciful!”  We have surrendered control to Jesus.  We have begun our way of repentance, by turning anew toward the Lord.  And He is guiding us along the way: the way of the cross, the way of redemption, the way of victory, the way of resurrection.  The way of returning to Paradise.  In Christ, we go back to Eden, and when the serpent says, “Did God actually say…?” we reply, “Yes, it is written!”  And when the serpent says, “You will not surely die,” we reply, “Yes, you are right this time, O serpent!  We shall not surely die!  For we reject your word and we cling to God’s Word.”  In Christ, we expose the serpent for what he actually is, and we say to him: “Be gone Satan.  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve,” even as we worship Jesus and serve Him, gratefully confessing Him not only as our Lord, but also as our Savior, not only as the Word made flesh, but also our Champion in the flesh. 

Jesus puts us on the right path, for “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

And the devil’s lies are exposed.  The grandiose promises of the devil that lead only to death and decay are laid bare for all to see.  And the lies of the world have been overturned by our Lord Jesus Christ:

“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

For Christ, by means of the cross, and for us men and for our salvation, has crushed the serpent’s head and silenced his lying mouth.  It is written.  It is done.  It is finished.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2019

6 March 2019

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (Joel 2:12-19, Jonah 3:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday is both one of the most popular, and one of the most misunderstood days of the church calendar.  Some people argue against using ashes because Jesus says that when we fast, we should not disfigure our faces that our fasting “may be seen by others.”  But this is to interpret the ashes as some kind of a boastful signal that we are fasting.  That’s not what it means.  Some people treat the ashes as an opportunity to show other people that they went to church today, like the little stickers you can get when you vote.  But that’s not what it means either.

A lady preacher wanted to use Ash Wednesday to celebrate the rejection of traditional marriage, and her idea was to mix glitter with the ashes, so that it looks more festive.  Uh, no.  Some churches have a drive-through window so that people can have the benefit of the ashes (whatever that is) without having to sit through readings and a sermon.  That also misses the point.

It is interesting that the meaning of ashes is largely forgotten when the first word you hear as they are being applied is, “Remember.”

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The ashes remind us of what will happen to our flesh when we die.  Just as God made the man (the adam) out of the dirt (the adamah), we, in our mortality, will return to the dust.  
And so, far from being another festive ritual in Mardi Gras, it is a somber reminder.  Far from being a celebration of deviant sexuality, it is a confession of our selfish misuse of the Lord’s gifts.  Far from being something to brag about, it is an acknowledgment of brokenness.  

When I look out from this pulpit at your faces covered in ashes, I see marks of rejection.  I see cans that cannot be sold because they are dented.  I see meat past its expiration date.  I see books with the covers torn off destined for the dumpster.  That, dear friends, is the primary meaning of the ashes: we are damaged goods.  

In our Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us when we give to the needy – not if, but when – when we give to the needy, “sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do… that they may be praised by others.”  When – not if, but when – when we sacrificially make offerings, we are not to be praised by others.  We are to keep it a secret.  For the reward is in the good deed and in our Father’s knowledge, not in having our egos stroked by other people.  And we behave this way because we are damaged goods.

And when – not if, but when – when we pray, we are to do it in secret.  We are not to pray so that the pastor knows you’re doing it, or so that your parents will praise you, or so that your relatives see it and think that you are holier than they are.  Your motivation must never be about being praised.  Prayer is about praising God; it is not about us being praised.  And we behave this way because we are damaged goods.

And when – not if, but when – when we fast, once again, we are not to tell the whole world about it.  It is between us and God.  Fasting is a spiritual exercise that is very important – especially for us as a people who are surrounded by food, which we can enjoy around the clock whenever we have the whim to get a bite to eat.  For we forget how good God is to us, and fasting is a reminder of that.  But once again, fasting is not a way to say, “Hey world, look at me!  I’m better than you are!”  And we behave this way because we are damaged goods.

We are damaged because of sin.  “Remember!”  Remember what happened in the Garden of Eden.  Remember your own sins and transgressions.  And remember that the consequences for our sinful nature is our mortal nature, that is, death.

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We need to be reminded, because we do everything that we can to forget.  We even treat death as normal and natural – when it is neither.  We treat death as a solution to other problems – such as the expense of healthcare for the elderly or the chronically ill.  We treat death as a solution to the inconvenience of an unexpected pregnancy.  We treat death as entertainment, as our movies and songs and fashions have become ever darker and more fascinated with death.  And how often we hear of the rich and famous committing suicide, because their ostentatious lives are devoid of meaning?

Dear friends, we are indeed  mortal, but we also have meaning in our lives.  For we have been redeemed.  Our lives have been bought back.  We have a Savior.  Our Lord Jesus went to the cross, so that you, baptized into His name, have received the sign of the cross upon your forehead as a token and seal of the Lord’s blood shed for you, blood that overcomes death and the grave.  For that mark of death on your forehead that declares you to be damaged goods is in the shape of a cross.  You are indeed damaged goods, but Christ has come to fix you.  He went to the cross to restore you.  Christ has baptized you in order to renew you in the forgiveness of sins.  


Remember the sin of Adam, the man of dust, and see the mark of the dust that reminds you of your mortality.  But remember the faithfulness of Christ, the New Adam, the man of salvation, and see the mark of the cross that reminds you of your redemption and your resurrection from death!

For the Lord Jesus Christ has died to take away all of our laziness, and to empower us to repent.  His death atones for our petty hypocrisy and silly self-importance and self-centeredness.  His body and blood are given and shed, and shared with you to eat and to drink as another powerful reminder: “Remember, O man, that you are redeemed.”

And so the feast of Carnival has yet again yielded to the fast of Lent.  Let us make use of this gift, dear friends, this opportunity to give to the needy, to pray, and to fast.  Let us remember that we are damaged goods, but that our Lord in His mercy has borne the cross that we now bear on our foreheads.  Let us remember our baptismal water that washes away our sins just as water will wash away these ashes from our faces.  Let us remember what a privilege it is to hear the Word of God read and preached, and to partake of the Lord’s body and blood.  Let us perform acts of charity and love because they need done, and not for the sake of being noticed.  

Let us remember the words of the Lord given to us by the prophet Joel: “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning…. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Let us remember the encouragement of the Apostle Peter: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

Let us indeed remember to love, for that is what Christ does for us, his damaged goods.  He loves us, redeems us, and restores us, turning the ashen condemnation into an anointing of salvation.

“Remember, O man!”


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

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2019

3 March 2019

Text: Luke 18:31-43 (1 Sam 16:1-13, 1 Cor 13:1-13)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“What do you want Me to do for you?” asks Jesus, speaking to a man who cried out for mercy.  “Lord, let me recover my sight,” responds the man.  That is his request.  That is his prayer.  And that should be our constant prayer.

For there is blindness in the narrow sense, and blindness in a broader sense.  The blind man who sat in the road to Jericho and begged, was blind in the narrow sense of the word.  He was literally unable to see.  He bore a great burden of life in this fallen world: an affliction that makes it impossible to do the simplest of things.  Blindness robs a person of seeing the faces of loved ones, of locating necessary items in the home, of walking from place to place without groping around in constant darkness.  Blindness, especially in those days, impeded a person from making a living, reducing many to begging for money as a means to stay alive.  

But there was one thing that this blind beggar could “see”: the fact that Jesus had the power to save him.  He sees that Jesus is the Messiah, the “Son of David,” the one promised by Scripture.  Although his eyes could no longer read the words on the scroll (if he ever could read at all), his mind could still see the Word of God embedded in his heart.  He could see in vivid detail the prophecies of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ – even though he could not see Jesus with his eyes.  Instead, he saw our blessed Lord by means of His “eyes of faith.”  

And it was this “seeing,” that is, “walking by faith and not by sight,” as St. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, that brought this blind man healing in his appropriation of the promise and ministry of Jesus.  For our Lord tells him: “Your faith has made you well.”  His faith saved him from mankind’s bitter triad of enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  As the author of the Book of Hebrews explains it: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Not seen.  It is believing without seeing.  And this believing has power: power to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and even life to the dead – because this faith looks to Jesus, our incarnate and almighty God, who has come to repair what is broken, and heal that which falls short of God’s original perfection.

That, dear friends, is what forgiveness is all about.  It is a restoration of a shattered communion with God, a connection to His almighty power.  Similar to a repaired wire, a restored faith completes the circuit so that the Lord’s healing power may flow to where it is needed.  This is why we are implored to offer our prayers with faith – even in the face of great mockery and opposition – even as the blind beggar did.

Did you catch it in the text, dear friends?  The blind beggar, with faith in the healing power and love of Christ Jesus, cries out in prayer: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  But what of the “mercy” of the crowds?  They scold him. They tell him to shut up.  “But he cried out all the more.”  And his defiant prayer bears fruit, because Jesus is the fruit of his prayer.  Jesus will not be deterred by mockers and naysayers.  And nor should we, dear friends.  When we are told to shut up, we should “cry out all the more.”  When our friends and employers and colleagues and teachers and opponents and those who hate us and our Lord try to stifle our faith and its expression, we need to be undeterred and continue our own prayer of: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

That is why we confess a Christian “faith.”  This is not to say that it is untrue.  Far from it!  It is the Christian truth, but we know this truth, and we confess this truth, by faith.  It is a seeing that does not come from the eyes, but from Jesus: the light of the world, which no darkness – not even the darkness of blindness or even of the grave – can overcome.  It is a knowledge that is not worked out by the brain, but is given from the head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, who has mercy on us poor, miserable sinners.  

We believe, we teach, and we confess this faith.  And the object of our faith is Jesus, always Jesus.  He and he alone illuminates our souls and our world.  Any other claim to illumination is of Satan, the one formerly named “Lucifer,” the bearer of light, who is now only the bearer of darkness and death.  

The blind beggar knew this, and He knew it by faith alone!  And when the Lord healed him, he “followed Him, glorifying God.”  This, dear friends, is what Christian people do.  We follow Jesus.  We go to where He is.  We have communion with Him.  We listen to Him.  We learn from Him.  We are healed by Him.  We are enlightened by Him.  We have faith in Him.  We confess Him.  And in following Jesus, what can we do but glorify God?  

We glorify Him in our prayers, praises, and thanksgivings.  We glorify Him in the divine service.  We glorify Him in the morning, at noon, and at night.  We glorify Him before meals.  We glorify Him during the course of the day as we reflect upon how He has cured us of our blindness and raised us from the dead, through the forgiveness of sins, calling us through baptism, and pouring out regeneration on us in body and soul.  

And when others see the work of God in bringing light to our darkness, they too give praise to God.  They too are impelled to follow Jesus.

For the Christian faith is about seeing: seeing things that blow the mind and expand our worldview to the realm of the miraculous.  This is how it was that a shepherd boy, the youngest and least impressive of the sons of Jesse, was chosen by God to be the great King David of Israel.  And this is how David’s Son, born in the fullness of time of the virgin Mary, is God in the flesh, the King of the universe.  We see this by faith.  We see this by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  We see this because Jesus takes away our blindness.

For notice how Jesus told the twelve (at the beginning of our reading) exactly what was coming: His passion, death and resurrection.  And yet, “they understood none of these things.  This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”  In other words, Jesus told them plainly, but they just couldn’t see that happening.  And so they were blinded by their own reason, expectations, and desires.  The disciples stand in contrast to the blind man who truly does “see” Jesus.  For he sees by faith, and by faith, he sees – all by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world!

For we still live in a world that is dark.  And for now, as St. Paul says in our epistle reading, his first letter to the Corinthians, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

We are fully known, dear friends, fully known by Jesus.  He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our wisdom, and our folly.  He knows us as we are, and He loves us to the point of suffering and dying for us, for our salvation, for our rescue by His blood.  This is the love that St. Paul speaks of: Love that is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not insistent on getting its own way, not irritable or resentful, and not rejoicing in sin.  Rather love rejoices in truth.

Jesus is the truth.  We truly see Jesus when we see Him as the way, the truth, and the life, the Son of God, the Son of David, the light of the world, the one who hears our prayer and cures our blindness.

May His light rest upon us and illuminate the darkness of our world.  May we cry out all the more when people attempt to silence us.  May our prayer ever and always be: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Amen.

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