Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) and Baptism of Nicholas Guthrie - 2019

28 April 2019

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord chose appropriate words for us to hear as we opened our Divine Service today, dear brothers and sisters: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word.”  It’s not very clear in the English translation, but this isn’t a description of babies, but rather a command for the adults!  This is how we live the Christian life: become like a newborn: one who desires milk – and the milk that we need, and the milk that is supplied to us by our mother, the Church, is the pure milk of the Word.

The best Christian among us is the newest Christian among us: Nicholas Guthrie, Jr.  For he desires milk.  And he trusts his mother to provide for him.  He isn’t too proud to receive her help and the help of other family members and friends.  He has not yet learned how to assert his self-will or to say “no.”  He is the perfect Christian because he receives the milk, and he desires that milk.

But he is not the perfect Christian because he is perfect.  Not by a longshot!  For “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Like all of us, Nicholas was born sinful.  He inherited it from his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all of his ancestors back to Adam and Eve.  The temptation is to see babies as completely innocent.  But we really know better.  Babies are selfish.  They insist on their own way.  They cause others to lose sleep and to have to rethink their priorities.  And worst of all, babies, like the rest of us, are mortal.  

And this is why we drowned Nicholas’s old man, his sinful nature, in baptismal waters today, so that a new man might arise.  He has died with Christ, and has risen with Christ.  His sins have been laid on the shoulders of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, and Nicholas is now numbered among the redeemed.  

When the disciples were arguing about who is the greatest, Jesus took a very young child, and then told the disciples to turn and become like him.  For once again, Nicholas desires milk, and he receives it with the humility of a child.  For he hasn’t yet learned how to doubt the Word of God.

For an example of why Nicholas is a better Christian than all of us who are not newborn babes, consider Thomas from our Gospel reading.  His story is painful.  When the risen Lord first appeared to His disciples, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came.”  And when the other disciples said, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas was indignant in his denial.  Instead of desiring the pure milk of the Word like a newborn babe, Thomas had the adult feeling of doubt, and perhaps humiliation.

For one of the things we learn in this fallen world is to doubt.  We think we know everything.  We think miracles are impossible.  We think science has all the answers.  We think that dead people don’t come back to life.  We think that water and the Word of God don’t do anything.  We think that babies can’t have faith.  And we also have the annoying adult trait of never trusting anyone.  In this fallen world, we get scammed, we get lied to, we get manipulated.  And so we get cynical.  Whereas if we tell a young child that when their parents eat the wafer and drink of the cup, that it’s actually Jesus, the young child believes, because he trusts.  It’s only as we grow up that we trust reason more than the pure milk of the Word, and we behave more like doubting Thomas than like newborn Nicholas.  It is only when we get older that we convince ourselves that other things are more important than the Divine Service, or that the Word of God is something you can just take or leave.  Little Nicholas knows that he must have milk to survive.  And he trusts that it will be delivered to him through the love of his mother and other family members.

And if Nicholas is raised that we go to church on Sunday, we listen attentively to the Word, we go to the rail and partake of the body and blood of Christ – that is just what we do – He will desire the pure milk of the Word.  And he will know that Jesus is miraculously present, because Jesus says so, and Nicholas will trust Him.  If his parents read the Bible to him, teach him the catechism, and pray with him, he will desire the pure milk of the Word his whole life long.  If he sees his family pray before meals and live a life of forgiving others and being forgiven – then he will desire the pure milk of the Word his whole life long, and will one day see to it that his own child is baptized, catechized, and raised to desire the pure milk of the Word.

As for St. Thomas, he was indeed forgiven.  For that is why Jesus came in the first place.  Jesus had commissioned the disciples – and he commissioned Thomas as well: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”  St. Thomas was forgiven of his doubting.  He confessed of Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”  And the Lord told him: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  It seems that St. Thomas evangelized as far away as India – where there are ancient churches named after him to this day – as Thomas’s preaching brought forth belief from people “who have not seen.”  For they received the Word “as newborn babes,” and they trusted in Thomas’s word, for he spoke to them the Word of God, baptizing their newborn babes and adults alike, forgiving their sins and bringing Christ to them in the sacrament of the altar.  And Thomas trusted the Word even unto death.

For that is what the Christian faith is, dear friends, believing the Word of God, come what may, believing Christ when he says that we are forgiven, believing Christ’s Word spoken by His servants who preach and teach and give us the body and blood; who baptize us, cleansing us from our sins by the pure milk of the Word; forgiving us as called and ordained servants of the pure Word.

The Christian faith is also that pile of dead, dry bones that were given life anew by the Spirit, the breath prophesied to them – the milk of the Word of God: “Prophesy, son of man,” – preach the pure milk of the Word so that the children of God should desire it, for it beings them back from the dead and gives them a second birth, a new life, life that never ends.  

This is what it means to believe, dear friends: to desire the pure milk of the Word, and to trust in those who give it.  Watch little Nicholas as he eats.  See his desire and his trust – especially in his mother.  And think of our mother, the Church, the womb that gives us new birth in the font, a new birth in Christ, the living Word of God, He who came not only by water, “but by the water and the blood” – the blood of the cross.  The blood of Christ shed on the cross is delivered to Nicholas and to all of us at the font – the water and the Word deliver the forgiveness won for us by the blood of Christ at the cross.  The old man dies with Christ, and the new man emerges from the baptismal water.

And, dear friends, let us become like Nicholas, who desires the pure milk of the Word, without doubting, without pride, without claiming credit for himself.  For who is greater than he in the kingdom?  Let us believe that Nicholas believes.  He has faith because Jesus gave it to him, and Jesus says that Nicholas is one of these “little ones who believe in Him.”  

For “whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.”  Let us kindle this spark of faith in Nicholas, bringing him up in the Word of God, whether as his parents, grandparents, relatives, or as his brothers and sisters in Christ.  And let us hear the Lord’s gracious invitation, calling to mind our own baptism and the gracious promise that God will “raise [us] from our graves” and according to the Word of God, our sins “are forgiven.”  We are indeed blessed, though we have not seen, and yet have believed – and “by believing, you may have life in His name.”

“As newborn babes, Alleluia, desire the pure milk of the Word.  Alleluia.  Alleluia.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

A Bishop Then Must Be... Apt to Teach

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church which is in altar and pulpit fellowship with the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, recently responded to mockery of his episcopal vestments:

"Dear *****, thank you for your remark. I would recommend you to read the Holy Scriptures. You will be surprised to see detailed descriptions of how priests dressed in the Old Testament. This is because God takes the holy ministry very seriously. Everything connected with the liturgy, the altar, the priesthood is very serious for God. It is only modern post-Protestant invented, as one theologian beautifully called it, "plastic Christianity" (such a simplistic religion, devoid of liturgy, priesthood and grace).

And the Church (I'm talking about the historical Church, and not about something that you may call as "Church") always takes seriously the Divine service. Her priests always wore special clothing that distinguished them from others.
You are not against the fact that doctors in hospitals wear special clothes? Or do you laugh at them also? ("Oh, what a ridiculous robe you have, doctor! Oh, what a funny cap you have!")

Or maybe you are laughing at the cops? Or at the judges? Each of them has a uniform corresponding to their profession.

And bishop always has a miter and a crosier (bishop's staff). They are a sign that he has been given authority from God.

And so please treat the bishops with respect, if only because, as the ancients said, where there is no bishop, there is no Сhurch there."

Saturday, April 27, 2019

"Revolutions Have Consequences" or "Let Them Eat Kate"

Kate Smith's now removed statue
In this piece by Andrew Klaven, he makes some good points. But I heartily disagree with his assertion that when it comes to ideas (vs. personalities) that the Left and Right have a lot in common.

The difference between liberty and tyranny is ideational and philosophical. If you begin with a collectivist premise that a man doesn’t own himself, that he has no right to his property - you will inevitably end up with some form of Socialism and draconian punishment for dissenters. And the personalities of the Stalin, the Mao, the Castro, or the Maduro don’t matter. You will have North Korea.

If you begin with the premise that man is endowed by his Creator with self-evident inalienable rights, you will not have perfection, but you will have liberty and human flourishing. You will have South Korea.

As the Richard Weaver book title puts it: Ideas Have Consequences.

Progressivism is just repackaged Satanism: the delusional belief that man is perfectible and is on a trajectory toward perfection. Every single time when this idea takes root, it bears the fruit of the headless corpses of those who peacefully disagree (in the name of safety, of course), after such people failed to be re-educated in camps and prisons.

One has to wonder about how progressives in future times (say five years from now) will treat young people today from every ethnicity who sing along with their favorite pop tunes about rape and misogyny and where the n-word is used as punctuation.

One can only wonder if the formerly popular black entertainer Eddie Murphy, for example, will suffer the opprobrium of generations to come (maybe in the next six months) when they stumble upon his now obscure comedy, which, how to put it, is not affirming of the LGBTQ community.

There is so much outrage for the progressive archaeologist to unearth in the distant future (like, maybe this summer).

Maybe we’ll soon get a new clock and a new calendar and new names for the days of the week and a new statue in the remodeled Notre Dame Cathedral - as all of those old things are racist and not reflective of the establishment of the New Order (that is, April 2019, or if you prefer, Year Zero).

In the words of some forgotten old dead white European named Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749-1800): "A l'exemple de Saturne, la révolution dévore ses enfants," ("Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children").

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sermon: Easter - 2019

21 April 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Alleluia!  This term comes from the Hebrew for “Praise the Lord!”  We have avoided saying this word for the six weeks of Lent not because we don’t praise the Lord during that time, but rather as a way of reminding ourselves of our sinful nature – which does not praise the Lord.

But it is all different now!  We remember the cross, where Jesus died to pay the debt of our sins, and we rejoice in the empty tomb, in which life defeated death, from which our beloved Teacher and Savior, our Lord and God, rose again – confounding the guards at the tomb, perplexing the government of the mightiest empire on earth from the highest levels on down, causing the angels to rejoice, making the demons shriek, and leaving behind a physical reminder that He is indeed who He says He is: God in the flesh come to rescue us from our corruption and mortality.  Alleluia.

We heard the abrupt account from the shortest Gospel of what happened that first Easter morning.  It ends with the women finding the tomb empty, and being afraid.  It seems a strange place to leave us this morning on Easter Sunday.  But, dear friends, for us Christians, Easter is not just one day (as it is for the world) – Easter is a seven week celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ, of life, of victory!  We linger in the resurrection, even as our Lord lingered among the disciples and in the world, for seven weeks following His rising from the dead.  The reaction of the women at the empty tomb is just the beginning of the account of the resurrection of Jesus – a history that has turned the world on its head, and has rewritten the entire history of mankind.  

For the fearful women and the rudderless men who followed Jesus to the cross will soon see Jesus, emergent from the tomb.  They will soon receive the Holy Spirit.  They will soon transform into fearless heroes and heroines, whose faith would in turn transform the Empire and change the world forever, a movement that reverberates around the world to this very day, even within these walls, on this Day of the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, in the year of our Lord, 2019.

But for today, having just heard this reading, we remember the women who went to the tomb, and we call to mind the first impressions of the first messengers to the first apostles, the first links in the chain connected to us today.  For it is astonishing.

The Marys and Salome were present at our Lord’s crucifixion.  They watched Him die.  They knew that He was rushed into the garden tomb with a hasty embalming ritual.  After the Sabbath, they have come to the tomb to “anoint Him.”  There is great irony here, for Jesus is the Messiah, which means “the anointed one.”  And moreover, the last thing that our Lord needs is embalming.  For He is the one prophesied who would not see corruption.  The Marys and Salome – like all of our Lord’s disciples – are still trying to figure it all out.  Jesus is still teaching them.  This is such an important thing to keep in mind as skeptics try to dismiss the Gospels’ account of the resurrection.  For if this were a faked account, everyone would now be taking a victory lap and boasting.  Instead, everyone is confused and afraid, kind of bumbling around and groping in the dark – which has the ring of truth to it.

And so the women head out on their mission of mercy, and they are in for a big surprise.  For the mercy is on them.  And walking in the dark, it dawns on them that the tomb is sealed by a large stone, “And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’”  And just at that moment, the divine sense of irony shows itself again, as they look up to see that the massive stone was already removed from the gaping mouth of the grave.  The tomb was literally gawking, like a person in shock, mouth agape, almost as if the tomb itself were looking at the women with equal perplexity, gasping for air.  For of all the tombs in history – even dating back to the grave of Adam – not a single one could boast what had just happened inside.  For Jesus had risen and took the time to carefully fold all of the linens, and then just left.  He just walked out.  Per Matthew’s account, after moving aside the large, heavy stone, the angel sat on it, which has the sense of a kind of victory lap.  He sat on it and waited for the women to arrive.

If the walls of this tomb could talk!  In a way they do, brothers and sisters, for this tomb is today a church, and in this church, and especially on this day, the walls resonate with the Word of God, calling to mind the Lord’s glorious resurrection that happened right there!

When the puzzled women went inside, the angel told them not to be alarmed, and correctly surmised why they were there, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen.”

“He has risen,” dear friends.  Listen to these words and cherish them!  “He has risen.”  Can you imagine what was going through their minds at that moment?  “He is risen.”  

They came to find a body, but instead found an empty slab, folded up linens, and an angel with very good news.  That, dear friends, is Easter.  That is the Christian life.  That is why we are here today.  And that is why we continue to come to this altar: an empty slab with folded linens, where instead of finding a dead body, we find the life-giving body of the bread of life.  Instead of coagulated blood, we find the blood of the fruit of the vine, flowing freely from the cup to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.  We find the risen body of Jesus, and we have fellowship with Him – even as the women and the apostles will soon experience their Lord again in the flesh!

The angel invites them to have a look inside, to verify his testimony.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Take a look.  Examine the claims of the church.  Did Jesus rise again?  Because if He did, it speaks to why you were born, dear friends.  It speaks to our universe and its meaning.  It speaks to our lives having purpose – even as the angel gave the women something to do as their calling: to tell the disciples.  If Jesus did not rise again, we are wasting our time.  If He did not rise, do something else on Sundays.  I’m serious about that.  But make no mistake, dear friends, there is an empty tomb in today’s Jerusalem.  There are historical accounts that speak about the empty tomb with amazement.  There are accounts of the various appearances of Jesus, and the transformation of these frightened Christian men and women into fearless conquerors of the mighty Roman Empire, whose Gospel would transform the world.  Those who dismiss the resurrection of Jesus without a fair examination of the many evidences for it, do so at their own peril.  It is worth looking into for anyone who wants to know the truth, for anyone who wants to know why we are here.

And so the women, though frightened, now know that Jesus has risen.  They don’t know what happens next, but the angel told them what to do next: “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

“Just as He told you,” dear friends.  Even angels quote the Word of God.  Jesus did in fact tell His disciples that very thing, that after the resurrection, He would meet them in Galilee.  And so He did.

The women trembled.  They were astonished.  They did not give the message to anyone until they had reached the disciples.  “For they were afraid.” 

Of course, the Scriptures teach us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  They were afraid, but they did as the angel had bid them.

And we know what happens next.  Jesus will indeed appear to Mary Magdalene and will invite her not to fear.  He will appear to the eleven (though without Thomas) and bless them with the greeting, “Peace be with you.”  And then He will appear to Thomas, whose doubts were driven away by putting his fingers into the Lord’s scars.  

But there is no need to be hasty, dear friends.  We have seven weeks of Easter joy to celebrate, to read, to hear, to proclaim, to meditate upon, and to rejoice in, the Word of God.  We have an eternity of “Alleluias” to sing.  For the women are not left in their trembling.  The world is not left in its shroud of darkness.  The church is not left in defeat by a culture of cynicism and unbelief.  For this is our time to rejoice, to praise the Lord, to say, “Alleluia!” again and again, even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sermon: Good Friday - 2019

19 April 2019

Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

This past Monday, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris appeared to burn down.  Early reports were that the 850 year old edifice was a total loss.  Nothing had survived.  But when the smoke cleared, the world saw the image of a cross, a golden cross that appeared to glow near the Cathedral’s altar – surrounded by ashes and rubble and destruction and chaos – the cross became a stark and serene reminder of the Christian faith itself.

As it turns out, much of the Cathedral was preserved from the ravages of the flames.

The fire in the cathedral was shocking to us, because such things don’t happen in our enlightened age.  We live in a world of safety, of regulations, of sprinklers and fire extinguishers, of inspections and experts.  We put our trust in princes to make sure that bad things never happen to us.  We especially protect children not only from harm and danger, but also from scraped knees and the hurt feelings of not receiving a trophy.  We are a society that believes in being in full control.

Our world has become hermetically-sealed, even as we sanitize death itself, keeping it behind the closed doors of the butcher shop and the hospital.  And whereas earlier generations of teenagers stormed the beaches at Normandy, our current generation of young people are scrupulously protected even from disagreeable opinions.

Sometimes a Nine Eleven or a Notre Dame Fire puts things into perspective.

Dear friends, we live in a broken world, a world of sin and death, of malice and violence, of so-called natural disasters and things that we cannot control.  We Christians bear the cross of this fallen world, of our corrupted flesh, but we bear our crosses even as we follow Jesus, who willingly carried His own cross to Golgotha.

Jesus did not come into our world to make us kinder people, but to make us perfect people.  Jesus did not come into our world to lay down the law, but to fulfill the law.  Jesus did not come into our world to give us our best life now, but to call us to die to sin and rise to newness of life for eternity – to bring Christ crucified to our world of Nine-Elevens and Notre Dame Fires and butcher shops and hospitals.  

For the cross of this world is described by the prophet Isaiah as “our griefs.”  But Jesus, the crucified one, has borne our griefs.  He has carried our sorrows.  Jesus: stricken, smitten, afflicted… “wounded for our transgressions… crushed for our iniquities.”  Dear friends, His sacrificial suffering “brought us peace” and by His passion “we are healed.”

By His atoning death, we are indeed healed, forgiven, made new, restored, and brought through the flames of this world and even spared the fires of hell, to shine burnished in the light of the countenance of our Lord, all by grace, all through faith.  For His crucifixion is the suffering and death that we have deserved, dear brothers and sisters, the sacrifice of the “Lamb… led to the slaughter,” so that He might take our place, the punishment that we have earned.

For Jesus, the cross is a symbol of death, but for us, dear friends, it is a symbol of life.  Too often we treat the cross like a fashion statement or an emoji – but the cross is more than just a symbol that glints in the light to give us hope: the cross is the flesh-and-blood means by which our Lord Jesus Christ died in our place, so that we might survive the flames of the end of the world, when everything will be consumed with fire: cathedrals and continents, crosses and Caesars – nothing will be left of this fallen and passing world, dear friends, nothing but the Word of God, that endures forever.  And from the destruction of the wrath of God, we will rise unscathed, for we are not under judgment, dear friends, because we are under the cross.

And under the cross, we are safe, we are forgiven, we are recast in the burnished gold of our true humanity as we were created to be, being purged from the dross of sin and corruption, purged by His passion, purged by our Lord’s suffering, purged by His atoning death.

For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Through the cross, “Christ reconciled us to Himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  

Today, dear friends, we focus on the cross, we focus on our Lord’s substitutionary death, we focus on the blood of the Lamb.  We mourn on account of our sins and the Lord’s suffering even as we mourn the appalling destruction of the Cathedral.  But we look to the cross, and to where the cross leads: to a brighter future, to the resurrection, to the rebuilding, to the life that has no end, to the hope shining from the face of the Light of the world: the Light no darkness can overcome.

There is no more enduring symbol of the Christian faith than the cross, dear friends.  The cross is why our Lord took flesh, and the cross is where our Lord sacrifices His flesh.  The golden cross that glows on our own altar is a reminder of the true flesh and blood that the Lord distributes to us in His holy sacrament of the altar: a participation in His death, a communion in His resurrection, and the promise of His coming again in glory.  Our Lord’s cross, and the crosses on Christian altars around the world, are surrounded by ashes and rubble and destruction and chaos.  And yet, everywhere that the Gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered, dear brothers and sisters, the cross is a stark and serene reminder of the Christian faith itself – faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who “bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” – even unto our eternal life.  Amen.

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Sermon: Maundy Thursday - 2019

Note: This sermon was not preached because of inclement weather.

18 April 2019

Text: 1 Cor 11:23-32 (Ex 12:1014, John 13:1-15, 34-35)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

A lot Protestant Christians disagree with us concerning what Jesus means when He says, “This is my body,” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Many of our brothers and sisters in these churches go so far as to say that when Jesus says “is,” He really means “is not.”

And in our day and age, we never want to say that someone is wrong.  We like tolerance.  We like to believe that either everybody can be right (even when they say contradictory things), or that it really doesn’t matter – usually followed by statements like “we all worship the same God” and “what matters is how you treat people.”

Of course, these are things that Jesus never says.

There is truth.  Truth exists outside of us.  Jesus is the Truth.  Words are important.  Words are the means by which God creates the universe, and remakes you from sinner to saint.  Jesus is the Word.  Doctrine is not up for grabs.  For doctrine simply means what we teach.  There is true doctrine and false doctrine.  False doctrine is deadly.  Correct doctrine is taught by a correct teacher.  And Jesus is our Teacher.

So what does our Teacher tell us concerning this Lord’s Supper that He established on Maundy Thursday, “on the night when He was betrayed?”

Jesus says that the bread is His body.  We are to eat it.  We are to do it in His remembrance.  Jesus says the wine is the new covenant in His blood.  We are to drink it, and we are to do so in His remembrance.  And when we do this as He instructed us to do it, we are proclaiming His death: we are telling the truth, we are spreading the word of the Word Made Flesh, and we are teaching correctly – teaching our children, ourselves, our neighbors, and the world.  We are confessing the truth of what our Lord is calling us to do.  We are telling the truth about Him: the truth about the Truth.

The Lord calls us to “do this” as He established on that first Maundy Thursday.  In fact, our Lord incorporated a New Commandment into this Eucharistic meal: that we Christians love one another – by our deeds as well as our words.  When we serve our fellow believers, and when we are served with the body and blood of Christ, we are proclaiming the Lord’s service to us: His death, His resurrection, His coming again.  We are teaching the world that Christ has come in love, to forgive, to renew, to restore, and He is truly coming again to re-create the heavens and the earth – even as He recreates bread to be His body and wine to be His blood by means of His miraculous and powerful word: the word of the Word.

The words of the Word Made Flesh created the universe, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, and made the lame to walk.  The Word of God forgives our sins, declares our innocence, and restores our communion with the Father.  The Word turns water into wine, bread into His body, and wine into His blood.

And this, dear friends, is why we do not believe that our Lord just meant to establish a meal of mere bread and wine that reminds us of His advent.  Rather, we believe that this Holy Eucharist is an ongoing advent, that He is truly present with us every single time that we “do this” in His remembrance.  

For St. Paul confesses something that would be impossible if our Protestant brothers and sisters were correct: “Whoever, therefore,” says the apostle, “eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.”

He goes on: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Dear friends, St. Paul is saying that improper self-examination and not discerning the body in the Holy Sacrament can actually be deadly.  It can cause weakness and illness.  Some may scoff at this, but this is what the Word of God says.  The presence of God is powerful and mighty.  We heard anew of the power of God during the original Passover – which the Lord Jesus Christ was celebrating with His disciples on that “night when He was betrayed.”

The blood of the Lamb had the actual power to ward off death itself.  It was not symbolic.  It was not merely a ritual.  The life was in the blood, and the blood was the covenant, the promise of God.  And misuse of the Lord’s Word, despising the blood of the Lamb, could well result in death.

It certainly meant death to the unbelievers who chose to worship Pharaoh instead of the One True God.  

But, dear friends, we are the people of the covenant!  We are the children of Israel who were kept safe from the angel of death!  We are the redeemed who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb!  That is why our Lord speaks of the “new covenant in My blood.”  For when Jesus says, “This is,” He is not speaking metaphorically or establishing rituals for the sake of rituals.  He is speaking as the Creator of the universe, the Word Himself: “And God said… and there was...”

And so we remember on this Maundy Thursday.  We remember our exit from Pharaoh’s tyranny.  And we remember our exit from Satan’s tyranny – by means of the covenant, by means of the Lamb’s sacrifice, by His flesh, by His blood, by His Word, and by His new commandment that we love one another.  For when we do as the Lord instructs, when we serve one another in our needs and in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we “do this” in remembrance of Him, when we eat and drink, then truly we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes – we confess the truth that Jesus is God in the flesh who has come to redeem us, and we teach the world who Jesus is, and what He came to do.

And so, dear friends, let us examine ourselves.  Let us confess our sins and rejoice in our pardon.  And let us discern the body of the Lord, taking to heart His mighty and creative words: “This is.”  Let us worship Him, even as those under the first covenant gazed upon His divine presence in visible form, physically manifest in the Ark of the Covenant, being miraculously present upon the Mercy Seat.  Let us not shy away from what the Lord’s words mean, but rather let us confess them and teach them; let us practice them, and most important of all, let us believe them!

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Amen.

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

Monday, April 15, 2019

Erich Fromm's Hit and Miss on 1984

Beginning with the 1961 edition of George Orwell's iconic novel 1984, the Afterward is an essay by the German Social Scientist and Philosopher Dr. Erich Fromm (1900-1980).

Of course, Fromm's analysis is temporally pegged to the time at which he wrote (1961).  This was a time when the entire world was obsessed with the Cold War, the Arms Race, and the seeming inevitability of an imminent World War Three and the destruction of life on the planet as we know it.  This prevailing spirit of the postwar age dominates literary interpretation of that era, and understandably so.  This was the year of the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the fact that history took a different trajectory than the "inevitable" nuclear war between the USSR and the USA exposes some of the blind spots of writers of that time - including Fromm.  His Afterward betrays his Socialist and anti-capitalist bias and sense of the "big corporation" as the real contemporary Big Brother, with no input of the State (other than its involvement in the promotion of the Arms Race). 

Thus much of the societal and governmental and philosophical warnings of Orwell are drowned out by Fromm's overbearing fear of thermonuclear war.

However, one aspect that Fromm saw coming that was indeed borne out by history is his observation on Orwell's treatment of truth:
Another important aspect is Orwell's description of the nature of truth, which on the surface is a picture of Stalin's treatment of truth, especially in the thirties. But anyone who sees in Orwell's description only another denunciation of Stalinism is missing an essential element of Orwell's analysis. He is actually talking about a development which is taking place in the western industrial countries also, only at a slower pace than it is taking place in Russia and China. The basic question which Orwell raises is whether there is any such thing as "truth." "Reality," so the ruling party holds, "is not external. Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else ... whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth." If this is so, then by controlling men's minds, the Party controls truth. In a dramatic conversation between the protagonist of the Party and the beaten rebel, a conversation which is a worthy analogy to Dostoyevsky's conversation between the Inquisitor and Jesus, the basic principles of the Party are explained. In contrast to the Inquisitor, however, the leaders of the Party do not even pretend that their system is intended to make man happier, because men, being frail and cowardly creatures, want to escape freedom and are unable to face the truth. The leaders are aware of, the fact that they themselves have only one aim, and that is power. To them "power is not a means; it is an end. And power means the capacity to inflict unlimited pain and suffering to another human being" [Cf. this definition of power in Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1941. Also Simone Weil's definition that power is the capacity to transform a living person into a corpse, that is to say, into a thing]. Power, then, for them creates reality, it creates truth. 
The idea that truth is subjective and malleable, that reality is a state of mind, and that control of the prevailing narrative is the epitome of power: power to create truth - has germinated and blossomed in the form of Postmodernism.  Postmodernism has made the transition from an arcane and eccentric literary theory to the dominant philosophy of our time. 

And Postmodernism led to the current "Social Justice" malaise and the rise of totalitarian "Intersectionality", following Orwell's trajectory about the control of language - known to us today as "Political Correctness" and expressed by Orwell as "Newspeak."

For a fast forward from Fromm's 1961 to 1984 as it truly exists in the present, I would recommend Dr. Michael Rectenwald's 2018 book Springtime for Snowflakes: 'Social Justice' and Its Postmodern Parentage.  Springtime is both a quick primer on Postmodernism (and its related literary theories) and how it led directly to the SJW "snowflake" culture that dominates the university, as well as how its Orwellian stranglehold on modern thought manifested itself in his own life and academic career as an actual Orwellian dystopia.

Dr. Fromm's Afterward is hit and miss - which is easy for me to say with nearly sixty years of hindsight that includes the rise of Postmodernism; the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union; the Socialist decimation of Zimbabwe and Venezuela; and the increasing cultural stranglehold of conformity, social and political language-policing, and the rise of Social Media in the enforcement of the Orwellian control of truth as a subjective and malleable tool in the hands of a powered elite rather than a transcendent and objective ideal of the human mind.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sermon: Palmarum - 2019

14 April 2019

Text: Matt 26:1-27:66

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

I once heard a non-Christian refer to our faith as a “blood religion.”  He meant it to be provocative and insulting.  But similar to Caiphas stating that it is “better for one man [Jesus] to die for the nation” than for everyone to perish, there is an unintended and ironical truth being told.

Yes, Christianity is a blood religion.

When God fashioned the first man Adam, He made him of dust, and fashioned flesh and bones and blood, and breathed life into him.  He made Adam in His own image, and then fashioned Eve of Adam’s flesh and blood.  Adam, in the image of Christ, was a flesh and blood man.

And when Adam and Eve sinned, when the Lord’s warning that they would “surely die” came true, their blood would be required of them.  For the life is in the blood.  But even then, the Lord, in His mercy, saved them from eternal death by means of blood, innocent blood, the blood of a substitute, animal skins of the first sacrifice which covered their nakedness and their shame. 

And sadly, when mankind had multiplied from two to four, Cain shed the blood of his brother Abel, whose blood cried out to God.  And as the world became more violent and bloody, the Lord sent the great flood, in which the blood of nearly every living creature was shed, blood mixed with water, as a cleansing of sin.  But Noah and his family were saved by the water, and at the end of their time on the ark, they renewed the practice of the blood sacrifice unto the Lord. 

When Abraham obediently consented to sacrifice his son, his only son, the Lord provided the substitutionary sacrifice, the “ram, caught in a thicket by his horns” whose blood was shed instead of his son Isaac’s.  And Abraham noted that the Lord provided.

When the children of Israel left Egypt, the blood of the Passover Lamb protected them from the angel of death, and they too were saved through water at the Red Sea, where the blood of Pharaoh’s army mixed with the water of the sea called Red.

And Moses received the Law from God, which required blood as the price of sin: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life – along with the sacrifices of animals offered up to God for the forgiveness of sins.

The people of God continued to obey the Lord’s command of blood sacrifices at altars: at the tabernacle, and then at the temple.  But “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” says the author of Hebrews.  For those sacrifices were tokens of the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the pinnacle of human history that proves indeed that Christianity is a “blood religion”: the bloody altar of the cross!

As St. Paul confesses: “We preach Christ crucified.”  Our salvation is from the blood of the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.  The Lord’s blood, the blood of which Pilate himself asserted his own innocence, the blood that “all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” – this holy, precious blood that offers redemption to all of mankind and atones for all of the sins of the world, was poured out as a sacrifice during His passion, at His flogging, during the beatings that He endured, and in the horrific hours of His crucifixion.  

And when the Lord’s ordeal was finished, that is, when He had victoriously completed His mission of love for us, dear friends, He “yielded up His spirit.”  As the lifeblood of the Lamb, the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices, ebbed from His holy body, “behold, the curtain of the temple,” that place of priests and victims and sacrifices, “was torn in two.”  “And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,” writes the holy evangelist.  Some artistic renderings of the crucifixion depict the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ moistening the ground and restoring life to the bones of Adam, calling to mind the vision of resurrection given to Ezekiel, when the dry bones revivified, putting on flesh and once more coursing blood, being filled with breath from the spirit of God, and rising from death!

For the Father sacrificed His Son, His only Son, providing Him as a ram, his head caught in the thicket of a crown of thorns, shedding the blood of the Lord who provides.

And let us not forget St. John’s eyewitness that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”

Christianity is a blood religion, for blood is life – the life lost through sin, and life restored through forgiveness and atonement.  The blood shed to satisfy the requirements of the Law is Christ’s blood, perfect blood, which cries out to the Father, not for vengeance, but for mercy; not an eye for an eye, but for the forgiveness of sins.

For the blood of the Lord was also mentioned earlier in today’s passion account, dear brothers and sisters: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord’s holy blood is not only shed on the cross, it is manifested in the cup by His Word, by His command, by His mercy, by His power.  The blood of Christ is given to us to drink, even as His holy body, the flesh of the sacrificial Lamb, is offered to us as bread: the Bread of Life consecrated by His Word, His body, given to us for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  For the Lord’s body and blood are sacrificed and poured out on the cross, even as they are eaten and drunk by us: His sinful, but forgiven people!

Christianity is a blood religion, because Christ is a flesh and blood Savior!  

He doesn’t merely wish us well; He dies so that we might live. He doesn’t merely come into our world and carry on like a wise man with wise words; He is Wisdom incarnate, in flesh and blood.  He is the Word incarnate, in flesh and blood.  And His flesh and blood are given to us in our flesh and blood.  And like the depiction of the blood of Christ reviving Adam, like the sacrifice that covered the nakedness and shame of Adam and Eve, and like the children of Israel being covered in the blood of the victim shed by the priest – Jesus is our High Priest and our innocent substitutionary Victim.  And His blood does indeed make us innocent, and His blood is on us and on our children, and His blood marks our doors so that the angel of death passes over us!

For this is not the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of God incarnate, God in flesh and blood, the God who has come to save us by means of His blood, the God whose blood is placed upon your lips, the God whose name is on your lips, whose name is Jesus, whose blood has redeemed us, forgiven us, and given to us everlasting life, through the cross and beyond the grave, even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Free Congregations Matter Paper Dolls!

Thanks, Congregations Madder®™! They sent me these full color paper dolls of these two guys “Dave” and “Tim” dressed up in their Thrivent®™ salesmen suits. “Coffee is for closers only!”
This sounds like a great Sunday School activity:
Thanks again, CM! Don’t close down that Pak n Ship account just yet (2430 Vanderbilt Beach Rd. “Suite” 412 😂 wink, wink), Naples, Florida 34109)!
Keep the fun coming!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Sermon: Funeral of Lowell Braem - 2019

9 April 2019

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Isa 25:6-9, Rom 5:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Vicki, Kathy, Barrie, and Lisa; family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, honored guests: peace be with you!

The life of a first responder is a reminder of our Lord Jesus Christ: a sanctified life of service to others.  And especially the police officer, whose family knows all too well that each day that he goes to work might be the last day that they see him on this side of the grave.  He lays down his life for his family, friends, community, and even perfect strangers, and Jesus says that this is the very definition of the word love.

In His mercy and wisdom, the Lord granted our brother in Christ Lowell a long life of service to his city, community, and family.  And we are grateful to God for his life of service, and we are grateful for this opportunity to reflect upon our Lord who created him, protected him from all harm and danger, and worked through him to serve us in many and various ways – including the holy vocations of father and grandfather.  For these too are reflections of the love of God the Father: one who protects us, hears us, shows compassion to us, guides us, and shares in the joys and sorrows of life with us, year in and year out, in love.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  For we are indeed like sheep.  We go astray.  We need to be gathered by our Lord and kept from harm.  Our Lord came into our world to protect us from the wolf, that is, the devil, to lead us to lie down in the green pastures of peaceful sleep, to bring us to the life-giving waters of holy baptism, to restore our souls – for we are all sinners in need of forgiveness and mercy.  And when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He takes away our fears, for He is with us, dear friends.  Our Good Shepherd is with us.  He saves us.  He calls us home according to the will of His loving Father. And He comforts us with His Word and sacraments when we pass through the valleys of suffering, mourning, and death.

Our Lord is no hireling.  He is the owner of the sheep, and He loves us – just as a father and grandfather loves his family – only where we are imperfect, Jesus is perfect.  And when the wolf comes, Jesus does not run away, but He stands and fights for us: He fights for us with every strained breath on the cross.  He bleeds for us.  He suffers for us.  He dies for us.  He rises again for us.  He gives us everlasting life!  

For “we have been justified by faith, and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” says St. Paul.  For our Lord Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.  He knows His own.  He knows our names, one by one.  Our lives are important to Him.  “My sheep hear My voice,” He says, “and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”  

The abundant life that Jesus gives doesn’t stop at death, dear friends.  For we have the promise of “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  Just as our Good Shepherd walked out of His grave that first Easter morning, our Good Shepherd will shepherd His servant Lowell – and all who are baptized and who believe – from their graves, to live eternally in their restored and renewed flesh and blood.  We will once more eat together, see one another, embrace, talk, laugh, and sing together, raised in our bodies just as our risen Good Shepherd lives in the flesh.  For hear anew the promise, dear friends: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined….  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces….  It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us.  This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’”

We give thanks for the life of the Lord’s servant Lowell, for his life of selfless service and love, for his protection, instruction, and joy – and we give thanks for our Lord Jesus Christ, who created us, redeemed us, comforts us in our grief, shepherds us in good times and bad, forgives our sins, and raises us from the grave to give us life, that we may have it abundantly, a life that has no end.  Amen!

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sermon: Judica - 2019

7 April 2019

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ has just told his listeners that God is not their Father, that they lack understanding, that their father is the devil, that they want to do the devil’s wishes, that they desire murder, and that they are a pack of liars – and that’s just in the first three verses.  

They did not know Jesus nor love Jesus because they did not know the Word of God – for Jesus is the Word of God made flesh.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Word of God ever revealed by the prophets and written into the Scriptures.  It is impossible to know Christ without knowing the Word, and one cannot know the Word unless one hears the Word.  

St. Paul follows this to its logical conclusion, one cannot hear the Word without a preacher, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”  We need to gather and hear the Word.  And that, dear friends, is why Christians are called “the church.”  The Greek word for “church” is “the assembly.”  Christians gather around the Word of God proclaimed, and the Word given to us in the Holy Sacraments.  And that is how we know Jesus.  That’s how we have faith.

But do we really know Jesus, dear friends?  Do we really hear the words of God?  Or are we distracted by other things.  For if we hear, if we really hear, the Word, it will be the single most important thing in the world.  Missing the Divine Service would be grievous to us.  And while the Scriptures are being read and proclaimed here in this holy house, nothing could steal away our attention – for in these words are life.  

Even in this day and age of unbelief, most Americans say they believe in God.  Jesus’ listeners said the same thing.  Jesus slammed the lid on their pretensions.  And that, dear friends, is why the Holy Spirit caused these shocking words of Jesus to be recorded in Scripture and read to you today.  You need to hear them too!  We need to hear them!  For we are in constant need of repentance of our idolatry!  We poor miserable sinners allow everything to become more important to us than our Lord, than His Word, than hearing and following Jesus.  

And this is why our Lord said that “Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day.”  For two thousand years before the birth of Jesus, Abraham worshiped Jesus.  Abraham trusted in the words of God that even if he were to obediently sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac, according to the Word of God, that Isaac would live.  And indeed, the Lord did provide.  He provided a substitutionary sacrifice to take the place of his son, a “ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.”  This sacrificial male lamb, with his head wrapped in thorns, was a picture of the Christ to come, the fulfillment of the promise “the Lord will provide.”  And the Lord provided, and Abraham rejoiced.  He rejoiced to see the day of Jesus.  He rejoiced to see the fruit of the cross, the salvation of Isaac and of all who believe on His name, who hear the Word of God and keep it.

Abraham did indeed “fear, love and trust in God above all things,” for he did not even withhold his son, his only son, from God.

How many of us, dear friends, turn our families into idols?  How many of us place our children’s wants, their education, their possessions, ahead of their need to hear the Word of God, to participate in the Sacrament of the very flesh of the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world?  How many of us would obey the Lord’s command to sacrifice our own children, trusting in God’s providence?

And how many other distractions do we have that keep us away from the Word?  How many other excuses do we give, how many unimportant things to we allow to take precedence over the Word of God?  

Abraham’s faithfulness was rewarded, dear brothers and sisters, by a substitutionary sacrifice.  In other words, by Jesus – who went to the cross so that Abraham’s son Isaac would live forever.  And if we really do love our children, our parents, our friends, our country, our world – we will pursue the Word of God above all things, with a single-minded focus that this is our very life.  For when we bear the Word to this world, we are bearers of eternal life.  When we are immersed in the Word of God, we are able to draw people in to eternal salvation by the blood of the Lamb, “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God,” in order to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

If there is anything in this world more important than that, dear friends, I would like to hear what it is.

The world gives lip service to Jesus, or more like, a cartoon parody of the real Jesus.  The world wants a tame Jesus, a controlled Jesus who will always affirm them and approve of them and include them ever and always.  The world does not want the divine Jesus who is willing to tell them that their father is the devil, that they do not know God, and that they are liars.  The world rejects that Word of God: the Word Made Flesh who calls them to repent of their sins and who bids them to take up their cross and follow Him.  And the world rejects us for bearing and proclaiming that Word of the cross.

Our Lord’s listeners accused Him of having a demon and being a Samaritan.  Jesus outright denies their claim that he is demonic.  But notice that He doesn’t deny being a Samaritan (which is a racial insult uttered by people who see their own ethnicity as superior).  Jesus is not biologically a Samaritan, but He is the Good Samaritan in the parable that He told.  For like the Samaritan people, He is hated by most of the Jews who are eager to follow their power-mad leaders: the political high priest and phony king, feckless collaborators with the Romans, men who would not know God even to look at Him right in the face.  And unlike the Jewish priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan story, who refuse to help a victim who is battered and bloody, the Good Samaritan who actually lives in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes to save.  He offers His own blood, sweat, and tears to rescue the one in need: the one who has been beaten up in this fallen world.

Jesus has come to rescue us from our sins, from our lukewarmness to His Word, from our idolatry and misplaced priorities.  He is calling us back, dear friends, back to the Word, back to the Sacraments, back to “serve the living God,” back to our “promised eternal inheritance” as we gather to hear the Word of God.

Let us not fall into the trap of the Jews who believed that they had salvation apart from their hearing of the Word: because of their ethnicity, because their fathers were priests and Levites, because they belonged to the right bureaucracy, because they said that they love God.  Let us not prattle about the faith of our ancestors, or the fact that our relatives were members of this parish, or how we attended our parochial school, or were confirmed and made our first communion under this pastor or that.  Let us rather boast in Christ alone, and let us know Jesus by knowing His Word – not merely “reading the Bible” or saying we love Jesus, but rather by hearing the Word of God week in and week out – hearing it read and proclaimed, hearing the powerful and efficacious Word of the Lord – that declares you forgiven of your sins and actually transforms you supernaturally – the omnipotent and miraculous Word that consecrates the bread and the wine so that you partake of the true blood of Christ, our “high priest of the good things that have come.”

And let us call to mind that our Lord Jesus Christ is the great “I AM,” God in the flesh, the God who provides, whose flesh was sacrificed for our salvation.  Let us thank the eternal and living God that He has withheld nothing from us, not even His Son, His only Son, and that “on the mount of the Lord” it has indeed been provided: the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, His head wrapped in thorns, by whose Word we have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God!”  Amen.

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