Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 9 - 2019

18 August 2019

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord’s story of the Dishonest Manager is sometimes difficult for people to understand.  For why would Jesus seem to be praising a crook, a dishonest manager who is ripping off his employer to save his own skin?

Well, that doesn’t seem right!

But, of course, Jesus is not praising dishonesty or shoddy management.  He is praising the idea of “shrewdness.”  To be shrewd is to be wise, to think outside the box.  In our story, the dishonest manager is a deal-maker, a negotiator.  He understands his clients; he knows their psychology.  He quickly sizes up what makes them tick.

Now, the manager could have been using his brilliance as a negotiator to faithfully serve his master all along, but instead he was wasteful with what the master trusted him with.  He was probably lazy in his work.  Serving his master just wasn’t a priority.  He was not motivated to do the best job that he could do.  And perhaps this slack attitude led to his downfall.  Maybe he thought too highly of himself to even think that his boss would dare fire him.

But this is just what happened.  He found out that he was being laid off.  “Turn in the account of your management,” says the master, “for you can no longer be manager.”  

This is a very serious matter.  He was looking at financial ruin.  “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”

And so now that the chips are down, the manager suddenly finds his motivation and energy.  He becomes a wheeling and dealing superman, offering incentives to his clients to get them to close the deals and put money in the master’s account.

The manager isn’t suddenly honest, but he is suddenly acting in his own self-interest instead of simply squandering his gifts and talents.  And even though he is ripping off the business owner, the boss is amazed. Our Lord’s listener can practically see the master shaking his head in disbelief at the sheer audacity of his employee.

For the dishonest manager took the initiative to renegotiate a flurry of contracts with his master’s debtors.  And in so doing, the dishonest manager believed that he was making valuable business contacts so that when he did get laid off, he could lean on his new friends, and hopefully everything would turn out right.  Maybe one of his new friends would give him a job.

He is brash and bold, and the boss watching this play out in amazement.

Of course, had our dishonest manager just been honest all along, had he been diligent and hard-working in the first place, had he not taken his job for granted, had he not been wasteful - he may not have been in this desperate situation at all.

Indeed, the best solution to getting fired is to not get fired in the first place.  And while the master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness, he could have been still more shrewd by combining his talents with integrity.  And in making his boss a lot of money, he would have made a good living, and made himself indispensable in the process.

This is indeed a great lesson.  But our Lord is not giving work tips or life-skills advice.  This parable is not a crash-course in marketing or business administration or negotiation.  

Think about when you are the most spiritually motivated, dear brothers and sisters.  When are you eager to pray, to come to church to hear God’s Word, to receive the holy sacraments?  Is it when things are going well, or when the chips are down?  Are you serving your Lord and your neighbor in times of prosperity, or are you rather on your knees in prayer when you are worried, or afraid, or when you have gotten bad news.

We are all like the dishonest manager because we are motivated best when we are in some kind of danger.  And sometimes the Lord gets our attention, not to scare us, but rather to draw us closer to Him.  It is our sinful nature to take the Gospel for granted, to squander what the Lord gives us, to be poor stewards of what we have been entrusted with.  And that sinful nature is why Jesus took flesh, and it is why we are here.

But thanks be to God that Jesus is not lazy.  Jesus is truly shrewd, for he lures in our enemy the devil at the cross, and there, our Lord renegotiates our debts with God Himself.  Jesus is audacious and shrewd beyond measure – not as a dishonest manager, but rather as a faithful Savior.  And when it comes to the debt of our sins, He pays it with His own blood.  The bill is torn up.  He doesn’t merely have us pay half or knock twenty percent off, but rather cancels our debt entirely.  And He is authorized to do so by the Father.

Our Lord encourages us to be shrewd for the sake of the kingdom.  He tells us: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.”  We should be shrewdly looking for ways to serve the kingdom, to draw people into the faith for the sake of salvation, to serve the Lord and His kingdom in good times and in bad times – not ignoring Him in the good times, and not making promises that we can’t keep in the bad times.

If we are grateful, we will be eager to serve the kingdom – with our time, our talent, and our treasure.  If we are shrewd, we will wisely receive the Lord’s gifts whenever they are offered, and not try to cut a better deal.  For the deal that the Lord offers us is already perfect: He exchanges our sins for his righteousness.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us be grateful!  Let us be shrewd!  Let us not take the gift of eternal life for granted.  Let us thank our Triune God for His undeserved mercy and grace.  Let us never serve two masters, but rather let us be eager to serve the Lord in His kingdom, in season and out of season.  For even when unrighteous wealth fails, our Lord’s blood does not.  And by His blood, we are received into eternal dwellings!  Amen.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Eulogy for Louis E. Perez, Sr. (1920-2019)

[Note: I was given the honor to deliver a eulogy for the remarkable father of my friend Louis, E. Perez, Jr.  This was not part of his funeral Mass, but was delivered at the end of the viewing at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Covington, LA.  Here is Louis, Sr.'s obituary.]

17 August 2019

Dear Susan, Louis, Patricia, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

With these words, “Peace be with you,” Jesus greeted His disciples after His death and resurrection.  “Peace be with you” became a greeting shared by Christians with each other, especially in times of persecution.  Peace is a universal human aspiration.  Nobody appreciates and loves peace more than the warrior.  The warrior understands that peace must be won, and maintained.  And peace is sweet indeed, to the warrior. 

Odysseus was eager to lay down his spear and shield and return home in peace to his beloved Penelope and Telemachus.  Cincinnatus laid aside his sword of command and took up his plow in peace on his farm.  Scripture teaches us that there is a time for war, and a time for peace.  And Louis Edward Perez, Sr. served heroically in both.

Louis Perez was born in New Orleans on October 27, 1920 to Anthony and Adriana Perez, of Colombia and Mexico respectively.  Interestingly, one the family’s ancestors forsook his tax booth, collecting revenue for the king of Spain, and followed George Washington into the service of the fledgling United States of America.

Raised by immigrants, Louis Perez was taught to love and treasure our country.  His father Anthony had served the American forces during World War I, and was again called to service in World War II, receiving a waver for his age, providing the new technology of refrigeration for the war effort.  Anthony Perez would rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel.  Anthony and Adrianna raised their son to be a patriot.

And when World War II had broken out, like unto a whole generation of brave men and women, Louis Perez volunteered to serve his country.  He earned his wings, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, and married his childhood sweetheart Margie Heitzmann all in the same month of March, 1943.  His exploits as a pilot in the US Army Air Corps, flying 700 harrowing combat hours from India, over the Himalayas, to Burma and China – read like an adventure novel.  

Historians have yet to really tell the story of the India-Burma-China theater.  The Republic of China was America’s ally fighting Japanese aggression.  The Americans kept the Chinese supplied, and the Air Corps was crucial to this endeavor.

From mid-1944 to November 1945, Lieutenant Perez flew B-24s that had been converted into cargo planes, flying with technology that could only be described today as primitive.  Many of these “hump pilots” (as they came to be known, flying over the 23,000-foot mountain hump) did not survive.  These officers were responsible for the lives of their crews, and they all braved horrific weather conditions: terrible visibility and bitter cold, equipment pushed to the limits, and the attacks of the enemy.  Hump pilots had to make split-second decisions, often flying by instruments that were not always accurate, as well as by sheer instinct and courage.

Like so many other veterans of this remarkable generation, Lieutenant Perez felt impelled by duty to serve his country.  World War II veterans fought to repel the imperialist aggression of the Japanese in Asia, as well as the National Socialist aggression of the Germans in Europe.  And soon after the end of the war, another form of Socialism – International rather than National in scope – would likewise aggress against innocent people, and demand complete obedience to the state, as an Iron Curtain fell over, and enslaved, eastern Europe.  Communist revolutionaries would also attack and conquer the freedom-loving Republic of China – a tragedy that is shaping headlines to this very day.  All of these concentration-camp ideologies – Imperialism, Nazism, and Communism – stand in stark contrast to the American ideals of liberty, human dignity, private enterprise, and limited government.

And Louis Perez was devoted to these ideals in war and in peace, all throughout his near-century of life on this side of the grave.  He recently reflected on his military service, saying, “We stared down the evil that was in power in Europe, Asia… the entire world.”  He denounced those who promote these same ideologies today, and reminded us why they “fought, spilled [their] blood and died.”  It was indeed to defeat these inhumane systems.  Louis Perez added, “God help us!”

After the war, having won the peace, Louis Perez joined his father in bringing life-enhancing refrigeration technology to Latin America by means of the free market, the wonders of which have elevated countless billions of people out of poverty.

And now, Louis Perez, Sr. has passed the baton of his noble family legacy to his children.  And he has also passed the baton of his legacy of freedom to each one of us here – as our struggle for liberty and limited government continues.  For in war and in peace, the ideas and ideals for which First Lieutenant Perez fought in wartime, and for which Mr. Perez lived in peacetime – are still the difference between freedom and slavery, between prosperity and poverty, between human flourishing and inhumane suffering.

And now we are called to take up the baton that Louis Perez gallantly protected and faithfully handed off to us.  His fight is now our fight.  Whatever your vocation is, whether military or civilian, whether parent or child, whatever your job or calling in life is – if you are an American, you now carry the baton.  We do not know whether we will live in peace or will be called upon to fight yet again.  But in both war and peace, we have heroes who blazed the trail for us, who set the bar for us to emulate, and who continue to inspire us to press on for the love of God and country, of mankind, of hearth and home, of our children, and of generations yet unborn.

Louis Perez has fought the good fight, and is now at peace.  Let us willingly take up the baton, and let us uphold the superlative standard that he has set for us.  And God-willing, as we near a century of life on this side of glory, let us likewise faithfully hand off the baton, with honor and integrity, to those who will come after us in a free and prosperous America and a peaceful world.

For we will one day look Louis Edward Perez, Sr. once more in the eyes, on the day of the resurrection, and we will thank him for the unblemished example that he set for us, and his family will once more embrace him and express their love for him.  

And we will again hear our Lord greet us, even as we greet one another:

“Peace be with you.”  Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 8 - 2019

11 August 2019

Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Jer 23:16-29, Rom 8:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you,” says Jeremiah the prophet, “filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”

It’s a remarkable thing for a prophet to say.  Instead of encouraging people to trust the prophets, this prophet encourages skepticism.  He encourages those who hear prophets and preachers to make sure that they are not being led astray by con men.  

For those who distort God’s Word for their own personal gain have a long history, going all the way back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who filled Adam and Eve with the vain hope, “You shall be like God,” whose false prophecy included, “Did God actually say?”  

Jeremiah says that one of the marks of the false prophet is, “They say continually to those who despise the Word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and… ‘no disaster shall come upon you.’”

For this is how a con man operates.  He makes his victim comfortable.  He convinces you that he’s your friend.  He tells his mark exactly what he wants to hear, whether that he is a Nigerian prince who needs your bank account number to deposit a million dollars, or that God wants you to be rich, and if you just send the TV preacher a thousand dollars, you will indeed be on the path to fortune and riches.

There are many other variations of this scam, but they all operate the same way.

This scam was not what Jeremiah preached.  He warned the people of Judah, “Behold, the storm of the Lord!  Wrath has gone forth, a whiling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.  The anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the intents of His heart.  In the latter days you will understand it clearly.”

These are not the words of a con man.  This is not the preaching of a man looking to be popular.  In fact, Jeremiah annoyed everyone with his gloomy words.  The people wanted their preachers to leave them with a song in their heart, not call them to repentance.  They wanted worship to be uplifting, not challenging.  They wanted a soothsayer, that is, someone who would sooth them with sweet words, and not an honest preacher of God’s Word.

Jeremiah complains of prophets who ran to the people unsent by God.  They spoke words that were not given by God.  And how can you tell?  Here is what God Himself says, “But if they [the false prophets] had stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed My words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.”

For can you hide from God?  Do you think he doesn’t see you and your sinful heart?  Do you think God is not almighty and all powerful?  

So if a preacher tells you just what you want to hear, if it is all Gospel and no Law, if it is based on his own ideas and dreams instead of the Word of God, if there is no call to repent, if these supposed godly words are all about acceptance and inclusion instead of repentance and forgiveness – then don’t listen.

Our Lord builds on Jeremiah’s criticism of false prophets.  As the New and Greater Jeremiah, as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s preaching, our Lord also warns: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  Our Lord asks if thorns produce grapes, or if thistles yield figs.  And you can judge the health of the tree by the fruit that the tree bears.  If the fruit is rotten, so is the tree.  And He says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Be very careful, dear friends, about what you consider to be prophecy.  Just because a preacher is on TV doesn’t mean he is preaching the truth.  Just because something on the internet mentions God or Jesus and makes you feel good doesn’t mean it is the Word of God.  This is why you need to read and study His Word.  If you already know the Bible extremely well, then I would encourage you to avoid coming to Bible class – because those of us who meet every week to struggle with the Lord’s Word might slow down the rest of you who know it so well. 

You need the Word of God to protect you from the devil.  I’m constantly amazed at what Christians, including Lutherans, consider to be prophetic, consider to be true, consider to be the Christian faith.  It is stunning how generation after generation of TV preachers grow rich by telling people just what they want to hear, or how much false doctrine otherwise solid Christians are willing to believe – especially if it involves sinful behavior that they or their families are involved in and wish to excuse.

Our sinful flesh desires a preacher who will think more of our self-esteem than our souls, one who will make us happy instead of challenging us.  We much prefer the word of the serpent to the Word of God – because sometimes God tells us “no” when the serpent always tells us “yes.”

We must disregard the hiss of the serpent and the lie of the false prophet.  St. Paul also warns us: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you will put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

St. Paul explains that we are adopted sons of God.  Jesus is the biological Son, and we, by virtue of adoption, by virtue of our baptism, we can call God our Father, our Abba, and we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”  And, dear friends, this is what the false preachers will never tell you: to be a son of God involves suffering, as the apostle says, “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

The false prophet says, “No disaster shall come upon you.”  You can have your best life now.  You can be rich and have miracles if you just have enough faith (faith that is usually demonstrated by sending money).  You can continue in your sinful lifestyle because God wants you to be happy.  You don’t need God’s Word because you already know all that stuff.  You don’t need to go to church because the church is filled with hypocrites.  The Bible is filled with errors and doesn’t speak to our modern times.  We are so much smarter and better today than all of those backward people.  You can be anything you want to be, identify in whatever way you wish, because you can be like God.  God would never condemn anyone to hell.  All religions teach the same thing.

And the list goes on.

But Jeremiah snaps us back to reality: “What has straw in common with wheat?”  Isn’t God’s Word “like fire…and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”  Our Lord Jesus Christ even tells us not to be impressed by miracles: “On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’  And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”

God does not tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.  He tells you that you need to repent.  And He also tells you that He wants to redeem you by His love.  Otherwise, He would have sent no Jeremiah to warn you, and no Jesus to save you by His blood.

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t put your hope in vain words, in feelings, in things that the world holds to be true.  Rather put your trust in the Word of God, all of it, the Law and the Gospel.  Put your trust in Jesus, in the cross, in your adoption, in your baptism, in the body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  

“For,” as St. Paul comforts us, “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba!  Father!”

Your Father wants what is best for you.  The Son has come to redeem you.  The Spirit delivers that redemption to you.  Hear and believe the Word of God.  Amen.

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

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 7 - 2019

4 August 2019

Text: Mark 8:1-9 (Gen 2:7-17, Rom 6:19-23)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is an elephant in the room.  

We always pretend that we can’t see it.  But it’s there.  We go about our lives as if it doesn’t exist.  We get so used to ignoring it, that often we convince ourselves that our pretending it away is reality.

But every so often, the elephant knocks something over or lets us know in other unpleasant ways that its presence cannot truly be ignored.

Our Lord’s feeding of the four thousand people refuses to ignore the elephant that has been in the room since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.  Our Lord Jesus has come to deal with the elephant, not to ignore it.  And the fathers of the church understood what our Lord was up to, and this miracle’s connection with the Garden of Eden.  And this is why our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 2 is paired up with our Gospel reading, dear friends.

For the elephant is sin, chaos, and death.  The elephant is our own disobedience and rebellion against the will of God.

For the man was placed in this beautiful, good, and perfect garden.  The garden was filled with lush foods – fruits that were good to eat and required no sweat of the brow or struggling with thorns to enjoy the natural God-given yield.  And yes, there were elephants in the garden, but they were real ones, not the symbolic ones that we ignore.  The animals knew their place in creation and were no threat to mankind.  The man and the woman likewise knew and understood their vocations in creation and carried them out perfectly, without resentment, for they knew that they were perfectly suited for each other, for God, and for the rest of creation.  

In this garden, this paradise, there was no sin, and there was no death.  Our Lord warned the man and the woman that all of the trees were there for them to eat from, except “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Death is something foreign and alien to the Lord’s creation.  It is the result of the elephant in the room: sin, suffering, disharmony, chaos, and scarcity of resources.  All of these things – including death itself – are the elephant in the room that Jesus comes not only to point out, and to address.

Our Lord entered a world where everyone sees the elephant, but pretends that it isn’t there.  We become actors on a stage, playing make-believe rather than deal with the cold reality that our world is broken and we are all dying.  The people for whom Jesus reserves His harshest words are the Pharisees.  They are the greatest of all pretenders, the actors of actors, the hypocrites of hypocrites – and of course, we all follow in their train.  Jesus comes to say what nobody else has the courage to say: there is an elephant in the room.  It doesn’t belong here.  It needs to be removed, not simply ignored.  

Our Lord takes flesh so that He can die, so that mankind can meet God’s requirement of the Law: “you shall surely die.”  We invite the elephant in when we sin, when we rebel against God’s created order, and even when we pretend the elephant isn’t there.

One of the results of the Fall is scarcity.  As God told Adam, the beautiful harmony of the garden – in which the trees come to fruition with no labor – is no more.  Now the man must till the soil, struggle with thorns, and he must make bread by the sweat of his brow.  The fruits of the earth are not enough.  Now he must rely on the corruption of nature to create leaven and yeast in order that, after much work, the grains might provide food – and even then, it’s never enough.

And this scarcity is the cause of poverty, and of wars between people to relieve their scarcity by taking that which belongs to other people.  The history of the post-fall world is one of warfare, tribal hatreds, the settling of scores, of famines, of suffering, and of death.

That is the elephant, dear friends.

And so, this is why our Lord’s miracle is so magnificent.  It goes beyond demonstrating his compassion for the hungry – which He does demonstrate in His love and mercy.  For what’s more, this miracle is a direct attack upon the elephant in the room.

In their zeal to hear Jesus proclaim the Word of God, His listeners were suffering hunger.  Scarcity rears its ugly head, and now the discomfort is becoming dangerous to their lives.  Jesus indeed has compassion for the hungry, but He goes beyond compassion to action, and to the heart of the matter.

Our Lord hearkens back to the days of Eden, when God commanded all of creation to “be fruitful and multiply,” and Jesus multiplies the bread and fish in order to alleviate scarcity and hunger, to call attention to the elephant, and to demonstrate mastery over it.  Jesus casts away the elephant in the room by means of a miracle that restores paradise as a foretaste of the feast to come in eternity.  For in eternity, the real elephant in the room, Satan, will be cast into the lake of fire, when scarcity and struggle and hatred and hunger and death shall be no more.

And in fact, instead of shortages, there will be surpluses.  Instead of hunger, there will be satisfaction.  Instead of poverty, there will be riches.  Instead of hatred and death there will be love and life.  And the people who heard our Lord Jesus proclaim the gospel “ate and were satisfied.”

For Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven.  His birth in Bethlehem, that is, “the house of bread” and His enthronement in a manger, that is, a food trough – are all pointers to what He has come to do.  And on the day before His death on the cross, He gave us His very body and blood to eat and to drink: the Bread of Heaven and the Blood of the New Testament – which we partake of and participate in this very day, and will do so until He comes again to permanently remove the elephant from the room.

And so, dear friends, take eat, take drink, and don’t fear acknowledging the elephant.  For we know that Jesus has come to put things aright, to restore us to paradise, to conquer sin, death, and the devil. 

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” says the apostle.  We have been “set free from sin” and have once more been put into harmony with our Creator and with creation.  And so St. Paul urges us to “present our members as slaves of righteousness leading to sanctification.”   

There is indeed an elephant in the room.  We don’t have to pretend.  We do not have to ignore it or fear it.  Jesus has come to put it away from us: to feed us with the living bread from heaven, and to restore us to paradise.  So let us join with the four thousand; let us eat and be satisfied.  Amen.

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