Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 29

29 October 2019

Text: Matt 19:16-30

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the fallen world, we cannot have everything.  So we have to prioritize, and act upon the most important thing to us.  In Economics, this is known as “scarcity.”  So if you can either buy a cup or water or a cup of diamonds, but not both, which one would you buy?  If you were in the desert and dying of thirst, you would be foolish to buy the cup of diamonds.  In that situation, the water would be worth more.  Under different circumstances, your priorities might be different.

Jesus invokes this principle with the rich young ruler.  After running through the commandments, our Lord gives him a choice: he can either “have eternal life” along with selling all of his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, or he can keep all of his riches and forget about eternal life.  St. Matthew reports, “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” 

Having a God to fear, love, and trust above all things is the ultimate example of scarcity.  As Jesus said elsewhere, “you cannot serve two masters… you cannot serve God and money.”  So which one is the top priority?  In this case, the rich young ruler chose his possessions.  They became his god.  And this is the curse of riches, for wealth makes it difficult to worship God.

But it isn’t only money that is an idol.  

I once had a conversation with a freemason who had been out of the church for decades.  He was older now, and asked if he could return to the church and take the Lord’s body and blood.  I asked him if he had renounced freemasonry.  He assured me that he could be both, that freemasonry was just a fraternity, and that its connections to Lucifer were not the devil, but rather to the goddess Venus.  (Yes, he actually said that).  So I posed a question to him.  I said that if he could only have one, which would he choose: the body and blood of Christ, or membership in the Masons.  He remained silent. 

Sadly, he developed cancer.  I visited him in the hospital, but he clung to his Masonic lodge.  He died without the comfort that comes from worshiping the one true God and putting his faith in Christ alone.  So though to my knowledge he did not have great possessions, he too made an economic decision based on priorities in the face of scarcity.  He too “went away sorrowful.”

Dear friends, we have many distractions that compete for our worship: money, organizations, the secular world, popularity, and even good things like our families, our health, and our work can replace the Holy Trinity as that which we “fear, love, and trust” in “above all things.”  And so how can we remain faithful?  Our Lord says, “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”  Our ability to leave even “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands,” for the Lord’s sake if need be, is not of ourselves.  It is a grace of God.

In our fallen world, we cannot have everything, but in the kingdom of heaven, we do have everything: we have forgiveness, life, and salvation, we have the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we sing in Dr. Luther’s hymn: “The kingdom ours remaineth.  Amen.”

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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sermon: Memorial Service of Aline Plaisance

27 October 2019

Text: John 14:1-6 (Isa 25:6-9, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Friends, peace be with you.  

It is a rule that pastors are not supposed to be friends with their parishioners.  And it is also true that there are rare exceptions to the rules.  Aline is certainly a rare exception in many ways! 

She had her own language: a combination of World War II slang, lines from fifties tunes, and other quirky turns of phrase that became her own.  I think my favorite was her reference to her home as “the little old shack by the railroad track.” 

When my family moved to Gretna in 2007, we had no family here.  Aline opened her home to us every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  She cooked for us.  She welcomed us to her table.  She took us under her wing and befriended us – and it was only later that she joined our church and become my parishioner.  

But she was not an exception in one important way – because among us children of the fall there are no exceptions.  Aline was, like all of us, as we confessed, a “poor, miserable sinner” who needed the blood of Christ shed at the cross to redeem us, and give us eternal life as a free gift.  If you look at the picture of Aline here, you will see her cross around her neck.  Aline understood the cross, and she understood the Scriptures.  And that is why she came to this holy place week after week.  For this holy place is not a place for holy people, but rather a place for sinners who need forgiveness.  

And the fact that Aline is mortal, that she is no longer with us in the flesh, is proof that she was right about that – and so are we, dear friends.  

Aline understood the Good News that Christ died on the cross to redeem us by His grace.  Our Gospel reading, in which Jesus speaks of preparing a place for us – a home of many rooms – is a fit Gospel reading for Aline’s memorial service.  For Jesus provides hospitality to us, dear friends.  He provides a home.  And just as Aline’s “little old shack” was Aline’s place of love and food and laughter – so too does this describe what our Lord prepares for us.  

Aline prepared meals for us – including some of you too – out of love.  Hospitality is love in action.  Bringing people into your home and sitting at table is love in action.  And this is what Jesus did for Aline: He invited her to feast at His own table here in this sanctuary week in and week out.  Aline received the sacrament every Sunday until her health made it difficult, and then she received the Lord’s body and blood at home.  

And we heard from the prophet Isaiah just what eternity will be like, dear friends.  How sad that people picture a horridly boring heaven of floating spirits instead of vibrant, joyful, fleshly human beings made new by our Lord!  Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection.  For the cross of Good Friday led to the empty tomb of Easter Sunday – and Aline always shared a meal with us to celebrate Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  

Aline was not fond of wine, and at her table, the beverages were root beer and lemonade, but Scripture speaks of eternity as a banquet.  I recently heard a German band sing the old Oktoberfest song: “In Heaven There is No Beer.”  And I realize that it’s a joke, but it’s a bad joke, dear friends.  For what does the Lord actually promise us that eternity will be like?

Isaiah speaks of eternity in fleshly terms: “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.”  Scripture is filled with such joyful images of eternity in the flesh, of feasting, of sitting at table with loved ones.  Whoever wrote that Oktoberfest song has clearly never read the Bible, and knows nothing about Jesus.  

Our Lord prepares a place for us, and promises to raise us from the dead.  “He will swallow up death forever,” says Isaiah, and St. Paul confirms this with the great Christian confession: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

Right here and now, we feel the sting of death, for is it a separation.  It is painful.  But it is temporary, dear friends.  And it has been destroyed by Jesus.  And so we mourn, but not as unbelievers.  Rather, we mourn in hope.  For we are the people of the resurrection.

Yes, I was honored to call Aline a friend, and to enjoy her hospitality and love, but it is my double honor that I call her my parishioner.  For even as she prepared meals for me and my family, we celebrated the greatest meal of all as a church family: the Lord’s Supper.  And now, Aline has gone to the place Jesus has prepared for her.  She awaits the resurrection even as we all do, when we will be reunited, when we will feast on the finest food and drink with our loved ones, when we “will be raised imperishable” never to suffer the effects of sin, suffering, and death, with renewed vigor, and enjoying divine hospitality that will have no end.

Thanks be to God for the earthly life of our dear sister Aline, for her example of hospitality and of laughter.  And let us give thanks to God for our Lord Jesus Christ, who prepares a home for us forgiven sinners, who prepares a feast for us by His grace and mercy, and in whom we celebrate the victory of life over death – the life that Aline now enjoys for eternity.  

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sermon: Reformation Day - 2019

27 October 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? 

“John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

The people that hate Jesus have their ‘talking points.’  No matter what He does, it is evidence that He is a scoundrel.  This is called a “narrative” – which is in a way sad, because a “narrative” really just means a “story” or an “account.”  But today, you never get the facts – you get a “narrative” to advance someone’s agenda.  It may be true.  It may be false.  It may be a mixture.  But in the world of the narrative, what matters is making people hate what you hate at all costs.

Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy, and He continually left them with egg on their faces.  They hated Him enough to send Him to the cross.

Sadly, over the course of centuries, the church had become corrupt.  Its leaders were more interested in politics than preaching, in the wealth that is measured in gold coins than the wealth of God’s grace.  Sometimes the church told the truth.  Sometimes it lied.  And sometimes it was a mixture.  But all that mattered was to keep the vast majority of Christians giving money and obeying their leaders.  If they believed in Jesus, fine.  If not, well, that was okay too.  But if they could be kept frightened and confused, all the better!

This went on for centuries, dear friends.  Great men and women of the church complained and agitated for reforms.  Some were burned at the stake.  Most were simply ignored or silenced.  By the sixteenth century, the church was a cesspool of corruption and false doctrine.  Even faithful Roman Catholics knew it, and were ashamed. 

And so a group of professors who started a department of biblical studies began to call out the narrative.  They saw that what the church was teaching was not true.  And they took to their pens and their pulpits and their classrooms.  And the Gutenberg press put their writings in the hands of ordinary people.  One of their leaders was a monk, priest, and doctor of theology named Martin Luther.  He was a scholar, but often wrote in the common manner of ordinary people.  He was rude, sometimes crude, often very funny, and he could be downright mean.  He published articles so fast that it could be said that he was the father of social media.  And if he were around today, he would, no doubt, be in Facebook jail.  He even published memes that would make a sailor blush.

But for all of his bluster, Luther was a pastor.  He loved his flock of believers, and he hated how they were being fleeced by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  On October 31, 1517, he became a theses-poster, nailing a world-changing document to the church door.  However, Luther thought this was going to be an obscure Latin text for intellectuals to debate – until his students translated it into common German and it went viral among the common people.

His opponents learned quickly that this was no mere troublemaker, but a deeply intelligent theologian.  And so, unable to beat him man to man, the Roman theologians did what the enemies of the cross always do: they spun a false narrative.  They called Luther a “heretic” and anyone who agreed with him was a “Lutheran” they said.  Not a Christian.  Not a Catholic.  A heretic.  When Luther asked to be shown by Scripture and plain reason why they thought he was wrong, they cited contradictory witnesses from outside of Scripture.  They attributed beliefs to him that belonged to others.  They also threatened to burn him at the stake if he didn’t recant.

And that, dear friends, is how you can sniff out a false narrative like a chicken farm in North Georgia: instead of a reasoned argument, you get called names and threatened with violence.  And they shut down your ability to speak and write.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now,” says our Lord, “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

And what was the church’s false narrative, dear brothers and sisters?  It was that you must earn your salvation, by good works.  And those good works include giving money to the church.  For to them, the Gospel was a commodity to be bought and sold – a form of false love prostituted for filthy lucre.  The church was selling what Christ gives away for free by virtue of His blood shed on the cross.  And when the narrative was exposed, people were very angry.  For centuries they had been scammed.  And those days were over.  The German princes – many of whom may not have cared about religion – certainly understood the flow of money from German princedoms to a Roman bishop.  And it also must be said that many of the German princes really were faithful Christians, and they risked life and limb to protect Luther and the other reformers – as well as the little flocks of faithful who were being threatened with physical harm for nothing other than confessing what we heard read from the Epistle to the Romans: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Our reformation forbears confessed the pure Gospel because they were once more studying the Bible.  They learned Hebrew and Greek so as to read it in the original languages.  They went back to the sources, and they saw the blazing light of truth that exposed the darkness around them.  They were filled with joy, and they were filled with rage.  They were motivated by zeal, and they were motivated by love.  Once more, churches would resonate with the Word of God in the language of the people.  Pastors would once more preach sermons.  Choirs and congregations would once more sing hymns proclaiming the Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The sacraments were once more administered out of love, not out of threats.  

The false narrative was destroyed in our churches, dear friends, and the people of Wittenberg, of Germany, of Europe, and even to the ends of the earth sang, even as we do today, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  They taught their children the catechism.  They took part in Masses in their own languages.  They studied the Scriptures with their pastors, and even began reading the Bible at home.  The Reformation was electric.  It was so extraordinary, and instilled such a reinvigorated faith that it was like the prophecy in Revelation: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”

The glorious Gospel stands in stark contrast to the narrative that sought to bilk the people of God out of their coins.  The church’s narrative was not just a filthy lie, it led people away from our Lord Jesus Christ.  There will be hell to pay for what the leaders of the church did, dear friends.  Even the Roman Catholic writer Dante, in his satirical story about Hell, pictured certain popes by name burning face down in their own filth.  This kind of writing may be shocking, but when people realize that they have been lied to by fat-cats and hypocrites, it makes them mad.

But rather than wallow in our anger, dear friends, let us wallow in the love of Christ.  Let us honor our reformation heritage by continuing to confess the clear words of Scripture with all due humility and joy: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

There it is, dear friends.  From St. Paul and from the Holy Spirit.  This is what the narrative was designed to hide.  But it is hidden no more!  This Gospel is for all of us: “every nation and tribe and language and people.”  And if they want to call us “Lutherans,” so be it.  Add it to the list of what we are called in the Bible and the confessions: Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and Christians.  We are those washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, forgiven, and given the free gift of eternal life.  We know this from Scripture, and no narrative and no threat from church or state can take that away from us.  Here we stand.  God help us.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 22

22 October 2019

Text: Matt 16:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We are all guilty of the desire for a sign from heaven.  Sometimes we genuinely don’t know what the will of the Lord is, and we must discern it.  But we are by nature impatient and unclean, and we want to know right now.  “If you want me to buy the Camaro, O Lord, make a bird fly past the window.”  Such seeking for signs might take the form of fortune-telling – which as we know from the catechism, is actually breaking the commandment not to misuse the Lord’s name.

A desire to know that which God hasn’t revealed is a sinful intrusion upon the hidden will of God.  Everything He needs us to know He has revealed in His Word.  He has not authorized us to practice divination – as was the practice of the Pagans of old.  We are to be content with the Word, and to use prayer, reason, and wisdom in concert with His Word to discern His will.

The Pharisees and Sadducees took this sin even further.  They wanted Jesus to know that they really didn’t believe Him – which is why our text says that they came “to test Him.”  They are essentially saying, “If you are the Messiah, do a trick for us.”  It is not unlike the impostor king Herod who mocked Jesus when Pilate sent Him over for trial.  Jesus didn’t respond to the repulsive Herod’s command to jump through hoops, and neither does He do so for the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times,” He tells them.  Plain reason testified that Jesus is the Messiah: His miracles, His preaching, His fulfillment of prophecy.  As our Lord said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” 

And the only sign you’re going to get, says our Lord, is the sign you’ll find in Scripture, the “sign of Jonah,” who was contained in the belly of the fish, and on the third day rose again.  And Jonah then preached to the Gentiles, and they heard the Word of God, and were saved by the Word.

If you want a sign, dear friends, read the Word.  Pray the Word.  Study the Word.  Hear the Word.  For it is God’s sign, and the sign of the Word points us to the Word Made Flesh.  All that we need to know about the revelation of God is found in the Holy Scriptures – for they all point us to Christ, to the cross, to the tomb, and to eternity – an eternity without sin, suffering, and Satan – an eternity without death.

Let us confess our sinful desire for a sign, and let us be content with the sign of the cross, the sign of forgiveness, the sign of Jonah, the sign of our Lord Jesus Christ – now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 18 - 2019

20 October 2019

Text: Matt 22:34-46 (Deut 10:12-21, 1 Cor 1:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Pharisees are always missing the point.  They are very good at being keepers of a law that has been watered down and filled with loopholes.  And of course, their favorite topic is the Law.  They’re not particularly interested in Jesus, in who He is or what He is doing.  They don’t want to talk about the prophecies that He fulfills, or the miracles that He performs, or even His preaching and teaching.

So when they gather around Jesus to ask questions, they ask Him questions about the Law – hoping that He will justify their delusion that they actually keep it.

On this occasion, they especially like Jesus because He “had silenced” their rivals, “the Sadducees.”  So they assume that Jesus is on their side, and will join in their word games and legal trickery.

One of the Pharisees, a lawyer, “asked Him a question to test Him.”  Notice that He isn’t there to learn.  He is there to “test” Jesus, to see if He is good enough to be around them.

His question is: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law.”  Of course, this is an easy one.  We just heard it read from our Old Testament lesson.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus says that these commandments are the pegs upon which the entire Law hangs.  We sometimes speak of the command to love God as the “First Table of the Law” – being Commandments One through Three, whereas the “Second Table of the Law” has to do with how we love our neighbors, in Commandments Four through Ten. 

So, of course, the lawyer was not able to trip Jesus up.  And now it is His turn to pose a question.  And instead of asking them about the Law (what more is there to say, dear friends, then the reality that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves?), Jesus asks them about Himself, about the Messiah.

He wants to know what they believe, teach, and confess about Him.  And since Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets, He asks a question concerning a prophecy that He fulfills from the Book of Psalms, written by His own ancestor, King David.

And since this has nothing to do with the Law or trying to make people think they are good at keeping it, the Pharisees, and especially the Lawyers, are just not that interested. 

Jesus poses them a kind of riddle about Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  He asks them about the Messiah: “Whose Son is He?”  Well, everybody knows that the Messiah will be the male descendant of King David, in other words, the Son of David.  But in the Psalm, King David refers to the Messiah referring to Him as “my Lord.”

And as the Lawyers and the Pharisees know full well, this use of the word “Lord” has nothing to do with an aristocratic title or politeness.  When “Lord” is used in this way, it means “God.”  And so, King David speaks of his own human descendant as “God” – so the Messiah will be God and man at the same time.  And presumably, a man who is at the same time God, must be able to work miracles, forgive sins, and preach and teach with authority that nobody else has.  Jesus is presenting Himself to them as the Messiah, and He uses the Scriptures to prove it.

But look at their reaction, dear friends: “And no one was able to answer Him a word.”  They are dumbfounded.  They cannot answer the question.  Their entire world has been stood on its head.  But instead of looking at this situation and saying, “Is Jesus the Messiah?” and instead of examining themselves to see if maybe they have been teaching in error with their legalistic shortcuts, instead of asking this rabbi for more information – they simply refuse to talk to Him anymore, “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.”

For these are lawyers.  They don’t ask questions to learn, they ask questions to show off.  Jesus has outsmarted them and outwitted them – and they will never forgive Him for that.  This is why the lawyers and the Pharisees will soon join forces with their rivals, the Sadducees, their sworn enemies, the Romans - not to mention Judas and false witnesses – to send Jesus to the cross – knowing full well that He is innocent.

In all of their expertise of the Law, they have forgotten that murder and the bearing of false witness are infractions of the Ten Commandments – along with their refusal to confess Him as God, as the “Lord [that] said to my Lord” as King David speaks of Jesus, his descendant. 

Dear friends, the Law is important, for it is the Word of God.  The Law has several uses.  And when we don’t look for workarounds and loopholes, the law indeed teaches us about ethics, about the behavior that God expects and demands of His creatures, and most importantly of all, that we are left without excuse for our failure to keep the Law – even as we confessed together: “We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”  Indeed, the Law is there for us to honestly compare with our own thoughts, words, and deeds, so that we might come to the conclusion that we, in fact, do need David’s Son to rescue us.

And the Man that the Pharisees and Sadducees and lawyers and scribes and priests and Romans and Judas Iscariot would conspire to crucify, would, by means of the cross and His atoning blood shed upon it, would bring about the forgiveness of sins that is the only answer to our failure to obey the Law.  For by virtue of His blood, and by His authority, the pastor speaks on His behalf when he says: “I therefore forgive you all your sins.”  It is not the pastor who has the power to forgive sins, but rather it is the pastor who has the authority from Christ, from the Son of David, from the Lord who said to David’s Lord: it is He who has the power to forgive your sins, commute your sentence, and cleanse you white as snow in the blood of the Lamb.

Dear friends, let’s not get bogged down in whether or not this or that is a sin, or whether this sin is worse than that sin, or whether our sins are somehow justified.  Again, as we confessed together, praying to God: “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.”  And when we truly make that confession, dear brothers and sisters, the Law has done its work.  We are in need of a Savior, and it is David’s Son who has come to rescue us.

And as St. Paul says, we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”  We are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”  The apostle speaks of the “grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,” about whose “testimony… was confirmed among you.” 

This is not what the proud Pharisees and cleaver lawyers want to talk about, dear friends, but it is what Jesus talks about, and it is what we poor, miserable sinners live to talk about!  For Jesus is our life and salvation!

And in Him, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

This is the point that the Pharisees missed.  Let us not miss the point like they did, dear friends.  For Christ is the point.  He is our life and salvation.  He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  He is the one King David calls “Lord” – and so do we, dear friends, so do we – even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Posting a Mark Dice video...

... is now "against community standards."

I posted a link to this video on Facebook without comment.

Facebook removed it and said that this post violates community standards.

When I clicked for more information, to my surprise, it didn't say that this was a thoughtcrime or wrongthink or not in lockstep with the goosestepping anti-Christian and anti-science worldview of Facebook - but rather because this post somehow violated their policy on "Spam."

How is posting a YouTube video to my own account considered "Spam"?

Let's call it what it is.  This is tyranny.  And it is only going to increase as Big Tech tries to interfere in the upcoming presidential election.  This is part of a larger coup.

As are all tyrants, from Nero, to George III to Hitler to Stalin to Mao, the Hard Commie Left in this country - with their allies in Big Media, Big Government, Big Tech, and Big Entertainment - do not respect our God-given rights - and they especially fear the pen even more than the sword.  And they want to overthrow our republic.  They want to destroy our civilization grounded in private property and the right to hold and express thoughts freely.

They want to enslave our minds.

They are diabolical.

And they have already been defeated at the cross.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wittenberg Academy Sermons

I've been teaching at Wittenberg Academy since 2014.  We are an accredited online classical Lutheran High School (grades 7-12) - and we also offer a free homeschool curriculum for K-6 Grammar School as well.

This year, I was also appointed to serve as chaplain.  One of my joyful duties is to lead the weekly online Vespers service on Tuesday afternoons.  I decided to start posting my short sermons here.

Here are the links since the beginning of the year:

For the rest of the year, I'll be posting them here.

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 15

15 October 2019

Text: Matt 13:1-23

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Parable of the Sower is a text that preachers preach on, and hearers hear, year after year.  And there is always more to be said, and more to hear!

And with our Lord explaining the parable, there is no way that it can be misunderstood.  The sower casts the seed everywhere, and whether or not it takes root, grows, matures, and produces fruit – depends on the receptivity of the soil. 

In this one parable, our Lord teaches us about preaching, hearing, faith, justification, sanctification, and how the church actually grows.  He teaches us about the Word of God, which is to say, dear friends, he teaches us about Himself. 

One aspect that I find interesting is the sower’s indifference about where he sows.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Franzmann, the professor, poet, and hymnwriter, uses the word “reckless” to describe how the sower sows: “his reckless love scatters abroad the goodly seed.”  Modern scientific agriculture would consider this a waste, knowing full well that casting seeds on bad soil will just result in dead seeds.  Nevertheless, the sower sows.

There is an old farming term for this kind of sowing: “broadcasting.”  It is funny how words are adapted to each new generation.  To broadcast is to sow seeds recklessly, without a central plan.  It means to “cast,” that is to “throw,” broadly.  The farmer doesn’t make judgments about which soil is worthy of his attention, he just broadcasts it everywhere.  He figures God will take care of the rest.  The term “broadcast” was appropriated in the early days of radio, as programs were “broadcast” over the airwaves.  In our day, we have altered the word to “podcast” – as these audio broadcasts can be accessed individually on demand, like “pods” of words.

And so we preachers broadcast – sometimes over radio, sometimes over the internet, though most often in a church sanctuary.  But in any case, we cast the Word of God abroad, not knowing or caring where the seeds land.  For though the soil may appear to us to be a hardened pathway, or a thorny ground, or a place of shallowness – often the grit and tenacity of the little seed’s embedded DNA of life can be shocking.  We’ve all seen stubborn little plants pushing up through the cracks between sidewalks, or even growing out of the sides of brick buildings. 

The Word of God takes root wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit wills.  Luther said that the Word did everything in Wittenberg, while he and Melanchthon were drinking beer.  And that is the beauty of the Word of God, dear friends.  Its effectiveness, or as we say in theology, its “efficaciousness” isn’t about the skill of the preacher, the piety of the lay people, the wealth of the congregation, or the beauty of the church’s architecture.  It’s not dependent upon the quality of the sound system or the beauty of the vestments.  Preaching the Word is not like selling or marketing. 

It’s a simple seed: the Word bearing the DNA of Jesus that God Himself created.  The seed is sown in our hearts, and by faith, it grows.  Its fate is in God’s hands, not ours.  As the poet said: “The Harvest Lord Who gave the sower seed to sow Will watch and tend His planted Word.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 17 - 2019

13 October 2019

Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”

Our sinful flesh just loves rules and regulations.  We can use them to boss others around.  We can use them to make ourselves look good.  We can use them to claim that we are righteous by our works.  We can use them to tear others down.

But what our sinful flesh doesn’t understand is that God made the law for our good.

For when we keep the Law – even in a superficial manner – things go better for us and for our life in a community of people.  When we break the law, the opposite is true.  And so every group of people from the tiniest village to the mightiest empire has had some kind of rules, regulations, and laws.

When God created the universe in six days, and then rested, He set a precedent for all of creation: a Sabbath Day of rest.  And God commanded this rest for all people – and even for the animals who work for mankind.  This rest is a joy, not a burden.  It is for our good, not for our manipulation and control.  As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

But what does our sinful flesh do, dear friends?  We figure out how to take the gift of God and turn it into a curse.  We creatively find ways to pervert something beneficial into a burden.  And those who seek power over others use the Law to leash others rather than to liberate them.

Our Lord had to deal with this from the Pharisees and the scribes and the lawyers all the time. Instead of using the Law as a curb, a mirror, and a guide – as we Lutherans are taught are the godly purposes of the Law – the lawyers and Pharisees were using it as a snare to try to trick Jesus into breaking a law so that they could arrest Him, discredit Him, and, of course, to do what they really wanted to do: kill Him.

This is why, dear friends, they “were watching Him carefully.”  And they got their wish to see Jesus fall into the trap, for a man was very sick.  Now this was the Sabbath Day, and the Law says that a man may not work, but must rest, on this Seventh Day of the week.  This sick man had a disease called dropsy. 

Jesus knew that He was under constant surveillance and that the lawyers and the Pharisees were trying to trick Him.  Jesus wastes no time in turning the tables on them.  They are the ones who fall into the trap.

Seeing the man with dropsy, our Lord poses a question to the lawyers (and as every lawyer knows, you never ask a question in court that you don’t know the answer to).  Jesus throws the lawyers a curve ball: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”  

“But they remained silent.”

They already know where this is headed.  The Law says that work is prohibited on the Sabbath.  But does this mean that doctors may not cure someone?  Does this mean that an emergency worker must sit idle when a person is in distress?  Does this mean that pastors must not preach and parents must not feed their children?  For we all know what the spirit of the law is, and we also know how the lawyers and the Pharisees – just like lawyers and politicians and others do today – play fast and loose with the meanings of words to get the outcome that they want.

But not today, dear friends.  Not on this day.

Our Lord has cut right to the chase: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”

They refuse to answer because they are lawyers and they know that the rabbis have all addressed this question.

Jesus shows compassion for the sick man, heals him, and sends him away.  Then Rabbi Jesus addresses the legal question as have teachers of the law for centuries: “Which of you,” He asks, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

And once again, the cat has got the tongue of this proud cadre of Pharisees and lawyers.  Jesus has made them look foolish by means of their own beloved Law.

Dear friends, we are not under the various Old Testament regulations that applied to the Sabbath Day – which was from Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday.  We are free from these ceremonial laws.  But we are still subject to the principle of the seventh-day rest, as well as setting aside a day as holy to the Lord in order to allow Jesus to come and heal us, just as He did this man with dropsy.

For we suffer with something far worse: sin.  Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, and His body was removed before sundown as the Sabbath Day approached.  He was laid in the tomb and enjoyed His Sabbath rest.  But on the first day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the visitors to the tomb found that He had risen.  His death and resurrection is our cure.

We Christians have sanctified the Lord’s Day ever since, and this is, for us Christians, a new and greater Sabbath – not one of rules and regulations, but one of liberation, one in which we are free to worship the Lord, free to hear the Word of God, and free to partake of His body and blood!  And we are indeed free regarding this Sabbath, for if necessity prevents our worship on the first day of the week, we may well worship on another day, such as Wednesday night, as has been the custom of our own congregation for more than a century.

The Law does not exist to enslave us, but to free us.  And though we fail to keep the Law, our Lord cures us of the dropsy of our sins.  For as hard as we try to keep the Law, we fail.  For we are like the son or the ox that has fallen, and we are rescued, we are pulled out of the well by our Lord.  

And this is what the Sabbath of the Lord’s day is all about, dear brothers and sisters.  We don’t come to church to show how holy we are, but rather because we aren’t.  We come to where Jesus is because only He can cure us.  We come on this day of rest because it is indeed lawful for Jesus to heal us.  

And this is no cause for boasting.  Indeed, we have been invited to this wedding feast, and yet we “go and sit in the lowest place,” right here in the pews of this sanctuary – which are reserved for sinners only.  This sanctuary is like the waiting room of a hospital.  We are all here because we suffer affliction and are looking to be healed.  And while lawyers and Pharisees may mock us for being here, we know where we need to be in order to be healed.  We are not too proud to take a seat here in this waiting room.

For our Lord Jesus Himself comes to us, right here, and He says to us: “Friend, move up higher.”  And we take our seats with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  We join in their unending praise, their Hosannas, and their joyful celebration of eternal life.

For it is when the Lord declares us worthy to eat at His table, to come to this altar, to kneel and feast with Him and upon Him, and we are “honored in the presence of all who sit at table with” us.  

So let us come to the table, unworthy of ourselves, but made worthy by the blood of the Lamb, by His never-ending Sabbath, and through His mercy in healing us from all that ails us.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Amen.

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Intention of the Mass

Note: This article was published in the Trinity 2017 edition of Gottesdienst.

The intention of the Mass was to uplift and honor black culture.
~ College Student Natavia Mitchell

On February 12, 2017, Loyola University of New Orleans, a Roman Catholic institution run
by the Jesuit order, held what they call their Black History Mass. The planned celebrant, as
well as two alternative celebrants – the three of whom are black – were unable to attend. It
was a kind of perfect storm. The only available celebrant for this Divine Service was a soft-
spoken Jesuit priest from the faculty named the Rev. Ed Vacek, SJ, who is white.

The old adage “Nullum beneficium impunitum” won the day, as indeed, no good deed goes

The article in the student newspaper, The Maroon, never once mentions Jesus, the
forgiveness of sins, the miracle of Christ’s presence with us, nor the eternal blessings of the
mystical communion the Church has with the Most Holy Trinity in this Holy Sacrament.
Indeed, the title of the February 16, 2017 piece is: “Black History Mass sparks controversy

The priest’s homily, in his own words, sought to convey the fact that “the Gospel [text] is
about having a heart that is not good, a heart that is full of anger, needless anger, and a
heart that is full of needless lust. And our hearts are not good.” This is certainly a laudable
proclamation of Law, accounting of our need for a Savior. Father Vacek, however, seems to
have misfired when it came to proclaiming the Gospel that Jesus has come to bear our sins,
to atone for us by the blood of His cross, is coming again to recreate the world anew, and
that He comes to us in His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and to deliver to us
the gift of eternal life.

That is the intention of the Mass as established by the First Celebrant, who has not come to
uplift this culture or that ethnic group, but to uplift universally sinful men to sainthood
and everlasting life through the forgiveness of sins that He won for us upon the cross.

Instead of such a proclamation of the Gospel, it seems that Father Vacek opted to confess
his own sins of racism, and to use himself as a sermon illustration, while claiming that, in
his own words, “Over time, I have developed and, I think, gotten better, and I think better,
but I still find some racism in me.” His mea culpa and claim of improvement was not well
received by his hearers.

“The intention of the Mass was to uplift and honor black culture, and Fr. Vacek’s message
did not meet the intended expectation to encourage our black community. I personally left
the Mass feeling disappointed that a member of the Loyola community would degrade my
culture in such a public setting,” said Natavia Mitchell. She also stated that Father Vacek,
“degraded the black community.”

As of the article’s writing, Father Vacek was in the process of planning a meeting between
himself and the offended students.

The real lesson of this incident – one that has very little chance of being learned – is that
in Holy Communion, Christ transcends all of our worldly tribalism by offering us
something eternal and transcendent. As the baptized gather around Word and Sacrament,
there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. In Christ, there is no black
community or white community. Instead, there is the community of the Church, the
gathering of all nations: every tribe and tongue, race and culture. To reduce the Mass to a
celebration of this culture or that ethnic group is to degrade our Lord Himself by missing
the entire point of His coming.

Sadly, this is common among Lutherans as well, as our own sinful flesh is often distracted
by special occasions, so that we are quick to downgrade or even forget that the Mass is not
about us and stroking our egos about who we are. It is not about racial pride or national
patriotism. It is not about commemorating civic holidays. It’s not about family and church
organizations. It is about Christ and His presence among us.

The faculty and students of Loyola would do well to abolish the Black History Mass and any
other celebrations of special Divine Services of ethnic pride. There should be no White
History Mass, no Black History Mass, and no Mass that serves any other purpose than to
serve Christ to forgiven sinners: holy things for holy people.

The Divine Service is a celebration of Jesus: gratefully receiving the gifts that He freely
offers in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the celebration of Holy Communion.

That is the true Intention of the Mass.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Oct 8

8 October 2019

Text: Matt 10:1-23

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” says our Lord.  This is remarkably practical advice for just about any station in life.  Wisdom is a constant theme throughout Scripture, but this serpentine wisdom might be better understood as “shrewdness.”  The last thing we Christians need to be is na├»ve.  For while the world builds its worldview on the belief that there is good in everybody, and that mankind has the ability to evolve and, and that “day by day in every way, I am getting better and better,” we Christians, who believe that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, know too well the effects and ravages of sin.

Mankind is not getting better, not evolving, and no amount of education, programming or threats of being sent to the Gulag labor camp will transform us into something we are not.  Not even the Chinese-style social credit system can transform the hearts of man.  We human beings are what we are: creatures created in the image of God, who have fallen, but who are given the free gift of redemption that can be received in faith.

Knowing this helps us to make sense of our world. 

But we are also to be innocent as doves.  Being wise in the worldly sense doesn’t mean we embrace the world’s ways, for we renounced all of that at our baptism: the devil and his works and ways.  We are followers of Jesus, and we are led to Him by the Holy Spirit, who descended in the form of a dove.  The dove is the symbol of peace and reconciliation, even from the time of the ark of Noah, when the dove returned with an olive branch, and the Lord painted the rainbow on the canvas of the sky to remind us of the covenant of His grace.

Interestingly, dear brothers and sisters, the immediate context of our Lord’s advice is for the persecuted church.  Our Blessed Lord is sending the apostles out into a world of hatred and persecution – not unlike the world we are living in today – even as the days grow darker and our culture becomes more and more unhinged, repressive, and violent.   “Behold,” says our Lord, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”  He elaborates that those who preach and confess the Gospel will be dragged into court, punished, threatened, and remanded to the tender mercies of a hostile government.  And when this happens, dear friends, we are to become instruments through which the Holy Spirit will testify of Jesus.

And our Lord assures us of His presence and invites us to be free of anxiety, for what we will say will be “given to [us] in that hour.”  Yes, we will be betrayed by our families and we will be hated.  “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” 

Let us comfort one another by these words, and may our Blessed Lord fortify us in Word and Sacrament, according to the Spirit’s conviction and in the Father’s mercy. 


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

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 16 - 2019

6 October 2019

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Death is the one thing that nobody wants to talk about, and everybody wants to talk about.  

The secular world doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus or of our Lord’s promise to raise us from the dead – but they believe in a whole spectrum of weirdness: from reincarnation, to ghosts, to the idea that we’ll achieve immortality by uploading ourselves into computers where we will all Facebook, Instagram, and Tweet into eternity.

The secular world loves the theme of death, as movies and TV shows wallow in it like pigs in slop.  Halloween is no longer kids with sheets on their heads; it is now grown-ups making themselves look like grotesque, disfigured corpses.  

And, of course, the world sees death as a solution to its problems.  For unwanted children, we have abortion on demand.  For the elderly, we have euthanasia.  Respected scientists tell us that we need to drastically reduce the world’s population and that we should take up cannibalism instead of eating hamburgers because of global warming.  A hysterical young woman was recently shrieking that we need to “eat babies” to save the environment while a popular congressman and those around her hardly blinked at the suggestion.  Hopefully that was just a stunt. These days, it’s hard to tell.  Planned Parenthood is suing a heroic journalist for exposing their illegal market in dead baby parts, propped up by wealthy people who are in the market for young cells and organs to try to keep themselves from dying.

While the world is confused about death, we Christians aren’t.  We know what it is.  Just two days ago, we buried our dear sister in Christ, Myra Thalheim.  Her confirmation verse sums up the entire problem, and the answer, in one sentence from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Death is not a solution or a hobby or a problem that can be mastered by medicine or technology.  Death is the wages of sin.  It is the tragic result of our rebellion against God’s will.  Mortality is a universal human dysfunction that is a result of the Fall.  And because we all suffer from it, the world considers it to be natural and normal – when it is neither.

Death is always lurking around in the shadows, and when it strikes, it affects everyone.  Consider the widow of Nain.  Being a widow in the first century was much different than it is today.  Widows were entirely dependent upon the family and on the religious community for even the most basic support of life.  The widow in Nain was doubly cursed by death, for not only had she lost her husband, but also her only son.

Not only must this mother carry the horrific grief of seeing her only son in an open casket being carried out of the town gate to be buried, she is likely facing an uncertain life of begging for the rest of her life.  Death has been devastating to this poor woman. 

Jesus, who is also an only Son, who will also soon die, whose own mother was very likely also a widow, comes across the funeral procession.  “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her.”

God Himself has compassion upon all of us who suffer the ravages of death and its many bitter consequences.  Even though we die precisely because we betray the God who made us and gave us life, nevertheless, God has compassion, and comes to save us.

“For the wages if sin is death, but the free gift of God…”

On this day, the widow of Nain and her son were to receive the greatest of all free gifts of God: life itself.  And this is not the gift of life from the womb, but rather the gift of life from the tomb.  Jesus comforted the widow, saying, “Do not weep.”  But rather than simply comfort her with words, the Word of God made flesh speaks a command to the body of the widow’s son: “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Literally, he tells him to wake up and to stand up.  

“And the dead man sat up and began to speak.”  There is to be no burial on this day.  The Word of God spoke a word, and then the breath of the man’s spirit returned to the body, and he in turn spoke.  The grim silence of death has been shattered by the Word and by words – and those who witnessed this glorious manifestation of life defeating the ancient enemy of death, likewise had words.  

They had fear (and we know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), and they began to formulate a confession of Jesus (“A great Prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people”).  The word about what the Word had done to death “spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.”

And what’s more, dear friends, this report did not stop at the borders of Judea.  For we know that as Jesus sent out the apostles, and as they sent out their own disciples whom they ordained as preachers – this Word of God, this Good News that death has surrendered to life according to the will and compassion and Word of God, by means of the cross and through the resurrection of Jesus – this report traveled beyond Judea into Samaria, throughout the empire, to Rome itself – even Caesar’s household – to all of Asia and Europe and Africa, and even to the ends of the earth.  

This Good News that death has been defeated by the death and resurrection of Jesus has never stopped being spread by word of mouth, and even when the forces loyal to death and hell have tried to silence this Good News, they have failed at every turn.

For once again, this is the reality that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature itself are impotent to stifle: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Eternal life is a free gift granted by the Word, through the cross, by means of Holy Baptism, and continuously fed to you by the preaching of the Gospel and by your receiving of the very same body and blood of Jesus, who raised the widow’s son on that glorious day when Jesus “ruined” a perfectly good funeral.

Dear brothers and sisters, death is not our friend, but neither is death our conqueror.  Death has been defeated.  The wages of sin has been paid by our great Benefactor, by His own sacrificial and atoning death.  And just as He spoke to the widow’s son with the command, “Arise,” so too will you hear this command and invitation on the Last Day.”  

So don’t be deceived by the deceiver, and don’t allow your faith to die on account of the evil one who wants you to “fear, love, and trust” in death, instead of the God who gave you life, gives you life, and will give you life.

Remember the compassion of Jesus.  Remember the cross and the resurrection.  Remember your baptism.  Remember to hear the proclamation of the Gospel and to praise the God who “has visited His people.”  Remember to rejoice that life has conquered death.

And remember, dear brothers and sisters, remember and speak these words of life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.

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

Note: This sermon was videoed by Gene Wilken at Flaneur Record:

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Sermon: Holy Matrimony of Barry and Elizabeth Spahr

5 October 2019

Text: Matt 19:4-6 (Gen 2:7, 18-24; Eph 5:1-2, 22-33)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Barry and Liz, family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: we are here to witness and to bless an event that is at the same time solemn and joyful.  

In the middle of a whirlwind of planning and coordinating, of pictures and double-checking the details, getting from this place to that place, and a lot of crossing off items off of a list – we are here for just a brief moment in this sanctuary, gathering as the Church, as the Bride of Christ, gathering around Christ, our Bridegroom – to solemnize and to acknowledge this union, and to reflect upon God’s Word and the blessings He bestows upon all of us through this mystery of Holy Matrimony.

As our reading from Genesis reminds us, marriage is not something that we decided to do, or invented.  Marriage is not the creation of the state or of any culture.  It is a unique part of being human, for we are created in God’s image, male and female, and we are completed by joining with one other of the opposite sex.  In Holy Matrimony, we don’t lose our autonomy or freedom, but rather we gain it.  We gain a second brain, a second set of eyes, and another consciousness – another person to take care of us in good times and bad.  And this diversity of male and female is how God intended it to be.

Some people have the gift of living a complete life as a single person.  But most of us are truly incomplete apart from Holy Matrimony.  Barry and Liz are each gaining another person created in the image of God, by means of their vows and obedience to God’s will – and their families likewise join together.

And because Holy Matrimony is grounded in who we are as human beings, and because it is a reflection of Christ and the Church, Holy Matrimony is based on love.  This is not the kind of love we see on TV or in the movies.  It is a love that gives of itself.  It isn’t a flash in the pan emotion, but is rather grounded in commitment.  It is a thinking of the other person first.

St. Paul teaches us how it is supposed to work, and when it works best: when the wife submits to her husband and respects him, and when the husband lays down his life for his wife and loves her as his own flesh.  Marriages fail today because of selfishness, because of husbands who love themselves more than their wives, and refuse to sacrifice for her, and because of wives who respect themselves more than their husbands, and refuse to submit to him.  

Our popular culture is filled with depictions of bossy wives dominating their husbands and telling their friends how stupid he is, as well as immature husbands playing with toys and shirking their responsibilities, and then telling their friends that their wives are nags.  Of course, this is a formula for disaster.  A much better model for a successful marriage is found in the Bible, in the politically-incorrect words of St. Paul.

Our Lord Jesus Christ blesses marriage.  He quoted the very same passage from Genesis to the Pharisees when they were trying to trick him into denigrating marriage.  And Jesus speaks to all of us when He reiterates the words of Genesis with His own commentary: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Barry and Liz, this Holy Matrimony into which you are entering is God’s work.  When you remain steadfast to one another, when you love and respect each other, when you remain committed to one other day in and day out, you are doing God’s work.  It is a holy work, and by it, you, your family, your culture, and the entire world are blessed.

And likewise all of us gathered here have a responsibility: to encourage Barry and Liz to be faithful to one another, to encourage them in their holy married estate, and to not make their lives difficult through sinful actions like gossip or interference in their new life.  

And may the two of you find joy not only in each other, but in the God who has joined you together, in the Bridegroom who lays down His life for the Church, and in the Bride who submits to our Lord Jesus Christ.  And may you enjoy many years of blessedness, happiness, and steadfastness as one flesh.  Amen.

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