Saturday, November 30, 2019

On "Southern" Slavery

It has become fashionable to bash the South - not only by removing war memorials or looking the other way as they are vandalized, but even in discussions of things like slavery.  It's never just slavery; it's Southern slavery.  The existence of slavery in the North has been whitewashed and sent down the memory hole.

Frankly, most of our American history as we learn it in school - especially in recent decades - is court history.  It is a narrative.  In the age of political correctness, our American history has been rewritten, often by Socialists and extreme leftists who have a Marxist (Economic or Cultural) agenda.  Often the best history books are the older texts.  And the very best ones are based on the original sources themselves - the compilation of which is painstaking and a great exercise in patience. 

John Shipley Tilley (1880-1968) was an attorney and historian with a law degree from Harvard.  His book Lincoln Takes Command unequivocally proves that Lincoln unilaterally started the War Between the States, that he wanted war, and used duplicitous tactics to do so.  It was the Union, and not the Confederacy, that was the aggressor, that on Lincoln's orders, the Union committed acts of war prior to the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  The Union violated several armistices, and at one point even flagged a military ship with the British Union Jack in a literal false flag operation to inflame war.

Tilley proves this not by means of conjecture and simply quoting other historians.  Rather he cites the United States government's own Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (OR) - which is a massive collection of 128 volumes of official reports, memos, orders, and other primary source material that is there for anyone with the patience to comb through it all.

Tilley was also the author of Facts the Historians Leave Out, a small introduction to the Southern side of the story.  He wrote another book called The Coming of the Glory which delves into the three controversial topics of the War Between the States, namely slavery, secession, and reconstruction.  In 267 pages of text, Tilley has 721 cited source endnotes.  Since this book doesn't deal with the war per se, these are not from the OR but from other original sources and historians.

The Coming of the Glory includes well-documented facts that have long been laid aside in favor of a standard revisionist narrative - such as the narrative that slavery was a Southern thing.

The first eight pages of chapter one deal with the slave trade - which is itself damning to the North - especially to New England.  But even laying aside the traffic in slaves (which amounted to a large portion of the New England economy), slavery was itself practiced in the North until it became economically burdensome. 

In a section entitled "Northern Ownership of Slaves," Tilley reports some notable Northerners who were slaveowners: Gen. Ulysses and Julia Grant, the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, Gov. William Penn, and Dr. Benjamin Franklin. 

He also reports:

In 1840 there were slaves in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin, as well as in the states to the South.  More noteworthy still, at the very date of Southern secession citizens of Delaware, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, Utah, and the District of Columbia held in bondage African captives; in Delaware the number reached eighteen hundred.

Looking further backward in point of time, in 1830, among other members of the slave-holding commonwealths were Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan.  In 1790, more than twenty thousand negroes were owned in New York.  A leading American historian is authority for the information that about 1785 there were between three thousand and four thousand colored bondmen in Rhode Island.  In the day of the American Revolution Connecticut's population included some six thousand, five hundred negroes.  Around the year 1750 the people of Pennsylvania held title to blacks by the thousands.

Tilley does not exonerate the South by any means, but is quick to point out that there is blame enough to go around. 

It is little known that before the war, Virginia had a considerable anti-slavery movement.  Tilley reports that John Letcher, the wartime governor of Virginia, was anti-slavery.  He ironically points out that "the Virginia colonel of the United States army who captured John Brown at Harper's Ferry [Robert E. Lee], the governor of the state in which the execution of the abolitionist leader took place [John Letcher], and a majority of the citizens of that commonwealth, were at heart opposed to slavery."

He also reports:

Lundy's Genius of Emancipation records a little-appreciated anomaly, one attesting to the strength of Southern anti-slavery sentiment.  This is that of the one hundred and thirty anti-slavery societies operating in the United States in 1827, four-fifths of the number and an equal proportion of the membership were in the states of the South.  Indeed, a careful student sponsors the finding that, at the very time when Garrison began his abolition crusade, the South was more interested in emancipation than was the North.

While it is true that the death of slavery got a reprieve in the South thanks to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793.  Slavery was not abolished in the Northern states owing to the goodness of the Northerners and the evil of the Southerners, but rather because of the divergent economies of the regions. 

It is also important to note that the slaveholding class of the South was small, as Tilley reports, about one-sixth of the white population. 

So when you hear slavery referred to as "Southern slavery," you are being misled by a narrative.  It's time to dust off the old books and learn what the primary sources have to say instead of politically-correct court historians.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve - 2019

27 November 2019

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Deut 8:1-10, Phil 4:6-20)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Some of my colleagues in the ministry don’t think that we should acknowledge Thanksgiving in our church calendar.  After all, it is a secular holiday declared by various presidents of the United States that has nothing to do with Jesus.  

But I disagree.  Thanksgiving has everything to do with Jesus.  

When our Lord gave Himself to us on the night when He was betrayed, He left us His Testament of a Thanksgiving Supper of His own body and blood.  The Words of Institution even say “and when He had given thanks.”  The Greek word for “thanksgiving” is “Eucharist.”  The entire life of the Christian is one of thanksgiving.  The fact that our secular calendar includes the holiday of Thanksgiving reflects God’s design that His gifts to us are harvested in the Fall.  And so this time of year is a time of thanksgiving, as we are grateful for the Lord’s providence.

The centrality of giving thanks is seen in our Gospel reading, as the ten lepers cried out to Jesus for mercy.  We still do this today in our liturgy, as we sing together again and again: “Lord, have mercy.”

Upon hearing their prayers and seeing their condition, Jesus has mercy on them.  He commands them to “go to the priests” for their certificate of good health – for Jesus had cleansed them.  Nine of the men continued on in joy.  But one of them, who was likewise overjoyed, was something else as well: grateful.  And as a result of his gratitude, he “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

This is the pattern of Christian worship.  We enter the assembly of Christians gathered together in Divine Service burdened by our sins – and then the Lord Jesus absolves us.  We approach the altar to begin our Service of the Word begging for the Lord’s mercy, mindful that we are unworthy of ourselves to be in His presence.  And the Lord hears our prayer – and we respond by a hymn of praise.  And after we have heard the Word of God read and preached, we return to the altar for the Eucharist, the thanksgiving meal established by our Lord.  

Throughout the service, we sing Psalms and hymns of thankfulness and praise.  

When the Tenth Leper, who was a “foreigner,” a “Samaritan,” returns to give thanks while the others did not, Jesus is amazed.  He says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Jesus then blesses him: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” 

We likewise rise from the communion rail with the Lord’s blessing, and we are likewise given a blessing at the end of the service.  We go our way healed – like the tenth leper – not because of anything that we have done, but by faith, that is, by belief in Jesus, in His Word, in His promise to us.

Like the ten lepers, we know where we need to go for help.  And when we have received it, what else can we do but give thanks.
Yes, indeed, thanksgiving is the Christian life, for it is how the Christian receives the gifts of God, knowing that they are by grace and through faith.  We know that we do not deserve the Lord’s mercy, but we rejoice that it is given us.  And so the Christian life is one of falling on our faces before Jesus, and hearing Him tell us to “rise and go your way.” 

Interestingly, St. Paul writes to the Philippians about “anxiety.”  This should get our attention, as anxiety is rampant in our country, like an epidemic.  People suffer anxiety attacks.  Doctors write prescriptions for it.  Counselors never lack people suffering anxiety and depression.  St. Paul says: “Do not be anxious about anything” – not in a way that he is beating people up for their natural response to stress, but rather in a way that St. Paul has the answer and invites us to partake in it: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  And as a result, the Apostle says: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

So if you want peace, dear friends, listen to St. Paul.  Prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving lead us to peace.  Interestingly, secular professionals are now teaching what St. Paul was teaching almost two thousand years ago.  Sometimes counselors will advise a depressed person to reflect on everything that he has to be thankful for – even writing them out, even making a point for such reflection every day.  For gratitude is a cure for depression and anxiety.  And furthermore, by actually giving to those less fortunate – as St. Paul speaks of to the Philippians who gave offerings for the sake of the Gospel, a “sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” – St. Paul promises, “God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Jesus Christ.”  Once again, mental health professionals often prescribe generosity as a treatment for depression and anxiety.  For cultivating gratitude and a charitable heart are both ways to take our focus off of ourselves.  Depression and anxiety are the result of self-directed attention, a preoccupation with ourselves.  Luther said that all sin is, at its root, a person paying too much attention to himself, a being “curved in” on ourselves.  And like the ungrateful nine lepers, we run the danger of being self-centered and unable to see the grace of God and enjoy the peace that this gratitude brings.  But like the Tenth Leper, we find peace in thanksgiving, we find calmness of heart in giving charity to others.  

And especially in our secularized, busy lives, we need the Word of God.  We need to come to Jesus, to return to Him to praise Him and give Him thanks, and to hear Him bless us.  For as we heard anew in our Old Testament reading: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Bread alone is just bread, but bread that is blessed by the Word of God is the body of Christ.  The ongoing life-sustaining Word from the mouth of God is how we live, dear friends.  For this bread and this wine are more than a mere feast for the body; this Eucharist, this Thanksgiving is truly a feast for the body and the mind and the soul.  God’s holy Word in Scripture is also a lifeline for us.  And in coming here, we hear the Word and join in the Sacrament.

Falling on our faces to praise Jesus, hearing Him, and receiving Him in gratitude is not just the cure for anxiety and depression, it is the cure for death itself.  

And so it is fitting that as the our country pauses its busy life to gather with family for a meal of thanksgiving, so too do we Christians gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ, returning to give thanks to Him who was crucified and rose again to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And we gather around a table to eat bread and drink wine in thanksgiving for what the Lord gives us according to His Word: His true body and blood.  And when He blesses us, we rise: refreshed and restored, assured and forgiven, blessed with faith, and by faith, in Him who has overcome the world, and who is now flesh of our flesh, and blood of our blood.  

Indeed, it is fitting that the Church, the Bride of Christ, we lepers contaminated by sin who have been cured by the blood of the Lamb, pray, praise, and give thanks with the Tenth leper and with all Christians everywhere:

With voices united our praises we offer
And gladly our songs of thanksgiving we raise.
With You, Lord beside us,
Your strong arm will guide us.
To You, our great Redeemer, forever be praise!


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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 26

26 November 2019

Text: Rev 22:1-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As we rapidly approach the end of the church year, it is fitting that we read the last few verses of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible.  “The Revelation” means “the revealing” – and like the last page of a mystery novel, everything is solved.  And since the problem is not merely one murder, but the sum total of all the sins of the world of all time, it may be more fitting to use the term “absolved” instead of “solved.”

We end the Scriptures with one final prophetic word: the promised return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the beginning of eternity.  And while the world frets into a spiral of anxiety over their fears of the world’s end, we Christians have the revelation of Jesus Christ to give us a different perspective.

“These words are trustworthy and true,” says the angel to St. John and to us.  And we hear the final promise of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I am coming soon.  Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”  The angel told John not to seal up the book, but to continue his ministry of the Word, and to let the history of mankind play out until the end: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”  And Jesus repeats His promise: “I am coming soon.”

Even as we Christians are tempted to despair over the increasing hostility and irrationality of the secular culture, and the rapidly degenerating culture around us, Jesus has revealed this to us: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

The divine invitation is for anyone who wants to leave the world and join the church: “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”  All we can do is repeat the invitation.  We do not add or detract from this prophecy, and yes, even from the whole Word of God.  We confess it faithfully, in good times and bad, until the Day of the Lord.

The final Word of Jesus is another reiteration of his ultimate promise: “I am coming soon.”  The final prayer in the Scriptures is: “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”  And the final message to us in the Bible is a blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.  Amen.”

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sermon: Last Sunday - 2019

24 November 2019

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord’s Parable of the Ten Virgins pits wisdom against foolishness. 

Ten young girls are set to attend a wedding.  The groom is going to arrive to bring them to the marriage feast.  Five of the girls are foolish, and five are wise.  The foolish “took their lamps but took no oil with them,” but “the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

As often happens, things did not go according to their plans and expectations.  The bridegroom was delayed.  And so the girls all fell asleep while they waited.  They were startled awake by the midnight cry that the bridegroom was coming.  Since it was now late, getting the missing oil was a problem.  So the foolish wanted the wise to share with them – but there would not be enough oil for the journey.  The foolish girls had to take the time to walk to the oil sellers instead.

The groom came while they were gone, and took the five wise young girls to the wedding feast, and the door to the hall was shut.  The foolish girls arrived late.  They pounded on the closed door.  They wanted to be let in: “Lord, lord, open to us.”  But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

Jesus tells us the moral of the story: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

So what does it mean to be wise, and what does it mean to be foolish?  Wisdom doesn’t mean education, or even intelligence.  Foolishness doesn’t mean being uneducated or even stupid.  For there are more than enough highly-educated and even pretty smart fools to go around.

Notice that the wise girls did something that the foolish did not: they had prepared.  They invested their time and their money into getting what they needed.  The foolish had different priorities.  They used their resources in a way that was maybe more fun, but when the plans changed, they were caught unawares.  And when it was time to go, they didn’t have what they needed.

Jesus doesn’t say that the foolish girls were evil and the wise girls were righteous.  He just says that some were wise, and some were foolish; some were prepared, and some were unprepared.  

We all know the difference between being prepared and unprepared.  Having your tools before you start a job is wise.  Studying for a test with plenty of time instead of waiting until the last night is wise.  Making plans to get home some other way than driving before deciding to drink alcohol is wise.  Leaving for work early enough so that you won’t be late because of traffic is wise. 

It’s all a matter of being prepared, being ready.  And when we are unprepared, it’s usually because of bad priorities.  We make poor decisions because we don’t use our time and resources wisely, and so something bad happens because of our lack of preparation.

But of course, Jesus is not teaching us life lessons about school or work or operating a car.  He isn’t teaching us about project management or even how to operate an oil lamp.  He is teaching us about “the kingdom of heaven.”

For nobody wants to think that we could lose our salvation.  Nobody wants to think that we could end up in hell.  Nobody wants to think that we are foolish instead of wise.  But, dear friends, Jesus is telling us this story for a reason.  Don’t foolishly throw away the gift of salvation earned for you at the cross and given to you at baptism.  Like an oil lamp, the Gospel shines light where there was formerly darkness.  But what good is a lamp if it runs out of fuel.  And maybe you can get away with an empty oil lamp for a while, but when the time comes that you really need it – and it will be unexpected – you need to be prepared.

It is like having a generator with no gas in it.  Once the storm comes and you lose power, it’s too late.  It’s like not wanting to plug in your phone because you’re having fun, and then when an emergency happens, you have a dead battery.  Wisdom is making sure there’s gas in the generator, charge on the phone, and oil in the lamp.  Yes, the kingdom of heaven is like that.

Jesus is telling you right now – while there is still time – to be wise and be prepared.  Don’t let the lamp that was given to you at your baptism be empty.  An empty oil lamp won’t shine the light that you need in dark times.  An empty oil lamp is nothing more than a decoration – like a cross on the wall that is just there for show, or pictures of the your baptism that are nothing more than a reminder of a fun day.

Dear friends, you fill your lamp when you are engaged with the Word of God.  For Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we are waiting for Him to return.  St. Paul teaches us that His return will come “like a thief in the night” – when nobody expects Him.  And our lives can come to a sudden end as well, when there is no time to fill our lamps.  Don’t be foolish by letting your lamps go out!

This is not my advice; this is Jesus speaking to us.  Don’t get mad at me, I’m just the messenger.  There is no way around this parable except the fact that Jesus is warning us not to be foolish.  We are foolish when our priorities are messed up.  We are foolish when we skip church because we don’t feel like going or have something more fun to do.  We are wise when we commit to filling our lamps as often as possible with the oil of the Gospel – hearing the Word of God preached and taught.  We are wise when we attend Bible class, when we pay attention to the readings and the sermon, and when we humbly receive our Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament.

Whether we die, or our Lord returns – we are close to eternity, dear friends.  It can happen instantly.  Even when we think “there is peace and security,” the “sudden destruction will come upon” us.  St. Paul says that we are children of light, not of darkness, for he implores us to be wise, living in the light of the Gospel and not in the darkness of misplaced priorities.  We must not let “that day” surprise us “like a thief.”  We need to be ready, dear friends.  Jesus is telling you – not someone else – you.  He is telling you to be ready – now, not tomorrow – now.  

For Jesus has already come into our world, born of the virgin Mary.  He has already paid the price for our sins on the cross.  He has already risen from the dead, conquering death.  He has already sent the Holy Spirit to guide His church to Himself, to the Word of God, to the Sacraments – even as He, the Bridegroom, is delayed, and we wait for His imminent return.  As we wait, we must use our time wisely, dear friends.  For our time is shorter than you think. 

“For behold,” says our Lord, “I create new heavens and a new earth.”  He creates a new world of joy and gladness, of life and prosperity, a world without “weeping and the cry of distress.”  It is a world like Eden, where everything and everyone is in the right place.  There will be no predators, for “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.”  The serpent will indeed “bite the dust” as Satan and his angels and all of those who followed him – including the foolish – will be cast into the lake of fire.  

And so we need to be wise.  We parents need to exhort our children to be wise.  We all need to encourage our families and friends to be wise.  We need to “encourage one another and build one another up” as St. Paul says.

We have a glorious banquet to attend, dear friends!  Let’s get ready!  Let’s look forward to this eternal feast.  We have a foretaste of it right here in the Eucharist, by invitation of the Bridegroom Himself, who is on the way.  Let your light shine, dear friends, fueled by the Word of God, by the Gospel, by absolution, by the regular reception of the Sacrament.  Let us be prayerfully prepared, ready at any time to meet our Lord.  And being ready, let us go in with Him to the marriage feast,” where:

“The King’s daughter shall be brought to the King; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You.  With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace.”  Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sermon: Funeral of Beverly Scales

Mothe's Chapel

19 November 2019

Text: Matt 11:28-30 (Isa 43:1-3a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Gilbert and Kevin, Tommy and Merlin, family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There are few things more stressful and more draining than caring for a loved one at home.  It is a blessing to have her at home, but the stress is simply exhausting. 

And for our dear sister in Christ Beverly, this sickness was also draining and tiring for her.  And so our Lord’s promise: “I will give you rest” is comforting – both for Beverly’s sake and for all of you.  For in Christ, we see the death of a Christian as a kind of rest.

This is not because death is in any way good.  It isn’t.  It’s horrible.  It is the cosmic cost of our sinfulness.  But our Lord Jesus Christ, by dying in our place at the cross, has taken away the sting of death.  And so for us, death is only a temporary separation, for Christ has conquered it.  And our Lord’s victory over death and the grave is Beverly’s victory. 

For hundreds of years, we have prayed that our loved ones would “rest in peace.”  For they rest in Christ, and Christ’s peace is upon them for eternity.  That is His promise, dear friends. 

It is significant that our Lord uses this word “rest.”  In this life, when we are at rest, when we are asleep, we are being refreshed.  We are waiting to be awakened to a new day.  And for us Christians, this is why we see the Christian’s death for what it is – a temporary rest until the Lord Jesus Christ awakens us. 

He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.”  We learn from Jesus that He died upon the cross to cure us from death.  We learn from Jesus that God is merciful.  We learn from Jesus that His death atones for the sins of the world.  And this is why Beverly held fast to the Christian faith from the time that she was only 19 days old.  She could not remember a time when she wasn’t a Christian.  On September 23, 1934, the Rev. Eugene Schmid baptized her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And from that moment, the Lord promised to give her the kind of rest we are talking about – of being awakened to everlasting life, as St. Paul says: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”  This promise was given to Beverly and to all who are baptized and believe: “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”  And then we shall all say, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  For Beverly has this victory over death, as St. Paul says, “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is why Beverly took part in the Lord’s Supper, what is sometimes called “the medicine of immortality.”  Even on her deathbed, Beverly hungered and thirsted for this blessed sacrament.  For she knew exactly what it means!  Beverly was taught the Christian faith, and she knew it well.  She confessed it her whole life long.

When she was thirteen years old, Beverly was confirmed by Pastor Schmid.  Each young person was given a confirmation verse.  Beverly’s was unusual: Isaiah 51:6.  It reads: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”

I have never before heard of this verse as a confirmation verse.  It reminded Beverly that this world is passing away, but her salvation is forever, and it is the Lord’s righteousness that is the source of her happiness.  It is in Jesus that she rests secure.

One of the last passages that I read to Beverly was also from the prophet Isaiah.  We heard it read as our Old Testament reading today.  “Thus says the Lord… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’”

That happened at Beverly’s baptism.  She was called by name, and the Lord’s name was put upon her as a pledge of being raised to eternal life.  God also promised Beverly: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned…. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Beverly’s uncomplaining sense of calm throughout her ordeal, her loving concern for her family to the very end, her unshaken faith in the Lord to take care of her come what may – was truly inspiring.  And when we prayed the liturgy together, she knew it by heart – for it was her Savior that placed it in her heart over the course of her life.

And now she is truly at rest, dear friends.  She waits for the Lord’s return when we will all be reunited.  This is what our Lord means when He says: “You will find rest for your souls.”

That promise is for Beverly, and for all who are baptized and who believe.  It is the Lord’s promise that is renewed every time we partake of the Holy Eucharist.  It is the ironclad promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who walked out of His own tomb, and promises eternal life to all who believe on His name.

Beverly is at rest.  And we too can rest securely knowing that her Savior has called her by name.  He has called her home.  And He will call her to awake to a life that will never end.  He will also call us to be with her again in a joyful life without pain or sorrow, without sin or death, never to be separated again.

May she rest in peace until we see her again in glory according to the Lord’s unbreakable promise!  Amen.

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tolerance, Part Two

As a postscript to my previous post on tolerance, my interlocutor replied in an interesting way.  He revealed that he cannot possibly see any other point of view - not even theoretically - than that the hundreds of thousands of men who fought in the Confederate armed forces - and the millions of civilians who supported them - were "traitors," saying, "How else could they be described?"

He says, "They fought against the Governing Authorities, the United States Government, and they lost."

His reference to the "governing authorities" comes from the English Standard Version translation of Romans 13:1-6, in which St. Paul writes:

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."

The implication is clear, our Confederate ancestors were sinning against God, because God had apparently determined that the Hamiltonian legal theory is correct and the Jeffersonian legal theory is not.  And also notice that he adds "and they lost."  According to this logic, the sinfulness or righteousness of a particular act depends upon the outcome.  So if your state secedes and you defend your state, there is no way to know whether this is sinful or not at the time.  If the mother country recognizes your independence, then it is not sinful.  If the mother country does not recognize your independence, and unleashes a military invasion - then it is still up in the air.  If there is a war of independence, and you win the war, your act of secession is, ex post facto, not sinful.  But if you lose your war of independence, your act of secession is, ex post facto, sinful.

This exposes a remarkable flaw in the ethics of my interlocutor's view.

It is akin to saying that if a guy shoplifts, it is only sinful if he gets caught.  It is also a variation of "might makes right," that an act is moral if one has the sheer force to get away with it.

The question of whether or not secession is legal or illegal, moral or immoral, cannot be grounded in the ultimate success of the action without adopting a kind of moral relativism.

Moreover, in appealing to a particular historiography of the United States Constitution combined with the "might makes right" premise, what does this say about slavery?  To use my interlocutor's reasoning, under the "governing authorities" of the day - both that of the private slaveholder and the United States government as authorized by the Constitution, slaves are obliged not to rebel, and anyone giving a runaway slave aid and comfort (such as the Underground Railroad) are condemned under the same moral principal laid down by my interlocutor.  Slavery was legal according to the United States Constitution.  And according to the Fugitive Slave Acts, anyone discovering runaways were obliged to turn them in and return them to their masters.  Hence Lincoln's misnamed Emancipation Proclamation not only protected slavery in the Northern states where it existed, but specifically exempted Confederate territory occupied by Union forces, such as my own Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (mentioned by name in the Proclamation).  In other words, the Union Army, under the auspices of the Constitution, made it their policy to return runaway slaves to their masters and bolstered the institution of slavery.  My interlocutor's belief that federal law trumps all is a pro-slavery assertion.

He also accuses Confederate officers who were "graduates of our service academies" of "betraying their Oaths as Officers of the United States Army or Navy" and compares them to "Tomoya Kawakita" and "Max Haupt."  He also works in the Rosenbergs.  He misunderstands the nature of oaths.  They are no longer in force when a person is no longer a citizen of that country or a member of its armed forces.  For example, if a person were to emigrate from Canada and become a United States citizen - his obligations to the Crown cease and his nationality becomes American.  If he were to join the US military, the president of the United States would be his commander in chief, and the American forces would be his chain of command.  And even if he had served in the Canadian military forces, he is no longer bound by that chain of command.  When I lived in Ohio, I became a notary, and was under oath to the Constitution of the State of Ohio.  When I was no longer a resident of Ohio, my oath was (and is) nullified.

The officers of the United States military forces resigned their commissions with the United States before accepting commissions in their state militias or the military forces of the Confederate States.

This is similar to the argument that I have heard by some Roman Catholics that Luther broke his monastic vows by leaving the authority of the pope and getting married.

Modern American history is taught in a terribly anachronistic way that conveniently serves a narrative.  There is the assumption that the American Nationalism we take for granted today was the same as it was in antebellum America.  It simply was not the case.  There are ulterior motives in vilifying half of the American population of 1861, just as there are reasons why half of the population that voted for Donald Trump are similarly denounced as traitors, Nazis, and racists.  In 1861, people owed their primary allegiance to their states.  That is a fact that is seldom taught in our schools.  One of the results of the Union victory was to establish the supremacy of DC over nearly every aspect of American life.  The federal government today even regulates how big one's toilet bowl may be.  This kind of micromanaging in the lives of our people and states would have been unthinkable in 1861.  Today, DC micromanages school curricula (which explains the self-serving way the War Between the States is taught).  The vast expansion of the powers of Washington that resulted from the Union victory is the subject of Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel (no friend of the South and no fan of the CSA).

1861 was very close in time and thought to 1776.  In fact, the last veteran of the Revolutionary War was still living and receiving a pension at the close of the War for Southern Independence.  Men who were brought up to lionize the Virginia General George Washington (whom my interlocutor would have called a traitor and accused of violating Romans 13 had a couple battles gone the other way) likewise lionized Washington's grandson in law, Robert E. Lee.  Many a Southerner went off to war carrying his grandfather's Revolutionary War musket.  Historian James McPherson (a strong partisan of the Union who makes no bones about his biases) conducted a study of letters from the soldiers North and South to determine their motivation for fighting.  His 1994 publication What They Fought For reveals that the Southern soldier saw himself as defending the ideals of 1776, similarly defending his home from invasion just as his secessionist grandfathers did.  The seal of the Confederate States of America features an image of George Washington on his horse.  In the same way that Lutherans see themselves in continuity with the ancient church and not in rebellion against it, Confederates saw themselves in continuity with America - and not in rebellion against it.  They saw their enemies as perverters of the Constitution.  I would bet that not one in a thousand Americans has a clue of any of this.

Moreover, the USMA at West Point taught constitutional law using an 1825 text written by Philadelphia lawyer William Rawle, (1759-1836) a friend of George Washington and an active abolitionist.  Rawle's View teaches the Jeffersonian compact theory of the Constitution.  It argues for the legality of secession and essentially gives a step-by-step guide to how it would be done.  The Jeffersonian view was mainstream in those days.  This is the view of the Constitution that was taught to the military and government leaders in antebellum America.  The Jeffersonian view was so established in antebellum America, that a secession convention was called in Hartford, Connecticut by New England states considering secession in the waning days of the War of 1812 (the war's end brought the secession movement to a close).  There were threats of secession made in Northern states over the annexation of Texas.  Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison proposed secession of non-slave states from the Union.  There was no suggestion at that time that secession was treason, as the Jeffersonian view was the mainstream legal theory of the time.  Those court-historians who write the current American school curricula who deny this are either ignorant or engaged in gaslighting, if not outright propaganda.  I would bet that not one in ten thousand Americans knows this.

To have an actual understanding of the conflict instead of an oversimplified Schoolhouse Rock-style self-serving cartoonish court-historian view, it is necessary to examine the motivations of both sides - even if ultimately one disagrees with the Southern argument.  Simply dismissing us as traitors and racists is no different than the modern sepsis of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


On a recent church discussion thread on Facebook, a member of my church body made what was a virtual throwaway comment that the Confederates were "traitors" and that their monuments should never have been erected.  Ironically, his remarks were in the context that he felt that some political opinions of others were disrespectful of his ethnic heritage.  It was a classic moment of projection.  We are now to the point where no dissenting views of American historiography are tolerated, and it is acceptable to say hateful things about certain other ethnicities in the name of "tolerance.  It is downright Orwellian.

I chose not to engage the issue on that forum - which was dedicated to Lutheran education.

This issue is personal to me, as my heritage came from Ground Zero of this conflict between the two sides of the War Between the States.  My folks were Virginians - from what is today West Virginia.  Every branch of my family tree was affected by the conflict - some on either side.

One of my great-great-great-grandfathers, Thomas Benton McLaughlin, was a Union veteran who served with the 10th West Virginia Infantry.  After the war, he enjoyed a career with the Federal government in the Department of the Treasury.  He enjoyed a good pension that was secured to Union veterans by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) veterans' lobby.

Prior to his death in 1911, he became close to his granddaughter Mamie Bryan McLaughlin, who was born in 1900.  Her family was broken, and her grandfather was kind to her.  His love and affection made a huge impression on her.  Mamie was my great-grandmother whom we used to visit every Sunday when I was a child.  We were very close.  She knew all of her grandparents and other family members - and I grew up knowing my heritage and feeling a sense of connection to my family.  These were not theoretical characters in a book or marble statues, but my flesh and blood.  I was only one link removed from her grandfather who was born in 1839!

Thomas McLaughlin fought in the Union army because his wife's family were Union sympathizers.  The rest of the family was not.  His brothers Richard and James wore the gray and fought for Virginia in the 25th Infantry regiment.  The family did not own slaves.  It's hard enough to grow potatoes in West Virginia, let alone cotton.  Virginia was not enthusiastic about secession, and initially opted to remain in the Union.  But when Lincoln ordered the invasion of South Carolina, Virginia decided to defend its fellow Southern state from military aggression, and seceded from the Union.  A new confederation of states was formed, and the Confederate States of America raised military forces from the various state militias and fought in defense of its declaration of independence.  Young men across the South volunteered to defend hearth and home from invasion.

At the top of this blogpost is a representation of the regimental flag of the 25th Virginia Infantry.  You can see on the banner some of the horrific battles this unit took part in.  Their story is not unlike those of regiments all across the now-United States.  The battles the regiment fought in in its four years were: Rich Mountain, Cheat Mountain, Jackson's Valley Campaign, Seven Days' Battles, 2nd Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Siege of Suffolk, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, the Valley Campaigns of 1864, and the Appomattox Campaign.

My uncle Richard Johnson McLaughlin enlisted at the war's beginning at age 19.  He was wounded in the knee at Gettysburg and captured.  He was paroled and exchanged three months later.  He returned to his unit and was again captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.  He was imprisoned at Point Lookout POW camp in Maryland, where he died three months later of inflammation of the lungs at age 23. Point Lookout had a world-class hospital onsite, but prisoners were not admitted.  They had to make do with primitive field hospitals.  More than 4,000 prisoners whose names are known perished there.  Estimates are that as many as 8,000 actually died there, as many names have been found in records that are not recorded on the site's monument.

His brother James Buchanan McLaughlin, obviously also my uncle, enlisted with his brother at age 18.  He was captured at the Wilderness and sent to the POW camp at Belle Plain, then on to Point Lookout where his brother died - after which, he was sent to the notorious Elmira Camp in New York - which housed 12,000 prisoners and boasted a 25% death rate.  He survived ten months before taking the oath of loyalty to the United States after the war's end.  After returning home, he married and had a family of ten children.  He died in 1940 at the age of 97 in Glendon, West Virginia.  His brief account of his war service has survived.

Americans across the North and South continued to honor their veterans during their lifetime and beyond.  The United Confederate Veterans (UCV) chose the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) as its successor.  The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) did the same with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW).  Both the SCV and the SUVCW still exist today, as does the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).  These are hereditary societies that honor their veterans and keep the family history alive.

My Southern ancestors had a rougher go of it post-war than my grandfather Thomas McLaughlin.  Pensions for the Confederate veterans had to come out of state budgets - and the states were decimated by the war.  The federal government did however recognize the service of the Confederate veterans and supplied tombstones for them and allowed them to be buried in national cemeteries.  As the men of that generation were dying off, the federal government decreed that Confederate veterans were legally U.S. veterans and entitled to the same benefits as their Union counterparts.

Whether or not the Confederates were traitors has nothing to do with slavery or whether your family wore the blue or the gray.  It is an objective legal question relating to the nature of the Constitutional Union and a moral question based on natural rights.  The United States of America was itself formed by thirteen acts of secession from the British Empire, as well as a confederation of states in defense against the spurned "mother country" who declared the seceding states to be in a state of rebellion.

At very least, if Robert E. Lee is to be denigrated as a traitor, so must George Washington be.

Secession is one way in which new governments - governments recognized by the United States and the world - are formed.  Texas seceded from Mexico.  Panama seceded from Columbia.  Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia.  Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia seceded from the Soviet Union.  South Sudan seceded from Sudan.  And of course, every July 4th, Americans celebrate "Independence Day" - honoring the joint act of secession by the original 13 United States from Great Britain.  Surely, the participants in all of those acts of secession are not to be denigrated.

Of course, a legal argument regarding the nature of the US Constitution can be made both ways: the Hamiltonian "national" historiography or the Jeffersonian "compact" view of the Constitution.  The fact that the former has become politically correct - largely by a kind of guilt by association of the latter with slavery - is irrelevant to the question.  Whether or not the Confederates were traitors is a legal question regarding secession, and that question has nothing to do with slavery.  There were slave-owners and non-slave-owners on both sides of the secession issue in both north and south.  In Louisiana, the largest plantations of slave-owners actually favored the status quo, and those parishes were most loyal to the Union.  And the converse is also true: the parishes with little slave ownership were more willing to take a risk on secession and confederation with the other Southern states.

Interestingly, after the war ended, there were no treason trials.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held as a POW for two years, but was bailed out and all charges were dropped.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, was of the opinion that it was too risky to try Davis for treason - as there was a risk that he might win his case and vindicate the South.  There was a general amnesty, and as both sections worked to reunify the country, both sides honored their war dead.  In fact, the veterans who wore the blue and gray held joint reunions.  In 1894, Mississippi incorporated the Confederate battle flag into its state flag.  On into the 20th century, US presidents dedicated monuments to the men on both sides of the conflict who wore the uniform and died for their respective American countries - now reunified into one nation. 

All over the country, the veterans were honored in parades, and as their numbers dwindled, monuments were erected in their honor.  At the fifty year point, there was an upsurge in interest in honoring all of the veterans.  In 1913, a joint reunion was held at Gettysburg.  Amazingly, the few remaining survivors met again in 1938 to celebrate the 75th anniversary!  More monuments went up as the last remaining veterans were dying off.  In the late 1950s, as the 1961 centennial of the war approached, there was great nostalgia in movies, TV shows, and pop songs.  President Eisenhower (a great student of the war and admirer of General Robert E. Lee) urged each state to take proactive measures to honor their respective War Between the States veterans and history.  A few days later, Judge Bell of Georgia submitted a redesigned memorial state flag incorporating the Confederate battle flag.

However, the historiography taught in schools over the past several decades has been shaped by textbooks by openly Socialist historians such as Howard Zinn and Eric Foner.  Their Marxist lens and northern bias has become the mainstream historiography in nearly every public and private school in America.  Over time, the Confederate cause has been vilified.  And this Marxist bias has resulted in the removal of not only monuments to Confederate veterans, but even movements to remove (some of which have been successful) tributes to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Lewis and Clark, Christopher Columbus, and even people like the musician Stephen Foster and actors Lillian Gish and John Wayne.  Schools in Louisiana named after President George Washington and Governor Francis Nicholls were renamed because of political correctness.  There is an iconoclastic witch hunt to tear down monuments and plaques to anyone from the past who does not conform to our current acceptable mores.

And unfortunately, our country is becoming less literate, more angry, less devoted to the past, intolerant, and increasingly ignorant of even the most basic facts of American history.  It is also becoming oppressive to hold a view contrary to the Marxist historiography, as violence against someone defending a dissenting historiography is not uncommon - especially on college campuses.

Those of us who honor our ancestors who fought for the Confederate States of America, and even those who simply appreciate the other side of the story to get a deeper understanding of the conflict are being forced into a closet, lest they be doxxed and shunned and exposed to violence.  It is as though any dissenting viewpoint will not be tolerated.  The well-honed arguments arguing for the compact theory of the Constitution have been relegated to the Memory Hole, and anyone who believes that a case can be made for it is subject to whatever punishment is necessary to shut him up or compel him to say that 2 + 2 = 5.

The people that sport "coexist" bumper stickers are operating under a different definition than what the word objectively means.

As for me, I have family on both sides.  I was taught history at an Ohio school named for Abraham Lincoln.  After decades of study, I believe that my Confederate ancestors were right.  The USA was constituted as a Federal, not a National system.  Many of the founders wanted a National system, but backed off and sold the Constitution as a Federal system - knowing that the American people would have rejected such a plan that would have reduced their states to provinces and given them a new incarnation of Parliament and George III.  These arguments are laid out in the Federalist papers and the Antifederalist papers - which were at one time required reading in public schools.  Even following the logic of the Federalists, the states had the right to secede, and the federal government aggressed against them when they invaded.  President Buchanan did not invade South Carolina in 1860 or 1861.  He understood that the Constitution gave him no authority to do so.  President Lincoln, however, made violating the Constitution a routine practice.

Those who are intolerant of those of us who reject the Zinn/Foner historiography of American history should strive to be more tolerant.  They should understand that while they have their opinion, it is an interpretation of the facts - and other decent people may disagree.  America is a multi-ethnic society, and Southern heritage is part of that tapestry.  Of the 50 stars on our flag, 13 of them are Confederate states that were annexed by the United States.  And just as each state has its own history, and just as each ethnicity brings in its own story into the American experience, there is no one claim to what constitutes "American."  We are all in this together, and we should all be encouraged to honor our heritage and be tolerant to others.

One could argue that it is not unreasonable for American Indians to wish to see statues to the Buffalo Soldiers removed - as these black US troops took part in the extermination of Indians.  And similarly, black Americans could point to the fact that Indians owned slaves and even fought for the Confederacy - and determine that Indian statues should be torn down.  Indians could argue for the removal of statues to Columbus, and white Americans could argue that Indians such as Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and Red Cloud were traitors who took up arms against the United States, and demand that their memorials be removed.  Some of my ancestors fought against Indians in frontier wars - and those wars were not waged according to the Geneva Convention, with Indians scalping their white POWs.  Would it be reasonable to hold them accountable to current rules of warfare?  Would it be reasonable to be bitter against their descendants today?  Moreover, Indians made war against other Indians.  Black Africans enslaved each other and sold each other to Arabs and Europeans.  Arabs enslaved a huge number of whites.  And the history of Europe is a whole mess of wars and invasions between nationalities.  How are we to iron it all out if we're looking for scapegoats to blame for our own problems, and grievances to collect for points in the victim-Olympics?

And is it reasonable to expect people from the past to live to modern standards?  In our current culture, we consider slaughterhouses and steak restaurants to be normal, the way things have always been.  But there are abolitionists who see the eating of meat as a profound evil.  They are a small minority, and largely dismissed as kooks - but so were the American anti-slavery abolitionists at one time.  What if a hundred years from now, the meat-is-murder argument becomes the dominant and legal view?  What if the eating of meat is seen by our descendants as barbaric, and the slaughter of animals as cruel and immoral?  Would it be wise to tear down statues of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks because they were not vegetarians?  Would it be proper for our grandchildren to speak ill of us and be disgusted with us because we ate hamburgers?  Should Abraham Lincoln's statues be torn down because he felt it should be illegal for blacks to intermarry with whites or serve on juries, and because he believed society should treat whites as superior?  There has been at least one statue of Gandhi torn down because of his less than enlightened views on race.  What do we expect of people who lived in past epochs?

Instead of celebrating how society has advanced, are we to ever simply destroy our own history with each change, setting fire to everything that came before us?

Of course, we Americans are typically a patriotic people.  But is it possible to have an alternative point of view of history?  What about people whose grandparents were vaporized at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Is it unreasonable if they have a different perspective about the US in World War II?  Would it be reasonable to tear down American WW2 monuments out of deference to Japanese-Americans who may be offended?  And what about men like my grandfather who suffered in German POW camps in World War II?  Would it be unreasonable for such men to not be fans of the German language and culture?  Should we ban Oktoberfests for their sakes?

Every ethnicity has its share of legitimate beefs with other ethnicities.  That said, I do believe everyone has the right to honor his own heritage as well as the responsibility to be tolerant of others - even if you disagree with it, and even if you are offended by it.  This is especially true for brothers and sisters in Christ.  For ultimately, our citizenship is in heaven, and our family transcends bloodlines.  We should strive to avoid attacking the ancestry of others in the American tapestry.  I don't expect other Americans to have any interest at all in the history of the Highland Scots.  Why should they?  Their lack of interest is not hatred toward my heritage.  It would be strange indeed to compel non-Scottish children to learn Scottish-American history in school.  Let families instill a sense of ethnic belonging in their children, and let the schools teach everyone to have a voice and celebrate his heritage no matter what it is.  And we need more diversity when it comes to historiography.

How about we take the slogans about tolerance and coexistence and actually put them into practice?

Here is a postscript: Tolerance, Part Two.

Sermon: Trinity 22 - 2019

17 November 2019

Text: Matt 18:21-35

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness: “Forgive us our trespasses,” we pray – but we don’t stop there.  Our Lord adds, “… as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We are not praying that God would limit His forgiveness of us by making it conditional on our forgiving others, rather, we are asking God in this petition not only for forgiveness, but the grace to forgive others as well, that we should be merciful even as our heavenly Father is merciful.

And to forgive others is a gift of God.  It is growth in the Spirit.  It comes by faith and by being strengthened in the Word of God and in the sacraments.  

The Lord speaks to us His Word about forgiveness in the form of a parable, a story that reveals the kingdom of God to us.  For apart from revelation, we cannot understand any of this.  But thanks be to God that our Lord Jesus Christ preaches and teaches and lifts back the veil to show us what God is truly like: merciful beyond measure.  

And fittingly enough, Jesus teaches us about the kingdom by means of a character in His story: a king.  It is not difficult to see whom the King represents – for He is teaching us about the kingdom of heaven.

This king “wished to settle accounts with his servants.”  And one “was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”  This is such a large amount of money that it’s fair to say that this story is comical in a way.  For in our fallen world, there is no way a servant would have, let alone owe, such a ridiculous amount.  But remember, this is a parable teaching us about heaven.  For what do we owe God, dear friends, what kind of debt to we have to our Lord who created us, who gave His life for us, who keeps us in the true faith by His grace?  How much is that worth if not more than all the money in the world?

In our story, the servant owes the king ten thousand talents, and knowing that payment is impossible, the king has the right to sell him and his family into slavery in order for “payment to be made.”  But “the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”  Remember that he said this.

The king has “pity for him.”  And casting justice aside, even surrendering what is rightfully owed him, he forgives the debt.  The king is not just a powerful and mighty man, but one with a soft spot, a king who loves his people and his servants, a king who has mercy.  The debt is forgiven.  The servant is released.  And it is as if he were born again.

And here, Jesus introduces a twist into the story.  Our comedy becomes a tragedy.  For the forgiven servant ceases being a sympathetic character and becomes the villain.  Just having been absolved and given his life back, he runs out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller amount: a hundred denarii.  “And seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’”  The debtor begins to plead – even as our creditor had just done with the king.  “Have patience with me, and I will pay you,” he says.  Does that line sound familiar?  It is almost the same words that the king’s servant said when he was pleading for mercy.

And yet, those words did not remind him of his own debt, nor of the mercy shown to him.  Instead, “he refused” and he sent the servant away to debtor’s prison.

The conduct of the forgiven servant should shock us.  It should appall us.  It should anger us.  And it should shame us, for that is just how we are, dear friends.  We have been forgiven all of our sins.  We have been set apart by Holy Baptism.  We have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – all by grace, with no worthiness in ourselves, all because God has pity on us.  He is merciful beyond measure, as if He forgives us a ten thousand talent debt.  And what do we do?  We make ourselves out to be the victim.  We self-righteously hold grudges and collect grievances.  We are the ungrateful servant, and it should grieve us.

And lest we take the Lord’s grace for granted, listen to the rest of the story.  The other servants report this back to the king.  The king is angry.  “You wicked servant!” he says. “I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” 

The king sent the servant to jail.  His grant of mercy has been revoked.  And Jesus is very stern here, dear friends: “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The wicked servant had forgotten the mercy shown to him, as he was so focused on what was owed him.  He took the grace of his master for granted, and treated this great gift and treasure of the Gospel like a cheap trinket.  Instead of reflecting upon His master’s mercy, his thoughts and desires were focused on himself – and he lost sight of reality, of the big picture, of the joy of being forgiven and given new life.  

Dear friends, this is why we must avoid the temptation toward focusing on self.  Instead, we should look to the needs of others and reflect – each and every day – on the Lord’s goodness and mercy to us in Jesus Christ, in the cross, in His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Let us not allow our minds to wander at the communion rail, but let us look to Jesus, let us meditate upon the cross, and let us receive the Holy Supper with joy and gratitude, knowing that our very life depends upon this small wafer of bread and sip of wine – which are the true body and blood of Christ – given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins – even the debt of ten thousand talents.  

And let us pray fervently for the gift of affixing our eyes and minds and hearts upon Jesus, and upon the cross – so that we may remain humble and grateful, focused on the ten thousand talents forgiven us instead of the hundred denarii owed to us.  For what are such trifles that we complain about in light of the Lord’s mercy to us?

Let us remember this parable each and every time we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 12

12 November 2019

Text: Matt 26:1-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

The poor body of Christ is criticized at every end by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  We Americans are among the richest people on the planet.  Even the poorest among us live like kings compared to our great-grandparents’ generation.  And yet we are criticized for not doing enough “for the poor.”

The Church is criticized for being rich – as if every pastor rolls around in gold coins while drinking champagne every night, as if our congregations have a fleet of private jets and expensive real estate holdings.  Most of our churches are hanging financially by a thread.  And yet, as we are able, we have beautiful vestments and dignified church architecture.  In some cases, these altars, fonts, pulpits, and pews were paid for by laborers a hundred years ago, whose offerings were counted in cents, not dollars.  And today, the pastor’s albs and stoles and chasubles are often gifts of the people, offered in love for their pastors to wear for the sake of the dignity of the Gospel.

Notice how Jesus dismisses the crass criticism of the disciples: “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Nobody begrudges a family for spending thousands of dollars on their daughter’s wedding.  Nobody criticizes a man for buying his beloved a diamond ring.  Why?  Because these are sacrificial acts of love.  What kind of parents would host their daughter’s wedding in a McDonald’s restaurant – assuming that these parents were not genuinely impoverished?  And what kind of a man would buy his bride-to-be a plastic ring from a gumball machine – assuming that he had the means to buy her a real ring?

These things are tokens of love.  And they are not things that are often repeated.  They are symbols of sacrifice, and gratitude.  For we are the Bride of Christ, dear friends.  And what has He done for us?  He has given His life as the perfect Bridegroom.  He has died to save us.  He gives us eternal life!  And we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in response to His propitious sacrifice of blood that saves us.  And we join in the Eucharist, that is, the Thanksgiving meal of His body and blood for our salvation.  Our gifts to the Lord are not to be scorned – especially when they are treasures to be lovingly used for generations, proclaiming the Gospel without words, and confessing the Lord Jesus’ saving act upon the cross.

“You will always have the poor with you,” says our Lord.  Indeed, we will always have opportunities to help our brethren in need.  But in our state of relative wealth, we don’t need to rob Jesus to feed the hungry.  In fact, we can do both if we are willing to give up some of our own creature comforts out of love: both for our neighbor and for our Lord.  For we do a beautiful thing when we adorn the Gospel in beauty.  And what’s more, we make all rich in faith by proclaiming the Gospel – in word and in deed.  Amen!

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