Sunday, March 26, 2023

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5) – 2023

26 March 2023

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord is having an ugly public confrontation with the Pharisees.  He had just forgiven the woman caught in adultery.  He called Himself the “light of the world.”  He made reference to God as His Father.  The Pharisees replied by asking Him who His father is, mocking Him that Joseph was not His biological father.  Jesus told them that they do not know His true Father, and as a result, they do not know the Son.  He also made reference to His approaching crucifixion, and what it means.

Jesus told some of the Jews, “who had believed in Him,” according to St. John earlier in this chapter, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  And here is where these former Christians turned away from Jesus.  For they were more concerned about being “Abraham’s children” than Jesus’ disciples.  When Jesus said that He came to set them free, they were insulted – because they did not see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior.  And Jesus does not spare their feelings: “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill Me because My Word finds no place in you.  I speak of what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus is telling them that because of their unbelief, their father is not Abraham, and not God, but the devil.

That is the set-up of this uncomfortable exchange that Jesus has with this group of Jews who wanted a different kind of Messiah than what God gave them.  They wanted a Christ who would be a political leader, who would exalt their ethnicity over the Gentiles.  They wanted to be taught how wonderful they were, not how sinful they were.  They thought they needed a king whose kingdom was of this world, when what they really needed was the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”

The Word of God exposes our sin and leaves us wounded and desperate for help.  Jesus is the Word Made Flesh.  Those who are cut down by the Law follow Him, but those filled with pride follow their father the devil.  It is still like that today, dear friends.  You are a Christian because the Father felt pity for you.  He freed you from the devil.  He cleansed you in Holy Baptism.  He connected you to His Son, who died in your place, who called you to follow Him, who is the truth that sets you free.  And God doesn’t care whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.  God doesn’t care what color you are, what high school you graduated from, or what you do for a living.  For we were all slaves to sin, but now we have been set free by Jesus, by His blood.

So we can either respond by pushing Jesus away out of pride – whether it is pride of ethnicity, of nationality, of standing in the community, of church body, of our children’s accomplishments, of personal wealth, of politics, or a thousand other things that do not save us.  We can adopt Satan as our father, and join in the world’s mockery of Jesus.  Or we can humbly submit to God’s Word, recognize that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and confess that apart from Jesus, we are children of the devil, and slaves of our sinful nature.  We can confess Christ as the one who has set us free.  We can make this confession of Jesus the central thing about our identity, calling God the Father our Father, and looking to our baptism as the thing that truly defines us in this life: not our ethnicity, what country we live in, or what we believe about things of this dying world.

For listen to the promise, dear friends, the promise that Jesus speaks and offers even to those who hate Him: “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.”  And just so that we are clear, God is not saying that to have salvation you must keep the Law perfectly.  That is not what Jesus means here.  For you can’t do so.  To “keep” the Word means to hold onto it, to cling to it.  For the Word contains the promise – just like God’s promise to Abraham, which Abraham held on to for decades and decades – which was fulfilled only when he was a hundred years old and his wife gave birth to Isaac at the age of ninety.  Abraham kept the Word of God, not because he was perfect, but because he believed – even when it seemed impossible.  He kept the Word – and we too keep the Word by believing in Jesus, the Son of Abraham.  That is more important than being a biological descendant of Abraham.

Indeed, Abraham is our father – whether biologically as Jews or spiritually as Gentiles.  What matters is that, like our father Abraham, we hold fast to the Word, believe the promise, and confess Jesus: the true Son of Abraham.  We imitate our father Abraham when we believe our Father who is God, who is the true Father of Jesus, who called Abraham out of the wilderness to make a promise to him, and then keep it.

We heard of Abraham’s faith in the Old Testament reading.  God commanded Him to sacrifice his miraculous son Isaac.  Both father and son obeyed this Word of God, trusting in the promise that God would provide, that Isaac would yet again live, that the two of them would descend the mountain together, saying, “I and the boy will come again to you.”  And God did provide a substitute, dear friends.  And this ram, his head caught in the thorns, this substitutionary sacrifice, is a picture of Jesus.  God did provide.  God fulfilled His promise to Abraham.  His son Isaac was saved from death.  And his Son, his descendant, Jesus, the Son of God, is that ram, that substitute, who saves us.  We are Abraham’s children by faith, and we know the truth that sets us free: the Word Made Flesh who is confessed in the Word that we hear.  Let us keep this Word, hold fast to it, and refuse to let Satan draw us into ourselves and away from the Lamb.

For our Lord Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, the Son of God and the Son of Abraham, the Word Made Flesh, our Savior, is not only the victim of this sacrificial offering, but He is also the priest who offers Himself.  As the author of Hebrews teaches us: “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come.”  For “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

As we learn in this Word of God, the “blood of goats and bulls” are inferior to, but also point to, “the blood of Christ.”  He is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

Dear friends, God the Father is your Father.  God the Son is your Savior.  God the Holy Spirit is your Lord and giver of life who called you.  You were baptized into this Most Holy Name, and made a child of Abraham, a child of promise, a child of God, and a child of paradise. 

He is the one who has come “to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”  For Jesus not only has an ugly confrontation with the sons of the devil, He confronts Satan Himself, defeating Him at the cross.  Jesus gives Himself to each one of us: in His Word, in the water, and in the blood, now and even unto eternity.


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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Lent 4

21 Mar 2023

Text: Mark 12:13-27

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As we move through St. Mark’s Gospel, as Jesus is now in Jerusalem, His enemies are increasing their attacks on Him.  Although they try to flatter Him with the title, “Teacher,” they pose “questions” that are not really questions at all.  They are trying to “trap Him in His talk,” for they are “hypocrites.”

First are the Pharisees (the conservative scholars) and the Herodians (the politically well-connected).  They try to flatter Jesus by emphasizing that He does not “care about anyone’s opinion” nor is He “swayed by appearances, but truly teach[es] the way of God.”  Their “question” involves taxes.  Taxes are controversial because the children of Israel are being taxed unfairly by the Roman occupation forces.  The taxes paid by Jews are unfair, cruel, and collected dishonestly.  At the same time, Rome will permit no dissent in the matter.  It is the price of peace and survival.

The Pharisees and Herodians understand that a yes or no answer will either put Jesus at odds with the Jews (who are hanging on His every word) or the Roman authorities (who would arrest and crucify Him as a rebel).  Our Lord outsmarts them by turning the question back on them.  Asking for a coin, He shows them the engraved image of Caesar, who purported to be a god, on the front.  He shows them that this coin is an idol.  And yet, they overlook this in order to try to trap Jesus regarding taxes.  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He says, “and to God the things that are God’s.”  Jesus did not come to debate tax policy or even to liberate people oppressed by governments in this life.  He has come for a much greater purpose: to establish a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36), in which we will live forever.

A second group of enemies comes along, the Sadducees (the liberal faction) also being sly and flattering.  This group denies the resurrection, and they pose a riddle to Jesus, hoping that He will deny the resurrection like they do.  Jesus tells them bluntly that they are wrong.  And it is because they “know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  For when we are raised again from the dead, we will not “marry nor [be] given in marriage.”  But again, their real question concerns the resurrection.  And so the Teacher answers their real question: yes, the resurrection is real.  And Jesus proves it by pointing out that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will live again in the flesh at the resurrection, for God is not “God of the dead, but of the living.”  And Jesus will shortly rise from the dead Himself.

The Pharisees and the Herodians ask about taxes, and Jesus teaches them about the kingdom instead, that He, not Caesar Augustus is the true “Filius Dei” (Son of God).  The Sadducees ask about marriage, and Jesus also teaches them about the kingdom, in which the people of God, those whose faith is in the Word of God, will rise from the dead, and live forever. 

That, dear friends, is what the kingdom of God is about.  It is not about taxes, but rather the Son who frees us from all such debts.  Nor is it about earthly institutions, even holy ones like marriage.  For we will live forever, bodily partaking of the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) for eternity.  Our Lord’s enemies will finally get Him to the cross.  But by the cross, our debts are paid in full, and we enjoy eternal life in the body by means of our Bridegroom. 


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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) – 2023

19 March 2023

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In our Gospel reading, St. John gives us his account of the feeding of the five thousand.  And for us modern Americans – especially those of us in Louisiana – food is an important matter.  But it is important to us in a different way, because we don’t have a problem getting it.  For us, it has become a luxury.

But for most of human history, and for most people who have ever lived, there was no guarantee of a meal tomorrow. 

The refrigerator and freezer did not exist until recently.  So you had to either grow your own food, or buy it every day.  And it is a lot of work to grow food or raise animals.  And for those who did not farm, there was a daily trip to the market – on foot or propelled by animal.  There was the daily struggle to have money to buy food.  And hopefully, the farmers and merchants had some available. 

And then there were famines and bad weather that wiped out crops, forcing people to make difficult choices: to reduce one’s food intake drastically to keep the animals alive for future food and trade, or kill the animals now with no way to store the meat.  There were also plagues that would kill off all of the livestock as well.  And everyone has to eat to live: the rich and the poor alike.

So there were, and really still are, no guarantees that we will have food from one day to the next.  And that is why we pray for “daily bread” in the Lord’s prayer.  It’s easy to take God for granted when we have refrigerators and freezers stocked with food and drink, and even desserts.  On a road trip, there is always an exit ramp with fast food.  Or at least a gas station with food that we might even grumble about receiving.  Our blessings often make us forget that they are blessings.  It is important to be grateful for the Lord’s grace.  And even when the fridge and the freezer are not overflowing, we still give thanks to God for what He provides.

One day, large numbers of people followed Jesus during His travels “to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.”  A “large crowd” had gathered.  They wanted to see Jesus, to hear Him, to bring their sick to Him.  It meant hiking for several days, carrying food with them in faith, hoping that God would provide.  St. John tells us this was near the time of the Passover holiday, when the children of Israel celebrated their liberation from slavery by means of a meal that was not only special, not only something to be repeated out of remembrance, but it was a supernatural meal, one that saved them from death.

Jesus challenges His disciple Philip to think of a way to feed thousands of people in the middle of nowhere – with no money and no stores close by.  “He said this to test him.”  Philip, of course, can only point out the problem, not the solution: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread” – not even enough for everyone to get a single bite.  And this is not just a matter of being uncomfortable.  People risked their lives to go where Jesus is, seeking His blessing.  If Jesus doesn’t intervene, people will die. 

Andrew can only find a boy who brought lunch for a few people: five loaves and two fish.  The loaves of bread were barley, suggesting that he was poor.  And Jesus takes the lunch of this impoverished boy to feed thousands of hungry people.  And of course, He miraculously multiplies this tiny amount and turns it into abundance: feeding five thousand men, plus women and children, to the point where they “had eaten their fill,” and there were still twelve baskets of leftovers afterward.

People often interpret this miracle as Jesus showing that He is God, because He has the power of God to create.  And that is true.  But there is so much more to this lesson, dear friends.  For our incarnate God is not just powerful and mighty, like a force of nature.  He is also compassionate.  He cares about each of the people individually.  Jesus makes no distinction between the rich and the poor, the old and the young, nor even between those who believe in Him and those who do not.  As Jesus said earlier: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Or as we say in the Catechism, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”

Of course, the people see the power of God in Jesus’ miracle.  But they are also fed.  Their fear of dying has been taken away.  They know that the same God who came to their ancestors and gave them the supernatural Passover meal has come to deliver them from death.  And later in this chapter, Jesus will call Himself “the Bread of Life” and compare Himself to the manna of the Old Testament, when the Israelites were kept alive in the desert by “bread come down from heaven.”  Jesus will also tell us we, who believe in Him, who have faith, will eat His flesh and drink His blood and receive eternal life – and God will raise us up on the Last Day.

Jesus has given us a lot to think about, dear friends.  We should not trust ourselves to provide for food.  We should not put our faith in refrigerators and electricity, in our jobs, our banks, or our grocery stores.  We should not look only to our own gardens or ability to hunt.  For all of these still depend on God providing for us and taking care of our needs.  And when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we mean literal bread, we mean food, we mean everything we need to live.  And we also mean our supernatural food, which God Himself multiplies: His grace that never runs out, His Word and His sacraments.  For God gave Philip and Andrew and the rest of the Twelve authority to administer the Supper and Baptize, to preach and teach, to “go and make disciples.”  And from those original apostolic witnesses, the entire world has heard this good news.  The Gospel has multiplied, not by our own efforts, but by the hand of Jesus, the Bread of Life, who provides daily bread to all. 

Andrew’s question: “What are they for so many?” is such a beautifully honest prayer.  It reflects our own weak faith as we look at our own bank accounts, our economy, our church’s balance sheet, our children’s job prospects, and the less that we can buy with our money. 

And yet, dear friends, Jesus still finds a way to feed us with bread in this desert of our fallen world.  But more importantly, His supernatural grace and mercy multiply.  There is always more of the Lord’s Supper, more of the Bread of Life to eat, more of His blood to drink.  There is always more Good News to hear, to thank God for, and to rejoice in, week in and week out.  There is always more forgiveness, and more strength for the journey, always more multiplied by the hand of Jesus.  And trusting that Jesus can, will, and does take care of so many with so little is the very meaning of faith.  It is trust that Jesus will provide.

For it was also when the Passover feast was at hand when our Lord was crucified, when His body and blood were offered as a pure sacrifice and then provided and multiplied to us, dear friends.  He is our daily bread, our supernatural bread, our Bread of Life.

And so every week, leave our homes to come to where Jesus is, to be fed, to hear His Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  We make our way from place to place not knowing what will happen in the future, but stepping out in faith to follow Jesus, to eat the Bread of Life and to drink the blood that was shed on the cross as a sacrifice by the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”  We rejoice that God fed the Israelites with manna, and we rejoice that Jesus is the true bread from heaven, trusting in the multiplication of His mercy, gathering up the leftover fragments, “that nothing may be lost.” 


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

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Lent 3

14 Mar 2023

Text: Mark 9:33-50

 In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

 Some of the disciples are embarrassed in front of Jesus.  He asks them what they were just talking about.  “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.  And He sat down and called the twelve.”

 The Christian life is not a competition against other Christians.  St. Paul compares it to athletics: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor 9:24-25).  But his comparison is for the sake of “self-control” and not being “disqualified (v 27) – not to win by pushing others out of the kingdom.  If that were the case, Jesus would be the winner, and none of us would receive a crown.

 Indeed, Jesus is the greatest, and He wears a crown of thorns for our sakes, so that we, who are the least, might be the greatest.  Our athlete-like discipline represents a competition within ourselves rather than exalting ourselves in order to defeat others.  Therefore, we should live in the discipline of a runner who seeks to improve his performance through training.  The Christian life is not a spectator sport.

 Notice that Jesus hears of this dispute, and He “sat down.”  This is Jesus asserting His authority over His students.  In that culture, the teacher sat to instruct.  How embarrassing this must have been for those disciples engaged in such a petty dispute – knowing that the one who is teaching them is the Greatest, who is rescuing them from sin, death, and hell.

 In teaching them what constitutes greatness in the kingdom, Jesus takes a child and explains, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”  Our Lord elaborates: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  The word “great” is not explicitly stated in the Greek, but it is implied by the fact that it is a “donkey” millstone, one that is so large that it must be powered by a beast of burden. 

 In worldly greatness, one seeks to aggrandize oneself by grinding others down, even lording over little children by leading them into sin.  This kind of pursuit of “greatness” leads to sociopathy, and ultimately to hell.  And Jesus prescribes harsh medicine for those whose desire for greatness has brought them to this point: the sin must be “cut off” – amputated.  It cannot coexist with the greatness of Jesus – which He gives as a free gift.  For there is a point of no return when it comes to sin, especially driven by pride, like “salt [that] has lost its saltiness.”  Indeed, the church confesses a greatness that comes only from Jesus, a greatness that is imposed upon us from the outside.  The greatest in the kingdom of God are the least in the eyes of the world: little baptized children who believe in Him.  For even we Christians need to be reminded that these who are the least are the greatest, because they bear the name and the cleansing of Christ, all by grace.

 Let us not be distracted by the greatness of our sins, or the greatness of the millstone.  Let us repent and train as athletes, competing only against ourselves.  Let us bring the greatness of Jesus to all, that none of us – and especially the little ones who believe in Him – should be disqualified, but may wear the imperishable crown of Christ’s greatness.


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

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) – 2023

12 March 2023

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Moses came to the Egyptians with signs and wonders.  God had given him both the power and the authority to perform miracles so as to prove to the Egyptians that he acted, in their words, by the “finger of God.”  The magicians told Pharaoh that this was so, “but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.”

The magicians and the people of Egypt suffered the effects of the plagues.  So did Pharaoh himself.  But his heart was hardened, and he would not let the people of Israel go, as God had directed him.  For Pharaoh was not only dependent upon the labor of the Hebrews, he also depended upon his own people believing in their pagan religion that Pharaoh was a god. 

It was not until Pharaoh’s own crown prince, the next in line to be declared a god, would die before he would let the people go.  And even then, he changed his mind.  As a result, his entire army was drowned in the Red Sea. 

That, dear friends, is the lesson for those who would deny the power of God, the true God, serving themselves or other false gods instead.  That is the result of a hard heart, one that sees the signs and hears the Word of God, but refuses to believe because the cost of repentance is too high.  Such people only find out the cost of impenitence when the “finger of God” is upon them.

Fourteen centuries later, the “finger of God” would return.  In fact, God would take on an entire body, this time not appearing to Pharaoh by means of a representative like Moses, but rather coming Himself.  And instead of crossing swords with a representative of Satan like Pharaoh, Jesus comes to fight the devil, the prince of demons, who once more has enslaved the Hebrews and all men by drawing them away from the one true God into worshiping not just kings and Caesars, not just serving Greek and Roman gods, but also putting the Law and the lawyers, the Pharisees and the rulings of councils, above the Word of God, as if the finger of a scribe took precedence over the finger of God.

Jesus runs into the same kind of resistance to the Word of God – including the promise of God’s forgiveness, reconciliation, and blessing, as Moses did in the Exodus from Egypt.  This time, the Hebrews are held in the slavery of the Law as interpreted by the fingers of hypocrites.

And this is how it is that Jesus, God in the flesh, the New and Greater Moses who represents the Hebrews, seeking their deliverance from the tyranny of Satan, is accused by His own people of being in league with the devil.  Even as devils torment Israelites by possessing their bodies, the Pharisees and scribes watch Jesus casting out demons “by the finger of God,” but like Pharaoh, they are so blinded by their own power, and the worship of themselves, that they believe a lie so grotesque that Jesus calls it the unforgiveable sin. 

Indeed, “the people marveled,” and many came to Jesus to be healed of incurable ailments, to be freed of the demons, to hear Him preach the Good News that the kingdom is at hand, to rejoice in the Messiah’s coming – “but some of them” instead claim, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” 

And like Pharaoh, the unbelievers continue to ask for “a sign from heaven,” as the ones that He has already performed are apparently not conclusive enough.  And in another sign of His divinity, our Lord knows their thoughts.  For Jesus is God, the same God whose finger was resisted by hard-hearted Pharaoh.  And so our Lord proves the ridiculousness of their delusion: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste…. if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

And our Lord calls to mind the Exodus and the deliverance of the Hebrews from the grips of Pharaoh by asking them: “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”

And here, Jesus challenges them to confess and stop messing around: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Dear friends, we may marvel at Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness, and we may be shocked at the lengths that the children of Israel will go to deny Jesus, but our Lord’s warning is for us as well.  If Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God, why do we resist His invitation to leave the slavery of Satan to be delivered by the wounded hand of God, who takes hold of us to free us from slavery?

Why would we live like the pagans and essentially deny the finger of God by not giving Jesus a second thought until next Sunday, or maybe until we are facing some plague or other in this fallen life?  The time to leave Egypt is now.  The time to follow the finger, the hand, the flesh and blood of God is now.  The Hebrews placed the blood of the lamb on the doors of their houses, and the angel of death passed over them.  God invited them.  Moses preached to them.  They heard and believed and obeyed.  They were saved from the angel of death.  And they were also delivered from Pharaoh’s tyranny and slavery.  And God continued to promise the Israelites a New and Greater Moses who would save them from a slavery even worse than that which they experienced in Egypt.

Jesus comes to us today.  The finger of God is guiding us by means of the Word and the Sacraments.  Jesus frees you from slavery by Holy Absolution: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus cast out your demons when you baptized – again in this same divine name of God.  Jesus calls you to follow Him to the Promised Land by the preaching of this Word of God, for “Blessed… are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  And Jesus provides you with a New and Greater Passover meal, the bread and wine of the Hebrews that not only point to the lambs that were slain and their blood, but rather fulfills it by becoming the body and blood of the Lamb who was slain “that takest away the sin of the world.”  Jesus is that Lamb to which all the Passover lambs in history have pointed.

Indeed, the Scriptures themselves serve as the finger of God that point us to Jesus, who is God in the flesh, whose blood was shed to atone for our sins, whose body was nailed to the cross for our justification, whose Word casts out demons, and whose Sacrament of the Altar is a sign, and even more than that: the miraculous presence of our Lord in the fulfillment of the Passover meal.

And because we are rescued from sin, death, and the devil by the finger of God, by Jesus working in our world with power and authority, by His Word and Sacraments, we can live not as slaves, but as free men.  “Therefore,” says St. Paul, “be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

St. Paul calls Christians to a life freed from demons and Pharaohs and the filthiness of this world.  The kinds of things that are common in our current culture, in our movies and TV, in our music and commercial life, in conversation with friends and even at work: “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  Let us not resist the finger of God by refusing to remember our baptism, by making excuses not to follow Jesus from slavery to freedom.  Let us not, like the Israelites, mess around and grumble and wish to go back to slavery because of our appetite for food and lusts for the things of Beelzebub. 

Indeed, dear friends, we have left Egypt.  We have renounced Pharaoh.  We have been liberated from slavery.  We have been delivered from evil.  We have been taken by the hand of Jesus to bring us to the Promised Land.  We experience the finger of God by hearing His Word, and by keeping it.  The angel of death passes over us who eat the Paschal meal of the Lamb’s flesh and blood.  Satan has been cast out, for “one stronger than he” has attacked him and overcome him.   

Let us not bear a hard heart, one that sees the signs and hears the Word of God, but refuses to believe because the cost of repentance is too high.  Let us stop messing around.  Let us instead “walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”  For Jesus has conquered the devil and freed you from bondage, has drowned your sins in the font, and puts the blood of the Passover Lamb into the doorway of your lips. 

Thanks be to God!


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

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Lent 2

7 Mar 2023

Text: Mark 6:35-56

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The disciples point out to Jesus, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.”  They are referring, of course, to the multitudes of people who have gathered to hear Him preach and work miracles of healing.  The desolation of the place and the lateness of the time presents a problem for the people to be able to eat.  And Jesus, the masterful Teacher, leads the disciples to consider the ramifications of this desolation and lateness: “You give them something to eat,” He says.

The disciples take the bait, knowing that Jesus has asked the impossible of them.  And of course, from their perspective, based on their power, based on the scarcity of the fallen world, based upon both desolation of space and lateness of time, they can do nothing but watch how Jesus takes charge, shows compassion to the people, demonstrates His own divine power, and teaches them about the kingdom – all combined.

Taking five loaves and two fish, our Lord gives a little preview of His last Supper (that His disciples will see) and the establishment of the Lord’s Supper (that the disciples will celebrate).  He takes the elements.  He looks to heaven.  He prays a blessing.  He breaks the bread.  He distributes the miraculous food first to His disciples, who then in turn distribute this livegiving holy bread to the people, who have gathered to hear the Word of Jesus.

“And they all ate and were satisfied.”  The normal laws of physics and economics were overthrown by the Creator, who multiplied matter and turned scarcity into superabundance.  And what’s more, there were “twelve baskets” of leftovers: the same number as there are of the Lord’s inner circle of disciples, the very men who will be sent out as apostles.  And these apostles will baptize and teach, they will proclaim, they will absolve, and they will administer the Holy Communion – all according to the Lord’s command and delegated authority, bearing His power to carry out His ministry of overcoming the limitations set in place by the fall into sin: even undoing mortality itself.

For feeding the body with bread staves off the curse of death.  Feeding the soul with the Word and with the Sacraments staves off the curse of hell.  And the Holy Eucharist combines both: earthly elements to eat and to drink, embued with the Lord’s Word and promise, which we receive by eating and drinking in faith.  And this Holy Supper is multiplied by the Word and promise of Jesus, and there is always more left over.  God’s grace is superabundant.

For along with the five thousand men, and their wives and children, we modern disciples of Jesus, with the ministry of the successors of the apostles, partake in the miracle of the multiplication, the overthrow of the laws of physics and economics and even biology, eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:54), receiving the gift of life – even life that promises our being “raised up on the last day” as the Apostle John records as one of these words and promises of Jesus (John 6:54).  For He is our “bread of life come down from heaven” so that we might “live forever”  (John 6:48-51).

For indeed, “this is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.”  And so our Lord tells His pastors: “You give them something to eat.”  Dear friends, let us eat!  Let us drink!  Let us hear the Word of Christ!  Let us be satisfied!  And let us live forever!


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

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2023

5 March 2023

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

God told Jacob to do something very difficult.  He had cheated his twin brother many years before, and ran away from home.  He made a good life for himself.  But now, God told him to bring his family and all his riches, and go face his brother Esau – who had vowed that he would kill his brother.

Jacob was afraid of Esau, but he was more afraid of God.  He made the long journey home, expecting that there was a good chance that God was leading him back to be killed as punishment for his sins. 

And then, to top it all off, while he was alone at night, he got mugged.  “A man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.”  And the mugger had an extraordinary fighting technique.  “He touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.”  But Jacob did not give up.  When the sun rose, the mugger asked Jacob to let him go.  Jacob said something very strange, dear friends, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  For Jacob realized that this was a supernatural encounter.  This was not a mugger.  Rather, this was God in human form.  And God took flesh to teach him something.  And in fact, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning, “He wrestles with God.”

Jacob remembered this wrestling with God – and he even had a limp to remind him.  His faith in God was strengthened as he went back to face his brother.  Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  In spite of his sin and unworthiness, God took mercy on him and saved him through his fears and struggles.

This mugger, wrestler, and teacher – who is God in human form – had more people to mug, wrestle with, and teach – as well as to give faith and to save.  The incident with Jacob was a preview of what was to come later.

In fact, the descendants of Jacob became God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  And the mugger, wrestler, teacher, and Savior, God in human form, would be born an Israelite: a descendant of the same Jacob nearly two thousand years later.  And, in fact, He would be called “Teacher,” and He would gather to Himself students, called “disciples.”

And one day, this Teacher and His disciples encountered a Canaanite woman (not an Israelite) who had heard of the Teacher’s supernatural powers.  And she knew who Jesus was as she revealed His title as the King of Israel, calling Him: “Son of David.”  For Jesus didn’t surprise her in the form of a mugger in the middle of the night, rather this woman is the one who initiated this confrontation. 

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”  She prays for mercy right before asking our Lord for something specific – just as we do to this day in our liturgy: “Lord, have mercy upon us” – right before we prayed: “O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength.  By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul.”  Her prayer, knowing that of herself, she has no strength, is for Jesus to defend her daughter from all adversities, and from evil to body and soul.  She says: “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

Jesus is the Savior.  She has come to the right place.  But Jesus is still the Teacher.  And in His capacity as Teacher, he is also the wrestler.  In order to teach this woman to have Jacob’s faith in facing her own fears, Jesus wrestles with her by remaining silent, “He did not answer her a word.”

Our Lord’s disciples, in one of their less than stellar moments, show no compassion, but ask Jesus to “send her away.”  Our Lord tries to throw off this Gentile woman who has essentially mugged Him by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But like Jacob, who refused to let Jesus go without a blessing, the Canaanite woman holds on for dear life.  She will not be dissuaded in her prayers.  “She knelt before Him saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” 

Once again, Jesus pushes her away by appealing to God’s promise to His chosen people, the Israelites, descendants of Jacob.  He rebuffs her saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  But once more, the Canaanite woman, praying to Jesus on behalf of her daughter, refuses to let go without receiving a blessing.  “Yes, Lord,” she says.  This is a confession of humility and unworthiness.  And this unworthiness is why we pray with her, “Lord, have mercy,” and why we are bold to pray.  “Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  For this Canaanite woman had faith.  Somehow, she had learned of the promise in Scripture that the Savior would not only rescue the children of Israel, but would also be a blessing to her people.  Somehow and somewhere, she heard the prophecy of Isaiah: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  She held on to this promise that was for her and for her daughter – and for all the people of earth.

She knew that the Teacher and Savior had come for her too, and she wrestled with God until the daybreak of His mercy came to her.  She said, “Yes, Lord,” not only to our Lord telling her that He came for the children of Israel, but she also said, “Yes, Lord” to the prophecy of Isaiah.  She said, “Yes, Lord,” because she believed.  And she refused to let go until He gave her a blessing.

Her faith was not in vain, dear friends.  Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And “her daughter was healed instantly.” 

For our Savior is indeed a teacher.  We are His students.  He teaches us about the kingdom.  He teaches us through His Word and through His actions in this world that not only save us, but also teach us who He is and how His kingdom works.  He teaches us through the Scriptures and through the saving and healing sacraments.  And these means of the Lord’s mercy work through faith.

Scripture teaches us that Jesus has come not to condemn, but to save.  And the Lord’s Supper teaches us that we are forgiven and made worthy of God Himself to visit us and to dine with us, to be both the host and the guest – and we believe, we ask for mercy, and we pray, praise, and give thanks.  For Jesus has mugged us, in a way, dear friends.  We did not go looking for Him, but somehow He found us.  He makes us wrestle with His Word.  He tests our faith.  He teaches us.  And He saves us. 

He hears our prayers.  He frees us from the power of the devil.  He welcomes us into the kingdom regardless of our ancestry, whether we are Israelite or Canaanite.  And even when nobody else will listen – and even when we think He is not listening – He listens, He hears, and He saves. 

He teaches us with His Word – with these two incidents that happened nearly two thousand years apart.  He teaches us where we stand nearly two thousand years after the verbal wrestling match with the Canaanite woman.  He teaches us that we are to hear the promises of God and believe them.  And based on those promises, we can live our lives in confidence, in faith.  And we pray with boldness, knowing that whatever the outcome, He hears us and He gives us the outcome according to His will. 

And as the teacher of our Catechism instructs us: “The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”

It is God’s will to free us from bondage to the devil, and to lead us to trust Him, to pray for His mercy, and to refuse to let go of Him until He has blessed us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”


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

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Lent 1

28 Feb 2023

Text: Mark 3:20-35

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus is swamped by people to the point where He can hardly move.  His own family cannot understand what is happening, and some are even concerned for our Lord’s mental health.  And to top it all off, the scribes, the partners-in-crime of the Pharisees, are now accusing Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzubul” and that He “casts out demons” by being in league with demons.  Of course, our Lord points out the obvious illogic of their assertion.  They hate Jesus so much that they don’t even make sense in their denunciations of Him.

We certainly see this same thing today, as Christians are accused of being evil for upholding the Word of God.  We are called bigots and hypocrites and – to dust off an old epithet from the first century – we are referred to as “haters.” 

But the accusations against Christians make no more sense than the equivalent accusations against Christ.  Jesus said that we would be treated the same way, for as He warned us: “A disciple is not above his teacher (Luke 6:40), and, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt 10:22).

And those who treat the church this way should beware, for it is one thing to lie and to mistreat people.  It is another thing to commit an “eternal sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  For calling that which is holy, that which bears the Holy Spirit, and to call this Holy Spirit an evil spirit, is nothing more than a lack of belief.  It is a stubborn, willful, and hardened lack of faith.  And given that faith is required for salvation, those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, those who describe Christ and His followers as evil, those who push away the very one who can save them – they are teetering on the edge of permanent irredemption and condemnation.  They need to repent before it becomes “an eternal sin.”

Our Lord takes the situation of His family members seeking after Him, apparently hindered by the crowds, to teach us something about the kingdom and the church.  Jesus looks at His disciples around Himself, and He says: “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sisters and mother.” 

And so when we pray “Our Father,” we are confessing that we share our Lord’s status as a child of God: Him by eternal begottenness, and we by adoption and the new birth of water and the Spirit.  And when we pray “Thy will be done,” we are asking for the very thing that Jesus says is a sign that we are His family.  And when we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” we are petitioning that we may not fall into the great sin of unbelief, to be taken over by the one who truly is Beelzubul: the “prince of demons.”  We pray for deliverance from this evil one, which is to say, we pray for faith.

So dear friends, let us follow Jesus.  Let us pray the Lord’s prayer, again and again.  Let us strive to do the will of God, and pray that His will be done.  Let us not allow hatred and insults to move us from our Lord, our brother according to our flesh, and our Savior according to His blood.  Let us pray for deliverance from evil.  And let us praise the Father with Jesus: “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.”


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

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) – 2023

26 February 2023

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We began this season of Lent, as we always do, with Ash Wednesday.  At the beginning of that liturgy, even before Confession and Absolution, we began with the imposition of ashes, and with the words: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And today, half a week later, the first Sunday in Lent, we remember yet again what this is all about.  Once again, we are called upon to remember – remember our past, remember our mortality, remember why we die.  We remember how we got here. 

We need to remember because we are forgetful.  There are so many other things competing for our attention.  For because of the Fall in Eden, we are cursed to work.  And because we have to work, we have to have transportation and tools and time invested in our work.  And so we need to work even more.  Because of the Fall, goods are scarce.  And so we have to eke out a living.  And because we work so hard, we need down time and vacations – and they are sometimes even more work.

None of these things are bad, dear friends.  God calls us to different kinds of work to love and serve our neighbor, as well as to support our families.  God gives us little breaks in the routine for our mental and physical health.  But today’s readings are a warning not to forget what is really important, what Jesus told Martha was the “one thing [that is] necessary” in the midst of her work and service to Him and His disciples: to hear the Word of the Lord.  For God’s Word reminds us of what we too often forget: that we are in this mess because of sin.

Our forgetting of God’s Word is not simply a matter of bad memories or of too many irons in the fire, dear friends.  Eve turned away from the Word of God because she was tempted by the devil.  “Did God actually say…?”  “You will not surely die.”  “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”  The tempter distracts us and then lies to us.  He slithers up to our ears and whispers temptations to us to abandon the Word of God.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

Remember, O man.

And indeed, their eyes were opened.  They realized that something had changed.  They had left God’s protection.  They brought death upon themselves, the Garden, the world, and their descendants to come.  This is where it all started, lest we forget.

God told the man that the ground was cursed, and he would have to work for a miserly share of scarce food, and at the end of it all, he (and all people) would die.  God told the woman that bearing children would be painful, and the harmonious relationship between men and women would be poisoned by a desire to rule and not be ruled.  God told the serpent that a man would be born of a woman who would come into the world as a champion to redeem mankind.  And though the serpent would bruise His heel, this Messiah would bruise the head of the serpent.  This Christ would be mankind’s hope of vindication even in the midst of death.  And as we will learn, this Savior will defeat death by dying.  He will overcome the sin of the tree of knowledge of good and evil by dying as a result of sin on the tree of the cross.  He will redeem the woman who was the mother of all humanity by being born to a woman.  He will heal our breach of God’s Word by fulfilling God’s Word.  He uses God’s Word as a weapon against the devil.  For He is God’s Word made flesh.

And so when our Lord does come, fulfilling the prophecy of the human champion who will smash the head of the devil, we see their combat in our Gospel reading.  Right after His baptism, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  This is their first direct confrontation, at least as recorded in Scripture. 

This text is also a reminder.  Lest we forget that God promised a Savior, and that God fulfilled that promise in Jesus the Christ, lest we forget that we cannot defeat the devil by our own strategy and righteousness, we are reminded that “for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected.”  We are reminded that “God, the Son of God should take our mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

We are reminded of the power of the Word of God.  For even in His suffering and temptation, our Lord Jesus Christ beats back the serpent by means of the Word.  Three times, the Serpent asks Jesus “Did God really say…?” by offering Him a deal that is contrary to God’s Word, and three times Jesus responds with “It is written.”  For things are written, dear friends, so that we will not forget.  So that we will remember.  The Scriptures are written so that we will call them to mind when we are tempted.  And they are “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

And with the third and final “it is written” in our Lord’s battle with the devil, Jesus says to him, “Be gone, Satan!”  They will meet again in combat at the cross, where Jesus will indeed deliver a mortal blow to the serpent’s head, not just ordering him, “Be gone,” but making him be gone.

Before this encounter between Jesus and the devil took place in the wilderness, Jesus was baptized.  This is important, dear friends.  For it points us to our own baptism as the basis of our own battles with Satan.  For in Holy Baptism, the powerful name of the Triune God was placed on you by command and invitation of the Messiah, the Christ, the Champion and Vindicator of mankind. 

And the fact that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” was not the first thing you were called to remember on Ash Wednesday.  For before the imposition of ashes, there was the invocation of the Trinity: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  This is the name into which we are baptized.  It is our remembrance of baptism. 

Remember, O man.

It is our baptism and the Word that strengthens us for battle against the devil, as well as against his allies of the world and our own sinful nature.  We cross ourselves in remembrance of baptism, and in remembrance of the cross, where Jesus was bruised in His heel, but where Jesus bruised the head of the serpent.

And so, lest we forget, our victory over the devil is in Christ.  He is the Victor.  And by means of Word and Sacrament, He gives this victory to us.  He teaches us how to do combat with the serpent: by calling to mind the Word of God.  By living in your baptism.  By strengthening yourself and breaking the fast of this world’s scarcity by eating and drinking that which strengthens both body and soul: the very body and blood of the Christ who defeated the devil and rescued us.

On this day, we remember the fall into sin, and the rising up of Jesus against the devil.  We remember being tempted to set aside the Word of God, and we remember the Word of God being weaponized against the devil.  We remember the cross, upon which Jesus crushes the head of the devil on our behalf. 

So let us remember how to fight, dear friends.  Let us remember not to grow weary or give up.  Let us remember our baptism and the defeat of Satan by the Word of God. 

Remember, O man.


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