Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 29, 2022

29 Nov 2022 - St. Noah

Text: 1 Pet 2:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Peter begins by calling us to repent of all “malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”  But the apostle doesn’t tell us to use our willpower to do so.  In fact, he teaches us how to repent “like newborn infants” who crave their mother’s milk.  For us Christians, we “grow up into salvation” not by willpower, but rather by “long[ing] for the pure spiritual milk.”  And he adds that we can do this if we “have tasted that the Lord is good.”

So Peter teaches us that repentance is a gift to be received, just as a newborn rejoices in being fed by his mother, not having earned it, and not having understood it.  He simply opens his mouth and receives the gift.

For each believer is, like his Lord, “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.”  And what’s more, we Christians are gathered together into a “spiritual house,” that is, the Church.  And Jesus is the “stone that the builders rejected” who “has become the cornerstone” and the “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

And so we are Israel: God’s chosen people.  We come from every worldly nation, but in Him we are one “holy nation, a people for His own possession.”  He has called us out of the nations of this fallen world, laid a foundation upon the apostles, and built us together upon the Cornerstone, who is our Lord Jesus Christ.  For indeed, in the Old Covenant, we were “not a people.”  We were outside of salvation.  For the Old Covenant was an inheritance of blood: descendants of Abraham who were part of God’s chosen people by circumcision, but more importantly by faith: faith in the promise of the Christ to come.  And now that He has come, dear friends, we who do not share either the blood of Abraham or the blood of circumcision share in the blood of Christ, also by faith.  And now, dear friends, in the New Covenant, we are “God’s people.”

And this is how it is that St. Peter urges us to repent.  Our strength is not of ourselves and of our own goodness.  Indeed, our strength is only by the gift of faith, by being pressed into a powerful stone edifice by the mortar of Word and Sacrament, being built on the Rock of St. Peter’s confession and the apostolic foundation – which itself is made secure by being made true to our Cornerstone, Jesus Christ our Lord!


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

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sermon: Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1) – 2022

27 Nov 2022

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Jer 23:5-8, Rom 13:8-14) 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We begin Advent not by approaching the manger, but by approaching the cross. 

Listening to our Gospel reading, we welcome our Lord into Jerusalem as King on the first day of the week, the last Sunday before Easter.  On the sixth day, Friday, He will be crucified in a most extraordinary and unlikely victory – forgiving sin, defeating Satan, and destroying death.  And on the third day, Easter Sunday, He will appear in His risen glory, the world forever transformed, the universe beginning the first day of a new week of creation.  And the Church has this great Good News to proclaim to the world.

Of course, the world would find it odd that we are already looking forward to Easter when the world has already been playing Christmas music since Halloween.  And while it’s easy to complain about it, at least the world is hearing about Jesus – even in the most unlikely of places.  Even unbelievers cannot ignore our Lord this time of year. 

But unlike the world, the Church understands that there is a connection between the manger and the cross, between Christmas and Easter, between the baby King born in Bethlehem, and the crucified King who died at Golgotha. 

And of course, Jesus is the Son of David, the Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He was welcomed into David’s Royal City in a way that was both humble and majestic, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”  But in addition to being humble, our Lord’s entry was also majestic, for He came as the Son of David, in the same way as King Solomon, the first Son of David, who first rode into David’s Royal City on the donkey of his father, the greatest king of Israel aside from the Messiah Himself.

The crowds confessed Jesus as their true Messiah and King: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” 

And we still sing this confession to this very day, dear friends, in our Divine Service.  For our Messiah, our Christ the King continues to come to us with both humility and majesty: in humility under the forms of bread and wine, and in majesty as the truly present King of the Universe, who comes to us in His risen glory, forgiving our sins and strengthening our faith in the Holy Sacrament, fulfilling His own words of promise: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And just as “once He came in blessing” in the past, as a baby lying in a manger, and just as comes to us in the present, in His Word and Sacrament, He is coming again in glory in a future Advent that could happen at any moment.  For the prophecy of Jeremiah “behold the days are coming, declares the Lord,” have been fulfilled in Christ in the “now” of this age, and yet will also be fulfilled in Christ in the “not yet” of the age to come, when He comes again in glory, this next time without humility, but only majesty.  For “He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” 

Jesus is the King, and His kingdom is here, but it is also yet to come in its fullness at the end of time.  And just as God’s people of old waited for the Christ to come, so do we wait for the Christ to return. 

And so as we wait, as forgiven sinners, as those whom Christ has saved by His grace and by His blood, “all our sins redressing,” how are we to live?  St. Paul exhorts us: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”  And so we strive to keep the commandments, for this is how we love our neighbor.

But what’s more, St. Paul says: “Besides this, you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”  For every day that goes by, dear friends, is one day closer to our King’s return, to the completion of our redemption and re-creation, to eternity.

And like the children of Israel before that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, we wait patiently, but we wait expectantly.  Our palm branches are ready, and we have already started singing: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  St. Paul warns us: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  So let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” 

He is calling us to repent, for in this time of waiting for our King to return in the future, in this time of reflecting on our King’s Advent in the past, in this time of our Lord’s coming to us in the present – it is fitting for us to “cast off the works of darkness” and to “walk properly as in the daytime.”

Dear friends, let us do as the apostle bids us and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  Let us rejoice in the salvation that the baby in the manger won for us at the cross, in the Good News that He ordained His minister to proclaim to the world, and in the promise of His return to rescue us from the increasing darkness of this world. 


Soon will come that hour
When with mighty power
Christ will come in splendor
And will judgment render,
With the faithful sharing
Joy beyond comparing. 


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve – 2022

23 Nov 2022

Text: Luke 17:11-19, Phil 4:6-20

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In our Gospel, we see ten men healed by Jesus of leprosy.  Nine of them go on their way, but one of these men “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

We see what gratitude looks like, how one acts when one is grateful – especially to Jesus.  If we are grateful for what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us, then that gratitude will involve seeking Him out, going to where He is in His flesh, and expressing that thanksgiving with one’s voice and one’s body.  In other words, it is not merely an attitude or state of mind, but manifests itself in action, in worship, in confession and expression, and in a posture of humility to Jesus.  Interestingly, the Greek word for “thanksgiving” is “Eucharist.”  It is a meal of thanksgiving for the grace of God in Jesus Christ – who is both the host of the meal, and the meal itself.

We also see what ingratitude looks like, how one acts when one is ungrateful – especially to Jesus.  If we are ingrates toward God, we will take what He has given us without coming back to say, “Thank you.”  We may well feel happy about being created, being redeemed, being set apart in Holy Baptism, being given the free gift of salvation by Christ at the cross – but it is easy to take it all for granted, to diminish in faith, to become inwardly oriented, and to fall away from saving faith in Jesus. 

Jesus points out that the one grateful among the ten was a “foreigner” – a Samaritan.  This is a man who was used to being excluded.  He did not take his standing before God for granted.  The other nine perhaps feel entitled because they are “the chosen people.”  But let us be wary dear brothers and sisters, for ingratitude and having an entitlement mentality before God is a sure way to fall from grace.  We see it again and again in the Scriptures. 

So if you really are grateful, if you know how gracious the Lord Jesus is in suffering and dying for you, then you live out that life of thanksgiving by being here: where the Word is proclaimed, and where the Eucharist is celebrated, both by His authority.

This is why our worship is liturgical, dear friends.  It is orderly and bodily.  The liturgy is not a show or a concert.  It is not centered on us or what we like.  It is not designed to whip us up into emotional frenzy.  Rather it provides for us poor, miserable, but forgiven, sinners to come to Jesus with grateful souls and thankful bodies, using our voice to give Him praise, using our bodies to give Him worship.  There is a humility in liturgical worship that does not exist in entertainment worship.  We kneel at the rail like the healed lepers that we are.  We cross ourselves like the beggars for God’s grace that we are: acknowledging both the cross of our Lord and His healing us from sin’s leprosy by the waters of Holy Baptism.

We sing hymns.  We receive His forgiveness.  We eat His flesh and drink His blood.  We speak our requests.  We sing His praises.  And at the end of it all, we receive His solemn benediction in the words God gave to Aaron to speak over the people of Israel.

And so we see a contrast between gratitude and ingratitude.

But what does a life of thanksgiving look like beyond the walls of the church?  St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians paints a beautiful picture, dear friends: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Ironically, when we make requests of God with a thankful heart, we are living the life of grace.  For there is a promise attached with this prayerful life, dear brothers and sisters: For, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

For when we pray in faith, and faithfully, “with thanksgiving,” we are given the gift of an anxiety-free life, knowing that all things are in His hands, and He has the power even to cure leprosy. 

As unworthy people, but grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for His mercy, we are encouraged to think about things that are “true… honorable… just… pure… lovely, [and] commendable.”  We are to ponder that which is excellent and praiseworthy.  And of course, meditation on such things fosters an attitude of thanksgiving for all that God has done, and continues to do, for us.  For in so doing, we learn, like St. Paul, to be “content.”  Whether we have plenty, or whether we are in hunger, whether we are enjoying “abundance” or suffering “need,” we give thanks to God.  And that is how it is that we can “do all things through Him who strengthens me.” 

It is fitting that in this time of year when we are in a season of harvest we should especially give thanks to God for all that He does for us.  For how often we give His providence no thought at all.  How often we take credit for our own work.  How often we behave like the nine healed lepers, who perhaps take the Lord’s grace for granted, instead of returning like the foreigner to “return and give praise to God.”

And let us remember, dear friends, that Thanksgiving is not just a day on the calendar for food, family, and football, but it is rather an entire way of life focused on forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Let us be Eucharistic people, people of thanksgiving, those who return again and again to where Jesus is to fall on our knees, to present our petitions before His throne, and to receive His gifts – including the Eucharistic feast of His true body and blood, the “medicine of immortality” that cures us of the leprosy of sin.

Let us give thanks and praise to our Lord, in body and soul, on this Eve of the Feast of Thanksgiving in our country, and every day of our lives in which we “pray, praise, and give thanks” to Him in the feast in the kingdom, which has no end!

Thanks be to God!


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

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 22, 2022

22 Nov 2022

Text: Rev 19:1-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the apostle and evangelist, is given the blessing of the vision of the Lord’s return.  He who was next to our Lord when He established the Eucharist now hears the heavens opened and the eternal liturgy comes down to earth: “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”  They celebrate the eternal victory of our Lord Jesus Christ and the defeat of the “great prostitute who corrupted the earth.” 

And the celebration continues, “For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready,” clothed in the “righteous deeds of the saints.”

John is guided from above to write – even as He wrote the Gospel of John and His three letters that are in the New Testament – now he is writing his fifth and final book, the Book of Revelation.  He is told to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  St. John had heard the Lord Jesus tell parables about the wedding feast, and now he is catching a glimpse of what that means in eternity. 

He sees the heavens opened, “and behold, a white horse!”  John had seen the Lord Jesus on the cross, having witnessed the spear of the Roman soldier piercing His heart, issuing forth blood and water.  John had also seen Jesus risen from the dead.  St. John witnessed His ascension into heaven.  And now He sees the vision of His triumphant return.  At the end of John’s gospel, He explains how a rumor got started that He (John) would not die until the Lord’s return.  Here in this vision, John is allowed to see it. 

It is fitting that the Lord is called “the Word of God,” for it was St. John who revealed to us that “in the beginning was the Word.”  And “from His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,” calling to mind what the author of Hebrews revealed: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).  He Is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” 

And also part of this wedding banquet is vengeance upon the devil’s minions who have caused such grief to the Lord’s Bride, the Church.  She is vindicated, as the beast and the false prophet and those who worshiped them “were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.  And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of Him who was sitting on the horse.”

As we make our way to Advent, it is fitting that we not only ponder His Incarnation as the babe of Bethlehem, but also to remember that there will be another advent, His coming again in glory “to judge both the living and the dead,” and that His “kingdom will have no end.”

And it is fitting that we join St. John and all the saints and angels in heaven, the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures in that great liturgy of worship: “Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”


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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sermon: Last Sunday – 2022

20 Nov 2022

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As we are now at the Last Sunday of the church year, as the days are shorter and the nights are darker, our attention turns toward the last things: in the words of the ancient prayer: “the end of the day, the end of our life, the end of the world.”  Since our risen Lord ascended into heaven, we have been awaiting His return in glory, “to judge both the living and the dead” and when “His kingdom will have no end.”

But as we measure time, it has been a long time in waiting.  As St. Paul says: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.’”  The Lord’s return will be sudden, and once He returns, there will be no time to prepare.

This is why our Lord tells us the Parable of the Ten Virgins.  You know the story.  Ten girls are going to a wedding feast.  The five wise virgins are prepared.  They have oil for the journey.  The five foolish virgins procrastinate, and have no oil.  And when the bridegroom is near, the foolish virgins have to scamper off to buy oil from the dealers.  So when the bridegroom comes, he brings only the five wise young women with him.  The foolish miss their opportunity, the door is shut, and the bridegroom does not answer their knocking, saying, “I do not know you.” 

Jesus Himself tells us the moral of His story: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  In other words, be the wise virgins, not the foolish.  Be prepared.  Be ready for the Bridegroom to come. 

Notice that we are not told that the foolish virgins are evil.  No, they are foolish.  They have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they occupy their minds with less important things.  They are foolish because their priorities are misplaced.  This is a time of preparation and waiting – but the foolish occupy themselves with things of less importance. 

And if you asked these ten virgins, “Are you wise or foolish,” I find it hard to believe that any of them would say that they are foolish.  We all identify with the wise virgins in the story.  No foolish person thinks that he is foolish.  Indeed, it is wise to come to grips with our foolishness, and to change it.  That is called “repentance.”  The Word of God convicts us of our sins, and as the Psalmist says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Our problem, dear friends – our foolishness – is our own misguided priorities.  Instead of preparing for the return of the Bridegroom, we get wrapped up in the passing things of this world, storing up treasures where moth and rust destroy.  What kinds of things occupy our time instead of prayer?  Are we filling our flasks with the pure oil of God’s Word, or with the rancid sewage of the world’s debased entertainments?  And even if we aren’t attending to evil, are we elevating worldly things above the holy things?

On a scale from one to ten, how important is it in your life to attend Divine Service, to pray and read the Scriptures every day, to seek out the pastor for private confession and absolution?  Do you pray before you eat?  Do you thank God for His goodness to you?

If you are one of the foolish, the good news is that the Bridegroom has not yet returned.  The time is growing shorter every day, but Jesus has once again told you this parable for you to wise up, get your priorities in order, and fill your flasks with oil.  Don’t wait.  Don’t be foolish.

If you had to have kidney dialysis every day, or you would die, you would make the time to do it, every day.  You would find the resources to pay for it, you would make any sacrifice to carry it out.  If your child needed dialysis, it would be more important than sports or extracurricular activities.  In fact, it would be more important than even school.  Because his or her life would depend on it.

Well, dear friends, our eternal lives depend upon these means by which God gives us His grace: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.  This is your spiritual dialysis.  This is the most valuable use of time that you parents can give to your children.

So don’t wait.  Be wise.

For listen, dear friends, listen to the promise!  “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness….  no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”

This is what the Lord has prepared for us as we enter the door and come into the eternal wedding feast with the Bridegroom.  We cannot even imagine how glorious this eternal life will be in this New Jerusalem.  “‘The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.”

“Says the Lord,” dear friends.  This is not my personal opinion.  This is the Word of the Lord.  And listen to this Good News, brothers and sisters, and rejoice in it: “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

And listen to what this means:

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

“Encourage one another,” dear friends, “and build one another up.”  That is what you are doing by being here.  You may not feel like you “get anything out of the service.”  And that’s okay.  Facts don’t care about your feelings.  The facts are that Jesus died for you, you are baptized, you are here hearing the Word of God, and you are called to take part in the Holy Sacrament.  God has brought you here today to pour oil in your flask and make you ready for the Bridegroom’s return.  Indeed, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  You are getting oil for your flask out of this service.  You are getting wisdom.  So “encourage one another.”  Urge one another to put things in perspective and be prepared.  For just by being here and taking part in the service, you are encouraging others.  For the Divine Service is not just about what you get from the service (which is forgiveness, life, and salvation), but it is also what you give your neighbor: encouragement when your voice blends with his.  We are helping one another in this time of waiting.  We are encouraging each other to be wise. 

We are sinners, but we are redeemed sinners, dear friends.  The Bridegroom came for us, and He is coming again – for us.  And again, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

It is easy to get our priorities confused, but it is also easy to fix it, dear friends.  Just come.  And keep coming.  “Watch, therefore,” says Jesus.  So let us watch: wise, awake and joyful.


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

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Sermon: Tuesday of Trinity 22 Vespers – 2022

St. John Lutheran Church – Mattoon, IL

15 Nov 2022

Text: 2 Thess 1:3-10

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In this, St. Paul’s second epistle to the Christians at Thessalonica, we learn that they are suffering “persecutions” and “afflictions.”  And yet, the apostle commends them for their “steadfastness” and their “faith” through all of their ordeals.  Paul goes so far as to say that he and his associates “boast” about them, for their “faith is growing abundantly” and the “love of every one of [them] is increasing.”

Think about how extraordinary this is, dear friends.  For when things are going badly, that is when we often see man-made organizations crumble into disarray and blamecasting, finger-pointing and chaos, becoming divided, and thus becoming conquered.  But these Thessalonian Christians are actually doubling down defiantly in response to persecution: in their growing faith and in their increasing love for one another.

And so, in their case, their persecutions seem to be paradoxically strengthening them.  And we will see this miraculous response by the Bride of Christ often in her history, in which her enemies and detractors try to destroy her, but instead of withering away, she prospers, grows, and bears the fruits of faith and love.  And bearing these fruits, she multiplies.

St. Paul will soon reveal to the Corinthian Christians what outlasts our sufferings in this fallen world, what abides, what is transcendent, that which endures even unto eternity: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three” (1 Cor 13:13). 

The suffering Christians at Thessalonica are growing in faith and increasing in love, but their hope is what needs shoring up.  For they have some problems with their eschatology.  They seem convinced that the Day of the Lord has already come.  And perhaps as a result, this has caused some in the church to become lazy.  St. Paul reveals to them that there is indeed much that is yet to happen before the Day of the Lord.  There will appear the “man of lawlessness,” the Antichrist, who will come, “proclaiming himself to be God.”  And though the Caesars make such claims, this particular Antichrist will come from within the church herself, not from the Pagan Empire.  Indeed, there is still more to come in the future, so St. Paul urges the little flock at Thessalonica  to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught,” by the apostles, whether by “spoken word or by… letter.”

For though love is the greatest of these virtues, and though faith is the means by which we receive the grace of God, we also need hope, dear friends: hope to endure, hope for our salvation, hope for vindication in the midst of persecution, hope that we indeed “may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God,” especially in our suffering in this fallen, temporal world and in our sinful flesh.  And part of that eschatological hope includes the promise that God will “repay with affliction those who afflict [us].”  Indeed, vengeance is not ours, but the hope of our vindication by God is ours, dear friends. 

And so we, like the Thessalonians, have hope, for no matter how much we may be afflicted and persecuted, no matter how powerless we are to fight back, no matter what befalls us in this broken world – we know how this war ends: in victory for our Lord and vindication for His saints – victory won for us at the cross and the empty tomb: victory over sin, death, and the devil; victory over hell; victory over the grave: eternal victory.  And as St. Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica shortly before in his previous letter, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). 

Dear friends, indeed, we have a sure and certain hope, because of the ironclad promise of our Lord’s return, and “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  The Day of the Lord has not already come, rather, it is coming!

So thanks to the promises of the Father revealed in Christ Jesus by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, given by the hand of St. Paul in the Holy Scriptures and in the preaching of the kingdom – we join with the Thessalonians, and with Christians of every time and place – in faith, in love, and in hope.

For these three do indeed abide, as our Lord Jesus Christ abides with us, now and even unto eternity.


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

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sermon: Trinity 22 – 2022

13 Nov 2022

Text: Matt 18:21-35

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is a cringe-worthy lesson from Jesus involving being forgiven, but refusing to forgive.  It should pop into your mind when you pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

For in this fallen world, we are both the trespassed against, and the trespasser.  We are both the forgiven and the forgiver.  It’s all about perspective.  It’s all about where we are at any given moment.

And there is a mismatch between how we see ourselves, and how we really are.  And especially in our current society, if we can make ourselves out to be the victim, the trespassed against, we can parlay that into a lot of power, into the ability to bully others.  And so we are tempted, dear friends, to see ourselves as always the ones who are sinned against, instead of seeing ourselves as people who constantly sin against others, not to mention who sin against God.

This distortion is made plain in the person of the king’s servant in our Lord’s story.

Jesus tells this parable as a way to answer Peter’s question about his moral obligation to forgive others.  Peter is asking what is reasonable?  How many times?  If a person continuously sins against us, should we forgive him again and again?  And Jesus puts the question back on us.  If we are the one doing the sinning, how often do we want to be forgiven?  How many times?  If we do sin many times every day, do we want God to put a cap on our forgiveness?  And if we want God’s mercy to be so great that He forgives all of our sins, how can we be so unloving and unyielding to treat others the same way?

And to make this more concrete, Jesus tells the parable.

The king’s servant owes a comically large sum of money.  It is such a large debt that it boggles the mind.  Jesus is making it very clear that we are talking about an unpayable debt.  And so the king, looking to cut his losses, resolves to sell his servant and his family, and at least make a little bit of his money back on the sale.

At this point, the servant pleads, falling on his knees, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”  Of course, he is making a promise that he can’t possibly keep.  But what we see here is not the servant who is in debt miraculously coming up with a way to generate billions of dollars, rather we see the miracle of the king’s grace and mercy, his compassion, his “pity” as Jesus words it.  And this is indeed a miracle, dear friends.  For in this world, how often would a person discharge a debt?  If you slammed into someone’s car, how many people would tell you not to worry about it?  If you got into credit card debt, how often would Visa just tell you that they just zeroed it out and restored your credit limit?

And considering that this king in the story represents God, who is perfect and almighty, who expects perfection from all of us, who shows us mercy, and forgives us an entire lifetime of sin – this is indeed a miracle.  For we know that this king, our Father who art in heaven, is willing to wipe out all our debts by the blood of His only beloved Son.  And this love toward us, toward His servants who can never pay our debts, is a manifestation of His extraordinary love and mercy and goodness. 

But in our Lord’s story, the man who was forgiven a huge debt “found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii” – and this, dear friends, is not a small amount.  But it is nothing compared to what the servant had himself been forgiven.  So the servant “began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’”  And replaying his own very actions, this servant who owes him money pleads: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”

Instead of seeing himself in the pleading eyes of his debtor, he thinks only of himself and what is owed him.  He has already forgotten that his own massive debt was wiped out.  And instead of showing the same compassion to his own debtor, “he refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

And we, outside of the story, join the characters in the story in being “greatly distressed.”  For this angers us.  We see the discrepancy between being forgiven, and refusing to forgive.  It is grotesque and immoral.  It is monstrous.  And the king rescinds his offer of grace, and treats this unforgiving servant with the same un-forgiveness that he rendered his brother servant.

But the point is not to be appalled at a fictional character in a story, dear friends, but for us to see ourselves in the story, and to be appalled with ourselves.  For we want God to forgive us.  We want others to forgive us.  But we want to hold onto grudges.  We want to paint ourselves as the victim, and justify ourselves for not forgiving those who sin against us – even as many as seven times, or as many as seventy times seven times.

And listen to what happens to those who will not forgive: “Then the master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” 

God’s logic is unassailable, dear friends.  For we can fool ourselves, and make excuses before men.  But we cannot fool God, or make excuses before Him.  Have you not been forgiven much, dear friends?  So how dare you hold grudges to others?  From God’s perspective, when we do this, we are telling Him that His mercy is no good.  “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

So when we look at our own thoughts, words, and deeds from God’s perspective, when we examine our hearts and see a refusal to forgive the sins of others, we should be alarmed, dear friends.  This parable should cause us to grieve over our sins and seek forgiveness, even as we should be looking out for opportunities to forgive others, lest we end up like the ungrateful and unforgiving servant in the story. 

The good news, dear friends, is that in His unbounded mercy toward us, Jesus calls us to repent, and gives us the opportunity to live a life of forgiveness and mercy, both that we receive from God, and that which we show others.  The good news is that very forgiveness shown to us is that which empowers us to show forgiveness to others. 

So our Lord answers Peter’s question by teaching us that as God’s forgiveness is without limit to us, we should adopt this gracious attitude toward others.  When we see ourselves not as victims, but rather as sinners forgiven by the victim of the Lamb whose blood was shed on our behalf, and when we ponder just how merciful God is to us, what else can we do but forgive our brother from our heart.

And when we do, we are set free, dear friends!  So go in peace and love and mercy, for we have been forgiven that comically large debt.

So let us call to mind the words of our catechism: “We daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” 


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

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 10, 2022 - Vespers

10 Nov 2022

Text: Jer 23:1-20

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Beware, dear friends.  Beware of “the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.”  Beware of shepherds that do not attend to you.  This was the warning of Jeremiah to the people of Judah, and it is just as true today, dear brothers and sisters.  For there are false prophets and false Christs, even as our Lord prophesied that they would increase, even until His return.

Jesus said that you will recognize them, these false prophets, by their fruits.  Are they preaching the Word of God?  Are they convicting you of sin, and then pointing you to our Lord and His cross for His unbounded grace and mercy?  Or do they excuse sin and ignore Christ crucified?  Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Not every shepherd is preaching the true Word. 

Even in Jeremiah’s day, there were “soothsayers,” who always prophesied good news, because that’s what our itching ears want to hear.  That’s what people in power want to hear.  It’s what we want to hear.  Jeremiah says to us today: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.  They say continually to those who despise the Word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’… and ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

This is the mark of the false prophet, dear friends.  They only preach the Gospel with no Law, or they preach the Law in such a way as it is doable, so that you need no Gospel.  They mix Law and Gospel, or only preach one or the other.  Flee from such shepherds, dear friends.  Listen to those who proclaim with Jeremiah the coming of the “righteous Branch,” even Jesus Christ our Lord, who will “execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  And in fact, one of His many names is: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

For in calling us to repent, a true shepherd, a true prophet, will not merely tell us to “be better.”  Our salvation isn’t in the Law.  Yes, the Law is to be proclaimed, and harshly so, so as to call us to repent and lament over our sins.  But our salvation is not in ourselves, but rather our righteousness is the Lord Himself.  And it is for the sake of Christ, our Righteous Branch, that Jeremiah promises: “I will gather the remnant… and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”

Let us pray for faithful shepherds to serve us, dear friends.  Let us not be swayed by soothsayers, and let us not rebel against faithful pastors who call us to repent when we need to hear the Law calling us to do just that.  May the Lord of the church continue to raise up faithful preachers among us, whose mouths are filled with the salt and light of the Word, men who constantly point us to the Righteous Branch who is our righteousness, the name that is above every name, the only name by which we must be saved: our Good Shepherd, even Jesus Christ our Lord. 

“Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory!” (Ps 24:9-10).


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

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy Matins - November 10, 2022

Text: Matt 25:14-30

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The kingdom does not conform to our notions of fairness.  Can you just imagine a politician running on this platform: “To everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  And indeed, equity is not to be found in the Lord’s kingdom.  We do not all start at the same place.  Some have more, some less.  But no matter what hand we are dealt, so to speak, we are to invest what we have in the kingdom.  Nor do we all end up with the same result.

Dear friends, look what we have to gain: eternal life, and not just for us, but for the entire world, to all who believe this Good News and receive it by faith.  No-one is excluded based on ethnicity or social status.  We are all poor miserable sinners for whom Christ died.  He has invested His talents, the very riches of His life, in us, in His beloved.  And so the stakes are high.  Jesus came to conquer sin, death, and the devil – to raise our bodies in eternity in the resurrection.  He has come to recreate the entire universe and to restore it to its pristine glory.  That is the Good News we have for the world – a world that hates us for having Good News to share with them. 

For indeed, the way the kingdom works is not fair.  God is not a cosmic social justice warrior, but at the same time, He creates a world of true diversity, where we are neither judged by the color of our skin nor by the content of our character.  Rather we are judged righteous through the blood of the Lamb.  And because we cannot lose, dear friends, we have no reason to be stingy in the kingdom.  We have no reason to operate out of fear.  For the Lord has given all of us different gifts and talents (‘talents’ as we use the word in English).  And He implores us not to be faithless and selfish, but to boldly look to the kingdom, trusting in the Lord to provide – not only for our needs but for the needs of the kingdom.  We have Good News for the world.  So let us invest in the kingdom!

We are in the time between Jesus’ first and second coming.  This is the time for us to use our talents and our worldly gifts to labor in the vineyard, and to put those God-given gifts to work in the kingdom.  We have babies to baptize, children to educate, unbelievers to dazzle with the Good News from the Word of God.  We have older folks to care for according to our callings.  For Jesus is telling us a parable.  It isn’t about making millions of dollars in the market, or even earning a few bucks on interest from savings.  For we are about a different kind of saving.  We Christians have the very thing to save the world.  And it is not this world’s concept of social justice.  For the Lord’s justice is crooked, dear friends. 

The Judge is biased, but biased in favor of those for whom His Son died.  The Judge is partial, but partial to those of us whom His Son defends in court, those who believe and are baptized (Mark 16:16).  The Judge is unfair, but unfair only to Satan, the accuser who would drag us into the pit of hell.

But thanks be to God that He runs a crooked courtroom, focused not on justice but rather on mercy.  Let us not bury the talent, dear friends, but let us rejoice in how much a tiny down-payment grows by the will of God.  For He has paid it all “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  Jesus did not bury the talent, for He would not stay buried.  God has invested it all in us, His beloved, and in the new heaven and the new earth.  Thanks be to God for His unfairness. 


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

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Nov 9, 2022 - Vespers

9 Nov 2022 – St. Martin Chemnitz

Text: Jer 22:1-23

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Shortly before the exile of Judah to Babylon, before the destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah pleaded with the people to hear the Word of the Lord and repent.  But by this time, they are so far gone that it is just not going to happen.  And yet, Jeremiah continues to plead, preaching a Law that the people refuse to believe, and prophesying disaster that the people refuse to acknowledge. 

Of course, we Christians are the people of the Gospel.  We want our pastors to speak to us of forgiveness and victory – and indeed they are ours by virtue of Christ Jesus.  But we, like the people of Judah, live in a fallen world, surrounded by amoral unbelievers on every side, and our own sinful flesh inside.  We allow ourselves to be tempted and led to and fro by the devil and his fallen angels.  We desperately need the Word of God – both the Gospel and the Law – even as preached with the severity of Jeremiah.

For the preacher has no choice, dear friends.  If he is to obey the Lord, he must preach the Word, in season and out of season.  If it is his task to preach the Law in its severity, then he must do it.  No Christian pastor would pick this text to preach on, dear friends.  This text was assigned.  It was chosen because our Lord knows that we need to hear it.  We need to hear Jeremiah’s call to repentance, and his warning to those who refuse – for we too are a stiff-necked people, intent on going our own way.

We hearers and preachers both need to hear and ponder this Jeremiad at this time and place: “Do justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.”  Indeed, the little boy who cried wolf did not do himself any favors, but lest we forget, there really are wolves, even amid the phony cries of “oppression,” there are those who oppress others.  We must stand against it.  And we are called to “do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow.”  We must not allow our riches and our conveniences to become our lords and masters.  We must not allow our understandable cynicism and skepticism rob us of our compassion and humanity.

Moreover, we are warned about forsaking the covenant and worshiping other gods and serving them.  We must not allow our riches and our conveniences to become our lords and masters.  We must not allow sports and entertainment to take precedence over our worship of the true God, for it is easy to compromise a bit here, to hedge a bit there.  And if we indulge ourselves, we run the risk of the kind of divine vengeance that Jeremiah was forced to prophesy to the people of Judah.

But even at this late stage, dear friends, hear the Word of the Lord: “If you will indeed obey this Word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people.  But if you will not obey these words… this house shall become a desolation.”

Our Lord is calling us, dear friends, to thoroughly examine ourselves, to seek forgiveness, and to repent – truly repent of our sins – especially in these dark days.  And even in the darkness of the Law there is the light of the Gospel, the promise of Christ and His mercy – the blessings that come to us when we do confess and seek forgiveness.  For the Lord is merciful.  He hears our prayers.

So let us hear His Word, dear friends.  Let us take the warning to heart.  For even in these dark and despondent days, the Psalmist still declares to us: “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds…. The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love!”


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