Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) - 2021

By Cpl. Megan L. Stiner - en.wikipedia.org (Original uploader was Solitude), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=665639

Photo by Cpl. Megan L. Stiner - en.wikipedia.org (Original uploader was Solitude), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=665639


28 February 2021

Text: Matt 15:21-28 (Gen 32:22-32, 1 Thess 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In our Old Testament reading, Jacob and his large family were fleeing from Jacob’s father-in-law Laban.  Jacob was also headed back home to where his twin brother Esau had threatened to kill him.  There are many expressions to describe Jacob’s situation: “between the devil and the deep blue sea”, “on the horns of a dilemma,” or just plain “up the creek.”  He was following God’s instruction to leave – but it was scary and dangerous.

In the middle of this, a mysterious stranger shows up in the desert at night and attacks him.  They wrestle until morning.  But this isn’t a robber or a common thug.  The man disables Jacob by merely touching his hip.  But Jacob continues to grapple with him, and refuses to let go without the stranger’s blessing.  The stranger renames Jacob as “Israel” – a name which means “he who has wrestled with God.”

Jacob’s strange encounter with this God-Man gave him courage and bolstered his faith to meet his estranged family.  If you want to find out what happens next, it’s in Genesis 33.  And it is remarkable.

Faith is sometimes like wrestling with God.  And like a father grappling with his little boy, or like a coach instructing his team – sometimes the stronger one lets the weaker one win.  This is not done in a deceptive way, but rather to allow the weaker to become stronger by testing his own limits. 

For God certainly could have pulverized Jacob at any time.  He is not wrestling with Jacob to win, but rather so that Jacob’s faith may be fortified for a coming time of trial.

This is a fitting lesson to be paired with our Gospel: the account of the Canaanite woman.  For she too wrestled with God, and God also allowed her to win.  As a result, this woman – who was not descended from Israel – became a sort-of Israel herself – one who wrestled with God” and who prevailed.

Jesus came initially to the descendants of Jacob – the Israelites.  But He didn’t only come to the descendants of the man who wrestled with God.  He also came for the Gentiles as well.  And when they heard about His miracles, they sought out Jesus in faith that He would hear their prayers and heal them. 

The Canaanites were hated by the Jews.  But this woman was so bold as to track down Jesus and pray to Him: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is oppressed by a demon.”

She, like Jacob, was in a fix.  Her daughter was suffering, and no doctor could help.  No pagan priest could help.  Nobody but God could help.  And in spite of the fact that she was not an Israelite, she knows who Jesus is.  She calls Him “Lord.”  She calls Him “Son of David.”  This is a confession that He is the Messiah.  And she is outrageously bold – as a woman and as a Canaanite – to force her way to Jesus to ask for help.  And like Jacob in the wilderness, she is also persistent!  She will not say “Uncle.”  She continues to make an annoyance of herself, to where the disciples beg Jesus to get rid of her. 

But He doesn’t.  Instead, He tests her – like He did when He wrestled with Jacob so long ago.  And perhaps even recalling that incident, said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  And still, she fought on.  She knelt before Him, an act of humility and of worship, “Lord, help me!” she cries out.

Jesus continues to test her: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  And here, the Canaanite woman goes for the takedown: “Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.”  This is the equivalent of Jacob refusing to let the God-Man go until He blessed him.

Our Lord taps out.  The woman has indeed wrestled with God and with men and has prevailed.  Her faith held firm.  She held God to His promise.  She refused to let go against every discouragement and against every temptation to lash out in anger or to slink away in despair.  Our Lord does for her what He did for Jacob: he blesses her: “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And St. Matthew tells us what happened: “Her daughter was healed instantly.”

The Holy Spirit has caused us to hear this Word of God, dear friends, as an encouragement to hold God to His promises, to pray to Jesus: “Lord, have mercy!” and to refuse to be discouraged.  He hears our prayers.  He tests us, but He loves us and answers our prayers.  He may not answer them as we wish, but He answers them as is best according to His will.  We may never know the reasons why He allows things to happen, but don’t interpret your wrestling with Him as a lack of faith, dear friends.  For He is strengthening your faith.  And like the Canaanite woman, your faith has the power to receive His gifts.

We may wrestle with the idea that Jesus is God, that He could have appeared as a man nearly two thousand years before His own birth, or that He comes to us in Word and Sacrament nearly two thousand years after His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension.  We may wrestle with the idea that bread is His body, or that wine is His blood, or that He will raise us from the dead on the Last Day because He loves us and by means of the blood He shed on the cross to redeem us. 

This is why we receive this Word of God based on faith.  Faith itself is like a wrestling match.  But God doesn’t just leave us without training and without guidance.  Our struggles with Him make us stronger.  Our encounters with Him build up our faith, like the muscles of an athlete.  And when we come to Him like the Canaanite woman, crying out, “Lord, have mercy,” He does indeed hear us – even when it seems like He is ignoring us or discouraging us.  That is the time to double down, to pray all the more incessantly, and to demand that He bless you.

God will reward you for grappling with Him and His promises, when you demand that He hear you and keep His Word.  We see this again and again in the Scriptures.  And we see it again and again in the Christian life.

And though it may not be obvious to you, your faith is strengthened by being here, by hearing the Word read and preached, by partaking of the Lord’s body and blood, by gathering with other believers and singing the magnificent confessions of the church that we call hymns, by confessing your sins and receiving absolution, by remembering your baptism, by praying with your brothers and sisters, and by calling out to Him at home, by reading His Word, by wrestling also against your old sinful nature and against the devil, to remain faithful in your life as a Christian.  Sometimes, like Jacob, whose hip remained sore his whole life long, you will limp in your Christian walk, and sometimes you may run.  But all the while, our blessed Lord is with you.  He will not abandon you. 

This is what we mean by grace, by salvation, by the fact that by His death and resurrection, we have eternal life as a gift.  He hears your cry for mercy, and He will bear you up in your desperation, even when you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

For as St. Paul preached to the Thessalonian Christians in His first letter to that church, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.”  So if you are striving to be what God has called you to be, if you are coming to Him in desperation, if you hold Him to His promises – our Lord will bless you.  And you will not have to ask His name, as did Jacob.  For you already know His name: Jesus Christ our Lord!

Amen.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – St. Polycarp

23 February 2020

Text: John 7:32-53

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

 “The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about [Jesus], and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Him.” 

Jesus had not murdered anyone, threatened anyone, stolen anything, or even talked about doing such things.  And yet, the authorities sent the police to arrest Him.  Why?  Because they didn’t like what He said.  People were beginning to wonder if He were the Messiah.  This frightened the authorities, and their only reply was to send in the temple police and use force.

Jesus’s youngest disciple was John – the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel of John.  St. John lived until somewhere near 100 AD.  John served as a bishop of the church – preaching and teaching and overseeing churches – in what is today Turkey (Asia Minor in those days).  But the church did not die off with the apostles, for these men ordained other men into the Holy Ministry.  One of John’s students was named “Polycarp.”  His name is Greek for “much fruit,” and as a bishop, his ministry was indeed fruitful.  Bishop Polycarp led Christians in Asia Minor – until the authorities did not like what he had to say in his preaching.

St. Polycarp had not murdered anyone, threatened anyone, stolen anything, or even talked about doing such things.  His “crime” was that He worshiped Jesus, and not the emperor.  So on February 23, 155 AD in the city of Smyrna where he served as bishop, the Roman authorities sent the police to arrest the 86 year old bishop.  He was offered his freedom to renounce Christ and simply pledge allegiance to Caesar.  Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”  He was burned at the stake, and gave his testimony as a martyr.

This is the miracle of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Nobody wants to die, but people will die for the sake of someone he loves.  Jesus laid down His life for us.  And His life and ministry, His preaching and teaching, were so compelling that everyone who heard Him could not help but be affected by Him.  The police did not arrest Jesus on that day, and the authorities were livid.  The officers said, “No one ever spoke like this man!”  Even the governor, Pilate, who served as the judge in Jesus’ trial, was deeply affected by his encounter with God in the flesh, and Pilate wanted to release Him. 

Polycarp’s martyrdom had a huge effect on both the Christians under his pastoral care and the Romans who executed him – though his only “crime” was his faith in Jesus.  And there were many other Christians willing to give their testimony (martyria) by laying down their lives out of love for their King and their Savior.  These martyrs deeply affected the Roman people, and the Gospel spread all over the Empire. 

In a little over 150 years after St. Polycarp’s martyrdom, even Caesar himself became a Christian, renouncing his claim to be divine, and would claim Jesus as King and Savior.

Amen.

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

 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) - 2021

21 February 2021

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our readings call to mind two battles in the same war.  This is an ongoing war between mankind and the devil.  In the first battle, when Satan tempted Adam and Eve, the devil emerged victorious.  And this was the most costly defeat in the history of warfare.  For not only were Adam and Eve cast out of their land, not only did they both lose their lives – our entire planet was destroyed and every human being who has ever lived since has been killed, and is mortal, as a result.

What was once perfect is now chaotic.  Peace has been replaced by strife and conflict.  Love has given way to selfishness and hatred.  The abundance of the earth is now gone, with scarcity and struggle left behind in its stead.  Our world is now one marked by prey and predator, by slave and master, by victim and oppressor, by attacker and defender.  Satan’s victory nearly destroyed every shred of our humanity, and no son of Adam is without the curse.

Except one.

After the great rebellion in the garden, God confronted Adam with the words we heard on Ash Wednesday: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  We are cursed by hard labor and by thorny ground.  Our family lives are cursed by strife, and mothers suffer on account of bearing children.  But the most ominous curse was given to the devil, the tempter who made war on the pinnacle of the Lord’s creation.  For though Satan got the best of this man Adam, there will be a rematch of sorts, a coming offspring, that is, the Seed of the woman.  And this man to come will deliver a death blow to the head of the serpent, but the serpent would likewise strike the heel of this his victim. 

Four thousand years would elapse before this epic battle would be reengaged between the Seed of the woman and the devil.  Satan would be unsuccessful in killing the Christ child by means of his servant Herod.  And our Gospel today chronicles another skirmish leading up to the climactic battle.  On this occasion, the New Adam, the Seed of the Woman, the promised one is “tempted by the devil.”  Satan hopes for a knockout blow, a quick defeat that will destroy the Seed of the woman before He will be able to smash the serpent’s head. 

Three times, the devil tempts Jesus the way he tempted Adam.  First, he tempts Jesus with hunger, for He had been fasting.  Our Lord defeats the serpent with Scripture.  Second, he tempts Jesus with putting God to the test.  Our Lord defeats the serpent a second time with Scripture.  Finally, he tempts Jesus by an appeal to power.  Our Lord defeats the serpent yet a third time by Scripture.  Our Lord casts out the defeated devil, as He is the incarnate Word of God and He throws the Word of God into the devil’s face.  And “the devil left Him.”

But Satan has not at this point been defeated once and for all.  That is yet to come, dear friends.  For the heel of our Lord will be bruised by an enormous spike on the cross.  And yet, in His crucifixion and death, Jesus will deliver a mortal blow to the head of the serpent.  Our victorious Lord overturns the lost battle of the first Adam, the defeat that we still suffer today.  And His triumph happens dramatically, snatching victory from the apparent defeat of dying on the cross.  For Jesus defeats Satan by obedience to the Father and in love toward us.  In shedding His blood, He redeems us and all of creation from the sins of Adam, right down to our own sins.  We are forgiven and freed, and we are given the promise of eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth, with the tempter being thrown into the lake of fire.

And though Jesus has won the victory, although He declared “It is finished,” we are still waiting for the consummation of this new creation.  And so we wait, dear friends, working while it is still daylight, bringing the Good News to any and all who will listen, who will join our Lord’s victory, and who want to take part in the crushing of the serpent’s head. 

Satan still tempts us, but he does so as a condemned prisoner on death row.  He still wants to draw us away from the Father, he still wishes to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, he still seeks to counter the work of the Holy Spirit in keeping us in the one true faith, and in the promise given to us at our baptism.  But he is but a snarling dog on a leash.  He cannot hurt you without your own consent, dear friends.  He is a fearsome enemy, but he is a defanged and declawed enemy.  He can frighten us, and he could trick us if we allow it – but he cannot defeat our victorious Lord.  He cannot take away our eternal life.

And while we wait for our Lord’s return, we are given grace to turn back to our Lord, resisting Satan like our Lord, using the Holy Scripture as a sword, and resisting the devil’s attempts to rob us of our salvation.  We continue to preach the Gospel to any who will listen, offering the free grace of forgiveness, life, and salvation by the blood of Jesus to all who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We join St. Paul in preaching, “Now is the favorable time.  Now is the day of salvation.”  We invite still more to join us in the ark of the church, for the door is still open, and though time is fleeting, anyone can come in and enjoy the protection of our Lord.  All are welcome!

And though the devil is defeated, we still live with his troubles for the time being, as St. Paul lists: “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” – and everything else that mars this once-perfect world.  But in Christ, we fight back with these gifts of God: “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, and genuine love.”  And this happens “by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.”

Dear friends, don’t grow discouraged at this late hour.  Jesus has won the battle.  He shows you exactly how to resist.  Use the Word of God to beat back the crafts and assaults of the devil.  Hear the Word read and preached.  Fortify yourself by taking the Holy Sacrament.  Comfort yourself in your baptism and in the promise that God made to the devil, that “first gospel” in which He promised to avenge us, and in which Jesus delivered the death blow to the old evil foe at the cross.

In good times and bad, through life and death, when we are strong and when we are weak, let us look to the Word of God, for the promises in Scripture are fulfilled in Jesus, and our faith will be strengthened and steeled for battle.  And when your back is against the wall, and the serpent bares his fangs in your face, look to our Lord Jesus Christ, and command the devil, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

Look to the cross, where the first battle of Eden was avenged, and where we were liberated from Satan’s tyranny.  Call upon the Lord to save you, and be ready for His coming.  Give no quarter to the devil, and pay no heed to his temptations.  And even as the angels came and ministered to Jesus, so too do they come to our aid, dear friends. 

Let us use this holy season to discipline ourselves for battle and to joyfully await the Lord’s coming in glory.

Amen.

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


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2021

17 February 2021

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There was no internet or social media when our Lord preached the Sermon on the Mount.  The average person didn’t dream of “going viral” and merchants didn’t tell people to “be sure to like us on Facebook and Twitter.”  The average person was busy trying to earn a living, raise a family, tend to the animals or to the family business to get involved in fundraising for people who put glue on their heads or did something stupid for “clicks” and “views” and “likes.”  There were no YouTube personalities and Instagram celebrities.

But even though technology has changed, human nature hasn’t.  Our old sinful Adam craves attention, and loves to be seen by other people to be praised, seeking our reward not from God but from others.  And this was true in the first century as well. 

Our Lord preaches about “practicing your righteousness” and the motivation behind it.  If you are only doing such things “to be seen by [other people],” then “you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”  For if the goal is a dopamine hit for someone noticing you, well, you have your reward.  And dopamine only makes you feel good for a few minutes.

The righteousness that our Lord offers to us instead of this phony kind of righteousness is not a dopamine hit, but rather eternal life.  Instead of minutes, it lasts forever.  Jesus came to give us this righteousness as a free gift.  And as a result of this gift, we are freed up to do good works for the right reasons.

The Old Adam, that is, the Old Man, wants the praise of others.  He is a hypocrite who only does good works to be seen and praised.  The Old Adam doesn’t do good works out of love for his neighbor.  He doesn’t give to the needy because his neighbor is in need, rather he does it in order to “sound the trumpet before [him], that is to say, to “toot his own horn.” 

As we learned from Sunday’s epistle reading, love is not self-seeking.  And so an act done in order to be seen by others is done in a loveless way, or at least in a way in which love is curved in on itself, a kind of perverted self-love that ignores the real need of our neighbor in exchange for the Old Adam’s craving to be the center of attention.

Our Lord came to drown the Old Adam and give us a New Man in his place, a renewed self that is motivated by true righteousness and actual love, a New Adam with a new spirit.  For why do the Scriptures talk about the “Old Adam”?  Why Adam? 

We are pointed to Adam because he is the source of our sin.  We have inherited our sinful nature from him, from the first man.  And the name of this first man is “Adam,” from the Hebrew word “adam,” which means “man,” which itself comes from “adamah” – meaning “dust.”  Remember, O man, that Adam was created by God from the “dust of the earth.”  And remember, O man, that because of Adam’s sin, God told him that to dust he would return.  And remember, O man, that we too have this nature of the Old Adam in us, which is why we are mortal, which is why we too will return to dust.

We try very hard to forget this.  Of course, we want to live a long and healthy life, free from pain, free from worry, free from trouble.  But we are sinners living in a fallen world, and we need to be reminded that we are indeed dust, and to dust we shall return.

Ashes are a symbol both of death, and of repentance: a turning away from the sin that leads to death.  Ashes symbolize our return to dust, and they make us remember, but they also symbolize the humility needed to turn from our sins.  These ashes are in the shape of a cross: a symbol of death.  But they also symbolize Christ’s death upon the cross, which is for us, a symbol of life.

And so the ceremony of placing an ashen cross on our foreheads is both law and gospel, both a reminder of the “wages of sin,” which is death, as well as the “free gift of God” which is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And far from being a work of righteousness to parade before men, this mark on your forehead, properly understood, dear friends, is not something to be proud of.  It is not virtue signaling, but an act of humble honesty.  It is an admission of guilt and a cry for help.  For we stand at the edges of our own graves, teetering between life and death.  And so we cry out to Jesus: “Jesu juva, Jesus help!” And He does, dear friends, He does!

And so the Lord teaches us not to strive for clicks and likes, not to blow the trumpet or signal our virtue before men.  He calls us to an honest humility, an admission of helplessness, a confession of sin, and an acknowledgment of our deserved mortality.

And in making this good confession, dear brothers and sisters, and in calling upon the name of the Lord, He comes to our rescue.  For He redeemed you and called you by name, when His name, the name of the Triune God, the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was placed upon you when, not only your face, but your very soul itself was washed in baptismal water, cleansed, and given the gift of eternal life.

And in the Church, we have not only the ancient custom of ashes being made in the sign of the cross upon your forehead, we also have the ancient custom of tracing that sign of the cross on your forehead at your baptism, as we say in the baptismal liturgy: “Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.”  So remember, O man, not only His cross, but that you are marked and signed and redeemed by that very cross as well.

It is also the custom for the pastor to make the sign of the cross upon your forehead on your deathbed.  And he will also make the sign of the cross on your casket, often reaching into your tomb itself, bridging time and eternity, tracing the sign of the holy cross upon you one more time until the Crucified One rouses you from your body’s slumber and raises you in the flesh to everlasting life, according to His promise, by His blood, by means of your baptism, and through your faith, dear friends.

This is why we see the sign of the cross in the Divine Service: at the invocation of the Trinity, when we are absolved, when we receive the elements of Holy Communion, when the pastor dismisses us from the communion rail, and at the end of the service when we receive the blessing.  The cross is always and ever before our eyes.

It is so that you can remember, O man, yes, you are dust and to dust you shall return, but also that you are redeemed, and to flesh you shall return – no more bearing the weight of sin, and no more carrying the ashes of death.

And in light of the magnificence of the Gospel, the good news that in spite of our sin and our mortality, we have the promise of eternal life – who cares about clicks and likes and the praise of men?  Let us embrace the humility of repentance and the joy of our reward from God, and in so doing, let us love our neighbors in true righteousness, in secret, and in truth, and rejoicing in our reward that is ours, not because we love, but because we are loved by God!

Remember, O man!

Amen.

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


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – St. Philip Melanchthon


16 February 2020

Text: John 5:30-47

 In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today the Church honors St. Philip Melanchthon, a lay theologian and confessor of the faith, the author of the Augsburg Confession, and a professor who helped restore the study of Hebrew and Greek so as to more fully understand the Word of God. 

Professor Melanchthon pointed his students to the Scriptures, to the Word of God, for the Bible points us to the incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Himself!  Reading the Bible is not just an academic exercise, for as our Lord Himself says: “You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me.”  Scripture points us to Christ, dear friends, and in Him we have life!  And in today’s reading from John’s Gospel, our Lord gives a theological discourse about Himself.  He is the Son, and the Son does nothing on His own, but acts in, with, and under the Father’s will and authority.

Nor does Jesus simply assert His divinity alone.  The prophets of the Old Testament – including, and concluding with, St. John the Baptist – proclaim Him as the Messiah.  And yet, building on the prophets and on John’s testimony, Jesus says: “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John.  For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about Me that the Father has sent Me.”

What are these works, dear friends?  Jesus not only performs miracles showing His mastery over nature, like turning water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, and calming storms, He also changes the trajectory of human history: liberating sinful men from physical infirmities, like blindness and deafness and crippling diseases.  And what’s more, He delivers people from the bondage of demons, and ultimately, raises the dead!  For all of these infringements on our burdened human nature are a result of sin.  And Jesus has come to atone for sin, and thus defeat death at its source, by dying on the cross. 

Our Lord warns us not to read the Scriptures in such a way as to derive false hope from “Moses,” that is, the Law.  The Law accuses us; it doesn’t save us.  But the Law does diagnose our ailment: sin.  And so, as our Lord points out, if we believe Moses, we should believe Jesus, and if we believe Jesus, we should also believe Moses.  For Moses too points us to Jesus!

Thanks be to God for the life and work of the humanist scholar and confessor of the faith, St. Philip Melanchthon, whose study of Scripture was more than an academic treatment of the classics.  For he knew and confessed that the Scriptures point us to Jesus: who forgives our sins, and wins eternal life for us.  So let us remember Master Philip and let us praise the one whom he confessed, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2021

14 February 2021

Text: Luke 18:31-43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is an old expression: “blind rage.”  It refers to someone being so angry that a person cannot perceive reality properly.  And as we live in a culture of “outrage,” we seem to have a variation of ‘blind rage” where people on different sides of an issue actually seem to see different things, as well as not seeing different things.

People are blinded by emotion.  And as today is St. Valentine’s Day in addition to Quinquagesima Sunday, we might even call to mind the old saying that ‘love is blind.”

People can also be blinded by fear: being in denial about something that frightens them.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can also inhibit a person from seeing things as they are.

As He was leading the disciples to Jerusalem in the third year of His ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly told the disciples what was going to happen when they got there: “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

Jesus could not have been more clear and direct about the events that would unfold on this coming Passover to end all Passovers, when He will be sacrificed as the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”  He did not use figurative language, but spoke plainly – and He did so several times.

But the disciples “understood none of these things.  This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”  How, dear friends, could they not see the sacrifice of the Son of Man to come?  They were blinded.  Perhaps by fear, perhaps by their preconceived notions about the Messiah and His kingdom.  But for whatever reason, they were blinded to the reality of the coming passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus – foretold by the prophets and bluntly explained by Jesus Himself.

St. Luke, the disciple of Jesus who was also a medical doctor, immediately follows up this temporary blindness of the disciples with a miracle that Jesus did on the way to Jerusalem, as He and the disciples “drew near to Jericho.”

They encountered a blind man who was begging for his living.  When he heard that Jesus was near, the blind man prayed for sight: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And even when he was scolded for his prayer, he prayed all the more: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This man was physically blind, but he saw Jesus spiritually, with the eyes of faith that were illuminated by the Scriptures.  For in His physical blindness, He recognized Jesus as the “Son of David.”  He knew that Jesus is indeed the King, the Messiah, the Lord who has the power over light and darkness, over sickness and health – and he also knew that it was a good and salutary thing to pray to Jesus seeking His mercy.

How different than the disciples, who in their spiritual blindness, did not pray to Jesus for illumination, but remained in their blindness (though their physical eyes were healthy) until they saw His passion, death, and resurrection with their own eyes.  Only then did they truly see Jesus, and only then did they fully grasp what it means that He is merciful.

Our Lord answers the prayer of the blind man – who sees Jesus even in his physical darkness. “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asks.  “Lord, let me recover my sight,” he prays.

And the Lord Jesus answers his prayer.  He recovered his sight.  But note what our Lord says made this miracle possible: “Recover your sight, your faith has made you well.”  Faith believed the promise – the promise of the coming Messiah in the prophets, but also the coming of the Messiah in flesh and blood, in space and time.  The blind beggar begs for mercy, and Jesus restores his sight.  For He saw Jesus, in spite of his physical infirmity. 

And while the disciples continue to struggle with their spiritual blindness – these men whom our Lord often chided for their “little faith” – the formerly blind beggar who prayed for his sight, who sought the mercy of the Lord, also became a disciple: “He recovered his sight and followed Him.”

He followed Jesus, dear friends.  For he saw something more than a miraculous healing.  He saw that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, he saw that Jesus is indeed the one with the power to answer prayers, in His mercy, by His illuminating light, and in accordance with His ministry to seek and save the lost, to bring sight to the blind, sound to the deaf, and life to the dead. 

There were many that saw Jesus perform miracle after miracle, and yet did not see that He is the Son of Man, and the Son of God.  There were indeed those who saw His magnificent works of love and mercy and divine power, and for whatever reason: jealousy, greed, the desire for power – whatever their motivation, they were blinded by their rage, their fear, and their lack of love.  For though love is at times blind, hatred and rage are blinding. 

And it is this kind of blindness, dear friends, that is truly dangerous.  One can learn to live in physical darkness, but when one is in spiritual darkness, he is in eternal peril.

And the only cure to that darkness, dear brothers and sisters, is Jesus: “God of God, light of light, very God of very God,” – the one who “breaks the darkness with a liberating light… turning blindness into sight.”

Let us join this formerly blind man who became a disciple, who saw Jesus as the liberating light of the world, by joining in His prayer: “Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.”

Let there be light.

Amen.

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

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Feb 9


9 February 2020

Text: John 3:1-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“You must be born again,” says Jesus.  There are a lot of people who use the term “born-again Christian” to mean that the person is a real Christian, not like the phony ones who live like the heathen.  In this definition, the focus is on the Christian and his external works.  It comes to mean a higher-level of Christianity, a kind of “super-Christian.”  And it is usually accompanied by a strong sense of emotion and zeal.  But is this what Jesus is talking about?

If that’s the meaning, why does Jesus bring up water and the Spirit: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”?  At this point, Nicodemus, who has come sneaking around at night to talk to Jesus, doesn’t really understand.  It is a mystery.  But Jesus will resolve the mystery after His resurrection when He empowers the apostles to “make disciples” by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Disciples are born by the Word, not made by works.  They are born again “by water and the Spirit.”  And Jesus also says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  That belief is a component of, and gift of, Holy Baptism.

So being born again isn’t about emotions or being a “super Christian.”  It is about being born again “by water and the Spirit.”  The water is administered to the newly born-again Christian, and the Spirit – which literally means breath – comes from the spoken Word of God administered along with the water: the name of the Holy Trinity.”  The Sacrament gives you a real historical moment of rebirth, a supernatural event in time and space in which your faith lays hold of Jesus.

Dear friends, this frees you from thinking that your salvation depends on your emotions, your zeal, or your achieving a high level of performance as a Christian good-worker.  We do not perform good works to be born again, rather because we are born again, we are empowered to perform good works out of gratitude to God and love of neighbor.  Those who perform good works in order to earn “born-again” status are not doing these works out of love, but rather out of selfishness.

The Lord gave us the sacrament of Holy Baptism as a means of becoming a disciple of Jesus, by being reborn spiritually, and yet in a way that is physical and irrefutable.  Your new birth is as real and irrevocable as the water by which you were washed, as the pictures that were taken, and as the certificate that you were given.  The Sacrament is an expression of the Lord’s re-creative and redemptive love: “For God so loved the world, that He have His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Amen.

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

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2021

7 February 2021

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of God by means of a story called the Parable of the Sower.  It’s a parable because it is a specific kind of story in which certain things symbolize other things.  And if you understand how the symbols in the story work (in this case, a farmer, some seed, and various kinds of soil), you can understand what is being symbolized (in this case, the Kingdom of God).

As we move farther and farther away from being an agricultural society, as children are being more poorly educated – especially about where food comes from – I do wonder how long it will be before future preachers will have to explain what a seed is.

But then again, if you have never seen a seed germinate and sprout, it may even add to the wonder of our Lord’s story.  For what if you knew nothing about seeds, and I handed one to you, and told you that if you put it in the dirt and put water on it, in a hundred years it could possibly feed an entire village of people?

You might think that this sounds like a superstition, or some kind of cruel trick.  It doesn’t sound possible, dear friends.  For how does a little seed know what to do?  Where do the stem, the roots, and the leaves come from?  And what about the fruit?  And how does it seem to work perfectly all the time – if it has the right conditions to grow?

The original listeners of our Lord’s story all knew that if you plant seeds, they will grow and become food – that is, if the seeds are placed in good soil and watered.  Everybody knew that – even merchants and fishermen.  People knew where food came from.  They didn’t just figure that it magically appeared on the shelves at Walmart or Rouse’s.

But what a wondrous thing a seed is if you’ve never seen or heard about it before!  Many of us planted sunflower seeds when we were schoolchildren.  We watched with childlike wonder as the little stem burst forth out of the dirt and started to grow leaves.  And if we stuck with it long enough, the sunflower might have grown to be taller even then our dads, with a flower bigger than a grown-up’s face – and in time, it would have a bunch of new seeds in the middle – which we could plant and start the process again – only theoretically, with no limit to the number of plants that would come from that original seed.

This sense of wonder should equally apply to the Word of God, dear friends.  For the seed in our Lord’s story symbolizes the Word of God.  Just as the little seed contains microscopic DNA instructions embedded in the cells, which start working like a computer program when water signals the seed to do its thing – so too does the Word of God contain power – true power to bear everlasting life by germinating faith in Christ.  The DNA of salvation is borne upon the preached Word of God.  How it works exactly, we don’t know any more than the original hearers of Jesus knew how seeds germinate and mature.  They didn’t know about DNA in the first century.  But they knew that the seed had some kind of hidden power: power to feed an entire nation – so long as certain conditions prevailed: water and good soil.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God also begins with water: baptismal water that sets in motion the activation of the Word of God into faith.  It starts out small.  Its beginnings are humble.  But it grows.  And with the right conditions of soil, a seed will transform into a large plant, multiplying itself a hundredfold.

In our Lord’s story, the sower of the seed tosses it everywhere.  He doesn’t discriminate.  He doesn’t try to predict what soil will ultimately be good soil.  Likewise, preachers do not discriminate.  We cannot predict who will hear the Word and come to faith.  We cannot see into hearts.  We cannot point to any group or category of person and project who will be good soil and believe, and who will ultimately prove to be bad soil, and the Word of God will die in their hearts.  We don’t know, so we just sow our seeds everywhere, recklessly and at times desperately.  Sometimes we preach convinced that nobody is listening, that nobody cares, that our words are being wasted.  But the Word is never wasted, dear friends.  It carries out the purposes of God regardless of appearances.  And when we least expect it, sometimes in surprising ways, the Word takes root and grows in the hearts of our hearers.

Jesus speaks of a seed sown “on the path.”  It was stepped on, and carried away by birds.  This is like the devil coming and snatching the Word of God away because it never had the chance to take root.

Jesus speaks of another seed that falls amid rocks, gets no moisture, and dies.  This is like those who initially hear the word “with joy,” but are shallow, and the Word has “no root.”  And as soon as difficult times come, a person loses his faith.

Jesus speaks of another seed that does take root and sprouts, but gets choked out by thorns, and it too dies.  This is like the people who “hear” God’s Word, but they get distracted by the “cares and riches and pleasures of life,” and their faith dies before it even bears fruit.

But what happens in the good soil is truly a miracle, dear friends.  The seed falls into the dirt, the seed germinates, it sends down roots into the earth, it sends a stem up to the surface, its DNA causes cells to divide and become different functioning parts of the plant.  The plants gets water and sun and nutrients, and continues to grow.  It eventually bears fruit, which is used to feed man and beast – and in the fruit are more seeds, each replicating the DNA of the original seed – so that its descendants will bear fruit exponentially.  And this, dear friends, is what happens in the Kingdom of God when the Word is preached and it is received in the “good soil” of the believer who hears, listens, takes it to heart, and grows to be a blessing to others.

We hear this word and we “hold it fast in an honest and good heart,” and we “bear fruit with patience.”  We do not do this by working.  For the power is in the seed, the Word.  But we do receive the Word, we avoid the temptation to allow Satan to snatch the Word from our hearts.  We avoid the temptation to shallowness.  We avoid the temptation to surround ourselves with thorns that will choke out the Word of God in our lives.  For just receiving the seed of the Word without these impediments will guarantee that the Word will indeed work.  For it is God’s work, God’s design, God’s divine instructions imbedded in the Word that works, dear friends.  Our job is to get out of the way!

So if you yearn for the Lord’s blessing, receive the seed of the preached Word.  And come to where the visible Word of the sacraments are also given to you, week in and week out.  Come to the Divine Service.  Hear.  Listen.  Take the Word you’re your hearts.  Become familiar with the Holy Scriptures.  There is power there.  Allow His Word to implant into you deeply.  God’s Word knows what to do, and does it.

In the words of the great poet-preacher Martin Franzmann:

Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend His planted Word.

Amen.

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

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Sermon: Funeral of Ruth Ziifle

6 February 2021

Text: John 11:20-27 (Isa 46:3-4, Rom 6:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  Peace be with you.

Our dear sister in Christ, Ruth, is the last of her generation to be called to her heavenly home: one of six extraordinary sons and daughters of William and Leonora Ziifle.  William was an entrepreneur, a hard worker, and a remarkable intellect who loved his family and understood the value of education – making sure that all six of his children had the opportunity to attend college.  But William and Leonora understood that there is one kind of education that means even more than the university: to be catechized into the Christian faith.

The Ziifles brought Ruth to this very baptismal font when she was less than a month old, because they knew the words we heard again today: that we “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.”  For “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”  They brought Ruth to the waters of Holy Baptism to prepare her for her death nearly a century later. 

And the same pastor, the Rev. Eugene Schmid, who baptized Ruth also catechized her, that is educated her in the Christian faith, and also gave her Holy Communion for the first time – the first of a lifetime of encounters with Jesus in the Divine Service, in Word and Sacrament, in having her sins absolved and being prepared to die in the Lord – which she has done by grace.

Ruth knew the Scriptures, and she knew why this was important.  She was truly prepared to leave this vale of tears.  And as active as she was in the community and the church, she understood that she was just a stranger here, that her true home is eternal life in Christ Jesus, having died to sin in baptism, and having been raised to new life.  I had the privilege to be the last of a long line of pastors who served Ruth with the Gospel, with the Body and Blood of Christ, with Holy Absolution, and in studying together the Word of God. 

Ruth also knew the church’s liturgy, having sung it week in and week out for nearly a century.  She knew the glorious hymns of our Lutheran tradition, which confess that by grace we’re saved, grace free and boundless.  She believed this, and doubted it not.  She knew that she would die, and she knew into which narrow chamber at Hook and Ladder Cemetery that she would be laid to rest, even as she expects our Lord to awaken her from death, when she will be raised in the body to look into her Savior’s face, to be physically reunited with her family and with all believers on the Last Day.

Ruth chose the Gospel reading for this service, because she knew that the Christian faith is all about the resurrection.  Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a little preview when He raised His friend Lazarus from the dead, calling him by name from his tomb, where he came out to be reunited with his loved ones who mourned his loss.  For Ruth knew and loved the words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  He said this to Lazarus’s sister Martha, who mourned the loss of her brother.  Her mourning was turned into rejoicing, dear friends, even as will our mourning.  Ruth knew what it is to mourn.  She outlived most of her family and friends – including losing her beloved sister Myra less than two years ago.  Ruth and Myra were inseparable their whole lives, and now they are separated no more.

Ruth knew that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  She enjoys that eternal life even now, dear brothers and sisters.

The Lord blessed Ruth with a long life, so that she might be of service to others.  As Isaiah spoke, God knew Ruth “from before [her] birth,” even in her mother’s womb, and God planned for Ruth’s life “even to [her] old age,” carrying her even through to the time of gray hairs.  The Lord’s words are certainly appropriate in Ruth’s case: “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and I will save.”

 From the baptismal font to the tomb that Jesus will open, this joyful refrain that Ruth sang again and again sums it up best, dear friends: 

By grace!  On this I’ll rest when dying;
In Jesus’ promise I rejoice;
For though I know my heart’s condition,
I also know my Savior’s voice.
My heart is glad, all grief has flown
Since I am saved by grace alone.

Amen.

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

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Who is an American?

Gov. Francis T. Nicholls

In the comments section in a news article about the State of North Carolina now disallowing the logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to be displayed on their vanity license plates, a young person referred to the Confederates as those who "fought against and killed Americans."  I pointed out the obvious that both sides fought against and killed Americans, that this is the nature of an interstate war, and that this same phenomenon happened in 1776.

Her reply was that the "Confederates chose to be on the opposite side of America.  They declared war on America.  They created [sic] to be Americans with that choice."  I believe autocorrect probably "corrected" her word "ceased."

I do find this narrative increasingly common, especially young people.  History, which is complex with various contours of culture and politics and economics - has been reduced to a couple multiple choice questions on a quiz, a simple "good guy/bad guy" dichotomy, and from there, has been retreaded to be a Maoist tool for ideological indoctrination.  While everyone uses history in a political way, the current paradigm is to completely upend not only the historiography but even the facts themselves in service to a larger Marxist interpretation.

This is the very idea of the Party controlling the future by controlling the past in George Orwell's 1984.

So who were the Americans in the conflict of 1861-1865?  I tried to draw analogies from history.


Was Julius Caesar a Roman when he crossed the Rubicon?  Were Pompey, Cato, and Cicero Romans?  How about Mark Antony?  Who were the Romans and who were not?


Who were the Greeks: the Spartans or the Athenians?


Who were the Russians: the Reds or the Whites?


The soldiers who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie in the '45 - were they Scots?


Was George Washington a Virginian when he took command of the Continental Army?


What nationality was John Brown?  And should we consider Red Cloud, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Chief Joseph - all of whom took up arms against the United States - to be American heroes?  


Wars have divided Ireland and Korea resulting in there being a ‘North’ and a ‘South’ to this very day. Maybe in your ethnographic and historiographical brilliance, you could tell us which are actually Irish and which are Koreans. 


So, I take it that the day before Brexit, the millions of people living in the UK were European.  But the next day, they weren’t?  What continent is the UK part of now?  And did they cease being European when the referendum was passed, or was it when they left the chamber, or was it when the arrangement took effect on Jan 1, 2021?  


When the Germans reunited after the Berlin Wall fell, both sides recognized each other as Germans. 


And you know what?  That same thing happened in 1865 among the Americans as well at Appomattox. 


There is irony in the young woman's FB profile.  It seems that she is a fairly recent graduate of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. It was named for a former governor of Louisiana, Francis T. Nicholls (1834-1912).  By her understanding, Gov. Nicholls was not an American.  

He was a remarkable person with a long history of American public service.

Francis Nicholls was an 1855 graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point.  He served in the Seminole War in Florida, resigned his commission, went back to school, and became an attorney.

When the War Between the States broke out, he accepted a commission as a captain in the infantry and fought at First Manassas.  He lost his left arm in the Shenandoah Valley campaign, but continued to serve.  In the course of time, he was promoted to brigadier general.  In subsequent battles, he lost his left foot and one of his eyes.  He continued to serve the army in a non-combatant role until the war's end.

After the war, he returned to practice law.  He ran for governor as a Democrat in 1876.  Although he won the election, the Republican Party controlled the election board and declared his opponent the winner.  This was overturned by Republican president Rutherford Hayes (who himself won a disputed  election that was decided along party lines in Congress) as part of the Compromise of 1877 that demilitarized the South.

Nicholls served as governor - in spite of his physical handicaps - from 1877-1880, and again from 1888-1892 - fighting corruption in the state government.  He chaired the 1879 state constitutional convention.  At the age of 58, he embarked on a new career.  From 1892-1911, Nicholls was the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.

Several schools were named after Nicholls, including a girls' vocational school, a public high school, and the aforementioned Nicholl's State University - which began as a junior college.  A street in the French Quarter was named for him.

Francis Nicholls and his wife Caroline had seven children.

Was Governor and Chief Justice Nicholls an American?  I wonder what the graduates of Nicholls State University are taught - if anything - about their namesake.  Clearly, they don't do a very good job of teaching History.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sermon: Septuagesima - 2021

31 January 2021

Text: Matt 20:1-16

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard teaches us about the kingdom of God, of course, but it also calls to mind a very bad habit that we have as fallen human beings.

We think that we are entitled based on time in grade.  In other words, we think that just because we have worked at a job longer than someone else, we deserve to be paid more.  But do we?  What if the other employee is better at the job and works harder?  Why do we feel entitled to be paid more?

Years and years ago, some old timers at our congregation expressed to me that this was “their” church, and that they should get special consideration, more than people who joined the church more recently.  Sometimes people will even recount their genealogy to the pastor, as if the fact that their grandfather being an elder should entitle them to live together out of wedlock without the pastor saying anything.  Now, that is not something that happened here, but it does happen.

When church members express such thoughts, it really makes me wonder if they have been paying attention all those years when the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard was read as the Sunday Gospel and preached on.  Could they not see themselves as the grumblers in the story, expecting to get more than those who came later?

Jesus had to deal with this attitude among the scribes and Pharisees, who thought they were better than other people, and expected to be treated as if they outranked those who humbly came to Jesus seeking forgiveness for their sins. 

And if you’ve read the Gospels, you know very well how Jesus reacted to that kind of thing.

For what set off this parable in the first place was our Lord’s teaching that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  God’s kingdom doesn’t operate the way the world does.  For God owns everything.  He is the master who owns the vineyard.  He hires whomever He wills, and He pays whatever He decides.  He shows kindness to those whom He chooses – and He can indeed do what He wants with His wealth.

In the story, the master of the vineyard hires workers at various points in the day.  He offers a fair day’s wage (a denarius) for a fair day’s work – in those days, this was 12 hours.  Over the course of the day, he hires more workers.  Even at the eleventh hour, he hires still more workers, who will only be able to work an hour before nightfall.

At the end of the workday, those who worked only one hour were paid a full denarius.  And so the workers who worked twelve hours expected to be paid more.  But they were paid the same denarius.  And so they grumbled.  They were paid a fair wage, but they grumbled.  They were paid exactly what they were promised, but they grumbled.  They grumbled because they felt they deserved more than the Johnny-come-latelies who worked only a single hour, those who showed up late just as the goodies were being handed out, those who converted to the faith rather than having a pedigree, those who haven’t “paid their dues” or “put in their time” – and yet were treated equally.

And in our day and age, grumbling typically works.  Often the grumblers are rewarded because people just don’t want to hear it.  Grumblers can leave bad reviews or make false accusations.  Grumblers can destroy one’s reputation, or even turn mobs of people against you.  Grumblers often get their way because they are bullies, and they instill fear in ordinary people who just want peace. 

But grumbling at God doesn’t work, dear friends.  So don’t even try it!  He knows all things.  He sees into your heart.  He knows what you deserve.  And since He is God, He is entitled to do what He wants with what is His, and woe be to any of us who would begrudge His generosity.

In fact, we should rejoice at His generosity.  He forgives us our sins not based on what we have done, how hard we have worked, or how much we have accomplished.  For if He treated us as we truly deserve, we wouldn’t like it.  For once again, we are far from the perfection that He requires.  We are sinful and selfish and lazy and proud.  And we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to.  There isn’t a single person here that this doesn’t apply to.  And if you think otherwise, you’re in worse shape than you think.  If God were “fair,” He would snatch that denarius right out of our hands and send us to prison. 

But that is the point.  He isn’t fair.  Instead, He is generous.  He is gracious.  He gives to us according to His mercy, not according to the justice that we deserve.  And He is merciful not only to us, but to all who call upon His name – whether they are Pharisees or tax collectors, whether they are from legacy families or are recent converts, whether they have “paid their dues” or have not done so much as lifted a finger or put a dime in the collection plate. 

Our Lord tells the parable to set us all straight about how the kingdom of heaven works, and just how wrong we are to think we deserve anything, dear friends, other than death and hell. 

And so when we see the Lord’s grace and mercy, instead of begrudging Him, instead of grumbling to Him, we should rejoice at His lovingkindness and His charity.  For we too are beneficiaries of this grace by which we are saved. 

The real burden that was borne, the real suffering in the heat of the day was done by Jesus at the cross.  It is out of the treasury of the work of Christ that we are paid – “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  He has earned the wage, dear friends, and we are handed the denarius – even though our work counts for nothing compared to what He has done. 

And so lest we think we are something, we are nothing.  We are recipients of charity – God’s charity.  And when we realize this, when we come to grips with the fact that we are not the first, but the last, that Jesus is the first, and we are unworthy – it is then that we rejoice, because we have figured out what this saying really means: “the last will be first and the first last” – and we thank God for that undeserved denarius that we are given at the end of the age. 

And here at the altar, we receive a token of this denarius of salvation.  Not a coin, but a wafer: a small piece of bread that is truly His body, and a taste of wine that is His blood.  We all receive the same token, whether pastor, deacon, elder, one who chairs a committee, one who serves on a board, one who has been in this congregation for generations, or one whom the Holy Spirit drew here recently, whether one is old or one is a child, whether one is wealthy or one is impoverished: one wafer and one sip, whether we are first or last according to the flesh.  It makes no difference.  Instead of the wages of sin, which is death (which is in fact what we have earned), we are all paid the same wages that Christ earned: salvation and eternal life.  And when we realize just how good the Lord is to us, we can never grumble against Him, but can only be driven to “thank, praise, serve, and obey Him” out of love and joy and gratitude for what he has done for us!

Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

MoveOn Jury Tampering?

 

Because of a previous owner of my phone number, I am on MoveOn's text list.  I get all of their alerts.

I just received this one today "Trump's impeachment trial for inciting violence is soon.  Need GOP votes to convict.  Tell Sen Bill Cassidy: Convict Trump."

Ironically, MoveOn was founded during the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, trying to get the country to just forget about the President's sexual abuse of power in taking advantage of an intern half his age within his chain of command - and then committing perjury about it afterward.  MoveOn wanted the Senate to just censure the president and just "Move On to pressing issues facing the country."  Obviously, this was in the era before the #metoo movement - although in Bill Clinton's case, they seem to approve of the sexual abuse.

But here we are when it is a Republican president being impeached, MoveOn wants nothing of moving on.  

As for their action item to call Senator Cassidy,

First of all, the trial hasn't even started yet.  No evidence has been presented.  Even in the House impeachment, no evidence was heard, nor was the former president given an opportunity to present evidence.  So on what basis is MoveOn calling for conviction other than their political views?  MoveOn has shown its colors, that it believes in Soviet- and Maoist-style political show trials in which political opponents are convicted without evidence.

But worse yet, did they commit the crime of jury-tampering?  Senator Bill Cassidy is one of the jurors of this case.  How is this any different than sending out the phone number of any other juror of any other case and urging people to call the juror to try to pressure him into voting for a conviction?  

This clearly demonstrates that this is a political, not a judicial, proceeding.  This has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with fetid politics.

Sadly, very few people on the Left will criticize one of their ideological bedfellows - even if laws are being broken in order to get the political outcome that they want.  

Is jury tampering within the legal rights of a 501c4 organization?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – St. Titus, 2021

26 January 2021

Text: Rom 15:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today is the Feast of St. Titus.  He was part of the first wave of men ordained by the apostles, as St. Paul ordained both him and St. Timothy.  The books of the Bible named for them are actually pastoral letters that they received from St. Paul with guidance for carrying out the life of the holy ministry.

St. Titus, who as a Gentile, went on to serve as a bishop in Dalmatia, and according to tradition, went back to Crete, where Paul had previously left him to serve.  He ministered there as a bishop until his death in 96 AD.

While St. Paul was Jewish through and through, he lamented that more Jews did not confess Jesus as Messiah.  St. Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, and brought the Christian faith to Pagan Europe.  And from where, the faith would be spread centuries later, as explorers sailed around the world. 

And as we near the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome, he is focusing on the thorny issue of culturally and ethnically diverse people being grafted together into one holy catholic and apostolic church.  He counsels all of us to consider the faith “of the weak” as we exercise our Christian liberty, to “please his neighbor for his good” – even as our Lord Jesus Christ did.  And this is not easy.  It takes endurance, and through this endurance “and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  He goes on to call God the “God of endurance and encouragement” as well as the “God of hope.”

St. Paul cites several passages from the Old Testament to prove that the Gentiles are indeed part of God’s kingdom, even as are the believing descendants of the Jews who were chosen in the Old Covenant.  This is important to understand in its context, dear friends, for the word translated as “Gentiles” literally means “nations.”  And it was our Lord Himself who commanded the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…”  St. Paul ordained St. Titus for this very purpose: to proclaim Christ to the nations and to baptize men and women from every nationality – so that they might have hope.

We have hope, dear brothers and sisters, because Jesus died for us, His blood was shed for us, and in His name and by His sacrifice, we have life – life that is eternal, life that overcomes death and the grave, life that conquers sin – that of the devil, of the world, and of our own sinful nature. 

What St. Paul wrote to the Romans applies to us today: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Amen.

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