Sunday, August 01, 2021

Sermon: Trinity 9 - 2021


1 August 2021

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

An attorney friend of mine liked to say, “This is chess, not checkers.”  If we were to retell the Parable of the Dishonest Manager in modern terms, this expression about chess and checkers might well be something that he would say.

The dishonest manager is a fictional character created by Jesus for the purpose of gently goading Christians, the “sons of light,” into being wise stewards of the kingdom of God.

For God’s kingdom works differently than the world.  The kingdom of heaven operates by different rules than the world works, and yet, Jesus manages to explain how the kingdom works by means of his own stories, like this one today.

And the “hero” (if you can call him that) of this tale is a bad employee, a dishonest manager who is being fired.  The manager is “wasting” the “possessions” of the business owner.  He has not been a good steward of that which has been entrusted to him.  And so, the “rich man” who is the business owner, calls him in to tell him that he is being fired: “What is this that I hear about you?  Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”

And this is where the manager must think strategically, like a chess player.  He is “not strong enough to dig,” so he can’t just take a day laborer’s job like he might have been able to do as a younger man.  He is “ashamed to beg,” and so standing on the street asking for money is not a viable alternative.  He has to think his way out of this jam.

And this is where the dishonest manager comes up with a strategy to make friends in high places, to wheel and deal and buy the favor of other people who can help him.  It’s a pretty remarkable plan – as dishonest as it is.  And it is a bold strategy, like a chess-player taking the ultimate risk and sacrificing his queen hoping to score a knock-out punch.  The stakes are high, and as the old saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Here is what our dishonest manager does: he meets “his master’s debtors one by one.”  And without consulting the boss who has just told him to clean out his desk and finish his paperwork because he is fired, he takes it upon himself to rewrite the bills that his boss’s customers owe. 

He rewrites the contracts and offers favorable terms.  He forgives debts and makes friends with people who can help him.  So in the first example, he asks about the contract: “a hundred measures of oil.”  The dishonest manager rewrites the contract as fifty.  In other words, he slashes the price by fifty percent.

The second customer owes “a hundred measures of wheat.”  The dishonest manager rewrites the bill as eighty.

Why did he do this?  Because he is going to need a job.  He can come to these two important men, clients of his original boss, and he can ask for a favor to pay back his own favor.  Of course, the original contracts have been rewritten without the owner’s approval.  But a contract is a contract, and he is – for the time being – the owner’s representative.  So the business owner has to accept less from his customers because of the dishonest manager. 

Think about how audacious this is, dear friends!  In our Lord’s story, the business owner is amazed.  He “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  Of course he is losing money, but he is stunned by the boldness of his former employee.  He describes this kind of dishonesty as being “shrewd.” 

Jesus tells us the moral of the story: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  In other words, while the world plays chess, we Christians often play checkers.  While the world resorts to boldness and thinking outside of the box to advance its agenda, we Christians often act naively, or at very least, not shrewdly.  For the Lord has given us a job: to be stewards of the kingdom of God.  But we’re too timid, too afraid to take bold action.

We Christians provide hope for the world, light in the midst of darkness, life in the midst of death.  We have Good News for the world!  We are the Lord’s managers entrusted with “the account of our management.”  Do we spend time in prayer for the sake of our neighbors in need of salvation?  Do we invite people, as did Phillip, the disciple of our Lord, to “Come and see!”, to bring them to Jesus in the Divine Service?  Do we put offerings in the plate – even a little if that’s all we can afford – for the sake of advancing the kingdom of God?  Do we think about how our congregation can have an impact on people in our community?  Do we look for ways to be better stewards with our resources for the sake of seeking and saving the lost? 

Are we playing checkers when we should be playing chess?

Our Lord has another lesson from this story as well.  He says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”

This is along the same lines.  We should look for ways to fund the kingdom of God by means of “unrighteous wealth,” while we ourselves retain our righteousness.  We need to think outside the box for the sake of the kingdom, for people are dying, and they need the Good News.  So how can we bring that Good News to them?  How can we get people inside the “ark of the church” – as we say in the baptismal liturgy, here, where the Word of God is proclaimed, here, where the sacraments are administered, here, where God is miraculously present for us by means of the Lord’s Supper, forgiving our sins and giving us the free gift of everlasting life?  How do we draw men into the nets of the Gospel the way that a wise and experienced fisherman knows how to use the best techniques and strategies?

That is our task, dear friends, as the church.  We are not here to simply think about ourselves, but rather to love and serve our neighbors by bringing them to the kingdom.  We are fishers of men.

But unlike the dishonest manager, we are to be honest.  As our Lord says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”  He says that we must use worldly wealth wisely to store up the “true riches.”  And “no servant can serve two masters.”  We cannot be like the world and serve money. 

For God is our master, and money is to be put into His service.  Money is to serve us, not the other way around.  This calls for wisdom and discernment, dear friends.  It calls for shrewdness.  The stakes are high.  And it is ultimately Jesus who slashes our bill, actually reducing it to zero.  For He has paid it all with the blessing of the Father.  And that is the life-giving Good News that we have to share with the world!

This is chess, not checkers. 

Amen.

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

You Lost, Get Over It!

The opponents of Southern heritage often repeat the trope: “You lost, get over it.” One of them told me that it was “ironic” that we honor both the US and CS flags.

But of course, the postbellum states of the CSA were annexed into the reunited USA. They were forced back into the Union. Therefore, thirteen of the stars on today’s Old Glory represent Confederate states.

American history is incredibly inclusive as well as intricate.
And to this day, when there is a war to be fought, the South is always over-represented. And when Yankees retire or go on vacation, they usually go South rather than North. I don’t blame them.
There's no actual irony in honoring the past. History is complicated. We embrace our ancestry and heritage. This is how normal people in the real world live. That’s why there are statues of the defeated Scottish rebel Sir William Wallace, not only in Scotland, but also in England (he is a UK hero today). That’s why there is a statue of the rebel General George Washington at Trafalgar Square in London. That’s why there are statues to the defeated Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani (and other pre-American royals) in Hawaii (and their state flag includes the symbol of the defeated mother country of the United States: Great Britain). The state flags of New Mexico and Oklahoma contain symbols of defeated native peoples (“You lost, get over it,” right?) - many of whom are veterans of the United States - even though their ancestors took up arms against the US.

Is that ‘ironic’ as well?

Another talking point about Confederate heritage is that they "took up arms against the United States!" As the kids say, "Well, duh!" In fact, some of the most honored American Indians fought against, and even slaughtered, a lot of American soldiers - including the famed veteran of the War for Southern Independence, (Brevet) Major General George Custer and 267 other members of the US 7th Cavalry, at the Battle of Little Bighorn, while wounding 55 more. They stripped, scalped, and dismembered the bodies of the American dead. And yet, these Indian warriors are also part of our common American heritage, honored on coins and stamps and in museums, and they hold a special place of honor among American Indians to this very day. And we, as a nation, erect statues and monuments in their honor. In 1993, Hollywood made a movie honoring the Indian warrior and combatant against the United States, Geronimo, as an "American Legend."
Our modern USA is a complex tapestry of many heritages. And that includes our Confederate heritage.
And as for losing in battle, our fathers and uncles were defeated in Vietnam. There are many who believe the Vietnam War was not a good cause or an appropriate use of American military force. But of course, we honor these men as our countrymen, our relatives, and as part of the tapestry of American history and heritage. And we especially honor the fallen with a memorial wall in DC. The surviving veterans and family members of the dead - even those who believe the cause was less than righteous - reverently visit that memorial. What kind of person would tell the family members who honor these men, “You lost, get over it”? Would they say that to visitors to Auschwitz? Would they say that to the descendants of slaves? Would they say that to a mother whose children were killed in the line of duty as first responders? Perhaps so. Our country has not only lost its history and its heritage, it has lost its soul.


What a Coincidence!

Hat tip to Tom Woods for posting this: 

I'm sure there will be people out there who will argue that this really is just a coincidence, that these are all real people who "just left the ER" and just so happened to word their tweet identically to the others.  And that is because of the success of the American maleducation system in its quest for a dumber, fatter, more ignorant, less logical, statistically-stultified, fake-news-imbibing, and historically destroyed America.

Idiocracy is here.  Brawndo has what plants crave.



Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sermon: Feast of St. James the Elder - 2021

25 July 2021

Text: Mark 10:35-45 (Acts 11:27-12:5, Rom 8:28-39)

 In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

 When young people are polled about what they want out of life, a large number of them want to be famous.  And the world of social media has certainly encouraged this by creating an environment of friends, likes, and followers.  People dream of making a living by being a “content producer” or “influencer.”  We may be tempted to think this is something new, but we see it in the Scriptures – even in the Gospel reading for this feast day of St. James the Elder.

 James and his brother John were among the first to follow Jesus.  They were fishermen.  Their colleague Peter became the leader of the apostles. The three of them, Peter, James, and John, were our Lord’s “inner circle” among the twelve, and saw Him transfigured on the mountain. 

 Our Gospel does not paint a very flattering picture of St. James and his brother John.  They come to Jesus asking to be placed on His right hand and His left in His glory.  In other words, they are bucking for the top spots among Jesus’ followers.  And in fact, Matthew’s account gives us an even more embarrassing detail: their mother comes with them to talk to Jesus about getting the top jobs.  Can you imagine?  Grown men bring their mother to Jesus to ask for positions of prominence. 

 This desire for worldly accolades is not something unique to our own day and age.  It is as old as sin itself.  And this is the Gospel reading to celebrate St. James.  It’s clear that the Scriptures were not cleaned up or edited to paint a rosy picture about our Lord’s disciples, nor does the kingdom of God work like the world.

 For indeed, James and John were prominent among the disciples.  John would write the fourth Gospel, three epistles, and the final book of Scripture.  And James would achieve glory in a different way: by being among the first to be killed by the government for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.

 And this is why our Lord said to James and John – within earshot of their ambitious mother: “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  Jesus was referring to His crucifixion.  James and John reply, “We are able.”  Like St. Peter, their ambition blinds them to what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.  There is no fame and fortune, no admiration from the world, no moneybags and fine houses, no palaces and soft clothing, no gourmet foods and limousines for the disciples of Jesus.  Rather, for John, there was exile to a hostile island by order of Caesar.  For Peter there was a crucifixion likewise ordered by the Roman government.  For James, a sword ordered by King Herod. 

 Historically speaking, to be a Christian makes one an enemy of the state – at some points in history more than others.  To be a Christian puts one at odds with the world, with high society, with those in power, and with the very people whom the world admires and rewards with fame.

 When the other disciples heard about James and John – and Mrs. Zebedee – seeking favors from Jesus, they were “indignant.”  Our Lord used this incident as a teaching moment: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

 So to be great in God’s kingdom is to be a slave – both to other people and to God.  This is the opposite of what the world seeks after.  Each and every one of you sitting here in this sanctuary is called to slavery, to be a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to serve your neighbor.  You are called to carry out your vocation in the kingdom, whatever it is.  But you are not called to be praised in this world, to be famous, and to have people serve you.

St. James learned what Jesus meant when he saw this “baptism” that our Lord was referring to, when He saw His Master being crucified.  And this martyrdom is what awaited James as well.  Like Christians throughout the ages, James’s faithfulness was tested by the government, which demanded his loyalty to them to be placed above his loyalty to Christ.  In his own desire for fame and the approval of the world, the phony king Herod Agrippa “pleased the Jews” by laying “violent hands on some who belonged to the church” – including St. James. 

The spot where James was beheaded is today a church named for St. James.  His head is buried under the altar, where the sacrament was, and is, celebrated, and where Christ has come to His disciples of every age for centuries.  That, dear friends, is what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.

In the eyes of the world, it seems strange that Christians don’t just do as we are told by kings and presidents and secretaries general.  We are hated by the world precisely because we don’t care what they think.  We don’t worship fame and fortune and the possibility of wearing soft clothing and living in a palace.  And when the powers that be threaten us with the sword, we still won’t serve them nor bow down to them.  And that is why we are enemies of the state.  That is why St. James was beheaded.  That is why Christians around the world continue to be persecuted, whether in a soft form (for the time being) in the west, or by imprisonment and beheading in other less civilized countries. 

We are slaves of Christ, not slaves of the state.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” asks St. Paul (who himself, along with St. Peter, would die as a martyr at the hands of the Roman government).  “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”  And even though we are seen by our enemies as sheep to be slaughtered, being killed at every turn, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  And though kings and presidents and secretaries general can separate our heads from our bodies, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 We Christians do not seek fame and fortune and likes and followers.  We seek to be faithful and to serve our Lord, whether that means a long and peaceful life, or a concentration camp, a sword, or a cross.  We look to Jesus, whose own sacrificial death on the cross is our ransom from sin and death, whose service to us models our own service of Him and of our neighbor.  And we, like James, grow in our faith, so as to disregard, and even scorn the world’s fame and approval in exchange for the “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 And we honor our Lord by honoring St. James, by our constant presence at the altar, in this life and in eternity, worshiping our Lord instead of this world, being faithful subjects of our King even if it comes at the expense of being faithful citizens of a monstrous government that puts people to the sword for political favor.  We follow Jesus knowing that the cup on this altar may well lead to the cup that our Lord Himself drank.  We are the people of the cross, the “ransomed number.”  We are slaves of Christ.  And if that means a sword, so be it.

 O Lord, for James we praise You
Who fell to Herod’s sword;
He drank the cup of suff’ring
And thus fulfilled Your word.
Lord, curb our vain impatience
For glory and for fame,
Equip us for such suff’rings
As glorify Your name.

Amen.

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

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sermon: Trinity 7 and Baptism of Paula Koenig - 2021



18 July 2021

Text: Mark 8:1-9 (Gen 2:7-17, Rom 6:19-23)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

What a contrast between where Jesus is preaching (a “desolate place”) vs. the garden that the Lord God placed mankind in the first place: “a garden in Eden.”

In the original creation, “every tree” sprang up and was “pleasant to the sight” and “good for food.”  The garden was so lush that it didn’t even require the removal of thorns and thistles by the sweat of one’s brow.  There was a river that watered the garden, which “divided and became four rivers.”  God had made a paradise for man to multiply into, to enjoy the perfection and abundance of creation.  And He even provided beautiful gold and onyx stones for the man to craft into luxurious jewelry.

How different than the “desolate place,” the desert, the wilderness, arid, dry land where hardly anything grows.  For in time, the world became filled with desolate places, and even the most fertile of our gardens pale in comparison with the beauty of the paradise lost.  Farmers must spend all day contending with weeds and blight and wild animals and trying weather conditions in order to get crops to grow.  And compared to the fruits of the garden of Eden, they are scrawny and bland.

But we live in the “desolate place” of this fallen world, in which we all must labor, and even the bearing of children and raising of families are painful.  We have strife in our families, communities, countries, and in the world.  We have food and water shortages, and people suffer desolate conditions.

We see a picture of this as great crowds came to hear our Lord preach, but “they had nothing to eat.”  They were a long way from the fields where grain and fruit trees provided food.  There were no merchants close by to sustain them in their hunger.  And our Lord said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.”

And given the long stretch of time without food, and the fact that they must walk for days, there will most certainly be a toll of human suffering, and certainly those who will even die.  This is how much people hungered for the Word of God.  And the disciples ask: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

But the Lord who created the universe and planted the original  garden of paradise is with them, and He is with us as well.  Our Lord “took the seven loaves” and gave thanks.  He broke them, and “gave them to His disciples to set before the people.”  He also took a few small fish and performed the same miracle to provide for the needs of the people who had come to Him in faith to hear His Word.

The desolation became a little window of paradise.  The desert became a garden – for Jesus was there to transform it.  And this is His mission for the world, dear friends: to transform it.  He has come to take the desolate places and restore paradise.  He has come to take us, we who also are desolate in sin and death, and to restore us to the original glory of creation before we sinned and turned Eden into a wasteland.

Jesus has come to take the shortages and human suffering – and even death itself – which we simply accept as being part of life – and He turns back the corruption and repairs the damage.  He gives us not only bread for the body, but He gives us the Bread of Life, that is His very body, for our bodies and souls in eternity.  He sheds His blood on the cross in the desolate place known as Golgotha, but He rises again in the tomb that was placed in the garden.  And just as the miraculous bread was multiplied, and it fed and satisfied the thousands in that desolate place that turned into a place of abundance, so also does our Lord Jesus Christ continue to multiply His flesh by means of His Word, turning the desolate places of our sinful and death-ridden lives into the paradise of His promise of everlasting life.

This abundance is doled out in the Divine Service, where we not only eat and drink our Lord’s miraculously multiplied body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, but we are also absolved and set free by His Word, by the Gospel, by His promise that He made good on at the cross and at the tomb.  And this gift is given to us in Holy Baptism, even as you, Paula, can now say unequivocally that you are part of the kingdom of God.  For in baptismal water, the desolation of the wilderness yields to the lushness of the garden.  But this is “not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.”  For that is where the transformative power of Holy Baptism is to be found – in the Word combined with the water.

And we are indeed transformed from desolate sinner to saints abounding in righteousness: by God’s grace, by His compassion, and by His miraculous Word.

For He sets us free from what St. Paul refers to as our previous condition of being “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” – the kind of lawlessness that caused our ancestors to be removed from Eden, but now we “present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” 

We have gone from the bitter fruit of sin – whose end is nothing but death, decay, and eternal damnation – and we have been transformed by being “set free from sin,” and now the “fruit [we] get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

We are just like the people who came to Jesus, who heard His preaching, who believed His promise, who came in faith knowing that He would provide, who ate of the miraculous bread, who were sustained in body and soul by the compassion and the work and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we too come to Him to hear of His mercy, His compassion, His life-giving miraculous presence, the bread of His flesh, the wine of His blood, the promise of life given in Holy Baptism: sanctification and its end of eternal life!

And just as the crowds “ate and were satisfied,” and just as the abundance was so great that there were “seven baskets full” of “broken pieces left over,” so too does the store of God’s grace continue to multiply, unlimited, freely distributed to people across all boundaries, in every city and hamlet in the world, to people of every nation and tongue, and across the span of century after century.  This promise is for you and your children, and your children’s children, until that day when the Lord returns, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and there will never again be a desolate place nor a person who is hungry.

For although the wages of sin is the desolate place of death, the free gift of God is the everlasting paradise of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Amen.

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

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Sermon: Funeral of Ralph Capdeville

15 July 2021

Text: John 6:35-40 (Isa 41:10, Rom 6:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Maureen, Roy, Kelly, Julie, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

It goes without saying that Ralph was an extraordinary husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, colleague, friend, and church member.  He was a fixture here at Salem Lutheran Church since December 1, 1946 when he was baptized in this very baptismal font by the Rev. Eugene Schmid.  Ralph was confirmed and began taking the Lord’s Supper, the very Bread of Life, since May 17, 1959, again after instruction by Pastor Schmid.  Ralph’s confirmation verse was Psalm 31:24: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”

And there is a great irony here, because to be a great husband, father, brother, grandfather, friend, and church member is different than being a good Christian.  And Ralph knew this very well from his study of the scriptures and his practice of the faith over the course of a lifetime.  For to be a good Christian is not something that we do, but rather something that is done to us, and for us, by our Lord Jesus Christ.  For if being a good Christian is something that we just do, then we wouldn’t need a Savior.  So to be a good Christian is to know that one cannot be a good Christian.

Ralph was indeed a “good Christian” on this side of the grave because he prayed, for more than seven decades, week in and week out, just as we did at the beginning of this service, saying: “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities…”  In God’s kingdom, to be great is to be humble, and to be a good Christian is to be rescued by our Good Shepherd.  Ralph knew the faith well, and he lived it – which is to say, he received the Lord’s forgiveness week after week, year after year, over the course of a life well-lived, and well-loved. 

Ralph’s faith was kindled by means of water and the Word when he was baptized.  For Ralph knew the Scriptures that we heard yet again: “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.”  For “we were buried therefore with Him by baptism into 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…. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”

Ralph not only understood what St. Paul taught about sin and death and baptism and resurrection, he knew that it applied to him!  He knew that his salvation is a free gift of God, given through the waters of baptism, bearing the promise that though he would die, he will live again – being resurrected from the dead, like Jesus, in the flesh.

And so we Christians, because we are baptized, because we have been redeemed, because we have the promise of “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” we can take to heart Ralph’s conformation verse: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”  We are waiting for the Lord on this side of the grave, and Ralph is in the presence of Jesus waiting for the resurrection of the body, when we will all be reunited – not in some vague spiritual way, but physically, in flesh and blood, the way Jesus was on that first Easter when He appeared to his loved ones.  And that is what God promised to Ralph for all eternity.

What this means, dear friends, is that you will see Ralph again.  You will look into his eyes.  You will hear his voice.  You will embrace and laugh together again.  Ralph is part of the company of heaven, and he awaits the resurrection – even as we too wait.  And the Lord bids us to “be strong, and let your heart take courage,” as we “wait for the Lord.”  For we have been baptized into the Lord’s name most holy: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We, like Ralph, have been baptized into Christ, and just as in the words of the hymn, we are children of paradise.

For listen to our Lord’s comforting words: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst…. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

Jesus is the bread of life.  He has come to offer His flesh for the life of the world.  Ralph not only knows this teaching from the Scriptures, Ralph knows Jesus.  Week in and week out, He received His Lord Jesus Christ in His true body and blood. 

So our faith is a paradox, dear brothers and sisters.  To be a good Christian is to understand that we are not good Christians in and of ourselves.  But by believing on His name, we have everlasting life, by grace, and through faith. 

And while we wait for the Lord, while we wait to be reunited with Ralph, while we wait for the resurrection on the last day – we are comforted by the Word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with You; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  This is a message from the Lord for us in our times of trial and suffering and mourning.

Fear not, dear friends.  And in our mourning, let us not be dismayed.  For we have the promise of the Lord Himself.  Our Father has sent His Son to be the Bread of Life.  He is our God.  He has washed us in the second birth of Holy Baptism, and He has saved us.  He offers us His body and blood to eat and to drink.  He has given us the Good News, that because He lives, we shall live, for by dying, He has destroyed death, once and for all.

He is our God, and He will not leave us or forsake us.  And He will strengthen us and will help us.  And He doesn’t leave us on our own, to support ourselves.  He upholds us with His righteous right hand.

Dear brothers and sisters, we mourn for our sake.  But for Ralph’s sake, we rejoice.  He has fought the good fight.  He has finished the race.  He has kept the faith.  And Jesus has won the victory on Ralph’s behalf.  Let us allow the God’s Word to comfort us once again from Ralph’s confirmation verse: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”

Peace be with you.  Amen.

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

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Sermon: Trinity 5 - 2021

4 July 2021

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor 1:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Gospel begins with a sermon.  And for most people, this sounds boring.  A sermon?  Really?  A guy standing in a pulpit just talking?  It sounds like school or something.  Who wants to hear that?  Right?

But the crowds actually pressed in to hear Jesus preach.  For they wanted to hear “the Word of God.”  For a Christian sermon is not a TED-talk, not a school lecture, not a sales pitch, not a stump speech, and not a stand-up comedy routine.  A Christian sermon is just what our Lord’s sermon was: the Word of God.

In the sermons Jesus preached, He preached the Word of God because He is God.  In the sermons His representatives preach, we preach the Word of God because “we preach Christ crucified.”  The Word of God is considered a speedbump to some, and foolishness to others.  To those who are perishing, the Word of God is either getting in the way of what we want to do, or it is just a waste of time to talk about some guy who lived two thousand years ago – again, at least to people who are “perishing” in St. Paul’s words.  If the proclamation of God’s Word is this to you, then you are dying inside, falling inch by inch into hell. 

But “to those who are called,” no matter your ethnic group or your skin color, Christ is the very power and the wisdom of God. 

For look at the power in our Lord’s preaching.  Immediately after the sermon ended, the Word of Jesus brought forth a miracle and changed the course of world history. 

Jesus needed a place to preach from.  There was no auditorium and there were no microphones.  There was no pulpit.  So Jesus climbed into a boat and invited people on the shore to listen to His preaching.  Simon (who later was better known by his nickname “Peter”) was listening to the Word of God after a long and unproductive night of fishing.  Along with his business associates James and John, he washed his nets and prepared to go home emptyhanded on this morning.  But he listened to Jesus.

Jesus told him to take the boat out a little deeper and try again. 

Imagine that!  A preacher, a rabbi of all people, is telling Simon, the professional, the best time and place to catch fish.  Even after a long night of nothing.  He could well have told the preacher to mind his own business.  But as annoyed as he probably was, he agreed to humor the rabbi.  He said, “But at Your Word I will let down the nets.”  But at Your Word.  For again, this was not a lecture on fishing, but a sermon.  This was God’s Word.  And Simon the fisherman knew that the Word of God is important – even if it seems a little crazy sometimes.  Simon acted in faith.  Even in spite of himself, he took the Word of God to heart, and he did as the Word instructed him.

After all, it was the Word of God that created the universe: “Let there be light, and there was light.”

What happened next was a shocking miracle.  Simon put down the nets as instructed, and instead of coming back empty, the catch was so large that the nets were breaking from the massive haul.  The men had to signal for help to drag the load of fish into the boat.  In fact, another boat was brought in, and it too was filled with fish, so much so that both boats began to sink!

This is the power of the Word of God, dear friends.  And we hear this Word through preaching, specifically the preaching of Christ the one who was crucified.  This preaching is Good News, and it bears supernatural power. 

In the grand scheme of things, it might not seem like much of a miracle to catch fish.  But to Simon, this confirmed that the Word of Jesus is indeed the Word of God. 

The Word of God is not found in that which is loud and bombastic and powerful in the eyes of the world.  For the world loves the great and mighty and rich.  The world loves that which is dynamic and emotional, and that which draws attention to its own power.  But let’s not forget the lesson that God taught the prophet Elijah.  Elijah was eager for a Word from God, and God showed him first of all where not to find it. 

The Word was not found in a “strong wind” that “tore the mountains.”  The Word was not found in a rumbling earthquake.  The Word was not found in a blazing fire.  Instead, the Word came from a “low whisper.”  Because the voice of the Word of God is not a function of how loud or impressive it is in worldly terms.  What makes preaching the Word of God isn’t that it happens in a stadium, or that there is a polished musical presentation with stage lights and the kind of music you hear at a concert, nor is it the Word because the church is huge and a source of awe to anyone who looks at the building.

The power of the Word of God is in the message encoded in the sound.  A whisper has power because there is meaning in it.  And when the message comes from God, that low, almost inaudible voice, has more might than all of the nuclear weapons on the planet combined. 

The prophet Elijah was himself a preacher, but he forgot that it is the Word of God that does the work.  It is not in what we see with our eyes: and it is not prevented by such things either: not the opposition of powerful people, nor the hatred of those who do not want to hear and who want to silence it.

The Word of God is powerful because it is God’s Word – whether it is a mighty voice over massive speakers, or whether it is whispered to a person on his deathbed.  The Word of God causes fish to be caught in nets, but more importantly, the Word catches men.

Simon would become the leader of the apostles whom Jesus would nickname “Peter,” meaning that he is like a rock.  And for all of his faults, and after many failings, Simon Peter stood firm in his ministry of preaching the Word of God and drawing men into the nets of Holy Baptism, into the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, into the Holy Christian Church.

Like all faithful preachers, Simon Peter proclaimed Christ crucified, whether men received it or received it not.  And he did indeed catch men in his nets – all by the power of the Word of God.  And the bringing of people into eternity is a greater miracle even than the astonishing catch of fish. 

Such is the true power of the Word of God.

Amen.

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

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sermon: St. Cyril of Alexandria - 2021

27 June 2021

Text: Luke 12:8-12 (2 Sam 7:17-29, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

You can often tell a lot about a man by his enemies.  And St. Cyril had a few. 

He lived at a time of great controversy in the church – in the fifth century.  Cyril defended the belief that Jesus is God in the flesh, that when He walked the streets of Jerusalem, God was walking the streets of Jerusalem.  Cyril was very vocal about his belief that Jesus is both God and man – something that we take for granted today.

But in Cyril’s day, the powerful Patriarch of Constantinople was named Nestorius.  And Bishop Nestorius taught some strange ideas about Jesus.  He taught that Jesus essentially had a split personality: one human and one divine.  Nestorius had a lot of followers and was causing a lot of division in the church.  Even the Roman Emperor sided with Nestorius, and called Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, a “monster.”

So Cyril had some very powerful enemies. 

But the bottom line is that Cyril was unafraid.  He did not back down.  He confessed Christ heroically, and he took up his pen and he wrote.  Cyril eventually became known as a “doctor of the church,” and Nestorius was eventually condemned as a heretic.

Some people might look at this history and say, “Who cares?”  Why does this matter?”  Well, dear friends, it matters because if Jesus is not completely God and completely man, then He could not have lived a perfect life, He could not have given His divine righteousness to us, He could not have truly died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Poor Nestorius did not see our Lord as the Savior who rescues us by grace, but rather as a mere example to follow.

And yes, Jesus is our example.  Yes, we are to strive to be Christ-like.  But what happens when we fall short as we inevitably do?  Nestorius could not preach the Gospel like Cyril.  For Cyril understood that Jesus is the eternal God, and His divinity has the power to save us.

Yes, it really matters who Jesus is.

He is a man, who was capable of dying (to be our sacrifice), and He is God, who is perfect, who has the power to save us (to be our Lord).  And this mystery is what makes Christianity different than any religion in the world, and Jesus different than any great teacher.  For because He is who He is, He is a God who has a mother; He is a God who dies; He is a man who is perfect; He is a man who rises from death.  He is God and He is man, but one God-Man who not only created the world, but took on flesh in the world.  This is the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ that St. Cyril not only taught and preached and wrote about, but the Christ in whom Cyril placed His trust for salvation!

St. Cyril was unafraid to confess the truth, even to great power – because he was familiar with what Jesus taught us yet again in our Gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

St. Cyril confessed Christ, the Son of Man, and would not deny Him – not out of fear, not because of logic and reason, and not because his life would have been a lot easier to just go along to get along.  St. Cyril took his stand, and stood his ground – holding firm to the Holy Scriptures.  And it didn’t matter who was on the other side, not even the most powerful bishop Nestorius, not the emperor himself.  Nothing moved the good doctor and bishop from his steadfast confession of Jesus.

For he knew well the words of our Lord: “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

St. Cyril confessed our God, the only true God, the Holy Trinity, confessing like King David, “For there is none like You, and there is no God bedsides You.”  And Cyril took up “the whole armor of God,” knowing that he would have to fight both the leaders of the church and the leaders of the state. 

St. Cyril is an example to us today, dear friends.  For today, confessing Jesus might get you in trouble with some powerful people: government officials, bosses, and in some heretical churches, confessing rightly about Jesus will get you thrown out.  But don’t worry about what you will say when the time comes, dear friends.  Get to know Jesus – the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Scriptures, the Jesus that was confessed and taught by St. Cyril and by all of the faithful saints and doctors of the church across the span of history. 

And though it might well be the path of least resistance to confess a false Christ, one who never confronts sin, one who is not considered to be God in the flesh, a Jesus who is acceptable to Muslims and Jews and Atheists, a false Christ confessed by  Marxist university professors and haughty pro-abortion politicians who now dare pastors not to commune them, a Jesus that contradicts the Father, a Christ who promotes niceness above all things.  But this is not the true Christ.  This is not the Christ of the Bible, the Savior of the world, the Lord of the Church, the Jesus of actual history.

Let us be bold and steadfast in our confession of the true Christ, come what may, whether people believe us or not, whether those in power threaten us or not.  For at the end of the day, the one thing in this life that matters more than anything is your confession of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

And indeed, making the good confession will gain you more than a few enemies, but it will also gain you eternity for the sake of Him who is both God and man – even Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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