Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Sermon: St. Lawrence – 2022

10 Aug 2022

Text: Mark 8:34-38 (Lam 3:22-33, Rev 6:9-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Lawrence was a deacon in the church.  In fact, he was named the Archdeacon of Rome by the Bishop of Rome in 258 AD.  In August of that year, the Roman Emperor, Valerian, ordered all the Christian clergy to be killed.  The Bishop of Rome, Pope Sixtus, was captured after leading the Divine Service in a Roman cemetery.  He was executed on August 6.

Since the Archdeacon was the treasurer of sorts, the Roman government, operating under a kind of forfeiture law, demanded that the church’s money be confiscated.  Lawrence asked for three days to make that happen.  Meanwhile, he gave out as much money to the poor that he could all at once – rather than give the money to the government.  When he was summoned before the Roman prefect and was asked for the treasury of the church, Deacon Lawrence pointed to all of the poor and crippled people that the church had helped, and said that they were the “true treasure of the church.”  He added, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

Because of his bold non-compliance with the Roman government, St. Lawrence was also put to death.  Tradition says that he was burned to death on an iron grate, but more likely, he was beheaded.

This would not be the last time that governments were to go after the church, weaponizing various agencies to confiscate our money and persecute our pastors and laity.  There are many reasons why governments hate Christians.  Sometimes they tolerate us and leave us alone, other times they persecute us. 

Jesus says that we need to be ready to “take up [our] cross.”  For “whoever would save his life will lose it,” says Jesus.  But “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  The government could only kill Lawrence’s body – just as they did Sts. Peter and Paul a couple hundred years earlier, and just as they did our Lord on that first Good Friday.  We all know what happened that first Easter.  And we all know what will happen to the bodies of Peter and Paul, Sixtus and Lawrence, and all the blessed dead in Christ across the ages, including those yet to be born.

We cannot serve two masters.  The state is subordinate to the kingdom.  Emperors and kings and presidents and IRS agents will all give account to the King of kings and Lord of lords for their deeds: whether they treated their citizens fairly, as creatures created in God’s image and redeemed by the blood of Christ, or if they abused and persecuted their own people.  And if they single out the Lord’s church, woe be to them.  Their punishment will be all the worse. 

And our Lord’s warning applies to government officials as well as to all of us: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.”

No doubt St. Lawrence knew well the prayer of the Psalmist with which we began this Divine Service: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O Lord!”  In fact, it has been the custom to open the daily Matins service, in part, with these very words for as many centuries as anyone can remember.  We begin our day by seeking the Lord’s deliverance, and we pray for Him to hurry.  No doubt, when Archdeacon Lawrence saw his pastor beheaded, and the weight of the Roman government coming at him, he must have been terrified.  Perhaps he was even tempted to comply with them, or even to deny his Lord and spare his own life.

But history teaches that he did not take that course of action.  For as our Lord asked him and continues to ask us rhetorically today: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” 

Dear friends, we may be called upon to confess Jesus in difficult circumstances.  It may be that our friends will mock us.  It may be that we are looking at being fired from our jobs.  It may be that we face ostracism and “cancellation” by people who call us bigots and haters (just as they did in the times of the Roman persecutions), and hold us in contempt because we do not pray to their gods.  In our own day and age, we are getting a taste of what it means to defend traditional marriage and the lives of the unborn, even as the government is adding 87,000 armed IRS agents to enforce government decrees – and we have no idea where this will lead.

Maybe it will go nowhere.  Maybe we are concerned for nothing.  But maybe not.  We need to prepare now.  We need to pray now.  We need to immerse ourselves in Scripture now.  We need to get into the habit of praying “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me O Lord!” now.  We need to teach our children that there are things worth dying for, and there are lines that we will not cross.  There are times when we will join St. Peter in saying, “We must obey God rather than men,” and when we must be like the stubborn Lutherans in Magdeburg in the year 1550, who endured a military siege and the threat of starvation rather than surrender the faith to which they promised to be faithful unto death.

We all want to be good citizens, and we all want a godly government that keeps the peace, that rewards the good, that punishes the evil.  But when government rewards evil and punishes good, when it lies and cheats and violates its own laws, and most especially when it persecutes the church and attempts to silence her testimony about Jesus – then it is time to resist.

St. Lawrence became a hero right after his martyrdom.  We Christians have honored him in our liturgies on August 10 now for 1,748 years.  And countless other saints have indeed come after Jesus, have denied themselves, have taken up their crosses, and have followed our Lord.

And, dear friends, we follow Him where He leads us.  Sometimes following Him means following Him to Golgotha – sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.  And even if we do follow Him to our own cross, we also follow Him to our own tomb.  And our tomb will be empty, just like His, when He calls us out on the Last Day.

For the time will come, as John told us in the Revelation, when “those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had born,” those who cry out for vengeance, will be avenged.  Meanwhile, for the time being, they receive a “white robe and [are] told to rest a little longer.” 

We do not put our trust in princes or in currying favor with the corrupted world.  We do not make deals with the devil.  But we confess with Jeremiah the prophet that, “The Lord is my portion… therefore I will hope in Him.  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”

And this blessed hope, this assurance gives us courage to live for the Lord, and to die for the Lord.  Like St. Paul, we recognize that either way, we win.  And like St. Lawrence, we recognize that the church’s treasure is in her sinners redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, in her faithfulness to Him, and in His promise to her. 

“Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O Lord!”

Amen.

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

Monday, July 11, 2022

Commercial for Higher Things?

 From the National Youth Gathering, man.  Groovy and far out!


By contrast, here is a little soul-bleach: Higher Things 2022.


Gotta Love His Enthusiasm...

 From the National Youth Gathering...



Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2022

19 June 2022

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If I were to ask many people what the moral of the story is to the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, they might tell me: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” or maybe, “You cannot serve God and money.”  And while both of these are indeed sayings of Jesus, they are not found in today’s readings.

Our Lord Himself sums up the lesson that we are supposed to learn from this story as: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

The rich man’s real problem isn’t that he is rich, but rather that he doesn’t believe, he lacks faith.  And why is that, dear friends?  Jesus says: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets.”  Did you catch that?  If they do not hear.”

The rich man did not hear the Word of God.  And it may well be because he was distracted by his riches: his being “clothed in purple and fine linen” and because he “feasted sumptuously every day.”  Our Lord does warn us in many other passages of Scripture that riches can be a distraction from the kingdom.  And indeed, riches can be a distraction to the poor as well: as they may think that what they need is wealth rather than faith.  But no doubt, it is easy for a rich person to place his trust in his money, which can certainly become his god.

Our Lord told another parable, the Parable of the Sower, in which he warns us in plan speech about one who “hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful,” like a plant being choked out by thorns.

But the rich man in this parable doesn’t even get to that point.  For he is not even hearing the Word.  He wants Abraham to warn his brothers so that they will avoid his fate.  But Abraham says: “If they do not hear.”

Dear friends, in my eighteen years as a pastor, I have seen it again and again.  I have seen “the cares and riches and pleasures of this life” choke out people’s faith, and they drift away – all the while convinced that they are Christians.  The Word becomes less important and more distant.  And Satan tells them the lie that it doesn’t matter.

Jesus says that it does, dear friends.  “If they do not hear” the Scriptures, people will not have faith – even in the face of the resurrection of Jesus. 

We have been warned.  We need to hear the Word of God: Moses and the Prophets from the Old Testament, and the Gospels and the Epistles from the New Testament.  For this is where faith comes from, as St. Paul teaches us in Romans: “Faith comes from hearing,” dear friends.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

We hear the Word of God here, in the Divine Service.  It is read here from the lectern, and here in your midst from the Gospel book.  And you also hear God’s Word, the Gospel, proclaimed and taught, preached and explained, from the pulpit.  And when you commune on the Lord’s body and blood, what is it that consecrates these elements, dear friends?  It is the Word, or as St. Paul calls it: “the Word of Christ.”  You hear it, you receive it, it changes you, and you believe it. 

Lazarus was not saved and brought to “Abraham’s side” in paradise because he was poor, nor even because he suffered.  Rather, faith comes from hearing.  Lazarus, even in his bearing of the crosses of poverty and poor health, was not saved by his own crosses, but by the cross of Jesus that atoned for his sins.  And we are saved by the faith that wells up in us when we hear Jesus teaching us in this very parable. 

Dear friends, I’m not reading and proclaiming Aesop’s Fables, or running through a book of science.  I’m not reciting ancient history or even reading a compelling novel to you.  What you hear from this pulpit is not a lecture on Economics or American History or Literature that I teach my high school students (though I also do teach them the Scriptures).  What you hear from this pulpit, from that lectern, and from the liturgy that we hear and speak and sing together is the Word: the Word of Christ!

If you want to avoid the fate of the rich man, suffering the flames of hell and begging for someone to come and “dip the end of his finger in water and cool [your] tongue” in eternity, you don’t need some kind of a vision or a ghost to come and warn you.  It wouldn’t work anyway.

You already know what you need.  You need Jesus.  You need His Word.  You need to hear Moses and the Prophets and the Gospels and the Epistles.  You need to hear the Psalms.  You need to participate in the Divine Service.  Your family members need to be here.  For when people are in here, when they hear the Word of God with an “honest and good heart,” faith is supernaturally generated, and they are indeed “convinced” by the very one who does “go to [us] from the dead.”  For Jesus died, and is risen.  He died to destroy death.  He suffered the fate that we deserve, so that we enjoy the blessings that He earned with His righteousness, which are given to us as a free gift through the Word and the Sacraments.

But if you are not here, dear friends, if your family is not here, this is what leads to the rich man’s fate.  For whether one is rich or poor, or neither – the thorns of this world will spread like vines and will choke out the plant that God has sown in the seed of your heart.  If you continue to hear the voices of the world instead of the voices of Moses and the Prophets and of our Lord and the Apostles, you will start to believe those voices instead of that which is true.  You will drift away, like a swimmer caught in the undertow, until one day, you realize that you are a long way from the shore.

Jesus is warning us, while we are still alive, not to fall into disbelief by pushing away the Word in pursuit of the things of this world, such as riches that we either have, or that we lust after.  For if you are spending more time with TV and movies than with the Word of God, the world’s perverted and Luciferian message will choke out the Word of God like thorns in a briar patch. 

But the good news is this, dear friends: The Holy Spirit has drawn you here.  He has made sure that you are baptized into Christ’s atoning death.  He called you and gathered you here, on this day, to hear our Lord’s warning from the Holy Scriptures.  And this Word kindles and feeds the fire of your faith: “so faith comes through hearing.”

We do not come to church because God will reward us.  We do not come to church because it is an intellectual exercise.  We come to hear the Word, we come to eat and drink the body and blood, we come to have our sins forgiven by Christ’s authority, and our faith is strengthened because indeed someone rose from the dead.  And that someone is Christ Jesus.

The apostles bore witness, and they heard the Word of Christ from His mouth.  The apostles and evangelists wrote this Word of Christ into the Scriptures, joining these sacred and powerful words to Moses and the Prophets. 

We hear not only Jesus warn us about the fate of the rich man, but we also hear of the blessedness of Lazarus, because we have first heard of another man of sorrows who was covered in sores at His death, who shunned the riches offered to Him by the devil, but by whose blood we are redeemed, and by whose Word we have faith.

Let us hear, dear friends.  Let us hear the Word.  Let us continue to faithfully come to this holy house to hear and eat and drink and rejoice.  Let us hear Jesus!  And let us believe, let us repent, let us receive the gifts, and let us live forever, being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” for the sake of Him who did indeed “rise from the dead.”

Amen.

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

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Sermon: Pentecost – 2022




5 June 2022

Text: John 14:23-31 (Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

We are no longer in the Easter season, dear friends, and so we don’t traditionally continue to greet one another this way.  But we are in a new and diabolical secular season, a month dedicated to the deadly sin of “Pride.”  In the month of June, Christians are especially attacked.  And so I will say it yet again.  “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  We say with our Lord: “The ruler of this world,” meaning the devil, “has no claim on Me.”  Although turning the other cheek is appropriate when we are personally attacked, it is always appropriate strike back against the ruler of this world.  And what could wound the devil more than our Lord’s triumphant resurrection – which the Holy Spirit inspired to be written into the Scriptures: the angel’s announcement to the women at the tomb?

Indeed, the Holy Spirit caused the Scriptures to be written, and on this day of the Feast of Pentecost, we hear of the Spirit’s glorious work!  But there is a lot of misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit.  I knew a Christian who wore a dove lapel pin because he felt sorry for the Holy Spirit, because He doesn’t get as much attention as Jesus.  Dear friends, our Lord Jesus teaches us, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit points us to the Son, and the Son makes us worthy to stand before the Father. The persons of the Trinity are one.  There is no reason to pity the Holy Spirit.  It is His will to bring you to Jesus.  

Another misunderstanding involves “speaking in tongues.”  You may know Christians who believe that this is to speak in gibberish.  But what did the Holy Spirit cause to be recorded in our reading from Acts, dear friends?  The apostles were all “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  The international crowd gathered in Jerusalem “were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.”  They said, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

This is not gibberish, dear friends.  It is the preaching of the Gospel.  This is not a “secret prayer language,” rather it is the public proclamation of Jesus.  This is not “the tongues of angels,” but rather the languages of the “Parthians and Medes and Elamites,” and the many dialects of Jews who had gathered and were hearing St. Peter proclaim: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” and “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children,” and “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

So Peter preached the Word and made disciples by baptism.  The Holy Spirit works, then and now, by Word and Sacrament.  

But beware of “this crooked generation,” dear friends.  You can find videos online of people who claim that “speaking in tongues” is something different than simply preaching the Gospel.  They jump up and down, roll around on the floor, and even make animal noises.  But what does the Spirit teach us in the inspired Scripture is the final “fruit of the Spirit,” dear friends?  “Self control.”  And so this speaking of gibberish and ecstasy is not a spiritual gift, but rather a spiritual grift.

The real gift of tongues is not gibberish.  For that is what the people heard in the days of the Tower of Babel, when the Holy Trinity muddled their tongues: “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  The curse of this confusion was lifted on the Pentecost following our Lord’s ascension, when the Holy Spirit came, and the gift of tongues broke through the gibberish and confusion, replacing it with the clear proclamation of the Good News in languages that the whole world could understand.

It was a miracle, because the apostles had not studied these languages.  But the Holy Spirit caused the Gospel to go forth on this day, overcoming the curse of Babel, so that Jesus might be proclaimed around the world.  

The sad irony is that people lust after fake spiritual gifts when all the while, the Holy Spirit is using His means of Word and Sacrament to give you His true gifts.  The confusion lies in a misunderstanding of the word “tongue.”  It just means “language.”  The English language is descended from both Latin and German, and so there are typically two words in English for the same thing.  The Germanic word is “tongue” and the Latinate word is “language.”  Speaking in tongues is simply speaking in languages.  This miraculous gift of speaking in tongues that one has not studied has ceased.  Today, preachers proclaim the Gospel in tongues after they study those languages.  But on that day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit jump-started the church by expediting the preaching of the Gospel.  And five thousand men, women, and children were baptized on that day.

We have drawn from the Scriptures what the work of the Holy Spirit is.  You should remember this: “He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  

Dear brothers and sisters, the Spirit calls you.  He called you at your baptism.  He continues to call you “ever brooding o’er a world of gloom and night.”  He calls you “out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  And that is what it means to be the Church: the “ek klesia,” the assembly of the called-out ones.  He calls you out of this dark, perverse, vulgar, and hateful world, where the ruler of this world lurks and attacks.  He calls you in the name of Jesus.  And He gathers you here – where the Spirit works through Word and Sacrament.  He gathers you here around the altar, the font, and the pulpit.  And sometimes we do “speak in tongues” in our worship when we join the saints of every time and place and tongue, using words like “Amen” and “Alleluia.”  And indeed, the Spirit “bring[s] to our remembrance all that [Jesus] has said to [us].”

The Spirit enlightens and sanctifies us, dear friends.  “Your Word,” says the Psalmist, “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  The darkness of this world is overcome by the Word which the Spirit inspires and brings to us, enlightening us.  And we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that is, made holy, which means we are separated from the world, again, “called out,” of the darkness and the world’s perversion and the false teachings, even among Christians, that the Spirit operates by means of gibberish and misunderstanding and a lack of self-control.  For often, people who claim the “gift of tongues” are looking for the Spirit within themselves instead of where the Spirit locates Himself: in Word and Sacrament.  And if you listen closely to such people, they rarely even mention Jesus and almost never quote the Scriptures.  

Dear friends, if you want the true gifts of the Spirit, which the Holy Spirit Himself reveals to us through St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians (and they are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control,”), you will find them neither in the world’s pride and perversions, nor in the false doctrine of spiritual novelty and narcissism.  Rather, the Spirit calls and gathers you here, to the preaching of Jesus and the Holy Sacraments, and He enlightens and sanctifies you to the Truth that the world hates, and to the holiness that separates us from them, being redeemed and ransomed from the world by the blood of Christ.

And so we rejoice in the Spirit, dear friends, and we join Christians of every time and place, “from every land and every tongue,” as we defiantly again confess:

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sermon: Easter 6 (Rogate) – 2022

22 May 2022

Text: John 16:23-33

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Most of the time, people didn’t call our Lord by His name, “Jesus.”  Nor did they call Him by His title: “Christ.”  Most of the time, they didn’t even call Him “Lord.”  He was typically addressed as “Teacher.” 

And good teachers are master wordsmiths.  They bring us to understanding by means of language, by argument, by explanation, by carefully chosen words.  Of course, our Lord’s challenge is to take the profound things of the kingdom of God, and make them understandable to us poor, miserable sinners – even though our own minds are clouded by sin, corrupted by our rebellious will, and limited by our fallen human faculties.  And so, like all great teachers, our Lord, the greatest teacher who has ever walked the earth, uses “figures of speech” to convey meaning to us.  He speaks in parables and leads His hearers through questions and answers in what is today called “the Socratic method.”  He uses stories to teach us about the kingdom.

Even the devil knows the importance of story to change hearts and minds, and this is why Satan has such influence over movies and TV shows and pop music and the arts.  This is how our culture has been able to shift away from the good, the true, and the beautiful so quickly.  Most people consume content for their eyes and ears and hearts and minds, for hours and hours a day, consisting of the bad, the lie, and the ugly – wrapped up in Luciferian storylines streamed in on Disney or Netflix or video games.  Satan rarely speaks plainly, but typically uses the “figurative language” of flashing images to corrupt us.  Even the commercials present potent pictures and stories seeking to normalize that which is not normal or God-pleasing, teaching us to question reality itself.

Of course, Satan cannot invent anything new.  He can only counterfeit that which God has created.  Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches truth to everyone from kings to peasants, friends and foes, the condemned and the redeemed alike – in many and various ways.  And the devil teaches lies to all who will listen.

On this particular occasion, our Lord promises that there will come a time when He “will no longer speak to [us] in figures of speech.”  For when we are ready, He will speak to us “plainly about the Father.”  The word translated  as “plainly” can be understood as “bluntly” or “frankly.”  And Jesus gives His disciples a little taste of this bluntness.  “Ah,” they say, “now You are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!”  It is as if a lightbulb has gone off, and the disciples now understand something that was not clear to them before.  “Now we know that You know all things” they say, and “this is why we believe that you came from God.”

In some cases, illustrations and metaphors and parables and stories bring about understanding.  In other cases, it is straight, blunt talk that does the trick.  Sometimes people are offended by our Lord’s at-times shocking bluntness.  And when they are offended, our Lord, the Teacher, never apologizes.  In fact, again and again, He doubles down.  When Jesus is speaking plainly, it is a good time to listen, dear friends, and to lay aside your defensiveness.  If you hear Jesus preaching the Law, it means you need to hear the Law.  If your first reaction to Jesus is anger, that is a good thing.  Stay with Jesus.  Hear Him out.  He is getting to the source of your infection, and then you will be on the road to healing and recovery.

Our Lord tells the disciples some hard things – realities that they will deny and protest against.  He tells them that soon they will all scatter, and “will leave [Him] alone.”  When Jesus speaks plainly in this way to Peter, Peter cannot believe it.  He won’t believe it until the rooster crows.  When Jesus speaks plainly that He will be arrested, crucified, put to death, and on the third day rise again, the disciples still do not understand, nor will they until Easter, until the Road to Emmaus, until Jesus breathes the Spirit on them at their ordinations, and until the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost.

Jesus preaches for three years using “figures of speech,” stories, parables, and analogies to teach about the kingdom.  And in some cases, His enemies know exactly what these parables mean, and they determine to kill Him.  Others are so immersed in the world and its works and ways that they don’t understand the kingdom at all, and they wander away with hearts unmoved.

But the disciples hang on His every word, whether they understand right away or not.  For faith is putting trust in a promise, in a word spoken now as a down-payment on the future.  And for us, dear friends, our Lord’s parables are made clear by Jesus’ “speaking plainly,” saying such things as: “I forgive you all your sins” and “Take, eat, this is My body… this cup is the New Testament in My blood.”

Our response to these blunt declarations spoken by Jesus through His ministers ought to be that of the disciples: “Ah, now You are speaking plainly and not using figurative language.” 

How sad that some Christians take the plain, blunt words of our Lord speaking plainly, “This is My body,” and treat it as if He were still “using figurative speech.”  For Jesus tells us what the Eucharist is, and what it is for (“for the forgiveness of sins”).  And if the forgiveness is literal, so too is His declaration that this “is” His body and this “is” His blood.  As the great writer Flannery O’Connor said concerning the Lord’s Supper: “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” 

Dear friends, we kneel here, we reverently bow and fold our hands and cross ourselves.  We offer a verbal “Amen” to our Lord’s plain assertion that this is “the body of Christ” and “the blood of Christ.”  And during the Service of the Word, when you hear the plain and blunt language “This is the Word of the Lord,” you respond with gratitude: “Thanks be to God.”  For these words are no mere symbols either.  As St. Peter confessed, these are “the words of eternal life.”  For if the words of Scripture are only symbols, if the resurrection is only a symbol, if Jesus is only a symbol, if forgiveness, life, and salvation are only symbols – then to hell with it, with all of it.  But if these words are true, then to hell with anything that would come between us and these life-giving words and precious sacraments!

Why are we here, dear friends?  We are here because we believe the Lord’s words – His plainly spoken words that we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that our sins are forgiven in that same sacred baptismal, Triune Name – the name that is above every name.  We confess plainly that He is present here in His body and blood “for the forgiveness of sins.”  And while our Lord uses “figurative speech” in order to teach us about the kingdom, when He decides to speak bluntly and plainly, we had better listen.

For our Lord’s “speaking plainly” isn’t only the Law, dear friends.  Our Lord speaks bluntly to those seeking His help.  He tells people plainly that their sins are forgiven, that their faith has made them well, that they will rise from the dead, that they will be with Him in paradise, that He will be with them always until the end of the age, that He is coming again in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth.

His crucifixion was not a symbol, but rather the plain reality of His love for us, His atonement for all of our sins, and the free gift of His righteousness won for you at the cross, proclaimed to you in the Word, and shared bodily with you in the sacraments. 

Jesus speaks plainly so that “in [Him] you may have peace.”  Our Lord promises true peace, dear brothers and sisters, and not some figurative or symbolic peace.  Our Teacher tells us plainly that “in the world, you will have tribulation,” but just as plainly He promises and asserts bluntly: “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” 

“Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 15, 2022

Sermon: Good Friday – 2022


15 April 2022

Text: John 18:1-19:42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Nothing happens to Jesus by accident.  There are no surprises to Him who is God, but to us, dear friends, there is much to be surprised at.

First of all, where in the history of the world do we ever read about God becoming human, proving that He is indeed God by doing things that only God can do?  And instead of being worshiped by His own people, He isn’t merely assassinated, He is publicly tortured to death.  And this, after He was hailed as a king entering the city only five days earlier. 

And this was a conspiracy with deep roots.  It involved many of the conservative Pharisees and lawyers and scribes, as well as their rivals, the liberal priests and Levites and Sadducees, as well as the hated politicians known as the Herodians.  And all of these groups conspired with the pagan Romans, whom they considered to be a hostile occupying force.  It involved the provincial ruling council, the Sanhedrin, which was also a Jewish religious court.  It involved the Roman governor, a military captain, a detachment of soldiers, and one of our Lord’s leading disciples as well, who was the group’s treasurer.  This cabal also included the mobs of ordinary people, who were whipped up into a frenzy by their leaders and by the fake news of the day. 

They were so brazen, that this collaboration between Big Religion and Big Government with what was essentially the Big Media of the day, placed the charge over the head of Jesus in three languages at a busy crossroads – the equivalent of airing the execution of Jesus on live TV on all of the news channels.

Indeed, they pulled off what seems to be the most unlikely coup in history: the murder of God, the assassination of the King of the world, the lynching of the one man in history who fulfills all of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and who promised to restore Paradise.  This conspiracy seemed to foil God Himself.

And surprisingly, Jesus was killed because He did things like healing people from incurable diseases.  The doctors and politicians of the day could not cure leprosy.  If you had this disease, you were subjected to a lockdown for the rest of your life.  Jesus embarrassed the doctors and politicians by healing the lepers.  And the same for those who were blind and deaf and mute.  Jesus did what surgeons could not do.  Jesus even raised at least three people from death itself, and promised to raise everyone who believes in Him. 

Why, it’s little wonder the powers that be had to kill Him.  They conspired to commit the ultimate act of injustice.  There is an old saying: if you want to know who rules over you, find out whom you are not allowed to criticize.  And our Lord had plenty to say about all of these groups!  Far from being the syrupy-sweet Mister Nice Guy that ignorant and biblically illiterate people think Jesus is, in fact, He is bombastic and unrelenting in His attacks on the very people that He was “not allowed” to criticize.  It’s all right there in the Gospels.  It is surprising to people when they actually read the Bible.  For Jesus took on the whole lot of them.  And for three years, all of these disparate groups who hated each other could only take their pounding from Jesus, who called them out on all of their evil words and deeds.

Of course, there was another option for our Lord’s hearers: they could have repented and believed the good news.  And some of them did.  Some Pharisees and Sadducees converted and followed Jesus.  There was even a zealot, that is, a formerly violent revolutionary, who laid down his sword to follow Jesus.  Sanhedrin members Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who courageously asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, were such followers of Jesus from among the ruling elites.  Even the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, believed Jesus to be innocent, and wanted to release Him.  Pilate got the last laugh by posting “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” and doing the equivalent of posting it on Twitter and running it on every cable news channel.  But even Pilate, in the end, did the bidding of the mob.  The captain who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus confessed Him to be the Son of God, as did one of the other men who were being crucified.

This was indeed quite the conspiracy.  It even drew in our Lord’s inner circle of disciples, who abandoned Him – even St. Peter, the head of our Lord’s disciples, betrayed Jesus in a shameful way, just as Jesus predicted. 

Perhaps most surprising of all is that Jesus knew every bit of the conspiracy.  He did not use His divine power to evade what was to come.  He did not call upon the legions of angels at His disposal to crush His attackers and the plotters in this conspiracy.  He went to the cross willingly, like a Lamb to the slaughter, for that is indeed who He is, down to the very marrow of His unbroken bones: “The Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”

It is indeed surprising that Jesus willingly endures all of this suffering, and dies quickly, before the beginning of the Sabbath.  Jesus dies when He chooses.  For though sinful men participated in this conspiracy, His passion, death, burial, and yes, His resurrection to come, are part of a bigger conspiracy: a conspiracy between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to commit the ultimate act of justice: the payment for the sins of the world.  While the merely human actors in this conspiracy were motivated by selfish hatred, and the desire to be served, the divine conspiracy to place Jesus on the cross is motivated by outwardly-directed love, and the desire not to be served, but to serve, and not only to serve, but to save.

At the cross, Jesus cures the root causes of leprosy, blindness, deafness, muteness, and death itself.  By means of the cross, Jesus conquers the sinfulness and the hatred that motivated this conspiracy and put Him on the cross.  He destroys the head of the conspiracy by crushing the head of the serpent.  And this is the biggest surprise of all, dear friends.

And the details of all of this would not be known, and the depth of this conspiracy and its ramifications would not fully come to bear, until His resurrection, until His ascension, until the coming of the Holy Spirit, and until the Gospels were themselves written, so that we might study and reflect upon the surprising life, death, resurrection, and eternal reign of Jesus.

To this very day, we are lorded over by charlatan religious hucksters and corrupt politicians from all over the world who continue conspire in vain against Jesus and His flock.  There are traitors in the church, from lowly parish pastors pushing lies and feathering their nests, to millionaire TV celebrity preachers, to bishops and popes, and even bureaucrats in our own synod and its various institutions.  And lest we become forgetful of our own sins, like the disciples, we too are part of the conspiracy, dear friends.  For our sins ultimately put our Lord on the cross.  It was to forgive our sins that He willingly died, using the evil intentions of all of the actors in this tragedy, and turning it into a triumph.

So let us plead the blood of Christ when we are confronted with our own sins.  When Satan, who temporarily rules over the mobs and governments and religious factions who oppose the Word of God, when the devil tempts you and accuses you, remember that He tried to tempt Jesus as well.  He accused Jesus as well.  But it was all to no avail.  Remind the devil of the cross, for indeed, “It is written.”

The biggest surprise of the cross is that it forgives you, dear brother, dear sister.  For it is the means by which Jesus becomes your atonement, and your healing from everything.  It is how you are restored, and go from sinner to saint.  The cross is the antidote to sickness and death itself.

And the death of God upon the cross by means of a huge conspiracy that includes both heaven and earth is not even the biggest surprise, dear friends.  And it really isn’t much of a surprise for us, because we have the Word of God to tell us where this is all leading.  Indeed, it is written.  The black drapes that pall our crosses and images of Jesus on this day will give way to white paraments and vestments and glorious celebratory music on the third day.  For the conspiracy to overthrow the King of the universe and to put God into a tomb is a colossal failure to them, but the greatest success of all to Christ and His bride, the church.  The conspirators – included the devil himself – played right into God’s hands.

And not only will our Lord Jesus rise from the slab and walk out of His own tomb, so will all of us who confess Him, dear friends.  This will be the greatest surprise of all to the remaining members of the conspiracy to kill God and silence His criticism.  But we speak the surprising truth with St. Paul, to friend and foe alike: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Let us gather again here in this place on Sunday, and let our stubborn and vocal presence be part of the worldwide counter-conspiracy to confess Him as God and as King! 

Amen.

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Holy Week

12 April 2022

Text: Heb 3:1-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The writer to the Hebrews demonstrates Jesus as the New and Greater Moses, the fulfillment of the Law of Moses.  For “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant… but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son.”  And “we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

In other words, Moses gives us the Word of God that points us to Jesus; Jesus is the Word of God incarnate who fulfills the Law of Moses.  And reflecting on Moses and our need today as Christians to “hold fast” to Christ as our hope, the writer of Hebrews uses the Israelites from the Book of Exodus as an illustration, quoting Psalm 95: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.  For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’  Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Because of their falling away, the Lord made that rebellious generation to wander forty years, until all of them died, never reaching the Promised Land.  “Take care,” he says, lest our unbelieving hearts lead us to “fall away from the living God.”

This is a stern dose of the Law, dear friends.  It is a cautionary tale.  So how do we avoid the fate of the wandering Israelites?  “Consider Jesus,” he says, “the apostle and high priest of our confession.”  Our steadfastness is not in ourselves, our knowledge of Moses, our intimacy with the Law.  Rather, we are to be steadfast in Christ, the one who fulfills the Law.  We are to “hear His voice,” and by doing so, we will not be hardening our hearts like the rebellious Israelites. Our salvation, our life in the eternal Promised Land, is found in Christ, for “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

In other words, dear friends, we are to be steadfast in faith – faith not in ourselves, not even in Moses’s Law, but rather in Christ, who died for us, and who is leading us faithfully on to eternity.  It is rather much like the hymn attributed to St. Patrick that says: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”

Indeed, it is Christ who is our “confidence and our boasting in His hope!” 

Amen.

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