Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 25 - 2017

12 November 2017

Text: Matt 24:15-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As the shadows lengthen and the days grow shorter, we approach the end of the church year.  Our readings direct us to darker themes about the Last Things.  In the words of one of the ancient prayers of the church, we ponder: “the end of the day, the end of our life, the end of the world.”

For the unbelieving world, these are frightful topics to be avoided at all costs.  We extend the day into the night with bright lights and “night life.”  We extend our youth ever longer through medicines and cosmetics, refusing to appear old.  And we fantasize about colonizing other planets to extend our human civilization in fear of a meteor or solar flare that may one day wipe out our planet.

The unbelieving world doesn’t deal well with conclusions.  In fact, nearly every day we read headlines about how scientists are trying to upload human consciousness into computers so that we can live forever in cyberspace.  Isn’t it interesting how eternal life is sought after by those who scoff at the idea of an eternal God? The world fears death, but at the same time, seems enthralled by death.  They accept evolution, which is driven by death.  They embrace abortion and euthanasia which treat life as a problem and death as a solution.  Only the still, small voice of the Christian church speaks for the unborn, the mentally ill, the elderly, the sick, and yes, the dying.

The church understands that our world had a beginning, and it will have an end.  The church understands that there is an eternity, and our place in eternity has been revealed to us in Scripture and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are not merely blobs of carbon and oxygen brought together by random accidents.  We are creatures with a will, a psyche, a soul, and we have purpose in this vast universe – because we were created by a Creator with a will and a plan.

But as for the Last Things, Jesus is blunt with us: “there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”  The mess that we poor, miserable sinners have made of the world over the course of six thousand years will grow worse and worse.  The warfare between good and evil will come to a final head.  And then there will be false Christs and false prophets, they will “perform great signs and wonders” to try to lead you astray.  We are being warned right here and right now, dear friends: don’t believe them!  They are liars.  For when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again as He has promised, everyone will know.  There will be no doubt or ambiguity, “for as lightning comes from the east and shines in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” 

The world will see the coming of Jesus with dread, knowing their judgment draws near, “deeply wailing,” as we sang in the hymn, they “shall their true Messiah see.”  But for those who confess Him as Lord, those who are baptized and who believe, those who place their trust in Him alone, this will not be a time for wailing, but of rescue, of joy, of vindication, of the blessings of eternal life to come, as we sang in the hymn, we will see Him and recognize Him in His coming, by His wounds, the marks of the cross, “those dear tokens of His passion,” and “with what rapture, gaze we on those glorious scars.”

For the judged, this will be a time of wailing.  For the redeemed, this will be a time of rapture. 

So yes, we will have trouble in this world, tribulation, persecution, and events that we cannot even fathom as those days draw near, and yet, St. Paul encourages us to stay the course, urging us not to “be uninformed.”  There is no reason, dear friends, for us to be ignorant about the most important things in this life.  God has revealed these things to us in Scripture.  We hear it proclaimed in the Divine Service.  We study it in Bible Class.  We meditate upon it in our homes.  We pray and sing it in our hymns.  The Word of God is not hidden from us, unless we hide it from ourselves.  St. Paul says, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.”  And the apostle reveals to us that we, the dead and the living, will then “meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”  We will be in eternity with Him whose “dear tokens of His passion” serve as our passport to everlasting life.

And while the world is terrified of such things, seeing them as disasters to be avoided, we Christians ponder this promise with great hope and expectant joy.  As St. Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Unlike the world, we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope.”

Unlike the world, we truly do have hope, dear friends.  The world puts its hope in technology, in politicians, in medicine, in entertainment and possessions, in the passing pleasures of the flesh, in the delights of a debased culture, in riches, and in all of those things that will not mean a thing at “the end of the day, the end of our life, the end of the world.”  But our hope is in Christ and in His promises, His blood shed for us at the cross, His forgiveness of our sins.  “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” says St. Paul, “even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”

So death is neither a solution to a problem, nor a problem to solve by our own efforts, but for us Christians, it is a temporary annoyance that has been fixed by Christ, through His death that atones for the sins of the world, into whose death we are baptized, and according to the promises of Holy Baptism, we believe, and through this belief, this faith, we have the promise of eternal life.

That is our Christian hope, dear friends, no matter what chaos or hatred or tribulation surrounds us.  

So as the shadows lengthen and the days grow shorter, and as we approach the end of the church year, as our readings direct us to darker themes about the Last Things, let us indeed ponder: “the end of the day, the end of our life, the end of the world,” and let us do so with hope, with expectant joy, with our eyes fixed upon Jesus and the cross, praying for the world that rejects our Lord that they may turn and be saved, living out our lives of hope in this fallen world, knowing that we are drawing closer to that day when we will sing to Christ one final time, describing what we are seeing in real time: “Lo! He comes with clouds descending…. Alleluia!  Thou shalt reign, and Thou alone!”  Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

On Privilege, Truth, and Critical Theory

This is a video that is described as "powerful" in explaining the concept of "privilege" - often styled "white privilege."  This is an expression of Critical Theory that posits that a certain subset of people enjoy an unfair economic advantage over other groups.  The typical nomenclature is that the privileged groups are "oppressors" and everyone else is "oppressed."  Such notions are indeed powerful modern expressions of Marxist social theory (cultural Marxism).  There is no question of the power of Marxism.  It is truly a force to be reckoned with.

The video depicts a race with some people getting a head start - mostly white people.  It begins with what seems to be a spontaneous group of joyful young people innocently showing up for the race.  At the starting line, the announcer calls out various life conditions that result in some racers being able to take steps forward before the race begins, while others must stay where they are.  It includes emotional music, and as the various privileges are awarded, the camera zooms in on the anguished faces of those who don't enjoy the privileges.  As the video progresses, the happy faces give way to discomfort and looks of shame and guilt on the part of the "privileged."

The first two privileges called out involve having married parents and a father figure in the home.  The rest of the questions involve such things as education and money.  One of the questions pertains to scholarship opportunities (interestingly and inexplicably, excluding athletic scholarships).  After the advantages have been doled out, the announcer asks those in front to turn around and look at their relative starting positions compared to others.  He tells them that their places have nothing to do with anything that they have done - implying that one's advantages and disadvantages in life are completely arbitrary, just random dumb luck - or perhaps a conspiracy among the privileged.

Three fourths of the way into the video, the announcer finally brings race into the soliloquy (the "black dudes" who would "smoke you" in the race were it not for "white privilege"). Moreover, in this race, the prize is a single $100 bill.  So in reality, every single person, black or white, "privileged" or not, other than that single winner, is a loser who walks away with absolutely nothing.

This is indeed an emotionally powerful video, but does it correspond with reality?

In real life, does only one person walk away with everything, while nobody else gets anything?  Is real life like the game of Monopoly, in which one winner takes all and everyone else ends up bankrupt?  The reality is that life is not a zero-sum game.  When Rockefeller made a fortune in oil, when Gates and Jobs became billionaires in microcomputers, when Ford became rich manufacturing automobiles, all mankind benefited: especially the poor, who almost instantly had increasingly inexpensive tools to allow them to compete in ways that formerly excluded them.  In the words of John F. Kennedy - addressing this very economic idea: "The rising tide lifts all the boats."

And what about athletic scholarships?  Why were they arbitrarily excluded from the concept of privilege?  Universities routinely award millions of dollars in scholarship money for sports and athletics.  In fact, many of the nation's wealthiest and most revered heroes are athletes - the majority of which are black.  Are we to conclude that this racial disparity is a discriminatory conspiracy, or should we rather conclude that the team owners are greedily hiring the best people regardless of race, because they want to win championships?  Is this unfair?  Should professional sports teams be required to allow people like me - a 53 year old white guy - to share playing time with Lebron James in order to countermand his "privilege"?  Should Usain Bolt have to run twice as far as the other Olympic runners to offset his obvious advantages?

But the unspoken reality is this: economic advantage and disadvantage overwhelmingly flow from the first two questions in the video: concerning married parents and a father in the home.  And this is not arbitrary and accidental.  These are overwhelmingly choices that we make in our lives that affect us and our children.  Instead of a scenario of allowing people with married parents and fathers in the home to receive what is perceived as an unfair advantage, what if the presentation featured everyone at the same starting line, but people who are promiscuous being told that they and their children will now have to run their race with shackles around their legs?  What if other handicaps were applied to children if their parents (or they themselves as young adults), instead of investing in their and their children's education, chose to spend their money on concerts, vacations, alcohol, drugs, tattoos, cars, jewelry, cable TV and sports events?

Is it fair that people who sacrifice and do the right thing should then have to give money to people who made bad decisions, spent their money on short time-preference pleasures, and acted selfishly and foolishly toward their own children?  Is it right that young people, whose parents remained married and invested wisely - and taught their children to do the same - should now be treated as if they were "oppressors" and be taught that their skin color is a disease upon the planet?

The research of black scholar Thomas Sowell demonstrates that the destruction of the intact black family has had devastating and generational economic consequences for modern black Americans, and that the welfare state has created disincentives for the very thing that helps children the most: intact families (the first two questions in the video).

The reality is that our decisions in life - good and bad - do not affect only ourselves.  We don't live in a vacuum.  We do grow up in a cultural paradigm forged by the intactness of our families and the economic investments we are willing to make.  And this is not arbitrary.  It has to do with our choices.

We can learn from various cultures who value marital morality, family cohesiveness, and long time-preferences with money and resources.  Asians are often successful in America - even as immigrants or first-generation Americans.  Why?  Are they taking advantage of some kind of "white privilege"?  Or is it because their culture values intact families and sacrifice?  Why doesn't their status as "people of color" or their "otherness" or even their linguistic diversity result in their being left behind?  And is it "unfair" that people who are motivated by a cultural work ethic reap economic rewards - especially as their children learn these lessons as they live out their lives?  Why didn't the announcer mention things like: "If you worked two jobs while going to school while your friends partied, take ten steps forward"?  "If you opted out of cars and vacations and season tickets to put your children in a private school, take ten steps forward"? 

Work ethic and sacrifice are never mentioned in this video.

If we truly valued diversity, we would look at the success of Asian immigrants to the United States and figure out how we can replicate their success.  But videos like this one would rather penalize and stigmatize people racially and imply unfairness and oppression rather than admit that people handicap themselves and their own progeny by making poor choices in life and with their resources.

The typical leftist solution is to vilify the successful, penalize the thrifty, and demonize the hard-working, while sowing seeds of dissension between groups of people based on superficial differences such as the amount of melanin in the skin.  This only serves to reward destructive behavior and encourage sloth.  Taken to its extreme, political "solutions" to the problem of "inequality" can take the form of Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" - which symbolizes the very philosophy espoused by Critical Theory.

Instead of attacking the real issue, the privilege video implies that the solution to the hangover is more booze.  And it uses agenda-driven propaganda, emotional manipulation, and rhetorical sleight of hand rather than factual argumentation to make the case.  Unfortunately, young (and not so young) people, largely deprived of classical education, lack the intellectual skills and the knowledge of Economics needed to see through the rhetoric and to think critically about the video.

We are surrounded not merely by propaganda, but also by deliberately-crafted deceptiveness - willful lies in other words - to push a political agenda.  This has become normalized even by professional journalists and reporters.

The recent visit of Donald Trump to Japan is a clear case in point.  Mark Dice exposes the duplicity of the mainstream media - more concerned with political manipulation than objective truth.  Worse even than the amoral reporting is the willful ignorance of the consumers of what used to be called "news" - which in reality has become Soviet-style agitprop and Orwellian mind control.

Like government, we get the media that we deserve.  The consumer is king and has the power.  But like the cowed townspeople in The Emperor's New Clothes, we allow ourselves to be gulled.

Unless and until the concept of objective truth, over and against subjective feelings and desires, returns to our intellectual and public life, and unless and until there is a social cost to dishonestly and duplicity, as well as a restored valuation of integrity and truth-telling regardless of agenda, we will continue to deal with "fake news" and people being led by the nose to disastrous political and economic consequences, having been intellectually, culturally, and ethically disarmed, unable to be truly critical and to actually question authority.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sermon: All Saints Day (Observed)

5 November 2017

Text: Matt 5:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today’s Gospel, known as the Beatitudes, is one of the most beloved of all passages in Scripture.  Even unbelievers love the sentiments expressed and the poetic sound of the Lord’s words.  “Blessed” is translated as “happy” in some modern translations, and the word “blessed” appears ten times.

In fact, some might think that the Christian life is a life that is always happy.  Jesus even winds down the beatitudes with an invitation to “rejoice and be glad.”  In the words of the popular TV preacher, you can have your best life now!

But there is also a word that appears three times – once in each of the last three verses: “persecute.”  Now that is something we really don’t want to hear.  Persecution is for Christians who live in Saudi Arabia or China or Sweden or some other place thousands of miles away from here.  It’s certainly nothing we Americans have to be concerned about.  Yes, we pray for persecuted Christians, like Asia Bibi in Pakistan, as we have been doing now for some seven years – but we don’t want to dwell on her case too much because it might make us feel bad.  The beatitudes are about being happy.  Or so we might want to convince ourselves.

Dear friends, persecution is one of the marks of the Church.  We are the enemy of the evil one.  If Satan sought to destroy our Lord, should we expect any less hatred from the prince of this world, seeking whom he may devour?

Indeed, our Lord says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Persecution was always lurking around the corner for the early Church.  John the Baptist was beheaded even before our Lord was crucified.  St. Stephen was stoned to death under the watchful eyes of St. Paul before his conversion.  St. Paul would himself die as a martyr, along with St. Peter, in Rome.  Eleven of the Lord’s apostles would be martyred.  We know all about the cruelties of the madman Nero in the 60s AD, and of the bloodthirsty Domitian in the 80s and 90s.  The persecutions were so bad that even normal Romans, who hated the Christians, felt sorry for them: especially the women and children who were tortured for sport.

But does this talk of persecution apply to us?

Our Lord’s last Beatitude is: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.”  Notice that He doesn’t say “if” others persecute you, but “when.” 

The Church is persecuted on account of Christ.  And though the level of persecution varies in time and place, never fall into the trap, dear brothers and sisters, that the world loves you.  The world is not your friend.  The world hates Christ, hates the Church, and hates you.  But what does our Lord say?  He does not say to hang our heads and wring our hands.  He does not say to react with hatred or to persecute others in response.  He does not say that we are to feed our enemies to lions or behead them or crucify them.  In fact, He tells us to love them, pray for them, and forgive them.

And when we are persecuted: be it fed to lions, ridiculed by coworkers, sued by activists pursuing (which is the actual meaning of the word “persecute”) Christians whom they know will act in accordance with their consciences, shunned by family members, arrested by the government, mocked by the pseudo-righteous in Hollywood, or marginalized by a society that claims to be tolerant and inclusive – our Lord tells us that we should “rejoice and be glad.”  For this is how it should be.  If we are persecuted – not for being evil but for confessing that which (and whom which) is righteous, we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.  Can we expect any less, dear friends?  Is a pupil above his Master – especially when his Master died on the cross for the sins of the world?  Didn’t our Lord tell us to follow Him by taking up our own crosses?

Indeed, the Christian life is not for the fainthearted, and yet we are blessed – especially when we are spiritually impoverished, mourning, meek, and longing for a righteousness that is alien to this world and to our own flesh. We are indeed blessed when we show mercy to others, when our hearts are pure (as they can only be by God’s grace and forgiveness), and when we seek peace instead of violence. 

We are blessed, dear friends, not because suffering in this life and world are happy, but rather because our Lord has overcome the world!  Our suffering in a very small way is a sharing in His suffering, and His suffering is how we have been reconciled to God: by the cross, by the blood of the Lamb, by the satisfaction of the wrath of God by the Son’s perfect life and atoning death.  What an honor to be counted worthy to suffer for the Holy Name of Jesus Christ!

This is what is means to be a saint, dear friends: to be a forgiven sinner brought into communion with our Lord by dying with Him in Holy Baptism, and rising with Him to everlasting life according to the Word and promise of God.

This is why we rejoice, as the saints, and with the saints.  We stand as part of the long chain of forgiven sinners, of those who have suffered for the kingdom and been counted worthy because of the blood of the Lamb, who is worthy.

We remember our heroes of the faith, known and unknown; great and small; men, women, and children; those of “all tribes and peoples and languages,” all who pray with us, on earth and in heaven: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

For indeed, “These are the ones coming from the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  We rejoice, dear friends, because they have won the victory, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Blessed are you, dear saints, blessed are you!  That is the Word of the Lord and the promise of the living God.  “Rejoice and be glad.”  Amen!

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

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Sermon: Reformation Day (Observed Wednesday)

1 November 2017

Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Five hundred years is a long time.  We’ve seen quite a few changes since 1517.  Obviously, technology has gone from the Gutenberg printing press to the Internet. We have progressed from the wheel to the satellite.  We enjoy heat and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, entertainment, refrigerators, cars, planes, and medical advances bordering on the miraculous.

The Church had a lot of changes as well, which we call the Reformation.  It has been both good and bad: good because the idea that forgiveness is for sale or can be earned has been refuted by the Scriptures – which are available in our own language.  We also worship in our own language, have Bible classes, and lay people are encouraged to participate fully in the Lord’s Supper.  The Reformation did have some bad changes as well, as many reformers went too far, and now we have lots of denominations, many of which teach false doctrines.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is sin.  We are still poor, miserable sinners as we have been since the fall in Eden.  And sin leads to violence.  Violence is a shortcut to get what we want.  Instead of earning money to buy what we desire, we can steal or intimidate other people to give us their money.  Or we can have politicians steal for us.  In the last century, we saw both fascism and communism commit totalitarian violence and destroy entire nations.

Violence quickly followed the fall in the Garden of Eden.  We see violence between even married people, as God told Eve that this would happen.  We see brothers killing brothers, as happened between Cain and Abel.  We see the world becoming so violent, that God Himself violently wiped out nearly the entire population of the world.

In the Reformation, we saw Christians murdering other Christians.  Luther was himself threatened with being burned at the stake. 

And today, we suffer a lot of violence, as the recent terror attack in New York, committed in the name of a false god, serves as a grim example.

Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  John was beheaded for the sake of his preaching the Word of God, and his testimony of Jesus.  John was the first martyr – even preceding our Lord’s own crucifixion.  The violent think they can take the kingdom by violence, in the same way that the violent kill their enemies and rob possessions belonging to others.

But God’s kingdom cannot be won by violence.  The stake and the concentration camp do not make Christians. 

But there is an irony at work in the cross.  For the kingdom of God came to us through an act of violence.  For the violent sought to lord over the Lord by violence.  But what happened was that the Lord used that act of violence to redeem us by His grace.  The universal symbol of Christianity is the cross: an instrument of cruel and violent torture that has become a symbol of grace and merciful love.  The violence of God’s wrath has been laid upon Jesus, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”

The cross is central to the life of the Christian.  Jesus said that to follow Him, we must bear our own crosses.  One cross that we must bear is to live in this world of violence and hatred – at least on this side of the grave and until the return of our Lord. 

The Lord’s observation of the world’s fickleness is still true today: “John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘he has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”

Dr. Luther taught the same Gospel as the Roman Catholic Church of the days of St. Augustine, a thousand years before his own day, and the leaders of Rome called him a heretic.  Dr. Luther and we so-called Lutherans continue to practice the liturgy and the sacraments, and we are accused of being “Romanists.”  Yet, as Jesus says, “wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Dear friends, we continue to live our Christian lives according to the confessions and principles of the Reformation, not because they are “Lutheran” ideas, but because they are Biblical ideas, or more accurately, they are Christ’s ideas that the Church has confessed since the days of the apostles.

You cannot have the forgiveness of sins by violently taking the kingdom.  Rather, forgiveness is a free gift.  You cannot buy it, earn it, or treat it as a commodity.  It is the merciful disposition of God toward you for the sake of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. 

There is nothing to steal, to lust after, to plot to take, to buy, or to seize from another by violence.  The Good News is that we “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received in faith.”  Through the cross, we have peace with God, and we receive mercy and pardon by a gracious act of God.

That is the central message of the Reformation, our confession for five hundred years.  We do not put people to death or coerce them by violence.  Christianity is the Religion of Peace, even as Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

Indeed, many things have changed in five centuries, but the truly important things have not, chief of which is the fact that though we are sinners, God loves us, and redeems us by His Son.  And we, the Church, are charged with proclaiming and spreading this Good News.

Let us pray for the grace to continue in this nonviolent confession and life for the next five hundred years, and beyond, even unto eternity!  Amen!

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sermon: Reformation Day (Observed) and Confirmation of Bryton Powell

29 October 2017

Text: Rom 3:19-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In 1948, an American professor named Dr. Richard Weaver wrote a thoughtful and widely-discussed book called Ideas Have Consequences.  In 1517, a German professor named Dr. Martin Luther wrote down some ideas that he thought needed to be discussed. 

And there were indeed consequences.

The world has had five centuries to consider those ideas and their consequences.  As with most ideas, there have been both good and bad consequences in history.  The bad news is that our once fairly united western church has been broken into pieces, like a mirror dropped on a marble floor.  But the good news is that the western church that had become hopelessly corrupt and consumed with false doctrine, has had to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Dr. Luther’s original idea was that the practice of selling indulgences seems to be a very bad idea.  His idea was to talk about it among the professors.  And so on the eve of All Saints Day in 1517, he put up 95 debate topics on the bulletin board, and even wrote them in Latin so that they would be limited to the classroom.

But someone translated these debate points, these 95 theses, into German, and then printed and published them using the latest Gutenberg technology.  The post went viral, and all of Europe was soon talking about these ideas about selling indulgences.

Now, an indulgence was a decree of time off of Purgatory based on prayers or good works.  But by 1517, you could buy and sell the good works of the saints, and the church discovered that this was a good racket.  It made so much money as to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Nobody is proud of this today.  Nobody defends this practice.  A lot of people really didn’t like it even at the time, but Professor Luther’s post is the one that went viral. 

The debate spurred on other ideas and questions: Are pastors and bishops above the Bible, or must they too submit to Scripture?  Is there such a thing as Purgatory in the first place?  And finally, the really big questions that emerged: How do we get access to Christ’s forgiveness of sins?  And is justification given as a gift that we receive through faith, or is it something we earn?

And that last question quickly became the real heart of the matter.  There is no possibility of compromise.

Dr. Luther and his colleagues at Wittenberg University, as well as other theologians and princes began to study the actual words of Scripture as they were written in the original languages.  They pondered these ideas and their consequences in light older writings of the church fathers.  And for the sake of their honest inquiry, they were accused of heresy; they were ordered to stop; their books were burned; some of them were themselves burned at the stake. 

And yet they continued to read and study and preach and teach, even as St. Paul proclaims to us anew this day: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight…. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law… through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

We may read this today and take it for granted.  But in 1517, this was a dangerous idea, an exciting idea, and a liberating idea.  These simple words from the Bible – read in our own language – clearly state that we are not saved by works, by pilgrimages, by certain prayers, by decrees of bishops, or by transfer of money.  We can’t buy love, and we don’t earn love.  Love is freely given by the lover to the beloved, unconditionally.  If it is bought, it is no longer love.  If it is earned, it is no longer a gift. 

And so we are “justified by His grace as a gift.”  And this is Good News, which is what the word “Gospel” means.  In Latin, Gospel, is “Evangelium” – and so this rediscovery of an old idea gave us the nickname “Evangelicals.”  Our opponents thought that was bad PR for their side, and so they called us “Lutherans” instead – which horrified Dr. Luther.  But the name stuck.

Luther was not just a professor, but also a pastor and giver of “soul care.”  He was preacher of the Gospel.  He understood that the Bible is a Bad News/Good News story.  One example is our text: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Bad news.  But we “are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received in faith.”  Good News!  Evangelium!  Gospel!

This evangelical way of reading the Bible is nothing new.  It was precisely how the great bishop and doctor of the church, St. Augustine, preached and taught and wrote and lived his life a thousand years before Luther was born.

And so five hundred years after Luther’s post went viral, we are still proclaiming this Gospel and faithfully teaching the Word of God.  We are still forgiving sins in accordance with the command and authority of Jesus.  We are still eating His body and drinking His blood, as means to that grace which we receive through faith.  We are still refusing to buy and sell forgiveness.  In fact, pastors forgive in the name of Jesus for free.  That forgiveness has already been paid for by the blood of the Lamb.  It’s yours as a gift!

While we would prefer to be called Evangelicals rather than Lutherans, we honor Dr. Luther for his theology, his courage, his faithful preaching and teaching, his translation of the Bible into the language of the people, his catechisms, his hymns, and his tireless emphasis on the Word of God and the Gospel.

In fact, his Small Catechism still provides us with Christian instruction for young people, like our dear brother in Christ Bryton, to prepare to confess this Gospel and join us at the communion rail, even as he will today.  What a fitting day for a confirmation into the faith: not the Lutheran faith, but the Christian faith, the universal catholic faith, the faith of the Bible, the faith of the Gospel, the faith of the holy apostles, the faith of Jesus Christ!  Bryton will publicly pledge his life to the truth of God’s Word and to “continue steadfast in this confession and church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.”

Moreover, he will join us for the first time at the altar to receive the holy sacrament, having studied and confessed Luther’s catechism, not because it is Luther’s, but rather because it teaches the Word of God.

The great idea of the Reformation is the truth of the scripture that the Gospel isn’t about us: what we can earn or buy or do.  But rather it is about Jesus: what He has earned by His perfect life, what He has bought with His death, and what He does in redeeming us by the Gospel. 

“Then what becomes of our boasting?”  Asks St. Paul, just before answering his own question: “It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

That idea has consequences, eternal consequences, evangelical consequences, consequences for Luther, the early Lutherans, for us, for Bryton, and for all Christians including those yet to be born five hundred years from now and beyond.  And those consequences, dear friends, are not just good news, but rather the best news ever: that Christ saves you by grace, through faith, by His blood shed on the cross, and His Word is the infallible, iron-clad promise written in Scripture.  Here we stand!  God help us!  Amen!

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sermon: Funeral of Elfair Bealer

27 October 2017

Text: John 14:1-6 (Job 19:23-27a, Rom 6:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: peace be with you!  It is a sad day for us, but not for Jack.  It is hard to imagine life without someone who was born just shy under a century ago, someone whose life touched so many, and whose impact will continue for generations.  Once again, dear friends, peace be with you!

We often discover things about people from their obituaries – even after having served as their pastor for many years.  Often, in this part of the country, we learn people’s real names from the newspaper.  Now I did know that Jack’s real name was “Elfair,” although I don’t remember anyone in our church who ever called him anything other than “Jack.”  I knew that he was sailor in World War II and a railroad man, but what I didn’t know was that Jack had served as a fire chaplain for the Gould company.  That company is today part of the David Crockett company, for whom I serve as chaplain.  I’m honored to have this in common with Jack.

Jack was baptized in this very font when he was twenty-two days old.  And at the age of twelve years, he was confirmed here at Salem by Pastor Eugene Schmid.  I will think of Jack when I confirm a 12-year old boy this Sunday.

One of the passages from our catechism that young Jack memorized was this: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

God richly and daily provides.  This word “provides” is so important.  This is what Jesus means when He says, “In My Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

In life and in death, God provides.  He loves us.  He does not leave us.  He provides for Jack a place that He has prepared. 

And dear friends, think about how our gracious and merciful Lord provided for so many people by using His servant Jack.  Through Jack, God provided life for his children, love and wisdom for his grandchildren, and a kind sympathetic ear to countless friends.  Through Jack’s faithful church attendance, God worked faith in others in the pews who were blessed by seeing him joyfully living out the Christian life.  Through Jack, God provided spiritual care for firefighters, faithful service to our country in time of war, and safe railroads for travelers over the course of his life’s work.  And for 73 years, God provided protection, love, and nurture to Rita Bealer in her need by the tireless devotion of her husband. 

God provides, dear friends.

And even more importantly, let us remember how God provided for Jack: promising a place prepared for him in eternal glory by Jesus Himself.  God provided eternal life for Jack by water and the Word in Holy Baptism.  God provided faith for Jack through the faithful teaching of God’s Word through parents, teachers, and pastors.  God provided Jack with the forgiveness of all his sins through holy absolution, and He provided Jack with eternal communion with God through decades of receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

God provided for Jack’s triumph over death, as St. Paul said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

God provides, dear friends, and provides even unto eternity.  God’s provision goes beyond death itself.  God continues to provide for Jack – by Christ’s death on the cross that paid for all our sins, and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, promising the same to those who confess His name – as Jack did in my presence again, and again, and again.  Jack confessed with St. Paul: “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

The faith that we confess, the faith that Jack confessed here and confesses in eternity is that there is a bodily resurrection and restoration of the perfect heaven and earth.  We are not destined to float around as spirits, but rather to be reunited with our loved ones in the flesh –a new and perfect flesh that cannot die, suffers no illness or pain, and never wears out or fades away.

This is the same confession as the Old Testament saint Job, whose words we continue to sing: “I know that my Redeemer lives… And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

This promise applies to all who die in the faith, those who are baptized and believe, for this is God’s Word; this is the promise of the resurrected Christ!  “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

In life and in death, God provides.  He loves us.  He does not leave us.  He provides for us in our grief, dear friends, and He provides for Jack a place that He has prepared.  He provided a century of gifts to all of us through Jack, and He provides Jack with everlasting life.

Let us look forward to seeing Jack again, literally and physically, even as Jesus rose from the dead.  Let us confess God’s gracious provision for us, certain that Jesus has provided a place for Jack and for us.  And though we mourn, let us quote the Word of God as Jack’s wife Rita did every time I visited when she offered the prayer that she and Jack most assuredly offer together now in eternity: “This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 22 - 2017

22 October 2017

Text: Matt 18:21-35

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

People used to collect things like stamps and coins and baseball cards.  These hobbies got people from every walk of life together to cooperate with each other to complete their collections.  Nowadays, these hobbies have been overshadowed by “grievance collecting.”  In other words, trying to outdo one another in being outraged and being victimized – whether real or imagined.  Because in today’s society, being the victim is how one gets power, the right to control others. 

And so people even complain about things they call “micro-aggressions” – which if you think about it, is an amazingly silly word.

And as a result, we rarely see people of all ages and walks of life getting together to trade cards or to learn about other cultures from stamps.  Instead we see people polarized into angry groups, we see political violence, we see an endless parade of isolated, unhappy individuals trapped in a lonely spiral of negativity.

It’s no wonder that depression runs rampant, and that families lie in tatters today.  It’s no wonder the country is so divided and unable to find common ground.

Instead of letting go of grievances, the thing to do today is to hang onto them for dear life, and even add to them, like new baubles on a charm bracelet – only with grievances, they are more like balls and chains.

There is only one solution to this negativity that tears apart countries and communities and individuals: forgiveness.  And this, dear friends, is why Jesus came.  He has come into our grievance-laden world to release those burdens, and to give us our lives and our freedom back by the Gospel, through His own release of grievances on the cross.

For who is more aggrieved than God?  And who suffered more cruelly and unjustly at the hands of men than our Lord Jesus Christ?  He took all the grievances, all the real injustices, all of the monstrous aggressions of all of mankind upon His shoulders, and allowed them to be out to death with Him on the cross.  He rose again from death in order to give us new life – a life freed from grievances and bitterness and wrath – that which we deserve, and that which others deserve from us.

This is why, dear friends, our Lord seems to defy justice when He answers St. Peter’s question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?  Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” 

Forgiveness strikes us as unfair.  And especially in our current culture, it seems downright foolish.  For being sinned against gives us bragging rights, and may even pay off with attention and power, with the right to get revenge, or even with positions of authority or money. Why should we let someone off the hook when the name of the game is to get people on the hook and to keep them there?

But this is exactly what our Lord counsels Peter to do.  Forgive.  And to “forgive… from your heart.”

He tells a parable to make the point.  There is a very rich king and a very poor servant who works for him.  The servant has somehow gotten into a situation of debt to the king: a very large debt that he could never repay.  The king proposed to recover some of the money by selling the man and his family into slavery.  “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’”

So here, dear friends, is the crucial part of the story.  In this fallen world and in our current state of culture, this is the moment of triumph, where our enemy is trapped and helpless, where the king has the opportunity to milk this situation for all that it is worth.  He could complain to his friends, he could use social media, he could go on TV even, complaining about how he has been wronged.  He could start an angry advocacy group and maybe even a legal foundation for people who have been ripped off by deadbeat servants.  He could turn it into an ethnic thing.  He could blame it on the servant’s station in life.  But at any rate, he could make himself seem the innocent party. 

But what does our king do?  “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”  He had “pity” and he “forgave.”  He released the grievance and did not clutch it to himself.  He not only made the world a better place, but he freed himself of the stress and burden of revenge, and the trap of self-isolating negativity and hatred that can eat  person alive.

But what did this forgiven servant do?  Our Lord’s story continues: “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him” a small debt.  He grabbed him, choked him, and said, “Pay what you owe.”  The pleading of that servant fell on deaf ears.  There was no pity.  There was no forgiveness.  There was not a sharing of the grace that was shown to him by his master.

The ungrateful servant saw a wonderful opportunity to collect a grievance.  It wasn’t even that he needed the money.  It was a small amount.  This was about what he had to gain by refusing to forgive.  He sent his fellow servant to debtor’s prison.

But the master hears the prayers of the servants’ friends.  The king will provide justice for him.  The unforgiving servant’s pardon was revoked.  The king asks: “‘And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”

Jesus concludes with the very clear warning from God: “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Dear brothers and sisters, although this is a harsh warning from our Lord, it is a merciful reminder of the power of the Gospel!  Jesus has come to free us from the interconnected chains of sin, of injustice, of grudges great and small, of the web of aggressions and retaliations, of broken relationships between individuals and between nations.  There is no justice and no peace for grievance-collectors.  Justice, peace, and a true life of joy can only be found in Jesus and in the peace won for us at the cross.  We are the servants who are in debt to our King and Master by reasons of sin, debt that we can never repay.  We are the cause of all injustice and conflict in our lives and in the world.  It can’t be resolved by constant escalation.

It is only solved by Jesus shattering the chains and setting us free: from our own sin and the sin of others against us.

How many times, dear friends?  As many as seven times?  Our Lord says, “seventy times seven.”  That is, an infinite number of times.  For we should show mercy as we have been shown mercy.  And this is the Good News, dear friends, you have been shown infinite mercy from your Lord, and He offers you infinite freedom from sin in all of its monstrous effects.  Every time you ponder your baptism, it is a reminder.  Every Divine Service is a renewal of this forgiveness and life.

We have been forgiven seventy times seven times; out of pity for us, our Lord has released us and has forgiven us all our debt, and has given us something infinitely more powerful than a grievance, and that is the power to forgive, even as we have been forgiven.  Amen!

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sermon: St. Luke - 2017

18 October 2017

Text: Luke 10:1-9, (Isa 35:5-8, 2 Tim 4:5-18)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Saint Luke was not one of the twelve apostles.  He was not flamboyant and boisterous like St. Peter.  He was not the evangelist covering of most of the empire as was St. Paul.  He was not the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as was St. John.  He wasn’t a fisherman like many of the early leaders of the disciples.  As far as we know, he wasn’t a bishop who oversaw pastors and churches, as were James, Peter, Timothy and many of the apostles and early disciples.

In fact, Luke was probably an intellectual.  His Greek writing suggests that he was highly educated and had studied history.  St. Luke was a medical doctor.  Early historians teach us that he was one of the 72 that our Lord sent out ahead of Himself in areas where he planned to go.  It is also said that he was an iconographer, a painter of portraits of our Lord and His mother.  St. Luke is also said to have been executed as a martyr at the age of 84.  From Scripture, we know that he accompanied St. Paul on many journeys, and that he was one of the few faithful who stayed with Paul at the end of his life in Rome.

But St. Luke’s greatest acts were literary in nature: between his Gospel of Luke and the sequel, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke wrote some 27% of the New Testament.  His greatest legacy is actually the Word from the Holy Spirit given to teach us about Jesus. 

And there is no greater honor for a pastor and preacher – that he did not give glory to himself, but to Christ alone!  In a real sense, St. Luke is still one of those 72 evangelists sent out to prepare the way for Jesus to come, “into every town and place where He (Jesus) was about to go.” 

Just as St. Luke remained faithful to St. Paul, Luke still remains faithful to every pastor and preacher today, being his constant companion in the Word.  It is impossible not to love St. Luke and to see him as a faithful brother in the Office of the Holy Ministry when one preaches Jesus in the very words of St. Luke.

And it is Luke who speaks to us today, dear friends, explaining the work of the evangelist in the very words of Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  There is so much work to be done in the kingdom, so many who need to hear the Good News, people to reach with the Gospel: those here in our neighborhood and in our families, as well as those on the other side of the globe.  So we must “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers” to preach and teach and baptize, to visit and absolve and feed with the Holy Supper. 

And of course, we pastors cannot do this alone.  We are dependent upon the church.  The 72 were told: “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals…” meaning that we are to depend upon the kindness of others for our own livelihood, “eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages.”  It is the holy work of the laity to support their pastors and their families at home, and to provide for missionaries abroad.  

Preachers are ambassadors of Jesus.  They are spokesmen for the King.  They proclaim amnesty and pardon to sinners.  They are authorized to speak forgiveness in His name and by His authority.  They preach Christ crucified, and do so in season and out of season, proclaiming the Good News that because Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we have received His grace – grace that redeems us from sin, death, and the devil, grace that brings us into communion with God, grace that delivers to us everlasting life in the flesh, in the new heaven and the new earth.  This is the church’s happy and urgent message – inscribed by the pen of Luke, proclaimed by the lips of Luke, and read today from the Gospel of Luke.

And Jesus sends these preachers out “as lambs in the midst of wolves.”  Satan seeks to destroy the church by attempting to shut down the proclaimers of the Gospel.  There are wolves out there, dear friends, wolves who stir up churches and cause dissent.  Sometimes these wolves are bishops and church leaders, sometimes pastors, and sometimes lay people.  And the Lord’s servants are like sheep.  They are followers of Jesus: shepherds who become like sacrificial lambs; for no servant is above his Master. 

And in a sense, all Christians are to be lambs amid wolves.  We are all sent out in all of our callings as innocents into a violent and evil world, under the spell of the devil, who wishes to devour us and destroy our faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, were we on our own, we would certainly fail.  But we are not on our own.  We have Jesus and the angels guiding us, guarding us, delivering us from evil and from the evil one.  We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and working through us, no matter what our Christian vocation is.

St. Luke was with Paul, who wrote, “Luke alone is with me,” when he exhorted Timothy to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”  And we must, as Christians, strive to carry out our Christian callings so that we might likewise say, “I am ready to be poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

For the Gospel is about fixing everything that is wrong with our world, as Isaiah prophesies: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”  All of these impediments are removed by Christ our Savior and Redeemer.  We will see an end to deserts and hunger and thirst, to be replaced with the lushness of life and the Way of Holiness, a pathway for those declared righteous by the Lord and His Gospel!  

This, dear friends, is the message of Luke, which is the message of the church, which is the message of our preaching and teaching, which is the message of the Gospel, which is the message of Jesus Christ – the one in whose holy name we gather, whose praise we sing, whose body and blood we eat and drink unto eternal life, and whose servant Luke continues to bring us Good News – and will do so until the Lord’s return.  Amen!

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

Are human beings valued intrinsically or instrumentally?

This is no mere academic debate between ivory-tower philosophers.  This is a crucial question that touches upon culture and laws in the real world.  And it is not hard to understand.  It's a basic question about how we treat other people.  These two short videos viewed together really expose why we are seeing so much oppression and violence in our culture.

Alan Shlemon speaks on two opposing worldviews of what it means to be human: the Intrinsic Value Theory, vs. the Instrumental Value Theory (beginning at 28:44)...

Summer White with Apologia Studios interviews feminists on the most basic questions of what it means to be human and to have rights...

Shlemon's distinction between these two worldviews is clearly demonstrated by such interviews. This topic is worth pondering and discussing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 21 and Baptism of Gilbert Hart - 2017

15 October 2017

Text: Eph 6:10-17, (Gen 1:1-2:3, John 4:46-54)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord reminds us yet again that we are at war.  St. Paul exhorts us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  He urges us to “take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

While the world is in denial that we are at war – it is made very clear to us Christians.  We are on the front lines of battle “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.”

And this war, dear friends, is different than the skirmishes and conflicts and combat between earthly nations.  It is not waged with marching armies and high-tech explosives.  It is not about killing our fellow men.  For the soldiers in this war include every citizen of Christendom, every person in our nation that transcends all nations, every member of our tribe and race that transcends all tribes and all races.  Our warriors include even little children, including our newest enlistee, Gilbert Benson Hart.

To a world in denial that we are even at war, they see nothing more than a baby and an unimportant ritual, an opportunity to take pictures and congratulate the parents on their new child.  But to us Christians, there is more going on.  Warriors are not born, but made.  And like most Christians, Gilbert became a warrior even before he was old enough to steel his body and spirit for battle through training and discipline.  There will be that, of course, as all Christian parents know that it is their duty to train their children through prayer and catechesis, through living an active life in the church, through Word and Sacrament, through a warrior’s vocation of militancy against the “cosmic powers over this present darkness.” 

But, dear friends, in our militant forces of the church, warriors are made by something as common and unassuming as a splash of water, made powerful and active through the miraculous and mighty Word of God – the very same Word that brought the universe into being, the same Word that took on flesh within His creation, the same Word whose mastery extends not only over the chemical properties of water and wine, but even over sickness and death.

Like all warriors, Gilbert joined us in our oath of loyalty to our King as well as oath to repudiate the enemy, his works and ways.  And Gilbert was endowed with a new spirit through a miracle of the Word of God continuing to act in our war-torn land, continuing to call and rally His troops to join in the great victory that He achieved at the cross.

Our Lord was there in the beginning, as the Word brought order to that which was “without form and void.”  The “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Word brought light by His command.  He separated the primordial randomness into beautiful order.  He began space and time itself, and culminated his creation by creating man in His own image, male and female, and placing them in the paradise that He had created.  “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Every creature, from the mightiest galaxy to the smallest electron knew its place in this order, and obeyed the will of God.  But mankind was given something that no other creature was given: a will of his own.  Made in God’s image, Mankind was empowered to make decisions and was trusted to be creation’s caretaker.  But instead of loyalty, we displayed treachery.  We took the beautiful peaceful universe and turned it into a battleground; we received our beautiful paradise and left it in rubble. 

Dear friends, our Lord did not give up on us, but fights for us. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Word became our fleshly King, and He makes war for us, and enlists us to join in the struggle against the “spiritual forces of evil.”

The pinnacle of this war, its turning point, the crucial battle that altered the course of history and assured our victory was the Lord’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  Like many military victories, this was an ambush that drew the enemy in, trapped him, and unleashed a torrent of arms upon him, destroying him, and re-establishing peace through victory.  Jesus won this war at the cross, by His bloodshed, by His willing sacrifice, by His obedience to His orders, by His ingenious strategy, and by His love for the nation – our nation that transcends all nations.  And our risen King rallies us all to join in the resistance to the devil, to become Christ’s warriors to save others, and to look forward to the eternal victory triumph when we will eternally serve our King in peace.  For by His blood, our sins are forgiven, order is restored to creation, and the very concept of death yields to a renewed obedience of every galaxy, every electron, and every person created in God’s image once more being happily obedient in eternity.

The worst thing about warfare is death.  There are horrific casualties.  The carnage seems pointless, and often it appears that there is no end in sight.  After our Lord’s first miracle of water and wine, a man prayed to Jesus to heal his dying son.  By the power of Jesus and through the belief, the faith, of the child’s father, death was turned back.  Our Lord would go on to establish a continued ministry of saving the dying, of empowering parents with faith to save their dying sons and daughters by means of future miracles involving water and wine.  And lest we miss the point, the body of our victorious Lord issued water and blood at the point of the Roman spear.  For His death saves us by these means.

Today, we see the ongoing miracle of salvation by means of baptismal water, as well as the wine of the Lord’s Supper.  We witnessed the water and the Word being applied to Gilbert’s head, even as he was helmeted with salvation and girded for battle.  We will take part in the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ forgiving our sins anew by means of bread and wine, through the Word of God, made into His very body and blood, to steel us for battle, to strengthen our faith, and to fortify us for war against the old evil foe.

Though the battle rages, the war is won!  Though we fight to the death, we are assured of life!  Though Gilbert’s parents have turned him over to militant service, they have brought him to eternal life with them and with all believers in the peace that passes all understanding! 

For there is nothing that all warriors value more than “peace.”  This word “peace” was the first thing the risen and victorious Lord said to His disciples after the resurrection.  “Peace” is the meaning of the word “Salem” that our forbears chose to name our congregation.  And “peace” is that which Jesus won for us at the cross, and that which the waters of baptism ultimately remind us of: that peaceful and good creation began when the Word created an expanse in the midst of the waters, when we were created in God’s image, and it was all very good!

Rise to Arms! 
With prayer employ you.
O Christians lest the foe destroy you;
For Satan has designed your fall.
Wield God’s Word, the weapon glorious;
Against all foes be thus victorious,
For God protects you from them all.
Fear not the hordes of hell,
Here is Emmanuel.  Hail the Savior!
The strong foes yield
To Christ our shield,
And we, the victors, hold the field.


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

Monday, October 09, 2017

New SLMS Newsletter!

The October 2017 issue of the newsletter of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society (edited by yours truly) is up!  Past newsletters (15 years' worth!) can be found here.

To support the work of the SLMS (with 100% offerings doing directly to Siberia), click on the donate button!

Bonus: a short documentary of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, made in 2007, is available here:

If you would like to see my travel blog from my 2011 tour of many of our Siberian cities and sister churches, you can click here.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 20 - 2017

8 October 2017
Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Isa 5:1-9, Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“The kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus, “may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.”

This is the story of mankind: rejecting God and the gifts that He offers because we are too busy, we are bored, we have other priorities, we don’t get anything out of it.  It’s boring, I want to sleep in, I already know this stuff. I read my Bible at home, I watch the preacher on TV, I’m a good person, my parents made me go to church, my children should pick their own religion.  And so on.

And yet, God sends servants “to call those who were invited to the wedding feast.”  I can’t tell you how often my colleagues in the office of the holy ministry are hauled on the carpet by the leadership of their congregations: we want open communion, we want the sacrament less often, we want Polka services, we want children’s sermons, we want contemporary worship, we want you to be less Lutheran, we want you to overlook the children of legacy families who are living in sin, we want you to stop hassling us about coming to church.

And those servants are sometimes removed from their pulpits, and in some cases, thrown out of the ministry entirely.  I have seen a shocking number of faithful pastors treated shamefully, and it seems that this number grows with each passing year.

But again, God, “sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner… everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”

God is inviting us to live fulfilled lives feasting on the finest that He has to offer!  He invites us to live like kings and share the choicest morsels at His table.  He offers us the Holy Supper of the body and blood of His Son, a glorious eternal wedding feast that gives us everlasting life!

“But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.”

This, dear friends, is how the Israelites treated the prophets whom God sent to call them to repentance.  They silenced them.  They killed them. 

And so God invited others to take their place at the table.  “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.”

Think about this, dear friends.  Our worthiness is not in ourselves, but rather in trusting and responding to God’s gracious invitation.  We did nothing to be invited to the feast.  We didn’t even prepare the meal.  This is how the kingdom of heaven works.  We are poor, miserable sinners, and yet God, in His mercy, sends servants to call us.  These servants may be parents who teach us to pray, or teachers who teach us the catechism, or pastors who preach the Word of God to us.  The prophets and apostles continue to speak God’s invitation to us through the Holy Scriptures.  Jesus Himself continues to bid us to come to His feast, to take part in the Supper that rebuilds us from the inside out, and to hear the transformative Word of God, that bears the power of the Creator and the promise of the Redeemer. 

These servants drag us in from the roads and the byways of life in all its complexity, all of us who desperately need Good News and a new life, people of every walk of life, “both bad and good,” and we are called to be where our King is and to join Him at the table.

And this is how it works, dear brothers and sisters.  We are not here because we are worthy.  We are here because Jesus is worthy.  We are here because we were invited.  We are here because we have the “wedding garment” of Holy Baptism, being invited to join Christ in His burial and death, buried with Him in His sacrifice for our sins.

And maybe this is why we have such a problem with the invitation.  To come to the Lord’s table is to make an admission of guilt: “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”  Without this confession of sin, and without the cleansing of this sin by Holy Baptism, we are unworthy, and we will be cast out of the feast.

If you try to get into the banquet in the style of Frank Sinatra’s famous song, “I did it my way,” you will hear the King say, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Dear brothers and sisters, we are chosen when we come to the feast Christ’s way, in our humility, in our need, in our desperation to find the truth, to find Jesus where He promises to be.

If people truly believed this promise, this gracious invitation by God Himself to partake in a literally miraculous meal that transports us into eternity – paraphrasing Luther, we would be willing to walk a mile on our knees on broken glass to get to the church.  Our churches would be as packed as our stadiums. 

But the good news, dear friends, is that you are invited.  You have been brought here by the will and providence of God.  Maybe you didn’t feel like it this morning.  Maybe you worked hard all week and are a bit resentful of having to be here.  Maybe you would rather be somewhere else.  But hear the Word, dear friends, listen to the gracious invitation you have received from God Himself!  Think about our Lord’s suffering and death upon the cross to save you, to love you, to give you life that extends beyond the grave!  Think about His patience with us in our rebellious attitudes.  And think that He holds out His very flesh and blood to you, withholding nothing from you.  

In His mercy, He has brought you here for this reason: to hear this Word and to receive His gifts, to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him, and to join with the people of God of every age to participate in the eternal feast. 

By God’s mercy, we were spared the destruction of a hurricane.  By God’s mercy, we woke up this morning, our loved ones with us, enjoying prosperity and freedom that is the envy of the world.  By God’s mercy and His Word, you are being forgiven by the Lord Himself, and by God’s mercy, you recall your own baptism through which the Lord issued you a wedding garment.

Now is the time to stop resisting, and revel in His kindness.  “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” says the prophet Isaiah, “call upon Him while He is near.”  He is as near as the Word that He caused you to hear; as near as His body and blood.  “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts.”  For we are all invited, “both bad and good.”  We are all dependent upon Jesus to be invited.  “Let him return to the Lord,” says Isaiah, “that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

St. Paul exhorts us to make “the best use of the time,” to be wise, since the “days are evil.”  St. Paul invites us to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

This, dear friends, is why we are worthy to come to the table: because He is worthy, and He has invited us.  “Everything is ready.  Come to the wedding feast.”  Amen.

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

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Do the Dead and the Unborn Have a Say in our Society?

In his thoughtful work, Moral Matters: A Philosophy of Homecoming, Irish Roman Catholic writer and philosopher Dr. Mark Dooley makes an eloquent, nearly poetic case for cultural conservatism, based in part on a Chestertonian sense of a cultural and filial duty to the dead.

Dooley sees our lives in a great chain of continuity with our ancestors and with our future descendants rather than the way narcissistic post-moderns - with shockingly short time preferences - only see their immediate desires, with no gratitude and with no consideration of those yet to be born.

Conservatism (Latin: conservare, "to preserve") allows the dead, as it were, to have a say, as G.K. Chesterton famously quipped about tradition being a "democracy of the dead."

In the current battle between traditionalist conservatives who wish to preserve American and Western history - warts and all - versus the largely-socialist iconoclasts who tout grand Utopian dreams of a new "Socialist Man" liberated from so-called "oppression" at the hands of those very traditionalists seen as "oppressors," we are seeing this philosophical clash.  Even if conservatives and radicals can't themselves articulate why they seek to either keep monuments in place, or topple them, I believe Dr. Dooley is spot on about the cultural forces that are smashing into one another, like great tectonic plates, in the current seismic shifts in Western Culture. 

The following comes from Chapter Three ("Dealing with the dead") of his book Moral Matters (2015).  I'm still reading it, but find it not only illuminating but inspiring.  If you are looking for an apologetic for cultural conservatism, one that not only captures our current malaise by connecting it to the Great Tradition of Western thought, look no further.

The last word belongs to Mark Dooley:

"When [Edmund] Burke wrote that great book [Reflections on the Revolution in France], the Jacobins were laying siege to the cultural, religious, and political patrimony of France.  They were doing so in the name of 'liberty, equality, and fraternity', the guiding slogan of all subsequent liberalism.  However, in disconnecting France from her past, the Jacobins favoured the living above the dead and the unborn.  Their aim was to destroy those established institutions which conserved the social, spiritual and historical capital for what Burke called 'absent generations'.  This meant actively forgetting that ours is 'not a partnership in things subservient to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishing nature', but a partnership 'not only between those who are living, but between those who are dead and those who are to be born'.  Burke called this 'the great primeval contract of eternal society'.

"Burke's essential point was that what we have, and who we are, is not something that we (the present trustees of society) make or choose.  Rather, it is a gift transmitted from the dead to be conserved in trust for future generations.  The gifts of the dead are embodied in our customs, values, institutions and cultural monuments, all of which pre-exist the individual and through which his sense of self is nurtured and formed.  It is though these monuments that the dead continue to dwell among the living, thus ensuring intergenerational continuity.  Deconstruct those monuments, however, and you sever the unborn from their 'canonised forefathers' and the world they created.  You silence the voice of the dead, silence their wisdom as it is transmitted through the ages....

"The world contains the consciousness, what Hegel again called the 'spirit' (Geist), of those who went before.  Everything, in other words, has a history which is manifest in and through the object.  If we can tell stories about our homes, belongings, and artefacts, it is because they contain the spirit (Geist) of previous generations.  They contain traces of the dead which animate them for the living.  The dead, as it were, live on through their work and possessions.

"A principal objective of the communist system, as indeed that of the Jacobins, was to exorcise the ghosts of the dead from the land of the living. It did so by attempting to scrape from the surface of the world all trace of the old order.  Art, architecture, and religious iconography were all drained of their character, smashed by the sickle until such time as the world could be redesigned in the image of the 'new socialist man.'  The purpose of this vandalism was to disconnect the living from the dead, to empty the world of its spiritual (Geist) significance.  In that way, or so the communists believed, the people would embrace the future instead of perpetually looking to the past as a guide to the present.  Rather than genuflect before 'canonised forefathers', they would now become subservient to the State and its hollow promises of socialist utopia.  By severing people from their heritage, they sought to deplete the storehouse of memory until such time as it no longer existed.  At its most diabolical, this took the form of Pol Pot's 'year 0', in which the Cambodian dictator sought to erase all vestiges of human history.

"As subsequent events proved, however, the spirit of the past is impossible to completely vanquish.  No matter how hard the advocates of of progress endeavour to silence the dead, we remain haunted by their ancestral voices.  We can, of course, pretend that the dead do not dwell among us.... [w]e can become convinced that we are what we make of ourselves, that we are fully self-sufficient.  That, however, leads only to alienation and a false sense of identity.  By contrast, when conservatives look at the world, they see an omnipresence of ghosts. For them, all objects bear witness to their creators.  Even the so-called 'natural world' is imbued with consciousness, with the signs, traces and marks of those who planned, settled and worked on the surrounding environment.  Understanding the world, and thus oneself, requires learning from the dead, incorporating their consciousness into one's own....  [T]he family and education provide children with their first glimpse of ghosts, their first encounter with a world shaped by absent generations and the debt they are owed.  Hence to undermine the family and traditional education is, once again, to detach from the dead....

"Liberalism has been often criticised for promoting a 'culture of death'.  I prefer to say that it fosters a culture of amnesia or one of denial, in as much as it actively strives to forget the dead by cutting its links to the past.  By driving the deceased out of our mind, we are thereby relieved of having to answer their summons to sacrifice.  We no longer have to undertake the hard work of mourning, memory or recollection.  And when that happens, we can simply ignore 'the great primeval contract of eternal society' between the living, the dead, and 'those who are to be born'.  We need only answer to ourselves, for life begins and ends with us.  But that, once again, is to live in a condition of self-deception.  For, it is only by recognising the dead and by honouring their sacrifices that we can establish who we are and where we came from.  It is only by acknowledging that... we are nothing without those who laboured hard so that we might live in relative ease.  It is only by giving new life to our ghosts, by following their direction and continuing their work, that we can find our way back home.  

"To conserve is to remember and cherish with 'the warmth of their combined and mutually reflected charities, our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars' (Burke). It is to gaze upon the world as one fashioned by our forbears, one abundantly imbued with their spirit and wisdom.  It is to recognise that the rootless, self-sustaining identity which liberalism advocates is an illusion predicated on a denial of dependence, dependence on those who nurtured and shaped us.  It is to foster a culture of thanksgiving in which we offer grace for all things, knowing that they bear the trace of those who sacrificed on our behalf.  However, it also involves the responsibility to ensure that we uphold and maintain existing monuments so that others may one day enjoy their benefits.  

"When looked at in this way, we see that the core message of genuine conservatism is this: standing, as Eliot put it, at the intersection of 'the timeless and time', we, the living, serve to unite, in Burke's majestic words, the 'visible and invisible world'.  That is why conservatism rejects rejection in favour of love: love of those absent others within oneself and of the world they bestowed to us: love of those others who depend on us for their survival and who, one day, will look upon us as their dead, love, in other words, of all those things which can never be made 'the object of choice', and which, when denied, lead not to 'progress' but to an 'antagonistic world of madness, discord, vice, confusion and unavailing sorrow'."

~ Mark Dooley, Moral Matters, pp. 49-56