Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) - 2018

18 February 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The lie is the most dangerous thing in the world.  To go about our daily lives, we have to be able to know what is true.  We make decisions based on information that we receive – often from the word of other people.  One lie can cause us to make a decision that could result in death and destruction.  One untruth can destroy the world.

And in fact, it did.

God gave us a perfect world.  Our ancestors Adam and Eve lived in that perfect world.  They didn’t know what pain, suffering, poverty, or death were.  They didn’t know what sorrow, regret, heartache, or fear felt like.  They had no knowledge of such things, until they were tempted to secure the knowledge of good and evil through partaking of forbidden fruit.  God had forbidden that fruit out of love and mercy for Adam and Eve.  Perhaps he was preparing them for it at some point in the future. 

But one day, the serpent came.  And he did something Adam and Eve had never experienced before: he lied to them.  “You will not surely die,” said the serpent, contradicting God’s warning not to eat of that tree, that one forbidden tree.  Satan lied.  They believed the lie.  They enjoined the lie.  They reveled in the lie.  They lied to themselves and to God.  “You will not surely die,” said the serpent, “for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

But it was a lie.  It was the most destructive lie ever, and that lie ruined life on our planet – for every person and every animal born in history.  It meant not only death, but economic scarcity, struggle to survive, war and conflict, natural disasters, diseases, and every kind of pain and suffering imaginable.  It meant inexplicable evil.  It meant the lust for domination by the strong over the weak.  It meant hatred and covetousness by the weak towards the strong. It meant revolutions and genocides and cruelty beyond imagination over the course of thousands of years.

All because of one lie.

But in the words of a hymn that we will sing in a few weeks, God did not allow the lie to remain, sending our Pascal Lamb to set us free… “Let truth stamp out the lie.”  Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to restore truth and crush the head of the serpent, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

And a confrontation between the Truth and the Lie came as “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” where the lie came to Him to tempt Him, to turn Him from the truth, to enlist Him in the cause of the Lie.  And the serpent did to the second Adam what he did to the first: plying him with temptation.

First, he tempted him to turn stones into bread to appease His hunger, as He was fasting.  Our Lord Jesus Christ truthfully quoted the true Word of God: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Second, the Father of Lies took the Incarnate Truth to the temple, the place where the First Lie in the Garden of Eden continued to result in death on a grand scale through the slaughter of innumerable sacrificial animals.  There the Liar tried to deceive our Lord by means of a distorted truth, urging Him to destroy Himself based on the Scripture: “He will command His angels concerning you” and “On their hands they will bear you up” – two passages that referred to our Lord being protected by the angels. 

Jesus replied, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Finally, the serpent brought his targeted victim of the Great Lie to a mountain, and “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” in the telling of a lie that these kingdoms were his to give away, demanding that Jesus worship him. 

Our Lord replied in truth: “‘Be gone, Satan.  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

And indeed, the truth stamped out the lie, even as the Truth will trample the Liar’s head at the cross.

“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

Dear friends, we live in an age where truth is not only distorted, but many people claim that there is no truth.  This is a Satanic lie.  For Christ is the truth, his Word is true, and the gifts He gave to you at your Holy Baptism: forgiveness, life, and salvation, are truly yours.

And yes, Satan comes to us all the time, lying, tempting us to put faith in ourselves instead of God; tempting us to treat life – even our own – with contempt; tempting us to dominate rather than serve.  Satan tempts us with the same lie uttered to Adam and Eve: “You shall not surely die,” lying to us that our sins don’t matter, that we can justify our rebellion against God, and that there are no consequences for our transgressions.

But there are consequences, dear friends: deadly consequences.  There is a cross: the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, the bloodshed of the only one of our race who stamped out the lie.  He who is true suffered and died for us poor miserable sinners who have chosen to revel in the lie.  He truly died in our place, and how calls us to live in the truth of His love, His mercy, and His triumph over the father of lies.

For when we resist the devil and fight his lies by means of the true Word of God, the devil leaves.  And by the cross and the blood of Christ, the serpent’s head is crushed.  By clinging to the truth, the lie is extinguished.

This is what St. Paul is referring to when he says to us: “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  For in truth, the apostle says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  He speaks of the things the “servants of God” have to commend themselves to this great work of the Gospel, which includes, “truthful speech, and the power of God.”

For in truth is power, dear friends, the power of God.  The darkness of the lie cannot stand against the light of the truth.  Temptation and the tempter cannot stand against the Word of God.  Satan cannot stand against the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The lie, “You will not surely die” has become an ironic truth in Christ, by His cross, through your baptism, empowered by the truth of God’s Word, yes, indeed, the serpent’s lie has become the Lord’s truth.

You shall not surely die because He has surely died, He has surely risen, and He will surely come again.  He comes to stamp out the lie and deliver truth, dear friends, the truth of the Gospel.

The lie is the most dangerous thing in the world.  One untruth can destroy the world.  But conversely, the truth is the most powerful thing in the world.  One truth can and does restore the world: the truth of Christ.  Indeed, dear friends, let truth stamp out the lie!  “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  This is most certainly true! Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2018

14 February 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When a person knows that death is imminent, he sometimes says things like, “I need to get my affairs in order.”  Dying has a tendency to focus us on what is important, on seriously setting priorities. 

Our Lord says as much when He tells us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t save money or be wise with our possessions.  What He is saying is that we need to have our priorities in order.  Should our hearts be set on temporary things?  Should our treasure be on the things of this life that just rot away?  Everything that money can buy will eventually turn to dust and be forgotten.  But think about the non-material things: love, faith, hope, joy.  These things are part of you and will last beyond the grave.  Your soul, your personality, that too is eternal.  Of course, you will rise again bodily, and we Christians will live physically in a new heaven and a new earth, but the old and corrupted and dying and fading away are only temporary. 

Why put your heart and your soul and your treasure into a doomed project?  There are truly better ways to invest.

This is why once a year, six weeks before Easter, and the day after Mardi Gras, we come to church on a Wednesday.  The mood is serious.  The parties are over.  There is a somberness and a renewed sense of purpose about our Christian faith as we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We are all reminded that we suffer from a terminal illness: sin.  On this day, instead of going along as if we will live forever, we reflect on the shortness of our time.  One way or another, whether in our sleep at an old age, whether suddenly in an accident, or after suffering by means of a painful illness, we are all going to die.  It is as certain as that smudge of black dust in the shape of a cross upon your forehead.  Look around at your brothers and sisters.  Look at their faces.  They are dying too.

God is not telling us this in order to depress us, but rather to make us face reality, and put our affairs in order.  “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” dear friends.  Commit to being where Jesus is, each and every week.  Come prepared to hear the Gospel.  Come humbly to the communion rail “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Come and joyfully take part in the one thing that will carry you beyond the grave and will bring you to life eternal: your faith in Jesus Christ.

This is not a call for you to go to work to save yourself, but rather a call for you to get out of the way and allow Jesus to work on you, to prepare you for your own death, so that you might live forever.

Store up your treasures in heaven, dear friends!  Commit to come here to pray.  Commit to financially support your church and other charities.  Commit to offer your time and service not only to this congregation in the abstract, but to your brothers and sisters here, to those elsewhere, and to the Lord Himself! 

For this is the Christian life: our response to the Lord’s grace given to us at Calvary’s cross, and delivered to us at the baptismal font.  The Christian life is that we store up these heavenly treasures when we give to the needy (secretly, not looking for the reward of men); when we pray (not by putting on a show, but by genuinely praying to your Father in heaven); when you fast (not for the sake of the praise of others, but genuinely, as a discipline to deny yourself for the sake of spiritual strengthening).

Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting: these are all “whens” in the life of the Christian according to our Lord’s preaching.  We have just heard it in His own Words recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, and chosen for us to hear as we begin our Lenten journey, striving now to “lay up… treasures in heaven,” getting our affairs in order, and setting our priorities based on what is eternal rather than what is passing and temporary.

The discipline of Lent is not easy, dear friends.  You are not going to be perfect, which itself is a reminder of our need for God’s grace and mercy.  If you could perfectly live the Christian life, you wouldn’t need a Savior.  But of course, dear brothers and sisters, we do. 

And so this Ash Wednesday, this season of Lent, is a holy time, a time of refreshment, a time of prayer and meditation, a time to think about our priorities, to get our affairs in order in response to what Christ has done for us.

No amount to discipline will make you a disciple.  But Jesus has called you in baptism.  He has bidden you to walk with Him day in and day out.  He has enabled you to be absolved of all your sins.  He has made the Word of God available to you like never before.  He has provided proclamation and teaching for your benefit.  He has given you a holy house in which to gather for His gifts.  He has given you His very self upon the cross, His flesh and blood as the atoning sacrifice, His true body and blood also given to you miraculously here in this parish and in churches like it around the world.  Our Lord offers you the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and make you a blessing to others.

He gives all of this to you as a free gift, dear friends!

That, brothers and sisters, is what it means to be a disciple.  That is why you were baptized.  That is why you have been brought here today.  That is why Jesus calls you yet again to put your priorities right. 

That is also why Jesus, in His mercy, has caused your forehead to be marked by the ashes that remind us of our fall into sin and the death that we deserve.  “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  But remember something else, dear brother, dear sister.  Remember the cross.  This is why these ashes are shaped like a cross.  The death that we deserve has been borne by our Lord Jesus Christ.  That sign of the cross is not only a reminder of death, but also of our Lord’s conquest over death.  His victory is your victory.

And even as our Lord rose from the grave, so shall we.  There will be time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, when our time of joy returns, but as for now, we are called to a time of fasting and repentance.  It is a fast that looks forward to the feast.  It is a Lenten repentance that looks forward to our eternal Easter reward in heaven. 

So, dear friends, as we have been reminded once more of our mortality, of the shortness of our time on this side of the grave, even in that sobering reality, let us be joyful, knowing that our Lord bore our sins and carried them to the cross, winning for us victory even over death itself.  Let us gratefully put our affairs in order, prioritize our lives, and lay up treasures in heaven. 

Let us be grateful for the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us, and let us cheerfully share that bounty with others.  Let us reflect on eternity, and live our lives to the fullest, knowing that our time on this side of the grave is fleeting, even as our promised life in eternity is never-ending.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2018

11 February 2018

Text: Luke 18:31-43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished,” says Jesus.  He tells the twelve, as they make their way to Jerusalem, exactly what is going to happen: Jesus will be arrested and given over to the Roman government, mocked, abused, spat upon, flogged, and executed.  And He will rise from the dead.

For Jesus is the Son of Man prophesied by the Old Testament that the disciples had been reading and praying all their lives long.  They knew about the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior predicted by the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms – and now Jesus is clearly telling them that He is that Messiah. 

He is the one that Isaiah predicted will suffer for the sake of the people in order to redeem them from their sins.  And this redemption will be violent.  In fact, it will be a fulfillment of the Passover, in which a spotless lamb’s blood is shed, and its flesh roasted and eaten, in order for the angel of death to pass over the Lord’s chosen people. 

Our Lord’s ministry began when John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  This Lamb comes to bleed, to die, and to become a meal for those whose sins are forgiven. 

Jesus has come into the world to die on a cross, and to rise from death all for the forgiveness of sins, all to make the world right again, all for you, dear friends.

He spells it out to His disciples, “but they understood none of these things.”  For “the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

They would, in time, come to understand.  But as for now, they are blinded to the reality of who Jesus is and what His mission in this world is.

Ironically, right after this shocking blindness of the Lord’s closest students comes an incident with a blind man.  Doing what he can to earn a living, that is, to beg and depend upon the charity of others, the blind man senses that something is happening.  There is a crowd.  He asks what is going on.  “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” he is told.

And then the blind man responds in a way that the disciples do not.  For this blind man sees something that is hidden from them.  He addresses Jesus as “Son of David.”  For the blind man knows his scriptures.  He knows that the Messiah is a descendant of David, the rightful King of Israel.  And he understands that the kingship of Jesus isn’t just one more political office.  For unlike even the great King David, this King, David’s Son, can do miracles.  He can even heal blindness – something doctors and medical technology are unable to do even to this day.

The blind man not only knows the scriptures well enough to see who Jesus is, he also believes the scriptures, that is, he has faith: faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, and faith in His power to bring sight to the blind.

And so the blind man yells with all his might, praying, “Have mercy on me!”  He is so insistent that “those who were in front rebuked him.”  The verbalization of his faith, and his persistence in asking for Jesus to work a miracle is embarrassing and annoying to the rest of the people, those who can see with their eyes but cannot see with the eyes of faith.

“But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

Hearing his prayers, Jesus stops before him.  Jesus asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

The blind man asks for what might seem obvious: to see again.  But there is something profound in his request.  For unlike the disciples who seem to be temporarily blinded about the Messiah before their eyes, the blind man sees who Jesus is, and also sees what His ministry is.  For as a result of this encounter with Jesus, he is made “well.”  This is to say, his imperfection was removed; his heath was restored; he was healed.  And in the Greek language of the New Testament, to be “healed” means to be “saved.” 

Jesus has come to heal, that is, to save.  He has come to cure us of death itself, which is to say, to take away our sins, to be that blood-soaked Lamb whose body receives the wrath of God, and whose flesh is eaten by those whom death passes over.

We too see this, dear friends, in our Divine Service.  For immediately after the bread and wine are consecrated, the pastor holds the host and the chalice before your eyes, and we all sing together: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us!”

The prayer of the blind beggar is our prayer, dear brothers and sisters.  We too pray for mercy.  We too pray for forgiveness.  We too pray to have our eyes opened to the reality of eternal life in Christ by the grace and mercy and love of God, though we don’t deserve it.  The angel of death has passed us over, and we cry out, “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord, have mercy.”  We know who the Son of David is.  And like the blind man, we see well enough in our blindness to cry out all the more, even if the world is annoyed or embarrassed and it rebukes us.

And even as the Lord told the blind man who recovered his sight: “Your faith has made you well,” so too, dear friends, does our faith make us well.  Jesus offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation according to the promise of the Holy Scriptures, and when we believe the promise, the promise becomes a reality, and salvation is ours, by the grace and mercy of the Lord, the Son of David.

And this is what it means to be a Christian, dear friends.  We did not heal ourselves, but we have been healed, by the Son of David, by the Lord.  And in faith, we receive the promise and the gift, and we are made well.  We recover our own sight, we follow Jesus, and we glorify God.

The story of the blind beggar is our story.  It is the church’s story, the Holy Christian Church whose members never cease, day in and day out, century after century, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” when we gather together to glorify God, and to pray for His gifts, when we worship Him, hear anew the prophecies and promises of Scripture, and when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb.

We see Him in the breaking of the bread.  We see because we have been made well through our faith in Him who heals us, who saves us.

“Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us,” now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Get Off My Lawn!

For my 54th birthday yesterday, we did something decadent: we watched a movie. Gran Torino is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it is a Christian film.

Mind you, it's filled with a plethora of untamed vulgar language (the trailer has been cleaned up considerably) and enough ethnic slurs to turn just about any woke millie college student into a hyperventilating quivering mess desperately seeking the dean of diversity and a pacifier. So refreshing and funny!

It is classic Eastwood: a tough guy - Walt Kowalski - scarred by his dark past who finds heroic redemption when faced with injustice in his neighborhood. The ironic and iconic imagery is unquestionably Christian (at least if you know what to look for - most people probably won't catch it) - but I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. It is one of the few movies since the 1940s in which the priest is a good guy. The movie has held up well in the ten years since its release.

This is a great underrated piece of moviemaking. All of the classic elements of profound narrative are found in this film. It is a story of good and evil, of love and redemption, of sin and forgiveness, of unapologetic masculine courage - so unlike most of the useless and limp soft-porn dullard-slop SJW agitprop that comes out of WeinsteinTown these days.

One of the funniest and most enigmatic quips in the film comes from Eastwood's character: "Everybody blames the Lutherans." I would love to know where that line came from!

This is one you can watch and enjoy again and again.

Now get off my lawn!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Sermon: Sexagesima - 2018

4 February 2018

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

You are dirt! 

Well, Jesus says so anyway.  The nicer way to put it is “soil.”  This parable of Jesus is called “The Parable of the Sower,” but some of the church fathers called it: “The Parable of the Soils.”

Like all of our Lord’s parables, this is a story of analogies.  Each person and thing in the story stands for something else: something in the kingdom of God.  And in this parable, our Lord actually helps us to understand it by explaining it to the disciples.  By the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we are allowed to listen in.

The story is a familiar one, and begins with a scene that dates back to the days of Adam.  “A sower went out to sow his seed.”  A farmer is planting.  Every human being on the planet eats because of this simple, and yet powerful action: a person putting a seed into the dirt, whether manually or with a machine, whether haphazardly – as in this parable – or with great scientific precision.  This is a story that pretty much everyone can relate to: even people who live in the city.  For we all eat food grown in the soil.

In our Lord’s story, there are four classes of soil: the path, the rock, the thorns, and the “good soil.” 

Our sower casts his first seed onto the path.  This is ground that has been hardened through people walking on it.  The seeds can’t break through the tough exterior.  And since the seed just sits there, birds come and take it away.  The second seed is sown in the shallow rocky soil, where it grows quickly, but the dryness and the shallowness of the soil cause the death of the little plant.  The third seed lands among thorns, where it grows, but cannot compete for what it needs to remain alive, and the plant dies.  But the fourth seed lands on “good soil,” where it does what seeds are naturally programmed to do: to grow, mature, bear fruit, and reproduce – even yielding a hundred new seeds.

Of course, the first three soils represent various degrees of failure, but the fourth represents success: the seed doing just what it was designed to do.  And it will do just that if not interfered with by bad soil.

And that’s it.  That’s the end of the story.  It is remarkable for its unremarkableness. Some of Jesus’ listeners were probably puzzled.  Some were probably bored.  Some probably didn’t get it at all, wondering why they are getting a lecture on farming from a carpenter and rabbi.  For without the key, without knowing the analogy, this story is a mystery. 

We know this because St. Luke revealed a post-parable conversation with the disciples, who had asked their professor “what this parable meant.”  Their rabbi, our Lord, replied, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

Our Lord then breaks down the symbolism of the parable, beginning with, “The seed is the Word of God.”  The sower of the seed is the preacher of the Word.  The soils that receive the seed are the hearers of the preacher.  And, just as different types of soil receive the seeds with varying degrees of success, it’s the same with us, dear friends.  Sometimes the Word of God sinks into us, and sometimes it doesn’t. 

If we harden our hearts and don’t care about the Word, it will not imbed itself into us.  It will lie there, vulnerable, to be snatched away by Satan.  If we resist the Word and only allow it to come to us in a shallow way, we may see some growth, but we will quickly see decline, as our faith is not rooted.  We can especially lose our faith in times of “testing.”  Additionally, we may not actively resist the Word, but our lives may be so busy with “the cares and riches and pleasures of life,” that our faith is crippled, choked out by other things that take priority, whether work or pleasure.  The result is the same: death.  And in that kind of death, there is no “maturity,” no bearing of fruit, and no passing along the faith to others. 

Jesus is warning us about all the ways we can push away His life-saving Word.  For the Word of God is the power of the Gospel.  It is forgiveness, life, and salvation.  It is the defeat of sin, death, and the devil.  It is the fruit of the cross.  To be the good soil is to enjoy our eternal destiny in the kingdom of God, bearing fruit just as we were created to do, meant to do, and will naturally do – unless we ourselves get in the way.

And that, dear friends, is really the lesson of the Parable of the Sower: don’t get in the way of the Word of God – not by indifference, not by shallowness, not by putting priority on things of lesser importance.  This is how we squander our baptisms; this is how we throw away the riches that God gives us by His free grace and mercy; this is how we freely choose to condemn ourselves instead of getting out of the way and letting God be God, letting the Word do its work, letting Jesus save us and make or lives complete.

For ultimately, dear friends, we are dirt. 

And dirt can do nothing good.  Dirt just sits there.  Dirt doesn’t make the seed grow.  But dirt can crush the natural work of God to nurture His beloved creation the way a farmer tends his field.  So as dirt, our job is to receive the Word, to get out of the way, to let the “seed” make things happen according to its nature.  And make no mistake, dear brothers and sisters, the Word of God does make things happen.  You may find it hard to believe, but it is as natural as a little seed being put into the dirt where it grows.  You don’t have to know how it works, but it does.  You don’t have to have a degree in biology for the complex imbedded DNA to multiply cells and turn the tiny speck into a massive plant – bearing fruits to feed creation, and bearing more seeds to sustain creation.  The seed is the work of God; the soil does nothing but get out of the way.

The lesson of the Parable of the Sower is to be where the seed is cast.  Don’t resist the work of the seed, or foolishly become shallow or too busy for the Word of God to work in your life.  The Word of God is a free gift.  It will change you, save you, and sustain you throughout your life.  It will likewise change, save, and sustain your children and your children’s children, your coworkers, your friends, your relatives, and anyone else God puts in your path.  That is how you received the Word, and it is how others will receive the Word in the future.  After all these centuries, and with all of our tools and technology – it still boils down to this: a sower, a seed, and soil.  That is where life comes from!  That is how we are fed!  That is how life is multiplied on our planet and in the kingdom of heaven.

Yes, indeed, dear friends, we are dirt. 

Jesus has said so.  For we are where the Sower, that is, God Himself, has chosen to sow the seed of His Word: into us.  His Word changes us from sinners to saints, saves us from death and hell, and sustains us even unto eternal life.  Let us get out of the way, receive the Word, and rejoice in wonder at the growth and life that are ours by virtue of the power of the Word and the loving work of the Sower.


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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sermon: Septuagesima - 2018

28 January 2018

Text: Matt 20:1-16

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We live in a culture of contradictions. 

On the one hand, we live in the age of the participation trophy, where everybody gets a prize just for playing.  On the other hand, we practically worship the players and coaches of the teams that win the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NCAA National Championship.

On the one hand, we live in the age of expecting equal outcomes for everyone based on every imaginable way to categorize people.  On the other hand, we’re a status-driven culture, where we’re judged by our houses, our cars, our watches, our tennis shoes, and by just about any other silly way to establish a pecking order between people, where having bigger and more expensive stuff adds to one’s personal value and reputation.

So it’s especially interesting to see how people respond to the truth of what Christianity is, what Jesus actually teaches, why our Lord came into our world, and why it makes a difference to be a Christian instead of something else.

Almost nobody really understands what Christianity is, and that includes a lot of Christians.

Christianity is not about being nice.  Sometimes Jesus just plain isn’t.  Christianity isn’t about being a good person and going to heaven.  Nobody is that good.  Christianity isn’t about short-term political and social considerations.  Those change with every generation, and as it seems now, with every month.  Jesus isn’t here to validate your feelings about sexuality, or to promise you a private jet if you have enough faith, or to teach the world that everybody gets a trophy and nobody is wrong, nor to only bring people into His kingdom who happen to be the right ethnic background.  Jesus is not here to reward you because He is impressed with you, because He’s really not.

All the attempts to make Jesus into one’s own image fail.

And this is why our Lord tells parables.  He teaches us about Himself, about us, and about His kingdom.  “The kingdom of heaven is like…” begins many of His parables, including this one: the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  This story is delightfully shocking, as it has the power to offend just about everyone: those on the Left who think Jesus offers “social justice” to people based on identity politics, as well as those on the Right who think that somehow they earn God’s favor for being right.  The Lord’s kingdom is based on equality, but not the kind that most people say they want.  The Lord’s kingdom is based on the right of the property owner to do whatever he wants, but of course it is God who owns everything.  There is something here to scandalize everyone in our fallen world.

The kingdom of heaven is not like anything on this earth!

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house,” says Jesus, who goes out to hire workers.  This master pays them each a denarius a day, the going rate set by the market – not by law, not by intimidation, not by a sense of charity.  He offers a denarius a day, and strikes a contract with these all-day workers.

Two hours later, he needs more workers.  He offers them “whatever is right.”  And they agree.  There is agreement about “what is right.”  There are no arguments based on “your reality” and “my reality” or objections that “right” is subjective and unknowable.  The deal is struck, and the workers enter the vineyard.

He finds more workers at noon, and then at three.  He makes the same deal with them.  And then, with one hour left in the twelve hour workday, the master hires these poor guys who have been passed up all day, and they work only an hour.

“And when evening came,” says, Jesus, “the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”

And here, dear brothers and sisters, is where things get really interesting.  The guys that worked only one hour were paid a denarius.  A whole denarius!  That’s a whole day’s wage for one hour!  The guys who worked all day heard about this, and they were excited, as they presumed that they would get a lot more than a denarius.

But they didn’t.  They received just what the master told them they would receive: one denarius.  A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.  And they are furious.  They grumble.  They object that it is unfair to pay them a denarius, the same as the guys who worked one hour.  After all, they bore “the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

And here is where Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of heaven.  The master replies, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

Dear friends, we have an over-inflated view of what we are worth.  We really think God “owes us something.”  We really think that we deserve God’s grace.  We really think that we are better than others.  It’s called sin.  And if you don’t suffer from it, then you don’t need a Savior.  But if you do need a Savior (and you do), then you need the Savior’s grace.  That is what this parable is about.  That is what the kingdom is about.  That is what Jesus is about.

That’s what the denarius coins represent, dear brothers and sisters.  God graciously “pays” his workers not what they deserve, but what they need.  Because, frankly, if we were paid what we deserve, we would be cast into hell.  But instead, we are baptized and redeemed, paid the “denarius” of Christ’s blood that admits us into the kingdom – whether we live to be a hundred, or die in infancy, whether we suffer martyrdom for the sake of Jesus, or whether we live a long comfortable life.  It isn’t our business how God shows mercy to others.  He is allowed to do what He chooses with what is His.  And far be it from us to begrudge His generosity! 

Instead of grumbling, dear friends, let us rejoice!  Instead of complaining that someone else got a denarius, let us live a life of joy that we have been made rich by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, offered as an atonement for your sins, and even poured into the cup for you to drink as the very Word of God delivered to you in Holy Communion.

Don’t begrudge someone else eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood!  Don’t be offended that someone else receives Holy Absolution!  Don’t look at the screaming baby at the baptismal font with contempt that he also receives the denarius of salvation even though he has arrived at this world in the eleventh hour.  Rather let us enjoy the kindness of our master and the richness of His grace!  Let us be grateful that the Lord calls others to work in His vineyard and join us in the field to work for Him who makes us rich beyond measure! 

Let us remember that the kingdom of heaven is not like this fallen, brutal, dog-eat-dog world.  Rather the kingdom of heaven is the realm of our King, who knows all, who sees all, who loves all.  And in His mercy, “the last will be first, and the first last.”  And that is not a contradiction, but rather a demonstration of the Lord’s boundless grace and mercy, a denarius given to us for His labor, though we don’t deserve it.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon: Transfiguration - 2018

21 January 2018

Text: Matt 17:1-9

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is a dramatic event.  It was, of course, something the three apostles Peter, James, and John would never forget.  And it is something that we don’t forget either, as the church remembers this remarkable revelation of who Jesus is each year as we make our way to Lent, to Good Friday, and to Easter.

Our Lord takes the three of them up a mountain.  His face and clothes glow with a blast of radiant light.  Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.  Peter says something about building tents for the three of them.  Then there is a cloud and the voice of God the Father announcing approval of His Son Jesus.  The three disciples are “terrified” and they fall to the ground.  And then it is all over, that quick.  Everything goes back to normal, and all they see is Jesus: “Jesus only.”  And then Jesus tells them to keep quiet about all of this, “until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

I gave you a quick rundown of this incident as recorded in our Gospel reading, but I left out a detail.  Maybe you missed it.  It goes by so quickly, and it doesn’t seem important, so you might not have caught it.  But it is a detail that was so important that the Evangelist made sure that it was included in his account right at the beginning, and the Holy Spirit has made sure that you heard it today.

The three words at the beginning of this reading are: “After six days.”

“After six days.”

So why is this important?  Well, six days prior, Peter, the leader of the apostles and of our Lord’s inner circle of Peter, James, and John, confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God.”  And Jesus told Peter that this confession was revealed to him by the Father. 

This is a crucial turning point for our Lord and for the church.  For the revelation of who Jesus is hasn’t been completed – even after Peter’s confession.  Our Lord is going to take Peter with two witnesses and really make it clear who He is, why He is here, and what is going to happen in the future. 

And once again, this entire revelation is set off by the words “after six days.”

What happens after six days, dear friends?  After six days, comes the seventh day, the Sabbath, the weekly Day of Rest that we Christians keep as “The Lord’s Day,” that is “Sunday.”  While the pagan world chose to honor the sun, the brightest star in our sky that blazes with light, we Christians honor a different kind of Son: the Son of God and Son of Man, whose light is uncreated and divine.  Their sun is created, whereas our Son is the Creator.

“After six days” reminds us that the universe was created in six days, and “after six days,” God rested.  He rested from His labors, and He called creation “very good.”  “In the beginning, God created,” says the first verse of the first book of the Bible.  “In the beginning was the Word,” says the first verse of the last Gospel in the Bible.  In the beginning was God, and in the beginning was the Word by whom all things were made.  “After six days,” after the creation, after the Word declared, “Let the be light, and there was light,” after the universe was created and after the man Adam, who was to become the earthly ancestor of Jesus, after the six days of creation, Jesus comes into our world to fix it, to rescue us, to shine light into the dark places of our sinful world and our sinful flesh, to enlighten us with the Gospel and the revelation that He is God in the flesh, that the Father is well-pleased, and that the “Son of Man” will indeed be “raised from the dead.”

“After six days,” Jesus speaks to Moses and Elijah, conversing with the Law and the Prophets, as the One who fulfills both the law and the prophets.  He reveals who He is to the disciples, and He blazes with glorious and frightening light.  This is the unvarnished and unveiled glory and might of God.  “After six days” He has come into the world to be the world’s Sabbath rest, to spend the sixth day on the cross and in the tomb, to die for us and in our place, to defeat Satan himself by atoning for us and rescuing us from the devil’s clutches.  “After six days,” He announces, “It is finished,” and the Father’s words, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” are brought to their fulfillment upon the cross, as the Son flawlessly and faithfully obeys the Father’s will, and creation is redeemed, all “after six days.”

“After six days” comes the Sabbath, His rest in the tomb, and at the end of that Sabbath, comes the Eighth Day, the First Day of the new creation. “After six days” Jesus will come again to restore creation to its glory with a New Heaven and a New Earth!

Dear friends, we don’t see the Lord in His full transfigured glory “after six days,” but we do see a revelation of Jesus as He has revealed Himself to us.  For “after six days” comes our own mountaintop experience, the revelation of Jesus Christ, as we too hear the voice of God in the Scriptures, and we too see Jesus change form before our eyes.  We see bread and wine, but we know that by His Word and mighty power, by His promise, and by His fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, we hear the voice of God proclaim: “This is My body.  This is My blood.”  We fall to our knees, and we too pray, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” 

For we too experience the cross and the resurrection, the creation and the condummation of time, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the “after six days” of the Lord Jesus Christ coming among us, revealing Himself to us, and shining the light of His grace and His countenance upon us.  And “after six days” we too lift up our eyes and see “Jesus only” as our weekly Divine Service is all about His Word and His presence, His faithfulness to us in the forgiveness of our sins, in His perfect obedience to the Father, and with His invitation to us to “rise and have no fear” having eaten His body and having drunk His blood unto eternal life. 

We too come down the mountain, and we too leave this holy ground to go back to our own ordinary lives.  But “after six days,” we have the privilege to return.

But unlike Peter, James, and John, we are not under a restriction.  For the Son of Man has indeed been raised from the dead.  We confess His resurrection, and we confess His coming among us in the flesh.  And “after six days” we will confess yet again that He comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, that He appeared to Peter, James, and John, that He was indeed crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day, He rose again.  “After six days” we will again remember our baptism, confess our sins, hear the good news, and meet with Him anew in the miracle of His presence in the Holy Communion, week in and week out, on the Lord’s Day and wherever and whenever the Church gathers in His name by His grace. 

And when our last hour on this side of the grave comes, we can die in the faith “after six days,” knowing that we will have our own Sabbath rest, assured of lifting up our eyes and seeing “Jesus only” when He raises us to eternal life, “after six days.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sermon: Epiphany 2 - 2018

14 January 2018

Text: John 2:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If there is one human institution that shouldn’t be controversial at all, one that binds all people of all times together because of overall agreement, it should be marriage.  For the entire gamut of human history, men and women have left their parents, married a partner of the opposite sex, and typically have brought forth children from this union.  The marriage usually begins by a ceremony and a celebratory meal, and is shared by the families and the community.

This pattern is virtually universal across times and places, across cultures and religions.  It is natural, biological, seems to be psychologically and sociologically satisfying, and is the basis of society and civilization.

It should be no surprise that our Lord chose a wedding feast to perform this “the first of His signs.”  For there is nothing more human, ordinary, natural, and joyful than a wedding.  But there is also something supernatural as well, for our Lord said that God puts men and women together in marriage, and that the two become “one flesh.”  This transcends what we see with our eyes when men and women join together in holy matrimony.

It is also interesting that our Lord chose water and wine to be the substances involved in this first miracle, this first manifestation of His glory in His ministry.  For our earth is mostly water, and wine is a result of the natural fermentation of the fruits of the earth.  But there is also something supernatural in this miracle of Jesus as well, for water doesn’t naturally become wine.  And even the natural rules of hospitality are turned on their head by our good and merciful Lord Jesus, who unlike “everyone” who “serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine,” instead has kept “the good wine” until the end.

Given that in Scripture, Jesus is called the Bridegroom and the Church is called the Bride, we can see how He uses the example of marriage and a wedding feast to teach us about the kingdom, and about Himself.  For in a marriage, the two become one flesh in a way that is both natural and supernatural.  Our Lord Jesus was born into our world both naturally, as a boy borne by His mother, but also in a supernatural way, born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the eternal Word made flesh.

And what about the Bride?  We Christians are natural human beings living in a natural world.  And when we partake of the intimacy of Holy Communion, we truly eat bread and truly drink wine – even as the attendees of that wedding feast at Cana in Galilee did, even as people have been doing in ordinary meals for thousands of years.  And yet, our Holy Communion is also supernatural, for our Lord said, “This is My body” and “this cup is the New Testament in My blood,” all “for the forgiveness of sins.”  This is indeed a meal, but it is not ordinary.  It is just as miraculous and wondrous as that first of the Lord’s signs when He turned the water into wine through His Word and by His own will and power, delegating authority to the servants by whose hands our Lord worked the miracle (even as His mother told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you”).

Our Lord’s sign: His use of His Word to transform brokenness into completeness, lack into plenty, shame into joy, and disbelief into faith, is repeated every time His Bride gathers in His presence and celebrating the eternal feast according to His Word.  In this ordinary and extraordinary meal, we enjoy a physical and spiritual union with our Lord and our God, who joins Himself to us in a great sacramental mystery, forgiving our sins, and drawing us to Himself in an extraordinarily ordinary way.

We do just as Blessed Mary advised the servants that day: “Do whatever He tells you.”

He has told us: “Do this in memory of Me.”  He has told us: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  He has told us, “If you forgive anyone His sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  He has told us to preach and to teach and to confess Him according to our various callings and vocations.  He has told us to forgive others their sins, to ask forgiveness of those whom we sin against, to partake of His body and blood, to hear His Word, to pray, praise and give thanks, to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Our Lord has come to us who were starving in brokenness, and has given us a banquet in fulfilment.  He has come to us in our poverty of alienation from God, and has given us riches beyond measure in His grace and mercy and divine communion.  He has come to us in our mortal life of struggle with sin, and has delivered to us eternal life and His very righteousness as a free and full gift, won for us at the cross, and delivered to us by His Word, and placed before us as a meal of union and of communion under bread and wine.

This was indeed the first of our Lord’s signs, but it was not to be the last.  Nobody could have predicted what was to come when the Lord turned water into wine at Cana in Galilee that day, but we know what happens, dear friends.  We have seen not only this manifestation of His glory, but also its fulfillment in His laying down His life for His Bride at the cross, in His glorious resurrection from the dead, and in His miraculous ongoing feast of bread and wine (now become His body and blood through His Word spoken by His servants).

For our Lord has saved the best for last, that is, the wine of His blood and the bread of His body, the Word of His cross, the proclamation of His Gospel, our redemption by His sacrifice, and our resurrection to eternal life by means of His resurrection.

And while the world has taken even the simplicity of marriage and twisted it into a confused mess out of step with nature and stripped of that which makes it supernatural, our Lord Jesus Christ does the very opposite, dear friends.  Rather taking the natural and blessing it with the supernatural, taking something ordinary and making it holy, and elevating the common to the realm of the glorious: all as a wedding gift for His Bride.  

We continue to “do whatever He tells” us in this celebratory meal and eternal feast, as He manifests His glory, and we believe in Him!


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

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sermon: Epiphany (transferred) - 2018

7 January 2018

Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The inventor Thomas Edison conducted thousands of experiments before getting a successful lightbulb.  It must have been a cause of great joy when, at last, his invention lit up and stayed glowing.  One can only wonder if he knew then just how much this invention would not just change the world, but revolutionize the lives of billions of people from that time forth.

Similarly, one has to wonder if the Magi realized the revolution happening in the world by the coming of the boy King whom they visited, following the light of a star in order to come and worship Him, to bring gifts, and then to bring this good news to the Gentiles, who would grow to be billions of people through the passing of millennia.

The light of the Christ Child coming into the world was something spoken of by the prophets, including Isaiah, whose words of revelation resound among us still: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  For the prophet understands the fallen world, our struggle against sin, death, and the devil, the “darkness” that ravages the earth, and the “thick darkness” that plagues the peoples. 

It is as though our sins rolled back the creation from the command of the very Word of God: “Let there be light!” and falling back into chaos with our rebellious flesh defiantly demanding: “Let there be darkness!”

Since the fall in Eden, dear friends, we have been struggling with the darkness: the darkness of our souls, the darkness of the hearts of man, the darkness of confusion and brokenness, and the darkness of the tomb.

But God did not leave us in the dark.  Once again, by means of the Word of God, He commanded anew: “Let there be light!”  For the light came into our world in Jesus Christ: Light of Light, very God of very God.”  For “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The “darkness has not overcome it,” dear friends, for “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

This is why our Christian art depicts the magi visiting the Holy Family at the manger, when in fact, their visit was maybe a couple years later, not in a stable but in a house.  The point is that the visit of the magi, led by the star, is closely connected to the birth of Jesus.  Furthermore, it took them a long time to travel by the light of the star from the east to the place where the prophecy of Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come” was fulfilled in the infant body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice how the theme of light illuminates our readings today, even as the word “epiphany” means a “shining forth” or a “revealing.”  It is like then Moses came down from the mountain and his unveiled face shone with the reflected light of God, or later, when the Lord Jesus figuratively takes off his veil at the mountain of transfiguration, and Peter, James, and John will see Him dazzling with light in His full glory.

The other theme in our readings, in addition to the shining of light to overcome the darkness, is the fact that this light is not only there to illuminate the chosen people of Israel.  For in Christ, God chooses His people from among all peoples, all nations, the Jews and the Gentiles, children of Abraham whether by blood or by adoption.

To St. Paul, this was a “mystery… made known… by revelation.”  The word “revelation” is literally an “unveiling.”  When the veil is removed, the light shines, exposing the reality of who Jesus is: the Savior of the entire world!  As St. Paul elaborates: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, partakers of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

And St. Paul was given grace “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone” so that we have “boldness and access” – access to God that was formerly denied to us in our dark past – “with confidence through our faith in Him.”

The coming of the magi is a clear fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “the wealth of the nations” – “nations” being the same word translated as ‘Gentiles’ – “shall come to you. A multitude of camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.  They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”

This good news radiating from the Word Made Flesh, this manifestation of the living God in the form of the baby King of the Jews is not only for the Jews but also for the far-off Gentiles.  He has come to redeem all the peoples who formerly lived in darkness.  The Word that declared, “Let there be light” in the beginning is making a new beginning, coming into our world as light, and the world has come to worship Him, our uncreated Light, by the light of a created star.

The magi offer creaturely gifts to the Creator, gifts that ultimately already belong to Him.  This is the same thing that we do, dear friends, making offerings to our Lord even though He lacks nothing, and already owns all things.  In giving, the magi were not enriching Jesus, but were enriching themselves.  For this was an act of love, of worship, of faith, and of the confession before God and man that this baby is indeed both God and Man, and He is a King to be worshiped!

And no matter how the forces of darkness scowl and rage and lash out, they cannot extinguish this light!  Herod wanted to know where to find the Child so as to snuff out His life, but Herod’s dark mission would fail.  For “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 

Not even the darkness that enveloped the dying Jesus on the cross could extinguish this light.  Not even the darkness of the tomb in which our Lord’s body was laid could snuff it out.  Not even the darkness of our own sin and the dark lies of the devil can extinguish the Light of Christ!  For the Light came into the world to destroy the darkness of sin by atoning for it, to obliterate the darkness of death by vanquishing it, and to eradicate the darkness of Satan by conquering him.

And just as the still, small voice bears the Word of God, and just as a single candle chases away the darkness, so too does the tiny baby Jesus – His very presence in our dark world – forever deliver the brightness of the Gospel to us, to all peoples, to Jews and Gentiles, even as we reflect back a small portion of His light and His love in our gifts.

Edison’s tiny bulb forever broke the hold of darkness over the life of mankind in this material world.  But the baby Jesus is the eternal “light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome,” whose light brings us into eternal light and life with God, so that you, dear brothers and sisters, “shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.”

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  Amen.

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

Friday, January 05, 2018

The more things change...

Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823-1883)
When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three.  It begins by asking toleration.  It's friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others.  The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.  Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights.  Truth and error are two balancing forces.  The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality.  It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth.  We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is the truth, is partisanship.  What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental.  Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential.  Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church.  Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them.  From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy.  Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time.  Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points.  It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church's faith, but in consequence of it.  Their recommendation is that they repudiate the faith, and position is given to them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.
     ~ Charles Porterfield Krauth, (1871)

Who was the better scholar, Luther or Erasmus?

Dr. E. Christian Kopff's paper, presented here at the CCLE's 17th annual conference (Summer 2017) might surprise you!  Dr. Kopff analyzes the great knock-down-drag-out scholarly clash between Desiderius Erasmus (Freedom of the Will) and Martin Luther (Bondage of the Will) in their citation and use of classical writers in their famous works on free will and its limits.

Dr. Kopff (University of Colorado - Boulder and the American Academy in Rome) is the author of the remarkable book The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (2000).

I had the privilege of being right up front for this presentation (held as a wonderful restaurant in Cheyanne, Wyoming), and it is always  great pleasure to hear Dr. Kopff speak!

Correcting the Record on Luther

In response to opinions expressed by Renzo Puccetti in this piece published in American Conservative: "The Dangers of Theosentimentalism" by Rod Dreyer, my friend Dr. William Tighe, a Roman Catholic history professor and scholar at Muhlenberg College, corrects some mistaken information regarding Martin Luther and modern Lutherans:
It is unfortunate, to say the least, that such a cri de coeur as that of Renzo Puccetti, should contain such a statement (thus rendering it liable, sadly, to casual dismissal) as this:
“Please someone tell me, how a simple Catholic could keep his sensus fidelium, infallibilis in credendo, when the founder of the Lutherans, who approve of abortion, contraception, IVF, euthanasia and gay marriage, who don’t believe into the virginity of Our Lady, or in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in body, blood and divinity, not to mention a number of other truths of faith, is celebrated as a renovator rather than a destroyer.” 
I’m hardly an admirer of Luther (and Richard Rex’s book has reenforced my distaste for him), but fair is fair, after all.
Modern “liberal Lutherans,” like many other “liberal ‘Christians,'” may “approve of approve of abortion, contraception, IVF, euthanasia and gay marriage” and may not “believe into ( sic ) the virginity of Our Lady, or in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in body, blood and divinity,” but “the founder of the Lutherans” (by which he can only mean Martin Luther) would almost certainly have opposed “abortion, contraception, IVF, euthanasia and gay marriage” had they entered his imagination as imaginable things, or things which any Christians might accept or practice; and, in fact, Luther did believe into “the virginity of Our Lady” (both as regards the conception of Our Lord, and also her “perpetual virginity,” in which Zwingli and Calvin also believed) and also “the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in body, blood and divinity” (and furiously attacked other Reformers who denied it, considering their views on the “Lord’s Supper” far worse in this respect than those of the “papists”).
A believing Catholic might perhaps stigmatize Luther as “the original Protestant,” but he was neither (in his own day or subsequently) “the typical Protestant” (as regards denial of central Catholic beliefs and practices) or “a Liberal Protestant.” Rather, Lutherans who embrace “abortion, contraception, IVF, euthanasia and gay marriage” and who deny “the virginity of Our Lady, or … the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in body, blood and divinity” demonstrate by those very facts how far they have forsaken the “faith of their founder.”
Thank you, Dr. Tighe, for your commitment to truth and accuracy!

Feminization of the Church

The following talk was given by the Rev. Dr. Steve Hein at the 2017 Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education's 17th annual conference in Cheyanne, Wyoming (#CCLEXVII).

Dr. Hein takes up the thorny topic of gender in the church.  But this isn't what you think.  This has nothing to do with "gender identity" and transgenderism.

Rather, he addresses the symptom of modern western churches largely being unrepresented by male parishioners, and the effects which flow from this disparity.  Dr. Hein traces this phenomenon historically - and surprisingly, it isn't rooted in the modern feminist movement, but dates back to the Middle Ages.  This is not only an intriguing topic in terms of history and theology, it is a pastoral issue as well - especially considering the role of fathers in the propagation of the faith to their children and the future of Christianity in the West.

Here are links to the audio:
Other audio and video from the many outstanding presentations can be found here.

A couple of books that Dr. Hein refers to in his presentation are:
A couple of works by Dr. Hein that you might find of interest:

Thank you, Dr. Hein, for tackling this controversial and crucial issue to the life and faith of not only ourselves, but our descendants as they battle the world, the devil, and the sinful flesh.  I encourage everyone to listen to his presentation and think about what can be done in your own family and parish for the sake of the Gospel.

What father tells the oncologist of their cancer-stricken child that they will not make their next appointment because it conflicts with her soccer game?  And yet, recent statistics suggest that many of our children baptized as infants joined many a soccer league, but never made it to their confirmation as adolescents.
~ Rev. Dr. Steve Hein

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Christmas 1 - 2018

3 January 2018

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (Isa 11:1-5, 2 Sam 7:1-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As the church drags her feet to continue our Christmas celebration, we are reminded of just how revolutionary our Lord’s coming was. 

Seven hundred years before the Lord’s birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him as “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” and “a branch from his roots.”  This is alluded to in one of the lines of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” 

For Jesse was the father of David: the boy who slew the giant, the man after God’s own heart, the mighty king of Israel whose descendant would sit on the throne forever.  But the line of Jesse seemed to have come to an end.  For his kingdom divided into civil war, chaos, and division.  The northern Kingdom, Israel, had already been wiped from the face of the earth by the time of Isaiah.  And Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was taken into captivity in Babylon in the sixth century BC.  And while the people returned to rebuild the Temple, they did not restart their kingdom.  They found themselves ruled by Persians, then Greeks, then Romans.  The tree that represented the children of Israel was like an old, dead, dry stump.

It remained so until the coming of Jesus, when a fresh green sprout grew out of that stump: the shoot from the stump of Jesse.  For that little child Jesus is a restarting of the People of God, the King who has appeared in the most unlikely of births.

Israel was old and worn out, tired and so long under occupation that nobody could remember what it was like to live in one’s own country under one’s own king.  And there were all of these hopeful prophecies that just never seemed to come true, year after year, generation after generation, century after century.  It was as though winter had become permanent, and a chilling darkness settled over the nation, without hope of even a ray of sunshine.

And yet, the old ones held on.  Simeon, the elderly priest, clung to life because he had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he “would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  And like Abraham who believed God’s promise of a son, even as he continued aging and was nearly a century old, St. Simeon refuses to disbelieve.  Simeon clings to the Word of God no matter who may scoff or simply abandon belief.  For God always keeps His Word.  So Simeon is “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And another elderly Saint, Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, was an eighty-four year old widow whose life was devoted to serving God in the temple: “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  How ridiculous she must have looked to the young women!  Anna waited around “for the redemption of Jerusalem,” wasting her life with religion when everybody knows that this does no good. 

The old ones – at least these old ones – kept the faith while others made fun of them, or ignored them, getting on with the more important things in life.

So Simeon waited for consolation and Anna waited for redemption.  They waited as their bodies aged.  They waited as time passed.  They waited while everything seemed to go on as always.

And then it happened: a bolt from the blue!  The tender green shoot pushed its way out of the worn and dry old stump that people couldn’t even be bothered to dig out.  The virgin conceived and bore a Son: the Son of David, Emmanuel, Jesus!  The Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords: the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world!  “Righteousness shall be the belt of His waist, and faithfulness the belt of His loins.”  Righteousness was to console Simeon and faithfulness was to redeem Anna.

When Mary and Joseph brought the Christ Child to the temple “according to the custom of the Law,” St. Simeon realized that his wait was over!  He held the Child and blessed God: “Lord, you are now letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word.”  St. Simeon had seen the Christ child and was now free to “depart in peace.”  His eyes saw salvation, prepared by God for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.  Simeon had a blessing and a prophecy for Mary and Joseph – for this work of Jesus was not going to be easy.  There would be resistance.  There would be war.  Mary herself would suffer the mother’s worst nightmare of seeing her Son suffer and die before her eyes. 

But Simeon knew what this meant: Christ was in our world to “strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips, He shall kill the wicked.” 

For Jesus has come to be the consolation of Israel, to vindicate them from the hands of their enemies – indeed through His righteousness and His faithfulness given as a gift to the Jew and the Gentile alike.

And indeed, there was also the faithful elderly widow Anna.  She was there in the temple as well to welcome the Christ Child.  Her wait was also over.  For “coming up that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Her wait was also over.  She waited for redemption, and that redemption came to her right there in Jerusalem! 

And all of the sudden, the tired became the fresh, the dreary became bright, the frail became the robust.  The shoot from the stump would grow to be a branch, and that branch would become the cornerstone of the church, the very Tree of Life with vibrant roots and green offshoots, sprouting every which way even to the ends of the earth!

Simeon and Anna knew that the world would never be the same.  Anna could not stop speaking about Jesus, and Simeon knew that he had held Salvation Himself in his arms.

This, dear friends, is the ongoing wonder of Christmas.  The world celebrates the child in the manger, and then moves on to more important things.  But the Church knows that nothing is more important than the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

That sword that would pierce the Blessed Virgin’s heart would be the cross, and that cross would be the salvation of her soul and the redemption of the universe. 

For as St. Paul reminds us: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

This, dear friends, is why we can pray with Jesus to “our Father who art in heaven,” “crying, ‘Abba, Father!’”

For we know what Simeon realized and what caused Anna to rejoice: “You are no longer a slave, but a son,” that is, “an heir through God.”

Dear brothers and sisters, you have inherited what Jesus has earned for you: salvation, eternal life, righteousness, and faithfulness.  Our wait is over.  The kingdom is ours.  Like our father Simeon, we can sing, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”  And we can join with our mother Anna, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” and speak of Jesus to all who are waiting for His redemption.  For our wait is over.  

The shoot from the stump has become our Tree of Life, bearing the fruit that was once forbidden to our ancestors, but is now given to us as our consolation and redemption.  Amen.

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