Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon: Sexagesima – 2017

19 February 2017

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus tells a parable, a story that teaches us about the kingdom.  And this story is both ordinary and extraordinary.  For what can be more ordinary than a farmer planting seeds.  This activity has gone on without fanfare around the globe since the Fall into sin.

For we don’t live in the garden of Eden anymore.  Cursed is the ground.  In pain we eat of it all the days of our lives.  Thorns and thistles it brings forth for us, and we eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of our faces we eat bread, till we return to the ground.

And so year after year, the farmer, the sower, casts his seeds in faith that they will bear fruit, and through them, the Lord will provide sustenance and life.

In this story, we have a sower, and we have the ground.  We have a transmitter, and a receiver.  The one casting the seed is hardly remarkable.  He grabs the seeds and just throws them.  He has no power in and of himself.  All he does is cast the seed.  

And likewise, the soil is hardly remarkable.  It’s simply dirt. And most of the time, the soil provides impediments to growth, and the seed is prevented from bearing fruit, and in some cases, from even sprouting.  But even in the rare case where the soil is conductive to growth, there is no power in the soil.  At best, it doesn’t get in the way.

And so the power lies neither in the sower nor the soil.  But rather in the seed itself.

In a very real way, this transaction resembles radio broadcasting.  Even the word “broadcast” – which we associate with radio or TV (or even webcasting over the internet) – this word originally applied to sowing seed.  Just as a radio station broadcasts signals every which way hoping that they will be received by someone, so too does the sower broadcast his seed, casting it abroad, in faith and hope that the seed will germinate, break through the ground, grow, flower, and bear fruit.

For in the broadcasting of radio and television, there is a sender and a receiver.  But the really sophisticated thing, the part that has meaning, is the signal itself.  For the signal is encoded information.  It is broadcast by the sender, and it is received to the benefit of the receiver.  

And so is a seed, dear friends.  Seeds are encoded with information, strings of DNA data that cause the seed to germinate, grow, flower, and bear fruit.  This encoded Word is embedded into the very cell structure of the seed, and that implanted Word contains the explosive power to bear a harvest hundredfold.  From the tiniest of seeds grows the mighty redwood tree – all powered by the embedded and encoded data, placed there at the creation by the Creator, with instructions for growth and fruition.

And this is our Lord’s parable, dear friends.  

The kingdom of heaven is both ordinary and extraordinary, both mundane and miraculous.  For what is more ordinary than a preacher casting the Word abroad – what of that?  He doesn’t have much to offer of himself.  And what of the soil that receives this Word – “men who like or like it not”?  Some reject the Word outright to the delight of the devil who snatches the seed.  Some falls in rocky ground, initially showing promise, but quickly dying off due to a lack of being firmly rooted.  Some actually sprouts and grows only to be choked out by thorns: the cares and riches of this life.  And only the last kind of soil manages to get out of the way so that the embedded Word can do what it has been sent to do: to mature, to feed mankind, and to multiply and produce fruit.

And dear friends, what is more ordinary than dirt?  And yet we, mankind, were made out of this dirt, as Adam was fashioned from the soil itself.  

And while the seed seems so ordinary and lifeless, so small and inconsequential – it is anything but.  It bears life by virtue of carrying the divine Word, the instructions of creation: not merely the command to multiply, but the very means of multiplication itself.  The seed is the power, and the miracle.  The seed is how God created the plants of the field to reproduce, to multiply and to bear fruit.

And even in our sinfulness, even as we have corrupted the plants and cursed the soil, nevertheless, God Himself has provided the Seed of the woman to be cast upon the infertile soil of our fallen world.  This Seed dies and goes into the ground, only to rise again, and bear fruit a hundredfold.  And this Seed of the woman, is also the Son of Man, He is the divine Word by whom all things were made.  He is the one who commands and yet who provides the power to bring creation to fruition, all by His Word.

For our Lord Jesus is the Word, the Seed of the woman, the bread from heaven, our daily bread, the bread of life.  He is fruitful and multiplies, even as His Word is cast abroad, broadcast to every manner of soil on God’s earth: rich and fruitful soil, stubborn and rocky soil, soil that welcomes the Seed, and soil that closes itself up and refuses the Seed.

There are preachers to sow and there are hearers who receive.  There is the command to multiply, and there is the embedded Word that carries out that command in soil that doesn’t resist, in soil watered by baptism and fertilized by repentance.

Dear friends, the Seed is cast again this day.  It is sown by sowers in every corner of the globe.  This seed is cast upon you, here and now.  You are the soil that receives this broadcast, this Word of power and hope, this Word of repentance and of forgiveness, this Word that seeks nothing but to land upon good soil that it might do its work and bear fruit.

It is both ordinary and extraordinary.  For this has gone on since the Seed of the woman was first sown into the soil of the tomb.  For from the path, the rock, the thorns, and the good soil, the Seed is still proclaiming the Word of the Creator Himself, working redemption, and being for us the bread of life, won for us by the sweat of the face of the One who died upon the cross, whose flesh is offered the life of the world, whose forgiveness and life and salvation are borne by the preached Word, sown into your hearts, where the Word bears the power to yield a hundredfold.

And we pray, “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word,” the Word made flesh, the Word of forgiveness, the Word who comes to you now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon: Septuagesima – 2017

12 February 2017

Text: Matt 20:1-16 (Ex 17:1-7, 1 Cor 9:24-10:5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord wants to shock us.  He tells us a story that He knows is going to make us grumble.  He is deliberately setting us up by telling a story that strikes us as unfair, if not exploitive.  How can we not side with the workers in this story who feel cheated because they worked, in some cases, twelve times as long as other workers – including working at the hottest time of day – only to get paid the same wages?

No labor union would endorse this parable.  Nobody who has ever been treated unfairly by a boss is likely to be happy with the ending of this tale.  It just sounds like some kind of propaganda designed to justify unfair labor practices, a perpetuation of the power of the wealthy to lord over those who must work with their hands for a living.

The workers who felt cheated, “grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’”

And so we too might grumble along with them, and along with the children of Israel in our Old Testament lesson, unhappy with the leadership of Moses, who brought them out into the desert with no plan as to how they would drink water.

Is their grumbling unreasonable?

Dear friends, when we grumble at what God has given us, when we grumble because we covet that which God has given to others, we are grumbling at God Himself.  We are saying to Him: “You don’t know what You’re doing; You need to do things My way.”

But the children of Israel did get water to drink.  For God was with them, had not forsaken them, and was actually testing them.  By God’s grace and mercy, Moses delivered water out of the rock, and we are told by St. Paul that “they drank from the same spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ,” who allowed Himself to be beaten to preserve the lives of the grumblers.

This same Jesus explains the kingdom of heaven by reminding us grumblers that God is in charge; He determines what is fair, and He gives according to His will, His mercy, and His bountiful goodness.  All things belong to Him, and we have no claim on anything.

And worst of all, dear friends, is when we grumble because of the Lord’s mercy.  For if God is merciful to someone else, this does not affect us, any more than if an employer were to give a needy coworker a bonus out of the kindness of his heart.

God owns everything.  Is He not allowed to do what He chooses with what belongs to Him?  Who are we to begrudge His generosity? 

The parable has many meanings, but one of the interpretations is the fact that God opened up the kingdom to the Gentiles, to our ancestors who were worshiping trees and fictional mythical characters thousands of years after the true God had revealed Himself to the children of Israel.  For Jesus did not come to die for the sins of any particular ethnic group, but rather for the sins of the world.  

God used the children of Israel to be a blessing to all nations, even as our Lord came into our world as a Jew, a Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the royal line of Judah.  And while nobody deserves God’s grace, nevertheless, He offers it to all: to the loyal son who served the Father faithfully his whole life, as well as to the humbled and repentant prodigal son who has shamed the family and squandered his inheritance.  

For when evening came, all received a denarius, all received the wages due for a righteous day’s work – even the unrighteous who only worked for an hour instead of the full twelve.  What matters is not what we think this worker or that worker deserves.  

What matters is God’s mercy. 

And instead of grumbling that God is not giving us more, we ought to be grateful for the denarius that He did give us: the denarius of the admission price to eternity, to everlasting life, a denarius not truly earned by our lifetime of labor, but rather by the all-atoning labor of our Lord upon the cross: His suffering, His death, His sacrificial atonement “for us men and for our salvation.”  For not a one of us truly deserves to receive the denarius of salvation.  For the wages of sin is death.  That is our just earnings; that is what we deserve by our works.  But instead, dear brothers and sisters, we are not paid according to our deeds.  Rather, we are all recipients of God’s mercy by Christ’s blood.

Indeed, while we identify with the twelve-hour grumblers who feel entitled to more, if we are honest with ourselves, we are really more like the seemingly-overpaid one-hour wonders who have won life’s lottery.  Instead of grumbling, we ought to devote our lives to showing gratitude to our benefactor, we who were invited to partake of the banquet while lacking any quality that would make us worthy to sit at table and dine with the King of the Universe.

This is what it means, dear friends, that “the last will be first, and the first last.”  The world has it entirely backward.  In God’s kingdom, all are saved by grace, and those who think they have earned their way to a large salary are fooling themselves.  “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”  For to the one who knows that he is not deserving of the denarius will receive it – not as a salary, but as a gift.

And we dare not grumble, dear friends, for those who grumble do so because they know neither God not themselves.  They are wrong.  They know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  For the power of God lies in His love, mercy, and forgiveness.  The power of God is the cross.  And it is in the cross that our wages of death are paid in full, paid to all not according to our perceived works, but paid to wipe out all of our very real sins.

And so when we are paid at the end of the day, and the end of the life, and the end of the world, we will not receive a just payment for our lives of labor, but rather the amount “that is right” – not according to the world’s measure of fairness nor our own inflated view of ourselves, but the amount “that is right” according to the body and blood of Christ – the body and blood slain and shed as a sacrifice, and also received physically by us as a wage for labor – not our own, but Christ’s.

So, dear friends, let us not be shocked and appalled at how our Lord treats us poor, miserable sinners, let us instead be joyfully surprised!  Let us not grumble, but let us give thanks!  And let us never begrudge the Lord for being merciful to those who do not deserve it – for though we do not deserve it, we are recipients of the gift of everlasting life!  Amen.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Atheism as Religion

I think that most people would consider Atheism to be outside of the bounds of religion.

After all, it is the opposite of Theism: the belief in God.  And if belief in a god, gods, or some kind of supernatural is within the realm of faith and religion, then it follows that the worldview of Atheism, materialism, naturalism, and the epistemology of reason alone comprises the very opposite of religion.

I'm also friends with many principled Atheists - people who simply do not believe in a supernatural or metaphysical realm, or at least reject belief in the God articulated by the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (or the Deity confessed by those who may reject the Bible but believe in a "watchmaker god" who created the universe and set the laws of physics in motion).

But even their Atheism is grounded in faith: faith that what they perceive in their senses and the conclusions that they draw from reason are real; that they are not "brains in vats" nor are they deceived by sensory or neural malfunction.  And the consequences of the worldview of materialistic Atheism include various outlooks and philosophies on what it means to be human, the purpose of life, and the big questions about the teleology of the universe - even as Theism likewise leads to such questions and systematic conclusions about existence.

My good Atheist friends and I have mutual respect for our differences in belief as well as for our common humanity and shared interests.  They respect my confession of a Deity, are not threatened by it, do not feel the need to convert me to their way of thinking, nor see a reason to take hold of the apparatus of government to stamp out the religious beliefs of other people.

However, there is another strain of Atheism, an unabashedly religious variation, complete with zealous evangelism and excommunication and an inquisition of sorts.  This is the Atheism that seeks to be The State Religion, with even the trappings of a clergy and "church" of sorts, and a desire to evangelize the world in its faith.

Sometimes this brand of Atheism prefers the label "Humanism" and sees itself in triumphalistic terms, seeking state recognition and using the public schools as preaching stations:

As John Dunphy wrote in an article entitled: "A Religion for a New Age" (The Humanist, Jan-Feb 1983):
I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level—preschool, daycare, or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent with its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of “love thy neighbor” will finally be achieved.  (emphasis added)
The American Humanist Association publishes a manifesto - the current incarnation being the third version.  The initial manifesto (1933) openly refers to Humanism as "Religious Humanism."  One of the signatories of that document was the Socialist John Dewey, one of the founding fathers of progressive education in America, the leader of school reform that transformed American public schools away from the locally-administered classical model of education to what they have become today.

Clearly, the Humanist sect of Atheism sees public education as an evangelistic outreach of their religion.  Christians and other adherents of traditional faiths should be aware of what has filled the vacuum when the diverse faith traditions of local communities were excised from local schools at the behest of activist judges in recent decades.  What we have is not a religion-free public school, but rather a parochial school system of the "Atheist Church - Humanist Synod."

Atheism can't have it both ways.  Either it is a religion, or it isn't.  And if it is a religion, with chaplains and tombstones and transcendent values and evangelism, it should not be given preferential treatment in public schools.  For the belief that one can have one's cake and eat it is not a matter of faith: it is a performative contradiction that defies the dogma of reason.

Veterans Administration religious symbols permitted on military gravestones
Note the religions of Atheism and Humanism are recognized

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Irony is not collapsing fast enough...

I saw someone actually wearing this tee shirt at Loyola University - New Orleans.

He is a young American white guy with the ability to attend a $60,000 a year university (an institution created by western civilization) run by the Society of Jesus of the Roman Catholic Church.  He is probably receiving financial aid, both private and taxpayer-funded.

Loyola is a sprawling modern campus.  The buildings are western in architecture: glass and concrete with climate control and technology-equipped modern classrooms.  Students can easily obtain food and beverages, and there is even an upscale Italian gelateria located on campus.  There are no shortages of restrooms, microwave ovens, refrigerators, freezers, computers, and flat screen TVs. Students live in dorms and in modern houses and apartments in one of the most lush and expensive neighborhoods in a great American city.

He was clad in the uniform of western youth: jeans and tee shirt, smoking a cigarette, enjoying the luxury to stand on the corner looking at his iPhone, powered by western technology and an infrastructure of cheap and plentiful digital data and wi-fi.

He probably listens to American pop music and probably watches American television and movies.

While sporting this shirt, he was not in fear that he would be beheaded for religious reasons, nor that a rival tribesman would attack him with a machete.  There was no danger that he would be incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital or gulag camp for wearing a political statement.  There was zero chance that he would suddenly disappear, with his parents being sent a bill for the single bullet put in the back of his head after a sham trial for expressing an idea in the classroom.  No university or government official was going to approach him asking for a bribe, or extorting him for money.  There are no roaming bands of thugs or drug lords on the campus, nor political revolutionaries threatening to round up the intelligentsia in order to execute them. And he was certainly not in danger of starvation or the rationing of necessary items.

As a student, he most certainly has health insurance, is not facing malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, or AIDS.  If he catches the flu, he is highly unlikely to die of it.  He has likely had a full gamut of childhood "wellness visits" and immunizations.

Fortunately for our friend, great civilizations do take time to collapse.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Sermon: Funeral of George Bastiansen

6 February 2017

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Isa 25:6-9, 2 Cor 4:7-18)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Ralph, Paul, Jane, family friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests – peace be with you.

What has brought all of us together on this day is a confluence of events in our lives.  They all touch upon George Bastiansen.  He is responsible for many of you being alive.  Some of you worked with him.  Some of you spoke with him from time to time.  Others knew him extremely well.  To many of you, he was a huge part of your lives.

But it isn’t only the fact that George was involved in all of our lives that brings us here.  We all know it.  There is a sad reality that we can’t cover up with condolences and memories.  We are here in grief. Death has brought us to this time together.

In our modern life, we try to sanitize death.  We often hear of it as just a part of life, just something you expect when a person is nearly ninety years old, or even as a good thing, the end of suffering or the solution to what people describe as a problem.  People mean well and often say generic comforting things about death.

But dear friends, my relationship with George was different than all of yours: it was spiritual and pastoral, grounded in our mutual Christian faith.  He was not my father or relative or coworker.  George was my parishioner, a Christian whom God placed under my care.  It was not just my privilege and honor, but also my pleasure to visit George in his home to bring him Word and Sacrament when he was no longer able to attend church.  And so I speak as George’s pastor when I say that death is not a blessing or a solution.

God calls it the enemy.

We were never designed to die.  Death separates us from our loved ones.  God did not bring us to this sad day: we did.  Our ancestors did.  Our sinful nature did.  All of us are guilty, and so was George.  Our Christian faith confesses the truth that we are all sinners, and death is our lot.  And no matter what kind of brave face we put on it, it is horrible.  It’s okay to say so.  It’s okay to mourn.

But the Christian faith doesn’t stop in describing death as the enemy.  It doesn’t just abandon us to this merciless foe. For in Christ Jesus, who Himself died as an atoning sacrifice for us, in Him, death is a defeated enemy.  Death doesn’t get the final say to those who have been born again of water and the Spirit, to those who believe and have been baptized, to those who receive the gift of everlasting life.

George didn’t earn it: Christ earned it.  I didn’t decree George to be a victor over death and the grave: Christ did so.

And so something else brings us together at this time and place: the good news that Jesus Christ died the death we deserve so that we would rise even as He has risen.  George was baptized into Christ Jesus and was therefore baptized into His death, buried with Him, “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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His,” says St. Paul, then, “we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

“Certainly,” dear friends.  That is the word used in Scripture.  “Certainly.”

In my visits to George, we always celebrated the Mass, the liturgy of Holy Communion.  It was my joy to participate with George in the most holy body and blood of Christ – in the words of Jesus: “for the forgiveness of sins.”  We shared in this forgiveness, life, and salvation again and again.  We confessed our sins, heard the good news of forgiveness, received assurance that Christ’s blood atoned for us, and then we indeed participated in that body and blood.

In our Lutheran tradition, it is customary to sing what the Church calls the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, from Luke chapter 2, after receiving Holy Communion.  This is our Gospel reading today.  It describes an elderly man who seeks God.  And he was told that he would not die until he found this God that he sought.  This God came to St. Simeon as a baby, as the child Jesus in the flesh.  And so, having received Jesus, Simeon was now ready to “depart in peace.”  This is the Christian life in a nutshell.  This is the Gospel in a few verses.  This is George’s life now and forever.  This is our blessed assurance from God Himself that we will see George again, and that meeting will be in the flesh.  

And so, dear friends, we mourn the loss of our beloved George.  We are saddened and we grieve.  But we don’t grieve like those who are without hope.  We have the hope – the certain hope – that George is with our Lord in eternity, and that we will see him again at the resurrection of the body, as the Prophet Isaiah describes, at a “feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  For God “will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”

As St. Paul taught us again today, this death that we suffer in our bodies, in these “jars of clay,” is a “slight momentary affliction” that is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” the things that are eternal.

This is what St. Simeon longed for, what George and I prayed for, and what we know is reality for George now that He has departed in peace according to God’s Word.

Jesus’ victory over death and the grave is George’s victory, and ours too, dear brothers and sisters.  And this is our comfort and our source of strength and even defiant and godly joy in the midst of our mourning.

And as George and I sang in the liturgy, and as Christians the world over continue to sing again and again, having received Jesus in His flesh and blood, we continue to sing in this life:

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.  Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

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

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sermon: Transfiguration – 2017

5 February 2017

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Peter, James, and John (and the rest of the disciples) were in for the greatest challenge of their lives.  They were going to be shocked and appalled to see their Lord and Rabbi – whom they confessed to be the Messiah prophesied in the Holy Scriptures – arrested, mocked, abused, convicted on fake charges, condemned, flogged, tortured, and crucified.  Their faith was going to be tested to the very core.

Our Lord Jesus Christ gave them just what they needed to bolster their faith and preserve them as leaders of the apostles as the Lord Jesus was to die and then rise again.

On this day, He lifted the veil and allowed them a peek into His true divine nature in a way that they had never seen before.

For in His earthly ministry, our Lord is a bit like a spy who blends in behind enemy lines to carry out his assignment.  Jesus is, of course, fully human.  He is not a hybrid half-god-half-man like the pagans had in their religion.  He is completely human, and yet His humanity is the True Humanity – perfect, glorious, in the very image of God – a glory that has departed from us poor, miserable sinners.

Jesus veiled this glory in His earthly ministry even as Moses wore a veil to prevent the reflected glory of God from frightening the people.  Jesus’ veil is His setting aside His glory.  His veil is in His ordinary face.

But on this day, this transfiguration day, up on a high mountain, our Lord showed Peter, James, and John something that they would never forget: the glory of the  perfect Man who is also God in His magnificence.  

His appearance was changed in accordance with what was normally hidden from them.  The most interesting thing to happen was that the Lord’s face beamed with a blazing light, “like the sun.”  This calls to mind the blessing that the Lord gave to the priests of the Old Testament to pronounce over the people: “The Lord make His face shine upon you…”

Jesus is that Lord.  His face is that face.  The light observed by Peter, James, and John is that light.

Moreover, the three blessed apostles saw something else: our Lord Jesus Christ in conversation with Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, of whom our Lord is the embodiment and fulfillment.

And if that were not enough to confirm in their minds the reality that this Jesus, this Messiah, is truly God in the flesh – no matter what shocking scenes of death they were yet to see – there was more to this divine revelation.  For a “bright cloud overshadowed them.”  And out of this mysterious cloud came a voice: the voice of God the Father repeating the pronouncement made as Jesus began His ministry, at His Baptism: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

Jesus is not only God, He is the Son of God.  He is the Father’s beloved – and no matter what they are going to witness on another mount – a craggy hill of punitive death called “Golgotha” – God the Father is indeed “well pleased” with the Lord Jesus, His Son, pleased at His obedience in saving the world from sin, death, and the devil by His very blood, by the sacrifice of the Lamb, a gift of salvation offered to all who would believe and receive the good news.  The Son is not abandoned by the Father, even though the Father’s wrath is to be channeled to the Son as He bore the curse of sin, the weight of guilt, the consequence of death – our sin, our guilt, our death – which were all placed squarely upon Him whose form would be transfigured upon the cross, transfigured into the bloody form of a condemned criminal.

And so, dear friends, on the mountain of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw the Lord as He truly was, and is, in His glory.  And because of this glory, they were afraid.  And they were right to be.  They stood in the very presence of God – and they would live to tell about it – but not until “the Son of Man [was] raised from the dead.”  They “fell on their faces” in terror. 

“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise and have no fear.’  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

Dear brothers and sisters, it is right that we fear God.  This is the beginning of wisdom.  Indeed, we should “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  We cannot stand in the glory of the Son of Man, in the mighty power of the Father, in the righteous energy of the Spirit – because of our sins.  But let us not forget what Jesus – Jesus only – has done for us.  He has forgiven our sins, removed our guilt, and taken away the punishment of death that we deserve.  Jesus likewise touches us – giving us His fleshly body and blood – and He speaks to us in His Word of the Gospel and of Absolution, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”  He comes to us in this Divine Service, and while His glory is veiled under the spoken Word and in the forms of bread and wine, we know of His glory.  For Peter, James, and John did indeed “tell… the vision,” testifying to what they saw and heard and experienced on the mountaintop.  “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

And as we receive Christ in Word and Sacrament, and when we lift up our eyes heavenward, we do not see the angry cloud of God’s wrath.  We do not hear the frightening voice of God coming to condemn us.  We are not blinded by a light of righteousness that threatens to burn us up like grass in the fire.  No indeed!  We cast our eyes to the heavens and we see “no one but Jesus only,” the merciful Lord who has taken our place at the cross.

Jesus only!  For there is no other name in heaven or on earth by which we are saved.  Jesus only!  There is no other Messiah who fulfills the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus only!  There is no other begotten Son of the Father who has pleased Him by fulfilling all righteousness.  Jesus only!

Jesus only.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Sermon: Wednesday of Epiphany 4 – 2017

1 February 2017

Text: Jonah 1:1-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

A person that is always followed by what seems to be back luck is sometimes called a “Jonah.”  Of course, this comes from our Old Testament reading about the prophet who was called by God to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh in order to call them to repent.  Jonah was not enamored by this prospect.  Our text doesn’t give a reason.  Maybe he hated the people there, or loathed their culture.  Maybe he just wanted to go elsewhere, or maybe he was afraid of how they would react.  Whatever the cause, “Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

His escape plan included boarding a boat in Joppa and going the other way.  

And here is where the term “Jonah” comes from.

While onboard, the ship seemed to be cursed.  For “the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.”

This was seen as a payment for some kind of religious disobedience.  Lots were cast to see whose fault it was, and the lot fell to Jonah, who confessed that he was “fleeing from the presence of the Lord.”  So, they found their Jonah, the cause of their suffering, and Jonah suggested that they throw him overboard.  The men, to their credit, did not want to do this.  They tried rowing harder, but eventually realized that they would all perish without appeasing Jonah’s God, to whom they prayed: “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”  The act of throwing Jonah overboard brought peace to the tempestuous sea, and saved their lives.

And so “the men feared the Lord exceedingly and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”

We all know what happened next: Jonah was swallowed by a great fish from whose belly he would re-emerge on the third day.

Of course, there is a lesson in here about obeying the Lord – especially for those whom the Lord has called to preach and teach.  Rebelling against this calling is not recommended.  There is also an example of how disobedience not only affects the disobedient one, but others around him as well.  There is also a lesson in here about the mercy of the Lord, who rescued Jonah by means of a fish.

But all of these lessons are secondary to Jonah’s pointing to Jesus.  For Jesus is the New and Greater Jonah, who Himself referred to His own death and three day rest in the tomb as “the sign of Jonah.”

Jesus is our Jonah.  For though He was obedient to the Father, and though He did not flee His assignment to call the wicked to repentance, and though He committed no sin, nevertheless, He became sin for us.  Our Lord took upon Himself the curse of Jonah, the curse of Adam, the curse of fallen mankind.  And He did so in order to save us through His own body being thrown overboard into the grave by the very people whom He came to save, those who killed Him and yet received His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and life.

No great fish came to rescue Jesus.  He was swallowed up instead by death.  Like Jonah, He laid down His own life rather than see others die, but unlike Jonah, He emerged from His three day sojourn by His own power and authority, conquering not only death, but also the curse of disobedience and the effects of sin and guilt.  And in so doing, our Lord calmed the stormy sea of the Father’s righteous wrath against the sins of mankind.

Jonah became a sacrifice, a funnel of the Lord’s wrath, one who deserved that wrath.  Our Lord Jesus likewise funneled unto Himself the wrath of God for the sins of the world – for yours and mine and all of those ever committed or to be committed, in thought, word, and deed, sins of omission and commission, the very mortal nature that we have inherited from our ancestors.  Jesus suffered all of this wrath, and was willingly thrown into the grave to be devoured by the devil.  And our Lord willingly became this sacrificial offering, appeasing the Father’s wrath and restoring us to the calm of communion with God.  

And like the great fish, whose belly churned and ejected Jonah upon the land, Satan could not conquer the crucified Jesus, and though he had wounded the heel of the Seed of the Woman, the Lord Jesus had mortally wounded the fiendish serpent’s head.  And on the third day, the Lord Jesus Christ, the New and Greater Jonah, re-emerged on the terra firma of the earth, the world He Himself had created and redeemed, populated by the very people whom He saved and atoned for, by His sacrifice upon the cross.

And we repeat the prayer of those men saved by Jonah’s sacrifice: “O Lord, let us not perish for this Man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”  For the innocent blood of Jesus – far from condemning us, saves us.  And instead of perishing for His life, we are saved by His death.  And indeed, by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we “fear the Lord exceedingly,” and we too make offerings and vows, thank offerings for His saving blood, and vows to support the continued preaching of the Word, of the Gospel, of repentance, and of Jesus Christ, our New and Greater Jonah.  We repent at His Word and we partake of His sacrificial flesh and blood.

Since the days of the Roman Empire, the fish has been a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ and of our Christian faith.  There are many reasons for this.  And even though Jonah is not an explicit reason for this, there is great value in seeing these symbols on the property and homes of Christians and calling to mind that our Lord Himself considered the account of Jonah to be a sign of His death and resurrection.  For Jesus is truly our Jonah, the New and Greater Jonah, the innocent bearer of the curse of our sins, who was hurled into the grave only to rise again on the third day, having released us from the wrath of the Father, bringing us to repentance, forgiveness, and everlasting life.  To Him be thanksgiving, praise, and glory even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sermon: The Conversion of St. Paul – 2017

25 January 2017

Text: Matt 19:27-30 (Acts 9:1-22, Gal 1:11-24)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear friends, we have good reason to despair.  

Our culture is in a state of chaos and disarray.  In public life, we apparently no longer know what the difference is between a man and a woman.  Political disagreements are settled with rioting and looting.  College students and administrators cannot abide alternative points of view.  We are divided over issues of race and religion and politics and morality.  Traditional marriage is on life support, and an increasing number of children are raised in multiple households scared by serial divorces and remarriages.

There are rumblings of war in our world, and new threats of terrorism that frighten us nearly every day.  Our religious liberties are under constant assault.  And the massacre of the unborn continues.

Our churches are getting emptier and emptier – including our own.  The Christian gospel is ridiculed, the Bible is held in contempt, and anything the church has to say is shouted down.  We are a shrinking minority and the attacks upon us become more shrill and fierce every day. Around the world, there are more martyrs in our own era than ever were in the days of the Roman Empire.

Yes, indeed, we have good reason to despair.  

But thanks be to God that He is not merely a God of reason, but of love.  For love defies reason.  A computer can be programmed to follow logic and reason and make decisions by counting the cost.  But a machine cannot be programmed to count the costs – and then do what love would do: to at-times defy reason for the sake of the beloved.  And this is what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and in the cross.

In times like these, we need to reflect on St. Paul. We need to not only remember his courage in preaching the Gospel to Jews and Greeks, to rich and poor, to kings and high-ranking officials and soldiers and synagogue rulers, his missionary journeys all over the known world, planting churches and teaching, calling to mind his heroic steadfastness as a confessor even in prison, being beaten for the truth, and even as a martyr who died for the Lord, we also need to remember when he was known as “Saul” and was an enemy of God.

Saul was a former name of the man who led a former life: “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.”  Like many in our culture today, Saul hated Christianity, and was doing anything and everything in his power to eradicate it – even having men and women and children bound in chains and arrested.

In Paul’s own words regarding his “former life,” he says: “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”  

But something happened that shocked the world, the church, and most of all, Saul himself.  While on a road trip to Damascus, Jesus Himself appeared to Saul, as a blazing light from the heavens “flashed around him” and knocked him down.  And our Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke to His violent enemy who was to become his passionate apostle: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

Jesus isn’t expecting an answer.  We know the answer: unbelief, pride, a lack of respect for the life and liberties of those whom he arrested. In short: sin. Sin is what makes unbelievers, consumed with hatred, attack Christians and the faith itself.

But Jesus is now calling upon Paul to repent, to repent of his unbelief by heeding the voice and believing that Jesus is the Christ, by turning away from his pride, by being humbled to beg for help as a blind man, to leave behind violence and persecution of the Christians by becoming a Christian himself, one who would himself suffer for the faith and for Jesus.

And in this one moment of God’s choosing, this single encounter with Jesus, everything changed.  The men and women and children no longer had to fear Saul but rather could come to receive him as a brother and as a father.

For the Lord has changed Saul into a believer, a confessor, and soon to be, a preacher of the Gospel.  For Paul’s eyes were opened, and He received the Holy Spirit. He was baptized.  And he was strengthened by “taking food.”  And he took the food of the baptized Christian, the Holy Supper of the very Lord who converted him, called him, and gave him a new direction in life, a Supper he would likewise share with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The Lord himself spoke of the convert Paul: “He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”

For no matter how dreary and gloomy things were for the early church, no matter how much societal pressure from the Romans and how much political pressure from the Jews they were subject to, no matter the treachery and fear, the night raids and secret informers, the chains and the dungeons – the Lord God remained in charge.  He had not abandoned His people; He had not fallen asleep at the switch.  God allowed things to become dire as a way to prove that they were in fact not dire.  This is an easy situation to fix for our merciful Lord.  

Paul’s conversion not only paved the way for new churches to spring up across the Mediterranean world, but it also demonstrated that God is not subject to the whims and hatreds of men.  Our Lord Jesus called Paul out on his persecutions, and He converted Paul, brought him into the church for a reason: that he might be a blessing, a bringer of Good News to all people.

Paul’s conversion is our conversion, dear friends.  For just as Jesus came to Paul on the way to Damascus and disrupted his life forever, this same Jesus comes to us where we are: as babies brought to the font, as adults who hear the Gospel for the first time, as children with an innocent trust in the Word, or even as an elderly person on his deathbed seeking the peace that passes all understanding in exchange for a lifetime of sin. For all of us were converted to the faith, whether we were only minutes old, or after a century or more of walking this earth.

All of us were on the side of the devil until we were exorcised by the holy water of baptism and called by name by Jesus, and we were given a new name as well: the name “Christian,” one redeemed by the sacrificial Lamb, one washed clean in His blood, one declared righteous and forgiven and part of the church that was our enemy prior to our conversion.

For every single Christian has been converted and won over.  Christians are not born that way, but they are born again, and like unto St. Paul, once we are called into the kingdom by the King, “something like scales” fall from our eyes.  We see reality as it is.  We are changed, transformed, yes, converted from sinner to saint, from dead to alive, from an enemy of the cross to a friend of God.

And so, dear friends, while we have reason to despair, we have three things greater than reason: faith and hope and love.  We have faith in Him who offers us hope for eternity, and the love of Christ Himself who gave Himself for us even while we were yet His enemies.  And those who attack the church now may yet one day prompt us to likewise say: “He who once tried to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

And the Lord Jesus reminds us not to despair, but to cling to faith, come what may, saying, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

“O Lord, for Paul’s conversion,
We bless Your name today;
Come shine within our darkness,
And guide us on our way.”


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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sermon: St. Timothy – 2017

24 January 2017

Text: Matt 24:42-47 (Acts 16:1-5, 1 Tim 6:11-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear friends, today we thank God for the life of St. Timothy of Ephesus, bishop and confessor.  Two books of the New Testament bear his name, though he didn’t write them nor was he an apostle.  He was a disciple of St. Paul, who ordained him into the holy ministry, and who considered Timothy to be like an adopted son.  He was raised in the faith by his Jewish-Christian grandmother and mother, but his father was Greek.  “He was well spoken of by the brothers.”  He preached the gospel in season and out of season, and died while carrying out his calling.

St. Paul’s two letters to Timothy are beloved books of Scripture that provide not only doctrinal statements, but also practical advice for the young Servant of the Word in carrying out his ministry, as well as general guidance in his life as a Christian.

In that sense, we are all Timothy – pastors who stand in the train of the apostles, and laypeople who hear the Gospel and are transformed by the preaching of the Word even unto eternal life.  We are all Timothy, the old, the young, men, women, Jews, and Greeks.

For in Christ, we all look upon St. Paul and the other apostles of our Lord as our fathers in the holy faith, receiving with joy what was first penned to our forebears by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul tells all of us Timothys to be prepared, for our Lord is coming soon.  We are to be ready, “O man of God,” to  flee evil things, and instead, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.”

St. Paul, who wrote to Timothy from prison, starkly reminds him, and he reminds us, that we are at war.  The Christian faith is not a hobby or a job, not an interesting bit of western history or liturgical pageantry or something that makes us feel good.  The faith is a fight, a ruthless fight, and we are to serve in the church militant, in whatever rank or vocation that God has placed us, understanding that this is a life and death matter.  The stakes are eternal.  There is no room for slack, no place for complacency, no luxury of  slovenliness.  For as with any war, lives depend upon our readiness for battle, our diligence, and our ability to carry out our callings under fire.

How sad when pastors provide entertainment instead of fortification, and how horrific when lay people demand to be pampered instead of hardened for battle.  How tragic when we forget that the enemy is lurking about the perimeter and may pounce on us, our families, our brothers and sisters in our congregations, and on anyone, without warning, and without mercy.

Our blessed Lord tells us plainly: “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”  There is a finite time to carry out the work that the Lord has given us to do – works that He prepared for us before the foundation of the world, works that glorify Him and serve our neighbor, and may even save our neighbor from eternal death and damnation, all according to how our Lord uses us in the glorious kingdom.

“Therefore,” says our blessed Lord, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Meanwhile, the war rages, Satan attacks, we are sometimes wounded, we take casualties, we suffer setbacks, and, sometimes we gain ground, miracles happen that beat back the crafts and assaults of the evil one, and at all times, we fight the good fight of faith, knowing that He works through us, even as He has forgiven us, and continues to fortify us in Word and Sacrament.

This is what it means to confess, to be what we call “confessional” Lutherans, to join this battle – not a war of swords and arrows and bullets and bombs, but the war of the spirit that pits good against evil, life against death, our merciful God against the miserable devil.  “I charge you in the presence of God,” says St. Paul, “who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.”

Our Lord Jesus is a confessor of the truth, even as Paul and Timothy are confessors of Christ.  We too, dear friends, are confessors.  We confess the Gospel, the good news that in Christ Jesus, God took human flesh, to die upon the cross, to save us from sin, death, and the devil, and to give us eternal life in His name as a free gift, which we receive by faith.

This faith is our confession, our reason for living, through which we have eternal life.

So when we make the good confession, we make war on Satan, and we link arms with St. Timothy, St. Paul, the holy apostles, the martyrs, and all the saints, known and unknown, ancient and modern, living and dead, making this confession of the cross, standing under the cross, living by the cross, confessing through the cross, and with our eyes fixed firmly on Him who died upon the cross.

This is the good fight, dear brothers and sisters.  This is the good confession.  This is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, and it is the gift of the Lord Jesus to Timothy: to receive grace upon grace by which to fight this fight and confess this confession.  And we do so until we are called home or our Lord returns.

For in the end, this is what it means to confess, to be confessional, to fight the good fight as the church militant: to be eagerly prepared and joyfully ready to meet Jesus – at the end of the day, at the end of the life, at the end of the world – to be a servant of Christ, a faithful servant, and “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”  This is our Lord’s promise – to all of us Timothys of every time and place, confessors, fighters, believers, and recipients of Christ’s boundless mercy.

“To Him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.”

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: Epiphany 3 – 2017

22 January 2017

Text: Matt 8:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a great political debate in our country about health insurance and health care.  There are many different opinions about the role of government and the role of individuals to help those in need.  You might have seen some political cartoons that show Jesus healing or refusing to heal people, with Jesus purportedly saying things to support this political view or that political view.  

Indeed, Jesus has come to heal us, but not in the way that doctors and nurses do.  Their work is godly and noble, and indeed, God works through them.  But here’s the problem: doctors and nurses and insurance companies and technical marvels and drugs and therapies can only mask the problem.  They delay the inevitable.  They don’t cure us of death.  Again, this is not to minimize the good that they do, but when we speak of Jesus as the Great Physician, we mean that He really gets the job done.

Jesus hasn’t come to mask symptoms, but to eradicate the root cause of the problem itself.  For death is the wages of sin.  Jesus has come to destroy death by His own death – which was an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.

Thus all diseases are caused by sin: maybe our own, maybe someone else’s, maybe it has been lurking in our DNA since Adam and Eve’s fall.  

God did not create us to sin, to suffer, or to die.  God created us to partake perfectly in communion with Him and with all creation, to be filled with joy, and to live forever.

No politician can deliver that.  No doctor can prescribe that.  No insurance company can underwrite that.

Only Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior (which means, literally in the Greek of the New Testament: “healer”) can cure us from death and heal us from sin.

We see the Lord’s healing work when a “leper knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’  And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

Cleansed!  The cure was in the cleansing, the removal of dirt – not mere surface grime on the body, but the grunge of sin.  For this is the same word used to indicate ritual purity in the Old Testament, which itself points back to the pure creation before the Fall, before sin, suffering, and death.  This is reflected in two English words we don’t usually connect: “cosmetics” and “cosmos.”  Cosmetics are agents that beautify and cleanse, and the Cosmos refers to the universe created by God.

The original created world was “clean” – it was free of things like leprosy and death. And it is the Lords will: “I will,” He says, “be clean.”  That is, “be like you were, and were always intended to be, when I created the cosmos.”  For “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” – in the Greek, the text says that “God so loved the kosmos.”

There is a connection between God’s love and the kosmos, and that love is carried out by the will of God in Christ Jesus: to heal, to save, to give perfect and eternal life.

The Lord also heals the servant of a centurion, a military captain, in the city of Capernaum.  In a twist, the Lord does not heal by direct contact, but rather by His Word alone.  The centurion understands the concept of delegated authority, “for I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I say to one, ‘go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’”

For this is how authority works in the secular world, especially in the Roman world.  The emperor commands the tribune who commands the centurion who commands the soldier, and the will of the emperor is carried out by the soldier through this chain of command. Authority flows downward and duty flows upward.  The centurion understands that Jesus is the true emperor – unlike Caesar Augustus who claimed to be the Divi Filius – the son of a god, our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Filius Dei – the Son of the living and one true God.  Jesus isn’t just ordering soldiers about, He is ordering disease itself to flee.  And He has the power and the authority to carry out this kind of healing by His Word.

How marvelous is the centurion’s faith – this gentile soldier who did not count Himself worthy enough, that is, clean enough, for Jesus to come under his roof.  Yet he trusts the Lord’s very Word to heal and to save.  “When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, ‘Truly I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’”

The Lord uses means to achieve His healing and His salvation.  In some cases, He uses physical touch: such as baptismal water, such as the bread and wine that are truly His physical body and blood – in order to forgive, save, and give everlasting life.

The Lord also uses the means of His Word – the Word of God, inscribed in the Holy Scriptures and proclaimed by a servant of the True Emperor, the Son of God, who places men under His authority to proclaim His Word – the Word that heals and saves and restores to perfect life.

For the Lord Jesus has not come to temporarily bandage our wounds, rather He was wounded for us, so that we might be restored to cleanliness – the kind of cleanliness we enjoyed at the creation of the cosmos.  The Lord, the only begotten Son of the Father, the One with the authority of the Father and the authority to command all of creation, has come to save, to heal, and to bring to life.

And the Lord says to you, dear friends, you who have to this place, to Jesus, seeking salvation and life, healing and restoration, to each and every one of you hearing this Word proclaimed by His authority, the Lord says to you: “I will; be clean…. Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”  And by His Word, you are healed, saved, and restored to eternal life.  Amen.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Salem Lutheran Church (418 4th Street, Gretna, LA  70053) is welcoming some special guests on the weekend of January 28 and 29, 2017.

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and his wife Daria will be visiting from Novosibirsk, Siberia - where Bishop Lytkin serves as the bishop of our partner church body, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC), established after the fall of Communism as a missionary outreach of the Estonian Lutheran Church.  The Bishop will give a presentation at Salem's Schmid Hall on Saturday, January 28 at 6:00 pm.

Before Communism, 10% of the population of the Russian Empire was Lutheran.  The first Lutheran congregation in Russia was founded in Moscow in 1576.  Lutheranism enjoyed a respected status in Russia along with the Russian Orthodox Church.  However, as  result of Communism (especially during Stalin's purges in the 1930s), Lutherans were persecuted and scattered, their pastors executed and churches bulldozed.  Many faithful people were sent to Siberia - some into internal exile, and others into Gulag camps.  Some managed to practice their faith secretly for decades, only being able to worship openly with the establishment of the SELC, the re-establishment of destroyed parishes, and the establishment of new ones.

The Lytkins are a delightful couple with a warm sense of humor who grew up in the USSR and converted to Christianity.  Their stories, and those of their fellow Lutherans in Russia, are compelling and inspiring.

They will be accompanied by the Rev. Daniel Johnson and his wife Amy, who live in Iowa.  Pastor Johnson serves the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as a missionary liaison to Eurasia.  Bishop Lytkin will also preach at Salem's Sunday (Jan 29) Divine Service at 10:00.

If you want more information about the SELC and its work, the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society is a great resource - especially their newsletter archive dating back to 2003 - fascinating reading!  There is a 22-minute YouTube documentary about the SELC that includes the bishop and features the work of several of the Siberian clergy and their challenges of ministry in this unique setting.

If you'd like more information, please contact the Rev. Larry Beane at: 504-256-3440.  If you plan on attending, we'd appreciate a heads up for planning purposes.  All are welcome!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sermon: Confession of St. Peter – 2017

18 January 2017

Text: Mark 8:27-9:1 (Acts 4:8-13, 2 Pet 1:1-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Roman Catholic Church considers itself the “Petrine” church, that is, the church of St. Peter.  This is because St. Peter served as the first bishop of Rome, and this office later became known as the papacy, in which the bishop of Rome has pastoral responsibilities to all under his care, namely Roman Catholic Christians.

We Lutherans consider ourselves a “confessional” church, that is, the church that not only believes and teaches, but also confesses the doctrine of the one true faith.  And our confession is laid out in a collection of confessional documents known as the Book of Concord.

And on this day, we celebrate a feast in the church calendar known as the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter.  And on this day, I suppose it’s fair to say that all Christians who honor this feast are both Petrine and confessional churches.

We remember St. Peter and honor him first as an apostle, as well as the leader of the apostles during and after our Lord’s earthly ministry.  St. Peter was the first to confess Jesus as “the Christ.”  This bold confession came from St. Peter in response to our Lord’s question: “Who do people say that I am?”  And after giving the Lord a few different answers, Jesus puts the question directly to them, His disciples.  “Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’”

St. Matthew’s account of this incident tells us that Jesus acknowledged that Peter’s confession was revealed by God.  It was not of his own doing, his own study, his own intelligence, or his own research.

Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ was revealed from above.  And it is an act of courage and confession for Peter to repeat it and proclaim it.

The Lord’s question: “Who do you say that I am?” is really the pivotal question of the universe.  When Jesus asks the disciples, He is also asking us, his disciples of today. He is asking you: “Who do you say that I am?”

Your answer is your confession.  Do you confess that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the promised Messiah?  Do you confess that Jesus is the Son of God, both God and Man, the propitiation for the sins of the world?  For if you make this confession, if you submit to the one whom you confess, you will not only confess Him as Christ, but as Savior, and you will also confess your sins, and you will confess that He has come to release you from the chains of sin and death, and to free you from bondage to Satan.

This, dear friends, is the Petrine confession that we, the church, celebrate.  We confess Christ with St. Peter, for we Christians are both confessional and Petrine.

St. Peter is a beautiful example of the paradoxical life of the Christian.  For just a few verses after praising Peter for making the good confession, Jesus scolds him and calls him “Satan.”  Even as Peter would preach the Gospel courageously and “with boldness” the “name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” and the “salvation” that is to be found “in no one else,” and even as St. Peter would lay down his own life being crucified for his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, so St. Peter had another side.  For when Peter brashly decided to walk on water, he then lost his faith, and began to sink.  And when Peter boldly promised that he would die with Jesus, he would soon deny Jesus three times as the rooster crowed when our Lord was headed to the cross.

There is a little bit of St. Peter in all of us, dear friends, we whose words are bold, but whose deeds are weak.  At times, we confess Jesus as the Christ, and at other times, we dishonor Jesus as the Christ.  There are times when we live the disciplined life of the disciple, but other times when we live only for ourselves and our entertainment.  There are times when we confess Jesus at all costs, and there are times when we shirk our confession for the sake of appearances or seeking out the respect of men.

Peter was fickle, and so are we.  

And we have something else in common with St. Peter: Jesus really loves us, and He entrusts us with vocations in the kingdom even when we don’t deserve it.  

St. Peter denied Jesus three times.  And he watched Jesus die on the cross without having the chance to say that he was sorry before he died.  Fortunately for us, dear friends, death cannot contain our Lord.  When Jesus rose, He told Mary to go find the disciples, mentioning Peter by name.  Jesus would appear to the disciples including Peter.  And Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for His risen Savior three times.  

And three times, Jesus charged St. Peter to feed the sheep, to shepherd the flock, to be a bishop of souls.

Our Lord calls all of us: both preachers and hearers, to be confessional Christians, and in the sense that St. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ – and even denied himself and took up his own cross to follow Him and made his own life a witness to, and confession of, our blessed Lord, Jesus also calls us to be Petrine Christians, following the good example of St. Peter the martyr and confessor of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who urges us to become “partakers of the divine nature” in Jesus Christ, and who confesses rightly that “there will be richly provided to [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Let us live in the confession of St. Peter, which is really the confession of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory forever and ever.  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon: Epiphany 2 – 2017

15 January 2017

Text: John 2:1-11 (Amos 9:11-15, Romans 12;6-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We tend to treat the miracle at Cana as Jesus sort-of warming up with a small miracle, a kind of teaser for the really big stuff to come.  After all, in the grand scheme of things, what’s the big deal if wine runs out at a wedding?  Sure, there would be some immediate embarrassment, but at the end of the day, the couple would be married and life would go on.  

But let’s not forget that what Jesus did at Cana was to override the laws of physics and nature.  What our Lord did to the big stone jars of water was the equivalent of splitting atoms.  Jesus took one substance, and by His command, changed the chemical process of that substance into something else.  It is a mighty act of God.

We say it in the creed, that Jesus is the one: “by whom all things were made.”  And this is the great mystery of our Lord’s incarnation: He is positioned within the creation that He created, acting within the universe that He controls at will.  No-one had ever seen such a miracle.  And the purpose of this miracle is to bring joy, to assure delight, to celebrate the beauty of the institution of marriage that Jesus also built into the fabric of human life itself.

And before sin came to the world, wine could not be abused.  It is a joyful and delightful substance – one that is promised to again be perfect: at the end of time – when God will truly keep the best for the last.  The prophet Amos calls to mind this eternal sinless world as “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow from it.”

The master of the feast at Cana could tell the difference.  This was the “good wine” – the finest, that which is normally reserved to be served first.  For even as creation before the Fall was perfect, so too is our eternal destiny.  And this eternal existence has nothing to do with spirits floating around in heaven, but rather a flesh and blood restored paradise – a new earth, as the prophet says: “they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them, they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”

This is the eternal life that Amos prophesies, and that Jesus delivers.  It is a life of fertile fields, of perfect fruits grown in perfect gardens, of the good wine that, at this time, is treated as a commodity to be prized and rationed, but in eternity, will be common, and will drip from the very mountains.

Jesus has come into our world to deliver perfection – from the big to the small, from world peace and a renewed existence without predators and without death, as well as a world without mealy apples, without dried up oranges, without bitter beer, and without sour wine.  Jesus is turning our scarcity into abundance.  He is transforming our mediocre, and our broken and bitter, into something spectacular and glorious – all by His restorative work in our midst in His very flesh and blood.

Our Lord’s first miracle was at a wedding, even as the first man and first woman were united in Holy Matrimony.  Jesus has come to us as the Bridegroom: strong, loving, protective, and withholding nothing from His Bride, not even His life on the cross and the shedding of His blood as a sacrifice.  And we, as His Bride, come to Him in joyful and willing submission, honoring and respecting Him as our merciful God and as our perfect Man in the flesh who has been sent to rescue us and bring us into perfect communion, like a perfect glass of wine – sweet, smooth, delivering joy, and offered in love and hospitality.

The Lord Jesus has truly saved the best for the last: the wine that is truly His blood: the same blood offered on the cross, the blood which cries out to the Father to avenge us for the evil brought upon us by Satan, the blood which pays the horrific price of our guilt, the blood of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, the blood which restores life to us, even as those stone jars at Cana, dripping with sweet wine, restored joy to the wedding feast.

For when we receive the wine of the Lord’s blood, we receive a preview, a little taste of eternity, of the prophecy of Amos, of the perfect vineyard yielding perfect juice of the grape, perfectly aged into perfect wine.  We receive this not by virtue of the wine itself, dear friends, but by the Word of Christ – the same Word by whom all things were made.  This Word says: “This is My body… This is My blood… For the forgiveness of sins.”  This sacrament delivers the joy of the wedding feast, though we still live the fallen world, where wine can be too bitter or too sweet, and can be drunk in unhealthy quantities, and even in such a way as to destroy communion in marriages and families.

But we have the foretaste, dear friends, a little down-payment on the eternal feast, even as the Lord delivered such a delightful sample to the wedding party at Cana.

In Cana, the people needed wine, and our Lord provided it in both quality and quantity.  The Lord is equally generous and diligent in that which He gives His bride today.  As St. Paul says: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”

We all have different vocations in the kingdom, and by God’s grace, we can use them to serve the kingdom and to “live in harmony with one another.”

The miracle of the transformation of water into wine at Cana isn’t just an opening act – it is truly what the Lord has come to do: to bless marriage by being our Bridegroom, by taking the water that begins our life in the purification of baptism, bringing us to the altar, to partake of the wine that He offers us – His very own perfect blood.  Jesus is transforming the universe atom by atom, molecule by molecule, person by person, and even galaxy by galaxy, in a glorious reclamation and recreation so that we might live in perfection with God and with one another.

Yes indeed, while the world and our sinful flesh have only poor wine to offer, in the end, in Christ, in eternity, we have the very best served to us, the good wine, that has no end.  Amen.

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