Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) – 2017

26 March 2017

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Feeding people is an act of love.  It is the very first interaction between a newborn and his mother.  It is the very thing our grandparents insist on doing when we visit them as kids.  When we invite friends over, we share a meal.  When we meet new people, often we go out to eat.  When there is a celebration of a milestone in life: a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday, a promotion, a new baby – there is food.  And when there are sad times, we bring food to alleviate the sorrow.  In fact, we even have an entire category called “comfort food.”

We intuitively understand this connection between love and feeding people.

When Adam and Eve were first created, God put them in a garden, a place where they were surrounded by trees bearing fruit.  And they could eat of the fruit of all of the trees in the garden, except one.  And even the prohibition was an act of love, as that fruit at that time had bad consequences.  Perhaps when the time was ripe, Adam and Eve could have safely eaten that fruit as well.

When Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery, and when God was carrying out His wrath on the Egyptians there was a meal of bread and wine and the flesh of a lamb.

And when the wandering children of Israel were starving, God expressed His love for His people by feeding them  with the wondrous food called “Manna” – which is Hebrew for “What is it?” – the question the children of Israel asked in wonder as the Lord rained down bread from heaven just for them.

To feed people is an act of love, because food is a means of preserving life.  But it is also something that makes life joyful.

St. John the Evangelist’s sixth chapter is a magnificent text that includes our reading for today: the feeding of the five thousand.  Later in the chapter, Jesus will teach the people about the Bread of Life, the new and greater Manna – which is Jesus’s very own flesh and blood, which bears a promise of eternal life by eating and drinking in faith.

This feeding of the people is a constant theme in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and indeed, eternity is described as a never-ending banquet, a wedding feast in which Jesus is both the host and guest, both victim and priest, both the one beloved of the Father and the One who loves the Father even to the point of His obedient death upon the cross.

And there is indeed no greater love than that a man would lay down His life for His friends. And the Lord’s friends are all of the people in the world for whom He dies. And  Jesus doesn’t only die upon the cross – which forgives our sins, atones for our guilt, and destroys sin, death, and the devil – our Lord does something even more wondrous, in the words of the ancient hymn: “That last night at supper lying / Mid the Twelve, His chosen band, / Jesus, with the Law complying, / Keeps the feast its rites demand; / Then, more precious food supplying, / Gives Himself with His own hand.”

Of course, the author of the hymn, St. Thomas Aquinas, speaks of the Lord’s Supper.  

John Chapter Six does as well, only indirectly.  For what greater love could a man have than to lay down His life for His friends, and feed them as well?

For in our text, the Passover was coming: the feast with its demanding rites, the chief rite of which will be the Lord’s crucifixion as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.  And with the approach of the Passover, people by the thousands are coming to the Passover Lamb in the flesh.  They have come to hear Him speak and to experience His miracles.  

And knowing that the crowds needed to eat, and knowing that the logistics of feeding so many could not be done in the usual manner, Jesus gives us a glorious sign, teaching us about the Lord’s Supper, by performing a miracle involving food.

Yes, Jesus loves us, and so He feeds us.  And He doesn’t feed us merely with bread, for man doesn’t live by bread alone, but rather by bread that is also His body, and wine that is also His blood.  Jesus feeds us because He loves us, and His food, even more so than the Manna that fed the Old Testament believers in their journey, is the food that sustains us to eternal life.  

When the people sat down, the Lord Jesus “took the loaves, and when He had given thanks,” distributed the miraculous bread to those who gathered together to hear His Word, those who have come to be fed with the Word, or as Thomas’s hymn puts it:  by the “Word Made Flesh,  the bread He taketh, / By His Word His flesh to be; / Wine His sacred blood He maketh, / Though the senses fail to see; / Faith alone the true heart waketh / To behold the mystery.”

For it is truly a mystery, dear friends.  How can five loaves and two fish feed so many?  How can a wafer and a sip of wine deliver eternal life?  How can flakes fall from the sky to feed the people of God?  How can bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ by His Word and at His command?  It is a mystery, which is what the word “sacrament” means.

So many were fed that twelve baskets of leftovers remained, miraculous food that will feed others who hunger, especially them that hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Yes indeed, feeding people is an act of love.  It is the act of a Father who loves His children, of a God who loves His creation, of a Bridegroom who loves His bride, of a Holy Spirit who loves the Church that is His creation.  And dining together is an act of love, dear friends, love for the God who creates us, redeems us, and sanctifies us, as well as a sharing of a holy meal that calls us to “fervent love for one another.” 

Let us partake of the miraculous feeding of the billions at the hand of the Lord in His miraculous Supper.  For this feeding of His people is truly an act of love – a love that will have no end. 


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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) – 2017

12 March 2017

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There are two ways to react to Jesus: belief or unbelief.

Jesus is a completely unique figure in history.  Every country in the world uses the BC/AD scheme for numbering our calendar.  AD stands for “Anno Domini,” Latin for “the year of Lord,” or in other words, the number of years since the reign of the world’s king.

Jesus is the only major religious figure on the planet whose tomb is empty – not because it was robbed or vandalized, but because He just walked out of it. 

Jesus is quoted even by those who hate the church and want to justify sinful behavior, being quick to tell us that Jesus said, “Judge not…” and told us to love one another – as if Jesus is saying that it’s perfectly okay to break the ten commandments without being called to repentance.

Jesus is considered to be a great teacher by some Jews, a prophet by Muslims, an avatar by many eastern religions, a Buddha by the Dalai Lama, an enlightened soul by Zen masters, and when challenged for putting a sign on His cross that said, “King of the Jews,” the Roman governor who found Him not guilty, but permitted his execution anyway, was to say, “What I have written, I have written.”

Jesus has been worshiped by millions of people as God, including about two billion people living today.  What we know about Jesus mainly comes from the Bible, the most printed, purchased, translated, read, quoted, studied, loved, and hated book in the history of mankind. 

Jesus changed the world as no other man in history, and is still changing the world. 

Jesus was acknowledged to be a worker of unexplainable miracles even by His enemies who denounced Him in the Talmud, whose authors denied that He is the Son of God, but argued that He is a “sorcerer” – one who does miracles by means of the devil.

And this same dichotomy is as true today was true when the events reported by St. Luke in our Gospel happened.  Jesus is either the Son of God or a tool of Satan.

In our Gospel, Jesus has just cast out a demon and made a mute man well again, so that he was able to speak.  This was not a medical cure.  This was not a magic trick.  This was not a coincidence, but rather a constant pattern in the life of Jesus. 

And so, there are two explanations for this: either Jesus is who He says He is, who the church confesses Him to be, and who Scripture testifies that He is: God in the flesh, or, He is a sorcerer – doing miracles by means of the devil.

And just as today, we see opinion divided.  “The people marveled.  But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’”

So, in other words, either this Jesus is God in the flesh, the Lord and Savior of the world, the victor over sin, death, and the devil, the hope for mankind and for each individual soul in this fallen world, the ultimate incarnation of love who dies on the cross as an atonement for all our sins, the One who is creating for us a new heaven and a new earth and will raise our bodies at the resurrection so that we will live sinless and glorious lives for all eternity, or, He is an evil and duplicitous liar who can do miracles because He is the ultimate villain who hates mankind and who seeks to glorify Satan.

If we have to determine whether a person is good or evil, we typically look at his deeds.  There is very little debate about whether or not Hitler and Stalin and Mao carried out good or evil deeds.  It is not going out on a limb to call such people evil.  And similarly, when we read about people to risk their own lives to save others, when we hear of people who act in ways that are honorable and heroic and in love for their fellow men, we generally don’t look for some way to distort their good deeds into demonic behavior.

It simply doesn’t make sense to call good evil, and to call evil good.  And Jesus Himself points out the nonsense of it all: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.  And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?  For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”

Those who look at the works of Jesus: the casting out of demons, the curing of blindness, the restoration of hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, making the lame walk, healing people of crippled hands, paralysis, hemorrhages, fevers, dropsy, epilepsy, leprosy, and even raising the dead – and ascribing these works as evil and of the devil – are simply stuck in the prison of their own minds, being captured by a narrative that they are too stubborn to release.

The bottom line is that Jesus casts out demons because He is the God who created them, and they are the angels who have disobeyed Him.  These fallen angels go where they are forbidden to go, and they never help mankind, but always torture and imprison the sons of Adam.  Jesus has come to set the captive free, to cast out the works and workers of darkness, to forgive sins, to restore human dignity, and to even overturn our sentence of death by His own death upon the cross.

And what’s more, Jesus rises from His own tomb, and proclaims this victory to all.

Dear friends, it has become fashionable to look past all the hard evidence of Christ’s divinity and to join the false narrative that either considers Jesus to be a fraud or a worker of evil.  But don’t be deceived. 

A good tree bears good fruit.  Evil does not work to bring healing and health and completeness and life and restoration of communion with God.  Only God in the flesh can do this, only the “finger of God” can point to a demon and cast it away, while the hand attached to that finger can bear the scar of the nail that held Him to the cross, the same cross the church proclaims, the cross that is the altar upon which Lamb of God was slain.

Our Lord performs wondrous good works because He is both wondrous and good.  He forgives because He is God.  He loves because He is love.  He is with us here and now in His Word and sacrament.  His glorious work continues.  The demons are no match for Him.

And let us never forget what He taught us about mankind and what a man’s confession of Christ truly means: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

Let us continue to gather with Him, and let us not only believe, but confess and rejoice as well. For “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Amen.

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sermon: Funeral for Henry Wilty

17 March 2017

Text: John 11:20-27 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

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

Our dear brother Henry lived an extraordinary life on this side of the grave: nearly a century.  He was born just after the World War I veterans came home.  He lived through the Great Depression, and served honorably in World War II.  In his lifetime, he saw both horses and buggies, as well as rockets and satellites and the information superhighway.

Living so long is a blessing, but it also has great challenges, like outliving most of one’s immediate family and friends, and the physical aches and pains and infirmities and limitations of old age.  For the elderly, it is often a return to childhood in a way, being dependent for everything on loving family members.  And Henry had no shortage of that kind of loving family right up until the Lord called him home.

Something else happened in Henry’s life, when he was twenty-one days old.  On that day, baby Henry returned to his birth in a way, being dependent on loving parents to bring him to a new birth, in the words of Jesus, he was “born of  water and the Spirit,” according to the Lord’s words, “You must be born again.”

This new birth happened at the church that I serve, Salem Lutheran Church, at the hands of my beloved predecessor, Pastor Eugene Schmid – and in the very same baptismal font that stands in our church to this day.

To unbelievers, this is hardly an important event in the life of a man.  But for us Christians, this is an eternal milestone in our dear brother’s life.  For Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  And the Lord Jesus told us to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”  Pastor Schmidt applied water to the Lord’s servant Henry with these very words 35,244 days ago.

The Words and promises of Jesus have no expiration date.  This same Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and spoke to Martha, the sister of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  Those words were recorded in Scripture for us right here and right now, dear friends.

For this is the very reason our Lord Jesus Christ was born into our fallen world, where, because of our sins, we suffer, we age, and we die.  This is true for every single one of us from Adam right to the newborn babies born today.  Jesus came to us poor, miserable sinners, because He loves us, He redeems us, He restores us to holiness, and He brings us to everlasting life – not because we are worthy, but because He is worthy.  And He is coming again to create a new heaven and a new earth, to grant us “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and a glorious reunion with our loved ones who have been baptized into Christ’s death, for as St. Paul tells us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”  That promise likewise knows no expiration date. 

This, dear friends, is why we can be at peace even in our mourning.  For the Lord’s servant Henry was set apart as a child of God, and was given an inheritance of life through the cross of Jesus, through His body and blood, through the promise of the Gospel.  That promise is Henry’s, because our Lord Jesus Christ said so.  That makes it true.  It is not up for negotiation or interpretation.  The promise of the Lord as spoken through the prophet Isaiah belongs to Henry as well: “even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you, I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

And though this prophecy to the Lord’s people was made 700 years before Christ, the Word of God has no expiration date.  The promise was given to Henry as well, upon his becoming one of the Lord’s own beloved, chosen people.

One of the most comforting passages in the Bible comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth.  St. Paul speaks of the victory of Christ over the grave – which is today Henry’s victory as well.  The apostle says: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And so, we mourn the loss of our father, our grandfather, our relative, our friend, a man whose life touched so many, whose love shaped generations of people for the better.  It is fitting that we mourn.  But we mourn in hope, dear friends, and we are even so bold as to mourn with joy, an act of defiance against sin, death, and the devil, all of whom were defeated by our Lord at the cross, the same Lord whose words continue to be proclaimed by His people, the same words that have no expiration date.

We mourn in expectation of seeing him again, in expectation of our own triumph over the grave in Christ Jesus.  For Jesus walked out of His own grave by His own power.  We Christians are gearing up yet again to celebrate this Easter victory, this promise made to Henry and to all who believe and are baptized. 

Dear friends, take comfort in the words of Jesus when and where Jesus is proclaimed, where His Word continues to go forth, where His body and blood are freely given to you for the strengthening of your faith, where the Good News of our Lord’s triumph over death continues to ring out, now, and even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sermon: Funeral for Jack Weigel

13 March 2017

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Lam 3:22-26, 31-33; Rev 21:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Sandi, Jeff, Chris, Michelle, Tara, family, friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.

Over the course of his nearly three quarters of a century of life on this side of the grave, Jack wore many hats.  There is no higher calling than to be a husband and father, and to serve other members of one’s family in love.  To run a business for half a century, helping people to buy and sell homes, to be trusted with those kinds of important decisions, requires not only knowledge, but an unrelenting trustworthiness and faithfulness.  And to save life and limb and property in the fire service for 25 years as a volunteer, and even serving as a captain, is a testament to Jack’s compassion.

And of course on this side of the grave, we all wear a different kind of hat as well: that of a sinner.  God spoke to our ancestor Adam, and He speaks to all of us as well, that because of our sins, we return to the clay from which we were fashioned.  You may have heard this said on Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  St. Paul teaches us that the wages of sin is death.  And sin is something that plagues all of us.  As beloved as our brother Jack is to all of us, he was not perfect (as none of us are), and neither his love for family, nor his faithfulness to the community, nor his compassion even to the stranger, could prevent Jack’s death, nor can it save him from the wrath of God, who is perfect, and who demands that we also be perfect.

But hear the Word of the Lord, dear friends: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…. Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”

For as a man loves His wife and children (and we do so imperfectly at times), so does our heavenly Father love us, yet unconditionally and perfectly.  And just as a person who lives in the community serves his fellow man faithfully (even as we do so imperfectly), God serves us faithfully and perfectly.  And just as our Lord taught us that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends, Jesus has offered His own life as a ransom – for Jack, for you, for me, and for all of us who need redemption and grace, and He does so perfectly.  He promises to save those who are baptized and who believe, who call upon His name.  For when St. Paul says that the wages of sin is death, he finishes the statement in this way: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

After his heart attack, I visited Jack in the hospital.  He had just heard very grim news.  According to the doctors, he had very little time left.  I shared the Word of God with Jack.  I prayed for him and with him. I anointed him with oil as the church has always done.  In His mercy, God granted Jack extra time to be with his family and friends.  I saw him a few times afterward, not in the hospital, but walking around and smiling.  It was a great blessing that the Lord gave Jack this second chance.  And it is a demonstration of the Lord’s mercy, and how His ways are beyond our understanding.

For we worship a God of second chances, who loves us even though not one of us deserves it.  He has carried Jack to his heavenly home, where he awaits the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and the great and marvelous reunion when we will see him again in glory.

Our Lord Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….  I am the good shepherd.  I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

Even as a firefighter puts his own life on the line to rescue one in need, so does our Lord Jesus Christ endure the Father’s wrath, the weight of our sins, and the suffering of the cross to save us – and that is the faith that Jack was baptized into.  That is God’s promise to him and to you, dear friends.

And though we mourn now – and it is natural that we do so, for we miss our loved ones who are taken from us – remember that this separation is only temporary.  For God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.”  

So on this day it is fitting to remember that Jack is a son of the Heavenly Father who loves him, that the Lord has faithfully prepared an eternal home for Jack, and that our Lord Jesus Christ has compassionately rescued Jack from sin, death, and the devil, saving him in victory, a victory won for Jack and for all of us through the cross and the resurrection – a resurrection that extends to all of us.

And it is in Christ’s victory, that is also Jack’s victory, that we Christians greet one another with Christ’s peace.  Peace be with you!  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2017

12 March 2017

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“O woman, great is your faith!” says our Lord to the Canaanite woman. “Be it done for you as you desire.”

Jesus has come into our world to mend it, to restore it, to heal it.  He has come to repair that which is broken – especially each one of us.  We suffer physically: sicknesses that burden us, accidents that suddenly incapacitate us, pains from the toll of age, and even death itself.  We suffer mentally: depression, frustration, mental health issues, and emotional pain.  We suffer spiritually: temptations, doubts, demonic harassment, loss of faith, and fear of God’s wrath, or perhaps even worse, a lack of fear of God’s wrath.

No matter who we are, we suffer.  No matter how fine we are at times, we are catastrophically broken at other times.  And nobody gets out of here alive. 

And it isn’t just us.  Everyone on the planet, great and small, rich and poor, men and women, famous and obscure – all of us suffer this brokenness.

The Canaanite woman had a lot of strikes against her.  Being a woman in her day and age was not easy.  Her toil was hard and the rewards were few.  She was not respected by men of any nationality.  And being a Canaanite, she was outside of the covenant of the people of God – who looked down upon her because of her ethnicity.  She was probably raised to believe in false gods.  And her daughter was disturbingly sick.  And to top it all off, her daughter did not suffer with an ailment that could be cured by doctors and medicine.  For she was possessed by a demon.  And being a Canaanite, who can cast this demon out?  Could her pagan priests?  Would a Jewish rabbi or prophet come near her?

Somehow, some way, she knew where she had to go to get help.  Against her own religion, and contrary to the customs of her heritage and even the whole region, she knew that she had to go to Jesus, to beg for His mercy, and for Him to exercise the power He has to cast out the demon and restore her daughter to health and wholeness.

She indeed believes that Jesus can do this.  And yet this is only part of the picture of faith.  Just knowing that Jesus can do something is not the same as knowing that Jesus will do something.  And what of her faith when that faith is challenged?  Does the faith hold on, or does it wither away?  

This Canaanite woman teaches us the complexity of faith, dear friends, the kind of faith that conducts salvation from Jesus, to us, and heals, the faith that taps into the grace of Jesus and delivers.  

This kind of faith isn’t knowledge – for even the demons “believe” in this way, and they shudder.  This kind of faith isn’t even asking Jesus for mercy, for the demons do that as well.  This kind of faith isn’t even a hunch that Jesus will do something for us – for this woman is given no indication that Jesus will heal her daughter.  For when she knelt before Jesus and begged for His help, His initial response was less than encouraging: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 

Such a reply could easily have destroyed any faith of this woman.  But it doesn’t.  She argues with Jesus: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  She doesn’t argue her own righteousness, for she lays claim to the very derogatory insult of being a dog.  But rather she points to the pity of the dog’s Master, the Master’s natural inclination to love His dog.  She holds God to His promise to be merciful to His creatures – not because they are worthy, but rather because God is God.

And she acknowledges Jesus to be God, breaking through her own paganism and confessing the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

But notice something about this faith of the Canaanite woman: her faith is stubborn.  It is unrelenting.  She refuses to take “no” for an answer.  She is spiritually clawing and kicking to receive the answer to her prayer – not unlike the stubborn Jacob, who wrestled God in human form, and refused to let go until he received a blessing.

This, dear friends, is true faith.  It is saving faith.  This is the faith that in a very real way compels Jesus to bless and heal and save the one who seeks His blessing.  Faith is not like answering a question on a test.  It is more like winning a wrestling match or a debate.  Faith – the kind of faith that heals the sick, casts out demons, and raises the dead is just this sort of stubborn faith.  It is faith that refuses to let go, will not take “no” for an answer, and somehow knows that Jesus has what we need, and is willing to make demands of Jesus by appealing not to our worthiness, but rather to His worthiness.

It is as though this Canaanite women were confessing Jesus as God so forcefully that she is almost daring Jesus to try not to be divine.  He cannot do it.  He cannot refuse her, because He is God, and God is love, and love will not refuse the one in need, the one who asks, the one who cries out to God in mercy.

Her confession is not rooted in knowledge or a theological education, but rather in her stubborn trust that Jesus is unable, by His very nature, to refuse her entreaties.  

And she is right.

Jesus tests her faith, and Jesus tests our faith.  True faith simply refuses to be shaken off.  True faith holds on for dear life – because that is exactly what we receive, dear friends: dear life.  We hold God to His promises, including the promise that is also a declaration: your sins are forgiven.  And because Jesus has come into our world to save us, because He went to the cross, because He shed His blood and died as the perfect ransom, we lay claim to eternal life, dear brothers and sisters.

So let us refuse to quit.  Let us refuse to give up.  Let us hold on to our Lord Jesus Christ with everything that is in us. Let us ever remind our Lord that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.  And let us receive an invitation to not just crumbs, but even to the Lord’s body itself, and the blood that saves us, and the Word that absolves us, and the Gospel that strengthens this faith into a holy stubbornness.  Let the Lord no longer call us dogs but rather His brothers and His sisters by virtue of His Sonship of the Father.

For He is God.  He is love.  He is merciful.  He is faithful.  We will not refuse your entreaty, O woman, nor yours, O man.  Your faith will make you well by placing your infirmities and iniquities in the nail-scarred hands of our merciful Lord.  He will cast out the demons that harass you and the doubts that assail you.  He forgives the sins that vex you and the weaknesses of faith that wear you down.

But He is not worn down.  He never tires of us or of our prayers.  His mercies are without limit and His grace without measure.  Hold on tight and remind Him of His Word and His promise.  And let us all hear this blessing as we refuse to let go: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1) – 2017

5 March 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Satan says: “Did God actually say…?”

Jesus says: “It is written.”

Satan lures us to doubt the Word of God, to reinterpret it according to our wants and whims, to exalt ourselves and “be like God” – even though Satan’s lusty invitation is a lie.  And Satan leads us to death. Jesus calls us to trust the Word of God, to submit to it according to God’s will, to praise the God who created us, and who invites us to live with Him forever in blessedness and truth.  For Jesus is the very incarnation of Truth.

Satan led the man Adam to darkness, destruction, and death.  The man Jesus has defeated Satan, and leads mankind to light, love, and life.

Three times, the lying devil sought to pervert our Lord Jesus: first, to tempt Him to feed Himself apart from God, second, to destroy Himself contrary to the will of God, and third, to seek worldly power in rebellion against God.  And three times, our Lord Jesus replied, “It is written…. Then the devil left Him.”

“It is written,” dear friends.  The weapon you need to subvert the devil, to resist temptation, to remain faithful, to claim the free gift of everlasting life that is yours by virtue of Him who defeated the devil at the cross, is found in the writings, the Scripture, the Holy Bible, the Word of God.

Jesus is the Word.  For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Word, dear friends, the same Word that, from the heavens, spoke all things into existence, in the beginning, is the same Word that, from the cross, bespeaks us forgiven and righteous, freed from guilt, and released from bondage to sin, death, and yes, the malignant and lying devil himself.  

The same Word cleansed you at your baptism.  The same Word absolves you of your sins.  The same Word nourishes you not merely with bread and wine, but with the body and blood of the Word made flesh, the Word that dwells among us.

The Word is not a dusty old book of meaningless history or trite moralisms.  The Word is not a magic book of spells and incantations.  The Word is not a book of trivia to master.

The Word of God “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” – and it is your only weapon with which to slay the dragon.

The Bible is at the same time the best selling book at any given time and the least read book that so often collects dusts in our homes.  The Bible is the greatest book ever written, and the greatest book ever forgotten.  The Bible is the book most sought after in history, and the book most misunderstood in history.

And so here we are, dear brothers and sisters, at the first Sunday in our Lenten journey, having the opportunity and the privilege to meditate on Satan’s defeat at the hands of the Word by means of the Word.  We hear anew of how lying words betrayed man into the clutches to the devil, and we also hear how true words betrayed the devil into the clutches of the Man Jesus, the Man who triumphed where Adam fell.

And the Lord Jesus offers Himself to all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, dear friends, giving Himself to us as the Word that destroys the devil.  

In our wonderful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Doctor Luther, reflecting upon the Word of God in Psalm 46, ponders the Lord’s battle with the devil, which is also our battle with the devil: “The old evil foe/ Now means deadly woe;/ Deep guile and great might/ Are his dread arms in fight;/ On earth is not his equal.”

Indeed, dear friends, we are not equal to the task of fighting the devil.  But, as the hymn continues: “But for us fights the valiant One,/ Whom God Himself elected./ Ask ye Who is this?/ Jesus Christ it is.”

And when it comes to Satan, when facing the Lord Jesus Christ, we sing in the hymn: “One little word can fell him.”

All the might and power and rage and destruction of the devil, and yet what defeats him?  One little word: one little baby inside His mother’s womb, one little book of Truth, one act of defiance and resistance by a Christian who hurls the Word of God into the face of Satan.  One little Word.

Dear friends, we need the Word of God.  The Word destroys the devil, fills us with grace, and raises us from death.  The Word’s power is mighty and merciful, crushing evil and bearing up the humble, calling sinners to repent, and restoring the penitent to a calling of holiness.

We opened this service with the Word of God, Psalm 91, a prayer and a blessing used in exorcisms.  In that Word, we heard anew the promise of Him who defeated Satan, the Word that declares: “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.  You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”  Because Jesus has trampled the head of the serpent, we too have victory over the devil.  And the Word delivers that victory to us, hardens us for battle, and comforts us in distress. 

St. Paul speaks of the preaching of the Word when he writes of “truthful speech, and the power of God.”  Truthful speech, dear friends.  The words of the devil are lies, but the Word of God is truth.  It is written!  Read it. Study it.  Hear it. Pray it!  And most of all, believe it – in this life and in the life to come!  Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Sermon: Ash Wednesday – 2017

1 March 2017

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Peter wrote to the church about “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

And that is the source of all of our problems, dear friends, a lusting for that which was not given us.  It plagued Adam and Eve when they chose to disobey God’s word at the temptation of the serpent.  

The word translated as “corruption” means decay or ruin, and it is closely related to the word translated as “jealousy.”  What could be a more fitting description of the fall in the garden?  What could be a more accurate – though unflattering picture – of each one of us?

Corruption is rot, and rot spreads, until it reaches its terminus at death.  “Remember, O man…”

Although it’s not something we deal with in our modern world, an example of this corruption from Scripture is leprosy.  Today, leprosy is known as Hansen’s Disease, and it can be cured.  But for most of human existence, leprosy was a death sentence.  And death followed the slow and painful march of corruption and decay of the flesh. And since this disease is contagious and so dangerous, because it is disfiguring and frightening, those who suffered with leprosy were cast out of the community and forced to live alone or in leper colonies.  If they came into contact with people not suffering with the disease, they had to call out “unclean!”  You could tell lepers by looking at them. 

Lepers sometimes came to Jesus calling out for mercy, seeking for Jesus to remove the corruption and restore them to life and to the community.  They had faith that He could do this, and prayed for His help.  They gathered where Jesus could be found, even risking the reproach of others, including the hypocrites who saw themselves as better than lepers, though they too needed Christ’s mercy.

And so, on this day, this first day of the great fast, on this day in which we ponder our own sinful nature and corruption, our own leprous sin and “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire,” we symbolically wear the rags of the leper, with the outstretched hands of the beggar, our faces marked for death, with ashes of sorrow and repentance placed upon us with a call to remembrance – as if we need to be reminded of sin and death.

And yet we do need reminded, for we hypocritically deny our sinful nature, our corruption, and even our mortality.  We change the subject when death comes up.  We avoid making wills and taking care of insurance needs.  We shy away from the topic.  But on this day, we look at one another as fellow members of a leper colony.  We see a token of the corruption that we hide so well.

In our own day and age, we are so clueless that many Christian churches have turned Ash Wednesday into an extension of Carnival.  Some churches allow people to drive up in their cars to get ashes as if it were a happy meal or a parade throw – without even being inconvenienced to the point of opening the car door – because people are too busy and too callous to hear the Word of God.  For whatever reason, they thing ashes are a fun thing to do.

Other churches make a mockery of this ancient practice by mixing glitter with the oil and ashes to produce a fashion statement that is intended to support sexual rebellion from the Word of God, and to celebrate it, thus losing all meaning that the ashes convey: the token of corruption and death and a call to repent of our sins and not take pride in them.

But even though we came to church, heard the word of God, and did not festoon ourselves with glitter on this day, this reminder is for us.  Our Lord Jesus reminds us of the sin of self-righteousness: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven….  And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen.”  Make sure you understand the meaning behind the ashes, dear friends.  It isn’t one of those little yellow stickers you put on to brag that you voted today.  This is a serious reminder that you are corrupt. You are a liar.  You are a cheater.  You are a thief.  You are a sexual scoundrel.  You are disobedient of authority.  You covet and despise preaching and the Word.  You abuse the Lord’s name and take idols.  

You are a leper, and we are members of a colony.  We have no cure to save ourselves from the corruption, and death is imminent.  We are a corrupting force to others.  We need to protect them from us.  

But, dear friends, the ashes placed on your foreheads are shaped like a cross: the symbol of death under the law, the death suffered by Jesus as the atonement for those sins. In the cross, we can call out to the Lord, “Have mercy upon us!” and He hears us.  With a Word He cleanses us.  With His flesh and blood, He takes away our leprosy, our shame, our reproach, and yes, even our death.  We are cured and healed and restored to the community: the communion of saints.  And in gratitude, we, like the Samaritan leper, continue to return to give thanks, struggling to lead repentant and holy lives.

This is what Joel means in saying: “Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  We return in repentance, and we return in thanks. 

And so let these ashen crosses that remind us of our sin and mortality in and of ourselves, also remind us of our forgiveness and immortality in Christ, though the cross, by His Word, and by means of the water and the blood and the flesh of Him who has healed the leper, raised the dead, and invited us to partake of eternal life.

For the Lord says to us anew, dear friends: “Behold, I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”

Remember, O man…  Amen.

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon: Quinquagesima – 2017

26 February 2017

Text: Luke 28:31-43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Your faith has made you well,” says our Lord.  He says this many times during His ministry as He heals the sick. In this case, our Lord restores sight to a blind man in response to his prayer: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Of course, Jesus made him well.  But notice that our Lord emphasizes the role of faith.  Jesus uses our faith to make us well.  Our faith is important, and paradoxically, our faith is also a gift of God.

So where does this faith come from?  What strengthens our faith?  St. Paul teaches us that “faith comes by hearing… the Word of Christ.”  And as we pray after receiving the Holy Eucharist, that God would “strengthen us through the same,” that is, through receiving the “salutary gift” of the Lord’s Supper, our faith is indeed strengthened.

This Gospel text is the very last one that we will hear in preparation for the beginning of Lent.  And Lent is the perfect time to focus on our faith.  Just as many people resolve to “get into shape” physically after the holidays or after the new year or before swimsuit season, Lent provides Christians with a perfect opportunity to strengthen our faith by being where Jesus is, by hearing Him proclaim the Law and the Gospel, by receiving His sure and certain Word of Holy Absolution, by partaking of the Holy Supper.  All of these things strengthen our faith.  And when we pray the scriptures, when we study the Word of God, we are also steeling ourselves for spiritual warfare, to endure the crafts and assaults of the devil that we face in this fallen and embattled world.

We modern people enjoy a lot of blessings, and we also carry our share of crosses.  In modern life, we don’t have to slave over farms from sun up to sun down.  Many of us are able to sit for long hours at a time – even as we work.  We don’t have to walk to a village well and tote buckets of water.  We have indoor plumbing at the touch of a handle.  We have machines and conveniences to do most everything for us.  We hardly even have to look at books anymore, as our phones seem to have all the answers to every question, and even some answers to questions that we never thought to ask.

We have unprecedented free time and entertainments, and we don’t have to move nearly as much as our ancestors.  

But these things have had unintended consequences.  Our muscles weaken and our bones become brittle.  Our hearts become feeble, and our lungs become frail.  And as a result, in order to strengthen our bodies, we now run on treadmills and ride bikes that don’t go anywhere.  We lift weights only to put them down again.  We take supplements and vitamins and minerals to acquire what our modern diets of convenience and comfort lack.   We have to work out artificially in order to be as fit as our ancestors, who would consider these things crazy.

Spiritually, dear friends, we moderns are also deprived of wellness.  

Our age is the most biblically illiterate in American history.  Our church attendance is more and more sparse.  The Divine Service: the preaching of the Word and the reception of the Sacrament, become less and less important in our lives.  Daily prayer has a way of disappearing. Family devotions become rarer and rarer.  Things that our grandparents took for granted: big confirmation classes, congregational retreats, the Walther league, youth lock-ins, large Bible classes, men’s groups, women’s groups, potlucks and church bazaars, pageants, special church services, neighbors that were overwhelmingly Christian, and the like, hardly describe our culture today.

We have no qualms about spending time and money on hobbies and entertainments, while begrudging God an hour a week or honoring our duty to be good stewards of the kingdom.  We think of ourselves first, and only afterward, do we think of others.  So often we have gifts that the Lord can make use of, but we squander those gifts on things that are passing and temporary instead of storing up treasures in heaven.

But this Wednesday, dear friends, we will be surrounded by reminders of our own mortality.  We are not well.  We are dying.  Our faith is weak.  We need to join with the blind beggar in praying: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And beginning this Wednesday, the Lord will call us to repent in stronger and more strident terms.  The Lord has given us opportunities to strengthen our faith: two Divine Services each week, resources like the Treasury of Daily Prayer and Portals of Prayer to help us order our devotional life, and we have ample opportunities to study the Word of God and strengthen our faith.  We can fast, and remind ourselves that we do not live by bread alone, but rather that we are dependent upon every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  We can strive to be more patient, more kind, more tolerant, more helpful, seeking ways to be of service to our fellow man and to the kingdom of God.  

And when we fall into sin, we can repent and resolve to resist temptation, relying on the Word and Sacraments, once again, to strengthen this faith that makes us well.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has done all the heavy lifting for us, dear friends.  We sin, but He is righteous.  We have earned God’s wrath, but He endures the cross.  We deserve to have our blood spilled, but His blood is shed upon the cross and offered to the Father as the only oblation, the sacrificial atonement, to assuage our guilt and heal us – and what’s more, that same blood is given to us in a glorious, faith-strengthening sacrament.  He saves us by grace, and we receive this free gift through faith.

For even now as we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent, we are reminded of the Good News of the cross, of our Lord’s boundless love and infinite patience with us.  He does not keep score, but rather keeps faith.  He has not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.  He did not tell the blind beggar that as a sinner, he deserved his ailment, but heard his prayer for mercy, drew near, and answered his prayer with just what he needed: to be well, to receive his sight, to be healed by the Son of David who is also the Son of God.

Dear friends, we come to this place as beggars.  We come blinded by the flashing lights of this world.  But we come nonetheless, in our need, in our mortality, in our sin, and we also pray: “Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.”  And our prayer is answered.  He comes to us, to hear us, to speak His words of life over us, for forgive us, to heal us, and to give us the free gift of eternal life that He has earned for us.

He gives this to us by faith, and He gives us all we need to strengthen our faith, all the daily bread we need for this body and life – life that will have no end.

Let us cry out again and again, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” and let us again and again hear His Word: “Your faith has made you well.”  Amen.

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

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 conducive 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.