Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon: Michaelmas – 2015

27 September 2015

Text: Matt 18:1-11 (Dan 10:10-14; 12:1-3, Rev 12:7-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

And they were both good, perfect in fact.  But something happened in heaven: Satan and his rebel angels defied God’s will.  And in this context we are taught about the Archangel Michael: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.” St. Michael is a warrior. 

And though angels exist in a plane of reality outside of our universe, being eternal and having no fleshly body, artwork depicting St. Michael the Archangel shows him not only with angel’s wings, but with a muscular, masculine form, and carrying a weapon.

And as is often the case, this cosmic conflict was not contained. It spread from the heavenly plane to the earth, from the invisible to the visible, from the realms of spirit to the world of flesh.  The angelic rebellion was then joined by the humans, by Adam and Eve, who in their greed to “be like God,” were tricked into joining Satan’s rebellion.

And so the entire creation is at war.  We cannot see with our eyes the underlying reality of this vast War Between the Angels. But as with any war, there are casualties, atrocities, death, destruction, and both courage and cowardice, as well as both honor and horror.

And in this epic conflict, St. Michael is the chief archangel, whose name means “Who is like God.” 

In the days of our Old Testament reading from Daniel, God’s people were under the domination of the Persians.  And this earthly conflict seems to spill over into the heavenly realms, as St. Michael, “who is like God” in his faithfulness, contends for the people of God, even though they are descendants of Adam and Eve who wanted to “be like God,” but who most certainly were not “like God” in their sin.

And even today, the warfare is all around us, even when we can’t see it. 

Our Lord Jesus even tells us that the “little ones” are under the divine protection of “their angels” who “always see the face” of the Father in heaven.  Even children who innocently snuggle in with their mothers are targeted for death and destruction by Satan and his ruthless rebellious demons.  What a great blessing that St. Michael and his holy legions defend us, though we can’t see them.

Before the two falls, both the one in heaven and the one on earth, there were no conflicts.  Everything was just as it should be.  Every creature carried out the will of God like a precisely running clock.  Every galaxy and every electron spun perfectly in its orbit without conflict or collision.  But when sin was introduced, it all changed.  Now things crash into other things: be they inanimate objects, animals, or humans.  The clock is broken, and is winding down thanks to wear and tear and friction and competition for space and time.

And this is the warfare, dear friends.  This chaos explains everything from dying stars to hurricanes, cancer to genocide, violence to vainglory.  And angels are dispatched by God to protect His people.  This is why Luther’s morning and evening prayers both ask God to send his holy angel to be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.

Most of these warriors are not known to us by name.  But Michael (who is like God), is mentioned by name in Scripture, as is Gabriel (whose name means “God is my strength”), and as is Raphael, (whose name means “God heals”) mentioned in the Book of Tobit.  All throughout the Bible we are told that there are legions and myriads of angels. 

And just as all of these names end in “el” – which means God – they are all under the command of a man whose name also ends in “el” – that is Immanuel, “God with us.”  Immanuel is our imminent God, the God who is indeed with us as one of us.  Jesus is not merely like God, but is God who has come to restore humanity to communion with God.  He is not merely one who reminds us that God is our strength, He is our strong God who defeats death and the devil for us.  He is not merely a messenger who reveals that God heals, rather He is the God in the flesh who heals us by His Word and Sacraments.

For as high and exalted as the angels and archangels are, we humans have cause to consider ourselves of even higher estate. For one of us, Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, is God.  He is the commander of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, of angels and archangels, and of all the company of heaven.

What comfort, dear friends, to know that God doesn’t leave us on our own to face sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has conquered all of these, and sends His angels to keep us safe.  For how many temptations have we been spared from because Michael, under the orders of the God that he is like, threw the dragon down?  How many accidents have been diverted and never happened because Gabriel is strong on God’s behalf and protected us?  How many illnesses never took hold of us because Raphael heals us under the authority of Christ, our great physician?

Indeed, how many children avoided falling into the minefield of sin and death and the devil because “their angels always see the face” of our heavenly Father?

And while the war rages on until the second coming of our Lord, we know who the victor is.  He won the victory at the cross when He paid for our sins by His blood and declared once and for all, with the authority of the One who is God: “It is finished!”  He celebrated that victory when He descended into hell to strongly proclaim His kingdom even to death and the demons.  He made that victory known when He healed His own dead body when He rose from death.

He shares that victory with the very little ones whom He protects through His angels, by calling men to forgive sins by His authority, to baptize in His name, to give out the Holy Supper in accordance with His Words of Institution and life-giving gospel.  And at the preaching of this Word and the administration of the sacraments, there is truly joy in heaven that cannot be contained.  For the final victory in the heavens and the earth is imminent and certain. 

And, dear friends, when this happens, chaos will be replaced by communion; our crashing and clashing universe will again run like a perfect clock; discord will give way to concord; swords will be beaten into plowshares; no more will galaxies and electrons crash into one another; no more will accidents, natural and manmade, occur.  Thus will all sadness and sorrow come to an end.  There will be no more separation, conflict, want, misery, warfare, rebellion, punishment, nor death itself.

And Michael will lay down his sword and join us in the perfect peace of eternity.  Gabriel will no more have to be the messenger of the strength of God, for we will all be in God’s presence.  Raphael will no longer have to communicate to us the healing power of God, for there will be nothing left to heal. 

And these guardians, these watchers and holy ones, will no more have to protect the little ones from harm, for there will be no more harm.  Indeed, dear friends, we look forward to the end of the strife, the spoils of victory, and the triumph of harmony over and against the evils of chaos.  And these angels and archangels will join us, the company of heaven, to laud and magnify the name of the Lord, praising the Triune God with us, we who will “shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Amen.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sermon: Funeral of Bonnie Schexnayder

12 June 2015

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Job 19:23-27a, Rom 8:28-39)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Merlin, (Carol), Kelli, Kris, Rachel, grandchildren, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, “Peace be with you!”

That greeting, “Peace be with you,” is not just a pious expression.  It is a powerful reminder of why we are here.  We mourn Bonnie’s passing, dear friends.  How can we not?  But that is not why we are here.  Neither are we here to celebrate Bonnie’s life.  Indeed, we do remember her with joy, as we should.  But again, dear brothers and sisters, that is not why we are here in this place at this time.

We are here, gathered as the Body of Christ, hearing His Word, because when Jesus died on Good Friday, his disciples were crushed.  But on Easter Sunday, they were filled with joy to hear of His rising again.  And the following Sunday, they saw the Lord appear physically in His resurrected body, and the first thing He said to them was, “Peace be with you!” 

Our Lord Jesus means something by this greeting.  It’s important.  It’s profound.  It’s comforting.  He means that by His peace, the warfare is over.  He means that the struggle against sin, death, and the devil are all ended.  He means that sickness and sorrow and doubt and fear and worry and pain and suffering are all finished and done away with.  

“Peace be with you!”

That peace that passes all understanding is why we are here, dear friends, here with Bonnie’s body that was baptized, that was fed with Holy Communion, that was forgiven, and that has the promise of rising again, just as our Lord Jesus Christ did!  For Jesus came to us where we are: in the flesh, in a body that feels pain, living in a world of sin, surrounded by brokenness, subject to suffering.  This is the price of our sins: Bonnie’s, yours, mine, and that of every person ever born in this world except for our Lord Himself.

For He came to save us from our sins. He died for us, so that we might live, dear friends.  He paid for all of our sins at the cross so that we might be forgiven.  He died so that death might be destroyed.  And He has given this new life to Bonnie and to all who believe and are baptized.  Bonnie lived in this truth, taught in this truth, died in this truth, and will rise again in this truth.  That is what the Lord means by: “Peace be with you!”

That is why we are here, dear friends.  We are here to declare victory over death.  For we have received His peace, even as He says to us anew: “Peace be with you!”

To the unbelieving world, death always wins.  It claims everyone.  Money and power and fame cannot abolish it.  To unbelievers, death is horrifying.  But, dear friends, there is One who has abolished it: our Lord Jesus Christ.  That is the promise He made to Bonnie; that is the blessing He gave to the disciples when He appeared to them.  And He extends the offer of that peace to every person ever born.  That is what we believe, what we confess, and what we teach, dear friends.

In her 23 years of teaching children – not only teaching them their letters and numbers and colors and how to treat one another – but also teaching children about Jesus and His cross and His empty tomb – Bonnie brought the peace of Christ, the risen, living, victorious Christ, to countless children – children who grew up and in many cases now have children of their own.  Bonnie touched the lives of people too many to be numbered, young and old – most of all, her beloved husband of 53 years.  For the peace of Jesus is also the love of Jesus.  That love is demonstrated in her ongoing love for Merlin, his ongoing love for her, and the ongoing love between Bonnie and her daughters and their families.  Love never ends.

This love, dear friends, this life of devotion, is rooted in Christ, in His gospel, in what St. Paul teaches us about His love: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  For, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing, dear friends, nothing, can separate us from God’s love in Christ.  Bonnie’s death does not separate her from Christ, nor us from Christ.  And in Christ, and in His love, we are eternally connected to Bonnie and all the saints.  Nothing can separate us!  This is what He means by, “Peace be with you!”

And what’s more, even though we have our memories of Bonnie, and in a sense she lives on through those memories and through her children and grandchildren, nevertheless, we have something even greater: we have the promise of God in His Word, “inscribed in a book” as if written with “an iron pen and lead… engraved in the Rock forever”  that we will rise in our flesh, that our bodies will be made anew: perfect, without aches and pains, without diseases and infirmities, without the effects of age, and without all of those things that we consider “normal” – including death itself – all of which come from sin.  

For as Job said in his suffering, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and “after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”  We Christians confess “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  Think of what this means, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  It means that we will hold Bonnie’s hand again, we will hear her speak, we will see her smile, we will share hugs and laughter and joy.  That is what the physical, risen Jesus means when He says: “Peace be with you.”

For Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd.  He knows His sheep, even as His sheep know His voice, the Word of Jesus, who comes to us in His Holy Word, and who calls us when it is time for Him to take us to eternity.  And listen to what He says about His beloved sheep: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Fathers hand.”

This good news, dear friends, this blessed assurance, this care of the Good Shepherd for His sheep, including Bonnie, is what our Lord means when He says: “Peace be with you!”

He is our Shepherd, and we shall want for nothing.  He makes us to lie peacefully in green pastures, beside the peaceful still waters.  He restores our souls.  He leads Bonnie, and He leads all of us who hear His Word, who receive His love as a free gift, and who believe His promises.  This is truly what our Good Shepherd means when He says: “Peace be with you!”

Peace be with you, dear friends.  Indeed, peace be with you!  Amen.

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

Monday, June 08, 2015

Restoring the Sacred!

St. John Cantius, Chicago

Here is a remarkable 30 minute, exquisitely beautiful video about restoring the sacred in Chicago's St. John Cantius Church.

In a decaying culture that celebrates death, embraces mediocrity, and revels in the perverse and ugly, this is a refreshing and inspiring respite.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Again, click here!  You will be inspired.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2015

7 June 2015

Text: Luke 16:19-31 (1 John 4:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“God is love,” says the apostle John, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world.”

So, God is love, and yet there is a day of judgment.  God is love, and yet there are Ten Commandments for us to obey.  God is love, and yet our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about hell and anguish and torment.

Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?  Why would God be judgmental?  If God is love, why would he call people “sinners” for just being who they are?

These are actually very good questions that people ask, and it cuts to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is as God’s creatures.  

And without understanding the sin that infects all of us, none of this makes sense.  We have all chosen to go our own way, to rebel against God by breaking His commandments.  This is why things are the way they are.  We live in a world of crime and violence, of sickness and sorrow and sadness, of money problems, family problems, health problems, conflicts between people and between nations.  Who, dear friends, is not disappointed with parents, with children, with bosses, and with workers – and if we’re honest: with ourselves.

God did not do this, dear friends, we did.  And if God is just, as He must surely be to be God, there has to be justice.  We all intuitively understand this.  We don’t applaud the bully; we don’t emulate the coward and the traitor; we don’t hope that a deranged person succeeds in an act of terrorism; we don’t smile when children are abused, animals are tortured, or the elderly are taken advantage of.

So we have this dilemma.  We want justice.  But we want it for others, and not ourselves.  We want to see sinners get what’s coming to them, but we want an exception for ourselves.  It is when we look at ourselves that we most seek a forgiving God, a merciful God, a God who is love.

How can God be both just and merciful?

Our Lord’s story of Lazarus and the Rich Man teaches us that God’s kingdom is not like the world.  For here we see both justice and mercy, heaven and hell, a reversal of the ways of the world, and finally, a promise of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, the ultimate act of love.

The rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen and… feasted sumptuously every day.”  Lazarus was a “poor man… covered with sores.”  Let me ask you, dear friends, whom would you rather see visiting our church: a rich, well-dressed man who knows how to put on fancy dinners, or a beggar with festering sores?  Whom would you rather see your daughter marry, a well-dressed wealthy man or a disfigured homeless person?  Which type of person would you rather be seen with in public? 

We know how the world works, what the world admires, and whom the world wishes to emulate.  And as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are guilty of being “of the world” even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

But what about the kingdom of God, dear freinds?  We learn about God’s kingdom from the rich man and Lazarus.  We learn that the rich man was indifferent to suffering.  He lacked compassion.  He lacked love.  Clearly, he lacked repentance, for by virtue of his sins and lack of forgiveness, he finds himself in hell, in torment.  By contrast, the rich man’s fellow sinner Lazarus finds himself “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”  He is not being rewarded for being poor.  He was not being rewarded for being a victim.  Rather, Lazarus receives God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and life.  

For the kingdom of God does not work like the world, which favors the wealthy, the well-dressed, and the well-connected.  Indeed, God, being love, offers something better than being wealthy in the worldly sense (offering instead treasures in heaven); He offers something better than being well-dressed by clothes that will eventually wear out (offering instead a garment of righteousness that will never fade); He offers something better than being well-connected to powerful people in this life (offering instead communion with God Almighty).  God gives all of these to Lazarus as a free gift, even though he suffered in this world, was shunned and scorned because he lacked these qualities that we poor miserable sinners love and admire.

We love the rich and powerful because, dear friends, as sinners, according to our fallen flesh, we do not know what true love is.  But God is merciful, dear brothers and sisters.  Jesus has come into the world not merely to teach us about love, but to demonstrate it to us, and most importantly of all, to love us as only he is capable of doing: dying for us to save us from our own sins, transferring them to Himself and taking them to the cross, though He is truly the only innocent Person who ever lived.  This is love, dear friends.  He offers Himself for us, dies so that we might live, suffers the punishment of suffering so that we might be comforted.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”

So what about justice?  It is fulfilled in Jesus, who takes the wrath of God for us.  And this, dear friends, is the greatest love of all: the innocent dying for the guilty.  For the Lord Jesus Christ died for both Lazarus and the rich man.  The love of God is neither excluded from a poor man with sores, nor from the wealthy who wear fine clothing and feast like kings.  

The bad news is that the rich man died in his sins.  He refused the free gift of salvation.  Like his brothers that remain on earth, the rich man was impoverished in one area: repentance.  He lacked this, and suffering the consequences of his impenitence, sought to find a way to warn his brothers to repent.

Our Lord says: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

That “someone” dear friends, is Christ.  He loves you, sores and all.  He redeems you, not because you are wealthy, but because He is merciful.  He gives you everlasting life, not because you have earned it, but rather because He has earned it, and gives it to you out of divine love.  

And the most loving thing the Lord is doing in this gospel is warning us, dear friends.  For He did rise from the dead, and He bids us to heed His warning.  Repent!  And believe!  Acknowledge your sinfulness, and then receive the gift of grace.  Turn away from the world’s evil so that you might receive the Lord’s kingdom of righteousness!  

Listen to Moses and the Prophets, for they testify of Him who is love.  Receive the Holy Supper, for it is given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  Remember your baptism, for in that sacred washing, you have been covered by the blood of Christ out of sheer love.

“God is love,” says the apostle John, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sermon: Trinity – 2015

31 May 2015

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Christian faith is very inconvenient.  We insist upon saying that our God is the only true God, and that “whoever desires to be saved” must “worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”  And whoever does not believe this faith “faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

Our Athanasian Creed has something in it to offend just about everybody.  

And in case you missed all the beheadings of Christian men, women, and children in the last few years, we’re hated around the world, and not just by Muslims.  Totalitarian states of every kind revel in violence against Christianity.  And while no-one is beheading Christians in our own country, we are being targeted as bigots, homophobes, insensitive, hypocrites, and – just as we were called in the days of the persecutions of the Roman Empire, we are today labelled as “haters.”  Our people are being fined huge amounts by extrajudicial tribunals – right here in the United States – for refusing to violate their consciences, even as supposedly conservative governors throw our religious liberties under the bus.

Dear friends, this may come as a shock to you, but we Christians are not liked in our society.  We insist on being different.  We insist on being exclusive.  We insist that Jesus be our top priority in life, and that there is no other way to be saved but through Him.  And in our society, this is heresy. 

For as the church confesses, and as Scripture testifies, Jesus is both God and Man.  The Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and neither of them is a Man.  There are three distinct persons who are clearly called “God” and “Lord” in our Holy Scriptures, even as God is not three Gods, but one God.  

Our Lord Jesus Christ even went so far as to say, “I am the… truth.”  At the Lord’s trial, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”  Our Lord answered Pilate with His silence.  Pilate was looking truth in the divine face, and allowed truth to be crucified and put to death.  Today, most people scoff at the idea that there is a single truth.

And according to our doctrine of the Trinity, Pilate allowed God to be murdered.  For in the Christian faith, God can die, because God is a Man.  And God does indeed die on the cross.  And who kills God?  Sinful men from every walk of life.  The government killed God.  Ambitious men killed God.  Ordinary soldiers killed God.  Religious people killed God.  Priests and Scribes and Pharisees killed God.  Ordinary Jews in the mob killed God.  And in fact, you killed God.  I killed God.  We all killed God, from Adam and Eve, right up to those being born at this very moment.  Our hands are stained with the blood of God, dear friends.

There is enough here to offend everyone.  And we are also offended, dear friends, because we poor, miserable sinners do not like the truth and more than the rest of the world, comprised of sinful men, does.  It is a most inconvenient truth that God is Triune, that God is Human, that God died, and that God’s creatures murdered God.  And the greatest marvel of all is that God the Son foreknew this, and even planned to take human flesh and die a sacrificial death for us.  “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!.... For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”  

The world tells us this makes no sense.  The world tells us we must repent of our foolish faith.  The world tells us to shut up and agree with them that we are self-aware blobs of cells, that we have no purpose, and that our highest good is to do what’s best for us alone.  But because we don’t submit to them, the world would like to kill us even as the world conspired to kill our God and Lord on the cross.  The world does not understand love, sacrifice, or atonement.  The world does not understand sin, or why death happens.  The world certainly doesn’t understand Jesus or the meaning of His death.

Not even Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, understood who Jesus is and why He came into the world.  But to his credit, Nicodemus did come to Jesus in order to understand.  Jesus explained to him: “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  And the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the great and glorious gospel to Nicodemus: “So must the Son of Man we lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The world should rejoice, brothers and sisters, because this Gospel is actually not exclusive, but rather inclusive of all who believe.  The Gospel calls all people to repent of their sins and believe the Good News, regardless of one’s sex or sexual desires.  The Gospel calls all people to become part of Christ’s bride, regardless of race, tribe, tongue, socio-economic status, or politics.  The Gospel affords no-one a special privilege, but offers privilege as sons of God and heirs of eternal life to all sinners who confess and are absolved, to all who call upon the name of the Lord, to all who are baptized and who believe, to all those who faithfully and firmly hold the catholic faith.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Because of who He is, we bow before our Triune God, dear friends, in humble and yet joyful worship.  And we can indeed love God because He first loved us: by creating us in the garden of Eden, by redeeming us at the cross, and by sanctifying us in our very flesh where He comes to us.  We join the prophet Isaiah in the Most Holy Place, singing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!”  And even though we are men of unclean lips, the Lord uses His servants to place a cleansing coal upon our lips, even Christ’s very body.  And indeed, our “guilt is taken away, and [our] sin atoned for!”

And, dear friends, the God who died for us men and for our salvation, also rose again, to defeat death and the grave, to conquer sin and Satan, and to deliver to us everlasting life.  This is most certainly true, most inconveniently true, most gloriously true,

The Christian faith is most inconvenient, dear friends, and thanks be to God that it is!  For the object of this faith is Christ Himself, God in the flesh, who breaks through sin, sorrow, and even the ultimate enemy death itself, to deliver unto us forgiveness, faith, salvation, and life that has no end!

For we have been baptized, dear friends, not in the name of the world, not in the name of a Unitary God, not in our own names, the name of our country, the name of our accomplishments, and not in the name of the world’s heroes and idols.  But rather, we have been baptized, set apart, redeemed, and born again of water and the Spirit in that most inconvenient name, that most glorious name…  

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon: Pentecost – 2015

24 May 2015

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Not long after receiving a second chance after the flood, mankind blew it again.  When told to repopulate the earth and spread out, our ancestors decided to gather together, saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city yand a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves.”

Mankind had discovered “technology” – in this case, bricks.  This enabled him to build a skyscraper.  And instead of obeying God’s will to repopulate the globe, he decided to use technology and project management to glorify himself.

But the project would fail as God confused the languages.  Reluctantly, man spread out and re-peopled the planet, but at a terrible price: the confusion of languages resulted in misunderstandings, divisions, wars and walls between races of people who were in fact all sons of Noah.

In the late 1800s AD, a son of Noah named Ludwig Zamenhof, a Polish Jew, felt the effects of the curse of Babel.  His own small town had ethnic tensions, in part, because there were four languages being spoken.  This boy grew up to be an eye doctor and a linguist.  He created a new language to fix the Babel problem.  He called it “Lingvo Internacia” – The International Language.  It was intended to be a second language for everybody.  It was easy to learn, and took off rapidly.

Being Jewish, Dr. Zamenhof knew about the curse of Babel.  And though he knew about the Garden of Eden and the Fall, He did not confess Jesus nor the Holy Spirit.  But he had hope that his language would be the secret to world peace, and would undo the damage of Babel.  He published his language under a pen name: Dr. Esperanto.  “Esperanto” means, in the International Language: “one who hopes.”  The language itself became known as Esperanto.  It is still spoken around the world.

Of course, Dr. Zamenhof’s dream of a worldwide language and world peace didn’t materialize.

But, dear friends, we are not without hope.  In fact, we have a hope rooted in an ironclad promise.  The hope for mankind and for true peace is not found in one more human language, nor in fallen human words.  Rather, our hope is in the Word, the eternal Word, the Word of God, the Word made flesh: the same Word by whom all things were made; the same Word that creates us, breathes the Spirit of Life into us, redeems us from the effects of the fall into sin, cures us from death, liberates us from the devil, and gives us everlasting life – all as a free gift of love, given to us on the cross, received at the font, pulpit, and altar.

For even if Dr. Zamenhof’s dream were to be fulfilled, and the whole world learned to speak Esperanto, it would only bring us back to Babel.  It would not cure the curse of sin that came to us at the Fall.  

To be sure, understanding is a good thing.  Learning one another’s languages is a good thing.  Esperanto is a remarkable language and it is good to learn it for many reasons.  But, dear friends, our hope is not to undo the curse of Babel, but rather to be cured from the curse of sin.  Our hope is not to get on with human cooperation in order to pursue technology and make a name for ourselves, but rather our hope is to return to our state of innocence and blessedness of the Garden of Eden.

The world doesn’t need to fix a symptom, but rather to be rid of the problem.  And on the Day of Pentecost, God did more than Esperanto could ever hope to do!  For on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and bridged the gap, not with words, but with the Word, not with human hopes, but with a divine promise.  On Pentecost, the Gospel was proclaimed across languages, cultures, and peoples.  For the Church transcends all the divisions of Babel by a common hope, the hope that is eternal, sure, and given to us by grace through faith.  It is the hope of eternal healing and transformation in Christ, through the Gospel, and by means of the Holy Spirit.  We have this gift, dear friends, right here, in this place of hope and healing and peace, in the preaching of the Word, in your Holy Baptism, in the hearing of the divine words of forgiveness, and in the sharing of Holy Communion.

The languages that became our curse, have also become a blessing.  For in these human languages, the Gospel is preached.  And through words comes the Word.  And in this sense, all human languages – even Dr. Zamenhof’s “Lingvo Internacia” – actually do deliver hope.  Not in and of themselves, but in Christ through the Holy Spirit who came to the Church at Pentecost.

The Lord Jesus Christ has not left us as orphans, dear friends, ascending to the heavens to leave us as sitting ducks here in an increasingly  hostile, violent, and satanic world, but rather He has given us “another Helper, to be with [us] forever, even the Spirit of Truth.”  And according to the Lord’s word and promise: “He dwells with you and will be in you.”

For the ministry of the Holy Spirit empowers us, dear friends, for He is the “Lord and giver of life.”  “You know Him,” says our Lord, “for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  He dwells with you in faith from the moment of your baptism.  And He will indeed be with you “forever” according to the Lord’s Spirit-bound Word and promise. 

And the Work of the Spirit is so much more than undoing the curse of Babel.  Indeed, He undoes the curse of Eden.  He restores paradise by His divine means of delivering Christ to us, to the Church, the Holy Spirit’s creation.  For He “has called me by the Gospel.”  He has “enlightened me with His gifts.”  He has “sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Dear friends, “in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

Moreover, the Holy Spirit “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”  This is what happened that first Pentecost, and continues to happen in the life of every believer.

This, dear friends, is a hope that transcends human language, that reaches past Babel to Eden, that promises not just world peace, but eternal peace, divine peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  For within every Christian is an Esperanto, “one who hopes,” hoping in Him who is the Word whose Word delivers peace.  His Word is forgiveness.  His Word is love.  His Word is life.  His Word is hope, the hope of Pentecost, the hope of eternity!  Thanks be to the Word, to the Holy Spirit, and to the Father, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

En la nomon de la Patro kaj de la + Filo kaj de la Sankta Spirito.  Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) – 2015

17 May 2015

Text: John 15:26-16:4

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord makes several promises in our Gospel.  First, He promises the coming of the “Helper” – that is, the Holy Spirit.  Then He promises that the Spirit will bear witness about Him, about Jesus.  And then He promises that the disciples will bear witness about Him, about Jesus as well.

It must have been strange for the eleven apostles just after Jesus ascended, but not yet Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would come to them in the future.  It must have been confusing, a calm before the storm, not knowing what would happen, and yet having a promise from Jesus that something huge was about to happen; it must have been a strange feeling.  

Perhaps this is why so many passages from the Old Testament are about waiting on the Lord, being patient, and holding fast to the promises.  For when it comes to promises, we either believe them, and plan around them (even though they have not yet happened), or we take a more skeptical stance, and adopt a wait-and-see attitude before committing to anything.

Dear friends, in our modern life – in both our secular life and in our church life – this inability to commit is one of our greatest problems.  Young people complain bitterly and often that they would like to be married, but the people of the opposite sex in their lives will not make a commitment.

How often we start a project and not see it through to the end!  How often we join a gym or a club and then find excuses not to go!  And how easy it is to be baptized and confirmed, maybe even married in the church, or perhaps serving on a board or committee – but then fall away from church attendance, from bible class, from giving regular offerings, and eventually falling away from the Christian life itself.

Church membership is not a choice.  It is not based on feelings.  Rather it is a commitment, and it is based on promises: promises we make at our baptisms (and the baptisms of our children), and at our confirmations.  We may make additional promises if we are married in the church or if we are serving in some office.  But even more important, dear friends, is our Lord’s promises to us.  For this is what motivates us to commit to Him and to His bride: the gifts He promises us when we live in Him and He in us, through the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, through the sacraments, and through communion with God and with one another.

When we consider the Lord’s promise to us of forgiveness of all of our sins, of victory over Satan and death, and of eternal life – committing to attend Divine Service and Bible class, commitment to pray and give alms, commitment to the Christian life in all that we say and do seven days a week is not a terrible burden, but rather a response of gratitude and love.

The disciples acted based on many promises from Jesus.  They waited on the Lord.  They followed Him and confessed His name in good times and in bad times.  His Word empowered them, as Jesus told them, “to keep you from falling away.”

If you want to stay in the faith and not fall away, if you want your children to remain in the faith and not fall away, then listen to His Word, dear friends!  “I have said all these things to you,” Jesus said, dear brothers and sisters, “to keep you from falling away.”

Don’t fall away because you are bored, don’t feel like coming to church, want to spend money and time elsewhere, or because you think you know everything already.  Don’t tell me that you read your bible at home.  Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus tell you to read your bible at home.  It’s not bad to do it, of course, but not as a substitute for joining your brothers and sisters in prayer and in the Word.  He tells us to gather in His name.  He tells us to pray not to “my Father,” but to “our Father.”  He tells us to “take eat” and “take drink” and “do this in remembrance of Me.”  It is a communion, because the life of faith is lived out in community.

And, dear friends, that means service and commitment.  It does not mean showing up when you feel like it.  It does not mean putting a few bucks in the plate every now and then.  Our Lord committed Himself to go the cross for us.  Our Lord committed His Spirit to the Father.  Our Lord committed to sending the Holy Spirit to us.  Our Lord commits to us today in His Word and Sacrament.  This promise is for you and for your children!

“I have said all these things to keep you from falling away.”

Times have changed, brothers and sisters.  Once more, it costs something to be a disciple of Jesus.  “They will put you out of the synagogues,” promises our Lord.  “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”  We live in a society that does not know Jesus, does not know the Father, does not know the Scriptures, and doesn’t even know the basics of reality, such as what a man is, what a woman is, what vice is, and what virtue is.  And we Christians have once more become “Enemies of the State” and “Enemies of the People” because we hold to the Word of God.  If we want our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren to remain in this one true and saving faith, we have to remain in the faith, dear friends.  We have to commit.  The days of fair-weather Christianity are over.  We need to allow God’s Word to have its way with us.  The time is now.  And we need for our children to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives by contact with Jesus: with the Word and the Sacraments, in the worship life of the church, in committing to the support, financial and otherwise, of this parish.

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.”

Our Lord wants us in the faith because He wants us in eternity, in the new heavens and the new earth, in a renewed paradise, in our resurrected bodies, in flesh no longer held captive to sin and headed to death.  He wants us because He loves us! 

Dear friends, listen to our Lord’s promises!  Indeed, He promises us the Holy Spirit.  He promises that we will be His witnesses.  He promises us His righteousness.  He promises us His life that will have no end.  We can indeed commit to Him, dear brothers and sisters, because He is committed to us, come what may.  “I have said these things to you,” says our blessed Lord, “that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”  Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Word is mighty and merciful!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sermon: Ascension – 2015

14 May 2015

Text: Acts 1:1-11 (2 Kings 2:5-15, Mark 16:14-20)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Jesus has a lot of surprises. 

After teaching the disciples for three years about His kingdom, after performing miracles and changing the world, He submits to death on a cross.  And then, He surprises them by rising from the dead.  He surprises them by appearing to them for 40 days, continuing His ministry of teaching them.  And then, on that Thursday six weeks and four days after that first Easter, Jesus surprises the disciples again: by ascending into Heaven, at the right hand of the Father, disappearing into the sky.

But He also surprised them by a promise before He ascended on high, in a similar manner as did the prophet Elijah, blessing the disciples, like Elijah did to Elisha: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Great surprises indeed!  The world has never been the same since!

For the apostles – that is, the ones whom Jesus sent in His name, ordained under His authority, called by the Holy Spirit – preached the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, and did so as our Lord said, in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth – even as preachers are today sent far and near with this self-same good news of the cross, of redemption, and of the reality, dear friends, that your sins are forgiven, and that you have been baptized into Christ, and that you are called by the law to repent, and that you are graced with the Gospel unto the certain promise of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”!

These eleven apostles were transformed from cowering sheep into bold shepherds – because of the Spirit that animated them, and by the Gospel that motivated them.  They were empowered by the same Lord Jesus Christ who continued to appear to them under the forms of bread and wine, even as He continues to come to us bodily today in this same Holy Supper, dear friends.

Indeed, Jesus is full of surprises!

On that Thursday, our Lord went up out of their sight, but He did not abandon them.  No indeed!  He continued to teach them through the Word.  He continued to forgive them through Absolution.  He continued to comfort them in their Baptism.  He continued to forgive and fortify them in the Eucharist.  Our Lord had promised them, and us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And so He is!

But being ascended, the disciples – and that title includes us, dear brothers and sisters – could not simply sit idle and depend on our Lord to put His hand to the plow.  By ascending to the Father, the Lord has delegated the management of the kingdom to us, to the church.  He has given the pastors of the church the authority to forgive sins, to preach the Gospel, and to administer the sacraments.  And like a baby bird getting nudged out of the nest, the once-cowering disciples were to take up their crosses, spread their wings, and become courageous martyrs, witnesses of our Lord, indeed, in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.

Our Lord had told them: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

But He doesn’t just tell the church to do these things alone.  He doesn’t leave them powerless.  For He says: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Dear brothers and sisters, though we in the church appear weak – subject to tyrants and mullahs and dictators and bullies and Supreme Court justices – in Christ, we are strong.  In the Spirit, we are bold.  In the Word and Sacraments, we are redeemed and live forever.  We exorcise demons, we preach in languages that didn’t even exist when our Lord ascended, we continue to strive against the evil serpent that beguiled Eve and intimidated Adam, we handle the deadliest poison this world and its prince have to offer, and yet we live.  We preach a Gospel that forgives sins and gives immortality to the mortal.  And through it all, our Lord is still working: working through His church, working through His ministers, working through His Word, working through His sacraments.

Yes indeed, Jesus never ceases to amaze and surprise!

And yet, it seems at times like we have been abandoned.  We cannot place our fingers in the hole of the nails as did St. Thomas.  We can’t recline next to Him at table like St. John.  We cannot hear Him call out our name like St. Mary.  Nor do we see Him bodily ascend as did the Men of Galilee.  

But He does not abandon us, dear friends.  He is here with us, in body and in Word.  He is here with us even in His lifeblood, which was poured out for us, and which is given to us, to restore our life and bolster our faith.  In fact, dear friends, it is we who abandon Him in our constant sinning: when we find something to do other than to receive Him in the Sacrament at the Divine Service; when we spent time with the television or radio instead of studying His Word; when we pursue a life of entertainment in place of a life of prayer.  We must repent, dear friends!  Our Lord is calling us to a better way, and He doesn’t leave us or forsake us!  He will be here, in space and time, where we dwell, here for us in Word and Sacrament, until He returns in glory.

For Jesus is not yet done with the surprises!

The angel testified: “Man of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.”

Jesus will surprise us with His coming again “with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end.”

Hear, O brothers and sisters!  Hear the Word of the Lord, the Good News that Jesus has atoned for your sins!  Hear the good news that you have been baptized into His name!  Hear His call to repent, and His declaration of absolution!  Our blessed Lord continues to give Himself to you, in His body and blood and in His Word, unto forgiveness, life, and salvation, even as we await His coming again in glory.

Jesus continues to surprise His beloved people, with peace and forgiveness and joy and renewal and life – now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6) – 2015

10 May 2015

Text: John 16:23-33

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In our Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, makes reference seven times to the Father.  It just so happens that today is a secular holiday in which we honor our mothers.  There doesn’t have to be a conflict between the two.  For motherhood and fatherhood are closely related.  You can’t have one without the other. 

The church father Cyprian said that you can’t have God as your Father without having the church as your mother.  Martin Luther similarly said, “The Christian church is your mother, who gives birth to you and bears you through the Word.  And this is done by the Holy Spirit who bears witness concerning Christ.”  

So just as every Christian has a heavenly Father, every Christian likewise has a heavenly mother, the church.  Our Lord Jesus told us that we must be born again, and just as our earthly mothers birthed us from their very bodies, amid blood and water and pain and joy, so too are we given new life from the Body of Christ, amid the blood of the Lord’s sacrifice given to us in the chalice, amid the water from the Lord’s side given to us at the font, in the pain of the Lord’s passion and death and burial, and the joy of the Lord’s resurrection – each one of us, dear friends, has found the new birth, being born again, having a Father in heaven and a mother who continues to nurture us all our lives in Word and Sacrament, in the Gospel, and in the forgiveness of sins in Christ, given to each one of us, even as parents provide for us in this body and life.

And so it is fitting, dear friends, that we have yet again borne witness to the miracle of Holy Baptism, even as our newest member, little Ethan, has been made an adopted son of the Father and an adopted son of the Church.  He has today joined the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, and has been given a promise that the Lord will never forsake Him, has named him as his very own child, has marked him with the sign of the holy cross, and will love him unconditionally even unto eternal life.

The seed has been planted, it has been watered, and now it will grow according to the Lord’s providence.  Each member of Ethan’s family has been called by God to bear witness of the Lord Jesus to him, our dear brother in Christ: to pray for him, to teach him the Word of God, to faithfully bring him to the Lord’s house, for worship, for instruction, and so that he may be loved and nurtured by his brothers and sisters in Christ, his church family.

And as Ethan grows up in this faith, he himself may be called to become a father himself to his own children, to bring them to the holy font to receive adoption as children: of God our Father and the church our mother.  For one of the benefits children have is to petition their fathers for what they need.  The Lord’s prayer is the prayer of a Son to a loving Father, with seven remarkable requests to our Father who art in Heaven: 1) For His name to be kept holy among us, 2) that His kingdom may come to us, 3) that His will be done among us, 4) that we thankfully receive our daily bread, 5) that our Father forgive us our sins, even as we forgive the sins of others, 6) that the Father will help lead us through dark times in our lives, times of temptation to “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” and 7) for rescue from the evil one.

Today, this prayer has become Ethan’s prayer, even as it is our prayer, dear friends.  

And our Lord Jesus further promises: “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.”  Our Lord spoke in figures of speech, but says, “the hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father.”  Jesus tells us: “The Father Himself loves you.”

For even in the corrupted and sinful human relationship of parents and children, we imperfect parents and imperfect children catch a glimpse of what the love of God truly is.  And it is in our heavenly Father that we see perfect love – even when we earthly mothers, earthly fathers, and earthly children fall short of the ideal.

Ethan is beginning his Christian life in perilous times.  For the first time in hundreds of years, Christians in western society face hatred, discrimination, and persecution.  We are treated with scorn and contempt for believing in the Bible.  We are punished for our refusal to allow the world to define our beliefs for us.  Our Lord Jesus calls us to follow Him through it all, by taking up our crosses, by laying down our lives if we are called to do so, even as the Son laid down His life in obedience to the Father, and in love for us, so that we could be redeemed from death and brought into that perfect communion with our Father who art in heaven, even unto eternity.

Our Lord says: “In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus came to bring us at last to our Father, to make us His children.  Jesus has come to bring us to our mother the church, a mother that loves us by raising us in godly fear and love of the Father.  In the nurture of the church, we are not only birthed, but fed, comforted, loved, and given all that we need to grow.  

It is not so politically correct these days to honor motherhood.  The world treats mothers as second class citizens.  The world treats motherhood as a necessary evil and as an impediment to chosen gender roles.  Natural biology still mandates that there are mothers and fathers, men and women, boys and girls.  And we Christians still delight and glory in the reality that the Lord has created us in His own image, male and female, and that in this glorious created order, life goes on by means of parental love, even as eternal life comes to us from our heavenly Father and churchly mother.  

For we are not alone.  We have our heavenly Father even amid the world’s tribulation and the assaults of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  We have our baptism, which can never be taken away from us.  We have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, united in the Father’s love, the Son’s passion, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s renewal.  And in baptism, all that the Son has is given to us as a free gift, including His very righteousness.  

Let us thank God for our earthly parents, and especially on this day for the mothers who gave us life by giving birth to us.  And let us especially thank God for our new birth by water and the Spirit, for our mother who gives eternal life to us by giving birth to us as Christians, for she “gives birth to you and bears you through the Word,” bringing us to the Son who has saved us by His blood and mercy.  And let us thank God and rejoice with all the saints and angels in heaven for today’s heavenly adoption of Ethan.  

“With a voice of singing, declare, proclaim this, utter it to the ends of the earth.  Alleluia.  The Lord has redeemed His servant.  Alleluia!”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) – 2015

3 May 2015

Text: John 16:5-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Sometimes after a tragedy or an illness, a person has to learn how to function all over again.  Sometimes people need to relearn how to walk, to talk, to read, to play music, to drive a car as if they never knew how to do these things before.  Sometimes a person has to re-learn who he is, who his family members are, and what it means to be a human being.

The greatest tragedy in the history of humanity happened ironically in the Garden of Eden.  When our first parents rebelled against their loving Creator – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – they alienated themselves, not just from the wonderful Garden, but also from God and from their own humanity itself.  We forgot what it meant to be truly human.

No more would we be perfect physical, psychological, and spiritual beings in perfect communion with one another, with nature, and with the eternal God.  The Fall was a cosmic tragedy that changed all of our existence in a millisecond.

And we have been learning how to be human ever since.

God had to reacquaint mankind with Himself (God) and with himself (man).  God had to send prophets with the Word of God so that man might relearn how to be human, to fill in the missing collective memories of his past, to make baby steps toward a reconstruction of life in perfect communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to move toward a restoration of our perfect, eternal state.

The people of God had to relearn about the holiness of God, that He is not a stone idol or a created thing, not a force of nature or a mythological hybrid between a man and a beast.  The people of God had to relearn about sin and death, about atonement and forgiveness, about eternal life and the covenants and promises of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God provided the rainbow as a reminder of His mercy, the Temple as a reminder of the price of sin, and the priesthood to pave the way for our Great High Priest to come.  God provided prophecies to point us to the Lord’s coming in the flesh among us, and of what true humanity was and was to come.

And at the fullness of time, we were taught what it was to be truly human by the only perfect Man among all humanity, Jesus Christ.  Jesus taught us that God is “our Father who art in heaven,” that He is perfect and expects us to be perfect, that He is merciful, and gives us His righteousness as a free gift, and He Himself, the Son of God, laid down His life on the cross to undo the damage that we have done ever since Eden.  He rose from the dead to teach us that death is unnatural, and that it is overcome by love, by His blood, and by the will of the Father.

But we still had more to learn, even after the Lord’s resurrection.

This is what Jesus means by saying: “It is to your advantage that I go away.”  For God was not done revealing Himself to us, re-teaching us what we tragically forgot at the Fall.  For the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity had yet to come and dwell with His Church, to guide us into all truth.  This is the “Helper,” the παράκλητος (“parakletos”), which can also be understood as “advocate,” “comforter,” “guide,” “consoler” and “intercessor.”  We know Him as the Holy Spirit.  He is equal in glory and co-eternal in majesty with the Father and the Son, uncreated, infinite, eternal, and almighty.  He is “of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.”  He is indeed to be worshipped. 

He is neither a “she” nor an “it.”  He is not an impersonal force of the universe.  He is God Almighty, and our Lord Jesus Christ has begun to reacquaint mankind with Him in this Word that He speaks to us anew in the Holy Gospel.

The Holy Spirit has much to teach us, and promises to dwell in us as fleshly temples, even as He has “called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  Dear friends, indeed, “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

In the Church, “He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers,” thus restoring to us our bygone innocence and our paradise lost.  “On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true.”

This is the work of our Helper, the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost, tearing down the linguistic walls between men (which began at Babel) and shattering the self-imposed boundary between mankind and God (which began at Eden).

Our Lord taught us what it meant to be truly human, in His life, preaching, teaching, and most of all, in His supreme act of love on the cross and in His glorious resurrection from the dead at the tomb.  And the expression, “God isn’t finished with me yet” was most certainly true as our Lord Jesus Christ promised yet another revelation of God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, whom He promised would be sent to us. 

He came to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  These are all things that we had lost touch with in our universal human amnesia concerning the God who created us, redeems us, and sanctifies us.  And our Lord had much more to say, but we could not bear them at that time.  As our Lord said, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Dear friends, our Father is merciful!  He has created each one of us; He has seen to it that each one of us has received the Word and promise of redemption in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, and He continues to come to us in the Word of Absolution, in the Gospel, and in the ongoing feast of the Holy Supper.  He has enlightened us to receive this promise and given us the gift of faith in His Word.  We poor miserable sinners, now forgiven sinners, are once more in communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Because of the Father’s love begotten in the Son, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” we are able to relearn who God is, who our brothers and sisters in Christ are, and what it means to be a human being, to be truly human as we were meant to be, and to live forever in Christ’s kingdom, “and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,” now and forevermore.  “This is most certainly true.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) – 2015

26 April 2015

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“You will have sorrow now.”

This is not something that any of us wants to hear.  The word translated as “sorrow” can be understood as pain, grief, affliction, distress, trouble, regret, mourning, and heaviness of heart. 

And Jesus is using the “you” in the plural: “y’all will have sorrow.”  It’s not just something that some other person will suffer.  The Holy Spirit caused this to be written in the Scriptures for us.  We can take no comfort in the fact that Jesus is speaking to the disciples of the first century, for we too are His disciples; we too are among those who have taken up the cross to follow Him.  Nor does our Lord say that we “might” have sorrow.  It is clear that Jesus is saying that we will have sorrow now, meaning in time, in this age, in the world, in our earthly lives.

“You will have sorrow now.”

For us average 21st century Americans, sorrow has generally been something other people have: the starving children in India or Ethiopia, the people oppressed by their own governments in the Soviet Union or China, the poor in the inner city, or people suffering with ebola or the bubonic plague safely tucked away on the other side of the world or long dead in centuries past.

Sorrow is for other people, of course until it visits us: cancer, addiction, family strife, money problems, depression, sick children, grandparents with dementia, our own aches and pains, heart ailments, anxiety, being victimized by crime, losing our possessions to natural disasters or to economic necessity, and death itself which surrounds us and nips at our own heels.

“You will have sorrow now.”

For us Christians in this culture, our sorrows are increasing.  Just a few days ago, a Christian couple was assessed a punitive judgment of $135,000 dollars for refusing to bake a cake for a ceremony that violated their consciences as Christian people.  The couple has five children, and are looking at total financial ruin.  This sends a chilling message to any of us who would dare believe in the Scriptures, confess the holy faith, and endeavor to live according to the Word of God.

“You will have sorrow now.”

These American Christians, and others like them, are not being persecuted by ISIS terrorists, by an extreme Islamic government, or by a Communist regime – but by American state and federal governments. The flag that was once waved by victims of the holocaust in World War II, who saw in it a symbol of liberation, is also the symbol of the government that has authorized the modern holocaust that has seen to it that nearly 58 million boys and girls have been legally slaughtered in the name of convenience and choice over the course of 42 years. Liberty and justice for all, indeed.  Lord, have mercy.

“You will have sorrow now.”

Dear friends, we often choose to put our heads in the sand.  We deal with the sorrow of this fallen world by all the wrong methods.  We medicate or drink our way through it.  We distract ourselves from it by hobbies and vacations and entertainment.  We figure we can buy our way out of it or rise above it through education or technology or political action.  We think we can fix it by medical breakthroughs or programs or economic systems.  We are convinced, like the builders of the Tower of Babel, that man can reach into the heavens by evolving or growing or self-actualizing or rejecting religion and tradition or by buying into the worldview that says absolute truth is unknowable.

“You will have sorrow now.”

But, dear friends, Jesus did not come into our sorrowful, broken, sin-soaked and death-laden world to leave us in our sorrows, to abandon us in our own deserved misery.  Instead, He has come to save us, to heal us, to forgive us, to restore us, to give us a new birth and a second chance, to make us whole!

“You will have sorrow now, but…”

We have sorrow because of our sins, but Christ is sinless, and He has come to our world to save us.  We deserve the devastation that we have inherited and that we have added to, but Christ has come in mercy to save us by His grace, out of His love, by means of His cross, and through His atoning death.  Jesus replaces the bad blood through a transfusion upon the cross and at the altar: exchanging our poisoned and malignant blood with His perfect and healing blood, giving His holy body into death for His imperfect bride, who has been made holy as His very body.  And He offers His true body and His true blood to us, dear friends, so that our sorrow will be overcome.

“You will have sorrow now, but…”

Yes, we still inhabit this broken world, breathing in its poisoned air, picking through the rubble and filth of its ruins to stay alive yet another day.  But, Jesus has come to give us life, that we may have it abundantly, eternally, and joyfully – through making peace with God, atoning for our sins, and offering a new life – a life without sorrow – to all who believe, to all who are baptized, to all who confess Him as Lord.

“You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again…”

Dear friends, even as the apostles watched Him ascend into heaven, even as they were filled with the Holy Spirit, even as they preached the good news to those who received it joyfully all around the world while awaiting the Lord’s return, so do we take up our cross, follow Him, and believe and confess the Gospel, taking part in the Church’s task to make disciples according to our own callings in the Christian faith and life. 

We do not see the Lord in His full glory now, but rather veiled under the forms of bread and wine.  He comes to us to strengthen us to bear the sorrow of this world by being present for us, and by fortifying us with His Word.  For He promises as the Word made flesh and in His written Word: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Dear brothers and sisters, our joy is in Him, in Christ alone.  For He has come into our sorrowful, fallen, and falling world in order to rescue us.   He has come to recreate it into something new, joyful, and eternal.  He regenerates us through the new birth of water and the Word, and promises that in Him, our sorrow is turned into joy.

For in a little while, we will see Him again.  In a little while, our persecutions will cease: those far away and those close to home; those carried out with the noose and the sword, as well as those done with judicial action and social ostracization.  In a little while, the slaughter of the innocents and our own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds will end, to be repealed and replaced by joy that will have no end.  In a little while, dear friends, we will see Him again, coming in clouds of glory, to bring us at last to our heavenly home, brought joyfully before the Father’s throne in eternity.

Yes, indeed, dear friends, hear the Word and promise of the Lord:

“You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!”  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2015

19 April 2015

Text: John 10:11-16, (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Every year on the third Sunday of Easter we ponder our Lord’s self-description that He is “the good shepherd.”  His teaching about Himself in John 10 has led to some of the most beautiful artwork in the history of the church.  From stained glass windows showing our Lord Jesus gently tending to lambs, to the majestic King James Bible’s almost musical English language rendition of the 23rd Psalm that we recite as we or others find ourselves “in the valley of the shadow of death,” to the lilt of our uplifting and comforting hymns sung on this celebration of Christ our Good Shepherd, these images are among the most beloved in the church.  As well they should be.

For this is precisely what the Gospel is all about.

These images are meaningful to us in the church because we understand the imagery of the sheep.  Though our Lord loves His creation and has promised to make all things new, these historic images of Jesus the Good Shepherd aren’t about cuddly animals.  Our Lord is using a metaphor.  He is the shepherd, dear friends, because we are the sheep.

Like sheep, our sinful flesh is in danger of wandering away from safety.  We may be bored or distracted.  We may be malicious or greedy.  We may be confused or bamboozled.  But for one reason or another, St. Peter explains our common and universal sinful condition using the sheep metaphor: “You were straying like sheep.”  We are in danger because we stray, we wander away from safety by going where we are not led.
Peter is extending the metaphor from the Old Testament, such as what Ezekiel shared anew with us today: that God’s people are “His sheep that have been scattered.”  He goes on to say that we “sheep” are “lost… strayed… injured [and] weak.”

Dear friends, this is what sin has done to us.  We are scattered because we have lost our way.  We have been so corrupted by sin that we don’t know where we are supposed to be, and so we start walking in this direction or that.  We get “lost.”  And once we are lost, the more we walk, the farther we become “strayed.”  Without protection, we are “injured”: injured by being where we shouldn’t be, injured by predators, injured by our own folly, injured by the devil and injured even to death.  We fall prey to our enemies because we are “weak” – lacking the vigor of health and strength precisely because of our wandering.  And again, this is because of sin.

It is only in this context do the images of Christ the Good Shepherd mean anything other than just one more pretty picture.  

But think about it, dear friends.  In our sinful meanderings, we are completely at a loss to help ourselves to overcome our sinful nature and find ourselves, let alone save ourselves.  We are like wandering sheep.  We have no claws like the bear, no fangs like the wolf, no fierce roar like the lion.  We are not feared like the rhino, not capable of flight like the eagle, not aggressive like the wolverine.  We can’t even bluff like a pufferfish or a frilled lizard that can make itself look scary.

In the face of death, in the face of the devil, in the face of temptation, about all we can do is look up and make little bleating sounds.  Thanks to sin, thanks to the fall, thanks to the corruption of our glorious created nature that formerly reflected God’s image, about all we can do is look up and make little bleating sounds for a Shepherd to save us.

And, dear friends, this is the most powerful thing that a sheep can do.  At least, assuming that his shepherd is a good shepherd, that he cares for his sheep, that he is the owner and not a mere hired hand.  For such a shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him.  Such a shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  And when a sheep has a Good Shepherd, bleating out “Lord, have mercy!” to his Shepherd is the most powerful thing he can do.  

This, dear friends, is the good news.  Yes, we are like sheep that have gone astray.  Yes we were straying like sheep.  Yes we are scattered and lost and strayed and injured and weak.  Yes, indeed, all of that is true.  For we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  

But listen to the promise, dear friends!  Listen to the Word of the prophet Ezekiel: “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so I will seek out My sheep, I will rescue them.”  God Himself, our Shepherd, promises to gather and feed us Himself – not by means of a hireling, but rather He will do this Himself: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”

God says these things in the Old Testament in the future tense (“I will be…), but our Lord Jesus says these things in the Gospel in the present tense (I am…): “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…. I know My own and My own know Me… and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

Dear friends, Jesus was not a shepherd to people in the past only.  Nor will Jesus be a shepherd to people in the future only.  For Jesus is the great I AM.  He is our Good Shepherd right here and right now.  For now is the day of salvation!  Now is the moment for us sheep to bleat out: “Lord, have mercy!  Save us now, O Lord!” 

We cry out to a Shepherd and Overseer who is at the same time the “Lamb of God” who “takes away the sin of the world.”  And we are bold to cry out:  “Have mercy on us!”  For this Lamb has ransomed the sheep: “Christ who only is sinless.”

And Jesus doesn’t mere say that He is “a” good shepherd, but rather He says: “I am ‘the’ Good Shepherd.”  There is no other Good Shepherd, dear friends, no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.  “For thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.”

He says: “I will seek… I will rescue….  I will bring them… and gather them….”  He says: “I will feed them.”

For our Shepherd who became the sacrificial Lamb for our rescue, so that we might be gathered to Him and freed from being prey to Satan and death, He who went to the cross to seek us from our wandering and save us from dying, He promises to be that one and only Good Shepherd: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”

Indeed, dear friends, He has done it.  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live in righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

And as St. Peter says in the past tense, because this has been completed even as our Lord said: “It is finished,” Peter goes on to explain the good news: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  This is the same St. Peter whom the Lord commanded and ordained three times: “Feed My sheep…. Feed My lambs.”  And the Lord commands and ordains men to feed us, His sheep with the Word and the sacraments, and will do so until He returns to gather His sheep.

Yes indeed, dear friends, the church understands the true eternal beauty and the true transcendent love embedded in this gospel mystery of the perfect Shepherd who offers up His own flawless life for all of us wandering and scattered sheep, especially as we pray: “Lord, have mercy” and as we confess: “The Lord is My shepherd, I shall not want.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.