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. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2015

12 April 2015

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

We often hear people say nowadays, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.”  I think what they often mean by this is something like this: “I want God on my terms, and so I’ll treat my faith like a buffet line, and take only what I want.”

And what our sinful nature wants is a sterile, defanged, and easily controlled belief system.  We like being “spiritual” because it sounds so pious, but in fact, being “spiritual” means taking the body out of the equation.  The sinful flesh loves this because it means the body can do whatever it wants: be it sexual immorality, gluttony, or physical laziness and absence from carrying out our vocations.  A spiritual religion doesn’t concern itself with chastity or with visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction” and keeping oneself “unstained from the world” as St. James describes, as opposed to what he calls “religion that is pure and undefiled before God.”

But “being spiritual” is even worse.  For it is to miss the whole point of what the human spirit was created to do: namely, to animate a human body, to dwell in human flesh, to live in the perfect glory that God meant for us on the first day in which He made man in His image and breathed life into his physical body.

There is a term for “being spiritual”, separating the body from the spirit.  It’s called “death.”

To be truly alive is to be like Jesus after the resurrection.  For on that first Sunday after the first Easter, the disciples were locked in a room in fear.  And who came to visit them?  Not a ghost.  Not a phantom.  Not an idea in their heads or feelings in their hearts.  Rather Jesus, the incarnate God, the bodily resurrected Son, came to them.  He did not come bearing a socially-acceptable, safe, and self-serving spirituality.  Rather He came bearing His body, standing in the flesh among them, and He said to them: “Peace be with you.”

The peace of God comes bodily: with Jesus, through Jesus, and in Jesus.  It is not an abstract idea, but a fleshly reality: “the peace that passes all understanding.”  Jesus gives the apostles the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”  And yet this Spirit is not given to the apostles spiritually, but rather bodily.  For the Lord “breathed on them.”  He ordained them by His physical contact, in much the same way as Jesus touched the sick to cure them, touched the demon-possessed to release them, and touched sinners to forgive them.  The apostles would later pass this Holy Spirit-wielding authority to forgive sins to other men, not through telepathy, not through happy thoughts, not through navel-gazing, but through the physical laying on of hands.

Jesus did not come to make the world spiritual, but rather to make the world more physical and more alive than at any time since the Garden of Eden.

And when St. Thomas the doubter came by next Sunday, our Lord Jesus did not offer Him a mystical vision, positive energy, or an aura: rather He offered St. Thomas His very fleshly body, and His bloody wounds, given to him physically for him to see and touch.  Thomas did not grope around for a spiritual experience, but rather stuck his finger into the Lord’s hand and side.  And Thomas confessed: “My Lord and my God!”  He did not believe in Jesus the ghost or Jesus the literary character.  He believed in Jesus: God, the Son of Man, who took flesh in order to die, who died in order to rise, who rose in order that we too might rise, and do so bodily.

Another son of man from an earlier day likewise had an encounter in the Spirit of the Lord that was anything but a “spiritual” experience.  For Ezekiel saw a field of bones.  And when the prophet preached the Word to these bones, the breath, that is, the spirit, entered them.  But the result was not spiritual, but physical: “I will lay sinews upon you,” says the Lord, “and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live…. And there was a rattling and the bones came together.”  And then came sinews and flesh and skin.  And when the breath, that is, the spirit entered the flesh, the flesh came to life: “an exceedingly great army.”

The Lord did not speak through Ezekiel promising a vague spirituality, but something shockingly physical: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves…. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people.  And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

How remarkable this Word is, this promise fulfilled before the doubting eyes of Thomas, whose hands touched the reality, whose eyes saw physically, and who himself would go on to baptize, preach, and administer Holy Communion in the flesh until his dying day.

Anyone who would try to “spiritualize” Jesus is attempting to tame Him, control Him, and reduce Him to a moralizing milquetoast instead of submitting to the Almighty One who conquered death by dying, and who physically rose from the tomb so that we too might rise.

Again, dear friends, this is not about spirituality, but about Jesus: His body and His blood, the water that flowed from His side, and the touch of His nail-scarred hands, hands that forgive sins, cure disease, cast out demons, and restore life even to the dead.  This is Good News, dear friends, and you experience this Gospel physically, from your Holy Baptism which you experienced not spiritually, but in the flesh; from the preached Word and Holy Absolution through which comes faith by hearing; and from Holy Communion, the flesh and blood of Jesus received by flesh and blood sinners, for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“For everyone,” says St. John, “who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ.”

Dear friends, our Lord does not compare us to phantoms that run on positive thoughts, but rather to “newborn babes” who “desire the pure milk of the Word.”  For “He is risen from the dead” and He “stood in the midst and said, ‘Peace to you.’  Alleluia.”

And this is how we can confess in the flesh: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  For He has come in the flesh, and we receive His flesh in our own flesh, and like Thomas, we confess Him, the flesh-and-blood Jesus to be “[our] Lord and [our] 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. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon: Easter – 2015

5 April 2015

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In her autobiography, the great Christian philosopher Alice von Hildebrand recalls one of her very earliest memories.  When she was about three years old, she saw a nest that contained a dead baby bird.  And even as a little girl, it shocked and horrified her.  She ran to her mother for comfort.  Even today, as a woman in her nineties, that image remains etched in her mind.
Most of us experience death in some way while still children.  It might be the death of a pet, or the passing away of a grandparent.  For some children, the experience is one that affects one or both parents as a result of violence, maybe a home invasion, a natural disaster, or an act of war.

One way or another, we are all confronted with the horrible reality of death.  To those who believe the universe is spontaneous and without design or purpose, death appears to be final, and life appears to be only temporary. 

But, dear brothers and sisters, because of Easter and the Lord’s revelation to us as God, as the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us, because of His resurrection from the dead, we know the very opposite to be true: death is only temporary, and life is final.

St. Paul describes it as a “mystery.”  He describes death as “sleep.”  He likens our own future resurrection to being awakened by a trumpet.  He describes what happens in a way that seems rather understated, as a “change.”  “For this perishable body,” says the holy apostle, “must put on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.”  And when this happens, dear friends, this will be the complete undoing of the fall in Eden, for the saying quoted by Paul will be reality:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

Indeed, thanks to our Lord’s death on the cross that defeated death, and thanks to His resurrection from the tomb, which  drove the final nail in death’s coffin, we understand death as temporary.  It is very much like the schoolyard bully who terrorizes the other children.  He does so because he is bigger and stronger, and because he is ruthless and lacks compassion.  But all it takes to stop the bullying is for one courageous child to stand up, to look the bully in the eye, and say, “Never again!”  And when he punches the bully in the nose, the bully is seen for what he truly is, a coward, a paper tiger, “all show and no go.”  And once this happens, all of the children are liberated by the champion.

Jesus is our champion, dear friends.  After millennia of being terrorized by sin, death, and the devil, our Lord looked all three of these menaces in the eye, said, “Never again!” He knocked them out for all time.  And we Christians repeat the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Death is the schoolyard bully who has been beaten down.  Death is a temporary annoyance in the life of the Christian.  This, dear friends, is the meaning of Easter.  Death has indeed been swallowed up in victory, Christ’s victory, and it is our victory!

To be sure, we still live in this fallen world, as we await our Lord’s return, as we await the resurrection, as we await the new heaven and the new earth.  We will die, and we will still experience the death of our loved ones.  And we will mourn their loss, for love hates separation.  But know this, dear brothers and sisters, as painful as death is, it has lost its ultimate sting.  For in the grand scheme of things, from the perspective of eternity, death is a temporary annoyance, much like a runny nose.  It is uncomfortable, but it goes away.  It is life that abides forever, and it is a gift of God in Christ Jesus.

Even Job, who experienced suffering of extraordinary proportions, and yet who clung to the Word and promise of God, looked forward to that time when death is swallowed up in victory.  It was Job himself who wrote the stirring confession that is the church’s song: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Job confessed: “at the last He will stand on the earth.”  Job understood that this was not hyperbole or myth or some kind of spiritual experience, but a flesh and blood reality, saying, “in my flesh I shall see God… and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Indeed, this is what St. Paul wrote about: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.”

This, dear friends, is why we Christians make such a fuss at Easter.  This is not a holiday, but rather The Holy Day.  This is not a day off work, but rather, it is the day of liberation from death!  It’s not just a glorious day, it is the Lord’s Day.  It is eternity itself!

For we call to mind that Jesus not only shed His blood on the cross as atonement, as the “one all-availing sacrifice” for the forgiveness of our sins, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, but we also confess that He proved the point by rising from the dead.  He perplexed the Jews and the Romans. He gave His followers the Holy Spirit. And by their preaching, they conquered the Roman Empire and proclaimed the Good News in all the world.  

It is truly good news that we preach, dear friends, that our Lord has given us new life in the forgiveness of sins, and in the promise of the resurrection.  He has given you this free gift wrapped in baptism and tied up in the bow of His very body and blood.  He continues to appear to us bodily in the Holy Sacrament, even as He appeared to the Marys, to the apostles, and to hundreds of people before His ascension.  

For on that first Easter Sunday, “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”  The Marys found the immovable stone moved.  And to help them make sense of this perplexing sight, an angel sat where the body of Jesus had lain.  “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.”

And indeed they saw, these first two witnesses of the resurrection, these women who were chosen to deliver the Good News to the apostles, even though the law discounted their testimony.  But all testimony is worthy if it is true.  And the Marys told the apostles what they saw and heard.  Moreover, the apostles themselves were also to see and hear and touch the risen Lord, and be sent by Him to preach to the world.

Those first preachers of the Gospel spread the news from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  The disciples of Jesus changed the world by proclaiming His Word, and by preaching the good news that the bully of death has been beaten down, that Satan has been defanged, that sin has been atoned for, and that in Christ, we have everlasting life, by grace, through faith, and by means of the Word of God.

That childhood encounter with the ugliness of death impelled little Alice to ask questions and to listen to the revealed truth of God’s Word.  For like the Marys, Alice became a witness of the Truth, of the Risen Lord, and of all the gifts He lavishes upon those with open, humble, and contrite hearts who embrace the good news of Easter in communion with the Lord and His holy church.

As a follower of Christ and a confessor of the Gospel, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand wrote: “One thing is certain: When the time has come, nothing which is man-made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God's image and likeness.”

Indeed, dear friends, “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.”  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. 

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Awaiting the Joy of Man's Desiring

The Holy Easter Vigil is occurring now in the Eastern Hemisphere, as the good news that the tomb was unable to contain our Lord Jesus Christ is yet again repeated, as the Good News resounds around the globe yet again.

The risen Christ is indeed the Joy of man's desiring, as confessed and sung for centuries in the magnificent strains of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.

The Christian faith is nothing other than sanctified defiance: a defiant refusal to bow down to the gods of this world, be they Caesars or secularism; a defiant refusal to accept the finality of death; a defiant refusal to capitulate to hatred and evil; a defiant confession of the need for forgiveness; a defiant acceptance of the reality that we are rescued by grace alone; a defiant reliance upon Christ's Word and sacraments for life's ultimate meaning and joy; a defiant faith in the sure and certain hope of everlasting life - just as sure as He walked out of His own tomb.

So, we in the Western Hemisphere wait, but we know it is coming, and we cannot contain our expectant joy, even as we await His final return in glory.

Our Lord said (John 16:22): "So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."

Our Christian brother J.S. Bach understood this joyful reality in his transcendent and ebullient confession that we continue to sing with him, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, here in time, and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Jesu, joy of man's desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Sermon: Good Friday – 2015

2 April 2015

Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:14, 1 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear friends, the world is broken.  We all know it.  The news is almost all bad, having to do with terrorism, or crime, or injustice, or someone dying.  In our own lives, how much time, attention, and money go toward trying to fix the brokenness, trying to heal sicknesses, trying to kill pain, trying to forestall death and its effects?

All religions and philosophies of the world try to make sense of it all, to explain it, and to come up with a remedy.  In modern times, many people reject all religions and look to humanity or philosophy or technology to provide the answers.

Some focus on ecological brokenness, some look at injustice in society, some see mainly moral and ethical decay, while others focus on the big philosophical questions as to why some prosper in wickedness while innocents suffer.  Depression seems to be more common, as is bullying, as is uncaring, as is disrespect, as is lack of commitment, and all the while, ignorance and stupidity seem to be on the rise.

We live in what Pope John Paul II called a culture of death, and as part of that, we live in a culture of celebrated thuggery, of coldhearted selfishness, of an indifference to life, and of a revulsion of all that is good and holy.

Some look at this mess and they blame God.  But God did not make the mess, we did.  God made a perfect world.  He created mankind with a mind, with the ability to make choices.  And as any person of any age knows, choices have consequences.  Our deviation from the that which God set up is known as “sin,” and as St. Paul teaches us in Holy Scripture, the wages of sin is death.

Everything you see around you is death.  It just takes a while to get there.  Violence leads to death.  Aging leads to death.  Disease leads to death.  Crime leads to death.  Immorality leads to death.  Death is not so much a punishment for sin, it is the result of sin.  It is a result of our choices.  We die, because we have chosen death.  Every living creature is destined for death.

We did this, not God.  And yet some people blame God.  The most curious situation of all is the person who in one breath claims to be an Atheist, but in the next breath expresses anger with God because the world is broken.

But God is not to blame, we are, we poor miserable sinners.  There is not a one of us who is not part of the problem.  And in spite of it all, God loves us and provides a fix.  Yes, dear friends, God loves us and provides a fix.  In order to overcome our death, He must die at our hands.  In order to overcome our hatred, He must be hated by us.  In order to overcome our injustice, He must suffer injustice from us.  In order to overcome our burdensome cross of this age, He must be crucified by us in this age.  In order for our debt of sin to be paid, He must pay it for us sinners.

This is why we call this day “Good Friday.”  Today is a day of sadness as we contemplate the Lord’s suffering and death, but it is a day of joy as we also contemplate the Lord’s victory over sin and the grave, for us men and for our salvation.  With melancholy, we ponder the holy wounds of Christ, but we also cheer the mortal wound to the serpent.  

Good Friday calls to mind the creation, in which God, by means of the Word (the very same Word who became flesh), created the universe and called everything “good.”  All was good because there was no death and no corruption, because there was no sin.  The first Good Friday was the sixth day of creation, in which God created man.  On the Good Friday of the crucifixion of our Lord, God, in human flesh, dies our death to reclaim the goodness of the creation that was made through Him.

And even as the first Good Friday, when the man and the woman were created, so also on the Good Friday of the crucifixion, men and women were redeemed and re-created and made good once more.

This is the meaning of the Lord’s declaration: “It is finished.”  He said this single Greek word of victory as He “gave up His spirit,” offering Himself up to death so that we might be offered again the gift of life.

“It is finished,” dear friends!  Sin is finished.  Death is finished.  The devil is finished.  The doom to which all creation had been consigned because of sin is finished.  Our hopelessness is finished. 

God’s creation has been made complete in Christ, in the cross, in the sacrifice of the one man of our race who was without blemish.  It was all finished in the shedding of the blood of Jesus: “God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages” and “man, born from the substance of His mother in this age.”

It took God to reset everything to “good,” it took a man to die to pay the debt.  It took God to forgive, and it took a man to be the sacrifice.

It took God to love and man to be beloved of God.  And dear friends, because of Good Friday, we are no longer enemies of God.  Because of the death of His only begotten Son, all of us adopted sons and daughters through Him by grace, through faith, in the waters of baptism, have been born again, created a second time, with the ravages of sin and death rolled back.

And so, dear friends, we wait for our king to return.  Just as His first coming was promised and prophesied hundreds of years BC, even in great detail as in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, our Lord’s return to consummate the effects of Good Friday is indeed yet to come in a very specific year AD.  And though we don’t know when, we do know that it is a “when” and not an “if.”

For just as surely as Jesus’ bloodied and lifeless body was taken down from the cross and laid into a borrowed grave on Good Friday, His glorious and perfect eternal body blasted from that same tomb, rendering all Christian graves as borrowed, temporary waiting rooms – and this reality of His resurrection was discovered on a Good Sunday, a Very Good Sunday, Easter Sunday.

And even though we still live in the temporary home, we await a good new heaven and a good new earth, a very good eternity won for us by the Lord on that Good Friday of His death on the cross.

Dear friends, the world is broken.  But the fix is in.  The solution is not found in our own will power, in technology, in government, in a pill or genetic alteration, in a philosophy or in a fruitless hope that human beings are evolving to a higher plane of existence.  The solution to the world’s brokenness is found on the cross: in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, “the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world,” the King of kings, Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the Word made flesh, who created mankind on a good Friday, and who as a man redeemed mankind on “the” Good Friday.

By His good life, and yes, His good death on that Good Friday, we Christians live in a renewed hope of life: abundant life, eternal life, Easter life, redeemed life, forgiven life: good life!  Now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

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.