Friday, March 27, 2015

Sermon for 3/25/15: Lent 5 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Mockery

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The soldiers thought it funny, this Peasant pretending to be a king. They decided to have some fun with His apparent delusion. They began by taking His clothing. He had to stand there naked as they mocked Him. Then they found a scarlet robe and draped it over His shoulders. “There; now He is beginning to look like a king,” they joked. “But something is missing. He needs a crown!” And so, one of them thought up a crown for this peasant King from Galilee, a crown to teach Him a thing or two about His foolish dreams: a crown of entwining thorns. Hear the distant echo of those words of judgment God spoke to Adam in the Garden: “Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” They smashed the crown down upon His head, and the thorns drew blood. His response was not what they had hoped for. He was silent to their taunts, the mockery, and the jeers.

Then someone came up with another missing item: “A king needs a scepter!” They scrounged around and found a reed, and put it in His hand. They stepped back to admire the finished product: blood running down His face from the thorns piercing His brow, His naked body barely covered with the scarlet robe, and a flimsy reed that flopped this way and that in His hand. “Behold, the man who would be king,” they said. Laughing with scorn, they fell on their knees. “Hail, King of the Jews,” they cried. Still, He looked on in silence as their mockery turned vicious. He would not play along with them, so He would pay. They began to spit on Him to show their utter contempt for Him. They took His scepter and whipped His head with it. “Some scepter. Some kingdom. You are nothing. You are about to die, King of the Jews!”

As He looked at them, these men missed the depth of His pity for them, for those who wounded Him with mockery, who tried to shame Him, who prepared to torture and murder Him. Look into His eyes, though, and you will see a depth of pity and love that will shake you to your core. It is a mere human trait, common to all of fallen humanity, to love your friends and to seek to do them good. But to love your enemies? To have nothing but pity and compassion for those who taunt you and are preparing to kill you? That is the mark of the heavenly Friend, our Lord Jesus Christ.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
There is no end to His love, His pity for them. The pity from the mocked King extends not only to those who tortured Him, but also to the entire human race, all of whom are complicit in His death. Only a few hours later, He would say: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Of course, the truth beyond all truths is that Jesus actually was King. Yes, Jesus was the long awaited Son of David. But even more, He was also the King of Gentiles and their Ruler. He is the One to whom the entire universe belongs. Every one of us, including those who mocked and shamed Him, owe our existence only to His will that we exist. You will never ponder the Passion correctly until you remember that a single thought from Jesus could have undone all those who sought His death; a single act could have destroyed us all. But all He returns is love, pity, and mercy. That is what fills Him. That is who Jesus is. And that is how He reigns as King. He rules in love: a love that hatred cannot conquer.

Jesus was determined to share fully in the lot we have chosen for ourselves. We were destined to lives of glory and majesty; that was what God wanted for us. But we threw all of that away and embraced instead the path of suffering and death. But He would not have that be our end. He came to walk that path as King so that, through His suffering, all that we lost might be restored to us again. Jesus was stripped of His clothing that our naked sinfulness might be clothed in the robe of His righteousness. He wore the crown of thorns, that we might wear the crown of eternal life. He was beaten and mocked, that we might be welcomed and treasured. The love of Christ overcomes all hatred and mockery, and remains love, so that a way would be opened for us to return from this misery of sin and death to the kingdom the Father planned for us from the beginning.

Jesus walked that suffering road in kingly fashion. None of the mockery can take from Him His majesty, His glory, His peace. He carries out every act of His Passion in burning love for the fallen race of men so that we might be restored. He chooses to lay down His life that we might live in Him. Such love on His part creates love on ours. That is why we sing:
O make me Thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.
Behold your King! Behold, beneath the blood and the blows, the eyes that look upon you with tender compassion. He does this for you, in undeserved love, that you would live with Him forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sermon for 3/22/15: Lent V



Judgment and Truth

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The devil is a liar, and he lies in order to murder. Jesus is the truth, and His Word is truth in order to save you from death. There is no middle ground. There is no gray area. You can have lies, sin, and death, or you can have truth, forgiveness, and life; devil or Jesus. But it's not for you to decide. Corpses don't get up on their own. They need to be raised from the dead. Sinners don't save themselves. They need to be saved. This is how the devil does his lying and murdering. He lied to Adam and Eve. His lies led to their unbelief. They stopped trusting in God's Word and they died. Jesus went toe to toe with the devil; but where we fail, He trusted in the Word for you. The devil seeks to possess you, corrupt you, destroy you. He seeks to bring you misery and sadness. Jesus comes to throw Satan down and save sinners. The devil seeks to hold sinners in slavery to sin. Jesus comes and sets you free. The devil wants you to believe God doesn't care about you and will abandon you when you need Him.

There's a war between the devil and God. You are the prize. Either the devil wins and keeps you in slavery and brings you to everlasting death, or else Jesus wins and saves us for everlasting life. There is no gray area, no middle ground. Those who hate Jesus are the sons of the devil. The devil is their Father of Lies. Jesus says simply that His Word is life. He was before Abraham. He is about the living, not the dead. That's enough to drive His enemies to stone Him...but not yet! He has to stand before the high priest and the governor. And He won't die by stoning but by crucifixion. We would have killed Jesus, too—not even so much because we want to do sins, though we do. Rather, it's our religion that will kill him. “I’m going to save myself. I’m going to be righteous and holy because I’m a good person! You can't tell me that I’m not a son of Abraham! Don't tell me I'm not a good Christian. By all that’s holy, I'm a lifelong Missouri Synod Lutheran! I’m much better than those other people all around who do those horrible things.” …That's what kills Jesus. But He dies because the Father of Lies has us trapped. He's captured and enslaved us. He's brought death to us. We're in serious trouble if Jesus doesn't save us. So that's what He does. His suffering and death at the hands of sinners is to do exactly that. The truth that gives life is that the Lord who is Truth dies. He dies. You live. He suffers lies so that you know the Truth that sets you free.

And it is His Word that means you will never taste death. Baptism means you will never taste death. Absolution means you will never taste death. The Good News of Jesus died and risen means you will never taste death. And the body and blood of Jesus means you will never taste death. "No," you say. “We're still going to die.” No. You're not. You will fall asleep. But you fall asleep in Jesus. That's not the same as death. Baptized into Christ, you fall asleep. And then, on the Last Day, He wakes you up. Death is forever: forever cut off from God, forever stuck forever with the Father of lies. His lie is that you die. The truth is you fall asleep. His lie is that you are a sinner doomed to die. The truth is that Christ has set you free. The same Lord who is before Abraham is the same Lord today: the same Jesus, the same Savior, the same Word that rescues you from death. Here you are, today, hearing Christ's Word. There will be no death for you! All you have is forgiveness and eternal life. When it's Jesus versus the devil, and you are the prize, Jesus won't let him win. His cross and empty tomb, His Water, Word and Supper—they are the weapons He wields, and He uses them to set you free. “And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sermon for 3/18/15: Lent 4 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!” That is what Peter said to the Lord he loved. Peter could not imagine his love for Jesus ever being insufficient. But of course, the Lord knows what is in man. And in fallen mankind there is fear—fear of death above all. And fear of death is something the devil uses against us. So, the Lord tells Peter before it ever happens that it will happen. Not once, not twice, but three times Peter will be given the opportunity to confess his Lord. And not once, not twice, but three times, Peter will deny Him.

Among the wounds that afflicted our Lord during His Passion, surely the denial of His brash, but beloved, disciple, Peter, figures large. And who among us has not added to that wound? Opportunities to confess our Savior arise at every hand, yet how often we pass them by in silence. And our silence denies Him. Isn’t our fear the same? We fear the loss of a respect from others, for who can respect someone with such narrow views? We fear the loss of friendship, for who wants to befriend a religious fanatic? We fear the loss of our reputation, for what will others say about us if we become known for speaking up for the Lord? And thus, the silence, which is denial just as surely as saying, “I don’t know the man.”

But Jesus goes into His Passion to be wounded for our transgressions. Our denials of Him do not result in His denial of us. He has carried those denials into His death and, where we denied Him, He made the good confession before the high priest and before Pontius Pilate. Jesus did not let fear of anything deter Him, and we do well to ponder that truth. Though our Lord despised death, He did not fear it. He came into this world to destroy it. Indeed, He came among us to let death devour Him so that He would destroy death forever, and so that His faithful people would be set free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.

Standing before Israel’s High Priest, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew He would give up His life on the cross, an offering and sacrifice to His Father, His blood blotting out forever the guilt of our sin and the sin of the whole world. And Jesus also knew, and rejoiced, that His Father would never abandon Him to the grave. Although death would take Him, He would break the bonds of death. Jesus did not fear death because He knew that death would not be the end of Him or of anyone who is joined to Him in faith.

To this point, Peter had only heard that Jesus would be raised from death. But now, before his eyes, he saw the Master in the hands of those who would turn Him over to be crucified. Peter’s heart trembled in fear. Rather than, in peace, confessing His Lord, in terror of death Peter denied Him. And as the fateful rooster crowed, he recalled how Jesus said it would be so, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Peter wept bitter tears for his own fear and sin and cowardice, but he did not despair. Here Peter differs from Judas. He saw the look in his Lord’s eyes when they took Jesus away, the look that said: “Remember, I told you that you would deny Me, and I was right; so you have. But remember that I also told you I would rise again, and I will be right about that, too! And I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith will not fail!”

Now, think of the man we meet on the other side of the Resurrection, on the Day of Pentecost. That same man, who crumbled in fear before the serving girl and her friends, boldly told the crowd that day: “This Jesus whom you killed by hanging on a tree God has raised from the dead, and we are all His witnesses.” What changed is the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. And so it is with you and your baptism. There in the water you were drowned, placed into the tomb with Christ, and raised with Him as the guarantee of a life that will never end. In that water, the Holy Spirit descended on you even as He descended on Peter and the other disciples on Pentecost, transforming them from quivering cowards to bold confessors. What changed was the conviction of faith that Jesus truly had destroyed the power of death by enduring it Himself. And He has atoned for all our denials by His confession and His suffering for us.

Years later, the story goes, Peter was told that he had to sacrifice to the emperor and deny Jesus, or die. By the grace of God, he refused the emperor’s demand. He refused, and Peter went the way of his Lord. He, too, was crucified, though, according to a long Church tradition, upside down, because he did not feel himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Master. In the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face. Peter’s prayer that day might have been what we sang only moments ago:
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
May we be so faithful when called upon to make confession, and may that be our prayer at the hour of death as well. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sermon for 3/15/15: Lent IV


He Already Knows

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The Lord already knows how He's going to take care of you. Are you going to trust Him and not worry about your future? Or are you going to get all worked up because you aren't sure how everything is going to play out? Jesus already knows how He's going to provide for this congregation. The question is, are we going to trust that He'll take care of things? Or will we get agitated because we think we have to figure it all out ourselves? This is our problem. This is our sin. We live as if we think the Lord is ignorant of what's going on in our lives. We get downright grumpy because we don't believe the Lord is paying any attention. Suddenly we're on a hillside after three days and there's nothing to eat. We're in the desert and wondering whether God just brought us there to starve. Is that how you live? Our ears are filled over and over with God's promises, but one thing comes along that we don't like and we stew about it for days, getting grumpy and complaining. We forget about God and ignore or mistreat our neighbor.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether the Lord will take care of you, then think of this account. Five thousand people are sitting there, and they need food. Jesus feeds them. It's that simple. Jesus knows what you need before you need it. He knows what you need even before you ask for it. And He still knows what you need even if you don't think He is going to provide it. And that’s not just true of food. Our real problem isn't that we're hungry. It's that we're sinners. It's that we are filled with unbelief. We don't think He can do anything about our sins. We don't ask Him to. We don't even know we need Him to. But He comes to save sinners.

There's a reason John mentions that the Passover was near. The Passover was coming when Jesus, the Lamb of God, the true Passover Lamb, would be killed so that we are set free from sin, from death. Today it's a hill with green grass. Soon it will be a hill covered with crosses and criminals and skulls. On the first Passover, the lamb dies. But because of the blood on the door, the Angel of Death passes over. On the final Passover, the Lamb of God dies. But because of His blood sprinkled on you in Baptism, the Angel of Death passes over. On the first Passover, the lamb dies and is eaten by the people. On the final Passover, Jesus dies, giving Himself to you in His Holy Supper. You head out into the world where nothing seems to go your way, where you don't think you'll have what you need, in which the devil and your flesh try to drag you into sin. And Jesus takes care of you.

We are in the midst of our own wilderness wanderings. But as we’re told in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus the Good Shepherd has led us to a place where we lay down in green pastures. Grass is where sheep graze. Grass means God's Word in this pasture called the Church. There’s plenty of grass here, plenty of the Word of God. He feeds you as much as you want. On the hills with Jesus, you are filled to bursting with bread and fish, and there's still more. That's how His forgiveness goes too. He gives you more than you need, more than enough to drown your sins. Jesus knows what you need before you need it. He'll give it to you before you ask for it, even when you don't know how He's going to do it. That's how He feeds five-thousand people. That's how He saves the world. With a Jesus like that, there’s no need to worry that you’ll have enough, no need to worry about being able to help your neighbor. After all, what is there to worry or complain about? Jesus gives you everything you need and then some. And not even your worry can keep Him from saving you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sermon for 3/11/15: Lent 3 midweek (Wounds series)

The Lent 2 midweek service was canceled due to inclement weather and horrible road conditions. This was the sermon meant to be preached that week. We're just moving all the sermons back a week, with the sermon that was supposed to be Lent 5 midweek preached on Maundy Thursday, since I originally had to import a stanza from TLH for O Sacred Head Now Wounded to fill Maundy Thursday.


The Wound of Apathy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus didn’t want to be alone as He wrestled in prayer with His Father that night. How easily we forget that our blessed Lord was truly and fully human! He desired the comfort of companionship, the encouragement that comes from loved ones. And so, as Jesus leaves the larger group behind, He takes with Him His three closest friends: Peter, James, and John. He can no longer hold back the grief. “My soul,” He says, “is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.” He stumbled a few steps further and landed on His face.

Before the eyes of His soul was the cup of suffering. To understand that cup, you must go back to the Old Testament. In Psalm 75, David said: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” Isaiah later foretold of a time to come when that cup would pass from the people, to another. “Thus says your Lord, the Lord your God, who pleads the cause of His people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of My wrath you shall drink no more.’”

And so, the cup that was set before Jesus for Him to drink, down to the bitter residue, was the cup that held the wrath of God: His wrath against all your rebellions, all your lovelessness, all your passing of judgment on others, all your selfish acts, all your indulging the flesh, all your spiritual apathy. That was set before Jesus, and He knew exactly where it would lead. Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah: “(The Lord) will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Make no mistake about: Jesus receives what is coming, knowing that it comes entirely from His Father.

None of us is nearly as frightened of hell as we should be. We have no clue about the terror of its emptiness and eternal loneliness. But Jesus knew. And before that reality, looking into that ultimate and eternal poison in the cup, He trembled. And why wouldn’t He? He trembled and begged His Father that, if possible, some other way may be found, some different approach, something other than what was in the cup before Him. He looked over the brim of that cup into its bottomless depths, and He shook in terror.

We sin so casually. “God will forgive,” we say. “He is loving and merciful and kind. Sin is really no big deal.” Go with your Lord this evening to Gethsemane, and see with your own eyes whether or not it’s a big deal. Look at Him as He shakes in terror before the sin we carelessly and foolishly choose for ourselves time and time again. And see Him as He lifts His eyes from the cup to the Father, and pleads for some other way. But then, see also how our Savior distinguishes Himself from all other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. See Him lower His eyes to the cup again, and say, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.”

It has exhausted Him and terrorized Him, looking into that cup. And so, He turns back to His friends for the comfort they can give. But here, another wound strikes Him. As He has struggled with the terrors of death and hell for them, they have fallen asleep. He cries out, “Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We wound our Lord with our weakness, our apathy. We wound Him with our careless sinning. We add to the terrors of the cup He must drink. Surely Jesus’ word of warning will keep His disciples awake, and in prayer. The most terrifying events of their discipleship are only moments away now. Surely they will realize that, and pray. But, no. They are like us after all, or we are like them.

Jesus turns back and, again, struggles in prayer. Then He again returns for comfort from His friends and again encounters only apathy. They are sound asleep. He is all alone in this. He turns back for a final prayer. The sweat falls from his brow in great drops of blood as He bows to the Father’s will. He will do it; He will go forward to drink this cup. He will do so, trusting that, having experienced in Himself the penalty of our disobedience, His Father will not abandon Him forever. Look into the face of your Lord as He rises from prayer, and you see peace.

That peace came from His trust in His Father. To submit to the One who has loved you with an everlasting love is not terror, but joy, no matter how dark the path. In that peace, Jesus turned back to His disciples for the last time. Their apathy can wound Him no more; He is going forth to bear that sin, together with all their sins and the sins of the whole world. While they had slept, He had won the battle; He had won it alone! Now He would go forth to meet His betrayer. And He woke up His disciples so that they too might meet the terrors to come.

Seeing Him go forth to meet these terrors in peace, we sing, in astonished awe:
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinner’s gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place.
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.
As He looked in pity on His disciples, so Jesus looks in pity on us. Through His struggle to drink the cup and empty it forever, He shows us that He will never be apathetic about us. He who drained the cup can be counted on to save us completely. To Him be glory, with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sermon for 3/8/15: Lent III



Cast Out

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Satan is no pushover. His army of evil demons and men will do everything it can to stop our salvation from happening. He started already when our Lord was barely even born, stirring up evil King Herod to try to kill Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus encountered the devil and his powers. Satan went after Jesus directly in the wilderness. But Jesus doesn't give in to the devil's temptations and lies. He sends the devil packing by His Word. Every time the Lord throws a demon out of someone, the demon says Jesus is the Christ. The demons hate it, but they know. So the devil sends evil men—men who are full of their own religion, men who are so pious and holy they will kill an innocent man. It all seems like a perfect plan for Satan until we realize that this plan is exactly how the Lord is going to overcome the devil! By His bloody death, Jesus pays the price of the sins of the world, robbing the devil of his power to accuse us! By His descent into Hell, Jesus announces once and for all to Satan that his kingdom has fallen and his days are numbered! By His resurrection on Easter, Jesus throws down death itself and turns what was ruin and misery brought by the devil into our passing into eternal life. At every point, Jesus takes down the devil's power.

Beware, dear Christian! The devil is prowling like a roaring lion seeking to consume you. He has endless tricks up his sleeve to drag you away from Christ and your salvation. He sneaks his agents into the church, preaching and teaching what is false and wrong. He tells you that baptism is a good work we do to show that we're faithful to God. The devil works hard to keep you away from hearing God's Word. He sends preachers to say that the Christian faith is about prosperity and happiness instead of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. He tries to teach us that all religions are the same and then fills the world with false religions that all hate and fight one another. We are born into that kingdom of Satan. We are born into this world full of the sin of Adam. We are born enemies of God and lovers of ourselves.

And so, to rescue us from this kingdom and bring us into the kingdom that Christ won by His death and resurrection, the Lord must cast the evil one out of us. Did you know that you've undergone an exorcism? It was the day of your baptism. At that moment when you were born by water and the word, the finger of God cast out Satan and the kingdom of God came upon you. You've had the devil cast out of you. Make the sign of the cross, and Satan will remember your baptism and run away scared! When the devil brings your sins back to haunt you and trouble you and make you question whether you really are a child of God, then come and receive absolution, and wave that announcement of forgiveness in his face! When the devil tries to wear you down by throwing diseases and sickness and trouble and the prospect of death at you, then come and eat Jesus' body and drink His blood. If you have Jesus in you, then there's no way Satan can take you down. If the devil wants you, he's got to go through Jesus who lives in you and you in Him by His body and blood. With these gifts, the devil can't touch you! Ignore these gifts, despise them, and you have no defense against him. But with these gifts, have no doubt the devil can't stand to be near you and must run in fear when these gifts are given!

Lent is all about Jesus defeating the devil at every turn. His going to the cross and rising again means the devil's kingdom has been overthrown. But it's not just overthrown for Jesus. Satan’s defeat happens for your sake. By your baptism into Christ, His victory has become yours. The devil has been thrown down for you too. That doesn't mean he won't keep trying to tear you away from Jesus. But the Word and Sacraments that Christ gives you keep throwing the devil down. They are your shield and armor and weapons against the Evil One. As long as you are in Christ Jesus, the devil can't touch you. Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God. That same finger has touched you and cast out the devil. The kingdom of God has come upon you, and you are safe now in Christ Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sermon for 3/1/15: Lent II



Hold On to Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you want to make sense out of the readings for the Sundays in Lent, you need to know that the Church Year, when it was put together many centuries ago, was designed in part as a period of instruction for those who were new to the faith. It was a period of teaching to prepare new Christians for their reception into the Church. The first Sunday in Lent introduced these new Christians to the devil, to let them know that there really is an enemy out there who is literally hell-bent on wiping out their faith in the God. The first Sunday in Lent issues a serious warning: expect to be tempted. The Word of God, however, has the power to defeat and drive away this enemy.

The second Sunday in Lent introduces new Christians to a phenomenon that older, seasoned Christians know very well. Not only do they have to deal with the devil roaring like a lion, looking for someone to devour, but they will also have to contend with another painful spiritual experience: getting what seems to be the cold shoulder from God. Many times we struggle and wrestle with God in prayer, much like the account of Jacob. And like Jacob, who never walked the same again after that wrestling match with God, we may well walk away from our struggle with God wounded. We cry out like the woman in today’s Gospel, and we feel ignored, excluded, insulted. But our text urges us not to give in to despair. That woman from Canaan is a living enactment of those words of our Lord: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.

She came to Jesus. “Have mercy on me, O Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” One of Satan’s crew had grabbed hold of her daughter, filling that poor child with hatred and bitterness, with the rage and anger and resentment that is Satan’s stock-in-trade. And when she heard that the Great Healer had come into her area, it was like a gift from heaven. Never had anyone been known to cry out to Him in vain. And so, she ran to Him, and pleaded for her daughter.

But what treatment did she receive? “He did not answer her a word.” Even the disciples were shocked at how He treated her. They intervened on her behalf, but it did no good. He simply told them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He knew she wasn’t one of the chosen people. But did she just slink away and give up? No! She fell down before Him and insisted: “Lord, help me!” Surely now He would help. But He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He didn’t just tell her that she was not one of the chosen people. He told her she was a dog. In other words, she was completely unworthy of the bread He was sent to give to His people. But she acknowledged the truth of what He said. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She was only asking for crumbs.

Like Jacob, she would not let go of the Lord until He blessed her. She let herself be emptied of every claim, and yet still she threw herself on His mercy. And she was not disappointed: “‘O Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” You see, this is His way to test those who come to Him; that is the truth! He teaches you the long and hard way not to rely on yourselves or on your feelings or how you think things should be going in your life. In this way He teaches you to trust in Him and His great love and mercy. He does this, strangely enough, by giving you the cold shoulder.

This woman didn’t even know the whole story—at least, not like you know it. And yet, she would not let loose of Him! How much more reason, then, do you have to not give up on Him? After all, you know where His love landed Him: on the cross, laden with your sin! You know how He spilled His blood to wipe out your sin and undo your death and deliver to you the gift of eternal life. Every time we hear His Word, every time we receive the Holy Communion of His body and blood, we are eating the crumbs from His table. And we are made ever more certain that the God who would do this for us can be trusted, absolutely, not to deny us or forsake us in the end, no matter what sorrow we may know right now, no matter what pain we may be having to bear right now, no matter what temptation we may be facing right now.

Hold on to Jesus; keep praying; keep asking; no matter what happens. And remember, always, that He uses that cold shoulder to bless you. As St. Paul said: “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sermon for 2/25/15: Lent 1 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The “sore abuse and scorn” that paled our Lord’s head “with anguish,” as we sang, actually began long before the physical abuse. It began with the actions of a friend, of one whom He loved, a companion with whom He had traveled many miles and shared many meals. Here was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief that only compounded the weight of sin He bore on the cross.

“One of you will betray Me,” He said at the table that night. And they became sad, and one after another they asked, “Is it I, Lord?” We, too, need to ask that question of our Lord. Have I sold you out, Lord? Have I lived for this world and its pleasures and bought into them, rather than wanting you, rather than spending time with You, rather than hearing Your words of life? Have I lived as if I mattered most and You mattered not at all? Is it I, Lord? Jesus makes it pretty clear, doesn’t He? The wound of betrayal is not inflicted by those who are distant from Him, from those who are not His companions, His friends. No. This is a pain that comes from those nearest to Him, from those whom He held in special love. “He who has dipped His hand in the dish with Me will betray Me.” Not someone distant and unknown, but someone near, and dear, and loved.
But note the love of the Lord! Do not think for one moment that the Lord’s love for Judas, His betrayer, was in any way altered by betrayal. Of our Savior, the Psalmist spoke truly: “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” He loved this man who would go his faithless way. Jesus loved this man who would first despise and turn from His love, and then despair of what he thought he had lost forever. For Judas, the betrayal was so big a sin that he was convinced he could never be forgiven. The betrayal by Judas was a horrible sin, to be sure, and it is a horrible sin in us. What on earth could ever justify handing over the Creator of all, who has shown us only kindness and love, into the agony of torture, crucifixion, and death? What madness is it that would lead the creature to betray the Creator? What folly it is to chase a few dollars in this world, spurning, all the while, the gift of a life that never ends.
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” That had to be the most terrifying word our Lord uttered. But do you see, people of God, that Jesus did not say those words out of hatred or anger or any such thing? He spoke from the depth of His sorrowful compassion. He saw, as is His way, where Judas would end his life, that in the end Judas would despair of the mercy of God and go to his grave believing that his sin was greater than God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. And that broke our Lord’s heart even more than the betrayal itself.
How little Judas understood the Son of Man whom he betrayed! For it was also for the sin of Judas, and the sin of all us Judases, that Christ stretched out His hands and let them pound in the nails. It was for our sin that Christ pleaded, “Father, forgive them.” It was for our sin that the Lord of life let “grim death, with cruel rigor” rob Him of His life so that sin and death would lose their claim on us forever.

The pain of betrayal is great, and it wounded our Lord’s heart. But it could never turn that heart to bitterness. In that heart lives a love too great, too strong, too mighty for bitterness and hatred to ever conquer it. Although betrayal hurt, like the pain of hell itself, Jesus went on loving Judas, even as He goes on loving you and me.
And so, in the wounds of the crucified One we find a love that sets us free to love as we have been loved. Our Lord spoke often of taking up our cross and following Him. Do you see, now, what your cross is? You are betrayed when you love others. Instead of your love being returned, it is rejected. Such betrayal hurts and wounds you in terrible ways; you may be crushed and even reduced to tears. Then that old sinful nature inside rises up in indignation and anger and eagerness to get even. But by the strength of the cross of Christ, by the power of your baptism into His love and mercy, you nail that old sinful nature to the cross and say, “By the power of Him who forgave me, even when I have betrayed Him so many times, I forgive. By the power of Him who loved me, even when I sold Him out, I will love you, the one who has hurt me.” This is the cross we are often called on to bear. And when we do, it will mean torture and death to that old sinful nature. But to the new man, who has arisen in Holy Baptism, it will mean life and joy. You will be partaking of the very life of your Savior.
We have not begun to love with the love of Christ until we have come, by God’s grace, to love those we thought were our friends but who have betrayed us, hurt us, brought us sorrow. When we go on loving them and seeking good for them and their blessing—a feat impossible for fallen human nature, but possible through the love of Christ—we begin to taste something of the joy known by the martyrs of Christ across many centuries who loved and prayed for the very people who brought them to death.
As often as the Church gathers to hear God’s Word and to receive the Holy Sacrament, she celebrates the love that is in her Savior, which is stronger than all our betrayals; a love that He freely gives us in His body and blood, that won forgiveness for Judas, for you, for me, and for all. It is our experience of such love that frees and strengthens us to bear the wounds of betrayal ourselves, following our Lord with joy. May He give us the grace to do so. In the name of the Father and of Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sermon for 2/22/15: Lent I




Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What is temptation? Temptation is anything that causes you to doubt that you are a child of God. Your baptism declares that you are a child of God. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father declared the same thing of Jesus: "This is my beloved Son." So the devil comes along and tries to convince Jesus that He's not God's Son. After all, God’s Son wouldn't have to go hungry after forty days. He could just turn stones into bread. God’s Son could jump off the temple and let the angels catch Him. The Son of God could kneel, just this once, to get all the kingdoms of the world back from Satan. But Jesus clings to the Word of God. The Word declares that He is the Son. The Father said so. Jesus knows it and believes it. He trusts the Father, and He holds fast to God's Word. He drives the devil away. But none of this happens for His own sake. Jesus undergoes these temptations so that you don’t have to question whether you are God's child.

You are baptized. When the water and the Word was poured upon you, the Lord Himself says, "This is my beloved Son!" All that Jesus the Son has becomes yours at that moment. Every right and privilege and honor of being the very Son of God becomes yours. From that moment the devil will stop at nothing to cause you to doubt it, to deny it, to ignore it, to not believe it. Satan whispers in your ear: "Are you really a child of God? If you were, you would give up that favorite sin of yours. If you were a child of God, you would stop holding that grudge. If you really were a child of God, you'd act like it instead of being the selfish person you. Oh, you don't do any of that? Well just bow down by telling me how good you really are and I'll be more than happy to tell you that you're God's child!" So the devil lies and tempts and accuses. His one desire is to declare to you that you are not God's child. You are nothing but sin and death. But by the power of your baptism you can reply, "Listen, Satan. You can say all you want. But I am a baptized son of God. I am a child of God because Jesus is the Son of God. And if you want to tell me I am not God's child, you have to first prove that He is not the Son of God."

Everything that goes on in the wilderness? Jesus does that for you. He overcomes temptation for you. He does not give in to doubt for you. He doesn't believe the devil's lies for you. But that is not where the defeat ultimately happens. Jesus is the Son of God most clearly, most powerfully, when He obeys his Father's will by being arrested, condemned, and crucified. He is the Son of God the most when the Father acts most as if He's not. He is most plainly and profoundly the Son of God when He hangs on the cross in your place: in the place of every sinner, each of us who are born orphans and enemies of God. And on that Good Friday, the Lord who went toe-to-toe with Satan in the wilderness, declares, "It is finished!" Temptation is overcome once and for all. The devil can no longer question whether you are God's child since the Son of God gave His life to make you just that. Now then whenever the evil one comes calling, to try to lie to you, to make you doubt, to make you uncertain—then you simply throw your baptism in his face. You rub the words of absolution in His ear. You open your mouth for him to see the body and blood of Christ on your tongue. With those gifts of Christ, backed up by His own death and resurrection and His being the Son of God, you can proclaim, "Away from me, Satan!" And he must run away, for the Father has claimed you as His very own, and Jesus won't let anything undo that. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

ACELC Presentation

As you know by now if you are a regular reader of my blog, I wrote a book called Lutheran Purgatory: Pastors Without Calls. Late last year, I was asked by the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC for short) to present a summary of the first few chapters of my book at their annual free conference, which this year dealt with the topic of the Unbiblical Removal of Pastors. 

While they have not yet made available the transcripts of the presentations, the audio has already been posted online for all the presentations and sermons during the conference. To listen to my presentation, right-click here and save it to your computer. Or I suppose you could just click on the link to listen without saving it to your computer. As you can tell, I have a face for radio and a voice for newspaper. Anyhow, I hope you find my presentation and the others (which I highly recommend) to be edifying and useful.

When they post the transcripts, I will update this post.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

PARODY: Blogged Assurance

After the recent exoneration of Dr. Matthew Becker, a blatant false teacher on the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, a collective roar of disapproval rose up from the Bible-believing people of the LCMS. The Southern Illinois District in Convention voted to urge Dr. Becker to repentance and to urge his district president to begin or continue doing his duty as Becker's ecclesiastical supervisor to bring the false teacher to repentance.

The Council of Presidents, seeing the uproar from the congregations and clergy of the LCMS, released a "Statement of Assurance" regarding their role as ecclesiastical overseers. 

Having seen the dark side of ecclesiastical oversight in my own experiences with certain district presidents and former district presidents, I don't find such assurances to be very reassuring. Their pleas to be mindful of the Eighth Commandment are heartfelt, I'm sure, though I've given up on receiving their aid in restoring my own reputation, which was heavily damaged with the help of at least one of their number. Anyway, as I read the statement, I found myself fighting the urge to make bold statements about its veracity and sincerity. I fought the urge and won, thankfully, but I could not defeat the urge to jest about the subject. With that in mind, here's my parody.

Blogged Assurance
(Parody to the tune of "Blessed Assurance")

1. Blog-ged assurance, statement divine!
The CoP says that everything's fine.
We're in agreement! We walk as one,
Sipping our Mai Tais in Southern sun.
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

2. Blog-ged assurance! What we say goes!
Heretics teaching right under our nose
Can teach for decades, nothing to fear,
While faithful men get kicked in the rear. 
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

3. Blog-ged assurance! What's all the fuss?
Better think twice before questioning us!
We here affirm the integrity
And oversight of the CoP. 
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sermon for 2/18/15: Ash Wednesday (Wounds series)

This is the beginning of the Lenten sermon series "Wounds," based on the Gerhardt hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." 



Wounded Savior for Wounded People

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

We have all heard it, perhaps on another Ash Wednesday, perhaps at a grave side: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes for which this day is named are a symbol of death, the reality that lies before us all, old and young alike. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return. Such is the wages of sin.

As we begin our Lenten journey this evening, we look in amazement on One for whom those words should have no meaning. We see Him and cry out: “O Sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thine only crown!” If ever there was a head that did not call for the ashes of this day, it is His sacred head! Why thorns, when it should be a crown of gold? Here we see in flesh, that One who formed us from the dust at the very beginning. Here is the One who in unfathomable love for our fallen race became dust for us. And now He will even lay down His head in the dust. But there is no sin in Him! In Him there should be no death! How, and why, will He die? We will spend this Lent pondering, in awe, such questions.

When Joel declares a sacred fast, when he urges the trumpet to sound and the people to gather, we discover that the occasion is one of return. Lent is always about a return. Of course, we so often think of Lent in terms of turning away from something—what we are giving up, what we will fast from. And make no mistake about it, fasting is a good thing. Didn’t our Lord assume that His disciples would do so in our Gospel reading; “When you fast...” When, not if! But by itself, fasting can be nothing more than an empty religious exercise. The Lenten fast goes much deeper than your decision to deny yourself some tasty treat. Rather, it invites, it summons, it urges you back to someone, to the Lord. “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” A Lent that is anything less than a return in faith to the Lord is only a religious game and worth less than nothing.

Rather than play games with God this holy season, hear His summons to you to come back to Him, to return to Him now. He does not want some piece of you, some outward display, like torn garments, or a few minutes tossed His way one day a week. No, He wants you! That is why Joel says: “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” 

Lent is not for pretend sinners. Lent is for real, honest-to-God sinners who have failed in their love of God, who have failed in their love of neighbor, who see this reality, and who, by God’s grace, despise their sin and ache for His forgiveness and for strength to do better. And to such sinners the invitation rings out as refreshment: the invitation to return and see the sacred head of your Savior, now wounded. He is the One who knew that we, on our own, could not come to Him, return to Him, or even find Him. So He came to us, returned to us, and found us, and by His cross draws us to Himself.

And we marvel this Lent at how far He went to find us. It is a marvel indeed that the eternal God should take on human flesh and blood, as He did in the Incarnation. That, all by itself, is enough to leave us astounded forever. But He went further than that. Not only did He take on our flesh and blood, not only did He become dust for us, but He also went so far as to lift from us the burden of our sin, to bear it in His own body to death, to take all our failures to live in love as His very own. Indeed, in the words of St. Paul: “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” He not only died, but He also died as the greatest sinner of all time, with the sin of the world upon Him, all of it; yours, mine, everyone’s. In this way the Lord revealed that He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Look to the cross and see! He bore your sin to death that neither death nor sin would be the end of you. Such is the measure of His love.

During Lent, when the Church calls us to return, she is calling us to return to Christ, to draw near to this Savior who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquities, upon whom was the punishment that brought us peace, and in whose stripes we find healing. She reminds us that only real life in this whole world is fellowship with Him, and that every time we have settled for something less, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived and cheated of that great gift of which our baptism has made us heirs. And as often as she sets her table, the Church calls for all her children to return, to come to this wounded Savior who bore our wounds in His own flesh, shedding His blood for us, so that His flesh might be our living bread from heaven and His blood the blotting out of our every sin.

Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” But the cross reminds us that we have a Savior who became dust for us, whose sacred head was laid in the dust of death, that the dust of our corrupted being might become incorruptible in Him. It is no wonder, then, that, pondering such love, the Church raises her voice to that sacred head and rejoices to call it her very own, her greatest treasure. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon for 2/15/15: Quinquagesima



Opened Eyes

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Lutherans always seem to be preaching repentance for our sins and the suffering and cross of Jesus. Lent is coming! And we think about more these things more intensely in Lent, not because they are somehow more important then, but to remind ourselves what is most important: Jesus suffering for our sins. The world doesn't want that kind of Jesus. When the blind man is crying out to Jesus, begging for mercy from the Son of David, the crowd tells him to shut up. No, Jesus isn't supposed to be paying attention to beggars. Jesus is the King who will get rid of the Romans. The world doesn't want to hear about the suffering of Jesus because then the world would have to repent of its sins which brought our Lord to suffer. The world will say plenty about Jesus until you say that Jesus was handed over to be mocked, spit upon, and killed. Once you start talking about the Jesus who suffers, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—well then forget it. The eyes of the world narrow with skepticism, the ears of the world are shut, and the preachers are told to shut up.

Jesus speaks of His coming suffering and death and Luke records: "They understood none of these things, and this word was hidden from them and they did not know what He was saying." His own disciples don't get it. Those to whom it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God don't have a clue what our Lord is talking about! All this suffering and dying and rising talk makes no sense. And it would not make sense until the Lord was risen from the dead, until the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, until repentance and forgiveness began to be preached in Christ's name. We're the same way. We hear that Jesus suffered, died and rose again. But we like to think that our sins aren't really that bad as to need the Son of God to die for them. We like to think we're smart enough and wise enough that we don't need to live by every last word that comes from the mouth of Jesus. Repent, dear Christians, of only hearing the bare facts of salvation. Hear again that this suffering and dying and rising is done for you and your salvation. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the Lord having mercy on you, just as He had mercy upon the blind man.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has no mercy for you, no salvation, no forgiveness, no love, apart from His Son who is handed over, mocked, spit upon, humiliated, killed and raised the third day. That is our salvation. All of our enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—are defeated by that very Jesus who takes our place on Calvary and suffers at the hands of sinners. It is Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, who fulfills all that the Scriptures said about Him, from the very first promise of a Savior in the Garden of Eden to all that Moses and the Prophets and Psalms promised about Him. The salvation and forgiveness of sins won by the Lamb of God are no good to you unless they are for you.

When the blind man is healed, we see that Jesus is for you. The blind man cries out for the Lord to have mercy upon Him. Jesus answers this prayer by doing exactly that: He saves this man. What is mercy? It is Jesus delivering to you the salvation He earned. The answer to the prayer, "Lord, have mercy!" is Jesus doing and delivering His saving work. The mercy of God in Christ is given through His Word in the water, read and proclaimed, in bread and wine. By these very means, the Lord opens our eyes of faith to see Him and behold Him and to receive His salvation accomplished for us.

The blind man knew that, in order to be saved, Jesus had to be for him. So he cried out the prayer for mercy. The world tried to shut Him up, but the crowd is silenced as Jesus stops to save this man by His Word and open the man's eyes so he could see his Savior. Brothers and sisters, learn to pray like the blind man. Learn to cry out to the Lord that begging prayer, "Have mercy upon me!" Then hear the words of Jesus to the blind man: "Be seeing! Your faith has saved you." Let His Word open your eyes, and see to Lent and beyond. See Jesus, lifted up for you, coming to you in His gifts in His church. Then do as the crowds did when they learned the Good News: give glory and praise to God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

HYMN: Lord Jesus Christ, Your Love Has Covered Sin

The Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is meeting this weekend for its 57th Regular Convention. The theme is "Above All Love One Another," drawn from I Peter 4:7-11. I was asked to write a hymn based on that theme, and this text is the result. Though this was written in November of 2014, I didn't want to post it until it was premiered at the actual convention for its intended audience and use. Now that it has been used for its intended purpose, I'm ready to make it public here. 
Click here for an audio recording of the assembly at the convention singing the hymn.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your Love Has Covered Sin 

1. Lord Jesus Christ, Your love has covered sin.
You bear in mercy all that we regret.
Teach us to love. O Savior, enter in,
So we ourselves forgive our neighbor's debt.

2. Upon the cross You bore our sins to death.
Mercy poured out in water and in blood.
Teach us to watch until our final breath
And cling alone to Your redeeming flood.

3. You call Your Church to serve in every place.
You give us gifts of love for word and deed.
Teach us to serve as stewards of your grace,
To honor You and fill our neighbors' need.

4. Lo, now the end of days is close at hand.
Flesh turns to dust and time will flee away.
Teach us to pray that all in faith may stand
As we await that great and glorious day.

∆5. Jesus, in love You died to cover sin.
Father, in love You gave Your only Son.
Spirit of life, You dwell as love within.
All glory, Triune God, while ages run.

© 2014 Alan Kornacki, Jr.

And click here for a link to an alternate tune by the Reverend Robert Mayes.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sermon for 2/8/15--Sexagesima



Sown Seed

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Not all end up in heaven. It’s the sad truth. The desire of the Father is that all would come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. What is more basic to our Christian faith than this? The Son of God did not come into this world to condemn the world; He came so that all who believe in Him would be spared the Father’s righteous wrath which has been spent on Him.
That being the case, the Sower sows. He sows with reckless abandon. He sows with generosity, casting that life-giving seed into the most unlikely and unreceptive of places. That is the call of the Gospel; it is available for everyone. He scatters this life-changing seed, His holy Word, without regard for where it lands. He knows that it is needed by all, even those who will refuse Him. Because of this, it may seem as though much is wasted. In truth, there is no soil worthy of this seed, no heart truly worthy to receive it. Still, He sows. The seed is His to do with as He pleases. And it pleases Him to offer up His life for hateful, rebellious men who will reject Him. He who sets men free sows the seed of His forgiving Word. It pleases Him to offer salvation to all men without cost, that all men might be saved.
That is the call of the Gospel. But still, few are chosen. The Word goes out, and for the most part it is ignored, hated, and even mocked. But where and when it pleases God, the old sinful man is drowned, and the demons are driven away, and the new man, a Christian, is born where no birth seemed possible, in a heart of corruption, now alive out of death, light in the darkness. This seed, God’s Word, reveals to men His heart of mercy. It accomplishes the impossible.
This is a mystery. The kingdom of heaven does not follow the rules of men. It is a mystery, incomprehensible to our feeble minds and a stumbling block to our foolish ideas about how things should work. It is a mystery that God loves those who treat Him as the enemy, those whom He has every right to hate. He sows His seed. He offers forgiveness and life. He dies and rises in our place, simply because that is how He is. We have not deserved it or earned it. There is nothing in us. It all comes from Him.
And that is why we are neither alarmed nor troubled by the great many times the Word is rejected and mocked. It is what we have been told to expect. We rejoice and find comfort in those moments of miraculous intervention, when His Word moves among us and does what it says: when, at the Baptismal font, God makes alive an infant dead in sin; when He enters our sanctuary, crucified and raised from the dead, now borne on lowly bread and wine for us to eat and drink; when His Word goes out and, by its own power and strength, creates and sustains faith in those whom He chooses. And those whom He prunes in suffering and affliction, those who bear the fruit of patience and confession, are those whom He loves.   
Without the world noticing or even caring, the Word, the good seed, has been cast. It has, by the grace of God, made a home for itself in our unworthy hearts. It has intervened. It has borne the fruit of faith. It has provided bread for the believer. In us, who have no merit or worthiness in which to boast, who were the worst soil imaginable—sought out by treading feet, snatching birds, and worldly weeds—in us sinners whom He came to seek and to save, whom He chose to love, the Lord of the harvest has caused a miracle to occur! He has created faith. He has comforted and consoled, redeemed and restored, forgiven and forgotten our sins. He has fulfilled His promise. His Word has not failed. It never does. It never will. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.   
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sermon for 2/1/15: Septuagesima



Rejoicing in a Generous God

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

To read Scripture faithfully, every text of the Bible must be read while keeping in mind what the Bible as a whole teaches, especially keeping in mind God’s will and His work of salvation. Much of the confusion caused by differing interpretations of the Bible occurs when texts are pulled out of their context and made to say something that don’t actually say. Seldom has context been more important than with this parable of the grumbling workers. What had just happened in the verses immediately preceding this text was that a rich young man had come to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments; and when the young man responded that he had done so his whole life, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus was showing how this young man had a god besides the true God; he worshiped and treasured his wealth. Jesus watched this young man walk away, saying to His disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And can’t you imagine Peter’s face clouding over with a mixture of doubt and irritation as this sinks in? “Wait a minute! We have left everything to follow you. Doesn’t that count for anything?” But Jesus assured them that they had not lost a thing; they had only gained. And then Jesus launched right off into the parable that is our Gospel for the day.

Do you see it? This parable is aimed at the sin that dwells within us all, when we are inclined to think too highly of all that we do for the Lord, and yet not highly enough of God’s grace. This parable is a poisoned arrow aimed straight at our hearts of pride. It speaks to that horrible temptation to think that God owes us because of our work in His kingdom. It speaks to that temptation to anger that God would actually grant the same eternal life to those who haven’t sat through hours of tedious church meetings, or who haven’t taught Sunday School, or who haven’t endured the anxieties of caring for church property; who haven’t “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat,” to use the words of the Gospel.

God brings in some notorious sinner who has squandered his whole life in open rebellion and sin, and enjoyed all the pleasures this life has to offer, and, in the last hour, God saves him and gives him the same eternal life. This parable is like a nuclear missile aimed straight at our grumbling and complaining, our arrogance and our self-chosen piety. And we are right there with Peter and the others, imagining that God owes us. What delusion!

And the answer the owner of the vineyard gives to the grumblers is one that stings, as well. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” No one is good, no one except that gracious owner of the vineyard, who loves to give! He is good! We are all in the position of being debtors before God. If eternity for us depended on our perfect keeping of the commandments of God, we would all be instantly destroyed—especially those who think they have fully kept the Law. If we haven’t been serving God freely and joyfully, gladly doing what He commands—and none of us can consistently say that—then we have only been offering God begrudging service, complaining about having “borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Not so, however, with Jesus! He kept all the commandments with joy and gladness. He did not only outwardly conform; His heart desired to keep them and to please His Father. He is the One who is good. And this good One is also immensely generous. He gives to us who grumble and complain His own goodness to wear, to live in, to grow in, to cherish. That is the goodness He wrapped around you at the Baptismal font. That is the goodness He places in your mouth at the altar, where, to quote the Psalmist, you “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That is the goodness that sounds in your ears from His Word. That is the goodness of the One who is generous to all who believe in Him, who will set aside claims of what they think God owes them, and simply receive from Him the gift of eternal life.

This parable puts us all in the same place when we stand before God. We have all failed the commandments of God, and yet we are all offered the gift of eternal life, a gift received only by faith, through the generosity of Him who tells this parable. Speaking once more of the importance of context, remember this: as these words were being spoken, Jesus was only days away from Calvary where, on the cross, He assumed a debt He did not owe. And He gladly paid that debt so that His generosity might cover our sin and reshape us as people who simply and humbly rejoice in the mercy and generosity of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon for 1/25/15: Transfiguration of Our Lord



Do Not Be Afraid

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

We believe with the certainty of faith that what the Bible says is true. The world laughs at Christians because of that. The world thinks we're stupid for following a book that was written thousands of years ago. As long as you hold the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the world will think you are an idiot. “It’s time to move on,” they say. “It’s time to think for yourself.” That is quite a temptation, isn't it? How well do you really know your Bible? Have you studied it and become familiar with it? Or do you see the Bible as the world sees it? Is it just old stories that are out of date and irrelevant for life in our fast paced modern world? The fact is, that would be a good perspective on the Bible if that's all it was. But it's not. It is the Word of God which delivers Jesus. That's why He's standing on that mountain and shining like the sun for His disciples to see.

And who is standing with Him? Moses and Elijah are there, representing the Law and the Prophets. They represent the Old Testament Church. What Peter, James, and John see—Jesus, flanked on either side by Moses the law-bringer and Elijah the prophet—means this: Jesus is what the Old Testament is about. The Old Testament is the Word of God because it shows us Jesus. It declares a promise that God has made—He would send a Savior. And it shows the way in which the Lord has worked things out to bring that promise to actually come to pass. The Old Testament was not written merely so that we could argue against evolution. The Old Testament wasn't written merely so that we can learn how to behave. The Old Testament isn't just a bunch of stories that the Jews told to convince themselves they were special. The Old Testament is the testimony and record of the Lord working out His promise that He would save sinners.

But it doesn't stop with the Old Testament. What does the Father say from the bright cloud? "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him." That's right. Listen to Him. Hear what He says. Hear His Word. And what does His Word say? What Jesus has to say can be summed up in what He tells His disciples who are face down in the dirt and terrified: "Do not be afraid." What wonderful words! "Do not be afraid." "Do not be afraid" of the devil's lies, because I am the truth of God's Word. "Do not be afraid" of your sins, because I will pay for them with my suffering and death. "Do not be afraid" of death, because I will throw it down by my resurrection. "Do not be afraid" of being unclean, for I will wash you with water and the Spirit in Baptism. "Do not be afraid" of the things that trouble your conscience, because I will send preachers to proclaim forgiveness to my people. "Do not be afraid" of false gods, for I will give you the preaching of my cross. "Do not be afraid" of death, because I will give you my body and blood to eat and drink, and I will raise you up on the Last Day. "Do not be afraid" of anything in this world or even the world itself, because I have overcome the world.

It doesn't matter if the world laughs at you for believing God's Word. The world doesn't understand. The world denies the truth. But Peter reminds us in his epistle that they weren't making this stuff up. Peter was there as a witness on that mountain with Jesus. But even there Jesus teaches Peter that the big deal isn't what He can see, but the Word that Jesus speaks. So it is for you. We don't see Jesus on the mountain. But we have His touch upon us with water, bread and wine and His Word which says, "Do not be afraid." "Do not be afraid" of sin. "Do not be afraid" of death. "Do not be afraid" of the world and its doubts and lies. "Do not be afraid" of anything. Jesus is God's beloved Son, and in Christ through Baptism, so are you. And because of Jesus, the Father is well pleased with you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

Guest Post: LCMS President Matthew Harrison on Tolerating False Teaching

The Reverend Doctor Matthew Becker, LCMS clergyman and professor of theology at Valparaiso University, was exonerated of any charge of false teaching. This is a preposterous result, as the evidence of his false teaching is public and copious. Despite the brazen heresy espoused by Dr. Becker, his District President refuses to take action against him, and a dispute resolution panel inexplicably found that he was not teaching false doctrine, despite the fact that his teachings are contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. There are other disturbing circumstances surrounding this case—the CCM hasn't made a correct ruling since before my Ordination, I think—but an exhaustive list would have me typing until next week.

The Reverend Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, made some statements today to begin to address some of the issues surrounding this and other problems within the LCMS. This is important. Under the previous administration, false doctrine was tolerated, encouraged, and fostered. President Harrison's administration hasn't dealt with error as hastily as some had hoped—and I'll readily admit that I wasn't happy about how his office assembled the 3-10a Task Force—but he has apparently decided that it's time to speak forthrightly about false teaching and practice in the LCMS and the system that allows it to exist, and as I encourage him and pray for him as he fights the good fight, I would encourage you to pray for him and offer what support you can. The Lord bless and keep you, President Harrison.

All that being said, I will let Pastor Harrison take over the blog.


"The system of doctrinal discipline in the LCMS is not functioning as envisioned and implemented by our Fathers. It must be repaired." --Matt Harrison

Walther on Doctrinal Discipline of Pastors. 
...It is impossible for a sizable church body to remain in the true faith if there isn’t a constant check to see that everything still is as it was in the beginning, when the pastor came to the congregation. Without visitation it is probably impossible for a church to remain in unity of faith and confession.
Therefore it is a terrible line of talk that the so-called “confessionally faithful” [Bekenntnistreue] are spreading in Germany: ‘‘[All that’s necessary is] that the pure doctrine be public doctrine (doctrina publica), that is, the authentic, authoritatively established doctrine that everyone is required to profess, so that every false doctrine is actually without authoritative standing!” Therefore, [they say,] provided the pure doctrine is the authoritatively established one, the Church may be ever so corrupt, yet it is a true Lutheran [church]. If the pledge of loyalty to the Confessions has not yet been rescinded but is still valid, though not a single pastor proclaims it, then the Church is still sound.
That is no different than if an organization is formed for a good purpose, and finally the members agree to do something rascally but they retain their constitution as a benevolent organization. Then they cannot say: “We are indeed committing a dirty trick, but because, according to our constitution, we should really do good, therefore we are nevertheless an honest, honorable organization, since it says so in our constitution, which we still have!”
That is what those so- called “confessionally faithful” ones in Germany say: “You see, the constitution says, ‘The Lutheran doctrine is public doctrine (doctrina publica)!’”
But it is not enough that it is on paper; nor is it enough that all pastors and teachers are pledged to it when they enter office. No, this Confession must also be faithfully practiced [im Schwangegehen].
That is why Luther, in his treatise “On the Councils and the Church” [1539], writes: “First, the holy Christian people can be recognized by their possession of the Holy Word of God. . . . But we are speaking of the outward Word, orally proclaimed by people like you and me. For this is what Christ left behind as an outward sign, by which we can recognize His church, or His holy Christian people in the world.” [Walch 16:2785f. Cf. AE 41:148f; Vom den Konziliis und Kirchen 1539, WA 50:509–653; Aland 382]
It is not enough to have a Bible lying in the vestry, but it must be proclaimed from the pulpit. Moreover, a church may have a thousand oaths sworn to be faithful to the Augsburg Confession and yet be a vile sect; and that is true of the state churches [in Germany]. In the best cases there are still good pledges of allegiance to the Confessions, but very few preach accordingly from the pulpit. One is Reformed, another is Methodist; rationalistic, yes, even atheistic, i.e., there are some who do not believe in a living God and still have solemnly sworn allegiance to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. They simply say, “That is an old tradition, which it would be dangerous to discontinue because of the common people, who still cling to the old faith. But our superintendent, who put us under oath, knows very well what we mean; after all, he himself doesn’t accept the Confessions in their entirety either. But because the regional bishop has so ordered it, therefore we continue it.”
But such people are not Lutheran pastors. The confession of the Church must sound forth from the pulpit. And a congregation may be part of a large Lutheran church: If it has a false pastor and he constantly preaches false doctrine and it likes his preaching very much and definitely wants to keep him—that is not a Lutheran congregation either, even if the right official confessional statement is inscribed over the entrance. The [Augsburg] Confession must be proclaimed, and it dare not just say in a book somewhere that it really should be preached.
One must say: Churches that indeed teach false doctrine but have not sworn to uphold pure doctrine are not as bad (as those who have sworn to uphold pure doctrine but do not do so). They are better because the people are not so deceived by them. So when a church says “Here Lutheran doctrine is doctrina publica!” and you don’t hear it proclaimed, that church is a miserable sect, regardless of what it claims to be.

— CFW Walther, "Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod," in At Home in the House of My Fathers.

"When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women, homosexuality, the Errancy of the Bible, the historical critical method, open communion, communion with the reformed, evolution, and more, then the public confession of the synod is meaningless. I am saying that if my Synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance, and remove such a teacher where there is not repentance, then we are liars, and our confession is meaningless. I do not want to belong to such a synod, much less lead it. I have no intention of walking away from my vocation. I shall rather use it and, by the grace of God, use all the energy I have to call this Synod to fidelity to correct this situation." 
Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog post