Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sermon for 2/20/18: Midweek Lent I (Hands series)



                                                           

Hands that Heal


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


            Our Lord is called “the Great Physician.” And it’s no wonder: no matter where He went throughout His earthly ministry, He was healing. He healed the blind, the lame, the leper, the deaf, those who could not speak. It didn’t matter what the disease was. If Jesus wanted to heal someone, they would be healed. Jesus came into this world to extend the hand of His Father’s mercy to everyone. Often He healed with words alone. But in many cases, He healed with His hands.
            The man born blind was sightless with his eyes, but he was also spiritually blind. He did not know his Maker, and he did not know that his Maker was standing right in front of him in the person of his Savior, Jesus. This was a controversial healing, because the priests taught the false idea that a person’s blindness or other birth defects were the result of grievous sins committed by this person or his parents. People still think this way. Prosperity preachers want you to believe that illnesses, diseases, birth defects, and other ailments are God’s way of punishing those whose faith is weak. But our Lord silenced this myth Himself when He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” God uses hardship to draw us closer to Him. Or as Paul wrote to the Romans, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
            So Jesus set about to heal the blind man. He spat on the ground, making mud. And then He placed the mud on the man’s eyes and ordered the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. And when he did as Jesus told him, the man could see! Faith led to obedience, and obedience led to healing. The hands of the Savior gave this man an entirely new perspective: the ability to see with his eyes for the first time.
            But there was more healing to come. The man who had been born blind had no idea who had healed him. He addressed the Man who healed him as “the man they call Jesus.” Then he referred to Jesus as a prophet. But when the Pharisees questioned him, the man born blind insisted that it was Jesus who had healed him, at which point they became angry and threw the man out of the temple. Jesus asked him—and we must all face this question at some point—“Do you believe in the Son of God?” Still the man didn’t know the answer; he didn’t know who healed him. Jesus told him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” And finally the man gratefully confessed and worshipped Jesus, saying, “Lord, I believe!” The man received two great and powerful gifts. First, the Lord restored his sight. Second, he was brought to faith in Jesus as his Savior and Redeemer.
            This is an outstanding parallel to how we received our spiritual sight. Thanks to the sin we inherited from Adam and Eve, we were born blind to God and His Word. And as He did for the blind man, Jesus sought us out. Jesus loves us so fully, so completely, that He would allow His healing hands to be nailed to the cross. What wondrous love! Just as the man who was born blind was given his sight by the saliva of Jesus, we are given faith to see Jesus present in His Word through the waters of Holy Baptism. Just as the man who had been born blind was cast out of the earthly temple by the self-righteous Pharisees, only to find himself face to face with God in the flesh, we are separated from the self-righteous prosperity preachers, brought face to face with our Lord who gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink at His holy altar. He touches us, and we are healed.
            Jesus has given you the sight to see Him, not as a mere prophet, not as some guy who happens to be named Jesus, but to see Him as your Lord and Savior. The hands that healed the blind man are the hands that were nailed to the cross. And there on that cross, those hands won the healing of your soul from the death your sins would bring to 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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon for 2/18/18: First Sunday in Lent

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Ready for War


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


Beware, Christians! The devil, the ancient accuser who so easily led our first parents into death, has been honing his craft for a very long time. Repent. You are no match for him. Return to the Lord. Too often the devil’s lies have found upon us willing ears and wayward hearts. Repent. Now is the Day of Salvation. Tomorrow may be too late.
Repent, but do not be afraid, for there is an escape by the grace of God. Our Lord Jesus, born of Mary, your Brother, is like you…but not like you. He obeyed. He did not fall. He did not succumb to temptation. He overcame the Tempter—and not merely in the desert, but in the city, in the back-water Galilean villages, at the sinners’ tables, in the synagogue, in the Temple. Then, at last, He faced that old serpent in the fiercest showdown of all time on a hill just outside of Jerusalem called the Place of the Skull.
And there it seemed as though the whole thing had been for nought! Surely Christ led a blameless life and never sinned, but there on the cross, with brutal force and undisguised glee, in malicious violence, Satan through his evil agents drove the nails into the hands and feet of Immanuel and put Him to death! It seemed as though Satan had won. It seemed as though the victory in the desert did not last. It still seems that way today, when sinners perpetrate great evil—things like mass shootings in schools and public places; things like abortions performed in numbers far exceeding the number of people murdered in the holocaust; things like the normalizing of immorality in the name of “love.” The devil and his demons work hard at making evil seem like good, making fiction seem like reality.
But the Truth is this: in that dark hour of God’s death, the ransom was paid! Heaven was opened! The Son of Man was glorified and crowned as our King. He rose the Victor. And after parading through Hell to show Satan that Christ had won, the Lord appeared to His people. He ate with them. He taught them. He blessed them. He forgave them. He gave them His Victory, for He had won it for them. He had won it for you.
And so it is, that even as Our Lord battled the devil in the desert; battled him across the Promised Land; battled him through death and into Hell that those prison bars which held us in were broken down; so still, He wages this holy war for us and in us. And still the battle is fought, as it always has been, with the Word of God.
Temptation is always enticement to break God’s Word, to go against it. God gives commandments. The devil calls God a harsh taskmaster who doesn’t really care; who, if He really loved His children, would let them do as they pleased. This is the way he attacked Eve in the garden. It is the way he attacked Our Lord in the desert. It is the way he attacks us here and now. Eve could not bear the assault. Adam failed to protect her. They gave in and became children of Satan, and you are the spawn of their loins. But the Second Adam, the perfect Adam, suffered these temptations also. And He did not fail. He overcame. He lived the perfect life of faith. And with nothing more than the Word, He drove the devil back.
He did not need to do this for Himself. He did it for you. He removes the sting of death and the victory of the grave. The roaring lion who once terrified you now has no bite. He cannot have you. He cannot harm you. For you have a Master, a King, a Benefactor, a Protector. You bear the Name He placed upon you in Baptism. You belong to Him, not just because He made you, but also because He bought you.
So be forewarned. Be prepared for warfare. Make yourself ready by eating and drinking the medicine of immortality, the body and blood which He has given and shed for you. Open your ears. Hear the Word of God. Pray that He would strengthen and sustain you in the days to come. Pray, lest you fall into temptation. Pray the prayer He taught you. And pray as the early Church so fervently prayed: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!” 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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon for 2/14/18: Ash Wednesday (Hands series)

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Redeemed and Rewarded


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


            It is not at all unusual for us to use our hands when we talk. In fact, in some cases, it’s almost comical and can certainly be distracting to watch a person talk who can’t help but gesture wildly with every sentence. But when used sparingly, a well-timed gesture in a conversation can be an aid to understanding what the speaker is trying to convey. It can add emphasis to an important point; it can bring the hearer into closer communication with the speaker. (As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not very comfortable making gestures with my hands when I talk. My hands sort of flop around unless I’m trying to make a point, or unless the flow of the liturgy invites the pastor to gesture to the congregation.)
            Throughout His ministry, our Lord’s hearers couldn’t help but remark, “He has done all things well.” And that would certainly be true of His ability to convey His message clearly and with great emphasis. So when our Lord says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” you can picture Jesus spreading wide His merciful arms to welcome the burdened sinner into His embrace. “Come to me,” He says; and when you hear that, you know that our Lord has a place set aside for you in His presence where you will be welcomed with love and compassion and rest for the weary soul. He invites you to come to Him because He wants you to lay your burdens upon Him.
            As it is today, so it was during our Lord’s earthly ministry. People had stress and pressure in life: the stresses of family, of work, of heavy taxes and oppressive laws and cruel and ruthless authorities. And to top it all off, the religious leaders of the day—men who should have been speaking the comfort of God to a weary people—were laying burdens on the people that did not come from the Word of God but from the imaginations and machinations of the priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, and the other religious leaders. We experience those burdens ourselves from those who call themselves pastors and church leaders, but who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. They tell you that the life of the Christian is a life without suffering. They tell you that, if you just believe enough, you will never get sick or poor, and will never experience any kind of hardship. They tell you that, if only you will just give them your money, you will be blessed.
            It is in the midst of these false preachers and their greedy fear-mongering that our Lord stretches forth His hands. “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” He invites you to bring your burdens to Him—the weight of the cares of family life, the heavy load of work responsibilities, the burdens of emotional and spiritual distress—and lay them in His outstretched arms. He invites you to hide in His embrace, where you will be guarded from the teeth of the wolves who would pull you away from Him with their false piety and their false promises. He gives you a place free from fear, free from the false preachers, free from your guilt.
            You know this is true, for He voluntarily stretched wide His arms on the cross—in fact, He allowed them to be nailed wide open. He did it for you. In the midst of your fear, your doubt, your distress, He invites you with outstretched arms to lay your sins upon Him; to trust Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with your heavenly Father; to call upon Him when Satan wants you to doubt your Savior’s work; to return to the waters of your Baptism through the words of Holy Absolution, where He speaks through the mouth of His called servants to give you the peace only He can give you.
            And this evening, He invites you to this table, where He welcomes you with open arms to the eternal wedding feast of His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. “Come to me,” He says. He’s here, fully present in this meal. “Come to me.” Come and partake of the body and blood of your Savior. Be refreshed from the burdens the world places upon you. And then, having received your rest, return to the world, strengthened to bear the easy yoke, the light burden of service to the Lord. He will bear that burden with you, as well. “Come to me,” He says, His pierced hands outstretched. Come and receive Him. 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 04, 2018

Sermon for 2/4/18: Sexagesima

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The Seed Within You


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


            Just now, as you heard today’s Gospel, the devil was using many things to distract you and tempt you. Some of these things were questions or thoughts or ideas that came into your mind. Some were noises or movements that caught your attention. Whatever it was, whatever he could find, the devil used it. He will continue to do this throughout the entire service, and at every Divine Service, and every time the Lord’s Word is preached and spoken and read and prayed and sung. “Pay no attention to that preacher. Forget what the Psalm says. Who cares about that Scripture reading? It’s just words. And they’re no better or worse than any other words. Besides, those words really won’t change anything. They don’t matter. They don’t make things better. It’s just words.” That’s the devil speaking.
The devil wants to distract you. He wants you to lose focus. His goal is to keep you from hearing and listening to and heeding the Lord’s holy Gospel. His goal is to snatch the Lord’s Word out of your heart; to make you question the Word of the Lord; to choke it with your worries and fears as well as your ambitions and passions. Resist him—not by yelling or glaring at someone else, and not by arguing with him. Resist him with prayer and contemplation—by making the Lord’s Word your own, saying back to the Lord what He has first said to you.
But how can you do this? How do you resist? How do you outmaneuver his temptations and block out the distractions he uses? Certainly you cannot do it by yourself, not with your own wits and will. We can never rightly put our trust in anything that we do. But the Lord is our trust. He promises to defend us against Satan and all his ways. He is our protection against all adversity, against every temptation and evil, against every tactic the devil employs to undermine our faith.
So how do we resist? Recall that the Word of God is like a seed. Within the little seed is the power to break through cement and stone, to split wood, to rise above the strongest weed. And within the seed are the branches that the birds nest in, and the food that sustains all manner of life. The seed, though small, is mighty—especially when nourished and fed by the waters of heaven and the warmth and light of the sun. The seed is the Word of God. The Lord’s Word already has within itself all that you need to resist the devil and all his works and all his ways. For this is no ordinary seed, just as it is no ordinary word.
This seed is the Lord Jesus Himself. He comes into the world, in our flesh, in our hearts, looking as insignificant and helpless as a small seed. Yet within Himself He has the power to beat back Satan and his lies and to break through our stone-cold hearts. He alone is able to be trampled down so that He might raise us up. He alone is able to break up the rocks and stones that hinder our life in God. He alone is able to suppress our fears and satisfy our desires by holding out to us, not a better life, but life as it truly is. He alone is able to give us the life we can never live apart from Him. Our heavenly Father is the farmer who sent the Seed: to be born of the Virgin, and also to be born in our flesh in Holy Baptism. That Seed within us is nourished with Christ’s own body and blood. Here, then, is our strength and power to resist the distractions and temptations of the devil. It is found not in ourselves alone, but in communion with God and all the faithful in Christ.
So what, then, if the devil continues to pester and annoy you? The Father, by the Spirit, has planted within you His life-giving Seed. And by that same Holy Spirit in the Holy Supper, He nourishes and sustains and grows that Seed within 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.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sermon for 1/28/18: Septuagesima

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Mercy and the Kingdom


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


It is easy to believe that heaven is due payment for having to live through the misery of earth. We walk in danger all the way. It often feels like we are careening from one heartache to another, that we’re only one misstep away from disaster and ruin. So the more we suffer, the harder our life, the better we are at controlling ourselves, the more we help others, the oftener we go to church, the more we do right—then the more we are sure we deserve the payment and reward of heaven.
Certainly, the crown of righteousness has been laid up for us, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved His appearing. And there is no doubt that this heavenly reward awaits all those who walk worthy of the calling—those who live their baptism with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. With all confidence, we can and should expect to receive this crown, this reward, this heavenly life. Our Lord has promised it to us. And by His Spirit, this incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that does not fade away is reserved in heaven for you.
But does this mean we have deserved it? Will we get heaven simply because we’ve paid our dues with the coin of grief, sickness, and death? Have we earned it because we’ve given our best years to a futile cause? And is it ours because we’ve worked and sweated to do the right thing, to turn our life around, to make the best of our rotten luck? Beware of such thoughts. They tempt us to take pride in ourselves, our work, and even our misery. And they tempt us to compare ourselves with each other, to see how we measure up, and to determine who’s really deserving and undeserving. But most of all, when we are convinced that we have earned our place in heaven, we belittle and dismiss the Lord’s mercy and grace. We live, not in gratitude for God and love for others, but selfishly.
That is what we see in today’s Gospel. Those laborers who cry “foul” at the end of the day are not grousing about unfair labor practices. Rather, they are thinking only of themselves. And they are more concerned with getting what they deserve than they receiving their denarius with thanksgiving. This story is not about workers and management. It’s about the kingdom of heaven. And in the kingdom of heaven, the coin—the denarius—is our Lord’s mercy and kindness.
Our Lord’s mercy is called that precisely because it is undeserved. It is His kindness, His love, His compassion extended to us who have rebelled against Him, who live as if He doesn’t matter, who abuse His creation, who think little of His gifts, and who are quick to believe the worst of Him; those who are convinced that the Lord’s will is never done and that His kingdom will never come; those who are sure that the Lord has abandoned them or is against them—they are the ones to whom our Lord extends His mercy. For no good reason whatsoever, our Lord also invites us into His kingdom, His vineyard, so that we might not be destroyed by idleness, but would live in Him by tending to the good fruits He has planted for our use and enjoyment.
So let our eyes focus not on what we think we deserve. If we do, we will miss what our Lord has already given us. His mercy endures forever. Let us fix our hearts and minds, our efforts and desires, our prayers and affections only on this—that our Lord Jesus once again, and without fail, has mercy on us by speaking into us His healing forgiveness, and by feeding us with the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. 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, January 21, 2018

Sermon for 1/21/18: The Transfiguration of Our Lord

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No Myth


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


Peter wants to stay on the mountain. But Peter has a problem: he’s full of it. He’s a fake. He claims to have left everything for Jesus, but he can’t stay awake an hour. He claims he will never deny Him, but he curses the woman who recognizes his accent. He claims he will feed Christ’s lambs, but he tries to deny the end of the dietary regulations. He wants to stay on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, but he has not earned that place. He wants to pretend as though he loves Jesus when he really just wants to save his own skin. He is a phony.
We are all phonies. We all calculate to deceive. We all tell other people’s stories as our own. We all exaggerate. That is what drives urban legends. We tell the stories, and we even get angry when we’re called on it. What is so wrong with us that we lie like that? We pretend we did and said things we didn’t. We deny what we did say and quibble about what we meant. We spend more time worrying about appearances than the truth, more interested in our own public relations than with our neighbor’s reputation. We say what we think we are supposed to say and hope no one can see into our hearts where we even lie to ourselves. We’ve lied so much we can’t keep track. Repent. Go and lie no more!
Peter was a phony. But Jesus loved him anyway. Moses was a murderer and a coward. But Jesus loved him too. Elijah was full of self-pity and despair, but Jesus still loved him. Here is the truth: God is love. His mercy endures forever. He paid the price to redeem them. He paid the price to redeem you. He laid down His life in your place, to set you free and forgive your sins, to make you whole and give you hope. Peter’s bravado and posturing did not stop our Lord. He loved the real Peter, the one that Peter was afraid to let men see: the lying, cowardly, lusty, greedy, lazy Peter. Jesus loved him and wanted him for Himself. He wanted Peter to be His perfect son, His immaculate, clean, and innocent Bride, to be with Him forever in a new paradise, free from Satan and temptation, free from his own betraying heart. Jesus also loves you, despite your lies and your faults. He loves you no less that He loves Peter, Moses, and Elijah.
But that love will not be accomplished by staying on the mountain. God in the flesh must go to Jerusalem and face the full force of man’s hatred and brutality. He must endure the lies of the Sanhedrin and the cowardice of Pilate. But this is why He came. He has taken man’s flesh to be a sacrifice. The serpent must bruise His heel. The Messiah must pay with His life. And Moses and Elijah love it. They rejoice in it. This is what they longed to see, what they had preached and prayed for. This is how God loved the world, how He showed mercy. The crucifixion of Jesus is where He draws you to Him. This is where the serpent that bit Eve’s heart is overcome.
Do not let this make you feel sad or guilty. The Son of Man has authority to lay down His life. No one takes it from Him. This is who He is and what He wants. This is the will of His Father; this is the work of the Spirit; this is the love of the Son. The day He dies is a good day, the best day. For the day He died, He took death to the grave. That is why the dead emerged from their graves on Good Friday. Death lost its hold. The serpent’s head was crushed. The battle was won.
This is no myth. This is no exaggeration. This is reality. This is the truth. And this reality changes you. Peter, despite his flaws and weaknesses, is now, by grace in Jesus Christ, Saint Peter. He is forgiven, perfected. You, also, by the grace of God, bear that same title, written upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. And by the grace of God, you will bear that title 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.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sermon for 1/14/18: The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

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Let Us Pray


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


The holy Apostle Saint James reminds us to pray to the Lord for one another because The prayer of a righteous man has great power… Prayer is one of the many gifts God gives to us, and in today’s text, we see that prayer has real power. Mary speaks to the Son of God on behalf of those who attend the wedding at Cana. And yes, this is a prayer. It’s not a long prayer. It’s not an eloquent prayer. But it is a prayer nevertheless when Mary says, They have no wine.” Her prayer is no different then when we pray, plead, sigh, or cry out to the Lord and say, “Lord, we’re in a tight spot. We don’t know where to turn or what to do next. We’re trying hard to do the right thing—to live as you want us to live. But we’re weak; we’re at our wits end. Have mercy, Lord, and help us.” And what happens when Mary prays? The Lord answers her prayer. He says, “Yes.” He turns plain water into the finest of wines, in quantities large enough to keep the wedding feast going for days.
But He doesn’t give His final answer right away. He says to His mother, O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come. We hear that answer, and we often misunderstand. We believe that Jesus is saying no. And we think that way because impatience corrupts our prayers. It’s as if we haven’t prayed at all. The Psalmist writes, When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.” We don’t trust the Lord; we don’t trust His timing; we don’t trust His mercy. We dare say that, when He doesn’t answer our prayers in what we consider a timely fashion, He is reluctant to help us. We dare suggest that He’s toying with us.
Why, then, does He delay? After all, our Lord’s mercy and kindness and help are not like ours. He does not give reluctantly or tightfistedly or even bitterly. Our Lord’s mercy always flows from a tender heart. Our Lord’s mercy always flows without any reluctance or second thought. Our Lord’s mercy always flows freely, generously, without any strings attached. And our Lord’s mercy always flows without any regrets. So why the delay?
He answers prayer in His way and in His time so that we might be led to greater faith. And it’s not just that He desires for us to have a stronger faith. He leads us to believe in the right things. And the right thing in today’s Gospel is not merely some wine for some party. The right thing in our lives is not simply for the things we believe will make our lives better. The right thing in today’s Gospel—as it was from the beginning and remains to this day—is to trust the help, the comfort, the deliverance, the mercy, the kindness, and the salvation we receive from the water and blood that poured from Our Lord’s side—into the baptismal font and into the holy chalice.
Our Lord wishes us to set our sights, not on the wine in which we drown our sorrows or create our momentary happiness, but on the wine which is His holy precious blood—the blood of the Son of God which which was given and shed for us to drink for the remission of our sins. This is the sign of our salvation: the sign of the Lord’s mercy; the sign that God the Father has not abandoned us; the sign that He has sent His Son for our deliverance, and that, by His Spirit, we are united to Him and restored to communion and fullness of life in the Holy Blessed Trinity.
So Mary prays, “They have no wine.” By saying this she means, “Lord, they need the full abundance of Your all-availing mercy.” And our Lord, as He always does, comes through. He provides richly—all we need to support this body and life, and all we need for the life of the world to come. 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. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

HYMN: My Soul, O Magnify the Lord

Sometimes a hymn idea just jumps out at me from nowhere. I was sitting at the table with my tri-circuit pastor brothers yesterday, just having returned from the Divine Service, and the words of the Magnificat (the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55) popped into my head with a tune. It's a very rare treat when an idea comes to me so quickly and with a fair amount of flesh to it, even if the rest of the text seldom does. Anyway, here's a cleaned-up just-barely-beyond-first draft of my Magnificat versification. Yes, I know it's been done before, and by far greater writers than me. But that's okay; I won't complain if they won't. *wink* Feedback is love.


My Soul, O Magnify the Lord


1. My Soul, O magnify the Lord,
Rejoicing in my Savior God,
For He has seen my lowliness.
All peoples now shall call me blessed.

2. Behold, the mighty One has done
Great things for this unworthy one.
His name is holy. Those who fear
Will find His mercy ever near.

3. His strength He has made manifest.
The proud are scattered east from west.
The mighty from their thrones are cast;
The humble, lifted up at last.

4. And all who hunger have been stilled;
The rich are exiled, unfulfilled.
In mercy He remembers well 
And helps His servant Israel,

5. Just as He spoke to Abraham,
Providing him the thicket ram.
His grace to Abram’s seed is sure
And to our fathers evermore.

∆ 6. All glory to the Father sing;
All hail the Lamb, our Savior King;
All praise, O Spirit. Endless praise
Unto our triune God we raise.


LM (88 88)
Tune: DEUS TUORUM MILITUM (LSB 401)
Occasion: The Visitation 
Text: Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat)




Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Sermon for 1/7/18: The Baptism of Our Lord

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Bloody Water


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


Can you imagine if every Baptism was like the Baptism of Jesus? Can you imagine, as the water has been applied to the baby, the Holy Spirit swoops down like a dove to settle on the newly baptized? Can you imagine the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved child, whom I love”? What a wonder that would be. What a thrill, what a blessing it would be to have visible and audible signs from God that each person who is baptized, whether child or adult, is now washed by God Himself and is now pleasing in His sight. Those who doubt the power of Baptism; those who doubt that the words “all nations” apply even to infants; those who believe that a sinner must make a decision to give their heart to Jesus before they can be baptized—surely they would recognize what a blessing Baptism really is. Surely they would know without a doubt that Baptism is God’s work to wash away our sins, not our work to show how much we love Jesus. Surely they would recognize that Baptism is not a sign of our faith, but that it creates faith within us. Surely they would recognize that Baptism opens the Kingdom to us. God’s Word tells us these things, but maybe if the doubters saw the Spirit and heard the Father’s voice, they might change their minds.
It is precisely because they cannot see or hear the evidence that the unbeliever denies the power of Baptism. It is precisely because there is nothing visibly miraculous about Baptism that some within the Church teach that Baptism is our work instead of God’s work. “Surely there must be something more to this,” says the person who believes Baptism is a decision we make, something we must understand before we can accept it.
But water itself is a powerful thing—just ask Pastor Buetow, whose house and office in New Orleans were devastated by the flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina; ask the people in Indonesia whose homes are ruined with every tsunami; ask someone who is literally dying of thirst. And when the power of the Word of God is added to water, it is “not just plain water”; it “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Anyone who asks more than that from Baptism must not think that forgiveness and salvation are the greatest gifts God gives.
And that’s especially true when you consider where Baptismal water comes from. Baptismal water is bloody. The same Christ who went into the Jordan to fulfill the Law for sinners? He then went to the cross, where that baptized body was stripped, whipped, nailed down. At His death, the ones who nailed Him to the cross shoved a spear in His side, and water and blood flowed out. That bloody water is what washes you clean from your sin. It covers you as a robe of righteousness, so that, when the Father looks at you, all He sees is His holy and sinless Son. He looks at that righteousness, and He welcomes you just as He welcomes His Son.
So no, you don’t hear the voice of the Father from heaven. No, you don’t see the Holy Spirit swooping down like a dove to settle on the newly baptized. But our Lord does speak to you: in His Word and through the mouths of His called servants. The Holy Spirit does rest upon you. And when you emerged from those Baptismal waters, the name of God was written upon your forehead and upon your heart. You are His child. He feeds you with the body and blood of Christ. And by these gifts, the Father declares Himself “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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sermon for 12/31/17: New Year's Eve

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Waiting for the Master


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


Whether or not you stay awake tonight, the clock will strike midnight and the new year will begin—unless, of course, the Lord should return in glory before the stroke of midnight. It’s going to happen whether or not you’ve got your drink in front of you and your best girl or guy to kiss. It doesn’t take a lot to be prepared for the new year. It’s going to happen, even if you sleep through it.
Jesus tells His hearers to be ready, to watch, to be alert for His return on the Last Day. This being New Year’s Eve and all, you know exactly how long you have to stay awake if you want to ring in the new year at the exact moment it happens. But you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. If you knew, you wouldn’t have any reason to remain vigilant, faithful, while you await Christ’s return.
That’s exactly what Jesus is talking about when He says to be ready. He’s not saying that you must lose sleep over His return. He’s already done all the work, so there’s nothing you have to do to be ready. There’s no need for last day resolutions like we all tend to make as we ring in the new year. But He does want you to take stock of your life. Examine yourself through the lens of the Ten Commandments. Are you truly being vigilant, ready for the Lord’s return, when you wallow in your sins? Are you truly prepared for His return when you take lightly the Word of God, treating it as something to hear on Sunday morning and special occasions and then disregard the rest of the time?
Jesus says that He’s coming at an hour you do not expect. He also says something about Himself that you expect, perhaps, even less than His return. “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” Of course, you know that He is the Master and we are His servants. That much is obvious. But He does not rule by tyranny. He rules by grace. Unexpectedly, He serves us!
If you think it is a burden to be a servant of God, then your sinful flesh is sadly mistaken. Your sinful flesh wants to be a lazy slob. It wants to rebel against the demands of faith. But Jesus tells you something different than your sinful flesh would have you believe. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” He delighted in His humble birth, laying in a manger in Bethlehem, because He did it for you and for your salvation. He delighted in the humiliation of a fixed trial before the Sanhedrin, before Herod, before Pilate, for He received the sentence you deserved. He delighted in suffering and dying on the cross, for He bore to the cross that death sentence which is the wages of sin. He delighted in rising again from the dead, for in Holy Baptism He raises you to new life with Him.
He also delights in setting before you this heavenly banquet of His own body and blood, a foretaste of the eternal feast which Christ will share with His holy Bride, the Church Triumphant—and in this feast He lays before you the riches of a glory that will be fully yours in heaven. The Master serves the servants, so that His servants are prepared when He returns. He comes to you that you would be strengthened and lifted up. He blesses you so that you overcome in the time of trial and temptation, so that you may remain awake and vigilant. And when He returns in glory, He will open up His gates to you, that you may dwell with Him, face to face, for all eternity. 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: Sermon for 12/31/17--The Sunday After Christmas

Our guest preacher at St. Peter and Bethel this morning is none other than Stefan Gramenz, member of St. Peter and seminary student in the final year of his Master of Divinity Studies. What a pleasure and blessing to have him around for the holidays! 




This Sunday, like the Sunday just after Easter, is usually a little anticlimactic - it doesn’t seem to measure up to the happiness and the excitement of Christmas a few days ago. Then, we sang all of the hymns that everyone waits for all year, we heard the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s Gospel, and many of our families got together and observed our usual Christmas traditions: eating, and opening gifts, and everything else we love about Christmas.

But what about now? The angels are nowhere in sight, the shepherds have gone back to their sheep, and that manger that Jesus was laying in is being used as a feeding trough again. And for us, it’s back to ordinary, everyday life. Back to school, back to work, back from vacation. And so it is for the holy family in the Gospel lesson today. They’re back to everyday life, back to the ordinary way of doing things. They’ve left Bethlehem, and they’ve gone up to Jerusalem and into the temple, so that they can fulfill the Law of God that said that every firstborn male must be presented in the temple to the Lord God.

And so we come to Simeon. Like the holy family, Simeon was not any ordinary man. St. Luke tells us that Simeon was unique: the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Can you imagine what life must have been like for Simeon? He lived every day knowing that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Christ. He went to sleep every night and opened his eyes every morning with the hope and expectation that today could be the day! Today could be the day that he would finally see the Christ. In a way, Simeon stands in for all the faithful people of God over the centuries. From Adam and Eve to Abraham and David and Isaiah, God promised that he would send the Christ to save his people. So Simeon stands there, himself representing all the Old Testament people of God who waited and watched, morning and night, for the coming of the Christ. All the people who lived under the Law of God, to whom God had promised the Messiah, and who had died trusting in that promise.

And so Simeon stands there in the temple, waiting; the last in a long line of the faithful who have waited for the Christ. But this Christ isn’t like anything that anyone ever expected. This Christ didn’t return to his temple in a blaze of glory and triumph, so that everyone would know that he had arrived. No, he returns as an infant, just like any other boy. Simeon only knows who he is because the Holy Spirit told him. So Simeon comes to meet the Holy Family, and the three of them - Simeon, Mary, and Joseph - stand together, holding Jesus, in the middle of the ordinary crowds of people coming and going and praying and making sacrifices and offering incense. Nobody  else knows. Nobody else realizes what is happening.

We’re not all that different. Here we are, gathered in the presence of Christ: a few people who have stopped what they are doing, who have put our lives on hold, and have come here, because Jesus holds our attention. While others have moved on from Christmas, while others go on with their ordinary lives and jobs, we realize that Jesus is still here, and that we aren’t done with Christmas yet. We’re only on the seventh day of Christmas, after all.

And the Holy Spirit isn’t quite done with Simeon yet. He’s told Simeon that this child is the one, and now Simeon turns to Mary, and speaks again, saying, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” Because Christmas isn’t all about stars and angels and shepherds. Christmas is about Jesus, about the God who is incarnate, who takes on human flesh and becomes a Child. And this child, this Jesus, will be the cause of people falling and rising, dying and being resurrected. The coming of Christ means death for the old ways of life - no more animal sacrifices, no more presentation of firstborn boys in the temple, no more burnt offerings. The coming of Christ means that the kingdom of God is expanding beyond the borders of Israel. It means new life and new hope for the whole world.

And now one more person in the temple notices. An eighty-four-year-old woman named Anna, who stays in the temple night and day, fasting and praying. She, too, sees Jesus. And she, like the shepherds before her, cannot contain her joy, but goes out and tells the whole city about the Christ, and about the coming redemption of God.
     
And now you find yourself in the place of Anna and Simeon. You find yourself in the house of God, ready to approach the presence of Jesus in his holy sacrament. You see the incarnation again, as Jesus descends from heaven and takes his place beneath the forms of bread and wine. But you, unlike Simeon, don’t gather up an infant in your arms. You receive Jesus in your mouth.

So do as Simeon did, and receive him here in faith and in joy. Then live as Simeon lived. Wake up every morning with the joy that today could be the day your Savior returns. Live as Anna lived, waiting out your life in prayer and fasting and telling others about Jesus. And when you die, die as Simeon died. Depart in peace, knowing that the same Lord that you have seen here beneath a veil, you will see one day face to face with your own eyes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sermon for 12/25/17: The Nativity of Our Lord

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Union with God


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


The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe the birth of our Lord as though they were walking with the Lord on the earth. John, however, seems as if he is flying in heaven with the Lord. He says very little about our Lord's deeds, focusing instead on the eternal power of Christ's divinity. While everyone else is rejoicing that a baby has been born, John reminds you that this little Child in Bethlehem is God in the flesh. While others capture your emotions with the gruesomeness of Christ's suffering and death, John will not let you forget that they are killing God: that your God bleeds, suffers, dies, descends to hell, and rises from the dead.
Why? Precisely for this reason: your salvation is no salvation if your Savior is nothing more than a super hero—a man who outdoes all men in words and deeds, in life and death. But if He is also completely God—your God living in flesh like yours—then, and only then, can He truly do all these things for your benefit, and for your salvation. Yes, an ordinary man might die in your place. But only God in the flesh can bear your infirmities, fight your demons, suffer your sufferings, endure your hell, and die your death. And when this God in the flesh rises from the dead, then you also arise; when He ascends into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, then you also ascend and sit with your Maker and Redeemer.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is what matters most is your relationship with God. The money you accumulate and spend, the things you desire, the food you crave, even the people you love or abuse—all of that will do you no good as you head to the grave. But where you are with the God who made you—that matters most. And what is most important is not that you've learned facts about God. What's most important is a right relationship, an intimacy, a bond, not just of the heart or mind but of your whole being—and God being reconciled with you.
That intimacy and bond is called communion—a holy union between God and you, one that is foreign now but was designed by the Lord to be common when He first made man and woman. We were created to grow and mature forever in our love for God, our life in Him. And for this reason, Christ Jesus would have been born even if there had been no sin and death. His birth in our flesh would have cemented our communion in God. But sin and death simply added to the reason for our Lord's birth. Now, God from the beginning had to become man so that He could free you from your death sentence and rescue you from your false belief in devilish lies, and deliver you from your sinful desires. And then, by accomplishing all that in His suffering and death, God in the flesh would also be able to restore the original intimacy and reinstate you into communion in God.
The other evangelists point to this purpose for Our Lord's birth and life and death. But St John makes it clearest of all when he says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. For the Lord's time here on earth was not sticking a toe in to test the waters. He put in His time here so that everything that was made through Him might also be re-created by Him, and returned to Him. And John reminds us that this happens to as many as receive Him by faith and, consequently, in the Sacraments. Those who do are the children of God. They believe in His name. And they are given a second and higher birth—not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. This is the glory and the miracle of our Lord's birth from the blessed Virgin Mary. It is not just the arrival of the world's best man. This is the Son 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.