Friday, June 15, 2012

Sermon for 6/10/12--First Sunday After Trinity

Luke 16:19-31

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

Let us start by making this thing clear: The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich, and Lazarus didn't go to heaven because he was poor. Having a lot of stuff in this life is not a sin, and having nothing isn't necessarily a virtue. Jesus did not come in the flesh to be a social or economic crusader. So this text has to be about repentance and faith, like everything else Jesus teaches. And here is the repentance that is preached: Jesus warns His hearers about taking the gifts of God and turning them into idols. The rich man made wealth the most important thing in his life—his idol, his god. Instead of giving thanks to God for what he had and using it to help and serve his neighbor, the rich man hoarded it for himself. But there is a worse sin rebuked by this story. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, men who had taken God's Word and turned it into a book of rules so that they could save themselves and show everyone else how righteous they were. Rather than receive the gift of the Savior whom the Scriptures promised, they instead turned God's Word into a false religion where they were their own saviors.

What is it, then, that saves Lazarus? Why does he end up in the bosom of Abraham? To be in the bosom of Abraham means to be on the receiving end of God's promises. God had promised to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, and a Child would come of that nation to save all people. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. St. Paul later writes that all who believe in Christ are sons of Abraham and heirs of the promise, the promise that you don't have to save yourselves from sin and death. God Himself will do it by sending His own Son in the flesh in the person of Jesus. He is born into this world to fulfill the promises God made to Abraham by taking your sins upon Himself and bearing them on the cross. The promise of a Savior from Abraham's line is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who rescues you from sin, death, devil and hell. So for Lazarus to be in the bosom of Abraham means nothing other than that Lazarus trusts in Christ. We know this also because Lazarus has a name and the rich man doesn't. To have a name given by God is to be baptized, to be named by God Himself as His own child.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you hate your neighbor? The simple fact is that if you see them in need and do nothing for them, you hate them. Do you take what is given to you and horde it in case you can't make ends meet? Or do you look around for people to help with what you're given? If you don't love a person you can see, how can you claim to love a God that you can’t see? It's all well and good to say you "feel for" someone. But if you can help and you don't, if you hang onto what you have just so you can be "safe and secure", then watch out! The rebuke Abraham's speaks is a strong one: “You had your good things in life, but now you are tormented!
But there’s more. You have enough to repent of when you fail to serve others. But when you do good works, do you suppose that God is pleased with you? That’s how the Pharisees operated: they took God's Word as a guide to how they should live, and when they lived that way, they were proud of themselves. They claimed that if a man was poor, it was his own fault for not following God's Law the right way. We hear that today from televangelists today who tell you that if you believe enough and are a good person with lots of faith, God will bless you and give you all kinds of goodies. But that makes an idol out of God Himself, turning your heavenly Father into just a rich benefactor who only blesses you when you do good and live right and believe enough. Whenever some good comes along, it’s easy to suppose you have earned it by your hard work and persistence. There is no end in the sinner’s ability to take what good comes as an indication of God’s favor. You know the saying: "God helps those who help themselves." But that’s not how the Lord works!
Brothers and sisters, you must learn that you are like Lazarus. You have nothing in this world: no rights, no riches, no claim on God. Lazarus had nothing in this world going for him. All he had was the Lord. All Lazarus had on the whole earth was faith and trust in God's promises. And that certainly didn't get him anything in this life, did it? But it brings him to eternal life. You have nothing but what the Lord gives you. Whether it's material goods or forgiveness and eternal life, everything is His gift to you. Even if you have nothing in this life, you have His water and His word; you have His Gospel; you have His absolution; you have His body and blood. Poor Lazarus begged for scraps from the rich man, but here, in Christ's church, you have a feast laid before you, a feast that is your certainty against all suffering and misery in this life. Here you have a religion in which God doesn't reward you for doing good, but instead does not hold your evil against you. Here you have the Good News that you are not cast into hell as you deserve. Here, in Christ's church, poor beggars are laid at the gate of a Rich Man who does not ignore you, who instead brings you in, heals you, feeds you, restores you, and makes you members of His own house and kingdom! The truly Rich Man, Jesus Christ, became poor for your sake, so that by His poverty and misery and suffering and death, you would become far richer than anything on earth could make you!
It's easy to take the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus as some kind of moral lesson about how being rich is bad and being poor makes you somehow more blessed in God's sight. But that’s not the case. Here you learn that the true Rich Man, Jesus Christ, has given you eternal healing. Here you learn that, in Christ, you are safe in the bosom of Abraham now and 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. 

Sermon for 6/3/12--The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Looking for Good News
John 3:1-17

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

Not everything the world says about God is Good News. "God is great!" That's not Good News. It just means He is God and you are not. "God is Love." That's also no Good news. If God is love, does that He loves you? How do you know? "God is everywhere.” “God is almighty.” “God knows all things.” “He can do all things." Still no good news yet. Just because there is a God and He is all-powerful that doesn't mean He's going to do you any good! So then…what is the Good News? The Good News is exactly what Jesus teaches us: "For God loved the world—God loved the world like this—that He sent His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him." That is the Good News, dear Christians: God loves you so much that he sent His Son to rescue you from everlasting wrath and condemnation.

The world is full of people trying to get a handle on God. The religions of this world work very hard trying to figure God out and then figure out how to get on His good side. Some say God is like a heavenly Santa who is supposed to give you whatever you want. Others think of God as an impersonal Force that has to be learned and manipulated. It doesn't really matter who or what people suppose God is. The end result is the same: the religion of this world asks the question: What do I have to do to manipulate God so he or she or it will be nice to me and let me live forever? This is what Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to ask. He thought that Jesus must have some secret knowledge, some special teaching, some hidden insight, some kind of "in" with God. That’s what Nicodemus is looking for. Nicodemus, like the rest of the world, wanted to know what sort of piety he was supposed to practice in order to be acceptable to God. If that is what brought you to worship this morning—to figure out some trick to getting on God's good side—you're going to be disappointed. You’re wasting your time if you think your pastor has some clever insight into God's mind so you can make Him happy with you. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if your religion is an attempt to find some secret to obtaining the love of God, repent! Repent and hear Jesus' words that rescue Nicodemus and us from such thinking and believing that will damn us.

"Unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot go into the kingdom of God." With these words, Jesus has shut the door to all of your calculations. With these words, the Lord rescues you from worthless, man-made faith. With these words, Jesus saves Nicodemus and you by teaching you that it is God who saves you by giving you a NEW BIRTH, a birth from above which is through water and the Spirit. That's Holy Baptism! Holy Baptism is your salvation from the judgment of God which no man can escape. Consider Isaiah: He saw the Lord on His throne and in all His glory! It terrified him. The glory of God is not good news. But the Lord sends a coal from the altar to touch Isaiah's lips. Now Isaiah is clean, forgiven. Only the Lord can do that. In the same way, Jesus tells Nicodemus and us: your self-made religion ends with me. You are born of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism—water applied to you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. By water and the Word, the Spirit gives you Jesus, and you become a child of the heavenly Father. There, in the waters of salvation, the Triune God into Whose name you are baptized saves you from sin and death.

There is no big secret that man can figure out to obtain God. God comes to you and gives His life for your sins. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save it through Him. Jesus Christ is the only way in which you can talk about God's love. Apart from Christ, the world cannot know the Father. It cannot have the Spirit. It cannot be saved. It stands condemned. But in Christ, to Whom you have been joined through your Baptism, your sins cannot condemn you. The Spirit has given you Christ by water and the Word of God. Christ has made you a child of the heavenly Father. In Christ, no sin, no iniquity, no trespass can condemn you. He was lifted up on the cross to pay for your sins. He shed His blood so that you will not have to shed yours for your sins. He lays down His life for you and takes it up again so that you can now be born of water and the Spirit at the font. And you were, the day you were baptized!

That's what the Feast of the Holy Trinity is really all about. It's not about figuring out God. If you want to know what is right and wrong to say about God, then just pay attention to the Creeds that we confess or the Te Deum which we will pray shortly. That will keep you from saying something about God that isn't true. But recognize this: the faith you confess isn't just words; it expresses the very love of God which is yours in Christ Jesus. Baptized into that Triune Name, you have been given the very salvation and forgiveness accomplished by Jesus. And that is the Good News about 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.

Sermon for 5/27/12--The Feast of Pentecost

Gotta get caught up here. Sorry for the delay, y'all.

Babel and Pentecost

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

The people of Babel lived just a few generations after the flood. Noah and his descendants had been given the same command by God that was given to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." But the people of Babel didn't want to fill the earth. They said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." These people sought their identity and security not in God's Word and command but in their own achievements. They rejected the Lord as their God, and instead they made an idol of themselves.  They began to build a tower that would be so great, the generations to come would revere their name forever. This tower under construction stood there as a corrupt monument to their rebellion against God.

You are descendants of the people of Babel, and you, too, practice self-idolatry. Your sinful flesh doesn't seek to find its identity and security in God's Word, but in your own strength. The Old Adam in you wants to achieve a certain degree of immortality because of your attributes and accomplishments, so that your name might be remembered for generations to come. These things are monuments to a human race which trusts not in God but in itself. God does not let such rebellion go unpunished. Concerning the people of Babel, He said, "Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." Their words and speech were changed so that communication with one another was broken down. They could no longer carry out their plans. Their unity led to wickedness and evil, and so the Lord scattered them.

Babel is still real today—not only in the many languages that are still spoken throughout the world, but also in the lack of communication that can occur even between people of the same language. It's not only that fallen people can't understand one another; they don't even want to listen to one another. They assume the worst about something that was said or left unsaid. Words and language are used destructively and selfishly, to hurt or to gain power and control over others. Words and language are used as a cover for sin: abortion is called “the termination of a pregnancy” or “choice”; living together is called “testing the waters”; assisted suicide is called “death with dignity”. Babel lives on in a world divided by words and speech and language.

But into this fallen world of discord and division comes the blessed gift of Pentecost. At Babel God said in judgment, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.” At Pentecost God poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles. There were people of many different languages in Jerusalem for a Jewish holiday, and the Spirit enabled the apostles to clearly proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the people in Jerusalem in the languages of their hearers. For those who heard the apostles, their ears were opened so that they would understand and receive the forgiveness and salvation which Jesus won for them on the cross. Some didn't recognize God's gift and thought the apostles were drunk. But Peter proclaimed, “These men are not drunk; for it is still the middle of the morning. No, this is the fulfillment of prophecy; for God promised, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all peoples.’

God poured out His Spirit through words and language. The primary working of the Spirit that day was that the Word of God was preached: both Law and Gospel. By the Spirit's power, the apostles condemned the people for their unbelief in Christ and their wickedness in putting Him to death. Yet the apostles also proclaimed how God accomplished His saving purposes through Christ's death, and how He raised Jesus from the dead as Lord and Savior of all.

In contrast to Babel, the Spirit took the scattered peoples and brought them together and unified them through the Word of Christ. These new believers devoted themselves to the apostles' words and teaching, to the breaking of bread in the Lord's Supper, and to the prayers. At Pentecost, people were made one in Christ for the glory of God and the good of one another. Though the different languages remain, though forgiven sinners continue to speak and listen with the lips and ears of the Old Adam, the Spirit unites peoples of various places in the one body of Christ through His holy Word.

Pentecost continues still today in the church. The Holy Spirit continues to do among you the very things He did on the fiftieth day after Jesus' resurrection. The Spirit continues to call you to repentance and faith in Christ through the preaching of the Word. He convicts you of your guilt—even your abuse of God's gift of words and language. And He proclaims words of mercy and pardon to you in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh. As you hear and believe this preaching of the Spirit, you are absolved and set free from guilt. You are forgiven, set right with God.

The Spirit continues to gather you who were once scattered in your sin and draws you together through the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. As you are united with Christ in His Supper, you are also united with one another. You are made one by the Spirit in the body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. In the end, the ongoing reality of Pentecost continues to be the undoing of Babel in the church. Though you come from various places and different backgrounds, the Spirit unifies you in Jesus Christ. In the waters of Holy Baptism, Babel has been overcome for 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.  

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


It's been in the works for ages, it seems. The wait has been interminable. But after long months of wishing, hoping, and cursing the snail's pace of the author, finally--FINALLY!!!--book two of the Thy Strong Word series, A Great and Mighty Wonder, has been released!

Romance and Lutheran apologetics come together as Pastor Justin Corwin and his wife, Detective Bethanne Harrigan McCarthy Corwin of the Carousel Police Department, return from their honeymoon to a hefty dose of reality. Justin's predecessor at St. Michael Lutheran Church is stirring up trouble, while the teen who stabbed Beth is on trial for his crime. A tragedy in the St. Michael congregation raises a ghost from Beth's past, one which will change their family forever.

A Great and Mighty Wonder is currently available in Print and Kindle formats.

 To order a print copy, click this link:

To order the Kindle version, click this link: Amazon Link

Thank you for your time and consideration! Feel free to share this information with your family, friends, congregation members, and the creepy guy who stares at you at the bus stop!

Book one of the series, Love Divine, is also available in Print and Kindle formats.

To order a print copy, click this link:

To order the Kindle version, click this link: Amazon Link

The Nook version of Love Divine will be released next month. My apologies for the delay.

Oh, and just so you know, book three, All My Heart Again Rejoices, is in progress. I'm about 10,000 words in at this point, and I'm hoping for an early December release--in time for you to purchase the series as a Christmas gift!