Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sermon for 2/28/16: Lent III

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save audio recording.

Mercy for the Helpless

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

You’ve heard the old saying. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Too often, Christians are willing to believe that God works against us, that He impulsively seeks to frustrate and torture us. We are convinced that He leaves us to work things out for ourselves before we come to Him. We speak as if the Lord tortures us to make us stronger, that He is purposefully harsh so that we learn to bear suffering and turmoil. We are sure His blessing, His generosity is only a reward for withstanding the test, His kindness the prize for not giving up or giving in. And we are certain that the Lord smiles on us only after we’ve done our part, after we prove to Him that we are worthy of His love, mercy, compassion and goodness.
In all this, we accuse the Lord God of being the devil. After all, that is the devil’s way: to torment and torture, to lead us to despair, to urge us to hide from the Lord, and to drive us to turn into ourselves and rely on our inner strength, our own solutions, our abilities and cleverness, and whatever else we think will straighten us out and make life smooth. The devil wants us to believe that the Lord’s mercy is nothing more than an attitude God has toward us, and that His feelings can change just as quickly as ours do.
In all this, the devil is not alone. Our inborn distrust and our world team up with Satan. Together, they seek to convince us that the war between good and evil is escalating, that the outcome is still in doubt, and that we are caught in the middle. To be sure, we must fight against our flesh, against the desire to give in, against the fears that seek to control us and the passions that seek to drag us to hell. We must fight against all that is ungodly—both within our flesh and in our world. But we fight not because the final outcome between God and the devil depends on us. We fight so that we don’t give into the devil’s lies; so that we aren’t deceived by his tricks; so that we don’t run from Our Lord’s mercy.
Yet in all this—especially as we strive to do what is right, as we wrestle against our sinful desires—we need to hear and take to heart what Our Lord says in today’s Gospel. His words are words of encouragement, words designed to urge us to live in His mercy by living according to His commandments. Sure, the devil still runs about making like he is strong one, acting like he still has a say over life. And many fall for the trap. They fear the strong man rather than hiding behind the Stronger One. But don’t you fall for the trap; don’t believe the lie; don’t give into your fears; don’t be controlled by your passions. For the Lord has released you from Satan’s grip, and has made you His own. “And the Lord showers grace and mercy upon His chosen ones.”
That grace and mercy is Our Lord Jesus Himself, sacrificed on the cross so that His watered blood might be poured over you in Baptism, and His body and blood fed into you in His Supper. There you receive the victory the Lord has already won. There you are given everything you need to withstand the assaults of the devil. And there, in the Holy Sacraments, together with preaching—there is the righteous hand of God watching over you. And in this way, Our Lord shows that He never lets down those who hope in Him, and He never disappoints those who rely on His promised help. As the devil continually haunts you, attacks you, assaults you and accuses you, so our Lord Jesus even more stridently and forcefully comes to your aid and provides His ready help. With these holy and sacred mysteries, Our Lord not only flicks away and casts out Satan with the finger of God; He also strengthens you, comforts and settles you, and keeps you firm in His Word and grace, and He will do so until He calls you to your eternal home. 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.

Friday, February 26, 2016

HYMN: O Love, Revealed in Flesh

Once again I'm working backwards. (No Polish jokes, please.) Here's a hymn for the third and final Sunday in Pre-Lent, Quinquagesima. The account of the blind man who cries out to Jesus, "Son of David, have mercy!" is a compelling one, especially when paired with I Corinthians 13 as the Epistle. Love compels Jesus to go to the cross; love compels Him to stop for this blind man. Jesus in the embodiment of the love Paul describes. I tried to capture that in this text. Let me know what you think.

O Love, Revealed in Flesh

1. O Love, revealed in flesh,
All patient, kind, and humble,
Who does not seek to boast
Nor joys to see me stumble:
Have mercy, Lord, I pray!
O Son of David, hear!
I need Your boundless grace.
In perfect love draw near.

2. My sin has made me weak
And shrouds my eyes with blindness.
I know my wretched state;
I merit not Your kindness.
But still I call Your name.
You pause to hear my plea.
You take away my sin
And cause my eyes to see.

3. Restore the eyes of faith
To see true Love extended
Upon the holy cross.
Let me not be offended,
But cry out all the more
To You who makes me see,
Who died in perfect love
To bear my cross for me.

∆ 4. O Christ, incarnate Love,
Whose mercy knows no ending,
You answer every prayer,
Each trespasser befriending.
All praise to You, O Lord;
O Father, glory be,
And to the Holy Ghost:
My God eternally.

76 76 66 66
Occasion: Quinquagesima (LSB 1-year)
Text: Luke 18:31-43; I Corinthians 13

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sermon for 2/24/16: Midweek Lent II (Hymns series)

RIGHT CLICK HERE to save the audio recording.

Here's a YouTube video of a lovely harp arrangement of the tune of our sermon hymn, and the text of the hymn is in the notes on the video's page.


A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth

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

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” When John the Baptist announced the presence of Jesus in this way, anyone who had been raised in a faithful Jewish home could not help but see images of the Passover. You see, Egypt had forgotten Joseph, the right-hand man of Pharaoh who had delivered Egypt from famine and ruin. Joseph’s brothers had come to Egypt, and Joseph had welcomed them and their children. But Egypt had forgotten—and they had not merely forgotten Joseph; they had forgotten Joseph’s God, the One who had given Joseph the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and led Joseph to deliver the land from starvation. Egypt had forgotten, and so they had enslaved the children of Israel. God’s people cried out for deliverance, and His ultimate answer was a sacrifice. A spotless male lamb was chosen for the family. At the appointed time, the Lamb would be slaughtered. The blood would be applied to the doorposts and the beam over the door of each house where the children of Israel lived; and when the Angel of Death approached, He would pass over the houses of the children of Israel and put to death the firstborn sons of Egypt. In this way the Lord delivered His chosen people.

So when John called Jesus “the Lamb of God,” He was telling everyone within earshot that Jesus would be the one to deliver the children of God from their sin. Just as Egypt had forgotten Joseph and his God, the children of Israel had forgotten their God, the God who had led them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. He had promised to be their God, and they had promised to be His people. He had been faithful; they had not. They had done what was right in their own eyes, which was not right in the eyes of God. They were slaves, bound in chains of their own making. They needed a Savior, and God heard their cries. He sent His Son, the spotless Lamb of God, as the Sacrifice appointed to deliver His people from their bondage to sin.

How could Egypt forget? How could Israel forget? It seems preposterous that Egypt could forget that they would have been starved to death, their nation left for dead in the blistering sun for the buzzards, had it not been for Joseph’s God. It seems preposterous that Israel could forget the God who delivered them from Egypt. But they did forget—Israel forgot over and over and over again! But before you judge Israel too harshly, don’t overlook how easily you forget the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. If you remembered as you should, how could you justify the sins you commit? If you remembered as you should, how could you take for granted the forgiveness you receive in the Divine Service? How could you do anything but clamor for the body and blood of Jesus at every opportunity? They only had the promise of the Lamb of God; you have that promise fulfilled, and still you forget. Still you do what is right in your own eyes. Still you take that Sacrifice for granted.

There is a major difference between the original Passover lamb and the Lamb of God. The Passover lamb was chosen; it had no choice in shedding its blood for the benefit of God’s people. The Lamb of God was also chosen, but He had a choice. Though He was the Sacrifice appointed from before the foundation of the world, He had the power, the authority, to choose to forego the suffering set before Him. And yet, as our hymn tells us:
A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, The guilt of sinners bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth, None else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer,
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies, The mockery and yet replies,
“All this I gladly suffer.”
As He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great Friend, The Lamb of God, our Savior, Whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor.” Jesus knows the role set before Him. And He submits. He goes willingly, meekly, silently to the slaughter.

His sacrifice is for you. The blood of that sacrificial Lamb of God covers all of your sin, all of your disobedience, all of your betrayal, all of your apathy. Just as the Angel of Death passed over the children of Israel, death sees the blood of the Lamb upon you in the whitened robe of Christ’s righteousness; death sees the blood of the Lamb within you in the Holy Supper. And seeing Christ upon you and within you, death passes over you.
Lord, when Your glory I shall see and taste Your kingdom's pleasure,
Your blood my royal robe shall be, my joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before Your throne, Your righteousness shall be my crown;
With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought, as Your own bride, shall we be brought
To stand in joy beside You.
It’s all about the Lamb of God, and the Lamb of God is 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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

HYMN: The Master Sends the Call

The work continues on my project to write a hymn for every Sunday in the 1-year lectionary. This text is appointed for Septuagesima, the first Sunday in the season of Pre-Lent. Pre-Lent is like when you're getting ready to go on a trip. Lent is the trip; Pre-Lent is packing for the trip, setting your itinerary, and all those other things you do before you go. Pre-Lent is preparation for the repentant Lenten journey to the cross with Christ. Anyway, feedback is always welcome. The first verse is an overview, and the rest is prayer.

The Master Sends the Call

1. The Master sends the call,
"Come labor, one and all,"
His gracious offer sending
From dawn 'til day is ending.
He summons His creation:
To each his own vocation.

2. O Lord, my soul is bared.
My guilt has been declared.
My work is cold and feeble,
All tainted by my evil.
The sin that I inherit
Means death is all I merit.

3. I waste the precious day.
You call me anyway
To spend my time in labor.
Oh, what a gracious favor!
No longer am I guessing
If I must earn Your blessing.

4. I snivel 'til the end,
Yet still You call me "friend."
My greed may seek to shake me,
But You will not forsake me.
Self-righteous foes accuse me;
In love You call and choose me.

5. O gracious Master, hear!
I call to You in prayer.
Oh, keep me true and humble,
Lest I be found to grumble.
Whenever You recruit me,
The wage You give shall suit me.

66 77 77
Occasion: Septuagesima
Texts: Matthew 20:1-16; Psalm 130:1; Psalm 9:9-10

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The LCMS Needs to Do Some Serious Thinking

Some talking head once said, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." There is a grain of truth to this. But what this saying leaves out is that sometimes you actually do want to get what you've always gotten, and in that case you *should* do what you've always done. This is especially true of the Word of God. The New Testament is nearly two-thousand years old, and the Old Testament older still. Faithfulness to the Word of God has, by the grace of God, produced many blessings, including the eternal blessings of life and salvation. Setting aside that Word for the imaginations of our own hearts (as do many who call themselves "Christians" and even "Lutherans") will produce something else. And when those who sow have reaped what they have sown, they will not be able to blame Christ; He will have given them exactly what they wanted. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Sermon for 2/21/16: Lent II

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio recording.

It’s Not about the Dog

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

If this account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is supposed to be about us, too, then we're in trouble. We read this story and say, “OK, Jesus is just testing her. He's going to see if she has enough faith, if she's persistent enough.” So the conclusion is that God will help you if you trust Him enough, if you just ask enough, if you just show persistence! When you read the text that way, you make Christianity into a religion that’s about you; you make Jesus into a god who only answers when you have enough faith or trust. If you read and hear the story that way, you’re in trouble. After all, who has enough faith? Who has enough trust? Which of us doesn't just want to give up on the Lord because we feel like He's paying no attention to us? If the point of this story is that we all need to be more persistent like this woman, then we may as well throw in the towel; no one is strong enough to be as faithful as some woman who made it into the Bible. But this story is not about her. It's not about you. It's about Jesus. That's what saves us, just as it's Jesus who saves this woman and her demon-possessed daughter. 

Jesus says he only came for the Jews, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But He deliberately went strolling around Tyre and Sidon, and that’s Gentile country! He acts like He is ignoring her, but He lets her tag along even when the disciples are trying to get rid of her. Then He calls her a dog, knowing full well that He intends to give her crumbs—and more than that, He gives her life and salvation! But she has no right to come to Him on her own. She cannot approach him on the basis of being a Gentile. She cannot come to Him just because she has the right words when she calls Him, “Lord, Son of David.” What Jesus has for her isn't based on what she does or what she says. It's based on who He is: the Savior of sinners, the One who has power over the devil. In fact, He comes to her as One who will be more of a dog than she ever was or will be! The dogs were the Gentiles, and the Gentiles were excluded. But Jesus was even less: counted as unclean, counted as a blasphemer, nailed to a cross, led outside the city where the criminals and the trash belong. The great irony here is that Jesus is the dog, the One Who is out. He is excluded for her. He is excluded for you. That's what He came to do. He came to Gentile land to save a Gentile and her daughter. It's a picture of the bigger thing: that He came into a world of sinners to save sinners, no matter their ethnicity. He came to save sinners: to save her; to save you. 

This woman's faith is Jesus. If she takes her eyes off of Him, if she stops calling out to Him, then she's done. Her daughter's done. He is all she has. That's what her faith is about. She knows only Jesus can save her. And He alone can save you and me. So the big deal for her is Jesus, no matter how much or how little He has for her. So it is for you and me. That's all we've got: Jesus. And though we don't see Him as she did, we have Him in our baptism, in preaching and absolution, and in His Supper. Here He is to cry out to, to hang on to as Jacob did, refusing to let go until He blesses us. And this isn't about you. It's not about persistence or anything else that you can claim to be. Understand this: the same Jesus who died and rose to save you, who washed, forgives and feeds you, is the same Jesus whose Holy Spirit gives you the faith that trusts Him for all things. Faith in Jesus is a great faith, and that’s because Jesus is a great Savior. So go. Your faith, your Jesus, has saved you. You have been healed from the very moment His Word said so. 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 17, 2016

Sermon for 2/17/16: Midweek Lent I (hymns series)

RIGHT-CLICK HERE for audio recording.

Savior, When in Dust to Thee

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

After we sing the Magnificat this evening, we will pray together a prayer called a “litany.” A litany is “a series of petitions…recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people.” It often works something like this:

            In peace, let us pray to the Lord;
                        Lord, have mercy.

Our hymn for this evening, “Savior, When in Dust to Thee,” is based on a litany. Listen to these petitions:

By all Thy pains and woe suffered once for us below…
            By Thy helpless infant years, By Thy life of want and tears,
By Thy days of deep distress in the savage wilderness,
By the dread, mysterious hour of the insulting tempter’s power…
By Thine hour of dire despair, By Thine agony of prayer,
By the cross, the nail, the thorn, Piercing spear and torturing scorn,
By the gloom that veiled the skies Over the dreadful sacrifice…
By Thy deep expiring groan, By the sad sepulchral stone,
By the vault whose dark abode Held in vain the rising God…
            Hear our penitential cry!

It is apparent that this hymn is a prayer directed to our Lord Jesus Christ, and what we are asking of Him is that He would hear us for the sake of His suffering and death on our behalf. After all, if you suffered all of this for us, Lord, then surely you love us, and out of your great love for us, you will hear us.
It is not always the case that we want the Lord to hear us. In fact, if it were up to us, we could have a litany of the times when we don’t want God to hear us.

            When my sports team loses big; When I overturn my rig;
            When I hammer on my thumb; When I’ve swallowed too much rum;
            When I seek dishonest gain; When I use Thy name in vain;
            When I swear and cheat and lie, Please ignore my foolish cry!

We find ourselves in embarrassing situations, usually of our own making. And then, like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, we don’t want the Lord to hear what we’ve been doing. To our shame, we’d rather be left on our own than be caught in our guilt. The times when we should be quickest to cry out to the God who saves are the times when we go into our hidey-holes and foolishly hope that the all-knowing, all-seeing God will not see us or know what we’ve done. Like the Israelites, we cry out, “The way of the Lord is not fair!” It’s not fair that He holds us to such a high standard of conduct. It’s not fair that He hears and sees and knows all we do and say. It’s especially not fair that we can’t even hide in our own thoughts! And we don’t want Him to hear us call Him unfair.
But our Father knows all about how things are not fair. It was not fair that His good and perfect creation defiled itself. It was not fair that His chosen people should revile and reject Him at every turn, and then expect Him to deliver them from their own evil plots and schemes and plans. It was not fair that He should have to send His Son to become flesh and live among His disobedient children. It was not fair that His Son should be sacrificed as a Lamb sent to slaughter by the very people He came to save. And then He has to listen to His wayward children whine about what they need. So don’t talk to God about what is fair or what is deserved. If the way of the Lord were to be fair, we would have to pay the price of our own sin. We would owe a debt so overwhelming that we could never pay it, even if we had all of eternity to try to redeem ourselves. “Turn and live,” He says. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions. …Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” It sounds so simple. It even sounds possible. But it is not. We cannot give ourselves a new heart. We cannot turn away from our sin.
And so, though it is not fair, He creates in us new hearts, washing them and making them clean and new in the waters of Holy Baptism, where that unfair suffering and death of His Son is applied to us, marking our overwhelming debt: “PAID IN FULL.” When we sin, He turns us away from that sin; He carries us back us to those baptismal waters through His Word of holy absolution. When we cry out to Him, He hears and answers us, even though we don’t deserve His attention and certainly don’t merit His rich gifts to us. For the sake of the bitter suffering and death of His Son, our Lord Jesus, He does hear. He hears and answers even those prayers we are too ashamed to pray aloud: the prayers for deliverance from alcoholism, from addiction to pornography, from unfaithfulness or callousness toward our spouse, from every dark and dirty misdeed that we would hide if we could. Like Adam and Eve, He calls us out of hiding, answering our shame with His forgiveness and steadfast love.

Do not be afraid to call out to the Lord in the midst of sin and distress. He hears you. He does not answer with what is fair. He answers with love, with mercy, with forgiveness. For the sake of His Son, Jesus, whom He loves; whom He sacrificed in bitter pain and suffering; who died to pay the debt of our sin—for the sake of Jesus, He hears and answers you. Do not be afraid, but call out to Him:

            O, from earth to heaven restored, Mighty, re-ascended Lord,
            Bending from Thy throne on high, Hear our penitential cry!

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.

HYMN: Behold, My Sin Has Killed My Lord

This is a text for Good Friday, based on the Passion History and assembled from various notes in Spangenberg's The Christian Year of Grace (which was translated by Matthew Carver. (Great stuff, Matthew!) Feedback is a blessing.

Behold, My Sin Has Killed My Lord

1. Behold, my sin has killed my Lord!
My thoughts, my words, my actions
Have stood against God's holy Word
And brought about His Passion.
My evil thoughts, the stinging rod
That bruised the flesh of Christ, my God;
My deeds, the nails that pierced Him.

2. Yet God the Father gave His Son,
In mercy did not spare Him.
His death my full atonement won.
Thus did the Father share Him.
How awful, my iniquity!
That Jesus gave His life to be
My life and my salvation.

3. I lay my sins on Jesus Christ
Who bore them without shrinking
As the appointed Sacrifice,
The cup of fury drinking.
His blood has washed my shame away.
I am no longer Satan's prey.
His blood has cleansed my conscience.

4. Lord, keep Your Passion in my sight
When pride and woe assail me.
When my own flesh is weak with fright,
Your cross shall never fail me.
Grant me repentance for my sin.
Turn me from all that I have been
And work good fruit within me.

87 87 887
Occasion: Good Friday/Lent
Text: The Passion (The Christian Year of Grace)

HYMN: O Lamb of God by Man Betrayed

I've slowly been working on my project of writing hymns for the 1-year lectionary. This is an offering for Maundy Thursday. It focuses on Christ as the Passover Lamb whose blood marks us for salvation. Feedback is always appreciated. I will need to come back to this one, as it's not my strongest work, but I think it's a start on which I can build.

O Lamb of God By Man Betrayed

1. O Lamb of God by man betrayed,
Abandoned in disdain,
Your blood my debt of sin has paid:
Your blood and bitter pain.

2. You feed me with Your holy blood
And flesh: a banquet sweet!
And in that rich, forgiving flood
Is holy love complete.

3. Your blood is evermore a sign,
A seal to bar the way.
You mark me with that brand divine,
And death is held at bay.

4. O Lamb of God, my great High Priest,
You bleed and so forgive.
Forever be my holy Feast
That I may eat and live.

Tune: DETROIT (LSB 843)
Occasion: Maundy Thursday
Text: Exodus 12:1-14; I Corinthians 11:23-32

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sermon for 2/14/16: Lent I

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.


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

Jesus tells His followers to pray to the Father: “Lead us not into temptation.” We know that God indeed tempts no one. God doesn’t want His children to fall into sin, and He promises that no temptation will befall His people that we are not able to withstand by the power of the Holy Spirit. But today we see a unique temptation, one into which the Holy Spirit actually led Jesus. Face to face with Satan himself, your High Priest is willingly tempted like you in all ways. But there’s one difference this time: Jesus didn’t sin.

You misunderstand this story if you think it is our how-to manual to avoid temptations. Jesus used the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, as His weapon against Satan; so you think that, armed with your own spirituality and strength of will, you can resist temptation too. But this is not a Law example for you to follow, for you are not God. You are frail, sinful people who fail to resist temptation, for you daily sin much, following the example of your earthly father, Adam, who was enticed by forbidden fruits.

This temptation is really our Lord’s Own work, a Gospel gift to you. After all, it was in your place that He did what you couldn’t, standing up to the devil’s temptations to defeat Him once and for all. He did this for you, that you may live not by bread alone, that you would be satisfied by the Word of God’s mouth. This Word in Jesus became flesh, so that instead of forbidden fruit, you may feast on bread which, by that Word of God, hides Christ’s body, which He gave for you at Calvary and with which He feeds you in His holy Supper for your forgiveness.

You give into temptation all too readily because you are just like that old Adam. Just as his human nature was thoroughly corrupted by sin after the Fall, you too inherit that same sin-befouled flesh. The children of Adam and Eve are so easy to tempt—and not just by Satan, but also by your own selfish desires! The devil tempted Eve with the things she wanted in her selfishness, and you too really want the many sinful things you covet and lust for against God’s will for you.

Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s tricks, noting the part of scripture the devil craftily omitted. As Satan tried God’s own word against Jesus, he failed, omitting the important phrase, “in all Your ways.” Jesus didn’t forget God’s ways, praying often, “Thy will be done.” Jesus didn’t do what He as a human may have wanted; He did the Father’s will for your salvation! Jesus remembered His place as the Son of God, and He reminded Satan of that fact, forbidding the devil from testing God. And in baptism, God’s will is to restore His image to you in His Name.

You are tempted by questioning what God says, ignoring His revelation to you. It is so much easier to follow the crowd, to listen and give in to popular opinion. You think that God can’t really mean what He says when so many people believe otherwise. Such is the temptation Satan used on Eve, when he said to her, “Did God really say...?” Such is the temptation into which the Israelites succumbed, testing God in the Sinai, wondering if He was really speaking through Moses.

Jesus doesn’t question God’s word or ignore it. Instead, Jesus answers Satan’s question, “Did God really say…?” He answers resoundingly, telling the devil that man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus reminds you: God says that, instead of tempting Him, you are to worship Him. The highest form of worship is not done in what you do; the highest form of worship happens when He gives you His good gifts of gospel grace, and you receive them by His gift of faith—a gift He gives you through the Spirit in your Baptism. God really says to you today, “I forgive you all your sins” through Christ who died in your place, who rose to exalt you on high!

So as you go forth today to face the many temptations from the devil, from the world, and even from your own sinful flesh, rejoice that the forgiveness God provides for you is not given with any devilish strings attached. You don’t need to bow to Satan or put your Father to the test. Instead, God gives His grace to you freely through His Son, Jesus, who has already been tempted in your place. He resisted Satan perfectly, even dying for you as your perfect sacrifice at Calvary’s cross. Don’t trust your own strength to resist temptation. Trust His strength. Trust His obedience. Trust His love for you. He is sufficient for the task. He does not lead you into temptation; He delivers you from evil. 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 10, 2016

Sermon for 2/10/16: Ash Wednesday (Hymns Series)

RIGHT-CLICK HERE for audio recording.

Jesus, I Will Ponder Now

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

You’ve heard this account before. In fact, you heard it this past Christmas Eve: how Adam and Eve listened to the seductive, sibilant whispers of the satanic serpent; how they disregarded the Word and command of God; how they wanted to be as knowledgeable as their heavenly Father; how they partook of the forbidden fruit. People talk about points in human history and how they changed everything—the invention of the printing press; the colonization of the New World; the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria; the assassination of President Kennedy; the day two airplanes were intentionally crashed into the World Trade Center. These were all pivotal points in the history of the world. And yet none of these events can be considered to be as pivotal to humanity, as game-changing, as the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. Everything changed. Man, who was created sinless, had sinned. Man, who had walked naked and unafraid with God, now covered himself and hid from God. Man, who was created to live forever, was now going to suffer, sicken, and die.

Like Adam and Eve, that sentence is our reality. In the past couple months, our congregation has seen its share of death. We’ve had three funerals to this point. We’ve had numerous members who have undergone surgery. We have members in the nursing home, some dealing with the failure of their bodies while others deal with the deterioration of their minds. That is our lot as children and heirs of Adam and Eve, and it is our lot as those who ourselves sin. You know that. You feel it every day. We all have our aches and pains, our coughs and sniffles, our fears and doubts—all of which are symptoms of the death that hangs over our heads as sinners. God said to Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

You also know that God, in His great love and mercy, does not leave it at that. He had seen even before He had created the world, even from eternity, that the crown of His creation would fall into sin. He was prepared. He told His plan to the serpent, knowing there was nothing Satan could do to deny Him. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” It was simple. Satan had tempted and manipulated Eve; through Eve and her descendents—her Seed, the ultimate descendent, Jesus Christ—Satan would be overcome. The price of Adam and Eve’s sin, which was passed on to their children and all generations to follow, would be paid by a child of Eve. Sin would be overcome. Death would be defeated and would die. God’s children would not be called upon to pay the price of that sin. Though Adam and Eve have died, though their bodies have decayed, they will rise, nevermore to sin, nevermore to suffer, nevermore to die.

But what if those sins trouble you as you await the final fulfillment of that victory? Return again to the waters of Holy Baptism, where that victory on the cross, where that forgiveness, that life, that salvation have been given to you.

If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let Your cross my fear disarm;
Peace of conscience give me.
Help me see forgiveness won
By Your holy passion.
If for me He slays His Son,
God must have compassion!

Throughout the season of Lent, you will hear the account of the Seed of the woman. You will watch with the disciples as Jesus predicts His death. You will watch as those for whom Jesus has come will scheme and plot against Him. You will watch as He gives His body and blood to His disciples—and to us—for the forgiveness of sins. You will watch as He is betrayed into the hands of His enemies. You will watch as Jesus goes through a mockery of justice called a trial. You will watch and Jesus is nailed to the cross. You will watch as He suffers and dies. 

And you will ponder on these things. You will recall how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve of a Savior to crush Satan’s head forever. You will remember how the spotless Lamb of God is sacrificed to be the Passover Feast for God’s people. You will see in Jesus the Suffering Servant, prophesied by Isaiah, who was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted,” paying our blood price. And you will rejoice in the great and gracious mercy and love of God, who gives you the gifts of forgiveness and salvation and eternal life, gifts which we do not deserve—gifts which He planned for you from before the foundation of the world, gifts which delights to give to you. As you rejoice in these gifts, let this be your prayer as you journey to the cross with Jesus:

Jesus, I will ponder now
On Your holy passion;
With Your Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of Your suff'ring, pain, and death,
That I may not perish.

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 08, 2016

HYMN: Lord Jesus Christ, Exalted

I've struggled with what to do with a hymn for Palmarum, the Sunday of the Passion, especially since the hymn I wrote for the First Sunday in Advent deals with the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with palm fronds strewn before Him. So today I decided I'd run with the idea of the Passion (though with a little of the palm theme in there too), with the Epistle, Philippians 2:5-11, as my focus, with the Father exalting Jesus. So I wrote that instead. Let me know what you think, and give me the feedback I need and appreciate.

Lord Jesus Christ, Exalted

1. Lord Jesus Christ, exalted
Upon the holy cross,
By sinful men assaulted,
Foretold to suffer loss:
Speak peace to all the nations:
"My death is your salvation."
Your death has set me free.

2. Oh, grant that I may bless you,
Give thanks on bended knee,
And evermore confess You,
O Christ, eternally.
Though You are God most holy,
You took my flesh and, lowly,
You bore my sins for me.

3. When nations cry with malice,
Let me not be ashamed
Or show myself as callous
To own Your holy name,
For You, O Christ, have claimed me
And as Your own have named me
By blood and water poured.

4. O Son of God, forsaken
To bear my shame to death,
Oh, let me not be shaken,
But grant with every breath
That I with palms may meet you
And now and ever greet you,
O Jesus Christ, my Lord.

76 76 776
Occasion: Palmarum (The Sunday of the Passion)
Text: Philippians 2:5-11, Zechariah 9:9-12, Matthew 27

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sermon for 2/7/16: Quinquagesima

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to download the audio recording.


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

If you will forgive me for saying so, it is a rather motley bunch that gathers here each week: hard businessman counting their pennies; youth of unshakeable confidence, counting their friends; theologians and academics, bent on fame and fortune, counting their books and degrees; money grubbers all around, counting their change, afraid the preacher will point out their greed and the needs of others; pastors counting heads; all of us, skilled sinners all! The world notices. Week after week we come.

The world sees that we come to this place built by our fathers each week, to pulpit and to Altar, to kneel in confession, to pray, and to sing. But the world does not see that we come mainly to listen, to eat and to drink, to commune with the Holy Trinity in the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of our souls. The world doesn’t realize that we come week after week to this rest stop on the road to Jerusalem for the Word and for the Sacrament. Week after week, our cries echo those of blind Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” And no one can silence us, because Jesus is our Lord. He calls us to Himself in this sacred space, to the places He has promised to be: in water, in Word, in bread and wine. He picks us up, dusts us off, embraces us as His brothers and sisters, and removes again and again the scabs that have grown over their eyes. Week after week, until all prophecies, tongues, and knowledge cease, Love is made manifest in Christ in these gifts from above: the Word, Baptism, Holy Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, the liturgy, hymns, and on and on in all the things that God has given to us, that we might know and receive grace from Him.

The world certainly notices that, despite all this grace, we don’t really seem to improve much from week to week. We commit the same selfish sins over and over again. The only thing we seem to learn from our mistakes is how to better hide them. We are weak. We do not live as we should. Our love is shallow. We are not afraid to tell our co-workers what we think of hunting or the Cardinals or President Obama. But we don’t warn them when they are headed for Hell. After all, we don’t want to offend them. Repent.

The world has rightly noticed our problem. We are sinners to the core. We are not basically good people who sometimes do bad things or make mistakes or lose our keys. We are bad people, self-centered and absorbed people, who are very good at covering it up and fooling the masses. The world’s view of us is not completely false. We know hypocrisy. So again, I urge you: repent. Repent…but do not despair.

Motley you may be, but God loves you. It doesn’t even matter why you are here.  You are in the right place. You have come back again to the One who truly loves and cares for you, who does not abuse you, deceive you, or betray you. He is faithful and kind, merciful and gracious. He does not check to see how good or how bad you are. He is good enough for Himself and for you! He went to Jerusalem. He allowed them to do to Him all they should have done to you. He was betrayed, handed over, unjustly tried, scourged, beaten, and executed. And by those stripes you are healed! The prophets words of grace are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Your sins are removed and forgotten. They do not count. With Adam and Eve and all the saints you walk back into paradise.

Here is the love of God shown to all men. Here He draws all men unto Himself. The Messiah is not seen so much in the miracles as He is in the Sacrifice, lifted up on the cross: the emblem of Love, the banner of Peace. There in agony, punishment, and torments of Hell is our God in our Flesh as our Substitute. God be praised! Here is Love that does not fail; does not envy; does not parade itself; is not puffed up; does not behave rudely; does not seek its own; is not provoked. In the midst of evil, He thinks no evil. In the midst of sin, He resists temptation and remains pure. He never fails. All this He does so that you would know the holy three: faith, hope, and love. He abides, for He rose on the third day; death has lost its sting. In Him, you will not die. You, too, will abide. You will abide in Love. Blind Bartimaeus has taught us to pray: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” And that is why He has brought you here: because He has mercy for you—over and over again in an endless supply. 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.

Friday, February 05, 2016

HYMN: Christ, Who Feeds Both Soul and Flesh

I admit with struggling with a hymn idea for the text of the Feeding of the 5000. I didn't want to be too literal, doing a retelling in rhymed verse. So instead of focusing on the numbers and the miracle, I went towards the teaching Jesus did in the text: God provides. So for Lent IV in the LSB 1-year lectionary, I combined the text, John 6:1-15, with the introit (Psalm 122:1; Isaiah 66:10-11) and Old Testament (Exodus 16:4) texts. Here's the result. Feedback is always a blessing.

Christ, Who Feeds Both Soul and Flesh

1. Christ, Who feeds both soul and flesh,
Raining bread from heaven,
Evermore my soul refresh
With Your holy leaven.

2. Fill me with Your daily bread.
Satisfy each yearning
With Your grace, O Christ, my Head,
Every day returning.

3. Teach me, Lord, to always seek
More than signs and wonders.
Let me crave each Word You speak
With Your voice that thunders.

4. Lead me to rejoice and cling
To Your every blessing
With each hymn of praise I sing,
Your good will confessing.

76 76 (Trochaic)
Suggested Temporary Tune: LASST UNS ALLE (LSB 390)
Text: John 6:1-15; Psalm 122:1; Isaiah 66:10-11; Exodus 16:4
Occasion: Lent IV

Monday, February 01, 2016

CRM, Inactive Candidates, and the Resolution 3-10a Task Force

From October of 2005 through May of 2010, I was a pastor without a congregation to serve. If you’ve been along for the ride here on my blog, you know my story. I’ve written a book on the subject. I’ve presented on the subject for the ACELC. I won’t repeat my story yet again. However, you must know by now that I see this as a serious problem in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in convention thought it was a pretty serious problem too. The 2013 Convention passed a resolution to address the issue, asking the President of the Synod to form a task force. It finally looked like the problem would be addressed.

And then the task force met. I was not in the virtual meeting room (the task force met through conference calls), so I don’t know what was said or what any of its members were thinking. However, having seen their report, which is now on the LCMS website, I have some concerns.

I’m going to do my very best to give my first-look answer each of the recommendations made by the task force without violating the Eighth Commandment. God help me and forgive me where I fail…and I know I will, because my first response was very heated.

I also encourage you to read President Harrison's response to the report.

But before I get to the recommendations, I would answer two points the report made before the recommendations were offered. Quotations from the report are indented.

Addendum II to Task Force Membership: LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. communicated to the task force that he received correspondence from a pastor on candidate status who expressed disappointment that someone who is, or has been, on candidate status was not appointed to the task force. Dr. Grimenstein provided clarification that he was on candidate status following his medical retirement from the United States Army as a military chaplain and has a fresh perspective of what it means to be on candidate status.

My response to Addendum II: As one of those who spoke to First Vice-President Mueller about the lack of Inactive Candidate representation on the Task Force, my point was not only that there should be members of the Task Force with first-hand experience with Inactive Candidate status—though there should have been more than one—but that the Task Force must also communicate with men who continuously endured said status for extensive periods of time. My knowledge of such men is not exhaustive, but even in my small circle, I’m acquainted with men who have spent eight years or more without a Call. None of the Inactive Candidate or former-Inactive Candidate pastors within my circle of acquaintance were consulted directly by any member of the task force. That doesn’t mean such consultations never happened with others. Still, if it happened, I’m surprised I didn’t hear of it, having been in contact with numerous Inactive Candidates and former-Inactive Candidates.

From the report: “A survey of questionnaires returned from District Presidents reveals…”

My response: The answers to the questionnaire are most likely based on a form called the “Explanation of Candidate Status Form,” a form the Candidate/Non-Candidate/ Emeritus pastor must fill out. But what the pastor fills out must first be approved by the district president before it becomes official. I pretty much had to lie on my form before my district president would approve it. That makes the forms a questionable source of information, the data skewed by the bias of the very people asked to answer the questionnaire. Furthermore, collecting such information from District offices without contacting individual Inactive Candidates is akin to asking the spider to give information to help the fly stuck in a web. I wish more Inactive Candidates and former-Inactive Candidates would have been contacted directly, but I imagine the time such contacts would take might have seemed daunting.

Now for the Final Recommendations of the Task Force:

1. Military and institutional chaplains and returning missionaries should notify their respective district president as soon as possible when leaving their current call. Graduate students on candidate status should notify their district president of their date of availability for pastoral call. The district president will distribute a list of available chaplains, missionaries and graduate students (biannually – quarterly—as requested) among other district presidents and calling agencies where appropriate.

My response to Recommendation 1: Well done.

2. District presidents should guide pastoral candidates who are no longer qualified to be placed on call lists to explore another vocation.

My response to Recommendation 2: Clarification is needed. By what definition are these pastoral candidates “no longer qualified”?

3. Recommend a Synod-wide process that utilizes existing resources, such as Concordia Plan Services, Soldiers of the Cross and professional counseling, to assist and support candidates while they are in the midst of vocational discernment.

My response to Recommendation 3: Agreed...with the proviso that counseling is not used as a bludgeon against the Candidate. 

4. In circumstances where a pastor resigns as a result of conflict between the pastor and members of the congregation, the district president will provide pastoral care to the congregation and urge that issues be resolved prior to submitting a call list for future calls. The district president will ensure that the pastor and his family receive pastoral care.

My response to Recommendation 4: Clarification needed: “resolved” by what standard? How will the district president “ensure that the pastor and his family receive pastoral care”? How will he be held accountable?

5. Congregations are encouraged, where appropriate and feasible, to provide the opportunity for pastoral candidates to provide pastoral functions under a supervisor who is approved by the district president.

My response to Recommendation 5: Unless a supervisor is himself under discipline, this should not require approval from the district president.

6. Recommend to the Council of Presidents to discuss and clarify candidate and non-candidate status and time limits of candidate status.

My response to Recommendation 6: In my opinion, asking the district presidents to make clarification on this issue is asking the blacksmith to give an unbiased opinion regarding his favorite tool.

Closing Statement: District presidents are encouraged to provide for the pastoral support of workers while on candidate status and provide periodic information that the candidate’s information has been shared with calling agencies (congregations, schools, Recognized Service Organizations).

My response to the Closing Statement: The words “are encouraged” should read “should be required”.

General response: The list of recommendations is inadequate: skewed toward the power of district presidents and lacking in adequate specifics for providing for the care, rehabilitation, and return to Called duty for Inactive Candidates.

That being said, I know that there will never be universal satisfaction with any report or recommendation. Whether or not I agree with their recommendations or the information they were given to form those recommendations, they put in a great deal of work, and I thank them for their efforts. I hope this report and any response to it will lead to further mercy shown to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.