Ash Wednesday 2018

Posted on February 14th, 2018

Memory is critical to survival. Remembering where you’ve been, how to navigate, which things are dangerous to eat – memory is very important.

Other memories are painful. Abuse, rejection, sins – the memories haunt us, and we want to suppress them or forget them.

But the memory of human origins is both the most painful and the most important memory to keep alive. It’s no surprise that creation and the nature of man are the most contentious issues of our day. If God made us, then there is a rule and purpose to our life that stands outside of us. If God made us, then He defines what is male and female, what is marriage, what is sin, what is life and death.

That’s a memory humans are forgetting. It’s not just that we’ve grown absent minded; the human race is actively deleting the memories, like a server being wiped of all the stored documents and emails.

Overwriting the true memory is a myth. We are not creatures created from the dust, but things evolved from slime, entirely by chance. Life is without meaning. The only meaning becomes what we control and experience. Talk of a Creator, an order to creation, a natural law, produces outrage.

Today, Ash Wednesday, names that myth for what it is: a lie. You need not be a slave to your desires. You are not the product of chance and circumstance. You are created, you have a Creator. God made you—and God hates nothing He has made.

The words of Ash Wednesday—Remember that you are dust—are terrifying. Yet there is comfort already in the dust. Because it reminds us that God made us from the dust. God shaped our first father Adam from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being.

The sentence of death spoken over him is now smeared on our foreheads. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 

That puts life into perspective, doesn’t it? Everything you have and love—clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children, and finally your own body—all of it must return to dust and ashes. The things you treasure are what moths and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal.

So why are you trusting in what does not last? Why do you hope in the things that decay? Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The anger boiling within, the lust burning in your flesh, the hubris and selfishness – it all must die, it all must be destroyed in the fire of God’s judgment. Remember that.

But remember this also: God remembers you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He has not forgotten you.

I find these four verbs in Exodus 2 incredibly comforting. When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, and the Egyptians were murdering their baby boys, the Hebrews cried out to God for help. I’m sure it seemed that God was far away. And indeed, he wouldn’t act in a way that could be seen for some time. Things would get worse. But already God heard their cries: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” God heard, remembered, saw, and knew. This shows us what God’s remembering means: He sees, hears, and knows—and will act.

Isn’t that a beautiful thing? God remembers that He made us from the dust. God remembers us in death; Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Before you and I were yet made, He already remembered us and made a plan, to lift up the man of dust from the dust of death to resurrection.

And that’s why the ashes go on our heads in the sign of the cross. They point us to Jesus and how He overcame death, destroyed death for us.

He remembers us still. One of the men being executed along with Jesus turned to Him and said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Do you know what Jesus said to Him? “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” That’s what happens when Jesus remembers us – death has no power over us.

Jesus remembers you at the Supper. Some Christians have made the Lord’s Supper just into a memorial meal, where we eat to remember Jesus. But we don’t remember Jesus the same way we remember George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. They are dead, and remembering them just gives us lessons from the past.

But Jesus says that when we eat His body and drink His blood, He is also remembering us; the words say This do into My remembrance. Just like the Jews in Egypt, who cried out and God remembered them, at this Supper Jesus is remembering you. He is saying, “Come, little child of dust, you belong to Me. I’ve been in the dust, I was laid in your grave. I live! And I remember you before the Father. You confess Me before the world, and I confess you before the Father!

Yes, remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Remember too, O man of dust, that Jesus remembers you in His kingdom.

Your sins He will remember no more.

You belong to Him. The ashes of death are not your end – resurrection is. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Sexagesima 2018

Posted on February 7th, 2018


2 Corinthians 11:19—12:9 (Isaiah 55:10-13; Luke 8:4-15)

February 4, 2018

It’s hard to believe the Gospel. It’s hard to believe that my sins are really absolved, removed, atoned for, forgiven, forgotten because of who Jesus is and what He did. There’s always something pulling us back, making us think that what we really need is the performance of certain actions, or the gift of money and time, to truly please God. Besides this, it’s human nature—fallen human nature—to assume that I need something besides Jesus for my life to be joyful and satisfying.

Hence people are drawn to those who say they have the answers, from self-help authors to preachers who will give you the steps to your best life now. Preachers of every stripe are tempted to use rules, laws as the means to gaining and controlling hearers.

That’s what St. Paul is talking about in today’s epistle. He observes with horror that the Corinthians are listening to preachers preaching a salvation by human effort. “For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you.” He means put laws on you, making you a slave to laws and rituals. Some of them go beyond this: “For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you [i.e., takes your money], or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.” These are marks of cults, when a human being controls you and abuses you in the name of God.

St. Paul then says if anyone has the authority to act that way, he does. He comes from the right background, a Jew of the best lineage. No one has worked as hard as he has. No one has suffered as much as he has. And besides all this, he has received special “visions and revelations” from Jesus, starting with the appearance of Jesus to Paul on the Damascus Road.

But then Paul observes that the goal of this life is not to achieve success. The disciple of Jesus does not have money as his goal. The disciple of Jesus does not have leisure as his goal. The disciple of Jesus does not have fame as his goal.

The disciple of Jesus has this as his goal: to be conformed to Jesus, i.e., to become like Jesus in His suffering, and then to be joined to Jesus in His resurrection.

So Paul is saying that everything he would boast about—being an Israelite, working hard, establishing church after church throughout the Roman Empire, having great insight into the Word of God—all boasting has to die in him.

It is just as St. John the Baptist said: “He [Jesus] must increase, I must decrease.” It’s just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

This means you and I must say, “Jesus calls me to come and die. Jesus must increase, I must decrease.” What are you boasting about? What makes you proud? What kind of power do you enjoy? What kind of power would you like to have? Do you grumble and complain? What in you needs to die?

These are the questions we should ask when suffering comes. Of course, some suffering is our own making. Actions have consequences. But some things don’t come from our actions. God allows suffering and the cross to come upon us.

St. Paul sees his troubles as sent from God to keep him humble. “So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh.” People have speculated for several thousand years now about what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Perhaps it was a sickness, or a pain, or a disability. Perhaps it was a particular kind of temptation, just like many people face strong, almost overwhelming temptations, whether that’s physical lust, or alcohol, or anger. Perhaps Paul was terribly sad. Some think it was a particular person in Paul’s life who made things very difficult for him. I’m sure none of you have ever faced anything like that.

Whatever it is, Paul identifies this as the work of Satan. He calls the thorn in his flesh “a messenger of Satan to harass me.” That could even be meant literally, that is, a demon is tormenting Paul. We don’t know, and that’s for the best, so that whatever you are facing, you can realize that the answer Paul got is also for you.

But before we get to the answer, we need to emulate the petition. St. Paul says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this.” When you face hardship, when things are going poorly, when a person is harassing you, when you are facing sickness or sorrow, do you plead before the throne of God about it? The Lord has given us 150 Psalms to pray, one for every kind of trouble you could be facing; and besides all of this, Jesus joins us in praying to the Father by saying right along with us, “OUR Father, who art in heaven….”

Nevertheless the answer to Paul’s prayer, and often our own prayers, is “No.” God doesn’t give us what we are asking for. And that’s because He is giving us something better: grace. That little word grace means His favor, that God is kindly disposed toward us, that He adopts us as His own children, welcomes us into His household, and will join us to Jesus in the resurrection. God’s grace comes to us not by what we do, but by what Jesus did. Think of that! In place of death you will get life; in place of sorrow, joy; in place of hell, heaven; in place of darkness, light. And you are worrying about someone else’s attitude? You are worrying about trouble with your body, or trouble with money?

By making you weak, by making you a nobody, by making you a leper, by bringing you into trouble and withholding from you the thing for which you most long, He is teaching you that it’s the dead who are raised to life, it’s the sinner who is forgiven, it’s the debtor who is made rich, it’s the lonely person who is welcomed into the communion of saints.

Or as the Lord says to Paul—and these words are written for you: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Do not despair. Do not lose hope. Do not be choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life. They will not satisfy. Worrying will not solve a single problem you have.

You have everything already. You have God’s grace. You are baptized, He feeds you with Himself. You have God’s grace, and that’s sufficient to cleanse you from every stain. You have God’s grace, and that’s sufficient to forgive all the sins you’ve committed, and also those committed against you. You have God’s grace, and that’s sufficient to raise you from the dead. You have God’s grace, and that’s sufficient. +INJ+

New Book—The Gates of Hell: Confessing Christ in a Hostile World

Posted on February 2nd, 2018

The Praesidium of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (Synod President and Vice-Presidents) collaborated on a book centered around Christ’s promise to His Church that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. The Gates of Hell: Confessing Christ in a Hostile World contains the sermons and essays of the Praesidium from the 2016 LCMS Convention, plus new chapters on the religion of sex (Scott Murray), Luther and the two kingdoms (Matthew Harrison), the status of the church in western society (John Wohlrabe), defying the devil in international mission work (Daniel Preus), the table of the Lord (Christopher Esget), the urgency of preaching (Nabil Nour), and defending against the gates of hell (Herbert Mueller). As general editor Scott Murray observes in the introduction, our outlook as the leaders of the LCMS is one of profound optimism. Now is not the time to despair! This book confesses our united confidence that Jesus Christ remains Lord of His Church, and He will never leave us or forsake us.

Here is a sample from my chapter on the Lord’s Supper:

[When we sing the Nunc Dimittis after Communion,] We are singing with Simeon that Jesus is our true peace offering, and we are now ready to die. God has fulfilled His promises in Jesus. He is salvation for Gentiles and Israelites. When the gates of hell pour forth death, we who have been comforted at the Table of the Lord see it for what Jesus has made it by the power of His resurrection: a portal to paradise, where we await our own resurrection in the body in the life of the world to come.

You can get The Gates of Hell: Confessing Christ in a Hostile World directly from Concordia Publishing House, or through Amazon (Kindle and paperback).

Life Sunday Sermon 2018: The Glory of God Is a Living Man

Posted on January 26th, 2018

Chancel of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, IL

I was honored to preach for the LCMS Southern Illinois District’s service for Life Sunday, held on January 21 at Good Shepherd, Collinsville, IL. Thanks to Rev. Scott Adle and his charming family for hosting me, and Rev. Mark Surburg, District Life Coordinator, for inviting me. The audio of the sermon can be found here.

Text: St. John 7:37-39

“God makes, man is made.” This statement seems so basic as to be absurd. “God makes, man is made.” Yet this statement overthrows all our pride, all our desires for authority and dominance.


Confess it: you want others to obey you. You want others to submit. You should be the star, you should be praised, you should control your own destiny.


But God makes, man is made. Which means He has firmly established who and what we are. He has declared what is right and wrong. He has declared what is the beginning and the ending. He has declared what is male and female.


God makes, man is made. Put more directly, God has made you, you are made. My body, my choice? Hardly. That pro-abortion slogan is not just wrong about the murder of children, it is wrong in every respect. My body is not my own. I am made by Another. Which means I am God’s choice. You are God’s choice.


He created the world from nothing. The world is His choice. Yet, though this delves perhaps too deeply into the heart of God, there seems an overwhelming desire in God to make, to create, which is to say, to love.


He who is living, He who is self-existent, calls Life into being by His Word. And as the crown of His creation, He fashions the man from the earth.


But it was not good for that man to be alone. Just as God creates life from Himself yet outside Himself, so our first father’s side is opened. The woman is made from the man but comes into being outside the man.


These two He made for each other. She is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Together they become one flesh. “Be fruitful and multiply” is the blessing God gives them. They are made not only for each other but for the ongoing creation of life. God makes, they are made, and they are made for making, created for procreation.

The curse came upon them and up— us and the world—through the desire to overthrow the Maker, to become as gods apart from God.


The earth produced thorns, and pain entered conception and childbearing. Many wombs became barren.


Yet still God heard the anguished cries of our lost and fallen race. He opened the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Some of you know what this is. The struggle to conceive, the hidden sorrow of miscarriage, the horror of losing a child. God knows. He sees. He remembers. When you hurt, He hurts – for this is still the same God who once made the world from nothing.


Does it seem like He does not hear your cries? Does He seem detached and capricious, uninvolved in your anguish?

Behold, here is His answer to all your cries:

In the fullness of time He sent His own Son into the womb of the blessed virgin Mary. In Him He has honored our race beyond all measure. He who is of one substance with the Father assumed into His person our human nature. He who had no body is made man, becoming bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.


The earth brought forth thorns, and we crowned His head with them. He becomes the Cursed King, or King of the Curse.


Then, behold a mystery! Like the first Adam, this new Adam has His side opened. From His heart, from His belly flows living waters. That crucifixion event is what Jesus is inviting us to when He says today, “Everyone who thirsts, come to Me and drink, you who believe in Me.” For the Scriptures declared that out of His heart, that is, out of Christ’s heart will flow rivers of living water.


Isaiah foresaw this, and he still speaks to us when he says, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Come, buy without money and without price. Why do you waste your money on what is not bread, and your wages on what does not satisfy?”


That question is put to us today. What are you involved in that is foolish and fake? What do you need to give up, because it is destroying you? Is it your lust for porn – or your lust for power? Is your heart overcome by the desires of the world, the desires of the world, or the pride of life? Are you wasting your life as a slave to social media, staring into the abyss of a rectangular black mirror?


You will not find life there. That is a life that leads to death. Paradoxically, it is in death that you will find life – the death of Jesus from Whom flow the living waters.

St Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a living man.” What does that mean? God glories in self-giving. He does not glory in His own existence, but glories in giving existence to us, giving life to the world. Seeing a world of death, He again said, “It is not good. It is not good for man to be alone, so I will join them. It is not good for man to die, so I will renew life among them.”


The side of the first Adam was opened to give life to his wife. The side of the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, was opened to give life to the Church. The glory of God was in this dying man – dying to restore life to the world.


Life Sunday is timed to commemorate with sadness the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We are now one of the only countries in the world—joined by North Korea and China—in allowing unrestricted abortion up to the time of birth; and we know that some abortionists bring the baby partially out of the womb before the murder to make the killing easier or to illegally preserve intact organs to harvest and sell.


But Life Sunday must never for us be simply about the evils of abortion, as though stopping abortion would resolve our problems. Life Sunday is for us to hear again that God gives life, and he forgives all the things we do that are part of our warped culture of death. He forgives our misuse of marriage; He forgives our seeing children or the aged as burdens; He forgives Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, Peter the denier. He invites you too, no matter what you have done, to come and receive freely the living waters that flow from His side.


Life Sunday reminds us too that forgiveness is the beginning and life is the ending, the ending without an end; for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. We have a God who has overcome death by resurrection. We have a God who became a living man, who revealed HIs glory in a living man whom death cannot hold.

So what should we do? First of all, pray. Pray by name for our president, Donald, and for Paul, the speaker of the House, and for John, the Chief Justice. Pray for those who profit from abortion, and pray for those who are suffering in silence. Pray fervently that hearts would be transformed, beginning with our own.


But then, give thanks. Give thanks for the gift of life in Jesus, and all the tremendous blessings of daily bread, of the gift of good schools and good government, good neighbors and faithful friends.


And then finally, and this is most important: Go home. On Friday I took part in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. It’s an important event, where hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate God’s gift of life. I encourage you all to come and join us. It’s a sea of Roman Catholics out there, and my dream is for a Lutheran church to rise up and join them in celebrating life.


But as important as these kinds of events are, the place where the culture of life is built is in your home and your neighbors’ homes. God doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does. So build a culture of life in your homes. To change a diaper might be the highest good work you could do before God. And if there are no diapers in your home to change, there are moms all around you who could use your help. If a child is crying in church, smile at the mother and when you can, tell her you’re glad she’s here.


The world says we only care about children before they’re born. Prove them wrong. Support your local pregnancy center. Become a foster parent. Adopt a child. And if you are not at the stage of life where you can do that, help others.


My wife and I adopted our little boy, James, and the opportunity came suddenly and unexpectedly. What overwhelmed me was how quickly the people of my congregation reacted; almost immediately people were showing up with everything we would need to care for our son. That was pro-life action. And then just this last Friday night, one of our parochial school teachers gave up her Friday night so my wife and I could go out together. And then she refused to take any money. That is pro-life action.


Changing a Supreme Court decision seems like such a big job; what could any one of us do? But you engage in pro-life action when you rejoice in and celebrate the life that is around you.


Never despair. Never give up. The world’s desires are passing away. What we sing at Easter is true all year long: The strife is o’er, the battle won.


The glory of God is a living man. Jesus is living and cannot die. In Him, the pro-life cause is already won. In Him will you live, in Him will you die, and His shall you be forever. +INJ+


Closing Prayer: 2018 Rose Dinner

Posted on January 20th, 2018

I was honored to give the closing prayer at the Rose Dinner, the banquet held in conjunction with the March for Life. It was a tremendous privilege to be among the nation’s pro-life leaders.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of all things seen and unseen. You created the world from nothing; You called Life into being by Your Word; and You made our first father Adam from the earth. You opened his side and fashioned a wife for him, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. You blessed their marriage and called them to be fruitful and multiply.

Even after our fall into sin, You continued to bless our lost and fallen race, opening the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. In the fullness of time You sent Your own Son into the womb of the blessed virgin Mary. In Him You have honored our race beyond all measure, as He who is of one substance with You assumed into His person our human nature.

By Him light and life have come into the world. On His cross He assumed our curse, and as a new Adam You caused His side to be opened, bestowing life-giving blood and water for the healing of the world. By His resurrection death was overcome, and You revealed Your glory in a living Man whom death cannot hold.

And now, dear Father, we confess that we have wandered far in this vale of tears. We are men of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips. We confess to You both our pride and our despair. We implore You to forgive us. We are not worthy of the least of all the mercies and all the truth You have shown to us.

Create in us clean hearts, and renew a right spirit within us. In these gray and latter days, visit us again with Your Holy Spirit. Incline our hearts toward all those whose lives are threatened, and make of us a people of life.

Remember, O Lord, our president Donald.

Remember, O Lord, Paul, the speaker of the House.

Remember, O Lord, John, our chief justice.

Give to these men wisdom, strength, and courage.

Remember, O Lord, those who traffic in abortion. Turn their hearts, we pray.

Remember, O Lord, the slaughter of the holy innocents taking place in our land. Bring it to an end, and make us instruments of Your peace.

Remember, O Lord, all doctors and nurses.

Remember, O Lord, all who work with pregnant and vulnerable women.

As You heard the cries of Your people Israel at the slaughter of their little ones, so hear, see, and remember us in Your mercy.

We thank You for hearing us.

We thank You for this day. We thank You for our daily bread, especially this meal which we have received from Your bountiful goodness.

Now bless us as we return to our homes and vocations. Help us to show forth in our lives what we have confessed with our lips, even as You live and reign with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Best Books of 2017

Posted on January 9th, 2018

Here are the top five books from my 2017 reading:

  1. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (Rod Dreher) – started April 11, 2017; finished May 12, 2017
  2. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (Os Guinness) – started March 17, 2017; finished March 27, 2017
  3. Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries [reread] (Werner Elert) – started December 2016; finished December 26, 2017
  4. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Timothy Keller) – started March 7, 2017; finished March 17, 2017
  5. The Meaning of Marriage (Timothy Keller) – started July 21, 2017; finished August 25, 2017

In 2017, I read 30 books, listed here in reverse chronological order of completion:

  1. Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries [reread] (Werner Elert) – started December 2016; finished December 26, 2017
  2. Honor and Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Navy SEALs Who Captured the “Butcher of Fallujah”—and the Shameful Ordeal They Later Endured (Patrick Robinson) – started November 23, 2017; finished December 25, 2017
  3. Private (James Patterson) – started December 11, 2017; finished December 19, 2017
  4. Artemis (Andy Weir) – started November 30, 2017; finished December 11, 2017
  5. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) (George R.R. Martin) – started January 31, 2017; finished November 30, 2017
  6. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (James K.A. Smith) – started October 14, 2017; finished November 13, 2017
  7. Back Blast (Mark Greaney) – started July 29, 2016; finished November 2, 2017
  8. A Man of Means (P.G. Wodehouse) – started June 17, 2017; finished November 1, 2017
  9. Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan (Sean Parnell) – started October 5, 2017; finished October 19, 2017
  10. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Roland Bainton) – started June 6, 2017; finished October 14, 2017
  11. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson) – finished October 11, 2017
  12. Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Ashley McGuire) – started July 16, 2017; finished October 5, 2017
  13. The Meaning of Marriage (Timothy Keller) – started July 21, 2017; finished August 25, 2017
  14. Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Os Guinness) – started July 12, 2017; finished August 7, 2017
  15. A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 (G.J. Meyer) – started December 2016; finished July 15, 2017
  16. Simply Christian (N.T. Wright) – started May 12, 2017; finished June 24, 2017
  17. Death at the Excelsior and Other Stories (P.G. Wodehouse) – finished June 17, 2017
  18. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (Rod Dreher) – started April 11, 2017; finished May 12, 2017
  19. Your Marriage by God’s Design (Scott and Julie Stiegemeyer) – finished April 12, 2017
  20. He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (R. Albert Mohler) – started March 27, 2017; finished April 11, 2017
  21. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (Os Guinness) – started March 17, 2017; finished March 27, 2017
  22. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Tim Keller) – started March 7, 2017; finished March 17, 2017
  23. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (N.T. Wright) – started February 18, 2017; finished March 7, 2017
  24. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Russell Moore) – started January 6, 2017; finished February 17, 2017
  25. The Children of Húrin (J.R.R. Tolkien) – started January 13, 2017; finished January 30, 2017
  26. God’s Song in a New Land (Carl Schalk) – finished January 20, 2017
  27. The Flame Bearer (Bernard Cornwell) – started December 2016; finished January 12, 2017
  28. The Pathway to Awesomeness: How to Get Things Done and Live a Productive Life (Mark Forster) – finished January 8, 2017
  29. God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas [reread] (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) –  started November 27, 2016; finished January 6, 2017
  30. The City of God (St. Augustine) – started April 20, 2016; finished January 6, 2017

Click here for what I’m currently reading, and to see some topical book lists I’ve made.

Did you read something great in the last year? Leave a recommendation in the comments!

Sermo Dei: Epiphany 1, 2018

Posted on January 7th, 2018

“Look,” says Mary, “Your father and I have sought you anxiously” (Luke 2:41-52, Gospel for Epiphany I). Many of you have experienced anxiety at some time or in some form. That Mary and Joseph knew anxiety is written for our comfort—to know we are not alone—and also for our instruction, to learn how to deal with anxiety.

Anxiety is part of the world’s fallen condition. We experience anguish of spirit, mind, and body for all kinds of reasons. You can imagine the anxiety Mary and Joseph had, for much of parenthood is worrying about your children – and losing your little boy in a crowded city would terrify any parent.

On top of this is the spiritual responsibility that Mary and Joseph have been given. From Gabriel’s announcement of the conception of Jesus in the virgin Mary’s womb, to the visits of shepherds and wise men, to the flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath, everything has pointed to the importance of this Child. And now they’ve lost Him. Mary especially must be experiencing not only the fears of a mother, but a woman standing under God’s judgment. God gave her this Son, and she has lost Him.

Why would God put her through this? Dr. Luther says,

The more highly [God] blesses, honors, and exalts [His saints], the deeper He puts them both into cross and suffering—yes, into dishonor, shame, and abandonment.

The serene paintings of the virgin Mary I think mask the real situation. She is terrified of the angelic appearance. The ordeal of childbirth would leave her exhausted and disheveled. What would the mad midnight race into the desert to escape Herod do?

The mother of Jesus is the most blessed of all women, filled with grace, and the greatest model of a Christian: She hear’s God’s Word and replies simply, “Amen!”

But she is also the woman whom Simeon said would have a sword pierce her heart. Like her Son after her, Mary knows the cross and great suffering.  Like every great saint, she feels and knows anxiety, fear, distress.

And now she has lost Him. As the hours race by, and the second day becomes the third, hope is fading. Did Mary and Joseph argue, and blame each other? Did they blame themselves and become morose?

All of our losses, every time we are confronted with failure, and sin, and death, the temptation is to see God as lost. He has abandoned us, or will not help, or is holding our failure against us.

“The relationship failed because I am a failure.” “The child died because I didn’t pray enough.” “God is dead and so is my hope.”

All the great saints suffered afflictions and anxiety.

Abraham and Sarah are promised a child, but spend years in the sorrow and isolation of barrenness.

Joseph is cast into the pit, sold as slave by his own brothers, and falsely accused.

Moses murders a man and must flee into the wilderness.

Job sits on a pile of dung, cutting his skin with a broken pot and longing for death.

Jonah languishes for three days in the belly of a sea monster.

Elijah despairs that he is the last worshipper of God left alive on the earth.

Throughout Scripture we find the saints tormented and afflicted, and falling into the sin of despair – all to teach us what to do in the hour of temptation, the hour of trial.

First we need to know why the anxiety and trouble come. Our afflictions and temptations come to cut down our arrogance. Pride is what made the devil who he is; so exalted was he in gifts that he came to despise God and rely on himself. So God lets us struggle to see that we cannot secure our own future. We cannot secure our own future; we can only live by grace.

David the great warrior describes his overconfidence in Psalm 30:

I said in my prosperity: ‘I shall never be defeated.’ 

But when You hid Your face, I was terrified.

He was confident in himself, not realizing that everything he had was from God. Once God withdrew His blessing, terror came.

God has allowed the greatest saints to feel the greatest anxiety. So we should not feel alone when anxiety comes to us. “Be still, and know that I am God.” What does that mean? All your efforts, your searching, must stop. God acts in the silent places. He raises dead bodies. He parts the sea, but not until the Egyptian army is about to attack.

He teaches us to pray not, “Give me a year of success,” or, “I claim a life of prosperity,” but instead, “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Give us day by day our bread for today.” You work for today, and let God work for tomorrow. What do you know about what will happen tomorrow? Nothing.

Now here is what we learn about the end of Mary and Joseph’s search: They find Jesus in the temple – which means what? The temple is where the Word of God is read, and where the sacrifices are offered. That’s where Jesus is.

He is not found in all the other comforts of the world. They had searched for Jesus among friends and relatives; they had the entire city of Jerusalem, with all of its knowledge and culture; they had their own reason and understanding – but none of it was sufficient. They were looking for Jesus in all of the wrong places. Our folly is often to look for satisfaction and fulfillment and meaning in every place but where we should be looking.

Mary and Joseph end their search in the temple, where the Word and Sacrifice are.

All our own searches will finally end when we turn to the Word and Sacrifice, that is, to Bible and Cross, Bible and Confession, Bible and Communion.

He is being, and will be, obedient to the work the Father has given Him. He is already preparing for the cross to come some twenty years later.

Jesus does the work we could never do. In your anxiety, be still and know that He is God. He is the end of your anxiety, the healing of your wounds, the sacrifice for your sins, the death of your death.

So now, anxiety dealt with, sin atoned for, Jesus found, we go with Jesus home. Although He is God in the flesh, He goes home with His parents and obeys them, keeping the Fourth Commandment.

That’s where our work is found too. The Wise Men, we heard yesterday, went home by a new and different way. Jesus goes home with Mary and Joseph and is obedient. This is the joy of our life. We know how the journey ends – with Easter, resurrection, unending gladness. With joy then we go home and live in obedience, knowing that we are exactly where God wants us to be.

Sermo Dei: Epiphany

Posted on January 7th, 2018

After describing the long, arduous trip that the Wise Men undertook,  T.S. Eliot says in his great poem The Journey of the Magi,

A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Folly – the world’s voices sang in the ears of the Magi, “Your journey to worship the Christ-Child:  it is all folly!  Worthless; meaningless; foolishness.  Who would waste his time on such matters?”

The world says that to you as well. Folly! None of this is true. You are wasting your life.

Even if it is true – there’s no need to upend your life. A long journey, a deep investment of time and money – that’s fanatical, out of touch with the real world. Perhaps in darker moments, when your own faith was being tested, you’ve had similar thoughts about Christianity:  “This is all folly.”

God’s Word calls us to embrace the folly. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.… [T]he foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” [1 Cor 1.18,21].

So the Magi go on their foolish journey. We know very little about them. They were likely practitioners of a false religion, but their journey to worship Jesus tells us they were seeking the true wisdom. They risked everything, sacrificed everything to find the only One who matters – Christ.

There’s no reason for the Magi’s journey unless something, someone unique and exclusive is found there. But despite the miracle of the star, the sign only takes them so far. Arriving in Jerusalem, the star fails them – or rather, they must now inquire from the true north star, the One source of truth, the Holy Scriptures. God’s Word points them to Bethlehem: “And they said unto [Herod], In Bethlehem of Judaea:  for thus it is written by the prophet, Thou Bethlehem … art not the least among the princes of Juda:  for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”  Thus they learn where to find Christ: not by their own wisdom, emotions, or works; Christ is found only through the Word.

The men of Jerusalem show us our great peril: They hear and know the Word, but do not take it to heart. They stay where they are, rather than go with the Magi to worship. They are hearers of the Word but not doers. They have a form of godliness but know not the power. Will you meet the same fate? You know the Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, you’ve received the Sacraments – but will you become lazy and neglectful of the gift you’ve received?

Do not think, “I have the Gospel; I cannot lose it.”  Luther said, “Just a minute, let us see whether or not you really have the gospel.  If you believe the gospel with all your heart and are changing for the better, then you really have it.  But if you become arrogant and scorn it, then you do not have it,” even if you talk all about it and have Scripture on your lips like Herod and the priests and scribes.  They know where the Christ-Child is, but do not go to worship him.  The Word calls us to press on with the Magi to journey’s end, to Bethlehem.

And what did they find, these wise men, when they arrived in Bethlehem, to the cradle of the infant Jesus?  They find no earthly king; He is not robed in finery.  His mother wears no diadem.  If the friends of the Magi could see this scene, they would be confirmed in their opinion:  this was all folly!

But these Magi recognize Jesus not with their eyes, but with their ears.  This is He whom God’s star had pointed to, and God’s Word confirmed. They prostrate themselves, and present gifts. And while the frankincense is for the worship of God, the gold and myrrh foreshadow the cross; money to survive on the flight to Egypt, myrrh for His burial.

Listen to another part of T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”:  One of the wise men says,

All this was a long time ago, I remember

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This:  were we led all that way for

Birth or Death?

The Birth is for the Death – His death on the cross, our death to sin, and the trampling down of death by death. That is folly, but to us as to the Magi it brings “exceeding great joy.”

And it means a new journey, which the Magi show us by journeying home on a new and living way. They are avoiding Herod, which is more than mere practicality. Everything has now changed. Their old ways they shall walk no more, their false gods they shall worship no more, for the Jesus they worshipped is now the star that never fades and enlightens everything.

That’s how it now is for you. You’ve been set on a different path. What the world calls folly is the true Wisdom, the joyous light that no darkness can overcome.  In Him will you live; in Him will you die; and His shall you be forever.

Wedding Sermon: Grace Link and Andrew Egger

Posted on January 7th, 2018

The Marriage of Grace Link and Andrew Egger

December 30, 2017

John 2:1-11

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.” Every word in Holy Scripture is significant. And there’s more going on than meets the eye. “On the third day there was a wedding,” just like on the third day He rose again from the dead.

Rising from the dead is the shape of marriage, because marriage is a kind of death. At some level our groom already understands this, as he reflected on these solemnities via Twitter: “super excited to get married this weekend and enter once and for all into adulthood,” I say to myself as I spot a gobstopper on the floor of my car and immediately eat it.

The bride can handle a room full of kindergartners, so I imagine she can handle this challenge as well. But the meaning of marriage is not in the maturation of manners. Something much deeper has to die in you. Marriage propels you into an arena where all your selfishness, all your disordered desires are manifest. Marriage continually summons you to death, so that you can learn to live for others. Dying to self, you live for your wife, your husband, and the children God gives you.

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” Marriage creates a new family, but this new family doesn’t live in isolation. The mother of Jesus was there, possibly as the mother of the bride. Andrew and Grace, the families you came from remain forever important, as does our common family the Church. “Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” Your wedding in the Church means that you also have done just that. Your marriage will be blessed as each day Jesus is continually invited to be the head of your household. When you are worried about your spouse, when you are apart, and especially when you have difficulties, that is when you invite Jesus anew to the wedding.

And problems will come. Some of those problems will be of your own making, and some will happen to you. This wedding in Cana was threatened by inadequate preparation. The lack of wine symbolizes a loss of joy. And the day will come when your joy runs short. You will disappoint each other. Perhaps you will yell and say horrible things; perhaps you will cry; perhaps you will seethe in silence. I pray none of these are the case – but sin is a powerful thing, and rare is the marriage untouched by trouble.

When the wine runs out, when the joy runs out, what does the blessed mother of Jesus say? She points the servants to Jesus, and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” “Do whatever he tells you.”

She doesn’t know how the problem will be resolved. She doesn’t know what can be done. She knows one thing only: We look to Jesus for all of our help.

And His help is more than advice or counsel. This holy Christmas season we reflect on the mystery that is at the heart of marriage. The two become one flesh in marriage, analogous to the union of God and man in the womb of the virgin Mary. God doesn’t just visit mankind. He joins Himself to us, so that He says of us what Adam said when he saw Eve: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” 

The one-flesh union in marriage is for having children, for finding delight in each other, and for sharing in each other’s troubles. That’s what Jesus does in the incarnation – He says, “Your sickness becomes My sickness, your sorrow becomes My sorrow, your sin becomes My sin, and everything good I have I now share with you.”

By God’s grace, He does all this for you, and now in marriage He begins to do this through you. Thus you say to each other, “Your troubles are my troubles, your joys are my joys, and with my body I honor you, serve you, protect you.”

Your marriage, Grace and Andrew, will find its greatest joy in the mundane things, even the unpleasant things, precisely because God transforms them into opportunities for loving sacrifice and communion.

“On the third day there was a wedding.” On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, and in Him your marriage cannot die.

“Jesus was invited to the wedding.” He promises to be present and to be your Lord in sickness and in health, for better, for worse.

“Do whatever he tells you.” For in Him you will live, in Him will you die, and His shall you be forever.  +INJ+

Reformation500 Sermon

Posted on October 31st, 2017

The Five-hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation

When your baby boy bonks his head, what matters? When your husband lies dead, what matters? When you sit with Job on a dung-heap, children gone, possessions gone, sores covering your stinking body, what matters?

Job’s own answer, through a long struggle of pain and torment, was this: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He shall stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

The Redeemer is Jesus. Jesus is what matters when you hold tightly to your sick child. Jesus is what matters when the coffin of your father descends into the earth. Jesus is what matters when your own life is in total crisis.

The church on earth has a way of losing focus. The church on earth has a way of losing sight of Jesus. When ethnicity and culture become the identity of a church, that church loses sight of Jesus. When secular politics becomes the identity of a church, that church loses sight of Jesus. When socializing or social actions becomes the identity of a church, that church loses sight of Jesus. A thousand things can rise up to become more important than Jesus in His own church.

In Luther’s day, the church had forgotten how to repent.

In Luther’s day, the church had forgotten how to repent. Money and certain actions defined repentance and earned forgiveness. Repentance was a thing you did, not a change of heart and life. What set the Reformation in motion was this simple statement Luther posted on the door of the Schloßkirch in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent!’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That beginning of the 95 Theses generated a repentance movement that could not be stopped. While previous reformers like Jan Hus were tortured and killed, God’s grace saw fit to protect Luther from martyrdom. But we must never make this repentance movement about Luther.

The repentance movement we call the Reformation was not about Luther. The repentance movement we call the Reformation was not about Germany. The Reformation was about pointing people back to Jesus. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent!’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent!’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

For 500 years, even Reformation churches have forgotten the point. In Germany this summer I found Luther’s face plastered everywhere, on billboards and beer steins, his words becoming slogans twisted beyond recognition to sell gaudy trinkets.

Luther is remembered as a hero of personal freedom, a hero of nationalism, a leader of rebellion or revolution. Beyond any doubt Luther would be horrified by all of that. What would he say to us? While the context for Reformation has changed, the need for it has increased. Were Luther here to preach to us today, would he thunder against Pope Francis or President Trump, Angela Merkel or Harvey Weinstein? I imagine he would have some choice words for all of them – but his fire would be aimed first and foremost at us. The very same words with which he began the Ninety-five Theses would still apply: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent!’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Does your entire life demonstrate repentance? Or are you holding parts of your life back? Do you think you stand higher than those medieval peasants who dropped coins into a box imagining they’d escape purgatory? Or do you not see that they recognized sins had a cost? You imagine a quick prayer grants you freedom to keep on sinning. We all get a good giggle out of Luther’s colorful quotations, while imbibing a steady diet of filth streaming in from every direction.

The Reformation spawned an educational system so that every peasant boy could read the Bible. Inheriting that legacy, you have a college education but cannot be bothered to read the Bible diligently. You have time to play soccer but no time to pray. You have money for mansions but no money for missions. You want everyone else to change, but you spend no effort applying the Catechism’s Table of Duties to your own life.

The most important words of Luther were not his but Christ’s: “Repent!” “Change your mind,” Jesus is saying to you. “Turn and become different.” The call to Reformation goes to you and your heart.

That kind of Reformation leads to joy, for when we throw ourselves, weak and helpless, at the feet of Jesus, we hear Him say, “Don’t be afraid. I forgive you, I will be with you, in every trouble.”

It seems like there is more trouble than ever. False teachers plague the church. The world spins deeper into madness and decay. Christianity in the West is in rapid decline.

But we still have everything we need. We have Christ and His Gospel. We have Baptism and Christ’s Supper. We have the Bible, and unlike most of the church’s history, we have the money for everyone to own a Bible and the education to read it. “Every celebration of the Reformation is also a time of thanksgiving for the Holy Scriptures” (Löhe). God has given us this treasure, and it is rich. It has everything you need. When you are afraid, there is Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cry to You!” When you are sad, the Scriptures say to you, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.” When you come to any new morning, we have words to praise Him, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” And when you are dying, “Lord Jesus, remember me in Your kingdom; into Your hands I commend my spirit.”

And everywhere are the Lord’s promises to you: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

And daily you have the Lord’s guidance: “Little children, love one another.” “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.”

The true and faithful Reformation was not a revolution.

So that we would have all these rich treasures, the true and faithful Reformation was not a revolution. Some smashed crucifixes; Lutherans kept them, for there we have a picture of Jesus saving us. Some threw out the church year, but Lutherans kept it, knowing that we need to remember the Advent of our Lord, His suffering in Lent, His death on Good Friday, His resurrection on Easter, His Ascension, and His gift of the Spirit on Pentecost. Some made Baptism and the Lord’s Supper into works that humans do to obey God, but Lutherans kept the Bible’s emphasis on God giving us His gifts. The Reformation was conservative; we weren’t starting a new church but going back to the old and true catholic church.

The Reformation was conservative; we weren’t starting a new church but going back to the old and true catholic church.

We still need Reformation. 500 years later, we are not yet united with our old brothers and sisters in the Roman or Greek churches. We have work to do.

We still need Reformation. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a good confession of faith and outstanding people, but she has challenges. We have work to do.

We still need Reformation. God has blessed our Immanuel congregation, but each one of us needs to grow in prayer and good works and charity. We have work to do.

We still need Reformation. The world needs Jesus. We have work to do.

And we will work, because God has called us to work. But above all else, He is the author and finisher of the work. We do work, but everything depends on Him. He is what matters.

I had hoped to come up with something really profound and eloquent for this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But all I have is this: Jesus is what matters, and His Word and Promises are the heart of the Reformation message. He is what matters when your child is sick, when your father is dead, when you are in trouble.

Repent of your sins. Keep the Reformation going. Receive Christ’s gifts. Rejoice.

Repent. Reform. Receive. Rejoice.