Sermo Dei: The Funeral of Roy Edge

Posted on September 25th, 2015

Dear Carla, Henry and Harry, parents and friends of Roy, brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can we blame Martha and Mary for being angry with Jesus (John 11)? Their brother Lazarus is dead, and Jesus—supposedly their close friend—was nowhere to be found. He even misses the funeral! By the time Jesus shows up, Lazarus is buried.

When Jesus arrives, Martha comes out to meet Him, but Mary stays in the house. She won’t even talk to Jesus. But Martha levels her accusation: Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You know how she feels.

Eventually Mary comes out, and she says the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus doesn’t argue with her. He doesn’t explain that He was busy. What does He do? “Jesus wept.” Your Lord knows what you feel. He joins you in your suffering. He enters into your suffering.


Make no mistake: death is terrible. We could say that the death of a husband and father, at this point in his life, is not normal, not natural – but that is not saying nearly enough. Death itself is not normal, not natural – it is not how God made us, it is not how God made the world.

So Jesus doesn’t just come in today’s Gospel to the grave of Lazarus. Jesus comes to this coffin, Jesus looks at your loss of a husband, father, son, and He weeps. This is wrong.

To you, Henry and Harry, is given Psalm 27 to pray: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” David writes this Psalm as he is being attacked in war. Enemy soldiers surround him, and he is afraid. He thinks of his parents, but they are gone. This Psalm has long been a favorite of mine, and I hope you will take it up as your own. I find strength and comfort in David’s confidence as he faces a terrible trial. Everybody has turned against him, an army is coming after him, and both of his parents are dead. What he is feeling now is that God must be angry with him, God must have turned away from him. He is afraid. You can hear him trembling, yet still confident: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” And the answer is, “No one.”

Perhaps the best thing you can do, Henry and Harry, is to take up your dad’s Confirmation Verse as a promise to you. The Lord Jesus said to the whole Church in Rev. 3:11, and to your father: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” It seems as though your dad’s death was not at the right time. There is no right time, but the famous cantata of Bach teaches us an important lesson: “God’s time is the very best time.” Your dad held on to what he had to the end, and the Lord promises to share with him his own crown of life.

Carla, Henry, Harry, your husband and father did a noble and honorable thing by serving his country. The flag we saw on his casket signifies that. The white cloth on the casket tells us not about what Roy did for his country, but what Jesus did for Roy. The white cloth, marked with a cross, tells us that Roy is now a citizen of heaven. We are born citizens of our country, but then Baptism makes us citizens of the far country, the Kingdom of God.

And so what remains? You have to go on with your life. Perhaps God will give you many decades – or your last hour may be drawing near very soon. In either case, the days fly by, and very soon they are gone. The holy prophet Job suffered terribly with a skin disease – for whom the Lord loves, He chastens. God shapes us and teaches us not through success but through suffering. When we are brought to nothing, then we see God work through resurrection and new life.

So Job was suffering, His body covered with sores, His skin wasting away. Sound familiar? But Job saw ahead to what was coming. “I know that my Redeemer lives!” he cried; and “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.”

That’s God’s promise to your husband, dad, son. He believed it. You believe it too. For Jesus can do it, has done it, and will do it. Jesus weeps with you. Jesus dies for you and with you. Jesus is risen from the dead. Wait on Him. Resurrection is coming.

Sermo Dei: Psalm 115

Posted on September 24th, 2015

Man is joined to what he worships. Worship the corruptible things, and you will go to corruption. Worship the One in whom there is life—the One who is Life—and you will live.

Tonight’s Psalm begins and ends with the praise of God. Man gets no praise or credit, not even for his worship. All glory belongs to the God who creates life, gives life, shares life. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1).

What happens when you instead give yourself over to the adoration of corruptible things? You become what they are. The psalmist is thinking specifically of the pagan worship where the gods are depicted in statues: “Their idols are … the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see…. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:4, 5, 8).

What have you devoted yourself to? Sex without marital self-giving, treasure without thanksgiving and almsgiving, power wielded for selfish ambition – these things will destroy you. Our first father invited the power of corruption into this world when he first devoted himself to the created things rather than the Creator’s Word and promise.


An idol is not human: having mouths but not speaking, eyes but not seeing. We are barely human. We are wraiths, shadows of what God made. Into our corruption stepped the Logos; the eternal Word of the Father took on human nature. He became a zygote in the body of the blessed virgin. He was implanted in her womb, and there He received a mouth and eyes, ears and a nose, hands and feet. He became one of us, yet so very unlike us. With His mouth He spoke forgiveness. His eyes did not behold worthless things, but looked away from temptation. His ears were open to cries for mercy. His nose was not held as He went among the filthy, the leprous, the poor, and those oozing with pus. His hands touched them, and washed the feet of others, though they did not wash His.

In Him can you trust, you who have devoted yourself to worthless things. Trust in the Living God, for He is your help and your shield.

His blessing is especially for growth, for home and family. The blessing spoken over Adam was repeated to Noah: Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and have stewardship over it. This is why the ancient fathers, Luther, and the earliest Lutherans in this land universally condemned abortion and contraception, because they destroy and seek to reject God’s gift of life. Heed not the siren call of the evil one who separates sex from marriage, and marriage from procreation. The Lord has made us to live, and to be participants in His ongoing work of creation. “May the LORD give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!” (Ps. 115:14-15).

God is the God of life, and where there is life there is singing. The dead sing no Alleluias, but go down into the underworld of silence. Although we sons and daughters of Adam must die in the body—for such was the sentence spoken when we rebelled—the one who has taken on our body now lives. Thus has our Lord promised, even though we die, yet shall we live. “We will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 115:18).

God Remembers

Posted on September 12th, 2015

LCMS Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Abortion

Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Abortion

September 12, 2015

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

Exodus 2

How many Hebrew sons died, before Moses was drawn out of the water? How many more died afterward?

There are no answers, nothing meaningful we can say. To call it tragic is insufficient. The death of a child is horrific; the murder of a child is pure evil.

Asking us to remember what cannot be known seems to ask too much. Today, Pharaoh’s slaughter is small. Planned Parenthood, in its wicked design to rid the world of so-called undesirables, wages its war against humanity on a scale that makes Pharaoh’s work seem like a rounding error. Fifty-seven million children have been slaughtered since the 1973 edict from the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade that endorsed the views of Adolf Hitler that there are lives unworthy of life.

Memorial Stone for the Victims of Abortion

Fifty-seven million. How can we remember them? Those of you who have suffered miscarriages, or the loss of tiny children who lived outside the womb a short time – you know the struggle to keep alive the memory of those little ones that were unknown, even unnamed. And yet there is a desire to remember, to hold alive what was taken away. We question and wonder, might we know these little ones in some future time, when God transforms this hell and turns our sorrow into dancing?

The joyful story of Moses drawn up out of the water which we heard this morning, we dare not forget is surrounded by all the other Hebrew sons who were not drawn out. Why Moses and not them? Why are some little boys saved from the abortionist’s cruel knife, and so many others turned over to those who only see dollar signs, or a skull to be crushed? Is God really that capricious?

God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew.

We can give no specific answers to what is happening in each case, for we cannot read the mind of God. But we can read what He has given us to read, and following the rescue of Moses, we learn that God remembers more than we realize.

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 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.” (Exodus 2:23–25 ESV)

Look at the verbs: not just action words, but divine action words: God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew.



God remembered. On this day where we try, in some feeble way, to remember the 57 million slaughtered by our most barbaric nation, it is good to know that what we try to remember, God remembers perfectly.

We see bumps on tummies, we see ultrasounds, but God sees deeper. He sees the children, and remembers each one. The millions without names, how can He not name them, who numbers even the hairs on our heads?

He hears their silent cries, as their lives are snuffed out inside and outside the womb, skulls crushed, torn limb from limb and discarded like garbage or sold for parts like a stolen car. This horrific practice, not only sanctioned but funded by our government against all decency and morality – God hears, God sees, God remembers.

And God knows. We feel anger and sorrow, but God knows not only what happens but also to whom it happens. These little ones are His creatures. As horrible as this holocaust is—and that term is not used lightly, for if the slaughter of six million Jews is a crime worthy of reviling, and it is, then the slaughter of 57 million children on the altar of convenience and sexual libertinism is the worst crime against humanity ever seen in the history of the world—(as terrible as this holocaust is,) so much greater is His love for these extinguished lives. He knows not only what has happened, He knows them – the color of their eyes, what makes them happy, what makes them laugh. He knows, and He remembers.

God sees the children, and remembers each one. The millions without names, how can He not name them, who numbers even the hairs on our heads?

He will set all things to right in the day of His appearing. The crime is horrific, but greater still is His pardon. There are those who grieve abortions, and turn from them in contrite sorrow. Jesus forgives, and His forgiveness is total and absolute.



I cannot make promises, for the Scripture speaks not to this, but I cannot help but think that when the LORD says that He is making all things new, perhaps even those things we think are destroyed and eternally severed shall yet be known, and the cause of dancing and gladness, on the day of Christ’s appearing. For on that day we shall praise the Lord and say, He hear us, He remembered, He saw, and He knew. +INJ+

Confessing the King

Posted on September 10th, 2015

Let's Talk conference

LCMS Conference on the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C.

Sermon at Vespers, September 9, 2015

Psalm 110; John 18-19

This town draws dreams of greatness. People are impressed by money and power. They appeal to us as well. That’s part of what draws us to a conference like this.

But the things God delights in are not the things of human power. “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” (Psa 147:10–11 ESV)

Holy Scripture consistently finds greatness not in the appearance of grandeur, the size of an army, or the wealth of a kingdom. It was a childless wanderer and his barren wife who became parents to a nation multiplied more than sand and stars can be counted. The younger son is lifted up above the elder. A boy slays the giant Goliath. A girl from an insignificant town becomes the virgin mother to the world’s true king.

And His kingship, too, is marked by lowliness. The Transfiguration remains a secret until the King is crowned with the curse. Our Lord Jesus is crowned with thorns, which is the precise token of the world’s fall. “Behold your King!” Pilate said; and this remains the Christian proclamation to a world staggering from one tyrant to another.

Eugène Delacroix, La Crocifissione, bozzetto, 1845, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Eugène Delacroix, La Crocifissione, bozzetto, 1845, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

“We have no king but Caesar,” said the chief priests. They chose temporal peace to the lordship of Jesus.

Which will you choose? Our world is changing more rapidly than most anticipated. The Church is losing its place of privilege in our society. It is time for judgment to begin at the house of God. How will we respond? Bitterness and anger will not help; neither will compromising the teaching of God’s Word. It is a fatal temptation to say, “We have no king but Caesar,” “We have no king but the culture,” hoping that if we keep our heads down, we can hang onto our money and property a few years more.

What will it profit us, to gain the affection of a culture gone mad, yet lose our souls? But our goal dare not be the preservation of our liberties or our institutions for their own sake. The boys without fathers, the mothers without husbands, the communities without options, the people who are not sure what sex they’re attracted to or what gender they are, the bureaucrats and the lawyers trapped as cogs in a machine, making oodles of money yet each day becoming more miserable – the Church is called not to retreat from them, but to be their place of retreat. Christ’s Church is the Inn to which the Good Samaritan carries the wounded. The Church is a hospital for the hurting, a haven of forgiveness for those who are desperate for a Father’s love.

The Church is called to be a hospital for the hurting, a haven of forgiveness for those desperate for a Father’s love.

Too many only know the secular liturgy, “We have no king but Caesar.” We teach them a liberating liturgy, for we are stewards of a King who sets captives free. Our crucified King shows us life comes through dying, strength is in sacrifice, as He meets hatred with pardon.

This afternoon’s Psalm gives us a prophecy of the Messiah, who comes after the fashion of Melchizedek. There is a repetition of Hebrew words that doesn’t make it into our English version. Melchizedek means king of righteousness, and in the next verse we hear, “He will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.” Jesus, King of Righteousness, will put an end to all rival claims to kingship.

Following this, the psalm says the same thing about chiefs. In Hebrew, the word for chief is the same as head, which makes sense; the chief executive is the head honcho; the head of state is the commander-in-chief. Our psalm says the day is coming when the Lord “will shatter chiefs over the wide earth”; and in response, the Lord “will lift up his head” – the Messiah shall be chief, the head over all things.

Jesus is risen from the dead. The pillars of Capitol Hill shall not prevail against Him, and there is no court more Supreme than the one over which He presides.

Having this crucified-and-risen Lord as Chief and King and Head, we therefore have nothing to fear. We will lovingly speak the truth about the world’s true King. We will respectfully petition to be allowed to continue speaking what is true. Should the government continue on this present course, yet shall we proclaim the name of Jesus, announcing Him as the true King. Perhaps the world will listen. Or perhaps Caesar will slowly strip away everything we have come to know as “church” in our time. No matter. The Church continues, and is never defeated, for Jesus is risen from the dead. The pillars of Capitol Hill shall not prevail against Him, and there is no court more Supreme than the one over which He presides.

Bad news may be coming. But Psalm 112 says that the man of God “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Jesus is risen from the dead. Behold your king. Beholding Him, how can anything that happens to us be bad news? +INJ+

God has spoken in His holy place: Meditation on Psalm 108

Posted on September 8th, 2015

God does not love as we love. We may experience a glad friendship with someone, but have it ruined through misunderstanding or a conflict over power. We may experience lust, but abandon the person when our desires are sated.

God’s love is set forth in tonight’s Psalm as reaching to the heavens. Here we see the primary meaning of heaven in Scripture through the parallel of clouds: “For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Psalms 108:4 ESV)


God’s love is beyond human love, in that it rises beyond our sphere, surpassing our domain on the ground. More important than the greatness of God’s love, though, is the quality: God’s love is no emotion or experience. The synonym Psalm 108 chooses for God’s love tells us how He loves: He is faithful. “Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” Which means He doesn’t go back on His Word. He does not tire of us, find us boring, or grow disgusted with our stench or our surliness.

This Psalm, however, has a particular context: the problem of Edom. The people of Edom are the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, and they were constantly hostile to the children of Israel. The prophet Amos delivers this judgment against Edom: “Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.” (Amos 1:11 ESV) Here you see the opposite of God’s faithful love: perpetual anger, the setting aside of pity.

We see then who God is: One who sets aside anger and shows pity, One who is faithful and constant. St. John describes Jesus this way in opening the account of the suffering of Jesus: Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

Compare this now with your own love, and your own anger. Is it like Jesus, or more like Edom?

This is the foe that we have to cry out to against God. We have enemies of flesh and blood: ISIS and North Korea, Iran and the Taliban. But we do not battle against flesh and blood, our struggle is with those who would drive us to hostility and anger, who would drive us to divorce, who would make us contend with each other even in church conflicts. “Oh, grant us help against [that] foe!”

He gives us His help under a mystery. “God has promised in his holiness,” the Psalm says, although this can be rendered instead, “God has spoken in His holy place,” that is, the temple. The world after Genesis 3 is a place of exile, where brother slays brother, women are barren, fields are choked with thorns, nation rises against nation, and the rulers serve not the people. In the so-called Supreme Court, the natural family is disregarded, and the slaughter of children is protected as our holiest of sacraments.

But there is another Court that is far more supreme. God has spoken in His holy place, and still speaks at every holy altar the true doctrine, of a faithful love that absolves, sanctifies, and renovates.

Vain is the salvation of man, but the God-man shall bring us to the fortified city of New Jerusalem. God has decreed this salvation in the Holy Place, and no counsel of man shall overturn it. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Trinity 14, 2015

Posted on September 6th, 2015

Wine and wheat and watermelon are good things. All things are good, which is to say, creation is good.

God made the light – and it was good.

God made the waters, and separated them from the dry land – and it was good.

God made the trees, He made the sun, moon, and stars, He made the creatures of the air, the creatures of the water, and the creatures of the land – and it was good.

Finally, He made man. It is not good for the man to be alone, so He made the woman from the man, to be the man’s wife. And it was very good.

Baby ultrasound

Nature is good. Every human life God regards as a good thing. He teaches us in the Psalms to confess, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works” (Ps. 139:13-14).

This is why the Christian Church has been from the beginning pro-life. It’s not a political platform, but a heavenly truth, that God makes life. Every person is valuable to Him, which means you are valuable to Him.

The Christian Church has been from the beginning pro-life.

So we start with this doctrinal truth that nature is good, because God made it; man is good, because God made our first parents in His own image. So flesh is good, because God has clothed us with it.

Why then do we say when we confess our faults, “We are by nature sinful and unclean”? Isn’t our nature good? Here we must distinguish between the nature that God made, and what it has become. We are as fruit that has become rotten, bread that has become stale and moldy, meat that now teams with maggots. It once was good, but now has become loathsome.

God made our race good, but we made it bad. Thus kangaroos give birth to kangaroos, sea otters bring forth sea otters, and sinners bring forth sinners. This is why the Psalms can say both, “You formed me … I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” and at the same time, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

Now you can understand what is raging inside of you: the anger and sadness, the pride and resentment, the ravenous eating and drinking until your stomach hurts, the desire to grab a person’s body in such a way that you possess it and enjoy it for yourself, rather than in the sacrificial bonds of sacred marriage. The more we try to possess the things of this world, the more they possess us. We try to satisfy the desires of the flesh, but they consume us, and we are destroyed.

Material things are not bad; remember, God created them. But the children of Adam have lost the ability to use them wisely, charitably. That’s the way the Word of God often uses the word flesh – the human impulse to seize for ourselves, to make ourselves gods, laws unto ourselves. Today St. Paul shows us what that looks like: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Gal 5:19–21 ESV). He describes here a life lived for the self; thus not only is false worship (“idolatry”) and intimacy outside of the gift of marriage (“sexual immorality”) – not only are these things condemned, but rivalries, divisions, envy, which covers the squabbling of children in the back of the minivan, and the squabbling of their parents at a church voters meeting.

What happens when you continue pursuing your own way? “I warn you,” St. Paul says, “as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21 ESV)

And that’s what these ten lepers in today’s Gospel (Luke 17:11-19) look like. They are a picture for us of life cut off from God and the human community. Their flesh is corrupt and festering, and they stand separated, outside the community of God’s people.

But along comes Jesus. Why is He even there? People who study the maps of ancient Samaria and Galilee express puzzlement at the road Jesus is traveling. It’s not efficient or logical from a traveling standpoint. So they speculate that perhaps Jesus was taking back roads in hopes of avoiding Herod, who wants to kill Jesus just like he killed John the Baptist. Maybe. But what if Jesus has another intention: namely, He is seeking out these people whom everyone else would avoid. Like the Good Samaritan in last week’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t run away from the danger of human violence and sickness, He runs toward it.

Jesus doesn’t run away from the danger of human violence and sickness, He runs toward it.

This is the mission of Jesus, this is why God took on flesh and became our Immanuel, God with us: to be with us in our suffering. Before they can even cry out to Jesus for mercy, He is on the way to give it.

That is who your Jesus is: the One who already knows your need for mercy, the One who knows the sadness in your heart, the disappointment at how life has turned out. When you ache for your child who suffers, this is precisely how God is minded toward you. Thus before we could cry for help, Jesus was already preparing the help we need.

Seeing that he is healed, back then to Jesus comes one of the ten lepers. Jesus says that faith has made him well. Not from the leprosy. All ten lepers were healed. But this one leper is being healed in his humanity, for He sees in Jesus the true human, the true Man who is at the same time God in the flesh.

There’s no bad news to fear, not even death is bad news anymore. For Jesus is risen from the dead.

God made that leper, just as God made you, for a purpose. “The glory of God is a living man,” said St. Irenaeus. He made you to enjoy wine and watermelon and wheat; He made you to laugh and run and sing and go down a slide; He made you to rejoice in marriage and children, music and art, to play with words and sounds, to stack blocks and bricks and make sand castles and skyscrapers, He made you to splash in the water and smile in the sunshine, because He loves you. Nature was made good, flesh was made good, but it has gone horribly wrong.

So God assumes our human nature, becoming man. The flesh of Jesus is nailed to the cross. The flesh of Jesus is whipped and beaten and crowned with the curse. The flesh of Jesus is entombed. And the flesh of Jesus is raised up from the tomb. That which was good but had become loathsome is made new. This Jesus says to you, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

So there’s no bad news to fear, not even death is bad news anymore. For Jesus is risen from the dead. Our faith is in Him who makes dead things alive again, and fills them with His Spirit. That’s who you are now: someone becoming human again, someone beginning to breathe the Spirit’s air. This is what now describes you: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22–23 ESV). Lord Jesus Christ, destroy the evil passions in us, heal our flesh, and send us the Spirit once poured out on Your first disciples. +INJ+

Not Afraid of Bad News: Meditation on Psalm 112

Posted on September 5th, 2015

When you open the mailbox and see there’s a letter addressed to you from the IRS, the pulse quickens, the heart lurches, anxiety rises. When the phone rings at 2:30 a.m., it isn’t good news on the other end. A broken and fallen world means there are many dangers. It’s reasonable to be afraid of bad news.

But that is the same reason that says life has no meaning and death is the conclusion of the matter. Tonight’s Psalm guides us to a different conclusion. Psalm 112 is a companion of our Psalm from last Wednesday, where Ps. 111 gave us this hope: “[The Lord] sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever” (Psa 111:9 ESV). Because this is true, because everything is resolved already in the covenant of the Messiah’s blood, therefore this is what we can say of the blessed man who is brought into God’s covenant: “He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD” (Psa 112:7 ESV).

The Christian does not fear bad news precisely because He trusts in the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, the Lord and giver of life.

Bad news makes me afraid, makes my heart unsteady, when my trust is in my strength, my brains, my energy, my money, my family, my friends. What if all these are taken away? What if a report comes that says your job is eliminated, your cancer is back, your dear one is dead? Christianity is not stoicism, absorbing hardship with unfeeling perseverance. The Christian does not fear bad news, or the power of adversaries, or the terrors of death, precisely because He trusts in the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, the Lord and giver of life who has sanctified our bodies in the waters of Baptism and will bring about their re-genesis on the day of re-creation.

The way of the cross in this life is often dark. Tonight’s Psalm says to us who feel the darkness of evening closing in, “There rises in the darkness Light.” This Psalm points ahead to the Messiah, the Logos who is the true Light, who enlightens the world by His cross and resurrection.

So what does this mean for us? If Light shines in the darkness through Jesus, and we need fear no bad news, then we realize that everything we have—money, time, friendship—is not something to cling to but give away. This is not by way of commandment, but love. Happiness is there, not in clinging to something but in giving it away. For as we heard in last Sunday’s parable, nothing expended is lost. Therefore happy is the man who is generous, who lends, who distributes freely from what God has given him.

Don’t be afraid of bad news. For you have the good news that triumphs over all bad news, the Light no darkness can overcome.

Don’t be afraid, then, of bad news. For you have the good news that triumphs over all bad news, the Light that no darkness can overcome: Jesus is risen from the dead, and He is generous to mankind. Praise the Lord!

Preached at Immanuel, September 2, 2015 Evening Prayer

Talk to each other

Posted on August 31st, 2015

A great place to get BBQ in Alexandria is Sweet Fire Donna’s. They have a sign out front that says, “No Wi-Fi: Talk to each other.” I wish I had seen that before I wrote “The Tyranny of the Present,” my first piece for the LCMS Blog. Here’s a sample:

This obsession over the immediate present often renders us incapable of being present with the ordinary people in our ordinary lives. The pictures on the screens easily seem more attractive than unairbrushed reality. Yet intrinsic to our vocation is to be present where God has placed us. There may be a time for an electronic message, but it ought never be our default. What is important is right in front of us, as Lazarus was thrown at the gate of the rich man (Luke 16:20).

Read the whole thing here.

Sermo Dei: Trinity 13, 2015

Posted on August 30th, 2015

Two days ago, Pastor Eckardt and I stood above the grave of a woman we did not know. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, with the strange sounds you hear at Arlington Cemetery: the calm of all that open space, rare in our area, disturbed by the buzzing of aircraft that whirl around our capital. Nature is growing, humans are busy, but we are surrounded by dead bodies.

arlington national cemetery

“You have seven to eight minutes,” the cemetery official said to me as we prepared to walk to the grave. Now I love Arlington. It embodies—now there’s a loaded word!—it embodies for me everything beautiful about our country: Respect. Honor. Sacrifice. And I love working with military people. They understand liturgy, ritual, and devotion to duty.

But at Arlington, they are on a schedule. There are a lot of bodies to put into the ground. “You have seven to eight minutes.” Move it along. We’ve got a lot of dead bodies, and there’s nothing really we can do but put them into the ground.

“There’s nothing really we can do.” That’s what the Priest was thinking, in the parable of the Good Samaritan we just heard (Luke 10:23-37). “That guy’s in the ditch, and he’s going to die. There’s nothing I can do. If I stick around, the outlaws who attacked this man will do the same to me.” Soon a Levite comes along and thinks the same thing. “It’s so sad, but there’s nothing to be done.”

We’re all just trying to stay alive, which is why we refer to jobs and income as a living. But what we are getting is not a living, but a dying. The man in the ditch is all of us. He is anthrōpos, Adam, humanity, all collectively in the ditch. Every one of those bodies at Arlington, every bone in every graveyard, all are sons and daughters of Adam, the man who fell among thieves. Stripped of his righteousness, he and his wife hid themselves, for they discovered that they were naked and ashamed. The thief who lied to them turned them away from God’s Word. Our first father was wounded, and left for dead.

You feel his wounds in you. Cancer creeping away, but also the times you cry and you don’t even know why. The marriage that isn’t what you hoped, or the marriage that never comes. The children that turn away from you, or the children that never come. And the deepest wounds, the corruption in our souls that rages and is selfish, that wastes the few moments of this brief life on meaningless pursuits. We all want control, everybody wants to rule the world, but soon, so soon, we are thrown into that ditch. And even if strong men with crisp uniforms and polished shoes lower us gently into that ditch, it is still an end, an end to life.

“How can I get eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus. “How can I get a life that does not end?” Jesus points the lawyer back to the Scriptures. “What is written there?” He knows the answer; it’s a basic Bible passage we all should know by heart: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” These words are true and faithful – but the lawyer knows it’s too much, too comprehensive, too total: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind are to be devoted to God – and the same then to your neighbor.

We recognize the goodness of those words – but know that the wounds in us mean we cannot measure up to that standard. Jesus will say elsewhere, “Be perfect.” So the lawyer does what lawyers do: look for loopholes, a way around this problem of human imperfection.

Jesus’ answer is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Is Jesus really just saying to the man, “Try harder”? No, Jesus is talking to this man broken by God’s demands, and He is also talking to us who are likewise broken, broken by the demands of God’s law, and also broken by this world of ditches and graves, evil people, starting with the one inside of me. Jesus tells this story not, first of all, to give us more burdens, but to show us how the burden is lifted away, by Him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which He was betrayed, came down and fell among thieves. They stripped Him of His clothing and wounded Him with whips and knives, thorns and spears. They robed Him in the garments of mockery and derision. Jesus takes His place beside us in the ditch – indeed, He exchanges places with us. We call this the vicarious satisfaction, that He assumes our burden, our sin, our punishment, our death.

Jesus is at once God and man, the saint who takes the place of the sinner, the priest who becomes the victim, and so He who becomes the man in the ditch is simultaneously the Good Samaritan who comes to your rescue.

Those of you who come to individual confession, I know your wounds. When I go to confession, I am terrified to reveal my own wounds to another pastor. But what I get from the pastor, and what your Jesus wishes you to know, is that He is minded to you just as the Good Samaritan was minded to the man in the ditch: He looks at the wounds and He does not say, “He had it coming.” He does not say, “He should have been more careful.” He does not pass by. Jesus looks at your wounds, the decay in your body and the horror in your heart, and He has compassion.

Good Samaritan

Upon you He pours the cleansing oil, the anointing of Holy Baptism. Into you He pours the cleansing wine, the blood of Jesus which purifies us from all sins, the blood of Jesus which gives us a clean conscience. He brings us to His inn, the Holy Church, and He has left for us in this church everything we need. The means of the Spirit are here.

What are we to do with them? Is there something for us to do? Most certainly. Our Jesus, our Good Samaritan has given us the means of the Spirit, the two denarii, and He has given a command: “Take care of him.” Take care of whom? Of us – each one of us, from the pastors to the newly baptized, we all need ongoing care throughout this life, the care that comes from the continued healing of Gospel and Sacraments.

Dead bodies keep rolling into Arlington, but rescued people keep coming here to the holy church. Picture this church as a hospital, where we have doctors, nurses, and patients. We are all sick, and there is a terrible plague outside, and the worst part of it is that so many people don’t realize they are infected or have misdiagnosed their malady. We have work to do, work of being merciful in the world. That’s the “Go and do likewise” that Jesus says.

But it always begins with something we are never done with – remembering we are dead in the ditch without Jesus our Good Samaritan. So nothing you spend, nothing you do in Him is lost or wasted. Your life has meaning in Jesus, who is risen from the dead. He is returning. “Whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” Come Lord Jesus, and be our Good Samaritan still, and make this Church Your place of mercy!