Sermo Dei: The Funeral of Barbara Pauling

Posted on November 26th, 2016

Jesus, Mary, and Martha

November 22, 2016

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

John 10:11-16; 11:21-27


Frederick, dear brother in Christ; Ellen, Steve, Taylor, and Drew; Alyson; Steve and Melissa; and all the saints gathered here this day: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Poor Martha gets a bad rap. She’s remembered mostly for being upset that her sister isn’t helping her with the meal preparations, earning her the gentle rebuke of Jesus, calling her by name twice: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.” Her sister Mary is praised for devoting herself to the teaching of Jesus.

But shortly before today’s Gospel reading about Jesus and Martha, St. John tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Martha gets named, while Mary is just “her sister.” Jesus loves her; and she comes out to meet Jesus, while Mary stays in the house. Mary’s angry at Jesus for not being there when Lazarus died.

Martha’s upset too; but she still speaks with absolute confidence that Jesus will keep His Word and promises. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says to her. “Do you believe this?” “Yes!” she cries.


When I came to Immanuel something confused me. I was pretty sure that the organist was named “Barbara,” but sometimes I’d hear her called “Martha.” And Barbara was always busy, like Martha, toiling away. Sometimes I’d throw Martha into a sermon just as a little shout-out to the lady on the organ bench. She always caught the reference.

But Barbara was also every bit like the Martha described in today’s Gospel: confessing to the end that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is the resurrection and the life.


There are so many things that made Barbara unique and special. But a brief conversation we had on Good Friday in 2003 is among the most memorable to me. We had just read the passage from 2 Cor. 5 on reconciliation:

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

A faithful Christian, Barbara believed whole-heartedly that the death of Jesus is what makes peace between God and man. And along with this, she whole-heartedly wanted all the dear people in her life to live with one another in peace and harmony.


Barbara loved harmony, among people and in music. Adorning a wall in our house is a beautiful piece of art, handmade by Barbara with the most intricate needlework. She spelled out our last name using musical instruments, vines and roses, and various musical symbols. I like it even more now because there’s a piece of her love and thoughtfulness that lives on with us in our home.

I suspect all throughout the country are similar things in other people’s homes, pieces of her self-giving that touched countless lives. Her memory and love lives on.


But there’s something much more important that we need to say. For the Christian hope is not simply that a memory lives on, or in some sense the spirit lives on.

Today we carry a body to the cemetery. Laying the casket in the ground seems so final, so futile and hopeless.

Another casket was carried, long ago. As Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, there’s this small little reference among all the haste and chaos and blood of the passover and flight and pursuing army and parted waters of the Red Sea. “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.” Why? Because dead bones matter to God. He has a plan for them. God did not make Adam to be only a soul, or only a body. Neither did he make Joseph, or Barbara, or you, to be only a soul, or only a body. He made us to be both, joined together. So the bones matter.

The prophet Ezekiel is shown a valley which has become a cemetery. There were no neatly arranged graves, or caskets. He saw in all its horror the death of man. Bones were scattered everywhere. The Spirit asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” “O Lord GOD, You know.” It’s kind of a copout. It’s like Ezekiel is saying, “I think you’re wanting the answer, ‘Yes, they can live,’ but all I see is death. Dead bodies don’t come alive again, bones do not reassemble.”

That’s what we see. But God does more than what we see, or what we think can be. The Word of God speaks over the graveyard:

“‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord.”

Can these bones live? The LORD who made us from nothing answers with a resounding, “Yes!” That’s why Moses took the bones of Joseph up from Egypt with him. God wasn’t done with them yet. Neither is God done with our sister Barbara yet. Neither is He done with you.


Christ is risen, and our sister Barbara shall likewise rise.

That one great truth is what caused Barbara to lead the church in song. She played with vigor, with a tempo that dared you to keep up and a thunder from the balcony that shook the floor all the way up to the front of the church. It all confessed, “Christ is risen!”

Today then, let us not mourn as those who have no hope. Christ is risen, and we sing with the Psalms, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

Christ was crucified, and the words to the thief are true: “This day you will be with Me in paradise.”

Christ died, and in Him is reconciliation. Fulfill then Barbara’s wish, and live in peace with each other.

Christ slept in the grave, and now all the graves of the saints are made holy.

Christ is risen, and Barbara’s song has become ours: “Our Father keeps Immanuel in grace with love and peace. For this we truly thank Him / Our praises never cease.”

Christ is risen, and hell is in uproar!

Christ is risen, and the power of sin is removed.

Christ is risen, and the grave has become the gate which the righteous pass through.

Christ is risen, and even in the face of death the Church cries out: “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

+INJ+

Sermo Dei: Trinity 25, 2016

Posted on November 17th, 2016

The “Abomination of desolation” is an intriguing item in today’s Gospel (Matthew 24:15-28). Listening to America talk this past week, you’d think the Abomination of Desolation is Donald Trump in the White House. Or, that we narrowly avoided it in Hillary Clinton. But America is not Israel or the Church, and the White House is not the Messiah’s palace. So we Christians gather here not to pledge allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, but under the banner of the scarred Christ, in whose stripes we have healing. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.


Jesus is your Lord, which means your citizenship is in heaven. The blessings and duties of that citizenship should be the center of your hope and how you live your life. This does not exempt you from your citizenship here. You have a duty to be a good citizen of the United States of America. Whether you think the president-elect is manifestly unfit for office or someone whose head belongs on Mount Rushmore, you owe him honor and respect because of his office.

St. Paul says, “Render … to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13.7).

Likewise, we have a command to pray for all our leaders: “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence”(1 Tim. 2.1f).

So that’s what we’ll do, regardless of who is in office: we will pray, we will be good citizens, and keep working for the benefit of our neighbors.


But make no mistake: There’s a very different election that matters, and that is the election, the choice on God’s part to save us. Twice in today’s Gospel reading Jesus speaks about the elect, those whom God has chosen to save. All disciples of Jesus will have to undergo suffering. However, Jesus says that even the great tribulation, the great suffering and trauma of world-collapse, will be minimized because of God’s choice to save us, apart from any merit or worthiness in us. “Unless those days were shortened,” Jesus says, “no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”

We dare not imagine politics can save us. Politics, like parenting and policing, are how we try to keep order in a chaotic world. But we Christians know that this world cannot be perfected by better laws or better lawmakers. The entire world is steeped in the corruption of death. And that death is both in you and coming for you. We heard the holy prophet Job say, “Man … is few of days and full of trouble.” Your time as citizen here is short. Your life will be troubled, first because you’re a human being, and second because you are a disciple of Jesus. God’s Word tells us that everyone who wishes to live godly will suffer persecution.

Roman Siege of Jerusalem

Roman Siege of Jerusalem

That trouble in life is what Jesus is preparing His disciples for in today’s Gospel. “Things are going to get bad for you,” Jesus is telling them. He compares the trouble ahead to a terrible event in the Jewish past. In the year 169 BC, the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus IV, “Illustrious”), attacked Jerusalem, and he returned in 167 BC in an attempt to eradicate Judaism. The history book 1 Maccabees gives an account of what Jesus is referring to as the Abomination of Desolation:

Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the 145th year,  they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of whole burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah 55 and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56 The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57 Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of anyone or if anyone adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. (1 Mac 1.54-57)

“That’s how it’s going to be for you,” Jesus is telling His disciples; “There is another time of persecution coming.” The Lord is prophesying about the coming war between the Romans and the Jews, which was fulfilled in AD 67-70, culminating in the destruction of the temple and the burning of Jerusalem.


What does that have to do with us? Well, is the world becoming a hostile place for Christians? Most certainly! Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, such as Syria, are daily being led to the slaughter. Here in America, the persecution is softer and in many ways more deadly. Whether through government actions that have increasingly limited the first amendment freedoms of religion, or through Christians making political victory more important than moral integrity, the core of Christianity has long been in the process of hollowing out.

The truth is, we all want success. We would like more money, more time off, nicer houses, more recognition, and to be accepted and loved by the culture. But you cannot gain those things and be a disciple of Jesus all the way, to the extreme. Better to not be too serious, too radical, too devoted.

All of those little compromises that we make start adding up to something bigger: I like being a citizen of this kingdom more than my heavenly citizenship. Can’t I just pursue pleasure and glory now, and regard the kingdom of God as my retirement plan?

The answer, of course, is absolutely not. But are you ready to live that way? Are you ready to live as a disciple of Jesus now, put the needs of your family ahead of your own? Are you ready to take up your cross and follow Jesus now, completely and totally? Would you go with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace? Would you go with Daniel into the lion’s den? Would you go with Ignatius to the Roman Coliseum, there to be fed to ravenous beasts? Would you go with Stephen to be stoned? Would you go with James to be beheaded?

Will you keep the integrity of your body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, when lust beckons? Will you be devoted completely to your spouse especially when things are tough at home? Will you look at your money as a means to bless church and neighbor? Will you look at your time as something managed by God and not for your own luxury?

When the abomination of desolation comes to the church in our day, will you stand on the Word of God no matter what, or will you compromise?


Enjoy the good gifts God has given you in this life. But get your encouragement, your hope, your joy from the promises of God. This short life gives you death: your own death, and the death of those around you whom you love.


Yet that death the Scriptures insist on calling sleep. Why? Because a sleeper can be awakened. Today the Word of the Lord gives us this great good news: Since “Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” St. Paul then outlines what will happen: “The dead in Christ will rise first.” Then those Christians who are still alive on the last day will meet the Christ the King in an arrival ceremony to inaugurate the new heavens and new earth.

That’s our destiny. That’s the result of our election — not the election we vote in, but the election of us and for us by God. He chose us in Christ, while we were still sinners. He loves the unloveable, makes righteous the sinner, makes alive the dead.


Are you despairing of the situation in this life? Be of good cheer, you are a citizen of the New Jerusalem. Are you overjoyed at your success? Humble yourself before God, lest you be overwhelmed by pride and folly. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on your neighbors who need you. Keep looking for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. You have been elected by God in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is the election that matters. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Psalm 119:105-112 (“Nun”)

Posted on November 9th, 2016

A strange way the Psalm speaks to us. God’s Word is not a light to our eyes, but to our feet and path. Why not the eyes? Because what we see leads us astray. All around we see boasting and pride, despair and death. What we see with our eyes deceives us. But with the ears comes something different, something higher.

Our eyes say, “You will not prevail.” But the Word says, “Christ is risen, He has prevailed.”

Our eyes say, “The wicked triumph.” But the Word says to our ears, “The wicked shall be put to flight.”

Our eyes gaze in the mirror and say to us, “I am imperfect, I am getting older, I shall die, and perhaps alone.” Our ears hear God say to us, “You are never alone, you are My beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Our eyes gaze in the mirror of the Law and say to us, “I am a sinner, and I shall surely be damned.” Our ears hear God say to us, “I forgive you all your sins.”

26_oil_lamp

Thus God’s Word is not a light to our eyes, but a light to the path we go on in the darkness. The world is a darkness of sin to us, but also a darkness of unknowing. We know not what the rest of this night will bring, much less the rest of this year or the rest of our life. But the Word enlightens the feet that travel by faith on God’s path, the Word enlightens the ear that trusts His guiding voice.

And this darkness that blinds our eyes also afflicts our souls. This is especially true of the Christian. Do not think that if you suffer this means you are cursed by God. The very opposite may well be the case. In tonight’s Psalm, God’s Word teaches us to sing, “I am severely afflicted.” This word afflicted covers so very much. It can mean to be humbled, like in losing a contest; or it can mean to be depressed, filled with sadness; it can mean to be put into chains as a slave or in prison.

So the sadness you feel, the experience of trouble or bondage – this comes upon the servants of God to work upon them a heart open to His grace, a heart that finds God alone as mercy and strength.

This affliction that the Christian confesses is an affliction Christ Himself experienced. Holy Isaiah says that the Messiah “was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.”

The life that you want, you need to stop expecting. God gives you the life He wants, to shape you to be His woman, His man, a receptacle for His grace and a distributor of His mercy to those whom God has placed in your path as neighbor.

The life you need is not the life found in the ideal house or spouse, the ideal work or social life. The Life God gives is much bigger than all these. “I am severely afflicted,” the Psalmist says; “I am severely afflicted,” you say; “give me life, O LORD, according to Your Word.” 

This short life ends in a vanishing breath. “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless,” says Solomon the wise. Life is not found in an abundance of riches or pleasures. Life unto the ages is the Life God’s Word gives.

So rejoice and be glad, you afflicted ones, for blessed are you. In your affliction, in your sorrow, in your depression, in your humiliation, God is creating a home for His life. And this life shall carry you far beyond these vanities into the resurrection kingdom of the City built by God.

Sermo Dei: Reformation 2016

Posted on October 30th, 2016

The ghosts that haunt us are not the ones hanging from trees around our neighborhoods every October. We have our own Dickensian specters, the wraiths in our minds poking at our memories, haunting us with past abuse, wrong decisions, deeds that seemed pleasant but are now recognized as worthless, destructive, evil.

A conscience not yet entirely seared is haunted by past sins. Worst are the besetting sins, the sins we return to like comfort food. These ghosts that haunt us whisper, “You will never change. You are my captive, and we will continue on this path that leads to destruction.” We grow to love our captors. The world is deep in the throes of Stockholm Syndrome. Are you in danger of joining them in this strong delusion?


Martin Luther was a monk haunted by such ghosts – or we could say demons. The demons beguile and seduce, then guide us to self-justification. “You’re not so bad,” they whisper. “Certainly you’re better than that fool over there. Look at him! Pompous jerk. He doesn’t work, not like I do. Look at her! She gossips and preens, acts like she’s the queen. Thank God I am not like them.”

Such are we. Luther was different. Luther had many sins, but self-justification was not one of them. The ghosts that haunted him did the opposite. With Luther they took up the chief work of Lucifer, the work of accusation. As he advanced from monk to priest to doctor of theology and professor, he saw that he could not advance in the Christian life to the degree demanded by God. For God’s law demands perfection, and the medieval church had developed elaborate systems for achieving that perfection through the payment of money and the performance of church-created works not instituted by God.

The doctrine of Justification still matters.

It’s hard for us to imagine the degree of bondage Luther experienced through God’s Law and the pope’s demands. For our age has the opposite problem. Everything has become free, and our age demands everything be free. Free love, free healthcare, free prophylactics, free education. When a politician comes along saying there will be a reckoning, we will have to pay for the life we’ve chosen, he or she never stands a chance. With similar scorn, the church of the Lutheran Confession still stands today to say the same thing theologically, even to a decadent, hedonistic age: “There will be a reckoning. Your sins cost something. They must be dealt with.” So the doctrine of justification—the teaching that only in the death of Jesus is there a proper reckoning, a full payment—still matters.

220px-lutherrose

Here too we find ghosts that haunt us. “Luther was an anti-semite!” the accusers cry; “He was the precursor to the holocaust!” “Luther tore the church apart!” “You Lutherans worship a man, a tradition, a German heritage. You are too conservative, too exclusive, too narrow-minded.”

The content of the Faith is what matters, not the messenger or his culture.

But the churches of the Lutheran Confession thriving in Africa know little of a Germanic culture or European problems, other than they know that it’s the Europeans who are now evangelizing them with the Gospel of Hedonism and Sexual Revolution. They recognize what we must recognize: that the content of the Faith is what matters, not the messenger or his culture. This is why the famous statues of Martin Luther show him holding up the Scriptures, and the famous painting of Cranach has him off to the side, pointing to Jesus in the center.

cranach-wittenberg-altarpiece

Confront the ghosts that haunt you with that same finger point to Jesus. Confront the ghosts that haunt you with the Words of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit drives away every demon with this declaration: “Jesus Christ, your God and Lord, died for your sins and was raised again for your justification.” The Holy Spirit scatters every specter with the cry, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

So when the ghosts haunt you of your worthlessness, say, “What of it? Yes, I am worthless, but worthy is the Lamb who was slain. In Him is all my worth, for He has made Himself my Brother, and I am now God’s beloved child. In me—even me!—He is well pleased.”

When the ghosts haunt you about your guilt, say, “True, I have fallen many times! But my Lord Jesus comes for me as a Good Shepherd seeking out His lost sheep, and even now He is carrying me home on the same shoulders that hung upon the cross.”

When the ghosts haunt you regarding your corrupt nature, with its eating disorders and lusts and addictions, and finally your broken, cancer-ridden, oozing body, reply with all boldness, “True, I am sick in mind and soul and body, but by His stripes I am healed; Jesus gives His living body to my dying body, and He will grant me to eat of the Tree of Life, which is for the healing of the nations.”


This Reformation is ongoing in our lives, and it will continue in the Church until the end of the world. With Luther and all Christians we will continue to confess. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord; I believe that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” Scatter the specters with Scripture’s teaching: “Yes, I have fallen short of the glory of God, but I am justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Put to flight every ghost that haunts you with these sure and certain words: “Into Jesus I have been baptized, a baptism which now saves me. He gives me His true body and true blood to eat and drink, which gives me life. In Christ will I live, in Christ will I die, and His will I be forever.” +INJ+

Sermo Dei: The Marriage of Jonathan Scheck and Cari Geyer

Posted on October 24th, 2016

Pastor Esget and Pastor Scheck, ordained June 19 at Immanuel

Pastor Esget and Pastor Scheck, ordained June 19 at Immanuel

October 21, 2016

Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Apostles, Melrose Park, IL


Dear Saints loved by God, bride of the mystical bridegroom, our Lord JESUS Christ,

It was not good for Jonathan to be alone. So the Lord prepared for Jonathan a helper suitable for him.

To you, Jonathan, God gives Cari as bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. Many gifts we receive and enjoy for ourselves. But in the gift of marriage comes the call to donate yourself, open up to and sacrifice yourself for the needs of your nearest neighbor.

We heard how Adam’s side was opened up, in a sleep like unto death. His rib became the constitutive element of the woman, signifying that the husband guards and protects her in the same way that the ribs shelter our vital organs. The LORD did not make her from the man’s head, lest she seek to rule over him. Neither did He make her from the man’s foot, lest he imagine that she is someone to be trampled upon. No, He made the woman from the man’s side to teach him to keep her always by his side as close companion.

But because of the hardness of your heart, the Lord JESUS says, you will not want to do this. The sinful nature makes us selfish creatures who prefer being served to serving, who prefer being loved to loving, who prefer receiving gifts to sacrificing ourselves.


Cari, you have the greater challenge ahead. Being a pastor’s wife is a challenging calling. It is often more difficult than being a pastor, because the calling of the pastor’s wife is hidden, confusing, and lonely. You go to live in a new place as a new wife without a support structure that most people have. Jonathan has a role to play, work to throw himself into: He is the shepherd of Oswego, the parson of Parsons – and who are you? What do they expect of you? Must you be on the altar guild? Are you expected to make something for a particular function? Will people judge you by what you wear, how your house looks, and a thousand other things, expectations they have of you that you never know about until it’s too late?

Cari, don’t take all the drama so seriously, and don’t worry too much about it. The best thing you can do, the one calling you have, is to be Jonathan’s wife, and as God grants it, the mother of your children. With that, there is enough work to do. If you want to do something in the church, join something, volunteer something, do it freely because you want to. Love your husband and live like a disciple of Jesus. If people see that, they will love you for you.


Jonathan, being a pastor is all-consuming. The work is never, ever done. You should work hard, and be prepared to work at any hour of any day. However, being husband to Cari is a greater calling than being pastor to your congregations. If you don’t take care of her, you won’t be able to take care of your congregations. So when she’s sick, when she’s lonely, when she’s sad, when she’s angry, stop what you’re doing and take care of her. If you learn how to love your wife, you’ll learn also how to be a pastor. You can see that implied in the reading from Ephesians.

And speaking of that, there’s a mistake in the service folder. Well, it’s not in the folder so much as it is in the Bible. Well, not the Bible either, but just our translations of it. We pick up reading in Ephesians 5 at verse 22, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Right above those words in our English Bibles is a heading, usually something like, “Teaching on Marriage.” It’s hard to make a bigger mistake than that. It leaves out the preceding verse, where the idea of submission is introduced: All Christians, St. Paul says, are to live like this: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That’s the setup for wives submitting to husbands, so if we read it together, the way St. Paul wrote it, it goes like this: ‘Dear saints of God, give thanks always, ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands, as to the Lord…’” So the wife has a unique calling to submit to her husband flowing from the general calling that all Christians have to be submissive to each other.

The man who says, “The problem here is that she just won’t submit!” misses the larger point that the husband submits also. He submits himself to the needs of his wife by sacrificing for her, giving up for her. We all have different roles, different offices, but the same general command applies to us all: submit to one another.


This ties in with another missing Bible verse, this time from Genesis 2. The rite stops with v24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It stops just before it gets interesting! The last verse of the chapter reads, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

I suppose we skip that because we don’t want to talk about getting naked in church. But it means much more than the physical intimacy between husband and wife, which the marriage rite calls “finding joy and delight in one another.” The nakedness between our first parents before the fall was a complete openness. Nothing hidden, nothing withheld. No deception, no manipulation. We fear that if someone really knows us, really knows who we are, what we think, how we fell, we won’t be loved, we won’t be accepted. We’ll be put to shame. After this, throughout the Scriptures, nakedness and shame run together. The first thing our first parents did after setting aside the Word of God was to try to cover themselves. They hid both from God and each other. Still today, we hide our sins and seek to justify our actions.

The calling in holy marriage is to be naked and without shame, to be completely open, entirely honest, with a heart that forgives and forgets. You will fail in that, every day. Every day start anew, by looking to the heavenly Bridegroom.

For He who hung naked upon the cross was put to shame for you. And behold, like Adam, the side of the Second Adam opened up. The centurion thrust His spear, and the side of Christ was opened, pouring forth blood and water. This is the new genesis, the re-creation of man, and the life of your marriage. This is what a bridegroom does: the husband dies for the very bride who crowns Him with thorns and affixes Him upon a cross. Jonathan and Cari: in this Bridegroom is the life of your marriage. In Him will you live, in Him will you die, and His will you be forever.

Sermo Dei: Trinity 21, 2016

Posted on October 21st, 2016

Why does God treat us this way? Why does He wait and wait? Why does He seem so distant?

For all the tender depictions of Jesus—welcoming a child, or gently cuddling a lamb—the picture we get from the Gospels is a Jesus who is aloof, austere, uncaring, unfeeling. He tells people off and turns over tables. Today’s gospel (John 4:46-54)  takes place in Cana. The last time He was there, His own mother came to Him with a problem, and Jesus replies, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?” A woman with a sick daughter begs Jesus to help, and first he doesn’t answer her, then He calls her a dog. When He hears that Lazarus is sick, Jesus is in no hurry at all.

So today. A nobleman comes to Jesus. His little boy has a fever, and it isn’t breaking. He’s going to die. His father has traveled about eighteen miles over rough terrain; it would take more than a day to make this trip. All the while you know he’s sad, anxious, angry, worried. He’s desperate.


I think you know how this father feels. If not this particular situation before, you’ve been desperate. Perhaps today you are desperate about something. Some part of life has overwhelmed you: you are lonely; caring for your children is simply too much to manage; lust fills you, you act on it, followed by disgust and self-loathing; your back or your knees give off a searing pain that makes you just want to quit.

And perhaps, when things get really bad, you finally start to pray. And you can pray and pray for weeks and months and years with no answer. Total silence from a God who seems to mock you, taunt you, maybe hate you.

So does Jesus appear to this anxious, desperate father. But in the nobleman’s trouble, then the rebuke, and then the long uncertain journey home, we find out there is a purpose to the Lord’s austerity. Jesus is not holding out on giving the nobleman what he asks for—He intends to give him something far greater.

The nobleman has come because he wanted his little boy saved. He has a certain amount of faith – at least a hope that Jesus can save his child from death. Although he begs Jesus to come to his home, Jesus refuses. Why? By sending the man home with only a word, a word of promise, the man comes to see and receive something far greater than his child’s life.

The nobleman left Cana with just the word, “Your son lives.” What exactly does that mean? Jesus does not say to him, “Your son will live,” or “Your son will not die.” Just, “Your son lives.” That’s all he has to go on. He believes it, but there is clearly something imperfect about the belief. But when the nobleman meets his servants on the way back, they tell him that the fire, the fever has left his little boy; he lives! Learning the fever broke at the same time that Jesus had given him the Word, now we find a reiteration and intensification of belief. “And he himself believed, and his whole household.” This goes beyond just belief that the boy would be healed. The man and his whole family become disciples of Jesus.

You see, Jesus never wanted just the healing of the boy. He wanted the healing of the family. The purpose and mission of Jesus is to do something more than give some improvement in people’s health or happiness for a time. He has come to overturn the entire order of the world.


What do we see among the world’s rulers? Lies and deception, greed and corruption, sexual depravity, endless war. Jesus called that nobleman, probably a member of King Herod’s court, to a very different kind of life. A life that would turn away from the decadence of Herod to discipleship following Christ.

What needs to change in your life? What decadence and decay needs to be overturned? We can learn much from the nobleman. His new discipleship he immediately passed on to his family. Yesterday Eric and Julie Hutchins’s son Ryan was baptized into Christ, and today we saw Stephen and Sajini Gundry’s daughter Samantha joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s the most important responsibility parents have: to bring their children to Jesus, and train them up in His Word.

And that training involves hardship, for all disciples must undergo discipline. We are disciplined by the Lord, we are chastised and taught patience and not given what we want when we want it because the Lord has something far greater for us than immediate gratification.

The answer to your prayers – a healing, a spouse, a job, a child – is not the ultimate thing, and may be the opposite of what you need. The healed person still dies. What Jesus gives is not a respite from death but its ultimate overturning. He promises not a few more years but resurrection.

The healing that you most need is the healing of your soul from its anger, lust, dissatisfaction, selfishness, and pride. Today’s epistle reminds us that we are in a war, not with the other political party, or with Syria, Iran, or Russia: we are in a war with the devil and our own corrupt flesh.

Today you leave here with the same thing the nobleman got: a Word from Jesus. I have nothing else to offer you. I cannot promise you things will get better. But you have something far better than anything money or power can obtain. The Word Jesus send you home with, the Word Jesus sends you down the uncertain road with contains a better certainty: “In baptism you are joined to My death, and also My resurrection. My body is yours in this Eucharist, and My blood is your life. All other food you consume, but this food consumes you, your soul into righteousness, your body into immortality. Leave with Me your desperation, your anxiety, your uncertainty, and go home with this Word in your pocket: Fear not; I have redeemed you.” +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: Trinity 20, 2016

Posted on October 17th, 2016

The sexual revolution was underway. So was the British Invasion, when bands from the UK changed America forever. The Beatles were on their second U.S. tour, visiting the old Met Stadium in Minnesota, where the Dodgers would play the Twins in the World Series that same year. The Vietnam War was escalating. My parents were married that year, 1965. And at this extraordinary time of change, those great poet-philosophers Richards and Jagger articulated the cry of all humanity since the fall of Adam: “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

It wasn’t just about, to use the Rolling Stones’ lexicon, “girl reaction.” The iconic song indicates dissatisfaction with the lies peddled from the radio and television, the false promises of the advertisers. But even more, success itself doesn’t satisfy. The Stones are “ridin’ round the world,” “doin’ this and signing that,” presumably signing autographs and contracts. No matter how successful one becomes, no matter how many lusts seem to be fulfilled, satisfaction remains elusive.


Despite the remarkable changes, in the ’60’s and today, nothing has really changed. Or to use the Scriptural language, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The prophet Isaiah spoke to his day, and says the same to us: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Is 55.2)

Satisfaction at its simplest means having enough food. After you’ve eaten, you are full – but fullness starts to mean more. A man in full, a full life, fulfillment – all circle around the idea of reaching your goals, having your desires, finding meaning in your relationships, then having a legacy, something to pass on to your children.

So, are you satisfied? Are you satisfied with:

  • Your work?
  • Your health?
  • Your house?
  • Your family?
  • Your self?

Why not? Today the Lord says to you, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” You can advance in your career, but it will not be enough. You can exercise more, and eat better, but you will still be consumed by the grave. The next place to live in will not be good enough. Your family will always be in trouble, because that is the nature of a sinful world. You are not going to find satisfaction in any of your pursuits, by themselves. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

The things that tempt you are empty promises. When you indulge your lusts, meditate on your fantasies, give in to your anger, take the next drink you know is too much, take the next bite you know will lead to regret and self-hatred, you are contributing to your own downfall. But this is not just about getting more self-control, even though that is a Scriptural virtue. My friend Garrett Kell, pastor at Del Ray Baptist up the road, put it well: “Temptations always show you the path of pleasure, but never show you the destination of death.” Your search for satisfaction doesn’t just end in disappointment, it ends in judgment, death, hell.


You were created to be satisfied in God alone. Only then can you receive the created things as gifts to be enjoyed from the one who satisfies you. Repent of seeking satisfaction from created things rather than the Creator. Repent of making satisfaction your god. Repent of making your own satisfaction the center of your world. You were created to be satisfied in God alone, and all of your dissatisfaction has been driving you to this wonderful place of emptiness before God who alone can help you. Precisely where you confess your hunger and thirst, your emptiness and dissatisfaction – at that place you can be filled and satisfied by what God has to give you.

Come, everyone who thirsts, 

come to the waters; 

and he who has no money, 

come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk 

without money and without price.

The price has been paid by your Lord Jesus. He made Himself the friend of the dissatisfied, the poor, those who had wasted their lives pursuing pleasure in all the wrong places. For you Jesus made Himself empty. For you Jesus made Himself hungry and thirsty, cold and homeless, abandoned by friends, even forsaken by His Father. He paid the price by His innocent suffering and death. The Law has been satisfied, your guilt for sin has been satisfied, God’s wrath has been satisfied. The Lord is no longer angry with you. You have no shame, for it has been taken away. You have nothing more written against you, for it has been wiped clean. There are no recordings that will come out to disgrace you, for you are declared righteous by Jesus. In Him alone can you be satisfied.

So:

Come, everyone who thirsts, 

come to the waters; 

and he who has no money, 

come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk 

without money and without price.

These words are expounded upon by your Lord Jesus who said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink, he who believes in Me. As the Scripture has said, Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37f)

Spear Thrust Crucifixion Fra Angelico

This was fulfilled when the spear was thrust into the side of Christ. His heart was opened, and blood and water flowed forth. As the first man’s side was opened up to give life to our mother Eve, so Christ the second Adam’s side was opened to give life to His bride the Church. Your life, your salvation, your satisfaction is found in the water that flows into the font, the blood that flows into the Sacrament of the Altar.

You cannot buy the Sacramental gifts; these gifts flow freely from the Host of the banquet.

Perhaps you say, “I have sinned too greatly, too frequently. I am utterly corrupt within. Although I hide it from others, I know it is not hidden from God.” Mark well this Word from God:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, 

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 

so are my ways higher than your ways 

and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55.8f)

This doesn’t mean God’s ways are generally mysterious. It is dealing with how we find life and not death, righteousness and not judgment. Our ways are how the world values things: who has earned the most, who is famous, who is beautiful, who is perfect. Also in religion we are looking for who is righteous, or who has the best personal story, and the pastor who is most eloquent, or funny, or inspiring, or handsome.

God’s ways are entirely different. He calls the poor, the lame, the outcast, the despised to His table. To you who despair of your salvation, to you who say, “I am too sinful, too weak, I have not done enough, given enough, prayed enough” – the Lord replies, “My way is free. Come to Me. Behold My outstretched arms, behold My bleeding side, behold the crown of thorns I wear for you. Your curse is on My head, your curse is why I became dead, but My life, My righteousness, My wine and milk I give to you without price.”

So run, dear child of God, to this table the Lord has prepared for you. His arms are outstretched still, and freely He gives to you the only thing that can satisfy. +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: Trinity 17, 2016

Posted on September 19th, 2016

Duccio, Healing of the Blind Man

Duccio, Healing of the Blind Man

Luke 14:1-11

September 18, 2016

Baptism of Adam James Winterstein


Adam James. What a wonderful name for a boy. The middle name was an especially brilliant choice. But Adam connects us right with the father of the human race, the first formed.

He fell. And like the donkey fallen in the pit in today’s Gospel, God’s interest is in raising Adam up, rescuing humanity from the pit, the grave, the darkness.

That’s why we bring Adam, and all our little ones, right away to the font. In the New Testament, the first Christians on the day of Pentecost were told that Baptism’s gifts—forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit—were not for them alone, but for their children, and ultimately for the world. Thus when a man was baptized in the book of Acts, his whole household was baptized.

Did you know that infant baptism was never questioned for the first fifteen centuries of Christianity? Baptism is a beautiful sacrament showing how God takes the helpless one and helps; He takes the lowest and exalts him; He rescues the one fallen in the pit.

This is the meaning of the Sabbath. The first Sabbath, God rested because His creation was complete, beautiful, good. Every Sabbath thereafter exists because man is corrupted by death, filled with fear, dominated by disordered desires.


There’s a theological term for those disordered desires – concupiscence. It’s worth exploring for a bit, because concupiscence is what’s wrong with you – and me. Some books define concupiscence merely as lust, but that concept has become very narrow in our decadent society. Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explains it: “The inordinate desire for temporal ends which has its seat in the senses” (p396). Let’s expand that out: Our desires are inordinate, meaning our desires are excessive, disproportionate, and they are for temporal things—right now—that gratify the senses: tasting, touching, seeing, hearing, smelling. Turned in on ourselves, we pursue what we want, not what is good for others and pleasing to God. We measure everything by how it serves us.

So eating is good, but we eat too much of the wrong things. Drinking is good, but you may take too much, which clouds the mind and destroys the body. You know how easy it is to fall prey to other physical desires. We’ve seen a tremendous rise in disordered desires related to physical attraction, orientation, and so-called gender dysphoria.

Confronting this as Christians, we must first of all recognize the disordered desires within us. Pornography, wandering eyes, inappropriate activity before and outside of marriage—all break the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” Do you remember the Catechism explanation? Open up your hymnbook to p321; it’s important to have the Catechism memorized. Let’s say it together: What is the Sixth Commandment? You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. (Keep it open, we’re coming back.)

Disordered desires are not to be embraced and celebrated, but confessed and crucified.

As we meet others with disordered desires, we first acknowledge our own, and our need for repentance. The answer we give to others is the same as ourselves: disordered desires are not to be embraced and celebrated, but confessed and then crucified. The Word of God says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). And again, “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5.24). And finally, St. Paul says “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Cor. 9:27). We all have disordered desires, which is why we all confess our sins, each one of us, when we gather together as the disciples of Jesus.


And this is why He commands us to come, this is the meaning of the Sabbath. St. Ambrose said about the Lord’s Supper, “Because I always sin, I always need the medicine.” The men watching Jesus carefully in today’s Gospel are waiting to see if Jesus will do work on the Sabbath, with healing being considered work. He highlights their hypocrisy, because they would help an animal if it was hurt. Is it wrong, then, to help a man?

This is why the Lord Jesus became man: to help Adam, and all his fallen sons and daughters. Jesus heals the man, for the Sabbath was for man to stop his work and receive the work of God.

Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath perfectly by resting in the tomb.

There is no more law regarding the Sabbath for Christians. It’s part of the entire ceremonial law done away with. Just as there are no more sacrifices of animals, or dietary restrictions, or keeping of Jewish festivals, so there is no more Sabbath. The earliest Christians, themselves Jews, established a new pattern, which has continued unbroken among Christians to the present day: We worship on the first day of the week, which they called the Lord’s Day, in honor of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.

Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath perfectly by resting in the tomb after His crucifixion. Risen from the dead, we gather each week on that day to celebrate His resurrection and ask for His healing among us.


We all still struggle with disordered desires. When we are baptized, the guilt of sin is taken away, but the effects remain. Those effects, the selfish and distorted impulses in us, and the death creeping in our nature, we call the old Adam. So Adam James is freed today of the guilt of the Old Adam, but still has the effects of the Old Adam, for which we pray God gives Jonathan and Katie strength to train and discipline him.

Look then at the Small Catechism on the Third Commandment (again, p321). What is the Third Commandment? Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. You see nothing about a day there, but the entire focus is on the Word of God.

“Take away my disordered desires, and give me a new heart.”

That Word does two chief things: It condemns all your disordered desires, and the ways you’ve acted on them. It calls you to repentance, to turn in sorrow from your selfish life and lusts. And then, we hear another Word, the Word of Jesus who heals on the Sabbath, who rescues a fallen donkey, a fallen man. Not everything is healed yet, although that is our prayer and our deepest desire. The Christian says, “Take away my concupiscence, take away my lust, my pride, my anger. Give me a new heart.”

Your Lord is working this in you, and He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: IC Chapel Service

Posted on September 19th, 2016

250px-Tree_of_Knowledge

Matthew 6:24-34

LCMS International Center Chapel

Matins, September 9, 2016


In the beginning, “What shall we eat?” was a question answered by God: “All these trees are food for you.” “What shall we wear?” was a question unconsidered. For the man and his wife were naked and without shame. They had nothing to hide, from each other or God; no impure thought or desire entered their minds. Clothes protect us from cold and frost, sun and wind, the teeth and venom of insects and animals. But our first parents had no need for such protection. They played as children, without care, without anxiety.

Then they set aside the Word of God, and the questions, “What shall we eat?” and “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” became all-consuming. Anxieties about the most basic things in life undergird all our other worries, from the great waves buffeting the church to the troubles our children face. Uncertain that God cares or hears, we are held in bondage by our fears.

Bo Giertz said: “No man can avoid anxieties. It is a matter of knowing how to manage them.” That sounds like a peaceful life is just a matter of the right technique.

You can find some relief in what you do: meditation or medication, exercise and proper rest. But the fundamental human anxieties revealed by those questions, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” still remain. They deal with death – keeping yourself alive through food and money. And they deal with shame – covering yourself in the hour of accusation. And underlying death and shame is the sin that drives it all, not just this or that sin, but the cosmic sin of a world curved in on itself and rejecting her creator.

Our age believes itself dwelling in an ungoverned cosmos, without meaning or morals. That’s the deeper anxiety which the philosophy masquerading as science has unleashed upon the modern world.


Today the Lord Jesus calls you back to this truth: You prodigals have a Father, who longs for your return home. The crippling anxiety of the prodigal becomes a gift driving him back home, to the Father who loves him still.

That’s what Giertz was getting at when he said, “No man can avoid anxieties. It is a matter of knowing how to manage them.” He continues:

If we try to have God alongside of all else, then we become captive to our anxieties. We cannot have God simply as some extra aid that sometimes will break in and put things in order as for instance when our health fails or our affairs are tangled up.

Managing our anxieties means handing them over to the Manager, the One who invites us to cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.


Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord demands absolute obedience: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” He exposes our hypocrisy. Have you gazed lustfully at a woman? You are the adulterer. God sees. He knows. Have you said in your heart, “He is a fool” – perhaps already this morning in your first meeting? You are the hypocrite, judged by your own words. Your righteousness is not enough. “You must be perfect,” concludes the Lord.

But then Jesus couples “Be not anxious,” with this extraordinary word: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” This seeking means abandoning trust in yourself, in your righteousness. His righteousness is a gift, the gift of Jesus Himself. His righteousness is your justification, His passion is your perfection.

Now the Lord JESUS says to you, “All those things that cause you anxiety, stemming from your sin? Behold, I have taken away your sin. All that makes you worry, the things of death? Behold, I have died your death. Those dark deeds you worry will be exposed? Behold, I clothe you with My righteousness.”

“Therefore do not worry about what you will eat,” says your Lord; “for I feed you with the finest of wheat. Do not worry about what you will drink,” says your Lord, “for I give you wine and milk without money and without price. And do not worry about what you will wear, for I have worn your flesh and taken it into death. You will wear My flesh in the resurrection. You shall not die but live, and rejoice in what I have made.”

Therefore do not worry! +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: Trinity 15, 2016

Posted on September 6th, 2016

Jesus icon mosaic

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

September 4, 2016

Matthew 6.24-34


Worship doesn’t only happen in church. Everything is worship, service, attachment. Go to a football stadium, and you will see throngs of worshippers. As a Christian wears a cross, so the worshippers at the stadium are clad in expensive garments bearing the symbols of their gods. There is a liturgy, with a hymn for the local gods and an anthem of allegiance to the civil religion.

I don’t mean to pick on football. Worship, service, attachment are everywhere. Actors, musicians, politicians all have their names chanted, and receive offerings.

Our phones have become objects of worship. We must always be touching them, always staring at them. Forget it at home, and there is a crisis. And within that cult, there are competing denominations, Apple and Google.

All of the other things we worship—a person’s devotion to the increase of his investment portfolio, or the achievement of her dream; devotion to sex or celebrity, a political win or indulging in sin—it all gets wrapped up in the Scriptural term mammon. It’s not only money, as it’s often translated, but anything we become attached to.

“You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus says. Those are the only two options: God, or worldly attachments.

The problem with attachments is we worry about them, worry we will become detached, that we will lose the object of our desire. That’s at the heart of anxiety.


An old book of Hebrew wisdom says, “Jealousy and anger shorten days, and anxiety brings old age before the proper time.” (Sirach 30:24, LES) Anxiety ages you; you can see it in the hair, the face, the gut.

In the Bible, the opposite of anxiety is the Greek term hēdonē, hedonism, or pleasures. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus puts these opposites side by side, showing how they both can destroy you. “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” (Luke 8:14, NKJV) If you devote your life to pleasures (hedonism), it will choke you, and you won’t come to maturity. The exact same thing happens by worry. Anxiety also chokes you, and you don’t come to maturity.

People have always worried. One of the first places it shows up in ancient literature is with children. You are charged with the care of a child, and you are kept awake by those cares.

A book from the third century BC, Sirach, describes all the worry a Jewish father has about his daughter.

“A daughter is hidden sleeplessness to a father, and anxiety over her drives away sleep; in her youth, lest she become past her prime; or married, lest she be hated; in maidenhood, lest she be defiled, and she become pregnant in her father’s house; when with a husband, lest she transgress; and married, lest she be barren.” (Sirach 42:9–10, LES)

Note again the connection between anxiety and insomnia. And what’s he worried about? When she’s little, he worries she won’t get married; when she’s married, he worries she’ll have a cruel husband. He worries she’ll get pregnant before she’s married, or that she won’t get pregnant once she is. In other words, every single situation causes him to worry. He’s always worried! And that’s how we can become about everything.

There’s only one real antidote: commend all of it, all the worry, all the anxiety, into God’s hands.

“[Cast] all your care upon Him,” St. Peter says, “for He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5.7)  The Lord calls us to pray because He wants to take our burdens from us. He will stay awake with them, and give to you, His beloved, sleep.

The words of St. Paul cannot be repeated often enough:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7, NKJV)


Much of what you worry about is legitimate: Whether it’s your child’s first day of school or first week away at college, your thoughts are naturally with him. How you’ll pay your bills, your lack of a spouse or your lack of harmony with the one you have, your sciatic pain or your feeling of shame – these are things that concern everyone who faces them.

But knowing you have a Father who does indeed care for you, knowing you have a Redeemer who is risen from the dead, knowing you have the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Advocate – this creates an entirely different view to the situation.

God doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, everything will turn out fine.” It might not. The doctor’s diagnosis might be deadly accurate. Your problems might get worse, not better. Putting your problems before God doesn’t guarantee a better earthly outcome.

But putting your problems, your worries and fears before God will liberate you from the crippling anxiety because you are coming to know that He gives us what we need, and He knows what we need better than we do.

The child screams and demands satisfaction immediately; the Father says, “Be patient, little one, I’m preparing something better just for you.”

Our worries mean we’ve forgotten what our Father said; we’ve stopped remembering for awhile that God cares for us and will take care of us.

We can be worried about the future of our congregation, or the financing of our building project, or what the new school year will look like, or what the future holds for your company, or what will happen in the election, whether you will find a spouse, or improve the relationship with the one you have. All these are worries that we as Christians must commend into God’s hands. He will care for us.


What is given to us to do is to work the things within our domain: change the diaper, cook the meal, follow the teacher’s guidance, support what is good, turn away from what is evil, or worthless. Ora et labora – “pray and work.”

Yet this does not mean that, in matters of life and death, in matters of salvation, that we pray for God to do His part, and work to do our part. No, a key concept here is that everything ultimately rests on work already done outside of ourselves.

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Near the beginning, Jesus says that unless our righteousness is greater than the Scribes and Pharisees – that is, unless our moral and spiritual life is better than the very best people – we will by no means enter the kingdom of God.

Then in today’s Gospel Jesus says, after telling us not to worry, that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Our righteousness is never enough. The righteousness of God is what is all-sufficient for us. That righteousness is in the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus. If you have that, you have everything. You can lose nothing.


Which means, if you have the forgiveness of sins, the promise of the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come, than what are you worrying about? Seriously. What are you worrying about? All our worries are like being anxious for the prick of the needle that is about to put an inoculation into us, or the antidote to some deadly poison.

Many things are painful in this life, horribly so. The holy Christian faith is not about saying those things aren’t real, that they don’t hurt. Of course they do. But the Lord Jesus is risen from the dead. When we worry, it’s because we’ve forgotten that. Death has lost its power over us. When we have anxiety, it’s because we’ve forgotten that. The evil one has been defeated, and his time is short. When we despair, it’s because we’ve forgotten that.


But now Christ is risen, and you need not worry.

The gates of hell shall not prevail, and you need have no anxiety.

You and your children are baptized. Believe what God says about that, and do not despair.

Do your work, care for your children, love your neighbor, confess your sins, and at the end of the day put all of your troubles into God’s hands. And when you awake, even awake from the sleep of death, you will say with the Lord Jesus the words of Psalm 139:18, “I awake, and I am still with You.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will never abandon you. Therefore, do not worry! +INJ+