Sermo Dei: Exaudi 2017

Posted on May 29th, 2017

He’s worried, the man who wrote our opening Psalm. “Hear, O Lord,” means, “Are you listening?” He seeks the Lord’s face – yet begs, “Hide not your face from me.” Why is He not listening? Why does His face appear hidden?

ISIS blows up children in Manchester; Coptic Christians are gunned down in Egypt’s desert. Did the Lord not hear them? Why does His face appear hidden?

There you stand, at the grave of your wife. There you stumble, at the difficult moments of your life. There you weep, as your child struggles and suffers. There you sigh, as no companion materializes for you. Did the Lord not hear you? Why does His face appear hidden?

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Is this unwavering confidence? Or is it encouragement in the midst of fear?

A cross has been prepared for you. “Deny yourself,” Jesus said. “Take up your cross, and follow Me.” Do you want to? Following Jesus means death. Death to yourself, death to your desires. Would you follow the Crucified One? You won’t find an easy victory. “The end of all things is at hand.” “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you.” “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”

What are we supposed to do in that situation? There are two natural responses: fight or flight. When trouble comes, run away from it. Or, when trouble comes, fight back.

Instead of this, St. Peter in today’s Epistle says that the Christian has a radically different response to trouble. The disciple of Jesus does not run away. The disciple of Jesus does not fight. What does the disciple of Jesus do? Love. Peter alludes to an Old Testament Proverb: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (Prov. 10.12).

This doesn’t mean that if you love more, if you do better things, you can cover up and pay for the bad things you’ve done. No, this mean the Christian forgives those who sin. Hatred stirs up strife, because it wants to bring out the sins of others and make them pay.

Who do you want to see pay for their sins? That is what God calls hatred. Is that how you are wanting God to treat you? To keep track of and make you pay for your wrongs?

Love covers a multitude of sins. This is what God’s love has done for you. This is what the love of God in you does for others. G.K. Beale puts it this way: “The idea is not that the wrongs are concealed but not dealt with, but rather that the love itself reconciles the alienated offender and changes everything.”

What would our church look like if we practiced that kind of love with each other? What would your family look like if it practiced that kind of love with each other? “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

This is the last thing our human nature wants to do. We want our pound of flesh. We want someone to pay.

But someone has already paid. The Lord Jesus paid in full. His death covers the multitude of sins.

This is the testimony of the Spirit. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” 

When you sin, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who covers your sin.

When you are sinned against, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who covers those sins too.

When false witnesses rise against you, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who bore silently the accusation of false witnesses.

When those breathing out violence rise against you, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who forgave those who did violence to Him.

When you feel all alone, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, and you know you are never alone.

When you are dying, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who died your death.

When you are in the grave, this Helper is with you, and He will breathe again on you, and you will live.

You cry, “Hear, O Lord!” He says, “I hear you, dear child.”

You cry, “Hide not your face from me!” He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

You cry, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” He says, “No one.”

You cry, “I have sinned!” He says, “My love covers a multitude of sins.”

You cry, “My neighbor has sinned!” and He says, “My love covers a multitude of sins.”

This is what you get at the Sacrament today. This is what you leave here with to give away. The Word of the Lord: “My love covers a multitude of sins.” +INJ+


Sermo Dei: Ascension 2017

Posted on May 26th, 2017

The Ascension is like staring at the sun. The more you look, the less you see. It’s a mystery. It doesn’t make any sense, but then neither does Jesus walking upon the waters, or passing through closed doors, or being born of a virgin. The creation of the world, or the raising of the dead– it’s all incomprehensible to us.

The Lord’s Ascension instead comforts the simple believer that Jesus is with the Father, and yet keeps on caring for us. Part of His care is calling us to repentance. “To repent means nothing other than to truly acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to stop doing them” (FC SD V). To this then is added remission of sins. This means they are taken away, the debt is cancelled.

This is a total declaration. Sins are gone. There is nothing that comes after. Sins are taken away, blotted out in His name. You are looked upon by the Father as His beloved child. Can you then dare to say, “I will hold my brother’s sins against him, I will make him pay”? If God forgives sins, who are you to hold on to the sin? We all stand together under the cross, baptized in the same name, fed with the same body and blood, blessed with the same blessing.

Three simple phrases surround the Ascension. They show us what the Ascension means for us: “He blessed them.” “They worshipped Him.” “They returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

“He blessed them.” We don’t know the specific words, although I suspect it is a form of the blessing given to Aaron: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

The main thing is that the blessing, the good word from Jesus, is what remains, what rings out throughout the Church. The Ascension of Jesus means that God is continually saying to us, “Peace.”

We are prone to be angry and want justice. We are upset and don’t understand why the suffering continues. We hurt and want the pain to stop. And constantly the voice of Jesus keeps speaking to us as to a raging storm: “Peace! Be still!”

“They worshipped Him.” Luke’s Gospel ends where it began, in the temple, with worship. Life only makes sense when our eyes are fixed on Jesus: Jesus crucified for us, Jesus victorious over death for us, Jesus returning for us. The Divine Service trains us to see all of life through this lens, that Jesus is Lord, He is with us, and He is returning for us.

This being true, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” What’s in Jerusalem? The Temple. The promise of the coming Holy Spirit. But there’s something else: Persecution. Suffering. Death.

Still they go. They go knowing that life will be hard. Life will be lived in the valley. They will not be wealthy. They will not be comfortable. They will be hated and hounded. All of them except John will be killed.

Yet they go with joy! This is only possible because everything has changed. Jesus is risen from the dead. They have His blessing. They have the remission of sins. They have His peace. They know that He is not gone into heaven, but rather He has received all the heavens into Himself. He is with them always, even to the end of the age. He is with them in His blessing, His good word. He is with them in His Supper. He is with them in life. He is with them in death. He is with them in the grave. He is with them in the resurrection. He is with them.

So it does not matter what the world does. It does not matter how others treat them. Though everything be cold and dark and they are alone, yet they are never alone. They have Him. They have His blessing.

This now is the pattern of our own lives. He blesses us. We worship Him. We go into the heart of danger with great joy.  +INJ+


Sermo Dei: Jubilate 2017

Posted on May 8th, 2017


John 16:16-22

Immanuel, Alexandria, VA + May 7, 2017

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It starts to fade after a few Sundays, doesn’t it? After the big celebration of Easter, life gets back to normal. And sometimes, normal isn’t great. What’s normal is disappointing, frustrating. Normal life isn’t like Easter, with trumpets and flowers and all the ladies in pretty dresses. After Easter, we still have our problems and our pains. After Easter, the Alleluias fade.

I was thinking about this on Friday morning in the dentist’s chair. The big needle was coming for my jaw. The inside of my mouth was getting numb from the topical anesthetic the endodontist had applied, but the sight of that needle is still a bit disconcerting.

“Little pinch,” she said, in a kind, motherly tone. “Little pinch.” It will hurt for a moment, but it won’t be bad, and it won’t last long. These are words of comfort.

That’s what Jesus was saying as He said to His disciples over and over and over again, “A little while.” You are going to have trouble, pain, sorrow, but I will take care of you, I know how you are feeling, and I will bring it to an end in a little while. These are words of comfort.

The words of Jesus work on two levels. First of all, Jesus is prepping His disciples for what’s to come. In a few hours, He will be arrested. In a little while, they will see Him no more. He will be falsely accused, horribly beaten, and executed. This horrible event is also the most wonderful event in our redemption, for the Father took all of your gossip and slander, all of your rebellion and discontentment, all of your love of money and slavery to your desires – all of it is loaded on the Lamb of God, who bears away the world-sin.

And in a little while, He will rise again, having trampled down death by His death. A little while, and He will be taken away for death, and a little while, and He will return. That’s the first “little while.”

And now we stand in the other “little while.” We know that our redemption is accomplished, we know that Jesus is risen from the dead, but we still feel the effects of sin in the world and pain in our lives.

A little child can see his meal being prepared, and yet he still complains. He can see his dad with the toolbox fixing his toy, and yet he will moan and lament as though what is anticipated will never arrive. And we are those little children.

We have heard the dentist say “little pinch,” but we see the needle coming and are still nervous. We have heard Jesus say, “a little while,” but we still are frustrated. And that’s okay, because we live in a fallen world. The pinch does hurt, the words and insults do hurt, the death of those we love does hurt.

So Jesus keeps on speaking His words of comfort to us. He knows our weakness and has compassion. He calls us children, and it’s not particularly a compliment, but He still loves us like we love children. “A little while, a little while, a little while,” He repeats again and again, as a mother to her baby boy, comforting and reassuring, “I am going to take care of you. What troubles you so much is coming to an end. Just a little while, just a little while.”

And then in today’s Epistle, we heard that your life in this “little while” now has meaning. What you do in the body matters. How you live changes things. So first, St. Peter calls us to struggle and fight. This struggle and fight is not against other people, but it is a war we fight with ourselves. “Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

In our world, “Follow your passion” is standard advice, and it’s really bad advice. Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You details why “follow your passion” will not help your career, so it’s not even good secular advice. But from the Word of God, we learn that the passions, our desires, are deeply disordered. Our flesh urges us toward gluttony and adultery, murder and covetousness, pride and gossip. Our passions lead us to ruin. So the first thing that St. Peter tells us today is not to follow our passions, but to fight them.

And then he tells us, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). Good Friday and Easter have given us freedom. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that the law can no longer accuse us, and death has no more hold on us. We are free! But it is so tempting to think, “If sins are paid for, then it doesn’t matter if I sin.” But Peter says that is an abuse of freedom. The purpose of our life now is to live “as servants of God.” Life is not about how much leisure you can get for yourself, how much money you can get. Your life’s purpose is to serve God, and you do that especially by serving your neighbor. You are not free from work, but are now free to work for the benefit of those who need you.

Even when that work is hard and long, and you feel all alone in your work, none of those frustrations can take away the joy of our Lord’s resurrection. We know how this ends. We know that on the other side of the cross is life, on the other side of the grave is resurrection. And it’s all coming in just a little while. The pinch is little, the time is short, and your Jesus is strong. “You now have sorrow,” your Jesus says to you; “but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” It is coming soon, dear children. Just a little pinch. Just a little while.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sermo Dei: St. Mark’s Day 2017

Posted on April 25th, 2017

Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana

2 Timothy 4:5-18

April 25, 2017

“The time of my departure has come.” Springtime at seminary prompts such thoughts. But your ministry will not be what you expect. For St. Paul, departure meant death. So it is for you. Your call is to go and die.

It’s the call of Baptism. “Follow Me.” “Take up your cross.” Come and die.

Paul summarizes his service as having been “the good fight.” More literally, “the beautiful, noble agony.”

What is this good fight? What is the noble agony? The fight is not with the people God gives you to serve.

Sure; we may find evil men fighting us. St. Paul mentions one, Alexander the Coppersmith. He hurt Paul. People will hurt you. But your battle, the good fight, is not with people.

Conflicts will come. But the good fight, the noble agony, is the one where you only care about the Word of God and the well-being of your neighbor. The evil fight, the ugly battle, is the one where Bible and by-laws are mere bludgeons to batter your foes.

It was no noble agony that divided Paul and Barnabas. It centered around Mark, whose feast we celebrate this day. Devolving into bitterness, they separated.

I’ve heard people use the conflict between Paul and Barnabas as a justification for schism in the church. Brothers, it’s there as an example for what we ought not to do. What kind of beautiful agony did Paul and Barnabas and Mark have to go through to forgive? What good fight brought this resolution? “Get Mark. Bring him. He’s useful.”

If Jesus is risen from the dead, why do we act like our conflicts cannot be likewise resolved? Is our struggle one that the Holy Spirit would call “beautiful, noble”?

The deepest locus of conflict is the one inside yourself. There, in your heart, is the arena of the good fight. There, the conflict with your concupiscence, is the noble agony.

In the great battle over the Lord’s Supper, Luther said that the devil began by sending him “coarse, stupid blockheads who can do nothing but lie and slander.” No problem, Luther said; St. Paul had it a lot worse. Demas, his good friend, left him. But, Luther warned, the real battle, the noble agony was still to come for the Reformation.

Moreover, when the really crucial battle with the devil begins, within ourselves, we must expect that some of those who are now the spearheads of our movement will fall, be it Luther or someone else. When we fight with Satan, it is no mere academic disputation. 

The “really crucial battle” is “within ourselves.” That battle Demas fought, and appears to have lost. “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.”

What within you is in love with this present world? Will you be disappointed with your call? Do you think you’re suited for something greater? Is the town not the right size for you? Are you in love with this present world?

You are in love with this present world when you look with longing at a woman not your wife.

You are in love with this present world when you look with longing at a congregation to which you have not been called.

You are in love with this present world when you resent what others have.

You are in love with this present world when you grumble against your leaders.

You are in love with this present world when you argue with the wife God gave you.

You are in love with this present world when you are cowardly instead of faithful.

You are in love with this present world when faithfulness is synonymous with rudeness.

You are in love with this present world when you look at impure images.

You are in love with this present world!

You are not alone. St. Mark struggled with the love of this present world. Likely the rich young ruler, Mark went away from Jesus sad. He could not follow the Words of Jesus to him. “Go, sell what you have, and follow Me.” He was not ready for the noble agony. He was losing the good fight.

He was not yet sober-minded, part of Paul’s instruction to the pastor. Mark could have Jesus, but he still preferred his passions. Controlled by disordered desire, he was in love with this present world.

Finally, deserting Jesus on the night He was betrayed, Mark is stripped of everything. Mark loses his garment, and runs away. In the garden, Mark is naked and ashamed. Mark is Adam. Exposed, without excuse, dominated by fear, desires disordered.

But Jesus was not done with Mark. “You have Me,” Jesus says to Mark.

Jesus is not done with you. “You have Me,” Jesus says to you.

We want this present world, but God works on us so that gradually all of it is taken away. All our excuses, all our self-justifications, stripped away. Only the garment of Christ’s righteousness can cover our naked shame.

“See Me!” Jesus is saying to us. Crucified, naked, deserted, Jesus atones for Adam, Mark, you.

So when he was deserted, Paul could say he was alone, yet not alone. “The Lord stood by me, and strengthened me.” In the noble agony, we lose on our own strength. The Lord alone stands, the Lord alone strengthens.

In the agony, Paul’s life was being conformed to Christ. In the agony Mark’s life was being conformed to Christ. We do not conform ourselves but are conformed. The fight, the agony, comes upon us as God’s gift. We can receive it to our benefit, or rage against it to our destruction.

Confess today, with Demas, your love of this present world. Confess with Mark your love of money. Confess with Paul and Barnabas your strife and contention. Confess, and hear this:

Jesus forgives you. Jesus makes you useful. Jesus covers your shame. Jesus guides you in the good fight. Jesus comforts you in the noble agony. Jesus stands by you. Jesus strengthens you. Jesus died your death, and makes Alleluia your song, so that we go out and preach everywhere, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!



The Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Day 2017

Posted on April 18th, 2017

The Resurrection of Our Lord – Easter Day

St. Mark 16:1-8

April 16, 2017

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

On Friday, the weeping women heard His last words.

“It is finished,” Jesus said, and they believed Him. It’s all over.

You’ve heard those words.

“Finish them!” the coach shouts, when the opponent is on the ropes.

“You’re finished!” says the boss, as you get fired.

“We’re finished!” she snarls, ending the relationship.

“It is finished,” Jesus said. They believed Him. It’s all over. Death wins.

So early in the morning, they do their duty. The women go to serve a dead Jesus. They show love and devotion. Yet hope is lost. They believe the jeers from Friday. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” 

They will honor Him with their spices. Sweet smells hiding a corpse’s stench.

“Who will roll away the stone?” they ask. What are they saying? “God has left us. Jesus is dead. And with Him, our hopes.”

Is there any of that in your life? I know there is. You set out, you came to this place with excitement. Here, at the center of the free world, is power, influence, opportunity. You believed you could make a difference, take your chances, and rise. You will change the world! But it changes you. You become squeezed into its mold. You’re a cog in the machine, and you’re easily replaced.

Who will roll away the stone? We’re the ones trapped, alive, yet already inside the grave. So quickly, it is finished.

So you look at your struggling child and weep.

You consider your relationships—or lack thereof—and despair.

The doctor has bad news for you.

Your stats are down.

You’ve passed your prime.

What else is there for you to do?

Go with your spices!

Weep in graveyards!

Anoint your dead!

“It is finished,” Jesus said, and they believed Him. But they were wrong. Jesus finished those very things that trouble you.

He bore your griefs, and they are finished.

He carried your sorrows, and they are finished.

He was wounded for your transgressions, and they are finished.

He was crushed for your iniquities, and they are finished.

So tell your accusers that Jesus said, “It is finished.”

What are you, death? You are finished.

What are you, grave? You are finished.

What are you, sins? You threaten me with my past, but Jesus buried you. You are finished!

Jesus said, “It is finished,” but He is not finished.

“Behold!” He says, “I am making all things new.”

Is your body growing old? Christ is risen, and your body too shall be made new.

Does your child struggle and suffer? Christ is risen, and He will not abandon Your little one.

Do you feel your life slipping away? Christ is risen, and today your life is made new.

Your body is not finished. Behold, I am making all things new!

Your life in the body has meaning. Behold, I am making all things new!

Whoever you are, whatever your story, this story is your story. In fact, you’ve already been written into it. This history becomes your present, with the three little words, “Go tell Peter.”

Peter thought it was finished, Peter thought he was finished. Jesus was dead, but if He was risen, that could not be good news. Why? Peter denied Jesus. He cursed and swore, “I do not know the man.”

Does Peter deserve friendship? Does Peter deserve forgiveness? No, no.

But the Word comes especially for and to Peter. Jesus is risen. Jesus forgives. Be at peace!

Are you anxious? So was Peter. Do you have doubts? So did Thomas. Have you thought you are better than others? So did James and John. Have you argued? So did they all, on the night Jesus was arrested!

Jesus sends words of comfort to them through the holy women at the tomb. They walked to the graveyard weary, finished. They ran home made new.

They ran home with a Word, and that Word is also for you:

Christ is judged, and you are acquitted.

Christ is fallen, and you are raised up.

Christ is spit upon, and you are wiped clean.

Christ is mocked, and you are praised.

Christ is hated, and you are the Father’s beloved.

Christ is finished, and you are begun.

Christ is killed, and you are reborn.

Christ is buried, and you are baptized.

The stone is rolled away, and the door to paradise is opened to you.

Christ is risen, and death is undone.

Christ is risen, and the demons are put to flight.

Christ is risen, and Adam and Eve are lifted up from hell.

Christ is risen, and you shall rise too.

Christ is risen, and He is making all things new.

So sing and dance, clang the cymbals and blow the trumpet, for Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sermon Dei: Good Friday Passion Vespers 2017

Posted on April 14th, 2017

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

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

Good Friday + April 14, 2017 + Luke 23:34-37

Who could have seen that it would turn out this way? “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10f).

Who could have seen that the one born on that day would be a Savior in this way?

It seems, as blood streams from His hands, His feet, His crown, His side, that this Jesus is no savior. “Some savior!” they sneer. “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

They laughed at Him. They spit on Him. They beat Him and jeered.

And all the while, what was Jesus doing? “They were raging, but he was praying” [Augustine].

If someone hits you, what do you want to do? Strike back.

If they laugh at you, look for an opportunity to take revenge. Pounce at the next opportunity.

If someone betrays you, then you may forever see that person as your enemy.

But while they were raging, He was praying.

They make Jesus an enemy, but He sees them as friends.

They shout “Crucify!” but He cries out, “Forgive!” “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Isaiah prophesied this most beautiful of prayers. “He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Jesus makes intercession for transgressors, for sinners. Not made, like He did it once. He makes intercession, He prays, He goes to the Father and keeps on going. He goes before the Father and prays for the Centurion and the penitent thief. Jesus goes before the Father and prays for Peter who denied Him and the other disciples who ran away, and Jesus keeps on going, standing before the Father, praying for you and for me. Jesus right now is saying to His Father, “Forgive them.”

They stabbed Him in the side, and we stab Him with every cruel word. They crowned Him with thorns, and we cut Him with every act of selfishness. Mary laid Him in a manger, but our sins laid Him in the tomb. Yet still He prays for us, still he dies for us. St. Augustine said, “He was hanging from the cruel nails, but he did not lose his gentleness.”

One of the rebels crucified with Jesus said, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” He doesn’t know what he’s saying. Unwittingly, he prays the perfect prayer: “Save us!” That’s exactly what Jesus is doing. But He doesn’t save Himself. Everything Jesus did was to trade places with us. He doesn’t save Himself, because He’s making a swap. “I will die, and you will be saved.

The other rebel get it. So he says, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The death of Jesus is how He saves us. So Jesus replies, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

These are the good tidings of great joy announced at Christmas. Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter all hang together. Jesus was born just so He could pray that prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them.”

What do you think? Will the Father answer that prayer? Will He forgive us? Will He give us life and resurrection? Easter Sunday is the answer to that question.

So even on this sad day, when the decorations are gone and the pastors wear black – even on this sad day, we call it Good.

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is crucified for you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. INJ

Sermo Dei: Palm Sunday 2017

Posted on April 9th, 2017

It’s nice to talk about resurrection, but the words I speak at the time of death sometimes feel hollow. It’s all future-oriented, and while I believe it, we’re still left with the corpse. Someone has to call the funeral home, someone has to open the grave, and then there we are, looking down into the earth. Most of our life is so sanitary, and even at death, we farm out the dirty work to others.

But there, when the casket descends, and you see off in the distance the men waiting to come and close the vault and cover it with dirt – for just a moment, you see and you know that our clean lives are a lie. Squirt the anti-bacterial fluid, rub it thoroughly through fingers and on palms, but in the end your hands will be full of dirt.

Most of the Jews believed in the resurrection of the body, with teachings like Daniel 12: “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v2). But they felt the same thing we do: the vanity and meaninglessness of a life that ends in a grave.

The Palm Sunday Gospel (John 12:12-19) we read outside began like this: “The next day.” Those are loaded words. The day before, Jesus had gone to a tomb. It wasn’t sanitized, meant to put you at ease and be comfortable. They protest when Jesus wants the door of the tomb opened. “No! It stinks.”

But then, Jesus does the unbelievable. Not the way we use the word. “Have you tried the pie? Unbelievable.” “Did you see the game? Yeah; unbelievable.” But Jesus does something that really is very difficult to believe. The stinking, decaying, entombed body, He calls forth and makes alive by the power of His Word.

That’s why Palm Sunday happens. That’s why the crowd has gathered to meet Him on the road into Jerusalem. They’re welcoming Him like it’s inauguration day, singing songs about Jesus being a King, waving palm branches for a hero. That’s why this happened. “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”

This is why we also are here. We have heard that Jesus did this sign. Jesus raises the dead.

So to Him we come, with our broken hearts and troubled marriages, with our lonely lives and broken dreams. We come with sins that Lent has not eradicated. We come still having our disappointing boss, our hard-to-manage children, our failures and secrets that bring us shame.

We’ve heard that there’s one who raises the dead. What can He do for us? So we shout to Him, Hosanna! Save us now!

We bring to Jesus our children, as Charles and Megan brought Thomas this morning. “Help him, bless him! Hosanna! Save him now!”

We want our children to be normal, to be healthy, to be successful. What we should want above all is for our children to be Christians. But like a new car, roads with debris and parking lots with stray shopping carts begin to put dents in what was perfect. The new building begins to settle, and cracks emerge, faulty equipment is exposed. The world is filled with death everywhere, and in our children, we see death looming, and suffer guilt for the mistakes we made.

Into all that mess, into all the mistakes we made, into the graves we’ve dug, marches Jesus. He keeps on going, through the crowds, to His cross. Any other man would stop at the throne. He’d carpe that diem, he’d use the crowd to take control of the city. But Jesus goes instead to bear a cross, assume our guilt, atone for our sins, die our death.

“Look! The world has gone after him!” the Pharisees cry. Not really. But we should (go after Him).

What does it mean, to go after Jesus, to follow Him? Charles and Megan, do you realize that’s what you enrolled Thomas in this morning? Peyson and Josie, do you realize that’s what you’ll be pledging in just a few moments? Having a nice life, a good education, good home, good job, good family, good time – what does it get you? Where does it end? “You see that you are gaining nothing.” Go after Jesus.

The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s the way of emptying yourself so your neighbor can be filled. It’s the way of humbling yourself so your neighbor can be lifted up. It’s a way that cannot be conformed to this world, because this world is all about filling yourself, satisfying yourself, lifting yourself up.

But you are those who have gathered here to meet Jesus. You are those who follow Him. His way will mean you lose the argument because you are more interested in peace. His way will mean you aren’t rich because you gave what you have away. His way will mean you aren’t owed anything because you forgave those who sinned against you.

This way is difficult. But it’s the only way we can go. We are disciples of Jesus. We go after Him.

And then, when we can go no further, and our own bodies stink and decompose, He will come and say to you, “Thomas Gregory, come forth! Josephine Angelina, come forth! Person Montgomery, come forth! All you who are joined to Me by Baptism into death, come forth! For sin and the grave have no power over you! You are mine forever.” INJ

Funeral Sermon: Paul Donald Ring

Posted on April 8th, 2017

Dear Ruth, John, Linda; dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. (Ps 55.22)

When Don came out of church and shook my hand, he always made me feel like a million bucks. Some people say, “Good sermon, pastor.” Not Don. He would exclaim, “Say, you’ve got a strong handshake!” Then with a big smile he’d squeeze my arm, and make me feel powerful, muscular, manly.

Despite his stroke, which made conversation difficult, Don knew how to be friendly and nice. With a warm welcome he’d greet you at his door, and he always seemed genuinely disappointed that you were leaving.

But in all these years I’ve known him, you could also sense the frustration. He would struggle to find the word he wanted to use. Conversations were exceedingly slow. He sometimes just gave up. The words would not come.

He made me feel strong, but the strength of his own mind was enfeebled by the corruption affecting this death-ridden world. He served his country as an officer when the world was threatened by the Axis powers, and then he rose to the heights of his profession in the Federal Reserve, where he met his lovely bride. He was successful and strong. But the strength of body and mind always fails.

The Epistle to the Hebrews says, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (10:12f). These enemies far surpass the Germans or Japanese, or the economic perils of inflation.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” says the Apostle. On his 90th birthday, Don lost his long battle with that enemy. But today we confess Jesus who won the battle we could not. Today, even in Lent, we confess: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The moratorium on the Alleluias is broken, for the power of the grave is undone. We are an Easter people. Alleluia! is our song. The resurrection is the heart of our hope. Don’s confirmation verse is Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised).” That profession of faith is a confession of hope based on what immediately came before: Jesus opened for us “a new and living way … through the curtain [of] his flesh.” 

The Old Testament way was an old and dying way. It always involved dead things – lambs, bulls, and goats. The blood of dead animals was shed again and again and again, a constant reminder that our sin leads to death. But the crucified flesh of Jesus is living again; He has emerged from the grave. The shed blood of Christ, flowing from His pierced side, now courses through His risen body, for He has trampled down death by His death.

The way of Jesus is now a living way. On this way Don walked; on this road Don ran; on this course Don persevered. The way of Jesus is now a new and living way, and He promises that this body, washed with pure water and sprinkled clean – this body shall live again. His dentures shall be replaced with teeth that will not decay. His revivified blood vessels will permit no stroke. His memory will be sharp, and words of praise to his Maker will flow forth without hesitation.

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus knows how you feel this day. When He came to the tomb of His friend Lazarus, He wept. He groaned and sighed, His insides churned with agony and lament. This was not the goal of His creation. Death is not just a part of life, or a natural sequence towards liberation from the material world. Death corrupts every good thing that God made, and so God in the flesh, God who Himself would suffer death – He weeps. He enters into your sorrow, and feels it entirely.

He goes and joins our death to His own, and what remains, what we still hope in, is the coming day when Don and all the faithful will be joined to His resurrection unto life. He will come to Don’s tomb and say the same thing He said to Lazarus: “Paul Donald, come forth!” And it shall be so.

So now we wait, having the Lord’s word “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2.10).

In two days—Palm Sunday—we shall gather outside and shout, Hosanna! It’s a prayer; Hosanna! means, “Save us now!” But we no longer say it as a prayer. We shout it with certainty, for Jesus is risen from the dead, and we know He saves all those who sleep in Him.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and death cannot hold this body. Ruth, and all you who hope in Christ, hold fast to this profession:

Truly my soul waiteth upon God:

From him cometh my salvation.

Wait, and you will see the salvation of God. We will be glad in that day, and there shall be no more tears.  ✠INJ✠


Sermo Dei: The Funeral of Sandra Ann Keiser

Posted on March 24th, 2017

We are all shocked. No one anticipated Sandy’s death, and it’s hard to process.

But Sandy was a direct person, so let us speak directly about the matter: Death is God’s judgment for sin. The suddenness of death is a reminder to us all to prepare for our own.

Sandy graduated from Immanuel Lutheran School in 1970. Upon the foundations of that school, a larger one is rising in its place. Someday, however, the whole thing will lie in ruins. Human civilization, like the human body, is crumbling. What can last beyond the ashes and desolation? The crucified arms of Jesus stretch out across the world and across all the expanse of time, embracing all the cosmos with His love, calling us all to confess our sins and be gathered to Him. He alone crossed through death, and emerged from the tomb. The Lord Jesus trampled down death by His death, and Him Sandy confessed, in Him she placed her trust.

No blind faith of an ignorant simpleton, Sandy’s faith was formed both by the conviction of the truth of Scripture and by the witness of Science testifying to a designer, a Maker, a Creator.

Among the many challenges when I became the pastor here at Immanuel was Sandy herself. She was not a problem; but it sure seemed a problem to me when I began to realize that she knew the Scriptures better than I did. I had studied them, but she had been living them, faithfully, year by year. I had a long way to go, to catch up to her.

If I didn’t know an answer to a Bible question, I’d try to fake it. And in her straightforward manner, Sandy would correct me. I didn’t like it. But it wasn’t personal with her. What mattered to her was the truth. I needed to apply myself with the same kind of diligence.

That diligence she exercised in caring for her mother in her declining years. At the time, that also seemed excessive to me. Why would she put so much effort into that? How foolish I was. She was teaching the whole world a lesson: this is what love does. Her own life didn’t matter; what mattered was what God had given her to do. And she did it, not only diligently, and faithfully, but cheerfully.

Then there was the mystery of the missing Luther volumes. Immanuel has a set of the entire original edition of Luther’s Works. And periodically, a volume would go missing. Where was it? Then it would return, with the next one gone. Somebody is reading these things, systematically, hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pages. Who is doing this? Sandy.

“Who’s going to do the luncheon?” someone asked me a couple of days ago. And then this person reflected, “Normally we would ask Sandy to help with that.” She did everything, happily, without asking for any credit.

Now whether those who are with the Lord are aware of what we are doing is an open question. But I think at this point, Sandy would be growing frustrated with me. “Pastor, you should not be talking about me. You should be telling them about Jesus.”

Sandy’s Confirmation verse came from Psalm 55, which we prayed this morning. That Psalm begins with suffering, lament, and the throes of death. “I am restless in my complaint and I moan.” Why? “Because of the noise of the enemy.” The enemy we can identify variously as people who are out to get us, the sin and death lurking within us, and even trouble in the church.

Sandy lived through troubles in the church and remained faithful. This Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus Himself, who discovers one of His chosen Twelve has turned on Him: “It is not an enemy who taunts me; then I could bear it … But it is you … my companion, my familiar friend.” This is Judas, the familiar friend of Jesus, who turns on Him. Jesus experiences not a sudden and swift death, but an agonizingly slow one, made all the more horrific by the betrayal of His friend, and the abandonment of nearly all.

And what are we to do, when everything and everyone has turned against us, when life itself is being pulled from our grasp? “But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.”

Often the death of a dear one leaves us with feelings of guilt. “I wish I had said this, or done that; but now it is too late. If only I had been there!” We may then look for someone else to blame. Remember this is how the sisters of Lazarus felt; they even blamed Jesus for not showing up in time.

But you must not feel guilty. Jesus orders all in His good time. It is hubris to imagine we could change it. The best sermon we could hear was already in the prelude: Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit – God’s time is the very best time.

At the right time, Jesus speaks His Word, “Arise!” and it is so. If you do feel guilty, hear Him speak to you, “I forgive you!” And again, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.”

So do what Sandy’s Confirmation verse said, and what she lived by: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”

This faith she lived by, but more importantly, this faith, this Jesus, she will live by, for He will cause this body to be renovated and renewed, shining and beautiful in the resurrection; and we will rejoice with her and her Savior in the kingdom of God, when death, the last enemy, has been utterly vanquished.

I want to let Sandy herself have the last word today. The day before she died, she wrote a beautiful, three-sentence message that captures the deep truths of the Christian faith eloquently and succinctly:

I thank my Lord and Savior who gives me life and all that I have. I encourage everyone to put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. To Him be glory forever.