Sermo Dei: The Inheritance (Vespers, Lent 3)

Posted on March 23rd, 2017

Bloomberg last week reported on a survey on trends with inheritances and expectations of heirs. More often, children are disappointed, because the amount inherited is less than anticipated. Undoubtedly the grandsons of Leona Helmsley were disappointed. She left $12 million to her dog Trouble, while leaving her two grandsons out of the will.

Perhaps you’re hoping for an inheritance. You may imagine it would change your life. And if you got everything you were hoping for, and more – I’m sure it would change your life. But would that be for the better?

The article notes what I’ve certainly observed – inheritances not only disappoint, but divide. Family members turn on each other.

The younger son in tonight’s parable (Luke 15:11-32) couldn’t wait for his inheritance. Literally. He asked for it up front, and what is more surprising, the father gave it. The extravagant love of the father was then squandered by the son. He lives prodigiously, which is to say, enormously, in a huge, colossal way. That’s where the term prodigal son comes from.

He goes to the city and, as our translation puts it, “squandered his property in reckless living.” I’m not sure reckless quite captures it. Other Bible translations have prodigal, wild, undisciplined and dissipated. The original word means incapable of being saved (Spicq).

We know – or think we know – situations and people like that. A person is incurably addicted, hopelessly corrupt. Incapable of being saved.

I once knew a man, an elder of the congregation, who told me, “Pastor, I don’t care what you say, what Bible passage you quote, I will never believe.” Not long before he died, he asked me, “Pastor, do you remember when I said I would never believe?” “Yes, very well,” I replied. And then he said some of the most beautiful words a pastor can hear: “I’ve changed my mind.” I gave him the Lord’s Supper, and not long after, he died. But I should not say died, for on that day he came alive, fed with the body of the living Christ, sprinkled on the inside with the blood that marks his door exempt from death.

What changed him? The Word changed him.

What changed the lost son in the parable? The memory of the loving Father.

It may appear to us like all is lost. But with God no one is incapable of being saved. The Father stands waiting. Day after day, looking and longing for his lost son. Waiting for you!

There are ways of squandering your inheritance beyond blow-outs in the big city. How much have you squandered through arguing and resentment, sleepless nights ruminating on words, emails, memories, festering with anger, imagining the worst about others?

How much time have you squandered in pursuits unwholesome?

How many relationships have you squandered because you could not forgive?

How much of your mind is wasted, filled with lurid lyrics, seared with impure images, endlessly distracted by texts and tweets?

We know not when our last hour shall come. Come then, let us spend our days running home to the Father, imploring Him to receive us home again. Look! There He stands waiting, with the ring and the sandals. The Lamb has been slain, the Supper is ready. That inheritance you once longed for was meaningless. Harmful, even. It could not keep you alive. This Father, His kingdom, His Son, His Table – that is the inheritance prepared for you. You will not be disappointed. ✠INJ✠


Sermo Dei: Reminiscere 2017

Posted on March 13th, 2017

“That was a nice prayer.” When people say that to me, I know I’ve failed. Prayer is not supposed to be nice. Prayer is confident desperation, shouted in the dark, or whispered while trembling.

Our prayers are too nice. In fact, they are so polite, they are rude. What else do you call it when our prayer before meals is rattled off like an auctioneer? Do you say the Lord’s Prayer with the enthusiasm of a funeral director reading the phone book? Are your private prayers basically a Hail Mary pass – it probably won’t work but you might as well try it?

Enough with polite, respectful, “nice” prayers! They betray an uncertainty that God is listening or will answer our prayer.

This Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel – she is not nice. She is not polite. And she is not quiet. She shouts. She cries out. And when her prayer is not answered, she is undeterred. She cries out all the more. The disciples are shocked that Jesus seems to lack all compassion for her. Not only does He not reply, He doesn’t even stop. He keeps walking. Hope is disappearing, and God appears not only unresponsive, but utterly indifferent.

Have you ever felt this way? I cry out in the daytime; I cry to God at night, but He is far from me, indifferent to the voice of my groaning.

This Canaanite woman is ignored. Nevertheless, she persisted. “Jesus, send her away with what she wants!” the disciples say. “Look, she is crying out from behind us!” This woman, rebuffed, is actually chasing after Jesus! The harsher He gets, the stronger is her appeal. Her prayers are not nice and polite; she expects something, not because of herself, but because she is convinced that He not only is able to help but that He is willing to help.

I believe that this exercise is a lesson for the disciples. Jesus uses this woman to teach them—and us—about prayer, and also that they are to join their prayers to hers. Jesus wants the disciples to appeal on her behalf. From this we learn that the prayers of the disciples, that is, the prayers of the church, are important and effective. This woman does not make her appeal to the disciples, just as we do not pray to the saints, but she does make her appeal in the church, just as you, when you have some need, bring it to me to present before the Lord in the company of the whole church.

Why does she keep praying? Isn’t it clear that Jesus doesn’t want to answer her? Not to this woman. Her prayer is the expression of her faith, her confidence, her trust in Jesus. Our prayers are the expression of our faith. And what does that say about our faith, when we are reluctant to pray, or cannot find the time, or pray for selfish things?

Jesus hid Himself from the woman to exercise her faith. “Ask, seek, knock,” the Lord says. This woman knocked on the door, and it was not answered. She knocked again, and was told, “Go away!” And the truth is, when we are praying, and the prayer is not answered, or we seem to hear God saying to us, “Go away, you little dog!” then we scurry off with our tail between our legs. We give up. It doesn’t work. What’s the use? But see what this woman does. She refuses to quit. The more her knocking is ignored, the louder she pounds. She will not leave, because she remains confident that the Lord will answer and give her mercy. She has no confidence in herself, but she has every confidence in the mercy, grace, kindness, and love of Jesus. Like Jacob, she has grabbed ahold of the heavenly Man, and will not let Him go until she receives His blessing.

“Faith … is exemplified by our willingness to beg” (Hauerwas), and this woman is not ashamed to beg. She teaches us how to speak to Jesus. She addresses Him both as “Son of David” (a reference to His human nature) and “Lord” (a reference to His divine nature). Her prayers are simple: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”; “Lord, help me!”; and finally, agreeing with His assessment of her lack of worth, yet nevertheless counting on His compassion and mercy, she worships Him as God and says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Note how she does not bargain with Jesus. She doesn’t promise Him something. She doesn’t tell Him what she has done or will do that He should answer her prayer. She makes no claim, no statement of what she deserves; she asks only for mercy. (Anselm)  And that is what makes our prayers good. Dr. Luther put it this way: “We ask just because we are not worthy to ask; we become worthy to ask and to be heard just because we believe that we are unworthy.”

Now there are two kinds of things for which we pray: spiritual blessings and earthly concerns. When it comes to spiritual things, we know what the Word of God is and we should ask confidently, even demanding them from God. “Forgive my sins, help me resist temptation, lead me by Your Spirit, deliver me from the devil, bring me to the resurrection of the body.” These things are promised by God, and so we know that He wants to give them to us. But there are other things that are not clearly spelled out – finding a spouse, taking a job, healing our sicknesses, etc. In all these cases, are prayers must be prayed with an “if”: “If it is Your will, O Lord.” And in praying thus, we are asking also that our will would be conformed and submissive to God’s own will.

That submission culminates in the Sacrament of our Lord’s Table, where on our knees we beg for the bread we don’t deserve but nevertheless know Jesus wants to give us. So an old prayer before communion uses the image of this woman begging for crumbs from the table of Jesus:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.  (Prayer of Humble Access, Book of Common Prayer 1662)

Come then, unworthy little dogs, and let us receive more than crumbs, for our Lord has chosen to give you the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.


Sermo Dei: Invocabit 2017

Posted on March 6th, 2017

What would you do if you could do anything?

The great basketball coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” It’s those moments when no one is watching when our true self emerges. When you can do what you choose, what do you do?

And if you could choose anything, what would it be?

Among the most common myths is that you can achieve freedom by having more resources and less responsibility. If you had more money and less work, then you’d be free. If you had more time and fewer people making demands, then you’d be free.

It’s a lie. Freedom is not found in time or money. And slavery is not in work or the demands of others.

Isn’t it amazing that the freest man of all, Jesus, chooses to not eat – to fast for forty days (Gospel, Matthew 4:1-11)? We are surrounded by food and drink—great storehouses full of it—but we are not free. We need it to stay alive, but we also often need it for reasons we can hardly understand: to satisfy our cravings, drown our sorrows, or drink to escape the pressure or the pain.

Freedom is not in eating or drinking whatever you want, but in not being a slave to the food or drink.

And then there are the other things your body craves. You keep going back, although you know that this way lies destruction.

There are the things that captivate your eyeballs, so that hour after mind-numbing hour, you stare, entranced. What do you do with your free time? You have made yourself a slave to the rectangle on your wall, or the rectangle in your pocket. Desperately refreshing, waiting for the affirmation of a like or a retweet.

And your mind fixates on the person causing you problems. You grumble about the grumbler, gossip about the gossiper, and the person you have made your enemy lives rent-free inside your head.

Who is that really, captivating your heart? It’s not God. These are the devil’s lies, saying to you what he said to Eve, what he said to Jesus: “God is holding out on you; His Law is slavery, and I offer you freedom.”

It is a lie. All sin is based on lies, all addiction is based on lies, your sadness and your shallow euphoria likewise all flow from falsehoods planted by the father of lies.

You will never be free by indulgence. You will never be free by pouting or rage. You will never be free by accumulation, strategy, or cunning.

Like every human being, you are enslaved by a nature whose desires are disordered and whose destiny is death.

But the Man Jesus revealed His freedom from what binds each of us. Hungry, He refuses food. Taunted, He refuses to boast or put His Father to the test. Powerless, He refuses to seize power. The rightful King, He accepts thorns for His crown and a cross for His throne.

And in that hunger, He was free. On the cross, He was free. No desire enslaved Him. No pride engulfed Him. No threats controlled Him. He was free.

What would you do if no one was watching? There is your bondage, there is your slavery, there is the lie that deceives you.

What does Jesus do? Nothing for Himself. He is free.

And He uses His freedom for you and me. He retraces Adam’s steps, and is tested by food. He retraces Eve’s steps, and confronts the devil. He walks in the desert, recapitulating the journey of Moses and Joshua through the wild places where Israel fell. David’s Son hears the praises entering David’s city, but does not indulge himself with a mistress as David did.

And yet He prays David’s prayers, feels David’s sin, and yours, and mine. Perfectly free, He becomes a slave for us. Perfectly innocent, He is declared guilty for us.

And coming to the perfect end of His deadly journey, He receives what the Father prepares: food, life, family, friends, resurrection.

So now who are you? What are you? What will you do, when no one is watching? Of course, that’s never really true. Someone’s always watching, namely, your Father. You are a man, a human being, torn between God and the devil, or at least God and your flesh. You feel the tearing, the testing, the tempting. Who are you? Whose are you?

It would feel good—at least for a time—to give in. Indulge; scream; pout; throw away your promise, your commitment; as Esau, sell your birthright for a bowl of stew.

It’s a lie. Stop believing the lie. Your Jesus has won the victory, but this is no excuse to keep on sinning. He says to you, you, “I forgive you; go and sin no more.”

So when the disordered desire rises up, when the tempter comes, when the lie is spoken, “God is not there for you,” you have the same weapon by which Jesus won the victory: the Word of God. It is written, it is written, it is written, speaks the Lord Jesus, and the tempter is driven away.

All the world has gone mad, calling evil good and good evil. It feels alone in your wilderness, in your anger, in your despair. But you are never alone. Remember how last Sunday we heard Jesus say, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem”? You are with Him, and He is with you, through all your dark hours, in every moment in the wilderness, and finally when the last hour comes. He is with you, and He is your champion when the enemy seems too strong.

Jesus wins. You are free.

Sermo Dei: Quinquagesima 2017

Posted on February 28th, 2017

It’s hard to love difficult people. And everywhere we go, we find them. At work. At school. On the road. Sitting behind you, kicking, talking, spilling their drink on you.

“A man’s enemies will be those of His own household,” Jesus says. He’s talking about people in our own families who go to war with us because our Christianity is causing problems. But we go to war over so much less, don’t we?

It’s hard to love difficult people. And people are difficult because they have difficulties. One person is sick, another has a disability, still another is frightened by something we cannot comprehend. It upsets our plans, disorients our days, disrupts our priorities. And this is all for the good, because our plans and priorities were centered on our own success, our own ideals, our own dreams. Our plans were not good for us, because the good they sought was a self-good. So God gives us other people to force us outside ourselves. For it is not good that the man should be alone.


Alone sat a man along the roadside (Gospel, Luke 18:31-43). He wasn’t alone, and yet he was. Surrounded by people, none were his friends. The blind man in the Gospel was a beggar. When he cried out for help, they silenced him. When he begged for mercy, they were enraged. “Be silent!”

How easily we condemn that crowd! But when a person needs help, do you step forward? Certainly you do when it is a friend, or a relative. But when the person is a difficult person – when he is annoying, when she is always negative, when it is going to really cost you something, where are you? You don’t love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the truth.

Here’s another hard truth: you are the difficult person. It’s hard to love difficult people, and it’s harder still to see the ways we are difficult. Our fears are rational, we suppose; our selfishness is justifiable, we imagine; there is little need to confess, for we rarely do anything wrong.

Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are we (Epistle, 1 Cor. 13:1-13). St. Paul says, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways”; have you? You are the difficult person.

Yet here is good news! When Jesus comes to the difficult person, He stops. Jesus silences the crowd that had been demanding silence. He pays attention to the beggar. He talks to him. He listens to him.

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”

That’s one miracle: Jesus restores creation. That’s His work, mending what is broken in this death-ridden graveyard. Healing the blind man is one miracle. But here is another: “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” Moments earlier they were yelling at the man to be quiet. They were annoyed. The difficult man was getting in the way of their aspirations, their desire for a Christ in their own image. But Jesus stops to care for the difficult man, and everything changes. Not only for the man whose sight is recovered, but everything changes for the crowd as well. Their angry shouts become songs of praise.

They have encountered not the idealized love of fantasy and imagination, but the real love that goes into the difficult situation and bears with the suffering, the smells, the sadness.

“Love bears all things,” the holy Apostle teaches us this morning, and we see that love lived out in Jesus Himself. “For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” 

This is love bearing all things and enduring all things. Jesus loves the difficult people. Jesus dies for difficult people, even people as difficult as you and me.

And He’s not done with us difficult people. The blind beggar, having recovered His sight, becomes a follower of Jesus. It’s not a metaphor. The man goes where Jesus goes – and Jesus is journeying to His cross. Palm Sunday happens almost immediately after this. The cross is very near now.

The cross is near to you too. God has designed a cross for each of us. We don’t like it. That’s okay. Jesus didn’t like His. He begged the Father for another way.

But we get the cross designed for us, because this is how we are conformed to the image of Jesus. All is forgiven in the cross of Jesus. All is changed as you bear your own cross, and become as He is.

So you get difficult people to love, all around you. But the difficulty becomes easy as you realize this is exactly where God wants you to be. He who loves you teaches you to love. “Love is patient and kind…. Love bears all things … [love] endures all things.” That’s who Jesus is, and what He does for you. As we follow Him to His cross this holy Lent, we pray that He teaches us this same kind of love, and removes our blindness to His will.

Sermo Dei: Septuagesima 2017

Posted on February 20th, 2017

Bourbon Street, New Orleans

February 12, 2017 • Matthew 20:1-16 • Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

On Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a sign advertises a so-called gentlemen’s club. It’s not for gentlemen. This particular den of iniquity is called “Temptations.” The gaudy neon sign displays an apple. The devil himself is mocking the people there: “I don’t even have to try with you, because either you humans don’t know your own story, or you’ve relegated it to myth. You are easy prey.”

But the audacious display of hedonism is not the only shingle the devil hangs out. In more refined places, his signs are lit with a softer glow, the lettering elegant, the product respectable. He has written “Temptations” with invisible ink.

And you buy what he’s selling. Pride. Envy. Resentment of someone you deem an outsider.

The inborn concupiscence—the disordered desires—pulls you back toward slavery, ensnaring your heart far worse than a Bourbon Street peep show, because it’s so much more respectable. What enslaves you? What disordered desire dominates you?

In the reading from Exodus we heard this morning, the children of Israel had just crossed the Red Sea, leaving their hard slavery behind. But the moment a challenge comes, they begin to long for their old life. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us?” 

The siren song urging you back to slavery is a test you will undergo throughout this life. It’s easy to see how an alcoholic, or a drug addict, is enslaved by those desires. The other kinds of slavery are more subtle. What sins permeate your life? Do you keep on gossiping? Do you harbor animosity toward someone in your heart? Are you controlled by desires for food? Do you squander your time in front of screens? Do you gaze at things forbidden?

The Lord Jesus says, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jn 8.34). Does that describe you?

Today, the voice of the Lord your God calls you away from those things that enslave you. He calls you to Himself, to take the status of a child in His household.

Grabbing lunch at the New Orleans airport on Friday, I saw one of the district presidents in our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod waiting for his food. I’d never really talked with him one-on-one before, so after we prayed, I asked him how many kids he has. “Five,” he replied. Now some were adopted, but that came out later. He made no distinction in their status. All are equal. All are his children.

As people talk about their children, they mention characteristics: Girl, boy; quiet, loud; tall, short; a reader, a musician; adopted. The adoption says how the child came into the family, not whether or not the child is a “real” son or daughter.

Sometimes children will make fun of others by suggesting they’re adopted. What if I told you that you are adopted? You are, or you’re not a Christian.

This is no metaphor. None of us are children of God by nature. When the Son of God comes into the world, St. John’s Gospel tells us,

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)

The birth from below—coming from blood and flesh and a man—is not how we become “real” children in God’s eyes. The real birth is the birth from above, a reference to Holy Baptism. Today Adeline is adopted the second time; born from below, she was adopted into the family of Ryan and Whitney, and becomes their real daughter, and the real sister of Parker. Today she is born from above and receives not only God as Father, but Jesus as Brother, which means that Adeline is more your sister than even your flesh and blood siblings.

So in your Baptism, you are adopted, and that’s precisely what the call into the vineyard is.

It’s a strange story that Jesus tells, but that’s because the Gospel is strange, God is strange. He goes out and acts like he’s hiring men to work, but when the time comes for the wages to be paid, he doesn’t pay them according to any reasonable standard.

This is bad business. But God isn’t running a business, He’s creating a kingdom. This kingdom does not operate on wages, and thank God for that, because the wages of sin is death. The Lord does not distribute based upon merit—how long or how hard someone worked—but He distributes generously, freely, based on grace. The only standard God employs is His desire to be good.

This angers some. The man arguing with the master at the end of the parable resents the master’s grace. He resents the adoption of these new people and their status as being the same.

This is the mystery of the kingdom: God does not give us what we deserve, He gives us Himself and His entire kingdom. He isn’t treating these men like workers, He treats them like sons.

This is the mystery of the kingdom: God’s own Son becomes a slave; He treats us slaves like children.

So why go back to the slavery of your desires? You’ve been adopted. You have a new Father, God Himself; you have a new Brother, Jesus; you have a new family, and you have the inheritance. Renounce your former slavery; when you see the sign marked “Temptations,” keep on walking. That’s not who you are. You are not a slave. You are sons and daughters of the king. ✠INJ✠

Sermo Dei: Epiphany 4, 2014

Posted on January 29th, 2017

Following Jesus means following Him into the storm. The men with Jesus (Epiphany IV gospel, Matthew 8:23-27) are not unused to ships, wind, and the swelling of waves. But the storm that assails the followers of Jesus surpasses all they have experienced.

Following Jesus means following Him into the storm. The Lord Jesus allows the storm. He allows the disciples to despair. He allows them to fear for their lives. Why? All so they might learn to cry out to Him, to seek His help.

Why does Jesus allow the storm? Why does the Lord allow the storms that bellow against you? Is God too harsh?

No. He treats us with far greater softness than we deserve.

Turbulence is a gift. Turmoil makes you pray. Tumult drives you to Jesus.

But Jesus is asleep. You know the feeling. There is no answer coming. God is radio silent. Jesus is asleep in the ship, and you feel like shouting the 44th Psalm: “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do You hide Your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our body clings to the ground. Arise for our help, and redeem us for Your mercies’ sake.” 

Ludolf Backhuysen, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee

“Why?” is a common cry among the saints. “Why do You sleep, O Lord?” Jesus Himself asks “Why?” in the desolation of the cross. In what we call the state of humiliation, Jesus does not exercise the power of His divine nature for His own benefit while working through all the trials of our human experience. He does certain things for the benefit of others, like healing or feeding, in miraculous ways, but in all His life and suffering, He feels the pain and cold and scorn just as we would. Some things He doesn’t even know during this state of humiliation, like the appointed time for the day of judgment.

I wonder if He knows fully the answer, at the time of His crucifixion, the question posed in Psalm 22, which He makes His own: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” What is worse, than to be abandoned by one who is called to love you? The Lord Jesus Himself is abandoned in this hour, abandoned by the very God who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

Why? Jesus is abandoned in our stead. Jesus takes the place of Jonah, the rebellious prophet, in the belly of the boat. Jesus will take Jonah’s place also in the belly of the beast, which finds its ultimate, horrific form in a cold slab inside a dark, Jerusalem tomb.

Why then does Jesus permit the storms that assail you? Why does He permit the storm that His disciples experience?

Our Lord permits the storm that the disciples might find in Him One mightier than the storm. He alone can rebuke the winds and waves.

Knowing that He is this kind of Lord, we are able to sleep—we are able to maintain a calm confidence—though the storm be fierce. Did He not save Noah through the Flood? Did He not rescue Joseph from the pit, and remove the accusations against him? Did He not save Daniel from the hungry jaws of the lions? Did He not save the three young men from the fiery furnace?

Will He not in the same way rescue you, O you of little faith?

Have you been baptized into His name? Have you been fed with His own body, refreshed with His own blood? Have you not had His blessing placed upon your head? So will He not also rescue you, O you of little faith?

You can sleep and rest secure. You have a Jesus who only appears to sleep, for He knows the storms are just the devil’s bluster. He is impotent, though He rage and breathe out malice. The cry, “Awake, O Lord! Why do You sleep?” gives way to the 4th Psalm, “I will both lie down in peace and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

You can go to your death with that kind of confidence. Jesus has taken His place in your boat – or rather, you have been brought into His. He will be with you through the turbulence. He will bring you safely to the other side.

Don’t despair at the turbulence in your life. For whom the Lord loves, He chastens. Following Jesus is to follow Him into the storm, so that we learn in the end who really controls all things.

You won’t always be able to be stoic. The hurts and betrayals and our own stupidity will drive us to shout “Why?” and be in a panic. The prayer of Jesus’ disciples today is yours too: “Lord, save us!” 

Shout it! Be angry, but do not sin. In your anger, in your fear, in your melancholy, this prayer is yours: “Lord, save us!”

He will answer. So you can discard the other part, “Lord, save us, we are perishing!” “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” You belong to Christ, O baptized ones! You will not perish! You will not be destroyed!

Following Jesus means following Him into the storm. So take this home today: When it seems that the Lord is sleeping, awaken Him. Arise, O Lord, and come to our aid!

At the proper time, He will bring a great calm. He says to the wind and the waves what He says to each one of you: “Peace, be still, and know that I am God.”

LCMS 2017 Life Conference Sermon

Posted on January 27th, 2017

March for Life 2017

January 27, 2017 • Arlington, Virginia

Matthew 5:13-19

LCMS at the March for Life 2017

The trash collectors rumbled away from the suburban neighborhood, and as sometimes happens, they’ve unknowingly dumped some of their garbage in the street. A man who lives there went out to look, and he’s confused. What is that on the pavement? At first he thinks it’s dead birds, then maybe dolls. Finally, he comprehends the horror. These are children: naked bodies scattered on the asphalt – tiny victims of abortion. How did they end up on a garbage truck?

This man—Richard Selzer, a physician—goes to the hospital. He speaks with the director, who assures him this was an accident. The little babies were, he says, “mixed up with the other debris.”

This doesn’t happen every day, he assures the doctor. And the doctor tries to reassure himself as he hears this. ‘Okay, this is orderly and sensible.’ “The world is not mad. This is still a civilized society.”

Then he reflects. “But just this once, you know it isn’t. You saw, and you know.” (Richard Selzer, Mortal Lessons)

There’s something worse here, I think, than Planned Parenthood harvesting and selling organs from the children they murder. That lurid crime, in its own twisted way, acknowledges the humanity of their victims, even giving them monetary value.

Those children on the trash truck, those babies littering the streets, had no value to mother or doctor or hospital. They were good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

When Jesus tells His Church, “You are the salt of the earth,” He is looking out on a world that has lost its salt, lost its way, lost its life. Salt was a costly resource in the ancient world, so much so that our word salary comes from the Latin salarium, money for a Roman soldier to buy salt. In a world without refrigeration, salt’s great value was in its preservative power. Without salt, food perishes. “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

So when Jesus sees a world without salt, He sees a world perishing. Once it’s spoiled, there’s nothing to do but throw it out.

But Jesus cannot look away. He stares into the horror, He sees the bodies littering the street, He sees the proud, the petulant, the porn-obsessed, and He says to His Father, “I will go. I will go into their streets, I will feel their humiliation, I will join their corpses. For they can yet be redeemed.”

St. John Chrysostom, whose commemoration is today, observed that when Jesus says to us, “You are the salt of the earth,” He’s saying that our life is not for ourselves alone.

[Jesus is saying,] ‘I am sending you … to the whole world, ill-disposed as it is.’ By saying, “You are the salt of the earth,” in fact, [Jesus] presented the whole of humankind as having lost its savor and been made corrupt by sin. [Spiritual Gems from the Gospel of Matthew, pp31f]

We have been salted by Jesus, saved by His death, preserved by His resurrection. Thus we go where Jesus sends us, ready ourselves to be trampled underfoot by a world gone mad. For Jesus sends us to where the salt is fading, where life is dying.

“You are the salt of the earth,” He says to us – but not because there’s anything noble, extraordinary, or holy about any of us. He goes on to say that He is the one who fulfills the Law and the Prophets.

He spends the rest of the chapter showing us the depth of our darkness. You think you haven’t murdered, but you had no problem gossiping about someone at church. You, Jesus says, are in danger of the judgment.

You think you haven’t committed adultery. But when you saw her, you took a second look. You are enflamed with desire; and when you repent, is it because you recognize the evil, or just because your lust has been sated? We dare not leave here with scorn for those in the grip of the evil one, his lies, his pomps, his deceits. For such were you.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says … but He also says in the same sermon, “You must be perfect.” “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So how does this match up with what we heard from Jesus, “I came to fulfill [the Law and the Prophets]”? It matches up like this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

Your righteousness is never enough – but His is. Your salt is never enough – but His is. Your light is never enough – but His is. The commemoration of Roe v. Wade is tragic, but this Holy Supper commemorates a different death, a death by which joy comes into the world.

When we leave here to go to the March, remember that it is not the March against Abortion, or the March to Overthrow the Court. It is the March for Life. 

Yesterday The Washington Post described the last eight years of the March for Life as a grim affair. If you’ve been out there before, you know that’s not true. And the only pro-abortion protestors I’ve seen are the three people at the end who are getting all the press.

I don’t know if today will be any different, but America is increasingly angry, vitriolic. Dear friends, let us not be angry. Let us not see others as our enemies. The abortion clinic worker, the protestor, the mother wondering what to do – Jesus died for them. We are no better; we are fellow beggars who have found the bread.

The world is mad. This is not a civil society. Human beings are thrown in dumpsters, or sold for parts.

But no degree of rage will be sufficient to win. Jesus receives all rage into Himself. There is His passive righteousness, assuming the curse, suffering the cross, being made sin. That is how we win.

We have no life to offer anyone today, no life of ours. All we have is the life of Jesus. We deserve to be trampled underfoot, with all the bodies littering this vast graveyard we call earth.

But Jesus calls dead men from their graves.

Jesus makes blind men see.

Jesus takes Planned Parenthood directors like Abby Johnson and brings them to the other side of the fence.

Jesus takes post-abortive women like my friend Julie and calls her to help vulnerable women at a local women’s clinic here in Northern Virginia.

What does Jesus call you to do? It’s right in front of your eyes. Love your wife. Love your children. Don’t have any? Teach Sunday School. Go bring some diapers to your local clinic. Don’t complain about the unruly toddler in church. Smile at the mother, and you’ll do more good than you can possibly imagine.

You are the salt of the earth because you are in Jesus. You are the light of the world because you are in Jesus.

Life wins, because Jesus is risen from the dead. With Him do we march. In Him do we live, in Him do we die, with Him we shall live forever. +INJ+

Encouragement for pastors

Posted on January 4th, 2017

From St. Basil:

Do not lament over a responsibility transcending your strength. If you had been destined to bear the burden unaided, it would have been not merely heavy; it would have been intolerable. But if the Lord shares the load with you, “cast all your care upon the Lord” and He will Himself act. Only be exhorted ever to give heed lest you be carried away by wicked customs. Rather change all previous evil ways into good by the help of the wisdom given you by God. For Christ has sent you not to follow others, but yourself to take the lead of all who are being saved.

He will Himself act!

2016 Year in Review on Esgetology

Posted on January 3rd, 2017

Looking back over 2016, these posts rose to the top in views, links, and feedback (posts from previous years are noted in parentheses):

  1. Sermo Dei: The Resurrection of Our Lord 2016
  2. Harmony in the Church
  3. Our Lord’s Gifts Are Not Garbage (2013)
  4. Luther on Suicide (2014)
  5. Holy Cross 2014 (2014)
  6. Sermo Dei: Ash Wednesday Matins (2013)
  7. A tale of two churches (2012)
  8. Sermo Dei: Reformation 2016
  9. Little Apples for Simpletons
  10. LCMS Convention Sermon: “Saints and Faithful Brothers”

Best Books of 2016

Posted on January 2nd, 2017

In 2016 I read twenty-seven books (far less than what I’d hoped). Here are my top five new reads in 2016:

  1. The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (Michael Walsh)
  2. Christianity and Liberalism (J. Gresham Machen)
  3. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
  4. The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (Bernard Lewis)
  5. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Albert Mohler)


Honorable Mention:

  1. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Lawrence Wright)
  2. Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service (Arthur Just)


Here’s the entire list, in reverse order of completion:

  1. Order to Kill (Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills) – started November 2016; finished December 2016
  2. Warriors of the Storm (Bernard Cornwell) – started November 2016; finished December 2016
  3. Crazy Busy (Kevin DeYoung – started November 2016; finished November 2016
  4. Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped (Garry Kasparov) – started October 2016; finished November 2016
  5. Big Money (P.G. Wodehouse) – started September 2016; finished September 2016
  6. Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds (Rusty Bradley, Kevin Maurer) – started August 2016; finished September 2016
  7. Meet Mr. Mulliner (P.G. Wodehouse) – started August 2016; finished September 2016
  8. It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies (Mary Eberstadt) – started July 24, 2016; finished August 2016
  9. Hold Me Tight (Sue Johnson) – started June 23, 2016; finished August 2016
  10. A Few Quick Ones (P.G. Wodehouse) – started July 14, 2016; finished July 29, 2016
  11. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Albert Mohler) – started June 14, 2016; finished July 24, 2016
  12. Something Fresh (P.G. Wodehouse) – started June 7, 2016; finished July 14, 2016
  13. Fahrenheit 451 [reread] (Ray Bradbury) – started June 17, 2016; finished June 23, 2016
  14. The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (Michael Walsh) – started May 16, 2016; finished June 14, 2016
  15. Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service (Arthur Just) – started March 14, 2015; finished June 10, 2016
  16. The Survivor (Kyle Mills, Vince Flynn) – started April 3, 2016; finished June 7, 2016
  17. The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (Bernard Lewis) – started May 6, 2016; finished May 16, 2016
  18. Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots)  (Matt Lewis) – started April 20, 2016; finished May 6, 2016
  19. Late-Talking Children: A Symptom or a Stage? (Stephen M. Camarata) – started April 5, 2016; finished April 20, 2016
  20. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Tim Weiner) – started January 24, 2016; finished April 5, 2016
  21. Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (P.G. Wodehouse) – started March 15, 2016; finished April 3, 2016
  22. The Cost of Discipleship [reread] (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – started February 9, 2016; finished March 18, 2016
  23. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky) – started September 9, 2015; finished March 15, 2016
  24. Christianity and Liberalism (J. Gresham Machen) – finished March 10, 2016
  25. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics [reread] (C.S. Lewis) – started November 17, 2015; finished February 1, 2016
  26. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Lawrence Wright) – started December 2, 2015; finished January 24, 2016
  27. God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas [reread] (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) –  started November 29, 2015; finished January 6, 2016


The 2015 reading recap is here.

You can see what I’m currently reading here.

What great books have you read lately? Please share in the comments.