Sermo Dei: Holy Thursday 2016

Posted on March 25th, 2016

There were three great Patriarchs of the Jews: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob had a twin brother Esau, and they had parted when Jacob by trickery got their father’s blessing instead of Esau. Esau had promised that he would one day kill Jacob. So Jacob fled, and worked for a man named Laban.

Things have gone well since then. Jacob has a family, and has become wealthy through breeding livestock. But he had to run away, because his brothers-in-law want to kill him. And now his old enemy, his brother Esau, is approaching. The scouts say Esau has with him an army of 400 men.

So this is it at last. There’s no more running, no more hiding. He has hatred from his own family, he is homeless, he has nothing other than the promise.

Separating his family members in hopes that some will survive, he kneels in the dust and, in fear and desperation, pleads with God to remember His promise:

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ (Ge 32:10–12)

Rembrandt, "Jacob's Prayer"

Rembrandt, “Jacob’s Prayer”

That is how we approach God. That is how we pray. And most especially on this night, that is how we come to the Sacrament of the Altar. We have two words, two sayings, two truths that always for us hang together: “I am not worthy”; and, “You said.” That’s what we find happening in the Epistle lesson tonight, St. Paul’s great teaching on how to approach Holy Communion.

We come entirely confessing our unworthiness. It is imperative that each one of us, each time we come to the Holy Supper, examine ourselves. This is the clear instruction of God’s Word to us:

28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 

How do we examine ourselves? On the basis of the Ten Commandments, which are all summarized by the word Love: Have you loved God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Our honest examination leads us to say with Jacob, “I am not worthy,” which forms the basis of tonight’s Eucharistic Prayer: “We are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto us.” This confession of unworthiness drives us to look to the body and blood of Jesus, the one man who is worthy, the one man who is sinless, the one man who exchanges His strength for our weakness. That’s the “You said” of the Lord’s Supper: Jesus said, “This is My body, This is My blood,” and He said that He gives it to us “for the remission of sins.” We are not worthy, but He said that He gives us His body which takes away our unworthiness, takes away our sins. He gives us sanctity for defilement, cleanness for dirtiness, chastity for fornication, joy for despair, peace for fear, life for death.

But if you come to the supper saying, “I deserve this,” you will incur only God’s wrath:

29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 

The Supper gives life, even unto the resurrection; but if we come thinking we are worthy, and not depending on what God has said about the Supper, then it will be to our death.

31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 

These are the options: judge ourselves, or be judged, by God. Accepting God’s judgment now, we accept His discipline:

32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Judged now, we come to the Supper in repentance, saying, “I am not worthy; but You promised forgiveness, You promised life, You promised Yourself, and I know You do not lie. The world lies to me. The devil lies to me, promising me what is not true. Lies rage in my own heart and soul, making me anger or despair, euphoric at my glory, melancholy at my failure. But You do not lie. You made me, and though I am fallen, You love me still. Wash me as You washed Peter. Cleanse me as You cleansed David. Drive away my demons, as You freed Mary Magdalene. I am not worthy, but You have promised, and I take You at Your Word. In You will I live, in You will I die, and Yours will I be forever.” +INJ+

 

Prayers for the Holy Communion

Posted on March 23rd, 2016

MysticalSupper-new

I first heard these prayers used at Divine Service at Redeemer, Fort Wayne. I believe they come to us by way of the 1908 Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal, but I don’t know a source beyond that. The outline below is where we place them when used (a couple times a year) at Immanuel. I post them here for your Holy Thursday reflection.


 

PREFACE

PROPER PREFACE

SANCTUS

 

GLORY be to Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou almighty and everlasting Son of the Father, that by the sacrifice of Thyself upon the cross, offered up once for all, Thou didst perfect them that are sanctified, and ordain, as a memorial and seal thereof, Thy Holy Supper, in which Thou givest us Thy body to eat, and Thy blood to drink, that being in Thee, even as Thou art in us, we may have eternal life, and be raised up at the last day. Most merciful and exalted Redeemer, we humbly confess that we are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto us, and that, by reason of our sins, we are too impure and weak worthily to receive Thy saving gifts. Sanctify us, therefore, we beseech Thee, in our bodies and souls, by Thy Holy Spirit, and thus fit and prepare us to come to Thy Supper, to the glory of Thy grace, and to our own eternal good. And in whatsoever, through weakness, we do fail and come short, in true repentance and sorrow on account of our sins, in living faith and trust in Thy merits, and in an earnest purpose to amend our sinful lives, do Thou graciously supply and grant, out of the fulness of the merits of Thy bitter sufferings and death; to the end that we, who even in this present world desire to enjoy Thee, our only comfort and, Savior, in the Holy Sacrament, may at last see Thee face to face in Thy heavenly kingdom, and dwell with Thee, and with all Thy saints, for ever and ever. Amen.

LORD’S PRAYER

VERBA 

 

PRAISE, and honor, and glory, be unto Thee, O Christ! The bread which we bless is the communion of Thy holy body, and the cup which we bless is the communion of Thy holy blood. O Thou everlasting Son of the Father, sanctify us by Thy Holy Spirit, and make us worthy partakers of Thy sacred body and blood, that we may be cleansed from sin and made one with all the members of Thy Church in heaven and on earth. Lord Jesus! Thou hast bought us: to Thee will we live, to Thee will we die, and Thine will we be forever. Amen. 

 

AGNUS DEI

Sermo Dei: Palm Sunday 2016

Posted on March 21st, 2016

There are people in this country who do not belong. So say the nationalists. They’re angry, and ready to drive these foreigners out. Others have welcomed the foreigners. “The world has changed,” they say, “and we have to accept the new reality.” The parties bicker while the situation gets worse. We once were a great nation, but we haven’t had a leader in a long time: a real leader, someone who can make us great again.

There is a bold man, a strong man who is willing to fight for us. But there’s been near riots in the city, and he’s made the establishment nervous. Many say he goes too far.

There’s another man who has helped the poor. He advocates sharing property, and condemns the rich. Some call him a socialist, or worse.

For many, none of the options seem appealing. They all make us nervous.

Palm_Sunday icon

I’m talking, of course, about the situation in Jerusalem in mid-March, AD 33. Foreigners have taken over Judea, installing a Roman governor, currently Pontius Pilate. Barabbas the strong man is in prison for committing murder in a rebellion. And now Jesus enters the city, with an army of poor people singing Jewish songs for the inauguration of a king.

19  Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

20  This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

22  The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone.

24  This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25  Save us, we pray, O Lord!

O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 118:19–26.

So they welcomed Jesus. But their expectation was a political or military victory. He has come for a very different reason: to walk the way of the cross, there atoning for our sins—and invite us to be His disciples, walking too on the way of the cross, not fighting for earthly power but imitating Jesus in forgiveness, patience, and trust in the Father even to the end.


This Holy Week is not only the story of Jesus, but it is your story. We reenact it, in a sense, by things like the procession with palms, not to be creative, but to remind us that we are in the story, that God became man to join us in our plight and lead us through death to resurrection.

When we, instead, think that our primary story is the one told by our politics or March Madness bracket or our personal lusts and predilections, we will fall into pride or despair.

And when despair comes: when we are dissatisfied with every political candidate; seemingly ignored or laughed at by everyone—even at church; when your ailing body gets worse; when the time of despair comes, you go to helpers—lawyers, physicians, pastors, therapists, friends—but what do you do when nothing seems to help, when you say, “No one is coming to help”?

Perhaps you’ve felt that way, as everything falls apart in your family, your career, your health, your soul. I have long mental lists of the things people have told me they’ve given up for Lent – not just chocolate, or meat, but things that cause them to struggle: lusts, addictions, behaviors that harm self and others. The Holy Spirit calls us—calls you, and me—to throw off, repudiate, renounce the things of evil: “Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Col. 3.5).

And again, “Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3.8f). Do you think there will be no consequences? The Holy Spirit expressly says, “The wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience” (Col. 3.6).


So what do you do when you have failed? When you have failed not just in your discipline for Lent, but in your Christian life, where can you turn?

Hosanna! is your word, Hosanna! is your song. It means “Help us, save us now!” The Hebrews turned it into a cheer of praise for a king or champion. It is that for us, and Christians used it in their earliest liturgies. At the communion, the pastor would say, “Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Didache 10:6) We use it this way, but when you are in despair, when you feel the weight of your sins, when you start to think that this world’s problems are the ultimate problems, then maybe we need to get back to the earlier, literal meaning of Hosanna: Save us now! Come and help me!


Sometimes I look at the church and say, “Where is our Luther? Where is our Athanasius? Where is our Augustine? We need a champion to help us.” Or I look at the country and say, “Where is our Lincoln, where is our Madison? No one is coming to help.” And you too may say, as pastors, poets, priests, and politicians fail us: “No one is coming to help.” But that is blasphemy. For the Lord tells us first of all, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” God uses people as He sees fit – but there is one Savior, one King, one God who became Man to answer our cry of Hosanna, to be our Help when all helps fail, to be our Light when all other lights go out.

If we lived at the times of our heroes, we would have felt the same troubles as now. Luther saw the Western Church collapsing around him; Augustine had to confront the accusation that Christians were responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire; and Athanasius, the great defender of Christian doctrine, was made into such a villain that he was sent into exile; he alone seemed to stand fast for the truth, so that he was called Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.”

Lincoln, one of our great presidents, saw the nation go to war with itself, and for freeing the slaves was rewarded with assassination.

There is no golden age, there is no earthly paradise we can create by working harder or finding the right leader.

But there is a Jesus who answers your cry. He refuses to fulfill the earthly dreams of a people demanding that He make Israel great again. He wins by dying, He lives by bleeding. He forgives even His enemies.


So do you have sins that trouble your conscience? Have you been angry? Slothful? Despairing? Have you failed to love, failed to pray, failed to go to confession? Have you broken your Lenten fast, broken your marriage vows, broken your baptism and confirmation promises?

Your conscience should trouble you: and when it does, O sinner, look to another sin—the Jesus who was made the snake on the pole, the bronze serpent. The sinless One became sin, all of your faithlessness, all your anger, lust, rage is poured onto Him. A sponge was lifted to His lips, but He Himself is the sponge, absorbing into Himself all of your failure, all of your wickedness, all of your sin. All of it. Your sins condemned Jesus. So when you look at the cross, you see their end.

A few years ago, a little girl came to the Ash Wednesday service and received the ashes on her forehead. That night, she washed and went to bed. In the morning, she said to her mother, “Look! My sins are gone!”

We veil the crosses as we go deeper into Lent because our stupidity causes us to miss what is really happening. When we hit Good Friday and the veil is removed, it is the calendar’s way of telling you to look at the cross and say the same thing as that pious little girl: Look! My sins are gone!

Your sins are gone. You are free. Rejoice and be glad, and whenever you are in doubt, whenever you worry, whenever you sin, whenever you despair, you have a word: Hosanna! Help me, save me, dear Jesus! +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Oculi 2016

Posted on March 7th, 2016

On June 16, 1858, the Republican State Convention met in Springfield, IL, and chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for senate. Lincoln’s speech that night is said to have cost him the election, but eventually propel him to the presidency. Outlining the Republican position that slavery must be ended, Lincoln turned to the Scripture passage read as part of today’s Gospel (Lent III [Oculi], Luke 11:14-28) and used the same analogy concerning a country divided by slavery:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. 

It will become all one thing or all the other. 

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new –North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition? (http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm) 

Abraham Lincoln understood that America would have to choose: would we be a country that recognized the full humanity of the men and women we had enslaved? He saw the danger that if slavery wasn’t stopped completely, it would eventually prevail completely. Lincoln recognized that it was no right goal to make slavery safe, legal, and rare; a nation founded on the idea of the natural right to life and liberty for every human could not in good conscience allow for slavery in certain circumstances, such as the health or economic well-being of the slave-owner. If it is wrong, it is wrong – full stop.


Evil must be stopped, and the dignity of every human being recognized. The need to address evil, by the way, includes the evil done in our day to little children, born and unborn, who are thrown out with the garbage, or dismembered and sold for parts – largely in black or hispanic neighborhoods, or because girls are valued less than boys. We don’t step to the sidelines when an issue becomes “political.” We Christians dare not become subservient to the bosses of any party – but we cannot be silent and stay out of the conversation when human beings are treated worse than animals.

But have we no tendency, Lincoln asked, toward the evil? Lincoln’s friends and enemies alike thought the speech went too far. And he lost that campaign for senate.

Each of us is a house divided.

Radical commitment means being willing to suffer loss. It involves going a narrow path.

The call to you by the Lord Jesus this Lent is to address the evil not only in the world, but within you. Each of us is a house divided.


It was not so in the beginning. In the beginning, man was made to be in communion with God and to live in selfless love toward his wife. The fall into sin brings a radical change in the heart of man. We call this original sin, or inherited sin. It doesn’t refer to Adam’s sin as the original, or first, sin, but rather that our origins are sinful, we inherit a nature curved in on ourselves. We act and make decisions based on what pleases us, or what works to our advantage. Even the nice things people do have the motivation that it will improve their situation or standing, or give them a sense of pride because they are good. We are born with this problem, and it must be addressed.


Baptism window

Have you paid attention to the words said at a baptism? They are striking, and seem positively medieval. First, the pastor in the name of Jesus orders the devil to leave: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.” Later the language gets stronger: “I adjure you, unclean spirit, that you come out of and depart from this child of God.”

When I first encountered this language, it conjured up images of exorcisms from movies, where a demon has taken personal control of a person. That’s not at all the meaning here. Rather, it is picking up on the Biblical language of the devil being the prince of this world, the ruler of this world, and other kinds of terms indicating that everyone is under the sway of the devil’s way of thinking. Consider St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he calls the devil, “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (2:2-3).

So at Baptism we are called to renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways. But the battle goes on. Jesus today tells a parable about a man freed from the power of the devil, but he does not fill his house, that is, his body, mind, and life, with holy things. He remains an empty vessel, and so he is overtaken by a host of demons, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. The Holy Spirit has no dwelling in this man. For how does the Holy Spirit dwell within us, but by the invocation of the holy Name, daily calling upon the Father for His kingdom to come among us, for His will to be done in us, for our sins to be forgiven and for the grace to forgive our neighbors? Often at Divine Service we pray the prayer of a repentant adulterer and murderer, pleading for a renewing of the Holy Spirit in his life. So also we approach the Holy Communion.


The continuing power of sin makes each of us a house divided. There is a civil war going on within each of us, for the tendency of our flesh, the mockery and enticement of the world, and the assaults of the devil all try to pull us back to our pre-baptismal nature, pull us away from being disciples of Jesus.

There is even a kind of peace in that life. In today’s Gospel there is another parable, the parable of the strong man. This strong man is the devil, and he rules and guards this world and its possessions, meaning its people. When he does this, they are kept at peace. That peace seems alluring, for you do not have to go against the grain, against the tide, against the trends. There is peace in doing what is popular, doing what is easy. Take no stand for truth, go along, and you will experience a kind of peace.

God did not make you to be a slave.

But it is a false peace, a diabolical peace. God did not make you to be a slave. He did not make you to be a slave to other powers, nor a slave to your passions. The disciplines of Lent—prayer, giving money, and fasting—all reveal in us that we have become slaves to food and drink, possessions and passions. St. Paul in today’s Epistle tells us that if we are slaves to our passions, we are not children of God:

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Though your sins be great, greater still is His redemption. Your sins are gone and you have a redeemer, a Lord, a stronger one whom death cannot hold but who holds you through death into life in His kingdom.

Repent, be filled with remorse and sorrow for these things. For you, the Lord Jesus Christ comes. Those passions with which you struggle, He has overcome them. He Himself, as a man, endured every trouble of the flesh, every insult of the world, every mockery and temptation of the devil. All these He conquered. Jesus is your Jesus, your savior and victor. Though all the world embrace madness and racism and seek to reject every natural law, they can win nothing. The devil is a lion with no teeth. His roar is impotent, be it ever so terrifying, for Jesus has overcome him. Jesus is the stronger man who tears down the devil’s wall and brings forth the spoils, the treasures of war. And what are these treasures? You are. Though the world count you as insignificant, though the great ones deride you as a “loser,” though you be troubled by anxiety or despair, though your marriage be loveless or cancer ravage your body, though everything and every one turn against you, be not troubled, be not anxious, be not afraid. You are the great treasure that the Lord Jesus came to this world for to rescue and redeem. Though the world count you as of no worth, you are of infinite worth and infinite price to Jesus, who shed His blood on the cross for you. Though your sins be great, greater still is His redemption. Your sins are gone and you have a redeemer, a Lord, a stronger one whom death cannot hold but who holds you through death into life in His kingdom.

Be no more a house divided. You belong to Christ. In Him will you live, in Him will you die, and His shall you be forever. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Sexagesima 2016

Posted on March 4th, 2016

Allahu Akbar!” the Taliban insurgents cried. Combat Outpost Keating, in northeastern Afghanistan, was under heavy fire. It was before dawn on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009. The enemy was inside the wire, and air support would not arrive for hours. Sergeant John Francis reported, “The gates of hell just opened up on us.” Taking fire from a sniper, Sergeant Jonathan Hill tried to fire back. He missed high. Then he missed low. His friend, Sergeant Francis, barked at him through cracked ribs the same words Hill would say as a drill sergeant: “Practice your … fundamentals!” He went through his routine, and when the next opportunity came, he did not miss. (Adapted from The Outpost, by Jake Tapper)

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 8:4-15) is about the fundamentals – surviving when your environment is trying to destroy you. When hell opens up on you, when you are beguiled by success, enticed by the pleasures of the flesh, when your marriage seems to be ending, when everything you trusted is falling apart, the Parable of the Sower tells you what is fundamental: to be a patient, trusting hearer of God’s Word and promises.

 

Our Small Catechism gives us the fundamentals. The fundamentals are those things which, when under fire, guide us back to our center. These fundamentals are the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Holy Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, along with our daily prayers and Table of Duties.

 

Success in anything requires a devotion to the fundamentals. A football team must know how to tackle. A musician must know the scales so that they come automatically, without thinking. An ER nurse must know what to do when a patient has a seizure.

 

The fundamentals are important. But there is a great difference between learning and practicing the fundamentals of the Christian Faith, and being a Fundamentalist.


“Fundamentalist” has become a pejorative term for strict religious belief, even a slur that puts Muslims, Christians and others all in the same category. “Fundamentalist” is used to slander people, saying they reject rational, scientific thought, want to enslave women, and impose theocracy.

 

This is inaccurate and unhelpful. The term Fundamentalism comes from a series of writings from 1910-1915 called The Fundamentals, which led to the creation of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association. This movement heavily influenced Baptist, Presbyterian, and other denominations in the first half of the twentieth century.

 

In 1966, Milton Rudnick’s book Fundamentalism & the Missouri Synod was published. His original title was Fundamentalism in the Missouri Synod, as he set out to prove the Fundamentalist influence on our Lutheran church. He ended up changing his thesis and title as he researched the book. His conclusion is that the LCMS

is remarkably free of Fundamentalist taint. At the grass roots, however, there was some absorption. The Synod made the English language transition during the Fundamentalist era, and, lacking an adequate English literature of their own, some Missouri Synod Lutherans used the biblicistic writings of Fundamentalists. Frequently the Synod’s doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is cited as evidence of Fundamentalist influence. However, the actual source of this doctrine is the theology of 17th-century Lutheran Orthodoxy.

In his later assessment of his book and the response to it, he noted how carelessly people use terms to exclude others and shut down debate. Five decades later, this is even more true. If you hold, for example, to a doctrine like closed communion, or support traditional marriage, it’s not uncommon to be labeled as “Taliban” or “Al-Qaeda.” After all, you’re a fundamentalist, they’re fundamentalists, all religions are the same, and suddenly a mild-mannered Lutheran pastor is labeled a terrorist. This is how societies transform quickly into doing things like rounding up all the Jews, or all the Christians. I pray that doesn’t happen here. But if you have eyes to see, the pieces are all being moved into place.


So how will you respond, if you are slurred as a Fundamentalist, if you are fired from your job for being a Christian, as happened last year to Kevin Cochran, a fire chief in Atlanta – or fired for being pro-life, as happened last week to Harmony Daws, who worked for a cleaning company in Oregon?

 

It need not be dramatic. The assaults of the devil, the world, and the flesh may not be seen. But you feel them, choking your life, pecking away like birds gobbling seeds. How will you respond?

 

Listen to your Lord Jesus:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (Lk 8:11–12)

Salvation comes through believing the Word. What does that mean? Remember those fundamentals: The Word in the Ten Commandments says, “Repent! You have not loved God with your whole heart. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself.” The Word in the Creed then says, “Look! God has made you. The Son has taken on your nature and redeemed you with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. The Holy Spirit has called you, sanctified you, and He will raise you up at the last day.”


What are the things that threaten your trust in this Word? Your anxiety, even about mundane things. Jesus says that the “cares, riches, and pleasures of life” strangle the Word. Your cares are the things you are anxious about, worrying about. Remember Martha, who was upset that her sister wasn’t helping enough in the kitchen. Our Lord rebuked her for her worry, her anxiety – and said that Mary, sitting passively on the floor listening to Jesus, was seeking the better thing. Now, we need to eat, and the kitchen does need cleaning – but it isn’t even close to the most important thing.

 

Don’t we have an amazing capacity to put almost anything ahead of listening to God’s Word, and avoid casting our anxieties on Him by our prayers? What does that say? “I have to deal with my problems; God is no help.” Anxiety says, “The Lord is not my shepherd; unless I take care of myself, I shall be in want.” But faith says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

 

We work, but our work is transformed into service to God and neighbor, not service to our fears. Then after work, we gather for Eucharist, for giving thanks, which becomes our aid in temptation. Listen for that guidance in the earliest written sermon outside the Bible, called 2 Clement:

Therefore let us also be found among those that give thanks, among those that have served God, and not among the ungodly that are judged. For I myself too, being an utter sinner and not yet escaped from temptation, but being still amidst the engines of the devil, do my diligence to follow after righteousness, that I may prevail so far at least as to come near unto it, while I fear the judgment to come. (2 Clement 18:1-2)

We are not Fundamentalists—but we must pay heed to the fundamentals. For we are under assault, more subtle but every bit as deadly as a sniper taking aim at us. Open your mind to the Law and Promises of God. Guard your mind from temptation: pride, despair, lust, and anger. Scatter the temptations as birds you shoo away, for they flee at the name of JESUS.

 

The beauty of the good soil is it does nothing—nothing but hang onto the seed—the Word. The Lord does the work; Jesus is your Jesus, your Savior. Hold, cling, keep to His work, His cross, His resurrection, His renewal in you, His return. He will do it. Wait on Him. Wait, I say, upon the Lord. +INJ+

 

Preached at Immanuel, Alexandria, January 31, 2016

2015 Reading Recap

Posted on January 21st, 2016

Books

In 2015 I finished 41 books. That’s eleven less than my goal of one book per week; hopefully 2016 will be more successful. My top five new books (i.e., new to me, not necessarily recently published) were:

  1. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)
  2. Barchester Towers (Anthony Trollope)
  3. A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537) (Holsten Fagerberg)
  4. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
  5. Life Together (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Honorable mention:

  1. Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright)
  2. The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

My biggest disappointment was Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. Many have raved about it, and C.S. Lewis once said it was the book that most influenced his theology. I perhaps need to reread it this year and see if my assessment changes. (My first read of Irenaeus’s On the Apostolic Preaching was completely disappointing, but the second read, a decade later, revealed it to be far more profound than I realized. I try to keep that in mind when I don’t like a book.)


 

Here’s the entire list from 2015, in reverse order of completion:

  1. In Cold Blood (Truman Capote) – started October 19, 2015; finished December 2, 2015
  2. The Return of the King [reread] (J.R.R. Tolkien)  – started July 15, 2015; finished November 16, 2015 
  3. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr) – started September 20, 2015; finished October 18, 2015
  4. The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left (Yuval Levin) – started August 9, 2015; finished September 18, 2015
  5. Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright) – finished September 17, 2015
  6. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (P.G. Wodehouse) – started August 24, 2015; finished September 8, 2015
  7. The Empty Throne (Bernard Cornwell) – started July 27, 2015; finished August 22, 2015
  8. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident (Donnie Eichar) – started July 12, 2015; finished August 8, 2015
  9. The Mating Season (P.G. Wodehouse) – started July 15, 2015; finished July 27, 2015
  10. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) – started January 5, 2015; finished July 20, 2015
  11. Jeeves in the Morning [reread] (P.G. Wodehouse) – started June 29, 2015; finished July 15, 2015
  12. Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism (Ion Mahai Pacepa; Ronald J. Rychlak) – started May 19, 2015; finished July 11, 2015
  13. The Code of the Woosters: Jeeves to the Rescue [reread] (P.G. Wodehouse) – started June 22, 2015; finished June 29, 2015
  14. Carry on, Jeeves [reread] (P.G. Wodehouse) – started June 15, 2015; finished June 22, 2015
  15. The Two Towers [reread] (J.R.R. Tolkien) – started May 11, 2015; finished June 15, 2015
  16. What’s Best Next (Matt Perman) – started April 12, 2015; finished May 19, 2015
  17. How to Outsmart Your Inbox (The SaneBox Team) – finished May 19, 2015
  18. What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Girgis, Anderson, & George) – finished May 18, 2015
  19. The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande) – finished May 12, 2015
  20. Right Ho, Jeeves [rereading] (P.G. Wodehouse) – started April 26, 2015; finished May 11, 2015
  21. 1984 [reread] (George Orwell) – started March 24, 2015; finished April 26, 2015
  22. The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul (Jordan Cooper) – finished April 23, 2015
  23. The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – started March 25, 2015; finished April 20, 2015
  24. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943 (The Liberation Trilogy, Volume I, by Rick Atkinson) – finished April 12, 2015
  25. A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537) (Holsten Fagerberg) – finished March 26, 2015
  26. The Lamb’s Supper (Scott Hahn) – started March 11, 2015; finished March 25, 2015
  27. Thank You, Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse) – started March 5, 2015; finished March 23, 2015
  28. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Robert Farrar Capon) – finished March 11, 2015
  29. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Roland Bainton) – started February 20, 2015; finished March 11, 2015
  30. Brave New World [reread] (Aldous Huxley) – started February 20, 2015; finished March 4, 2015
  31. Very Good, Jeeves [reread] (P.G. Wodehouse) – started February 10, 2015; finished February 20, 2015
  32. Justified by Faith Alone (R.C. Sproul) – Started February 17, 2015; finished February 20, 2015
  33. The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (R.C. Sproul) – started February 4, 2015; finished February 16, 2015
  34. Barchester Towers (Anthony Trollope) – finished February 12, 2015
  35. The Fellowship of the Ring [reread] (J.R.R. Tolkien) – started January 6, 2015; finished February 10, 2015
  36. The Everlasting Man (G.K. Chesterton) – started January 9, 2015; finished February 3, 2015
  37. Life Together (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – finished January 13, 2015
  38. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas) – finished January 8, 2015
  39. God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – finished January 6, 2015
  40. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Jonah Goldberg) – finished January 5, 2015
  41. The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen) – finished January 4, 2015

You can see what I’m currently reading here.

Sermo Dei: The Funeral of Roy Edge

Posted on September 25th, 2015

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


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

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

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

lazarus

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Sermo Dei: Psalm 115

Posted on September 24th, 2015

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

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


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

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

Footwashing

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

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


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

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

God Remembers

Posted on September 12th, 2015

LCMS Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Abortion

Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Abortion

September 12, 2015

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

Exodus 2


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

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

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

Memorial Stone for the Victims of Abortion

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


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

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

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

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:23–25 ESV)

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

Confessing the King

Posted on September 10th, 2015

Let's Talk conference

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

Sermon at Vespers, September 9, 2015

Psalm 110; John 18-19


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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