Sermo Dei: Passion Choral Vespers

Posted on April 9th, 2014

Most of life is a battle of wills. A boy wants to eat more candy, the father says, “You’ve had enough.” A girl wants to stay up late, the mother says, “Go to bed.” Self-discipline teaches us to restrain our will. We would prefer to read a book or watch television, but the homework must be done, so the wise person says, “I would be happier playing a video game right now, but I know that it will not lead to my happiness tomorrow.” That is good, but not yet how the Lord Jesus goes to His passion. We heard His simple prayer: “Not what I will, but what You will.” Does Jesus want to go to the cross? Not at all. Getting beaten up, laughed at, spit upon, and nailed to a tree is the last thing He wants to do. But He says to God the Father, “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”


Adam said to God, “You will that I not eat of this tree, but my will is to eat of it.” And he did. And he died.


Cain said to God, “You will that I not slay my brother, but my will is to strike him down.” And he did. And he was banished.


Throughout human history, men have known God’s will but eagerly turned against it.


Only Jesus always said to God His Father, “Not what I will, but what You will.” Jesus is the perfect man, because He always does God’s perfect will.


What does it get Him? It gets Him killed. But it’s worse than just dying. Jesus is brought to the point of saying this: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” That’s Aramaic, which was the everyday language Jesus spoke. It means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”


Forsaken is a big word, and terrible. It means to be left all alone, abandoned, not cared for. Can you imagine how terrible it would be to be left all alone, to have everybody turn against you?


On the cross, Jesus suffered more than just the pain of nails and thorns. He suffered the terrible pain in heart and mind of having God the Father turn against Him. That’s what sin does. It separates us from God, causing a terrible divide so that God turns away. When Jesus suffers for us, that’s the biggest thing He suffers – God looks away from Him, leaves Him all alone.


But the most amazing thing is that, through it all, Jesus still says, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.” Jesus never stops calling the Father His God. At the darkest moment, Jesus still trusts completely in God the Father.


Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, God says to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So, No matter how bad things get, no matter how terrible this world is, no matter how terrifying death is, remember God’s Word to you: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Different understandings of faith

Posted on April 9th, 2014

How can you articulate the core difference between Eastern Orthodoxy and the theology of the West? Original sin is, of course, critical to the discussion. But there is something deeper, which I have often termed mysticism. I wonder if the difference is really as simple as what we mean by “faith.”

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative (“Do You Really Want To Be Orthodox?”) shared a letter by the Orthodox nun Mother Thekla, in which she encourages the convert to the East not to embrace any knowing beyond faith. Crucial is the definition of faith which follows:

Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.

The classic Western definition of faith is nearly the opposite: Faith is notitia, fiducia, et assensus (knowledge, trust, and assent). In my understanding of Christianity, we do not accept the Truth without proof. That is the point of the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles. I suspect Mother Thekla’s definition—accepting something without proof—is what most people today, Orthodox, Protestant, and others, mean by “faith.”

Sermo Dei: Judica 2014

Posted on April 9th, 2014

The last century or two theologians have attempted to “modernize” Christianity by keeping ethical principles of justice and sharing while dismissing anything supernatural. The devil is the first to go. Belief in the devil is positively antiquated, so the thinking goes.

Evil, though, everyone can believe in. The evidence of it surrounds us. But what God’s Word teaches about evil is very different from popular belief.

Evil is not a force or power, like the dark side in Star Wars.

God does not create evil.

God creates persons – beings with wills. When God created spirits, and men, He gave them freedom, freedom to choose the good, or not; freedom to listen to His Word, or not. Their actions could not be good if they were not freely chosen, freely thought, freely done.

But when someone is granted freedom, there is the possibility that they will not choose the good. Thus the spirit called Lucifer, “Light-bearer,” turned himself away from the light and chose darkness.

Evil is not a force or a power; rather, this personal being whom we now call the “evil one” turned hearts away from their Creator.

His central method is the lie. “He is a liar and the father of it.” The devil is a liar. That’s John 8. Now remember the opening sentence of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.” God spoke, and creation sprang into being. God creates by His Word. The devil destroys by corrupting, perverting the Word. His central goal is murder, the murder of man. He hates man, for man is the crown of God’s creation. The glory of God is a living man; the glory of the devil is a dead man. The Word of God creates. The lie of the devil destroys.

In the beginning was the Word; and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He faced the lie. Today accelerates what we heard in the first three Sundays in Lent. There, we saw saw the battle between Jesus and the devil: in the wilderness, Jesus rejects his lies; with the Canaanite woman, Jesus reverses the corruption the devil has brought upon the woman’s daughter; and in the parable of the strong man, Jesus announces that he has come to strip the strong man, the devil, of his possessions, which are people, the people whom the devil holds in bondage.

You know that bondage. It’s found in the cancer creeping in your body, the degeneration of your eyes and ears. But there is a worse kind of bondage, the bondage of fear and rage, resentment and desire, greed and envy. You will not speak with your enemy, you will not forgive, you complain and you boast and you moan. And then quickly, so quickly, days become years become decades and you draw near to death, facing the final bondage of mortality in the dissolution of your remains, back to the dust from which our first father was formed.

The devil need not speak to you directly to tell you the lie. The lie is written everywhere. The lie is embedded in the messages that scream at you or entice you like sirens, messages scrolling across screens, messages whispered in dark corners, messages massaged on soft couches, messages jammed into eyes and ears wherever your vulnerable skull goes. The messages all repeat the lies, lies told about God, you, and the world.

The lies run like this:

• Look out for yourself above all.

• Seize pleasure.

• You are a good person.

• Your body is your own.

• Your body is just a shell.

• Your body arose from the sludge.

• Children are a disease. We should terminate them.

• Imagine there’s no god, no heaven, no hell.

• Just take the Soma and don’t ask questions.


Into the world captivated by the lie comes the Word, to speak the Truth, open the Way that leads to Life.

It is a hard truth, requiring you to confess: confess that you have been entranced by the lie, that it still beckons you, lurks within you, encourages you to hate your neighbor and serve yourself.

Today’s Gospel (John 8:42-59) comes the week before Palm Sunday to show us why the Jewish leaders sought to kill Jesus. He declared that He is God in the flesh, I AM, and those who keep His Word will be freed from death. That is at the heart of the Truth which Jesus preaches, the Truth which Jesus lives, the Truth which Jesus is.

Christ icon

Summarized, that Truth is this: God made the world. He made the world from nothing. He made the world out of love. He gave good gifts to man.

But man believed the lie. He heard the devil’s word, denying God’s goodness. Our first father believed that he could become as god.

He fell. He died. All of his children have died.

But Christ the new Adam came. He too, died, but not like the rest. He died without sin. He rose.

That resurrection is the Day Abraham rejoiced to see, longed to see.

Most of you believe this. But still, the lie has pull over you. You are drawn to the delusion, the delirium and the depression as the lie bombards you day after day. We are like victims caught in a tyrannical state’s “reeducation” camp.

Reject the lie. Hang on to the truth. In every dark moment, in every temptation, in every bit of anger and sorrow, melancholy and weakness, look to the truth. Take up your cross and follow Him, for in a world of lies, Jesus is the Truth; in a world of traps, Jesus is the Way; in a world of death, Jesus is the Life. Easter is coming, and resurrection. Spurn the lie, and believe that truth.



You can listen to this sermon by clicking here.

Sermo Dei: Ash Wednesday 2014

Posted on April 8th, 2014

Jesus expects you to fast. “When you fast,” tonight’s Gospel says. When. It’s not optional. This is what disciples of Jesus do. In the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “When you give alms,” and, “When you pray.” These are things that Christians do. This season of Lent is called in German Fastenzeit – “fasting-time.”

I read recently a very earnest and well-intentioned essay by a pastor that argued that fasting is bad for your spiritual life. He says it’s because it makes rules that are within our reach, which makes us legalists—people who think that God is pleased with us because of what we do. His other main point is that fasting confuses sin with something exterior to ourselves—that what comes into us is what defiles. He supports his argument from Mark 7: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20–23 NKJV).

He’s raised two very good points that we would do well to consider: the problem with legalism, and the problem with making food sin.

First, legalism. If fasting is a rule by the keeping of which you think God is pleased, then your religion is not the Christian one. For Christianity teaches that none of us has pleased God – only Christ has done that. And if your fast is something easy and within your reach, you’re doing it wrong.

Now this ties in with the second point, that the food, the thing from the outside, is made to be something that defiles you. Here perhaps is where a bit of confusion has crept in. The Old Testament had certain dietary restrictions, foods that were unclean, such as pork. It’s not that fasting meant abstaining from pork for a time. No, pork was always off limits – always! In addition, the Jews had created purification rites such as ritual hand washing. The disciples of Jesus were criticized for not washing their hands according to this tradition, this man-made rule.

But New Testament Christian fasting does not in any way suggest that particular foods are themselves unclean. Eating pork, or chocolate, or drinking beer or having a glass of wine, is not sinful in itself. It is absolutely true that it is not what comes from without that defiles you. The problem is your heart.

But your metaphorical heart worships your body, and your literal heart is part of your body. So the sins that come from the heart, many of these are quite specifically bodily sins: adultery, murder, theft, these are things done by your body and that involve and harm also your neighbor’s body. In short, your body, and the way you worship it, is a problem. You indulge, you pamper, you shower your body with every delight.

Far too often, your body rules you. Your mouth runs out of control, saying terrible things. You grasp for what does not belong to you. You consume far more than you need. Sometimes you eat when you are not even hungry, as though another cookie will suppress the pain of a life that is not going as you had once dreamed. And sex – what you have done with your body, and what you have longed to do – is deeply corrupt, a perversion of God’s plan for holy marriage and procreation. Your body is out of control precisely because your heart is desperately wicked. Your flesh is infected with the contagion of sin which has festered in every son of Adam.

So while it is true that the problem is your heart, that problem infects and affects your body. This is why Jesus says, “When you fast….” He knows that you need it. Your body needs to be controlled.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a successful Lent, in the sense of doing what I set out to do. Because that would mean I’d no longer be a sinner. We fast to control our body, which is controlled by our heart, soul, and mind. But too often the body does the controlling, and the heart, so easily enticed, hearkens to the serpent’s voice as readily as Eve.

And now we get to the point. Genuine, sincere, strict fasting will reveal your idolatry. So also will an attempt at real, sacrificial almsgiving, and any attempt to keep up a rigorous discipline of prayer and Scriptural meditation. Fasting reveals that your god is your belly. Almsgiving reveals your god is your money. Prayer reveals your god is the desires of your heart.

Coming face-to-face with the horror that is our own corruption, we are left with only one recourse. There is only one remedy for our failure, for our indiscipline, for our idolatry: Jesus.

The last week of Lent begins not with a victory parade for ourselves, but a death march for our Messiah. Then comes Holy Thursday, as Jesus gives to those who have not fasted, and those who tried to, the only food that nourishes—His body—and the only drink that brings true joy—His blood. As we fall under the cross of our own sinful desires, we walk with Jesus to Good Friday, and see Him stumble under the awful load. What is killing us kills Him. And He carries us with Him through the day of rest to the day of resurrection.

So take Lent seriously. Pray. Fast. Battle your demons. Fight your urges. Silence your tongue. Open your ears to God’s Word. Open your wallets to the Church. Open your eyes to your neighbor’s need. And when you fall and face your weakness, there you’ll find Jesus with you, in the dirt, bearing your burden, forgiving your sin.

Expect trials, be patient

Posted on April 7th, 2014

If you lead a temperate and sensible life, you should not suppose that you will live without trials and persecution. For if you believe and lead a good, Christian life, the world will not let you alone. It must persecute you and be your enemy. You must bear this with patience, which is a fruit of faith.

Luther, AE 30, p156

Are we only playing games?

Posted on April 4th, 2014

Hermann Sasse on Christ’s cross and ours:

The theology of the cross is never a Christian philosophy, as is always the case with the theology of glory. I cannot stand over against the One on the cross as an objective observer and give my judgment on Him. Rather, it is He who judges me–condemns me, acquits me.

Here lies the reason why the theology of the cross has such a terribly practical side. To believe in the cross always means also to carry the cross. A yes to the cross of Christ is also a yes to my cross. If this is not so, we are only playing games. It is not by chance that whenever Jesus spoke of His cross to His disciples He also thought of the cross which they would have to bear in following Him (Matt. 16:21-24).

We Confess JESUS CHRIST, p52

Consolation for troubled hearts

Posted on April 3rd, 2014

Troubled hearts should have a firm, sure consolation. Also, due honor should be given to Christ’s merit and God’s grace. Therefore, the Scriptures teach that the righteousness of faith before God stands only in the gracious reconciliation or the forgiveness of sins, which is presented to us out of pure grace, only for the sake of the merit of the Mediator, Christ. This is received through faith alone in the Gospel promise. In the same way also, in justification before God, faith relies neither on contrition nor on love or other virtues. Faith relies on Christ alone and on His complete obedience by which He has fulfilled the Law for us. This obedience is credited to believers for righteousness.

SD III.30; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition (Pocket Edition) (Kindle Locations 10163-10167). Concordia Publishing House.

The “Star Wars” God

Posted on April 2nd, 2014


God is a person and not a force. There are dangers in a “Star Wars” mentality that conceives of God as “the Force,” for we are persons, and therefore assume, correctly, that we are superior to forces. We harness and use forces; so if we conceive of God as a force, we might wrongly imagine that God is some power that we can harness and use, rather than regarding him as our Creator and Lord, who is worthy of and due our allegiance and worship. It is for him to use us, not for us to use him.

John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (p. 96). Zondervan.

Materialism and Morality

Posted on April 1st, 2014

The New-Darwinian materialist, if he is consistent, must deny the existence of objective moral truth, or at least that it can be known:

One can intelligibly hold that moral realism is implausible because evolutionary theory is the best current explanation of our faculties, and an evolutionary account cannot be given of how we would be able to discover judgment-independent moral truth, if there were such a thing.

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (p. 75). Oxford University Press.