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+

God has spoken in His holy place: Meditation on Psalm 108

Posted on September 8th, 2015

God does not love as we love. We may experience a glad friendship with someone, but have it ruined through misunderstanding or a conflict over power. We may experience lust, but abandon the person when our desires are sated.

God’s love is set forth in tonight’s Psalm as reaching to the heavens. Here we see the primary meaning of heaven in Scripture through the parallel of clouds: “For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Psalms 108:4 ESV)

Clouds

God’s love is beyond human love, in that it rises beyond our sphere, surpassing our domain on the ground. More important than the greatness of God’s love, though, is the quality: God’s love is no emotion or experience. The synonym Psalm 108 chooses for God’s love tells us how He loves: He is faithful. “Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” Which means He doesn’t go back on His Word. He does not tire of us, find us boring, or grow disgusted with our stench or our surliness.


This Psalm, however, has a particular context: the problem of Edom. The people of Edom are the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, and they were constantly hostile to the children of Israel. The prophet Amos delivers this judgment against Edom: “Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.” (Amos 1:11 ESV) Here you see the opposite of God’s faithful love: perpetual anger, the setting aside of pity.

We see then who God is: One who sets aside anger and shows pity, One who is faithful and constant. St. John describes Jesus this way in opening the account of the suffering of Jesus: Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

Compare this now with your own love, and your own anger. Is it like Jesus, or more like Edom?

This is the foe that we have to cry out to against God. We have enemies of flesh and blood: ISIS and North Korea, Iran and the Taliban. But we do not battle against flesh and blood, our struggle is with those who would drive us to hostility and anger, who would drive us to divorce, who would make us contend with each other even in church conflicts. “Oh, grant us help against [that] foe!”


He gives us His help under a mystery. “God has promised in his holiness,” the Psalm says, although this can be rendered instead, “God has spoken in His holy place,” that is, the temple. The world after Genesis 3 is a place of exile, where brother slays brother, women are barren, fields are choked with thorns, nation rises against nation, and the rulers serve not the people. In the so-called Supreme Court, the natural family is disregarded, and the slaughter of children is protected as our holiest of sacraments.

But there is another Court that is far more supreme. God has spoken in His holy place, and still speaks at every holy altar the true doctrine, of a faithful love that absolves, sanctifies, and renovates.

Vain is the salvation of man, but the God-man shall bring us to the fortified city of New Jerusalem. God has decreed this salvation in the Holy Place, and no counsel of man shall overturn it. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Trinity 14, 2015

Posted on September 6th, 2015

Wine and wheat and watermelon are good things. All things are good, which is to say, creation is good.

God made the light – and it was good.

God made the waters, and separated them from the dry land – and it was good.

God made the trees, He made the sun, moon, and stars, He made the creatures of the air, the creatures of the water, and the creatures of the land – and it was good.

Finally, He made man. It is not good for the man to be alone, so He made the woman from the man, to be the man’s wife. And it was very good.

Baby ultrasound

Nature is good. Every human life God regards as a good thing. He teaches us in the Psalms to confess, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works” (Ps. 139:13-14).

This is why the Christian Church has been from the beginning pro-life. It’s not a political platform, but a heavenly truth, that God makes life. Every person is valuable to Him, which means you are valuable to Him.

The Christian Church has been from the beginning pro-life.

So we start with this doctrinal truth that nature is good, because God made it; man is good, because God made our first parents in His own image. So flesh is good, because God has clothed us with it.


Why then do we say when we confess our faults, “We are by nature sinful and unclean”? Isn’t our nature good? Here we must distinguish between the nature that God made, and what it has become. We are as fruit that has become rotten, bread that has become stale and moldy, meat that now teams with maggots. It once was good, but now has become loathsome.

God made our race good, but we made it bad. Thus kangaroos give birth to kangaroos, sea otters bring forth sea otters, and sinners bring forth sinners. This is why the Psalms can say both, “You formed me … I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” and at the same time, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

Now you can understand what is raging inside of you: the anger and sadness, the pride and resentment, the ravenous eating and drinking until your stomach hurts, the desire to grab a person’s body in such a way that you possess it and enjoy it for yourself, rather than in the sacrificial bonds of sacred marriage. The more we try to possess the things of this world, the more they possess us. We try to satisfy the desires of the flesh, but they consume us, and we are destroyed.

Material things are not bad; remember, God created them. But the children of Adam have lost the ability to use them wisely, charitably. That’s the way the Word of God often uses the word flesh – the human impulse to seize for ourselves, to make ourselves gods, laws unto ourselves. Today St. Paul shows us what that looks like: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Gal 5:19–21 ESV). He describes here a life lived for the self; thus not only is false worship (“idolatry”) and intimacy outside of the gift of marriage (“sexual immorality”) – not only are these things condemned, but rivalries, divisions, envy, which covers the squabbling of children in the back of the minivan, and the squabbling of their parents at a church voters meeting.

What happens when you continue pursuing your own way? “I warn you,” St. Paul says, “as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21 ESV)

And that’s what these ten lepers in today’s Gospel (Luke 17:11-19) look like. They are a picture for us of life cut off from God and the human community. Their flesh is corrupt and festering, and they stand separated, outside the community of God’s people.


But along comes Jesus. Why is He even there? People who study the maps of ancient Samaria and Galilee express puzzlement at the road Jesus is traveling. It’s not efficient or logical from a traveling standpoint. So they speculate that perhaps Jesus was taking back roads in hopes of avoiding Herod, who wants to kill Jesus just like he killed John the Baptist. Maybe. But what if Jesus has another intention: namely, He is seeking out these people whom everyone else would avoid. Like the Good Samaritan in last week’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t run away from the danger of human violence and sickness, He runs toward it.

Jesus doesn’t run away from the danger of human violence and sickness, He runs toward it.

This is the mission of Jesus, this is why God took on flesh and became our Immanuel, God with us: to be with us in our suffering. Before they can even cry out to Jesus for mercy, He is on the way to give it.

That is who your Jesus is: the One who already knows your need for mercy, the One who knows the sadness in your heart, the disappointment at how life has turned out. When you ache for your child who suffers, this is precisely how God is minded toward you. Thus before we could cry for help, Jesus was already preparing the help we need.


Seeing that he is healed, back then to Jesus comes one of the ten lepers. Jesus says that faith has made him well. Not from the leprosy. All ten lepers were healed. But this one leper is being healed in his humanity, for He sees in Jesus the true human, the true Man who is at the same time God in the flesh.

There’s no bad news to fear, not even death is bad news anymore. For Jesus is risen from the dead.

God made that leper, just as God made you, for a purpose. “The glory of God is a living man,” said St. Irenaeus. He made you to enjoy wine and watermelon and wheat; He made you to laugh and run and sing and go down a slide; He made you to rejoice in marriage and children, music and art, to play with words and sounds, to stack blocks and bricks and make sand castles and skyscrapers, He made you to splash in the water and smile in the sunshine, because He loves you. Nature was made good, flesh was made good, but it has gone horribly wrong.

So God assumes our human nature, becoming man. The flesh of Jesus is nailed to the cross. The flesh of Jesus is whipped and beaten and crowned with the curse. The flesh of Jesus is entombed. And the flesh of Jesus is raised up from the tomb. That which was good but had become loathsome is made new. This Jesus says to you, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

So there’s no bad news to fear, not even death is bad news anymore. For Jesus is risen from the dead. Our faith is in Him who makes dead things alive again, and fills them with His Spirit. That’s who you are now: someone becoming human again, someone beginning to breathe the Spirit’s air. This is what now describes you: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22–23 ESV). Lord Jesus Christ, destroy the evil passions in us, heal our flesh, and send us the Spirit once poured out on Your first disciples. +INJ+

Not Afraid of Bad News: Meditation on Psalm 112

Posted on September 5th, 2015

When you open the mailbox and see there’s a letter addressed to you from the IRS, the pulse quickens, the heart lurches, anxiety rises. When the phone rings at 2:30 a.m., it isn’t good news on the other end. A broken and fallen world means there are many dangers. It’s reasonable to be afraid of bad news.

But that is the same reason that says life has no meaning and death is the conclusion of the matter. Tonight’s Psalm guides us to a different conclusion. Psalm 112 is a companion of our Psalm from last Wednesday, where Ps. 111 gave us this hope: “[The Lord] sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever” (Psa 111:9 ESV). Because this is true, because everything is resolved already in the covenant of the Messiah’s blood, therefore this is what we can say of the blessed man who is brought into God’s covenant: “He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD” (Psa 112:7 ESV).

The Christian does not fear bad news precisely because He trusts in the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, the Lord and giver of life.

Bad news makes me afraid, makes my heart unsteady, when my trust is in my strength, my brains, my energy, my money, my family, my friends. What if all these are taken away? What if a report comes that says your job is eliminated, your cancer is back, your dear one is dead? Christianity is not stoicism, absorbing hardship with unfeeling perseverance. The Christian does not fear bad news, or the power of adversaries, or the terrors of death, precisely because He trusts in the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus who is risen from the dead, the Lord and giver of life who has sanctified our bodies in the waters of Baptism and will bring about their re-genesis on the day of re-creation.


The way of the cross in this life is often dark. Tonight’s Psalm says to us who feel the darkness of evening closing in, “There rises in the darkness Light.” This Psalm points ahead to the Messiah, the Logos who is the true Light, who enlightens the world by His cross and resurrection.

So what does this mean for us? If Light shines in the darkness through Jesus, and we need fear no bad news, then we realize that everything we have—money, time, friendship—is not something to cling to but give away. This is not by way of commandment, but love. Happiness is there, not in clinging to something but in giving it away. For as we heard in last Sunday’s parable, nothing expended is lost. Therefore happy is the man who is generous, who lends, who distributes freely from what God has given him.

Don’t be afraid of bad news. For you have the good news that triumphs over all bad news, the Light no darkness can overcome.

Don’t be afraid, then, of bad news. For you have the good news that triumphs over all bad news, the Light that no darkness can overcome: Jesus is risen from the dead, and He is generous to mankind. Praise the Lord!


Preached at Immanuel, September 2, 2015 Evening Prayer