The Poison-root of Vanity

“The entrance of faith into the heart has the effect of making the believer humble in the presence of God and men. Lest we despair when listening in occasionally on our own heart, we must not forget that a poison-root of vanity remains in our heart; but as soon as it begins to stir up vain thoughts in us, we must fight it. A person who does not fight his vanity has no faith and is not a Christian.”

 C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 212.


The Ninth Sunday after Trinity

“Little children, it is the last hour” (1 Jn 2:18). On us “the end of the ages has come.” That is the constant message to us in the New Testament. It’s not meant to pinpoint the precise moment of the end of the world. It’s a call for us to live our life in the light of eternity. It’s a warning to us that the day of judgment is coming. 

Have you ever noticed how efficient we can be when a deadline is approaching? If I’m going away on vacation, or I have to travel, suddenly work gets reprioritized – some things can wait, other things must get done. That’s when I realize I should have had different priorities all along.

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Funeral of Nicholas Corvelli

At any age, losing a father devastates. It’s disorienting. A father protects, provides, and guides. And Nick was all of that. Without your father, the world is not right. It stings.

This loss opens a flood of emotions: grief; guilt; anger. That’s natural. But experiencing the loss points us to the gift. A father is a gift; so is a husband, a grandfather, a friend. A father is a gift. So today is a day to give thanks.

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The Wedding of Kirstin Reistad and Mark Pfundstein

July 27, 2019

1 John 4:7-12

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia


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During the LCMS convention this past week I had lots of time to think about parliamentary procedure: motions, amendments, amendments to the amendments, and calling the question. Calling the question ends debate. During the convention a wise person said to me, “Calling the question doesn’t work in a happy marriage.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but limiting speeches to two minutes would probably help!” We want discussion to end, and move to voting. The democratic ideal, that each person gets an equal vote, cannot work in a marriage, because it’s a society of two. And we cannot call the question, or end discussion, because the community of marriage is founded on discussion.

Mark, you and I share a love of German things. Perhaps you’ve heard of the German man who said to his wife, “I love you, and if anything changes, I’ll let you know.” 

I know it’s blasphemy, but even the love of Teutonic culture can go too far! Discussion within marriage is like the liturgy – a joyous repetition of eternal truths. When the Lord gives us His benediction, we don’t just say “Amen,” but rather, “Amen, Amen, Amen.” So let your love be expressed like the triple Amen. “I love you, and it’s not going to change, but I will keep letting you know.”

Marital discussion is not political discussion, intended to persuade or impose your will on the other. It is a discussion with an entirely different purpose: “How can I help you?” “What do you need?” St. John Chrysostom calls this obedience – a voluntary and continuous placing of self in service to spouse. He says that in marriage it’s not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.

But you can’t be married for too long before you want to start calling the question, raise a point of order, or maybe even walk out of the assembly. The Bible readings you chose show us a better way: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).

Conflict is resolved not through winning the argument but through the taking away of sins. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). Marital love cannot then be defined simply by the romantic or the erotic, but by the reconciling power of absolution and self-sacrifice.

Mark, shortly after you were baptized, you wrote me a note that included this line: “I have received the greatest gift.” I wonder if you still thought that when Kirstin was coming down the aisle. She’s an incredible gift to you. 

But it is still true. Baptism is the greatest gift, because it gives us the foundation for everything else. Baptism gives us the righteousness of Jesus, His life, His resurrection.

The gift you have received becomes the gift you also give. The Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, tells us that Baptism is also how the husband relates to his wife. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)

This means, Mark, that Kirstin is holy, not just today, but throughout your life. She is without blemish, without spot, without sin. That’s how the Lord regards His baptized, and that’s how the husband regards his wife.

Baptism is the foundation of the Church; and according to St. Paul, baptism is also the foundation of holy marriage. Marriage is a little church, and Mr and Mrs Reistad, you are to be commended for the way you raised your children. I was overwhelmed with joy when I heard Kirstin describe the spiritual life of your home. Most significant was the bedtime singing. It reminded me of this hymn:

Lo, the’apostles’ holy train

Join Thy sacred name to hallow;

Prophets swell the glad refrain,

And the white-robed martyrs follow,

And from morn to set of sun

Through the Church the song goes on.

This is what happens at a Christian marriage. The Song goes on. A new family, a new little church, takes up the Song. The Song is a hymn of praise to the Lamb.

Mr and Mrs Reistad, Kirstin told me that she didn’t like it when in the evening you would sing the Nunc Dimittis. I couldn’t understand why. But she explained, it meant the singing was over. But it’s never over, Kirstin. It just pauses for a moment so we can sleep. Now you and Mark take up the Song. Let it animate your home, your marriage, your souls. As God blesses you with children, you teach it to them.

That’s really what marriage is. Not the exultation in romantic love, although I hope you have it in abundance. Marriage is not a contractual arrangement, as though we are exchanging goods and services. Christian marriage is singing the Song, the Song of Christ, as we help each other get to heaven. 

So we never call the question in holy marriage. Never end the discussion. When trouble comes to your marriage, from within or without, sing the Song. Remember the gift, the greatest gift. Now, through your marriage, the song goes on. ✠INJ✠

Hearing and Working Together (LCMS 2019 Convention Sermon)

A storm is coming. It threatens to sweep them away. Death will soon visit this house. And Death comes with his companions, Doubt and Despair.

Knowing death was coming for Lazarus, Life came. Life spoke. And Mary listened. She does not know it yet, but she will soon need the Word of Life. A storm is coming.

Another storm rages within Martha. She is busy. Doing what? Doing diakonia – service, ministry. Is that not good? To prepare a meal for Jesus? But over the fire of the hearth, a fire burns in Martha’s heart.

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The Fourth Sunday after Trinity 2019

Last week we heard about a father who is merciful. The lost son, sometimes called the prodigal son, wasted everything. He was rebellious. He was ruined. He is us. 

His father forgave him. His father was merciful.

That’s the foundation for today’s Gospel. Without the merciful father, the words of Jesus will be abused, misused, misunderstood. The merciful father is everything.

“Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Just as your Father. 

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The Marriage of William Thompson and Ji Yoon Noh

The day will come when things will have gone sour. You will have gotten on each other’s nerves. You will have misunderstood each other. You will have disappointed each other – maybe in a severe way. You may even question if you still have a future. But the godly marriage, no matter how rough the waters are, comes back to this question: An nyong hah se yo - “Are you at peace?” And the answer, between children of God—especially husband and wife—the answer is always, 네 - Ne: “Yes. I am at peace with you - because God is at peace with me. If Jesus forgave my sins, how can I not forgive you yours?”

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The Marriage of Louise Gebel and Kyle Shideler

We want to own the thing we love, to possess it, to control it. But that only shows the love of self.

The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel show us a different kind of love. “I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” The ones Jesus calls “His own” are not possessions (like a collection of trophies) but people – the people He Himself created. His love for us He demonstrates by self-giving. “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”

That’s marriage. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” There’s no ownership here in the sense of domineering control and a demand to do things my way. It is self-giving to the end, the end where the shepherd lets himself be bitten and clawed by the wolf attacking the sheep. The husband doesn’t care about himself, only about his wife.

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Baccalaureate Vespers 2019

After sitting through dozens of graduation speeches that were a terrible waste of time, the brilliant educator and critic Neil Postman wrote the sort of commencement address he wished would be given but never is. In it he talks about two groups of ancient people, the Athenians and the Visigoths. This is because, Postman said, you soon must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other. You must choose between the Athenians or the Visigoths.

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