The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity 2018

The nobleman doesn’t get everything at once. He just gets from Jesus a Word. “Go your way; your son lives.” He has the Word, but does not see it. Though in retrospect he sees that his son was healed at that very hour, still he must begin the long journey back home. He journeys in belief; and yet did he also doubt? And could we blame him, if he wavered, if he worried about his little boy? All he had was the Word to go on. Sometimes it feels like it’s not enough. That’s why this story is recorded – for us, as a reminder that the Word is enough, that we can cling to it with confidence when the way is dark and the road uncertain.

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The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

You’ve been searching all your life for what will make you happy, but it has only led to dissipation, degradation, disappointment, dissatisfaction. Here is the Lord offering you the forgiveness of your sins without cost. Here is your Father inviting you to the true happiness, the happiness for which God made us: to be with Him, to enjoy Him, and to receive His creation as a gift.

It seems of course too good to be true. But this passage from Isaiah, chapter 55, is of course part of a larger context. In chapter 53 we have the Suffering Servant, the death of the Messiah where He pays for our ransom not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

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The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity 2018

When Jesus comes to the man in today's Gospel, He doesn't ignore the man's paralysis. He addresses its root cause. It’s not that the man has various needs that we can neatly categorize, like Mallow’s hierarchy of needs: bodily needs, emotional needs, intellectual needs, spiritual needs. It is all one. Sin and death hang together; so, forgiveness and life hang together. When Jesus forgives the paralyzed man his sin, He is already addressing his paralysis.

And from the forgiveness of sin comes healing. Jesus shows us this by the miracle which immediately follows. However, what we experience is drawn out. God's will is that we die to the sinful flesh, die to our passions gone wrong, die to our lusts, die to our pride. You might think you want your marriage improved, your job enhanced, your body healed. But all the difficulties you experience are simply symptoms of a deeper malady. Nothing good happens until we address the sin problem, and everything we experience in this life as a Christian should drive us more and more to the absolution, the forgiveness of sins.

And, from the forgiveness of sin comes the healing of you as a person, as a newborn child of God.

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The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity 2018

“What do you think about the Christ?” Jesus asks; “Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” David was the great King of Israel to whom was promised a son who would be an everlasting king. But the father is greater than the son. So how, Jesus asks, can David’s son also be David’s Lord?

Those interrogating Jesus cannot answer. The climax of the Gospel reveals the answer: When unbelieving Thomas is confronted with the risen Jesus, who still bears scars on His hands and side, he confesses, “My Lord and my God!” That’s who Jesus is: God in the flesh. True God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

But why? Because He yet loves this world whose love has grown cold. The Bridegroom bears the hatred and animosity of His bride, yet He loves her to the end, to the Telos, to the completion of what it means to be human. For the God who is love made us also to love.

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Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity 2018

The one thankful leper didn’t have his leprosy cured because he believed hard enough. Jesus commends him because he saw in Jesus the merciful God. God had shown pity on him, and therefore the leper was glad. I imagine they all were glad, because they were healed. But the thankful leper was glad not just for his healing, but because he had found God. He wanted to be with him. This kind of faith ceases to be about the believer and becomes all about the object of belief. The Christian, then, never talks about his own faith, but the Christ in whom his faith is.

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Sermon for Teacher Work Week: The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

What are we here for, at Immanuel Lutheran School? Our goal as pedagogs is to ago the paidoi, to lead the children to their goal, to their completion, to their perfection. We ourselves are not there, but we are on the path. And this path leads to the kingdom of God, the perfection of the world in the regenesis of the human race. All the subjects—math and literature etc.—are to be employed with nurturing the conscience and shaping the heart. We are preparing our young men for the moment Salome salaciously presents herself and now a decision must be made. We are preparing our young women to not be Salome.

Yet there is something beyond morals here, and obedience to the God-given conscience. There is also preparation for the moment after the moment, the time when we’ve stepped off the path our pedagogs mapped out for us.

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Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 2018

Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and He comes to you, in your ditch. He comes to you with your heart problems, and to you with your heartbrokenness. He comes to you with your struggling child, and to you with your family strife. He comes to you in the darkness of the night, and to you at the end of your life.

At the heart of God is mercy. He will not leave man in the ditch. 

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The Wedding of Molly Leithart and Shawn Barnett

Through the testing, the Holy Spirit creates in you a holy love that passes the shallow romanticism and eroticism of our culture. This is a love that flows from being loved by God. This love lives each moment as a gift from God. In this marriage, Molly and Shawn, God makes you participants in His own work of creation, pro-creation, of unmerited love, and the joy of giving and receiving gifts. 

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Sermon for Trinity IX, 2018

This parable has a surprise. If you’ve heard the parable before, you lose the surprise. But imagine you’re hearing it for the first time.  There’s a manager who has been cooking the books. He’s been caught, and the CEO has told him to clean out his office. But instead, he quickly alters the records even more, so that the people who owe the company money get a big reduction. He’s hoping that the people he helps will in turn help him once he’s out on the street. 

Now right at that moment, when the evil person has been exposed, many of Jesus’ parables will conclude with condemnation, something like, “It would be better for that man to have a millstone hung around his neck and cast into the depths of the sea”; or, “Bind him and cast him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”; or, “Assuredly I say to you, that man will be cast into prison and not get out until he has repaid the last penny.”

We expect to hear a pithy ending to the story that promises justice in the end. But instead, Jesus surprises us with a radically different kind of ending: the embezzling, wasteful, dishonest manager gets praised. So what’s going on?

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The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

We cannot be rehabilitated by hiding sin or wishing it away. The true rehabilitation is in the radical, total, complete forgiveness Jesus gives to us. We don’t make Mary Magdalene into a better woman by rewriting her story to make her an upper-class woman with money and connections. We don’t get to be saints on our own terms. We are saints by the declaration of God who forgives us. Jesus says to the woman in the city who was a sinner, “Your sins are forgiven you.” That is the rehabilitating word. Whether you’re a prostitute or a pornography user, whether you have a heart of pride or venom on your lips, this is the rehabilitation you need: confess your sins, and hear the Word of Jesus for you: “Your sins are forgiven you.”

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