Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sermon: Pentecost - 2018


20 May 2018

Text: John 14:23-31 (Acts 2:1-21, Gen 11:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Once again, we hear the promise of Jesus to the disciples, to the Church, that the “helper, the Holy Spirit” will come.  And the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.”

He then reminds us of His mission: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”  The peace of Jesus, dear friends, is not the peace that the world gives, which is, at best, a temporary ceasefire.  The peace that Jesus gives to those who believe on His name is peace with God, the forgiveness of sins, the neutralization of death, the resurrection of all flesh, the conquest of hell, the reconciliation of mankind, and the complete restoration of the universe when this current age passes away and all things are made new.

This is the ministry and work of Jesus, which reaches its pinnacle at the cross. 

The Holy Spirit continues to help us, to call us to repentance, to draw us to the Word of God and to the sacraments, to bring us to Christ, to point us ever toward that which is eternal, to sanctify us by His grace, and to draw us closer to our eternal destiny.  The Spirit turns curses into blessings, even as it was by a tree that we became cursed slaves of sin, and so also that by the tree of the cross we became blessed new creatures in Christ.

At the feast of the Pentecost, fifty days from that first Easter, on the third day after the Lord’s ascension, the Holy Spirit turned yet another curse into a gift.

Suddenly, when it was the will of God for this promised event to take place, “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”  They saw the manifestation of the Spirit as “divided tongues of fire” landed upon them.  “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Tongues, that is, languages, had been a curse: the punishment for the hubris and disobedience of our human race.  For in the years following the rebuilding of humanity after the flood, “the whole earth had one language and the same words.”  The people refused to obey God’s command to spread out and repopulate the earth.  Instead, they gathered at the Plain of Shinar and decided to challenge God’s sovereignty using new technology: “Come, let us make bricks…. Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Instead of hallowing the name of God, they sought to glorify their own names.  Instead of worshiping the God of heaven to seek His favor, they sought to force their way into heaven by means of their own power.  Instead of obeying the will of God to repopulate the earth, they sought to consolidate and do as they pleased.

God cursed our sinful ancestors with the curse of the multiplicity of tongues.  For divided tongues led to divided tribes, to divided nations, to a divided mankind.  Human beings divided themselves up into “us” and “them” and made war on those who spoke differently than they.  And even when the intent was not malicious, how many misunderstandings resulted from the confusion of languages?  How much misery flowed from this curse?

And the Babel of the Book of Genesis is why the Pentecost of the Book of Acts is so utterly remarkable!  The Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Spirit of Truth came into our dysfunctional and broken world, and for the sake of Christ, brushed aside millennia of confusion, division, hatred, and the curse of the multiplicity of tongues.

Just as the curse of the cross became the gift of the cross, so too, the curse of tongues became the gift of tongues.

And even as our tongues are engines of sin, filled with curses and disobedience and hatred and gossip, in Christ, our tongues are being transformed into means of blessing and obedience and love and proclamation of the Gospel of Christ!  This, dear friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit in our own day!

For what did those “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia” hear in their own languages on that Pentecost?  What do the French and Germans and Africans and residents of Louisiana hear in their own languages on this Pentecost?  By the Holy Spirit we hear what they heard: the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ at the cross, His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and the gracious gift of our redemption in His name through Word and Sacrament! 

And we should hear the preaching of the Gospel with the same wonder, just as they were “amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘what does this mean?’”  We too should marvel, asking ourselves how it is it that I, a poor, miserable sinner, can be declared a saint by means of the blood and water shed by our Lord at the cross, and through the blood and water of the Holy Sacraments, and under the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins?  And indeed, we study the Word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, repeating the refrain from our catechism again and again, “What does this mean?”

And even when we are mocked as those Pentecost preachers were, we scorn the insults of those who hate us, and we join St. Peter in the great confession of Pentecost, proclaimed to those gathered in every tongue known to man: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

That, dear friends, is the peace that the Lord leaves with us.  That is the peace in which we live and the peace which we proclaim.  It is the peace of God that passes all understanding.  It is the peace that gives the Church in every generation the strength and the courage to say along with our Lord, “Rise, let us go from here!”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Exaudi (Easter 7) - 2018



16 May 2018

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
 
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away…. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

This prophecy was to come true very quickly, as Christians became subject to persecutions: first by the Jewish authorities, then by Roman state, and later at the hands of radical Islam.  This latter persecution persists to this very day.  “Whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

Jesus doesn’t tell us this so that we would despair, but rather so that we would rejoice at the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord also said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

The Helper is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.  He is not our own spirit.  He is not an emotional shot in the arm.  He is not enthusiasm.  He is the Third Person of God, sent to us in an objective way to guide us into all the truth, and to keep us from falling away.  He inspires the Scriptures to be written, and He comes to us in Word and Sacrament.  He keeps the Church faithful, and He draws individual believers back to the Father by pointing them to the Son.  And as the Lord Jesus Christ was revealing this to the apostles, the Holy Spirit was yet to unleash His might upon the Church and the world at Pentecost.  We have the blessing of 20-20 hindsight, knowing what the coming of the Helper truly meant to them, and means to us today.

The Holy Spirit’s presence, unlike the false claims of false teachers, doesn’t mean that you will never suffer, never doubt, never struggle, never wrestle with health issues, and never endure poverty.  The Holy Spirit is not a genie in a bottle that does our bidding because we are so wonderful.  The Holy Spirit’s ministry is not to dole out mansions, yachts, and private jets to prosperity preachers on TV.

That, dear friends, is a great lie.  For what does our Lord teach us about the ministry of the Spirit?  Once more, the Lord tells us that the Spirit comes to us because we will be harassed and hounded, put out of polite society, and be dehumanized and demonized, so that even our lives and the lives of our children might be taken from us.

Doctor Luther described “the cross” as one of the marks of the Church.  Asia Bibi, who has been in prison on death row in Pakistan for her Christian faith, bears that cross; Joyce Meyer and Jesse Duplantis, false TV preachers who have gotten rich off of diabolical lies, do not bear the cross, but rather inflict that cross upon the true Church.

Dear friends, the Christian life is a warrior life.  We realize that we are under the constant attacks of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  We resist, led by the Holy Spirit, armed by the Word of God, fortified by the Holy Sacraments, and fighting under the command and protection of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Evil is all around us.  We are constantly being lied to: by the culture, by the state, by the once-Christian institutions of entertainment, media, and education.  Our faith is under constant assault, even here where we have not yet gotten to the point where we are allowed to be killed.  Instead, we are bullied and browbeaten to abandon our faith and just go with the flow of the culture of death and the ways and works of the devil (which we have renounced at our baptisms, as the Holy Spirit descended upon us to protect us from the evil one).

For at our Holy Baptism, the Lord sprinkled us with clean water, and we were cleansed from sin and death.  The Lord removed the heart of stone, the cold, dead mind of sin that is our heritage as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, and He replaced that malignant heart with a heart of flesh, the pure, renewed flesh of the resurrection.  Indeed, this renewal is also the work of the Holy Spirit, and His reclamation of our bodies and souls is an ongoing project that will not end until we have been raised from the dead to eternal life, the life that will itself have no end.

St. Peter exhorts us: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”  In this fallen world, this culture of death, because of our stony hearts, we are out of control and we are anything but sober-minded.  But the Holy Spirit comes to us to being about a profound change, a re-orientation toward the holy: the good, the true, the beautiful; to the restoration of our true humanity, shedding off the evil shell like a serpent shedding its old skin.  The Spirit comes to us in Word and Sacrament, and blesses us, even as we grow ever closer to the Father – both in the sanctification of the conduct of our lives, and in the hallowing of the time we have left in this life.

St. Peter reiterates our Lord’s words about both persecution and the Holy Spirit: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of glory, enables us to rejoice even in the midst of persecution – which should not come to us by surprise.  “Above all,” says the apostle, “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

Indeed, love – the love of our Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to atone for us and for the sins of the world – “covers a multitude of sins.”  By the grace of Christ and by the ministry of the Spirit, according to the will of the Father, we live in this love that has been poured out upon us lavishly, like the water and blood that issued from His side, like the water of Holy Baptism and the blood of the Holy Supper to which the Holy Spirit draws us according to our need.

Let us take our rest in the Holy Spirit and in His gathering together of the flock of the Lord’s people, the called and the forgiven, that is, the Church.  Let us receive this love and pour out this love with equal liberality.  

And by the Spirit’s guiding, let us remember the words and promises of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may remember that He told them to us, now, and even unto eternity.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) and Baptism of Sophie Ricks - 2018




13 May 2018

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
 
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses,” says the prophet Ezekiel.  The prophet speaks of this cleansing and also of the Spirit coming to us to put a heart of flesh in us, to replace the heart of stone that is our sinful condition (“we are by nature sinful and unclean” as we say in the liturgy).  The Holy Spirit guides us to obey the Lord, and God repeats His promise: “You shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

And this morning, this final Sunday in the season of Easter, we have yet again watched the Lord keep His promise.  We have witnessed the moving of the Spirit.  We have seen the Gospel of Jesus Christ applied physically to a little one: one whose words and deeds clearly cannot merit what God has done for her.

It is appropriate that this little one’s middle name is “Grace” – for this is a confession of both her weakness and her strength.  She relies on God alone: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” she is entitled to pray to her Father, along with the prayer, “Teach me Your way, O Lord.”

And this is where her first name is also appropriate: “Sophie” – based on the Greek word for “wisdom.”  And the beginning of this wisdom, the beginning of Sophie’s new life, is indeed the “fear of the Lord.”

Sophie Grace Ricks has been cleansed by clean water, and she has been redeemed by grace, set apart in holiness to be instructed the wisdom of the very Word of God.  And this water and Word and Spirit have been given to her on Mother’s Day, not only honoring the mother who bore her in the flesh, but also the mother who has borne her in spirit, in the new birth, from the womb of the baptismal font: her mother, the Holy Church.

Little Sophie is going to need wisdom and grace to navigate this fallen and corrupted world.  She will need the love and perseverance of her parents, Erik and Aimee.  She will need the prayers and support of her godparents: Emery and Erin.  She will need the love and care of her extended family and the encouragement and spiritual care of her brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is a major undertaking that we are all committing to, dear friends.  All of us.  We are all responsible.  Erik, when we recite the catechism saying: “How the head of the family should teach his household,” that means you.  Aimee, when you gave birth to Sophie, this was not the conclusion of a pregnancy, but rather the beginning of a lifetime of the fervent prayers as only a mother can offer on behalf of her dear children.

Sophie has been washed and cleansed and claimed by God.  She has been given the gift of eternal life.  But she needs to be nurtured, every day of her life.  At this point in her life, she needs constant care: feeding, cleaning, educating, praying, hearing the Word, and learning the priority of the faith from her parents: not by words, but by deeds.  She will never know a time when she didn’t come to the communion rail and witness her parents reverently receiving the body and blood of Christ and offering their “Amen.”  Her earliest memories will include having the sign of the holy cross traced on her forehead as the events of this very day are recalled, the promises made by God repeated to her again and again in this holy house.

She will be brought up in the discipline of the Law and the forgiveness of the Gospel, the promises of God, the dominion over the devil, and the conquest of death. 

She will need to be raised in the Spirit, the Helper who bears witness about our Lord Jesus Christ – the one who bore the cross for her, who shed His blood for her, who rose from the grave for her, and who will return to give her, by His wisdom and by His grace: “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Whether we like it or not, Sophie has been brought into the world during a time of testing.  “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me,” says our Lord.  But remember, our Lord gives us His holy Word, “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away,” He promises.  Just as St. Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” 

We Christian parents have an obligation to train our children for battle, to stand for that which is righteous and true and just and honorable, for that which is godly and beautiful and in accordance with the Lord’s glorious design for each one of us.  All of us in this congregation have the holy obligation of prayer and commitment for the sake of this little one.  As she gets older, what will she see here in this holy house?  Will she see lukewarm people going through the motions?  Or will she see the power of the Holy Spirit at work?  Will we teach her that Christianity is just one of many options, or will she know that it is the one true faith by which eternal life comes to us in our Lord Jesus Christ?  Will she hear the prayers and hymns of others like her who have been baptized into Christ?  Will she experience wisdom and grace in truth and in deed?

We have been baptized into Christ, dear friends!  We have been given the mark of the Lord!  We have been sealed and set apart in the baptismal grace offered to us by God in His holy wisdom.  We are not motivated by a desire to save ourselves or prove ourselves worthy.  We are motivated by love.  St. Peter teaches us the urgency we face: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

The thing that children need more than anything is love.  The thing that adults need more than anything is love.  The thing that the church needs more than anything is love.  And that love is carried out daily in acts of service to this little one: mainly offered by her parents, but shown to her by each one of us as our vocations suggest.

Holy Baptism has placed wisdom and grace upon Sophie.  She has been received into the kingdom and into the promises of God.  “I will sprinkle clean water on you,” says the Lord, to Sophie and to us, “and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.”

This is indeed the wisdom and the grace of God!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sermon: Ascension - 2018


9 May 2018

Text: Mark 16:14-20 (2 Kings 2:5-15, Acts 1:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
 
It is that time of year, of caps and gowns and Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” of Valedictorians and Salutatorians and speeches that are too long.  We watch in amazement as High School students, now adults, make their way to university or into marriage and grown-up jobs.  We are stunned to see college students cross the stage to receive degrees of advanced study.  Seminarians likewise take a more stressful walk to find out where the church is sending them to serve in the Lord’s vineyard.

The Feast of the Ascension is just such a time of change, dear friends.  And it is an important transition.  The most central piece of art in our sanctuary is the statue of our blessed Lord.  It represents Jesus ascending to the Father with His hands raised to bless the church, His feet leaving the blue ball that is the earth.  The Ascension follows Easter, represented by the window to the left, and precedes Pentecost, represented by the window to the right.  And our Lord ascends above the holy altar, where the successors of the apostles continue in the Word that the Lord has given His church.

Our forebears of a century ago understood the importance of the Ascension when they placed the ascended Christ at the center and above our altar.

For the ascension of our Lord marked a transition in the life of the church.  The students of our Lord, that is to say, His closest disciples, matriculated and graduated, after three long years of seminary studies under the Rabbi, the Master, the Professor, and they are now being sent, that is to say, “apostled”: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  No longer will the lips of Jesus herald the good news, but now the mouths of the men whom the Lord has called into the office of the holy ministry.  The mouths are different, but the proclamation is the same.

For “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, and whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  Jesus is no longer physically preaching and absolving.  For He has passed this sacred work on to the apostles to carry out this work in His name, by His authority, in His stead, and under His command.

No more will we hear words from the mouth of Jesus casting out demons; but now it will be the mouths of those called to speak in Christ’s name.  No more will our Lord preach directly to Jews and Gentiles, but now it will be missionaries who will speak in the diverse tongues of those from around the globe, preaching on the Lord’s behalf.  No more will it be the Lord directly contending with serpents and poison, but now it will be the flesh of those who are called and ordained who will struggle against evil.  No more will we see Jesus lay hands on those in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation, but rather we will see the Lord deliver these priceless gifts by the hands of those to whom He has delegated this authority.

“And they went out and preached everywhere,” says the evangelist, “while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”

The Lord did not abandon the disciples.  Rather He chose to work through them and with them in a different way, for they have graduated to go to work, with hands and feet and mouths, to do the work the Lord has given them to do: to baptize, to administer the Holy Supper, to absolve, and to preach.  To evangelize and to visit, to admonish and to comfort, to proclaim in season and out of season, the good news that our Lord indeed died on the cross and rose again, that He forgives the sins of all who are baptized and who believe, and that the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to the church to guide her into all truth, to protect the integrity of the proclamation and to continue the missionary zeal of the work of making disciples of all nations.

Our Lord laid out this pattern in His last spoken words to us on this earth: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The Holy Spirit indeed came at Pentecost, empowering the apostles to go out and carry good news.  They filled Jerusalem with this good news and with signs.  They fanned out into Jewish Judea, and also into Gentile Samaria, and indeed, as St. Paul evangelized the Mediterranean and the other disciples ventured even further outside the boundaries of the empire, the whole world was to hear this proclamation – even as preachers centuries later would board ships with the explorers into new worlds and unchartered territories – including this hemisphere that we now occupy, including this very building that stands as an icon and temple of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What a responsibility the Lord lays upon His recent graduates!  It’s little wonder that they are standing around at first, “gazing into heaven,” so that the angels had to goad them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?”  They need to get on with the work that He has trained and called them to do.  For our Lord will indeed return.  As the angel said, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

He will return to end our struggling in this fallen world.  He will return to banish Satan into hell.  He will return to relieve us of the sin that still clings to our Old Adam.  He will return to raise our lowly bodies into glorious bodies, incapable of death, incorruptible, and unsullied by sin.

He has accomplished this renewal of our flesh and our world by means of His cross – and His cross is the very thing that we proclaim, the very reason the apostles had to stop gawking at the clouds and get to work.  The cross is why seminarians continue to be sent into pulpits and altars around the world.

We have continued this proclamation since that day when our Lord ascended, and we will continue until He returns.  We carry out our work – whether we are preachers of the Word or hearers of the Word – during the span of our lives and in the places to which we are called. 

The torch is passed from master to disciple, from teacher to student, just as Elijah passed his cloak to Elisha, who received a double portion of the Spirit.  Prefiguring our Lord’s ascension, Elijah, the righteous preacher and prophet of the Word, was himself taken up.  The prophecies concerning the return of our Lord suggest that Elijah will return and will finally die in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ before the Lord Himself returns triumphantly.

So, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t stand staring into the sky, nor do we panic and head to the mountains with every rumor of war and every earthquake.  Our Lord told us to stand up straight, hold our chins up, and await His coming.  The angel told us to expect His return, and to get to work.

We have a mission.  We have a message.  We have a world to save through the proclamation of the Good News.  We are light in the darkness; we are life in the midst of death; we are love in the coldness of sin and decay.  And Jesus has not abandoned us.  He continues to work with us, confirming the message by the accompanying signs: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion, and Holy Preaching. 

As our Valedictorians and Salutatorians are quick to remind us, this is not a season for termination, but of commencement.  Every day is a new beginning as we carry out the holy work given to us by our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, who has triumphed at the cross, at the tomb, at the Mount of Olives, and in all the world! 

Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6) - 2018




6 May 2018

Text: John 16:23-33 (Numbers 21:4-9, Jas 1:22-27)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
 
“In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world,” says our Lord Jesus.  This is an elegant translation, but I think it might be a little too elegant.  When Jesus says, “take heart,” the Greek word used here carries the connotation of “be bold and courageous.”  It reminds me of some advice I once received from a dear old friend, an aristocratic Virginian and veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.  He said, “Always look your enemy in the eye.”

Jesus tells us to look our enemy in the eye – even if we are being mocked, oppressed, tortured, or even killed.  We can look our enemies in the eye: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature – and we can look them squarely in the eye –
because our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome them.

And this is also a weak translation: “overcome.”  This word actually means “conquered.”  It is the word that the Greeks chose for the name of their goddess of military victory.  In the Latin translation used by the church for a thousand years, the word is “vici.”  It is a word famously uttered by Julius Caesar when he said, “Veni, vidi, vici” – “I came, I saw, I conquered.”  But as mighty as Caesar was, he only conquered a few territories, and was then killed.  He did not defeat sin, death, and the devil.  He did not die to redeem us and give us eternal life.  He did not rise from the grave.

Jesus is the true conqueror.  He came: incarnate in the flesh.  He saw: with His own eyes, our suffering and misery in this fallen world.  He suffered: in our place.  He died: atoning for our sins.  He rose again: to celebrate His victory over death.  He conquered: not just a territory, but the world.  He overcame sin, death, and the devil. 

So Jesus tells His disciples (including us) that though we suffer tribulation, though we are oppressed and abused, we are to defiantly look the enemy in the eye, for Christ Jesus has conquered him.  Our Blessed Lord has already won the war.  And because He is the victor, we too are more than conquerors.  Because He looked death in the eye, we can live forever with our heads held high – in victory, in joy, in love, in communion with God Almighty, and in courage to face whatever the world throws our way.

Of course, these tribulations are horrific: be they afflictions like cancer, or a troubled mind, or seemingly insurmountable problems with family or work, anxiety or stress, the loss of friends and loved ones, uncertainty about the future, and a myriad of other things this fallen world throws at us.  These tribulations can even manifest themselves as things which shake our faith, as persecution, as being declared an enemy of the state and imprisoned, of being subjected to torture.  These tribulations are real and genuine suffering, but these tribulations are temporary and in vain.  For Christ has conquered.  He has defeated all evil.  He has won eternal victory for us at the cross, at the empty tomb, at the baptismal font, at the communion rail, in the preaching of the Gospel, and in the declaration of Holy Absolution: Jesus has overcome!  So take heart, dear friends.  Look your enemy in the eye because Jesus has conquered!

And so often, to look our enemy in the eye is to look into the mirror.  So often we are our own worst enemy, our impatience and lack of faith being the cause of much of our suffering.  The children of Israel grumbled against Moses in their impatience; even to the point of longing to go back into slavery for the sake of better-tasting food.

The Lord got their attention by means of a plague of “fiery serpents” that bit the people and delivered the sting of death to them.  “We have sinned,” they confessed.  They prayed for deliverance, and the Lord gave them victory over death: they looked upon the figure of the bronze serpent held up on a pole.  The people did as the Lord commanded, and they lived.

That bronze serpent lifted upon the pole prefigured our Lord Jesus Christ lifted high upon the cross.  We look to the cross, dear friends, and we live.  We do as the Lord commanded: we repent and we believe the Gospel, we take and eat, we take and drink, we live out the new birth and new life given to us at Holy Baptism – and we live!

We are victors, but only because Christ is the victor.  We overcome the world, but only because Christ overcame the world.  We take heart only because Christ courageously stared down death and Satan, and gave His life as a ransom for us, delivering us from the deadly venom of the fiery serpent that has plagued us from the day of the fall in the Garden.

And in living the Christian life, dear friends, this life of grace, this life delivered to us as a gift by God’s mercy, by the cross, by the victory of Jesus, we are doers, not merely hearers, of the Word.  For we have not been healed for the sake of just looking in the mirror and forgetting what we look like.  No indeed!  We hear the Word of God, and that Word, dear friends, enables and emboldens us to live, to do, to act.

It is not enough to be spiritual, but we are indeed called upon to be religious.  We are not called to simply pontificate and virtue-signal, but to actually serve our neighbors bodily, in what we do, in how we act.  We are to bridle our tongues and control ourselves.  We are to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” and not merely complain and grumble like the Israelites.  We are to keep ourselves “unstained from the world” instead of becoming indistinguishable from the mass of unbelievers.

Spirituality apart from religiosity – that is the “religion that is pure and undefiled,” such a “spirituality” is nothing more than idle talk that is also idolatry’s walk.  Because Jesus has conquered the world, we can go out into the world like the conquerors that we are in Christ – not like Caesar, but rather like our Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, Jesus has won the victory for us and has secured the peace: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace,” says our Lord.

This peace, won for us by our Lord at the cross, is that peace that passes all understanding.  It is the peace of knowing that our enemies have been defeated.  And even in the midst of the tribulation of this fallen and hostile world, we can indeed take heart.  For Jesus has overcome the world.

Always look your enemy in the eye, dear friends.  Christ has conquered!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

You're Offended? You're Welcome!



In the current cultural environment, when we offend people - particularly millennials and youthful Marxists - we are doing them a favor. It's kind of like free mentoring, therapy, and life-coaching. 

First of all, it teaches the important lesson of tolerance: the acceptance of other people with diverse opinions and the freedom to formulate and express them without fear of violence. They are not learning this rudiment of civilized discourse in their $60k/year daycare centers. 

Second, it teaches humility: you don't get to impose your will on everyone else. This is a very important life lesson. You have to deal with things you cannot control: sickness, accidents, storms, family issues, etc. Life is filled with such things, and we are powerless to make them go away by throwing a tantrum or a brick through a window. 

Third, it teaches resilience: you will not contort into the fetal position and revert to an incoherent blob of tears and primal screeching if you see or hear something you don't like.  You can handle it. Human beings are capable of remarkable mental endurance. Words may hurt your feelings, but as Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  Or as our parents taught us, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but..."

Bonus: it teaches a healthy skepticism of 'official' or 'unquestionable' narratives - as these are often used by politicians and others to divide, conquer, and control. Rather than adopt the knee-jerk PC position because it is popular, why not fairly investigate the narrative to see if it is objectively true?  

While we don't have to look for dragons to slay, we shouldn't back away from expressing opinions, displaying symbols, or using language that is acceptable to us.  We don't have to use made-up pronouns or throw our ancestors under the bus. We should not shrink from being patriotic, loyal to western civilization and its values, or from questioning the pop-culture narratives. If we favor traditional morality and/or tried and true political and economic premises that have fallen into disfavor, we should say so. We can be both polite and firm. We can refuse to kowtow and see ourselves instead as people with real-world experience, with something valuable to teach those who in many cases, have no real connection to the wisdom of elders, as our families and societies lay in shambles since the 1960s, nor any experience in the real world. Maybe we are called to teach by refusing to be forced into a closet or to the back of the bus. 

So if they are offended, good. 

They'll thank us later when they have grown up and learned to deal with the real world: a world of mothers and fathers, boys and girls, of raising children and caring for others, of serving customers and earning a living, and of objective truth - a world without safe spaces, language police, and without an Orwellian dean of diversity (sic) to ensure lockstep uniformity of thought. 

So when you hear, "I'm offended!", maybe we should say, "You're welcome!"

Here is an interesting and thought-provocative presentation on why political correctness needs to be resisted:


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) - 2018


29 April 2018

Text: John 16:5-15 (Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth,” says our blessed Lord, preparing the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Often, as reported by John in his Gospel, our Lord Jesus preaches and teaches, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you” and “I tell you the truth.”  And at our Lord’s trial, a frustrated Pontius Pilate, who at times sounds like he is on trial instead of Jesus, asks, “What is truth?”

Our Lord also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

The opposite of the truth is the lie.  Our Lord refers to Satan as the father of lies.  The first recorded lie in Scripture was spoken by the devil to Eve, “You will not surely die.”

This conflict between the truth and the lie is both ancient, and cosmic.  As thinking creatures crafted in the image of God, mankind takes in information about the world.  He assesses his situation.  He decides.  He acts.  Without truthful information, he can destroy himself or others.  This is why lying under oath in a court of law is itself a crime.  This is why the Eighth Commandment protects the reputation of each human being by condemning “false witness.” 

And this is why, dear friends, we need a Helper, to help us navigate this Satanic web of deception, this minefield of the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh.  The Lord ascends to the Father and sends this Helper to us, and this is indeed to our advantage.  For in truth, He convicts the world, “concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”

As our Lord promises, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”

The Holy Spirit’s main job, dear friends, is to lead us, to guide us, to be that lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, to keep us from stumbling into error and falsehood, to help us discern the truth from the lie, to embrace that which is real and accurate, and to flee that which is a mirage or a deception.

Our sinful flesh is quick to accept an enticing lie, especially when it fits a narrative that appeals to us.  We are eager to believe gossip if it is about someone we dislike.  We are eager to believe lies that are even obvious – if we think we stand to gain – which is how con men operate.  Our egos are especially open to the lie that we can be like God, a whopper that mankind has been believing since the serpent slithered up to Eve and whispered sweet monstrosities in her ever-willing ear.

There are many other lies Satan would have you believe, dear friends.  You may wonder if baptism really saves you, or if a pastor really has authority to speak forgiveness to you in Christ’s name and by His authority.  You may have your doubts about the reliability of Scripture, or if the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ.  You may think that your sins are either too great to be forgiven, or too trifling to worry about.  You may be tempted to believe that the Church is filled with hypocrites, and that you are not one.  You may think you have all the answers and really have nothing to learn from a sermon.  You may have heard that Christianity is a bunch of ancient myths cobbled together, or that it is a conspiracy theory designed by the powerful to oppress the world’s workers, or peasants, or minorities, or women, or those whose sexual lives to not conform to the truth of biology.

We are awash in lies, dear friends.  We not only live in the midst of a culture of death, but also in a confusing matrix of lies.  The only way to exist in this deceitful world is to have a guide, a truthful guide, a Helper, who will lead us into all truth.

The Holy Spirit has caused the Scriptures to be written, and they are true.  The Holy Spirit draws you to the Word of God and to the Sacraments, and they are true.  The Holy Spirit testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the truth.

“In the beginning was the Word.”  The Lord God, the Creator, commanded, and as a result, all things truly came into being.  This Creative Word was, is, and ever shall be, true.  The lie cannot create.  The lie can only corrupt.  The lie cannot generate.  The lie can only degrade.  The lie cannot edify.  The lie can only tear down that which is true.  The lie has no creative power or energy.  Only the Word who is God can bring the universe into being.

The Holy Spirit comes to the Church at Pentecost and fills her with zeal to proclaim the truth, to do so with courage and integrity, without guile and without deception.  The Holy Spirit comes to tell the truth far and wide: to friend and to foe, to believer and to unbeliever alike, the truth that Jesus Christ is the Lord, the true Word, the true God, the true atoning sacrifice, and the truly risen One.  He has truly defeated Satan by truly crushing the lie beneath His feet.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” says St. James. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth.” 

“When the Spirit of truth comes,” says our Lord Jesus, “He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) - 2018




22 April 2018

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose again.  For forty days, He appeared and preached and taught.  He baffled the authorities and filled the disciples with courage.  But this period of mentoring is drawing to a close.  The Lord will soon ascend to the Father, and “in a little while,” the Church will not see Him. 

At least not in the same way.

He will no longer walk and talk and eat with the disciples.  When they want to speak to Him, they will pray.  When they want to hear His Word, they will read the scriptures in the assembly.  When they want to hear His forgiveness, they will declare it in His name.  And when they wish to experience Him in the flesh, it will be through the Lord’s Supper.

And after a “little while,” says our Lord, we will see Him again.  He will return to turn our sorrow into joy: the sorrow of the fallenness of this world, to be changed into the joy of a new heaven and a new earth.

We wait for Him to return, dear friends, even as the angels told the disciples as they watched Him ascend into the heavens that He would indeed return.

This return, dear friends, is when we will see Him again, and when our “hearts will rejoice.”  It will be a “little while.”  Indeed, a “little while longer.”

But how impatient we are!  Instead of keeping our eyes on the prize of the promise, we wallow in self-pity and complaint of the cross.  We watch the world rejoice at our pain, our misery, our abuse – and we are indeed sorrowful.  We are often defeated in this hateful culture – by people who lie about us, about our faith, about our Savior, by people in power who abuse that authority given them from above, using that power to coerce, to torture, to curtail the liberties of our brothers and sisters around the world, and even here in our own country.

We are watching the world decay into not merely madness, but into a seething rage, a scapegoating our people in ways not seen since the days of the maniacal emperors of Rome.

St. Peter bids us to endure the privations placed upon us by emperors and Supreme Courts.  And when we are treated unjustly and yet endure the sorrows, “this is a gracious thing.”  Our forbearance in this fallen and violent world is a confession of faith – faith in something better to come.  We don’t have to overthrow the empire, for Jesus did that very thing, bringing the emperor Constantine to the faith without firing a single arrow, without rising up in mutiny, without living by the sword, which certainly means to die by the sword.

Our suffering is not a small thing, nor is our suffering in vain.  “So also,” says our Lord, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no-one will take your joy away from you” – no one, dear friends, not a mentally unstable emperor, not a crooked court, not a culture of death, not swarms of people filled with hatred and rage, not Communists, not Nazis, not secularists, not even our own sinful flesh – will take our joy from us.

The Lord compares this “little while” of weeping and lamenting to the “anguish” of giving birth.  Labor pains and birth pangs are excruciating, but when they are over, they are over.  And instead of haunting memories of agony, there is rather “joy that a human being has been born into this world.”

Our Lord teaches us that our burdens and crosses that plague us, that beat us down, that wear us out in body and in mind, the things that vex us, perplex us, anger us, hurt us, and seem to have no end – will indeed one great day come to a screeching halt, never to be repeated again. 

We live for this great day, dear friends!  And it is the promise of this New Day that empowers us to survive and to endure the present days of suffering and strife, the time of the cross.  For we know that after Good Friday comes Easter.  And we know that the Lord goes away for a “little while,” and we know that we will see Him again. 
We know that “He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.”  But what’s more, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might, he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

So, dear friends, let us not be puzzled like the disciples were, wanting to ask Him but perhaps afraid.  Let us pray fervently for His return, for our suffering to end, for the birth pangs of the fallen world to be replaced by a new and greater world, and above all, let us rejoice that a human being has been born into the world, a unique Human Being who is truly human, bearing completely the image and likeness of God, for He is God, even Jesus Christ our Lord, the man of sorrows whose suffering won true joy for us.

Let us yearn for that great and wondrous day when He will see us again, and our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take our joy from us!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) - 2018


18 April 2018

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The readings for this week in the church year all have to do with sheep and shepherding. In fact, many know this past Sunday as Good Shepherd Sunday, even though it is technically Misericordias Domini – that is “the goodness of the Lord” of which the world is full, according to the Psalmist, just as we sang in our Introit.

For indeed, our Lord is the Good Shepherd, whose goodness fills the earth. Our Lord’s mercy is without limit. His love for His sheep knows no bounds. He will sacrifice everything, even His own life, for the sake of His sheep – especially His lost sheep, His wounded sheep, His sheep that are constantly assaulted by wolves and lions.
Our Shepherd is no mere hired hand. He is the Owner of the sheep, the Creator of the sheep, the very Author of the sheep. His interest is vested, not by virtue of having a boss overseeing His work, but because He is the Boss, the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The metaphor of sheep and shepherd is perhaps the most comforting imagery in the Bible. Millions of saints have been laid to rest, amid peaceful green grass and still waters of cemetery grounds as statues of Jesus carrying a lamb look upon their graves, even as the pastor and his flock spoke the words of the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

In our culture, being free from want means “having it all” – anything our twisted hearts desire. It is a mindset of materialism and self-centeredness that seeks to bend or buy the wills of others to conform to our whims. “I shall not want” to most people means money, power, sensuality, and never having to submit to anyone. It is freedom from authority, and freedom to spend every waking hour playing games.

But the holy psalmist has something else in mind, as does our Blessed Lord.

In fact, the Hebrew word for “is my shepherd” in Psalm 23 is really understood as “leads me” or even “rules me.” The Lord is not my genie who grants all my wishes at my command, by my whim, and according to my will. Rather, the Lord is my overseer, my ruler, my master, and in submitting to Him is where we find green pastures and still waters.

We don’t “partner” with God, nor is he a kind of wizard who is there to make our wildest dreams come true if we follow the right spiritual program. Rather, He is the Lord, the slave-master, the ruler, and we find our happiness in submission to Him. The old Latin title for this blessed 23rd Psalm is “Dominus Regit Me” – which means literally: “The Dominator rules me.”

This is what it means to be a sheep. This is what it means to have a Shepherd. For when we sheep foolishly decide we don’t need to submit, when we become convinced we can “go it alone,” we wander off only to become food for the wolf. The last thing we sheep need to do is to listen to the world’s siren song to “think outside the box” and “leave our comfort zones.” Oh, what wonderful advice to sheep when it comes from a hungry wolf! But we are safe from the evil one in the “comfort zone” of our flock. There is safety in numbers, and most of all, we are protected when we are ruled by our Lord, when we let God be God, and we allow ourselves to be herded.

Our Lord Jesus is a true Shepherd. He is not a temporary employee and not a hired manager. He indeed “gives His life for the sheep.” The hireling, on the other hand, runs away from trouble and will not fight. But the Shepherd bears the crook, and does not hesitate to crack the skull of the enemy rather than see His beloved sheep
threatened. Our Lord both gave up His life for us sheep and was victorious over the evil wolf when He Himself, the Shepherd, became the Lamb; when He, the priest, became the victim; when he the Master, humbled Himself to become a Slave to His slaves.

The Good Shepherd knows His sheep by name, for they have been christened, that is “Christed” – anointed and named with Christ – in the still waters of Holy Baptism – as our little sister in Christ Anastasia was this past Good Shepherd Sunday. The Good Shepherd is also known by His own, by all of the baptized who submit to Him, for the Lord’s sheep do not follow the beckoning of every false shepherd and wolf in sheep’s clothing. He knows us, and we know Him. And it is in submission to Him who shepherds us that we want for nothing, we drink cool water, and we eat rich grass. It is in this submission that we are protected from the wolf, and are even rescued by the Good Shepherd when we, by our own rebellion and stupidity, wander from the flock. For as Ezekiel the shepherd prophesies: “I Myself” that is, the Lord, “will search for My sheep and seek them out… and deliver them…. I will feed them in good pasture.”

And listen to what this means for us sheep. Having been sought out, rescued, and led to safety by our Shepherd, listen to St. Peter, whom the Lord commanded: “Feed My sheep.” Peter, who was himself crucified for the Gospel, in turn shepherds us with this Word of the Good Shepherd: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth,’ who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered; He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Our Shepherd saves us from the evil wolf not only in protecting us from his wiles, but also in protecting us from our own sinful flesh. Our Shepherd is our Lord, not out of a lust for domination, but rather in selfless love for His dominion. And His use of authority - not for greed or self-aggrandizement, but rather out of love and mercy - serves as an example of authority for the whole Church on earth.
And this example is especially for pastors. “Pastor” is the Latin word for “shepherd.” Pastors are given stewardship over the Lord’s sheep. 

The pastor is to use his authority from above not for greed, gain, or domination, but rather in love, selflessness, and service to the sheep – even as the Shepherd of the shepherds, the Pastor of the pastors, the Bishop of the bishops, has done. Pastors need always remember that they must be willing to lay down their lives selflessly in service for the sheep, and the sheep, for their part, must realize that their pastor loves them, and lovingly guides them to the Lord who is our Good Shepherd, the Lamb who has ransomed the sheep, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. It is He, the Lord, who defends us all against ravening wolves and guides us to green pasture and still waters.

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am His
And he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever! 
Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Sermon: Funeral of Joan Frichter


18 April 2018

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Isa 25:6-9, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Shelia, Cynthia, Judy, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, honored guests: Peace be with you.

It was my privilege to be Joan’s pastor for many years, to visit her with the Word of God and the Holy Sacrament, to pronounce Holy Absolution over her, and to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to her.

This word “Gospel” is lost on a lot of people.  Either it calls to mind a certain style of music, or some kind of fluffy religiosity.  But that’s not what “Gospel” literally means.  “Gospel” means “good news.”  And in spite of the sadness of losing a beloved aunt and step-mother and friend, in spite of the normal mourning that we all do in the passing away of a loved one, I’m here to bring you good news, dear friends, just as I brought good news to Joan.

It’s the same Good News that we Christians have been proclaiming for nearly 2,000 years now.  Too many people mistakenly think of the Christian faith as rules and regulations, or some kind of mythology, or worst of all, just a code word for being nice and inoffensive.

Jesus was, and is, offensive.  He insulted the self-righteous Pharisees with frank and shocking language.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  And most offensive of all, He suffered crucifixion so that unworthy sinners might have everlasting life: unworthy sinners like me, like Joan, and like you.  None of us deserves salvation, and it doesn’t matter how nice we may seem.  There is nothing more scandalous than the cross of Jesus and the promise of salvation that it delivers.

Joan knew this.  It’s what Scripture teaches.  It’s what Jesus teaches.  It’s what the Church teaches. And this shocking truth makes the Gospel just that more unbelievably good news. 

Jesus didn’t come so that Joan would live on in our hearts and memories.  Jesus didn’t come so that Joan would be a good person and as a result, “go to heaven.”  Jesus came so that Joan would literally be rescued and raised from death, just as He literally walked out of His own tomb, was seen and touched by eyewitnesses, and began a worldwide movement that not even Caesars and Caliphs and kings could extinguish; not even Communist dictators, Nazi fascists, or even people in our own country who hate Christianity – can ever destroy.  For you cannot destroy the truth.

Jesus didn’t come so that Joan could become an angel or float around some imaginary sky as a butterfly.  Jesus came for the sake of true, literal, physical resurrection: His own and Joan’s: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” says Jesus, our good shepherd.  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no-one is able to snatch them out of My hand.”

This comforting ironclad promise was made to Joan when she was baptized.  This promise was reiterated to Joan each and every time that she took the body and blood of Christ.  This promise to Joan was signed at the cross, sealed at the baptismal font, and will be delivered on the day of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Joan knew all this very well.  This was her confession.  It is the confession of the church catholic, that is, the Church universal, from the days of the apostles until the day when the Lord returns in glory, when “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed,” as St. Paul wrote to the ancient church at Corinth.  “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

That, dear friends, is what Christianity is.  Yes, we are hurting.  Yes, we are mourning.  Yes we grieve.  But we have hope: the hope the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that hope allows us to mock death, to taunt the devil, and to shockingly claim communion with God Himself, though we don’t deserve it.  It is a free gift given by grace, given by our crucified Lord, given for our eternal life.

That is indeed good news!  That is the Christian faith – the faith Joan confessed, the faith that delivers to her eternal life in Christ, the reason why I visited her with Word and Sacrament.  That promise is Joan’s, and it is hers for all eternity.

So many people think of heaven as a kind of Pagan paradise with clouds and spirits floating around.  That is not Christianity.  Our faith teaches something quite different: something infinitely better.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of a physically reconstituted earth.  And “on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces… for the Lord has spoken.”

And even in our mourning, even in our sadness that we are temporarily separated from our beloved Joan, in the promise of Christ’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we can indeed, “be glad and rejoice in this salvation.”

And so, dear friends, I challenge you, even in your grief, to take comfort in the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification, that He is the good shepherd who has come to give us life – real, physical life that will have no end.  This victory is Christ’s.  This victory is Joan’s.  This victory is ours – now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.