Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)

(Audio)

Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Food. Now there’s something we can all agree upon. Everybody likes food; everybody needs food. Today, culinary programs pepper our television screens teaching us how to prepare food, evaluating restaurants and chefs that prepare and serve food to us, and taking us to exotic locations where we can enjoy unique and unusual food. We’re concerned about low fat food, high fiber food, food that’s organic, food that’s all natural and not processed. Everybody enjoys food and everybody needs food to survive, thus food appeals to us both on an emotional and sensory level and also on a fundamental basic needs level.

Moments after birth, the newborn infant’s reflex action to suck, to eat, is activated. The infant’s need for food is natural and moms are equipped with a natural supply of food. And, without food, natural, formula, or otherwise, the infant will get weak, then sick, and will soon die.

Moments after His creation of man, God created a lush garden filled with fruit bearing plants and trees that the man may eat and live. All that Adam needed to support his body and life were supplied by his Creator and Lord. The Lord gave Adam to eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden, even of the Tree of Life, save the one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In connection with that particular species God gave His Word, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Life and death, that’s what food and eating is all about. In the Garden, food literally rained from the trees and fell into the mouths of God’s creatures; Adam and Eve didn’t have to break a sweat to eat and live, all was provided by the grace of their loving Father.

Now, let us consider the catechetical question:  How can bodily eating […] do such great things? It is here that we get to the crux: It is not the eating, or the drinking, or even the food itself that gives life, but it is the Word of God connected to it that gives life. Consider the two specifically named trees in the Garden of Eden: The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we suppose that these trees and their fruit were good and evil in and of themselves, we are incorrect and we entirely miss the point. There were many different trees, plants, and other flora in the Garden; the only thing that made these two different and special is the Word that God gave concerning them: The Tree of Life gave life because the Word of God said so. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil brought death because the Word of God said so. And so, Moses rightly warned the Israelites not to forget God in times of prosperity saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And you will remember that our Lord Jesus replied with this same Word of God when tempted by the devil in the desert to eat and satisfy the hunger of His flesh.

Our First Parents succumbed to the devil’s tempting; they rationalized away God’s Word concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “It looks good to eat.” “It’s good for making one wise.” “What harm could there be in it?” And so they ate, and they died; no, they didn’t die physically, not immediately, although that process began at that moment, but they died spiritually in that they lost the image of their Creator and were separated from His holy presence. The substance of their eating, the fruit of the tree, really had nothing to do with their fall; it is disregarding and disobeying the Lord’s Word that leads to death.

There are many lessons for us in the Fall of our First Parents, but for now let us consider only the temptation to subtly twist and misinterpret the Word of the Lord. The devil did not speak unfamiliar words to Eve. She undoubtedly knew these Words well, having learned them from her husband and pastor Adam. But the devil tempted Eve by causing her to question and doubt how she understood God’s Word. “Did God really say…?” the devil tempted, and, as the tempting began to work its way into her heart, Eve reinterpreted and rationalized God’s Word to make the eating of the forbidden fruit permissible, even approved by God! Pastor Adam, who was with her, heard the same beguiling words and he ate too. Their actual sin was merely the fruit of their unbelief.

After the Fall, food does not come so easily. One of the fruits of sin and unbelief is that we are cut off from God’s direct holy presence. Nevertheless, God is gracious and merciful, allowing us to receive the blessing of His presence through means. No longer does the earth readily supply us daily bread, but by the sweat of our brows and hard toil we must till and weed the fields, battle insects, drought, and blight to put food upon our tables and into our hungry mouths. And, still we die; for, no earthly food, no bread alone, can feed our spiritual starvation or nourish our souls; still, only the Word of God can do that.

So God did the unimaginable, He veiled His holy Word in human flesh in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead and His glorious presence, hidden, so that God and man might once again walk and talk together. Jesus is food sent from heaven for all hungry hearts that a man may eat and live and may drink and never thirst again.

Jesus has compassion upon the multitudes in this desolate place where there can be found no food that truly fulfills or truly gives life. The disciples despaired of their meager providence, seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, that there would not be enough for everyone. But, it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about the bread and the fish, it’s about the Word of God. Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. They ate and were satisfied, because the Word of God attached to those humble elements is what gave them sustenance and life. There were more than four thousand present that day, more than five thousand on another occasion, and in both meals, basketfuls of leftovers were gathered after all had eaten and were satisfied.

Those hungry souls had been with Jesus three days. They had listened to His teaching, observed His works and miracles, and followed Him wherever He went. They were hungry and in a desolate place with no food for them to eat. But on that third day, Jesus renewed the bounty of Eden, there in that most unlikely of places, freely granting an abundance of bread to the four thousand.

So also, our Lord Jesus, having endured the burden of our sin, was raised on the third day to bring us back to Paradise. He now miraculously turns the bread of death into the Bread of Life in this holy Sacrament, giving you His very body and His very blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

(Audio)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The law of God is not an afterthought, nor is it something that God gave to men later to test them or to set them on the right path, but the law of God is God’s eternal will. The law of God is true and good and the only standard and measure of truth and goodness. In other words, the law of God would be true and good even if there were no creation and no men to hear it, know it, or do it.

Therefore, the law of God will not pass away. It cannot be abolished. And that’s a serious problem for you and me, and all people. For, we do not keep it. We do not do it, at least, not perfectly, as it necessarily demands. That is why the first transgression of the law in the garden lead to death. God’s law is life. Anything else is death. Why do we die? We die because we do not keep God’s law. The wages of sin is always, and only, death.

We cannot keep the law perfectly as it demands. That is why the Son of God became a man. “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus fulfilled the law of God for us. He suffered and died on the cross for us, taking the death we earned upon Himself, and giving us in exchange His righteousness and life. The law of God has been fulfilled.

By no means, however, has God’s law been abolished. Rather, our relationship to God’s law has changed. While the law of God still demands perfection, it has been perfectly fulfilled and satisfied by Jesus. Death, the penalty we earned for our sins, has been placed upon Jesus. Yet still, the law remains. Though it has been fulfilled, it cannot be abolished. The law still demands that you be righteous. Jesus teaches that your righteousness must exceed that of the exceedingly righteous scribes and Pharisees. What is a Christian to do?

You cannot bend the law. You cannot lower its expectations and demands. It is absolute and eternal. Nevertheless, the scribes and the Pharisees tried by interpreting the law narrowly. For example, the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder” -- the scribes and the Pharisees maintained that, so long as you haven’t physically murdered someone, you can rightly claim that you have kept the commandment and have earned God’s favor. However, the law is not so narrow as that. Indeed, the law of God, as I stated earlier, is not an afterthought, but the law of God is God’s good, perfect, holy, and eternal will. Not only shall you not murder your neighbor, Jesus teaches, but you shall not be angry with your neighbor or mock them or hold them in derision. Luther built upon this in the Small Catechism adding, “but help and befriend him in every bodily need.”

It may seem that Jesus expanded the meaning of the law, but that is not the case at all, for the law of God is fulfilled in love: Perfect love for God, bearing the fruit of perfect love for the neighbor. The scribes and the Pharisees feared and hated the law of God, they feared and hated God, and so they bent and lowered the bar on the law to make it more doable so that they could pretend to be righteous and justify themselves. We are tempted to do the same, but we must not. Rather, we must let the law of God convict us, crush us, and condemn us. We must humble ourselves and repent trusting that God will forgive us for Jesus’ sake, who has indeed perfectly loved both God and neighbor.

How can your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? The answer is not that you try harder, or that you do better at keeping the law. The truth is that no matter how well you keep the commandments you will always fall short. In truth, because of original sin, you were damned before you started. What is a Christian to do? Believe in Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Have faith in Jesus, that He has fulfilled the law for you. You have been baptized into Jesus. That means all that belongs to Jesus belongs also to you: Innocence, faithfulness, obedience, righteousness, life, sonship with the Father, and more. How can your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? When your righteousness is not your righteousness but Christ’s righteousness. That is the righteousness Jesus teaches that you must have if you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The law of God is good and true. That will never change. Because of sin, our first parent’s sin, our neighbor’s sin, our sin, our world, our culture, our flesh, our desires, and even our thoughts are corrupted, and we must die. How then can we live? We cannot hope to fulfill the law’s demands and expectations on our own. Bending God’s law or attempting to lower its demands and expectations will not work. There is only one hope, and that is Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled the law’s demands and expectations for us, who has died in our place, who lives, and who now sits at God’s right hand in glory. He died to share His righteousness with you, and He died for all so that all may live.

Christ’s death is our death. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. Christ’s life is our life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)

(Audio)

 

Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21

 

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

You come to church. You say your prayers and read your Bible. You try to keep the Ten Commandments in your day to day lives. You strive to be patient, kind, compassionate, charitable, and forgiving with others, even those who treat you poorly. And what do you get for it all but grief, thanklessness, and suffering, while countless others who have no regard for the Word of the Lord seemingly prosper and have a great time? I think we can all relate to Elijah’s desperation when he cried out, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” I think we can relate to Peter’s frustration when he cried out, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

“At your word.” There is the key. Left to our own devices, reason, wisdom, and strength, there is good reason for despair and hopelessness. But we have the word and the promises of God which can never fail. The word of God and His promises remain true no matter what we should experience or suffer in our lives and in our world.

The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Fishing was their livelihood, and they were frustrated, exhausted, hopeless, and despairing. It must have seemed as if the fish were swimming away from them and that their work was both futile and foolish. In contrast to that, however, a crowd was pressing in upon Jesus to hear the word of God. While the fish were fleeing the disciples’ nets, the crowds were flocking to Jesus to hear the word of God. The disciples’ experience, reason, and wisdom considered it foolishness to go out and fish again. However, it would not be experience, reason, and wisdom, or even boats and nets, that would win for the fisherman a great catch of fish, but it would be the word of God and their faith and trust in it. This was a transformative moment for the disciples, as Jesus Himself indicated by saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Those men were the crowd pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. They were out there, hungry, ready to be caught. In this case, they were not fleeing from Jesus, but they were coming to Him. Jesus’ command to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” was instruction for ministry. The deep is the world. The nets are the Gospel. The catch are men and women hungering and thirsting for the Word of God, ready to be caught in the Gospel net and brought into the boat of Christ’s Church. Fishers of men are first and foremost the called and sent pastors of Christ’s Church, but you are also fishers of men through your callings, your vocations, in which you are the hands, heart, and voice of Jesus in service of those whom God causes to cross your path.

Now, let’s be honest, the fishing can be a daunting task much of the time. From the perspective of human experience, reason, and wisdom, not to mention business and marketing models that are very successful in other fields, the ministry often seems ineffectual, hopeless, and an utter failure. Pastors, church leaders, and laity in their vocations are tempted to despair and hopelessness, to throw in the towel and give up. Or, and just as bad, if not worse, they are tempted to acquiesce to worldly values and methods and “give the customer what they want” in a desperate desire to grow the church by their own reason, wisdom, and devised methods. While this might seem the sensible, wise, and reasonable thing to do, and the result might produce numbers and wealth and resources in the short term, this is not the way of the Lord and it will bear bad fruit in time to come. Faithfulness cannot be measured in numbers. The goal of the Church and her Ministry is not to count the fish, but to let down her nets for a catch, and let the Lord go to work. The counting and sorting will be done at the Judgment. For now, we preach Christ crucified, a message that is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, the power of God.

As Queen Jezebel had set herself to destroy the prophets of Israel, Elijah had even more reason to despair and hopelessness in his ministry than did the fishermen apostles. Hiding in a cave, the LORD spoke to Elijah, not in mighty wind, not in a powerful earthquake, not in a consuming fire, but in a low whisper. Once again, means that would impress human experience, reason, and wisdom are eschewed by the LORD and that which is humble and unimpressive, a whisper, is the means through which the LORD comforts Elijah and promises him success. There will be a new king in place of wicked Ahab, and a new prophet to succeed Elijah. And there will be seven thousand faithful preserved, a remnant. Now, the population of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time was approximately two and a half million. Seven thousand was a very small group, relatively speaking. However, that group consisted of those who had never worshiped Baal, and so it was undoubtedly more than Elijah would have imagined. Once again we are reminded that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.

God has prepared for we who love Him good things that surpass all understanding and that exceed all that we can desire through Jesus Christ. What are we to do? That is the wrong question. Rather, we should consider, what is the Lord doing? We are to trust in the Lord and in His word and promises as we let down the Gospel net for a catch, not considering the numbers or the apparent foolishness of the means, but trusting in His word as the Lord does the work in and through us, drawing men, women, and children through the waters of Holy Baptism into the boat of His Church. And, in the safety of the Church the Lord binds up the wounds of the faithful applying His word of forgiveness. He nourishes and strengthens our faith through His word. He feeds us with His body and blood. And He equips and sends us, making us fishers of men, to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)

(Audio)

Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21

 

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

We are a divided nation: Republican vs. Democrat. Far Right vs. Far Left. Science Believers vs. Science Deniers. Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life. Pro-Immigration vs. Pro-Secure Borders. Equality of Opportunity vs. Equity of Outcome. Vaccinated vs. Unvaccinated.

We are a divided people: Male vs. Female. Black vs. White. Gay vs. Straight. Religious vs. Atheist. Millennial vs. Boomer.

We are a divided church: Confessional vs. Missional. Contemporary vs. Liturgical. Church Growth vs. Traditional.

Our families are divided. Our marriages are divided. And this is nothing new. The fruit of our first sin in the garden was division, between man and woman, between humanity and God. Don’t forget that when God exposed their sinful rebellion, the man and the woman blamed each other, and they both blamed God.

Division is the seed sown by Satan. “Did God really say?” was a question designed to create division between man and woman, between humanity and God. When it comes to God’s Word, there is what God has said, and there is what man says that God said, wishes that God said, and acts as if God said. God’s Word is the only truth and good, and the only rule and norm of truth and goodness in contrast to falsehood and evil. The ability to distinguish good from evil was not a providence given to man by God, but all they needed to make the right choice was in His Word itself. If they would fear, love, and trust in the LORD and His Word, darkness would be light, and the way of truth and goodness would be clearly discerned.

Before Satan’s temptation, our First Parents knew God to be good. After the temptation, they thought that God was holding out on them, that He wasn’t truly good and loving. They became prideful and jealous, judging and condemning. The fruit of their fall became evident in their offspring. The LORD had regard for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s. Though the LORD had comforted Cain saying, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Cain became angry and resentful against his brother and against the LORD. Cain judged and condemned his brother and murdered him, and so he also judged and condemned his LORD. Cain was divided from his brother; Cain was divided from his LORD and His Word.

Jealousy, anger, resentment, hatred – these are the fruits of sin, the result of a broken and divided relationship between fellow men and women and their God. Cain thought he was treated unfairly, so he murdered his brother and he hated his God. Joseph’s brothers did the same in thought, if not in deed. They were jealous and resentful of their brother and their father because he favored Joseph. They judged and condemned them both, plotting to murder Joseph and get back at their father. Yet, the LORD was in control of the situation and His Word and His promise remained true. He would bless Abraham, and through him and his offspring He would bless all the nations of the earth. At the end of the story, Joseph stands in stark contrast to his brothers, trusting in God’s truth and goodness saying, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Fear, love, and trust in God and His Word confesses that God’s will is always good, despite what fallen human reason, wisdom, and perception might suggest.

The Christian faith and life are marked by tribulation and suffering. Jesus taught this plainly, and the prophets and the apostles all testify to the same. St. Paul confessed this clearly in today’s Epistle even as he confesses his fear, love, and trust in God and His Word, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” For the Christian who trusts in God’s goodness, faithfulness, and promise, there is confidence, courage, comfort, and hope to face all trials, temptations, tribulations, and suffering, to endure and persevere. Paul and the other apostles faced numerous perils throughout their Christian life and ministry and counted it all joy even as Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and scorned its shame.

If the Christian’s relationship to their LORD is one of fear, love, and trust, no matter what, then their relationship to their brother, sister, and neighbor is one of pity, compassion, charity, patience, love, and forgiveness. Or, as Jesus put it succinctly, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Christian mercy is rooted in divine mercy. Because our heavenly Father is merciful, we who fear, love, and trust Him will and must be merciful. We do not judge or condemn, for we have been judged not guilty and the condemnation we deserved has been borne by Jesus upon the cross. We are the underserving recipients of the boundless divine mercy of God; how can we withhold mercy from others whose offenses have also been mercifully forgiven in the blood of Jesus? Moreover, we have the promise of God’s Word: “forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Yes, we are a divided nation and people. Our church is divided. Our families and our marriages are divided. This is the fruit of sin, a sowing of Satan who seeks always to divide and destroy. Sadly, this side of heaven, we must live with division and the suffering it produces, but let us not contribute to it, and let us repent and be forgiven and restored when we do. For, we are our brother’s keeper. The Lord does not say that we should ignore the speck in our brother’s eye, but that first we should deal with the log in our own eye. Your Lord Jesus has removed the log from your eye, even as He has removed the speck from your brother’s eye. You are each the undeserving recipients of His merciful love and forgiveness. Therefore, do not judge and condemn, for you have been judged not guilty and Jesus has borne the condemnation of all, but be merciful, even as your Father is merciful, and love, bear with, and forgive your brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy, for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Mercy and forgiveness are present and ready to be measured to you now at the Lord’s table. Come, eat and drink and be filled with Jesus’ divine mercy, that His mercy may flow out of you into the lives of your brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy to the glory of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 3)

(Audio)

Luke 15:1-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11; Micah 7:18-20

 

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

The scribes and the Pharisees, the religious scholars and theologians of Jesus’ day, holy in the eyes of other men, stand in judgment of the Only Holy Man Jesus saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And, what they accuse Him of is true! Jesus does indeed enjoy table fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts – and this is good news for sinners! This is good news for you and for me! Thus, ironically, but providentially, the scribes and the Pharisees serve as unwitting preachers of the Gospel, which is the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus! For, this is the reason that Jesus came into the world: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts. And, these came to Him in throngs, for, in Jesus, they found, not judgment and condemnation, but the grace and the forgiveness of God, Who cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. But, this was a great offense to the scribes and the Pharisees who had judged and condemned such people. They were offended that Jesus would show grace and love to such sinners. They were offended that God’s grace and mercy could extend to such sinners as these. They wanted to rein in and to limit God’s grace, thus they are offended that “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”

For, such table fellowship follows reconciliation. It is a sign that all is forgiven, all is restored and made right once again. It is a celebration that someone lost has been found and returned to the family of faith. Thus, Jesus presents three parables about the restoration of the lost in response to the grumbling accusation of the scribes and the Pharisees: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son. And, in each parable, something that was lost has been found and restored. And, the restoration of the lost results in rejoicing and feasting, both on earth and in heaven!

The third parable, the Parable of the Lost Son (or, The Prodigal Son), which we did not hear today, involves the restoration, not of an animal (a sheep) or of an object (a coin), but of a beloved son who treated his father with contempt, squandered his love, his grace, and his wealth, and found himself, penniless and powerless to help himself, once again in his father’s love and grace, fully restored to sonship despite his prior wickedness. When we hear this parable with the ears of faith, we see that it is not about the prodigal son at all, but it is about the selfless and sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of the father, who is God the Father. Likewise, the Good Shepherd is God the Son, and the Woman is the Church of Christ, seeking the lost that they might be saved and restored. And there is rejoicing on earth and in heaven.

In the first parable Jesus poses this question to the scribes and the Pharisees, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” I’ve thought about this question for a long time now and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only human answer to this question, whether you are a scribe or a Pharisee, a shepherd, a butcher, a baker, or a candle-stick maker, is that no one would do such a thing!” No one would leave the ninety-nine sheep to go and seek for the one that wandered off. One out of a hundred, of a possession as valuable as sheep, would not merit possibly exposing the other ninety-nine to risk. But, I think that is exactly the response Jesus intends to evoke, for, ultimately, the parable isn’t about human shepherds, or scribes, or Pharisees, or any others, but it is about the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, who, out of boundless mercy and compassion, did leave the heavenly places, inhabited by flocks of angels, archangels, dominions, and powers, to seek and to save one lost man, Adam, in whom we all are one. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

In the second parable, a woman has lost one of her precious silver coins, so she lights a lamp and diligently sets about searching for it until she finds it. And, when she has found it, there is a festival celebration that what was lost has been found and restored. This woman is the Church and the flock of the Good Shepherd. And, you each are a precious coin, marked, in Holy Baptism, with the image of the Prince, Jesus Christ. You are each a found sheep, redeemed by the selfless sacrifice of your Good Shepherd. And there is rejoicing that you have been found, and there is table fellowship with Jesus in which He receives sinners and eats with them, even as there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

For, the Church is not a memorial for saints, but She is a hospital for sinners. Indeed, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Those who will not confess that they are sinners will not and cannot receive the forgiveness Jesus came to give. It is like a person, sick unto death, who refuses to admit that they are sick and, therefore, will not seek the aid of a physician. There is treatment and there is healing for the sick who will receive it, but it will not and cannot benefit those who refuse it. This is the situation with the scribes and the Pharisees; they judged Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners just as they judged the sinners who flocked to Him. But they would not confess that they too were such lost sinners in need of finding, restoration, and forgiveness. They too were sick unto death with sin, and there was healing for them in Jesus Christ, just as for the tax collectors and prostitutes, but they would not and they could not receive it. They refused to acknowledge their need of the Great Physician, therefore they would not and could not receive the healing He came to give to them. Only the lost can be found, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

We all share in the same common disease of sin, and the diagnosis, left untreated, is terminal, death. But Jesus teaches in the Parables of the Lost that He came to seek and to save such lost and dying sinners as you and me, and that you are so precious and immeasurably valuable to Him that He risks everything to find you, save you, and restore you. For, you are more valuable to him than one in one hundred sheep. You are more precious to Him than one in ten silver coins. And you are more beloved of Him than one in two sons.

So, on this Father’s Day, what a wonderful picture of Fatherly love we are presented with. God, your Father, is not satisfied with ninety-nine out of a hundred sheep, or that He still has nine out of ten silver coins, or that one son remained home by His side. But, He is jealous for all His creatures, His priceless children whom He loves with selfless, sacrificial grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He will not stop seeking His lost children no matter how far they stray, but He has sent His Son Jesus to seek and to save the lost, laying down His life to bring them back into the fold of the Church to bind up their wounds in Holy Absolution and to restore them to sonship in Holy Baptism. And there is feasting and rejoicing in the Holy Supper, on earth as it is in heaven, that what was lost has been found and restored.

In the love and sacrifice of our earthly fathers we catch a glimpse, a reflection, of our Heavenly Father’s love and sacrifice for us. The image is sometimes dim and tarnished by sin to be sure, but if we have known the love and sacrifice of such imperfect men in this fallen and broken world, how much more then does our Heavenly Father, Who is holy and unchanging, love us with an eternal and perfect love?

Come to the feast of joy, found children of our Heavenly Father! The Man who receives sinners and eats with them is here to feast with you; He is both host and meal. Do not be offended that He receives and eats with such as these. We are brothers and sisters, one and all, of one holy and divine Heavenly Father. He will have all His children, in His time, found, forgiven, and restored. And there will be rejoicing and feasting, on earth as in heaven, both now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Jesus' Father Is Our Father

Article published in the Waverly Democrat on June 17, 2021.

The Lord’s Prayer is the Christian prayer par excellence because it is the prayer that our Lord Jesus Himself taught His disciples to pray. In Luke’s Gospel, one of Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus replied saying, “When you pray, say, Our Father who art in heaven…” (Luke 11:2). “Our Father…”. I find those words to be remarkable, for in them Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, who is Himself true God and true man, invites the faithful to pray to His Father and to call His Father “our” Father with the expectation of being heard and answered just as His one and only Son. In and through Jesus, His Father has truly become our Father. Likewise, Jesus is our brother, and He shares with us everything that belongs to Him: Sonship with the Father, kingship and a reign over heaven and earth, righteousness, holiness, life that cannot die, and more. All of this is brought together in the Lord’s Prayer: Through Jesus, we have full access to God the Father, and He promises to hear and to answer whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name just as He hears and answers His Son Jesus Himself.

 

Of course, this prayer to our heavenly Father is on my mind presently because Father’s Day is coming up this weekend and the concept and nature of fathers and fatherhood are on my mind. It is nothing new to observe that Father’s Day plays a somewhat distant second fiddle to Mother’s Day, and I suspect that’s no big deal to most fathers. However, in recent years, and more intensely in this past year as political, racial, and sexual strife has roiled our nation in the midst of a pandemic, fathers and fatherhood have taken it on the chin so to speak. Instead of being valued and lauded as something good, desirable, and admirable, fathers and fatherhood are increasingly mocked, derided, and considered the very cause of numerous societal ills, inequities, and suffering. While there sadly are abusive fathers and absent fathers, and even good fathers are not perfect fathers, nevertheless, the way fathers and fatherhood have been dragged through the mud is not only uncharitable and unfair, but it’s downright unchristian and sinful, a transgression of the Lord’s commandment to “Honor your father and your mother” (Exo. 20:12).

 

It is God, our heavenly Father, who created fathers and fatherhood in His image and likeness. Fathers and fatherhood are intrinsically good, even if the men who hold those vocations necessarily fall short of perfection, and sometimes terribly so. Though the Lord created the man first, and then the woman from the man, Adam did not become a father until he first became a husband. Male and female He created them, and then He joined them in marriage, proclaiming them to be “one flesh,” and He blessed them that they should be fruitful and multiply. Both marriage and fatherhood were created and instituted and blessed by God as good and holy institutions and vocations before sin entered the world so newly made. The commandment issued by the Lord later was simply a restatement of what had already been established in creation: “Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exo. 20:12). Because marriage and fatherhood and motherhood are blessed by God to be a blessing for long life and wellbeing, this commandment is called “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2). Indeed, civilization and culture, government, and civil laws are founded in and built upon God’s institution of marriage, fatherhood, and motherhood and the Godly vocations ascribed to them. Marriage and motherhood have been under attack for decades in the United States, finally being re-defined, or un-defined, by legal fiat. Now it is fatherhood that is under attack. But, make no mistake, this could not have happened until God our heavenly Father was first marginalized and pushed out from our culture, society, and government.

 

Today, our culture views fathers as bumbling, lazy idiots like Homer Simpson, at the best, or as racist, bigoted, misogynistic, privileged Nazis at the worst. We should not be surprised, I suppose, that the culture views fathers this way, for this is how the culture views God our heavenly Father. What is a father to do? Well, the answer is in God’s Word: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deu. 6:4-7).

 

Fathers, yours is a noble and honorable vocation, do not be ashamed and do not be afraid. Scripture is clear that your vocation is a reflection of our heavenly Father. Yes, the world will mock you, ridicule you, and degrade you, and will even hate you; take heart, for so did they mock, ridicule, degrade, and hate your heavenly Father, even as they crucified His Son. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1). “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13). 

 

Blessed Father’s Day! May our heavenly Father continue to bless you and to make you a blessing.


Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)

(Audio)

Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Lady Wisdom has built Her house. It is a palatial dwelling, even a temple, having seven pillars. For, indeed, Lady Wisdom is none other than the glorious presence of God dwelling amongst men, first in the Garden, later in the Tabernacle and in the Temple, and lastly and consummately, in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Likewise, the seven pillars are the Holy Spirit of God in His seven-fold gifts – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, holiness, and the fear of the Lord – through which He calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps in the true faith those who do not reject Him.

Wisdom has slaughtered Her beasts; She has mixed Her wine; She has also set Her table. And, now, “She has sent out Her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense She says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and live, and walk in the way of insight’.” That is to say, “The feast is prepared. Come to the Lord’s Table.” For, everything is accomplished for you. It is finished. There is nothing to do but to come and to receive what Wisdom has prepared for you.

The invitation is offered to all. Let us not get hung up on the order or the ranking of the invitees – first to the A List, then to the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, and then to the highways and the hedges, indeed, to all the world. In the end, there is no one who does not receive the Lord’s gracious invitation to His banquet. All are invited, unconditionally. The only way to miss out on the feast is to reject the Lord’s gracious invitation.

Sadly, many do just that; many reject the Lord’s gracious invitation. Concerns for this world and life cause them to make excuses. But, there is no excuse, for this is the Lord’s banquet, and He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; He is God, the Creator of all that is. You would not reject a personal invitation from your boss, let alone the President of the United States, but will you reject the invitation of the Lord and giver of your life? Nevertheless, you are free to do as you please. The ability to reject Him is God’s gift to you. If you will not come, that’s a real shame, for a place is reserved just for you, and at a premium, the shed blood of God’s Son. The invitation is extended to all. It’s as simple as that. But, those who reject the Lord’s gracious invitation will not taste of the banquet He has prepared for them. It’s as simple as that.

Yet, the Lord’s banquet hall will be filled. It will be filled by all those who do not reject the Lord’s gracious invitation, but who receive it in faith and who come and eat. They are the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame – literally, but also metaphorically – for, they are all those who are not so proud so as to reject an invitation, and they are those who have not so many fleshly and worldly distractions in their lives to get in between them and their Lord. Indeed, when Jesus taught that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, He was not passing judgment upon wealth and riches, or even upon those who possess them, but He was acknowledging how easy it is for those who have much to become slaves to their possessions, thus making them idols by permitting them to get in between themselves and the Lord. By definition, the poor, including those poor of body, mind, and spirit, have much less in the way of fleshly and worldly possessions to get between themselves and the Lord, and so it is easier for them to receive and to believe than it is for those more deeply enmeshed in worldly trappings.

Indeed, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame are, in many ways, like children, whom Jesus repeatedly holds up as an example of faith. They are simple – not in the sense of being stupid or foolish – but they are simple in worldly ways, and they are open to instruction and learning, as they are not yet set in their ways. These simple ones are invited to receive insight, even wisdom and life. Jesus taught that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it”. It is not that those who are wise in worldly ways cannot enter the kingdom of God, but rather it is that they will not, for they make excuses, they refuse, or they consider God and His kingdom to be foolishness. They have not the fear of the Lord, which is to say that they are not in awe of God and they do not offer Him worship, they have no personal confidence in God or knowledge of His character, and their sense of morality is not rooted in obedience to His Law. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it is a return to a simple and childlike faith that is open and receptive to the Word of the Lord, His ways, and His Truth.

But, the Lord’s Wisdom stands in opposition to the wisdom of the flesh and the world. Thus, those who receive the invitation and do not reject it have passed out of death into life. Therefore, they are hated by the world. You must not be surprised by the world’s hatred of you, for so the world hated Jesus, your Teacher, who came before you. Likewise, He is your model, your guide, and your example that you may love others, even those who hate you, as Jesus loved all and died for all, that all might be forgiven and live. Scoffers will come. Show them love. They may turn in repentance, or they may hate you and persecute you – it matters not – for you have died to the flesh and to the world and you live to God, therefore you must love your brother and your neighbor as God so loved this world of sinners, sin, and death in His Son Jesus Christ. You children of Wisdom, called out of death to glorious and eternal life, give life to your brother and to your neighbor by loving him in deed and truth as God so loved you in Jesus.

For, the invitations are out, to the highways and the hedges, even to the ends of the earth, and the Lord is well past simply asking people to come, He’s now compelling them to come, so that only those who reject His gracious invitation will miss out on the banquet. Therefore, you who have received His gifts must share them, in love, with all, that they too will receive the Lord’s gracious invitation and live. And, to equip you for this mission of love, and to keep you in and to strengthen your faith, the Lord has provided you a foretaste of His heavenly banquet in this feast of the body and blood of His Son Jesus. The feast is prepared. Come to the Lord’s table.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

A response to "Miss Melissa's Story"

St. John's former preschool director/teacher has written a blog post chronicling her "story." You can read it here. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, she has some facts wrong. However, several things she wrote were quite surprising and truly illuminating as to what was going on in her mousy-headed mind.

Here is my response:

 

Melissa,

 That was very enlightening. Here are some things that I learned:

  • Over some considerable time, you became dissatisfied with the state and federal objectives and standards for early childhood education and, consequently, with your own teaching methods oriented towards meeting those objectives and standards.
  • By the Summer of 2020, you were already inclined not to return to the preschool, and by October 1 you had made up your mind to submit your resignation, which you did officially on December 8.
  • You were aware that you failed to treat your own child the same as other students in your class, giving preferential treatment to her and administering discipline differently and inconsistently.

 

The fact that you felt this way and had already determined to leave the church preschool before the 2020-2021 academic year even started explains a lot about your attitude and behavior throughout the school year.

 

First, let me correct you concerning something you stated that is simply false: The church (leaders) did NOT decide that they did not want a preschool anymore because it was a financial burden, nor did the church (leaders) want to close the preschool effective immediately in July 2020. That is flatly, plainly, and completely inaccurate and untrue. What is true is that the preschool had run a deficit six out of its ten years of existence, and a large and significant deficit the past two years. This matter simply and practically HAD to be addressed as, due to an aging congregation and other demographic changes, such losses were increasingly difficult for the church to absorb and could potentially put its operations and existence in peril if they were to continue.

 

Rather than close the preschool, the church (leaders) took action to determine how we might possibly keep the preschool going. In this respect we formed the Preschool Viability Assessment Committee to conduct this work. The purpose and goal of that committee was to see if there was a way – any way – that we could keep the preschool open that wouldn’t harm the church’s operations and viability. Inevitably, there was much talk about enrollment, tuition, grants, fundraisers, etc., for the problem was a financial one, and such are the metrics of finances. We had to determine what the real situation was so that we could plot a course to move forward. You took extreme exception to this work and discussion and seemed absolutely resistant and oppositional to any discussion of enlarging class size. When confronted with the problem of a $20,000 to $25,000 deficit, I will never forget the emotionless, blank expression you put forth, as if you couldn’t care less and simply expected the church to absorb any deficit. Of course, now that I know that you were inclined to leave before the school year even started, that makes more sense. So, you submitted your resignation in early December. That, combined with the financial situation, the short time window for hiring another Director and Teacher, and the general lack of human resources (volunteers) from the church to serve on the Preschool Board, effectively forced the congregation to close the preschool, at least for the forthcoming academic year. Ironically, as time went on, finances would become less of a concern – God works in mysterious ways – and I am confident that, had you stayed on, we would have continued the preschool for another year.

 

You stated that church leaders said to you:

“You never cared about the church.”


“It was never the church preschool, it was always Miss Melissa’s preschool.”


“You were asked to call the person back, now I’M TELLING YOU to call the person back.”


“It’s not all about YOU.”

 

I won’t deny any of those statements. They are all exactly true. Often the truth can hurt. You were never criticized for not loving the children, but your lack of love and concern for the church was self-evident. I already mentioned your blank, emotionless expression and response to the significant deficits the preschool was running at the potential peril of the church. You couldn’t care less, and you were resistant to help in any way to alleviate that deficit. Moreover, I overheard you making snide and derogatory comments about Preschool Board members and other church members, even preschool parents, and sometimes even preschool students. You have a wicked tongue that reflects a mean spirit. It is clear that you have no tolerance for authority, oversight, or criticism of any kind. One of the greatest problems was the all-but-non-existent relationship between the congregation and the preschool which you did precious little to alleviate, and what you did do you did grudgingly and with resentment. Most people in the congregation did not know who you were or what was going on in the preschool. Thus, you can understand that they would balk at a $25,000 deficit.

 

The church always had difficulty finding qualified people to serve on the Preschool Board. This is something churches of all kinds face with all kinds of boards, particularly boards that require special skills like finance, education policies, etc. I can fully understand why you might have felt like you had to take matters into your own hands to get things done, and, to be fair, you were permitted to do so by those in authority. Still, you were an employee of the church, working in a preschool that was owned and operated by the church. Though it may have felt like “Miss Melissa’s preschool” which you “developed from the very beginning, it was most certainly not. You had authority over you to which you were accountable, particularly the Preschool Board, yet you regularly balked at that authority, any criticism, and continued doing what you wanted to do with no regard for the church’s wishes, mission, or welfare.

 

As you admit in your own blog post, having your own daughter as a student was a challenge, and you did show her preferential treatment. You failed to discipline your daughter the way you did other students. For example, your daughter refuses to keep her shoes and socks on in class and in chapel. While this was tolerated for her, it was not for other students. That is, until the past few months when it seemed that you simply gave up altogether and permitted any student to remove socks and/or shoes, even in chapel. A key turning point in this matter came in the early Spring of 2020 when a preschool parent copied me on a string of email correspondence between said parent and yourself concerning precisely this matter. Your response to that parent was unprofessional, defensive, and even attacking and retributive. As you well know, that family finished the school year and planned to not return, whereas another family with the same concern pulled their children out of the preschool immediately. In relation to that matter, you also provoked a conflict with the public library’s children’s director who brought the disparity in your treatment and discipline of your daughter compared to the other students to your attention. Once again, your response was unprofessional, defensive, attacking, and retributive. Truthfully, it was the church’s failure that we did not terminate you right then and there for your unprofessional treatment of these concerned families and a respected public figure who were quite right in their concerns and criticisms. Once again, you had no concern for the church’s mission, reputation, or welfare. Likewise, there are numerous other cases demonstrating your unprofessionalism, lack of concern for the church, and blatant insubordination, all for which you should have been terminated. That was our failure, not to terminate you before things got worse.

 

Moreover, your lack of gratitude is revealing. Over the course of ten years, the church compensated you well for your work, increasing your salary over $31,000. Indeed, we even gave you an $1800 bonus in appreciation of the work you did providing online instruction after the preschool had to stop in-person classes due to COVID-19 in March, April, and May 2020. Even though you have now established that your intention to resign was determined in October 2020, you accepted that bonus and you permitted us to spend thousands more dollars and manpower to restore the preschool playground only to resign the very next day after the work was completed.

 

After your resignation, you hung up on me on a phone call that you initiated, and later you flipped off my wife in the church parking lot. You called the District President (Bishop) of our church body to inform him “what kind of church” he had. Thankfully, he knows precisely the kind of church he has, and he knows an entitled Millennial snowflake on the fringe of sanity when he encounters one. The two “confrontations” you had in your last week were nothing of the sort, but they were simply church members and PVAC members asking you a few legitimate questions. Once again, you have no respect for authority, criticism of any kind, or even to be questioned in any way. You felt “scared at work?” Scared of what? Questions? The truth? Someone asks you what you were doing with bags of crayons and markers and you call that harassment befitting calling the police? I wish that you would have. Then, just days ago you actually contacted a liaison in the church to report that one of those authorities drove by your home, nevermind that the road you live on is a highly trafficked path taken by hundreds every day to get from the highway to that part of a busy commercial area.

 

I am truly thankful that you wrote this blog post. You have cleared up a lot of mystery for me. Now it all makes much more sense. It’s crazy and delusional, but at least I know what’s going on. Yes, now you are free to teach the way you know best, with no authority to set standards for you, no questioning of you, and everyone can have their shoes and socks off. It will truly be “Melissa’s Preschool.” Good luck with that.

 

Rev. Jon M. Ellingworth
St. John Lutheran Church