Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Benediction 2012

Pawling Monuments

Once again I was honored to deliver the benediction at the Pawling Memorial Day Parade and Commemoration Ceremony.

Our Father, before whom we, of many nations, ethnicities, cultures, and traditions, are together, one and all, your children and the family of man, we regret that our sinful rebellion has caused war and schism, violence and destruction resulting in the suffering and death of countless of our brothers and sisters, each one your child and a precious soul. Forgive us, Lord, our rebellion, for Jesus’ sake, and turn us in repentance, that we might forgive as we have been forgiven, give as we have been given to, and bless as we have richly and abundantly been the recipients of your blessing. May your peace, established with man through your Son, affect peace amongst us, your children, that your Name be glorified in our love for each other, to the ends of the earth.

Nevertheless, you have established governments and you have given them authority to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil. And, under that sword you have raised up men and women who have served our nation to protect and to defend Her from those who would destroy Her, and countless of these have laid down their lives in sacrificial death that we may live in freedom and peace.

We give thanks to you for these martyrs who loved freedom, who loved us, more than they loved their own lives. We thank you for the example of selfless, sacrificial love they remain for us, a love best exemplified in your own selfless, sacrificial love for all the world in your Son. Bless us with your Spirit and make of us brothers and sisters and neighbors worthy of their blood and their love by empowering us to lay down our selfishness for the sake of our brothers and sisters and neighbors in need, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, culture, or tradition.

And, especially on this day, our Father, in which we remember those who have sacrificed themselves for us, we do not forgot those who even now suffer their loss, and those who have selflessly placed themselves in the gap for us at this present time. Protect these under the shadow of your wing and comfort them in their separation. Bless them with your Spirit and let them know our love and thanksgiving for them. In accordance with your good and gracious will, see them safely home and provide for the needs of their families while they are away.

Lord, bless us and keep us. Lord, make your face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. Lord, lift up your countenance upon us, and give us your peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Homily for The Feast of Pentecost



John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

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

The Feast of Pentecost is the restoration of the right and proper order of things: God gives. Man receives and returns thanks and praise to God.

After the flood, Noah’s descendants did not disperse and fill the world as God had commanded, but they settled together in one area, they all spoke one language, and they were unified as one people. It was not long until they conspired to build a tower rising into the heavens that they might make a name for themselves, as gods unto themselves, a transgression akin to the pride and envy of Lucifer’s primordial power-grab and the sin of our First Parents Adam and Eve. Theirs was a transgression of the First and Greatest Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” and “You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things” – even, and especially, above yourself.

Men are indeed capable of doing great and mighty things, from harnessing the energy of the atom to the construction of stations in space, from the mapping of the human genome, to the cloning of animal and human cells. Just sixty miles south of here is the greatest city in the world, with its towering skyscrapers and its sinuous, multi-tiered underground labyrinth of subway and service tunnels and sewers. And yet, what is man’s greatness compared with the greatness of man’s Creator? How much greater would man’s works be if they were conceived, consummated, and accomplished in accord with God’s holy will and to His glory?

Do not think that your God and Creator is opposed to man’s achieving greatness, for He is not. Indeed, He, Himself, crowned man King and Queen of all that He had made. But man’s dominion is an authority given and vested by God; man is not great by his own accord, but He has been made to be great like his Creator – great in mercy, great in compassion, great in love for all that God has made, as His stewards and managers, that all the world might know its God and Maker. Thus, God is not opposed to or against man’s achievements in science and technology, his attempts to make the world better, however, when these are ends in themselves, or when they serve the elevation of man apart from God’s will, Law, wisdom, and guidance, they cannot achieve the good they were intended to achieve, for they are a good pursued in the wrong way.

Thus the LORD confused the language of man and dispersed them over the face of the earth so that they left off building their great city and tower. This was much less an act of judgment than it was an act of mercy and love akin to God’s banishing of our First Parents from the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. If man were left to pursue his own wicked ends, it would result in his destruction and eternal separation from the source of his life and the reason for his being, communion with his Creator and God.

But God does indeed love the good works of men when they flow from His Holy Spirit. And thus, He would not leave His children in this confused state, but He would gather them together again as one people, one body, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing. In many types and figures, in prophets and judges and kings, God called His people to repentance, and He gave them one spiritual language. But, still, His children regularly strayed and sought power and glory, strength and might in ways and in things contrary to God’s Holy Law and will and Spirit. Until, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His only-begotten Son into our human flesh, that He would be obedient to God’s holy will and Law, and walk in perfect communion with Him all the days of His earthly life. Then, in one final act of obedience, Jesus submitted to the misdirected “good” deeds of men as they tried and convicted Him, mocked and scourged Him, and crucified Him on the cursed tree of the cross, and He died for the wickedness, guilt, and sin of the creatures who, as God, He had Himself created. As the prophet Isaiah has prophesied, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

In His timeless apologetic for the Christian faith, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote of man’s wickedness saying, Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.” Indeed, man, created in the image of God, has the desire and the capacity to do good. Men desire to love and to be loved. Men desire both to control and to be controlled. Men desire to create life and to nurture and grow living things, be they plants, animals, or children. And men desire to build houses and cities, roads and bridges, telescopes and rocket ships. And these are all good desires and pursuits in and of themselves. There is nothing wicked about them. Indeed, God Himself does good, loves, controls, builds, and gives life. But, for men, these good desires and pursuits become wicked when they are divorced from God’s holy Law and will and Spirit.

Before His death, Jesus comforted His disciples saying to them, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. […] …the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus kept this promise when the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon His disciples on the Day of Pentecost. We rightly celebrate this day as the birthday of the Church. For, on that day, the confusion of Babel was undone once and for all, as the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and gave them the ability to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all the languages of the world so that men, dispersed to the four corners of the earth, could hear the Good News of God’s salvation in their own language and tongue. For, the Gospel is a message and a language that transcends all languages. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken in German or English (in the KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV, NLT, ASV, NAS, or whatever!), Chinese, or Swahili. For, there is one Gospel, just as there is one LORD, one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. And there is one holy catholic and apostolic Church, one Baptism, one Communion, one body having one head, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. Only, this time, it is the LORD who has called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in faith His people by His Holy Spirit. And, though there are still many languages, there is one Gospel which transcends them all and is spoken in all by the guidance and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Though the Church does not celebrate Pentecost anew, or receive the Holy Spirit anew, She prays, nonetheless for the continual sending of the Spirit of Christ, that Her works and deeds may be conceived, consummated, and accomplished in accord with God’s holy will and to His glory. For, like every other human desire and endeavor, apart from the guidance, counsel, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even the Church’s works and deeds can lead to wickedness, destruction, and eternal separation from the source of Her life and the reason for Her being, Her own communion with, and Her bringing others into communion with, Her one Creator and God.

For, in the end, the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of numerical growth, although He can cause that. Nor is He a spirit of worldly glory, although He sometimes blesses the Church with glory in the eyes of men that they may see God’s blessing in ways they recognize. Nor is He a spirit of monetary wealth, although He invites you to test how He will measure back to you so much more if you will but give to others in faith. But, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which is to say that He is the Spirit of compassion and mercy and love; and He is the Spirit of bold confession and unwavering faith. For, the chief work of the Holy Spirit is to draw men to Jesus that they may receive what He has accomplished.

In your lives you are tempted to fret and to strive to build your own towers into the heavens that you might control all the seemingly out of control things in your life and world. You think that by electing the right candidate, by passing the right law, by spending money the right way, and by defending the right ideology you will make the world a better place, a safer place, a place that values what you value and condemns what you condemn. But, whatever you desire and love, if it is not in accord with God’s holy Law, will, and Spirit, and is not conceived, consummated, and accomplished by the Holy Spirit, it is wickedness and mindless babel. And so, let us pray today, and every day, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.” And, the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ will give you His peace – peace, not as the world gives, that your hearts need not be troubled or afraid.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memorial Service for Julio Gonzalez & Al Como

John 5:24-30; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 40:6-11

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

It is said that there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes. There is a reason why people say this, for these are the common experience of all mankind. However, do you allow these realities, death and taxes, to define your life, to determine who you are, and what your value is to yourself, to your family, to your neighbors and community, and to God? I pray not. For, your God and Creator did not create you for death, but for life with Him, and taxes belong to Caesar who will meet his own end. No, death and taxes do not define you; they are not who you are. But, you have an enemy in Satan who continually tells you so; and, he has allies in this world and in your own fallen flesh. Thus, it comes down to who you will listen to; who will you allow to define your value and life – The God who made you, and knows you, and loves you, or the devil who hates you and God and wants to destroy you. Who will you listen to?

Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Let me share with you a brief grammar lesson. Notice the tense of the verbs Jesus uses. They verbs hears, believes, has, does not are present participles; they indicate that an action is happening now and will continue to happen indefinitely. They are defining verbs that speak a reality and a truth about those who hear Jesus’ word and believe in Him and His Father who sent Him – they have eternal life, here and now, and they will continue to have eternal life forever. They do not come into judgment and they will not ever come into judgment. To make this even clearer, Jesus uses the perfect tense verb has passed to show that, for those who believe in Him, death has been defeated, here and now, and no longer holds sway over them, for he has passed from death to life. So, as for death and taxes, at least one of these has become much less certain.

But, how can this be? The reason that the certainty of death and taxes has become cliché is because it is the common, universal experience of all men. Nevertheless, Jesus is bold to say that death is not a certainty, but rather, that it is life that is certain. For, the power of life over death lies with Jesus’ Word. “An hour is coming,” says Jesus, “and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Notice, Jesus doesn’t say may live, but will live. There’s nothing uncertain about that! And, Jesus says that this is true now, because life is in His Word.

Jesus’ Word is life-giving and life-creating – as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Jesus is the Word of God first spoken into the dark void in the beginning that brought into being all that is: light, land, the heavens, plants, and animals. Jesus is the Word of God spoken into the ear of the Virgin, implanted in her womb, made flesh that He might dwell amongst us as our brother. By the power of Jesus’ Word He cast out demons, stilled the storm, healed diseases, and raised the dead. And, by the power of Jesus’ Word the dead are still raised to true and everlasting life when it is heard and is implanted in human hearts that it may bear fruit a hundredfold.

Hearing is passive. You know all too well that you cannot help but hear many sounds and voices all around you, but you have to cover your ears, flee from the sound, hide in your homes, or drown the noise out by increasing other sounds as a distraction. So, too, the Word of God has penetrated this world and calls to each of you so that you can only attempt to block it out. For, if you do not block it out and reject it, Jesus’ Word has the power to raise you from death to life, now, and forever. The Holy Scriptures record Jesus having raised at least three persons from the dead: The widow’s son at Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Jesus’ friend Lazarus. In each of these accounts Jesus raised the dead by speaking His Word.

On our own, in our sin, we are all dead like these three. By our own reason and strength we cannot believe in Jesus or come to Him. What can a dead man do? But the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith. That is to say, Jesus’ has called us to faith by the power of His Word. He has raised us from death to life, not by anything that we have done, but what He alone has done. And, because of this, we do not have to fear death and damnation, we do not have to fear anything in this world or in the next, because nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is God’s amazing grace, His free and perfect gift, that, while we were still sinners, while we were dead in our sins, God was reconciling us to Himself in Jesus Christ. If we had to work our way back to God, we would never get there; we’d be damned before we started. But God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life. He is the Good Shepherd who seeks out His lost and wayward sheep and brings them home. He knows His sheep and they know Him; He calls to them and they hear His voice and they follow Him. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep that they may live in Him.

Julio and Al are God’s precious sheep, now called home to His heavenly pastures where sheep may safely graze. They have heard the voice of their Good Shepherd Jesus and they have followed Him, and nothing can separate them from the Father’s love in Jesus Christ. We thank our heavenly Father for the time we had with them. We thank Him for the faith He gave to them and the love He reflected in them. But, most of all, we thank Him for His promise kept and fulfilled for them – that they are with our Lord in paradise and truly live, and that we will see them again and rejoice with them. God, bless us and keep us in faith throughout our pilgrim journey.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Christian Funeral for Helga Drensek


John 5:24-30; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Lamentations 3:22-33

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

What does it mean to be a good wife? What does it mean to be a good mother? What does it mean to be a good Christian? If you were to ask those questions of a large group of people, you would likely receive a large variety of responses ranging from keeping a tidy house, cooking good meals, praying regularly, serving in the Ladies’ League, and other good deeds. But, if you were to consult God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures, you would likely find a similar response in each case. For, a good wife, a good mother, and a good Christian is one who hopes in the LORD and who waits quietly for the salvation of the LORD while confessing that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, and great is His faithfulness.

For, a good wife, a good mother, and a good Christian, like a good son or daughter, a good husband, or any other human relationship or office, is not good in and of itself, but it is declared to be good by God’s grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Faith trusts, faith hopes, faith waits, patiently, for the salvation of the LORD, each and every day He grants His children breath and life.

Our dear sister in Christ, Helga, exhibited this faith in her life and in her deeds. She was trusting and seeking, patient and hopeful, and the LORD made of her a good wife, a good mother, and a good Christian. And, now He comforts her and wipes away her tears and showers her with joy that is inexpressible and filled glory, the outcome of her faith, the salvation of her soul. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

If you knew Helga, you knew her kindness and honesty, sometimes brutal honesty. Helga saw the world as it was and she called it that way. With Helga, what you saw was what you got, and you were never deceived or short-changed in any way, for Helga was who she was, and that’s an admirable quality that served her and others well throughout her life. Undoubtedly that quality contributed to Helga and Paul’s fifty-four years of marriage, for only couples who have accepted each other for who they are can last that long. It is a gift of God’s immeasurable grace.

That same gift of honesty was utilized in Helga’s various occupations, working in Accounts Receivable for AT&T in the city and later, in Carmel, for Guideposts magazine. But Helga also was a trusted and dependable worker at Gifts and Greetings in Pawling and as the President of the Lutheran Ladies’ League for eighteen years, our congregation’s post of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, and then as Treasurer of that same organization. Helga kept the books meticulously on a bazillion scraps of paper with notes and shorthand only she could decipher and she went to great lengths to make sure that every penny donated in LWML mite boxes was deposited and benefited the missionary organizations the money was given for, even to the point of exchanging Canadian pennies and quarters for U.S. currency at the going rate!

Helga was a fixture in this church, present nearly every Sunday until her health began to fail. She was dedicated to the work of the Lutheran Ladies’ League and she enjoyed knitting and needlepoint, making crafts for the Ladies’ craft fairs. She was equally committed to the American Legion, regularly helping out with functions there. In all these activities the servant heart of her faith in Jesus was on display. Personally, I remember fondly that Helga and Paul were the first in the congregation to invite me to their home after I arrived in Pawling almost ten years ago. When I arrived at the Drensek home, which is nearly a carbon copy of the church-owned parsonage I live in – hat-tip to Albert Frommhold – I was presented with a plate of German cold-cuts. It was delicious, especially on the dark rye bread, but I confess that I avoided the bloodwurst. Perhaps the Drenseks ate a lot of German cold-cuts, because, rumor has it, Helga didn’t like to cook. Ah well, no one can be good at everything. But, she loved her family, and I know that you loved your Oma, Mother, and Wife. Robert, Paul, Krista, your Mom & Dad raised you well and passed on to you their values. Paul, you and Helga have done well. Indeed, you exhibit the same qualities as Helga: patience, honesty, faithfulness, kindness, and hope.

I know the last five or so years have been somewhat less than what you would have liked in terms of health and mobility. Nevertheless, Helga did not despair or fall into hopelessness, for she trusted in her Lord Jesus to see her through, knowing that He who had suffered for her, suffered with her, and would never leave her or forsake her, but would see her through suffering into victory and life. Indeed, Jesus says that “whoever hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” In other words, Helga did not pass over from death to life this past Sunday morning when she physically died, but she had already passed over from death to life years ago, when she was baptized and believed in Jesus’ Word. And, Jesus promises you that “an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” This is the promise that Jesus has raised, and will raise you to new life too by the power of His Word. “According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Dear family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, Helga would have you know that “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.” “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Homily for Exaudi (The Seventh Sunday of Easter)

H-51 Easter 7 (Jn 15.26-16.4)


John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28

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

“The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Perhaps you feel like that hour is now? I know I do. And, indeed, it is. For, when Islamic fundamentalists used passenger airliners as missiles, and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, those nineteen men certainly believed they were offering service to God. And, more recently, in March of this year, the Islamic Sudanese government aerial bombed Christian churches and schools in southern Sudan. And, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has declared that all Christian churches in the region must be destroyed, offering service to God in accordance with Sharia Law. And yet, those desiring to persecute Christians are not limited to religious extremists seeking to offer service to God, for throughout the world communist governments like China and North Korea regularly persecute Christians, and Hindus in India, who believe that India belongs to Hindus, are waging a kind of religious / ethnic cleansing against Christians in that country.

But, this is nothing new, is it? No, it is not. Indeed, Christians have faced persecution, violence, and death ever since Jesus’ crucifixion and death, first by the Jews who threw them out of the synagogues, accused them of blasphemy, and sought to stone them to death, then by the Romans who considered them pagans and a threat to civilization and order, and then by the Turks and the Ottoman Empire which expanded throughout the Middle East into Eastern and South Western Europe. From the beginning, Christians have been persecuted and martyred for their faith by being crucified, burned at the stake, filleted, roasted, impaled, beheaded, fed to beasts, stabbed with swords, shot to death, hanged, and by many other ways and means, both by those who believed they were offering service to God, and by those who were simply threatened or offended by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus says that they do these things because they do not know the Father, nor do they know Him.

Thankfully, in America, Christians have pretty much enjoyed their religious freedom as it is declared in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Indeed, this nation was largely settled by Christians fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Yet still, there have been significant challenges to religious freedom in the past fifty years, and that has been heightened dramatically in the last four. Today, the Christian Church in America is being threatened by the government, by the media, and by the culture in the areas of life, marriage, and religious freedom in general.

To date, eight states have legalized same-sex marriage and have, effectively, redefined marriage so that it is no longer the union of a man and a woman. However, the tide of popular culture is swelling in support of the legalization and the normalization of gay marriage. Though the Bible and the Christian Church’s teaching are clear and unchanged on this matter, Christians who hold to the orthodox doctrine concerning marriage and sexuality are increasingly becoming the targets of hate speech, threats, and violence. Christians are regularly and angrily called bigots and homophobes simply because they believe and confess what the Bible teaches concerning marriage and sexuality, and Christian churches are being threatened with lawsuits for discriminating against homosexuals, and also they are being threatened with the revocation of their non-profit tax-exempt status.

When it comes to life issues, it appears that the Christian Church still has some sway and influence, and may even be gaining slight ground in turning the tide. However, the President’s health care plan presently has within it a law forcing religious organizations to provide contraceptive and abortion inducing drugs and products to their employees, even if this goes against their conscience and the religious tenets of their faith. Though the President’s amended policy was touted as a compromise, relieving religious organizations from having to pay directly for such products by shifting that responsibility to the insurance providers, this is merely a subterfuge, for the providers still must charge the religious organizations for their coverage.

To be certain, the Christian Church no longer enjoys a favored status in this country or world. But, perhaps this is not a bad thing. For, when the Church is not suffering widespread persecution, She becomes complacent and lax in Her doctrine and faith; She is tempted more easily to accommodate to the culture in order to win friends and praise. But, when the Church is persecuted, She is forced to become more vigilant, to return to Her roots, to bunker down and hone and refine what She believes, depends, and trusts in. She is reminded that Her strength is not in Herself, but in Her Lord Jesus who has purchased and won Her in His own holy and innocent blood, and made Her blameless in the sight of His Father. As the second century church father Tertullian has written, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, for, in times of persecution, the faithful become more vigorous and steadfast in their faith, thus bearing witness, in life and in death, to the One who is their life, their strength, their hope, and their salvation, Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus says to you, “You also will bear witness”, or, “you too will be martyrs in my Name.”

Indeed, when things go easy for you, it is tempting to become self-secure and self-reliant, believing that it is by your work and your wisdom that you eat and drink and provide a home for your family. It is tempting to get caught up in bills and taxes, political ideologies and wars, and to believe that these are the things that define and shape and move you through life. In this milieu, it is easy to lose sight of God and to forget that He who made all things still sustains all things, and that, at a day and a time you do not know, He will bring all things to an end.

What the world has done to your Lord Jesus they will most assuredly do to you. Thus, Jesus “has said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” And, He has sent you His Holy Spirit, the Helper and the Spirit of Truth, to live in you and to speak through you, that you may be faithful witnesses and martyrs to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. He is the new spirit and the new heart within you that lives in and for Jesus to the glory of the Father. He is your faith. He is your confession. He is your strength. And He is your witness and martyrdom in this life and world. When you speak in faith, when you serve your neighbor in love, when you lay down your life in mercy and compassion and forgiveness, it is God the Holy Spirit working in you and through you that you may be as Christ to the world.

Do not forget, the world hates you because it hated Jesus before you. Therefore, as St. Peter writes, “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.”

When, and in what way, did the Holy Spirit come upon you? The same way in which the Holy Spirit came upon your Lord Jesus: in your Holy Baptism. Like Jesus, you were anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit of God. You were raised to new life in Jesus Christ with a new heart and a new spirit. You have been nourished in God’s Word and in the gifts of Christ in the Holy Sacraments and you have grown and matured in the faith, bearing witness to Jesus in word and in deed, in the world, but not of the world.

On the day of your confirmation, like young Tyler this day, the Holy Spirit did not come upon you once again, anew, as the Church of Rome teaches, for your Lord does not give you His Spirit in part, but when you were baptized, you received the fullness of His Holy Spirit. What you and Tyler confirm then is not a new faith, but the one and only Spirit-given faith you received in Holy Baptism as a free and perfect gift of God’s divine grace.

And, when Tyler makes his confirmation vows in just a few moments, I encourage each of you to pay close attention and to reconfirm your own faith and vows. For, twice in the Rite of Confirmation you vow to remain faithful to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to continue steadfast in this confession and Church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it, by the grace of God. Now, that’s a pretty serious vow to make, but the Holy Spirit will help you to keep it, and He will keep it for you when you fail, that, so long as you do not reject Him outright, He will not leave you or forsake you, but, throughout your life, He will continue to call, enlighten, sanctify, and keep you in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. From the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, to the hour of His return, now is that hour. Now is the time of the Church: Now is the time of the Church’s vigilant waiting for Christ’s return. Now is the time of the Church’s patient endurance and suffering at the hands of men and the world, that the faith of Jesus Christ may be seen in you. Now is the time of the Church’s witness and martyrdom as, in love and steadfast and immovable faith, She bears witness to the love of God poured out upon the world in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Now is the time, not to flee in fear, but to stand in boldness, in love, and mercy, and compassion, and in faith in the One who has laid down His life for the life of the world and who has taken it up again, victorious over sin, death, and Satan. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, and you are His witnesses and martyrs. But He does not leave you alone, but He has poured upon you and into you His Holy Spirit to comfort and counsel you and to make you steadfast in faith and bold in witness. Therefore the Church prays, Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of your love. And, He does.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homily for Rogate (The Sixth Sunday of Easter)


John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

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

Praying does not come to you naturally. Often you do not know what to say. Undoubtedly, you have heard and you have seen others pray, and often you feel that you are not pious or eloquent enough in your prayers. And, be honest with yourself, sometimes you even feel ridiculous, muttering words into the air when you are alone, or even worse, when you are in the presence of others. And then, there are those times when you are filled with anger, resentment, and frustration, when you know that you should pray, but you just don’t feel like it, and you feel like a hypocrite and like it’s all so futile anyway.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, you are not in bad company, for Jesus’ disciples often found it difficult to pray as well. In fact, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model in answer to their asking Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” How to pray is something you have to learn, and I repeat, because prayer does not come to you naturally. The Lord’s Prayer is a master prayer, not so much due to its form or its structure, but because of its doctrine and its theology: It confesses God as God, and it confesses you to be His child, His creature and subject. Thus, any prayer that begins with an argument that you’ve done well, or that you’ve tried, or that at least you’re better than that poor schlep over there, is completely out of place and is, in fact, no prayer at all, but it is irreverent babbling or as a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

Irreverent babbling? A noisy gong or clanging cymbal? Yes, I have felt that way about my prayers. How about you? Rev. Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has suggested that perhaps the problem is that you and I pray from our need instead of from God’s promises. Do you bring a shopping list of needs to God in your prayers as if He doesn’t already know what you need, and more, and better, than you do? Do you pray out of your troubles and trials? Do you pray out of disaster and calamity? Do you pray out of guilt and shame? Do you pray out of fears and doubts? Do you pray out of despair and death? Do you believe that you know these needs better than anyone else? Is it often difficult for you to pray “as God wills”? Do you live with the haunting fear that God does not know your needs as you do and that God will not give you what you think and what you know you need? Do you find it a betrayal of prayer to lay out all that you have determined is needed and then to end it all “in accordance with God’s will”? Why is it so hard for you to let God be God, to let Him love you as He chooses to love you, to receive from Him what He knows is good and best for you and for those you love?

Jesus teaches you to pray “Our Father” because God is your Father and He loves you and will only give to you and permit to befall you what will work for your good. As your human father is your source of being, who was before you and who brought you into this life and world, so your heavenly Father is the source of all creation who has made and still sustains all things. Thus, there is nothing in this life and world that is outside of His knowledge and power and He works all things, even the terrible and horrible things, toward His good purpose for you. Likewise, your heavenly Father alone is holy and righteous and good. He is the source of all goodness and the measure of all righteousness, who never wavers or changes. You can trust in Him. You can count on Him. What He has promised He will most assuredly do.

You confess this when you pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When you pray this petition, you are asking that your will would be realigned with God’s will, that you would want, seek, and desire what is in accordance with His good and perfect will. Again, you can trust that your heavenly Father seeks only what is good for you, even if that means your passing through times of trial and tribulation, for you will pass through, you will persevere and you will overcome, just as He has promised. In this is peace and contentment, for, the peace that the Father gives is radically different from the peace that the world offers. The Father’s peace is true peace, satisfaction and contentment with what He provides, while the world’s peace is a fleeting and insatiable peace that never satisfies, but only disappoints, leaving you longing for, desiring for, wanting and needing something more, something else, something different. Your heavenly Father knows what you need, even before you ask, even when you do not know, and He lovingly gives you and provides you all that you need to sustain and to support your body and life.

Indeed, this is what is meant by daily bread. Daily bread is bread sufficient for the day, replenished, as need be, each and every day that you live. It is like the manna with which God sustained Israel in the wilderness. God provided each person what they needed, which was not always what they thought they needed or wanted. Sometimes they did not trust in the LORD to provide, and they hoarded leftover bread for days to come, but it spoiled and stank and bred worms. God knows what you need and He gladly provides you food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. All this is meant by daily bread. And yet, so much more than what preserves the body does your heavenly Father give you what is good for your soul: His living and life-giving Word and the precious body and holy blood of His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Do you pray to God for forgiveness? Do you pray to God for the will, the love, and the strength to forgive others as God has forgiven you in Jesus Christ? Indeed, these two are connected. You can only forgive others if you yourself have been forgiven. And, if you have been forgiven by God, and you most assuredly have, then you must forgive, for the freed slave cannot in turn hold another in bondage. By so doing, you remain yourself in bondage to sin and death. Give as you have been given to. Bless as you have been blessed. Forgive as you have been forgiven, even if you are repaid with evil, hatred, and violence.

Do you recognize prayer as a defense against temptation? God does not tempt you, but the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature seek to deceive you and mislead you into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Do you pray to your heavenly Father to preserve and to protect you from these? He has promised never to leave you or forsake you, but that He is always with you, in the valley of the shadow of death or in the depths of Hades, there is nowhere you can go that He is not there. And, do you pray for deliverance from the evil one? Or, do you believe that man is your only enemy? I tell you that no man is truly your enemy but that your enemy is one, the devil who desires only that you pray not, that you believe not, and that you die in sin and unbelief. For, he is a bitter and angry foe who knows that he is already defeated and that his power and influence is quickly coming to an end.

Do you pray from your need instead of from God’s promises? God has promised to hear and to answer your prayers through Christ Jesus so that whatever you ask in His Name, He will give it to you. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray in accordance with what pleases God, in accordance with His holiness, His goodness, and with His good and perfect will. He has promised to hear you and to answer you because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, for Jesus has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven, and He stands there as the doorway, the path, and the way through which men may pass and enter into the presence of God’s holiness. And this door, path, and way are very near to you, for they are as near to you as is Jesus Christ who fills all things.

Do you sometimes feel as if God does not have your best interest at heart or that He is reluctant to give you what you think you want and need? Though there are surely exceptions, even the most average of human fathers desire the best for their children. How much more does your heavenly Father desire what is good and beneficial for you and for all His children?

Julian of Norwich, a 15th century Christian mystic recognized by the Anglican Church and by some Lutherans, has written, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.” God is willing to give you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name that you will be strengthened in faith, in body and in soul, and that you will persevere against the temptations of the evil one, the world, and your own sinful nature. When you pray, pray not from your need, but from God’s promises. And, what has your heavenly Father promised you? He has promised to preserve and keep you from temptation and the assaults of the devil. He has promised to never leave or forsake you, but to be with you always. He has promised you forgiveness of your sins and eternal life with Him in the resurrection on the Last Day through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And, when you pray, do not worry so much about what to say or how you say it, but talk to God as a son or as a daughter would talk to their loving father, trusting that He loves you, that He loves having you talk to Him, that He wants to do for you all that is good and beneficial for you, and that, even when He disciplines you, He will never hurt or harm you out of malice or anger, but that He will keep you and preserve you through trial and tribulation, suffering, and even death, unto life everlasting.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Homily for Cantate (The Fifth Sunday of Easter)


The text of this homily was written by Rev. Paul Beisel. Check out his blog at I rarely use another preacher’s text wholesale, but Rev. Beisel said what I wanted to say better than I could have done it this week.

John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

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

How could it be to our advantage that the Lord depart and go to His Father? How could this be of any benefit to us? Wouldn’t it have been better for our Lord to remain on the earth after he rose from the dead? Wouldn’t it be better for us to be able to see him with our eyes? So we would think.

And so the apostles thought too. Sorrow had filled their hearts at the news that Jesus would depart from them. They could only see this in a negative light. They looked at it as though their closest friend and companion would be taken from them. Would we be any different? Probably not.

But Christ tells them: “It is really better this way. It is to your advantage that I depart and go to the Father.” But why? Christ says that if He remained, then the Helper would not come. But if He goes, He will send them the Helper. And who is this Helper that Jesus speaks of? Who else, but the Holy Spirit.

Christ knew what the disciples needed to hear. He comforts them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. It is as if he were saying to them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Yes, it is true, you will no longer see me with your outward eyes. I know that your hearts are full of sorrow about this. But things will get better. You will not be without comfort and consolation.”

But what will this Helper do when He comes? He will “convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment. Concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Here we have from the mouth of the Lord himself what the role of His Spirit is. First, Christ says, He will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me. The first Office or duty of the Holy Spirit, according to these words, is to put the fear of God into the heart of every man.

This is done when through the Word people hear that they are altogether unrighteous in the sight of God, and deserving of His wrath and displeasure. Now, in our politically correct culture today saying these kinds of things will get you labeled as unloving, impolite, strict, or some other such adjective.

But this is what it means to convict the world concerning sin. And Christ adds, “because they do not believe in me,” so that we might understand that it is not merely the sins of the body that He is talking about, but the chief sin: unbelief.

We often hear much about the sins against the second table of the Law because they are so obvious. And, to some extent, the world expects us to preach about promiscuity, murder, immorality, greed, hatred, envy, dishonesty, and other things that pertain to the commandments. What it does not expect, and what it truly hates, is to hear that its works, no matter how beautiful they may look on the outside, are considered sinful and wicked in God’s sight if they lack faith in Him.

But this, says Christ, is the Office of the Holy Spirit—to convict the world of sin, that is, to proclaim the wrath of God against all unbelief. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” The Gospel teaches that every sin of man will be forgiven. Christ died for the ungodly and the sinner. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

But if a person does not believe, if they are without faith in Christ, then it matters not how many and great their works are, they are still condemned and under God’s wrath and judgment. People do not want to hear this, but they must if they are to have true, godly sorrow, and thus be prepared to hear what God has done for them and for all people on the cross.

The second Office or work of the Holy Spirit mentioned by Jesus is what we would call His proper work: “He will convict the world concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see me no more.” Here is contained everything that pertains to the Gospel. Christ’s suffering and death for sins, his resurrection from the dead on the third day, and His glorious ascension to the right hand of His Father.

The Helper not only preaches a message of wrath against all unbelief, but He also is sent to proclaim the true righteousness of God—the righteousness that comes down from above; the righteousness given to every believer as a gift. A far different thing is this righteousness than the righteousness of the world.

For the unbelieving world, the world that is perishing, righteousness consists in one’s motives and actions. Even some in the church get carried off into error, thinking of righteousness purely in terms of one’s behavior, or avoidance of sin. But the righteousness of which Christ speaks is that heavenly, other-worldly righteousness which is ours by faith alone in Christ’s merit.

To be righteous in God’s sight is to be absolved and forgiven of all your offenses through the Gospel. It is to have a good standing before God, to wear the garment of Christ’s innocence, having cast off the soiled garments of sin and unbelief in our baptism into Christ. This is what Jesus means when he says that the Helper will convict the world concerning righteousness, “because I go to the Father and you will see me no more.”

This is the implanted word that is able to save souls. Without it, and without faith in it, there is no salvation. On the other hand, where this Word is preached, where God’s righteousness is proclaimed as a free gift for the one who believes in Christ, that truly is the greatest treasure and gift in all creation.

But what about the third part? “He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” This is an especially comforting part of Christ’s words. Anyone who has ever been sent to preach the Word knows how the world rages against both the message of God’s wrath against sin and unbelief, as well as the message of His eternal righteousness.

No one wants to hear that they are under God’s wrath and judgment if they fail to believe on the name of Christ and enter heaven solely through Him. No one wants to hear that their good deeds are filth in the sight of God if they do not proceed from faith in Christ. And so they either plug their ears, or they lash out at the preachers.

Not only that, but there are many who likewise do not want to hear that they can do nothing to merit forgiveness. This goes against our natural way of thinking. There is a little law-man inside each one of us, who is of the opinion that if we want to get to God, if we want to obtain heaven, then it will have to be by our doing.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus?” Just tell me and I’ll do it. The problem is, Jesus already did it for us. All that is left is for us to believe it; to receive by faith the completed salvation and righteousness of Christ. And, believe it or not, this is not good enough for some. In their pride, they just cannot conceive of a righteousness that is granted solely on account of faith.

So one way or another, the Ministry of the Word is despised—either because it preaches God’s wrath against unbelief, or because it preaches a free righteousness. The devil cannot stand for either to be proclaimed truthfully in the Church. And so he does what he can to dismantle this preaching. If he can’t lead a preacher to speak falsely against the Word, then he leads him to sin and dishonor so that he might discredit the Ministry among the people.

He howls and rages, because of this Ministry. He wants ever so much to sabotage the good that is done in a Christian congregation by creating doubt and by leading people to focus their attention on things that are of little importance, so that they might not trust in Christ alone. But Christ says: “The ruler of this world is judged.”

This is what Jesus wants to impress upon his hearers: “Remember this, dear apostles. The prince of this world is judged. The victory has already been won. The accuser of our brethren has been cast down. Remember that as the world rages against your preaching. Remember that when you are faced with self-doubt, when the foe would lead you to second-guess yourself. The prince and ruler of this world is judged.”

How comforting indeed—not just for preachers, but for you hearers as well. You look around and you see how small and insignificant the kingdom of God appears in the world. You wonder if God will be victorious, or if the whole Christian house of cards will just tumble. You worry about your children, and grand-children, and the world that they will grow up in because it is so unlike the world that you grew up in.

The problem is, it is not so really different. Men are still sinners. Christ is still the victor. “The ruler of this world is judged.” Stop worrying. Stop being anxious. Cast away your sorrow and your doubts. The battle has already been decided. Jesus rose. He lives! Hear it; taste it; believe it.

In this Gospel, Christ sums up the work and office of the Holy Spirit, which is carried out through the Ministry of the Word. He explains why it is a good thing for Him to depart and go to His Father. This way, the Helper will come. Had He not gone away, had he remained on earth in His present form, then only the disciples would have benefited from His work. Then the disciples would have remained timid in their preaching. Then the command to make disciples of all nations could not have been carried out.

For when the Spirit comes, He empowers the apostles. He strengthens them in their work. He quickens and enlivens the faith of all believers. He guides and directs the holy Christian Church on earth, and leads sinners to Christ, where there is true remission and forgiveness of their sins. He takes what is Christ’s and declares it to us. By this work the Lord Jesus takes away our godly sorrow, and replaces it with songs of joy. Christ is risen!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.