Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 12)


Mark 7:31-37; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Isaiah 29:17-24


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

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” These words of King David from Psalm 51, the Christian Church has spoken, sung, and chanted in the liturgies of Matins and Vespers since at least the sixth century. For centuries, Christians have prayed these words in the morning and in the evening and so have book-ended their daily lives with the confession that, unless the Lord opens our lips, not to mention our ears and our eyes, they are, and they will remain, utterly closed and unable to sing His praise, to confess His Name, or even to hear His life-giving and faith-creating Word at all. For, apart from the Lord’s gracious action, that is our state: spiritually deaf, dumb, blind, and dead towards God – just like Adam before God breathed His living breath into him; just like the blind man begging by the roadside; just like Lazarus before Jesus’ creative and life-giving Word called him to life; and just like the deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel. However, when the Lord opens our lips, our ears, and our eyes, then we will most certainly praise Him, not only in our direct and intentional prayers and praise, but also in our casual and day to day conversations with our families, with our neighbors, and with our co-workers, just as branches joined to the life-giving vine most certainly produce good fruit.

Yet, opening our ears and our eyes and our lips to speak, sing, and chant His Father’s praise is not all that our Lord does or can do. No. But, by His Word, He makes the lame to walk and lepers to be clean; He makes barren lands and barren wombs to be fruitful even as He once spoke light into the darkness and brought forth everything out of nothing, by the power of His life-giving and creative Word, His Word of life which is life, apart from which is only death. Thus, even now, by His same life-giving and creative Word He opens your ears to hear His Word and He creates faith within you through the preaching of His Word, He raises you from death to life in Holy Baptism, He forgives you and makes you clean through His Holy Absolution, and He feeds and nourishes you, His life communes with you, in the Holy Supper of His body and blood with the promise that He who has begun this good work in you will see it to completion in the Day of the Lord, and Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Therefore, as your mouth has been opened by the Lord to speak and sing His praise, you must not keep it closed and remain silent. For, your Lord has promised that He who confesses Him before men, He will confess before His Father in heaven, but He who denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father in heaven. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is working in you and with you to make of you bubbling spring and a fruitful vine of His prayer and praise, mercy, and compassion. You can no more “tell no one” than could Jesus’ disciples and the crowds after witnessing the healing of the deaf-mute. And, yet, you do not, but you remain silent, just like the women at Jesus’ empty tomb, because you are afraid. Like St. Paul, you know what you want to do, but you do not do it, and the things that you do not want to do, that is what you continually find yourself doing, for indeed, your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.

Therefore, you must not listen to your flesh. You must not obey your flesh. Rather, you must, as Jesus teaches, die to yourself and live to Christ in His righteousness. And, this is the fruit, not of the Law of God, but of the Law of God fulfilled, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because He has done all things well, making even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, He has fulfilled the Law’s demands and has set you free to do it without fear of condemnation, to do it, not to earn salvation, but to do it because you have been saved. Where the Law of God, because of your sin, left you deaf, dumb, blind, and dead, a barren wasteland and a fruitless field, the Gospel has given you a confidence and a sufficiency, not from yourselves, but from God. It is precisely because your righteousness comes from outside of you, not from inside of you, and because your righteousness is found in Jesus’ works, not in your works, that you can be confident and without fear, that you can stand before God and receive His gifts, open your lips and sing His praise, and tell everyone what He has done. Apart from Jesus, your words and your deeds are nothing, even filthy rags, but because of Jesus, in His Holy Spirit, that which once had no glory – your works – has been made to be glorious in His sight.

Jesus did some rather strange things in the healing of the deaf-mute. While His Word was sufficient to open his ears and to loosen his tongue, Jesus also accompanied His Word with symbolic actions: He put His fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting His touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Was this all for show, to draw attention to Himself? No, not at all, for, indeed, Jesus first took the man aside from the crowd privately. Further, even after healing the man, Jesus told him, His disciples, and the crowds not to tell anyone. No, Jesus never seeks to glorify Himself. But then, what was the purpose of His actions? Truly, it may have been only compassion. Jesus often utilized touch in connection with His Word of forgiveness and healing. However, St. Mark’s use of the specific word “finger” brings to mind the Old Testament usage of “the Finger of God” which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized was at work through Moses and Aaron. Jesus Himself used this figure in St. Luke’s Gospel saying, “But if it is by the Finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Perhaps Jesus placed His fingers into the deaf-mute’s ears to communicate that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Additionally, the use of spit and touching the man’s tongue may have a symbolic connection to Holy Baptism where common water is sanctified by the Word of Jesus’ mouth so that it becomes a lavish washing for the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Now, some may say that this is allegorizing, and perhaps it is. However, following these actions, Jesus looked up to heaven, sighed, and said to the man, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” making a clear connection between His actions and the blessing of His Father, that the deaf-mute would know the source of His healing through the Word of Jesus.

When you and I sigh, it is usually because of a sense of exasperation, futility, hopelessness, or despair. That is because we are sinners. We know that our best efforts fail and are soiled by our sin, and we daily suffer the effects of other sinners directly and indirectly. But, this is not why Jesus sighs. When Jesus sighs He breathes in our curse and He breathes out our cure, the blessing of His Word, the impartation of His Spirit, which gives life. For looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said “It is finished.” He breathed His last and handed over His Spirit. He gave His life into death so that you will live. He took the curse into Himself, your sin into Himself, He suffered in your place, died in your stead and was raised from death, out of the tomb so that you who trust in Him are forgiven your sins, rescued from death, have eternal salvation. And now He gives you His Body and His Blood. He gives you Himself, the embodiment of His Father’s Word, to make it embodied in yours, taking away your sin and giving you His righteousness, His holiness, His purity, His life. Indeed, He does all things well. And in Him, so do you.

Pray that the Father will continue to open your ears and to loosen your tongues by the Holy Spirit delivered through His proclaimed Word again and again. And, do not remain silent, but sing His praise in word and deed; tell everyone what He has done! For, you were deaf, and now you hear; you were blind, and now you see; you were mute, and now your lips have been opened, your tongue has been loosed; you were dead, but now you are alive in Christ. For you, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Therefore, die to yourself and live to Christ by laying down your life for your brother and sister, for your neighbor, for the Lord. Your sufficiency is not in yourself, but in the Lord. It is not of the letter, but of the Spirit. The Law indeed was, and is, glorious, therefore, how much more glorious will be ministry of the Spirit be?

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)


Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15


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

It wasn’t the sacrifice that was the problem. They both returned to The LORD a portion of what He had first given them, just like you do. Cain offered a portion of his harvest, and Abel offered the firstborn of his flock. It was meet, right, and salutary to do, just as it is meet, right, and salutary for you to return to the LORD a portion of what He has given to you in thanksgiving and praise. Your offering, your sacrifice, is a confession of your faith what you believe about The LORD and about the things, even your life, your faith, that He has given you. Anything you might return to Him is already His. However, in returning it you are confessing this truth. You are confessing your faith in the LORD, that He is the LORD and that you are not, that the things you offer to Him are truly His and not yours, that you trust in Him with all your heart, soul, and mind that He will provide for you what you need, that He lovingly provides you with all that you need for your body and life out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in yourself. And so, it’s not that the LORD prefers animal sacrifice to a grain offering. No, It’s not that at all. In truth, I don’t believe that the LORD cares that much about what you offer and sacrifice. But He cares immensely about why you offer and sacrifice.

The preacher to the Hebrews explains it this way: “By faith Abel offered The LORD a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because The LORD commended him for his offerings.” You see, it was not what Abel offered, but rather why, that The LORD commended. The LORD commended Abel’s faith. Then, as a result, the LORD also commended Abel’s offering, His sacrifice. Indeed, this is precisely how the LORD would receive Abram and his faith hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years later. The LORD credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. It wasn’t righteousness, of course, on it’s own, Abram’s sin-corrupted and weak faith, but rather, the LORD chose to view it that way – the LORD chose to view Abram’s faith as righteousness.

We see this scenario played out, a little differently, in the sacrifices of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. In that situation, both Elijah and the prophets of Baal offered the exact same sacrifice, a bull. As the story goes, the LORD accepted Elijah’s sacrifice even though three times – in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – he had poured four jars of water on the wood of the pyre. “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” All the while, the prophets of Baal limped around the altar they had made and cut themselves and raved on, “but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” Of course, the prophets of Baal did not believe that they were sacrificing to the God of Elijah, but to the demon god Baal. Here the LORD demonstrated by His prophet Elijah that there is no other God but the LORD. We construct gods – false gods and idols – out of things that the LORD has made – wood, stone, iron, etc. – and too often, we make ourselves out to be god. Then our sacrifices and offerings are like Cain’s and the prophets of Baal – the work of our hands, our actions, our wisdom. There is no faith in the LORD, so there is no one to accept the sacrifice, to answer, or to justify. Just as the fool has himself for a lawyer, so does the idolater have himself for a god. If your god is yourself, then no one can hear you, speak to you, or help you but yourself. Good luck with that.

However, there’s a whole lot more to what the LORD desires from you in sacrifice and offering. The LORD desires from you love – true love – that is selfless and sacrificial love, like the love with which He loves you, the love that the LORD says is the fulfilling of the Law, the love Jesus teaches there is nothing greater than. We pick up on this in the latter portion of the story about Cain and Abel. After Cain had murdered his brother out of jealously and rage, the LORD asked him, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain infamously answered, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” Indeed, Cain was his brother’s keeper. And so are you your brother’s, your neighbor’s keeper. Not only did Cain not help and befriend his brother in every bodily need, but Cain hurt and harmed his brother in his body – Cain murdered his brother. So, too, do you murder your brother and your neighbor when you have no care for him at all. Your Lord Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus interprets the Fifth commandment much more broadly than did the Pharisees and the scribes, much more broadly than did Cain, having the Law of the LORD written upon his heart, who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “But, Pastor, this has nothing to do with making sacrifices and offerings to the LORD,” you say? Jesus follows up His teaching about the Fifth Commandment saying, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

What might your brother here in church have against you? What might your neighbor in the world have against you? What might your brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother have against you? Who have you hurt or harmed in their bodies, by thought, word, or deed? Who have you not helped and befriended when you had the opportunity, by thought, word, or deed? How often have you felt in your heart, thought in your mind, or spoke with your mouth, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Why does the Lord say to leave your gift at the altar and first be reconciled to your brother? Because, anger, hate, and lack of concern for your brother, which is apathy, are the very opposite of love. These things corrupt your offering. They pollute your sacrifice. And they are symptomatic of a deeper problem – idolatry, self-love, making yourself to be god. These are the characteristics of Cain, not Abram. These are the characteristics exemplified in the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable.

St. Luke prefaces this parable of our Lord by saying, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” Right away we see the two-fold problem, the cause and the effect, of lovelessness and idolatry: “They trusted in themselves that they were righteous” and so as a result “they treated others with contempt.” The Pharisee clearly trusted in himself that he was righteous: He set himself apart from other worshippers. He thanked God that he was not like other men, even naming a list of notorious sinners, but especially the lowly tax collector kneeling behind him. He named his works before the LORD – fasting, tithing, etc. It was in these things, his works, that he placed his fear, love, and trust – not the LORD. He took credit for these things. What he gave was from himself, his own offering, his own sacrifice. He did not love the LORD, but he loved himself. He did not love the LORD, so he could not possibly love his brother, his neighbor, “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, or even the lowly tax collector.” This is the fruit of original sin – idolatry; the same sin committed by Cain and his and our parents.

The tax collector, or the publican for you King James devotees, is the picture of humility. He stands far off. He does not look up, but beats his breast in repentance and grief over his sins. He boasts of no works, no goodness, no righteousness, but he throws himself upon the mercy of the LORD. Jesus says that “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” This is because justification is a gift of the LORD’s grace which you receive by faith, not by works and merit. The tax collector had faith – even if it was weak faith, sin-tainted and corrupted faith – and the LORD credited the man’s faith to him as righteousness. It wasn’t righteousness, of course, on it’s own, but rather, the LORD chose to view it that way – the LORD chose to view the tax collector’s faith as righteousness.

Hear these Words of the LORD: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Thus, even St. Paul confesses, “I worked harder than any of [the Apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Let your daily prayer continually be what you prayed in today’s Collect: “Pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our lord.”

Come, now, and receive “those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord” – the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and the keeping and protecting of your life today, through death into eternal life. Come and receive the sacrifice that the LORD has made for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Come, eat His body and drink His blood and live. “For, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Christian Funeral for Doris Mae Pries


Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:1-6; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


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

“For everything there is a season.” What an appropriate Scripture for Doris, who loved gardening, nature, and animals more than anything else in God’s creation. In the Spring she tilled the soil and planted her seeds and starts. In the Summer she watered and weeded and fertilized the growing plants. In the Fall she dead-headed and harvested her well-tended crop. And, in the Winter, she put her beds to rest, awaiting the resurrection and new life when the warmth of Spring would begin to release Winter’s icy grip on the world. “A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.” “A time to be born, and a time to die.” And, what is true for plants, and animals, and all living things, is, sadly, true for us as well. Doris’ season has passed. Her time to die has come. Our time to mourn has come. But, let not your hearts be troubled. Spring is just around the corner, and there will be a time to laugh, a time to dance, and a time to embrace yet again.

Doris came of age in the years following the Great Depression. That has an impact on a person. She kept everything! That means a lot of work for all of you, now. But, it is a precious work, isn’t it? Because, she kept photos, and newspaper clippings, and awards, and, well, everything! Doris was the family historian and a genealogist’s dream come true! Not surprisingly, she and Harold loved antiques: Antique tractors, antique cars, even antique lawn mowers! Antique Acres was a favorite haunt for many years; Doris even worked the souvenir booth. Doris also had the Depression ethic of hard work and helping others. She was a tireless worker, taking care of parents, cleaning homes for others, helping elderly people to carry on. She could make friends with anyone, but she had a special place in her heart for those unfortunate souls who needed a friend, both two-legged and four.

Doris and Harold were married sixty-six years and they had a daughter and a son who were there pride and joy. Four grandchildren, and four greatgrandchildren, made a sweet thing all the sweeter. Ironically it was a fall that brought Doris to Bartels, and it was a fall that caused her to leave for her heavenly home with Jesus. But, her years there were not spent in vain. Doris was active and involved at Bartels playing bingo, participating in the bell choir and other activities and functions. She never missed Thursday morning chapel, which is where I got to meet Doris, though she was typically the last to arrive at 10:02 – Doris time. Doris was friendly as always and was well-liked by both residents and staff. In her last years dementia began to chip away at her, making it difficult to have a conversation, but photos of flowers in Kelly’s garden brought a smile to her face and connected with the Doris dementia couldn’t take away. She missed her cats while at Bartels – and, no doubt, they missed her! The staff at Bartels gave Doris a little stuffed cat that she kept with her through all her recent travails, until the end; and it’s with her still. In her life Doris fed and cared for the neighborhood cats and built shelters for them. She prepared a place for them because she loved them, just as Jesus loved Doris and prepared a place for her in His Father’s house. He has taken her there and she is safe and at peace. Let not your hearts be troubled.

Doris was God’s own child. She was baptized into Christ Jesus whose innocent blood cleansed her of all her sins. The Holy Spirit created faith in her heart and sustained her faith throughout her life. She was cared for and nourished on the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper in the Church. Now she has fallen asleep in Jesus. Let not your hearts be troubled. You will see her again. You see, that is the great promise and hope we have in Christ: Those who die in the Lord will be raised to new life that cannot die. Our comfort and hope is not only in the truth that Doris is with Jesus now in rest and peace – for she is! – but our comfort and hope is in that yet more glorious day, the day of resurrection, when Doris, and all the saints, will be raised and their glorified bodies reunited with their immortal souls to live with God, Father, Son, and Spirit forever. Then, you will see Doris with your own flesh and blood eyes, hear her with your own flesh and blood ears, and embrace her with your own flesh and blood arms once again, and no one will take that joy from you.

But, now is a time for Doris to rest in the presence of Jesus her Lord. Now is a time to weep and mourn. However, the day to laugh and dance is coming soon. Let not your hearts be troubled. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Believe in God; believe also in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)


Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12


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

It is a profound thing to consider that your Jesus, God in human flesh, the incarnate Word of creation…, it is a profound thing to consider that your Jesus wept. What sort of sorrows, what sort of pain, what sort of compassion could move our God to tears? What sort of sorrows, what sort of pain, and what sort of compassion move you to weep tears? These too your Jesus experienced and felt. And so, your Jesus wept.

Yet, the weepings of your God and Lord should cause you to pause and consider just what it means that God is moved to weep bitter and heavy tears. For, when you weep, do you not weep for your pain, for your hurt, for your loss as much as you weep for the pains, the hurts, and the losses of another? Is not your weeping often conjured up as a swelling of emotional pathos motivated by pitiable images of starving children and flood-ruined homes on the television or in a magazine? Is it not often but a general sorrow and grief at the loss of others in the knowledge that one day, sooner or later, you too will wither and die and be washed from the face of the earth as in a terrible flood?

I say this to you, not to belittle your pain and sorrow, your grief, your compassion, and tears, but to cause you to see that, though your sorrows, grief, compassion, and tears are very real, they are also, because of sin, mingled with self-concern, even selfishness, and, at times, even a dark pleasure at the sufferings of others. I say this to you so that in contrast you may see the purity, the sinlessness, the holiness, and the selflessness of the weepings, the sorrows, the grief, and the compassion of your Jesus.

For, when your Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus, there is no hint of weeping for His own loss or for His own imminent crucifixion and death, but there is only the purest, holiest grief and sorrow at the reality of death itself. Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death because death is the wage and the fruit of man’s sinful rebellion against God and His Holy will. Jesus weeps because death is not natural, like people are want to believe, but death is the most unnatural of things in the world. For, your God is the God of life, not of death. Death is the complete and utter opposite of your God. And your Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death because this demonic, evil fruit of your sin has claimed another victim, because another precious soul is robbed of God-given life. The Greek word for the sort of compassion your Jesus has for mankind and for you is the torturous word splagchnizomai. Literally, splagchnizomai means a churning of the bowels, or, a gut-wrenching grief and sorrow. Indeed, the word even sounds like what it means. But, this is what it means for your Jesus to have compassion. And, this is what it means for your Jesus, your God, to weep.

Your Jesus, your God, felt this same splagchnizomai, this same gut-wrenching compassion, as He drew near to the City of Peace, Jerusalem. Ironically, the City of Peace, Jerusalem, the place where Melchizedek, the King of Salem, which means peace, whose name means King of Righteousness, visited Abraham and blessed him; the City of Peace, Jerusalem, where David and Solomon prayed and where Jeremiah prophesied; ironically, the City of Peace, Jerusalem, had, since its foundation, been anything but a city of peace. This is because men look for peace in the wrong places, in the wrong things, and in the wrong people.  Thus, Jesus weeps saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” The things that make for peace with God are the repentance of sins and His merciful and gracious forgiveness. The things that make for peace are located in your Jesus who was rejected by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and crucified unto death. The religious leadership of the Jews taught the people to find peace in their alms and in their prayers and in their sacrifices, that is, in their works with the result that the people remained in their sins and could never know True Peace with God through the atoning  sacrifice of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ. Like Jeremiah prophesied, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Not only did the religious leadership of the Jews fail to shepherd the people under their care to the source of True Peace, but they directed them away from Jesus to their works which merited them only death.

Thus, they did not, indeed, they could not know the time of their visitation. The Word of God became flesh and tabernacled amongst His people in a gracious visitation of mercy and forgiveness, but He was rejected by the Jewish religious leadership and by many individuals as well who were blind to the things that make for peace. Because of their rejection of Him, Jesus can see the future fruits of their sinful rebellion when the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy every building, every person, and every child but forty years later.

Jesus came to Jerusalem, Jesus came in the form of a man, to show mercy and forgiveness to sinners and to reveal the judgment of the self-righteous. He came as Peace incarnate – real peace, peace with God – to all who would receive Him, but to those who rejected Him, He came as the sign of their self-chosen condemnation.

When He entered the temple, His Father’s House, He overturned the tables of the money changers and of those who trafficked in the things that cannot bring peace and He drove them out of the temple saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Those who teach and believe in justification by works rob God and they rob Jesus of glory and of what rightly belongs to God alone. We do not buy and sell forgiveness. And, if you believe that you merit God’s favor because of your works or if you believe that you have chosen or decided to follow Him, then you deceive yourself and worse, you rob your Jesus of the merit of His atoning death and the glory due His Name.

God has always visited each and every generation, seeking sinners and showering them with mercy, grace, and forgiveness but leaving the self-righteous in their chosen condemnation. And when time was full God sent His Son to redeem those under the Law that they might receive adoption as sons. Jesus is God’s gift of Peace. Do you understand the things that make for your peace? In Jesus, God has visited His people and redeemed them; He has established peace between God and man. Do you believe this? Or, do you look to yourself or to your works, to your prayers and your piety to be assured to your peace with your God? Is your heart a house of prayer or is it a den of thieves robbing your Jesus, your God of the glory due His Name?

God has visited His people in grace and mercy and forgiveness in your Jesus, but He will visit again in judgment at a time no man will know. But, if you know the things that make for peace with God, if you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, then you are judged already – Not guilty! Acquitted! Free to live! Likewise, those who insist that their peace with God is connected to their works and their merit, they stand condemned already. They will be exposed for what they are on the Last Day.

God has visited His people in grace and mercy and forgiveness in your Jesus. And, your Jesus is present with His gracious visitation now to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, and to give you His eternal life. For, the Church is the New Jerusalem, the new Israel, the City of Peace, peace with God. May the Church ever be a house of prayer and not a den of thieves. And may the Church always glorify God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Christian Funeral for Darlys Elda Picht


John 14:1-6; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27


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

If you only knew Darlys from the past several years, like myself, then you didn’t know Darlys. You didn’t know the Darlys who loved camping and the outdoors. You didn’t know the Darlys who loved to play cards and cribbage. You didn’t know the Darlys who enjoyed the company of her friends in the Dorcas Society. You didn’t know the Darlys who was an active volunteer at St. John, who published the church newsletter and baked treats to thank the volunteers who helped assemble it. You didn’t know the Darlys who loved knitting and crocheting and giving gifts to her family and friends. You didn’t know the Darlys who loved a Chinese lunch with Mary and a taco salad with friends. You didn’t know the vibrant, joyful, caring, hardworking, kind, compassionate Darlys that touched so many hearts and lives. And, it’s a shame that we didn’t get that chance. We missed out. I missed out.

The Darlys I knew the past couple years was a shadow of the Darlys of years before. I knew Darlys as one of the sweet little ladies at Bartel’s who attended the Thursday Divine Service that I lead at least once a month. Darlys was wheeled in and sat in the back with her head down. She didn’t have much to say, but when I approached her with the Lord’s body and blood and asked her if she would like to receive communion she would answer softly, “Yes, please.” The Good Shepherd continued to care and to provide for His precious sheep.

But, many of you did know that Darlys from years before and remain blessed for it. Undoubtedly you were the recipient of her kindness and love, her baking, knitting, crocheting, and gifts. And, if you really knew Darlys, if you knew her past, her childhood, and the difficulties and challenges she faced even from early childhood, you’d appreciate the kind of person Darlys was all the more.

Darlys suffered the death of her father at age six, and then of her sister at age nine. She had a difficult childhood and struggled with some mild depression. Darlys suffered a heart attack when she was fifty-five, but she really began to think and talk about heaven when her husband Wayne died five years ago in 2015. Darlys was a faithful Christian woman. Though she wasn’t one to speak much about her faith, it was self-evident in her actions, through her kindness, charity, service, and love. The last few years took much of Darlys’ personality and expression from her as the Lord continued to preserve her life such that people are want to say her body outlived her mind.

Because of sin, suffering is a part of all of our lives, and all our lives end in death. But, for those who are baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him, that is not the end of our lives and our stories. Darlys has died, yet Darlys lives, and we will see her again. This is our great comfort and hope. Darlys’ confirmation verse was a favorite of many Christians, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” What that passage truly means is that God loved the world and everyone in it, and that He loved them in this way: He gave His only Son Jesus Christ over unto death on the cross so that the world should be saved through His shed blood.

Job, who suffered the loss of his livelihood, his children, and his own health and body continued to trust in the promise of the Lord’s Christ. Nearly two thousand years before the birth of Jesus, in the midst of his afflictions, Job confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives,” “and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Likewise, St. Paul, who also suffered mightily and was finally martyred for His confession of Jesus, could state with all confidence and boldness, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And our Lord Jesus Himself, who suffered all for all, continues to proclaim to you, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

The hope and confidence of Job, just as the hope and confidence of Paul, and also our hope and confidence today is in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord who shed His holy, innocent blood on the cross to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. Darlys received this gift of unmerited grace personally when she was baptized so many years ago. Then she died with Jesus in the promise that she will also rise with Him when He returns on the Last Day. Then Job’s hope and confidence will be fully realized, “and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” You see, we are comforted today with the very real comfort that Darlys is with Jesus. Yet that still is not the end of her story. We still look forward, along with Darlys and all those who have died in the Lord, to that yet more glorious day, the day of Jesus’ return and the resurrection of our bodies. For then, Darlys’ immortal soul will be reunited with her glorified and immortal body. That means that you will really and truly see her again. You will see her with your own flesh and blood eyes. You will hear her with your own flesh and blood ears. And you will hug her with your own flesh and blood arms. And that joy, no one will ever take from you. Let not your hearts be troubled.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)


Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34


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

Why do you have what you have? What do you do with what you’ve got? Why does the master in the parable commend the dishonest manager? These are but a few of the questions that are raised in today’s lessons from Holy Scripture. But, let us begin by acknowledging that this Parable of the Dishonest Manager (also known as the Parable of the Unjust Steward) is historically one of the most difficult and challenging of our Lord’s parables to interpret and to understand. And, as with most parables, there is more than one approach that we might take in understanding it.

Fundamentally, the parable concerns how you manage the goods that are entrusted to you by God while you live your life in this world. For, your Lord is not unlike a rich man, and you are not unlike His managers. And, Satan, the accuser, is not unlike one who has brought charges against you that you have been wasting your Master’s possessions. The Master is coming soon to require an account of your management. What will He find? What will you say? Will He not be justified in condemning you? What will you do? Shrewdly, use the Master’s possessions, over which you are given management, for the good of yourself and for the good of others; not just the money and the material goods, but use the Master’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, charity, and peace. Give to all, generously, not sparingly, that when the Master comes to require an account of your management, you will have many friends who think well of you and who will glorify the Master believing that your giving is the fruit of His generosity. “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

For, is this not what the sons of this world do? Do they not give generously to others so that they themselves might profit in the future? How shrewdly they act with the things that they love! They spend money to make money. They use their wealth to make friends. They do favors to gain favors; quid pro quo.

But, not so the sons of light! You were conceived and born into this world, this life, with the guilt of sin. You were brought into this world, this life, with nothing of your own so that all is a gift: your life and breath, your food, clothing, home and family, the Father’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Why do you have what you have? It is the gift of God your Father’s grace. What do you do with what you’ve got? Do you use it for your own good and for the good of others to the glory of God, or do you horde His gifts and selfishly, sinfully, keep them hidden and of no use to others? “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”

We are confounded that the Master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness in our Lord’s parable. It is not the manager’s dishonesty that is commended, however, but the wisdom, zeal, and shrewdness he devoted to his earthly future. How much more wisdom, zeal, and shrewdness should you, sons of light, devote to your heavenly and eternal future?

Another way of looking at this parable is to see that the dishonest manager is actually our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, it may seem difficult to see Jesus as being dishonest, it may even seem blasphemous, but is this not the way the world viewed Jesus – as a dishonest criminal, a thief to be condemned to death? Jesus “dishonestly” squandered His Master’s, His Father’s, grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness by showering it upon us poor, sinful, debtors. We, who shoulder an impossible debt to our Master, God, have had our debts, cut, not in half, or reduced by a percentage, but completely erased by our Master’s “dishonest” Manager, His only Son Jesus, our Lord. Jesus believed and knew perfectly well that His Father was gracious and merciful and that He would honor the forgiveness He dishonestly dispensed because of His sacrificial death upon the cross for all sin-debts and debtors.

Does it make you uncomfortable to think of Jesus in this way, as a dishonest manager of His Father’s grace and mercy – as a criminal and a thief? Is that discomfort not the point of Jesus’ parable? The debtors would never have dared to approach the Master to bargain and settle their account, but they gratefully welcomed the dishonest manager, and they did not think Him dishonest, but only doling out the amazing grace and mercy of their Master. They were thankful to the manager and counted him as a friend and they glorified the Master for His grace and mercy shown to them.

If the Master Himself were to have approached His debtors, they would have rightfully fled in terror; but, the Manager they did not fear or flee and they were willing to bargain and deal with him to reduce their debt to the Master. Indeed, Jesus, the man from backwater Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, regularly ate and drank, touched, and had fellowship with sinners and the unclean. They did not fear Him, but approached Him and appealed to Him for mercy; and He showed them mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness. It was the Pharisees who continually cried out, “Not for such as these!”

You sons of light are shrewd and cunning managers of wealth and goods, well practiced in the art of self-preservation. But how do you manage the spiritual gifts you have, grace, mercy, love, charity, and forgiveness. Your Master and Father, God, would have you manage the spiritual gifts with the same shrewdness, cunning, wisdom, and zeal with which you manage your wealth, even more so. For, your life in this world will end, and then you will know the true worth of those things that you value now. But, the spiritual gifts, given you sons of light, bear fruit unto eternity.

“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,” Jesus teaches, “so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The dishonest manager was shrewd in using oil and wheat to provide for his earthly welfare. So also do these earthly elements aid us when pressed into heavenly use in the anointing of baptism and the wheat of the Lord’s Supper. Those who have the Sacraments will have an eternal home when their earthly home fails.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 8)


Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29


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

Listen carefully; I have an important truth to share with you today: It is not ok to say that it is ok to do what the LORD has said it is not ok to do. Now, that seems like an easy enough principle to understand, doesn’t it? Apparently, unfortunately, it isn’t. Similarly, it is not ok to say that it is not ok to do what the LORD has not said it is not ok to do. You see, that’s the other side of the same coin. So, do you get it? Let me summarize: No one should permit, encourage, and bless what God has forbidden and has not blessed, and, likewise, no one should forbid, discourage, or condemn what God has not forbidden or condemned. Therefore, whoever claims to speak for God had better only say what God has said, without adding to it, and without taking away from it. That is what it means to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God through whom He speaks, called and sent by God to proclaim His Word to men.

And yet, the LORD has said that there will be false prophets who speak “visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” Such false prophets continually say to people who despise the Word of the LORD, “It shall be well with you” and “no disaster shall come upon you,” or, in other words, “Go ahead, keep on doing what you’re doing. God said not to? Oh, that’s a misinterpretation. Go ahead, it’s ok. God loves you.” Go ahead and curse like a sailor. Go ahead and download music and movies without paying for them. Go ahead and have sex outside of marriage. Go ahead and cheat on your taxes. Go ahead and terminate that pregnancy. Go ahead and bless that same-sex marriage. God didn’t mean what those bigoted, hate-mongering, fear-peddling preachers say He meant. God loves you and He just wants you to be happy. The LORD says that such false prophets “heal the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” They are those false prophets 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.” “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran,” says the LORD; “I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my Words to my people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”

And it is an unfortunate reality that there will always false prophets, for they will always have an audience to hear them, men who want to have preached to them only what they want to hear. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Therefore it is imperative for a Christian to be able to discern a true prophet from a false prophet, the true preaching and teaching of the Word of God from the lies, distortions, and myths devised by men. But, how is this to be done? How can you tell a true prophet, true teaching, from a false prophet and lies? Your Lord Jesus teaches you that you will recognize them by their fruits.

By their fruits? What does it mean that you will be able to distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet by their fruits? What kind of fruit does a prophet bear? Jesus expands the analogy saying, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” That is to say, if you’re eating tasty and nourishing apples, it’s because they came from a good apple tree. One simply cannot get good fruit from a bad tree. Now, the fruit of a prophet is what he preaches. If it is the pure Word of God, it is good fruit, good to eat because it nourishes your faith and strengthens you on the way to eternity. If, however, God’s Word is perverted, corrupted, or watered down with human opinion, it is poor fruit. Instead of promoting spiritual health, it gradually introduces the poison of false doctrine into your spiritual diet until you are no longer able to judge what is true and what isn’t.

But Jesus also teaches you that a false prophet will often try to deceive you by appearing to be good and true. Though they are truly ravenous wolves, they will come to you in sheep’s clothing. This is to say, additionally, that you cannot discern a true prophet from a false prophet by their outward appearance. Indeed, there are many who claim to prophesy in the Name of the Lord who appear to be true on the outside, but inwardly are diseased and full of uncleanness leading to death. To your eye they may appear to be charismatic and attractive, successful, having great wealth and large congregations, or they may appear to be humble and poor and full of compassion for those in need. But, you cannot discern a true prophet from a false prophet by what your eyes see, but you must discern them by their fruits.

Again, the fruit of a prophet is what he preaches. Does he preach God’s Word purely, without adding to it or taking away from it, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even when it convicts you, even when it convicts himself? Or, does he pervert, corrupt, or water down God’s Word with human opinion, preaching to the itching ears of men? His appearance is not important. What does he preach? What is his fruit? Is it good to eat, nourishing and strengthening your faith? Or is it bad, poisoning you with false doctrine?

Let us consider how it was in the beginning. In Eden there were two trees, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By appearance, the fruit of both trees was good and attractive. However, God’s Word proscribed that the fruit of the Tree of Life would give life and that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring death. There was a false prophet in the garden who came to our First Parents in a disguise to deceive them. He told them lies, twisting God’s Word about the forbidden fruit, saying that it would not bring death but rather knowledge and god-like wisdom and enlightenment. Listening to the words of the false prophet, and judging by appearances that the fruit was good, Adam and Eve both ate the poisonous fruit and sin and death entered the world.

Ever since the Fall, there have been true prophets and false prophets. The true prophets were not perfect, but they were sinful men just like you and me, but they proclaimed and taught the Word of the Lord in its truth and purity, both its condemning Law and its comforting Gospel, always pointing to the great and true Prophet to come, the Messiah, whom God would send to destroy the power of death. The false prophets employed the tactics of the great False Prophet, lies and deceptions, and they watered down and corrupted the Word of the Lord with human opinions. They obscured the Gospel proclamation of God’s salvation in the Messiah, Jesus, and taught men salvation by works or to be comfortable in their sin and that there was no need for salvation at all.

In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, the True Prophet, Jesus, to destroy the power of death that came from the poisonous fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to restore to us access to the fruit of the Tree of Life. He took your poison, sin, and death into Himself, He drank from the cup of God’s wrath down to its bitter dregs until it was finished and there was nothing left, and then He died upon the cursed tree of the cross. There is nothing attractive in the outward appearance of either the great Prophet Jesus or the good fruit that He brings. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

Yet He is the true Prophet of God. And, blessed are those who are not offended by Him. His Name is Truth and His tree is the Tree of Life. From it He brings you good fruit that leads to eternal life. Whoever eats of His fruit will live forever. Whoever tastes of His hand will taste and see that the Lord is good. He is the righteousness of the sinner and the justifier of the guilty. He is the Man of Mercy to those who are afraid. He is the lover of souls to those who think themselves hated by God. He brings the medicine of immortality and bears the fruit of eternal life. And those who hear Him receive Him gladly and are welcomed by Him into the kingdom of heaven.

And so, it is true, you will know a true prophet by his fruits. That is to say, what fruit does he proclaim to you? What fruit does he direct you to? What fruit does he serve to you to feed you? The true prophet will proclaim, direct, and serve to you the good fruit of the Tree of Life, Jesus, for the forgiveness of your sins and for life that never ends. The true prophet will only and always point you to Jesus and His fruits and He will feed you with His pure Word and His holy body and precious blood, the fruits of death on the cursed tree of the cross, become for you now the Tree of Life with every good.

He is not one who is far off. He is at hand. And by His wounds you are healed. By His suffering you find peace with God. All who look to Him are heard and all who call upon His Name are saved from death and hell. Come and eat from the Tree of Life. Eat the good fruit of the true Prophet and be saved.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.