Sermon for Rogate: Pastor Loci

And this is what I preached to the saints in Wheatland this past Sunday:

Today’s theme is prayer. Jesus encourages and commands us to pray, and attaches promises to prayer. Over the years a lot of myths have grown up about prayer, a lot of false thoughts have crept in, and so it’s good to review each year what prayer is and isn’t. It’s also a chance to remind ourselves what a great gift prayer is, and encourage each other to a more active prayer life, in honor and praise of God, and for the good of our neighbor.

So let’s dive into the text, and see what Jesus says here, and what God teaches throughout the scriptures about this thing called prayer. First, we are told by Jesus that we can go to the Father with our prayers. Jesus is the one intermediary between God the Father and man. But Jesus work of mediation is finished. He paid the debt we owe. Jesus has reconciled us. He still intercedes for us – but now he does so as one who has completed the work and paid the debt. This means now we are able to go to the Father directly. We know this because Jesus says so. When we ask in Jesus name, we don’t need him to go for us to ask. We ask directly because of the love of the Father. Through Baptism, God the Father places his name on us. We were his enemies, now we are his children. And so the church rejects all attempts to add middle-men to the process of prayer, as if we need some big name to ask on our behalf. Jesus says, “the Father himself loves you”. Some churches disbelieve Jesus word here. But Jesus says the very reason for our access to the Father is “Because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” If we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is, then we must believe him when he says “because of my work, you have direct access to the Father in your prayers”.

And of course we all know the prayer Jesus gives us as the model of prayer. The Lord’s prayer is prayed directly to “Our Father, who art in heaven.” So, we have the direct word of Jesus about how we can approach the Father, and we have Jesus example in teaching us the Lord’s Prayer. The testimony of Holy Scripture is clear. Let no one lead us astray on this point: Our Father in heaven desires that we come to him directly, him alone, with our prayers and supplications.

This makes all true prayer Trinitarian. We approach the Father, because of Jesus work as the only-begotten Son and in his name, and our prayer is heard when we pray in faith – a gift given by the Holy Spirit, and not our work or decision. Prayer prayed according to faith in the Trinity – the same Holy Trinity into which we are Baptized – is the only true prayer. But it is true prayer.

We have the command and example of Jesus regarding prayer. The command and example are certainly enough. But there is another reason to pray. But God attaches a promise and blessing to prayer. He promises to hear our prayers, and to answer them for our good. Prayers prayed to our heavenly Father in Jesus name are not worthless or a waste of time. Scripture tells us the prayer of the righteous man is effective. It isn’t that our praying has power or our prayers have power in general. It is not as if our act of speaking to the aether as some mystic incantation moves the universe in a certain way. Rather, we pray to the creator of all things. God the Father has power, and he has promised to hear and answer our payers for Jesus sake. Our Father – the one we pray to –  is what gives our prayers their power and their effectiveness.

If a small child asks his teddy bear for dinner, it doesn’t do much. But asking mother or father for food is effective. Mother and Father have the power and duty to feed their hungry child. So if we pray to various idols that can not hear, we do nothing but offer prayers to demons. Prayers offered to our father in heaven are effective, because we pray to one who has the power to help, and has promised to do so.

Today the world mocks prayer. When tragedy strikes, and people say their thoughts and prayers go with the afflicted, the world makes fun of such gestures. Thoughts don’t do much unless action is behind them. But prayers are an action. When we pray to God the Father in faith, he loves us and promises to hear our prayers. We need only consider how important it was to the world that the church stop praying in the recent pandemic, and how many other godless activities were allowed to continue, to understand how critical and how beneficial our prayers are. Since then, people praying silently and quietly for others in public have been arrested. Satan and the world want to stop our prayers, to make us afraid to pray, or to get us to discount the importance of prayer. But like an army that sees an opposing force massing for attack, we can see what is happening, and we know that if prayer is where Satan and the world are focusing their attacks, it is because everything scripture teaches about prayer, everything Jesus promises us about prayer, is true. And we must redouble our efforts to be faithful in our prayers.

This is difficult for us. The world and Satan try to distract us from prayer. Our flesh is weak and often forgets to pray, or is tired, or runs out of time. This is why it is important for us to plan ahead – set aside time for prayer. In the Small Catechism, Luther outlines a basic pattern of private prayer, in addition to the weekly pattern of churchly prayer in the Divine Service. Luther offers simple prayers when we wake and when we go to sleep, and also when we take a break from our work during the day for our meals. This gives even the busiest among us 5 built in chances to pray each day. In addition to the prayer for morning and evening, and the prayer at mealtime, we can add whatever we have heard throughout the day that requires extra prayer – a sick friend or relative, perhaps a co-worker with a difficult situation, a family member who is having a rough time or facing a big decision. Jesus already tells us that our prayers do not need to be long to be heard and answered by our heavenly Father. If you can think of nothing else to say, pray the Lord’s prayer for their situation, thinking during each petition how God can help them in their need. Or if there need is specific, pray for them using whichever petition of the Lord’s Prayer applies to them. There are prayers for various occasions in the hymnal. If nothing else seems to work, just lay out honestly before God what is wrong and in need of his aid – this person is distressed, or sick, or out of work, or whatever. God knows how best to solve the problem.

We must remember, all of this flows from the love the Father has for us. Like an earthly parent, he wants to hear from his children how things are going, what needs you have, and what he can do to help. This love is shown by our Father first and foremost in sending his Son to bear the penalty for your sins on the cross, so you would be reconciled to Him and no longer a stranger or enemy to God. He is the one who brought you into his family as a beloved child. In Jesus, and because we believe that he is the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, we can pray to the Father because of the love he has for us, as Jesus says in our Gospel. By faith, we are given all that Jesus earned for us on the cross and all that he won for us in his resurrection. And perhaps the most underrated is the ability to go to him in prayer at any time for any need.

This is the promise and gift of salvation given through Jesus Christ. Salvation from sin death and devil opens to us the promise that our prayers are heard and answered by our heavenly Father. Jesus promises that, although we have trouble in this world he has overcome the world. He overcame the world by the word of his testimony and the blood he shed for you on the cross. Jesus also reminds us that when he leaves, he is going to the Father – which we heard last week when we heard the ascension. Jesus has returned to the Father, and he now reigns above all powers and principalities. He has taken away the sting of death and the power of the devil. This means nothing can harm us. It also means there is no crisis – no matter what Satan says about this or that problem. Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father, and promises we can go to the Father with anything that troubles us. The problem – whatever it is – has already been taken care of. The troubles we have in this world already have an outlet – we can go to our heavenly Father. And they will be brought to an end, in God’s good time and according to his gracious will. That doesn’t mean life in this world will be all butterflies and flowery fields. This world is passing away – it is a world of sin and decay. This is why we need the strength God promises in his Holy Word and Blessed Sacraments to make it through this world. But he also gives us the ability to come to him in prayer for every need. And according to his gracious will, which is always bent toward our repentance and salvation, not necessarily our comfort and convenience, our Father will deliver us from all evil, as he has promised. Sometimes that may mean a time of discomfort in this world to return us to him. Just as a parent must in love discipline a child, so our heavenly Father promises to discipline those whom he loves. But even then, he hears our prayers, he wipes away our tears, and he and all the angels in heaven rejoice at a sinner who repents.

And remember, when our Lord Jesus returns all the sadness of this world will be undone in the joy of the resurrection. All of the accumulated pains will go away, all of the troubles will not even be remembered – if they are, it will be like a dream that has ended and soon forgotten in the bright sun of a new day. This is our hope and our comfort. In this world, our prayer is that we would remain steadfast in him all the days of our life, that God would gently return us when we wander, and bring us at our end from this veil of tears to himself in heaven. And finally, the prayer of the church is always, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly, and take us to be with you.”

And so we pray, “Grant this Lord unto us all.” In Jesus name.


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Sermon for Rogate 2023: Lay Read

Here is the sermon read in my two outlying congregations:

Today Jesus encourages us to pray. Thanks to Jesus work on the cross, and thanks to Holy Baptism, we are children of our heavenly Father. He loves us and wants only good things for us, and wants to hear from us about every need we have. We don’t need someone else to go to our Father for us. We can go directly to our Father in heaven. We know this is true, because Jesus tells us himself in our Gospel today. Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” This means we can go to the Father directly. This is also taught in the prayer Jesus gave us. He teaches us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” We have the promise that the Father will hear our prayer, and that he will answer our prayer. So let’s look at the prayer Jesus teaches us, because there is no prayer that is better. And in the Lord’s Prayer, we learn to pray for every good thing the Father wants to give us.

We pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” We are approaching almighty God, the creator of all things, as if he were our dear Father, and we are his beloved children. Because this is who he is, and what we are. Jesus has brought us into God’s kingdom by his death and resurrection. And through Baptism, God places his name on us as our Father. We are his children. We look to him and trust him for all good things. That’s what it means to have a God. Whatever we turn to in our time of need is our God, whether we turn to the true God, or a false idol.

Because of Jesus work, God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth is our God. This is a gift given to us in Holy baptism. When we are baptized in name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are given new name and identity. Saint Paul says we have the adoption of sons. Before we were lost and condemned. In Baptism God marks us and claims us as His own. We don’t claim him or go after him. .He comes to us and claims us. He is Father to us. Once we are claimed by God as children through the washing of water and the word, we can pray “Our Father who art in heaven”. Father is a close family relationship. Only offspring can call a man father or a women mother. It is not a title for everyone. It is just for immediate family. And in Baptism, we are made a part of the family of God. When we pray “Our Father” we are saying that God in heaven is our true Father. We are part of His family.

Having addressed God by the name he gives, we now offer petitions to God. They are requests for the things we need. God has promised to give us all we need. We start with “Hallowed be thy name”. God’s name is already holy without our prayer. We pray that we would keep his name holy. We do this when the Word of God is taught rightly. This is a prayer that God would keep the teaching of His Word pure among us. It’s a prayer for faithful pastors, faithful parents, and faithful teachers, to teach us God’s Word. It’s also a prayer that God would keep any false teachers away from us. And if any false teachers try to sneak in, we pray they would be exposed quickly, that we would stop our ears and not listen to them. We pray that God would preserve his Holy Word among us.

When we pray thy kingdom come, we pray that God would send his Spirit so we believe the Word that is taught to us. We want to be instructed by God’s Word, and listen to no other word than His. We want to learn God’s Word, and only God’s Word. This is our prayer in the second petition. We pray for faith to believe the Word.

Thy will be done is a prayer that we would remain in the Word of God. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh want to lead us astray from God’s Word. We pray that would never happen. We are praying here for God to keep our sinful nature under control, that we not give into sin and leave the sure promise of salvation given in Jesus.

We need to be careful when we pray, and know that God’s will is not always easy. Jesus prayed in garden of Gethsemane that his Father’s will would be done. This was right before he was crucified. The Christian life is not one of ease, but of struggle against our sinful nature, against Satan and the world. Our life is not about the comforts and pleasures of life. It is about the joy that comes from the peace Jesus gives us.

Jesus tells us, “In the world you have trouble. But do not be afraid, I have overcome the world.” That is a promise, not that things are easy, but that Jesus intercedes with the Father for us. And we can go to the Father ourselves. We find our rest in him. We pray the things of this world would not get between us and him.

The prayer for daily bread is the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that is for our physical needs in this world. Everything is included in daily bread. It includes everything that brings us daily bread: Food, clothing, a home, a family, good weather, peace, health. It’s a short prayer, because we know that God provides for us each day. We pray that we would receive his gifts thankfully, and give glory to him.

The heart of our prayer is that we receive the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross for us. Without forgiveness, we can’t pray for anything else, or expect any good gift from our Father. But he sent Jesus to earn our salvation. And we pray we would trust in him for salvation. We also pray we would bear fruits in keeping with repentance. This means showing love and forgiveness to others as Christ has shown to us.

God does not tempt us. He may test us so we can show ourselves faithful, but he never tries to lead us astray. That’s the work of Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh. We pray that God would keep us safe from them and keep us faithful in his Word.

Our final prayer is, “Deliver us from evil” We pray that God would not allow anything to keep us from him. If something gets in the way, that is, if we begin to love something more than God, we pray that he would take it away so that it can never become an idol. We pray that God would keep us to the end, and bring us to his heavenly kingdom.

We are constantly under attack in this world. Jesus encourages prayer. Paul tells us pray without ceasing. Private daily prayer is the companion to weekly attendance at the Divine Service. This is what God commands and requires of us. And he does it for our good, so that we would remain in him. God promises to hear our prayer. He promises to answer it, and give us only good things. This is a wonderful promise, from a loving heavenly Father.

My God grant that we increase in prayer and in faithfulness to His Word. Amen.

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The Lectionary is Servant, not Master

I did something I’d never done this past week. I switched lectionary dates around. Instead of Ascension/Exaudi, we celebrated Rogate. It was an executive decision, for better or worse. There were reasons.

I would be at my parishes on Rogate, but only at one of them for Exaudi (which is Ascension-transferred at all three parishes, because we no longer have an Ascension Day service.) It seemed to me that, if a choice had to be made regarding lay-led services, it worked better to have them on Rogate. Prayer – given to all the Baptized – works as the theme of a lay-led service. The theme of Ascension Day, “What was visible in Christ has now passed into the Sacraments” (Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome), rather assumes the celebration of the Sacrament. And so I arranged things to include the Sacrament on such a sacramental festival day.

It wasn’t until late in the process that I realized I could have done Exaudi instead on the “off Sunday”, but I stand by the decision. Prayer is an important part of our life, and the themes of Exaudi (Ascension and the promise of Pentecost) are covered on their respective holidays.

So, the lectionary, which is set and does not move around to suit our desires, gave way to necessity this year. I preached on Ascension Day a few days early at all of my parishes, and had a sermon on prayer for my parish on the following Sunday.

But because I was at one of my congregations for “Rogate”, I wrote a different sermon for them than the lay-read sermon for my other two congregations. I haven’t done that before, and it was a good exercise for me. Even though most have long-passed Rogate, and I’m only getting around to posting mid-week, I will post both sermons, in case anyone wants to compare.

The lay-read sermon is a review of the Lord’s Prayer. Sermons when I am not present tend to be more catechetical in nature, following the outline of one of the six chief parts, re-working the Large or Small Catechisms, or something similar. The sermon I preached personally was a review of prayer, but more closely based on the Gospel reading.

For those with an interest in such things, you might find the multiple sermons interesting as a comparative exercise. For myself, it was useful, but I’m eager to get back to following the lectionary as it falls on the calendar, and to shepherding my entire flock each Sunday.

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Sermon For Quasimodogeniti

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia.

The resurrection account continues. It left off last week with the women running frightened from the tomb. Jesus had not yet appeared. It’s one of only two Gospel readings in the year without Jesus in it. There is a lot of talk about Jesus, the entire focus is Jesus. But he doesn’t show up. The women are greeted with the good news, they hear the Easter Gospel, “He is Risen!” But they don’t get to see Jesus in person quite yet. Just as we in the church hear the Good News of Salvation week after week, and we receive it by faith, not sight. Our Lord has ascended and is hidden from us – we see him in the Word, under the Sacraments, but not face to face. Yet.

So also, on Easter morning, we don’t get to hear from Jesus himself. Today, we do. The resurrected Jesus appears before the disciples. He comes with a word of comfort and consolation. He comes with the word of forgiveness. And he gives the apostles – and all of His holy church – the authority and responsibility to forgive sins.

This is not just a feature of the church, or one thing we do among others. Luther says that everything is organized in the church so we daily receive the forgiveness of sins. It was failure to understand the forgiveness of sins that led to the Reformation. Forgiveness – the teaching that we are justified freely for Christ’s sake by faith – was the central doctrine at issue in the Reformation. It is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. It is of such importance that it is the first words from Jesus to the apostles after he is raised from the dead. Without the forgiveness of sins, the church has nothing to offer. The forgiveness of sins leads to a new life in this world, and the resurrection of the body in the life of the world to come. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, none of this is possible. But now that Christ has been raised from the dead, we have the great gift and wonderful consolation of forgiveness of sins – cleansing not our bodies, but our souls and conscience.

Our readings today are all on the same topic. Saint John in his epistle instructs us: Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. What a wonderful teaching and doctrine this is. We have overcome the world because of the new birth given by the water and the spirit in Holy Baptism, not by our work or effort. This is the instruction we receive in our Old Testament for today as well. Ezekiel sees a valley full of dry bones – evidence not of life, but of death. There is nothing left of them. The bodies gone, the dry bones lying on the valley floor. God commands the prophet to speak, and His Word gives them flesh, muscles, sinews, and skin. They are no longer dry bones. They have come together to form bodies. But still lifeless bodies. They do not have the breath of life in them until it is given to them by God. The prophecy to the four winds, also given at the command and promise of God, is what gives new life to those dead bodies. Now, where there was defeat and death stands an army. This is an allegory for Holy Baptism. We are dead in our trespasses until: God raises us, by the power of the Spirit, given through the Word, that he has bound to the Water of Baptism. Through the word spoken at Jesus command, “Whoever believes and is Baptized shall be saved” those who are dead in their sins are raised to a new life in him. We are given flesh, sinews, muscles, and then the Spirit comes with the breath of life to give us a new birth of water and the spirit. We are reborn to a new life in Jesus Christ. And this new life is radically different than the old life. It is not a life of flesh and blood, but of spirit and truth.

John says we have overcome the world, by the word of testimony: Jesus Christ is God, he is Lord. He has died for us, and has been raised again. This is the word of testimony by which we overcome the world, this is the doctrine of our faith that overcomes the world. What we confessed a few minutes ago: Very God of very God, begotten not made, for us men made flesh, died, was raised again according to the scriptures – this is the conquering faith.

The world is bound to the things of this world. The world can never offer more than what we see here with our eyes. Fame, glory, wealth, power, lifespan, sumptuous food – all the things of this world we can see, will all pass away. By the word of God, by the faith given through the promise of Holy Baptism, we have a new life, one lived by faith, one that does not end, but continues into the resurrection.

And this new life, founded on the confession of Jesus Christ as God and Lord, begins in this world. We see the difference between the old life and the new our Gospel. The disciples have just seen the Lord. They come to Thomas, and explain to him all they have seen. But Thomas does not says he will not believe, until he sees Jesus alive, and touches the wounds himself to make sure it’s the right guy. He refuses to believe the promise of resurrection without proof.

The world is just like this. The Gospel is being proclaimed in the church, but the world doesn’t have time, doesn’t care enough, and through hardness of heart often refuses to believe. But look at what is being rejected. In the case of Thomas, he is spending the week mourning the death of his friend and teacher, and the loss of sanity of his friends, instead of rejoicing with them in the resurrection of his God and Lord. This must have been the longest week in Thomas’ life. He thinks everyone has lost their minds. He thinks that there is no hope, he is surrounded by a bunch of deluded fools. How miserable he was in his reasonableness and rationality. After all, everyone knows you can’t raise yourself from the dead. The dead aren’t raised. This whole thing is just a fools dream. In his commitment to only what he can see and feel for himself, he is missing out on the great joy the other disciples share.

Eventually, he will join in that excitement and joy himself. But Jesus then has a word of rebuke for Thomas. Not a harsh rebuke. It is a gentle one. But it is a rebuke. “Because you have seen, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That is, blessed are all those who hear and receive the Gospel through the apostolic preaching, through the Word and Sacraments given in the Holy Church. Blessed are all Christians in all times and places who confess Jesus is Lord and so overcome the world. Jesus blesses all who receive him by faith.

Thomas in his doubt becomes a witness for the truth of the resurrection. He won’t believe unless he has tangible proof. He won’t be swayed by their words unless Jesus is truly raised and appears to him. Last week we heard of the first great lie against the resurrection – the disciples stole the body – and how it could not be true. Today we hear in John’s Gospel how the second great lie also is exposed. It goes like this, “The disciples just wished so hard that Jesus was raised they became delusional. It was mass hysteria.” Thomas is not hysterical. He isn’t falling for an illusion. He is bound by his reason to reject the resurrection until Jesus stands in front of him. Only then does he confess, “My Lord and My God.” His witness stands as a further proof of Jesus being raised.

The world fights extra hard against the resurrection. Because if you throw everything else in scripture out, and keep only the resurrection, it still changes everything. And if you keep everything else in scripture except the resurrection, we are entirely without hope. Paul makes this point to the Corinthians – who were also tied up in knots by their reason. Some denied the resurrection. Paul says, if there is no resurrection, Jesus is not raised. If he is raised, then there must be a resurrection of the body. If only for this life we hope in Christ, we are above all men to be most pitied. But now Christ is raised, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep in him. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

That is: If the resurrection is true, the world is reborn, there is hope, everything else falls into place. If Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, nothing else in scripture matters anyway. That’s why the missing body of Jesus is so embarrassing for the world. Because as long as Jesus resurrection can’t be explained away, the life of the Christian stands against all powers and authorities in this world. There is nothing that can be done to us by the world that can take away our hope and our resurrection to a new life when our Lord returns. By the word of our testimony, by faith in the promise, we overcome the world. We are given the victory in Jesus Christ.

And that victory is handed to us in the church. This is where forgiveness is given. This is where Jesus promises to come to us for our good. He gives to the church the authority and even the duty to forgive sins. If Jesus had not said point blank, “You are to forgive sins” who would believe we should? It would be the height of arrogance to forgive sins – speaking for God – if we were not commanded to speak that way. More than arrogant, it would be outright blaspheme. Jesus is accused of that very thing when he forgives a man’s sins. And he agrees with the people – if he is not God, then he has no authority to forgive sins. And then he heals the paralytic. The Son of Man does have authority on earth to forgive sins. And now, after he has completed the work of redemption and been raised from the grave, he gives the same authority  – the authority to forgive sins – to his church. We have been given an endless supply of life, we have been given the power to undo death’s power and to give life in its place.

If we sold this in an elixir that gave life in this world, we would be swamped with people, lines around the block. If we could even just extend life a few months or years, it would sell for millions. We have the medicine of immortality – it gives eternal life. Not life in this world where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, not a life of sin and struggle and loss. Instead Christ offers – through his holy church – a life that is without sadness or grief or pain, where there is no night, where every tear is wiped from the eye and the feast of gladness has no end. And yet, people are not that interested. This is a problem in the time of the apostles – scripture warns “Do not neglect the assembling of yourselves together as some are in the habit of doing.” In Luther’s day it was the number 1 problem in the Reformation churches. Luther cautions against it time and again. He says, “Before, we were burdened with works. But now that the Gospel, now that freedom has come, people just think it’s some small thing not worth very much.” He admonishes in the Small and Large Catechisms not to neglect the gifts of God in the Word and Sacraments. The third commandment warns us not to despise preaching and the word, but instead gladly hear and learn it. Luther says if we knew how many snares the devil has set for us, if we knew how much danger we are in, we would run to the Sacrament every day. If we knew how important forgiveness of sins was, we would walk 100 miles just to receive the absolution.

Think again of Thomas. You can imagine him saying to the other disciples, “If I thought it would help to raise Jesus, I would walk to Rome and back. But he’s dead and we can’t change it with wishful thinking.” We don’t know he said it, but we know what people are like. He certainly had similar thoughts throughout that long week. And then, the moment when Jesus finally lifts the veil, removes the grief and sadness from his heart. The cry of Thomas is the cry of the church in the presence of Jesus, it is the confession that overcomes the world, “My Lord and my God.”

Thomas should be our pattern – not his doubt, but his firm confession and then his steadfastness not to fall away from the good news of resurrection. Let us fall on our knees before the Lord of glory with the confession that Jesus is Lord and God, let us not get so caught up in the things of this world so that we no longer have time for Jesus, as if we don’t need him this week, because we had him last week.

He that was dead has been raised, and has promised the same thing to all who believe in his name. Everything has changed. In Jesus, by faith, we overcome the world. Let us not grow weary of this good news, but hold on to it each day and in grateful thanksgiving receive and rejoice in the promise from our Lord God, “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

In Jesus name. Amen.



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Holy Week Tuesday Sermon

Not everyone has Holy Week midday services. Here is my sermon, based on Saint Mark’s Passion. (Read that first)

“Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Introit for Tuesday of Holy Week) We do not boast about our own works, our own accomplishments, our own ideas, our own struggles. We boast about Jesus and his work. Paul writes these words at the end of Galatians. It is a summary and conclusion of his argument in the book. He had been fighting the idea that we do a thing to be saved. At the time it was circumcision. Luther fights against works and merits. Our synod has long fought against internal struggles and personal decisions. Satan is always trying to turn us away from Christ, to ourselves. Salvation is not our work, and so we boast of nothing that we do. Our boast is the cross of Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make our works earn us anything is idolatry against Christ and his work. In Jesus and his cross is salvation, life, and resurrection from the dead. The Christian finally must rest his soul in the death of Jesus on the cross. The works and merits of Jesus save us. His most holy life, conversation, and death are our salvation. Jesus does everything. This is the center of our preaching. As Paul says elsewhere, “We preach Christ crucified.” The death of Jesus is all we have. That’s why the world considers us so poor, so worthy of pity. Because we have only one thing – and it is a foolish, a scandalous thing. We have the death of Jesus Christ all those years ago. We never move on from that.

Saint Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, the most driven. He uses the word “Immediately” 41 times. Jesus is always moving, always on to the next thing. But the path moves ever to the cross. Jesus is always active, always busy, always on the path to our redemption. Mark records Pilate’s surprise at how quickly Jesus dies. And it is strange. It usually took a couple of days to die of crucifixion. It was an excruciating and slow method of execution. But a sure and certain one. And it sent a message. No matter what your crime, people would see and know, “Don’t do that.” Don’t try to be king of the Jews. That is a position reserved for Caesar. Try to be king, and you’ll end up like that Jesus fellow.

But Jesus is dead quickly, because Jesus chooses the moment of his own death. He knows what must be done for the redemption of sins. And he does it. He pays for your sins, and takes them away. Once he has finished that work, he chooses the moment of death. He picks the time of his own departure from this world. Jesus dies quickly because no man ever had a larger burden placed on him. The cross was a terrible way to die. It was designed for maximum torture. Jesus is subjected to it. But the real suffering comes as Jesus takes on the sins of the whole world. This is more than the Romans can do to him. They are merely proxies for the wrath of God over sin. And Jesus willingly takes that sin on himself, and then the sin is swallowed up in his death. It is no more.

We celebrate and observe the Passion not because we think it earns us anything, but because we know that Jesus has paid it all for us. There is nothing left for us to do. No more work to be done. The end is Jesus. We come to hear of Jesus death because we want to hear of the moment our sin was taken away, the moment the penalty was paid. We come so that we would continue to learn and be instructed in the grace and mercy of God toward us in Jesus. So that we would never forget, but always be reminded of the sacrifice which earned for us the atonement for sins.

The Lord committed his cause to His Father, and he was raised from the dead on the third day. We commit our cause to Our Father in heaven as well, and we are redeemed and saved from sin and death. The death of Jesus to cover sin covers our sin, and becomes our death. The resurrection of Jesus then becomes our resurrection. His work for us is sufficient. We never need to boast or look to our own works. Jesus has done it all for us. Our boast is in him.


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Holy Monday Sermon

Gospel is Mary anointing Jesus feet, John 12.

Aside from the death and resurrection of Jesus, there are only 4 moments recorded in all 4 Gospels. Jesus Baptism, the feeding of the 5,000, the triumphal entry, and the woman anointing Jesus feet. Jesus says in Matthew that this will be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached, as a memorial for what she did. And so all four evangelists record Jesus feet being anointed. Mary did not realized it, but it was a preparation for his upcoming burial. As far as Mary knew, it was an act of love for all Jesus had done for her and her sister. Their brother Lazarus had died, and Jesus raised him from the dead.

Mary, with tears and weeping, makes a great sacrifice for the sake of saying thank you to Jesus. What can we offer to God as a thank you for our lives? And what can repay a life-debt? It can not be repaid, but a sincere thank you is at least a beginning. Mary emphasizes her thankfulness with an extravagant gift. Perfume worth a year’s wage. And she pours that perfume out on the feet of Jesus. The same feet that would be pierced on the cross. The blessed wounds of our Savior are anointed in advance by Mary in thanksgiving and love for what he has given to her. She does not know all that she does. She thinks she is saying thank you for the gift of life given back to Lazarus – it seems a thank you for past kindness. But she is really preparing and saying thank you in advance for the gift of salvation Jesus will win on the cross.

Judas objects – and here we see how extravagant the gift was. 300 denarii – a year’s wage. 40-50 thousand dollars at least. Think of how many poor that could help, he says. But Judas is not interested in the poor. He wants to steal some of the money to pad his own account. Only a few chapters earlier – in the feeding of the 5000, the disciples were overwhelmed with the needs of the hungry. “Even 200 denarii would not be enough to give everyone a bite!” Now, 300 denarii is the difference between life and death, as far as Judas is concerned. But don’t be fooled by the false piety. It was never about the poor. It was always about denying Jesus the honor due his name. We must not be ashamed of afraid to show our gratitude to Jesus in the church. Giving beautiful gifts in honor of our Savior is a godly thing. The Gospel finds its proper adornment with worship and devotion to God. But thanksgiving offered in tangible ways toward the Lord is not a waste. It honors the Word God gives to us through His church.

Judas false modesty is called out by Jesus. The gift of the woman – the love that drove her to it – is precious in the sight of the Lord. And, it prefigures all that will come. Because Jesus death comes so suddenly, there is not time to prepare it properly for burial before the Sabbath. And because Jesus doesn’t stay dead past the Sabbath, there is no chance to anoint it after. The only anointing Jesus will receive is this one. Our Salvation is foretold in this anointing, even though it will not be known and understood until after Jesus is raised from the dead.

And this gift of the woman, so loving toward Jesus and so loved by Jesus, reassures us that Jesus came to save us as well: to deliver us from death, hell, and the devil. Our gifts and thank offerings, be they large or small, are precious in his sight as well. If they proceed from a true heart, they show our own thankfulness for all Christ has done for us.

And he has indeed delivered us from many great dangers. We are told in scripture about the eternal dangers of death, hell, the devil. And we know we walk in many dangers each day. But we can never know in this world how many dangers and troubles the Lord delivers us from. Satan is always trying to destroy us, trying to attack our faith, always accusing us before the Father, trying to get us to reject the gift of salvation given to us, so that we would pay the penalty we owe – the penalty Jesus already paid for us. And the entire time Jesus intercedes for us. He stands as our advocate. He pays the penalty, and through his intercession and prayers we are saved each day from untold wickedness. The Devil would even steal the bread from our table if he could. But Jesus, in his death and resurrection, stands between us and the anger of our Father over our sins. He stays the judgment we have earned.

We can never pay him back for this. Like the woman, even if we were to sell all we have and pour it out in a precious ointment on his feet – if we could still do that – it would not be enough. That is why we spend these days hearing in gratitude about the Lord and his sacrifice to cover our sin. Because we can never pay back the Lord for what he has done. And yet, in grateful thanksgiving we can hear the word of promise, and cry out with our prayers and praises and songs of thanksgiving. For the Lord considers our prayers as a sweet incense before his throne. He looks not on our actions and their corrupt motives, but on the work of Jesus and so sees the love of those who bow before him and offer their gift, purified by the forgiveness of sins.

It is Holy Week. We come and hear the promise of salvation given through the death and resurrection of the Lord, we offer prayers and praises as an incense before his throne, and we trust the mercy of our Lord Jesus to redeem even our efforts to say thank you, so that they are acceptable in the sight of our Father in heaven.

This week we hear of the Most Holy work of Jesus to defeat Satan on our behalf. Lord, grant us grace to hear and receive the gift, and to hold fast to it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Sermon for Palm Sunday

The theme today is the great humility of Jesus. First we hear of the triumphal entry. Jesus comes into the holy city, surrounded by adoring crowds. They are shouting, covering his path with their cloaks and waving palm branches at him. Their cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest” — is the second half of the Sanctus. It’s triumph and glory today as far as the eye can see. Until your eye falls on Jesus himself. Then it becomes disjointed, a comedy of errors. The great king is not entering the city on a mighty steed, but on a donkey. A pack animal; not a ride for a victorious general. And not on the donkey itself, but the little foal. Jesus has to know it looks absurd. It would have been more of a triumphal procession has Jesus just walked in on the cloaks and palm branches. If the leaders hadn’t been so hardened against him, so determined to destroy him at all costs, they might have looked at the bizarre spectacle and laughed.

But they wanted him dead. It doesn’t matter to them how humbly he comes. It doesn’t matter to them that Jesus is a teacher who brings healing and forgiveness, not a conquering king who brings mighty armies. They will not rest until he is dead. This is the final act of their hatred and madness. They refuse to acknowledge him as the Son of God, so they must do away with him. That’s how it is. Those who will not acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, will also not long keep him as a prophet or teacher. They must do away with him. The world hates Jesus, today as much as they did back in the day when he came into the city on that donkey. Murderous rage is all they can feel, because they have rejected their Savior – no matter what happens, they will insist that Jesus not be a Savior to them. Lies and murder are all that is left to them. And yet, Jesus comes in, knowing how things will end. The people are shouting after him, they are cheering him on. But this isn’t going to end in a coronation, and a palace. The crown on his brow will be thorns. The throne will be a cross. His palace a borrowed tomb. What starts out with shouts of praise, ends in death. And Jesus knows it, because Jesus knows the scriptures. He knows the prophesies written about him. . He knows them because he was the one who gave the words to the prophets: He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, he was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. His strength is dried up like a potsherd, he is laid in the dust of death.

Jesus, knowing all that would happen, continues on the path of humility and service. And we see in him this day the great example of humility, and it is a blessed example for us. Not that we earn favor from God by following the example of Jesus. But looking to Jesus and his love for us, we know that “how the world sees things” doesn’t give us a picture of how God sees things. Jesus began his ministry teaching us we are blessed when we are persecuted for his name sake, we will be lied about and mocked, and even killed for his name. This is the sign that we are blessed by our heavenly Father. And after the triumphal entry, we move immediately to the Passion of our Lord. This is the greatest persecution of the innocent, the greatest mockery, and also the greatest humility. Jesus humbles himself, not just by riding a little donkey instead of a war horse in armor. That is prelude. The example of ultimate humility is Jesus going into death for us. By right, he should be enthroned at the right hand of the Father. But in love for you, to earn your salvation, we hear today all that he endures to redeem you.

All of the Gospels are an account of humility and service on the part of God for you. The creator of all gives up the majesty and glory in order to be conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary and be born as a little baby in the manger. The long reading from Matthew today is just the culmination of that journey. It is a crushing defeat for the ambitions of the disciples. Jesus is not shining like the sun. He is bruised and beaten, taken from the city to the place of the skull, the place of death, and they hang him there until he dies. The rallying cry today starts with “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” It ends with “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me.” But do not be fooled. This is a great victory cry. It is from Psalm 22. What begins as a lament of suffering and humility ends with the promise of redemption and eternal life. Why hast thou forsaken me becomes, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations… it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

Jesus wins the victory over sin by his death – it is a victory won through shame, not glory.

Paul tells us God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than man’s strength. The weakness of God is absolute in our Gospel – he dies. He can die. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. Death was never supposed to be. But our sin brought death and corruption into the world.

Jesus is joined to humanity by his birth from Mary so that he would be a mortal – human, like you are, tempted, like you are, struggling in every way you do in this world, with one exception. Jesus is without sin. That makes him worthy to go into death for you. And so he goes into death – not as a prisoner and a captive who is unable to control events. He goes willingly, the entire time he is able to call down legions of angels to save him, if he desired. But then the scriptures could not be fulfilled. Then Jesus would not have saved you from sin. We see the humble service of Jesus – from his birth, through his ministry, in his triumphal entry, and most of all, in his passion, suffering and death.

This is the example we have in Jesus. So that we would also humble ourselves before the throne of our heavenly Father. So that we would come in humility, not asking for what we are owed, as if our works gain us anything – they don’t – but instead crying out for the mercy of God for Jesus sake. He has earned forgiveness from his heavenly Father, and he gives it freely to all those who call on him. That is why we cry out with those crowds, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna means “Lord Save”. It is our cry each week, along with “Lord have mercy on us!” We acknowledge Jesus as Lord, we come to him in humility knowing only he can save us. And we hold on to him for dear life, just as we saw in the examples these past months of those who needed Jesus to give them help and healing and deliverance. So we also cry out and continue to cry out in humility – Lord have mercy. And we see Jesus who humbles himself and goes into death for us, who now reigns at the right hand of his Father. We bow down before him. Following his example of humility, we now fall to our knees in praise and adoration before our Savior and Lord.

May God grant to us during this Holy week that we hear and humbly receive the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ, and place our trust in no other.

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Collect for Oculi (Lent 3)

The original collect for Lent 3 is “We beseech thee, almighty God, to respect the prayers of the humble, and stretch out the right hand of Thy Majesty for our defense…” It’s a nice little collect, and matches well the theme of Oculi, that we approach the Lord with humility, not arrogance, and He is our defense against all evil.

TLH is expanded somewhat from that, adding that the prayer matches our heart’s desire, rather than seeking respect:

WE beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of Thy Majesty to be our defence against all our enemies…

It’s not a big change.

For reasons left unexplained, LSB swapped the collect:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

This is one of the nicer collects for the erring. And it’s a shame it doesn’t find a place in the historic lectionary cycle of collects. But today is not the day for it either. It didn’t find a place because it doesn’t match the theme of the day. I don’t know why they attempted to shoe-horn it in, but it doesn’t fit. Here is the collect we will be using this Sunday, updated only slightly from TLH:

We beseech You, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Your humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of Your Majesty to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end. Amen.

Yes, we are keeping beseech. Not sure if hearty is necessary, it’s not in the Latin, but our desires should be hearty. So we will include that, making it clear that our desire for protection is of the heart, and we are earnest and sincere in our request.

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Collect for Invocavit.

I’ve spent time the last couple of years looking at the Collect for the day, comparing it to historic translations, and looking at the theology contained in them.

This week we have an odd thing. The historic collect is abandoned for a collect that isn’t about any of the readings:

TLH: O LORD, mercifully hear our prayer, and stretch forth the right hand of Thy Majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever One God, world without end. Amen.

LSB: O Lord God, You led Your ancient people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Old Testament reading is the Fall of Man. True, Jesus wanders in the wilderness in the Gospel, but the Collect doesn’t mention his wanderings. It doesn’t so much collect the thought for the day as scatter it. Not sure what happened there. Maybe the original idea was to have Israel consigned to the wander in the wilderness for 40 years, a collect was written, and then it was swapped for the Fall, and no one noticed the collect didn’t match. Or maybe… I really don’t know. But the historic collect is obviously preferred in such a situation as this. Here is my update to bring it into uniformity with the language of the rest of the liturgy:

O LORD, mercifully hear our prayer, and stretch forth the right hand of Your Majesty to defend us from all those who rise up against us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end. Amen.

Blessed Invocavit!

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In the early life of the synod, she was dynamic, nimble, ready to tackle challenges and make necessary changes. District realignments were frequent. Universities and seminaries were founded, moved, consolidated, re-separated, moved again, etc. Facilities were meant to facilitate.

At a certain point, the movement stopped. And institutionally, it was a fairly abrupt change.

The last district realignment happened in 1972. The seminary in Springfield was moved to Fort Wayne in 1976, and the last University to move to a new city was 1982. In only a decade, the synod settled into immobility. In 1992 the Concordia University System was implemented. It’s goal is to maintain the status quo. Since that time, the only changes to the component parts of the system have been when outside circumstances force a change.

It’s interesting to me that the Boomer Generation, the one that so boldly proclaimed “The times, they are a-changing”, and rather rudely instructed their elders “get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand”, is the generation that set in concrete the systems of the LCMS as they were during their own formative years. Over the years, the power accumulated into little fiefdoms, and the Presidents zealously and jealously guard their little palaces. Whether district, synod, university, or corporate entity, the goal now is to preserve what was, not seek out new directions for future growth, or adapt to changing conditions on the ground.

You can quibble about this or that generalization above, but we have 50 years without a single district change, and 40 years without a college change that wasn’t driven by the creditors.

Things are changing now, because we have no choice. The change will accelerate, because things that can not be sustained, won’t be: Health insurance costs more than the starting salary for a pastor, synod funding doesn’t cover synod expenses, districts are selling their office buildings to fund operations, and our universities are facing headwinds both cultural and institutional.

My entire life has not seen a single district change it’s shape on the map; I wonder what great cataclysm will finally shake things up. Three Concordias closed in 5 years, yet no one seems interested in discussing the synod’s overall approach to higher education.

Calm can be good. But it can also be a sign of paralysis.

I’ve said it before: The church has survived for 2000 years, despite our best efforts to run things.

The church will survive until our Lord returns. That promise doesn’t extend to institutions. I’m ok with that, because our Lord is ok with that.

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