05 July 2020

Homily for Trinity 4 - 2020

"Reflecting God's Mercy"
Luke 6:36-42

Listen here.

Martin Chemnitz, “the second Martin,” once said: “Good works are like the sun: It’s nature is to give light; you don’t have to command it to do so.” It’s what Jesus does for you, and it’s how He calls you live and practice mercy with one another. It’s why Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” It’s like the relationship of the sun and the moon. The sun is the source of light and abundantly radiates that light. The moon also gives light, but that light is not its own. The moon simply reflects the light it receives from the sun. God is the source of mercy and gives abundant mercy through His Son Jesus. His Christians also show mercy as they reflect the mercy that they receive from God Himself. “Jesus’ disciples are to be characterized by mercy and forgiveness and thus portray God’s character to the world.” (Just, 295)

The first thing Jesus says to you today is: “Imitate your heavenly Father.” Children love to imitate their parents. They dress up in Mom and Dad’s clothes. They carry around a purse like Mom’s or a tool like Dad’s. Remember this when you hear Jesus say, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” First, comes the Father’s mercy, then comes the Christian’s mercy as he/she imitates Papa in heaven. And in the Bible “mercy” is more than attitude or emotion. “Mercy” shows itself in concrete actions.

The Father shows His mercy in the concrete act of sending His own Son Jesus into this broken, fallen, messy, sick, chaotic world to rescue and redeem sinners such as us. Christians then, enlivened by the Holy Spirit through Gospel preaching, Baptism, Absolution, and Lord’s Supper, show mercy in many and various concrete actions of daily life.

But you and I like to pretend that we are something we’re not. We like to think that we are above other people. We choose to treat them in whatever way we want. That’s not being merciful! When you “have issues” with other people—in your family, at work, or in the Church—it’s usually because they are not saying or doing things that you prescribe or demand. This leads to the judging and condemning that Jesus warns against. When you judge or condemn, you’re not imitating God’s mercy; you’re trying to play God.

Yet God still shows mercy to people like us. He shows His mercy in the very concrete act of sending His Son Jesus to take on our human flesh and blood, live our life, die in our place on a bloody cross, rest in the tomb, and rise again on the third day. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God forgives you and gives you new life.

So you get to imitate your heavenly Father. You get to interact with people—especially fellow Christians—in their chaotic, messed up lives and in their viral infection of self-serving. You get to show mercy and forgiveness. St. Paul said, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). St. John said, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

The second thing Jesus says to you today is: “What you dish out, you get back.” Jesus gives some practical examples: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”

Now this is probably one of the most misquoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible. We live in a time when tolerance is king; we are to judge absolutely nothing, no matter how raunchy, perverted, or misleading it gets. We are told to tolerate everything from killing babies in the womb to so-called “marriages” that cannot possibly bear children without outside help. To 21st century American ears and mouths “tolerate” has come to mean “approve of,” “bless,” even “kneel down and grovel.” We Christians are told that whenever we talk of Jesus as the only Savior from sin and the only way to life with God, we are being “intolerant” and “judgmental.” When we Christians stand for God’s ways of protecting life and marriage in the public square, we are told to hush up and “be tolerant.” When we reopen our churches to gather for hearing God’s Word, singing His praises, and receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood as we have for centuries, we are told that we are “killing grandma.”

But even Jesus warned against false teachers and their infectious teachings. And St. Paul warned against those who would give you another “gospel” that’s not focused on Christ alone for forgiveness and life. And St. John gave this judgment: “every spirit that does not confess Jesus Christ is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:3).

What’s Jesus talking about? Well, He’s not talking about legitimate, moral decisions in a court of law. After all, He gives the governing and judicial authorities. Instead, Jesus is talking about those frequent, petty criticisms that happen any time sinners get together. She really made me mad with her negative comments. His attitude really offended me. And so on.

Jesus is not talking about judging doctrine and life. Jesus does want us to judge doctrine and confront sin. He wants us to make sure that His Church teaches His pure Word in all that it says. But He does not want us to make judgments or condemnations about doctrine and life without substantial evidence. Jesus says don’t judge or condemn based on your own personal standards, or based on the world’s standards, or based on a misunderstanding of God’s Word. Instead, let God’s judgments be yours. When God says something is wrong and sinful—say, murder, abortion, racism, adultery, homosexuality, theft, cheating, lying, gossip, slander, coveting, and discontent—then you may also say it’s wrong. When God says something is true, good, and beautiful—say, loving Him, serving your neighbor in need, defending the defenseless, treating all people as human regardless of skin color, protecting marriage, remaining pure before marriage, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, protecting reputations—then you may also make the same good judgment.

Instead of being characterized by judging and condemning, Jesus wants you, His forgiven children, to be known by forgiveness and giving. After all, Jesus let Himself be judged and condemned in your place, in order that you may be forgiven and be given His life.

So Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” As you dish it out, it will come back to you. If you judge, condemn and criticize, then you can expect to be judged, condemned and criticized…perhaps by other people, but especially by God. When you forgive and give, though—when you love your neighbor—then God will continue to forgive and give. St. Paul said it well: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

And the final thing Jesus says to you today: “Clear out your vision to help your neighbor.” Jesus tells a little parable. A friend of yours gets a speck of sawdust in his eye. But you have a 6 foot long 4x4 beam sticking out of yours. How can you say, “Here let me help you,” when you can’t even see your own problem? Jesus exaggerates to make a point: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Translation: Yes, your neighbor has sins. But before you deal with your neighbor’s sins, confess your own. Once you rest in Jesus’ forgiveness for your humongous sins, then you can help your neighbor with his itty-bitty sins that may vex you. In order to show mercy, you need to receive Jesus’ mercy. And that’s what you get to do every Sunday in the Divine Service. You confess your sins—not your neighbor’s sins—and you receive Jesus’ forgiveness. You hear His Word and His works of mercy read and proclaimed. Jesus heals you by His words and works, and He removes the 4x4 beams from your eyes.

After you receive God’s mercy in Christ, you get to sing and pray for God’s mercy for each other, for the Church, and for the world. “Lord, have mercy.” “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” And today we hear the story of Joseph to illustrate what Jesus says. Joseph suffered greatly because of his brothers’ evil deeds. But he did not hold those sins against them. He chose not to play God. Instead, he imitated God—he reflected God’s mercy—by forgiving and showing mercy to his brothers. As Joseph said, “God meant it for good…that many people should be kept alive.”

Yes, there are times when you need to point out the sins of other people. Don’t do it to judge or condemn. Instead, do it to bring your relative or friend or fellow Christian into Christ’s mercy. After all, we don’t want our friends or family—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ—to live and die in their sin. We want them to rest and relax in Jesus’ cross-won, Gospel-given mercy. You can be merciful, because in Jesus your Father is merciful to you. Amen.

29 June 2020

Homily for Trinity 3 - 2020

"Shepherd vs. Lion"
Luke 15:1-10 & 1 Peter 5:6-11

Listen here.

Before he became Israel’s greatest king, David was but a lowly shepherd. In fact, when God sent Samuel to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel, to succeed Saul, they had to go find David as he was out tending his father’s sheep. Once anointed, David also entered the service of King Saul. And what service it would turn out to be!

Saul then led the army of Israel out to battle with the army of the Philistines. There they were confronted by the giant named Goliath, who taunted and struck fear into the soldiers of God’s army. “They were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Sam. 17:11). Along came David on a mission of mercy to deliver food to three of his older brothers on the front lines. As Israel’s mighty men cowered in fear, young David bravely stepped up to fight the Philistine giant. His brother Eliab angrily questioned David’s motives for being there. King Saul questioned David about how he, a smaller youth, could fight the huge, battled-tested Goliath. David answered: “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:36). The humble shepherd had come to battle the roaring lion, and you know how that story went. Youthful David, trusting in and calling upon his God, conquered mighty Goliath with a sling and a stone.

The stage is now set for what we hear today. In our Gospel reading we hear of a shepherd; in our Epistle, we hear of a roaring lion. We heard of and celebrated this Shepherd back in the Easter season. He’s the Good Shepherd who lays down His life and takes it up again for His sheep. Back in the Easter season we were but new-born babes, reveling in that blessed time of childhood as we celebrated our Lord’s resurrection. Now that Pentecost and the Holy Spirit have come, we are declared of age. We are called to grow up and live with courage in this wild, woolly fallen world.

During the weeks of Easter, we focused on our Good Shepherd. Now, in the “green season,” this time of living and growing in God’s grace and care, we are confronted with our very real needs of life. A disturber of the peace rears its ugly head. That enemy is the sin that dwells within, spurred on by the adversary who prowls around like a roaring lion. So Jesus—Son of David, the greater David, our Good Shepherd—reminds us what He comes to do, what is most important, what is most comforting, what gives us both solace and strength.

The Shepherd has one hundred sheep. One of them goes astray. He leaves the ninety-nine to find the one. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” The sheep does not rescue itself. The sheep is too scared to find its own way back to the Shepherd or the fold. The Shepherd does all the heavy-lifting. The Shepherd finds you who are lost in your doubts, your fears, your misplaced loyalties—your sin. Then He puts you on His shoulders and rejoices. It’s a beautiful picture of what happens every Divine Service, from Invocation to Benediction, with hearing His Word and receiving His Body and Blood in between.

And to show that this is no mere “me-and-Jesus” time, to show that each of us absolutely needs the gifts of Jesus in the Body of Christ—both the Word and the Sacrament—our Shepherd brings us home to the flock and calls for rejoicing together. “When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Not “alone-together,” but “together-together.” Not rugged individualism, but community rejoicing.

Now the truly joyous message is Jesus’ punchline after each of His two parables before us: “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” How do we live and grow in the grace and care of our Shepherd? By repentance. How do we conduct ourselves in the face of pandemic in the world, propaganda in the media, and pandemonium in the streets? With repentance. We repent of our doubts, of our fears, of our penchant to rely on human-defined notions of safety and security, of health and healing, over our Shepherd Himself. As Luther reminded us, the whole life of the Christian is one of repentance—one of living in sorrow for our sin and the ways we stray, one of relying on the Shepherd Himself to pick us up in mercy, place us on His shoulders and bring us home to His font, pulpit, and altar.

You see, we do have an adversary prowling around—the devil himself. And he constantly seeks to devour you and your brothers and sisters in Christ. He always seeks to divide and scatter the Lord’s flock. He will use anything and everything to maximize your anxiety and minimize your trust in Jesus—viruses old and new; pandemonium in the streets; ineffective, weak-kneed leaders; media bent on stirring up fear and panic; and toxic, vitriolic debates on social media. The list could go on. Yes, we renounced him and all his ways in our Baptism, but he still prowls around, and too often we allow ourselves to be deceived. Too often we allow him and what’s happening in the world to divert our eyes and our ears from our Shepherd.

It’s why Peter calls us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand—another way of saying live in repentance. It’s why Peter reminds us of Psalm 55: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you” (v. 22a). You may cast your anxieties—each and every one of them—on your Good Shepherd because He cares for you. He has laid down His life for you. He has conquered the lion, that old evil foe, for you. He has given you His resurrection life in your Baptism. He continues to sustain you through His Word put in your ears and His Body and Blood placed on your tongue.

And what about Jesus’ second parable? Just as the Shepherd searched for and found His lost sheep, a woman searched for and found her lost coin. Let’s take this woman as the Church, our mother in the faith. What is the Church’s task in this broken, fallen, chaotic world? She also searches and seeks after what is lost. She—that’s you, me, and all Christians—is called to find sinful people and bring them home to life with the Shepherd and in His flock. She kindles and carries the light who is Christ Jesus—the light that shines, warms and gives life through font, pulpit and altar.

What are we, the Church, to search for? The lost coin of the human soul fallen and defaced through sin. The analogy of the soul as a coin is marvelous. A coin bears the stamp of an image, usually an honored leader. Think of the image of George Washington on a quarter or Abraham Lincoln on a penny. What is the image stamped on your soul and the soul of your fellow human being? The image of God, of course, King of kings and Lord of lords. The problem is, ever since the Garden of Eden, that image has been defaced and erased, wrecked and ruined by sin. We can see it in ourselves. We can really see it in all the chaos of the world, especially in recent days and weeks. Humans acting and behaving less than human in matters of race; in rioting, looting and killing; and in efforts to critique, control, even condemn those who speak or or even think different points of view. The image of God in the soul has been defaced and demolished.

You and I and all in our Lord’s Church have a unique, precious, and life-restoring calling. Our Lord Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Through His Word and Sacraments He restores and re-etches His image on us. We are called to shine the light that is Christ into the dark, chaotic, fearful world and search for souls darkened by sin. Just as we are being transformed into the image of Christ through Baptism, Word, and Supper, we are privileged to seek out other lost souls and bring them home to our Savior, so that they too may bear the image of the Man of heaven.

So our Shepherd has overcome the roaring lion that leads you and your fellow human beings to live in fear. He picks us up and carries us home. He does not remove His sheep from His shoulders, and He seeks to carry every lost one home to eternal life with Him. Amen.

24 June 2020

Homily for Trinity 2 - 2020

The following homily was skillfully crafted and excellently delivered by Rev. Ahren Reiter (my favorite son-in-law!), the first homily he delivered after his ordination. Thank you, Ahren, for your permission to post it here.

"The Call Issues Forth"
Proverbs 9:1-10; Ephesians 2:13-23; Luke 14:15-24

Listen here.

One - Wisdom
Wisdom builds her house with care
Seven pillars strong, of stone
There she works to make a feast
Choicest meat and finest wine
“Come,” she bids from street and square
Sending forth her maidens fair
From Wisdom it’s spoken, the call issues forth

Up and down the paths they roam
Calling out from high, from low
“Turn aside and leave your ways
Lest you bring yourself to harm
Rush not headlong into danger”
Wisdom and her host implore
From rooftop, from mountain, the call issues forth

“Blessèd is the man who listens
Watching daily at my door
Finding me is finding life
Failing to results in death
Seek you favor from the Lord?
Hearken, then, unto my words”
To mankind, invited, the call issues forth

“Drink my proverbs, sweetest draughts
Tantalizing to the tongue
Eat my food, all which comprises
Words to satisfy the soul
Finest meat, my teachings rival
Pleasure lies in tasting, chewing.”
Wisdom’s feast is prepared; the call issues forth.

Notice, now, whom she addresses
“Let the simple come in here”
Not the proud, the mighty ones
Does she beckon to come near.
“Leave your simple ways and live
Walk in ways of understanding.”
To mankind, the simple, the call issues forth.

Wisdom starts with fearing God
Knowledge of the Holy One
Heed rebuke, don’t chide a mocker
Lest he hate you for your words
But wise men grow wiser still
When correction comes their way
To the humble in heart, the call issues forth

And what about you, Christian, what about you?

Do you scorn when words correct you?
Are you wise in your own eyes?
Have you courted grave disaster
Cherishing your wounded pride?
Are you quick to speak, not listen,
Gossip rolling off your tongue?
Then to you, dear sinner, the call issues forth.

Two - The Master
Likewise does the master call
Many to his banquet hall
Sends his servants far and wide
To proclaim the time has come
“Everything is ready now”
Hear the blessèd, summoned ones
To them, the invited, the call issues forth.

But as we know life impedes
We are busy people, we
One has real estate to see
Purchase prices are agreed
“Till the land and sow the seed
I’ve a family to feed.”
To unfertile soil, the call issues forth.

Yet another needs to try
Yokes of oxen numb’ring five
Thus he counters with a sigh
“They won’t work unless I drive”
“Please excuse me!” his reply
Stopping short the servant’s cry.
To stubborn-hearted beasts, the call issues forth.

Still one more says “I am married!
Just today to home I’ve carried
My new wife and we are wearied
I can’t come, for I am worried
Won’t my life become too harried?”
Thus the servant’s words are parried
To the heedless lovers, the call issues forth

And the servant now returning
Bears the awful news to home
Meets his master and reporting
Says “No invitations, none,
Found a home in any heart.
All have given up their part.”
To the unwilling guests, the call issues forth

And what about you, Christian, what about you?

Fire flashes in his eyes
As the master bellows out
“Go into the streets and alleys
Find the crippled, blind, and lame.
Invitations for the poor
These my banquet shall enjoy.”
To those dead to the world, the call issues forth

And what about you, Christian, what about you?

Do you find yourself drawn near
Crowding to the banquet hall?
Awkwardly you come to knock
See the door in disbelief?
How could such as I be brought
Wounded as I am within?
To us who’ve nothing left, the call issues forth

Three - Christ
Stuck are we, outside the door
Only righteousness goes in
Never could we hope to enter
Never taste the food within
Who will help us in our weakness?
Who will cleanse our hearts of sin?
“Lord, have mercy!” we cry.  The call issues forth

We dare not cry for justice
But rather beg for peace
Should God give what we deserve
Hell were ours to keep
Not a seat at Wisdom’s place
Nor the feast the master makes
“Kyrie eleison!”  The call issues forth

Notice how the master acts
Notice now, what Wisdom does
Turn your eyes to fix on Jesus
God incarnate, from above
How does he take up our cause?
How does he “identify”?
“Behold the Lamb of God!” the call issues forth

Jesus comes, takes up our cause
Jesus comes to set us free
Not renouncing “privilege”
Divine, imagined, otherwise
But in emptying himself
Taking up the flesh of man
“Today, a savior’s born,” the call issues forth

True God, he is, and true man
The champion at our side
The righteous one intercedes
The very Son comes to die!
He takes our place, he wins peace
He takes the curse; he steps in
“Why have you forsaken?” the cry issues forth

For He, Himself, is our peace
Safe within His arms we rest
Wrath of God shall not destroy us
Justice falls on Jesus’ head
Penalty that all men owe
Rests on one, that heavy blow
“It is finished,” He cries.  The call issues forth.

Jesus crushes in his flesh
All things which divide our race
Making from the two men one
(He) Lifts the humble, breaks our pride
Now no longer Jew and Greek
Neither are we black and white
To one new man, not two, the call issues forth

Four - Church
What does it take to make peace?
Where does justice find a home?
In a world where violence reigns
At a time when peoples groan?
Who can break down hostile walls?
Whence will come true unity?
Only from Christ’s body, the call issues forth

Christ himself as cornerstone
Of a building, new and great
Crafts His body, yes, the Church
By His Spirit calls us forth
Living stones th’apostles heed
One foundation with (the) prophets
Wisdom has built her house; the call issues forth

Inward then, we venture now
Once excluded, yet no more.
Strangers of the covenants
Now are children of the Lord.
Newborn in His promises,
Foreigners receive new life
“Join me in my banquet,” the call issues forth

So we leave our simple ways
In repentance new each day
Come to sit at Wisdom’s door
Where we learn to fear the Lord
Hearken as she speaks anew
From the altar to the pew
The Word of God speaks up; the call issues forth

Here we taste the Word of God
First with ear, and then with tongue
Drink its sweet, refreshing flavor
Chew upon it, fill our souls
Taste and see, the Lord is Good!
Smell forgiveness on your breath
His body to our mouths, the call issues forth

Justified, we rise, forgiven
Thankfulness our hearts doth fill
Glorious in jubilation
Souls at rest and conscience still
All renewed to serve the master
And once more our voices raise
In our hymns and praises, the call issues forth

Joining with the host of heav’n
Here we touch eternity
Sing our songs while exalting
God, the Lord, the Trinity
Praise the Father, Praise the Son
Praise the Spirit, three in one
Our voices to heaven, the call issues forth

Five - World
Strengthened, then, we venture out
Our vocations taking up
Fathers, mothers, wives and husbands
Parents, children, and the like
Yet, slaves or masters, none can be
More than Christ, who sets us free
“Take my yoke upon you,” the call issues forth

All disciples, new and old   
Follow in his footsteps now
We are called to greater things
Than our own desires bring
“In this world will suff’ring be.
It hates you for loving me.”
“Take up your cross, follow,” the call issues forth

Jesus’ way indeed is harder
None could take it, none would wish
Its involvement more demanding
Than “renouncing privilege”
Being like the master means
Emptying ourselves of all
“Learn from Jesus to die,” the call issues forth

Wisdom’s call, the master’s call,
The call of Christ, they bid us
To die to sin, to world, to self
Of things that would divide us.
For in His body Christ makes one
Sad Adam’s scattered race
He wrecks our inward-focused lives
Then dons our neighbor’s face
And Christ has overcome the world
Its power now is broken
Our sin, our pride, and Satan,
Have heard their death knell spoken
And death itself defeated
With all its rage and spite
Shies away its ugly head,
Destroyed by Jesus’ might.

Even wars and rumors of
Despot rulers in power
Sickness, disease, loss of love,
Famine, economic ruin
Naught can snatch us from His hand
Who upholds the world at will
Unconquered e’en by death, the call issues forth

Join together, then, one body
Grasping hands through time, through space
Listen to the words of Wisdom
Understand the prophets’ strains
Shout it at the master’s feast
“Alleluia, Christ is ris’n!”
As throughout eternity, the call issues forth

Now may the peace of our God
Passing all understanding
Guard your hearts and minds in faith
Holding tight to Jesus Christ
Till that day of his return
When he brings us to our home
When the final trumpet, the call issues forth.
Amen.

22 June 2020

Homily for Ordination of Rev. Ahren Reiter

On Sunday, June 14, 2020, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Rock Springs, Wyoming, it was my great  privilege to preach for the ordination of my "favorite (yes, only) son-in-law," Ahren Reiter. It was also a high honor to serve as officiant for the rite of ordination and thus be authorized to ordain him.


"Only Christ's Words"
2 Timothy 4:1-5



Dear saints at Trinity in Rock Springs, it’s a great honor to be here with you this day. I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in Christ at Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Missouri. Pastor Martin, thank you for your welcome to proclaim from your pulpit this afternoon. President Hill, it’s good to see you again and proclaim God’s Word once again in Wyoming. And Ahren, thank you for the honor of proclaiming our Lord Jesus at your ordination. For those who don’t know the connection here, Ahren is my favorite son-in-law.

Saints at Trinity, you have a high and distinct honor this afternoon. Not only is Ahren a son of your congregation—baptized and confirmed at this altar—but now you get to speak for the whole Church and to the whole Church. First, by your ministry of the Gospel and Sacraments, Ahren was given new birth into Christ and joined to Him in His death and resurrection. Then you taught him the Christian faith and confirmed his confession of Jesus. You have also supported him through his seminary studies. When we are done here today, you will testify to and for the whole Church that Ahren has been set apart and put under orders to serve the Lord in the Office of the Holy Ministry. It’s a high honor, even as he moves on to serve the saints in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Now you can tell, Ahren has learned a lot of great things at the seminary—even what Scripture readings to choose for an ordination. The readings we’ve heard point out the what of the pastoral office—what a pastor is called to do. Isaiah 40 reminds us of the “herald of good news” who proclaims the Lord God as the true Shepherd who gathers and leads His flock. Always remember that, Ahren. It’s His flock, not yours. You are but the herald, the ambassador, the mouth-piece. You may speak only what He bids you to speak.

In Psalm 119 we prayed the perfect prayer of a pastor: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes.” Yes, Ahren, the seminary has taught you a lot! But that’s only the beginning. After all, the word “seminary” means “seed-bed.” The seeds have been planted, but the learning and growing must continue the rest of your life—the Lord helping you through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 10 speaks of preachers who are sent…and their beautiful feet. I’m not sure how beautiful a runner’s feet can really be, but Ahren you are being sent to speak Christ’s words—and only Christ’s words—so that those who hear the Word of Christ may receive the gift of faith.

And in Luke 24, our Lord Jesus gives the beating heart of the pastor’s work: Himself—that is, Jesus, not the pastor. What’s the Bible all about? Jesus. What’s the Church all about? Proclaiming the Christ who suffered, died on a cross and on the third day rose again from the dead. To what end? “That repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.” Ahren, the “nation”—or place—your Lord wants you to do that is called Lawton. All of this is what you are called to do.

But that’s not all that Ahren has learned at the seminary. Evidently, he also learned to make his love of Greek rub off onto his 15 month old daughter! Dada can say, “Peripatei,” and Elinor knows to walk. He can say, “Stethi,” and she’ll stand still. When he commands, “Kraxon,” he might just hear an “Aaaah!” (Though she needs to work on that shout a bit. ;-) And when he says, “Siga,” she knows to be silent.

I know, you who are not pastor types are wondering, “Um, what about simple English?” I assure you, that is the first language. (But, Ahren, I get it. Just ask your wife about the Greek New Testament I gave her. ;-)

It’s one thing to know the what of the pastoral office; it’s something else—and something equally essential—to know the how of the pastoral office. How will you, Ahren, herald God’s good news? How will you proclaim Christ crucified and risen so that repentance for the forgiveness of is lived and loved? St. Paul helps us pastor types when he writes to young Pastor Timothy. Listen to 2 Timothy 4:1-5…in simple English for all of us:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For 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. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Now, for you pastor types, and especially for you Ahren, our “Dada” in the faith, St. Paul, does give us some Greek commands for how to serve as pastors.

κήρυξον (keryxon)—Preach, as in “preach the Word,” or be the messenger. Not of your hopes, dreams, opinions, political philosophies, economic theories, etc. You are called to herald and announce what God gives you to speak—His life-giving, sin-forgiving good news in Christ. “Preach you the Word and plant it home, to men who like or like it not.”

ἐπίστηθι (epistethi)—Much as Elinor stands still at the word στηθι (stethi), you are to stand still and stand ready at all times—“in season and out of season,” as Paul says—when times are good and opportune and when they are not so opportune, even when they are vexing or troubling. It’s sort of like the harpooner on the whale boat. Others may be strenuously rowing and manning the boat, but the harpooner has to be ready at all times to do his thing, throw the harpoon. Thus he must focus and be prepared.

Now for the “fun” ones: ἔλεγξον (elengxon)—reprove, and ἐπιτίμησον (epitimeson)—command or rebuke. Now no one likes a bossy pastor, but sometimes the pastor must be firm. Sometimes he has to cross-examine a sinner to reveal what or whom that sinner is trusting other than the true Savior God. Sometimes he has to imitate the doctor and poke right where the pain is most intense. That way Jesus can bring the healing of His blood-bought forgiveness. That’s reproving—cross-examining or questioning. The rebuking word—ἐπιτίμησον—is most curious. At its root it means “lay a value upon” or “show honor to.” How is rebuking related to showing honor or value? That person, that group, that congregation you may have to rebuke and correct are most valuable to our Lord Jesus. After all, He shed His blood for them; they have been bought with a price.

Next “Dada” Paul says, παρακάλεσον (parakaleson). When you hear that, you get to do all sorts of good things. You get to beg, urge, and exhort; you get to speak words of encouragement—not just any words, but Jesus’ words, of course; you get to console, comfort and cheer up; even invite and summon. This is why your study of God’s Word and the true confession of the faith must never end. It’s only “through the encouragement of the Scriptures” that “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). You search the Scriptures, and you teach your people to search the Scriptures, because those Scriptures do bear witness about Jesus and thus give eternal life (cf. John 5:39).

Now, you need to know, Ahren, that this will not be easy. Like a toddler learning to peripatei, it’s all we pastor types can do just to totter and wobble along, shaky and unsteady. We may even stumble and do a face-plant or two into the dirt. As Paul reminds us, people don’t always like sound teaching. Their ears itch for messages more pleasing to their fallen nature. That itch and that fallen nature also dwell in you. So I pray that you ever and always live at the receiving end of our Lord’s cross-won forgiveness for you. The Messiah and message you are privileged to proclaim is also for you. After all, we pastor types are not at all sufficient in ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God through His Son and in His Spirit. As our Lord told Paul, He also tells you: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

And so “Dada” Paul puts just a few more Greek commands before you. As for you, νῆφε (nephe)—be sober-minded and self-controlled—in everything. It’s Jesus’ Church and Jesus’ ministry; He takes care of you and the people you serve. κακοπάθησον (kakopatheson)—suffer the “caca”; that is, endure the crosses even as your Lord endured His cross for you and your flock. ἔργον ποίησον (ergon poieson)—do the work you are given to do, the work of “evangelist,” the work of God’s speaker of Good News. And finally, πληροφόρησον plerophoreson)—carry out fully this service which you are undertaking today and when you are installed in Lawton. This is the how of the office you about to undertake.

Dr. Norman Nagel once wrote, “Clergy are worth only what they have been put into the office for: not their own words, but Christ’s” (Lutheran Theological Journal, 30; Dec. 1996). Ahren, this is the office and the life-long work which you enter today. It’s both a high calling and a sacrificial labor of love as you use your mouth to speak only Christ’s words and works. Amen.

Left to right: Rev. James Martin (Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Rock Springs, WY), Rev. John Hill (President, Wyoming District, LCMS), Rev. Ahren Reiter, Rev. Jonathan Lange (Pastor, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Evanston, WY), Rev. Randy Asburry (Pastor, Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO)

07 June 2020

Homily for The Holy Trinity - 2020

"Mystery of Life"
Isaiah 6:1-7; Romans 11:33-36; John 3:1-17

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Today we celebrate a mystery. It’s a mystery we can never comprehend, never understand, never wrap our minds around. It’s no mere philosophical idea, notion, or concept. This mystery is a doctrine—a life-bestowing, life-sustaining teaching. This mystery is truth itself. We can only believe it, trust it and rely on it. And as we do that, our lives actually take on more meaning and make more sense. The more you ponder the Holy Trinity, the better you know yourself, other people, and the world around you. Your whole life—the life of every Christian—begins and ends with the Holy Trinity.

Let’s begin with Isaiah in our first reading. About 740 years before Christ, powerful King Uzziah died. Uzziah, also called Azariah, had reigned 52 years in Judah, and “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kgs. 15:3). He was not a perfect king, but he was a good king. Just imagine the uncertainty when he died. Who would become the next king? Would he be a good king or not? So the Triune God gave Isaiah a vision of Himself sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, wearing a royal robe. His honor guard of six-winged seraphim were flanking Him and singing His praises: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Three holies for three Persons of the one Godhead.

What did God want Isaiah to take away into his everyday life of serving as prophet? Two things. First, even though King Uzziah had died, Father, Son and Holy Spirit still sat on the highest throne. Human rulers come and go, but God always reigns. Isaiah’s second takeaway was that he was a sinner among a race sinners. “Woe is me!” he cried, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Seeing the true God and being in His presence will do that to you every time. Even as he was being called and ordained to serve as God’s spokesman, Isaiah learned to live on the receiving end of God’s purging and forgiving. Don’t we all—every human being, regardless of age, genealogy or skin color.

Next let’s go to St. Paul as he writes to Christians in Rome. He has taught that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:18). God’s wrath and judgment for all sin of all shapes, sizes and colors is completely justified. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10-11), Paul proclaims. Yet, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is merciful. Even though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” by His deep wisdom and unsearchable ways all “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). This peace with God gets applied to you and me in our Baptism into Christ. We see that happening yet again today with little Caroline Grace. Now we get to be slaves to God, not ourselves. Now we have life in the Holy Spirit. Now nothing can separate us from the Trinity’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Now we see that God Himself—the truest community of Persons living together in pure love—overcomes the divides between peoples. In Paul’s day, it was the divide between Jew and Gentile. In our day, well, we desperately need the Triune God, don’t we?

For all this St. Paul leads us in singing a doxology, a hymn of praise, to the Holy Trinity. His riches, wisdom and knowledge in rescuing us from sin and death are so deep. His ways and judgments of recreating us and making us His children are beyond our puny mental powers. Who can teach Him a thing or two or sit in judgment of Him? Who can ever repay Him for His undeserved mercy and goodness? “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Three prepositions—from, through, and to—echo three Persons of the Trinity. They also tell us that God—our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier—is the source, the means, and the goal of everything in life.

Now we come to Nicodemus and his late night meeting with Jesus. And we can relate with his confusion. How does all of this work? How can this Man—Jesus—also be God? What does He mean by “born again” or “born from above”? How can life have meaning in this fallen, broken, sick, chaotic world?

Jesus teaches Nicodemus by pointing him to the Holy Trinity. Life with God the Father comes only by being born again. That new birth happens, not by re-entering a womb, but by being washed “of water and the [Holy] Spirit.” Thank you, Caroline Grace, for being our latest reminder and role model in this! And where does God the Son fit into this gift of life with God in His kingdom? “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

All of this is the mystery we ponder—the mystery of life, the grace we acknowledge, and the true faith we confess. Your whole life and my whole life—indeed the whole life of every Christian—begins and ends with the Holy Trinity. And God wants it to be so with every human being. The Father is not more God than the Son, and the Son is not more God than the Holy Spirit. Neither is any one of them less God than the other two. “Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit” (Athanasian Creed).

All three Persons in one divine Being wants only one thing: you, me, every Christian—indeed every human being—in loving, living relationship with Him and one another, both now and into eternity. That relationship takes place by the purging of sin in repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ shed blood. Remember that you are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Remember that you are absolved in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And when you are placed into the ground, it will be God the Father, who created your body; God the Son, who by His blood redeemed your body; and God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified your body to be His temple, who will keep you until the Day of Resurrection.

This glorious, gracious mystery helps us make sense of—and even bring hope to—what we now endure. Just as we’ve been confronted with a coronavirus, now we are assaulted by a revolting, senseless killing and by violent, chaotic riots, looting and more killing. Obviously, all of the anger and killing go against God’s Fifth Commandment. We humans should protect life, not snuff it out. Yes, all lives matter. That’s not a political statement; it’s God’s truth. And all of the looting and damaging of property, of course, goes against God’s Seventh Commandment. We humans should protect our neighbor’s possessions, not just destroy, snatch and grab them as ours.

Perhaps the greatest hope and help the Trinity gives at this time is on the matter of “racism”—this highly charged issue that keeps dogging our society and us who live in it. Yes, racism of any shape, size or color is wrong and sinful. Here’s where the Trinity’s truth gives help and hope.

Did you know there are not many different races based on skin color? Yes, there are different people groups—what the Bible calls “peoples and tribes and languages and nations” (Rev. 11:9). Yes, there are differences in appearances—skin colors and eye shapes—to be sure. Do you want to know how different you are from someone who looks different than you in skin color or eye shape? According to one surgeon in Manhattan, the percentage of your genes that determines your appearance—and your neighbor’s appearance—is about 0.01%. [See here.] All of our talk and strife about “race” and “racism” is over 0.01% of our genetic code given by God. He’s the One who determines, in His deep wisdom, what each of us looks like. Do you know that means? It means that in the other 99.99% of our genetic code, you and I are the same as anyone and everyone with different skin colors or eye shapes or other outward traits.

It means there is only one race—the human race. After all, we all descend from one man, Adam, and his wife Eve. “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Just as God is three Persons in one Godhead and one God in three Persons, so also various people groups are one human race and one human race in various people groups.

The greatest news and the greatest hope of all is this: “God [thus] loved the world—every individual human being and every people group of the one human race—that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This Jesus—the Son of God and descendant of Adam—has come to bring peace, reconciliation, and healing by His death on a cross and His glorious resurrection. It’s the work of the Holy Trinity. It’s the mystery of life for you and for everyone so unsettled and upset at this time. Amen.

01 June 2020

Homily for the Day of Pentecost - 2020

"Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled"
John 14:23-31

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Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. Five full months into the year 2020, fear has come to be our friend; panic has become our companion. I’m not referring only to the current pandemic. It’s just the most recent proof positive. Since hindsight is 20/20, let’s quickly look back over the past 20 years.

Who remembers good old “Y2K”? The fear was that as the year 1999 turned into the year 2000, at the very stroke of midnight, all manner of chaos would erupt. Why? Many feared—and the media hyped the fear—that time-keeping and computing devices around the world would not be able to turn all four digits from 1999 to 2000. Yet, here we are—20 years later, still alive and kicking.

Who can forget September 11, 2001? We who lived through it remember where we were and the fear we felt that day terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. We were under attack on our own soil! People rushed to stock up on groceries for their cupboards and put gas in their cars. The stock market took a nosedive. We would be going to war. We were very afraid for a time!

Soon after that, there was that little white powder scare. Remember Anthrax? Envelopes containing a contagious white powder thought to be a biological weapon were sent to certain government leaders. Soon after that we all were fearful of what might arrive in our own mail boxes. Could that letter or bill be deadly? And then the plastic and the duct tape. Government leaders spoke often of how easily weaponized pathogens can spread through the air. So we were advised to seal up our windows with that plastic and duct tape.

In 2007-08, we endured the “Great Recession.” Fears abounded over the subprime mortgage crisis, the falling stock market, bailouts of banks and companies “too big to fail,” and what would happen to our own retirement investments.

The SARS epidemic sparked fears in 2002-2004. The MERS epidemic struck around 2012-2015. In 2014 we in St. Louis endured—and feared—the mess in Ferguson. We can certainly relate to what’s happened in Minneapolis, and we’re even joining in—fearful of injustice and fearful of needless destruction at the same time.

As a society and as individuals living in this society—even as blood-bought sinners redeemed by Jesus who live in this society—fear has become our familiar friend and panic our constant companion. The media either thrives on our fears or stirs our fears or—most likely—both. What does it do to us mentally, emotionally and spiritually when we keep hearing, over and over again, at least every commercial break, phrases such as “uncertain times,” “unprecedented times,” or “new normal”?

And I had to chuckle when I came across a couple of headlines this past week. No, these were not in the Babylon Bee or some other satire site; they’re from actual news sites. One headline said: “Half of Americans fear [Notice that?] they won’t get their pre-coronavirus body back, survey shows.” Evidently, with gyms closed, it’s not so easy to burn off all of the junk food, alcohol, and other carbohydrates we’re turning to these days. The other headline said: “Monkeys attack lab worker, steal COVID-19 samples as 2020 continues to use critters to try to kill us all.” Evidently, the lockdowns in India have emboldened the monkeys to take charge in Planet of the Apes style.

Fear has become our familiar friend. But he’s not a healthy friend. It’s a rather toxic relationship. It might even be something like Stockholm syndrome. That’s when a captive develops emotional and psychological bonds with and for their captor. The victim may even defend the captor.

But if we keep fear as our friend, we’re also likely to welcome pride as another close buddy. It’s what happened at the Tower of Babel. We usually focus on their pride of making a name for themselves. But what laid the foundation for that pride? What sparked the fire of that pride? Look behind the pride, and you can see fear calling the shots. They were afraid they would be nobodies, irrelevant, even forgotten. Our friendship with fear leads us to rely on ourselves to fix our fearful circumstances.

What does all of this have to do with Pentecost Day and the coming of the Holy Spirit? Did you hear what your Lord Jesus said as He promised to send the Helper, the Holy Spirit? Did His words get into your ears, your mind and your heart, or has fear plugged your ears and numbed your heart and mind? Listen again. After all, it’s your Lord Jesus talking—no camera, no microphone, no viral tweet or video. But His words have endured the test of time. His words bring solace to troubled souls. What did He say? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

When your Lord tells you, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” He’s saying, “Don’t let all those other things disturb you, upset you, terrify you, or frighten you.” This verb for “be troubled” gives the picture of a body of water being stirred up. The sediment and dirt at the bottom gunk up the water and take away its clarity. And when Jesus says, “…neither let them be afraid,” He’s using a unique word for “be afraid.” We could also render it: “Neither let your hearts be cowardly or timid.”

You see, Jesus can say these things because He has lived life in your flesh and walked in your shoes in this fallen world. He knows the multitudes of things that bring fear, from plagues to terrorist attacks to riots to aggressive monkeys. And He has suffered, bled, and died to overcome the fears, to conquer the cowardice, and to clear up the water of your heart and soul. His resurrection proves that death itself has been trampled down. So what are all those other things that stir us up or make us tremble inside? They cannot take away Jesus’ victory over sin and death; they cannot take away Jesus’ peace.

It was the night before He would go to the cross when Jesus told His fearful disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” His cross and resurrection would bring them peace. They also bring you peace, as long as you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. He is your true friend who loves you and has laid down His life for you. When you make fear your friend, you will only be abused over and over again. But Jesus is your true Friend who gives healing and peace—peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within when the world rages.

And your best Friend, Jesus, gives you another Helper: the Spirit of truth. This Third Person of the Trinity who appeared in tongues of fire and enabled Gospel preaching on the first Pentecost comes to dwell with you and be in you. He comes to teach you the things of Jesus, not the things of fear. He comes to comfort and sustain and give courage. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). He is “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might” (Is. 11:2).

Just as He rested on Jesus, coming down on Him in His Baptism, so He rests on you through your Baptism into Christ. Just as He sustained and nourished Jesus in the wilderness, so He sustains and nourishes you in the wilderness of this fallen, sick, riotous world—especially as you hear the words of Jesus and feast on His Body and  Blood.

Let the Holy Spirit remind you of something Jesus said. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Then couple that with something Jesus says throughout His written word: “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Saved not only from pandemics and riots and other frightful things; but saved from fear itself. After all, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), and “this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Amen.

26 May 2020

Homily for Easter 7 (Exaudi) - 2020

"The Spirit, Your Comforter"
John 15:26-16:4

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We come to the end of the “week of Sundays.” It’s now the seventh week of celebrating the joys of Christ’s victory over the grave, over every deadly thing that separates us from our God who loves us. We’ve been enjoying the life that He gives as He restores us to life with God. But now we need comfort, just as the disciples did.

Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading come from the night before He would die. He told His disciples that He must leave them. He said that where He was about to go, they could not follow. Jesus leave them? What were they supposed to do? How would they carry on without Him? Since we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension on Thursday, we might be tempted to think and feel that Jesus has left us too. But Jesus promised: “When the Helper/Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Just as Jesus comforted His disciples with the promised Holy Spirit, He also comforts you by sending His Spirit.

My, how we need comfort these days! Not just “some comfort”—A LOT of comfort! Reports of Christians being persecuted in far off lands continue to confront us—and rightly so. After all, our brothers and sisters in Christ are teaching us to remain faithful even in the midst of suffering. In our own land, we Christians are seen more and more as the problem to be remedied and the enemy to be vanquished. And certain governors are going out of their way to make sure churches stay closed at this time. The hour is coming, and is now here, when many think ostracizing and marginalizing Christians is actually offering service to God. Well, not to the true God, but it is offering service—praise and worship—to false gods such as immediate gratification, self-chosen pleasures, and raw power grabs. As Jesus warns: “they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”

Jesus does not tell us these things to frighten us or to lead us to anxious hand-wringing. No, Jesus says “all these things to keep you from falling away.” After all, He said, if they hated Him, they’ll hate His Christians. If they persecuted Him, they’ll also persecute His Christians. If they executed Him, they’ll also execute His Christians. And, no, I don’t mention these things to frighten you or lead you to anxious hand-wringing either. This is all about how our Lord would comfort us. Peter said it well as he echoed our Lord: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14). It’s all about how our Lord comforts us with His Spirit—“the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”

When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He was preparing them for that little “in-between time”—that time when He would leave them to go the cross. But He would return to them in the resurrection on the third day. And then He would leave them again—for “a little while”—when He would ascend to God’s right hand. And with those first twelve disciples, we’re still in that “in-between time” after our Lord ascended and before He comes again. The difference is, we have the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. His cross and His shed blood forgive all our doubts and apprehensions. His victory over the grave gives us confidence and hope and comfort.

That comfort comes not in the form of a cozy, warm blanket that you put on your bed. It does not feel like a comfy chair in which you relax to watch TV. It does not taste like “comfort food,” whether chocolate or something called “Southern Comfort.” No, the comfort that Jesus gives is very mighty and very fortifying. “When the [Comforter] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”

Our word “comfort” comes from two Latin words. When spliced together those two Latin words literally mean “strengthen together” or “fortify together.” Instead of cozy warm blankets or soothing chocolates that melt in your mouth, think body builder’s muscle. Or, better yet, think of a towering castle wall, as in “a mighty fortress.” Our Lord’s “comfort” comes through His Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

How does the Spirit of Truth, the divine Comforter—the divine Fortifier—strengthen you together as Jesus’ disciples? He bears witness about Jesus. He teaches you all things that Jesus has said and brings to your remembrance all that He has done for you. He gives you the peace of sins forgiven that the world cannot give (John 14:26-27). He convicts you and the world of sin. He convinces you that Jesus has come from the Father, has won your salvation, and has returned to the Father. And He convinces you that the ruler of this world—the old evil foe himself—has been judged and awaits his sentence (John 16:8-11). That’s what strengthens, fortifies, and gives comfort.

The Holy Spirit helps and comforts you by fortifying you, by nourishing you, by transforming you, and by renewing your strength. In your Baptism, you have received new life by being joined to Christ in His death and resurrection. You have been reborn, born anew into life with God. In your Baptism, your Lord says to you: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezek. 36:25).

But you cannot live that new life without constant care or sustenance. Just as no infant can rely upon himself/herself to survive, no child of God can rely upon himself/herself. The Holy Spirit comes to give you the love, nurture and food of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but He also protects you from things you may not know or understand. Not only do you need protection from the obvious problems in life, but you also need protection from the spiritual assaults that you cannot see coming. So the Holy Spirit feeds and nourishes you, protects and defends you as God’s holy and dearly loved children. He gives you a new heart. He puts a new spirit within you. He removes your heart of stone, and He gives you a heart of flesh—flesh that lives with God and from His Word.

The Holy Spirit feeds and protects you in ways that you cannot see but can only believe. When the Holy Spirit feeds you on Holy Communion, you cannot see that you are actually receiving Christ’s life-giving Body and Blood. But you believe His words, and so you receive the nourishment and immortality that the Spirit gives there. When the Holy Spirit protects you with the word of forgiveness, you cannot see Jesus speaking that word to you. Yet you believe that the pastor’s forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, and thus you receive the Spirit’s defense and protection given there.

Our Lord Jesus says, “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” This testifying does not take place in a courtroom, nor in a congressional hearing, nor in a baseball stadium or a movie theater. It takes place right here, in the Church, right here where the Gospel and Sacraments are delivered to you. This is what makes being in church in-person essential for every Christian. Here you have the Spirit’s comforting, strengthening, fortifying testimony. No, He does not necessarily give you a warm fuzzy in your bosom. But He does testify that you have received and still receive the life of your Lord Jesus. He does testify that Jesus’ life shapes you and renews you in the life that you have from birth. And by this testimony, the Spirit feeds and fortifies the Lord’s life in you so that you may continue to grow and mature until the day when your renewal is complete.

Just as Jesus comforted His disciples with the promised Holy Spirit, He also comforts you by sending His Spirit. With the Holy Spirit not only working for you, but also working in you, you can be bold and say with sure and certain confidence: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1). Amen.

22 May 2020

Homily for Ascension Day - 2020

"Ascended for Our Healing"
Luke 24:44-53

Listen here.

How good, Lord, to be here! How good to see you here too!

What a sacred season this has been! The last time most of us were together here was the middle of Lent. We were still building up to the dramatic climax of Holy Week. Then along came Coronavirus and COVID-19. Our governing and medical authorities advised us to stay home, stay apart, not gather, wash hands and so forth. Out of love for our vulnerable neighbors, and with godly submission to our governing authorities, we willingly did so. Then the authorities chose to force the issue by declaring states of emergency and ordering us to be locked down. Thankfully, we could still proclaim God’s Word by other media. But still, it wasn’t as it should be.

So as a gathered congregation we missed the rising tensions between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day. We missed His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We missed receiving His Body and Blood on the night when He was betrayed. We missed His bloody battle on the cross and His cosmic victory over death and devil. We missed holding vigil and joyfully ringing in His glorious resurrection. And we’ve missed gathering together these past weeks to revel in His resurrection.

It’s almost like sitting down to watch a favorite movie—for the 100th time. You know the story and you love the story. You’re enjoying the story. Then the drowsiness creeps in and you doze off just before the climactic, most important part. As you snooze, the story moves along. Then suddenly you wake up. The music is triumphant. Peace is restored. All is well once again. Yes, you missed the best, climactic part of the story, but you know the story well enough and the denouement—the final resolution—still brings great joy.

This is where we are now—the denouement, the final resolution. “See, the Lord ascends in triumph; / Conqu’ring King in royal state, / Riding on the clouds, His chariot, / To His heav’nly palace gate” (LSB 491:1).

Our Lord’s ascension really does put everything else in perspective. Before He was lifted up and hidden by the cloud, Jesus put all things in perspective for His eleven disciples. Everything written about Him in Moses’ Law, in the Prophets and in the Psalms—in all of the Old Testament Scriptures—must be fulfilled. Everything we read and hear from Genesis through Malachi points us to Jesus. The creation shows us God’s eternal will and plan—perfect life with Him. We humans fell into sin, brought death into the world, and spoiled God’s creation. But God promised to set things right. He chose a people through Abraham. He rescued His people from slavery and led them into the Promised Land. He even elevated a king named David to point us to our true, eternal King. The prophets proclaimed repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The psalms sang of Christ and His works of salvation. Through it all, our God was working to return His human creatures to His perfect Eden.

And He still is. Moses’ Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, and especially the New Testament still point us to Christ Jesus, our true King. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.”  As St. Paul proclaimed, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”  (Eph. 1:7). This is what makes Jesus our King of kings, our Lord of lords, and our highest authority above all authorities. After all, now that Jesus has ascended, He is far above all rule and authority and dominion. All things are put under His feet and He rules all things for the good of His Church.

This puts all things in perspective. Even pandemics. Even lock downs. Even the fears and uncertainties of our time. When Jesus ascended, He gave His apostles and His Church a singular mission: “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” How has your ascended Lord led you in repentance for the forgiveness of sins these past few weeks?

What or whom have you feared, loved or trusted above God Himself? That tiny microscopic virus with the crowned spikes has been causing a lot of fear. Even the omnipresent pictures on TV and the Internet look frightful. Pictures and news stories of those infected and badly suffering are most unsettling. Now simple handshakes, coughs and sneezes set off the fear response. We’re practically in fight-or-flight mode whenever we encounter another human being outside our own home. We have been trusting the authorities to keep us safe and the media to keep us well-informed, despite the ever-changing and often-conflicting information. We fallen human beings have been trusting ourselves to overcome both the pandemic and the now shattered economy.

As I’ve said before, times like this are God’s way of tapping us on the shoulder, getting our attention, turning us toward Him and saying, “Hey, I’m still here. I’m still in charge. And I still want you to fear, love and trust Me above all things.” For this, we can actually appreciate this pandemic and all its fallout. Some speak of their new found appreciation for family time during the lock down. Some speak of cooking meals rather than dining out. Others find other blessings. These can be good things. The greater “blessing” of a time like this, though, is being drawn back to our true King and Lord. God always seeks to dislodge us from our misplaced fear, love and trust. If only we got as worked up about our infection of sin as we have about COVID-19! At least most people recover from COVID-19—one source says about 85% recover, other sources say up to 98%. But none of us can recover from our disease of sin and being separated from God.

Our ascended Savior is our loving Lord who says, “There is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal” (Dt. 32:39). And heal He does. He, the Son of God, took on our frail human nature. Though He Himself had no sin, He was made sin “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Our Lord’s death on a Friday and resurrection on the third day is the only perfect healing medicine for all time. “With His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). It’s the only medicine for what truly infects each and every human being of every time and place.

So when Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand, He showed that all is fulfilled and completed, all is well between us and God, even in this broken world. With our Lord ascended in triumph and crowned in glory, we need not fear, love or trust anyone or anything else for our ultimate health and well-being. One commentator explained the significance of this day this way: “Christ’s ascension confers divine honors upon us” (Parsch, III:164). Neither pandemic nor social, cultural disruption can change that.

In a very short time we will break our Eucharistic fast. As we rejoice in being together once again, let’s rejoice even more in what brings us together—our ascended Lord who now comes to us in His very Body and Blood. It’s much more than a community meal. It’s the genuine “medicine of immortality.” And pay close attention to the Proper Preface—the prayer—leading up to our Lord’s sacred Meal. What was the purpose of our Lord’s life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension? What is the fruit and benefit of His Holy Supper? “That He might make us partakers of His divine life.”

When you, by His grace and His working, partake of His divine life, you have forgiveness for your fears. You have life in this world of death. You have rescue and healing from the sin that infects.

What a great day to do what the disciples did. As Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” they worshiped Him with great joy. And they were continually in the temple blessing God. What a great day to return to this place of worship and joy. Blessed by our ascended Lord, we bless Him in return. Amen.

19 May 2020

Homily for Easter 6 (Rogate) - 2020

Ask, and You Will Receive
John 16:23-33

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Next to preaching the Word, the greatest devotion Christians can render to God is to pray” (Luther, HP 2:104). That’s Martin Luther, preaching on “Pray! Sunday” in 1534. It’s both our duty and our privilege to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord who restores heaven and earth by His dying and rising, the Lord who even now governs all things in heaven and earth for our good. This is the same Lord of heaven and earth who graciously invites you and all His followers: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

And if there were ever a perfect time to focus on prayer, it’s right now. I don’t say that simply because of this current pandemic of sickness, fear and death. That’s  certainly good motivation for prayer, to be sure. No, this is the perfect time to focus on prayer because, now that we are forced to stay home, we actually have time for prayer. How often haven’t each of us heard and even said, “I just don’t have time to pray”? Well, our Lord has graciously taken away that excuse. So, turn off Netflix, sign out of YouTube and Facebook, and put time—or times—for prayer on your wide open daily schedule. And then keep those appointments with God, both now and even after you get to go back to work. Luther also offered this ground-level starting point for prayer: “At least pray in the morning when you arise from sleep, at table, and as you finish eating, and again in the evening when you go to bed, saying, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,’ and so on” (HP 2:106).

You see, your Lord Jesus gives you a most winsome invitation to prayer. “If you love Me,” Jesus says, “you can be certain that My Father also loves you.” “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” Not only that, but the Father loves you so much that He will certainly hear your prayer. It’s the natural fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection—that you may pray just as He prays.

God’s Word also reminds us that it’s our duty, even our responsibility, as Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). If you cannot do so aloud, you can at least do so silently. Every moment our hearts should be expressing the desire that God’s name be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done; also that He would grant all we need for the support and needs of the body, for our forgiveness, for our protection in temptation and for our deliverance from evil.

But with the silent prayer of the heart, do not neglect your oral, spoken prayers. Now, you do not need to be brilliantly eloquent or a smooth craftsman of words. Often the simple words and short sentences are the best prayers. Your Father hears and understands all of them. Besides, the point is not to be a perfect “pray-er,” but always to call upon your Lord in the day of trouble—that is, every day—that He may deliver you and you may glorify Him (Ps. 50:15). When you have faith in Christ, you are perfectly prepared to open your mouth as a genuine priest. You may joyfully petition Him for things important and needful for yourself and other Christians.

So it’s most helpful to have something in mind for which to pray. How do you know what is important and needful? Just remember, we live in this “valley of sorrow” where there is no lack of sin and trouble. Also remember Peter’s warning: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He will do anything and everything to divert you from clinging to God and calling upon God. And if you really cannot come up with any need for which to pray, simply turn to the Lord’s Prayer. In seven short petitions, your Lord who loves you brings your true needs to mind and even puts words into your mouth.

In the first petition—Hallowed be Thy name—we pray for the sweet Gospel and for all faithful pastors, that His Word may be taught truly and purely and that we may lead holy lives according to it. We also pray against all heresy, false teaching and non-Christian religions, that we may be protected from them.

In the second petition—Thy kingdom come—we pray that, by the Holy Spirit, God’s kingdom of grace may come to us and be established among us. We also pray that our Lord would thwart and bring to naught all that death and the devil foist upon us.

In the third petition—Thy will be done—we pray our Lord to break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world and our sinful nature, and also to strengthen us and keep us firm in His good and gracious will.

In the fourth petition—Give us this day our daily bread—we pray for a laundry list of things! “Everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” One of those things is good government—praying “for kings and all who are in high positions.” And in light of this pandemic and its fall out, boy, do our leaders need our prayers! Fallible human beings making decisions that affect so many other fallible human beings. Some make good decisions and serve well; others show themselves to be quite power-hungry. Also, if you listen to them carefully, no longer are they saying, “In God we trust”; now they’re telling us, “In science we trust.” (Now, true science is not bad at all, but it cannot replace God.) We need to pray for them, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” in the freedom of the Gospel.

In the fifth petition—Forgive us our trespasses—we pray that our Lord would be gracious to us, turn away His wrath, which we truly deserve, and deal with us purely by His grace in Jesus. We also pray Him to make us forgiving toward our neighbor and gladly do good to them. Boy, is that needed right now as so many neighbors are so worked up with anxiety and fear.

In the sixth petition—Lead us not into temptation—we ask our Lord to come rushing to our aid when we face temptation and trial, guarding and keeping us from the prowling adversary. In this fallen world we may have tribulation, but in our Lord Jesus we have peace. We can take heart because He has overcome the adversary and the world along with everything they try to throw at us.

And in the seventh petition—Deliver us from evil—we wrap it all up with a beautiful bow. We pray for that blessed and glorious time when our Lord, by His grace, will deliver us from all that ails us in this valley of sorrow with its viruses, anxieties, and injustices. Then we will behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Then we will dwell with God and He with us. Then He will wipe away our every tear and death shall be no more.

So we have plenty of needs to lead us to pray without ceasing. And we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. What does this mean? First, we must confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. We deserve nothing, yet He graciously bestows everything. Second, we pray with His invitation and authorization. “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name,” Jesus promises, “He will give it to you.” It sounds like a blank check with Jesus’ signature, written in blood, on the bottom line. And it is. But not for every silly thing you may want, rather for every beneficial thing Jesus promises. As C. S. Lewis once quipped: “If God had granted all the silly prayers I’ve made in my life, where should I be now?” (Letters to Malcolm, ch. 5, para. 16).

When we pray, we are doing what God through Moses told the Israelites to do in the wilderness. As they wandered in the wilderness, they became victims of their own fears and anxieties. They complained about their circumstances. So God sent the fiery serpents to bring them back to repentance and humility. And the cure for them is the same cure for us. They were asked to look upon a bronze serpent on a pole. We get to look at a Savior crucified on a cross and risen from the grave. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (Jn. 3:14-15).

There’s your real motivation to pray. You may ask your Lord, and you will receive, and your joy will be full. After all, He has overcome the world to show you and give you the Father’s love. Amen.

15 May 2020

Pastoral Letter - Resuming Public Worship

PASTORAL LETTER
RESUMING PUBLIC WORSHIP
Thursday of Easter 5
May 14, 2020

Dear saints in Christ at Hope,

“LET US GO TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD!” (Psalm 122:1)

With great joy I can now announce that we at Hope will resume public, in-person worship! We thank our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus for His faithfulness to us in this time of lockdown and separation that we have been enduring. We also praise Him for now bringing us to this opportunity to gather again, even with some restrictions still in place. We are privileged to gather together to hear the Word of our Lord Jesus and receive the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

At its May 11 meeting, the Board of Elders, with congregational president David Linton and Kantor Matt Janssen, planned for resuming congregational worship with proper health and safety measures in place. We will hold a single public Divine Service on Thursday, May 21, at 7:00 p.m. – The Ascension of Our Lord.

Beginning Sunday May 24, we will temporarily hold two Sunday morning Divine Service times – 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. – so that we may practice proper hygienic and social distancing measures. We plan this schedule to run four Sundays—May 24, May 31, June 7, and June 14. This plan is subject to revision based on a) our attendance patterns and/or b) any future local COVID-related developments. We will return to our regular one Sunday Divine Service time of 9:00 a.m. as soon as circumstances allow.

Also, for those who must or who choose to stay at home, we will continue to live stream our services on Facebook as we have the past two months. On Sunday mornings, only the 9:00 a.m. service will live-streamed. The May 21 Ascension Day service will also be live streamed. With Kantor Janssen’s leadership, we are acquiring our own equipment to enhance and continue our live stream capabilities.


“KINDNESS, HUMILITY, MEEKNESS, AND PATIENCE” (Colossians 3:12)

This time of pandemic, social distancing, and staying at home has been unsettling and stressful for all of us. Many things have changed and we all have many questions, concerns, feelings and opinions. We have been juggling and balancing three of our Lord’s commandments. With the Third Commandment, we have been hearing God’s Word the best we can in these unsettling circumstances. With the Fourth Commandment, we have been honoring God’s appointed governing leaders by staying home and keeping social distance. And with the Fifth Commandment, we have been striving to care for and protect our neighbors, especially those most affected by the Coronavirus.

As we begin to resume our public, in-person worship services, we all need to practice the “kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12) that St. Paul mentions. Some will be comfortable gathering with others, while some will be reluctant to leave home. Some may consider our hygienic and social distancing measures to be over the top, while some may consider them to be insufficient. We all are traveling an uncharted course and doing the very best we can, and our various responses and feelings are understandable.

We do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable, left out, or judged, either for attending or for staying home. We certainly do not want anyone to “play the hero” and attend the Divine Service out of a sense of duty or compulsion. If you are uncomfortable gathering at church, we understand. Also, if you are in the high-risk category for COVID-19 (older adults, immune-compromised, etc.), please stay home with a clear conscience. At this time, there are no “black marks” for staying home, just as there are no “black marks” for gathering together. At this time our Lord calls each of us to bear with one another in love as we exercise all humility, gentleness and patience toward each other (Ephesians 4:2).


HYGIENIC AND SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES

As we begin to resume Sunday worship, we will implement the following protocols to ensure health and safety:
  • If you are sick or symptomatic, please stay home and seek medical attention as needed.
  • When parking your vehicle, we encourage you to leave one empty parking space between your car and your neighbor’s car.
  • The elevator entrance (northwest corner of building) will be the only open entry point for coming into and exiting the church. Sufficient time between Sunday services will allow for the first group of worshipers to depart before the second group arrives.
  • Wearing facemasks is encouraged, especially when coming into the church and when leaving. We encourage you to bring your own mask, but we will also have a supply on hand if needed.
  • Hand sanitizer bottles will be available as you enter the church. Please sanitize your hands when arriving and again when departing.
  • Every other pew will be closed and marked with a sign at each open end in order to maintain six (6) feet of separation. Families may sit together in the same pew. Smaller groups (e.g. couples and individuals) may sit in a single pew with proper distance between them (e.g. at opposite ends of the pew).
  • Pews will be wiped down and cleaned before and between services.
  • Please pick up your own service folder when you enter the sanctuary; they will not be handed out.
  • Hymnals will be removed from the pew racks and we will use printed orders of service. Please take your service folder home and dispose of it yourself.
  • Offering baskets will be placed on stands near the baptismal font. Please place your offering in them as you arrive or as you depart.
  • The pastor and assisting minister(s) will wash hands prior to the Service of the Sacrament.
  • The host (bread) will be placed into hands, not directly into the mouth.
  • The chalice will be available for those who desire it and will be cleansed with purificators soaked in Everclear (90% alcohol) after each communicant.
  • Extra individual cups will be available for those who want them and will be spaced apart in the trays. The individual cup trays will be placed on a table.
  • We will not use the Communion rail, but will practice “walk-through,” or continuous flow, Communion.
  • We will commune one side of the sanctuary at a time and then switch to the other side. (Example: first the pulpit side, then the lectern side.)
  • You will be asked to usher yourselves up to Communion one pew at a time in order to maintain social distancing. Please maintain six (6) feet of separation between family groups, couples, and individuals while waiting to commune.
  • Following the service, please do not remain inside. You may socialize and converse outside while maintaining social distancing.
At this time we are opening up only for Sunday morning Divine Services. All other gathering events—Sunday School, Bible Class, coffee hour, meetings, etc.—will remain suspended until further notice.

For those who cannot attend or choose not to attend on Sunday mornings, you may still make appointments with me to receive Communion. Please contact me by phone or email to schedule a Communion appointment.

These are certainly trying times. In the midst of things we suffer and do not understand, our Lord Jesus shares our suffering, sustains us through it, and promises His very deliverance. Allow me to leave you with this devotional thought for this Thursday of Easter 5, based on the text of Luke 12:54-13:17.
[The incarnate Son of God] pronounces suffering blessed through His own suffering. Rather than fleeing from, or blaming, those who are weak and suffering, He comes close to them, lays His hands on them, and declares them free of their illness. How could He do otherwise? When He meets suffering flesh, it is not another’s flesh that He sees, but His own, which He has assumed through the incarnation of Mary. He bore our flesh so that He might rescue it from the sin-diseased crookedness caused by the burden of death. He is not untouched by our suffering and fleshly weakness. It is our flesh, not some other, that He assumes. We are never alone under the back-breaking burdens that the fall has heaped upon us. Because He has taken our flesh, we can look forward to a flesh renewed and healed, of which He has given us a sign in this text (Luke 13:12). (Scott R. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers: Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year, CPH, 2011, p. 149)

In Christ’s service,

Rev. Randy K. Asburry
Pastor