Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Speech

I have been invited to give a speech this Memorial Day at the Herscher Legion.  What follows is the written text of my speech.

Memorial Day, 2016
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a way of introduction for those of you who do not know me, I am Eric Brown, the Pastor over at Trinity Lutheran Church here in Herscher, and it is an honor to have these few minutes here with you today as we observe Memorial Day. A few brief things to note – I am a pastor and a historian, so you're going to get a history lecture with a bit of theology – I'll try not to be preachy though. Also, although I myself have not served my country in the military, I come from a long line of Marines. My great-grandfather was a Marine in the First World War, which brought about this day of remembrance. My grandfather lied about his age and as a 16 year old was an island hopper in the Pacific in WWII, with many friends who fell, who took bullets instead of him; that's how I'm here today, and why they are solemnly honored. My two uncles served in Vietnam, and I'm sure I needn't bring up how many in our nation have been slow to rightly honor those who fell there.

So while I myself have not served, I grew up in a family, I learned from men who knew that General Sherman was right when he observed that war is hell, that it is a gruesome, nasty business, that no one in their right might would want to see come in their day. This brutal reality of war is something that has weighed heavily on the minds of theologians throughout the history of the Christian Church – from St. Paul in the letter to the Romans, to St. Augustine in “City of God” even on up to theologians this day. How do we understand, how do we reconcile this harsh truth; that so often those who simply wish to quietly love and serve the Prince of Peace, end up being called upon to wage war, and even to make the ultimate sacrifice, that of their very lives.

I would draw your attention to a specific time in history when the thoughts of theologians went again to the question of warfare and the Christian. 1520's were a harsh and brutal time in Europe. Most decades back then were bad, but the 1520's were especially bad. At the time, Europe is being invaded from the southeast by Muslim armies. The Turk was advancing up into Europe. In 1526 Suleiman the Great defeated and killed Louis, the King of Hungary – the invasion was into central Europe. In fact, by 1529, Vienna would be besieged by the Turkish armies.

The defense of Europe ended up falling upon Charles the Fifth – King of Spain and also Holy Roman Emperor – the overarching ruler of what we think of today as Germany, Poland, and Austria – basically Central Europe. And to successfully defend Europe, Charles needed order. Charles had inherited basically three different thrones which made him incredibly powerful, and also gave him many enemies. So before he could go and deal with the Turk, he had to make sure he wouldn't get stabbed in the back. There was war with France, which Charles won in 1525. Which left the main at home problem for Charles, from a military point of view, being Germany.

The Reformation was going on, and Germany was sort of like the wild west. It wasn't a unified country at the time, but over 300 independent dukedoms and princedoms and independent cities – just a political mess. And into this political mess came the Reformation – where you had all the divisions playing out that would end up leading to the 30 Years War in the 17th Century. On top of that, you had radical Christian groups teaching all sorts of things. There was a giant peasants' revolt that was utterly horrific and violent until it was put down. 
So basically, in Germany in 1526, everything has been chaotic, and it looks like it will be chaotic even still – and in the midst of this there are some Christians who are calling for all Christians to be utter pacifists, who say that no Christian may ever wage war. In the face of this, one German knight, by the name of Assa von Kram, repeatedly asked Martin Luther to write an essay about this topic, to give an opinion. Luther dragged his feet for bit; he had touched on the topic before and he thought he had done so well enough earlier – but von Kram still pressed. Things have gotten so bad, so violent, so wild – should we just stop?

(Any questions yet)

So towards the end of 1526, and reaching full publication in 1527, Luther writes a fabulous little writing entitled “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved.” For those of you who are impatient, the answer ends up being, “yes.” But in this little essay (You may find the text of this essay easily on the internet), Luther does two things. He discusses what we today would call Just War theory – when it is right to wage war and when it is wrong. But the other thing he does, and it's really this that I want to zero in on, is he writes, he gives advice to soldiers as to how they themselves ought to consider their vocation, their duty of going to war.

One of the things that Luther points out is that a soldier is in fact an agent, a servant of God, performing a vital task for the good of the nation. God Himself gave the government the power of the Sword so as to rightly order and rule the nation. Luther notes: “For the very fact that the sword has been instituted by God to punish the evil, protect the good, and preserve the peace [Rom. 13:1-4, 1 Peter 2:13-14] is powerful and sufficient proof that war and killing along with all the things that accompany wartime and martial law have been instituted by God. What else is war but the punishment of wrong and evil? Why does anyone go to war, except because he desires peace and obedience?”

Here Luther points out that to make a contrast between war and peace isn't quite right. Properly speaking, a soldier is a agent of peace. That is, when someone or a group has with their vileness and wickedness gone and brought forth violence and chaos, bringing danger and violence to bear upon people – it is the soldier who goes and re-establishes peace. Because Christ desires peace, and He has called and instituted soldiers to bear the brunt of fighting wickedness to protect and preserve their neighbor's peace. Of war itself Luther notes, “What men write about war, saying that it is a great plague, is all true. But they should also consider how great the plague is that war prevents! If people were good and wanted to keep peace, war would be the greatest plague on earth. But what are you going to do about the fact that people will not keep the peace, but rob, steal, kill, outrage women and children, and take away property and honor? The small lack of peace called war or the sword must set a limit to this universal, worldwide lack of peace which would destroy everyone. This is why God honors the sword so highly that He says that He Himself has instituted it and does not want men to say or think that they have invented it or instituted it. For the hand that wields this sword and kills with it is not man's hand, but God's.” To be a solider, to be one who fights for peace, for justice, for order, who risks life and limb and steps into the breech that others may live, is not merely doing something good – God Himself is actually the One who uses the solider to accomplish God's desired peace and justice.

(Questions on that)

Acknowledging that soldiers are meant to be servants of God, Luther notes how the Scriptures do place limits upon them. They have an honorable and mighty office; they need to see that they do not abuse it. “When soldiers came to [John the Baptist] and asked what they should do, he did not condemn their office or advise them to stop doing their work; rather, according to Luke 3[:14], he approved it by saying, 'Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.' Thus he praised the military profession, but at the same time he forbade its abuse.” The purpose of military power, for the individual or even for the nation, is not to abuse that power and profit, but always to serve the neighbor and the nation, even serve in defense of your fellow countries if and only when the situation demands for it.

Peace is to be the desire. “Do not be tempted to think of yourself as though you were the Turkish sultan. Wait until the situation compels you to fight when you have no desire to do so. You will still have more than enough wars to fight and will be able to say with heartfelt sincerity, 'How I would like to have peace. If only my neighbors wanted it too!'” I quote this here in part because it is my own observation that the greatest moments of American History, the times where we have served the world the most as a people, have been in the two world wars, when we desperately longed for peace, and only fought when compelled. This is an attitude that Luther praised. His own ruler at the start of the Reformation was Frederick the Wise. He had died a few years before this writing, and of him Luther notes: “I must mention here the example of Duke Frederick, elector of Saxony, for it would be a shame if that wise prince's sayings were to die with his body. He had to endure many wicked plots on the part of his neighbors and many others. He had so many reasons to start a war that if some mad prince who loved war had been in his position, he would have started ten wars. But Frederick did not draw his sword. He always responded with reasonable words and almost gave the impression that he was afraid and running away from a fight. He let the others boast and threaten, and yet he held his ground against them. When he was asked why he let them threaten him so, he replied, 'I shall not start anything; but if I have to fight, you will see that I shall be the one who decides when it is time to stop.'” Wise words that we would do well to consider in the management of our own personal affairs, and wisdom I hope that leaders now and in generations to come cling to.


Luther then proceeds to give actual advice to the one who is called upon to fight. One thing that he urges is humility – that if one is called upon to be a soldier, that he be prepared against the onset of pride. When it comes to victory, we should not approach it, “as though it were our deeds or power that did it. Rather, God wants to be feared and he wants to hear us sing from our hearts a song like this, 'Dear Lord, You see that I have to go to war, though I would rather not. I do not trust, however, in the justice of my cause, but in Your grace and mercy.'” Since the soldier is an agent of God, the victory belongs to God. This is not a cause for pride, but rather humility before God.

Indeed, here is how Luther describes the proper attitude for a soldier. Luther's ideal soldier says:“'Well, for my part, I would like to stay at home, but because my lord [or today, perhaps nation] calls me and needs me, I come in God's name and know that I am serving God by doing so, and that I will earn or accept the pay that is given me for it.' [Luther continues] A soldier ought to have the knowledge and confidence that he is doing and must do his duty to be certain that he is serving God and can say, 'It is not I that smite, stab, and slay, but God and my prince, for my hand and body are now their servants.' That is the meaning of the watchwords and battle cries, 'Emperor!' 'France!' 'Luuneburg!' 'Braunschwieg!' This is how the Jews cried against the Midianites, 'The sword of God and Gideon.'” The soldier serves God, he serves his nation. His pride is not in his own prowess, but in his love of nation, his patriotism, his desire to serve God by serving for the sake of his fellow countrymen.

This plays out in how Luther thinks soldiers should be rallied, how they should be encouraged. Not with honor, not with riches, not with glory. “On the contrary, they should be exhorted like this, 'Dear comrades, we are gathered here to serve, obey, and do our duty to our prince, for according to God's will and ordinance we are bound to support our prince with our body and possessions, even though in God's sight we are as poor sinners as our enemies are. Nevertheless, since we know that our prince is in the right in this case, or at least do not know otherwise, we are therefore sure and certain that in serving and obeying him we are serving God. Let everyone then, be brave and courageous and let no one think otherwise than that his fist is God's fist, his spear God's spear, and cry with heart and voice – For God and the emperor! If God gives us victory, the honor and praise shall be His, not ours, for He wins it through us poor sinners. But we will take the booty and wages as presents and gifts of God's goodness and grace to us, though we are unworthy, and sincerely thank Him for them. Now God grant the victory! Forward with joy!” I would note that Luther acknowledges that soldiers ought to be well taken care of in return for their service. The words of Scripture that the “worker is worthy of his wages” apply to the soldier, and Luther would be adamant that our veterans and the survivors of those who have fallen receive all the benefits and support that is their due.

I don't say survivors incidentally here. Luther goes on to say, “But I think the best comrades are those who encourage themselves and are encouraged before the battle by thinking about the woman they love, and have this said to them, 'Hey, now, let everyone think about the woman he loves best.'” To serve as a soldier is to serve one's country and nation – but the heart of your country is your family, your house and home. A soldier goes forth to war to protect his parents, his spouse, his children – those closest to him. Always the truth of the soldier is that of service.


To close, I would like to read here a prayer that Luther wrote for soldiers, a model of how the soldier should approach his Lord. “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord [or nation], which I owe first to you and then to my lord [nation] for Your sake. I thank Your grace and mercy that You have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing and obedience to Your will. But because I know and have learned from Your gracious Word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience or work, but place myself freely at the service of Your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which He shed for me in obedience to Your holy will. This is the basis on which I stand before you. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by Your Spirit. Amen.” If you then want to say the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, you may do so and let that be enough. In so doing commit body and soul into God's hands, draw Your sword, and fight in God's name.

So then, how would I as a Pastor encourage you to view our soldiers, and especially those who have served their country with their life and all. Can a Christian who serves the Prince of Peace be a soldier? Most certainly yes – for in this they follow Christ. No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his neighbor. As Christ obeyed the Father's will and braved death and laid down His own life to secure us an eternal home, our own fallen laid down their own lives to secure our earthly homes. While this country is not quite heaven on earth, it is still a wondrous and great blessing that God has given to us, a blessing which He has preserved through the service of the men and women in our armed forces. A blessing which many gave their lives to preserve. All thanks be to God for these faithful men and women who have done this nation, who have done us such great service.
Thank you for your time and attention, and God comfort you who remember the fallen, and may He bless your reflections this Memorial Day. Amen.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – May 28th and 28th, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Well, now we are full into the season of Trinity. Things are green, and they are going to stay Green for quite some time. Trinity is the teaching season, the season of growth, and last week we reviewed lesson 1 – God loves you. Simple as that. And this week, we will get lesson number two. Sin is ignoring the Word of God. All sin. That's where sin comes from. This is precisely what our Lord is teaching some Pharisees with our Gospel lesson today. “Wait, what do you mean teaching some Pharisees, I didn't hear anything about Pharisees in the Gospel text!” Luke 15 and 16 are all one big narrative all tied together – and Luke 15 has the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son. Ones you know well. Luke 16 starts with the dishonest manager – take your bill and cross out 100 and write 80 – you cannot serve God and money. We'll look at those in detail later in the summer, but upon hearing these lessons, in verse 14 we hear this: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.” Think on that. The Pharisees hear Jesus speak these beautiful and cherished parables, and they laugh. They mock Him. They ridicule Him. And so, Jesus explains how it really is.

Alright, you lovers of money who mock the idea of relying simply upon the goodness of God. Here you go. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table.” This is a beautiful set up. You Pharisees love money – alright, I'll tell you a tale about a fellow with tons of money. The best clothes, the best food, gated community. Everything your selfish and greedy black hearts could want. And over and against this rich fellow is this poor, sickly, beggar whom I'll call Lazarus. Here is where Jesus is neat – the name “Lazarus” means “one whom God helps.” You Pharisees have been laughing and mocking all these parables about God helping, God showing mercy to folks, about God rejoicing in and delighting in forgiveness. Alright – here's two folks – the rich smug jerk like you guys, and then the poor fellow whom God helps, help that you've mocked while rich jerks won't lift a finger.

Seriously – the rich man is cold. Lets Lazarus starve to death on his doorstep. But at least when he dies Lazarus is “carried by the angels to Abraham's side.” In the Old Testament, the way of saying that a man died in the faith was that he went to sleep with his fathers – well, there you go, there's Lazarus and he's with not just any old father, but Father Abraham. And now, to the Pharisees, for their fellow. “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off.” Do you get just how big a smack in the face, what a shot across the bow this is to those Pharisees who were mocking Jesus? Laugh it up now, because if you don't repent, you'll be burning in hell with all the pagans, far, far away from Abraham. And you know what all that power that you love and crave will get you there? You know what your money and fame will be good for when you're burning? And [the rich man] called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Father Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Oh, so NOW you want things to be about mercy – mercy you never showed to Lazarus, mercy you Pharisees don't show as you stand by and laugh and mock as the poor have good news preached to them. Well, tough. You see Pharisees, this life is the day of mercy, today is the day of salvation, and if you don't care about living in mercy now, about receiving mercy from God and showing mercy to others, well, when you are burning in hell it will be too late. Jesus is reading these Pharisees the riot act.

The rich man seems to come around a bit – send Lazarus back to my house, I've got five brothers and I don't want them to end up here. And Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” They've got the Scriptures, they've got the Word of God. Moses and the Prophets (and indeed, the whole New Testament today) teaches that we are sinful and need to repent and cling to God for mercy that He gives in the Messiah, in the Christ. What Abraham says is spot on. Abraham says, “your brothers have it better than I did, because Scripture wasn't written yet in my day – they should be thrilled that they can hear the Word of God come to them over and over and over again. God has given them such a great gift in His Written Word!” And then we get to the crux of the problem. And [the rich man] said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Pause there for a second. There the rich man is, burning in hell, and he has the chutzpah, the audacity to tell Abraham, father Abraham, “No”. Abraham, you don't know what you are talking about, I know what I'm talking about. Remember what the Pharisees were doing, mocking Jesus' preaching? Jesus, you don't know what you're talking about. There it is. Sin is ignoring the Word of God. Sin is thinking you know better than what God has promised in His Word.

Abraham knocks the rich man down – sets up the Pharisees too. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Your plan won't work – if they mock the Old Testament Scriptures, they'll mock the New Testament too, they'll mock the parables of Christ Jesus, who will in fact rise from the dead. All because in pride and ego, people ignore the Word of God. You think you're so pious, you Pharisees. You think you are so much better than others because of how you're such good Jews, (good Christians,) you see your wealth and power and prestige as proving how good you are. Do you use this to serve your neighbor as Moses instructed? Do you confess with the psalms that all flesh is grass, that the flower of the field withers? Do you put your trust in the Lord for mercy? Do you seek out and wait for the Messiah whom the prophets foretold? No, you don't. You ignore the Scriptures, you ignore the Word of God because you in your pride think you know better. You're in for a world of hurt.

Now, here's the moment of truth for me as a preacher. Because if I wanted to, this text sets up to just let me unload on you folks. I could preach up a whole heap of fire and brimstone here, guns ablazing. However, as the point of the text is that we ought not ignore the Word of God, I really ought not treat this text, this story as though there was only one character in it. It's not just the tale of the rich man – it's the rich man and Lazarus. And I know that Satan and your flesh are trying to turn you into full-fledged rich men, but when I see you, I see a bunch of Lazarus-es. And I have a good reason to see you as such. Lazarus has a name. Interesting point. In all the parables and stories Jesus tells, Lazarus is the only one ever named.

You too have a name. You have a Christian name. Your baptismal name. That's why part of the rite of Baptism includes “how are you named”? And there, at the font, you are brought into the family of God, washed clean and forgiven, and there you have God's own Name - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – placed upon you. Lazarus means “one whom God has helped” - and there's not more help than God can give than Holy Baptism. Washes away sin, gives eternal life. Brings you into the Church, makes you a member of Christ's own body. So yes, looking at this story, what I see when I see you, what we ought to see and think of each other is that we are Larazus-es. That we are poor, miserable sinners who are “Lazarused” - who are helped by God.

Let's be honest about that poor and miserable sinners part for a moment. That is what the Scriptures say of us, and that is the reality of our lives. In the story, when we see Lazarus, he's laying there sick and battered and as good as dead. That's the reality of life in this fallen world. We are covered with sin and temptation, we are battered and ignored, we starve from a lack of love and crave it. Some of you feel this reality strong now. For some of you, the physical description hits too close to home. And if some of you are having good times; don't get too haughty, eventually it gets rough for everyone here, as the Scriptures teach, as you well know. So there we are. Kicked in the teeth. The people next to you, in front of or behind you, there they are too. Don't be afraid to admit just how rough it is for you, for you neighbor. That's reality, or at least part of it.

The other part, the greater part, is that you are helped by God. These trials and temptations and sufferings that you face, they don't thwart, they don't trump God's love for you. You are forgiven. Christ Jesus, your brother, has won you salvation, He has come down into this world and suffered along side you, seen everything at it's worst, died and risen for you, and so you too will rise. Nothing you face here can stop that. And as for each other – well, “Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” We comfort each other. We care for each other, even if the best we can do is lick each others wounds. While the world around us might show all the disdain of the Pharisees, the callousness of the rich man, so be it. We are poor beggars, but we are helped by God. We are miserable dogs, who give what comfort we can – but we are dogs who are fed on the crumbs from our Master's table, receiving His life giving Body and Blood for the remission of our sins and for strength to show love and mercy to one another.

Lesson two – Sin is ignoring the Word of God. That's the basis of all sin, where we get tempted to go off on our own way and do our own selfish thing and let everyone else rot. But the Word of God has come to you, and you have hears to hear. And this is what God's Word says of us – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though you are battered and beaten and broken in this life, you are helped by God, and you shall know eternal rest in Christ Jesus. God grant that by the power of His Word and Spirit, we ever remember who we are in Him! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Insecurity is the Enemy of Theology

Assertion:  Insecurity is the Enemy of Theology.

So, what do I mean by saying this.  Consider the parish pastor, going out to preach, to teach, to do theology.  And let us say that in the moment, he is driven by insecurity.  What happens?  That fear, that insecurity colors and shapes the way anything theological is done.  Let's ponder some hypothetical examples.

If he is insecure in his support, or finances, or worried that the congregation is going to cut his salary, kick him out if he doesn't toe their own lines - the temptation is going to be to give in and wuss out (which I'll assume here is bad theology), or he might just, in an effort to try to bolster his flagging security, dig in his heels even more, and by George I'll show them and preach a rip roaring sermon against their sacred cow... which can lead to a sermon on how Lazarus and the Rich Man shows us and demonstrates that the bad issue of the day (insert here: lay deacons, syncretism, not wanting their pastor's bad chanting to drive the service, etc) is utterly wrong.  In either case, the theology is bad.  It's not driven by what the Scriptures say, but by the baggage our fears leads us to bring to the Scriptures.

Or let's say that there is a pastor who is insecure in terms of whether or not a position is socially popular.  On the one hand, they could cave to social pressure.  On the other, they could overreact against that social pressure... and then everything gets shaded to stand against that social pressure.  That's how you get sermons on the Lost Sheep that either say, "This means we must welcome the (insert socially dis-privileged group de jour) and support them in their struggle" or "This means that (insert same socially dis-privileged group de jour) is ruining our country and leading the tender sheep of our youth astray."  Both sort of miss the point... you know, that there is joy over repentance and you yourself ought be repenting rather than bragging about your righteousness.

You see, when we are insecure, we feel the need to act.  Our old sinful flesh's solution is to try to do something to make ourselves comfortable.  We will fall into fight or flight.  We'll either fight the source of our insecurity tooth and nail (and often foolishly), or we'll fly away from any semblance of something that might cause the discomfort, and go through ridiculous hoops to make those causing discomfort never want to discomfort us again!

Neither of those makes for good theology.

Especially Lutheran Theology.  Lutheran theology is grounded in security.

Consider.  The Law shows me the sin.  The Law is good and wise.  I am a sinner.  If I say I have no sin, I deceive myself and the truth is not in me.  The Gospel is that Christ has died for me.  He has risen for me.  On account of Him, I have forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is most certainly true.

See there.  Nothing insecure there.  Just straight up statement of truth.

Because that's what our theology is.  While it may speak to the controversy of the day, it isn't driven by it.  Nor does it become obsessed with it.  Rather, good theology desires to remain secure - that is centered on Christ Jesus and His Word.

Everything else comes and goes.  The great scandal of one day, which caused such insecurity and consternation, is a back burner issue a generation later and becomes a matter to explain in the footnotes in the history books a generation there after.  And yet, Christ and His Word remain.  A safe, secure point in the midst of the intellectual and social storms of the world.

Drop your axes, preachers!  They need not be sharpened.  You are the speakers of peace; Christ has returned the swords you draw in your insecurity unto their sheathes.  You are plowers now, attentive to the Word of God.

"Preach you the Word and plant it home/ to people who like it or like it not./ The Word that shall endure and stand/ when flow'rs and men shall be forgot." 

Dare I say that will endure when your insecurity of the day is forgot.

You are in Christ.  You are secure, no matter what the world tells you.

+ + + + + + + + +

I'm serious about this.  I am.  Here's a little observation from Saturday Night Bible Study this past week on 1 John 3.  Consider the following:

"16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

Now, here's the options, and there are two laid out here.  On the one hand, we love like Christ, and in so doing we die.  We lay down our lives for our neighbor.  On the other hand, we hate, we "close our heart."

Actually, the Greek is we close our "guts" - our splagchna.  It's the same word that gets used for compassion - when Jesus has compassion upon the crowd it's the verb for "guts" -- He gutted, His guts were wrenched.  You can, if you want, run things via hate - that is, on the basis of fear and insecurity and whom you need to fight against.  The only thing is... well, that closes your guts.  Think on that.

Closes your guts.  Obstructs your bowels.

You know what that does?  It kills you.  Really, really painfully.  And you are full of it, and you die.

See, here's the reality.  You're going to die.  Either way, loving your neighbor or not - you are going to die.  You can die in Christ, secure in His love and showing forth that love, proclaiming the Word with joy... or you can die without security, insecurely fighting and scrambling and trying your best to make the danger go away, thinking that if you just hate the right people you can give yourself a bit of a longer or better life.  And you still die.  Painfully.  Uncomfortably.  And full of it.

's the truth.  Embrace it.  You're going to die.

Oh well.  Christ died.  He rose.  For You.  And thus though you die, yet you will rise and live forever, and no one, no insecurity can take this joy from you.

This is most certainly true.

See.  Isn't that better?  Isn't that security freeing (for freedom you have been set free!)?  Insecurity is the enemy of theology.  That's okay - Christ is insecurity's enemy.  Look to Him; Christ and His mercy triumphs over insecurity.  Even yours.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Trinity Sunday – May 21st and 22nd, 2016 – John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Now, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night...” The beginning of our Gospel lesson, dear friends, ought to give us pause. And I say this especially because we are in John's Gospel today, and John brings in some unique details, has a unique approach in telling the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And today, we get the famous John 3 passage, and we can want to jump right to the end, to John 3:16 since we've all got that verse memorized, but let's just pause and think about this. Nicodemus comes by night. Doesn't that seem fishy to you? Off to you? I mean, as a Pastor I get that there are some questions you might want to ask that are personal and not in front of everyone else – but Nicodemus isn't asking a question. Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God.” There's nothing scandalous there, nothing you'd need to wait for nighttime to bring up. But John is making a very specific point about Jesus, a point about Nicodemus here. On Christmas day, the Gospel reading is John 1, in which reading we hear of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

On Trinity Sunday we start the teaching time of the Church year, and here we get lesson 1. Just who is God, what is He like? Who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we worship? We can talk a lot about Him, we can confess (as we do in the Athanasian Creed... at length) that there is one God but three persons, and that each person is God and yet there are not three Gods but One God. Yes, it's confusing and complicated and we can't fully wrap our minds around the Trinity; of course not, do you think the inner workings and existence of God Almighty is going to fit in our tiny skulls? We aren't called to “understand” the Trinity, but we confess it. But this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – what's He like? What's His attitude towards people? I mean, especially as we are sinful men, as we mess up in spades. Sinners don't expect to do well in the hands of an angry God. I mean, take Isaiah – he is just minding his own business in the temple one day, and he looks up and then, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Suddenly He sees God filling the place – and there's angels, there's “Holy, Holy, Holy” - the place is shaking, it's filled with smoke. And Isaiah sees all this, and he has a quite logical reaction. I'm dead. I'm dead meat, I am toast. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah expects to die! Right there, Isaiah expects to die. The whole face melting thing from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – that's what Isaiah is expecting. Yet that's not what happens. The angel brings a coal from the altar, burning with fire, burning bright and giving off light, and places it upon Isaiah's lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God doesn't smite Isaiah – instead, He forgives him.

Okay, but that's Isaiah, and he's a prophet and all. If there's someone who'd get an exception to the mean angry God wanting to smite everyone, surely it would be Isaiah. So let's come back to our Gospel. There's Nicodemus. And who is Nicodemus? He's a Pharisee. Think on all the problems the Pharisees cause for Jesus. Strike 1. And he's a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus is a leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, and the angry mob that he was supposed to be leading is going to end up calling for Jesus to be crucified. Strike 2. And finally, he comes by night. This is a bold and mighty strike 3. In that giant battle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, God and Sin... Nicodemus is clearly stuck right there on the wrong side. Night time is the time when you do wickedness. And it's clear as the conversation goes on that Nicodemus isn't getting stuff, that his thoughts are off. So, of course, Jesus looks to his disciples and says, “Call Me down some fire and brimstone from heaven to smoke this joker”... wait. No, that's not actually what happens.

Jesus talks to Nicodemus. Patiently. I mean, it's not a great conversation for Jesus. Every time Jesus says something, Nicodemus messes up. Jesus speaks to being born again, getting to see the Kingdom of God (see – something that would require light, not darkness). That's a great thing – hey, there's new birth, being born again, born from on high (because “again” and “from on high” are the same word in Greek), and you'll get to see the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus' response? Wicked. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Wicked. That's an old testament pagan answer, that's one that would make a Babylonian blush. And, yet again, Jesus shows patience.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” No, actually I'm pointing to Baptism here, Nicodemus. And yes, Jesus here talks about the Father and the Spirit – it's all happily Trinitarian. Just as baptism is – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that Nicodemus is in a bad spot here. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” Listen, you are thinking earthly, sinful thoughts, here. You're down in the muck – I'm trying to give you heaven. I am going to bring you out of this fallen life in the world where you live for a bit and chase after vain pleasures and then you die – and instead I'm going to give you eternal life, I'm going to give you the Spirit of God once again, the same Spirit who breathed in to Adam's nostrils the breath of the life. This is good for you, Nicodemus.

And then Nicodemus just brings more sass. “How can these things be?” Yeah right, Jesus! Just how in tarnation do You think You're going to pull that one off? Three times Nicodemus speaks, three times he speaks disdain and wickedness. That's three strikes again, surely You'll punch him out now, Jesus, right? Nope. More patience. Maybe a little bit of exasperation on Jesus' part - “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Come on, Nicodemus, everything in the Old Testament drives to this. This is Genesis 3 stuff – I'm here to bruise Satan's head and restore mankind. I've come down from heaven to do this. Or Moses – think on the bronze serpent – see Me and live! That's the point, that's the goal, that's the game plan.

Then we get, finally, to the famous verse – John 3:16 (and I'm going to include verse 17). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Think about this. This verse, about God's great love, love that takes Jesus to the Cross and kills Him so that you get to live, isn't said in the context of people doing stuff for Jesus. Jesus isn't looking at the disciples when He says this. It's not a matter of “well, you guys are trying so hard, so I guess I can die for you.” He says it to Nicodemus, he says it to a rude, crude, dirty old man who ignores the Scriptures when it's his job to teach the Scriptures. Nicodemus is pond scum... and yet, Jesus, with patience and kindness, tells Nicodemus that God's sacrificial love is for him. And just to make sure we don't get confused – the Son wasn't sent into the world to condemn it. The world is doing a perfect fine job condemning and destroying itself thank you very much – no, Jesus comes to save.

So, who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit? He is the God that loves you and comes to save you. That's lesson number 1. Really, it is. To save you, not because of what you do, not because of what you can bring to the table, but because that's who He is. Who is our God – our God is the One who says, “Oh, good night, man has sinned and is going to die. Guess I better become man and die and rise for their sake to save them.” This is why John in his first epistle will spell it out again – God is love. Seriously. Really. Really really, no bones about it. This is lesson one. This is why the preschoolers sang “Jesus loves me” over and over this past year. Because that's the point, and everything that happens in this place revolves around God's love for you. Period.

You realize, it is precisely the fact that God thoroughly loves us that lets us examine ourselves and confront our sin. If you think that God is mean and evil, you hide stuff. You do it at night, thinking that way you're away from the light. And off and alone and isolated, you sin, you do stupid stuff that only ends up hurting you and causing pain to yourself and others, because all sin is stupid and bad. This Trinity season we'll have plenty of lessons that examine how and why all sorts of sins are stupid and bad. You know what – God doesn't want you stuck in those sins. He doesn't want you stuck in darkness, stuck in the desires and passions of the flesh. That's why Christ Jesus came – and not to smite you for those sins... He came as the Light of the World, to remove and banish that darkness. He came bringing baptism, to take you who were flesh and to give you His Holy Spirit, to create a new heart within you. You think Isaiah got something when he got a burning coal from the altar – from this altar today you get the Light of Light incarnate's own Body and Blood. All your sins, even the scary, nasty ones, even the ones that you still struggle against, have been forgiven by Christ the Crucified. Go now, depart not in fear and dread, but in peace. God loves you, an d He is with you, and He is with you always, even until the life of the world to come. Who is the Triune God? He is love, love come down to you to rescue you from sin and darkness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost – May 14th and 15th – Acts 2 and John 14
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +

Dear friends in Christ, a joyous and happy Pentecost to you. Pentecost, 50 full days after the Passover, Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, Pentecost – that joyous day where we remember the disciples stepping boldly into the temple and preaching Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to so many that needed to hear His Gospel. That is what we think of first when we think of Pentecost, isn’t it? The preaching of Christ? Is that what we think of when we speak of Pentecost? Or do our thoughts focus on the Holy Spirit off in a vacuum? Pentecost is sometimes thought of as the Holy Spirit’s day – the day where we finally focus on the Spirit – and the Spirit’s phenomenal acts of power and might. Behold the tongues of flame, behold the speaking in tongues, behold the boldness!

To what point, my dear friends? Why does the Holy Spirit appear as tongues of fire, why does He grant for this day the ability to the Apostles to speak in tongues? Was it simply a demonstration of the Spirit’s power? Was it a matter of the Holy Spirit wishing to remind us that He is here and active? “I'm over here guys, don't forget Me”? Peter tells us the answer by quoting the prophet Joel – God will pour out His Spirit so that people will prophesy, and there will be visions, and wonders – and all for one reason. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved. This is what Peter tells us. And immediately after quoting Joel, telling the people in the temple what they are seeing – this is what Peter preaches. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”

7 Weeks ago, Peter had been hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Now, on Pentecost, He and the other Apostles stride boldly into the temple, filled with the Spirit, and they proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ. The miracle, the wonder of Pentecost isn’t the tongues of flame. The amazing thing isn’t that the Spirit grants the Apostles the ability to speak in tongues – but rather that by the working of the Spirit they speak at all. Gone is the fear of 7 weeks ago, gone is the confusion and bewilderment of the Apostles at the Ascension as they stood dumbfounded staring up into the sky – and rather the Spirit has come, and now they boldly preach Christ and Him Crucified for our Salvation.

That is the miracle of Pentecost, dear friends. The tongues of flame are neat, but they simply bear witness to the fact that these men have been anointed by God for this task. The speaking in tongues, that is simply so more people can hear and understand. The key thing, the important thing, that which the Holy Spirit has continued to do through all the ages since that first Pentecost is that the Gospel of Christ Jesus is proclaimed. This is what the Spirit does – He points to Christ, for it is in Christ Jesus that we have life and forgiveness and salvation, and there is no other name under heaven or on earth by which we are to be saved. That is how the Spirit is the giver of Life – He gives out Christ Jesus and Christ’s life.

The miracle and wonder of Pentecost, the true miracle and wonder, continues to this day, in every time and place where Christ the Crucified is proclaimed. We know and we see that the Holy Spirit was active on Pentecost. Do you think He is any less active today? Do you think that the Holy Spirit has taken a breather? Saint Paul teaches us that no man may say Jesus is Lord, that no one may confess Christ Jesus, except by the Holy Spirit. Does that not continue on to this day? Is not the Word of God preached here in this place even to us unworthy sinners? Do we not marvel that God deigns to come to us and give us forgiveness? And moreover, do not you yourselves speak of Christ Jesus and what He has done for you, what He has done for the whole world, to your family, your friends, your neighbors? Behold God’s Spirit at work for you and through you!

Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we can become whimsical. Oh, if only we had what the Apostles had. Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we become depressed and ashamed. I don’t see the Spirit at work in us like that, what’s wrong we us? Here's the thing though - when we think like that, we are looking at the wrong thing. Do you wish to know if the Holy Spirit is indeed active today in the Church? What then, should you look for? Not the speaking of tongues, not fires and flames and other such stuff. Look for the preaching of Christ! Is Christ proclaimed for the salvation of sinners? Hear what Jesus says concerning the Spirit and what He will do. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you. That’s our standard – that’s how we are to look at and judge the Church. Jesus tells us what the Spirit will do. Is Christ taught? Yes indeed. Do we remember that which Christ has said? Yes indeed. Do we receive peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sins, does the peace of the Lord come to be with you always? Yes indeed. Then we know that the Holy Spirit is indeed active here, and active for us. The Holy Spirit is active in His Church, for the Spirit is the One who calls by the Gospel and enlightens and sanctifies and keeps people in the one, true faith.

Dear friends, we are the Church of Pentecost. We are the Spirit’s own Church. And our focus is not upon trying to make the Holy Spirit bring forth tongues of flame again – our focus is not upon seeing how we can do neat things like speak in tongues again. If the Holy Spirit wants you to speak in tongues, you will, and if He doesn’t, nothing you do will make Him let you speak in tongues, so don’t worry about it at all. That’s not what Pentecost was about. Pentecost was about the preaching of God’s Word spreading to every tongue – even strange tongues like Median or Lybian – or even eventually to the strangest language of them all – our own English language. Flames and tongues do not make the Church – rather we are the Church for we preach the same message and indeed, we benefit ourselves from the same message that was proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles on that first Pentecost.

In the Creed we confess that we believe in one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. We even call one of our creeds the Apostles’ Creed. When we say these things, we are making a claim – we are claiming that we hold to the same things that were preached on Pentecost, that we teach the same things that were taught, that the same Spirit who saw Christ proclaimed on Pentecost sees that Christ is proclaimed in our midst this very day. Towards the end of Acts 2, Luke describes for us what those who believed at Pentecost did. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Is this not the same thing that we do to this day here in this house? Do we not week in and week out gather together for fellowship in the Word of God, hearing His teaching? I know we call that room there the parish hall or the fellowship hall – but it is here, in the Sanctuary where Biblical Fellowship takes place. Fellowship isn’t Christian social time (not that there’s anything wrong with some good social time, mind you) – but it is where two or three are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, where we are gathered together into one people to Hear God’s Word and receive His forgiveness. We here with our fellow Christians confess our sins and receive forgiveness. We here with our fellow Christians devote ourselves not to the ramblings and personal opinions of some quack who happens to be our Pastor, but to the teaching of the Apostles, to the Word of God, to what Scripture teaches us. It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to the breaking of Bread – that is our Lord’s own Supper, where He took bread and broke it and gave it to the Disciples. It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to “the prayers” – that we gather together and pray all the prayers in the liturgy of the Church that we Christians have prayed for centuries, some even since the day of Pentecost word for word.

Just as the message of Christ crucified for sinners was proclaimed on Pentecost, it is proclaimed here today. And just as people on Pentecost heard and by the power of the Spirit believed, so too we hear the Word today and the Holy Spirit makes us to believe. We have our sins forgiven again and again here in God’s Church, we grow from the preaching of the Word, we receive forgiveness and strength from our Lord’s Holy Supper, we live out our lives as the Baptized, daily dying to sin and rising to Christ – and why? Because the Holy Spirit is active, because the Holy Spirit is active among us, because the Holy Spirit breathes life into us by the Word of God, and we rejoicing believe in the promises of Life and Salvation given to us in Christ Jesus. Indeed, by the Spirit of God we confess this same Jesus, we add our own voices to the great throng of saints who have gone before us – we join in the chorus of Angels and Archangels, and glorify God Almighty for the Redemption He sent us in His Son Christ Jesus. As Peter says, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the LORD our God calls to Himself.” As Peter says, this is for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Easter 7 sermon

Easter 7 – John 15 and 16 – May 7th and 8th, 2016

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – Amen
This world can be a kick in the teeth. Actually, that's often soft selling it. If we listened to Jesus, if we believed Him when He warned us about hardship in this life, we would not only say that this world can be, but we would be expecting the world to kick us in the teeth, repeatedly. Well, how's that for a cheery start to a sermon? “My dear Christian friends, expect your life to stink on ice”. Pastor Brown, that's not the positive message we want to hear; that's not the sort of stuff that's going to sell well down at the Christian bookstore. Oh well. Because really, in this Easter Season, as we move towards Pentecost, what we hear from Jesus is warning after warning about how life in this world is going to be hard. We get the climax of that in our Gospel lesson today - “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

Now, let's talk about this for a bit historically. In the Roman Empire, there was no freedom of religion as we think of it today. In Rome, there were religions that were legal and religions that weren't – and if you practiced one of those illegal religions, you were viewed as an enemy of the state, a corrupter of society. You were liable to be punished. Now, Judaism was a legal religion. Rome respected it because of its antiquity – and at first the early Christians were considered a variation of Judaism... hence, legal. But what happens within in the first few decades? The Christians are put out of the synagogues. They are legally no longer Jews (especially not once they start preaching to those gentiles, oy vey!). Which means they are open to persecution. Which means when Nero takes the throne in the 60s and he wants to blame someone for all the social unrest – there you go Christians, enjoy the lions in the coliseum. When Jesus says you'll be put out of the synagogue – that is Jesus telling the disciples that from Rome's perspective, it will be open season on them. And even more than that. They'll be killed. Of the 12 disciples in that room, only 1 of them dies of natural causes. That would be John, the fellow who writes this Gospel, and he dies in exile. All the others, they get killed off. Quite often gruesomely. By folks who think they are doing God a favor in slaughtering them. How's that for a nice, chipper message for us this day? Why? Why such a downer Jesus?

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” And again, “But I have said these things to you that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” Jesus knows what is coming. He's hours away from His own crucifixion when He says this, and He knows how lousy that's going to be. He knows fear; He's going to sweat blood in Gethsemane come this night. And He knows what Satan is about. Satan will use the world to try to scare the dickens out of the disciples, to have them flee and abandon the faith. And so Jesus is giving them a heads up – bad stuff is coming, be prepared. It's an utterly refreshing honesty. Jesus isn't some dentist who says, “this won't hurt a bit” before he inflicts utterly excruciating pain upon you – He's straight forward and honest. That way the disciples can be prepared.

In fact, Jesus knows they won't be prepared by their own power. Jesus knows that they'll all be running away while He gets arrested. He knows fear and terror are going to run wild in their lives. And so He says something of great importance at the start of our text. “When the Helper 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.” Here Jesus is pointing forward to Pentecost, to the coming of the Holy Spirit. And note what the Holy Spirit, the Helper, will do. He will bear witness about Christ Jesus. He will bear witness about Christ the Crucified. He will bear witness about that same Jesus who is handed over to the Romans, beaten, whipped, and Crucified. He will bear witness to that same Christ Jesus who cries out to forgive folks from that Cross. He will bear witness to that Christ Jesus who declares, “It is finished.” He will bear witness to that same Christ Jesus who rises from the dead and shows up to the disciples in the midst of their terror and says, “Peace be with you.” And the Spirit will do this, even when they are being kicked out of the synagogues, even when people think they are doing a service to God in killing them. At all turns the Spirit will point to the Truth, to Christ Jesus Himself who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Spirit will bear witness to the truth of Christ's victory, of the salvation Christ wins, of the eternal life He brings, even as the world kills them. Even as the worst falls upon the disciples, the Spirit will say, “Behold Christ – the worst fell upon Him, and it was for your sake that it did. He died, yet He rose. So do you. Peace be with you.”

But now, what of you? What of you, living here, showing up here this fine day in Herscher, Illinois? As much as we complain about persecution, it's not really as likely to hit us as it hit the Apostles. Indeed, there are plenty of places, especially in Africa or the Middle East where Christians are killed daily – I'm sure some will be killed today. But what of us in the middle of America? When Jesus paints a rather dour picture of life for the Apostles, indeed, for the Church, He notes, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Jesus' honesty, His constant reminders that we ought not be surprised when the world hates us, a theme that is echoed often throughout the entirety of the Scriptures, is designed so that we know, that we see and understand what happens in this world. As Christians, we know that we are sinners living in a sinful world. We know that sin is rebellion against God, is a hatred of God. Thus, we of all people shouldn't be surprised in the least when things in this world go badly, especially when they go badly to us. Luther once said something along the lines of, “We should not be surprised when some misfortune befalls us; rather if ten misfortunes ten times worse hit us ten times every hour it wouldn't even be a tenth of what we deserve.” We get just how badly sin has messed up the world, and we should know and expect sin to mess with us.

But what happens? What are our expectations? There is this nasty expectation that we have as American Christians where we think and expect that everything should go our way, that if we are just nice little Christian boys and girls that God will pat us on the head and give us blessings (by which we mean stuff) out the wazoo. This is what American Christianity sells – it's what you find in the bookstores, on the radio. Even the fire the brimstone preachers want us to get our act together so that God will bless us instead of smiting us. Everything revolves around us doing good so that then we can make God do good stuff to us. We are taught to be spiritual capitalists – invest a bit of time with God and get a giant yield.

The problem is... it's all a lie. It's not taught by the Spirit of Truth. Jesus – Jesus spends His time warning us that this world will kick us in the teeth. “But what if we're really really good, don't we deserve something then?” Well, you ain't as good as Jesus, and in this world even He got crucified. And here's what happens, here is what is so diabolical about all this prosperity junk – Jesus warns us so that we won't fall away, so that we won't be surprised when the lousy comes. Indeed, He sends His Spirit to see us through the lousy times that inevitably will come. But how often, how many folks do you yourselves know who have fallen away from the faith because they had false expectations, because they thought that being a Christian meant life would be easier... more stuff, nicer family, happier life, better job, well behaved kids who never touched the drugs, so on and so forth... and then it wasn't, and then they get angry at God, at the Church, at everything, and run away? Do you see, my dear friends, what Satan is trying to do? Satan wants to sell you a bill of goods, sell you stuff God never promised, so that you get angry and despair.

Instead of this, Christ gives us His forgiveness and life and salvation, so that we actually stand defiant against Satan and the world, even as they do their worst. We don't sell platitudes here, our songs are not sentimental pap like you get on the radio. No, what did we open with today? “When through fiery trials your pathway will lie, My grace, all sufficient, will be your supply.” Alright world, bring it on! Or how we'll close - “Jesus lives! The victory's won! Death no longer can appall me.” “Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal. This shall calm my trembling breath when I pass its gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense; Jesus is my confidence.” Do you hear the defiance, the boldness – not in ourselves, but in Christ Jesus and the victory that He has won? The world can do nothing to you, death can do nothing to you, for Christ is risen and His is the victory over all these things.

In fact, here is the truth. We here have nothing to fear from death. We've all already died. That's what baptism is – it is your death. You have died already – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” Your sinful nature has been drowned and destroyed, and you have been given new life, eternal life, in Christ. “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. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” You've been joined to Christ in your baptism, you've been given the Holy Spirit, you have life in Him. And now we live learning to see and understand that our sin is forgiven, learning to beat down, to daily drown our own sinful flesh so that Christ's love would flow forth freely, enduring our time of labor and trial until for Christ's sake we are raised to life everlasting, raised to share in Christ's victory forever. You are baptized! You are forgiven! You are fed upon Christ Jesus Himself, joined to Him never to be parted from Him!

All around you, the world rants and rages. It makes false promises to lure you away from Christ, and threatens to kill you if you don't comply. And you know what – this is nothing new. You're going to face the same junk the faithful in all ages have faced. But with you, at your side in all this, is Christ Jesus your crucified and risen Lord, who has claimed you in the waters of Baptism, who has given you the Holy Spirit, indeed, who has declared and made your body to be the temple of the Spirit. Jesus knows Satan's game plan – and He's beat it. And Jesus tells you what Satan's tricks are so that you are not knocked off balance or too upset; He sends His Spirit to draw your eyes again to Himself. The Spirit bears witness to Christ, what He has done for us – and that same Spirit bears witness through us to Christ's Victory. Satan cannot win, for Christ is ours. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +