The Feast of Saint Matthew

We would require sacrifice. Our heart’s desire is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are very good at seeking out vengeance. And we’re willing to be a Matthew, a tax collector, a cheat, a liar, or a thief as long as we get a fat wallet or can stick it to the man. It’s the heart of each of us that is the problem.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

And we are the ones that complain about a God that includes the less fortunate, the poor, the ones that dress differently than us, the ones that talk differently than us, the ones that we don’t like. And yet it is everyone of us that have fallen short of God’s desire. His image shattered and his likeness lost on a people that thrive on boasting, pride, covetousness, and all those things. We are a sick people.

Repent.

It won’t get any better for you on your own. You need a doctor. Rejoice with me, God has sent one to you and to me. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, if there were such a one. He did not come to yuck it up with the experts on prayer and keeping the law. Rather, he came to the sick… to you and to me. He comes to rip from your chest the heart that causes all your evil desires. He comes to give you a new heart, a right spirit. And with that clean heart, then he eats with you, rejoices with you, prepares you for the battle to come, and goes out into it with you.

He comes to the most unlikely—to the ones that don’t deserve it and makes us worthy, he comes to the sick to call us righteous. That he did at your baptism as he clothed you in the blood that he shed on the cross. That he does today as he gives you that body and blood again for your forgiveness and life. You see, the cross is his death, but your life. When he dies, he brings and end to the reign of boasting, of death, of graves, and sin. As a sacrifice, he shows his mercy… his long suffering love. For it is showered down on you today. Love calling your righteous, holy, and forgiven.

Christmass Morning

maryhadalittlelion

In the beginning was the Word and the Word created the heavens and the earth. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep. In the Word was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Genesis and John speak of beginnings (Genesis and John speak of the same things?), the beginning of man and the beginning of sin…of death…and of darkness. We learn of darkness that continues on in every person’s life…even the lives of you and me. As Adam and Eve took the fruit all men entered with Adam into sin and death and the darkness that is such a favorite of Satan. All men entered into sin, even the Psalmist reminds us, “in sin my mother conceived me.”

Can you comprehend this idea of darkness and sin? For the action of Adam and Eve that brought sin into the world…is just like darkness. If you walk into a room and turn off the light, does only the area of the room by the lamp get dark? No…the whole room falls under the vale of darkness. It is also the case with sin, the corruption and death and darkness that entered the world affected the whole world, all the world. The entire wonderful creation, all of its beauty, all of the paradise, everything was and is tainted. It was all darkened by sin, darkened in the shadow of death – stuck in the bondage of the devil…stuck in the darkness.

But it gets worse… Like unto the darkness of the ninth plague of Egypt that preceded the Exodus… John uses a word for darkness that means a darkness that most of us don’t quite get. It is a darkness that is heavy, that you can reach out and touch, pull on, and wrap yourself in. It is a tangible darkness… a darkness that has a punch. That’s your sin, my sin, the sin of the world is a weight that wraps us up and weighs us down— not like a blanket on a cold night, but like a lead apron you must wear to have an x-ray taken, like a ball and chain, like sickness and death that plops down upon you and sucks the life from you. At first it seems fun, but then…

Even we are not immune from the shackles of death, from this darkness. St. Paul reminds us that we are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God. That means us, that means darkness, that means eternal damnation and nothing we can conjure up can save us from it. It tricks us and deceives us…we think we know better than God. Even Adam thought he knew more than God…even the Israelites thought they knew more then God as they molded their golden calf.

Repent. The kingdom of God is with us. God never fails. He continued to assure his people of Christmass. He assures his people of his Word that is life and that life is the LIGHT of men. He assures his people of the light that would overcome, conquer, and stomp out the darkness. God’s people knew of Christmas. God gave a promise of a light, a light so bright that nothing would overtake it!

And the darkness did not and could not overcome the LIGHT. The darkness will never overcome it. From the very beginning, this Christ has been the light of the world and this Christ has been our light. And this Christ has become man. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It was in familiar ways with familiar things that God came to his people and Christmas was no exception. Christ came as baby – with skin and bones and crying set of lungs. He came as human flesh and blood to be like us, to be for us and to be with us.

But how so for us? For us on on a cross for us. He came that man’s debt would be paid and the curse of sin would be removed. He came so that he would die on the cross of Calvary and would rise again to destroy darkness and its sting. So the manger, the beginning of Jesus ministry, always sits in the shadow of the cross. But from the cross forward there are no shadows. The valley of the shadow of death all comes undone there. The sun and the stars didn’t give their light, but Christ still shined through as he conquered your sin and made the world new again.

And so this is the fullness of time, Christ still comes to us for us in familiar ways. It is here in the font with water and with Word – in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that we have been joined to the death—the cross of the Lamb of God— and to the resurrection of Christ and freed from the darkness. With ordinary Words preached and proclaimed into our ears…we are joined to the one who was nailed to the cross for our transgression, the one that said from that cross, “It is finished!” The darkness no longer has a hold on us. It is this death of Christ that makes us alive. Alive! With bread and wine he combines his Word to give you food and drink from heaven. He comes not to better himself, but to bring light to you and me. He comes as man because of his great love. He comes out of great love—for us! Here today we have Christ! Here today we have the forgiveness of our sins! Here today we can celebrate in the light that never fades.

Christ is the light that shines on as a beacon this Christmas. Christ shines on for us! Christ who was, who is, and who always, always will be! Rejoice! Merry Christmas! The LIGHT shines!

Stones for Abraham

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you wake up early on a Sunday morning to see? Was it just a man or is it something more?

John was the first to leap for joy at the coming of the Christ. But the herald of Advent, its great messenger sent from above uses his voice to prepare you and to give you the advent you need. “But among you stands one you do not know,” he says. Among you God comes to dwell. The great I AM that created you and gave you all things comes to stand among you. But you don’t know him. Your path is not straight and there seems to be too much in your way. Christ is in your way or maybe it’s his bride—the church? Maybe the Ho, Ho, Ho of Santa Claus has removed what the Holy Spirit has worked to proclaim in the wilderness?

And so God sends you John and he sends you advent. He sends you four weeks of preparation, prayer, and repentance at the voice of the Prophet John. He is not the Christ. He isn’t even the prophet or Elijah (except he is)! He wants no attention of his own but instead wants you to see God Almighty —Jesus Christ—who stands among you. He will splash the water of the Jordan river and speak the Word of the Lord as he points you to this. one. man. He came to his own and his own did not know him… yet He stands here, not by virtue of your faith or your good works or your reputation, or your building, BUT —by virtue of His Word proclaimed and his sacraments administered. John is not worthy to untie his sandals and you to be called by his name and yet he comes to serve you with his life.

A brood of vipers then —gathered at the banks of the Jordan river—a brood of vipers now. Time does nothing to cleanse and change the human nature. We are sick in our sin and dead to God because of it.

Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?

How do you deal with your sin? How do you deal with your brothers and sisters when they sin against you? How do you deal with it when you sin against others…or even against someone you love??!! Do you try to reconcile yourself with some gods of your own liking? God is not mocked. Your sin, all of your sin, deserves punishment. You can’t justify it away with circumstance, logic theory, or memory loss. You are a sinner and nothing you can do about it can change it. And don’t begin to say to yourself that you are a Christian… that you have been a member of the Lutheran church for a month or two—or well, your whole life! God is able to make Lutherans out of the very stones in the parking lot. Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can’t deal with your sin. It is too much for you. Stop trying. Stop telling yourself that you don’t need the Word of God, stop insisting that you can go a week without the holy communion… stop thinking that you can keep some sins from God and tell him only the ones for which you’ve worked out the plan! Stop reasoning that you don’t really need to hear absolution for that sin, that the one thats burning you up inside, doesn’t need the certainty of the Word preached to its context and circumstance.

Stop listening to Satan and the world tell you to forget this Christ since you don’t even know him. The message of the devil is that you will find the comfort of Christmas in your homes with family or in reindeer or in a jolly old elf or in red cheery coffee cups, but not in the Word of God and in our Lord’s holy Sacraments. The preaching of the Cross of Jesus and the celebrating of his sacraments gets in the way of the devil’s agenda.

Repent! The kingdom of God is near! The voice of one calling from the Jordan makes straight the way of the LORD. An Advent for you! The Word of God opened the lips of John the Baptizer as he stood in the Jordan’s water and drenched us in the Word of God. The Word of God comes here, too. The Holy Spirit calls you by name and leads you in a straight path…and so it is that every preacher since John has preached by the water… for in your Baptism the Old Adam in you by daily contrition and repentance is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges from that water and rises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

And God keeps sending his Word to you. He will not allow the world to hide this great gift from you. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came for broods of vipers. He only comes for sinners. You have to be a sinner to qualify. Thanks be to God that he sent his Son—that dying on the CROSS, all sin would be destroyed, the power of Satan unraveled, and the sting of death removed.

God gives you Advent, he gives you John, he gives you your pastors and he marks his Word upon you. Christ stands here among y’all and the voice of his Word shouts in this wilderness called life. And it shouts through Water, through called and ordained preachers, through bread and wine, that Christ died upon his cross and with his blood he paid the ransom that gives you life eternal. So Advent prepares you for this life eternal. Advent is the Word of God coming to you to make Jesus Christ known to you as you live in this busy life. Advent is God giving life and salvation to you.

The font is in a slightly different spot because of the Christmas tree…which I think is good because when you stumble into it, you remember that God has made you his child and an heir to the Heavenly kingdom. Water to remind you that you have been washed from your sins and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. An altar for you to see and know that God makes his dwelling with you. A pulpit to give you the assurance that God’s Word is not hidden but heard. The Holy Spirit knows that you need this Christ and gives you his body and blood in the bread and wine and there you have forgiveness. There is Christ. That is Christmas. God dwelling here for you, in you, to forgive you. Happy and Blessed Advent. God has made your way straight and given Jesus to you. He is yours, not just today, not just December 25, but always. He is not far from you, but always with you and you know him. And because of his love…you are forgiven.

The Fourth Watch of the Night

Mark 6… In the very midst of life… do you know the life you have, governed by science and math. What is gravity to you or how much weight can the surface of the sea hold?? The snares of death surround you. Don’t they? This upward climb of life, all that you endure, do you feel the ground slipping under you? What happens when the world you think you know becomes a world of unknowns and looking out on the sea of life (like you have your whole adult career, you see what MUST be a ghost?) The air getting thin from time to time? How about the sorrows of loss and pain and sickness… and death. Are you lonely, depressed, or hurt? Are you mad or angry? The snares of death surround you. Not only that, the snares of the world, the snares of your flesh, and the snares of Satan’s wily tongue, they would press in on you from every side and finally in the midst of death’s dark vale the powers of hell overtake you.

Who will help you when they assail you? Where shall we for refuge go? In the midst of utter woe, when your sins oppress you, from where does your help come?

Have your sorrows and pain assaulted you for many years? Have you turned every which way and have never found comfort? Have you been pulling on the blanket only to never have it cover you in the cold long years of your life? Or rather, has your sin and sorrow come in the middle of the night, like a thief and in the innocence of your – minding your own business – assaulted you and left you for afraid and fearing a ghost walking on your water?

When faced with that question, we would exhaust our resources. It’s there that your flesh takes over again. Your reason, your own strength, right? How often in this world, in your fight, do you think your are doing the sailing? That you have all the answers or that the world has a teacher that you can find, to be your help. And that is exactly what you have done. You come here, and sail your boat past your God and around waters you think you’ve charted, but you ignore who he really is. And when you think you’ve lost, “Why trouble the teacher any further?”

Do you remember so long ago, the words… “The LORD keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore”? It was spoken at your baptism. It is sung in Psalm 121…to remind you, and not just that, it’s the Spirit telling you that Jesus won’t let you think you’ve troubled the Teacher or to think that you have been abandoned to sin’s oppression. He won’t let you sink into the snares of Satan and his dark stormy waters. It’s there that Jesus bids you into his arms again – to carry you up a different mountain. For your help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Repent – for the Kingdom of God has come to you. He overhears you, he perceives your thoughts, he speaks to you in your sorrow and pain and in the guilt of sin and despair. You have sailed around and about him. You have called him your Lord, but you have not called upon his name in every trouble, you have not prayed, nor given thanks. You’ve used him for your devices and when the going seemed convenient, you’ve used him, but what about when everything is over and sin and death crouch at the door?

It’s just then that Jesus reminds you, like he reminded the disciples, “It is I, do NOT be afraid.” They had sailed that sea so many times before, but the Lord had walked right through their dark night of sorrow and pain, right through the storms of their sins, and getting into the boat he bids them peace.

Do not fear, only believe! Do not fear, your sins are forgiven! I am the Help that comes from the Lord – I made heaven and earth and my Word performs. It performed when I called you out of darkness in the waters of your baptism and it performs today. I’m not a ghost like you presume, IT IS I, your Lord and teacher! I make all things well.

But why would Jesus do such a thing to his poor disciples? Why didn’t he meet them on the other side, or tell them to wait as he dismissed the crowds? Jesus came to those disciples, walking on the water…he came to strip them of their confidence in themselves. He came in the midst of earthly turmoil to point them to the calm of the kingdom of heaven. They heard their master’s voice…they heard what was sure and comfortable in the midst of the persecution of this fallen world, but distracted by the waves, distracted by their own confidence, when we revert back to our sinful ways, we sink. And that is what you fear. To sink…to drown…to die. Your conscience will confirm that the knife of the Law is above you and the stormy water of the Sea of Galilee is below you.

And that is why Jesus walks on the water. The Lord does not stay high above you and watch as you squirm in the waves of life, he comes all the way to the water and the waves. He knows that you will sink and drown, so he comes all the way to the place where you are and holds out his hand and calms you. There in the water he drowns holding you up. It is Jesus that dies when your sin should have killed you. It is Jesus that drowns in that water, hangs upon the tree of the cross – endures what you fear, suffers your death and walks out to you in the storms of your life.

His Spirit gives you faith to call him Lord. His Holy Spirit gives you his death and his life in your baptism. His Holy Spirit opens your ears to hear your Lord say to you, “Come!” “Come!” He says to each one of you, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest! For my yoke is easy and my burden is light and you will find rest for your souls!” Come! But that simple whisper still isn’t enough for your Lord… Christ reaches out his hand and he touches you! He catches you…His body – he puts upon your lips – and his blood he pours into your mouth. And there from his cross he strengthens your faith. And with Jesus, just like Peter and all the saints, you climb into the safety of his boat – which is the church! He is the Son of God, he encamps around you – walks on stormy water to find you, comforts you with his gentle whisper, and with his hands, his feet, and his side, his death delivers you from all your fears. And YOU are FORGIVEN!

Seeing the Empty Sack in our Sorrow

“Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack!”  That was the theme of President Matthew Harrison’s sermon to the 25,000 youth and youth leaders gathered for the 2013 National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Texas last month.  (In a nutshell: We come to church with an empty sack and throughout the Divine Service, God fills it – with Holy Absolution, with the declaration of his Word, and with the Holy Sacrament… only for us to leave church and use it up, give it away… all the way down to the bottom.  So when we come to church again, we have an empty sack.  Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack.  You have promised to fill it, fill it now.)

The empty sack that we come to church with – empty and expecting to be filled by our loving and merciful God – isn’t something that we knit together in our depravity.  Yet it is in our depravity and the depth of our sorrow that Jesus has given us that sack.  The question of our day isn’t about whether a loving God would let us suffer, but that we have a God that suffered who loves us and came to us in our depravity and washed us in the blood he shed while being sacrificed for our evil.  God, this Jesus, came from heaven down into our very existence to suffer for us and with us.

From the depth of your sorrow and your hurt Jesus knows your pain and listens to your cry.  The view from our eyes can get blurry through the tears, but God has sent forth preachers to let you know that you have a God that has put a sack in your hand.  It will not tear or rip like paper or plastic; it is yours in your baptism and God promises to fill it up.  He keeps putting his good grace and mercy in it.  He knows your pain.  He has suffered your tears.  Jesus wept in love for you.  He has died to pay your debt.  He lives and reigns to bring you life.

Dear ones, God loves you – this way: he sends Jesus to you.  This Jesus takes your sin from you.  He wants it, he takes it, he has it.  In its place he gives his forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is the one that has taken the eternal sting out of death.  He knows that you are victorious with him.  He knows that you need a savior and he is the one for you.  The only one to save you and to carry you to his eternal peace is Jesus.  Take your empty sack to his throne.  Speak to him all your sorrows.  He wants to hear your voice.  Even through all the tears, you have a God that gives ear to your prayers.  Even in pain and sorrow you have have a God that thinks on you.  Even in the face of death and certain earthly destruction, you have a God – this Jesus – that loves you and intercedes for you and prepares a place for you at his side.  You are loved.  You are his.

Jesus Weeps…Luke 19

Our God is this weeping man.  The man of all sorrows, knowing every temptation… and keenly aware of all your pain, this Jesus is the creator of heaven and earth.  He weeps because man picks for himself other gods and rejects this Word become flesh.  He entered into that city to die for your sins, to wash you in his blood, and make you whole again — but man has become lost in his own world and even that most holy city becomes complacent in its faith and forgets the true God.

Jesus weeps because he is mourning… He loves them, he knows they will suffer.  But they choose their own way, they pick their own gods.  You know, the gods we pick: the ones that make life convenient for us and our own agendas.  We serve the gods that are pleased that we speak out loud the evils we treasure in our hearts.  The gods that are fine with you being a member of a Christian congregation, but don’t insist that you help the less fortunate, that you feed the homeless, that you clothe the naked, that you tell everyone you meet the good news about Jesus.  The gods that turn a blind eye at what happens under your sheets in your room with the door shut.  The gods that are content with forgiveness that is void of love and compassion.

These are the gods of Jerusalem… the gods of Saint Louis… of the world.  They are happy to see that you are baptized, as if it were some license to sin.  As if being baptized meant that you could never be lost, that Satan’s pain could never touch you.  Repent.  The God of heaven and earth, this Jesus Christ is at hand.  Do away with these gods that cannot save you and cling instead to the Man, who is God, come down from heaven for your salvation.

The Man—Jesus, has made this place his own, a place to meet him, to receive him, to hear of his mercy and then to receive that very mercy.  There is no place for our sin, our second hand gods and false ideas about convenience and faith.  There is only room for him.  He drives away Satan and the world…and opens the door to all, for his mercy is for the whole world.  If it were not for his intervention in your life, your sin would trap you and your complacency would trick you — instead he has driven our sin from us and has cleansed you of your death.  His blood has washed you and his Word has entered you.

And so, we the baptized stand and say, “The devil can’t hurt me.  I’ve sinned.  I’ve done terrible things.  But God is merciful. Jesus died for me. I am baptized and I belong to God. The devil can roar all he wants, he can’t hurt me. Because Jesus has overcome him and risen from the dead. The resurrected Lord brought you back. He forgives your sins.

Why does our Savior weep? He weeps for those He loves. He weeps for the lost and also for the sorrows of the faithful. That sorrow does not stop Him. It doesn’t render Him impotent. He endures. He presses on. He goes to the cross. Because many in Jerusalem were lost, they would not have Him. But not all were lost. Peter was there. Mary. Nicodemus. Zachariah. Saul. And you, your parents, your children, your brothers and sisters, your coworkers around you today. He goes for them, to save them, to open heaven for free to all believers, to give power and authority to baptism, to give substance and life to the Holy Communion.

The Temple is now cleansed. The Lord is risen and weeps no more.  He has what He came for: you. You are baptized, forgiven, faithful by Divine decree and promise. Now you have forgiveness for yesterday, strength for today, and hope for tomorrow, and you fill this God-Man with joy.

In Jesus’ Name.

Chapel at the International Center: August 9, 2013

An Old Post on Preaching

I expect to be soaking in the blood of Jesus when the preacher says, “Amen.” That bright red river of life from the cross of Calvary makes the robes of God’s people white like snow. The professors at Concordia Theological Seminary would say that a sermon should be a good exposition of Law and Gospel in a liturgical context. There should be Law that cuts you down and Gospel that picks you up. BUT the Gospel should always predominate. In other words, when the preacher opens his mouth – Jesus picks you up. The preacher must give you Jesus. He shouldn’t just tell you about Jesus. He shouldn’t just mention the cross. Preachers should never tell you about telling the story. Preachers are called to preach the Christ. They are called out of darkness to proclaim light and life into this dark and dead world. Preachers do that by preaching Jesus to your person. Pastors bring the forgiveness of sins from the cross and wrap you with it, like a warm blanket on a cold, winter’s night. They take his blood and wash you with it. Like a mother after you’ve played in the mud, a pastor scrubs you clean (even behind the ears) with Christ’s blood. They do it because only that blood can take away your sins. They are faithful to this call because God resurrects the sinner from his watery grave and gives him new life. How does God do it? He does it by opening the mouths of preachers, and then soaking you in his Son’s blood. He does it by opening your mouth and pouring that blood down your throat. He does it through weak and sinful men. He does it through your pastor. Expect to be soaking in Christ’s blood when the pastor says, “Amen.” Expect to be alive because Christ has wrapped you with his love and breathed new life into your ears. Not only should you expect it, you should demand it. It is your heritage. It is God’s good gift. AND…it’s yours.

– from Concordia TheoBLOGical Seminary, Rev. Steven T. Cholak, 2009

A Lutheran Poem by Chad Bird

Mary had a little Lion
Whose roar shall fall the Foe
And everywhere the church might be
The Lion is sure to go.

He follows her o’er land and sea
In search of souls to save
And everywhere the church proclaims
The life in love he gave.

Mary had a little Lion
Whose mane was once stained red
That he might wash you white as snow
In blood for you he bled.

— Chad L. Bird

 

An Ordination Sermon

One of my friends was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry a few weeks ago.  Here is the sermon, preached by Pastor David Petersen.  It was a High Delight to hear an old friend preach at one of the Holy Spirit’s festive days.  Congratulations, James and God’s blessings in Christ as you lead the church to her Holy Groom.

Rev. James Ambrose Lee Ordination

Trinity Lutheran Church Worden, Illinois

John 20:19-23

September 26, 2012 A+D

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

Aquinas thinks that the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body is a necessary antidote to the forbidden fruit. Our first parents brought terrible misery upon us by eating. Fruit, meant for knowledge, was abused and taken by force, bringing guilt, need, and death down upon us. Our Lord responds not merely by taking these things into Himself, substituting His law-keeping for our law-breaking and His innocence for our guilt, but also by providing His very Body as Food to replace that which we stole and to undo its effects. His Body removes guilt, satisfies our hunger, and bestows life.

In some ways, His Body gives what was falsely promised to Eve: it makes men like God. There is irony here to be sure. Men lusted to be like God. So God, to fix the thing we broke, took up what we despised.

All the Greek myths, by the way, can be understood in this way. Man goes awry when he seeks immortality. Icarus wasn’t meant to fly. That was reserved for the gods. Pandora wasn’t meant to open the box but chafed against being merely human. And wasn’t Eve’s lust also partially for knowledge that only God should have?

Perhaps the Greeks better perceived the natural law than we thought, or, as descendants of Noah, they retained a confused version of the truth.

We lusted for God. We wanted to be immortal and above the Law. So He took up that which we despised: mortality, weakness, hunger. He became a Man, a creature, born under the Law, that we might be elevated and be like Him. Do we not now know, in Christ, both good and evil?

So Eve gets what she thought she wanted, the object of her temptation. It is bit like David keeping Bathsheba. It certainly seems wrong. Uriah is dead at David’s hand. David’s son is dead for David’s guilt. But he gets his cake and eats it too. He keeps Bathsheba. He gets, in a sense, what he wanted. That is more than kindness. That is high injustice: that, however, is grace.

The Body of Jesus given in the Sacrament gives precisely what we tried to steal from the tree of knowledge. We are like God because God is more than like us: He is one of us. He has a Body and He has Blood and in it He unites us to Himself.  We reap not only where we did not sow, living in houses we did not build, but we get the inheritance by killing the Son. That which we sought to steal is declared a gift. We are welcomed into the family of the Holy Trinity.

It is no wonder the Romans thought we were hedonist cannibals and atheists. We wanted to become gods so god became a Man and declared us His sons and His Bride for killing Him.

Put your feet up, baby, it is Christmastime. Welcome to the happy insanity that is Christianity. I was listening to Johnny Cash sing the little drummer boy on the way here. The song is high on schmaltz, to be sure. But consider for a minute how unusual a piety Christians have that they can write such songs. A dirty little boy can approach God almighty and give Him a worthless gift without fear and even with the correct expectation that God will accept it. The Muslims don’t write any such songs about Allah. This is a distinctly Christian ability and it is because our God has made Himself a Man precisely that we might approach Him. He is not angry with us despite our sins. He forgives us. David gets to keep Bathsheba. This is the happy insanity of Christianity, of grace.

In any case, I think Aquinas is on to something with the connection between the Sacrament and the Fall. And I wonder if the character of the Fall isn’t also seen in the institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry. Death sent an ambassador into the garden, an angel in the form of a snake, who beguiled Eve with clever lies and false promises to tempt and seduce her. The living God responds by sending ambassadors, called angels in St. John’s revelation, into the wilderness of our exile to speak the Truth and proclaim God’s promises, not only to expose the lies of the devil, but also to break the bonds of temptation, to reconcile rebels to their God, to declare them righteous and welcome them to the feast in the garden. Men were seduced by words to eat. Men now are called by words to eat and live.

All pastors sent by God as anti-devils, undoing with words what the devil did through words. Perhaps that is why the primordial and creative breathing is repeated in the Upper Room. Ash Wednesday’s curse is not quite true. We returned to dust in the Fall but God rebreathes live into us again through the Apostolic Ministry. What is breathed into them but the new Adam which they breathe out again in preaching? Dust we were and to dust we returned, but the Holy Spirit comes and revives us again through preaching and absolution. The preachers undo the lie, undo death, by telling the truth. They remove the curse by proclaiming the promise, and their words are carried on the breath of the Holy Spirit. That is why preaching leads to the Sacrament . The devil lied and pushed Eve into the thorns through eating. The pastors tell the Truth and take Eve by the hand, gently leading Her to the Life of God in His Blood.

So that is your charge, James: tell the truth. Lead the Bride to the Supper, to the Bridegroom. Undo the curse. Breathe the Holy Spirit out upon dusty men in need of Good News and Life with God. And God will be with you even as in you He will be with them.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Rev. David H. Petersen, Pastor – Redeemer Lutheran Church Fort Wayne, Indiana