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.

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!

Preaching Christ Crucified

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 the 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.

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

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

War Broke Out IN Heaven

And Jesus saw Satan fall like lightening.  Where did he go?  Here.  The Church is at war.  Our enemy prowls around like a lion ready to devour any prey that will make it into his toothless mouth.  He’s looking for Christians.  He wants to destroy shepherds and scatter sheep.  Make no mistake, even in peaceful America, you and I are at war with the powers of darkness.  Where should we flee and from whence cometh our help?  We look to the mountain(s)… to Calvary.  For God has given us the victory.  He has made us the living heirs to his kingdom.  Satan cannot harm you, but he will scowl fierce as he will and hurl all kinds of insults and lies at you.  No fear: Christ has judged him, return to the Lord your God.  Read his holy Word, pray for his Holy Spirit, and return again to his Word and Divine Service.  Be fed, be alive in Jesus… for he has marked you as his own.  The angels see the mark.  Satan sees the mark.  The angels rejoice and sing for joy over you.  Happy St. Michael’s Day… Who is like God??  You are, for Jesus has washed you in the blood of the Lamb.

Beginning Adult Instruction

Tomorrow I start a new Adult Instruction class at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Houston.  They have asked me to serve them as their vacancy pastor while I wait for a full-time call.  I’m excited about this opportunity to serve Our Redeemer congregation and to be preaching on a weekly basis and teaching again.  If you are in Houston tomorrow come on by please join us. Church is at 9:00 and Bible study is at 10:30.  See you around there!