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.

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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.

Adam Seeking

It was at the point when Adam hid himself that he was seeking out his own turf.  It made him uncomfortable to be naked, to be hiding and to be in Eden.  Sinners cannot stand in the presence of God.  The sin destroys us… it demands its wage.  Adam wanted out (not necessarily out of Eden because he loved Eden); he wanted away from God.  Where could he and Eve go and hide from God.  And that new turf… when he found it, had to be void of God.  God, at this point, became one that was sought (in concept only), when convenient, if at all, but not welcome in the living room of Adam’s new sinful nature.  Instead of delighting in God… by nature we run from God.  God could have just ended it there.  Death reigned and God could have let it be… just let death have its way at that particular minute.  Instead, God comes into Adam’s space and proclaims a Savior for him and for Eve and for you and for me.  God comes into our lives and interrupts our routines and by water and his Word builds us into his Son.  Its there that He delights in us.  God has grabbed us and given us new life in the birth from above.  We are his children.  We have a new man – the Godman, Jesus Christ as our brother and Savior.  By the blood of Christ we live and enjoy the presence of God and are fed by him.  Christ has made all things new.  He does all things well.  Alleluia!

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It’s really easy to hate your enemies.  That’s the way of the Old Adam and the sinful human flesh.  That’s the norm for the world.  The thing is our Old Adam has been drowned and killed in the waters of our baptism and now we are children (sons and daughters) of our Father in heaven.  That means that he is making us to be like his only begotten Son.  We are becoming cruciform, Christlike, inheritors of the heavenly kingdom.  God reorders and recreates our hearts that his Holy Spirit may dwell there, thus instead of the evil that dwells in the heart… alone… all the time… (Genesis 6:5), now the Holy Spirit dwells there, planting faith and growing love.  We now love like Christ loves.  It’s not perfect; we trip and fall and mess things up.  We are sinners, but we have been washed.  We are righteous in the sight of our Father in heaven.  No longer like the Gentiles, now like Christ we love… that is, we lay down our lives and reach out to serve.

It’s really easy to hate those that kill and murder, spit, and lie.  It’s really easy to ignore or to spit, lie, and murder back.  All the rest do that, but you have been washed.  You have been marked with the cross of Christ as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  We go forth in love, laying down our lives only because Christ first loved us and laid down his life for sinners.  He let himself be spit upon, mocked, slapped, and killed.  But what he laid down for the life of the life of the world, he picked back up again and delivered that life to you.  Marked, washed, redeemed, forgiven… a child of God.  We love because he loves us.

Lutheran Quote for Today

“It is not we who are able to maintain the church, nor could those before us, nor will those who come after us be able to do so.  It is only He who says, ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’ It has always been He, is He now, and will always be He.  As it is written in Hebrews 13, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’  And Revelation 1, ‘… who is and who was and who is to come.’  He is the Man.  That is His name, which belongs to no other man, nor may it be given to any other.”   –Martin Luther

I just work here

You’ve heard it before.  Someone just shakes their head and says, “I don’t know, I just work here.”  They clock in and they clock out.  They take no responsibility for anything except what they are required to do.  They lay the blame of discord or mismanagement or missed marks on someone else.  It is extremely frightening when this happens at a church.  One of the greatest delights in my life has been being a church worker.  When I first became a pastor, I missed sitting in the pew from time to time, but that is no longer the case.  I feel most comfortable in my vocation in the sedalia, in the pulpit, and at the altar.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to work part-time as a church secretary these past couple of months.  And now more than ever, I think it a blessing to work in the church (I mean receive my livelihood from the church).  The congregation becomes a brilliant monument as Christ works together the spiritual stones, which are his people.  He is making a holy house, one Christian at a time.  This place becomes part of us… we live and breath the Gospel preached here and the work done here.  It almost becomes second nature.  I don’t suppose a mother feels like an outsider at her own dinning room table.  So likewise, Christ calls us brothers and sisters, heirs of the heavenly kingdom.  He tells us to pray with him, “Our Father.”  This is our house, just as much as it is his.

This house is a marvelous sight.  Christ is building it.  With his Spirit he calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.  We don’t just work here, we belong here.  It is where Jesus comes to build us up with a foretaste of the feast to come.  It is where brothers and sisters in Christ rub shoulders and learn to thank God for his gift of salvation… as we study his Word and sing with our family.  Jesus does all things well.  This too is his marvelous work.  We are being brought together, being forged into one flesh and united with him.  This is cause for celebration.

Do we just work here?  No… we live here and become alive here.  We eat and drink and feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven here.  We behold the glory of the only begotten Son here.  We teach the children about this wonderful love of God and the Spirit prepares them and us for eternity here.  What is this place where we work?  It’s home.

Joy

This past weekend I got my hands on a new book by Rev. Matthew Harrison.  The book is called, “A Little Book on Joy.”  It is published by Lutheran Legacy.  “‘So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so little joy today,’ my friend observed. ‘These are difficult times.'”  I’ve only read the first chapter so far… but it is a great read.  You can pick up the book at http://www.logia.org.  It doesn’t cost that much and it will be a pleasure for you.  Are these difficult times?  Is the joy gone?  Yesterday’s gospel reading, Luke 11:14-28, showed how good the devil is at making the joy evaporate.  The finger of God had just cast out a demon.  The finger of God forgave the sins of 40+ people at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Houston yesterday morning.  It was a miracle.  They were all freed.  Yet someone said of Jesus that he was casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.  The joy evaporated from that scene when Beelzebul’s name was mentioned.  And yet, Jesus made sure that it wasn’t really gone.  It was the same yesterday at my church.  There was great joy because Satan was defeated and he was cast out.  The Lord of life came and visited his people.  He touched them, he fed them, and he blessed them.  They are living today, basking in the glow of the joy they received in the Cross.  Go get the book.  Read it and tell me what you think.

Oculi Sermon 2010

In the name of the Father and the +Son and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  These are difficult times.  A house divided upon itself will always fall.  My friends and I used to play war when we were kids.  The basic tenant was always, “divide and conquer.”  And we knew that if you could divide, the conquering was easy.  And so it is that I’ve happened upon a family here at Our Redeemer.  A household of faith – a kingdom if you will.  Brothers and sisters have been born out of water and the Spirit.  The Church birthed them… many of you right here, if not in this room, then in Houston.  Our Lord Jesus has made you a member of himself in the Holy regeneration of Holy Baptism.  The finger of God has touched you.  You are called holy.  You are called righteous.  You are children of the most high almighty God.  Look at yourselves.  Look at your hands.  Hold them up before your eyes.  God has made for himself children out of creation.  He has made family out of humans.  You have become divine because of Jesus.

And yet it is the way of the human heart to call what is good “evil,” and we have all done it.  We have vilified those we disagree with.    We rarely call our opponent in politics, at the work place, at home, or in the Church “evil.”  But we have called them “closed-minded,” “hateful,” “legalistic,” “Pharisaic,” “stupid,” “racist,” and “liberal.”  And we’ve rolled our eyes.  Our intentions in all vilification, in arbitrary accusations, character assassinations, and plain old name-calling has been to make ourselves look good and to enact some vengeance, born of envy or anger, disgust or ignorance, but never of charity, on our opponents.  And we have allowed our brothers and sisters to become opponents.  We’ve made ourselves the judge.  We’ve relished our anger.  Repent.

Jesus was casting out demons.  The mute man spoke for the first time.  There should have been great rejoicing.  It was a sign from God.  It was a miracle – the mute man’s affliction was cast out and his voice returned to him.  But Satan wouldn’t allow it.  Some in the crowd hated Jesus, no matter what he did.  Their hearts were full of envy and rage.  They couldn’t stand or accept his good deeds.  So they called him evil.  They called him the prince of the dung heap.  They were saying, “Jesus is in league with the devil.”  Divide and conquer… and the joy evaporated like the morning fog.

Envy is never happy.  Anger is not easily satisfied.  They kept testing him: seeking a sign from heaven.  Were they blind?  Was not Jesus performing a sign from heaven?  Who casts the doubt?  Who demands a sign?  This is what the devil did in our reading two weeks ago.  In the desert he asked Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple.  “Force the angles to catch you.  Make your Father prove his power and his love.”  Is that what we do, too?  Are we forcing God to show his power to forgive us, even when we refuse to forgive… when we harbor anger, or let our envy grow and lust?  Are we forcing the angels to intervene?

Jesus would later say to this same crowd that an evil generation seeks a sign.  They refused to be satisfied and would not trust in Christ and his Word.  They demanded proof.  Jesus said he would give them the sign of Jonah… the sign of a man buried three days in the belly of death alive out of death to preach repentance and salvation to the nations.  That is the sign faith clings to—the sign of the cross.  Christ crucified and risen to save sinners, death spitting up its prey.

Still fallen men call what is good evil.  They attack God’s Word by calling it a human-created fiction.  They say Christians are intellectually foolish and psychologically weak, Christianity is an offense that should die its own death.  But God has chosen nonsense in the world to shame the wise.  God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God has chosen you, in his mercy, to be vilified with the Lord Jesus, to go the way of the cross.

The devil is obviously strong.  He has great power.  He is ruthless, and he is also clever.  He will stop an nothing to divide this family.  To see it conquered, he will throw any lie at us and he will whisper sweet nothings in your ear to trick you into hate, envy, and anger.  He wants there to be no joy here—and he is delighted when the angles stop rejoicing.  But our Lord Jesus Christ is stronger then the devil.  He exercises his strength not with spectacular power, violence, or deceptions, but instead he submits to all the devil has.  He lets the devil do his worst, bring his full power to bear, and he turns the other cheek.  He uses Satan’s strength against him.  It is not a surprise, it is exactly what the Law, the Psalms, and all the prophets foretold.  The devil knew.  He quoted the Word of God in the desert.  He has the Word of God memorized.  But in the end, he was a fool who could not resist the chance to kill God even though this is how he lost humanity.  Jesus did not use evil disguised as good, that is the way of the devil.  Jesus used good disguised as evil.  The unjust death he died, the innocent for the guilty is good.  The centurion’s conversion and the repentant thief are good.  The death of Jesus appeared evil but is the ultimate and greatest good.  It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

It was by a tree that the devil overcame the human race and plunged creation into darkness.  So it is by the Tree of the cross that the devil is overcome.  It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory.  So it is by the death of Jesus Christ that the glory of man is restored.  Satan is caught in his own trap, succumbs to the temptation, bound and defeated.  He was divided and conquered.  The strong man is out worked by the Stronger Man whose strength is not hatred and rage but love and mercy.  The war is over.  Satan is defeated.  Jesus is the victor.

The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit.  And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed.  Blessed are those whose wickedness has been covered and sins have been forgiven.  Blessed are those who confess what is evil as evil and confess what is good, even the Lord Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection as good.

You are such people.  For though you have called good evil and vilified your opponents and even your brothers and sisters… so also have you confessed your sins.  You are not a hypocrite.  You have not claimed to be anything other than a sinner.  Neither are you wicked.  For you do not call your sins good.  You confess them.  You call them evil.  You repent of them.  And you also confess the goodness of Jesus Christ, of his Holy Cross, of his power over death and the devil, and of his Holy Sacraments.  You expect and receive forgiveness.  You hear the Word of God and keep it, which is not to say that you obey it perfectly, but that you believe it, trust it, and you hope in it.  Jesus Christ is your Lord.  Satan has not divided you.  Jesus now bind you together into one body.  You are made one flesh in him who has come down from heaven.  Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.  For unto you this day Jesus Christ has come to give you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Blessed are you.  The difficult times are made easy in the yoke of the Lord.  He is come.  You are his.  He is faithful.  He calls you by name.  He is faithful and today he does all things well.

In +Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

**Modified from a sermon by Rev. David Petersen, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Rev. Richard Futrell Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Kimberling City, Missouri.

The Reverend Steven Thomas Cholak

Back to the Cross

Pastor David Petersen preached a great sermon last Sunday on Matthew 15.  You can check it out here.  Right in the middle of the sermon he said, “Everything goes back to the cross and the Holy communion brings the cross back to us.”  Our whole theology is the cross of Christ and it is Christ who brings that cross – His cross – back to us each week in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Not only do we hear about it and read it, but we actually participate in it.  In a way that effects our reality, Christ continues as the I AM in creation.  Not only is His finger in creation, but His finger continues to be part of creation.  God became a man that he might bring life and salvation to you.  He continues to be a man and continues to come into our midst, dwelling with His people in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the preaching of His Word, and in the forgiving of sins.