20 April 2015

A Stunning Lenten Sermon

offered by my dear fiend, Duane Peters, a pastor of Lutheran Church—Canada. Thanks to Trent Demarest for sending me a copy I can post on the blog!

The Third Sunday in Lent (3B)
Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-25
March 8, 2015
Rev'd Duane E. Peters

In 1982 my Greek Drama professor invited me to attend a lecture given by Sir Kenneth Dover at the University of Toronto. My professor, Dr Robert Fowler, now Henry Overton Wills Professor of Greek at Bristol, had just completed his D. Phil. from Oxford, and Dover had been one of his examiners. Dover was considered the finest Greek scholar of his generation, and Fowler figured it would be good for me to hear one of the luminaries of ancient Greek studies. So I went with him and listened to the lecture. Afterward he introduced me to Dover, and I was duly impressed. He was learned, eloquent, and well-mannered, everything you would expect of an Oxford man of that age. 

Dover seemed to have led a life of almost oppressive decorum. He received a knighthood in 1977. He was past president of the British Academy when I met him, Chancellor of St. Andrews University, and President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford from 1976 to 1986. But it wasn't always smooth sailing. During his tenure as President of Corpus Christi College, Dover was engaged in a protracted dispute with the college librarian and a Fellow in History, Trevor Henry Aston, who suffered from manic depression. His mental illness coupled with bouts of heavy drinking led to inappropriate outbursts at meetings, quarrelling, abusive language, and drunken displays in the quad. In short, his erratic behaviour was an embarrassment to the College and to Dover. What does one do with a librarian and Fellow whose behaviour threatens the reputation of the College? One possibility is to kill him. In his autobiography Sir Kenneth wrote, “It was clear to me now that Trevor and the college must somehow be separated. My problem was one which I feel compelled to define with brutal candour: how to kill him without getting into trouble. I had no qualms about causing the death of a fellow from whose nonexistence the college would benefit, but I balked at the prospect of misleading a coroner's jury...[and]consulting a lawyer to see if [I] would be legally at risk if [I] ignored a suicide call.” Aston was found dead in his rooms on 17 October 1985 after an overdose. Prior to his death Dover had received a call from a mutual friend informing him that Aston sounded like he was contemplating suicide. After consulting his doctor, Dover and the physician decided to do nothing. Although Dover had consulted a lawyer and had put pressure on Aston, he later contended that Aston's suicide resulted from the fact that his wife had filed for divorce. In view of his penchant for honesty, I think we have to give Dover the benefit of the doubt. At this point, the most we can say is that he was contemplating assisting Aston with his suicide. At the very least his statements are chilling, and it is easy to understand why his relationship with many of his colleagues soured after the event.

I mention this because Dover was an atheist. That's why he had no qualms about causing the death of a Fellow. And it is important that we realize the seriousness of the situation we now find ourselves in. Thoughts and ideas have consequences. There are consequences for belief and unbelief, in this world and the next. And this example is not an isolated incident. In his book The End of Faith the popular atheist Sam Harris said, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” In other words, the Christian faith is so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing it. Shades of Mao Tse-tung, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot! Those three atheists together killed more people in the 20th century than had been killed in the previous 19 combined. It is no accident. If you remember, after Adam and Eve fell into sin, one of the first things that happened was Cain killed Abel. Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Their sin resulted in death and murder. Thus, it should not surprise us that atheists have such an easy relationship with death. They live in the kingdom of death, the kingdom of sin, death, and the devil. And we need to remember that this is a serious matter. As St. Paul says, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” When you hear people espouse this stuff on the radio and TV, it is not just a case of boys will be boys, or people have silly ideas. There is evil at work in the world.

And it is getting worse, or at least, some people are starting to recognize evil for what it is. The philosopher Justin McBrayer said he was surprised to discover the public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it is wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests. As a professor of philosophy he knew that most university-aged students did not believe in moral facts, but he didn't know where that attitude came from until he entered his son's second grade classroom, and discovered that they were taught such things were just opinions. In other words, it is merely an opinion that it is wrong to kill people for fun. But this is nothing new. Allan Bloom had already pointed this out in 1987.

You may also be surprised to learn that the Education Act of Ontario, Chapter E.2, Part X, 264 (1)(c) says the duty of a teacher in Ontario is “to inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance, and all other virtues.” I hardly think the province's new sex education curriculum seeks to “inculcate respect for the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for purity and all other virtues.” How is the poor teacher who is required to teach the curriculum supposed to inculcate by precept respect for Christian morality?

The Judaeo-Christian precepts the Education Act of Ontario speaks of are found in our Old Testament Reading, the Ten Commandments. But if you have no respect for God, then the Ten Commandments become nothing more than someone's opinion, which is exactly what people have told me over the years when I quoted the Word of God to them. But it is not God's opinion; it is God's Law. And if it is God's Law, you ignore it at your peril.

There are only two options in this life. Either you love God and hate evil, or you love evil and hate God. Either you are a Christian, or you are an unbeliever. Luther said when we keep the Ten Commandments, we show that we fear and love God. The Book of Proverbs says “To fear God is to hate evil.” Anyone who does not hate evil is vulnerable to evil. But we live in an age when evil is not only promoted, but praised. And if we do not put on the full armour of God, we will fall before the assaults of evil. We must hold on to Christ, then, and His Word and Sacraments, if we are to be saved.

The Fall into sin wrought havoc in God's creation. Men made in the image of God were now evil. That's why Jesus did not trust the men talking to Him in the Temple and in Jerusalem.

Jesus knows what is in the hearts of men. He told us. In Mark 7:21 Jesus said, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” That's what is going on in the hearts of human beings. In fact, in our day, it is no longer restricted to the heart. It has all come out, and it all defiles. Sin runs rampant. We sin because we are sinners. The fall into sin has left us with sinful and defiled hearts, hearts that would lead us to hell if God had not intervened.

Rebellious man cannot presume to appear before God, much less wrangle with Him (Roehrs). God must take the initiative. God must come to man. Just as God took the initiative and rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, and then spoke to His terrified people on Mount Sinai, so God took the initiative and became a man to rescue us from slavery to sin, death, and the devil. It was all God's doing.

The Son of God became a man and made His body your temple. The Temple was the place where sacrifice was offered to atone for your sin. The body of Jesus, nailed to the cross, is the place where the sin of the world is atoned for, your sin and mine.

Jesus spoke of a new Temple, the Temple of His body. And this is the good news for us. In this Temple, the Temple of His body, Jesus made atonement for all sin. Jesus took what is in man and carried it to the cross. He took the evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness and made satisfaction for them there. He is the victim and the priest, the Temple and the sacrifice. In His own body He made satisfaction for your sins. And the body given into death on the cross for your sins and raised for your forgiveness on Easter Sunday, He gives to you now for your forgiveness in the Holy Supper. His sacrifice brings your forgiveness.

The temple authorities asked Jesus for a sign to justify His actions. Pretty nervy for sinners to demand a sign from God in the midst of their sin. But Jesus, who leaves no believing petition unanswered, refused as always the sign which will satisfy the demand of the unrepentant. He answered them with a riddle which was also a call to repentance. The sneer with which they answered His call to repentance makes it clear that Jesus knew what was in their hearts when He refused their demand for a sign. No sign would be given that evil generation except the sign of Jonah, the sign of the Temple of His body raised on the third day. He came to His own, and His own received Him not. His own people rejected Him. But as many as received Him, who believed in His 
name, He gave power to become the children of God.

The Psalmist says, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (51:16). That is the language of repentance. Jesus came to the Temple to call His people to repentance. He showed them their sin and pointed them to His death and resurrection for forgiveness. In His death and resurrection, Jesus said, “I forgive you.” He is present here again today with His forgiveness for you to receive. He is here delivering the fruits of His sacrifice through the preached and sacramental Gospel. He offers His body and blood for your forgiveness. That is His sacrifice for us. It is all here as His gift for you.

Jesus is here with His gifts because He knows what you need for your salvation. You need His forgiveness. Knowing that, He died for you. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Now you know that because Jesus was put to death for your sins and raised for your forgiveness, because Jesus died and rose for you, when death destroys your body, Jesus will raise it up again on the Last Day. Amen.

18 April 2015

Not the best of days...

...started off with having to say good bye to Lauren and Annabelle as they flew back to NC, but poor Lucy seems to have suffered a stroke.  Her back legs drag behind her.  Vet could find no sensation in them she was aware of. We took her back home.  We devised a sling to hold up her rear and as long as we're holding that, she's pretty happy and even explores some outside. But I'm not sure how long she will make it and if the stroke is progressive. She definitely is far worse today than yesterday.  Prayers appreciated for our little pooch.  If He cares for the cattle of Nineveh, surely He cares also for our little four footed companions.  

15 April 2015

This!

Yes. Exactly.

10 April 2015

08 April 2015

Homily for Easter Wednesday

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

(Acts 3:13-21 ESV)

It was heady times in the Apostolic community. What had Jesus promised? “And greater things than this shall you do because I go to the Father.” So after crucifixion, after resurrection, after ascension, He poured out His Spirit and things were hopping in Jerusalem. Peter and John headed up to the temple to pray and the man begging alms. Peter notices him, notices his faith. Says: “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

And he didn’t only get and walk, he was leaping and dancing and praising God for the unmerited, unlooked for gift of healing. Chrysostom says that this made manifest the resurrection, for it was an image of the resurrection. And everyone gathered around him and Peter and John and wondered. Quite evidently the same wonder working power that had been evidenced in Jesus was still in evidence. There’s a reason Luke begins Acts with the feisty words, in the first book, O Theopholis, I covered all that Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach.” Because His doing and teaching were still going on quite powerfully through the Apostles.

But the danger is that we forget that it’s Jesus doing the verbs. We can imagine that it was those who were only instruments. So Peter cries out: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” And so today’s text begins.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus and it’s Jesus who is behind all this hoopla. “Then shall the lame man leap like a deer!” Isaiah had foretold. And the man whooping and hollering it up in the temple was the doing of Him who alone can heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead.

Yesterday, Dr. Rast read the text later when Paul was preaching: “They killed...”
 and that’s fair because he wasn’t in Jersualem anymore. But here in our reading, with the memory of those historic days fresh in everyone’s mind, no “they” but “you.” You delivered him over, the One who went in your midst healing every disease and raising the dead, You denied him before Pilate (No king but Caesar for us!), even when Pilate was trying to release Him. You asked for a murderer instead. “Not this man but Barabbas!” And so YOU killed the Author of life. You killed Your own life. You killed the very life of this world. BUT God raised Him from the dead. We (John, Peter and the other apostles) are all witnesses of this. And He’s the one who’s still up to His old business. It’s by His name and faith in His name that this fellow stands before you in perfect health. Jesus did this, not we.

And I know you acted in ignorance, you and your leaders. But that’s how God worked it all so that everything His prophets said came true: that His Christ would suffer. Isaiah 53 looms large. And Psalm 22, among others. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good for the saving alive of many lives.” So, repent, turn get a new mind. Your sins will be blotted out and times of refreshing will come to you from the Lord.

Here we stand, centuries removed, and yet we cannot but be stirred in heart when we hear of those amazing days, when the cowardly Peter stood bold and preached the Crucified and Risen One and did not deny anymore. When the men who at one point were so concerned about their own prestige and honor and seating plan in the Kingdom, now throw overboard all pride and stress to everyone that it’s them, their power, their piety, it’s Jesus and His name that does the miracle.

Beside a charcoal fire, Peter had denied. Besides a charcoal fire, Peter was restored (John 21). And what the Risen One did for Peter, blotting all His sins, He wanted to do for everyone who rejected, despised, mocked, and killed Him. He literally is Forgiveness of Sin risen from the dead. And so for you too, He rises to bring you times of refreshing. To be Your pardon. And His power goes on working in your life, as He pours out His Spirit into you and you too believe.

It wasn’t long before the Church began noticing the shifting of the Lord’s work. Those eye-popping miracles of the earliest days faded with the death of the Apostles. It is said that in a meeting between himself and St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent IV noted with pride: “No longer can the Church say ‘silver and gold have I none’ to which Aquinas noted, “but neither can she say ‘rise, take up your bed and walk.’”

Which invites us to some self-reflection. Have the flood of miracles died down because of our worldiness. Something we need to ask. But I think that misses the mark a bit. Yet it is true, those kind of miracles still show up, now and again across the centuries. The Lord still works. But the flood of miracles that came with the Apostles was to prove to all the world that the Risen One was at work in them and that each one of us needs to hear the words they bring us about the Crucified and Risen Lord. And that's how the big miracle happens, the miracle that just keeps going on, the miracle of dead sinners being raised up to life, brought into a community of faith, formed by the Spirit, shaped by the Word, in which forgiveness continues to blot out every sin in the blood of Jesus, and where God’s most determined enemies continue to be forgiven and restored. Where the ministry continues to give out the Lord’s gifts not by its own power or piety, but simply done in the name and bidding of the Risen One, who will finally bring in the great miracle of resurrection for us all, and to whom be glory, now and to the ages of ages. Amen.

06 April 2015

Please note

the grand prize for toddler. She MIGHT be familiar to followers of ye olde blog:  March of Dimes Cutest Baby Contest.

05 April 2015

Easter 2015

What joy at the Divine Service! The liturgy began, as usual on this day, with the bells and organ leading "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" as the procession entered the Church.


The choir sang the Introit antiphonally with the congregation and then immediately launched into the Kyrie and Gloria (in Greek and Latin, respectively) from Mozart's Organ Solo Mass in C. The Hallelujah Chorus was the alleluia before the Holy Gospel.


After a hearty singing of "Christ Jesus Lay," Pastor gave us a fabulous sermon that bundled together the oddness of pastors, the love of folks tending graves in the cemetery down the road, and the joy of Resurrection (of course!). During the offering and again at the Sanctus, the altar was censed. And then the Body and Blood of the Risen One was given us for forgiveness, life, and salvation.


Distribution took a long time. About 25 minutes. The congregation sang through "At the Lamb's High Feast," "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," "With High Delight," and "Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain." 

After being nourished by the Easter Gospel and the Sacrament, we departed singing "Now All the Vault."


And Carlo sent us off with some Widor. A glorious Easter feast from start to finish.