31 October 2014

Reformation Day

Fundamentally the plea for the Church to recognize, further, and live congruently with a life of receptivity, where all is gift from the Triune God, as the poet put it, "unasked, unsought, unearned." Gift from the heart of Him whose love for us knows no bounds and who summons us to be enlivened by simply receiving. "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it!" Psalm 81. Blessed Festival, people loved by God!

Luther on Ecclesiastes 4

Therefore the best thing is to enjoy the things that you have in the present, to do everything in the present, and to let what is evil flow past you.

30 October 2014

Luther on Ecclesiastes 3

Therefore let us not torment ourselves about future things, but enjoy present things.

And Happy Birthday!

To Lydia Charlotte, my YOUNGEST granddaughter. Can't believe it was a year ago I first held you.

29 October 2014

Luther on Ecclesiastes 2 - at the Heart of the Receptive Life

This does not mean that happiness is condemned as something evil or vain. What is condemned is human striving and planning, when we ourselves want to try to create happiness without respect to the will of God. But as both come from God, let us use them. As it is a sin to invite anxiety and sorrow by our own counsels and also a sin to refuse to suffer them when they are imposed upon us by God, so it is also to be condemned if we run away from happiness and do not accept it when it is given by God.—Luther on Ecclesiastes 2

28 October 2014

Happy birthday!

Can hardly believe it was a year ago that Lauren went into labor nearly a month early and surprised us all (and most of all the hospital staff, who were expecting her a month later for a c-section!), and gave birth to Annabelle,  stealing her cousin's due-date! Though she is littler, she thus became our eldest granddaughter.

Happy birthday, Annabelle Scarlet! Grandpa and Nana love you!

26 October 2014

a Reformation Day Homily

Delivered at Martini Lutheran in Baltimore at Vespers today.

By 1520 the storm he’d stirred up was threatening to become a tsunami engulfing all the Western Church. He still didn’t seem to have the first clue about the threat he’d proven to be to Church officials and he thought that if the pope himself just heard of this joy that was now his, all would come out okay. So he pens a little book and dedicates it, of all things, to Pope Leo X from his dutiful servant, Martin Luther. And as thought how to encapsulate everything he’d been rejoicing in, it came down to two statements that sounded contradictory but were in fact completely complimentary. 

The Christian is perfectly free, lord of all, subject to none.
The Christian is perfectly dutiful, servant of all, subject to all.

The opening lines of Luther’s monumental The Freedom of the Christian. And that work remains to this day the classic statement of the joyful “aha” that resulted in the Lutheran Reformation and which, I would suggest to you, people loved by God, is the reason why being Lutheran still matters and why almost five centuries later, the Reformation remains vitally important for the whole Church of Christ.

It was and it is all about freedom. God doesn’t want slaves. He renounces the way of coercion. He seeks children who serve Him freely and in joy and not cringing in terror and fear. You hear it in today’s third reading. Our Lord says “If you continue or abide in my Word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Freedom is what He came to bring! Freedom was His gift. Not like folks think of freedom these days, meaning: “I can do whatever I want whenever I want to.” Live like that and you’ll soon find out that it’s not freedom at all; it’s the way to end up a slave to your own passions, appetites and desires. Your Lord came to free you from that dead end way of living. 

But to promise and deliver freedom, that requires owning up to bondage, and this is exactly what the Jews in the Gospel or even the Church in Luther’s day, couldn’t stomach. “Free? What do you mean set us free? We aren’t slaves. We are children of Abraham and have never been anyone’s slaves. What do you mean we shall be set free?”

Similarly the hierarchy in those days: We are the holy Roman CHURCH! What do you mean blathering on about this freedom? What’s importance is that YOU knuckle under and do as you’re told. Who do you think you are?

Luther’s joyous answer, of course, was “Me? I’m a perfectly free, Lord of all; oh, and a perfectly dutiful servant of all. Sent to be a servant of other’s joyful freedom. In the service of the Master who came to make free children of God and no slaves.”

The Jews had their laws that they thought MUST be upheld, obeyed, and it was in the obedience to them that they focused their zeal and placed their hope of salvation. DOING the bidding of the God who had taken them as His own people through Abraham was their duty and their calling. 

But the God of Abraham is the God of freedom and the God who desires children, not slaves. That’s why He had TAKEN them out of slavery in Egypt and why He had given them the divine worship and promises. And the Law itself. A gift given. A gift given to show them their real slavery from which they could never themselves free no matter how hard they strove. 

They wouldn’t see it, though. And so Jesus speaks the hard word: “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave doesn’t continue in the house forever.” Sin isn’t something you DO, Jesus says. It’s far, far more insidious than that. Sin is a force. A power. A domineering power. A power that enslaves. It owns you. Rules you. 

You know it’s path. You know how it goes. You know it entices you. Try it. It can’t hurt. Everyone’s doing it. No biggy. And how the very taste of it is seduction and the seduction becomes addiction. You fight. You pull back. But you also want. You want the experience again. And again. And even after it has long since ceased to satisfy. Still you go back. Like the dog to its vomit. The vomit it calls and you find yourself unable to turn away. 

Disgusting, yes. But isn’t it true, people loved by God? Isn’t that the path. The way it works. Sin snares you, and once it has you, you can’t break free by any effort of your will. You can try with might and main, but you know as surely as I’m standing here before you, it HAS you. You are slave.

And there is NOTHING so uncertain as the place of the slave. Sin wants to use you, to trample on you and torture you and then to hand you over to death. Eternal death. “The wage sin pays is death” says St. Paul. A taskmaster, no friend. A tyrant, no freedom. Do it again and again and again, as sin mocks your helplessness.

BUT into this world came the one in whom sin couldn’t get its claws, no matter how hard it tried. Into this world where everyone serves sin in some way or another, tortured and helpless, caught in the snares of their own desires, into this world came one who was truly FREE. And free because He was the Son. His place in His Father’s house didn’t depend for one second on what He did or didn’t do. His place was assured because of who He was. And because He was free and Son, what did He come to do?

He came to serve! No one is so free as the One who serves, whose delight and joy it is to be able to serve the captives by setting them free from their bondage, free from their chains, and inviting them into His relationship with the Father. So free that He could even take all the sins that master and torture and torment you and lift them off you and bear them in His own body. In His own FREE body where they could never bend Him to their will and so destroy them there forever. 

Behold, the cross! Behold the blood of the free Son, freely poured out so that sin would lose its mastery over you and you be forgiven, adopted, brought into the freedom of the children of God.

He came forth from the Father one free Son, but He goes back to the Father bringing with Him the fruits of His labor. Not a pile of slaves. Not a pile of cringing and fearful hirelings who have no clue how long they’ll be tolerated before God finally is fed up with them and tosses them out. No. He comes back with free children of God. Freed by the Words He spoke. Free indeed. Sins no longer able to accuse them, to master them, to make them come when called. Sins blood covered and so forgiven. Death no longer the fate to which their sin hands them over when its done with them. Death rather with a resurrection sized hole blown right through its stinking belly through which they will pass with Him. Free children. So completely free that all of the faith has come to them as GIFT. They see it all as GIFT. Nothing about what we earn or deserve. Only gifts given lavishly and freely. The Father gives the Son. The Son gives the Spirit. The Spirit gives you faith that binds you to the Son and the Son rejoices to present you to the Father. All gift.

And so Christianity to be seen in its true light must never be thought of as rules and laws and a frowning God just waiting for you to step out of line so He can wallop you one and torture you forever. Nor is it about the freedom to live in your broken shackles and sin’s crumbled prison holds. That’s not freedom! It’s the freedom to leave that prison forever and be a child. A child in the house of the Father. It is to realize that the standing you could never achieve for all your struggling against sin’s chains is the very gift God gives you in His Son that crushes those chains forever. 

Easter triumph! Easter joy!
This alone can sin destroy!
From sins’ power, Lord, set us free, 
Newborn souls in you to be.

HERE is the Reformation gift to the whole Church. This is why Lutheranism stands and will continue to stand. To remind the whole Church and to proclaim in all the world that the Son’s gift to us is freedom. And that our faith isn’t founded in, let alone shored up by, rules and regulations. Holy days of obligation and fasting from certain foods at prescribed times. Going to communion at least once a year and only after having made confession of your sins to the priest. Do you see what all of that is? Bondage! Not freedom!

BUT the Reformation was so free that it realized that what the law couldn’t guard or preserve, this was God’s free gift. “If you abide in my Word” our Lord said. Why Sunday? Why gather? Not to keep some law, but to receive the gift of freedom! Why receive the Sacrament? Not to fulfill a duty, but receive the gift of freedom! Why observe the Church calendar? Not to be religious, but to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as it gives its gifts of freedom and lifts you by the Spirit to the freedom of the children of God.

Reformation still matters because freedom still matters. It matters to God, and HE would have you not be a servile and fearful, simpering cowering slave, but would have you be a royal son or daughter, a true child of the King who fears nothing at all.

Late, late in his life, Luther reflected on this great joy. It was during an Advent sermon only a couple months before his death. He wrote: “It is well with a man who belongs to an eternal kingdom. He can dance through life forevermore!” You and me too. We can dance through life. For we are children of the King, and sisters and brothers of the Son of God, and to us all, and I mean all, is gift. We live in freedom and serve in freedom and we can even die in freedom because we have within a life that death cannot take from us, forgiveness poured on us bigger than all the world’s sin. So, Happy Reformation, people loved by God, happy feast of freedom! You have been set free; as you continue in the Word it will continue to set you free, to set your feet dancing and your heart singing that to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be all the glory now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen.

24 October 2014

What a treat!

I have loved reading Pr. David Petersen's sermons for years. He's simply one of the best preachers you can hope to hear. And NOW Emmanuel Press has issued a new volume of his homilies: God With Us: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen. Awesome! One for every single holy day in these great seasons. 

"Adam and Eve had wanted in their greed to become like God. So God became like them, was incarnate, was made man..."

"It's not just that you receive love. He has also redeemed you as a lover..."

"We all go the way that He has gone; the way also of St. Mary. These sorrows reveal our hearts. They reveal who we really are. They uncover us..."

"Faith causes you to feel sorrow and shame, not doubt or unbelief."

So many, many more. I fully intend to mark the holy days this year with a bit of Petersen each day. You can too. Visit Emmanuel Press and place your order. You'll be blessed!

23 October 2014


has definitely hit a home run with how all these things are working so beautifully together. I absolutely love my iPad mini and it is usually what I take on the road to present from or preach from. It's got incredibly great battery life and is a faithful workhorse. I have a keyboard and case I bought for it, and after a bit of getting used to the slightly odd layout, I can fly on it as fast as on my laptop (which usually stays at work and gets left behind...)

And the iPhone 6! It's amazing on so many levels. I love the new instant hotspot; the way the camera basically doesn't even know how to take a bad shot (big for me, because my hands shake a bit); and the night reading mode for iBooks...and....and a hundred other things. The thing is amazing, but I'm not sure why we call it a phone at all. That's the LEAST of its functions, but it does it that one handily as well. 

The other day, David asked me if I even imagined at his age that I'd be able to hold the collective wisdom of the human race in my hands and that such a slim thing could be all the devices it is (phone, video capture and play back, library, photo album, camera, game center, newspaper etc.). I readily confessed that I could not have imagined such a thing. David then asked: "But where will it be when I'M your age?" Mind blowing even to think of. One thing I'd be willing to bet on: Apple will be there, making it all not just work, but work insanely well and with beautiful simplicity.

22 October 2014

Chrysostom on Galatians 3

As by dying, He rescued from death those who were dying, so by taking upon Himself the curse, He delivered them from it.  

21 October 2014

Chrysostom on Galatians 2

For as regards the former Dispensation and Law, I had incurred the severest punishment, and had long ago perished, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. And we, who lay under sentence, have been liberated by Christ, for all of us are dead, if not in fact, at least by sentence; and He has delivered us from the expected blow. When the Law had accused and God had condemned us, Christ came, and by giving Himself up to death, rescued us all from death. So that the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith. Had not this been, nothing could have averted a destruction as general as that which took place at the flood, but His advent arrested the wrath of God and caused us to live by faith.—St. John Chrysostom, Galatians 2

19 October 2014

A Tribute

He was always so...polite, kind, intelligent. He had the gift of putting others at ease. I always wondered if the Lord who snatch him up for the office of the holy ministry. His eyes were quintessentially honest. They were an open door to a beautiful soul. He couldn't deceive if he tried. And now he's gone. Crossing a street and struck, a college freshman. And a family left in ruins behind him. And all the inevitable questioning: "why, Lord?" and the stony silence of heaven the only answer. Well, not the only answer. Connor knew that the final answer, and the only one that held, was from a Cross. It doesn't answer our "why?" but it does assure of the only thing we can know with certainty: behind all the mess and the disaster and the tears, stands a Love that is unshakeable, secure, and our only peace. Connor goes to his grave redeemed, loved, and REMEMBERED. The Savior who has named him His will raise him on the last day and we will be there, rejoicing with him again. In the meantime, rest in peace, young friend.

15 October 2014


again after a wonderful time in Texas at Built on the Rock: Christ, Culture and Sacred Music. Pr. Todd Wilken, Dr. Charles Ore and yours truly got to present and it was a lot of fun. I am very, very thankful, howevever, to be home again. Dorothy had it right. There's no place like it. I am sitting here on this cloudy, chilly day in my recliner with faithful Lucy dozing beside me, a glass of wine at my side and a good book on my iPad. Ah, if only it gets a little more chilly I may well throw a match on the fire (it's ready to go!)...just hope I remember to open the damper. 

Each Wednesday

in the Treasury's Daily Prayers, we pray for the dying. Thinking of the growing Ebola crisis, the prayers become ever more apt and fitting:

To comfort all the dying,
To forgive them all their sins,
To lead them out of this misery into eternal life:
We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

And for ourselves:

Holy Lord God, 
holy and mighty God, 
holy and most merciful Redeemer, 
allow us not to lose hope 
in the face of death and hell: 
Lord, have mercy.

14 October 2014

Listening to Pastor Wilken

at Built on the Rock: Christ, Culture, and Sacred Music at Lord of Life in Plano, Texas, and he mentioned the personal prayer of the communicant after receiving.

Christians pray different prayers at this point, of course. Many use the prayers in the front of the hymnal; others offer their own.

Here is a prayer that I prefer to pray after receiving the Savior's Body and Blood:

I thank You, O  Lord Jesus Christ, that You have granted me,  unworthy servant that I am, grace to receive this, Your most holy body and blood, and I pray that it would be to me for the forgiveness of all my sins, for strength in resisting temptations, for service in Your kingdom and finally for the glories of the life that never ends. Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ, my King and my God!  Glory to You forever! Amen.