Monday, November 28, 2016

Funeral Sermon for Carol Sheehan: "At Home in the Cross"

+ In Memoriam: Carol Sheehan – November 9th, 1942 – September 24th 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 40:1-11; Revelation 7:9-17; John 6:27-51

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

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy reminds us in the Wizard of OZ. “Home is where the rump rests,” so says the jovial Whinnie the Pooh. “The ache for home lives in us all”, wrote Maya Angelou.

Home was important to Carol. And as I got to know Carol I discovered that she had three homes.

There was her home in Connecticut, which you can see from the bulletin cover is beautiful, Edenic even. Looking out over the lake you catch a glimpse of the new heavens and the new earth and the resurrection light on the Eastern horizon. She made a home there with her husband David. God blessed their home with the birth of their daughter, Karen.

There was also her home at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Coventry. As she sang in choir, rejoiced in worship, served in many ways, and received the Lord’s Supper, she joined Jacob in declaring: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17).

Even when she moved from away from home in Connecticut to California, the house of the Lord remained Carol’s home. Not a conversation went by where she didn’t echo the words of the Psalm: I was glad when they said unto me, let us go up to the house of the Lord (Psalm 122:1).

If the sparrows and swallows find a nest and home at the altar of the Lord, how much more then, does he give us a home at the altar where Jesus feeds, nourishes, and strengthens us in our journey to our heavenly home with his very body and blood for us. Here is where Jesus dwelled with Carol and for her, just as he dwells with us and for us. In forgiveness. In Mercy. In peace. In his steadfast love for Carol and for you.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
   Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
   for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
   for the living God.
Better is one day in your courts
   than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
   than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Today we join the Psalmist in yearning and longing for the house of the Lord. According to God’s promise we are waiting for the new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

And while we rejoice that Carol now rests from her labors, we also mourn because our earthly homes are anything but Edenic. Along with the rest of creation, we groan in expectation of what is to be revealed. We feel the foul breath of the serpent breathing his poisonous lies into our hearts and minds. We see our fallen earthly tents wasting away. Change and decay in all around I see, Come, friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

That’s what Jesus does best. Jesus came to make his home with sinners like Matthew, Zaccheus, Carol, you, and me – so that we will have an eternal home with him. For while we were still sinners, Christ died for Carol, for you, and for all.

And here’s where we find Carol’s third home, in the cross of Jesus. The birds of the air have nests, foxes have holes in the ground, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, save the cross and the tomb…all for you. In Jesus Crucified and risen, Carol you and me God gives us the inheritance, the sure and certain promise of the new heavens and the new earth where all of the former things – disease, darkness, despair, sin and death – will be no more. God will wipe them from our eyes as quickly and as surely as he said, “Let there be Light.” And it was so.

As beautiful as Carol’s home in rural Connecticut was, it is only a glimpse of a far better home in a far more glorious and joyous country. In Holy Baptism, Jesus washed Carol’s sins away, clothed her in Christ’s righteousness, and adopted her as the Father’s own dear child. God does the same for you in Holy Baptism, where he makes his home with us that we might have a home with him forever. Holy Baptism is our cross-shaped entrance into the Lord’s House, just as it was for Carol. In Holy Absolution we continually hear the Father’s welcome home: You are forgiven all your sins. In the Lord’s Supper we are brought to the banqueting table to celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb – not as tourists or visitors, but as family, whose names are written, along with Carol on the family tree, the Lamb’s book of life.

This is what Jesus does best for Carol and for you. He dwells with sinners. After all, his Name is Emmanuel – God with us. God who is one of us. God who is for us in the cross. That’s what we sing as the season of Advent begins.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Jesus is Carol’s Emmanuel and yours. God with us in our earthly home, all so that he will raise you up on the Last Day, along with Carol and all the faithful departed, and bring us to our heavenly home.

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

Sermon for Thanksgiving Day: "Thanks be to God"

+ Day of Thanksgiving – November 24th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Philippians 4:6-20; Luke 17:11-19

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

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! Psa. 118:29
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psa. 100:4
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence. Psa. 140:13
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your saints shall bless you! Psa. 145:10
“Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted. Is. 12:4
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! Psa. 118:29
God’s people have been giving thanks long before Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation or Congress declared a national day of thanksgiving. Scripture is full of thanksgiving: Adam gave thanks and praised for God’s gift of Eve; Noah gave thanks and praised God for rescue from the flood; Abraham thanked and praised God for Isaac, his heir and the child who would bear the promise.

We hear a similar theme in today’s readings.

Moses instructed Israel to give thanks by remembering all that the Lord had done for them in the Exodus, the wilderness, in their journey to the Promised Land. While writing in prison, Paul rejoices that he is content in all circumstances through Christ. And the Samaritan leper returns to Jesus, falls on his feet, and gives thanks.

When we were young our parents and grandparents taught us to say thank you when we received a gift. And this is more than social niceties or good manners. Saying thank you acknowledges the giver of the gift.

To give thanks is what faith does. God gives you life and salvation in Baptism; faith receives and rejoices. God gives you healing, pardon, and peace in the Lord’s Supper; faith gives thanks and praise. God gives us his steadfast love and mercy; we give to others. If you think about it that way, every day is thanksgiving, though perhaps without the turkey, gravy, and potatoes.
God has made us a “eucharistic people.” Eucharist is one of many names for the Lord’s Supper – the greatest thanksgiving meal around. Eucharist means to give thanks. It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Saying thank you simply goes with faith. Like the one faithful leper who returned to give thanks at the feet of Jesus.
But if giving thanks is so good, and a part of who we are, why do we have a day to remember to give thanks?
I’m going to do a dangerous thing here, and assume a few things. Perhaps you’re like me and when you hear Moses’ words to Israel you are both encouraged to remember God’s goodness and yet despair the fact that you have not.
“Take care lest you when you have eaten and are full and have built houses and live in them and when your silver and gold is multiplied then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Like Israel, we’re very good at grumbling and thanking ourselves, but we forget the Lord.
Or perhaps you’re like me and when you hear Jesus’ words to the Samaritan you rejoice that this foreigner is healed and returns and gives thanks at Jesus’ feet, and yet you despair over all the times you have failed to do so.
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Perhaps you’re like me and you’re grateful that Paul had the Philippians to help him in his trouble; you rejoice with him; and yet we wonder, “Who will help me in my prison of anxiety, doubt, and fear?” What if I don’t “rejoice in the Lord always”? Like the Philippians, we are anxious and troubled over many things.
You see, there’s a danger looking to ourselves and our giving thanks – whether it’s on Thanksgiving Day, or any other day. Thankfully, it’s not our giving thanks that saves us. It’s not our remembering the Lord that brings about our rescue. It’s not our rejoicing or our anything that causes the Lord to give us his peace that surpasses all understanding. It’s not our thanking the Lord for his healing that heals us.

Who was it that delivered Moses and Israel from slavery? Who was it that healed all 10 lepers? Who was it that strengthened Paul in his weakness and in prison? It was not Moses, the Samaritan leper, or Paul. It was Jesus.
Moses, St. Paul, the Samaritan, all point us to the place of true thanksgiving…Jesus Crucified for you; to an altar adorned with the Holy Eucharist; to the Lord and Giver of all good things.
Jesus, who led Israel out of slavery in Egypt in the pillar of fire and smoke, has led you out of bondage to sin and death by the glory of his cross.
Jesus, who healed all 10 lepers without any prerequisite thanks, heals you from the leprosy of your sin and declares that you are holy, clean, and made well.
Jesus, who was with Paul in prison strengthening him in his weakness, is with you in whatever dark prison cell you find yourself trapped in. The peace of Jesus crucified and risen surpasses all our understanding – even when it’s full of fear, doubt, anxiety, and despair. God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
The Samaritan leper had it right; thanksgiving takes place at the feet of Jesus Crucified for you. In Christ Crucified, God forgets all your sins and remembers his promise to you forever. In Christ Crucified, God bears all your pain, hurt, disease, worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, and in return gives you healing by his wounds. In Christ Crucified, God has made him unclean to cleanse you and clothe you in his righteousness forever.

Thanksgiving begins and ends in the cross. Our restless hearts are content only in Christ, and only in Christ does thanksgiving flow to God. That one leper out of the ten who believed, who was faithful, returned to the feet of Jesus to give thanks and praise to God. Faith drove him, as it drives us, to the feet of Jesus. And it’s from Jesus that we hear: “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.”

This is how we join Paul in giving thanks in all circumstances. We do so through Jesus Christ, who though He had no place to lay His head, trusted His Father and lived the perfect life of thanksgiving for you.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; and his steadfast love endures forever.

A blessed Thanksgiving Day to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 26: "Come Quickly, Lord Jesus"

+ 26th Sunday after Pentecost – November 13th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Malachi 4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-13; Luke 21:5-28

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

“Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” we pray. And maybe you’re like me and you’ve been praying that prayer a lot these past few weeks, or several times a day even. We long for Jesus’ return. We look for the new heavens and the new earth. And so we wait, watch, and pray.

There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 

Add some shocking pictures, the gruesome headlines from the nightly news, and a few viral videos on YouTube, and Jesus could have just as easily spoken those words in the 21st century as he did in the 1st century.

The fact is, all is not right with this world; never was, and never will be until Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. That’s what Jesus prepares us for in today’s Gospel reading. The Last Day. The signs are all around us. Wars and rumors of war. Earthquakes. Persecution. Violence. Famine.

Some have tried to cut the tension by joking that the Lord’s return is imminent because the Cubs have finally won the world series. They’re right about this at least. Christ’s return is imminent. Today we’re one day closer. And yet, it seems that some days Christ’s return can’t come soon enough.

We’ve just witnessed one of the ugliest election cycles in recent memory. But whatever your feelings about the election results may be – happy, sad, or indifferent – know that your hope does not rest in political platforms, party loyalty, or earthly rulers, but in Christ Crucified and risen for you. Kings and kingdoms come and go; but the Word of our Lord endures forever.

So hopefully, you didn’t come here this morning to listen to listen to more election news, but rather to hear good news Jesus gives to you. You are forgiven all your sins. Yes, the world is fallen, broken, and in need of rescue. That’s exactly why he came and why he’ll come again. In this world you will have trouble, Jesus said, but fear not I have overcome the world.
But do not fear. Do not despair. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus came to redeem us from this horrible mess that we’ve made of his creation. And one day Jesus will return to rescue us and make the new heavens and the new earth we long to see.

When you see these things take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

In these Last Days, God calls us to live as those who are baptized into the Body of Christ and have put on Christ. We live a life no longer controlled by the lusts and compulsions of our sinful nature.

In these Last Days, we stand on holy ground; we eat a holy meal; you are washed with holy water; you hear holy words. The church has faced numerous challenges before, endured far dark days. Chaotic, tumultuous times are nothing new. In apostolic times Christians faced a pagan world far worse and more hostile than ours with courage and glad hope. So, in these grey and latter days we take up their same mission yet again, emboldened by Christ’s eternal promise: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

In these Last Days, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ who is the Light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome. Jesus is with you as surely as he was with his disciples, teaching us and preparing us for his return.

See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.

Perhaps we’re tempted to join Peter in declaring “Even though they all will fall away; I will not.” And yet we do. All we like sheep have gone astray, each to our own way. Our most dangerous enemies are not political. They’re spiritual. “Devil, world, and flesh, as the catechism teaches us. We’re always looking for someone else to blame for sin in the world or our own. But as the great author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “What’s wrong with the world? I am.” What then shall we do? Deny yourselves, take up the cross, and follow me, Jesus says.

This is what gives us hope in a fallen world, hope in the face of the devil’s temptations and lies, hope in spite of our sinful flesh. Christianity has the cross at the center – Jesus Christ and Him Crucifed.

We are baptized under the sign of the cross. We are forgiven under the sign of the cross. We are fed the Body and Blood under the sign of the cross. We arise and go to sleep and do everything in between under the sign of the cross. Christianity isn’t so much a way of life as it is a way of death. It is to die with Jesus in order to be raised with Him. It is to live as dead to Sin and Self but alive to God in Christ who took up his cross and denied himself for you.
But of course, living under cross, living as God’s baptized children, also means we’ll stick out in our culture. The disciples and early Christians did. They were persecuted, imprisoned, brought before kings and governors, handed over by family and friends, and many were put to death.
It’s a sober reminder that these Last Days are also days to boldly confess our faith; not with the latest fads and trends, but with the faith once and for all delivered to the saints; and not with lukewarm platitudes, but with 200 proof Gospel: Jesus Crucified for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.
This will be your opportunity to bear witness, Jesus says. Thankfully, we’re not called to convert the culture, but to speak the Gospel to people who live within our communities, neighborhoods, and families – with those people in your life whom you know need to hear the Gospel. This mission begins anew every day as we die to sin and no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ who for our sake, died and was raised again. In Jesus, you cannot fail; His light shines in the encroaching darkness. He is the Light no darkness can overcome. And He has promised to be with you as he was with the disciples:
I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. What is that mouth and wisdom? Your mouth filled with Jesus’ body and blood. Jesus’ word filling your ears, hearts, and minds, and then your lips that declare his praise. It is the wisdom of the cross: Jesus Crucified for you.
We hope in and we long for Christ’s return; we endure these Last Days under the cross, where Jesus endured everything for us. Your faith in Christ may be mocked. You may suffer persecution, hostility or death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
And yet, hear Jesus’ promise in the face of all that…
But not a hair of your head will perish. Oh yes, some of his disciples were crucified, beheaded or fed to the lions, but not a hair on their head will perish. We face the fallen world, the devil’s temptations and our own sinful flesh…but not a hair on your head will perish. “Whoever believes in me lives even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will not die forever.”

That’s the hidden comfort in these last Sundays of the church year and the end of the world as we know it. The end is also the beginning. For you, the baptized, for us who fear the name of the Lord, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” The destruction of the old brings the revelation of the new. “Behold, I make all things new,” Jesus says. And he says it for you.
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wedding Sermon for David Byler and Teryne Bell: "Two Become One"

+ The Rite of Holy Matrimony – November 1st, 2016 +
David Byler and Teryne Bell
Genesis 2:7, 18-25; Ephesians 5:15, 21-33; Matthew 19:4-6

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

In Genesis it is written: A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

St. Paul agrees: A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

And St. Paul learned his theology of marriage from Jesus who declares: So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.

The two become one. This is the constant theme for God’s gift of marriage, for the marriage of David and Teryne’s today, and it’s also a declaration of the Church’s marriage to Christ: we are his bride; he is the bridegroom.

The two become one. It may sound like some fuzzy arithmetic, like Big Brother’s accounting: 2+2=5. But this is not double speak; it’s the truth. Marriage is God’s gift of divine mathematics. Two become one. It was not good that man should be alone. So as God gave Eve to Adam and Adam to Eve, today he gives Teryne to David and David to Teryne.

But of course we know marriage takes work. Adam and Eve fell for the devil’s doublespeak and the perfect union they had with each other, the perfect communion they had with God, was divided. Not long after the great marriage of Genesis 2 came the great divorce of Genesis 3. Husband and wife divided in sin. Creation divided in sin. Each of us divided by our sin. We fight against the maggot sack of our sinful flesh, as Martin Luther once called it.

But we do not fight alone. David and Teryne are not alone. And neither are you. As good as it is that God is joining this man and this woman together today, it is even greater that God has united us Jesus’ death and resurrection in Baptism. As good as the union of man and woman is, it is even greater that God unites himself in our humanity to remove the dividing wall of sin from us forever. As good as the marriage feast and celebration will be here today, the eternal joy and mirth of the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, and the Lord’s Supper here on earth are far greater.

You see, Moses, Paul, Jesus were right. The two become one. It’s true in God’s gift of marriage. And it’s true of Christ’s death and resurrection for you. On the cross Jesus divided you from your sin forever. Jesus became one with your death. And Jesus has made you one with him in his resurrection.

That’s what St. Paul means when he says that God’s gift of marriage is a great mystery. The one-ness of husband and wife in marriage is a reflection of the one-ness given to us in Christ Crucified. He’s the bridegroom; we’re his bride.

Jesus became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh to save you. Jesus saw that it was not good for us to be alone in our sin, so he took it upon himself for you. Jesus gave himself up for us, to make us holy, to cleanse us, to wash us with water and word, to present us without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. In the cross of Jesus, the two become one.

It is this grand, yet gracious mystery of our one-ness in Christ Crucified that will sustain David and Teryne as they are made one in marriage. For try as they will not to, they will still sin against one another. And life will not always feel like heaven on earth. But none of that can divide them, or you, from Christ our bridegroom. For in Christ, David and Teryne, and all of us, are one with in the flesh of Jesus Crucified for you.

So, whether it’s God’s gift of marriage here today, or the marriage supper of the Lamb, the two become one in Christ who has become one with us.

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