Sunday, July 25, 2010

St. James the Elder, Apostle Sermon -- Mark 10:35-45

July 25, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to [James and John]: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

James and John ask for what they think they want: “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” But their request goes beyond their understanding. What they desire can be given, but the cost of it can be great. This is what Jesus shows in His response: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus’ response shows the cost required to possess the place of honor in His glory.

The exchange is reminiscent of someone who may look at a Purple Heart medal, admire it and desire that they would be a recipient. Does such a person know the cost? Or remember the scene from the movie The Right Stuff where Gordon Cooper and Gus Grissom, the new test pilots, enter the aviators’ bar near Edwards Air Force Base and boastfully claim that their pictures will soon be up on the bar wall. Only when the bartender tells them that the pictures are all dead test pilots do they understand the cost. Such an honor can be given, but the cost of such an honor is very high.

So James and John ask Jesus for places of honor. They are faced with the question from Jesus: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” But in response, they say: “We are able.” And with that comes Jesus’ promise: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Jesus’ promise is that James and John will suffer the things that He suffers. For that, they will receive a place of honor as God the Father determines to give. Whether it will be at Jesus’ right or left hand is not determined by Him, but will be awarded by His Father.

Today, July 25, is when the Church remembers St. James the Elder and his martyrdom. For in those events, the promise of Jesus is fulfilled. Through his martyrdom, James drinks the cup that Jesus drank and is immersed with the baptism that Jesus underwent. This would come years after Jesus had made His statement, but come it did. As the apostles performed their duties as Christ’s sent ones, they faced opposition. Some was minor, but other opposition even threatened their life.

For James, the persecution from Herod would fall in that latter category. The historian records: “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” Just as the rulers of Israel had arrested Jesus and put Him to death, so they did with James, His follower. This is what Jesus had predicted, not only in His statement about the cup and baptism, but other times in His ministry: “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”

The promises made about James’ fate came true. Drinking the cup that Jesus drank, James became the first of the Twelve Apostles to be martyred for believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He endured what followers of Jesus are asked to do in our day: “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” For in keeping this faith, this confession of who Christ is and what He has done, salvation is found.

James’ martyrdom did not keep him from receiving that salvation. James’ martyrdom was not an expression of divine wrath against him. To the contrary, James’ death was his passing into everlasting life. It was the fulfilling of everything good for him. As the Church remembers the martyrdom of one of the apostles, it rightly hears the Apostle Paul’s words: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Called away from his nets and fishing business by Christ, James fits this category. And the fate of those who are called according to Christ’s purpose is sealed: “Those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”

That greater fate is what hangs over this entire remembrance of James’ martyrdom. Though James suffers the worst that can be imagined—the loss of his earthly life—he still receives a blessed end. Why is this so? Because the powers of the world cannot overcome the One who is greater than them. This is the point that the apostle makes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword? . . . No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” The same Jesus who loved James and called him to follow overcame death through His own resurrection. He has authority over all the powers of this world. Despite the worst they can do, Christ’s desired goal for His people shall come to its fulfillment.

And this is where the martyrdom of James stands as a statement of what shall happen to us. Like James, you have been called according to Christ’s purpose. Called by Him, you have been justified by Him. And as you have been justified by Christ, you shall be glorified by Him. That glorification takes place at the end of all things. But until that time, there is much that occurs. And much of what occurs is not pleasant. What Paul describes is quite accurate about what humanity faces in this world: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, sword. And yet, everything that we face cannot overcome the power of Him who loves us.

Because of Christ who died and rose again, we are “more than conquerors through Him.” Glorification for the martyred James comes because Jesus has been glorified in His resurrection. Likewise, glorification for you and me comes because Jesus has been glorified. It results from what Jesus has done for us: “the Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” It is through His service that Jesus is able to benefit those who follow Him. Only through His drinking the cup before Him and His being immersed in the baptism of God’s wrath against sin can Jesus answer those things which afflict His people.

But that is precisely what has occurred. Jesus became your servant, your slave. He drank the cup of wrath for James, for the other Twelve, and for you. He did so, not in ignorance, but knowing exactly what it would take. He was clear that He would give His life as a ransom for you. And so like James did, you can follow in the footsteps of Jesus. You already have in part: for you have died and have risen with Christ in your baptisms. Now you may continue to do so, just as God has known, working all things together for good: “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

The sufferings of this world can conform you to Christ’s image. It was so for James. James trusted in His Lord Jesus, just as His Lord had trusted His Father’s will that all things would together for good for Him. You also may trust Him. For you know what the outcome is. You know that Christ’s sufferings led to His glorification in resurrection and ascension. You have the example of the apostles to follow. And you have the great promise: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Receiving the place of honor may require great suffering, even martyrdom itself as it did for James. But the reward is there for all who do so, for Christ is greater than the world and His love shall never be severed from you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

LCMS Synod Convention -- Summary Report

During July 9-17, I was serving as the Pastoral Delegate for the New York/Philadelphia Circuits of the English District (LCMS).

The Convention was a long nine days in hot and humid Houston, Texas. Throughout the days, I was able to meet several classmates from my days at Concordia Theological Seminary, as well as meet people known only through other groups, such as the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. Seeing 1,200+ people from around the Synod shows how our local congregation is part of a greater entity. (Though being back among my own congregation this morning was just as--if not more--enjoyable!)

A major focus of this Convention was reorganization of Synod governance. For our churchbody, program boards are out, a thing of the past. That will take some adjustment, since speaking of the LCMS Board of _______ has been ingrained for years. Some other changes included the process by which the Synod Praesidium will be elected in the future: each congregation will be able to directly participate in the election of Synod President, the Synod President-elect will have influence in selecting nominees for 1st Vice President, regions of the Synod will also have direct representation within the Praesidium through election of Regional Vice Presidents. Instead of being elected by the Convention, the Synod Treasurer will be appointed by the Synod Board of Directors. Additionally, the purpose and alignment of our Synod's Districts will be the focus of a Task Force to meet during the next three years; proposals for change will be taken up in 2013. More structural changes were suggested by the Floor Committee on Structure, but were either defeated by the delegates, put off for three more years, or never put before the delegates.

As with all Synod Conventions, one primary task is the election of Synod officers. Rev. Gerald Kieschnick has served as LCMS President for nine years (2001-2010), but failed to win reelection. Rev. Matthew Harrison--the Board for Human Care Executive Director--was elected by the delegates instead. This could mark a change in emphases that comes from the top of our Synod. Along with this change, four other members of the Praesidium failed to be reelected. The changes continued in the choices for the LCMS Board of Directors and throughout most of the elected boards. These results were in striking contrast to those of the 2007 Convention.

Much time was also spent discussing the relationship that the LCMS has with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the other--and larger--major Lutheran churchbody in the United States. The decisions are too large for this post, but in summary I would characterize the desire of the delegates as wanting to reaffirm the difference in teachings between the LCMS and ELCA, as well as to ensure that core beliefs not be undermined in cooperative efforts. Principles will be delineated to apply to individual situations. Additionally, the Convention stated that encouragement and commendation needs to be given to other Lutheran churchbodies, including new and formative churchbodies, who are striving to maintain Lutheran teaching. (Thanks to an invitation, I will be able to speak next month to a local Lutheran organization that is attempting to do so.)

The two most poignant moments of the Convention were seeing the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (ELCH) and the representatives of our military chaplaincy. The Haitian leaders brought thanks for the LCMS' financial support after the major earthquake that devastated their country. To see Marky Kessa, the President of the ELCH, and Paul Touloute, another of the ELCH leaders, was touching. Both Marky and Paul were classmates of mine from seminary, beginning from our first Greek class in Summer 1999. The military chaplains held a presentation where their dogtags "spoke to them." One of the chaplains, LTC Oliver Washington, was also at seminary during my time there. To hear of their struggles and pains while serving our country's servicemen tugged at the heartstrings. We all look forward when the pain and misery of both natural disaster and war will end: until then, our Synod will work to help those affected.

It was an honor to represent my congregation and the other 16 congregations in the New York/Philadelphia Circuits. We were also represented well by Mrs. Jane Duffy, the Lay Delegate and member of Martin Luther Chapel, Pennsauken, NJ. Jane also served on the Elections & Credentials Committee for the Convention. More information about the 2010 LCMS Convention, including media highlights, can be found at

Sunday, July 4, 2010

National Holiday Sermon -- Jeremiah 29:4-14 (LBW National Holiday Propers)

July 4, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

The Lord’s people dwell in many nations of the earth. They have been placed there by Him. At times that placing was very deliberate: exiling the people of Israel into Babylon is one such incident. They are forced away from Jerusalem to dwell in a foreign land. That exile is a punishment inflicted upon them for their disobedience, their forsaking of the covenant. Even the royalty of Israel had abandoned the Law of God. So the people are removed from their oversight and sent away.

But even in exile, the Lord’s people have promises made to them. He continues to speak to His covenant people. They hear His message through the prophets. This morning, you heard a portion of Jeremiah’s speaking the Lord’s message to exiles in Babylon. The prophet is instructed to write to them, for they need to hear what the Lord says. They must understand what is taking place and what they are to do. They must also hear how the Lord is being faithful to them, even if they had not been faithful to Him.

The divine instructions given to the exiles address multiple topics. Included in the message are commands regarding daily life. The exiles are told: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” Though driven away from Jerusalem, the Israelite exiles are not to simply give up, to lie down and die in Babylon. To the contrary, they are to live and prosper: the Lord may have caused them to leave their homeland, but His providence still extended to them. This is made abundantly clear in the next instruction: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

That instruction is good for you to hear on this day, when the nation celebrates its independence. Every time Independence Day rolls around, there is a reassessment of what it means to be an American, to be a citizen of this nation. There can be proper reflection on just how it is that we live here in this land, as opposed to any other country on the globe. But even more so, there should be the consideration of what the Lord provides for our earthly lives, including the place in which you live.

Why are you here in this country? Because the Lord has placed you here. Living in this land, you are provided for by the Lord. The directive given to the Israelites is the same directive you are given: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” That is what you are to do, for these are the ways in which the Lord has determined to provide for you. By participating in the occupations and vocations of earthly life, you live in the system that He has devised for your benefit.

This is why the other instruction given to the Israelites is meant for you: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Pray for the city, the state, the nation, for in the welfare of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, the United States you will find your welfare. In this place, the Lord provides. His order is present, order meant to prevent the disaster that chaos brings to earthly life. That order is behind the establishment of governing authorities, as you also heard this morning: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Because this order is created by God, you should pray for its continuance. Such sentiment is also taught in the New Testament, as is often read on our National Day of Thanksgiving: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Such a sentiment is especially appropriate for today. Despite all the struggles and difficulties that our nation faces—and has faced in the last 234 years of existence—there has been a government in authority, servants through whom the Lord has brought His providential order to you and your forefathers. That we have not been abandoned is truly worth thanksgiving. Those who are in authority are due our respect and do need the prayers that we offer, even this day.

But what is provided to you goes beyond the earthly. There is a greater existence and greater blessing. This is seen in the promises made to the Israelites in exile: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. . . . When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” The Lord speaks about restoration, a return to the place of His dwelling and the place promised to His people. The Israelites’ welfare found in the city of Babylon was not the end of His care for them. Though the Israelites would prosper during their exile in Babylon, financial and worldly success was not their end goals. Instead, the exiles looked forward to the day when they would return from their being scattered to Babylon and other regions.

The same is true for you. Much prosperity has been found in this nation. You have been recipients of it. All of you are much better off than the vast majority of people around the globe. For this, all should rightly give thanks to God. But this is not the limit of His giving. No, His will is that you would have more, blessing that goes beyond physical welfare. His promise is an eternal blessing. A restoration is promised to you, just as it was for the Israelites: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And what is that hope? Not endless decades of your descendents living in America. Not the success of an earthly ruler or political party. No, your hope is that everything that plagues you, everything that you suffer while in exile from Paradise will be overcome.

That hope is what the Lord Jesus has achieved for you. The One who pointed out Caesar’s “likeness and inscription” on the denarius held “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” in Himself. And what was the goal of that Divine Image-bearer? “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Carrying that “likeness and inscription” to the cross, Jesus was bringing forth the foundation of your future hope. For in Christ’s suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, you have restoration. This was the Lord’s plan that He has for you, “plans for wholeness and not for evil.” It is the destiny of eternal dwelling with God Himself.

So His promises come to you, just as they did for the Israelites: “When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” You have Him here to seek. Not because you are in America, but because the Lord has made Himself present in His word found among you. You and all humanity have been driven away from the Paradise of Eden, but the call is going out to draw you all to the Eternal Paradise. Sin exiled you from God’s presence, but Christ’s work has overcome sin.

Because this is true, you have more than the benefits that Divine Order brings to you. You have blessings far beyond the rights and of citizenship or even the food, drink, clothing, and shoes that the economy allows you to obtain. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may be guaranteed to you on earth, but they pale in comparison to the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation that Christ provides.

So on this National Holiday, we pray for our leaders, we recognize how we have received temporal blessings in this nation, and we can even treasure our political freedoms. But we do not place our trust in them: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” We pray to Almighty God: “Give us what outward prosperity may be Your will, but above all things give us faith in You.” Holding on to the promises, we trustingly look forward to the fulfillment of “the plans for wholeness” that our Founder, the Lord Jesus Christ, has instituted for us.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 2010 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, restored Mary Magdalene to health and called her to be the first witness of His resurrection. Heal us from all our infirmities, and call us to know You in the power of Your Son’s unending life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for St. Mary Magdalene]

July doesn’t seem to be the typical time of year to discuss the appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary Magdalene. But the Western Church Calendar places the Festival of St. Mary Magdalene on July 22. Her festival day prescribes the color white for the paraments. This is so because her festival day is tied to the work of Jesus Christ.

The work that Christ Jesus did for and through Mary Magdalene is the reason why the Church commemorates her on July 22. Unlike Dan Brown or recent New Testament scholars whose work has been dismissed by many in academia, the Church does not make audacious claims that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. Followers of Christ do not seek to find Mary Magdalene buried with Him in “Jesus’ Family Tomb” as a Discovery Channel “documentary” sought to unearth. No, the Church speaks of what the Scriptures reveal: the salvific work of the Son of God that took place in Mary’s life, especially her role as a witness to the Lord’s resurrection.

As the Gospel writers record, Mary Magdalene was a devout follower of Jesus. St. Luke’s Gospel identifies Mary as one of three women whom Jesus had healed from evil spirits and ailments, as was read last month in the Divine Service: Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”(Lk 8:1-3) Because of this powerful and merciful act done by Jesus, Mary and the other two women helped to fund His and the disciples’ mission.

Moving forward to Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and other women who helped Jesus were present: “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.” (Mk 15:40-41) They witness Jesus’ death and attend Him at His burial: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid.”(Mk 15:47) Waking early on Sunday morning, Mary and two others go to finish Jesus’ burial. Her devotion to Christ is seen even in the midst of His suffering and death. And when the empty tomb is discovered and the angels speak to them about the Risen Christ, they believe.

Mary’s discipleship reaches its pinnacle as she carries the first rumors of Jesus’ resurrection to the Eleven: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”(Jn 20:1-2) But for Mary, these initial rumors of resurrection soon become fact. Seeing Jesus alive, hearing His voice, receiving His command, Mary goes and tells the disciples to meet Him in Galilee: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.” (Jn 20:17-18)

Mary is a witness to the resurrection, speaking of its majesty and glory to those who must hear it. Her hope in Christ is restored by His rising from the dead. Mary’s Easter witness story is captured in the medieval Latin Easter hymn, Victimae Paschali:

“Speak, Mary, declaring what you saw when wayfaring.”
“The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting.
My Lord, my hope, is arisen; to
Galilee He goes before you.”

That witness is remembered by the Church forever, for in it we find our faith and hope, our way of life.

Receiving miraculous, powerful aid from Jesus; giving of her treasure to support His work; following Him in suffering, death, and resurrection; proclaiming Christ’s glory and power to others—that is the pattern of Mary’s life. And it is to be the outline of ours as well. As Jesus’ disciples, we are like Mary Magdalene: we have received His blessing, having our evil cast out of us; we give to support the mission of the Church on earth; we follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, even abandoning the things of this world and suffering for His sake; and we speak about the mighty acts of Christ done for us, so that others may receive the same benefits.

As with all the saints, we can learn from Mary Magdalene’s life. We can see what our lives of discipleship should look like, as Mary serves as a pattern for all of us. But more importantly, we look at her and remember what Jesus did—how He saved Mary from all evil and granted her everlasting life. When we do that, then we will also have our minds focused on the work Jesus has likewise done for us. And that leads us to remember that the lives of the saints are not primarily about them or us, but are really all about Him.