Sermon summaries and audio files
Simon Peter must have been wondering when his risen Lord was going to direct his attention to the egregious three denials to which Simon had fallen. He had appeared to them all, announcing peace, and he had shown them his hands and his side; but the terrible denials were still hanging over poor Simon's head. And then, after they had eaten, Jesus looks at him and asks him if he loves him more than these. The comparative is a bit unclear. Does it mean more than you love these, or, I suspect, more than these others love me? For it was Simon who had boasted, saying, Even if everyone should deny Thee, not I. How bitter, then, could this exchange had been, were it not for the fact that Jesus did not directly condemn Simon, or asked him if he respected Him, or was fearful of Him; rather, do you love Me? and more than these? So Simon affirmed that he did love Him, but did not add the comparison, for he had been humbled by his error. He had wept bitterly over it. And his affirmation indicated Jesus' own awareness: you know that I love you. But the second and the third time grieved Simon, for it was doubtless are grim reminder of his denials. Yet the third time he appealed to Jesus' omniscience: You know all things! But at none of these replies did he affirm agape love, or love of the highest kind, the love of God. He would not dare boast any longer. So he simply affirmed phileo: I love you dearly, brotherly. And at the third question, Jesus investigated that, as if to say, unlike the first two questions, Do you indeed love me dearly? phileis? And Simon's affirmation was also born of deep humility. So also must we learn this humility. We do not belong here, before God; we are not worthy to be here; but we are here by the loving invitation of grace. And yes, Jesus knows that we love Him, but we ought not dare lay claim to merit, or even to boast of our love for Him. Sermon for Easter II midweek. The video is here.
On Easter Sunday we learned of how difficult it was for the Eleven to believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. Today we hear of how difficult especially for Thomas it was. He was the lone holdout, who refused to believe it until he saw for himself the Sunday after Easter, inspecting the wounds, and then exulting, My Lord and My God. We might wonder why this was so difficult for them to believe, when we know they weren't like the Sadducees, who believed in no resurrection at all, of soul or body. But perhaps the strong influence of their culture was a factor, being infected with the teachings of Plato who was four hundred years earlier. Plato had taught a strong dualism which held that the spirit is good but the body is evil; death is the release of the soul at last from the bonds of the flesh which was discarded. And so also today, there is a strong cultural belief that at death we are released from the material world and fly off to heaven where we live forever, released from the body. This belief is so strong that it has lead countless theologians to hold that the reports of the resurrection were only the result of wishful thinking on the part of deeply grieving disciples. Not so! For the facts are that the disciples would not believe; their thinking, far from being wishful, was despondently stubborn in holding the resurrection in the body could not be so. But they soon learned, all of them, and so the fire of the faith was kindled in them and in the Christian Church for 2,000 years. This is our faith, to hold that Jesus rose in the flesh and so shall we. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. Therefore let us respect our flesh, and flee from sexual immorality, and from the lusts of the flesh; let us live according to our awareness that this body shall rise and live forever at the last. And let us make the response of the earliest church our own: Alleluia! Christ is risen!, said Mary to the disciples; and two, returning from Emmaus, and the disciples themselves, reporting to Thomas: it's true, what Mary said! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Sermon for the Easter Octave. The video is here.
It was not stubbornness which kept the disciples from believing; it was the overwhelming ascendency of reason; reason which knows and experiences that death and burial is final. Though Jesus had raised Lazarus and others, now Jesus himself was dead. Who can raise him? A dead man cannot raise himself; it is not possible. But when Jesus reveals himself to his disciples, he drives out the mastery of reason even as he had driven out demons, and replaces it with faith, by whose governance reason is sanctified and all things in life all under the sway of faith which has now learned first of all of the resurrection of Jesus. Sermon for Easter Wednesday. The video is here.
Jesus is Man, risen from the dead. Our flesh, our brother. And it is fitting that he eats fish to demonstrate it, for he was as a worm which the devil as a ferocious fish came to devour, heedless of the hook within the worm, the divine nature of Christ, who, in rising from the dead, destroyed the power of the devil. Sermon for Easter Tuesday.
The witnesses were at first incredulous. Mary Magdalene did not recognize him in the garden until he called her name. She told the others, but they could not believe. Then on the road to Emmaus, he makes himself known to two of them, and quickly report to the rest that Mary was right after all; but they cannot believe. Then Jesus appears to them all, and finally they believe it. Do you believe it? Let their eyes teach your eyes. And learn now to believe, and you who have not seen shall be blessed. Christ is risen from the dead. Sermon for Easter Day. The video is here.
On Good Friday Jesus gives his mother to his beloved disciple, which is not only an act of mercy, caring for her so; it is also an act of leaving his home. He leaves his Father (accepting the Father's abandonment of him) and his mother, and is joined to his wife, as it is written. For his bride is holy Christendom, and this marriage is the fulfillment of the very institution of this holy gift. And his work is finished, which makes all this possible, so he declares it to be finished. Sermon for Good Friday. The video is here.
The curse in the Garden of Eden involved this, that the man must now eat bread by the sweat of his brow. Not only is the sweat something man must now endure, but so also is the eating of bread. For bread involves work, preparation. It was not needed in the beginning, when there was no bread, but only fruit. Now comes the need of bread, which means harvesting the grain, sifting, making flour, kneading, pulling, baking, and breaking. And now behold Him who endures all of this for us. He sweats drops like blood in Gethsemane, and he is himself brutalized and baked, as it were, in his crucifixion. And so he becomes the Bread of Life, and his holy Passion makes it all possible, that we might eat anew in His eternal kingdom. For now he has made our salvation available, by making the elements of his Passion and giving to us as bread and a cup to eat and drink. Sermon for Maundy Thursday. Video is here.
The crowd sang, Hosanna to the Son of David. Who is David, and who is his son? David was king of Israel, two of whose sons were wicked rebels, and younger than they both was Solomon. Absalom gained a large conspiracy of men to take the kingdom from his father, through lies and wicked enticement of many around him, and through the crafty Ahithophel, a false disciple of David. But David's servants remained loyal, and so did also a band of Gittites, a band from the Philistines with their leader Ittai. But like David's servants they too pledged loyal allegience to David, in the midst of adversity. David is Jesus, and these loyal servants his disciples. And Ahithophel is Judas, who like the latter went and hanged himself when he failed. The other wicked son who rose up to usurp the kingdom after Abalom died was Adonijah, when David was old. But his plan likewise was thwarted, when David placed Solomon on his own mule and he triumphantly entered Jerusalem as the crowd sang, Long live King Solomon! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Solomon is also Christ, and the crowd is the children of Palm Sunday. And their joyous cry is that of the children of Palm Sunday. How different is this from another cry, of Jesus' enemies, in a few days, Crucify him! But the children pledged him their loyalty in adversity. And today we, like them, pledge him our loyalty as well when we sing the Sanctus and he comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament, which is Christ. And we likewise cry in adversity, for the church is on the very threshold of trouble, with powerful enemies who hate the church and seek, even here in America, to make our life miserable and force us into submission to their godlessness. But like those loyal to David, and the children loyalty. to Jesus, so we too, pledging our loyalty and faith, shall be saved. For he alone is able to save, who gave his life into death for us and rose from the dead. Sermon for Palm Sunday. The video is here.
To a world that did not deserve him, he came. To a people who sat in darkness, he came. To a sinful race, a company of murderers, a host of idolaters, a mass of ungrateful people, a cloud of proud, selfish, ugly, profane, corrupt, abominable sinners he came.
To you he came. For you were once darkness, you were born of this same color, this same race, this detestable, horrid world of sinners. And you still are drenched in this filth, according to the word and judgment of God. To you, nonetheless, and notwithstanding all of this, he came.
To you, and your world of hatred and murder, he came in love.
To you, whose hearts are made of the same stuff, which is why – it’s pointless to try to deny this, for you must know yourself – you find your heart thinking first of yourself, your needs, your own safety, your happiness. And this selfishness is contrary to your having been created in the image of God. For God’s image includes goodness and kindness and self-sacrifice, the very opposite of self-preservation, of selfishness. Still, to you, O sinful man, he came.
Note the jarring incongruity here between the darkness of Lent and the light of his coming. See today, simply, that the images here are veiled, symbolizing the depths of Lent’s sorrow over sin; and yet, we have white paraments symbolizing the joy of his holy conception in the Blessed Virgin’s womb. This jarring double message bespeaks the double message of your sin on the one hand and God’s mercy on the other.
For today we commemorate and celebrate the moment of his coming. It is a foretaste of Christmas, exactly nine months before it, when the angel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to bear the Christ, the son of David, the son of the Most High, the Savior of the world. At this moment she conceived him in her womb. Let the heavens rejoice, and let all the earth give thanks for this blessed moment! Behold! He came!
And consider the marvel of this virgin conception. For its very special and unique manner was a further and undeniable testimony to the power and grace of God alone. Not only did he come to an undeserving world; he came utterly by his own power and strength, with no help at all from any of us. How could we help him anyway? We were too lost in our own corruption!
So now consider the miracle of this. In the first place, consider the marvel of every conception! The conception and birth of every child is miraculous, is it not? Do we not find ourselves pondering in awe the wondrous procreation of life among us, such as it is? Do we not marvel at the birth of every one of our own children? Do we not find it beyond all thought and imagination that children are somehow brought forth from the wombs of mothers? No science, no research, no brilliance ever found in the most clever and genius of minds has ever explained this wonder! Babies! Wherever do they come from? The two shall become one, it is true, but how? How is there life in a seedling? Or in an egg? How does their joining bring life to pass? How do two half cells coming together burst into one that begins to multiply itself and grow and develop and finally become born? How? How does this all work? The miracle of life itself has left us all without a reasoned explanation.
And now, consider this conception! Mary had not known a man! There is no seed from an earthly father here, no conjoining of two, no cells from two. This is what Mary’s virginity means. How is this possible? As she herself said to the angel: How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Never before or since has a single mother conceived a child in her womb without a man. Never! Except here. So what does it mean in this instance, in this most important instance, that two shall become one? For in this case there is only one human being, one woman, without a man, one woman who passively receives and plays no active role at all. How, then, do two become one? Behold: in this case One came down from heaven, and clothed himself fully in the flesh of man. And so in Christ, God and man are become one, by the power of the Holy Ghost alone. For the Holy Ghost came upon the Virgin, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her, and therefore also that holy thing which was born of her was called the Son of God.
So in this case two became one indeed! But not two human beings; rather, God and man, yet without violating the virginity of the woman! This holy incarnation has brought heaven and earth together, never to be parted. And this was done alone by divine power and grace, and is the fullest revelation of the love of God toward men. The God of all glory, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of all things, has joined himself to man. And the two have become one!
And this makes one thing abundantly, unmistakably, undeniably true: he came to us all on his own, without any merit or worthiness in us. He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man.
And now you, O man, you are here invited to participate fully in this wondrous unity. For before you is the Blessed Sacrament! This Christ, who was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man, also was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried: all for you. To be your Savior from your wretched fallenness. His holy body, the fleshly body of God, was crucified; his precious blood, the human blood of God, was shed: the substance of your flesh, bound forever to the Son, was offered to the Father, to pay what you owe, and to bring you back to your maker. And he who rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, is here now, in this place; this same sacrificed body and blood, is offered to you, to bind you to God, in this Blessed Supper. And just as he who is God from everlasting has become man, so now you who are from a sinful and fallen race and from a fallen world, become partakers in the divine nature. Marvel at this, than which no mystery could be greater! And set aside the idolatries of your heart, the dreadful darkness of your own wicked designs, the corruption of your race of proud, selfish, ugly, profane, and abominable men; yes, your own selfish ambitions, all of them. Set them aside, and return to your Creator; be reunited here with him, for it is written that the two shall become one. Receive here your Christ and his mercy, the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and everlasting salvation. Audio is here. Video is here.