Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Altar Rails

I’ve been thinking about the communion rails in our Sanctuary.

On Sundays as I kneel to partake of our Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament, I’ve been looking at the communion rails.  They’re looking a little worn – a little ragged.  I’m not surprised though.  They’ve been serving as our communion rails for nearly a quarter century.  They’re scratched and dented.  Some of the ends are chipped.  You can see a few of the nail heads beginning to emerge.  They’re a little worn – a little ragged.  They’ve seen quite a bit of action.

Which got me thinking about the cross…our Lord’s cross…the vertical and horizontal pieces of wood upon which our Savior actually died.  The Romans didn’t fabricate a new cross for each execution.  The vertical post stayed in the ground amongst others on Golgotha.  The cross piece would have been used again and again as criminals carried them out and then their arms were nailed to the beam.  Those cross pieces would have been ragged and worn, blood dried into the wood.  But on the day Jesus carried His cross and was nailed to it.  The entire cosmos would be affected.  Because on that cross, He redeemed the whole world, this sinful world.  He died on that cross so that you might be forgiven and restored of all the wrong you have done, all the transgressions you have committed, all the pain you have caused.  He paid for all of that with His suffering and death on the cross – a worn and ragged piece of wood.

And now, today, you receive your Savior, His body and blood given and shed for you across a worn and ragged piece of wood – our communion rails.  There at the rail, you receive forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, a foretaste of what our Lord will bring when He returns to bring to completion the consummation of all things – restoring creation – restoring you – for an eternity in the Kingdom of God.  And you get a foretaste of that reality right here across a worn and ragged piece of wood – our communion rails.  They may not look like much, but those rails are where our Lord prepares and gives you a feast – of Himself – for you and all of your brothers and sisters in Christ gathered around those rails.  

They may not look like much, but isn’t it amazing what our Lord does for us at them! 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

"One Day..."

Preached at Sunrise Service, Easter Morning, April 1, 2018
“One Day…”
John 20:1-18

            A few months before I was gonna graduate from college, I started to really think about the future.  Graduating from college will do that to you.  I started seriously thinking about what my future career would look like.  My degree was in finance and banking.  So, I was thinking like this: “One day, I’ll be a stockbroker, then maybe one day a bit later I’ll get into the investment banking side of things.”  The common thread in all of this was of course money – and the potential for lots of it.  And a really important question for me was this: “What car will I drive?”  I thought, “One day, I’ll have a Mercedes.”  
We’re all hoping for that, “One day” aren’t we?  Each of you has hopes and dreams for the future.  It may be something like: “One day, I’ll graduate.”  “One day, I’ll own a home.”  “One day, I’ll get married.”  “One day, I’ll have children, or grandchildren.”  And there are bigger-picture hopes as well.  “One day, there will be a cure for cancer.”  “One day, there will be a cure for diabetes.”  “One day, there will be a pollution-free source of energy.” “One day, the war will be over” these sorts of things.  I’m sure that each of you has your own, “One day…” that you hope will happen - someday.
            But sometimes, that “one day” never ends up actually happening.  Schooling may remain unfinished.  That right person never comes into your life.  Poor life choices that end careers or doesn’t permit them to even begin.  Hopes and dreams that never happen can lead to playing the head games of “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”  Leading you nowhere – which brings regret, remorse, and guilt.  And maybe that one day does come, the one day you dread the most: the bankruptcy, the accident, the shooting, the divorce, the empty house, the diagnosis, the deathbed, the funeral.
            And that’s where we find Mary Magdalene early, in the dark, before sunrise, on a Sunday morning.  She, and the other disciples who had followed Jesus for a few years now, had their hopes for the future.  Now, the previous Sunday, they were probably thinking that “one day” was just about to happen.  Jesus of Nazareth was entering the capital city of Jerusalem just like a king!  One day, they could be in His court, and serving the king!  But that one day never happened.  How quickly all of those hopes fell apart.  By Friday, Jesus was dying on a cross outside the city.  “One day” turned into the day she dreaded most.  Her master was now dead.  And now, on this day, she could at least make sure His body was buried properly.  That’s the least she could do.  This was not a good day.  And then bad day became even worse.  His body was gone!  But “one day” turned out to be a wonderful surprise:
 “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?’  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’”

The one day that didn’t come was suddenly happening right now.  With one word – her name - one day, became, today.  Today it happened.  And happened as no one expected – but exceeded everyone’s expectations.  On the cross, Jesus died as the once-for-all sacrifice for your sin and for mine.  On the cross, He bore all of our griefs and carried all of our sorrows, all of our guilt, all of our remorse, all of our regret, all of our “one days” we aren’t looking forward to.  And He died with them there.  They are dead and gone, forever.  And now, the one day, the new day, has come!  That “one day” has already happened for you in Jesus Christ.  And in your baptism, you have been attached – connected – to Jesus – dying with Him and rising with Him.  So the “one day” has already happened to you.
            Yet as we gather here early in the morning on the first day of the week before sunrise, we’re still waiting – waiting for the full fruition of “one day.”  Our own hopes and dreams of may or may not happen “one day.”  But this Jesus Christ, whom Mary saw and heard risen from the dead has promised you and me and everyone a “one day.”  That one day – that day – when we will be where our Lord already is: risen from the dead.  One day, Christ will return – in glory – in the glory of God as He truly is.  One day, your Lord will call you by name.  And you too will rise from the dead – just like Him.  And on that one day, when “one day” becomes today, all the pain and sorrow and regret and remorse and guilt and shame will be lifted.  One day all of that will be lifted off of you, like a huge weight off of your back, so that you can soar – and live in the joy of God’s kingdom – a kingdom prepared for you and me.  That is our hope.  That “one day”, will one day be “today.”  And everything changes and is made right and new – forever – in Christ.
            But here’s the thing: you get a foretaste of that one day, today.  Just a bit of that “one day” - is today - this Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord in the year of our Lord 2018.  Today is a foretaste of His victory over sin, and death.  Today is a foretaste as you hear and experience the words, “I forgive you all of your sin, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Today is a foretaste as you remember His words, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”  Today is a foretaste as you may taste and see that the Lord is good: “This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
            So with Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, and all the other eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, rejoice!  Today…rejoice that despite all the days you may endure in your life, “one day” has already come.  His tomb outside of Jerusalem is still empty.  Christ is still risen from the dead.  And one day, one great day, He will come and make all things, including you, fully and entirely right and new again.  Until that day, we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven saying, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.”  Amen.    


Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day Sermon

For retailers, Christmas is already over.  For the Church – for those who celebrate Christmas, not as the day to get stuff, but as the day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God – Christmas is just getting started.  Last night, we began the 12 day celebration by hearing St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.  We all know that story.  We’ve heard it so many times.  You can probably recite it from memory.  When you were a child, you may have played a part in enacting that story for a Christmas pageant or musical.  I know I did.  That story from Luke Chapter 2 is an account of the birth of Jesus at our level – human level - here on earth.  But today, Christmas Day, we didn’t hear that story.  Our Gospel Lesson was from St. John’s account – the prologue – the overture if you will – to the story of Jesus.  Instead of St. Luke’s view of the birth of Jesus from ground level, John takes us way up – nearly to heaven – to give us the big, cosmic picture of what is going on here with the incarnation of the Son of God.  John gives us the big picture of Christ – the Logos –the Word of God becoming flesh and blood and coming into the world – the light coming into the world.
              Some of you already know that Sheri, the girls, and I enjoy going camping - tent camping.  Now, a really important thing you need to remember when camping is this: be ready for sunset.  It gets dark out there, fast.  We light up our campsite with lanterns and, yes, we string Christmas tree lights up to help.  But go just a few feet beyond, and you’re in darkness.  And you better have your flashlight with you.  There’s a lot of things that go bump in the night out there in the wilderness.  Light is important.  It’s even more than that.  Light is life.  Without light, there would be no life here on earth.  No wonder light was the first on the list of our Creator’s creations.  Light provides the energy for all life.  Perhaps that’s why John calls the Logos, the Word...the light.  He is the light coming into the darkness.  
            Darkness.  When John uses the word “darkness” in his gospel account, he’s talking about the absence of light – the absence of God.  Not that God has separated Himself from the world.  No, the world has separated itself from God.  A world that has separated itself and is opposed to God’s will.  A world where there’s a lack of love for others.  And because we are sinners.  That darkness is present within us.  We oppose God’s will.  We fail to trust in Him.  We love ourselves more than others.  But when light shines in the darkness, all that was hidden is now revealed.  John writes, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  The Christ s that true light.  The truth has a way of cutting through the darkness and shedding light on that which isn’t true.  The truth of Jesus, the truth of His Word, cuts into our darkness and reveals everything – warts and all – all the things that go bump in our self-created night.  The Word of God reveals everything – lights it up for all to see – including ourselves.  
            But that same light is creative…re-creative.  Again, John writes, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  That same Word of God that reveals everything, recreates.  And this is the reason the light, Jesus Christ, came into the world.  To be creative – to create children of God and their life of faith.  Jesus Christ became flesh in order to show His glory to the world – to die and to rise again to new life.  The Word became flesh so that you would be born, not of flesh, nor of the will of flesh or the will of man, but by God.  His Word of forgiveness and mercy is life – new life – making a new creation of you who were once entirely in darkness.  That’s the reason for Christmas.  That’s the reason why this baby, born of a virgin, and lying in a manger is here.  He is the light in our darkness, lighting the way.  And the darkness will not overcome it.  And that light, Jesus Christ, is now life – your life.  What a Christmas gift!
            The Word – the light – life – became flesh and dwelt among us.  It’s a mystery how that happened – that the Son of God, the Word of God would take on flesh and dwell among us.  But because of God’s great love for us He had to – in order that we might see His glory, and believe in Him.  It’s truly a mystery – a mystery that we get to take a peek into these mysteries through John’s prologue.  The hymn asks the question, “What Child is This?”  And many would ask the same question of Jesus: “Who are you?”  Answer: this Word, this light coming into our world of darkness, this Word made flesh is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And not just 2000 years ago.  But today.  Today, here, in this place, among us, in you.  This same light coming into the world - the same holy one of God in whose presence seraphim and cherubim must veil their faces and dare not look - this light of light reveals Himself to you.  The Light, Word became flesh is with us, today, present in a real, physical way as He has promised.  “This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The light coming into the darkness of you as you eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ in his holy Supper – today.  On this day, we call it “The Christ-Mass.”  The Word becoming flesh and dwelling within you.  The light of Christ within you.  Life, new life, eternal life within you.  That is your God’s gracious and merciful gift to you today, this Christmas Day.
            It’s not hermeneutically kosher to jump Gospels in the middle of the story, but I’m going to anyway.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world.”  That’s right - you are now the light of the world.  Not because of what you have done, but because of the light and life Christ has given you.  What does He tell you?  “Don’t hide it.  Let your light shine before others.”  This child of whom we ask, “What child is this?”  This Child, the Christ, the Son of God is now light in you.  So like a flashlight stabbing it’s light out into the darkness of the wilderness, let that light shine.  Not for your glory.  For His.  Because that light is the Christ.  And that light is life – not just for you, but for so many others still dwelling in darkness.  
On this Christmas Day, let them see the great light!  Let them see Jesus.
A most blessed and merry Christmas to each of you.  Amen

Monday, July 10, 2017


A little while back, I along with the family were invited to the First Communion for a son of a friend. I hadn't been in a Roman Catholic worship context in a long time.  Another interesting tidbit is that I attended the Mass in my clerical collar. It was not by choice. I helped officiate a funeral at Hope just prior to the First Communion Mass.  I had no time to change!  So that made for some interesting dynamics and might I say, feelings of awkwardness on my part - like I was an imposter.  I wasn't an imposter.  I wear the uniform of the Office of the Holy Ministry.  But within my context, only Roman Catholic Priests are expected to wear the collar.  (I am frequently address as "Father" when out in public.)  But enough of that.

My observations:

1. I had never been inside Mary Queen Catholic Church, Friendswood, TX since they built their new sanctuary (technically, a basilica.)  It is impressive on the outside and even more so on the inside.  Roman Catholics often donate much treasure for such purposes - and it shows.  I commend them for it.  This was no auditorium.  This is a huge space that exudes mystery, transcendence, and awe.

2. Hardly anyone sings.  There were a number of hymns sung.  But almost no one sang,  Sheri and I tried singing and picked up their unfamiliar tunes rather quickly.  But all we heard was ourselves and the silence of everyone else listening to the cantor.  

3. The music printed in the worship folder did not always match what was sung.  There were liturgical portions of the service printed with music and words.  The words were correct, but the music was not.  Very confusing for one who reads music.

4. Reverence.  If there is one thing I observed more than anything else, it was reverence.  Particularly during the celebration of the Sacrament.  Everyone kneeled from the Words of Institution until the end of Distribution.  The only time they were not kneeling was while walking up to the chancel to receive the Sacrament.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament is palpable among the people.  Their Lord is physically present, so they kneel in humility.  I totally respect their sense of reverence.  

Conclusion: We Lutherans need to teach the Roman Catholics how to sing (and the Doctrine of Justification by Faith and other articles of faith (See Augsburg Confession.))  The Roman Catholics could teach us a thing or two about reverence in worship. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Nothing New Under the Sun"

Our 45th President was sworn into office yesterday.  Many cheered and rejoiced.  Many were not so joyous.  Some protested, which is their Constitutional right to do so.  Some caused violence, which is never righteous, nor a right of citizenship.  Violence and mayhem do not help anything, save to prove the cowardice of the perpetrator.

I have heard and seen through media channels how difficult a time some people are having with the reality of a new administration.  But a change of power is nothing new.  Perhaps it's because the change was so dramatic and gap so large between the Obama Administration and the new Trump Administration.  But something to remember: when you swing a pendulum so far to the left, you can count on that pendulum swinging just as far to the right.

King Solomon, the wisest man ever, wrote: "There is nothing new under the sun. " (Ecclesiastes 1:9)  Presidents will come and go.  Presidents are not God, nor do they have divine powers.  So where will you put your trust?  In the Obama?  In the Trump?  To do so is foolish and striving after wind.

Some wise words were posted yesterday by a professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs.  They are a helpful reminder to all of us:

"Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2, Obama, Trump. All smart and gifted. All deeply, deeply flawed. None able to do as much damage as their enemies feared, nor as much good as their allies hoped. May God protect innocent lives, and bring humility to all. Thank you, and now go find a way to love your neighbor."

Let's keep our eye on the ball - on what's really important.  God is still in His heaven and loves us more than we can imagine.  He's got this.  So you, go love you neighbor.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Music in the Air

Every early Sunday morning, during the short drive from home to parish, I listen to the same radio program: "On Being" with Krista Tippett.  She brings on various guest to talk about and contemplate religion and spirituality.  Rarely, she may have a Christian guest.  Most are from all the other world religions, religions of their own creation, or people from the realm of science (which can itself be worshiped as a god.
This past Sunday, I listened to a fascinating discussion she was having with a acoustic ecologist - one who listens to, records, and studies the sounds of nature.  He stated a fascinating fact: one would think that our human hearing was most sensitive to the frequency range of human speech.

It isn't.

Our hearing is most sensitive to the frequency range of 4-5 kilohertz.  And what sounds happen to be in that range: bird song.

His hypothesis: human hearing has "evolved" to be most sensitive to the frequency of birdsong because where the birds are, resources for life may be found: food, shelter, etc.

My hypothesis: I would add to the good ecologist's hypothesis this: God created our hearing to be most sensitive in that range so that we might hear the beauty of their song.  Purely for our enjoyment. Purely to hear the goodness of our Creator.

You can hear the interview for yourself here.