Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sermon for Rite of Christian Burial of Mrs. Mary Schuh Fox

The following is the sermon I preached at the funeral of my Great-Aunt, Mrs. Mary Schuh Fox on September 13:

Adolph Berwyn Funeral Home, Berwyn, Illinois
Christian Burial for Mary Schuh Fox
The 15th Week after Trinity
13 September 2010 
1 John 2:28
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.
“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
On Wednesday, September 8th, at approximately 2:00 pm, our Lord called to Himself the soul of our sister in Christ, Mary Schuh Fox. The verse for the homily this morning is her Confirmation verse given to her by Pastor William Mueller at Golgotha Lutheran Church on April 5, 1925. 
St. John wrote these words in the first of his three epistles or letters to various churches to encourage them. He wanted them to be in this world, but not of this world. That is, he didn’t want them to get too attached to the things of this world, because they are transitory. As Jesus had once said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” St. John was also very insistent that they continue to confess Jesus was God Incarnate - that is, in the flesh, against those who would deny that God truly became man in Jesus Christ. Indeed, if God did not become man in Jesus Christ to bear our sin upon Himself, in His flesh, then we are without hope.
And so Pastor Mueller chose to give this verse of encouragement from St. John to young Mary Schuh when she was confirmed and began to receive her Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of her sin. It is a verse to encourage followers of Jesus (who John refers to as little children) to abide in Jesus so that they might have confidence and a good conscience before Him when He returns.
First of all, it must be said, that Mary was, even at 98 years, 8 months and 8 days, a little child of God. She was born on December 31, 1911 and was baptized into God’s Holy Triune Name on February 17, 1912. There God did exactly what St. John says, He made her His “little child,” in that washing of water with Word, giving to her life, forgiveness and salvation. She was crucified with Christ and brought forth as a new person. What made Mary and all Christians, “little children” is that little children are only “giveable to,” they by their very nature, aren’t really able to give, they are only able to receive. That is the beauty of the Baptism of infants - it so clearly shows that we are helpless - nothing but giveable to - we are those who are on the receiving end of all of God’s gifts.
So is was with Mary. Her childhood was not an easy one, having lost her mother at an early age, but those who took the responsibility for raising her and and her siblings (their father and aunt and uncle), saw to it that she received God’s gifts - that she be fed with His Word like a little child. 
And so it was she was instructed and brought to Confirmation and the Supper of her Lord’s Body and Blood for her forgiveness, “and now, little children, abide in him.”
Now she remained in Him through her Baptism, through the life-giving Word, through Jesus’ Body and Blood.  On June 7, 1937 she was blessed with a loving husband in Arthur Fox, in a union that lasted until his death in 1992. And though they were not given the gift of children, they were blessed with nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews, whom they loved and served.
Finally, on September 8th, her Lord called home to Himself in heaven to await the Resurrection of all flesh at the end of all things. St. John also writes about that, “so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
Those who are in Christ, who have received Him and the gifts of life and forgiveness that he brings to them from His Cross, through Word and Water - through Body and Blood - can and do have confidence - that unassailable confidence that comes through Jesus Christ alone. Mary had such confidence. She was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Apart from that confidence we have no hope. Apart from that confidence, we are nothing more than a bunch of random molecules bouncing around a cold, indifferent universe. Mary was not random molecules bouncing around a cold, indifferent universe. She was baptized in Christ. She knew Him and she was known by Him Who gave Himself for her.  
As Mary lost her hearing, her mobility, and her sight, she became again, like a little child, only able to receive. She became helpless once again. And while it is hard to see someone become helpless, it is also a blessing. It forces us to remember that that all we have - all we are is from God, not from us. At the end we are powerless. Our only confidence in is God alone. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” She was helpless - that is true - but she was helped, and now she has been healed - arrayed in the glorious robe of Christ’s Righteousness. We do not know what the future will bring, but only Christians can have the faith that it will be good - because it will all be a gift from our gracious Lord.
She, even then, still received her Lord in His Body and Blood, in His Holy Word. He who became man for her, bore all of her weakness, her sickness, in His own flesh upon the cross, suffering all that had gone with her and all that has gone wrong with all of mankind because of our sin. The Father cares for the birds of the air and for the lilies of the field. So also He cared even more for Mary and so in His love finally brought her soul to Himself, to be with Art, to await the Resurrection of the dead, where her body will be raised, incorruptible, confident and unashamed, because she has been born above by her Lord.
Yes, Mary desired to be reunited with Art and Elsie and John a long time ago and now she is - and more - she is united with her Lord in the unending worship of heaven, confident and unashamed.
In his poem about the brothers and disciples James and John, John Henry Newman penned these words, but I will apply them to Mary and Art, “Now they join hands once more above, before the Conquerors throne. Thus God grants prayer, but in His love, makes times and ways His own.”
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brother Pastors and Friends

A great joy for me during these last eleven years since my Ordination, has been my affiliation with Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans. I joined this Lutheran Confessions study group right after I was ordained and have rarely missed a meeting in, lo, these many years. There has been close to a complete turn-over in the group since I began. Many of the fathers in Christ who I began with in NICL are no longer around. Some have retired and some have taken Calls elsewhere. Some have been translated to Glory. However, a new group of young brothers has come in, eager to study God's Holy and our Lutheran Symbols. For some pastors who do not have circuit meetings that are particularly strong on study, this may be the only opportunity they have to study The Lutheran Confessions with brother pastors. I am blessed in that I have both and excellent circuit and NICL too. I am also blessed in that I can call these exceptional fathers and brothers in Christ friends.    

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Those were the days

"Boy, the way Glenn Miller played,
songs that made, 'The Hit Parade;'
guys like us, we had it made.
Those were the days."

So began the 1970's television sitcom, "All in the Family." Archie and Edith set the theme of the show each and every week by pining after a simpler time when, "girls were girls and men were men." Living in the changing world of the 1970's, they longed for the familiar - the comfortable. That simple structure set up all the conflict - and thereby the comedy - in the program. Archie's worldview against the modern worldview.

When I was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry 11 years ago, it did not take long before things became very turbulent in our Synod. The cause of confessional Lutheranism was under attack, at least that is the way I saw it. The Rev. Dr. Alvin Barry died two years after I was ordained. I attended his funeral. I then attended the 2001 Synodical Convention where the Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnik was elected President. Then 9-11 and the "Prayer for America" happened. I became active in fighting for "the cause," whatever the cause was - fighting for God - to defend Him against something or someone - His enemies as I perceived them.

I attended all the Symposiums at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne at the time. I attended the ACL Conferences. I attended the inaugural meeting of "Consensus" and became an original member. I signed "That They May Be One" as an original signatory. I went to a few secret meetings and dinners to make secret plans about what we were going to do about "them." I was never an upper level player in any of this - just a low level functionary. I should say that I do not regret those things.

Dr. Kieschnik was elected twice more - I was present for both of his re-elections. I continued to fight for "the cause." And the thing about it was that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the "us against them." I enjoyed the camaraderie of it all. It was comfortable. It was pleasurable. It made me feel like I was a part of something. I was part of something. It was the confessional worldview against the Synodical worldview. That simple structure set up all the conflict - and sometimes the comedy - of "the cause." My worldview against their worldview.

But as the years went on I grew somewhat weary of it. I did not agree with the direction that Dr. Kieschnik was taking the Synod, but I just could not get excited about the "us versus them" anymore. I began to realize that I did not have to defend God against something or someone - against "them." God did not me to defend Him, I needed God to defend me. And I slowly dropped away from most of those old activities.

The irony of Archie and Edith's song is that it is meant to show that the time after which they were pining really wasn't that great. It was a time of horrible poverty for many, war and suffering, diseases that ravaged people, and an almost complete lack of any social structure for the disabled, elderly and homeless. They had simply romanticized it into something it never really was.

I don't think that I romanticize my beginning years of ministry. I do, however, miss those days now and then. Perhaps I do romanticize them a little bit. Like Archie Bunker missed the 1940's, because he remembered it as something better than it actually was, so I sometimes miss the "us versus them," perhaps remembering it was something better than it actually was. It was who I was, to some extent. But not anymore. Archie could not stay in the 1940's. He had to move into the modern world - like it or not. And I could no longer justify staying in the "us versus them" world which I inhabited. I had to move on - like it or not.

There are still things that go on in the Synod and in sister congregations that I find very disagreeable. But I will strive not to be disagreeable even when I disagree. I will try not to characterize those with whom I disagree as the enemy. I certainly might go back to the Symposia, but I won't be going back to those days. I couldn't now even if I wanted to. In the Body of Christ, where we are all members of Him, called into being by water and the Word and fed and forgiven by His Body and Blood, there can never be "us versus them," there can only be "us."

"Didn't need no 'Welfare State,'
everybody pulled his weight.
Gee, my old LaSalle ran great!
Those were the days." 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sermon for Trinity 14

The 14th Sunday after Trinity
5 September 2010 
St. Luke 17:11-19

In the Holy Name of Jesus. 
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
So how do you stand up against that list? If you say that none of them apply to you - you are a liar - plain and simple - and then you can add lying to the list as well. 
Sexual immorality - does God’s Holy Law condemn you for your sexual sins of the present or the past? How about enmity and strife with others - does God’s Holy Law condemn you for your sinful fits of anger and your hatred of others? What about rivalries, dissension and division - does God’s Holy Law convict you of your pettiness - your divisiveness in the Body of Christ? And then there is jealousy, envy and being drunk - does God’s Holy Law condemn you in your jealous envy and your Godless drunken partying? God’s Law certainly should condemn you on all counts - it certainly does to me. That is what God’s Law is there to do - to show you your sin.
Those, St. Paul say, are the works of the flesh - that part of us which wars against God’s Holy Spirit - our sinful, fallen nature that is opposed to God and the things of God. But there is even more, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” 
And there you have it - plains and simple. Your sin puts you in Hell. That is what you are good for - that is what you are fit for - the rubbish heap - the fire. That is where your sin rightfully puts you. And for that sin you need to repent.
But it is not just your sin that hurts you and separates you from God - it is also most certainly the sins of others against you that hurt you and threaten to separate you from God. 
Listen again to what is written in Proverbs, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”
Not only must you contend with your sin in this fallen world - but also the pain of those who have sinned against you - abused you. Those who have done wrong to you - those who have made you stumble. Have you been abused - physically, sexually or emotionally? Does the guilt and shame of that still haunt you? Have you been slandered, lied about or cheated? Have you been humiliated and hurt? The sins of others against you can also separate you from God - for your guilt and shame over what others have done can drive you from Him, and the devil uses the opportunity to try and convince you that you are worthless, damaged, unloved. For this you do not need to repent - indeed you cannot very well repent of someone else’s sin - but you do need to be blessed - to be healed - to be restored.
And what is the answer to all of this? The answer to these problems is not moralism - indeed the answer to sin - our own and that of others against is - is never and can never be mere moralism - despite what popular, feel-good Christianity might say. We are told by many that we must, ‘do better, try harder, be a better Christian, be a true disciple, have more faith and so on.’ They might even use the very words of Scripture from our text about the Fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” And they will say, ‘Get busy doing those things and you’ll get in good with God.’ But as hard as we try, as much as we might want to, we just keep right on sinning - hurting ourselves and abusing each other. 
No the answer is not moralism. Hear again what is written in Proverbs, “My son, be attentive to my words, incline your ears to my sayings... for they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” And hear again St. Paul’s words to the legalistic Galatian Christians, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” 
The answer to the guilt of our sin and the shame of our abuse is Christ-crucified and the life-giving and healing Word that He speaks and gives, which we receive by faith in Him alone.
In the well known Holy Gospel for today we see what true faith is in the Samaritan: nothing more and nothing less than coming empty handed to Jesus and receiving His gifts, and recognizing and thanking Jesus and Him alone for them. And when we receive Jesus’ gifts in trust and with gratitude, then we can’t help but be joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled - because we are in Christ. That is what it means when it says that those are the Fruits of the Spirit. Before you can bring forth the Fruits of the Spirit, you first have to have the Spirit through the gift of Holy Baptism.   
So do St. Paul’s words about immorality, idolatry, anger, drunkenness apply to you? Yes they do. And the answer to that is to receive the good gifts of Jesus - repent and receive Him in His Word, in His Body and Blood, in the forgiveness and life that He offers you in these gifts and let Him take your sin and guilt away. Have you been abused, wronged, made to stumble by others? Yes you have. Then be blessed in the certainty that Christ has borne all those things with and for you. Receive Him in His Word, in His Body and Blood, in the blessings and life that He offers you in these gifts and let Him take your hurt and your shame away. 
“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well,” is just another way of saying, “Jesus has made you well.” There is no healing or saving faith apart from Him. So on this day receive His gifts of healing and forgiveness again. And if you do not come and receive them regularly, recommit yourself to doing so again here today. Do not be like the nine who receive the gifts and then go away thankless - never to return. Receive them as those who know you need to receive them more and more - more Jesus - more healing - more life - more forgiveness. 
That is what God wants to give you in Jesus Christ, whose words are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. 
In the Holy Name of Jesus.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another Blog

This is the first post of a new blog - my blog - for what it is worth. It will probably largely contain my sermons, and perhaps, eventually, other random thoughts. We will see where this leads me - if indeed it leads me anywhere at all - it is, after all, an experiment. The title of my blog is from a poem. It is well known, and I enjoy it, and it certainly describes the reality in which we all live as saint and sinner, "Ev'ry depth of good and ill." Peace.