Lenten Midweek 4 – Mark 15:1-20

Thanks to the Rev. William Weedon for much inspiration on this sermon. A few of the sentences, and the closing prayer, are directly from his hand.

By His holy cross our Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed all the world. Tonight we behold Him standing nearly silent, like a sheep before its shearers.

We behold Him betrayed by Judas, one of His own disciples; dragged by night through the streets into the hands of the Council; bound up and delivered into the hands of Pilate and the Romans.

These cowardly children of the devil aren’t satisifed to do their own dirty work. Their law doesn’t allow it! They cannot shed this man’s blood! Oh what hypocrites we are when sin gets ahold of us; we’ll hide our betrayal of our Lord behind our own self-righteousness.

But then a question from Pilate: Pilate has no self-righteousness to worry about, at least not before God. He’s not out to impress the Lord with his works. He’s a coward of a different sort, one who will do whatever it takes to keep the peace. He’d rather this all just go away, at least from His hands.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” And [Jesus] answered him, “You have said so.”

Jesus confesses – he does not deny – But confesses that He is indeed a King. And then as Mark tells the story, Jesus says nothing more except in prayer to His Father. He has spoken the words of eternal life. It is for these, His wonderful, life-giving words, that He is put to death.

Pilate gets what’s happening here, at least in part. The Chief Priests are envious. The freedom of the Gospel leaves no room for their authority which is based in self-justification and law. This is why we lash out at God too. To completely let go of the idea of us earning even just an itty-bitty-bit of God’s pleasure is something we mightily struggle against. The preacher comes in and shows us the true freedom that Christ’s Gospel gives and our sinful flesh rages against it. In our sin-darkened hearts we hate Jesus’ overwhelming grace just as much as His people did. But, thanks be to God, our Lord rescues us from our sin—even this sin—and keeps us in belief and faith.

But not so these hardened sinners. The Council wants Jesus dead and their reign preserved. Pilate wants peace at all costs.

So “Crucify him… Crucify him” it is. Put this King of the Jews in His rightful place. Curse Him beyond all curses by hanging Him on a tree. Cast Him outside of the holy city, outside of Zion, outside of God’s presence. Set free the murderer Barabbas. Even he is better than this King!

And that is the point. Jesus came to set the Barabasses of this world free. We are Barabbas. We are guilty of murder and rebellion. Jesus came to be cast outside of Zion. Jesus came to be put outside of the presence of God. This is His terrible, painful work; all done because He loved the world.

Pilate washes his hands. The soldiers mock Jesus, arranging a mock coronation with a royal robe and bloody crown. Why is he still silent, they wonder? They beat him and spit on him and still, no words.

Jesus is resolute. He is the King and He will pay for the sins of His people. He loves them. He loves us. He loves you. No matter what you do to King Jesus, His love is unstoppable. He is not like you and me. He is without sin, without malice, without hatred. He is perfect, loving, and obedient. Unto death. For you.

Let us pray:
O King and Lover of us all, O Bleeding and Dying Redeemer, O Silent and Suffering Lamb of God, have mercy on us who deserve no mercy. Grant peace to us who would give you no peace. Transform us by the vision of Your silent, suffering love, O King of kings!

Amen.

- Pastor Michael Schuermann
S.D.G.

Lenten Midweek 2 – Mark 14:27–42

Text: Mark 14:27–42
Hymn: O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken – LSB 439:4–6

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made man in His own image. Adam and Eve fell, disobeying God; they ate when He said “do not eat”.

They were cast out of the Garden. Eve gave birth to a boy. With great hope she remembered the Lord’s promise: “I have a begotten a man with the help of the Lord.” Some preachers, including Luther, view Eve’s statement as her saying that she believes that Cain is the promised redeemer. Others – and I think this is the way to read it – recognize in Eve thankfulness that the Lord has allowed her to be what He has promised her to be: the mother of all living. And she has done this with His help. In the midst of the pain and danger of childbearing, the Lord has borne her through it unharmed.

But Sin is passed down. Adam’s family offers up their offerings to the Lord. Abel’s is accepted by the Lord; Cain’s is not. Abel’s offering is done in faith and trust; Cain’s is not (we know this from the letter to the Hebrews). And the Lord addresses Cain, in love: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?”

It’s to that second question that I want to draw our attention. God beholds in Cain great disappointment. The favor of God does not rest on Cain. Cain has that look of despair; it’s the end of the world for him.

“Face fallen” is best understood in this way: Cain is so disappointed that he just wants to die. It’s sort of like the teenager who – bitterly disappointed by something – reacts with the stereotypical “My life is over!” But this is not overdramatic hyperbole on Cain’s face. He wants to die. For Cain, this disappointment with the Lord’s disregard for him ends in even more grievous sin: He murders his brother. He is cast away from the Lord. That is death; sin has its way with Cain. His unfaithfulness – and subsequent sinful action – condemns him. “Sin is crouching at the door.”

This is true for you and I as well. Sin is always crouching at the door. We desparately want the Lord to look on us and all that we do and give us a big thumbs up. But He doesn’t. You may think you’ve had a great week, but come Sunday morning the Lord’s Word read and preached to you is going to show you just how much you’ve come up short.

For a moment here, contemplate your life over the past week. Have you served your neighbor for their sake, or in order to try and get something out of it? Have you done good, even because it feels good to do good? Have you secretly hoped that the Lord was watching?

“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” says Jesus. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

This is the same warning that the Lord gave to Cain. Don’t slumber in your sins. Don’t slump into the complacency that comes with thinking that “doing your best” is what the Lord desires, or what will in some way earn you points with God. Watch. Pray. Repent.

Repentance is exactly what our Lord is begging of Cain, and of his disciples, and of us. The sorrow of Cain is the sorrow that our Lord seeks to create in us, as we are faced with the stark reality of our sin. Faced with our sin, we are so sorry that we want to die. Or at least, we’re willing to admit that we deserve it; we’ll hang our heads and march to the gallows to pay for our crimes.

Though, let me dig us in a little bit deeper: the full reason for this sorrow isn’t that we’re sorry that we’ve done wrong, or that we disappointed God, or even that we recognize justice and therefore are consigned to it being carried out upon us. No, this sorrow goes to our very core: our whole being is rent asunder with grief because we behold that our sin has ripped us apart from God. Like a limb being violently torn from the body; this is what our sin has done. And in our sin we will never be happy, joyful, at peace; because the only way to have those things is to be in the presence of God; to have God’s face shining upon us; in the words of the Benediction, to have the Lord “lift up his countenance upon us, and give us peace.”

In our sin, we are eternally separated from God: this is death. And our sorrow over sin is brought about by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, helping us see that this is where we are in our sin: eternally separated from God; dead. We are mourners at our own eternal funeral.

So then we hear Jesus say “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” and we know that He has become just like us in every way, except without his own sin. Jesus isn’t just bummed because He has to bear the pain of the cross. Jesus is here, in the Garden of Gethsemane, faced with the sin of the whole world. His obedience to the Father’s will knows that the world’s sin is now His own. And He says “I’m so full of sorrow over the sins of the world that every bit of me – body and soul – would rather be dead.”

Dear friends, in those words is the whole extent of the love of God for you. God binds His Son with your sin, so that you would be free of it. Jesus, so grieved over the world’s sin, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

The sorrow of Jesus over sin is enough that He remains obedient unto death: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” he says to the Father.

Let us repent of our sin and be sorrowful. But know this: your death is not necessary for your sin. Trust in Christ’s work and promise. He is the “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Christ has died for you.

This word and idea of being “so sorrowful that I’d rather die” appears one other place in the Scriptures, and is a fine place to end for tonight. In Psalms 42 and 43 the same phrase appears a total of three times, and it’s a fine prayer for us; with these words, our Lord reaches down and lifts up our faces again, sorrow turned to joy:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Amen.

- Pastor Michael Schuermann
S.D.G.

+Edward Pontarelli+ funeral sermon

Text: John 6:27–40; Revelation 7:9–17

Dear Alice, Terry, Cherie, family and friends; grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b)

Those are words of tremendous faith, uttered by Job. He’s just lost everything: home, property, servants, even all his children. And yet he remains faithful and leaves all things in the hands – the merciful, loving, trustworthy hands – of the Lord.

I remember these words coming up somewhat casually on Wednesday night, after our dear Ed had fallen asleep in Christ. So I want to bring them up far less casually now: these words of Job teach us how to respond to everything which we go through in our lives. The mark of a Christian is to trust that God’s will is good for His beloved people – no matter how difficult it is.

Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper and Alcohol-Removed Wines

A common area of pastoral concern regarding Holy Communion centers on the responsible communing of those with health issues related to alcohol (e.g. alcohol intolerance; medication reactions; alcoholism). There may also be members of a parish who have an aversion to alcohol due to some past experience in their lives.

First and foremost, every one of these cases is going to require individual pastoral care: discussion, prayer, and study of the scriptures together.

Questions arise from time to time – and in fact I came across one posted to Twitter overnight – concerning what may be used for the elements? For example: “Is it alright to use gluten-free hosts?” Another question (this is the question linked to above): “Is it permissible to use non-alcohol or alcohol-removed wine in the Supper?”

First, it is not in keeping with our Lord’s institution nor faithful to the meaning of the text of Scripture to use pasteurized, unfermented grape juice in the Supper. Amongst discussion of this topic, a common argument is that the phrase “fruit of the vine” used in Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18 would not mean fermented grape juice (wine) but instead unfermented (e.g. Welch’s Grape Juice). This is an erroneous interpretation of the text. The use of grape juice in the Holy Communion is a modern innovation, with exegetical arguments made following the change in practice.

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) has written concerning the question of not using wine, and includes discussion of pastoral practice when dealing with certain exceptional circumstances, such as those listed at the beginning of this article :

All four accounts of the Lord’s Supper speak of “the cup.” The content of this cup was most definitely wine. The references in Matt. 26:29 and parallels to the “fruit of the vine” would not have suggested anything else to Jesus’ listeners than the grape wine of the Jewish Passover ritual. In 1 Cor. 11:21 there is corroboration that the early Christian church understood wine for “fruit of the vine.” Some of the Corinthians, sadly, had abused the Holy Supper by becoming drunk.

The color, type, or origin of the grape wine is a matter which Christians can select in accord with their situation.

In the oft-cited pastoral circumstance of an alcoholic communicant, the counsel of foregoing Communion for a period of time or the action of diluting the wine with water (perhaps done at the Lord’s Supper itself) are preferable. In the extreme situation where even greatly diluted wine may lead to severe temptation, no fully satisfactory answer, in the opinion of the CTCR, can be formulated. The counsel of completely foregoing Communion is clearly unsatisfactory. In this situation, too, the actions of diluting the wine with water or intinction would be preferable. The substitution of grape juice raises the question of whether the Lord’s instruction is being heeded. Luther’s openness to Communion in one kind is difficult in view of confessional texts which strongly urge the Biblical paradigm of both kinds, though the Confessions do not address the extreme situation.

A similar pastoral problem is posed by those rare instances where a severe physical reaction is caused by the elements (as, for example, when the recipient is concurrently taking certain medications, or is simply allergic to one or the other of the elements). The pastor, in such cases, will surely stress the Gospel’s power and total effectiveness in the individual’s life and patiently seek a practical solution that both honors Christ’s word and satisfies the desire to partake in the Lord’s Supper.

(Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper, 1983, pp.15-16)

This is a helpful outline of the concerns and solutions, relying on faithfulness to the institution of our Lord while at the same time stressing the importance of individual pastoral care. There is debate concerning whether or not the practice of intinction is faithful (which the CTCR describes as a possible practice), but that’s outside of the scope of this article.

The CTCR does not discuss the use of now commonly-available wines which are advertised as “alcohol-removed.” A type with which I’m familiar is Fre from Sutter Home, although there may be others. The question cited above from Twitter directly relates to the use of this type of wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The question boils down to whether alcohol-removed wine is still truly wine. In the Scriptural use of the word “wine” (οἶνος), as well as in our common everyday usage of the word, wine is the “fruit of the vine,” that is, made from grapes, and is fermented. As the CTCR document discusses, the wine used in Holy Communion should be made from grapes; varietal, color, etc. are a matter of Christian freedom.

Fre wines are grape wines. As they state:

The process of making our alcohol-removed wine isn’t really that different from making regular wine. We source grapes from premier California vineyards known to produce the very best characteristics of each varietal.

After harvest, our winemakers carefully craft each wine using traditional methods. Once the desired flavor, texture and balance is reached, we use state-of-the-art spinning cone technology to remove the alcohol while preserving delicate aromas and flavors.

Likewise, the “fruit of the vine” used in Holy Communion should be fermented; that is, it is faithful to Christ’s institution that there be alcohol present. Fre wines, while being “alcohol-removed”, do retain some small percentage of alcohol.

Although we remove most of the alcohol during our spinning cone process, a small fraction of a percentage of alcohol remains—less than one half of one percent (<0.5 %).

It is my pastoral opinion, humbly offered, that it is acceptable to use Fre wine as an alternative to a “fully-alcoholic” wine in certain, carefully considered pastoral situations.For the sake of the conscience or health of each individual in these situations, I believe that using Fre wine or an equivalent is faithful to the institution of our Lord. I believe it to be more or less equivalent to placing a drop or two of regular wine into a small amount of water in order to be consumed by a communicant. I think either practice would be faithful, and thus guard that Christian’s conscience or health.

I do not think it would be a helpful practice to fully replace the usual sort of communion wine with Fre wine or an equivalent (that is, made from grapes and still retaining even a minuscule amount of alcohol). It would be better to retain commonly used communion wine for the sake of confession against those who insist on grape juice. This would also serve well the consciences of those who desire to be faithful to the institution of our Lord in using wine and who would not have had a pastoral conversation regarding the use of Fre wine or an equivalent.

For an introduction of any type of non-alcohol or alcohol-removed wine in his congregation, the pastor should do his homework and ensure that the wine is made from grapes, has been allowed to ferment (that is, allowed to become alcoholic), and following the process of alcohol removal still retains some measure – no matter how small – of alcohol.

Lenten Midweek 1 – Mark 14:1-26

Text: Mark 14:1–26
Hymn: O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken – LSB 439:1–3

We heard the story of man’s temptation and fall into sin this past Sunday. We also heard the promise of our Lord that He would save us by doing battle Himself with the Devil. The Seed of the Woman – that is, our Messiah Jesus – would have his heel crushed by the Devil. “O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken / That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken? / Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession, / What dark transgression?” Continue reading