Monday, September 24, 2012

Sermon for 23 September 2012, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 9:30-37
True Greatness
Proper 20B, 23 September 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[A man] (named Horville Sash) had a humble job for a large corporation. He worked in the basement as a gofer doing whatever others wanted him to do to help them—mostly what other people didn’t want to do.
He often thought about the people on the floors above him and the nice jobs they had. One day as he worked in the mailroom he saw a bug scurry across the floor. He raised his foot to smash it, but then heard the bug say, “Spare me.” Horville did, and as a reward the bug offered him a wish.
“I wish to be promoted to a higher floor,” he said. The very next day he was moved to the second floor, and he marched up like MacArthur and Patton rolled into one. As he worked on the second floor he listened to footsteps on the floor above him and wished to move up. So he called his bug for a wish. He received higher wages and more power when he moved to the third floor as sales coordinator. But he wasn’t satisfied because there were other floors above him.
He wished and wished and gradually moved up to the 20th floor, to the 50th floor, to the 70th floor. He was on the very top floor, sitting by the indoor pool, when he discovered a stairway leading still higher. He scrambled up and found himself on the roof. Now he felt he was as high as anyone could go.
Just as he turned to go back to his plush office, he noticed an office boy off to the side with his eyes closed. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Praying.” “To whom?” The boy pointed to the sky and said, “To the Lord in Heaven.” Horville panicked. There was a floor above him. He could see only clouds and could hear no shuffling of feet. So he summoned his bug and said, “Give me a position God would want if he were on earth.” The next day [he] (Horville) began work as a gofer in the basement.

What exactly is true greatness in the kingdom of God? The Gospel is our focus.

[The First & Greatest]
In Mark Chapter 8, Jesus predicted His death and Resurrection for the first time and called on His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. Next, Mark records the Transfiguration and then shows Jesus healing a boy with an evil spirit. They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 
Jesus again predicts His Passion, death, and Resurrection. This is the second time in the Markan account. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. Apparently, the disciples went on to discussing other matters, things more important to them.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Amazing. [T]hey had argued about who was the greatest. Earlier in this same chapter, Mark 9, Jesus had been transfigured up on the mountain and appeared to Peter, James and John with Moses and Elijah, and they, the disciples, were arguing about who among them was the greatest. Jesus had just cast out a demon and they were arguing about which of them was the greatest!
How much like us are these disciples? We sit here on Sunday, hear the message that The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. Then, many times we leave this place and go out into the world and argue about who is the greatest. How much time have you wasted, turning an honorable pursuit like sports in to an obsession, and argue about who has the best baseball or football team? Or taking your work too seriously just to get the promotion up the corporate ladder? Or delving into discussions about what teen heartthrob is the coolest. We easily get distracted from that which is truly great, truly First. 
What does Jesus say about being the greatest? About being First?

[The Last & Servant of All]
(35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,) “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Jesus turns contemporary logic about success on its head. In the kingdom of God, one’s resume does not include the prestigious things, but what our society considers menial: service, humility, taking a low profile, even caring for children.
The greatest service, purest humility, the ultimate low profile for One who was the Son of God, and one who cares for children is seen in Jesus. He is the ideal, the greatest, the first, even the Alpha and Omega, First and Last we hear about in the book of Revelation. But His greatness comes in this: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
For our Lord is not just our example of how to serve. In His service to us, we have been freed from bondage. We are no longer in bondage to our own egos, to the lies about success we hear from the evil one, we are freed from endless discussions about worldly greatness. We are freed to be the very last and the servant of all.
“I serve,” is the proud motto of [a particular prince,] (the Prince of Wales). We read and ponder and are startled. How these words clash with the attitude that people commonly take toward life! Out in the world we see how people make every effort to thrust themselves into positions where they are able to command and force others to serve them. They are willing to serve, but only themselves. Selfishness is the plague sin of our age. What a contrast is, “I serve.” The person whose heart speaks these words rises to heights of true nobility, true greatness.
In Christ, each Christian is a free lord and master, subject to none. (Luther) Forgiven, we are freed from living under the law. Yet, at the same time, the Christian is a slave and a servant of all. As you live out your vocations, your roles in life as father, mother, child, student, supervisor, worker, neighbor, friend, we serve God as we serve those around us. We are freed so that we can serve our neighbor and help and befriend him in every bodily need.
 Here then is true greatness: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” Christ served us, became the very last, the servant of all by being killed and by rising from the dead. And by being last, the servant of all, freeing us all from sin, so that we may serve.
Jesus embodies true Greatness. He who made Himself last, has been made First. He is what the book of Revelation calls the first and last, beginning and end, Alpha and Omega, Jesus.
Rejoice with me that our sins have been forgiven for Jesus sake! And even though we may be looked down upon in the eyes of the world and considered as last, as our Lord has said, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in the Day our Lord Jesus Comes. He will make us truly great with Him. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sermon for 16 September 2012, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Mark 9:14–29
I Believe—Help My Unbelief!
Proper 19B, 16 September 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every day, your faith is put to the test. You lay awake at night, wondering why the day went the way it did. Bad news from around the world is a distraction—especially if loved ones are in harm’s way.
Every day, your faith is put to the test. There are good days and bad days, and both come and go—neither kind lasts. Yet, on the worst days, the temptation is there to give in to the advice given to Job: Curse God and die. We pray that the Lord would keep us steadfast in the one, true faith until life everlasting, but the danger of unbelief is always around the corner.

A man in the Gospel according to St. Mark was having more than a bad hair day. His son was demon-possessed. He thought the disciples could help, because of the amazing, hopeful accounts he had heard about Jesus. That’s where we first hear the story:
14When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to [Jesus] and greeted him. 16And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it,  “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

The man brings his son, possessed by a demon—a real demon—and the disciples could not exorcise it. This is not just a case of mental illness misunderstood in a first-century way. Demonic possession and mental illness can exist side by side or separately, even in the 21st Century.
Scribes and disciples are in the middle of an argument—possibly about whether the disciples have the authority to cast out demons. Meanwhile, the son of this man is still suffering under demonic influence.
And what does Jesus talk about? Authority? Who’s right in the argument? Does He give a medical or psychological diagnosis? No. Jesus diagnoses the spiritual problem: unbelief, lack of faith, trust, and hope in God above all things, and especially in His servant standing right there—Jesus. The man explains the situation, Jesus responds, and the argument is over.
“O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” How long has this been happening? His whole life. Please do something if you can.
If. If? If! Jesus’ diagnosis was correct across the board. The disciples didn’t get the job done—a lack of faith. The scribes questioned the credentials of Jesus and the disciples, testing them, often trying to trip them up. Unfaith. They saw the signs before and still doubted who Jesus was. And here the man says, “if.”
Faith and miracles go hand in hand. Sometimes faith precedes the miracle. Sometimes God grants it during or after the miracle. A sign, a miracle all by itself is just entertainment. Without Jesus’ teaching, the feeding of the five thousand is just dinner and a show.
“If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The man heard and felt the stern rebuke of the law. What a wonderful response: “I believe; help my unbelief!” If only we could remember that prayer to Jesus in our day of trial.
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
This is a different situation than what we overheard last week. We also encountered a mute and deaf person. There was a physical cause for that affliction. Here, with the son, there are additional symptoms, including “it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.” Even the father knew a demon was at work.
Jesus demonstrated His authority over creation as the Creator when He used fingers, spit, and prayer to heal the man last week. This week, He demonstrates His divine authority over the devil and death. The demon left the boy and, at Jesus’ word, the boy arose.
The miracles of Jesus teach us that in the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the power of Resurrection Day is present. Jesus gives us more than just a description of what the Last Day, the day of Resurrection will be like—He shows us. The Word of Jesus, miracles, and faith go together!

Do you have a good and gracious God, or not? (pause) Don’t hesitate so long to answer. Don’t over-think the question. Don’t let your emotions distract you. What does Holy Scripture say?
Yes. Yes. A trillion times, Yes!
Are we tempted to doubt the goodness of God? Yes. That’s the devil’s work—and the influence of the world—and the weakness of your own human flesh, too.
Why do we hesitate? Why are we tempted to doubt? Why do some fall away from faith? It’s because we’re from Missouri. That’s right—and I don’t mean the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I mean Missouri.
Wyoming is the Cowboy State and the Equality State. Nebraska used to be called the Beef State as well as the Cornhusker State. Missouri is the… “Show Me” State.
Our preferred way of living in the world, according to our human nature, is called “Living by sight.” Show me, we say. I won’t believe it until you show me the cold, hard facts. Show me the money! People fall away from Christ, and are tempted to doubt God’s goodness because we see bad things going on in the world. Bad things happen to good people. Wars and rumors of wars. Tragic accidents. Painful experiences. Dreadful diseases. Things like Nine-Eleven.
“Living by faith” is different. About as different as one could be. Faith trusts in what we do not see, but Who we know is there—a good and gracious God in Christ. We walk by faith and not by…sight. No one said it was easy. Jesus still calls you to faith.
Faith can die. The best evidence of this is our friend Peter. In order to avoid the appearance of “beating him up,” be reminded of the rest of his story. Sure enough, Peter didn’t want Jesus to go to the cross, and he denied Jesus three times, but Peter was forgiven by Jesus Himself and restored to his vocation of disciple, apostle, and pastor.
In Mark 8 and Matthew 16 Peter expresses faith, trust, and hope in God by declaring Jesus to be the Christ, the very Son of God. Jesus calls Him blessed. That means blessed—full of faith. Can one be a Christian and fall away? Yes. Can a fallen Christian be restored to faith and forgiveness? Yes. Peter teaches us a lot by counter-example. Faith is a gift from God, not something we generate in ourselves. As a gift, it can be resisted, as Stephen taught us in Acts 7.
Feeding your faith is important. Unfed, faith can die. Any parent would recoil at the idea of taking a newborn home and not feeding him. It’s barbaric, inhumane, uncivilized! So is Holy Baptism apart from teaching the baptized God’s Word in all of its articles.
How can we encourage the parents of all the baptized to bring them to church in their first years of life? The pastor has a microphone, so crying children aren’t a real problem. Not all crying is a joyful noise, but would you really want to discourage a parent bringing a fellow Christian to Church?
Children are more than the church of the future. In Holy Baptism, they are already joined to the body of Christ. They are an important part of the church now.
Are there others you know who should be added to the shut-in list? I get to visit our current shut-ins at home once every 6 to 8 weeks. Let me know how I can help.
How can we encourage more men to see Jesus as He actually is? Our Lord Jesus is both loving and strong, merciful and powerful, the Lamb of God and a victorious warrior over sin, death, and Satan.

Bad things happen to good people. We don’t throw up our hands in despair. No, we fold them in prayer. Bad days alone don’t bring us to our knees, for we willingly bend the knee in prayer. Remember Jesus’ last words in the text. They are mentioned last in the text and last in this sermon so that you remember them!
“Why could we not cast it out?” the disciples asked. Jesus answered, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Prayer. Conversation with God. Praise. Petition. Thanksgiving. Recalling His goodness and graciousness to His people throughout salvation history.
Prayer is an action of trust. Faith asks God to work in the situation. Do you play the game of asking, “If?” When tense situations arise, do you worry about what you are going to do? I’m guessing that the disciples did too—especially when the demon remained and the scribes came criticizing.
Therefore, we continue to pray. Every day, your faith is put to the test. There are good days and bad days, and both come and go—neither kind lasts. When “If” and “Why” torture you on the worst days, and although the danger of unbelief is always around the corner, remember that your Lord is even closer. And remember to pray: I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus, who dwells in highest heaven is in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is near enough to hear your prayer. He is good, loving, and powerful enough to take care of you. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sermon for 09 September 2012, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 7: [24-30] 31-37
Be Opened!
Proper 18B, 09 September 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Holy Scripture was given in human language. The Old Testament was recorded in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in everyday, “koine” Greek with occasional Aramaic words and phrases thrown in. To determine what it says we need to apply the rules of language, such as grammar and logic. It is right to use reason as a servant of the text, but the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential for its proper understanding. (SC Explanation 5)
Unlike all other books, Holy Scripture is God’s Word and Truth. It is wrong to question or deny the truthfulness of the sacred text as happens, for example, with historical criticism.  (SC Ex 6) And that’s exactly the problem when reason, the “thinker,” is elevated above the Biblical text and is considered more authoritative.  Reason is a wonderful servant of the Word, but a terrible and terrifying master.
Two hundred years ago, a man went through the New Testament and cut out anything that didn’t make sense to him, especially the miracles, Jesus’ references to His own divinity, and even Jesus’ Resurrection. This man claimed to believe in Jesus, but his edited “Jesus” was not born of a virgin, was not Son of God, did no miracles, and never rose from the dead. Thomas Jefferson may have been a great author, president, and dealmaker behind the Louisiana Purchase, but his edition of the Bible leaves much to be desired. All you have left is Jesus as a “good moral teacher,” and if that’s all He is, a pretty weak one at that.
Seriously, if one cut out all the signs, all the fulfilled prophecy, all the rebuke of sin, all the teaching about heaven, the divinity of Christ, and the miracles, you would have a short New Testament—two words—“Jesus wept.” And why wouldn’t He?
Today’s appointed reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark presents two miracles of our Lord. We will focus on the second one this morning. Our Church Body split in the 1970’s over so called “historical criticism” being used to interpret the Scriptures. Who are we to think that we’re wiser than Our Lord Himself? Why is the miraculous so hard to swallow? If it weren’t for the Resurrection of Our Lord, we would all be condemned!
In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod today, we often take for granted the opportunity we have to meditate upon the Biblical text at face value. Hearing the Bible as God’s Word and hearing a sermon with law and Gospel properly identified and distinguished are both rare in American Christianity as well as Lutheranism around the world.

Then [Jesus] He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. 
Here is a man who could not understand Aramaic, the common language of the day among the Jews, any better than you could. He’d never spoken it, because he’d never heard it.  He could hardly talk. He had a speech impediment. These are good translations of the Greek, “thick-voiced.” What sounds this man could make were unintelligible. He couldn’t even hear himself.
If Jesus were merely a “good moral teacher,” if this text was only intended to be taken as myth, as liberals claim, why would these people bother to bring Jesus to this man, or even to lower themselves to beg Jesus to heal Him?
And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened."  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Put yourself in this man’s place for a moment. You’ve lived in a silent world since you were born. You struggle to communicate with those around you, often pointing, grunting, or moving your head to indicate yes or no. Now, all of a sudden, perhaps for the first time in your adult life, a multitude, a crowd gathers around you and some people among them bring a stranger to you.
It only makes sense that this ordinary, but kind-appearing man draws you away from the crowd to a place in private. It’s less stressful. This stranger would have your full attention. And He would help calm you down. But then, this stranger would do some things that would appear odd to a group of people. To you, though, they actually make sense. You appreciate the effort He makes to communicate with you. And, you realize later, do more than just communicate.
Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. He was often startled by people walking up out of sight. He knew he was missing something. By actions, Jesus says, “I know about deafness. I love you.”
Then, Jesus spit and touched the man’s tongue. Perhaps this makes us uncomfortable. One does not spit in polite company. Nor does one do what Jesus did next. This sign did not make the final cut in American Sign Language. By actions, Jesus says, “I know about speech impediments. I love you.”
Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh… A look toward heaven speaks volumes. We all know what that means. And a deep sigh? A deep sigh moves the whole upper body. This reminds us of the groaning prayer of faith without words, when the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Jesus prays to our Father, Abba. We are blessed that St. Mark records for us the very word, the very vocable that Jesus used there in that deaf man’s hearing: And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened."  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Dr. Lenski comments, “The man understood the sign language of Jesus. It is impossible to assume the contrary, i.e., that Jesus had failed in His effort to have the [man] understand these signs. We may say that this language of Jesus was intended to arouse faith in the man. But it would be unwarranted to make the miracle that now followed dependent upon the man’s faith. It depended wholly on the will of Jesus. Jesus sometimes tries to instill faith before the miracle. He sometimes lets faith follow after the miracle. It all depends on the case. [The man] may well have received [as gift] a spark of faith before the almighty word was spoken; but it was not his faith that enabled Jesus to heal him. It was solely the power and will of Jesus.”
Our Lord did what even speech therapy, cochlear implants, and years of Aramaic lessons cannot. The man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.  And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
The KJV has “dumb” rather than mute. My, how word meanings have changed since 1611! That is why having a current, accurate, understandable English translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is so important. That’s why learning those ancient Biblical languages is so important for future Lutheran teachers and pastors.
Jesus makes both the deaf hear and the mute speak. And so much more! We have heard of Jesus as Physician, one who calls sinners, not those who think they are already righteous. When Jesus is your Physician, He is the Great Physician of body and soul. When He tends your illnesses, cares for your sins, He cares for you body and soul. Jesus has the big picture, the whole picture in mind.
A pilot explained to an inquisitive passenger how a huge airplane hitting the ground at 130 mph is stopped. The airplane uses three braking systems working together. One is the spoilers on the wings, which create a drag of wind resistance. Second are the brakes on the wheels of the plane. And third is the reverse thrust of the engines. As the aircraft lands, the pilot throws the jet engines into reverse. The thrust blows out of the front rather than out of the rear of the engine, pushing the aircraft backward and helping it slow down. Though Christ seemed to be putting on the brakes when He ordered the admiring crowds to tell no one about His miracle, it was, like the braking system of an airplane, for an essential purpose. The crowds would not yet be able to understand that Jesus’ healings were not ends in themselves, but a preview of His restoring all things. That would happen in good time—on the cross.
In the light of the cross, we better understand suffering. We are to yearn for the restoration of all things and not get too comfortable in this world. The Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday is an Eighth day of creation. The dead will be raised with bodies imperishable! Creation will be restored. Then, all will be healed.
In the meantime, we eagerly and earnestly pray for those with hearing impairments, for those with chronic pain, for couples who are unable to conceive or bear children, for all who suffer illness or injury, and for all who undergo or recover from surgery, that the God who by His miraculous might opens eyes and ears would grant patience, strength, and—according to His will—restoration of health, and grant grace to all who endure afflictions for a time.

In the meantime, we are also given opportunities to tell the good news about Jesus to those who do not know of Him, or do not know of Him fully, to those who can hear, and to those who cannot.
The story of LCMS deaf missions begins in the period following the American Civil War. Lutheran congregations involved in the efforts to provide homes for children left fatherless by the war established the Lutheran Children's Friend Society. An orphanage established in 1873 led to a school for the deaf, assistance for adults, and eventually, training to better incorporate the deaf into hearing congregations.
The 1896 convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Fort Wayne, Indiana, had the opportunity to witness the fruit of this ministry, as a pastor led worship in Sign, assisted by deaf members of his congregation. During that convention, Synod adopted Deaf Missions as an official mission program. That pastor was elected chairman of the new board, and within six months, four other men were called to work full-time with Deaf people.
Today the LCMS has 63 primarily Deaf congregations in 25 states served by 30 full-time pastors or missionaries, plus three pastors in part-time deaf ministry. About 200 "hearing" congregations have regular interpreted ministry for Deaf persons; less than a half-dozen of the pastors of those hearing churches are able to Sign. Profoundly Deaf communicant members in the LCMS number about 8,000.
Both LCMS seminaries provide sign language training to both students and members of their communities and provide interpreters for classes and daily chapel services.  The Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, offers additional courses, which expose students to the church's need for deaf missions and various models for meeting those needs. The seminary also supports hearing churches with interpreted ministries through its summer Church Interpreter Training Institute. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is home to Synod's Deaf Institute of Theology, which enables deaf Lutherans to receive mentored training for service in their home congregations.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry among Deaf people, sharing the Good News of God's love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ with those whose primary mode of communication is Sign. One of the unique strengths of the mission has been the leadership of Deaf Christians in the ministry. In 1959 Rev. William Ludwig became the first Deaf Lutheran to graduate from the seminary and receive ordination into the pastoral ministry. Many other Deaf people have followed his lead, as they have given themselves to the Gospel ministry as pastors, teachers, parish assistants, and foreign missionaries.

Many, like you, have heard the call of Christ. But there are many deaf and hearing people around the world who have not heard the good news about Jesus, about the complete forgiveness of sins in Him, and about the restoration of all creation beginning in Him. Our Lord would have that all ears that have not heard the good news of healing through the Cross would be opened, fully opened, Ephphatha!
A mission hymn, number 831 (1, 2, 4) in Lutheran Service Book, reminds us of the mission of the Church and all Christians: “How shall they hear,” who have not heard News of a Lord who loved and came; Nor known His reconciling word, Nor learned to trust a Savior’s name? “To all the world,” to ev’ry place, Neighbors and friends and far-off lands, Preach the good news of saving grace; Go while the great commission stands. “Lord, here am I”: Your fire impart To this poor cold self-centered soul; Touch but my lips, my hands, my heart, And make a world for Christ my goal. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Funeral Sermon for Ruth Kerbel, 4 September 2012

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Psalm 121
The Lord Will Keep You Forevermore
Funeral Sermon for Ruth Kerbel
Tuesday of Pentecost XIV, 4 September 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“In suff’ring be Thy love my peace, In weakness be Thy love my pow’r; And when the storms of life shall cease, O Jesus, in that final hour, Be Thou my rod and staff and guide, And draw me safely to Thy side!” (LSB 683:4) Amen.
And so our Jesus has answered that prayer, a hymn stanza just sung moments ago, one that Ruth Kerbel read every day. She now waits as we all wait for the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Ruth is still in Christ, yet away from the body and at home with the Lord. She no longer has to walk by faith but by sight, for she sees her dear Lord face to face, all because of His boundless love to her and us.
The best hymns are those that provide a view of life from a heavenly perspective. In other words, hymns like the ones Ruth selected for today’s service excel because they put our focus on Jesus and His work for us in His death and resurrection. Such hymns lift high the cross of Jesus and dismiss us with His blessing. Another such hymn is Ruth’s favorite Psalm, Psalm 121.
1I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
It’s easy to lift our eyes to the hills, foothills, and beautiful Bighorn Mountains here in Wyoming. They are great, vast, high, and mighty, but they are not our source of help. Instead, we look to He who created the mountains, all plants and animals—even dairy cows and teddy bears named Marilyn—He who also created each one of us. Ruth confessed, 2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The Lord’s own creativity is reflected in Ruth’s creative gifts of writing and art. One of her many writings on LWML letterhead is found in today’s bulletin. It is a prayer she wrote shortly after Bill’s death. The aisles of Immanuel’s nave are lined with banners she had a hand in or worked on all by herself. One of our most useful, entitled “All For Love,” shows the life and ministry of Christ. I have little doubt that is was a labor of Ruth’s love to her Lord and for her congregation and was heavily influenced by her favorite hymn, “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me.”
Our God is a Lord that is active in our lives for our benefit. The Psalmist sings, 3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Jesus’ obedience leading to His Good Friday death and Easter Sunday resurrection show even the power of the Lord God resting in His three-day tomb. He is therefore our enlivening Vine and the source of our faith, our fruit, and our faithful service. Apart from Him we can do nothing. With Him, we bear much fruit. Jesus is the source of Ruth’s fruit from teaching countless children in Sunday School, her support of Martin Luther Grammar School, her lifelong service on Altar Guild, the sacrificial service of her and Bill transferring to Prince of Peace, Buffalo, and her years in the LWML including two terms as Wyoming District LWML President. Abide in the boundless love of Jesus. No matter what you face in this life, He will never leave you or forsake you.
Like any life in this valley of the shadow, Ruth faced challenges. Hers included a ruptured appendix, mourning a dear husband, and several occurrences of cancer.
One evening before a trip to the hospital, Ruth found great comfort in Psalm 121. Here’s the rest of the story: Pastor Garwood visited her the next morning and shared a devotion he had prepared just for her—on Psalm 121. That is when this Psalm became her favorite. Shortly after I arrived, I had the opportunity to provide her pastoral care in connection with a health concern. I didn’t know this story. She told it to me after I shared a devotion with her on Psalm 121.
5The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Psalm does not promise that you’ll never see a full moon, blue moon, or be prevented from getting a sunburn. It means that the Lord will sustain you through all things, day and night, your whole life long and even after that. The Lord will keep you forevermore.
7The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
There are things worse than death. Ruth Kerbel was concerned about such things. Perhaps the worst thing is falling away from faith in Christ Jesus. That is why it broke her heart when she didn’t see a dear family friend in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day for quite some time. She prayed for this person and did what she could to remind them of the gifts of God in Christ at Church.
Because she was here regularly receiving the Lord’s gifts of word and sacrament, she knew that a habit of despising preaching and God’s Word could lead one on a path away from Christ, away from faith, even to the sin against the Holy Spirit and away from salvation itself: eternal separation from God.
We will miss Ruth at Bible Class. Her fellow saints appreciated her faithful and meticulous care for our communion linens and how she organized the new banner room, yet we loved her all the more for living out her most important vocation: a baptized child of God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, regularly and eagerly receiving the Lord’s gifts.
The funeral pall draped over her casket speaks of baptism, just as Romans 6 confesses our dying and rising in Christ Jesus. The waters of baptism are a river of regeneration, washing us in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
Our Lord keeps His promises. He also makes this promise to you. Abide in Him and He in you. Jesus did not only show us the way to the Father, but He Himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to the Father.
He gives His righteousness as a gift to His Christians. The white robe of His righteousness and starry crown of heavenly glory are shown in every white baptismal gown, the white of one’s Confirmation day, the white robes of the acolytes, elders, and pastors, the white wedding gown of a bride, white Communion linens, boiled to keep them white, and even the white funeral pall of the Church. All speak to the pure, holy, righteous gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation given to all who believe and are baptized into Christ.
8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
“The valleys we are destined to cross seem to be greater than we can climb, but Lord, we know you are with us each step of the way, to face whatever and wherever you lead us.”
I say such words to give you comfort as you mourn. They were written by one who was mourning the loss of someone dear to her. Ruth wrote that sentence. She wants you to be comforted by her Jesus, for He is your Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord will keep you forevermore, just as he has done for Ruth.
With her let us bless the Lord for all His benefits. “Thank you, Lord for your daily gift of joy and hope” in Jesus. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.