Friday, April 30, 2010

Inculcating Respect for The Office of The Holy Ministry

Dr. Gene Veith in a blog post (The Future of the LCMS) began a discussion on the remarkable presidential nomination numbers for the upcoming elections of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As the discussion and tenor thereof touch on a number of issues that are important to me it seemed fitting to post my comment here. I encourage my readers to also click the link above and read Dr. Veith’s post.


I appreciate the comments of many here, yet as a pastoral delegate I want to offer a word of admonition and encouragement. For many who support the incumbent LCMS President he is "Rev. Kieschnick" or "President Kieschnick" while his "opponent" is "Matt" or "Harrison." Likewise, many who support Rev. Harrison refer to him with the title while his "opponent" is simply "Jerry" or "Kieschnick." Please remember that whomever you support for the office of president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, BOTH men are called and ordained servants of the Word, both elected to their offices and those offices deserve respect (1 Thes 5.12-13).

I believe that Rev. Harrison is fundamentally correct in saying that our challenges in the LCMS are not fundamentally structural but theological. One of the ways by which we show our resolve to be Lutherans is to respect the Office of the Holy Ministry, and one of the ways by which we show respect for the Office is to always speak respectfully of those in the Office. My district president in Northern Illinois, Rev. Dan Gilbert, often tells us that among ourselves we may call him "Dan," and I appreciate that collegiality, but--respectfully--I will not call him simply by his first name, nor if I disagree with him will I flippantly call him "Gilbert" because the Lord is clear that His people are to respect His servants.

I respectfully encourage fellow delegates and members of the LCMS to show our theological resolve by referring to the two men, Rev. Harrison and President Kieschnick, with their titles.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Lance Armstrong O'Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Northern Illinois, Circuit E15 Pastoral Delegate

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tim Tebow to Jacksonville at #10

There has been talk in the last couple of years about the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars moving to Los Angeles or some other locale. I think Jacksonville can be a viable NFL franchise, and I’m rooting for them to take Tim Tebow with their 10th pick in the first round of the NFL’s 2010 draft. There are lots of reason’s why, but here is part of my argument.

I remember about four years ago reading a quotation from University of Florida coach Urban Meyer about Tim Tebow’s decision to pick Florida over Alabama. Coach Meyer said something like “If Tebow doesn’t come it sets our program back 10 years.” It seemed a crazy statement at the time, but it doesn’t seem so crazy now. There is something about the young man. He combines significant athletic gifts with intelligence and character.

This last aspect, character, is a big part of my argument for Jacksonville to take the “risk” of selecting Tebow so early in the draft. One of the great things that I appreciate about Tebow is his deep Christian faith, a faith that permeates his life pursuits and seems to have steadied him in the midst of the near idol-worship levels of devotion by Florida football fans. Unlike any other college athlete that I can think of Tebow has shown that he will invest himself not only in football but in his nearly home city of Jacksonville.

If they take Tebow, I think in 10 years we’ll be reading about Jacksonville being the model franchise of the century’s second decade, as Indianapolis and New England are argued to be the model franchises of the first decade of the 21st century. 

Indianapolis is a good example of the possibilities. In the run-up to the last super bowl Indy quarterback Peyton Manning spoke about how Indiana, because of the Colts, has been turned into a football state. This applies to Jacksonville because one of the arguments against Jacksonville as a football business is that “Florida is a college football state.” Tebow in Jacksonville, like Manning in Indianapolis, will change that.

The numbers on Tebow are clear (See article), as is his character. To be sure, he will now be tested in ways that he never before has, but I am rooting for him for a lot of reasons. One of those is that I think he has been unjustly criticized football-wise. Mostly, I’m rooting for him because it’s a pleasure to witness the young man’s commitment to his Lord and the humility with which he does it.

I think that Urban Meyer’s belief about Tebow going to the University of Florida will also be fulfilled in Jacksonville… If Jacksonville will dare to have a “non-traditional” quarterback.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easter 1 Sermon: Essence and Commission

Essence and Commission
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

The First Sunday after Easter
11 April, A.D. 2010
Ps 148; Acts 5.12-20 (21-32); Rev 1.4-18; Jn 20.19-31

Central Christological Thought (CCT):
In His “Resurrection Eve” appearance to the Apostles Jesus: 1) reiterates the essence of His purpose and teaching; and 2) commissions them to extend His ministry.


. . .  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, . . . from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.  (Revelation 1:4-5, ESV) [Amen]

Today we see that [CCT] In His “Resurrection Evening” appearance to the Apostles Jesus: 1) reiterates the essence of His purpose and teaching; and 2) commissions them to extend His ministry.

It will be helpful, then, to begin by defining what we mean by essence and commission...

es’sence n. [F., fr. essentia, formed as if fr. a pres. part. of esse to be...] 2. Logic. . . .  b. ... the totality of those properties or attributes which are indispensable to whatever can be named by a certain term or classified as a certain class.

The “essence” defines a thing. For example, today they will be playing golf at a famous course in Georgia, and there are certain officials there so-designated to ensure that it is golf that is played. If one of the players tees up a large, oblong, leather ball with a small set of laces in the center, the rules official will say something like, “Sir, you may hit that football with your driver, but I can assure you that it will disqualify you from this tournament. We will be playing golf today at The Masters, and golf, by definition, requires a ‘small, resilient ball’.”

In other words, tee up a football on a golf course and you have something, but it is not golf, for of the essence of golf is the “small resilient ball.”

Today, again, we will be talking about the “essence of Christ’s purpose and teaching.”  In a minute, we will learn what that essence is.

First, however, let’s speak of “Christ’s Apostolic Commission.”

I. Christ’s Apostolic Commission.

com-mis’sion n. [F., fr. L. commissio...] 1. A formal written warrant or authority, granting certain powers or privileges and authorizing or commanding the performance of certain duties...

You’ll notice that commission is a compound word made up of the prefix com- meaning “together” or “with”--and the root mission--meaning, roughly, “sent with  a purpose.” And that is, astonishingly and profoundly, what Jesus is doing on Easter Evening:

"Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”" (John 20:21, ESV)

To these men who had the doors locked because they were afraid Jesus sent out as the personal extension of His ministry. Just as Son of God was begotten of the Father and sent into the world, so were the Apostles sent of the Son into the world. And this not a one-time event, for the Greek has the present-progressive tense, “I am sending.” That is, Jesus will continue His ministry through the Apostles and the Church that is founded upon their witness of Him. Jesus, in fact, had foretold this in His “high priestly prayer” offered in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal:

“I do not ask [pray] for these [Apostles] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word," (John 17:20, ESV)

This speaks of the reality that St. Paul later reminds us of in chapter two of his Letter to the Ephesians:

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV)

The Word of Christ that comes to us from the Apostles and Prophets is the foundation of the church. The question for us, now, is: What is the essence of that Word?

II. The Essence of Christ’s Purpose and Teaching

And this brings us back to Easter Evening and the subsequent words of Jesus, but here I want to quote from the Revised Standard Version, which (in this case) does a better job of rendering the original:

"Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”" (John 20:21-23, RSV)

To those Christ had just given His authority to continue His ministry, His first word about what they would preach is about the forgiveness of sin. FORGIVENESS OF SINS is the essence of the church’s proclamation.

The essence of Christ’s purpose and teaching is not about earning God’s favor; it is not about looking good in the sight of your neighbors; it is not about self-actualization. It is about, in the words of St. Paul:

... God [in Christ] reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV)

Christ didn’t suffer the cross because we had fallen into benign little “mistakes.” God didn’t require the sacrifice of the Eternally Begotten Son of God because we were good “but not just quite good enough.” Friends, the Scriptures are clear:

"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, ESV)

Of necessity, Christ’s message of forgiveness, of reconciliation, means that the church must also, as Jesus says, “retain sins.” That word--retain--does not mean “don’t forgive.” The “retaining of sins” is, rather, Godly, Fatherly, “discipline.”  It’s “binding” sin, “holding” the sinner like a parent does to a child who has just done something very wrong: “Do you realize what you’ve done????”

Indeed, it is the Church’s God-given responsibility to call people to repentance, and that means the proclamation, as we Lutherans say, of “Law and Gospel”…

  • God wants us to love our spouses, not demean them.
  • God wants us to honor our parents, not steal from them.
  • God says, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” so “take the plank out of your own eye” before you arrogantly say “My way or the highway.”
  • God says, “be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry,” not  “claim your rights and get up your opponent’s grill.”
  • God says, “speak the truth in love,” for truth--without love--is actually malice.

And the truth--about us and about God--is spoken in loving candor through his prophet, Isaiah:

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him [on Christ] the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)


What we deserve the Lord Jesus lovingly took upon Himself. Through Christ we are forgiven, and this forgiveness--and, thus, the proclamation of Law and Gospel--is the essence of Christ’s purpose and ministry. It is who we are. . . in church, at home, and in the community. Therefore,

to [Christ] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. . . (Revelation 1:4-6, ESV)

Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!]

Friday, April 9, 2010

Considering “Challenges in Mission and Outreach”

Rev. Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren has a provocative and helpful post on “Challenges in Mission and Outreach.” In this post he uses the Frankenmuth mission colony as an example of a mission model’s deficiencies. In a “comment” to the post I offered what basically amounts to an addendum. In the case that it’s not published I offer below. Please read Rev. McCain’s post (click link above) and then return to my comment.

I have a keen interest in this issue. If I can carve out the time at my new mission station in Chicago, it would be interesting to make it my doctoral dissertation…


My reply to Rev. McCain:

Good summary: repent, expand your world-view, be ever-learning from the Scriptures (Bereans). You’re missing the spelling of Frankenmuth, for one, but I suspect you have a reason for that. Your post seems to suggest that the Frankenmuth mission failed (though you didn’t use that word). Though it was wrapped in its cultural mid-19th century dress, we should note that the mission-colony concept under which Frankenmuth was organized was one of the most unique efforts in the history of Christian missions. Frankenmuth remains a thriving mission colony to this day, keeping its heritage and supporting missions world-wide, and (self-disclosure) this former pagan was converted and learned the basics of the faith there. It’s rather simplistic to suggest that the new-found faith of the Chippewa “didn’t hold” because the missionaries were Germans and didn’t know any other way to be Christians. The missionary pastor spent a good deal of time with the Indians, learned Chippewa, and baptized a goodly number of them. The government then moved the Chippewa. We didn’t get to see what might have happened as the bi-cultural Christian Chippewa moved back and forth between two cultures. This is to say, the more “incarnational” model (#2 in your post) wasn’t widely known at the time, but it was being learned, and your post is a reflection of that. It would be fascinating to see a 21st century mission-colony, having learned from the mono-cultural model, that goes into frontier mission territory according to the incarnational model .

Thanks for your post.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Day Sermon

Upside Down yet Rightside Up:
Easter Day
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Easter Festival Service
4 April, A.D. 2010
Job 19.23-27; 1 Cor 15.51-57; Jn 20.1-18 (trans. fr. Easter Dawn)

Introduction: Running To and From the Tomb

You may not have noticed that there’s a lot of running going on in the initial resurrection accounts:

  • in Jn 20 (our Gospel this morning) Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and the others that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb;
  • moments later Peter and John were running toward the tomb.

To most of us, I suspect, there is nothing exceptional about running. We see people running all the time: running down the street, running along Lakeshore Drive. And, for us, those who do run usually dress in attire that is both comfortable for running and says, “Have a look at my legs.” There is often nothing subtle or modest about it at all.

The world at the time of Jesus is a totally different world. People, generally, did not run. Certainly, highly respected people--or those associated with them--did not run.  For one, the typical attire of the age involved longer, flowing, open clothing. Modesty and dignity demanded that they not expose themselves by running. This standard, in fact, still holds in many a Middle Eastern village. Biblical commentator Ken Bailey, who grew up as a missionary kid in peasant Palestinian villages says, “An oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating.” (Kenneth E Bailey, “Poet and Peasant,” in Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, Combined ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 181.)  Second-century B.C. Jewish commentator Ben Sirach says, “A man’s manner of walking tells you what he is.” (Sir. 19:30) (Bailey, “Poet and Peasant,” 181.) And the Greek philosopher Aristotle is reported to have said, “Great men never run in public.’” (Bailey, “Poet and Peasant,” 181)

So, even though Jesus’ disciples are “common people,” and even though the Lord Jesus never seems to have demanded the trappings of His status as a respected teacher, the fact is that He was a respected teacher; as such, social standards dictated a certain demeanor among His disciples. Running in public, then, would have been among those often “unwritten rules” of social conduct.

I. Prodigal Parallels

Thus, that fact that Mary and Peter and John reportedly just flat out run in the face of the empty tomb is actually quite significant. Indeed, what is going on here among the disciples of Jesus has an important parallel to one of Jesus’ most famous parables, that of The Prodigal Son.

In The Parable of the Prodigal Son, as you may know, a respected nobleman has two sons. The younger son is an ungrateful scoundrel who signals that he’d just as soon have his father dead by asking for his inheritance in advance. The gracious and wise father, no doubt to the shock of the whole community, grants the prodigal son his wish, even though the father knows what will happen...

So it is that the prodigal son wastes his inheritance in a scandalous way and ends up penniless and destitute. In this state he finally realizes who he is and what a truly gracious man his father is. Confident in that grace the “prodigal son” repentantly return to the village.

Understand, now, that what the prodigal son did was an affront not just to father and his family but to the whole community. As such, he would have had to run a gauntlet of townspeople when he came back who might well have said, “You made your choice. Stay out!”

But Jesus illustrates the grace of God in this, that-as He says in the parable--when the father sees his prodigal son far off, defying all convention the father runs though to the outskirts of town--robes flowing--and before his son can say a word has wrapped his arms around him in welcome, weeping with joy that the son who was lost is found. It is in the midst of that embrace that the prodigal son utters his confession of repentance and faith, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He has given away his inheritance. All that the father has rightly belongs to the older son, but the father throws a lavish feast for the prodigal son, who is thus restored to the family and will now live thankfully in his father’s grace.

II. The Resurrection Welcome

Friends, for Mary Magdalene, and for us, the friendly words of Jesus--“Why are you weeping?” are like that that father’s embrace of his prodigal son. The Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)

Yes, we all like sheep have gone astray. We are disrespectful to our parents, to our employees and employers, to our children. And we know in our hearts that God does not look on those sins lightly, that disrespect and dishonor of those in our love and care is, ultimately, disrespect for God. We are, each in our own way, like the prodigal son.

But the cross and resurrection of Jesus is about God, like the gracious father, running to us, scorning the shame, and lovingly embracing us, just as John--one of those runners to the the empty tomb--writes: “For God so loved the world--loved you--that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn 3.16) God, again like the gracious father in the parable, took the shame of our prodigal sins upon himself in and through Christ, and His resurrection from the dead that we celebrate today, is like that father’s loving embrace. Yes, there will be some earthly consequences for our sins--like there would be for the prodigal son in the parable--but, because of Christ, we are restored to God and true life. The resurrection of Christ gives victory over sin and death--our great final enemies so that we may say, with Job:

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God," (Job 19:25-26, ESV)


Indeed, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:56-57, ESV)

Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed! Alleluia]

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunrise Homily

Upside Down yet Rightside Up:
The Resurrection of Our Lord
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Easter Sonrise Service

May Chapel of Rosehill Cemetery--Chicago
3 April, A.D. 2010
Isa 65.17-25; 1 Cor 15.19-26; Lk 24.1-12 (trans. fr. Easter Day)

"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:19-22, ESV)

These words from our Lord, on this day, in this setting, call us all to repentance. They call us to remember with the eyes of faith who we really are, that even as we live and breath we are “dual-citizens,” having  simultaneously an earthly and a heavenly citizenship. On this day, in this setting, though, we remember that our earthly citizenship will pass away. As St. Paul says in Philippians 3:

"Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20-21, ESV)

All around us we see vivid reminders of death, “death” being what St. Paul called “the wages of sin.” Yes, this is a powerful setting to proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ. Christ is risen!!! [He is risen, indeed!] Today that victory over the grave speaks prophetically still, as we anticipate with hope what what Isaiah prophesied some 700 years before Christ’s birth:

" “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.. . They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord." (Isaiah 65:17, 23-25, ESV)

Yes, the God-Man Jesus, whose resurrection we celebrate today with Mary and Peter all the company of heaven, this Jesus who has kept every promise, has promised to return for us and for all the faithful whose bodies have turned to dust. For though we may return to dust, that is not the end of the story. The end of the story that we remember this morning is that glory awaits us! And is not an end but rather a “new beginning.”

Is that not the hope that dwells deep in every human soul, the hope that becomes so evident when we encounter death, especially the death of one we love? It certainly is the hope that animated Peter, who defied all social convention and “ran to the tomb.” You can almost hear it in his mind, “Can it really be true???”

Yes, Peter! Yes, friend! For “if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, [then] we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those [like the faithful gathered around us here] who have fallen asleep.

Yes! If Christ is raised from the dead, then all His promises are true. And His promises are for you, just like they were to a woman named Martha:

"Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”" (John 11:21-27, ESV)

And Martha saw the glory of God. In God’s own time, you will, too.

Christ is risen!!! [He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!]

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Meditation for Holy Saturday

Upside Down yet Rightside Up: Holy Saturday
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Holy Saturday
3 April, A.D. 2010
Dan 6.1-24; 1 Pet 4.1-8; Mt 27.57-66

The time was past for Joseph of Arimathea’s “quiet faith” in Jesus. Finally, he stepped forward, “honoring” Jesus by having Him placed in his own newly hewn tomb. There would have been many witnesses of Joseph’s display of faith, for a body is not moved or prepared by one person and rolling the stone in front of the tomb would have taken many men. Besides these, as Mark tells us, Mary Magdalene and other women witnessed all this, and stayed there, as faithful mourners, keeping watch over the tomb.

So too, in a sense, are we.

“In a sense” because we speak the Gloria Patri again today; “in a sense” because we remember Christ’s descent into Hell, where--as St. Peter tells us in chapter three--He went not for punishment but to proclaim victory over sin and death... we mourn “in a sense” because we live in the light of the Resurrection. We know the end of the story. We know that our Lord has shut the lion of death’s mouth. In that we rejoice today, but quietly...

Quietly we mourn, for to remember the tomb is to remember why our Lord was in the tomb. We mourn because we know what St. Peter so powerfully proclaimed in his great Pentecost sermon: “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God has made both LORD and Christ.” (Acts 2.36) Ultimately, we all must come to terms with this: Christ died because of me.

The women certainly know this: Mary Magdalene, the one from whom Jesus cast seven demons; Mary the sister of Lazarus, who prepared Jesus for burial by pouring perfume on Him and in a stunning display of faith and humility, wiped His feet with her hair. 

They know. We know.

And so, as in a peaceful visit to a faithful relative’s grave, we come. Here, though we know He is “raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” we mourn a little and give thanks, like Joseph and the women, for having journeyed through Lent and Holy Week we have a greater appreciation for the cost of our peace.

Jesus lives. Thanks be to God.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday Tenebrae Homily

Upside Down yet Rightside Up:
Good Friday Tenebrae
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Good Friday Tenebrae Service
2 April, A.D. 2010
7:00 p.m.
Ps 22; Jn 19.1-42


Tonight, as we ponder the cross, a key teaching, a divine mystery, is presented starkly before us. The mystery is the person of Christ, who is simultaneously fully God and fully man. The implications of this, though (perhaps) realized in devotion, are difficult for Christians to maintain in practice, individually and corporately.

Tonight, in the literal Latin words of Pontius Pilate, we “Ecce homo!” (“Behold, The Man!”) Pilate clearly had no idea what a profound statement that was, but I pray that by the time that we are done this evening each of us will better understand both who is on the cross and why.

I. The Image of God and the Loss Thereof

The reflection continues for us at the beginning, Genesis 1 and 2...

"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV)

Notice the “divine plural” there. God makes man in “our image.” This is not just a literary device, for the Scriptures make clear that there is--mysteriously--unity and plurality in God. There is “one God,” but “three distinct persons.” As we confess in the Athanasian Creed: The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there are not three Gods but one God.

So, man is made, uniquely, in the image of The Holy Trinity; thus, as the Scriptures teach, in some ways “like God”--e.g., having an eternal soul--and in other ways unlike God--for instance, man--though incredibly powerful and intelligent--is certainly not all-powerful or all-knowing. There is a clear and loving distinction and unity between The Creator and his creation.

Relatedly and importantly for us this evening, in the further explanation of the Creation in Genesis 2 we are told:

"And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (Genesis 2:25, ESV)

They were created as they were intended and it as was “very good.” They were--body and soul--perfect, and they knew it. Then something simple and profoundly bad happened:

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”" (Genesis 3:6-10, ESV)

Something truly cosmic has happened here, and Adam and Eve knew it. They who had been created in love to be God’s stewards of the earth had sought to supplant God, the creature arrogantly defying God’s Word. And in so doing they found themselves truly naked, not just in the physical sense--where the organs of creation and nurture were exposed--but truly, profound, spiritually, alone. Those created for perfect communion with God had chosen to utterly reject him and his will for them.

Yet, in this same chapter three God had made a restoring promise...

And this brings us back to the cross and The One found thereon: Jesus...

II. The Second Adam

" Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)." (Matthew 1:18-23, ESV)


"When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic [His “undergarment” or loincloth]. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” [Ps 22.18] So the soldiers did these things." (John 19:23-24, ESV)

The soldiers and the others think that by removing all His clothing they are shaming Him, but in fact they are revealing His unique, Divine-Human splendor.  “Behold The God-Man!”, unashamed, the new Adam, as St. Paul says:

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:18-19, ESV) 


"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (Galatians 4:4-7, ESV)

Sons and daughters of God, Behold the God-Man! Unashamed. The promised “second Adam.” Could a cross and grave possibly hold him? No!

Then be not afraid.

Meditation for Good Friday Vespers

Upside Down yet Rightside Up: Good Friday
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Good Friday
2 April, A.D. 2010
Isa 52.13-53.12; Heb 4.14-16, 5.2-9; Jn 19.17-30

By the time Jesus got to the cross He was “marred almost beyond all recognition.” He had been brutally beaten and wore a crown of thorns that gouged his skull, leaving the kind of marks that make one cringe;  He “had no form or majesty that we would look at him”; He was “as one from whom men hide their faces.” (Isa 53.2,3) Indeed, to read the “suffering servant” passages in Isaiah is to be astounded by their predictive veracity, and to ask some logical questions:

How, for so many centuries, did the religious leaders of Israel come to ignore the powerful prophecy of Isaiah? How were the people so ill-prepared for what God had so clearly spoken?

The answer strikes powerfully close to home, and--again--the predictive veracity of Isaiah is stunning: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53.6)

This is what makes Jesus’ “first word” so powerful, for Luke tells us something that neither John nor the others record. At Golgotha--the place of the skull--where Jesus’ own skull throbbed because of the piercing thorns, where His flesh hung from His body, they put Him to the most excruciating and cursed form of death. There, appropriately centered between two criminals and marred beyond recognition, was the Word who said, “Let there be light”; the One who breathed the breath of life into Adam. He was the second--and greater--Adam, the great and final high priest doing the work which only this priest could do. His “first word” is, fittingly, an intercession: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23.34)

How true that was. And how true that is.

For we who are gathered here dare not let this Word pass as merely an historical remembrance. These are the Words of Jesus. They are, therefore, Living Water that wells up to eternal life. They are words for us, too, like the Word of God through Isaiah was--and is--for us: “We all like sheep have gone astray...”

Yes, on this truly “Good” Friday it is well for us to remember that Jesus’ “first Word” is for us, too. Most often we do not know what we do. We hurt one another, especially those whom we love, with our words and deeds. Often it is the subtle things that hurt the most: the rolling of the eyes, the change in tone, the turning away when love would have us face one another.

Yes, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is for us, and whereas we in word and deed betray Him, on this Good Friday we see the God-Man whose Word and Deed are without fail. Behold!

" Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)

Maundy Thursday Homily

Upside Down yet Rightside Up: Maundy Thursday
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Maundy Thursday
1 April, A.D. 2010
Jer 31.31-34; Heb 10.15-25; Lk 22.7-20


I like a sermon that has rich application for daily life. These are helpful to me and I know that they are helpful to others. But there is also a place in our life together for straight-up teaching, a time to sit at the feet of Jesus and just learn. This evening’s reflection on one particular aspect of The Lord’s Supper is one of those sermons... That being said, if you listen closely you will see that there is a clear application of this teaching to you and your life...

I. The Blood of the Old Testament

Key to a fuller understanding of The New Testament and The Lord’s Supper is the Passover instruction of Exodus 12 regarding the shedding of and placement of the lamb’s blood. The lamb was to be slaughtered and the blood swiped over the door’s lentel. Then, as you may recall, the lamb was to be thoroughly roasted. No blood was to be found. Why? We get an answer to this in the instructions that God later gave to Moses called the book of Leviticus:

"If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." (Leviticus 17:10-11, ESV)

This prohibition against ingesting blood would be in direct contrast to the animistic and pagan practices of the non-Israelite peoples. For many of these peoples drinking the blood of animals was part of a fertility cult, as if fertility came from an animal and not from God. For many animists and pagans--even today--the blood of animals was used to “feed” and appease deities that lived in the ground, the “underworld.” However, The LORD--as the first commandment makes clear--does not tolerate rivals.

Indeed, the God of Israel, with these prescriptions in Leviticus 16 and 17, makes clear He--God--“reserved all blood for himself as the life-giver. It had to be given back to him... It could not be handed over to other gods and demons, since they had no right to use it.” (--Kleinig, John W. Leviticus. Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture, 366. St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2003. I am indebted to Dr. Kleinig for much of the material here.)

The “life is in the blood” because the life comes from God. So, as theologian John Kleinig explains, “Life-giving blessing could not be obtained from the blood of animals, but only from God and from contact with him in worship.” --Kleinig, Leviticus, 368.

Again, it is not that blood wasn’t used. On the contrary! As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us:

"Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:22, ESV)

Blood is all over the Old Testament. It is simply, though importantly, that it wasn’t to be ingested. For “the life is in the blood” and God--the author of life--had a plan for the blood...

II. The Blood of the New Testament

Which brings us to the seemingly scandalous pronouncement of Jesus that we remember and celebrate this evening:

“Take and drink, this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Taking the Word of Jesus seriously about what this is, how is this not a violation of God’s taboo?

The answer to that question has everything to do with God’s Word and sanction.

Eating Christ’s body and drinking His blood doesn’t violate the taboo because Jesus is God and God is the author of all life, and the Scriptures are clear with regard to the worship and life of the Old Testament, to quote Dr. Kleinig , that “[God] did not allow anyone to take the life of any animal unless he himself had sanctioned it (Gen 9:304).” (Kleinig, Leviticus, 366.) Again, God is the author of life and God doesn’t allow that life to be taken without his sanction.

Clearly, God sanctioned the cross.

Thus, to continue the quotation from Dr. Kleinig, “Christ’s institution does not really violate that taboo because it [The Lord’s Supper] is the ultimate reason for it [the taboo].” (Kleinig, Leviticus, 366.)  That is to say, the Old Testament restriction on ingesting blood was reserved until the complete and final sacrifice was accomplished on the cross. Thereafter the Blood of God would not be offered in sacrifice but given as a gift

Thus, the basic principal obtains. As in the Old Testament, so also in the New:  Life-giving blessing can be obtained only from God and from contact with him in worship... in accordance with His Word.

And God’s Word is clear that his will is that we receive forgiveness and blessing through contact and faith in Christ. Luther puts it this way:

In the NT we have been freed from attachment to external places.  . . . Our spiritual place is Christ, because God has determined that he will not hear [anyone] except through this place, Christ. . . . Christ is our one and only place, our time, and everything else required for prayer. Just as the Jews had no other sanctuary than the one in Jerusalem, so we have no other sanctuary than this one, Jesus, the Son of Mary. (from WA40, quoted by Kleinig from “Where Is Your God?” 128)--Kleinig, Leviticus, 370.


I would like to conclude by paraphrasing the words of Dr. Kleinig:

By means of [Christ’s] blood he conveys to worthy communicants  (1 Cor 11:27-32) all the eternal blessings that he gained for the faithful through his self-sacrifice. By giving his blood to drink, he sprinkles [our] hearts, [our] consciences (Heb 9:13-14; 10:22; 12:24; 1 Pet 1:2). Through his blood [we] have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28); 1 Cor 11:25; Eph 1:7). His blood justifies [us] before God the Father (Rom 5:9) and cleanses [us] from all impurity (Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 1:7). [We] can therefore approach God the Father through his blood in Holy Communion (Eph 2:13; Heb 10:19). By means of that blood [we] are consecrated as priests together with Christ (Heb 10:29); 13:12) and equipped for [our] priestly service of him (Heb 13:20-21). As priests whose robes have been washed with his holy blood (Rev 7:14), [we] can use his blood to overcome Satan and triumph over the powers of darkness (Rev 12:11). (Kleinig, Leviticus, 371.)

Christ’s triumph is ours in Holy Communion. If that is not a reason, in repentance, to come frequently to the Lord’s Table then I do not know what is.

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Meditation for Holy Thursday Vespers

Upside Down yet Rightside Up: Holy Thursday
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

Holy Thursday
1 April, A.D. 2010
Ex 12.1-14; 1 Cor 11.23-32; Jn 13.1-17, 31b-35

What happens in the Upper Room on the night of Christ’s betrayal is fascinating to behold, for this account so powerfully reveals the grace and love of Christ. He knows that in one way or another all the disciples will betray Him. He knows that He will soon suffer the full wrath of God on behalf of that which He so lovingly created. Still He feeds them. Still, He loves them. Of course, this is all a part of what He is trying to teach. True love--agape--does what is right for the other, even in the face of negative consequences.

Thus, after receiving the forgiveness of Christ in The Supper, our lives, in the words of the classic post-communion prayer, are to be lives of “faith toward [God] and ... fervent love toward one another.”

Yes, we are saved by the faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. That Biblical teaching must be adequately distinguished, but the Scriptures make clear that faith does not exist in a vacuum. Luther writes about this in his wonderful Genesis commentary, written some time in the late 1530s:

We know indeed that faith is never alone but brings with it love and other manifold gifts. For he who believes in God and is sure that God is graciously inclined toward us, since He gave His Son and with His Son the hope of eternal life, how could he not love God with all his heart? How could he not revere Him? How could he not strive to display a grateful heart for such great blessings and to obey God while bearing hardships?

Thus faith brings with it a multitude of the most beautiful virtues and is never alone. But matters must not be confused on this account, and what is characteristic of faith alone should not be attributed to other virtues.

Faith is the mother, so to speak, from whom that crop of virtues springs. If faith is not there first, you would look in vain for those virtues. If faith has not embraced the promises concerning Christ, no love and no other virtues will be there, even if for a time hypocrites were to paint what seem to be likenesses of them. --Martin Luther, vol. 3, Luther's Works, Vol. 3  : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961), 3:25.>

Of course, Jesus says it much more simply. After the humble and unsavory work of washing dirty first-century feet He tells His disciples: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34, ESV)