Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)

(Audio)

John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

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

What does faith look like? What does faith sound like? What does faith do? Clearly, there are answers to these questions. In fact, St. James famously indicates so in his statement, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” So, faith is something that can be seen and identified, primarily by our works. However, the problem is that our judgment, our measurement, and our evaluation of our own works, not to mention the works of others, is fallen, tainted, and corrupted by sin. As much as we might try, and truly believe that we don’t, nevertheless, we measure and evaluate our own works, and the works of others, according to our values, beliefs, and opinions, and not according to the values, truth, and all-knowing wisdom of God. And so, we value that which God does not value, and we deem virtuous that which has no virtue, and we esteem great in our eyes that which is nothing in the eyes of God.

Today’s Gospel exhibits for us the nature and the characteristics of faith: how it begins, grows, and increases, and, at last, is perfected. Yes, faith is a continually changing, growing, and evolving thing. And yet, still it is faith – true and only faith – at each and every stage. A man who has been born is not immediately the husband of a wife or the father of a son, but he has growth and increase by the year, month, week, and day. Likewise, a seed that has been sown in the earth does not ripen at once, but requires time. First, it springs up as a little shoot, this becomes a stalk, from this an ear grows, and from this grain. So, too, faith has its growth and increase. First, the heavenly seed, God’s Word, is scattered. When it is taken up in faith, it springs up and brings forth good fruit so that a man begins to trust in God, love his neighbor, and chasten his body, and become a new creation of God, not all at once, but throughout his life until the grave.

This we see today in the Galilean official who asked Jesus to come to his home and heal his son. The concerned father had faith in Jesus, that is why upon hearing that he was nearby, he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son. Obviously, the man believed that Jesus could and would heal his boy. His faith was real and true faith, even salvific faith, faith given and created in him by the Holy Spirit of God through the Word of God. And yet, we can see that his faith was not yet fully formed and matured, for he demanded, not once, but twice, that Jesus come physically to his home and heal his son. If his faith was fully formed and mature then he would have known that Jesus’ physical presence was not necessary, but only His Word and His will. Like a certain centurion, he should have confessed before Jesus, “Only speak your Word and my son will be healed.” But, he didn’t. This concerned father and official did not yet trust fully and completely in Jesus and His Word, but he desired “signs and wonders” in order to believe.

Yet, look how our Lord responds to this man of weak faith, but of faith nonetheless. Yes, Jesus rebukes the man, and I won’t say mildly. He said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” I sense a tone of frustration and great disappointment in our Lord’s voice. I know, many Christians have great difficulty imaging our Lord as being frustrated or angry, but I suggest to you that to deny such is to deny Jesus’ humanity. Jesus was truly disappointed. He said to His closest disciples and friends, “O you of little faith.” Likewise, Jesus was truly sorrowful and He wept real tears when His friend Lazarus died, and when He prayed in the garden. And Jesus was truly frustrated and angry when he called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” and when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple in Jerusalem. For, our Lord was, and is, truly human, truly a human man in all the ways that means, yet without sin, and truly God at the same time, in one person, one man, one Lord, one Christ. And so, Jesus was frustrated and disappointed with this man of faith, and with all men of faith, who, because of their fallen sinfulness and brokenness, find it so incredibly difficult to believe. That’s why one of my favorite confessions of faith in the entire Scriptures is that of another father of a demon-possessed son: “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

And, that’s just what Jesus did with the official and father in today’s Gospel. He rebuked the man for his weakness of faith, for often God strikes before He heals, afflicts before He consoles, kills before He gives life, and condemns before He saves, just as He did with the Canaanite woman who begged Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. But then, as He did with that Canaanite woman’s daughter, He healed the man’s son, and the woman’s daughter, with a Word: “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live’.” This was both a challenge and an invitation to believe, and both the official father and the Canaanite mother did indeed believe – they already believed – and their children were healed just as Jesus had said. Then, since the man desired a sign when he didn’t need one, after he believed in the Word of Jesus, Jesus also granted him the sign – As he was going down to his home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering since the very hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” Then he and his entire household believed at the Word of Jesus alone.

The Word alone, sola. The Word alone is sola gratia, for it comes to us by grace alone. The Word alone is sola scriptura, for it is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, alone. The Word alone is sola Christus, for the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and made His dwelling amongst us. And, the Word alone is received by faith alone, sola fide, for only by this gift of the Holy Spirit, delivered through the Word alone, can a soul believe in the Word made flesh and cling to Jesus alone in faith and trust for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

For, who is this Jesus in whom we trust but the very Word of creation in the beginning. The Word the Father spoke into the nothing saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light – the Word by whom we confess “by whom all things were made.” This is the Man the concerned official and father begged to come to his home and heal his son. “Who do people say that I am?” Elijah? John the Baptist? The Great Prophet? But, what about you? “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And, upon this confession, this rock, Christ has built His Church, and the gates of hell will not, and cannot, prevail against Her. For, the confession of Christ as the Son of God, as the Word of God made flesh dwelling amongst us, this confession is the full and mature fruit of faith, which is made evident in the fruit of faith, good works that serve our neighbor and glorify God.

What kinds of signs and wonders are you looking for, O you of little faith? Do you hope that next November’s election will produce a political savior who will restore godly order and morality in your county? Do you hope that violence and crime in your neighborhoods and communities will come to an end and that there will be peace and comfort and easy security again? Do you hope that this little congregation will be filled to standing room only, its coffers overflowing with money, providing numerous programs and services to meet your needs and desires? Or, do you merely hope for your spouse to love you, your kids to respect you, and to have enough money to retire without having to sacrifice your creature comforts or change your lifestyle? Well, maybe you’ll get some, or any of these things. Or, maybe, even likely, you’ll get none of these things. Thanks be to God that your faith is not in things such as these, or in any thing at all, but your faith is in Jesus and in His Word.

Thanks be to God that the Word of Creation, Jesus Christ, is present with you now with His Word and with His Wounds to do for you, and to you, precisely what He says in His Word: Your sins are forgiven. Your faith is re-created, restored, and strengthened. His life-giving blood cleanses you from all sin and you are declared holy and righteous in Him. He gives you life that will never end. And, He has promised to raise your mortal body from death to be reunited with your immortal soul in heaven.

So, what does faith look like? What does faith sound like? What does faith do? Faith believes in Jesus. Faith trusts in Jesus. Faith clings to Jesus. And, faith receives Jesus. But, faith is never alone. Faith produces fruit. Faith produces good works – works that are counted as good in the eyes of the LORD because of the atoning blood of Jesus. Faith in Jesus and His Word clothes you in His righteousness as with defensive armor, armor that makes you strong in the might of the Lord to withstand the spiritual forces of evil in these evil days, and a shield that can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one. And more, the Word of God, and the Word made flesh Jesus, is the very sword of the Spirit that fights for you to defend you, to preserve you, and to keep you through life, through trial and tribulation, and through even death, unto life everlasting.

So, what does faith look like, sound like, and do? Faith believes, trusts, clings to, and receives Jesus, and faith produces good fruit, good works. That is to say, faith is a continually changing, growing, and evolving thing. And yet, still it is faith – true and only faith – at each and every stage. May the Holy Spirit who has created this faith within you continue to nourish and strengthen, preserve and protect you in faith throughout all your days. May the Son, Jesus Christ, whose blood has cleansed you of all sin, continue to be your strength, your life, and your salvation, as you trust in Him and receive from Him forgiveness and life through His Words and His Wounds. And, may the Father who created you and who gave you life continue to work through you to give life to others, using your hands, your heart, and your voice in loving service of others, that they may know Him and His Son and live, and that His Name would be glorified to the ends of the earth.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

(Audio)

Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

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

The king had prepared a wedding feast for his son. Absolutely everything was prepared and paid for by the king. Even the proper wedding clothes were to be provided the king’s invited guests. All there was to do was come, come to the feast.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like that. God the Father is the King. Jesus is His Son, the Bridegroom, for whom the feast is being held. And you, you are the King’s invited guests. More than that, you are the Bride! And, the wedding garment that the King provides, it is nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, your Bridegroom. Clothed in the wedding garment the King has provided, you are in, and you never need fear being out. However, without that wedding garment, without the blood of Christ, then there is no place for you but outside the gates. There, there will be only weeping and the gnashing of teeth, not because you didn’t deserve to be thrown out, but precisely because you will know then that you did. You will know it, and you will know that it is your own damn fault, because the King had prepared a wedding feast for His Son. Absolutely everything was prepared and paid for by the King. Even the proper wedding clothes were provided the King’s invited guests. All there was to do was come, come to the feast. And you wouldn’t, you didn’t, and now you are in the outer darkness, and you gnash your teeth and you weep because you know that it is your own damn fault.

But, this did not need to be. It does not need to be even now! But, the invited guests in Jesus’ parable “paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.” They were invited guests. They were in, but they made themselves to be out. Even worse, some of the invitees seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. So, it wasn’t mere apathy, but outright hostility to king that was at play. Not surprisingly, the king was angry, and he justly “sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Now, some will want to say that the king was unmerciful and hasty in his wrath. Maybe, by man’s reason and reckoning. But, remember, this king isn’t a man, but our holy, righteous, and just God. His wrath against sin is not His proper will, but His alien will. Remember, the LORD has invited all to the wedding feast of His Son. Jesus’ death upon the cross is atonement for all people of all times and all places. This is God’s proper will. However, for those who will not receive this free gift in accordance with His gracious and merciful proper will, there will be only God’s wrath and judgment according to His alien will. The LORD alone is good – the very rule, measure, and standard of goodness. And, the LORD has provided a way for all men to be saved. But, how many will seek for, wait for, and look for another way, a different way? How many will accuse the LORD of injustice for providing only one way? Sadly, too many, indeed.

Then the king told his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” A truer statement could not be uttered. None of the invited guests were worthy of the king’s gracious invitation. But, they were made to be worthy by the king himself who of his own grace and mercy chose to count them as worthy. Those who ignored or rejected the king’s invitation did much more than offend his grace; they rejected his kingship, his lordship. They made themselves out to be kings and lords over themselves. Once again, the LORD alone is good, is just, is holy and righteous. The LORD is the Law and it’s sole source, rule, guide, and measure. To reject the LORD is to reject His Law; it is to be a law unto one’s self. This is the height of pride and arrogance, the root of Lucifer’s fall, of our First Parent’s fall, and of the fall of all mankind. Indeed, the king’s invitation, the LORD’s gracious invitation, is to leave all that behind and to truly be free in the Law of the LORD, which is true freedom, and to truly live in the LORD who alone is and gives life.

Again, the LORD’s proper will is displayed as the king commands his servants to go “to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” The servants did as the king commanded; they “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” The wedding hall was filled with both bad and good; once again, none of the invited guests were worthy of the king’s gracious invitation. But, they were made to be worthy by the king himself who of his own grace and mercy chose to count them as worthy. And yet, amazingly, there is still a problem. One man was found in the banquet hall without a wedding garment. Remember, the king provided the proper wedding garment for all of his invited guests to wear. The king provided absolutely everything that was necessary. They only way that someone could be without a wedding garment would be that he willfully, stubbornly refused to wear it. Once again, this was the height of pride and arrogance, an affront to the king’s grace and mercy and to his kingship and lordship as well.

The king is the LORD. The king’s son is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The wedding garment is the shed blood of Jesus for you, His Bride. There simply is no entering the wedding feast without this garment; there simply is no entering the kingdom of heaven apart from the atoning blood of Jesus Christ – His forgiveness, sinlessness, and righteousness imputed to you. In Jesus you are worthy. The LORD has made you to be worthy. You are in, only you can make yourself to be out. If you make yourself to be out, you will have only yourself to blame. The king, the LORD, has done all that was necessary to make you in. All is prepared for you in the grace, mercy, and love of the LORD through Jesus Christ. To be out, and to know full well that it is your own fault – this is the cause of the weeping and the gnashing of teeth: anger, resentment, hatred of self, hatred of God, hatred of everything. Jesus ends His parable saying that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, all are called, all are invited. Those who are chosen are those who do not refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation.

Jesus’ parable echoes the continuous theme of the Holy Scriptures from the LORD’s first proclamation of the Gospel after the fall of our First Parents. We heard it today from the Prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We are always on the receiving end of God’s grace and mercy. When we receive from Him we acknowledge and confess Him to be God and LORD. This is why the Lutheran Confessions state that the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts. Indeed, our German forebears called this Divine Service Gottesdienst, which means, God’s service, for here, in Word and Sacrament, our God and LORD serves us. Indeed, this Divine Service is a foretaste of the wedding feast that is yet to come. The King has called you to the feast through His servants who bear His Word of gracious invitation. In Holy Baptism He has clothed you with the wedding garment of Christ’s holy and innocent blood. All is prepared for you, all you need to do is trust and receive His gifts. You don’t need money. You don’t need works. All you need is faith, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“It can’t be that easy,” you say? Indeed, it is. However, being the LORD’s invited guests, the Bride of Christ, means that you won’t be the same. The LORD accepts you the way you are, as a sinner, but He will not permit you to continue to walk in the same sinful path. It won’t happen over night, and it won’t even be perfect until you die and are raised again. Indeed, it will be a lifelong struggle. However, you will put away the ways of the world and the flesh and walk in the Law, life, and liberty of the LORD in Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts you: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The will of the LORD is that you receive His gifts free, without cost, works, or merit, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Any other way is the way of the world and the flesh. This you must crucify and leave behind.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 19)

(Audio)

Matthew 9:1-8; Ephesians 4:22-28; Genesis 28:10-17

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

Jacob’s dream was more like a revelation, an unveiling, in which he was granted to see something that had been present with him all along, but hidden, veiled as it were, so that he could not see it. What it was that had been there all along, hidden and veiled, was God Himself, present with Jacob, and with his fathers, but not seen. In his dream, the first thing Jacob saw was a ladder set up on earth with its top reaching into heaven. The ladder had been there all along too, hidden and veiled. It had been set up on the earth by God. Moreover, God’s holy angels were ascending and descending upon it. The scriptures say first that God’s holy angels were ascending, which means that they were already there with Jacob on earth too, even when he could not see them. Truly God’s holy angels, truly God Himself is present with you even now, and every day and moment of your life. Even in your darkest moments and your most uncertain days, your God is with you and His holy angels are with you, guarding, protecting, and defending you lest you strike your foot against a stone.

Then the LORD spoke to Jacob saying, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This was, essentially, a repetition of the covenant promise God had made to Abraham and to Isaac, reiterated now to Jacob, and to you as well. The land that the LORD would give to Jacob and to his offspring, and to you, was not merely that little plot of ground upon which he laid his head, but it was the earth itself, for the entire earth and the universe in which it exists is Bethel, the House of God. The earth and everything in it is the LORD’s, even He who created it and sustains it. And, the LORD has given it to you. Though the LORD was already present in the world, hidden and veiled, what He was about to do would change everything. The LORD, Himself, would become Jacob’s offspring, incarnated in the womb of Jacob’s descendant Mary. The LORD would speak His creative Word once again into the virgin soil of Mary’s womb and raise up a New Adam, His own Son, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Son of David, the Lamb of God’s providing who would take away the sins of the world. Through Jesus, the LORD’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled. In Jesus, all the nations and families of the earth have been blessed.

Moreover, in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, God has intimately and everlastingly joined Himself with humankind. To paraphrase Athanasius, God became man in Jesus that man might become God. “Behold, I am with you,” saith the LORD, “and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Rightly did Jacob awake from his dream and confess, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it,” and “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” In Jesus, God has visited and made His dwelling among His people. The promise is not only for sometime yet to come, but it is a promise that is fulfilled even now. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, then, now, and always. Your LORD God, Creator, and Sustainer has penetrated this His creation, has taken up your flesh and redeemed and restored it in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Word and Son made flesh Jesus Christ. He has redeemed and restored the world and everyone in it – Yes! Everyone in it! And, you are redeemed and restored to proclaim this Good News to the world and to every human being in it, be he brother, sister, friend, neighbor, or enemy. This is the Truth, but your enemy would have you keep silent – and too often you are! Do not keep the Light that enlightens you hidden, but let it shine in and through you that those walking in darkness might see and glorify the LORD. You cannot be a light shining in the darkness if you blend in with the darkness of the world. Repent and return to your baptismal grace, and shine with the eternal, primordial Light of the world.

This is what the paralytic’s friends were doing in today’s Gospel – they were shining with the Light of Christ for all the world to see. When they brought their paralyzed brother to Jesus, Jesus saw their faith. What did Jesus see? What does faith look like? Faith bears forth the fruit of love. It was their fruit, it was their faith in action, that Jesus saw. By bringing their friend to Jesus they displayed their faith – their faith in Jesus, their faith in God, and their love for their neighbor – for all the world to see. Jesus “saw their faith.” That’s a remarkable statement! Then Jesus did something even more remarkable; He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Now, the man didn’t ask for forgiveness. He certainly didn’t confess any sins. His friends who brought him to Jesus didn’t ask for forgiveness either. Presumably, they wanted Jesus to heal their paralyzed friend.

Now, admittedly, this isn’t how we typically think of forgiveness, is it? Don’t we expect someone to repent first, to confess their sins, and then be absolved? Indeed, that’s the way it works in church, isn’t it? Each and every time we gather here we confess our sins together before we receive the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. Then, why did Jesus simply pronounce the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven? If the man needed forgiveness, why didn’t Jesus first call him to repentance? Herein lies the beautiful and wonderful truth of Jesus’ incarnation: Jesus is forgiveness for all who trust in Him. Already then, at that very moment, even before His crucifixion, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world, Jesus is forgiveness, incarnate for all who believe. Jesus saw the faith of the friends of the paralytic, that they lovingly brought him before Jesus trusting that He would help. So, likewise, when you intercede for others, when you pray for them, when you love them and serve them and seek to help them, when you forgive them, they are forgiven. In the case of the paralytic, Jesus only pronounced what was already the case: “Your sins are forgiven.” And, that is what your pastors do. And, that is what you do for others – You proclaim what is already the case: The sins of the world are forgiven in Jesus Christ. This fact is received by all who trust in Him.

Why didn’t Jesus heal the man? Well, in fact, He did. Forgiveness is the healing that all of us sin-sick-unto-death souls are in need of. All physical ailments and suffering of any kind are but the external, physical, and emotional effects of sin. Sometimes Jesus heals physically, sometimes He does not, but Jesus always forgives those who trust in Him and cling to Him for life and salvation. Truly, even those whom Jesus did heal grew sick again later and died. And, those whom Jesus raised from the dead still died again, for the wages of sin is only, and always, death. Jesus would have you look beyond temporary healing to the one thing needful – to faith and forgiveness, which are the true healing, and to resurrection unto life that does not perish and die. In forgiving the sins of the paralytic, Jesus was simply proclaiming what was already a present fact – God’s gracious and merciful presence was in their midst, even as Jacob saw God’s holy angels ascending and descending a ladder set up upon the earth with its top in heaven. Forgiveness and true healing are here for you now in Jesus Christ. When you intercede for others and pray for them, and when you bring them to Jesus, as did the friends of the paralytic, you do a holy work for them, one that accomplishes infinitesimally more than physical healing, which will still, ultimately, end in death. When you pray for others and bring them to Jesus you extend to them the same grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness you yourself have received. And, Jesus’ grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness never fail to accomplish what they are poured out for – the forgiveness of sins, and the bestowal of life that cannot die.

But, the scribes were offended. “This man is blaspheming. No one can forgive sins except God.” Of course, they were right, but they didn’t know how right they were. Jesus is God, in the flesh, the Word and Son of God incarnate as a man, in our midst, even the Ladder set up upon the earth with its top in heaven. In Jesus, God dwells with men and brings the kingdom of heaven down to earth. Therefore, it was not Jesus, who is God, but the scribes who were blaspheming. However, what the scribes were truly upset with was that Jesus was taking authority away from them. There was a whole process and ritual by which sinners were forgiven, made clean, and restored and it involved sacrifices and repentance; it involved them. But, Jesus bypassed all of that and simply pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. All that is required to receive forgiveness is faith – not sacrifices, not penance, not a public confession or a priestly absolution, though these are gifts our Lord provides to comfort and confirm us in faith. Even our Lutheran Confessions state that, “repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sins. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven.” Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends borne out in their love for him and trust in Jesus. And, Jesus knew the heart of the paralytic and saw his own faith as well: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus answered the scribes saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” In this case, Jesus granted the physical healing, but this was but a foretaste of the true healing, which was hidden and veiled, the forgiveness of sins, and the greater physical healing that is yet to come in the resurrection of the body. As great as was the healing of the paralytic that day, that man would still pass through death. So much greater will be the day of his, and your, resurrection when the effects of sin and death will be healed forever. Truly, it is easier for Jesus to say your sins are forgiven, for that includes the healing from sin now, and the healing of the body for eternity on the day of the resurrection of all flesh.

Jesus is God’s forgiveness present among you now with His Words and His Wounds. Your God-given, Spirit-created faith receives His forgiveness in faith and trust and causes you to bear forth the fruit of faith, love, towards your neighbor to the glory of God. As Jesus healed the paralyzed man because of his faith, and the faith of his friends, so too does Jesus hear your prayers and intercessions for others and forgive them. Thus He has taught you to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” The whole earth is Bethel, the House of God, because God is present here with you in His Son Jesus. Jesus is the ladder that bridges heaven and earth. In Jesus, God has visited His people in mercy, love, and forgiveness and has made His dwelling with you. You are an extension of this Good News to all the nations and families of the world. Let them see your faith. Let them see Jesus in you. Surely the LORD is in this place for you. Your sins are forgiven. Rise and walk. Pray for your brother, your sister, your friend, your neighbor, and even your enemy, and bring them to Jesus. Your love covers a multitude of sins, not least of all your own.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)




(Audio)


Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

 

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

At first hearing, today’s readings may seem like a mish-mash of spiritual themes: War in heaven; angels and demons; guardian angels; temptation; greatness in heaven; the humility and innocence of children; and, the atoning blood of the Lamb. Nevertheless, there is a method in this Divine madness. The problem for us, however, is the scope of time involved, for, the themes in our texts range from before the foundation of the universe and the six days of creation to the prophecy of Daniel in the 6th century BC, to the days of the ministry of Jesus in the 1st century AD, to our present day, to the Last Day which only God the Father knows. In short, the scope of time encompasses, predates, and goes beyond the entire existence of humankind, even the universe itself!

But, what for us is an impossible scope of time, for our eternal God is but a moment. God exists outside of time, for He is the Creator of time, and He sees all things at all times at one time. This is a Divine mystery, to be sure, which is comprehended only in faith, but it is also a humbling and comforting reminder of who God is and of who we are: God is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End and, well, everything in between; and, perhaps what is more amazing than all that is that this God loves you so that He sent His own Son into your flesh to die for you and to be raised again that you might live with Him forever. This awesome God loves you and promises that He will keep you and preserve you in His Son and raise you up to eternal life on the Last Day. Even though you are so very small, He is so very big and good that you have nothing to fear, not even war, devils and demons, temptations, or death.

Now, does that make you feel weak and helpless? Does that make you feel like a little child? Good! That’s the point, for it is weak, helpless, and humble little ones that are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Those who try to enter the kingdom by their own efforts, by their own strength, wisdom, greatness, or works, will never enter, but only those who humble themselves like a little child will enter the kingdom of heaven.

And, God has assigned His angels to guard over His little ones, to protect them from harm and danger, from all evil, demons, and devils. But, age has nothing to do with it; God protects those who recognize their need for protection, those who humble themselves will be guarded and protected. It was such an angel of protection who visited Daniel in the 6th century BC. The angel touched Daniel and told him not to fear, for God loved him deeply from the day he first humbled himself and set his heart to understand. The angel was sent to guard and protect Daniel in his days, and the angel promised that God would send the Archangel Michael, called a Prince, in days to come to throw down Satan and his evil angels. And, that day has come. On a Friday afternoon nearly 2000 years ago, there was a war in heaven, but that war is over and your Enemy has been defeated; what you experience now as sufferings and woes are but the last skirmishes of a trounced enemy heading for hell.

For, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” The war is over, it is a done deal! The devil and his host of hell have been defeated – but, still they seek to convince millions that this is not so! Through lies and deceptions, which are their only weapons, they deceive millions into believing that the war is not over, that, in fact, God has been defeated, or doesn’t even exist. The devil has come down to the earth in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.

But, you, children of God, need not fear, for, even now you are conquerors by the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ! And, so, there is rejoicing in the heavens and there is woe on the earth, but the victory ours remaineth!

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? You, who, in childlike humility, love not your lives unto death, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Concerning you, God has commanded His angels to guard you in all your waysYourangels, who behold the face of God the Father in heaven, watch over you and fight the host of hell on your behalf. Yet, still, temptations to sin will come, temptations to sin must come, but God will always provide you a way out. This is why Jesus says to you, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life [crippled or lame, or] with one eye than with [two hands or two feet, or] two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” The way out may mean loss in this world, in this life, but all loss is gain in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Your angels fight for you against temptations to sin, therefore do not create temptations for others of God’s little ones. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” warns Jesus, “but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” To tempt another to sin, or to contribute in the temptation in some way, is nothing less than complicity with the devil and his evil works. It is nothing less than to wage war against God’s angels and God Himself! Jesus warns, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

But, you who are victorious in the blood of the Lamb, need tempt no one, for all is yours in Christ Jesus and it cannot be taken from you! Do not clamor, then, to possess material things and worldly wealth, for, these have no value in and of themselves and they do not last. Your heavenly Father provides you with all that you need, so you need not worry about what you have, what you need, or what you want, and you need not begrudge your brothers and sisters what they have, need, or want. This is what it means to love not your life even unto death. This is what it means to be humble and childlike, simply to trust in the Lord your God for your life and all that your life requires; this is to die to the world and to live to God.

How it should humble you to know that God places the noblest of His creatures in your service, that the angelic hosts, who are truly holy, standing in the presence of holy God, should minister to you. How it should humble you to know that the angels are not ashamed to serve you, nor do they begrudge their service to you, for they know the love of God the Father for you, perfectly displayed in the sacrifice of His Son, the blood of the Lamb shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. To quote Johann Gerhardt: Why, then, does man elevate himself unduly? How can he comfort himself with the protection of the angels and desire their service if he will not serve others in love and humility? Pride is the devil’s seed. Let all who wish the angels to live with them beware of pride, and let it not take root in their hearts. May God help us through Christ.

And, now, let us join with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven around the throne of God and the Lamb in the victory feast of Jesus’ most holy body and His most precious blood, that He may dwell in us and us in Him in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and unity in the bond of Christian love.

In the + Name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)




(Audio)


Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16

 

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

These past two Sundays the Word of the LORD has exhorted you to live your lives in the freedom of the Gospel – in love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness towards your brother and sister in Christ, towards your friends and your neighbors, and even towards your enemies. This is not a preaching of the Law, but it is the fruit of the Gospel, the fruit of faith that has set you free from the coercion and condemnation of the Law and has cleansed you from guilt and fear. For, when you are profoundly aware of the love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness that you have received from the LORD in and through Jesus Christ, you simply will desire to, and will in fact, show the same towards others. No longer do you need to be coerced or guilted into loving action, but you are encouraged and equipped to go and love in thought, word, and in deed. This is the freedom you have to live as your LORD created you and redeemed you to live – not as a slave or a prisoner, in fear and resentment, but as a child of God, created in His image, free to love and to give and to share without fear, without resentment, or any such thing. You can show love to your brother and sister in Christ, to your neighbor, and even to your enemy, and help and befriend them in their bodily needs without considering whether it is right or wrong, whether it is patriotic, or whether it will cost you anything. For, like the Samaritan leper who returned to Jesus and thanked Him, glorifying God, you also walk in a new way, in the Light of the Word of God, according to the Spirit, resisting the desires of your flesh.

Then, why are you so anxious and afraid? Why do you worry about what you will eat and drink, about what you will wear, and where you will live? Why are you terrified at the wars and rumors of wars abroad, and political wars at home? Why do you fear losing your so-called freedoms and your rights? These are but a few questions you might ask yourself in light of today’s Gospel and subsequent readings. Your LORD and God has already set you free in Jesus Christ and has given you true freedom along with all that you need to support your body and your life. These so-called rights and freedoms that you strive to protect, and fear losing, are not God given, but they are given by men, written in a constitution, interpreted and protected by lawyers and judges, and enforced by laws. I am not saying to you that these man-made rights, freedoms, and laws are good or bad, but I am saying to you that they are man-made rights, freedoms, and laws, and that, if your fear, love, and trust is in them over and above God so that the thing you would die for is keeping them and the thing you fear most is losing them, then you just might have an idolatrous fear, love, and trust in them above and before the LORD. This, especially today when so many of the man-made rights and freedoms we cherish are being threatened and taken away, is something that we are all at risk of doing, and have even done, so that we must be on guard for this temptation, repent and trust in the LORD and His Word, receive and be strengthened, equipped, and protected in His gifts, and walk in His Spirit, Truth, and Light.

Thus, Jesus compares your fear and anxiety to slavery, and rightly so. When He says, “No servant can serve two masters,” it is slavery that He means to communicate. A slave has only one owner, one master. And, when you have fear and anxiety over fleshly, earthly, and worldly cares, values, and possessions, you have given yourself over to slavery to them and to your fear and your anxiety. And, if you are a slave to these, then they are your master, and you cannot have the LORD as master as well. Your LORD’s First and greatest Commandment to you is “You shall have no other gods before me.” Your LORD is a jealous God; He will not share you with other gods, which are truly idols and demons.

What is it that you need that your LORD does not graciously provide? Food, clothing, and shelter? Your body and soul, it’s members, reason, and senses, which He still preserves? Husband, wife, and children? Jesus has taught you to pray with Him, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Does the LORD not answer Jesus’ prayer, and your prayer, graciously providing you “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like?” Look at the birds and the flowers, Jesus says, how they neither reap nor sow nor worry about clothing or food, and yet the LORD provides for them and marvelously arrays them. The point is not that you be like the insentient beings and not work and be responsible stewards of what the LORD provides, but that you are of infinitesimally greater value to the LORD than these humble creatures for whom He provides all that is needed. How much more does He provide for you whom He has created in His own image and likeness and has redeemed in His Son Jesus Christ incarnated as your brother having flesh and blood human needs just like you?

You were not created to live in anxiety and fear, but in faith and trust in the LORD. Our First Parents’ sin was the result of fear, love, and trust, not in the LORD, but in things that He has given and created: knowledge, wisdom, freedom, etc. They loved these creatures, these gifts, more than the LORD who created and gave them, and they feared losing them, or not having them, more than they feared the LORD who created and gave them. Their trust was not in the LORD but in themselves. They had become gods unto themselves, which is precisely what you do when you worry and are anxious and fearful of not having, or of losing what you have, or of what might happen to you. Willfully you cast yourself into slavery to anxiety and fear, which is truly worship of a false god, another master, effecting that the LORD is not your master. But, that is not the life that the LORD has called you to. As in the beginning, so now, the LORD has created you and called you and given to you and equipped you to work in His creation and to care for it and its inhabitants, both the sentient and the insentient. You simply cannot be a steward of the LORD’s creation if you are anxious and afraid – no servant can serve two masters. You are called to be a light to the world dwelling in darkness. How can you be a light when you are turned in on yourself in anxiety and fear? That is the way the Gentiles, the pagan unbelievers, live, but not you children of God, children of the Light.

Once again our epistle lesson from St. Paul makes a distinction between the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh saying that the way of the Spirit is the way of humility and peace, contentment, patience, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness, gentleness and charity, etc. But Paul warns that, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the own who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Again, you are called and equipped to work in this world. However, while your new man, your spirit is willing and desiring, your flesh is weak with passions and desires, fears and anxieties. When you serve them, you sow to your flesh, and the LORD warns that you will reap corruption. But, if you live in the freedom of the Gospel and walk in the way of the Spirit, what you sow will reap eternal life. When you are anxious and worried about having and losing, you often find yourself going through the motions of your vocations, of being a husband or a wife, of being a father or a mother, of being a citizen, even a patriot, of being an employee, and even of being a Christian. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but faith in Christ for your life and salvation does. Neither does attending Bible studies, serving on a committee, or even saying your prayers make you a Christian, though those are certainly good things, but only faith in Christ – that is fear, love, and trust in God above all things – makes you a Christian. And, this is not a one and done sort of thing, but it must be your life, every day. St. Paul exhorts you to “live by the Spirit” and to “walk by the Spirit.” Living and walking are ongoing, every day, lifelong activities. Beware of anxiety, worry, and fear that tempt you to walk another path, to become proud and greedy and selfish, that rob you of contentment, comfort, and peace. Do not grow weary of doing good, for in due season you will reap the eternal reward reserved for those who trust in the LORD, if you do not give up.

Elijah was one who, according to the flesh, had every reason to give up. So, likewise was the widow of Zarephath. The land was stricken by drought and famine. However, Elijah did not fear dying of starvation, and the widow, who was preparing to eat her last meal and die, did not lose faith and blame and curse God, but she obeyed the Word of the LORD by His prophet Elijah and baked a cake first for him and then also for her and her son. Together, in fear, love, and trust in the LORD, they ate for many days, the jar of flour was not spent and the jug of oil was not empty until the LORD sent rain upon the earth. It is no different with you, O you of little faith. Even now your LORD presses your meager offerings of bread and wine into holy use and feeds you with the sin-forgiving, faith sustaining, life-giving body and blood of Jesus. Truly, the LORD hears your prayers for daily bread and He answers, providing you all that you need for your body and life, and more to share with those less fortunate. Do not be afraid! The LORD is for you. The LORD is with you. The LORD will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love for you in Jesus Christ. He has lead you out of slavery to anxiety, worry, and fear, to sin and death and the grave, through the waters of your Holy Baptism. Come, eat His body. Come, drink His blood. The jar of flour will not be spent and the jug of oil will not be empty until He returns for you and takes you home. But, until then, your true Master has work for you to do: Love one another, show mercy to one another, be humble, not proud, and readily forgive, even your enemies, as you have yourself been forgiven all in the mercy of the LORD shown to you in Jesus Christ. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)




(Audio)


Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23

 

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

The lepers stood at a distance, for that is what the law required of them. Their disease caused them to be cut off from their family, friends, and community, and from the temple and the synagogue as well. However, when they cried out saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they broke the law which also demanded that they cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” not for mercy. Nine of them were Jews, and one of them was a Samaritan. But, unlike the Parable of the Good Samaritan, all ten lepers found themselves equally ostracized. Being a child of Abraham counts for little when you are a leper. All ten were looking for mercy from anyone who might show it to them, from Jesus, who could identify with Jews, and with Samaritans, with the man left for dead in the ditch, with lepers, and with you as well.

The lepers cried out for mercy, that is all. They weren’t concerned about fairness and equality. They weren’t looking for someone to justify and to accept their diseased state. They knew their condition personally, intimately, physically, and spiritually. They offered nothing to Jesus or to anyone. They didn’t make excuses or point to the failings of others in order to justify themselves. They were fully accountable lepers. Leprosy was their condition, their disease, and no one else’s. What they desired, what they needed, was mercy, a kindness shown to them that they did not merit or deserve, that they could not earn or buy, but that was freely shown to them by grace alone, true love in action. And, that is what you and I need as well, now, and always. You and I need, now and always, the grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus, for you and I are spiritual lepers, cut off from our families, from our friends, and from our communities, and from the holy presence of our Triune God, because of the leprous disease of our sin and death.

Like the Good Samaritan, in that parable, Jesus did not hesitate to respond in mercy. However, He didn’t heal them on the spot exactly, at least not physically, but He commanded them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Their healing did not come instantaneously, but it came through their faith and trust in His Word, and their obedience, the fruit of their faith, that they did as Jesus commanded. All ten lepers immediately set out for the temple to show themselves to the priests just as Jesus had commanded them. And, as they went in faith and trust in Jesus, doing what He commanded, each one of them was healed along the way. Once again, there was no distinction made between Jew and Samaritan. All had the same affliction in common. All pleaded for and received mercy and healing when they trusted in and obeyed the Word of their Lord. However, their healing came through faith and obedience, through fear, love, and trust in the Lord, and not as an instantaneous, isolated event.

Jesus sent them to the temple and to the priests, even as He sends you to the Church and to Her pastors, for their healing, and your healing, is directly connected, effected, and sustained by your fear, love, and trust in the Lord and His Will and His Word. Healing, cleansing, and forgiveness are received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. And yet, these are never alone. One of the chief effects of the lepers’ disease was that they were cut off from their families, friends, and communities, and from the worship community and life of the temple and synagogue. Part of their healing was restoration to these. So, also, your healing, cleansing, and forgiveness is not an individual, isolated effect, but it is a communal one shared with and in the presence of the community and the family of the body of Christ, the Church. While you were absolved of all your sins in Holy Baptism, Jesus commands you to “Go and show yourself to the priests,” to go to Church in faith and trust in His Word and Sacraments that you may be healed. Jesus’ Word is your spiritual bread that sustains and strengthens your faith. Jesus’ body and blood is the medicine of immortality that forgives your sins anew, that strengthens your faith, that saves you and protects you from the devil until you are received to Jesus at the death of your natural body.

You see, Jesus didn’t just heal the lepers, He restored them to their families, to their communities, to their Church, and to His Father, Spirit, and Himself. Jesus changed them. No longer were they isolated, cut off, and alone, but they were part of a family, a community, the body of Christ. Christ’s body is absolved, nourished, strengthened, and sustained, equipped, sent, and protected by lifelong, regular reception of His Gifts. Jesus freed them from the bondage and slavery of sin and death. Jesus freed them from the condemnation of the law which kept them isolated and alone. And, Jesus has freed you from the same. Jesus has freed you from the coercion and condemnation of the law so that you may live freely without fear as part of a family, a community, His body the Church. Jesus has freed you to live, not for yourselves alone, but for Him and for your neighbor, with no sense of loss or inequity or unfairness. And, Jesus has freed you for something else: Jesus has freed you that you may praise Him and glorify God through Him, giving thanks to Him and confessing Him in word and deed.

Thus, there was one healed leper who returned to Jesus after going to the temple, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks, and praising God with a loud voice. Only one out of the ten healed lepers returned to give thanks and praise and worship to the source of their healing. Only one of the ten healed lepers recognized and confessed the source of their healing by bearing the fruit of a faithful confession in word and deed – and that one was a foreigner, a Samaritan. Why was it the Samaritan alone who returned to give thanks to Jesus and praise to God? Perhaps that is because, unlike the other nine Jewish lepers, the Samaritan leper was doubly unclean. Not only was he a leper, but, being a Samaritan, even when he was cleansed from his disease, he would still be considered ritually unclean, meaning he still could not worship at the temple or synagogue. Perhaps here, once again, as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy and legalism of the Pharisees who attempted to justify themselves by observing the law while failing to fulfill the spirit of the law in showing love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well,” Jesus replied to the thankful Samaritan leper. Jesus’ words literally mean, “Your faith has saved you.” Now, Christians often have a fundamental misunderstanding of what faith is. They think that faith is a choice or a decision that you make, or at least an assent or movement towards God. However, nothing could be further from the truth. First and foremost, faith is not something that you do, but faith is a gift from God by the Holy Spirit through His Word. It is impossible for anyone to believe apart from the faith-creating work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Therefore, if you have faith, if you believe and trust in Jesus, then give thanks to God, for this is His work, apart from which you would be as dead as Lazarus in his tomb four days – he stinketh. Thus, Jesus can rightly say “your faith has saved you,” because faith is the God-given, Spirit-created gift in you that clings to His Word of promise, the Gospel truth that, in and through Jesus Christ, God has forgiven you, cleansed you, restored you, and saved you out of death and has raised you up to new and everlasting life in Him. The cleansed Samaritan leper believed this. Thus he returned to Jesus to give Him thanks and praise and to worship and glorify God in and through Him. His God-given, Spirit-created faith in Jesus had truly made him well. To God alone be the glory in Jesus Christ.

While the cleansed Samaritan leper may not have been restored to the community and to the worship life of the temple and synagogue, that was because of man’s laws, not God’s. Nevertheless, he was changed, and he walked a new path from that moment on. In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul contrasts the desires of the flesh, which we can think of as leprosy, and the desires of the Spirit saying, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

In holy baptism you were cleansed of your spiritual leprosy. And, here in the Church your new life is cared for and protected, sustained and equipped. However, it is your spirit that has been cleansed and set free. Your flesh is still leprous and prone to pursuing a different way than the way of the Lord. Thus, you must daily resist the desires of your flesh and put the old man in you to death through repentance and absolution. And, you can only do this when your new man is cared for by receiving the gifts of your Lord in Word and Sacrament on a regular and steady basis. Skipping church is like skipping a meal. Cutting yourself off from the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament will cause you to be weak and sick, and to eventually die a spiritual death. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these,” in other words, the things forbidden you in the Ten Commandments. “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” in other words, those things exhorted you in the Ten Commandments. “Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

As we prayed today in the Collect: “O Lord, keep Your Church with Your perpetual mercy; and because of our frailty we cannot but fall, keep us ever by Your help from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” Your Great High Priest Christ Jesus is present here and now with His Word and His Wounds to cleanse you anew and to nourish, strengthen, protect, and keep you in faith that you may resist the temptations and desires of your leprous flesh and continue to walk by the Spirit in faith. He has heard your cry for mercy, and He mercifully forgives you and keeps you. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)




(Audio)


Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

 

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

In our Old Testament reading today from 2 Chronicles, the men of Israel had taken captive 200,000 of their own Judean kinsmen, men, women, and children. The LORD had delivered the people of Judah into the hands of their kinsmen because His wrath burned against them and their idolatry. However, the actions of the men of Israel against their southern brethren had far exceeded the righteous judgment of the LORD. The Israelites “killed them in a rage that reached up to heaven,” and they intended “to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as [their] slaves.” Because the Israelites were unmerciful, uncharitable, and unloving to their own kinsmen, the LORD became angry with them. Therefore, Oded, a Prophet of the LORD rebuked them saying, “Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God? Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.”

The Israelites had somehow forgotten that they were no more righteous in the sight of the LORD according to their own merits than were their southern kinsmen who had fallen into idolatry and apostasy. Thus, the Prophet Oded rebuked them and reminded them of their own sins upon which God’s wrath would be outpoured if they did not repent and show mercy. As Jesus would put it over 700 years later, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

How often do you fail to show mercy to, to be neighbor to, those right in front of you, those closest to you, to your own family members, your kinsmen, and to your brothers and sisters in Christ right here in this sacred space? Charity begins at home – Charity begins in your home, and in this home, the Church. If you do not show love, charity, compassion, and mercy to those who are closest to you, how do you think you will be perceived outside of these walls? Jesus teaches you of a love that reaches beyond the boundaries of your own family and church to people very much unlike yourselves. Satan tempts you, and your flesh is all too eager to agree, that you are right to judge and condemn others for their sins. What is your pet sin you like to be so indignant about and that makes you feel better about yourself? “You hypocrite.” Repent. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Repent, and show charity, mercy, love, and compassion to your brother, your sister, your neighbor, the stranger, even your enemy, or have you forgotten the mercy you have received from the LORD through Jesus Christ who died to set you free and to cleanse you from your sins?

When you refuse to show mercy, compassion, love, charity, and forgiveness you are holding the Law against your brother and you are submitting yourself to its slavery once again. The Gospel of Jesus Christ’s vicarious atonement has set you free from the Law’s condemnation; will you hold others to a slavery from which you have been set free? The Gospel has set you free from the condemnation of the Law that you may do it, that you may keep the Law without coercion and without fear of punishment when you fail. This is true freedom, freedom to love God without asking how much or how often or how sincerely, and freedom to show mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness to your brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy without fear.

That was the sin of the lawyer to whom Jesus taught a lesson about the freedom the Gospel gives to show mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness. The lawyer knew the Law of God well, but he didn’t recognize that he was incapable of keeping it. When Jesus asked him what is written in the Law, the lawyer answered correctly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer was not pleased with Jesus’ response, for Jesus did not praise him for keeping the Law as he had expected, but implied that, though he knew the Law, he failed to keep it. Though the lawyer was right in saying that love is the fulfillment of the Law, he did not keep the Law by showing mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness to others, particularly to those who were unlike himself. Therefore Jesus told the lawyer a story, a parable, about a priest and a Levite who were so enslaved to the Law that they could not help a fellow Jew who had fallen among thieves and was left for dead bleeding out in a ditch, and a despised Samaritan, unbeholden to the Law, who gave all he had to help a stranger and enemy.

Undoubtedly, the lawyer identified with the priest and the Levite, two outstanding figures of righteousness and piety under the Law of God. Surely, he thought, they were the “good guys,” for they were most like himself. Sadly, they truly were like the lawyer: proud, not thinking of their neighbor, and most importantly, interested in justifying themselves by their keeping of the Law. But, then comes along a Samaritan, hated and despised by the Jews for being idolaters and apostates, much like the Judeans in the Old Testament lesson today. The Samaritan didn’t spend time deciding whether or not is was lawful for him to help the man, but he had compassion on him, went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. Then he left him, giving the innkeeper money to care for him and promising to repay him for any extra when he returned. The Samaritan knew that the spirit of the Law was love for God and for neighbor, just like the lawyer had answered, but he put his love into action showing mercy and compassion for the man in the ditch, who was a Jew, not like him, and an enemy. Where the priest and the Levite, and the lawyer alike, knew the letter of the law and believed they were right and just in passing by, the Samaritan knew that love is the fulfilling of the Law and that love covers a multitude of sins, his own first. The Samaritan had known love, mercy, and compassion and therefore he freely extended these to his neighbor. He was free from the coercion of the Law and fear of punishment. He was free to keep the Law and do it without fear.

This story is popularly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Like so many of the popular titles given pericopes in the Scriptures, this one is also unhelpful. There is no mention of the Samaritan being good, or of the priest, Levite, and lawyer being bad, for that matter. That little word good in the title misdirects our focus upon the works of the Samaritan instead of the much more important thing, his faith in the mercy and forgiveness he himself had received from the LORD. The Samaritan believed and trusted that the LORD loved and forgave him. He knew the LORD’s compassion and mercy, and therefore he was free to love his neighbor, his enemy, without any coercion or fear that he was doing something wrong. It was not that the Samaritan was good, but it was that he was repentant, forgiven, and humble. The so-called Good Samaritan wasn’t good, but he was compassionate and merciful, and that is what the LORD desires from you as well.

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus asked. “The one who showed him mercy,” the lawyer had to answer. The word proved is an interesting word choice. The Greek word means appeared or seemed to be. Jesus was focusing the lawyer upon the actions of the three men, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. The lawyer thought he knew who was righteous and kept the Law, namely the priest and the Levite. However, Jesus’ parable forced the lawyer to confess that it was the Samaritan who appeared to be, who seemed to be, who proved to be neighbor to the man who fell among robbers. The lawyer had answered correctly concerning the Law, love God, and love your neighbor, but now, the same Law by which he sought to justify himself was condemning him. He did not show love. He did not keep the Law. And, neither do you when you refuse to show mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness to your brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy.

The Lutheran faith, the Christian faith, is a confessional faith. That means that appearances matter. What people see you saying and doing matter. Your words and your deeds are a confession of what you believe in your heart. When you come to church and show reverence in your worship you are making a confession of what you believe about Jesus in your hearts: that He is God, your Savior, and your Lord, and that He is present among you now with His sin-forgiving, faith-increasing, temptation-protecting gifts of Word and Sacrament. And, when you leave this place, what you say and do towards your brother, your sister, your neighbor, and your enemy are a confession of what you believe in your heart that God has done for you, and is doing still for you, in Jesus Christ His Son. So, be careful of what you do and what you say, and do not judge and condemn others without first considering your own sins, failings, and unworthiness. This is not an exhortation to bless sinful behavior. That you can never do. But, this is an exhortation to love the sinner, to love all sinners, all the time, just as your LORD and God has loved, and continues to love, sinful you. Only sinners can be forgiven, and there is no one for whom Jesus did not die that their sins might be forgiven. Let your words and deeds communicate to all, without discrimination, that the forgiveness you enjoy is available to them and to all, to the glory of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Holy Matrimony of Frank Vincent Casale and Pamela Sue Everhart


(Audio)

Mark 10:1-9; Ephesians 5: 1-2, 22-33; Genesis 2:7, 18-24

 

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

Our God is a King who serves. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, God as man, “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Our First Parents were created in His image, in the image of our Servant King, to serve creation, and to serve each other. God gave them authority, authority to serve, an authority that came from outside of them, an authority that vested them and clothed them. It wasn’t power taken, but it was authority given. They were given authority to serve creation and to serve each other, to love, to care for, and to protect each other. In this way, they were no longer two, but they were one – one flesh, united in servant kingship, united in faith, and united in love. Frank and Pam, that is the sort of union you enter into this day. Each of you will pledge yourself the servant of the other and you will be crowned with the other’s authority to serve them – a servant king and a servant queen, a servant husband and a servant wife, a reflection of our First Parent’s union in Eden and a reflection of God’s Servant Kingship of us all, in whose image we are created.

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul wrote, “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” St. Paul is speaking of the authority each of you today gives to the other – an authority to serve each other, to care for and to love each other in all the ways human beings need to be served, cared for, and loved. St. Paul develops this teaching further in his Epistle to the Ephesians where he describes what this service, care, and love look like in action within marriage: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.” “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, the He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word…. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” Sadly, these words are scandalous and offensive to many today, even to those who call themselves Christians. This is because of our sin which has taken authority given and turned it into power taken so that our marriages are wounded and destroyed by selfishness, lust, greed, resentment, and hate. Because of this, let me take a moment to explain St. Paul’s meaning.

Submit – to many women today, and to not a few men, that word is perhaps the most scandalous and offensive in all the Scriptures. However, that is because of ignorance and sin, for the word submit doesn’t mean what people typically think it means. Today, when people hear the word submit they think of domination, tyranny, slavery, and abuse. They conjure up images of Ralph Kramden or Stanley Kawalski, or worse. The Greek word that gets translated as submit, however, implies nothing of the sort. In fact, it is a military word associated with military rank and hierarchy. The word has absolutely nothing to do with equality or inequality – whether one was a legionnaire or a centurion in terms of rank, they were equally men having the same rights. Moreover, the word submit is passive; it literally means “to put oneself under” authority. If a woman is forced, then she cannot submit. A wife is called to submit to her husband, that is, to willingly put herself under his authority, which is further illuminated by the words, “as to the Lord.” How is a wife to put herself under the authority of her husband? The same way she willingly puts herself under the authority of her Lord Jesus Christ. And, why would a wife, or anyone for that matter, willingly put herself under the authority of Jesus? Because Jesus loves you and cares for you and sacrificed everything He had and was and is for you, that’s why. Jesus only ever wants what’s good and best for you. So should a husband love his wife as Christ loves His Bride the Church, and so should a wife willingly submit to her husband as to the Lord.

You see, submission – to willingly place yourself under someone else’s authority – requires trust in that person. But, why should you trust them? Let’s face it, today it’s difficult to trust anyone. You trust someone because they have proven themselves trustworthy; that is to say, you know something about them, they have a track record. They don’t have to be perfect, and God knows they’re not going to be, but they have to mean well towards you, they have to care for you, they love you in a way that very few, if any, others care for and love you. Because of that, you trust them. You trust them because of who they are, what they are, who and what they have demonstrated themselves to be. You trust that they have your back and will catch you when you fall. Again, they’re not going to do this perfectly, and neither are you. The Lord is the only one who is perfect, who will never ever fail you, who can be trusted in with unfailing trust, not because of who you are, but because of who He is. Nevertheless, your husband, O wife, and your wife, O husband, has promised to care for you and to love you, and if you give them authority over you as you promise to this day, then you owe them your trust, your fear (which is reverence), and your love as to the Lord whom they are a reflection of, even if dimmed and obscured by sin. In this way you are imitators of God, sacrificing yourself for the sake of the other, becoming one flesh and a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

It is the LORD who has brought you together – in His way, and in His time. Do not misunderstand, I do not mean that your “soulmate” was out there, and that you just had to find her or him. No, that is the way the world and the flesh think: It might as well be chance that you found each other. And, if you married before and are widowed or divorced, does that mean you just hadn’t found your soulmate? Devilish nonsense! Your soulmate, if we are to use that language, is the one to whom you make this promise and keep it by the grace of God. It is what you are doing right now that makes you Frank, and you Pam, soulmates. The LORD has indeed brought you together, just as He presented Eve to Adam, but what makes you soulmates is not the bringing or the finding, but it is the vows that you make before the LORD this day and your life together of keeping them and of absolving each other when you fail to keep them. The only way that you can do this is with the help and blessing of the Lord. You have asked the Lord to bless your union, your marriage, and He will bless it, He will bless you, and you will be fruitful and multiply His love. For, it is with His love that you love each other, and it His love that flows through you making you fruitful with His love in service of each other and others to the glory of His Name.

Frank and Pam, as we your friends and family together behold you this day, just moments away from giving yourselves to each other in Holy Marriage, we are blessed to behold in you an image, an icon of our First Parents in the Garden of Eden. We are blessed to behold in you an icon of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Bride the Church. And we are blessed to behold in you an icon of our Holy Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For, that is what you are becoming, a new image, a new icon of selfless, sacrificial love in the one-flesh union of holy marriage that our Triune God has created and instituted and even now calls you to. God will place crowns upon your heads; they will be crowns of dominion, crowns of love, and crowns of martyrdom, and yet they will not be multiple crowns, for they are all but one crown, the Martyr’s Crown, the crown of Jesus Christ our Servant King, and they will make you to be an icon of God’s holy love in the one-flesh union of Holy Marriage, the sweetest martyrdom.

God is love. And God has revealed His love in creation, in redemption, and in sanctification. And, your Holy Marriage is to be a reflection of His love and a participation in His love in creation, in redemption, and in sanctification. For, Frank, today you will be crowned a king in a new family. You will be a king like your King Jesus, a Servant King, a Martyr King, as you sacrifice yourself for the sake of Pam, your wife, your body, bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. Your only desire every day of your life will be for her salvation that she may be presented to the Lord just as He has made her to be in His holy, innocent, shed blood, in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. You are to be the steward and husband of her body and soul and you are be her king and pastor and love and serve her as the queen of your kingdom and as the little church that is your home just as Christ loved His Bride the Church and gave Himself up for Her.

And Pam, today you will be crowned a queen in a new family. You will be a queen like unto the Holy Church of which Jesus Christ is the Head. You are to stand by your husband as his helpmate, equal to him in all things, yet you are to willingly submit to him as your head just as the Church submits to Christ Her Head. By submitting to your husband you show him love, honor, and trust as you likewise do to the Lord. And, as Frank will guard and protect the salvation of your body and soul, so do you have stewardship of the salvation of his body and soul.

Frank, Pam, today you will be crowned with the Martyr’s Crown, a crown of servanthood, for today you will die in the sweetest of martyrdoms. Each of you will die to yourself, for the sake of the other, and you two will become one flesh. The words of St. Paul on marital equality are clear: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” For a husband and a wife belong to each other as martyrs, they belong to God as royalty, and they are called to treat each other accordingly. For, that is what it means to love, to die to yourself. This is why, and this is how, Holy Marriage is an icon of God, because Holy Marriage is an opportunity for you to show selfless, sacrificial, life-bestowing love to one another, and Holy Marriage is an opportunity for you to receive such selfless, sacrificial, life-bestowing love yourself.

Frank, Pam, always remember that your Holy Marriage, instituted and blessed by our Holy Triune God, is an icon of God’s own Divine Family. As you sacrifice yourselves one for the other, two becoming one flesh, remember always the third partner in your marriage – your Lord Jesus Christ. It was God who brought Adam and Eve together because He desired for them to know the love and fulfillment of His own Divine Family. He is the love that binds you and makes you one flesh; and He has promised to be with you always. Call upon Him daily for your needs. Thank Him daily for your blessings. Make Him the Lord of your hearts and of your Holy Marriage – and He will bless you and your Holy Marriage. You will be fruitful. And your one flesh union will be “very good.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.