Sunday, August 21, 2016
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. God condemns homosexual acts, right? Therefore you think that you are justified in condemning homosexuals, while feeling reassured that you are in the right and enjoy the favor of God. How about those how have abortions? Illegal immigrants? Those living together outside of marriage? Those ISIS terrorists you fear and hate? 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 hi 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.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Mark 7:31-37; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Isaiah 29:17-24
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Two little eyes to look to God; two little ears to hear His Word; two little feet to walk in His ways; two little lips to sing His praise; two little hands to do His will; and one little heart to love Him still.
Perhaps some of you have sung or read this little hymn to your children or perhaps you remember it from your own childhood. This hymn teaches us that God has given us our eyes, ears, feet, lips, hands, and heart that we might praise Him with our whole lives as a living sacrifice. But too often are our eyes focused, not upon God, but in greed and jealousy or lust upon what belongs to another. And too often our ears are tuned, not to God’s Word and His Will, but to the siren song of the world and its values and ideals. And too often our feet are upon a path that leads us away from God and His way. And too often do our lips utter lies and curses and blasphemy instead of singing God’s praise. And too often our hands are taking from or harming our neighbor instead of serving our neighbor and glorifying God. And, need I ask you about your heart? For, what does Jesus say about your heart? Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
In at least one way the deaf mute man in today’s Gospel lesson was better off us. At least his lips and tongue were not spouting off lies, curses, and blasphemy. However, not only could he not sing God’s praise, neither could he hear God’s Word. But, he was completely in silent bondage and he had to be brought to Jesus for healing. Apparently the deaf mute was born this way. Similarly, each of us is conceived and born in sin and is likewise unable hear the Word of God and to sing His praise until we are brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism and He speaks His “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened” upon us.
Ephphatha is the very Word of creation which is creatively powerful to bring into existence that which it speaks ex nihilo, out of nothing. Ephphatha is God’s “Let there be…, and there was.” Thus, when Jesus speaks “Ephphatha, be opened” to the deaf mute, He speaks His creative Word and He opens ears that have never heard and looses tongues that have never spoken, and the result is praise of the Lord of Creation, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst us, Jesus.
But you should note that, though Jesus’ Word was sufficient to open the ears and to loose the tongue of the deaf mute, Jesus graciously touches the man with His own flesh and blood hands and shows Him the Creator’s love. First He took the man aside in private, and then He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. These actions were for the deaf mute himself and not for the crowds. It was an act of tenderness and love to a man who could not hear the Word or speak a plea for help, let alone praise God. Then Jesus looked up to heaven, He sighed and said to him “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” For, the creative Word of God the Father in heaven alone produces ears that can hear and lips that can sing.
The healing of the deaf mute clearly demonstrates the divine monergism of God in justification, conversion, and faith, that is to say, these works are God’s work alone and they involve no cooperation from sinful men. Thus, it should not be surprising that the early church connected this Gospel account with the Sacrament of Holy Baptism since the deaf mute, unable to hear or to speak from birth, was completely passive in receiving Jesus’ gracious Word and sacramental action. Indeed, a part of the ancient baptismal rite is called the Ephphatha. That very word Ephphatha was spoken by the priest as he touched both the ears and the mouth of the baptismal candidate. It was only after the opening of the ears and the loosing of the tongue that the baptismal candidate was then asked to renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways and to confess his faith in the Apostle’s Creed.
A similar expression from Psalm 51 is utilized at the beginning of the Matins liturgy as we chant together, “O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth will show forth Thy praise.” Since Matins is the first office prayed upon waking in the morning, these first words uttered at the beginning of the day are a confession that, apart from the Lord’s merciful action, our lips cannot praise Him. Traditionally, Matins would be prayed daily, even before the Divine Service on Sunday mornings, so that, each and every day, God would be invoked to restore us to baptismal purity and grace so that we are able to sing His praise. Indeed, the idea of a daily return to our baptisms is what is behind Luther’s exhortation “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then Luther instructs us to repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and to pray the Morning Prayer. All of this is, in a sense, a return to our Holy Baptism and to God’s gracious forgiveness and life which He gave us in Holy Baptism however long ago.
When it comes to justification, being made right with God, and when it comes to your conversion and even faith itself, you are like the deaf mute in today’s Gospel, and you are like the newborn infant or even an older candidate in Holy Baptism, you are passive. Your justification, conversion, and faith is a new work of God’s ongoing re-creation by His powerful, life-bestowing Word. He creates life where there was only death. He opens ears that could not hear His Word. And He looses tongues to sing His praise. Or, as the children’s hymn puts it: Two little eyes to look to God; two little ears to hear His Word; two little feet to walk in His ways; two little lips to sing His praise; two little hands to do His will; and one little heart to love Him still.
The objectivity, the externality, the extra nos (outside of us) nature of our justification, conversion, and faith is not a hindrance to our faith, but it is the very source and reason for the confidence and comfort we enjoy. This is what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency, is from God.” This is why Job can confidently say “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and this is why St. Paul can boldly say “I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Why then do so many insist that they have chosen to believe, or have decided to follow Jesus, or have earned or merited God’s favor in at least some small way? Why? Because the flesh is sinful and corrupt and it conspires with the devil to keep you in sin and death. If you trust in yourself for justification, conversion, or faith, then you build your house on shifting sand. For, you are in continual flux emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. What you believed was right yesterday you know to be wrong today. What you felt two hours ago has changed and now you feel differently. You are ruled by your fickle and impulsive passions and desires and by your flesh which wants what it wants because it wants it, not because it is true, right, or good. Like Paul exclaimed, the good that you want to do, that you do not do; but the bad that you do not want to do, that is what you find yourself doing! That is what the flesh is like. It desires to keep on taking and eating from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to be like a god unto itself. The flesh says “No God, I won’t do it your way.” And so, a choice and a decision is made, but it is always, always, a choice and a decision to follow the way of the flesh that leads to death and it is always a choice and a decision against God and against God’s Will and God’s commands.
Repent and be turned from the way of the flesh that leads to death. Repent and be turned back to God. For, even now your Jesus is present with His Words and His Wounds to unstop your ears and to loose your tongue that you may sing His praise. He speaks to you His “Ephphatha, be opened” and, as it was in the beginning, so it is now and ever shall be, His creative Word brings into being what it says.
And when He has opened your ears and your mouths, He will not leave them empty, but He will fill them with His Word and with His Word made flesh and blood so that you will be justified, so that you will be converted, and so that you will have faith anew. He will return you to the grace and purity He once gave you in Holy Baptism, as many times as is necessary, every day of your life until you live with Him eternally in the presence and glory of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
John 15:9-12; 1 Corinthians 13:4-13; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Marc, Lauren – today you two will follow in the steps of billions before you and establish a new community, a new household, a new partnership, a new family. Since sometime shortly after the Sixth Day of Creation, man and woman have been joined in marriage and the two have become one flesh. So, this day, you, Marc, will cease to be merely Marc, and you, Lauren, will cease to be merely Lauren. Truly, you are no longer two, but you are one.
But, what does this mean? That is a good question! It is commonly believed today that each of us is independent. Indeed, independence is a founding principle of our nation and the American Dream we each pursue. However, independence is neither natural to us as God’s children, nor as holy, sacred, and virtuous as we might be tempted to believe. Truth be told, we are never independent, but we are always dependent upon each other. Not a one of us came into this world independent. Quite the opposite! We each came into this world completely dependent upon our mothers who nourished and protected us in the womb and who continued to do the same after we were born. Each of us was born, quite by necessity, into a community, a family, each of us having, at the very least, a mother and a father and grandparents, and quite likely siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. John Donne was quite correct when he wrote that no man is an island. Likewise, beyond our immediate families, we were each born into communities, villages, towns, cities, states, a nation, etc. Our dependence upon others, from the beginning of our lives to their ends, is absolutely obvious. And, yet, we cause ourselves and others so much heartache and suffering by striving for and insisting upon our independence.
After each day of creation, the LORD looked upon what He had made and He declared it good. However, after the creation of the man, for the first time, God looked at what He made and He declared that something was not good. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” And, that’s the beginning of the greatest love story ever told – the only love story there is, from which all others are drawn. That is the story that you, Marc and Lauren, enter into this day. “So the LORD caused a deep sleep to fall upon the Man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the Man He made into a woman and brought her to the Man. Then the Man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
The two shall become one flesh. What does this mean? That’s another great question! Well, I know of no equation of mathematics where one plus one equals one. In terms of relationships, however, marriage in particular, the only way that one plus one can equal one is through mutual sacrifice. And, that is precisely how marriage is described in the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul teaches in His Epistle to the Ephesians: “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.” Likewise, St. Paul teaches in the same Epistle: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might by holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”
Now, I know that word submit makes everyone’s neck hairs bristle, and rightly so given the way that term has been twisted and distorted from its true meaning in Scripture to justify all manner of misogyny and discrimination and abuse. However, that is not what the Lord and St. Paul have in mind in using that word. What the word submit means in this context is “Taking one’s proper role in God’s order and laying aside one’s selfish interests.” And, that goes for the husband as well as for the wife and for us all. As I shared with you during our counseling in preparation for your marriage, St. Paul says elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians, “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.” Marriage is selfless. Those who enter into marriage insisting upon maintaining their independence not only miss the meaning and purpose of marriage, but they are setting themselves up for great difficulty if not out-right disaster.
Marriage is about love. I’m certain that we all agree about that. In fact, some of you are probably thinking, “Finally, he’s going to talk about love!” Ah! But, what is love? That’s yet another great question! In know, everyone thinks that they know what love is. After all, Hallmark and Hollywood and Tiger Beat and Vogue and Oprah Winfrey and Ellen have all told us what love is, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. Love is sacrifice. I’ll bet you haven’t thought about love that way before. But, let me share with you just a few words about love from the Holy Scriptures. St. John the Evangelist has written that “God is love.” Well, there you go! A simple definition of God: God is love. However, we still don’t know what love is, so we can’t know who God is. Ah, but Jesus tells us a bit more. Jesus says, “Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.” Let me paraphrase that for you: No greater love is possible than that a person would sacrifice their own life for the sake of another. That is love; love is sacrifice. So, God is love; and love is sacrifice; therefore God is sacrifice. But, there’s more! Jesus also commands you that you love one another as He has loved you – that you sacrifice yourself for others and for another. Love is sacrifice. And, as I said a moment ago, and you all agree – marriage is about love. Marriage is about sacrifice.
Marc, this day you commit yourself before God and these witnesses to sacrifice yourself for the sake of Lauren and for the sake of your marriage to Lauren. She and her welfare, both physical and spiritual, will, from this day forward, be more important to you than your own life and wants and desires. And, Lauren, this day you commit yourself before God and these witnesses to sacrifice yourself for the sake of Marc and for the sake of your marriage to Marc. He and his welfare, both physical and spiritual, will, from this day forward, be more important to you than your own life and wants and desires.
The passages you selected from the Holy Scriptures were good choices! From 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; […] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Do you see how all of the qualities that are said to be love are selfless and sacrificial? It means being forgiving, slow to speak in anger, long in listening, and always putting the best construction on the words and deeds of the other. As you think of and treat your husband, your wife, so do you think of and treat your own body, for you are one flesh. However, this is no easy task, for our flesh tempts us to lash out in anger, to point out our spouse’s failings and mistakes, to be impatient when we believe we know a better way, to harbor resentment and not forgive, etc. Therefore, you will need a source of strength and patience and forgiveness and mercy and compassion to draw upon and to fill you that you may love.
And that is where the passage you selected from Ecclesiastes comes to bear: “Two are better than one […]. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. […] A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Just as the LORD brought our First Parents together and established the covenant of marriage in which two become one flesh, so is Jesus Christ the third strand in the cord of your marriage that will make you strong and unbreakable. If you abide in His love, then you will have ample love for one another to bear and to endure all things. Do not neglect the Third Partner in your marriage. It is Jesus’ love for you that has brought you together. It is with His love that you love each other. And, it is with His sacrificial love you that you will be able to sacrifice yourself in love for each other. You have asked Him to bless your marriage and your one-flesh union, and He will most certainly will.
Keep this image in mind: When God created Eve, He did not take her from Adam’s feet – that he might rule over her and subdue her. Nor did He take her from Adam’s head – that she might be lord over him. But God took her from Adam’s side – his rib – that she might be an equal partner with him, ever at his side, close to his heart.
Marc, Lauren, always remember that your marriage, blessed by God, is a reflection of God’s own Divine Family – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As you sacrifice yourselves for one another, two becoming one flesh; and as, if God should so bless you, you are fruitful and bear children – remember 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 Lord of your hearts and your marriage – and He will bless you and your marriage. You will be fruitful. And your one flesh union will be very good.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I would venture to guess that most of you know little of the structure of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and that most of you are not particularly interested in knowing. I do not fault you for that. After all, as one parishioner has been want to say on occasion, “We’re a long ways away from St. Louis.” This is most certainly true. However, the structure and offices of the LCMS actually have some relevance and bearing considering today’s Gospel Lesson. The LCMS is divided into thirty-five Districts, our own being The Atlantic District, each of which has an elected President, or, if you like, a Bishop. Each District, in turn, is divided into Circuits. The Atlantic District has ten Circuits, each of which has its own elected officer, a pastor, called the Circuit Visitor. Whereas the District President is charged with ecclesial (that is, churchly) oversight of the Pastors and the Congregations in the District, the Circuit Visitor represents the District President in ecclesial oversight of the Pastors and Congregations in the Circuit, the local cluster of congregations. As the name suggests, the job of the Circuit Visitor is to visit the Pastors and the Congregations of the Circuit, in the stead of the District President, to see how they are doing, to encourage them in their ministry, to guide them towards faithful practice, to suggest correction if necessary, and to pray for them. Presently, I serve as Circuit Visitor for Atlantic District Circuit Three which includes eight congregations: St. Luke’s – Putnam Valley, Redeemer – Peekskill, Christ the King – Pawling, All Saints – Lagrangeville, Our Savior – Fishkill, St. Timothy – Hyde Park, St. Mark’s – Hudson, and Resurrection – Cairo. However, in my fourteen years at Christ the King, I/we have never been “visited” by our Circuit Visitor. In fact, the District President has only visited this congregation twice in that time, and that was at my personal invitation. Happily, I can report that our current District President has visited me once since taking office last September. And, I have to confess that my own “visitation” of the Pastors and Congregations of our Circuit has amounted to the monthly Winkels (Circuit Meetings) that we hold, rotating congregations from month to month. However, while I do see the Pastors of the Circuit regularly, and while I do visit the congregations, I cannot say that I am truly fulfilling the fullness of the intention and purpose and spirit of the Circuit Visitor, for, although the LCMS does have a structure of hierarchical oversight, the foundation of our structure is congregational – which means that each congregation is independent in its governance, but subscribes to a common confession of faith – making the ecclesial offices of District President and Circuit Visitor merely advisory and lacking real authority.
Now, what has any of this to do with today’s Gospel Lesson? Well, last Sunday I asked you the questions, “What will you do throughout this time of your life in which you have been given management over the Lord’s blessings and goods? And, what will you be found doing when He returns at a time and an hour you cannot know?” Our Lord Jesus Christ is somewhat like a Circuit Visitor or a District President – A Bishop – who could call upon you at any time to “see how you’re doing.” And, Jesus is not one without authority, but He has been given all authority over heaven and earth and all things. Jesus has authority to demand an account of your management at any time. As I said last week, however, this should not cause you to fear or to despair, for the “things you should be found doing” when He comes in visitation amount to receiving and sharing what He has done for you and what He continues to give to you.
In today’s Gospel Jesus lamented that Jerusalem “did not know the time of their visitation.” The Greek word translated here as visitation is episkopēs, which has the same root form as bishop or overseer, and from it comes our word pastor. Jesus visited Jerusalem as the Great Bishop, Overseer, and Pastor of His Church. But, what did He find when made His visitation? How were His managers and stewards doing in their management of His goods and gifts? Jesus knew what He would find even before He entered the city. Therefore He wept over Jerusalem, and He wept over the fate that He foresaw for them saying “The days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” What Jesus prophesied that day happened roughly thirty-three years later when the soon-to-be Emperor Titus sacked Jerusalem, killed thousands, and destroyed the temple and the city. The destruction of the temple effectively ended the sacrificial system and the priesthood, and all remaining Jews were scattered. That was the Day of Judgment for Israel which so many of the end times prophecies of the Scriptures pointed to. Jesus’ prophecy concerning the judgment of Jerusalem had been fulfilled.
The occasion of Jesus’ visitation upon Jerusalem happened on the very same day as His Triumphal Entry into the Holy City, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. The crowds received Him with great joy and pomp believing Him to be the Messiah King who would free them from Roman oppression and make Israel great once again. But, they had the wrong idea about King Jesus, about what kind of a King He was and would be. Jesus processed, not to Herod’s or Pilate’s palace and throne, but to the temple, to His Father’s House. And, what did He find there when He entered? He found moneychangers and vendors of sacrificial animals, pigeons and doves. The moneychangers exchanged the currency of pilgrims that had traveled from all over the Middle East so that they could pay the temple tax. The tax itself was an unholy thing, but the moneychangers added insult to injury by overcharging and extorting the pilgrims for their services. They took advantage of the poorest and the weakest in order to make a profit, and this in the LORD’s House. Similarly, the vendors of sacrificial animals overcharged, extorted, and took advantage of the pilgrims and worshippers, holding the law over their heads in order to force them into paying their inflated prices by either guilt or fear. As I quoted Jesus’s words last Sunday, so I do once again today, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”
What did Bishop Jesus find when He visited His people? How did He find them managing His goods and His gifts? He found them managing them poorly. He found them greedily hoarding them and withholding them from those who needed them most. He found that they had made the things of His creation into their idols and gods. Jesus was furious with righteous indignation. He made a whip of chords and thrashed the tables of the moneychangers and vendors and overturned them, sending their coins and their animals flying through the temple court. And He shouted, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Now, it has been popular over the decades past to think that what Jesus was upset with was the fact that worldly transactions were going on in the temple court, the church. Because of that, many churches have forbidden bake sales and tag sales and have declared 50/50 raffles and auctions a thing of the devil. But, they are missing the point. Jesus’ righteous anger was not about the buying and selling per se, but it was about the people’s lack of mercy. Jesus was angry, not that they were buying and selling, but that the people were robbing each other. Just as in last week’s Gospel, the Lord commands you to make use of unrighteous wealth to win friends, that is, use the worldly stuff the Lord has given you management over to help other people and thereby glorify God. However, that was not what Jesus found His people doing. And, were Jesus to visit us today, what would He find us doing? Would He find us using the worldly things He has given us management over to the benefit of others and to the glory of God? Or, would He find us greedily hoarding them, covetously desiring them, and putting our fear, love, and trust in them above and before God, which is idolatry and false worship?
God had visited His people in Jesus Christ, but the people rejected Him. They did not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, and they did not recognize Him when He came because they had long ago forsaken the Word of the Lord and followed instead the teachings of men. The truth of the matter is this: God comes near to and visits His people still. Jesus comes near to you and visits you in the preaching of the Gospel. How do you receive Him? The Third Commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Luther explains this commandment saying, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Rejection of preaching is not only a violation of the Third Commandment, it is a rejection of our Lord’s Visitation at that time. Today, just as in Jesus’ time, people “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” As in Jeremiah’s time, people have turned away in perpetual backsliding. And, because they despise the Word of the Lord and will not hear it, they mismanage their Lord’s possessions and make them to be their idols and gods. They know not the Word of the Lord, but they believe in a false word that contains not the Spirit. They preach tolerance and love and peace that are rooted, not in Christ, but in human conceptions of fairness and equality. They continually say “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace with God, for they have rejected Him and His Word and Commandments. What man declares peace is an abomination before the Lord. But, a day is coming when the Lord will visit His people, not in mercy, calling them to repentance, but in judgment. On that day “the wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the Word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?”
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” When Jesus visited Jerusalem, it was not in judgment, but in mercy. That is why He wept over the city and the fate that would befall His people there because of their rejection of Him. It was the religious leadership of the Jews who taught them in the ways of the Law but failed repeatedly to proclaim to them the Gospel. It was the religious leadership who were given management of the Lord’s gifts, but who squandered them and idolized them and taught the people to do the same. Elsewhere Jesus had pity on the people because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Soon they would arrest Him and try Him and condemn Him and execute Him outside the walls of the City of God’s Peace, “for it is not permissible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.”
Still, the people, the hoi polloi, were hanging on His every Word. And, so must you hang on to, cling to, and keep sacred the Holy Word of God and gladly hear and learn it. For, your Lord is making His visitation upon you right now in this Divine Service. How do you receive Him? In faith, to your great and abundant blessing, or do you reject Him in unbelief and self-righteousness? Your body is the temple of the Lord in which His Holy Spirit has established His home. May the temple of your body be cleansed by Jesus’ Word, received in humble faith, and may your soul and faith together be strengthened in His pure Word of Law and Gospel, and may you be equipped to manage and to share His gifts, both material and spiritual, with others to the glory of His Name in your life, words, and deeds. In receiving Him today, and every Lord’s Day, in His visitation of grace and mercy, you are well prepared for His visitation in judgment on the Last Day, should it come today, or tomorrow, or in a thousand years.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.