Sunday, June 23, 2019

The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)

Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand Jesus’ meaning when He said, “You must be born again of water and the Spirit.” Our Lord gently rebuked him saying, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Our God, who is a righteous, just, and holy spirit, is utterly unapproachable and unknowable by us sinful and mortal men, therefore He approaches us and makes Himself known to us through material, fleshly, and worldly things: In a bush that burns yet is not consumed; in illumining and guiding pillars of cloud and fire; between the cherubim upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant; behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies; in the flesh and blood body of a man born of a virgin mother; in bread and wine and water, and in the preaching of men called and set apart for His purposes. Indeed, because of the Incarnation of the Word and Son of God, and because of His Ascension, and because of the Pentecost miracle of His outpoured grace, our God also makes Himself to be known through our brothers and sisters and neighbors as Jesus taught, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We are given to know our heavenly God in the earthly things He has made. This is what the rich man in Jesus’ story failed to do; he failed to recognize God in the poor man Lazarus lying on his front porch. Now, this is not a story about the evils of riches and the blessedness of poverty. Neither is this a story that should be used to promote social welfare programs and guilt the faithful into action and service, which all too easily becomes works righteousness when we trust that we are justified because we are “good people” who do “good things” for needy people. No, Jesus’ story illumines for us where God can be found and approached and how He is rightly worshipped, served, and glorified. We find and approach God in those brothers, sisters, and neighbors He places before us in our lives that we may extend the good things He has blessed us with to them and glorify Him by showing forth His goodness, love, grace, mercy, charity, and kindness. We rightly worship, serve, and glorify our God when we help, serve, and love our neighbor with His love.
St. John picks up Jesus’ teaching in the Epistle, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” The rich man saw the poor man lying on his porch every day. He saw his need, he even knew his name, he had the means to help him, but he did nothing. You see, some are want to make this story a mandate to the Church as an institution to social ministry, and to Christians to vote for social welfare and social justice legislation. However, Jesus’ story is not about institutions or governments or even the Church; it’s much more personal than that! The poor man was the rich man’s poor man. God caused their paths to cross. Because of the Incarnation, because of the Ascension, because of Pentecost, the poor man was Jesus. The rich man had an opportunity to feed and clothe Jesus, to give him drink and to care for him, in the person of poor Lazarus lying right before him. By loving the poor man whom he could see, the rich man had an opportunity to show His love for God whom He could not see. But, he did not love his brother whom he could see, because he did not love his God whom he could not see.
However, the rich man did have love. He had love for his clothing, the finest linens and costliest purple gowns. He had love for his food, feasting sumptuously every single day. He had love for his dogs who received the rich tidbits and scraps from his own table. He had love for himself, that he might be relieved of his torment. And, he even had love for his brothers that they might be spared what he was suffering. Yet, in all this, the rich man did not truly love God, whom he could not see, because he did not love those who did not meet his estimation of what was loveable. Even in death, in torment in Hades, the most concern he could eek out for Lazarus was to treat him as a servant, as a slave. “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” “Send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” “They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham answered, “let them hear them.” The rich man refused saying, “No.” Then Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Now, “Moses and the Prophets” are the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. It is the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that creates faith in cold, dead hearts like ours and the rich man’s, and kindles in them the fire of His holy love. Not only did the rich man fail to love the poor man whom he could see, but he failed to love God whom he could not see. God has revealed Himself in His Word, and in the poor man set before him, to both of which the rich man said firmly, “No.”
Abraham himself once said “No” to God, after first saying “Yes.” Abraham was a rich man having huge flocks and herds along with his father’s wealth and possessions. When the LORD promised him a son from his own flesh through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed, Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s belief, His trust in His Word, to him as righteousness. But, then, when some time had passed and the LORD’s promise had not been fulfilled, Abraham began to doubt and he became fearful – of what? Of losing his wealth and possessions. Abraham said, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household [a servant, a slave] will be my heir.” Then Abraham took matters into his own hand and conceived a son by his wife’s handmaiden Hagar. This was not an act of love, love for God, love for God’s Word, love for Sarah, love for Hagar, love for any potential offspring Hagar might bear him, but this was an adulterous act of fear. What is the connection between fear and love? St. John explains in his epistle saying, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” We know that later, after this first fear and failing of Abraham to love and trust in the LORD and His Word, the LORD put Abraham’s fear, love, and trust in Him to the test by demanding him to sacrifice his son, his only son whom he loved, the son of promise, Isaac. This time Abraham did not fear, nor did he hesitate to obey the LORD, but he loved Him and trusted Him completely believing that the LORD would still keep His Word of promise, even if his son had to die. Thus, now, from heaven, Abraham is able to counsel the rich man, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
In a very real sense, Abraham’s son Isaac was raised from death. Nonetheless, Abraham loved and trusted in the LORD and His Word before and apart from this miraculous sign. And, of course, the true sign of resurrection would be granted, not in the son of Abraham, but in the only-begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, whom God gave over unto death because of His love for the world. Because God is love, God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son into death, that all who believe in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life. In the same way, the LORD commands us to love others, without fear, as He has loved us, sacrificing of ourselves for those whom God has given us to love. In this way, Jesus says, all will know that you are His disciples, when you sacrifice yourselves in love for each other and for all.
And, you do not have to go far to find those whom God has given you to show selfless and sacrificial love. They say charity begins at home, and truly the sacrificial love of God you are given to share begins at home. You have been given your husband or wife, you have been given your children first and foremost. Beyond them lie your extended family, your neighbors, co-workers, and fellow members of the body of Christ, the Church. And, beyond that, the people of your community. Perhaps much farther down the list and outside of your immediate context and vocation lie the poor in other communities, states, and nations. It is always a good and God pleasing thing to love all that you can, but not when it is at the cost and sacrifice of those He has put right before you like poor Lazarus on the rich man’s porch. “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
This may seem like a tall order. It is not, however, when you remain filled with the Father’s love. That is why you are here today – to receive from Him anew: love, mercy, grace, compassion, charity, and more. Here in His Church, the Father’s love is literally poured into you so that you are filled to the brim, and then He keeps on pouring so that you overflow with His love, love plenteous to fill the lives of those He gives you to love. Come and drink from the ever-flowing fountain of His blood. Come and eat of His lifegiving body. Receive from Him these earthly things that you may receive from Him also the heavenly things, and having these, that you may have something to give to your brother.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Just wait until your father gets home.How many of you, as children, have heard those frightful words? How many of you, as mothers, have uttered those frightful words? But, are fathers really as bad as all that, causing the hearts of their children to melt with fear and foreboding at the very mention of their father’s presence? Yes, that is, if fear is understood in the proper way. That is to say that a child should notfear being abused by his or her father physically, verbally, or emotionally. And, neither should a child fear that his or her father is against them or that he is their enemy in any way. But, indeed, a child shouldfear his or her father so that they revere him, honor him with their lives, and avoid what displeases him.
For, the proper fear of our earthly fathers serves to teach us children of God the proper fear of our heavenly Father. And, this is not to suggest that our earthly fathers are perfect – perfectly loving, perfectly good, and perfectly holy like our heavenly Father – for fatherhood, just as motherhood, just as marriage, and just as every other human relationship known to mankind, is tainted and corrupted by sin so that these institutions and relationships are but dim, murky reflections of their God-created ideals. Still, they are reflections none the less. For, even though tainted and corrupted by sin, the heart and the will of most fathers is still for the good of their children in that they desire to give them things that are good for them and to provide for them with what they need to support their bodies and their lives. And, this is a reflection, even if a dim and murky one, of our perfect, loving, good, and holy God and Father in heaven. To fear and to love our earthly fathers is to fear and to love God. This we confess in the Explanation to the Fourth commandment in the Small Catechism. In both Proverbs and Psalms, the Holy Scriptures equate the fear of the LORD with true wisdom. Consequently, the LORD promises that blessing comes in honoring and obeying our earthly fathers, for, when we fear, love, honor, and obey our earthly fathers, we fear and love God our Father in heaven.
Indeed, the presence of God our Father is a fearful thing. God the Father is to be feared for His measureless mercy and grace, compassion, and love. But, God the Father is also to be feared because He is righteous and holy and perfectly just. He is to be feared because, in contrast, as St. Paul has written, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Thus, when Isaiah beheld the LORD in His glory, seated upon His throne, he feared for his life saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”Isaiah’s fear of the LORD was a confession. It was a confession, at once, of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness, but also of Isaiah’s own sinfulness and uncleanness. Therefore, Isaiah stood in the LORD’s presence in humility, with no claim of merit and with no offering in hand, in the full knowledge that he had no right to be there, but that by all right he should be destroyed, yet also believing and knowing that God is merciful and gracious, compassionate, and loving. Such humility and repentance are the signifiers of true fear, honor, love, reverence, and trust.
Upon Isaiah’s confession, the LORD remedied his problem; He forgave Isaiah and cleansed him of his sinful uncleanness as Isaiah recounts, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’.” Isaiah did nothing to merit or to deserve this merciful and gracious action of the LORD, rather, instead, he confessed his inability to make himself clean. But, the LORD had mercy upon Isaiah and graciously cleansed him and forgave him by means of the Sacrifice that He had prepared for Isaiah, and for you, and for all mankind before the foundation of the world. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
For, the only altar in the temple of God from whence come the removal of guilt and the atonement of sins is the altar of sacrifice. And, the coals upon this altar were already burning, indicating that they had been used for sacrifice, and, upon touching Isaiah’s lips, his guilt was indeed removed and his sin atoned for, confirming the validity of the sacrifice. For, the High Priest who serves in the temple of God is Jesus the Christ who is both Priest and Sacrifice as the writer to the Hebrews states, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”Thus, for the same reason that God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it up on a pole, that all who had been bitten by poisonous serpents, when they looked upon the bronze serpent raised up on the pole, would be healed and live, for the same reason, God sent forth His Son as a sacrificial victim to be raised up in death upon the cross, that all who have been bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan, when they look to Jesus will find that they are cleansed of their guilt and that their sins have been atoned for.For in this way did God so love the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish abut have eternal life.
Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice which has removed your guilt and which has atoned for your sin, is your heavenly Father’s gift to you by grace. You did not merit it or deserve it, but it is the truest and most perfect gift there could be, the gift of true and perfect and holy love, for no greater love is possible than this, that a man should lay down His life for His friends. For God did not just havelove for the world, but God acted inlove for the world in this way, He sent His only-begotten Son into your flesh, to live your life, to be tempted with your temptations, to be obedient to the Father’s will and command for you, to die in your place, and to be raised and returned to God as a guarantee that you have been redeemed, forgiven, and restored to God your Father.
This is what your God and Father in heaven has done for you. And, now you receive the benefit of His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness by the working of His Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. Jesus taught Nicodemus, “You must be born again of water and the Spirit,” for, just as your natural birth was not of your own will or work, and in conception and birth you received the guilt of Original Sin, so your spiritual re-birth was not of your own will or work, and in Holy Baptism you received cleansing of your guilt and atonement for your sin through Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice and gift of love for you and the entire world.
Your God and Father in heaven is continually pointing you outside of yourself to Him and His gifts. He would have you confess Him as your Creator, your Redeemer, and your Sanctifier, and these three as persons in the one Triune Godhead, the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, in this Holy Trinity there is unity even as there is trinity, three persons, yet one God, with each of the persons being equally God. And, these three persons work together at all times in creation, redemption, and sanctification, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
On this blessed Feast of the Holy Trinity, that just happens to occur on this civic holiday of Father’s Day, we are thankful for the many and various ways in which our Holy and Triune God reveals Himself in love and mercy to sinners such as us. In our loving fathers we see an image of our loving God and Father who provides for us all that we need for our bodies and lives. In our spouses we see an image of our loving God and Savior as husband and wife sacrifice of themselves each for the other becoming one flesh. In our families we see an image of our God and sanctifier as the family is a sanctuary of love set apart from the world while in the world.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Feast of Pentecost

John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
That prayer was answered on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after our Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, ten days after His glorious ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven that He might fill all things. On the Day of Pentecost our Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon the faithful, His Apostles, His Church, fulfilling His promise to be with them always to the end of the age. How would He be with them? Jesus would be with them whenever they gathered together in His holy name, whether there are two or three, or two or three hundred, or two or three thousand, or more. Jesus would be with them in the preaching of Holy Scripture, whether it be the Old Testament or the New, the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Evangelists, or the Epistles, for they all testify about Jesus, for He is the Word of the LORD made flesh. Jesus would be with them in Holy Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, and in His Holy Supper, which are nothing other than the Word of the LORD attached to material, physical elements through which He delivers to His people His gracious gifts, and they are nothing less than precisely what the Lord say that they are – a cleansing flood of forgiveness of sins bringing about new life and salvation, and His very body and blood of which a man may eat and live and never die.
That day they gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, the same upper room where they had celebrated the last Passover meal with Jesus, the same upper room where Jesus appeared to them on Easter Sunday and proclaimed peace to them and showed them the wounds in His hands and side, the signs and proof of that peace in His death and resurrection, the same upper room where they gathered again the following Sunday, where Jesus appeared amongst them once again and beckoned Thomas to see and touch and to believe. On this day the Holy Spirit rushed through that room like a mighty wind as tongues like fire appeared above their heads, blessing them with the miracle of unlearned languages that the Holy Gospel could be proclaimed in all the languages of men and fill the world. And, after Pentecost they continued this pattern, “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,”“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” The Lord answered that prayer on the Day of Pentecost, and He continues to answer that prayer, our prayer, today. We need the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and to kindle love – true love – in our hearts. “If anyone loves me,” Jesus says, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” To love Jesus is not mere knowledge of Him or belief in Him – even the devil knows of Jesus and believes in Him – but it is to love His words and to keep them. Jesus says that His disciples are not those who merely speak His name or even those who believe in Him, but Jesus’ disciples are “those who hear the word of God and do it.” Therefore, if you are truly Jesus’ disciple, if you are truly a Christian, you must love God’s word and desire to hear it regularly and abide by it in your daily lives. Indeed, this is how Luther explains the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”: “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.” Those who despise God’s word and refuse to hear it and abide by it are no Christians, though they be present in the congregation. They are weeds planted among the wheat, who appear pious on the outside, but whose true nature is hidden and unseen. While we can only discern by the outward appearance, God, who looks upon the heart of a man, is not deceived or mocked. Truly, this would be the case with us all were it not for the gracious working of the Holy Spirit “who has called [us] by the Gospel, enlightened [us] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [us] in the true faith.”
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” We need the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with true love – true love for Jesus, true love for God’s Word, and true love for others – and not just head knowledge. And, that is what this Divine Service is for. In this Divine Service the Lord answers our prayer, filling us with His Spirit, kindling in our hearts the fire of His love through the Apostolic teaching of God’s Word, the fellowship of the faithful, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers, the liturgy, all through which the Holy Spirit performs His faith-creating and sustaining work. We are vessels, jars of clay, in which the Holy Spirit dwells. We appear weak, foolish, ordinary on the outside, but here we are filled with the Holy Spirit through the means of grace that we may become His temple and a dispensary of His love to others.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” We need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, to melt them, to fill them with a holy fear of every sin and impurity, and to fill our hearts with true and holy love for Jesus, His word and His commandments, and for all, to the glory of His holy name.
In a few moments, young Jacob will confess his faith before the LORD and before you, His people. This is a terrific opportunity for you to renew your own confession of faith. Jacob will renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. He will confess his faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and in His word, pledging to keep it and uphold it even unto death. He will confess his faith in the LORD’s means of grace, the proclaimed word and the blessed sacraments, again pledging to make faithful and regular use of them and to live his life in accord to the LORD’s word and commandments and not fall away, even unto death. This confession is no light matter. It is not trivial or informal. It is no joke, but it is a deadly serious matter. You all made this same confession at one time or another. Pray that the Holy Spirit would come and fill your hearts anew and kindle in them the fire of His love that you may keep your confession in faith unto death. He has promised to answer your prayer.
Indeed, He is answering your prayer right now, in this place, through His means of grace, His word and blessed sacraments that you may have faith to endure and fervent love for the LORD, His word and commandments, and for your neighbor to the glory of His holy name.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It has been the custom in western culture and tradition that a woman who weds a man takes his family name as her own. Along with her husband’s name comes his reputation and the reputation of his family. The wife assumes both her husband’s name and reputation just as he, in turn will be impacted by his wife’s behavior in upholding and defending his name and reputation, and vice versa. Name and reputation are very important to our LORD and God, thus He has given us two specific commandments concerning the proper use of His Name (the Second Commandment) and our upholding and defending the names and reputations of our neighbors (the Eighth Commandment). Remembering this fact will help us to understand the somewhat surprising statement of the LORD in our reading from Ezekiel today, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.”
The LORD’s name and reputation had been profaned among the nations, among the pagans, among the Gentiles, by His own people, by His own Bride. By adopting the practices, culture, customs, and religion of the surrounding nations, the people of Israel had tarnished God’s holy name and reputation, making Him appear no different than the gods of the Gentiles or any other pagan god or idol. They took the LORD’s holy name in vain when they feigned to be His people and yet behaved and worshipped like everyone else. And, we do the same today when we do not hallow His name, keeping it sacred and holy in our lives, words, deeds, and worship. We do the same today when we divorce our spouses, live together and / or engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, when we bless as good and God-pleasing what God Himself has called an abomination and has forbidden in His commandments, and when we support deeds and civic legislation that is in direct contradiction to the LORD’s clear Word and commandments. We do the same today when our worship becomes focused upon what we want and feel and upon what we do for God rather than upon His objective word and promises in Word and Sacrament through which He does everything needful for us. Thus, just as when the LORD saved Israel from her enemies, so does the LORD save us, not for our own sake, but for the sake of His holy name which we have profaned among the nations:
“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
All this the LORD has done for you by His Holy Spirit through His word and Holy Baptism, not for your sake, but for the sake of His holy name, especially now, at the end of all things.
St. Peter says in today’s Epistle, “The end of all things is at hand.” Those words were penned nearly 2000 years ago. When will the end times come? Are we living in the end times? Now! Yes! The end times began 2000 years ago with the coming of Jesus, and they will end the day when He comes again and the dead are raised, and not a moment before. These are the end times, the last days; and they have been and will continue to be until the Lord returns in glory. Therefore, how then shall we live? St. Peter answers, “be self-controlled and sober-minded,” “keep loving one another earnestly,” show hospitality without grumbling, use the gifts you have been given for the good of all, “in order that in everything God might be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Now, there are those who claim the title Christian for themselves who will take away only one thing from Peter’s list of appropriate end-times behaviors – Love. They will point particularly to Peter’s statement, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” And, they will misinterpret Peter’s words to mean that, because of love – because of Jesus’ love and our love – there is no such thing as sinful behavior any more. That is not at all what Peter’s words mean, however. In fact, to conclude such is effectively to throw the rest of the epistle, the teachings of Sts. Peter, Paul, James, John, the Evangelists, and Jesus Himself, the entire New and Old Testaments into the crapper! What Peter means, and what his words clearly and plainly state, is that we continue to love our sinning brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, neighbors, and everyone despite their sin. What Peter does not mean, however, is that we should treat their sin as if it were no sin at all and therefore fail to call them to repentance. That is to do precisely what the prophet Jeremiah warned us not to do, to falsely proclaim peace with God to those committing willful and intentional sin when there is in truth no peace with God at all. It is to leave them in their sins, in rebellion to God, and without His forgiveness and true peace. Such is, in fact, the exact opposite of the love that St. Peter and Jesus have called us to.
Now, mind you, speaking the Truth in love is unlikely to win you many friends in this world today. In fact, that is precisely what both Peter and Jesus have told you in advance so that, when it happens, you will remember that they told you these things. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. […] If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Likewise, Jesus says the same, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Our Lord Jesus was perfectly loving of all, even His enemies, yet not once did He tell a sinner to keep on sinning, saying that it was alright with God, don’t worry. No, in fact, He instructed them to repent that they might be saved and to go and sin no more.
It’s hard to say the right thing, to remain faithful to the LORD and His word and commandments. It’s so much easier to go with the flow, to take the easier path and justify our silence by a misunderstanding of what it truly means to love our neighbor. And, that’s why Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to counsel and guide us in the way we should go. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, not of lies and misinterpretations. Speaking the truth will bring you suffering; your Lord Jesus and the Apostles and Evangelists have made this clear with their teaching and with their own persecution, rejection, suffering, and deaths. But, take heart, when you suffer for the sake of Jesus and His name, you join Jesus in His own sufferings, and the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon you and strengthen you that you may endure and persevere. Through the ministry of the Spirit of Truth, we are cleansed from the deceit of our idols and given a new heart and a new spirit, the heart and Spirit of Christ.
Yet, it is not for your sake that the LORD saves you and preserves you, but it is for the sake of His holy name. As He calls you out of death to life, from sin to righteousness, from selfishness and hatred to love that truly loves all so that you truly desire for all to live and not perish, the LORD works through you to bring these gifts to all the world. Which is why you are here today. You are not here today primarily to praise and give thanks to the LORD, although you will surely do that, but you are here today primarily to receive from the LORD His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that you may be truly able to praise and glorify Him in your lives lived in the world, but not of the world, in service of others. Therefore, you do not have to be here, but you get to be here, you need to be here. You need to receive His absolution. You need to hear His word proclaimed to you. You need to receive His body and His blood into yourself in Holy Communion that you may have something, not of yourself, but of the LORD, to give to others, that you may forgive with His forgiveness, give with His gifts, and love with His love – for there truly is no other gift that is of any value at all. In this Divine Service, this Gottesdienst, God’s service of you, the LORD renews His Spirit within you, causing you to walk in His statutes and to obey His rules with the promise that you will dwell in the land He has promised you and that you will be His people, and He will be your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A well-known bumper sticker reads, “Men make plans. God laughs.” This does not mean that God is capricious, but simply that what seems wise to men is often foolishness to God, and typically vice versa. Today we rejoice to recognize five high school graduates – Ada, Hannah, Sidney, Kennedy, and Emily; and one college graduate, Danika – who by God’s grace and their own hard work have achieved much. Undoubtedly, they have made many plans for their futures: What college to attend, what career to pursue, whether to commute from home or to reside on campus, etc. We hope and pray that their plans will all work out, all the while acknowledging that some of them most likely will not. In truth, it is quite likely that, in some cases, what the LORD has planned for these graduates will turn out to be something completely different than what they or anyone else could ever have planned or imagined. [I know a guy like that who ended up in seminary.]
Because, God does have a plan for you. The LORD once said to His people through His prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This is an important and comforting promise, for it acknowledges that, even when our plans seem to go awry, when it seems that nothing is working out, and when it seems that God is not in control or that He doesn’t care, that He is in fact still working all things for our good and according to His overall plan and design.
Indeed, in our Old Testament reading today, it certainly seemed to the children of Israel that God’s plan wasn’t working out. The LORD had led His people out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea to the promised land. However, their hearts sank when their spies discovered that the people of Canaan were strong, mighty, and fierce. They feared that they could not conquer them. They despaired that they would be conquered themselves. They failed to trust in the LORD that He would be with them. Because of this, the LORD caused His people to wander in the wilderness for an entire generation until Joshua would lead their children across the Jordan into the promised land. They had planned to go to Canaan, conquer the people there, and enjoy life in a land flowing with milk and honey. However, when things didn’t go as easily as they had imagined they became disillusioned and longed even to go back to Egypt and slavery rather than continue in the way of the LORD which seemed increasingly foolish to them.
In their wilderness wanderings shortly thereafter, the LORD actually sent the people in the opposite direction, away from the promised land, towards the land of Edom. It wasn’t long before the people began to grumble. What is the LORD doing? Does He want us to fail and not achieve our goal? Does He want us to starve? And, my favorite complaint of all, “There is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Sounds like my kids standing in front of the pantry stocked full of food claiming there’s nothing to eat! Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes to bite them, and many of them died – definitely, not what they had planned! The people cried out to the LORD and to Moses saying, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” And, Moses did pray. And, the LORD did not take away the snakes – definitely, not what they had planned. For, the LORD had another plan. The LORD instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and to raise it up on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a poisonous snake could look up to the bronze snake raised up on the pole and they would live. Not – what – they – had – planned.
You can imagine that people bitten by poisonous snakes would think it foolishness to look at an image of snake raised up on a pole. I suspect that a great many refused and therefore died. This is not what they had planned! And yet, the LORD did answer their prayer. He provided a way out. Much later, St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth saying, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The LORD has promised that He will always provide you a way out – but take note that it will be according to His plan and not yours. Moreover, the LORD provides you a way out so that you may endure and persevere throughyour temptations, tribulations, and suffering.
You see, that’s really the trouble with us, isn’t it? We are not willing to endure and persevere. We want to succeed and conquer, always. We want our plans to succeed and winconquer and rule, always. The problem is that, because of our sin, our natural wills are set against the LORD’s will. Even our reason and wisdom, our vision and sight, are corrupted by sin so that we cannot think soundly or see clearly. For, there is only one will that is truly wise and sound, true and good, and that is the LORD’s will. Thus, we pray in the prayer Jesus taught us that His will, not ours, will be done. It’s a matter of whom you trust when it comes down to it – Do you trust in the LORD, or do you trust in yourself. Who is your God?
You have plans. So do I. But the LORD has plans for you too, plans for your welfare and not for evil, that you may have a future and a hope. So, make your plans, but make them in consideration with the LORD’s Word and Commandments. And pray. Pray to the LORD that His will be done, not yours, but that He would guide you by His Spirit through His Word, illumining the path you should go. There will be times when your plans do not succeed, when you fail, and when you feel conquered and defeated. Do not despair. It may well be that the LORD has other plans for you – good plans to give you a future and a hope. Take these opportunities to reexamine and reflect on the way you are going, the choices you have made, in the light of His Word and Commandments. Pray, and the LORD will guide you in the way you should go.
This Sixth Sunday of Easter is called Rogate, which means “Ask.” Your Lord Jesus says to you, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” You do not have to ask Moses, or your pastor, or even Jesus, but Jesus says that you can ask His Father directly, even calling Him your Father, with the promise that whatever you ask the Father in Jesus’ Name He will give to you. Those words, “In Jesus’ Name,” are important words, however. They are not some magical incantation that prompts God to give you what you want, but they refer to the content of your prayers, to what you ask for. What you ask for must be something that is “in Jesus’ Name.” What sorts of things are “in Jesus’ Name?” Well, the sorts of things that Jesus Himself would ask of His Father in prayer: love, mercy, compassion, patience, forgiveness, healing, guidance and wisdom to serve others and glorify the Father. Ask, and you shall receive, in Jesus’ Name.
Dear graduates, – Ada, Hannah, Sidney, Kennedy, Emily, and Danika, – and all of God’s people, make your plans, but make them in accordance with the LORD’s Word and Commandments, and in Jesus’ Name. And, when your plans do not work out, pay special attention, for you just might discover that the LORD has another plan in mind, a good plan that you might have a future and a hope. Continue to listen to His Word. Avail yourself of the opportunity to take rest in Him from all your labors. Consult Him in prayer. Ask, that you may receive, in Jesus’ Name. Your LORD has plans for you, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday after Easter

(No Audio Available)

John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is but one will, God’s will, and His will alone is good. Likewise, your enemy has but one goal, that you do not acknowledge, believe in, or follow God’s will, but that you recognize another will, your will, his will, instead of God’s. And, from the look of the world today, you may be convinced that he is winning, or that maybe he has already won. For, the only recognized good and truth today is tolerance – that is, tolerance of the many and varied wills of anyone and everyone in this fallen and broken world. However, the definition of tolerance has been changed, for it no longer means to bear withor to endure, which is God’s will, but today it means to acceptand to bless as true and good. Therefore, you are no longer free to hold and practice God’s will and truth, because it does not tolerate, according to today’s usage, it does not accept or bless as true and good the will of another, the will of the flesh, the will of Satan. And, to be sure, following God’s will is going to put you at enmity with the world. It is going to separate you from the world and from the masses. It is going to divide friends and even families. For, to walk in accordance with God’s will, God’s Word, God’s Truth, is to consider all other wills, all other truths, and all other gods to be lies. And, I assure you, this will not go unnoticed by your enemy and the world.
Last week you heard Jesus’ teaching that you will suffer and mourn while the world will rejoice, and He wasn’t kidding. However, Jesus also taught you that it will be only a little while before your sorrow will be turned into joy, joy that no one can take from you. Therefore, so that you do not become too comfortable in this world, in this flesh, He has gone away. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven. And, though you may long that He were here with you now, thinking that it would be so much easier to believe and to persevere if only He were here, He says that it is to your advantage that He has gone away, that He might send you the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide you to Jesus, and to what is true, and to what is truly good – His Father’s will.
The Holy Spirit does this by convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. But, that word convictneeds some explanation. The word convict is a judicial term, most often heard in the setting of a courtroom. To convict someone in court requires the presentation of evidence, or testimony, from which the proof of a man’s guilt or innocence is established. Hence, it is often said that a person was convicted of a crime. The convicted man, as well as others, may maintain that he is not guilty, but the evidence of testimony tells what is really true. The word convict in this passage concerning the work of the Holy Spirit carries both the connotations of convincing and announcing a verdict. When it is said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, both of those realities are meant. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince the world by announcing the verdict of God concerning such things as sin, righteousness, and judgment. Even if no one in the world believes the testimony, it is no less true.(Lutheran Catechesis, Peter Bender)
Dear Christian, you must not make peace with the world. You must not simply go with the flow and accept what the world accepts and reject what the world rejects. Therefore, thankfully, this is precisely how the Holy Spirit can help you. For, the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word of Law and Gospel and the Holy Sacraments ever continues to preserve and to keep you in faith, trusting in God’s Word, exposing the teachings of the world as lies. Often you experience this as your conscience telling you what it right even if the worldly doctrine you are hearing sounds reasonable and good according to the wisdom of men.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, showing that the way of the world is the way of unbelief, making you uncomfortable in following its path. Now, you must understand that this will not always be pleasant. Holding to the Word and to the will of God will not increase your popularity among men. Your own flesh, reason, and wisdom, which are corrupted by sin, will war against you, being used by your enemy to deceive you into believing good to be evil and evil to be good. This is why St. James exhorts you saying, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”However, the Holy Spirit works through the vehicle of the Word of God. Therefore, you must hear that Word, and read that Word, and be in that Word regularly. If you distance yourself from the fellowship of the faithful, become neglectful in your prayer and study of the Scriptures, and entertain and accommodate the godless things of this world, then you will gradually find yourself on your own, with your only counsel being your own deluded thoughts and wisdom and the counsel of the enemy.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness by showing that the righteousness of the world, which is works, and tolerance, and preaching “Peace, peace!” where there is no peace, is a lie, and that Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen, and ascended alone is true righteousness. It is necessary that men be turned in repentance to faith in Christ, for the world has been judged, guilty, and all men are guilty sinners judged righteous only through Christ, who’s sacrifice the Father has accepted as full atonement for the sins of all mankind so that Jesus is the righteousness before God by which men must be saved.
And, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The judgment of God that the sinner is righteous for Christ’s sake sets men free from the judgment of the Law that the devil uses to condemn the world. Since God forgives us all sins and declares us righteous for Jesus’ sake as a gift of His grace, the devil cannot accuse us of sin or damn us to eternal death.(Lutheran Catechesis, Peter Bender)
However, while you must not make peace with this world, neither must you seek to Christianize the world by force, coercion, or political maneuvering. Your purpose in this world is as leaven, salt, and light. It is by your own love and obedience to God and His Word, and the love of God for you, poured out upon you in Jesus and overflowing out of you in love, mercy, grace, charity, and compassion towards your neighbor in word and in deed, that the Holy Spirit will open deaf ears and blind eyes, break up hardened hearts, and raise the dead to new and abundant life. Therefore, again, St. James exhorts you, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
This is to say, the best way to get people to love the Lord and His Word is for you to love the Lord and His Word by keeping it and doing it. And the best way to get people to honor marriage and sexuality is by you honoring marriage and sexuality as God’s Word has honored and blessed it. And the best way to get people to love true tolerance and peace is to live peaceably and with tolerance in humility, meekness, and selflessness in the world, but not of the world, in service to your neighbor, be he godly or ungodly. For, a little leaven will leaven the entire lump; a little salt will make savory the entire pot; and wherever there is light, there is no darkness at all.
Yes, it is to your advantage that Jesus has gone away, for He has sent you the Helper, His Holy Spirit, just as He had said. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. He daily and richly forgives you all your sins. And, on the Last Day, He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Jesus told His disciples that He had much more to teach them, but that they could not bear it at that time. But, on Pentecost, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit upon them, and they began to understand the inexhaustible fullness and depth of God’s Word and the mystery of faith so that they could not contain themselves, but bubbled over in joy and the desire to share this Good News and proclaim it to the ends of the earth. How is it that you come to learn the deeper mysteries of faith? Is it not through living in this world, but not of the world, through suffering, persevering against temptation, being subjected to mocking, ridicule, persecution, and even death? Through these things, the Holy Spirit is honing and sharpening you, carving you back into the image of God in which you were made – a work that will not be completed until the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. He is making you to be of one mind and one will – God’s will – that you may love what He has commanded and desire what He has promised, that among the many changes of this world, your hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter

(No audio available)

John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A visit to the Holy Land isn’t a vacation, it’s a pilgrimage. I’ve never been so aware of being a stranger in a strange land as I was in Israel. It was a great place to visit, indescribably inspiring and awesome, but it was not home, not even in a miniscule way. It was utterly foreign, from the languages and dialects spoken by the masses who throng there from all over the globe, to the extreme differences in culture and custom, to the food, and even the elevators in the hotels on Shabbat (they are programmed to stop at every floor so that the religious Jews do not have to push any buttons!). And, as I packed my bags for that trip, I packed lightly, carefully, and judiciously so that I would have only what I needed and nothing that would unnecessarily weigh me down and make my pilgrimage more difficult.
And, this is the Word of the LORD for you today: You are pilgrims here, strangers in a strange land, just passing through. This earth, this life, this is not your home, but you are citizens of the heavenly kingdom where Jesus Christ reigns over heaven and earth. And, because this earth, this life, is not your home, you must pack lightly, carefully, and judiciously so that you have only what is needed and nothing unnecessarily weighs you down. That is what St. Peter exhorts you to saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Not only does Peter consider you travelers, pilgrims, and sojourners, but he considers you as outcasts and exiles. No, this earth, this life, this is NOT your home! Do you feel this?
Do you feel uncomfortable and out of place? You should. You need to! Otherwise, it is quite likely that you have permitted yourself to get a little too comfortable here; maybe a lot too comfortable! If you are not waiting and watching in hopeful expectation for the Lord’s return on a day and at an hour you cannot know, then you might be caught by surprise and unprepared like the foolish virgins in our Lord Jesus’ parable, or you might be caught looking longingly back at this world’s pleasures and possessions like Lot’s wife, or like the children of Israel after their Exodus from Egypt, or like the rich young man whom Jesus told to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and then come and follow Him.
I believe that the Church, and our little Lutheran corner of it, enjoyed a long period of time in these United States and its culture when we were generally accepted and thought well of. During that time our congregations grew, rather effortlessly, and we built great institutions, and our pews were filled with families and children, and it was great and wonderful and awesome and… not at all the way our Lord, or St. Peter, or any of the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles describe our Christian pilgrimage here in this life and world. I believe that, during that time of plenty, we grew content and complacent, we became weighed down with worldly and fleshly cares and concerns, and we became less vigilant and aware that we are truly pilgrims and exiles here, and that this is not our home, but that we are children of the heavenly Father and citizens of His heavenly kingdom.
Perhaps the cultural change in our nation is for our good? Perhaps the LORD means to call us back to the one thing needful, His Word and Sacraments? It wouldn’t be the first time that He permitted His people to be displaced and on the outs with the world that they would repent and return. Indeed, the history of God’s people is replete with such examples. The chief story of the Bible is the Exodus, where the LORD placed His people in a new land, a land already occupied by others, as a test to see if they would trust Him and obey Him and not succumb to the worship of false gods and idolatry of the culture they were set in the midst of. Of course, they did succumb, and the sorry history of Israel recorded by the Prophets is the result. Indeed, the history of the children of Israel, and the history of the Christian Church, demonstrates again and again that the Church grew, not in times of popularity and acceptance in the world, but in times of persecution and exile. Indeed, the 2ndcentury Church Father Tertullian stated that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Peter’s counsel to you this day concerns how you are to live and conduct yourself in this life and world that is not your home. Peter says to keep your conduct among the Gentiles, among the unbelievers, honorable. That means, do not act like the unbelievers. Do not take pleasure in the things they enjoy. Do not consider glorious or virtuous the things they consider glorious or virtuous so that, when they speak evil against you – and they will – they may condemn you, not for doing evil, but for doing the works of God. You are to submit to the rulers and authorities the LORD has placed over you, be they good or evil, “for it is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrow while suffering unjustly.” The way of the disciple of Jesus is the way of Jesus Himself, and that is the way of the cross. However, you do not get to choose the crosses you bear, nor do you need to seek them out, but the Holy Spirit will select them for you and place them upon you. They are God’s gift to you, for your good and for His glory.
And, if you think your crosses too difficult to bear, then hear this word of comfort today from Jesus: It is but for a little while. Oh, that doesn’t bring you comfort? Well, let me add some color to the image. Truly you are able to bear and endure many things in life if you know how long it will last before you will be relieved. For example, if you are undergoing a root canal, you can get through it if you know that it will end, and when it will end. Well, the Lord does indeed promise you that it will end, even if He doesn’t reveal to you when it will end. There, He calls you to trust in Him, that He is good, that He loves you, giving the example of His own suffering and death for you as proof of His love and faithfulness towards you.
But, what does He mean by “a little while?” In answer to that question your Lord Jesus offers the example of mothers – and how appropriate is that on this Mother’s Day! “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come,” Jesus teaches, “but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” You mothers know that this is true! In my years as a pastor, not to mention the experience of the birth of my own children, I have witnessed mother’s cry out in agony in the midst of labor some form of “Never again!” who then, after the birth of their child, overcome with tears of joy, would gladly go through it all again. In truth, many do, fully knowing what suffering they will face. So, Jesus teaches, you will have suffering now. Did you hear that? You WILL have suffering now, there is no doubt about it! “But,” Jesus promises, “I will see you again, and your hearts WILL rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In fact, Jesus followed His own advice in taking up His cross and suffering and dying for your sins;“for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame.”
We are pilgrims and sojourners in this life and world, even exiles. This is not our home. We are children of the King and heaven is our home. You must view your life in this world in this way and so follow your Shepherd King Jesus through this valley of the shadow of death into His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. Jesus has already blazed the trail for us, and even now He accompanies us as we make our way. Along the way He guides us, chastens us, feeds us, and protects us. However, we must not look back or become encumbered with the cares and concerns of this world, with the passions and desires of our flesh, and with the material and worldly things the world and culture value, lest we become weighed down, complacent, and stop watching and waiting for our deliverance, and so miss our heavenly goal. Therefore, take heed of your Shepherd’s Word and Voice and of that which is truly needful throughout this little while.
Christ is risen! Christ is coming! May you be found faithful, watching, and waiting, O little flock.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Christian Funeral for Henry Donald Heine

John 14:1-6; Hebrews 2:14-18; Revelation 22:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“My name is Henry.” That’s what Henry told his first-grade teacher when she called roll and called him Hank. “My name is Henry.” There was already a Hank in Henry’s life, and Henry was not Hank. Henry was unique, independent, different. And, that’s what you, and all his friends, and all who had the privilege to know him loved about Henry. Henry was unique, independent, different, and our world and our lives are better for it.
Henry’s uniqueness and independence was shown forth most explicitly in his art. Henry was a gifted artist, with the brush, with the hammer and saw, with his voice, and so much more. He created beautiful paintings of rural Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and other places Henry knew and loved. He painted landscapes from his days in Bemidji at the German Institute. He designed and built and painted props and sets for high school plays and community theater, some quite ingeniously designed so that they would collapse for easy rollaway between scenes. Henry acted and sang in plays and shows with the Chickasha Community Theater. He even designed costumes. Henry’s uniqueness and independence demonstrated that he saw the world differently, in a way that is better shown and seen than described.
I think of the Book of Revelation that way. What St. John has presented in the Revelation was what he was granted to see in a vision, a vision of heaven. Often, John struggled to find words to describe what he saw. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.” Sounds like the Garden of Eden, paradise, but on steroids! “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more.” The joy and peace of heaven will never end! “They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Yes, I believe that an artist could appreciate the picture that St. John has painted for us.
But there was much more to Henry than his art. Henry was an honorable man, a man of his word. He was selfless to the point of self-sacrifice, willing to help anyone at his own inconvenience or cost. Not surprisingly, his wallet was found well-worn and empty save a single credit card. He was good with his hands and always willing to help with a building or repair project, a jack-of-all-trades, and always ready to use them in service of others. And, Henry was an excellent cook and chef. His pancakes and French toast were the delight of his family, both young and old, on Saturday mornings, just as was his bread and doughnuts by his peers back in his 4-H days. And, still there is more to say about Henry. Henry was a motorcycle enthusiast. He loved animals, especially his two canine companions Hagrid and Emerson. He was intelligent, thoughtful, and well-educated, able to speak German, Russian, and French.
However, as nice and enjoyable as it is to remember these qualities which represent why you loved Henry and why he was loved and appreciated by so many others, they do not really give you comfort in a time like this. No, when a loved one has died, now that Henry has died, there is only one place and one person that you can find true and lasting comfort and peace, and that is in our God, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who purchased Henry in His own innocent shed blood upon the cross, and who has purchased you and me and all the world as well. As the Preacher to the Hebrews says, “Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who were subject to lifelong slavery.” Jesus died for all that all might live, and Jesus named, claimed, and sealed Henry as His own in Holy Baptism long ago, and Jesus’ promise to Henry was never revoked and it never fails. Jesus says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. And, St. Peter also has said, “Baptism now saves you.” Therefore, we are not comforted in knowing that Henry was a good person – though he surely was – or that he did good deeds – though he surely did – but we are comforted by Jesus’ promise to Henry, and by Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead, the first fruits of those who believe in Him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. But, all who trust in Him He has promised to raise upon on the Last Day.
Henry’s theater friends have said, “The curtain has gone down and he has taken his final bow.” But, our Lord Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And so, we have a reason for hope, not because of Henry’s goodness, but because our Lord Jesus never breaks His promise. Therefore, let us say with Henry’s friends in German, “Halles und beinbruch!” That is, “Break a leg, and a neck!” Farewell dear Henry. God keep you in His grace.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Misericordia Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter

John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The words of our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel are beautiful and comforting. The LORD describes Himself as a shepherd seeking out His lost, confused, and frightened sheep that have been scattered by the enemy, feeding them in green pastures and giving them clean water to drink, binding up the wounds of the injured. Surely this is our God, and this is His loving, gracious, and merciful work for us in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. However, that beautiful passage and image concludes with words of judgment, with the LORD saying, “and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Indeed, as the passage continues beyond today’s reading the LORD says, “Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey.” Here the flock is beset by external enemies – lions, dogs, serpents, robbers, and the like – while there are also enemies within. Truly, often the most dangerous threats are within the flock itself, within the Church. It’s not our place to judge who’s a sheep and who’s a goat, that’s the LORD’s to judge and the LORD alone. Our own eyes and hearts are so clouded and corrupted by sin that we cannot see clearly enough to do that. We have to have the logs removed from our own eyes before we can remove the specks from those of our brother. Still, there are goats, and the LORD will judge them when He returns as King. Still, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, pretenders, hypocrites who feign to be one of the flock, doing the LORD’s work, who instead “push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with their horns till they are scattered.” Still, there are sheep who make themselves fat with self-concern, selfishness, and self-righteousness, having no concern for other sheep, for the weaker sheep, so that they grow weak and thin and become prey for the enemy. The LORD will judge them, and the LORD will rescue His flock.
Sheep are sheep, and sheep do sheepy things. Sheep are willful and stubborn. Sheep are prone to wander in search of whatever they think will fill their bellies, whether it is good for them or not. Sheep are not unintelligent as many seem to think, but on the contrary, their intelligence is often what gets them into trouble. Unsurprisingly, sheep are the perfect analogy for you and me. The Prophet Isaiah says of us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Left to our own fallen natures, that’s what we do: We go astray. We pursue our own selfish wants. We are concerned only with what serves us and makes us happy, what we want, rather than what is true, what is good, and what best serves all. We are sheep, and we need a shepherd who will guide us and lead us and protect us and feed us, and, yes, a shepherd who will use his rod and his staff according to God’s Word and tell us the truth about ourselves and sooth and heal those broken by the Law and their own sin.
Sheep are sheep, and, therefore, not the shepherd. The job, the vocation, of the shepherd is to call and gather the sheep in one flock, to feed them, care for them, and to protect them from the enemy, and from their own stubborn willfulness. To be gathered into one flock means that you simply cannot go your own way, you cannot insist upon your own way. Such self-concern and selfishness is the very opposite of the selfless and sacrificial love of the Good Shepherd that unifies us. Such behavior is the pushing and the thrusting with side and shoulder the LORD denounces through His Prophet Ezekiel. In contrast to that, St. Peter describes the behavior of the LORD’s sheep when they follow their Shepherd Jesus: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd in contrast to the bad shepherds who, like the sheep, have only their own self-interest in mind. They are hired hands who work for a wage and not out of love for the LORD and for His people. Therefore, they will not defend the flock against the wolves and the enemy. They will not feed the sheep with what is good for them, but will give them what they think they want, what makes them feel happy so that they will not cause him any grief. Jesus is the Good Shepherd; He lays down His life for the sheep. And, He sets an example for us that we should lay down our lives for one another – that we should lay down our selfish wants and desires for the truth and for the good of all – and thus become one flock, having one shepherd.
Ultimately, it is the enemy, the wolf, the devil who snatches and scatters the LORD’s sheep. He delights in pitting sheep against sheep so that they “push with the side and shoulder, and thrust at the weak with their horns,” growing fat at the expense of others. He delights in pitting the sheep against their shepherd so that he either capitulates to their fleshly desires and worldly demands, or is forced out of the flock altogether, leaving them defenseless. It is said that wherever a church is established in the Name of the LORD, the devil builds a chapel right next door. The only defense against this enemy is the Word of the LORD. The LORD’s sheep hear the voice of their Good Shepherd and they follow Him. They know His voice, and He knows them, and He calls them by name.
Your Good Shepherd calls you today. Here in His pasture, His Church, His sheep may safely graze. Here He gathers you and feeds you in rich pasture. Here He binds up the broken and strengthens the sick. Here He restores your souls in the still waters of Holy Baptism. Here He leads you in the paths of righteousness by the voice of His Gospel. Here He prepares the table of His Holy Supper before you, that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.