Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12; Genesis 50:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” Now, I don’t know about you, but, for me, that’s not a very encouraging image. It makes me think of bank managers and credit card companies and collection agencies and the IRS – not very heavenly things in my opinion. But, that’s precisely the point, isn’t it, that the kingdom of heaven is actually very, very different than how we typically imagine it and expect it to be? You see, as Jesus teaches it, the kingdom of heaven is like a king, or a bank manager, or a collection agency, seeking to settle an account with a debtor. However, when the debtor was unable to pay and plead for patience, for more time, the king, or bank manager, did the unthinkable – he completely forgave the debt altogether. No payment plan with interest and penalties, but complete and total forgiveness. That’s not something that happens in this life and world, is it? Nevertheless, Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. Though you remain a debtor, a sinner, your sin-debt is forgiven you and is not counted against you because of the merciful forgiveness of your King and Master Jesus Christ who has paid your debt in full by His substitionary death on the cross and has cleansed you from all sin and guilt in His holy, innocent shed blood.
Now, that’s good news, isn’t it! That’s the Gospel! But, is that all there is to it? Well, yes, and no. Yes, in terms of your justification, your standing before God the Father, that’s all there is to it. All that was necessary to make you right with God has been accomplished, fulfilled, and finished by Jesus in His sacrificial, substitionary, and atoning death upon the cross for you and in your place. However, no, that’s not all there is to it in terms of the Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” As we confess in Luther’s explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Jesus has done this “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” In other words, Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness will cause you, will enable you, to bear fruit, good works of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness toward others to the glory of God the Father in Jesus Christ.
And, bearing this fruit is not an option, but neither is it really a choice. To understand this, all you really need to do is to consider how it is that fruit is borne. Consider the apple tree, does it choose to produce apples? Indeed, does it think about producing fruit at all? No, of course not. An apple tree produces apples because it is, well, an apple tree! So it is with the children of God in Christ Jesus; a Christian produces the fruits of love, mercy, grace, charity, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness because they are Christians. The Scriptures even teach that such fruits must be present, for Jesus’ disciples are known by their fruits. Moreover, the fruits you bear are truly Jesus’ fruits borne in and through you. To use His own analogy, Jesus is the Vine and you are the branches. The branch bears fruit because, and only because, it is attached to the Vine. It is the life of the True Vine Jesus flowing through you, His branches, which makes you fruitful. And so, it is Jesus’ fruit that you bear in your words, deeds, and lives, fruit that others may both see and receive and benefit from.
Our Scripture readings today each deal with forgiveness, mercy, and, consequently, not judging. These are fruits, Jesus’ fruits, which you bear in your lives, words, and deeds for others to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Moreover, though the word does not appear in today’s lections, these are each an aspect of the greatest fruit Jesus bears in you, love. Failure to forgive and failure to show mercy are ultimately failure to love. Likewise, when you judge others, you fail to love both your neighbor and God, who alone is the judge of all.
Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven today was prompted by Peter’s question concerning how many times he should forgive his brother who had sinned against him. Jesus’ answer, in effect, was, “Don’t ask such a stupid question!” How often must you forgive? Always, every time, without exception. However, the reason you must forgive may not be what you think. It is not the Law that makes you fruitful with forgiveness, love, and mercy, but it is the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel alone that does that. If you have received forgiveness, love, and mercy, if the Holy Spirit is in you – and He is! – then you will, you must, bear these fruits. Truly, when you forgive others, you forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. And, when you give to others, you give of Jesus’ gifts. And, when you love others, you love with Jesus’ love. In fact, you can only give to others what you have first received yourself. Those who do not have Jesus’ love, gifts, and forgiveness do not have anything to give to others – at least, not anything that is truly needful. Thus, Jesus teaches, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” For, to refuse to forgive others is relinquish your own forgiveness. And, the same goes for mercy, compassion, and the other derivatives of love.
Jesus’ answer to Peter came in the form of a parable, a parable conveying a central truth about the kingdom of heaven. A man whose enormous debt was completely forgiven by his master in turn refused to forgive the small debt another man owed to him. When the master learned of this injustice he was furious and He sent the man to prison until he could pay the debt he owed in full – the same debt he had previously been forgiven. “You wicked servant!” the master said, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” This is Jesus’ story, and He concludes it with this threat, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
“From your heart.” Now, that’s the kicker, isn’t it? It’s one thing to say “I forgive you,” but it’s altogether another thing to mean it and to believe it in your heart. However, it’s the heart that matters, much, much more than what rolls off of your lips, for what comes out of your mouth has it’s origin in your heart. Thus, Jesus says that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but rather what comes out, for that proceeds from the heart and defiles a man. And, likewise does Isaiah proclaim, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” No, the heart must be changed. Jesus Himself acknowledges that not all who call Him Lord with their lips will be saved, but He knows the hearts of men, He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him; they listen to His voice and they follow Him.
The problem with Peter’s question is that it flowed from a heart that was turned in upon itself, seeking to limit the sacrifice of forgiveness and love he made towards his brother. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was relatively mild. However, the problem with the unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable was that he did not show love at all, but he treated his fellow servant with unmerciful contempt and scorn. Jesus’ rebuke of the unmerciful servant was harsh and unrelenting. To those who refuse to show mercy to others, no mercy will be shown. Lastly, Jesus warns all of his disciples, and rather strongly, that the Father’s mercy will be revoked even to them if they do not love their brother from their heart. Yet, as harsh as this truth is, it is nothing that should cause you fear and concern so long as you trust in Jesus and strive to show mercy, love, and forgiveness towards others. And, when you fail – and you will – flee into the merciful absolution of Jesus repenting of your sins.
The Old Testament pairing of Joseph’s absolution of his brothers with Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant was truly a brilliant lectionary decision. You know well the story of how Joseph’s brothers despised him and treated him horribly. In our reading today, even when they realized that it was Joseph who had provided grain for them during the seven years of famine, they still lie to him, telling him that their father’s dying wish was that he would forgive them. When he heard this, Joseph wept. I believe that he wept over his brothers’ brokenness and sin even after he had done them so much good. I believe that he also wept because of God’s mercy, goodness, and love by which He had worked all the horrible things that had happened to Him for good. Joseph answered his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love – that is what the kingdom of heaven is like. Your King and Master has canceled and forgiven your debt completely, paying the price Himself in Jesus’ holy, innocent shed blood. How can you withhold mercy and forgiveness from anyone? You cannot. You must not. And, if you remain in Jesus, the True Vine, He will remain in you, and you will bear His fruit, His fruit of love. What you must do is receive. Keep your eyes and your ears and heart and mind focused on Him. Receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament that you may be filled to overflowing with His gifts and bear His fruits. Thus, the kingdom of heaven is like…, well, it’s like this Divine Service in which your sins are forgiven anew, and you are showered in your King and Master’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love in Jesus Christ. And, because you have these gifts, you will be given even more that you may have an abundance with which to forgive and love others. You can only give to others what you first have received yourself. Therefore, come and receive today the gifts Christ freely gives and live, even as you give life to others to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

LWML Zone Rally "Live By His Design"

John 4:1-30; Romans 6:1-11; Psalm 36

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It was about the sixth hour, that is, noon, the very hottest hour of the day. No one comes to the well at noon, but the women go to the well to draw water in the morning and in the evening when it is cool. And yet, Jesus comes to the well at noon. Jesus comes tired and thirsty from His journeys, desiring a drink of water at the hottest, the most desolate time of the day. Yes, Jesus comes in real need, in real need of assistance from others, in real need of refreshment and relief. Jesus comes vulnerable and weak, seeking mercy from someone else.
Now, I’ll bet that’s not how you typically think of your Lord Jesus, but you should. For, Jesus is God incarnate, as a human man. That is what it means that He is Emmanuel, God with us. God came to us as a lowly, helpless infant. God came to us as the humble son of a carpenter. God came to us as an itinerant rabbi having no place to lay His head. And, God came to us as Isaac, the son of promise, in the offering of His own Son unto death that He might be for us the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Our God comes to us, as one of us, to lift us up out of the lowly and mean status of our lives and make us His own children, sons and daughters of God. Our God comes to us, as one of us, to turn us back to Him by making us to see the futility and hopelessness of the way of death that we have been following, that we may walk upon His way, the way of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
No one should have been at the well at noon, and anyone who would go to the well at noon would surely be in a desperate state. Such was Jesus’ state, and such was the state of the Samaritan woman whom He met there. The Samaritan woman was desperate for a good number of reasons. First most, she was coming to the well at noon in order to avoid her womanly peers, for she was a known adulteress and a disgrace among her people. Second, it was scandalous for a man and a woman to be alone, or even to speak, if they were not married. And, third, Samaritans and Jews did not interact. Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean, and they would be defiled if they were to have contact with a Samaritan and thus unable to participate in the worship life of the temple. As it was, both Jesus and the Samaritan woman were social outcasts, isolated, alone, and in need. Jesus needed water and refreshment at the mercy of another, and the woman needed her dignity and her honor restored to her at the mercy of Jesus. This is precisely what God has done for all of us in Jesus Christ, He has visited us in our lowliness and need and has restored us to dignity, honor, holiness, and life with Him.
Utilizing His own vulnerability and need for refreshment, Jesus gave the debased woman an opportunity to be of service and of value, and therefore, to have dignity. Now, human reason and flesh locate value and dignity in power, wealth, influence, and possessions, but true value and dignity are located in the spiritual gifts and acts of love, mercy, and compassion, with which we both serve and are served. Therefore, in answer to the woman’s protests concerning His being a man and a Jew, and her being a Samaritan woman, Jesus answered her saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Jesus restored the woman’s dignity by humbling Himself to address her and accept service from her even though she was a Samaritan woman.
However, this woman was deeply wounded and debased. She had heard and had been taught the things that debased her so that she believed them herself and was in bondage to them. Thus, defending herself, she began to recite the reasons that Jews did not associate with Samaritans. However, Jesus would not be drawn into her pontificating and sophistry, but He answered her saying, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Then He had her, not because she understood His meaning, but because she desired relief from her debasement and the restoration of her dignity that such an ever-flowing spring of living water could provide. She wouldn’t have to go to that accursed well at noontime in the heat of the day anymore! Therefore, Jesus changed the subject. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” It was not sufficient that the woman would be restored to dignity and honor for herself, but she must become a spring of ever-flowing water for others as well. Not only was it improper for a woman to speak to a man who was not her husband, but it was even considered disrespectful for a wife to address her husband unless first spoken to by him. Thus, once again, Jesus restored the woman her dignity and her honor, even giving her the authority to speak a good word to her husband and other men as He would do following His resurrection with the women at His empty tomb.
However, whereas Jesus had restored her dignity and honor concerning being a woman and a Samaritan, now she had her own sins and guilt to deal with. She confessed that she had no husband, and that was the truth, however, it was not the whole truth. But, Jesus is the Truth in human flesh, and He knows the truth: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” At this revelation, she was now able to see that Jesus was a prophet and that He knew all things. Nonetheless, once again she attempted to defend herself, this time by theologizing concerning the conflicting locations of worship recognized by Jews and Samaritans. And, once again, Jesus would not bite, but He said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father […] But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” At this the woman began to consider that Jesus just may be the promised Messiah saying, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things. Then, Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” Thus, Jesus had restored her as a woman, as a Samaritan, as a human being, and as a child of God. Moreover, He had made this outcast and pariah to be an ever-flowing spring of living water for others; for those He forgives, renews, and restores, He also sends as light, leaven, and salt for the life of the world.
At that moment, Jesus’ disciples returned. This made the woman uncomfortable, for they did not ask the customary questions when a man and woman who were not married were caught speaking to each other alone. Therefore she left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” The woman who formerly could not associate with anyone, who had to draw water alone, at noon, in the heat of the day, who had no husband but was a known adulteress, who was despised by the Jews as an unclean Samaritan – this woman was made to be an ever-flowing spring of living water. Her dignity and honor were restored to her as she reclaimed her purpose of serving others to the glory of God in Christ Jesus.
The Samaritan woman came to the well in the heat of the day to draw water. However, after her encounter with Jesus, she left her bucket behind and returned to the village without water. She came to draw the water that could quench thirst for an hour or two. She returned to the village without that water, but, instead, she carried a witness to the water that quenches the thirst of the spirit forever. This is a most fitting Gospel for this gathering of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, particularly with your rally theme “Live By His Design,” for Jesus restored the Samaritan woman to life, and He made her to be an ever-flowing spring of living water to give life to others to the glory of God. Irenaeus of Antioch once said, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” That is what Jesus did for the Samaritan woman; He restored her and made her fully alive. That is what Jesus has done for you and for me; He has restored you and made you fully alive that you may go and bring glory to God by being fully alive with His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and let that life flow from you as ever-living water to the glory of His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)

Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is not intended to teach us how to pray. Jesus gave us His own example and The Lord’s Prayer to teach us that. Thus, the Pharisee is not bad because he positioned himself for prayers at the front of the temple where all could see him, and neither is the tax collector good because he stayed in the back and didn’t draw attention to himself as he prayed. No, the parable is not really about how to pray, what to say and do when you pray, or even how to worship properly at all. What the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is about, however, is justification, that is, how we are made right with God.
Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were religious, and treated others with contempt,” and He concluded the parable saying of the tax collector, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee placed his trust, not in God, but in his own goodness, in his obedience, in his works, in his tithes, and even in his worship in the temple – He exalted himself. Moreover, in his pride he treated others with contempt whom he considered beneath him and unworthy: extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, tax collectors, sinners of all sorts. Again, it was not the Pharisee’s outward actions that condemned him, but it was the pride and self-righteousness of his heart which prohibited him from bearing the fruits of love, mercy, compassion, charity, and forgiveness towards others. Moreover, because he trusted in his own righteousness, he could not receive “the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” righteousness that comes from God in Jesus Christ.
Righteousness and justification do not come from our obedience under the Law, good works, piety, prayers, worship, or anything else that we do, but righteousness and justification come from God in Jesus Christ and are received by Spirit-created faith and trust in Him. It’s not about anything that we have or anything that we do, but it’s all about what God has done. That is why those who have next to nothing often find it easier to believe and receive, and why those who have much often struggle to believe. Abram’s faith was said to be great because he had great wealth, land, and possessions, and yet he believed and trusted in the Word of the LORD when He called him and sent Him to an unknown land, promising him a son and heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed: “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to him as righteousness.” Similarly, Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, not because there is anything inherently wrong with wealth and possessions, but because wealth and possessions do not make for righteousness and justification, but can actually become obstacles and hindrances.
So it was that a tax collector, who was most likely quite wealthy, having extorted and embezzled his own people under the authority of the Roman government, who maybe gave tithes to the temple, or maybe didn’t, who may have prayed and fasted, or maybe not, went down to his house justified. The tax collector knew that, when it came to a right relationship with God, he had nothing to offer, but that he was a sinner and he placed no trust in his obedience under the Law, good works, piety, prayers, worship, or anything else that he did. It was not his prayer posture of kneeling and bowing his head in the back of the temple court that justified him, for those were but the outward signs of the humility and unworthiness he felt and knew in his heart, but it was his faith and trust in God’s Word of Promise and mercy that justified Him. The tax collector believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to him as righteousness.
You know, it’s entirely appropriate that this parable, and this Gospel theme, would be the focus of my final Divine Service and sermon with you, for I truly believe that this fundamental Christian doctrine of Justification, how we are made right with God, which Luther called “the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls,” has been the focal point and emphasis of my ministry among you the entirety of my fifteen years at The Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Pawling, New York. When I arrived at Christ the King, young(er), green, and inexperienced as I was, nevertheless, I quickly observed that there was a fundamental problem here – a lack of identity, of who we are and why, as Christians and as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Therefore, I set myself to the task of teaching, through catechesis, Bible Studies, topical studies, sermons, meetings of the Council, the Elders, the Congregation, and through personal conversations, and also through some less obvious means such as liturgical catechesis, actions, and vestments, building improvements, community service, and more. All of this was aimed at forming and confirming our identity in Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning incarnationally through Word and Sacrament in His body, the Church, of which we are all members through baptism and faith. Through this ministry I sought that you might find your identity in Christ first and foremost and that this identity would be self-evident in the fruits of your identity and faith in Christ, love, mercy, compassion, charity, and forgiveness towards others to the glory of God in Christ Jesus.
Many of you have surely heard my cliché dictum, “When visitors come to worship at Christ the King, at the very least, while I hope for more, at the very least I want to have them walk away saying, ‘I don’t know what these people believe, but it’s extremely clear that they believe something special and important is happening here’.” Visitors know this because it is self-evident in the reverence we show when we worship. It is, in fact, a confession of what we believe about Jesus’ real presence in our midst, just as the tax collector’s humility was a confession of both his unworthiness and of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. You see, we can’t see into anyone’s heart, which is why, seemingly, the only immutable law of our age is “Don’t judge.” However, because we can’t see into anyone’s heart, we have to go by their words and their deeds, and it is a confessional principle that what we say and what we do are an outward expression of what we believe, teach, and confess. Therefore, people expect that what they see and hear us doing is what we believe. May our worship together always communicate to visitors, to our community, and to each other by what we say and do that Christ is present here in a way He is not present anywhere else, in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, both spiritually and physically, even as He is the Word of God made flesh for the life of the world.
There will be great pressure and great temptations to change what you say and do, particularly in worship, in order to accommodate the contemporary world and culture and bring in the lost. These temptations will be couched in very spiritual and pious sounding language, delivered always with the best intentions, and seeming all so wise according to human reason and wisdom and the best business practices of the day. Beware of such talk, as surely Satan’s temptations sounded reasonable and wise, even good, quoting the Scriptures themselves! You must remain firm on the solid rock of God’s Word and what it means, as opposed to what you think it means, and what you think it means, and what you think it means, …. As a congregation, and as heads of households, as families, and as individuals, you must hear, learn, mark, and inwardly digest God’s Word as food and oxygen and water that you may be able to withstand temptation when it comes upon you. Moreover, you can only give to others what you first have yourself. And, Christ’s Church cannot be a light shining in the darkness if it blends in with the darkness. You are called to be in the world, not of the world, and to not be conformed to the ways of this world, but rather to be transformed by the renewal of your minds.
That is to say, you must keep things ordered the right way, the way of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable. The tax collector knew that he had nothing to bring to the table, unlike the Pharisee who boasted of his real and true works, which were but filthy rags before the LORD because they did not flow from faith and trust in God and His Word, but from self-righteousness and pride. The tax collector knew that he was a sinner and that he was worthy of nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. Therefore, he threw himself on the mercy of the LORD. This, in itself, is an act of great faith and trust. The LORD saw his faith, and He credited the man’s faith to him as righteousness, just as the LORD credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. Notice, however, that neither Abram or the tax collector, or you or I, are said to be righteous, but we are credited, counted, considered, and declared to be righteous. Whenever we come before the LORD, we come as unworthy sinners, yet unworthy sinners forgiven and declared to be righteous in the blood of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I think of the Church of Jesus Christ in this way: “This church is not a memorial for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the sick can be healed. Only the unrighteous can be declared righteous. Only the dead can be raised. Forgiven, healed, righteous, and alive forever: This is our identity in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone.
C.F.W. Walther said “Man’s justification by the Gospel is not a deed which man himself does, but which is done to him by God. It is not something which goes on in man’s heart, but something which goes on outside man, in God’s heart.” Walther also said “Man’s justification by the Gospel is not to be compared to an actual cleansing from stains, but to the putting on of a beautiful white garment which covers the stains.” When we come to the Divine Service, we come to be so served by our loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving God. In Holy Absolution He forgives our sins anew and cleanses us of all impurities, restoring us to our baptismal purity. Through the reading and preaching of His Word He strengthens our faith even as He rebukes, comforts, and exhorts us in it. In the Lord’s Supper we actually commune with Jesus and share in all His blessings and benefits including Sonship with the Father, His Kingship over heaven and earth, and His life that cannot die. This is why the German Lutherans called our worship Gottesdienst, which means God’s Service; God serves us in the Divine Service, and He sends us to serve our neighbors with His Divine Gifts.
And so, I leave you with the same point of doctrine I brought to you when I first came to you: Your identity, your life, is in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, apart from whom there is no life, there is no relationship with the Father, there is no Church. However, I do not believe that you are the same as you were then, and neither am I, but we have grown together as a family of faith, fed, nourished, sustained, protected, equipped, and sent forth with His God’s blessing to be a blessing to others as He has richly blessed us in Christ Jesus. I have been blessed, honored, and privileged to be your pastor, but I am only a pastor, and that means that I am an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. Our Good Shepherd has many, many undershepherds who stand in His stead and by His command to bring to you His gifts. While I know that you will miss me, and I will dearly miss you, you must know and understand that a pastor’s call is from God through the Church, and through a congregation of the Church specifically. That call can, does, and should change from time to time, for the Church is not mine any more than it is yours, but it is the LORD’s. The LORD will raise up for you another pastor and undershepherd, and he will feed you and care for you and give you Christ’s gifts just the same, for the Good Shepherd loves and cares for His flock, even as He laid down His life to save and keep it for life with Him and His Father and Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, your identity is not in a pastor, or even in a congregation, but your identity is in Christ and Him alone. This does not, must not, and cannot change. As we sang in our 50th Anniversary Hymn “The Church of Jesus Christ Is Pure,” which we will sing once again at the close of this service, “Our Bridegroom and our Lord is He, Who gives us our identity; And He whose promise can’t grow old Has nothing that He will withhold. For this is He who did ascend And preaches still to all earth’s end Through all His preachers who proclaim Salvation in our Savior’s Name.” I have desired to preach nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified, risen, reigning, and returning, and His life lived in and through you as a light shining in the darkness of this world that others might know and come to Him who is the life and light of men to the glory of God. May God continue to bless you richly in His gifts of Word and Sacrament, and may He continue to make The Lutheran Church of Christ the King and all of you a rich blessing to the community of Pawling and the communities beyond to the glory of His Most Holy Name.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)

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.
One of the most poignant ecclesial symbols of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is known as The Pelican In Her Piety. You will find that symbol pictured in your divine service program today on page seven. In a time of famine and distress, the female pelican has been known to pluck her own feathers from her breast and to pierce her own flesh in order that she might feed her tender brood with her own blood that they might live. It should be easy to see why The Pelican In Her Piety became a symbol for Christ as He sacrificed His own life and shed His precious blood that we might be forgiven and restored and have life in Him, even His life in us. So powerful and evocative was this image that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of it in his communion hymn Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior saying (LSB 640), “Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood, Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food; Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.”
Today’s Gospel was not the first time that Jesus visited and wept over Jerusalem. In chapter thirteen of St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’” Notice how Jesus compares Himself to a hen seeking to gather her brood under her wings, just like the pelican, but He adds that Jerusalem, that is, the children of Israel, and particularly her religious leadership, were unwilling to be gathered to Him. Thus, Jesus continues, “And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’”
I wish to draw your attention for a moment to the words “you will not see me.” In the Gospels, seeing is often more than general eyesight and vision, but it is a seeing in faith, a spiritual seeing, a seeing what is really real and true rather than what only appears to be true. Many people could see Jesus. They saw Him as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. They saw Him as an itinerant rabbi. They saw Him as a prophet, maybe even John the Baptist returned from the dead. They saw Him as an instigator. They saw Him as a threat to their power, authority, and wealth. That’s what that whole dialogue with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi was all about: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” Many, most, seeing people didn’t see Jesus rightly. But, then there were a few blind people, even a few Gentiles, who could see what others could not; they could see that Jesus was the Christ, even the Son of God. When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He prophesied that they would not see Him until they would see the prophecy of Zechariah fulfilled, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” That day would be Palm Sunday, the very day Jesus wept once again over Jerusalem and spoke the words in today’s Gospel, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For 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.”
They did not see Jesus with the eyes of faith, but they were spiritually blind to Him, and this moved Jesus to weep over the city of Jerusalem, for He knew the end of the path they were walking. They were His people, His children, His brood. He was about to pluck His own breast and tear His own flesh and die for them all that they might live in Him, but they refused to gather with Him. And, because of their blindness, because of their rejection, they could not see the things that would make for peace with God. In fact, the LORD hid these things from them so that they could not see and believe and be saved. People commonly say, “seeing is believing;” In this sense, they are right! Those who see believe, but those who do not believe cannot see, for they are blind. Though Jesus proclaimed the Word of the LORD and called them to repentance that they might find peace with God, they considered themselves secure saying, “We are God’s people, we have Abraham as our father; No evil can possibly overtake us.” As Jeremiah prophesied to Israel long ago, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Still, Jesus remained among them, teaching daily in the temple, but instead of believing in Him and finding peace in Him and His Word, they believed that He was a deceiver and that His doctrine was false and dangerous, and the religious leaders of the people sought to destroy Him.
What the people of Jerusalem could not see was that God was visiting His people in grace in His Son, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus had visited Jerusalem before. He and His disciples had ministered and taught the Word of the LORD there that hearts might be turned in repentance and that they might know peace with God. However, they did not know the time of their visitation. Now, the Greek word translated visitation here is episkopē, which also means bishop, overseer, and pastor. That word is used of your pastor every bit as much as it is used of your District President, or Bishop, who will visit you next Sunday. Both the weekly visitation of your pastor, and the occasional visit of your Bishop, are visitations of grace. They come to you, not in judgment, but with the things that make for your peace with God: The preaching of the Gospel. The forgiveness of sins. Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. Every time we gather here is the time of the Lord’s gracious visitation. This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” However, when Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time, His visitation will be one of judgment. And, that is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He saw that so many of the children of Israel, and particularly the religious leadership of Israel, did not believe and could not see the things that made for peace. They found peace in their obedience and works under the Law, as they interpreted it. They found peace in their outward works of piety, in their prayers, in their temple rites and rituals, but they could not see that these things were truly signs of promises made and kept by God in the sacrifice of His Lamb, His Son, Jesus Christ. Once again, the prophecy of Isaiah rings true: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He saw the coming judgment of their unbelief. The terrible prophecy Jesus proclaimed described the utter destruction and decimation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D. The Romans laid siege to the city and barricaded it so that no fresh food and water and supplies could get in, and no refuse, sick and dying, or dead corpses could get out. This went on for a few years before the Roman army destroyed the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city. They found a decimated populace, weak and diseased, with evidence of suicide and cannibalism. The Romans destroyed the city and the temple, leaving not one stone standing upon another, and the remaining Jews were sent out and dispersed into the surrounding nations – because they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus wept, not because this destruction could have been averted, – maybe it could have been, maybe not, but that’s not the point – rather, Jesus wept because everything had been provided for them that made for their peace with God. Peace in Hebrew is shalom, which means fullness and completeness. The name Jerusalem contains a form of shalom and means “Foundation of Peace.” Jerusalem’s history, however, is anything but peaceful, full, and complete. Again, Jesus recounted that city’s infamous history calling it “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” As Jerusalem did to the prophets whom God sent, so would it do to God in the flesh, His Son, Jesus Christ. The city named the Foundation of Peace would reject and destroy the One who is Peace with God, because they did not know the things that make for peace, but they found peace in things that made for death and destruction, saying to the people, “‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace,” and they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus is our shalom, our fullness and completeness, and the Foundation of our Peace with God and with one another. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest in whom we find shelter, refreshment, and protection. In His Son Jesus, God has visited His people and has redeemed them. And, when we gather here in His Name as His baptized children, members of His body, He visits us anew, not in judgment, but in grace, mercy, love, compassion, and peace. When you come to church, you must not think that you are doing a good work, that you are serving God, or anything else of the sort, but rather you must believe that you are coming into the presence of God’s Peace, that you are entering His Sabbath Rest, and that you are knowing the Lord’s gracious visitation. I am not suggesting that this congregation alone, let alone Lutherans, have cornered the market on the Lord’s gracious visitation, – not at all – but I am saying that God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is present with you here, for you here, in a way that He is not present for you elsewhere, though He is truly present everywhere. Here, in this place, in Word and Water, Body and Blood, He is present for you in grace, that He may gather you under His wings and heal you with forgiveness, feed you with His flesh and blood, strengthen you with His Word, and send you bearing His gifts just as The Pelican In Her Piety sacrifices herself for the sake of her brood that they might live and flourish and fill the world.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This day, and every LORD’s Day, is the day of His gracious visitation; may we always see it and know it, and may it be marvelous in our sight! Though the Romans, the Gentiles, the world and its culture have us barricaded, surrounded, and hemmed in, though they threaten to tear us down to the ground, we gather in the LORD’s house of prayer, taking shelter under His gracious wings as we hang on His every Word and are made partakers of His heavenly treasures. Let us never forget the things that make for our peace, and let us cling to them and preserve them, for they are our life and salvation, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.