Saturday, July 21, 2018

Christian Funeral for Marlys Ann Ellison

John 14:1-6; Revelation 7:9-17; Lamentations 3:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Now, what is a saint but one who has been made to be holy in the blood of Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer? Our sister in Christ, Marlys, was made to be a saint when she was claimed and named by Jesus in Holy Baptism so many years ago. In Baptism, Jesus’ death and resurrection became her very own, as St. Paul has written, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” and “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Likewise, Jesus Himself did say of His saints, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Our sister Marlys died in the LORD Wednesday morning, and her death was precious in our LORD’s sight. However, the truth is that Marlys died in the LORD many years ago, when her old sinful flesh was drowned in Holy Baptism into Jesus’ death, and was raised with Jesus in His resurrection to a new life that can never die. In Holy Baptism, Marlys was marked and sealed in Jesus’ Name and with the Spirit of God, along with His unbreakable promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” “I am with you always,” and “Nothing can separate you from My love in Jesus Christ.” Marlys did not become a saint of God on Wednesday morning, but she was made to be a saint long ago in Holy Baptism when she passed over from death to life.
That is why she was not afraid to die. Marlys believed and confessed that Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior who had died for her sins and had been raised for her justification. She believed and confessed that Jesus’ death and resurrection became her own in Holy Baptism through faith. And, she believed and confessed that death would be like sleep, as Jesus teaches, from which she fully expected to wake unto a day upon which the sun will never set. And, that is why those of you who knew Marlys knew her to be a woman of great faith. Most important to her was to be in church every Sunday, (and at the Waverly Veteran’s Post every evening). And, next to her faith came her family. Daily she prayed for her children and grandchildren. She kept her grandchildren’s faith statements from their confirmations on her refrigerator as a reminder to herself and to them of the promises God had made to them in Jesus. Those who have known Marlys for a long time saw her faith in her words and deeds, but even those who knew her only a short while could say the same. Marlys’ cleaning lady in Waverly, for example, and a nurse at the assisted living home in Des Moines that she had only been at for a short while, each acknowledged that, in Marlys, they had found an affirmation of their own faith, and they believed that God had brought them together for that purpose. Someone described Marlys as an iconin the family. I like that term “icon.” It’s from a Greek word that means image. St. Paul used that word to describe Jesus saying, “He is the icon (or image) of the invisible God.” That is why Jesus could say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Well, in a very real sense, he who has seen Marlys has seen Jesus, for she was an icon and an image of Jesus’ love, compassion, mercy, and grace to others, as all the LORD’s saints are called to be.
I think that a lot of people today, even a lot of Christians, believe that Christianity is about obeying strict rules, not having any fun, and judging people. That likely is the result of the fact that many who claim to be Christian practice a Christianity of words, but not deeds. Isaiah spoke of such people long ago saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” But, that’s what made Marlys so special; she didn’t simply pay lip service to her faith, but she lived her faith every day in countless ways. And, most of those ways were not flashy and impressive, but they were the simple, ordinary, humble, loving, and serving things that she did for others simply because that’s who she was in Jesus Christ. She baked a world famous chocolate cake and loved to share them and give them as gifts. She could drive a combine all day and still come home and cook a wonderful meal for her family. She believed that good food could heal all ailments and she readily applied her remedies to her children and grandchildren. She loved to have fun with her family and friends, playing cards, bridge, cribbage, hearts, and schaafskompf, and cheering on the Hawkeyes and the Cubs. She enjoyed quilting, but she refused to mend socks. She never smoked, but she kept a drawer full of candy and would regularly have a glass of wine, a margarita, or whatever, “for medicinal purposes,” a Platte trait, or so I’m told. When Milan passed away twelve years ago, Marlys assumed the role of matriarch and guided the family in the straight and narrow way. She was a treasure and an inspiration to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who called her “G.G.” – Great Grandma! Yes, in these simply, ordinary, humble, loving, and serving ways, Marlys was the hands, heart, feet, and voice of Jesus to countless many. She was one of the LORD’s saints, and she was, and she is, precious in His sight.
Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in His Son Jesus, your Savior. For, He has prepared a place in His Father’s house for Marlys, and now He has taken her there. And, He has prepared a place in His Father’s house for you as well. Marlys followed her Lord Jesus along the Way. And now, you may follow her along the same Way, for the Way is Jesus, and there is no other way. And now that great multitude of saints in white robes has grown by one more, even as more continually are being ransomed out of this great tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They hunger and thirst no more. They suffer pain, sorrow, and grief no more. They die no more. And, the Lamb Jesus Christ is their Shepherd, and God His Father wipes every tear from their eyes. Those who die in the LORD are not dead, for indeed, they died in Holy Baptism long ago, and they lived their lives to the LORD. Moreover, we will see them again, not merely as disembodied souls, but in glorified flesh and blood bodies, just as you knew them in this life, but perfected and glorified in Jesus Christ. You will see G.G. with your own eyes. You will hear her with your own ears. You will touch her with your own hands. And you will hug her with your own arms yet again, and not with those of another. And, no one will take from you your joy ever again. This is the wonderful, joyous comfort and hope we enjoy in Jesus Christ so that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. May the God of all hope and comfort sustain you in your sorrow and fill you with His Peace which passes our human understanding until the day He raises your bodies to be like unto Jesus’ glorified body and you see Him face to face with G.G. and all the saints who now rest in Him.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Seventh Sunday After Trinity (Trinity 7)

Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Old Testament reading sets the stage: God is the actor. He designs the set and then furnishes it. He selects the actors, and He gives them their roles. He writes the script, and He gives the directions. All is ready and in order. The lights dim, and the play begins. There is one God. There is one man. And, there is one rule: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Now, of course, you know how that play went. The one rule was quickly broken. The one man did not fear, love, and trust in the one God above all things. He took and he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and, in so doing, he plunged himself and all of creation into sin and corruption and death. However, ironically, because God is good, the man’s fall was not the end of the story, but it was the beginning of a new story. For, the man’s rebellion and fall was quickly countered by the LORD’s Gospel promise: Once again He would set to work to redesign and furnish the set, a new creation, to select the actors, Abraham and the children of Israel, and to rewrite the script. This time, the climax would not be man’s rebellion and fall from grace, but, this time, the LORD Himself would become an actor in His own play. He would plunge His hands into the stuff of His creation, fallen, broken, and corrupted by sin, and become one of His own creatures, so that He could re-create, renew, and restore His fallen creation from the inside out. “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” “And His Name shall be called Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.”
It was Emmanuel, “God with us,” who was present in the garden with our First Parents. The one rule was to trust in Him. The forbidden fruit was merely the necessary ramification of there being a rule at all. When you have a rule, you either keep it or you break it. You either fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or you don’t. Yes, it’s truly that black and white. No, there truly is no fence straddling, no shades of gray. You see, the righteous will live by faith as much before the Fall as after. Will you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or not?
Likewise, it was Emmanuel who was present in Egypt, providing food and shelter for the children of Israel during the great famine through His servant Joseph. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the wilderness providing food and shelter for the children of Israel as they made their pilgrimage to the promised land. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple, dwelling in the midst of His people. And, it was Emmanuel who marked the division between the good kings of Israel and the bad. And, it is Emmanuel who is the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. And, it is Emmanuel who is your bread for the day. For, the righteous will live by faith, then, now, and always – faith in Emmanuel, the one who is present, “God with us.”
Likewise, it was also Emmanuel who was present at the feeding of both the 5,000 and the 4,000. What had they to fear? Emmanuel, God, was with them. Would they fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, would they fear hunger and fainting? Would they trust in their own abilities to procure food? Would they love fleshly, worldly, and material things more than the LORD and His Word? The disciples and the crowds already knew of the long and steady history of God providing for His people, often in the direst of situations and in miraculous ways. In fact, our Gospel reading today about The Feeding of the 4,000 follows shortly upon the even more miraculous Feeding of the 5,000! When will we learn? When will we finally believe and trust? The righteous will live by faith, always!
 “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall [a woman], who is ninety years old, bear a child?” “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” “Who then can be saved?” “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Do you see how all these questions are the same question? They are all questions of doubt and unbelief, questions of weak and little faith. They are questions that arise when you think that you have to solve your own problems yourself, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work, and be independent and self-sufficient. They are questions that you ask when you believe that you are on your own and that no one can, or will, help. Therefore, you either fool yourself into believing that you truly are alone and on your own, and that you are quite capable of solving your own problems, or, and more likely, you fall into hopelessness and despair, because you realize that you cannot make it on your own. Either way, your fear, love, and trust is not in the LORD, but it is in yourself. You have become your own god and you have transgressed the First Commandment of the true and only God.
And, when you are so very busy worshipping the god that is yourself, you cannot see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help you. Jesus’ statement about the crowds and their hunger was meant to evoke a confession from His disciples: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” The disciples immediately looked to their own meager provisions and abilities, and they despaired: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Their fear, love, and trust was not in the Lord in their midst, Emmanuel, but it was in themselves. They were so very busy worshipping the god that was their self that they could not see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who was present in their midst to help.
Once again, the Lord Jesus took their meager provisions, blessed them, and offered thanks to His Father, and distributed them to the crowd. Once again, the crowd ate and they were satisfied. And, once again, the disciples collected the leftover fragments of bread, this time seven baskets full. They ate and they were satisfied because God was present in their midst. Truly they had no need to fear. While the LORD may not always provide what you want, He always provides what you need – and what you need is not always what you think you need, but what you truly need, that is, what serves you and preserves you for life with Him. It is the end that matters. What, then, is the end – that is, the result and goal – of your fear? What, then, is the end, result, and goal of your works? What fruits do they bear?
St. Paul addresses these questions in our Epistle reading today. Paul says that when you were slaves – that is, when you were slaves to sin, which is the sinful fruit of your self-idolatry – you bore the fruit of unrighteousness. Paul provides a lengthy list of these fruits in chapter one of his epistle to the Romans: fornication, wickedness, covetousness, envy, murder, deceit, pride, boasting, disobedience, lack of mercy, lack of charity, and lack of compassion, etc. It’s not difficult to see how, when you are afraid of losing, or not having, you can fall into these sorts of sins. Your fear of losing, or not having, bears the fruit of making you greedy, covetous, and envious, proud, boastful, and unmerciful, etc. For, when you are afraid of losing, or not having enough, you are focused upon your own needs and upon your ability or inability to procure them. However, the LORD would have you not think of your own needs first, but of the needs of others. And, the LORD would have you not trust in your own abilities first, but in the LORD, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help.
“But,” St. Paul continues, “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus has set you free from your idolatrous worship of your self. You are free from the fear of having to provide all things for yourself. You are free from the fear of losing, or not having. You are free from being you-centered so that you might be Christ-centered – which is to be neighbor-centered, as you see Christ in the weakest of your neighbors and brothers.
For, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end: There is one rule – You shall have no other gods – not even yourself. What does this mean? You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And, when you truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then you will have no fear of losing or not having. You will be free – free to love and to serve and to give without fear. By dying to yourself, you are free to live to God in Christ Jesus. And, this is life, indeed.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Christian Funeral for Jerald William “Jerry” Quibell

John 11:17-27; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Job 19:23-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story of Lazarus is profoundly human. It gets to the heart our struggle to know God and to understand His ways. It exposes the deep-seated corruption of sin that has diminished our reason and our senses and, thus, our ability to know God. And, it speaks to the often unspoken longing we all have for something beyond this flesh and life, beyond death, that fulfills and completes us and reveals in truth what we were meant to be all along but can no longer remember.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died. The glaring fact, however, is that Jesus knowingly let him die. When Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick, He did not rush to Lazarus’ side, but He intentionally stayed where He was two days longer before setting out for Bethany where Lazarus lived. On His way to Bethany, Jesus received word that Lazarus had died. Not surprisingly, Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, were upset with Jesus. Both of them appealed to Him saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” a sentiment to which we can surely relate.
Now, you must understand that Martha and Mary were people of faith. More than that, they and their brother Lazarus were close friends with Jesus. Jesus and His disciples dined regularly at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It was on one such occasion that, while Martha was busy and distressed preparing the meal, Mary sat and listened at Jesus’ feet. Later, just before Jesus’ crucifixion, Martha and Mary and the resurrected Lazarus were with Jesus and His disciples at another meal in the house of Simon the leper. It was there that Mary anointed Jesus’ head and feet with costly ointment, which, she said, was in preparation for His burial. But now, at the death of their brother Lazarus, even these women of faith questioned Jesus’ delay asking, “Why?”
We know that the wages of sin is death. We know that all people must die. But, why must some people die so young and in such horrible ways? Why are some families seemingly afflicted by continual tragedy, misfortune, disease, and death? Why do bad things happen to, if not perfect, at least, good people? These are questions that speak to our human condition, and these are questions that are surely in the minds and hearts of many of us, to one degree or another as we commend our brother Jerald into the arms of Jesus.
I think that most would agree that Jerald and his family experienced more than what most would consider a normal amount of tragedy and sorrow in their lives. Jerry’s son Todd died suddenly and unexpectedly at work only four years ago. No one expected that to happen and everyone was left asking, “Why?” But, then Jerry’s wife Karen died suddenly and unexpectedly a year later. Again, everyone was stunned and was left asking, “Why?” Lightning isn’t supposed to strike twice in the same place. It’s tragic and shocking enough to lose one family member to sudden and unexpected death, but two, and in two years’ time? And now, Jerry has died somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly. Perhaps some are beginning to ask, “Lord, are you with this family or not? For, if you had been here they would not have died.”
The answer to the question “Why do we die” is really not difficult to answer, even if we don’t like the answer. We die because of sin: Our First Parent’s sin, your sin, my sin, Gerald’s sin, sin in general. As the Scriptures teach, “The wages of sin is death” – always and only. We will all die. However, that’s not the end of the story, is it? No! Our God who created us in love, loved us so much that He did the unthinkable – He gave His only Son, Jesus, into death for us, as our substitute, paying the penalty for our sin in His innocent life laid down in death upon the cross. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of death has been destroyed. Yes, we still die, but death cannot hold us as it could not hold Jesus. This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, death still stings, but it’s sting is temporary and fleeting.
Jesus felt the sting of death too when He approached Lazarus’ tomb. When He saw the pain and suffering and the grief of His dear friends and others, Jesus was moved with deep compassion and He wept. Jesus wept that death had to come to His people who were created to live. Jesus wept at the pain, suffering, and sorrow death brought into people’s lives. And, Jesus wept because His people did not understand that, even now, He was the Lord of life and death, who, if they believed in Him death could not hold them and they would live through and past death into life everlasting with Him in His kingdom. The best that Martha and Mary could muster was belief in the resurrection on the last day. What they couldn’t understand is that, for those who trust in Jesus, even in life, death is already defeated. Jesus even says in St. John’s Gospel, “whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Perhaps surprisingly, that is why the patriarch Job could confess nearly 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” In the midst of his own horrible suffering and impending death, 2000 years before the birth of Jesus, Job could confess that he was already living a life that would never die.
We take great comfort in the fact that Jerry was baptized into Jesus Christ. Long ago Jerry died with Jesus and was raised with Him to a new life that cannot die. Perhaps his was a simple, childlike faith, but there’s nothing wrong with that. That faith gave him a positive outlook on life, even in the face of terrible tragedy and loss like Jerry experienced and suffered. He was always quick with a funny, spunky remark and a comic all the time. He enjoyed laughing and making others laugh. Jerry enjoyed the outdoors: Hunting, archery, fishing, ice-skating and roller-skating. And, he enjoyed his classic cars and could often be seen driving around town in his truck just for the pleasure of it. And, Jerry enjoyed watching his grandson Kyle play basketball, football, and soccer. His grandson was the love of his life.
Yet, all these good things, these blessings and joys, were intermixed with pain and sorrow, suffering, and death. Why? Was Jesus not there? Yes! Yes He was! Through baptism and faith, Jerald was in Jesus and Jesus was in Him. Jerald had already passed over from death to life. Jerry had died and was buried with Jesus in baptism, and he was raised with Jesus to a new life that cannot die. And so, our faith and our hope and our comfort are in our Lord Jesus Christ who claimed Jerry as He own and promised He would never leave him or forsake him, and that nothing could ever separate him from His love. And thus, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. No, we have a great hope, even a promise, that those who die in the Lord are blessed and are with Him, and Christ will raise them up on the last day. Therefore, all the faithful and the Church cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Christian Funeral for LeAnn Lois Meier

John 14:1-6; Revelation 7:9-17; Isaiah 25:6-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are a whole lot of things that we take for granted in life, are there not? When we are young, we take it for granted that our parents will always be with us. As we grow up, we take it for granted that we will get a good job when we graduate high school and college. As we work our adult lives, we take it for granted that social security will help us out when we retire, and that our kids will be there to support us. Of course, it’s easy to see, when you think about it, why it is extremely foolish to take any of these things for granted. How about water, and sunlight, food, and air to breathe? Yes, we too often take these things for granted as well. However, if you’ve ever had to go a day without water, or a couple of days without food, it becomes all too apparent how desperately we need them. And, if you’ve ever been forced to hold your breath for more than a minute, it becomes all too apparent how desperately we need and depend upon fresh air to breathe, to live. Not being able to take in enough air to breathe is a terrifying feeling, as countless younger siblings can attest to from a childhood swimming experience. Truly, there few more terrifying feelings than not being able to breathe.
Our dear sister in Christ LeAnn knew that feeling as she battled with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) these past five years. Simple tasks like walking to the restroom or even repositioning herself in a chair would affect her loss of breath and her inability to regain it again quickly. Add to that the looming knowledge that things were only going to get worse and it is easy to imagine how very frightening LeAnn’s condition truly was. Something as natural as breathing – That’s a saying we use for things that are supposed to be easy and thoughtless, something we take for granted, “It’s as natural as breathing – for LeAnn became an ever-present struggle, a continual concern and need, and a matter of life and death.
However, for most of us, talking to LeAnn, visiting with her, you wouldn’t know it. You wouldn’t know that something as easy and natural, something so taken for granted like breathing was a terrible struggle and all consuming concern for LeAnn. Sure, maybe those closest to her, Charlie, Chad, Kristin, and Nicole, saw her in a moment of unmasked discomfort and even distress, but for most, and for most of the time, LeAnn showed little evidence of the true struggle she was facing simply to breathe. However, that was LeAnn – always concerned about others, their needs, their comfort, their happiness and welfare. She didn’t want to be a burden to others, but she wanted to serve them, to care for them, and to make them happy and comfortable. Thus, it is not really ironic that LeAnn’s symptoms began to manifest when she was serving as caregiver for Charlie during his battle with prostate cancer. Pushing Charlie in a wheelchair at the hospital, LeAnn began to huff and puff and wheeze, all out of breath. Charlie thought she sounded like a horse and lovingly joked, “The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be!” Neither of them could have guessed the reason or cause of her shortness of breath. Didn’t matter, there was a job to do. Onward she pushed, right through the huffing and puffing.
But, that was LeAnn – always concerned about others, their needs, their comfort, their happiness and welfare. LeAnn loved her family, she loved her grandchildren. She loved attending their school events, she wrote poems for them with clues for scavenger hunts. What she enjoyed most in life was being with her family: Being a homemaker, boating, and bowling, just hanging out around the house with her family and her friends. When her IPF made it difficult or impossible to do those things, LeAnn apologized to her family and friends for being a burden. Of course, she wasn’t a burden, but she wanted them to be happy, because she loved them – she loved you all so dearly.
When the diagnosis came five years ago, you were informed that IPF is a relatively slow-progressing, but terminal, disease. I know that five years doesn’t seem all that slow, especially considering LeAnn was only in her early 60s. And yet, there were five years, and that was time to reflect and prepare, time to spend together and really grow, not taking anything for granted, not even breathing. Most of those years weren’t really too bad. And, while, the last couple years were a bit more of a struggle, it’s really been since your premature return from Texas this Winter that the symptoms have really become more severe. Now on the highest level of oxygen assistance, a trip to the kitchen or restroom became too much. And in the last month or so, an adjustment of position in a chair would leave LeAnn breathless, even with the highest level of oxygen. That is truly terrifying, and it would not be wrong to say that LeAnn began to suffer. They said the disease was relatively slow-progressing, but terminal. It was becoming clear that the terminus was on the horizon.
Why does God allow suffering? Philosophers and theologians alike have been asking that question for millennia.  While God does indeed allow suffering – He allowed, even willed, that His own Son suffer and die for our sins and the sins of the world – it is simply wrong to conclude that God created suffering. He did not. Suffering was introduced into the world because of the sin of our First Parents, a sin that we have inherited and are equally guilty of with them. The wages of sin is always, and only, death. Why is there suffering in the world? Because of sin. Why do we die. Because of sin. Did LeAnn suffer and die because of her sin? Well, yes, but not any specific sin. We all die because of our sin, and because of sin in general. This is not the LORD’s doing, but an enemy has done this, God’s enemy and our enemy, Satan. Satan causes suffering, and he uses it to destroy your faith. And, God permits Satan to cause suffering, but He uses it to create and strengthen faith, in ways we most often never know or realize. For a Christian, the diagnoses of a terminal disease can be a very faith-affirming thing, for it motivates us to hone in on what really matters in life, and in death, with a laser-like focus. What mattered to LeAnn? Her faith, and her family; that’s what mattered. LeAnn’s faith permitted her to put others first and her personal needs second. And, her beloved family became most important. She was intent to enjoy the time that she had and to take nothing for granted.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge. God so loved the world, God so loved LeAnn, and God so loved you that He gave His only Son into death and raised Him up again that you might so pass through death with Him and live with Him in His kingdom forever. Our enemy Satan was defeated in Jesus’ death upon the cross, and in His resurrection He left death and the grave abandoned and powerless. They could not hold Him, and they cannot hold those who trust in Him, those who have been baptized into Him; they have died with Him in His death, and they will be raised with Him in His resurrection. Isaiah foreshadowed this saying, “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” Likewise, Jesus said “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, our Lord Jesus revealed to St. John in the Revelation a preview of the saints in heaven, a multitude in white robes, saying: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [They shall breathe freely and shall not suffer pain, or sorrow, discomfort, or death.] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That countless multitude in white robes has grown by one precious soul in the sight of the LORD. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ.
Our heavenly Father has seen fit to call His precious saint LeAnn to her heavenly home, prepared for her by Jesus her Savior and Redeemer. As painful and real as her loss is, and as much as we will miss her, in faith and truth we do not wish her back. No, we do not wish her back, but our only wish and hope is to be with her where she is. And, that is precisely the promise our God and LORD has made us in His Son. We will see LeAnn again. Charlie, you will see your wife again. Chad, Kristin, Nicole, you will see your mother again. You will see your grandmother, your friend, your sister in Christ again. You will see LeAnn with your flesh and blood eyes. You will hear her with your flesh and blood ears. You will touch her and hug her with your flesh and blood hands and arms. Each of you had a private moment to say goodbye, to reassure LeAnn that you would be ok, and then LeAnn went to Jesus. That goodbye is temporary. You will see her again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you ever again.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
From our perspective, sitting comfortably removed from first century Israel by nearly 2,000 years, it’s easy for us to judge and to condemn the scribes and the Pharisees as unloving, unmerciful, self-righteous, legalists. For, in truth, they were all that, although not for the reasons we often suppose. Surely, they didn’t know it, and most certainly no one else thought of them that way at the time. On the contrary, the scribes and the Pharisees were the most honored and respected of men. They were seen as holy and righteous by nearly all, for they took the Law and the commands of God in the Scriptures exceedingly seriously, and they honestly tried, and in many ways they truly succeeded, to practice them and live them in their own lives. They were visibly and recognizably pious, moral, respectable, and good. When Jesus recounted one Pharisee’s boasting concerning himself in the temple, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get,” we must understand that he actually did do these things, which most others failed to do. Consequently, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel stating, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” should cause you to pause and reflect upon just what Jesus, and God His Father, truly expect and desire from you. If it is works and obedience under the Law, then the scribes and the Pharisees were the absolute epitome of faithfulness and righteousness. And yet, Jesus regularly lambasted and laid into the scribes and the Pharisees like no others, not even the heterodox Samaritans and the pagan Romans, for their self-righteousness and for their failure to show love, mercy, and compassion to others.
For, love, mercy, and compassion, charity, grace, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, and humility – these are the true piety, the true faithfulness, and the true obedience that the Law requires, even the fulfillment of the Law and its saving fruits. And, these all flow from the heart that has been broken by the Law’s demands and finds no comfort and peace, no righteousness in itself, but only in the love, mercy, compassion, charity, grace, and forgiveness that has been shown and poured out upon it in the selfless, sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The scribes and the Pharisees were truly obedient to the letter of the Law, but they were deaf, dumb, blind, and dead to the spirit and fulfillment of the Law, which is love. They believed that so long as they didn’t physically murder someone, have sexual intercourse with someone to whom they were not married, or steal from someone, that they were obeying God’s Law and were righteous, and yet they could muster no love, mercy, compassion, charity, grace, or forgiveness for others. Truly, they could only give to others of what they themselves had received, but because they justified themselves as righteous according to their works under the Law, they could not receive God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, for they didn’t believe that they needed it! Therefore, they could not truly love others. You see, you can only give of what you yourself have received. You can only love with God’s love. You can only give of God’s good gifts. And, you can only forgive with God’s own forgiveness. If you cannot do these things, that is a sure and certain sign that you do not have them from God. Thus, you are no better than the scribes and the Pharisees. In truth, you are much worse off, for I am certain that you do not obey the external letter of the Law as well as they did either.
However, Jesus says that your righteousness must exceedthat of the scribes and the Pharisees if you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now, it should be obvious, therefore, that the righteousness of which Jesus speaks is not a righteousness of obedience to the letter of the Law, for the scribes and Pharisees were very pious and obedient in that respect, but it is a righteousness which comes from outside of you and which changes your heart so that it bears the fruits of the Spirit without coercion, without threat of punishment, without a striving for self-justifying righteousness by works. Such righteousness is characteristic of a heart that has been broken by the Law, absolved, soothed, and comforted by the Gospel, is humble and repentant, and thus overflows with the love of God in Jesus Christ in love for God and in love for the neighbor. Such love isthe righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and only such righteousness saves and receives entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This righteousness comes from outside of you, it is created in you, and it flows through you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God because of Christ Jesus your Lord. This righteousness you must have if you hope to be saved, but you cannot produce it on your own, and neither can you earn it or merit it by your obedience under the Law, but you must receive it in faith as a free gift of God’s grace, and you must not hinder it’s work in and through you, but rather you must work with it, in love towards God and in love towards your neighbor, not in word only, but in deeds flowing from a changed heart, a broken and contrite heart, a humble and repentant heart.
Many Christians like to believe that Jesus relaxed and softened the Law of God, or even abolished it for believers today. They deceive themselves, for nothing could be farther from the truth! What does Jesus say? “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus explained what the spirit of the Law truly teaches: “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Now, anger, insults, and curses are not actions of the will and the hands so much as they are passions, thoughts, and desires of the heart. Jesus is not speaking of works and obedience under the letter of the Law, but of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, which are the fruit of the spirit of the Law, which flow from a changed heart crushed and broken by the Law, but absolved and healed by the Gospel. Similarly does Jesus speak concerning adultery, referring not to physical intercourse, but rather to lust in the heart, once again referring to a condition of the heart and not obedience under the letter of the Law. Quoting the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus says of such people, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
No, true righteousness, the righteousness of which Jesus speaks, the righteousness which inherits the kingdom of heaven, is the love of a heart that has been broken and crushed by the Law so that it is humble and repentant, full of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for all, even those who hurt you, who hate you, and who wish to kill you. Such surely seems a high bar and an impossible task for one who seeks to justify himself by obedience to the Law, but for one who has died with Jesus in Holy Baptism and has been raised with Jesus to new and everlasting life, that one has died to sin and now lives with, to, and for Christ. You have died with Christ, and you now live with Him, therefore you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It has become popular today for Christians to say they are spiritual, but not religious. They are well meaning, I suppose, if wrong-minded. Religion is simply a rule or an order. What such Christians are most often doing when they say they are spiritual, but not religious, is rebelling against and rejecting any sort of order or rule for their life and worship. This is extremely popular in the West and in the United States in particular, where freedom, independence, and equality are most highly valued even above truth and morality, which are sadly derided and considered old fashioned or simply non-existent and false. The fallen flesh and the Old Adam hate rules and order, and thus they hate religion too. However, listen to this exhortation from St. James concerning the true religion: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” You cannot be merely a hearer and not a doer and consider yourself a Christian or hold any hope that you are saved; you cannot be merely spiritual, but not religious. True Christians no longer strive to obey the Law of God out of fear and coercion, seeking to justify themselves by their works, but they bask in the freedom of the Law fulfilled in Christ, and they freely do it out of humility and repentance, bearing the fruits of love for God, and love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for the neighbor, to the glory of God. Thus we prayed in today’s Collect, “graft into our hearts the love of Your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.”
All of our Christian life is defined by death and resurrection. When you were baptized, you died in Christ and were raised in Him to new life, His life lived in and through you. You should reflect on that truth and remember it whenever you participate in the Divine Service, for the Invocation, Confession, and Absolution are nothing less than a renewal of your Holy Baptism as you wash your robes clean once again in Jesus’ cleansing blood. And, as you are a new creation, born again of water, blood, and spirit, you are nourished, sustained, and equipped through the Word of God and the Word made flesh as you commune with God by eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood. And then, you are sent back into the world, forgiven, refreshed, strengthened, and equipped, to love and forgive, to share with and to comfort others, with the love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness you yourself have received from God in Christ Jesus. Literally, you love with Jesus’ love, you give of Jesus’ gifts, and you forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. This is the true religion, and this is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, the righteousness by which you will enter the kingdom of heaven. You are what you eat. You give of what you have received. Come, eat and drink and live. Go, sharing and caring with Jesus’ love that others may know Christ and live. In this way God’s kingdom will be filled, and His Name is glorified.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)

Luke 5:1-11; 1 Kings 19:11-21; 1 Peter 3:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God’s ways are not our ways. You, and I, all of us know that to be unequivocally true. But why? Are our ways always so wrong? Do we never do the right thing, the righteous thing, the virtuous thing? Of course we do. We build hospitals to heal the sick. We give food, clothing, and money to provide for the poor. Our young men and women lay down their lives to defend our freedoms and to secure freedoms for others. Of course, we also destroy infant lives, we better ourselves at the expense of others, and we tend to think more of ourselves than of anyone else. But why must God’s ways always be so very different from our ways? Why must God’s thoughts be so completely the opposite of our thoughts?
There is an answer to that question, and I think that you will agree that it is every bit as true as the fact that God’s ways are not our ways, even if you don’t find it very satisfying. The answer to the question “Why?” is, “Because He is God, and you are not.” That’s why.
We so want God to act in the ways in which we think that He should act. We so want God to be like us. It’s only human after all. But God is not like us; God is not a human creature. God created humanity in His image, not the other way around. So, whose ways must be conformed to whom? Whose thoughts must submit to whom?
The greatest obstacle to faith, and the greatest contributor to suffering, is pride. Pride is your idol, your god. An idol is anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before God; an idol is anything that gets in between you and God. It’s a First Commandment thing: You shall have no other gods before me – not even yourself. It’s an Original Sin thing – man is not content to be created in the image of God, but man wants to be God himself. We want to determine what is wisdom and what is foolishness, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. But it is pride. It is arrogance. It is self-righteousness and self-centeredness and self-ISH-ness. And it is sin. And it brings death. And it is utterly, and truly foolishness.
Each of our lessons today speak to us of foolishness. For it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that God would speak to Elijah, not in a mighty wind, not in a jarring earthquake, and not in a blazing fire, but in a still, small voice – even a whisper.
Likewise, it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that you do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling but rather do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, even love your enemies.
And so also was it foolishness in the eyes of the world, indeed foolishness in the weary eyes of Simon, James, and John, when Jesus told them to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”
Foolishness. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, neither are man’s ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than man’s ways and His thoughts than man’s thoughts.
Man’s pride separates him from God. The man who trusts in himself does not seek God – he is a fool. But God is merciful and just, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He calls the fool to repentance and afflicts man’s pride to break it. Elijah feared for his life because he trusted only in himself and knew that he had not the strength in himself to survive. But in his self-despair, Elijah was receptive to God’s Word. God demonstrated to Elijah that He would act, not in ways that men find impressive – winds, earthquakes, and fire – but in His way, the way of His Word.
Simon, James, and John despaired at the failure of their own efforts to catch fish. But in their broken and weary desperation they were receptive to Jesus’ Word “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” By that Word alone they put to their boats and let down their nets, not expecting anything, but catching instead a great catch of fish.
Why are God’s ways and thoughts so different from ours? Because He is God and we are not – thanks be to God. In His grace and mercy, God loves us enough to crush us; God loves you enough to crush your pride, to beak your self-reliance, to destroy your self-righteousness. It is a good thing to be broken by the Lord – for He is powerful and willing to put you back together again, not as you were before, but as a new creation, restoring you once again to His image.
God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. He does the unthinkable. He does what men would never do. He saves the best wine for last. He eats and drinks with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He touches the unclean with no concern for Himself. And He lays down His own life for men who hate Him. Foolishness.
And so, thanks be to God, His ways and thoughts are not your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your pride, your reason, and your assumed wisdom. He breaks you, so that He can re-create you in the image of His Son.
Through the foolishness of the Gospel – the preaching of Christ crucified – a great catch of fish – you – is still brought into the boat – the Church. The message of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to the world; but to you, that cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)

Luk6:36-42Roman8:18-23Genesis 50:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday we considered God’s love manifested as grace. Today we see God’s love manifested as mercy to all who suffer. Grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin; they are each manifestations of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ.
When I teach catechumens about grace and mercy, I explain it this way: Grace is when God gives us good things that we do not deserve. Mercy is when God does not give us the bad things that we do deserve. One is a giving, and the other is a withholding. And yet, both come from God: His will, His action, His love. The seeking love of God that we heard about last week – seeking, finding, and restoring the lost – is grace. Today we focus upon God’s love shown in mercy through which He works through the sufferings, pain, and losses we experience as the result of sin to preserve and keep us in His Son unto eternal life. We hear that God works man’s intended evils for good. We hear that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. And we are exhorted to be merciful to all as God our Father has been merciful to us: to judge not, to condemn not, to forgive, and to give to others as we have been the benefactors of such rich and lavish love, mercy, and forgiveness.
The story of Joseph and his brothers from our Old Testament lesson is a powerful example of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because their father Jacob loved Joseph more than the others, being the son of his old age. To add to their burning jealousy, Jacob gave Joseph a many-colored coat and Joseph had dreams in which his brothers bowed down before him. They plotted to kill him, but, after Reuben’s intercession, they decided merely to sell him into slavery. Well, as the story goes, Joseph ends up in Egypt, and, after much injustice and suffering, becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man. When famine hit the region, indeed his brothers did travel to Egypt and bow down before Joseph and receive food and live. When their father died, the brothers were fearful that Joseph would exact revenge upon them for the wrongs they had done to him; they were afraid that they would get what they deservedfor their sins. So, they schemed once again and sent message to Joseph that their father Jacob had requested Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers as his dying wish. But the lie was not necessary, for Joseph had already forgiven his brothers. Joseph replied, “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.” Joseph was merciful to his brothers, he did not give them the bad things that they deserved, but he forgave them and he restored them. They offered to be servants, slaves, but Joseph called them brothers and he gave to them an allotment of good land and provided for them and their children. This true and historical story is comparable to the Parable of the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son), told from the perspective ofmercy.
In today’s Epistle lesson, we hear that the fallout of man’s fall into sin impacted not just all humanity, but all of God’s creation. All of God’s creation is in bondage and subjection to corruption, and this is bad! But, once again, we hear that God works through this evil and corruption for the good of His creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing,” says Paul, “for the revealing of the sons of God.” Dearly beloved, we are the sons of God of whom Paul speaks! The revealing of our sonship began with the Incarnation of the Son of God as the Man Jesus Christ, but the consummation of this revealing will not be realized until the resurrection of our bodies. Paul says that all of creation, that is, the entire universe and everything in it, waits with eager longing for that moment! Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: We don’t always feel like sons of God, do we? In fact, is there not pain, suffering, sorrow, and death in our lives? Do not the people we love the most hurt us and we them? Does not sickness and disease, war and violence, economic distress, fear, depression, and sadness affect us and those we love? Yes, and this is the result of sin, the wages we have earned for sin, the reaping of what we have sown. Paul acknowledges suffering, but he says to you that all of your sufferings, all of the sufferings of humanity and of the entire creation, these “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As bad as things might be at times, what is to come is so glorious and joyous and wonderful that there is no point of comparison between the two! Paul compares the sufferings of this present time to a woman in the labor of childbirth. There is suffering and pain in labor and childbirth, but there is such joy in the birth of a child that the suffering and pain preceding are barely an afterthought. And so, this is how you should view pain, sorrow, suffering, trial, and tribulation – as preparation, as instruction, as catechesis for the glory in which you will soon be revealed and will live forever. But, even now, that glory has already begun to be revealed in you. It was first revealed in the Incarnation of the Son of God in the Man Jesus, and in Jesus, it has begun to be revealed in all who are in Him through Holy Baptism and faith. We have already now begun to walk in the new life, for we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” and we “groan inwardly as we await eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of ourbodies.”
Thus, we know the divine mercy of God’s love, that He does not give us what we deserve, what we have earned for our sins – death, but, instead, He gives us life in His Son. Nothing is held against us, but all is forgiven in Jesus. Howthen can we judge a brother? How then can we condemn a brother? How can we withhold forgiveness from a brother? We cannot. The debt that has been forgiven us; the guilt that has been cleansed from us; the sin that has been atoned for us; these have truly set us free. How can we keep a brother in chains and bondage? We cannot. We must give and forgive as we have been given to and forgiven, for, grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Your forgiveness is intimately connected to the forgiveness you show others. The judgment and condemnation that is withheld from you is intimately connected to the judgment and condemnation you withhold from others. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back toyou.”
The Lord has prepared this feast today for His sons who are day by day being revealed. The feast, too, is a hidden glory as the Son of Man is present in lowly forms. We, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan and long, with all creation, for the glory to be fully revealed when we will feast with the Lord, not through veiled forms, but face to face. And this is a feast of reconciliation, that what was lost has been found and restored. It is a feast of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. You who come, eat, and drink do so in love, forgiveness, and mercy towards your brothers, making peace with them before you bring the gift of yourself to the Lord’s Table. It is the chains that you place upon your brother that keeps you in bondage; the Lord has set you free in Christ Jesus, do not place yourself back in chains by withholding freedom from another. He who fills the cup and satisfies the hungry heart fills you with overflowing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you might shower your brothers in the same to the glory of God the Father through His eternal Son in the life of His Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)

Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The setting for today’s Gospel is the house of a ruler of the Pharisees to which Jesus had been invited for the observance of the Sabbath. However, Luke tells us that this was no friendly invitation, for the scribes and the Pharisees “were watching Him closely.”
Knowing that He had their undivided attention, He took the opportunity to teach them by example. There was a man with dropsy before them. Dropsy was a form of edema, a retaining of fluid causing swelling of organs and tissue. Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Of course, the answer is, “Yes! It is always lawful to show mercy, love, and compassion, because love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they remained silent, so Jesus took him and healed him and sent him on his way. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Still, they had nothing to say.
You see, they knew that Jesus was right. For the scribes and the Pharisees, the question was not so much whether it was lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, than, rather, whoit was that was to be healed. What they would unquestionably do for their own kin or possession, they would not do for someone they judged to be of a status beneath them, unworthy, or unclean.
Next, Jesus instructed them about the godly virtues of humility and selflessness. Noticing that they chose the places of honor at the banquet table, Jesus said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Similarly, Jesus said to the man who had invited Him: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
This teaching addressed the same problem as the first: selfishness, self-righteousness, and pride. When you love yourself, you cannot love your brother and neighbor in need. And, as we heard in last Sunday’s Epistle, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
All of this serves as the context and setting for today’s Gospel. It was immediately following Jesus’ teaching about showing mercy on the Sabbath and the godly virtues of humility and selflessness that one of the Pharisees who reclined at table with Him said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus did not correct the man, for, indeed, he was correct, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” However, what the man was incorrect about was whowould be in attendance at that banquet: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, not to mention, Gentiles from every tribe, people, language, and nation. Therefore, Jesus answered the man by telling a parable, the Parable of the Great Banquet.
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready’.” At first, the invitation went out to a few selected guests, the children of Israel with whose father, Abraham, God had made a covenant of grace, counting his faith in His promise to him as righteousness. That covenant was passed down to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, and all the way to David. The covenant was for the children of Israel, but it was not only for them. Indeed, the children of Israel, themselves, were chosen for the redemption of the entire world.
God’s covenant with Abraham included these specific words: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Israel was blessed that they might be a blessing. They were chosen to be a beacon light in a world of sin and darkness. They were to be leaven, leavening the entire lump of sinful humanity. And, they were to be salt, seasoning the world with the Word of the LORD that men might repent and be adopted into His covenant of grace as sons and co-heirs.
Of course, that covenant, and all of its reiterations over the course of 1,500 years of history, was fulfilled, not in the son of Abraham, but in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom He put forward and offered up as the full and perfect sacrifice for the sins of world. And, that is precisely what the scribes and the Pharisees did not accept, would not, could not, and refused to believe – that the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, not to mention, Gentiles from every tribe, people, language, and nation, would recline with them at the banquet of the King in the kingdom of heaven.
The man reclining at table with Jesus was indeed correct: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” However, he did not know or believe how correct he was. For him “everyone” did not include everyone. Particularly, his “everyone” did not include the man with dropsy whom Jesus healed, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, the Gentiles, nor, increasingly, even Jesus Himself.
In Jesus’ parable, the man giving the great banquet sent his servant to call his invited guests saying, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But, they all began to make excuses. Each of them had something they deemed to be more important, or of more value to them presently, than eating bread with the master at the great banquet to which they had been invited.
Perhaps the significance of the invited guests’ refusal is somewhat lost on us in our culture, for such a refusal in first century Israel would have been a great insult, not only to the master, but in the eyes of all the people. It was customary in Jesus’ day to first invite guests to a feast weeks or months in advance and, later, when the feast was prepared, a message was sent to those invited to come to the feast. It was the second invitation that the invitees in Jesus’ parable rejected.
But, remember, this is a parable. Therefore, the master of the feast is the LORD, and the invitees are the children of Israel. Moreover, they were invited, first, through the covenant of grace that the LORD made to Abraham. Then, in the self-offering and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, all that was necessary for them to join in the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven was prepared, finished, and complete. The LORD sent His Son, just as the prophets had proclaimed, to announce this Good News and call the invited guests to the feast. This was the second invitation, which they rejected.
Therefore, the master, the LORD, has extended the invitation to those that the first invitees were to have invited on His behalf: the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and the Gentiles. He sent His servants, His prophets, pastors, evangelists to go “to the streets and lanes of the city” and “to the highways and hedges” and call the people, no, to compelthe people, “to come in, that [His] house may be filled.” And then, following that rich proclamation of grace, Jesus adds the harsh result of the first invitees’ rejection: “None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
God’s invitation to eternal life and salvation is universal. It has been signed, sealed, and delivered to the world in Jesus Christ. He is for everyone, without exception, and that is the Truth. All who trust in Him with Spirit-given faith, all who cling to Him and do not let go, all who receive His Baptism and do not reject Him will be saved. Therefore, why do so many people say “No”? They say “No” because they are idolaters, fearing, loving, and trusting in created things before and above the LORD and Creator of all things. They say “No” because they falsely judge themselves righteous, or at least better than others. They say “No” because they believe that, by their good works, they are secure in their invitation to the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven saying, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Yet, as true as that statement is, another is also true: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.” This is a biblical wisdomway of saying, “Come, for everything is now ready.” The LORD’s Passover Lamb, Jesus, has laid down His life in sacrificial death for you that you may come, eat, and live. All that was necessary for you to join in the great banquet of the kingdom of heaven has been prepared and accomplished for you. Come, and eat. Come, and drink. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
The Lord invites you this day to partake of the feast He has prepared as a foretaste of the great banquet that is yet to come.Receiving what God gives is the highest form of worship.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.