Sunday, March 28, 2010

King Jesus



St. Matthew 26:1 – 27:66

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

Palmarum is both the Second Sunday of Passiontide and the beginning of the holiest week of the Church’s Year of Grace. The liturgy and the Propers for Palmarum are steeped in drama and passion. Even the most stoic of Lutherans may be seen this day to divert their eyes, to wriggle uncomfortably in their seats, maybe even to shed a tear or two. You cannot help but get caught up in the emotion of the day, for it brings together the entire Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in one setting.

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the first day of the week that would end with His trial, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial, the crowds gathered in the City of God’s Peace for the Passover received Him with joyous, triumphal acclamation and praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” They threw down their garments and palm branches before their Messiah King who would release them from their oppression under the Romans, retake the kingly throne of David, and restore glory and honor to Israel before the eyes of the Gentiles.

But, this was not the first time that they tried to make Jesus their king. When He fed the 5,000 plus with five loaves of bread and two small fish, and the people ate until they were full, and still they took up twelve basketfuls of leftovers, the mob rushed at Jesus to force Him to be their king. Jesus retreated up the mountain to be alone. But, the next day the mob found Him in Capernaum, and there Jesus taught them that they sought Him to be their king for all the wrong reasons. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus then taught them that the True Bread that gives True Life is His flesh come down from heaven. Then the mob began to grumble.

How quickly the songs of praise turn to angry shouts and hatred. Palm Sunday begins with the joyful “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord” and it ends with ugly shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, and of the Gentiles, – the sentence nailed over His gory head was correct – but He was not the kind of king the mob wanted. He rides into the capital City of God’s Peace, not on a war horse with a chariot, but lowly, in humility, on the colt of a donkey. He wears no royal gown of costly purple, but He is stripped of all clothing, scourged until His flesh is ripped and torn and He is robed in His own blood. Only then, and in cruel mockery, is He robed in purple cloth. His crown is also a mockery, a twisted ring of terrible thorns beat into His skull. To the eyes of the Jews and the Gentiles, to the eyes of the Sanhedrin, the Romans, and even to the eyes of the disciples, King Jesus was weak, pathetic, pitiable, and defeated. Change the sentence to “This man said I am King of the Jews,” the chief priests shouted. But Pontius Pilate, the sword of authority in God’s left hand, ruled “What I have written, I have written.”

Dearly beloved people of God, having eyes, you do not see. Having ears, you do not hear. There is only one Law of God, and that is love. Love is the fulfilling of the Law because love is always concerned with the welfare of another, not with the welfare of the self. How do you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? You begin by not loving yourself more than Him. How do you love others? You begin by not loving yourself more than others. God is love, and this is how God loves, He gives, He doesn’t take, and what He gives is a free and perfect gift, the most costly and most precious gift possible, the gift of His Son in death for the life of the world. He gives the Life-Giving Bread from Heaven that men may eat and live forever, yet we grumble and complain and disbelieve because the gift doesn’t come in the fashion we desire. We are like children screaming “There’s nothing to eat!” standing before a pantry full of food!

Oh, we have eyes that see and ears that hear, but we allow them to be filled by the lies and deceptions of the devil because they fulfill our emotional needs, for a while. But, like eating a bag of fatty chips or a half-gallon of ice cream, what the devil gives us always leaves us feeling worse in the end, fat, lethargic, depressed, no energy, self-loathing, etc. Oh, we make for ourselves so very many kings, but none of them satisfies, and none of them frees us from the bondage of sin and death.

But, o people of God, you have a True King in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. King Jesus rules the people of His kingdom by serving them. King Jesus has served you by taking on your human flesh, by humbling himself, by becoming obedient to the authority of an earthly king even unto the point of death on a cross, because King Jesus is the sacrificial love of the Father for you His beloved sons and daughters that you may live with Him in His kingdom forever.

Your King who serves, your King who suffered and died for your sake to set you free from sin and death, your King Jesus, your Bread King, continues to serve you still. This day He stoops down from His throne to wash you anew in His absolution, restoring you to the purity of your Holy Baptism. This day He proclaims to you again His victory over sin, death, and the devil in His creative and life-giving Word. And this day He feeds you, still, with the Bread come down from Heaven, His holy flesh and precious blood, in this Blessed Sacrament that your flesh may be joined in His flesh and that your blood may be joined in His blood, O, most Holy Communion, that you may have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Oh, what a King our Jesus is!

As I began to prepare for today’s service, at first I thought that it was going to be quite a challenge to work together the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the horrible shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” on Good Friday, all on a day in which we also joyously celebrate that fourteen of our young catechumens will receive their First Holy Communion. But, as I prepared, I began to see that it is precisely Holy Communion that ties Palm Sunday and Good Friday together. Do we not sing the song of the Palm Sunday mob “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist? Does not our King Jesus come to us humbly, mounted in, with, and under the common elements of bread and wine to serve us with the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He died on Good Friday’s cross to give us? And, does not our Lord Himself exhort us to eat and to drink His body and blood in remembrance of His Holy Passion and Blessed death?

Yes! The Lord’s Supper brings to you your King. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble…” and hidden in lowly form, simple bread, inexpensive wine, He comes! He comes, and He is present, here and now for you, always for you. Once again King Jesus comes to you where you are and He serves you with His forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. And where the King is, there is His Kingdom as well, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. And at the Name of Jesus every knee bows, knees in heaven and knees on earth, even knees under the earth, and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And, God the Father is glorified!

In the blessed and holy Name of + Jesus Christ, in whom the Father is glorified, with the Sanctifying Spirit of God. Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Matter of Birth

Judica – The Fifth Sunday in Lent  -  St. John 8:42-59


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

Judica Sunday receives its name from the first words of the historic Latin antiphon to the Introit for this day, “Judge me, O God.” Now, invoking God’s judgment upon one’s self is not something a poor, miserable sinner would want to do; that is, unless that poor, miserable sinner knew already that the judgment was going to be in his or her favor. Thankfully, this is the case with you today, for God has already judged in your favor by condemning His Son in your place; He has declared Jesus guilty, and you, you He has declared innocent. Our translation of today’s antiphon to the Introit captures this subtle difference and translates the word for “judge me” as “vindicate me.” – “Vindicate me, O God.”

God judges you righteous. He vindicates you of your sin-guilt on account of His Son. This means, of course, that you had absolutely nothing to do with your vindication. Let’s face it, you were guilty; even still you sin and you merit only guilt and death. But God has vindicated you on account of Jesus’ condemnation and death for your sins, past, present, and future. You did not pay off your debt to God by your good works. You did not impress Him with your faith and piety. You did not even choose to believe in Him. But He chose you. He sacrificed Himself for you. He satisfied the blood-guilt debt of your sin and He forgave you it. He judged you innocent, paying the debt Himself, thus you are vindicated.

Do you believe this? If you do, then God is your Father. If you do not, then your father is the devil, the father of lies. For, even in this age of test-tubes, fertility drugs, surrogates, and implants, the truth remains that everyone has a father. And you did not choose your father. You were begotten, wholly apart from your will and choosing. You did not choose how tall you would be. You did not choose the color of your eyes or of your skin. You did not choose any of those fleshly things. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the flesh is guilty and condemned. That is why you must be born again of water and the Spirit. For that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. And you did not choose your Spiritual Father in your spiritual re-birth any more than you chose your fleshly father in your fleshly birth.

If God is your Father, then you will love Jesus, for Jesus was sent from the Father to be judged in your place. And Jesus has been judged, sentenced, and killed for your sin-guilt. He, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that, through Him, we might become the righteousness of God. But before the words of Psalm 43 are ours, those words are Jesus’ words. “Vindicate Me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” cries Jesus. And Jesus was vindicated by the Father through His death on the cross, because He was innocent and blameless. The guilt for which He died was not His own, nevertheless, that guilt died with Him and it is gone, dead, and buried. Thus, your vindication from sin-guilt and death is because of, and in, Jesus’ vindication. Therefore, if God is your Father, then you will love Jesus, for Jesus was sent from the Father to be judged in your place. Jesus has been judged; Jesus has been vindicated – and the whole world in Him.

Some scribes and Pharisees of the Jews claimed to have God as their Father. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.” But the scribes and the Pharisees did not love Jesus and they did not believe that He came from God but thought that He was a demon-possessed liar. Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” What you believe about Jesus is living proof of who your father is. Only those born of the Holy Spirit of God believe Jesus, love Jesus, and are therefore vindicated in Jesus. It’s not a matter of choice, but a matter of birth. Jesus asks, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” and then He explains, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Mercifully, not being of God is a reversible condition. Repent, that is, be turned by the Holy Spirit of God. Stop obeying the lies and the will of your father the devil and listen to the truth of God. If you are not baptized, be born again of water and Spirit. If you are baptized, be restored to your baptismal purity. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

For God is a Father unlike Abraham, sacrificing His only begotten Son, not under compulsion, but out of love for you. And Jesus is a Son unlike Isaac whose life was spared, but who willingly laid Himself down upon the cross for you. And Jesus is a High Priest unlike any other high priest, offering up the atoning sacrifice, not of the blood of goats and calves, but of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. And the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of true life, sent forth by the Father and the Son to create faith and to draw back in repentance those who have been turned by the devil on the road that leads to death and hell that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.

Again today we get to receive this promise of an eternal inheritance. Our Great High Priest Christ Jesus delivers it to us at this Table. Here the sacrifice our Lord freely and willingly once made upon the cross is given to us as our life. These holy gifts free us from seeking our own glory and unite us to our Lord that, with and in Him, we may always seek only the honor of the Father, who with the Son and the All-Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever!

In Jesus + Name. Amen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daily Bread

Laetare – The Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 6:1-15    (Audio)

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

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Most of us can’t even imagine what that must be like, to not want, to lack no-thing, to be fully and completely satisfied, fulfilled and complete.

For, in our lives we want for much. We are a hungry people: hungry for food, hungry for meaning and purpose, hungry for love, hungry for justice, hungry for forgiveness. We spend our lives searching for these things, craving these things, and finding them, temporarily, but often in the wrong people, the wrong places, and the wrong things. Bruce Springsteen was right, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” but like Bono sings, we “still haven’t found what [we’re] looking for,” so, like Mick Jagger, we “can’t get no satisfaction.”

Jesus knows this about you. He has compassion for you. He says to you, “You shall not want.” He gives you all that you need and more for your body and your life now, and in the life to come. His grace is sufficient for you. However, in our lives, sufficiency is usually not want we want; we think that we need more than we have, and we want more than we need. But God’s grace in Jesus Christ is sufficient, and it is all and more than we need.

Jesus gives us daily bread. Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. God gives this daily bread to all people, even those who hate Him, but we pray that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. All this He lovingly provides us out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.

And we grumble. O, we of little faith, how we grumble. We look the gift horse in the mouth and we grumble that we do not have enough. We grumble that what we have is not what we want. So we labor and we struggle to earn our daily bread, believing that it is by our works and our striving that we are fed and clothed and sheltered and that these things are constitutes life. What poor and pitiable people we are; what a poor and pitiable Church we are. The truth is that we are poor, wretched, beggars. What meager offerings we present before the Lord: two fish and five loaves, not enough for a crumb apiece. On our own, by our own devices, we are hopeless and lost.

But we are not on our own. We have never been on our own. With thanksgiving, Jesus takes our meager provisions and provides satisfaction, what we need, and more. There is no need to gather or to hoard, to look upon others with jealousy, for with Jesus there is no need, no want. Jesus is our daily bread, our Bread of Life, our bread king. The one who comes to Him shall never hunger; the one who believes in Him shall never thirst. He provides for all your needs of body and soul, and His mercies are new each and every morning. That’s the first lesson for today.

There is a second lesson, it has to do with the leftovers, for the Bread of Life always gives more than we need. The lesson is this: give it away. Give it away! Even if you think that you don’t have enough, give it away. You deceive yourself. Give it away, even then. For in the giving you lighten your load that you might keep on receiving. “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 to you." When the Israelites tried to hoard the manna it bred worms and stank. The widow’s oil and meal was never exhausted throughout the prophet’s stay. Use what is given to you, for you and your family, it is a gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and it is sufficient for you for today. Give the rest of it away, and do not worry about tomorrow, God will provide you tomorrow’s bread tomorrow.

And a third lesson is this: The Bread of Life is present now to satisfy your hunger and thirst with His body and blood. Each Lord’s Day He takes much less than five loaves and two small fish and He satisfies all His people with His immeasurable gifts of forgiveness, everlasting life and salvation. Take and eat, you shall not want. Take and drink, your cup runneth over.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Two Poems On Loss and Synthesis

[After great pain, a formal feeling comes –]

After great pain, a formal feeling comes–
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs–
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round–
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought–
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone–

This is the Hour of Lead–
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing Persons recollect the Snow–
First–Chill–then Stupor–then the letting go–

Emily Dickinson, ca. 1862


Break, Break, Break

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ca. 1834

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?

Oculi – The Third Sunday in Lent 7 March 2010

Luke 11:14-28   (Audio)

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

As Jesus was about to set His face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die for the sins of the world He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They responded with a myriad of answers ranging from John the Baptist, to Elijah, to one of the prophets. Then Jesus asked them, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ (the Anointed One), the Son of the Living God.”

In his classic apologetic for the Christian faith Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis tackled this important question, “Who is Jesus?” Lewis wrote that there are three possible answers to the question – Either, Jesus is a liar, or He is a lunatic, or He is who He says He is and He is telling the truth.

This question, “Who is Jesus?” is part of what is going on in the first part of today’s Gospel Lesson from St. Luke. Jesus had cast out a demon from a man that had kept the man from speaking. The crowd watching was amazed and they marveled at this miracle. But then the questions came, “Who is this Jesus?” “From where does He get His power?” Some accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Others demanded that He provide them a sign from heaven before they would believe Him. But Jesus Himself claimed that He cast out demons by the “finger of God”, the Holy Spirit. So, either Jesus is a demon possessed lunatic, or He is a liar, or He is who He says He is and He is telling the truth.

Isaiah prophesied “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20) The good work that Jesus performed in casting out an evil demon is called by some in the crowd an evil deed itself! But Jesus refutes this attack by stating that evil does not cast out evil, for a house divided against itself cannot stand. Yet, the second group also calls Jesus’ actions evil, demanding a sign to prove that He is not a liar. No, the demons flee at the command of the finger of God, for, in Jesus, the kingdom of God has come and is present.

The power of Satan is strong, and on our own we have no defense against him. But Jesus is stronger than Satan. He takes the devil’s armor of sin and death and destroys them from the inside out by the holy cross. He exorcizes and frees us by water and the Word. We were once darkness, but now we are light in Christ the Lord.

Oh what pitiable, half-hearted, milquetoast, fence-straddlers we are. We think we can have our cake and eat it too. We have had our demonic original sin cast out of us in the cleansing torrent of Holy Baptism. We renounced Satan and all his works and all his ways. The demons fled from that Holy Water, cast out, searching for dry and barren habitations. But how quickly the flood waters have receded and we have returned to our casual and unconcerned way of life, thinking that compromising your faith to avoid the worldly scorn of others does not matter. You think that a little sin won’t hurt? God doesn’t expect you to be perfect? You hear the Word of the Lord but you do not keep it. Often you act as if you cannot stand it. Do you believe that you are saved and you need not worry about the forces of evil, that you are freed from sin to keep on sinning?

The demon is gone, for now, but he will come back, and he will bring others, more evil than himself, with him next time. The only way to keep him out is to have the house of your soul occupied by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit does not and cannot abide with sin. “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” If you are not with the Lord, then you are against Him. There is no fence-straddling. There is no middle ground. You cannot be a little bit sinful or a little bit holy any more than a woman can be a little bit pregnant. Only blessed are those who hear the Word of the God and keep it.

For you, this is impossible, but for God all things are possible. Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are a sinner and you will continue to sin, you are not holy. But the Stronger Man Jesus Christ has defeated Satan for you and has stripped him of his strong armor. He has poured into you in the Baptismal flood and in faith the Holy Spirit. Though He will not share you with sin and devils, He will defend you from them. And when you sin He calls you to repent that you may be forgiven and restored in the innocent, shed blood of the One stronger than Satan, Jesus Christ. For, to keep the Word of God is to cling to it in the face of temptation, to trust in it in humble and contrite repentance, and to give thanks for it in love, and praise, and service.

Even now you are invited to keep God’s Word in Sabbath rest as He feeds you, forgives you, and strengthens you as you eat and drink the body and blood of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Today, your Lord stands ready to forgive and renew you by the Spirit of God, the Spirit who drives out the demons as the finger of God and strengthens people for bold, uncompromising witness to Jesus Christ. He Himself wishes to take up residence within you through His Holy Body and Blood, once offered for you as that "fragrant and sweet-smelling sacrifice to God."

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.