Thursday, March 31, 2011

Homily for Lenten Vespers–Week of Oculi (Lent 3)

Exodus 8:16-24

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

The LORD afflicted the Egyptians with ten plagues, but here in the midst of the Third Week of Lent the Church has chosen for us to reflect upon only the third and the fourth plagues, the plague of gnats and the plague of flies. The reason for this, of course, is that this Old Testament pericope complements and leads us to a fuller understanding of the Oculi Gospel from St. Luke where Jesus cast out a demon by the finger of God the Holy Spirit and taught that true power and authority comes from the LORD and His Word.

In our lesson the LORD told Moses to say to Aaron “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.” Aaron did so, and all the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. That the LORD brought forth life out of the dust of the earth ought to ring in your ears familiar, causing you to remember the creation of man from the dust of the earth. At the creation of Adam, the LORD breathed His own breath of life, His Spirit into the man of dust and the man became a living being. In this evening’s lesson also, the LORD created gnats from the dust of the earth by the finger of God, His own Holy Spirit.

So, while your mind is still in the Garden of Eden, let us consider some other similarities between this evening’s pericope and that very familiar story of man’s creation and fall into sin. In both accounts there is a battle going on between the LORD and His rebellious fallen angel Satan, for that is who Pharaoh represents, your enemy the devil. Satan wants to keep you in slavery and in bondage to sin and death. Though you are free in Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan uses lies, deception, and trickery to tempt you to not believe that and to submit yourself once again to his enslavement. Indeed, in the first two plagues, the plague of blood and the plague of frogs, and in the case of Aaron’s staff becoming a serpent, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to reproduce the mighty works of the LORD in some fashion. The magicians utilized human wisdom and sorcery, and most likely a little trickery and slight of hand as well. It’s even possible that the LORD permitted the magicians the ability to perform their works these first few times so that they would be forced to confess ultimately that the LORD was at work when they could no longer perform their magic, for Satan can do nothing that the LORD does not permit him to do.

And, of course, that is exactly what happened. The magicians were unable to reproduce the plague of gnats from the dust of the earth and they did confess that this work was the finger of God. But Pharaoh hardened his heart; that is, God allowed him to be what he truly was, hard and closed to God’s Word and set against the LORD and His Spirit. Then, in the plague of flies, the LORD set His people Israel apart from the Egyptians as the flies swarmed upon all of the lands of the Egyptians except the land of Goshen where the Israelites dwelt. Thus, despite the raging of our old evil foe, the LORD continues to preserve, protect, keep, and provide for you His chosen in Christ.

When Christ our Victor died upon the cross, the power of Satan and death were destroyed forever. In death, Christ conquered our enemy and set us free from his bondage and enslavement forever. What we experience now as suffering, trial, tribulation, and even death are but the final skirmishes of a war that has already been won for us by Christ our Lord. The promise of this victory was given our First Parents just after their fall as the LORD spoke to the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” And, after leading His people out of captivity and bondage in Egypt, the LORD baptized them in the Red Sea, sealing them with His promise. So, too, have you been baptized by the finger of God, the Holy Spirit and sealed in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the promise that is Christ’s victorious death and glorious resurrection that cannot be taken away from you.

And so Satan is thwarted again and again by a power and authority he does not possess and cannot reproduce, the power of the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, through His Word and blessed Sacraments to the Glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His son, in His Most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homily for Oculi – The Third Sunday in Lent (Lent 3)


Luke 11:14-28; Ephesians 5:1-9; Exodus 8:16-24

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

The people wanted to know by what power and by what authority Jesus was able to cast demons out of men. The only possible choices that they would allow Jesus, however, were that He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul (Satan), or that He needed to produce a sign from heaven to prove otherwise. In other words, they considered Jesus guilty unless He could prove Himself to be innocent. But, knowing their thoughts, Jesus was not going to play their little game. Instead, He responded, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” In other words, Jesus was saying, “If I cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, then Satan is working against himself and his kingdom will surely fall. That doesn’t make any sense.” But then He turned the light upon their darkness and exposed their hypocrisy, for they readily accepted that their own sons could cast our demons.

Jesus’ power and authority came, not from Satan, or from any worldly power or authority, but it came from the finger of God, the Holy Spirit. This same power and authority was wielded by Aaron at God’s command and brought plagues of gnats and flies upon the whole land of Egypt that Pharaoh’s magicians could not reproduce. This same power and authority was wielded by the faithful sons of Israel at God’s command for the good of His people and the glorification of His Name. And, this same power and authority is wielded by His pastors and priests in His stead and by His command yet today in the preaching of the Gospel and in the forgiveness of sins through the divinely appointed Means of Grace. In each case the kingdom of God comes upon His people, a kingdom of power and of grace and of mercy that is for the whole world, but a kingdom that Pharaoh and too many others have chosen to reject.

Jesus compares Satan and his powers of darkness to a strongman, fully armed, guarding his palace; he feels secure and comfortable that his defense is strong and that his goods are safe. But, Jesus is stronger than he, though He appears to be weak and lowly, and He attacks Satan and overcomes him and He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Perhaps Jesus is reflecting back upon His battle with Satan in the desert wilderness following His baptism and anointing with the Holy Spirit. There, in Satan’s third attempt to tempt Jesus to exercise His divine power according to His own will, and not the will of His Father, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down and worship him. Jesus’ response to Satan was “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’.” There, too, Jesus cast out Satan by the power and by the authority of the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, and He exposed Satan’s weakness and the weakness of all fallen men, Misplaced fear, love, and trust.

The strong man, Satan, put his trust in his armor. His armor, of course, is not physical armor, but it is a trust in one’s self and one’s abilities, one’s reason and understanding, one’s works over and against God and His Word. When it comes to God’s Word, Satan is always looking for a loophole or he twists God’s Word so that it appears to say something that it does not or to permit something that it does not. Jesus, in His humanity, as a man, with the Word of God, the only armor that men have, resisted Satan’s temptations and cast him out. Then later, on the cross, Jesus willingly laid down His life in death, the wage for our sin, and set us free from sin, and death, and Satan, to his great surprise, because God’s Word really said.

But, we are guilty of the same misplaced fear, love, and trust as is Satan. We do not believe in the Word of God but subject it to our fallen reason and understanding and place our trust in our own abilities and works as protecting armor. But we see in our First Parents and in the record of Holy Scripture, and even in modern centuries unto our present day, that men who put their fear, love, and trust in themselves over and against God and His Word fall prey to Satan’s temptations again and again. Indeed, even the wielding of God’s Word itself, without faith, is a misplaced trust as Eve demonstrated by adding to God’s prohibition regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is why the divine armor that St. Paul describes in his letter to the Church in Ephesus is all defensive armor. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, these are all defensive armor, given to you by God that you may stand against the schemes of Satan. God, His Word, and His gifts are what you must trust in at all times. It is only the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God that is an offensive weapon, and it is a weapon that, though wielded by men, receives its power and authority from the finger of God, the Holy Spirit.

Thus Jesus said to the people, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Here Jesus masterfully addresses two different but related issues. In the first case, He addresses the question asked of Him by the people regarding the power and authority by which He cast out demons. Having already indicated that His power and authority came by the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus is further indicating that the Holy Spirit is the only power and authority by which this work is accomplished. Thus, even the faithful sons of Israel, and priests and pastors, exorcise Satan and the powers of darkness by the finger of God, the Holy Spirit. In the second case, Jesus indicates that apart from Him, apart from trust in God and His Word, there is no defense from Satan and that the works of those who put their faith and trust in themselves or in anyone or anything other than God and His Word are evil and against Jesus.

In the Old Testament lesson from Exodus, even though Pharaoh’s own magicians recognized that Aaron’s power and authority to send the plagues of gnats and flies upon the Egyptians came from the finger of God, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen to them. So also in the New Testament Gospel lesson, the people that heard Jesus would not listen to what Jesus taught them. A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” The woman’s cry was a confession of fear, love, and trust in the fallen flesh of men, not in the spiritual Word of God. Jesus’ response to her is a fitting conclusion to this pericope about where fear, love, and trust are properly placed, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

Though it is most certainly true that if you are not with Jesus, then you are against Him, God the Father has called you and the whole world through His Son by the power and authority of the finger of God, the Holy Spirit to be with Jesus. So, you are only at risk of not being with Jesus by placing your fear, love, and trust in anything other than God and His Word. However, having been called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, and having been enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit now keeps you and the whole Christian Church on earth, with Jesus in the one true faith. And you can place your fear, love, and trust in God that His finger, the Holy Spirit, is present and active to defend and to keep you now by the preaching of the Gospel and by the forgiveness of sins given you though the Spirit’s Means of Grace for your life today, and tomorrow, and for eternity, to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, in the power of His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Homily for Lenten Vespers - Week of Reminiscere (Lent 2)


Genesis 32:22-32

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

Let’s be honest and straight about something: The Christian faith and life is a struggle. Isn’t it amazing how popular Christian writers and recording artists never admit that; how even Christian pastors, theologians, denominations, and congregations often refuse to admit that? And so it is that many well meaning Christians naively believe that a personal relationship with Jesus is going to make all your problems disappear, and that bad things won’t happen to you and to those that you love, and that you and they will always be happy. And then there are those who twist the Lord’s own Words, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it,” and make Him to be some sort of divine candy dispenser as they pray for Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets. Your Lord never promised such things, nor did He come to give you such things. He did not come to save your life in this world, but to save it for eternity with His Father in heaven. He did not come to make you rich and happy in this world, but to see that you persevere in this life, through death, unto life eternal in Him. Thus, the Christian faith and life is a struggle. It believes without seeing. It believes when your Lord seems not to answer. It believes when your Lord seems to say no. And, it believes even when your Lord seems to be against you.

Jacob had that kind of faith – a tenacious and stubborn kind of faith that would not let go of His Lord without a blessing, no matter what – faith that was tenacious and stubborn, yes, but not blind. Quite the opposite, in fact, Jacob could see all too clearly as a man wrestled with him all through the night. Jacob likely believed that man to be his brother Esau whom he feared was angry with him and wished to kill him. As such, Jacob fought, literally, for his life and was not overcome but he persevered. Perhaps Jacob realized exactly whom he wrestled with when the man put his hip out of socket, for, then, even in excruciating pain, Jacob struggled all the more harder and refused to let the man go unless he blessed him. Jacob later confessed that He had seen God face to face, and yet his life had been delivered. Even though he knew that it was his God and Lord who wrestled with him, who inflicted injury and pain upon him, he held on to him in tenacious and stubborn faith to receive a blessing. The man changed Jacob’s name to Israel which means one who has striven with God and has prevailed. And this is the blessing, to see God and to wrestle with God and prevail, for this is the blessing of eternal life.

Jacob walked away from his struggle with God wounded and limping, but he also walked away with the blessing of life that never ends. The Christian faith and life is a struggle. It is a struggle to believe without seeing. It is a struggle to believe as you wrestle with the lies of the world, the devil, and your own sinful flesh. But, blessing lies in holding on to the Lord in faith, no matter what, even if He allows you pain and sorrow, grief and suffering, and even physical death. Nothing can afflict you that God does not allow to afflict you, and He works even afflictions for the good of all who love Him and hold on to Him in faith. In His death and resurrection Jesus has overcome all enemies, even death and the devil, for you. Through faith in Him you are more than conquerors over these enemies too, no matter what.

Struggling faith refuses to let go of Christ, and so it is blessed. God allows it to struggle so it can grow, be strengthened, and have a tighter grip on God and on His promises. Even when the Lord doesn’t seem to answer, there is a blessing in holding on to Him. He teaches us to believe even if we do not see. He teaches us to trust not in our feelings, experiences, or even our own faith, but only in God’s Word and promise. And, in the midst of all the distress and through all trials and tribulations, a struggling faith becomes a great faith.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homily for Reminiscere – The Second Sunday in Lent


Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Genesis 32:22-32

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

The woman who cried out to Jesus asked only for mercy. Moreover, she asked on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter, not herself. But, Jesus did not answer her a word. This was a test, but Jesus was not testing the woman and her faith, He knew that well enough already, rather, Jesus was testing His disciples’ faith and their understanding in who He was and of what He was sent to do. Would they approve of Jesus’ showing mercy to this Canaanite dog? No, they would not. For, though the woman cried out only for mercy, the disciples, in turn, begged Jesus for justice saying, “Send her away.”

But, they were right. It would have been just to send her away. She was, after all, a Canaanite, the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham who uncovered his father Noah’s nakedness. The Canaanites were the pagan occupiers of the land that God promised to give into the hand of Abraham and his descendents. They were perpetual deniers of God’s grace, whose history included child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, and other occult activity, and sexual depravity. So, yes, the disciples were right, Jesus would have been just in sending her away. But, then, of course, He would have been just as just to send the disciples away too. Be careful what you ask for!

But, Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save it; He did not come to send anyone away, but to call all men to Himself. Indeed, it would be through the greatest injustice imaginable, the selfless, sacrificial death of our holy, sinless, and innocent Lord Jesus, that all people would finally be set free from the demonic possession that is sin and death.

Still, the disciples were right, Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, initially, and it would not be right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Send her away and be done with the matter. Case closed. Justice is served.

But, again, the woman was not seeking justice, but mercy. On her knees in humility before Jesus she accepted His judgment confessing, “Yes, Lord, You are right, I am an unworthy dog. It is wrong of me to ask for or to expect that the bread intended for Your children be given to me. But, even still, the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And, here was what Jesus wanted His disciples to hear and to see, true and tenacious faith. The Canaanite woman placed her faith – her fear, love, and trust – in Jesus, no matter what. She placed her faith in Him by pleading, not for justice, but for mercy. She placed her faith in him by clinging to Him even when He did not answer her. She placed her faith in Him even when He seemed to reject her. And, finally, she placed her faith in Him even to the point of completely divesting herself, confessing her sin, guilt, and shame, while believing Jesus to be merciful, no matter what. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

After this, Jesus began a great ministry of healing, healing that flowed from God’s mercy and the forgiveness of sins. Crowds of Canaanites and Israelites came to Jesus on a mountainside and there He healed them all. Then, after a few days, having compassion on them, men, women, children, Canaanites, and Jews, Jesus fed them, over 4,000 in all, with bread until they were full and satisfied.

It is no coincidence that Jesus compared the woman’s plea for mercy to a plea for bread, for Jesus is the Bread of Life for all the world, that whoever eats of His flesh will have eternal life. For, Jesus was the Bread from heaven, the manna that the children of Israel ate during their wandering in the wilderness. It is not outside the realm of likelihood that the nearby Canaanites scooped up some of that mysterious bread, that was left behind by the children of Israel, for themselves, just like dogs under the children’s table. Likewise, it is no coincidence that this exchange with the Canaanite woman occurred just before Jesus miraculously fed a multitude from many places with bread until they were satisfied. Jesus is the Bread of Life given for the life of all the world.

Thus, what the disciples learned that day was that being a true Israelite, a true child of God, is not about belonging to a certain bloodline nor of being of Abrahamic descent, but what makes one a true Israelite and a true child of God is faith in Jesus, God’s Son and His gift of life, no matter what. That means trusting in Jesus even when He doesn’t seem to answer. That means trusting in Jesus even when He seems to reject you. That means trusting in Jesus even when He seems to be the one who is causing you affliction!

We see this last point most clearly in Jacob, who wrestled with a Man until the breaking of the day, and when the Man saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He put Jacob’s hip socket out of joint! Many theologians and Fathers of the Church understand that Man who wrestled with Jacob, and who fought dirty, to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Even though the Man put Jacob’s hip socket out of place and caused him excruciating pain, Jacob refused to let Him go until He gave Him a blessing. Was Jacob stubborn, thick headed, or a fool? Undoubtedly. But, did he have faith that the Man could and would bless him? Yes, most definitely, yes! Then, in response to Jacob’s tenacious faith, the Man changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning one who has striven with God and has overcome.

For, that is what faith is like; faith is a struggle with God. But, faith clings to God and His promises no matter what and so overcomes. Faith believes that God is good and merciful and that He will answer in the way He knows best, no matter what. Even if what you pray for is not given to you or relieved of you, God is still merciful and good, no matter what. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but no one ever said it would be easy, least of all Jesus. The world, the devil, and your own flesh conspire against you, daily, so that you will lose faith and fall into unbelief and despair.

But, when you wrestle with God, do not let go of Him, but cling to Him in stubborn, thick headed, and foolish faith. Don’t let go of Him until He blesses you. And, while you struggle and wrestle with God in faith, make use of the means through which He blesses you: His Word; His Baptism; His Absolution; His Supper – for these are all Bread, the Bread of Life, of which a man may eat and be strengthened in faith and live.

And don’t consider what’s just, but plead for mercy, likewise being merciful to others – all others – as God is merciful to you in Christ Jesus. For, you will overcome, you will persevere, and even now you are more than conquerors through Him has loved you and who loves you now, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Homily for Lenten Vespers–Week of Invocabit (Lent 1)


Genesis 3:1-21

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

It all began with a seemingly innocent question, “Did God actually say…?” However, the devil’s question was not innocent, it was not asked for the purpose of attaining information, enlightenment, or anything good or of value at all, but rather it was a challenge, a test, a temptation to Eve, and specifically to her faith and her trust in God and in His Word. Where was Eve going to place her fear, her love, and her trust? In God and His Word, or somewhere else?

As the story goes, we hear how Eve becomes the world’s first Exegetical Theologian (an interpreter of God’s Word). And, we hear how she wavered in her fear, love, and trust in God and in His Word and committed the error (the sin) of eisegesis (adding her own words and ideas into the Word of God). And so, the devil’s question was a seed that he planted through Eve’s ear into her heart that began immediately to bear bad fruit. Of course, let us not forget who was there with her, Eve’s husband and Pastor Adam. It was to Adam that God had first given His Word before He even made his bride from the rib taken out of his side. It was Pastor Adam’s vocation to rightly preach and teach God’s Word to his wife and congregation and to truly love, guard, and protect her. But Adam, too, wavered in His fear, love, and trust in God and in His Word, and he was complicit with his wife in idolatry, worshipping the devil, as they both placed their fear, love, and trust in him and in his word over and above that of God’s. And so, Adam and Eve committed the first sin, even before they took their first bite of that forbidden fruit, and their eyes were opened and they became like God, judging for themselves what is good and what is evil.

Is it any wonder that so very few talk about sin anymore? People that do so are ridiculed and are marginalized as being superstitious, unenlightened, crackpots, or even worse. Oh, there are some people who will talk about sin, but they typically have reduced sin to a sort of mild and trivial offense, something that, by and large, is not good, but certainly does not merit condemnation. And, when sin is recognized today, it is most often considered a sin against mankind, not against God, for very few people believe in God today, or, at least, a God who is unlike themselves. When most people speak about God, what they have in mind are their own values and beliefs, what’s important to them, but not God the Holy Trinity, Creator of all things, who has given His Word and has established His Law as a curb, and a mirror, and a guide for what is good, and what is right, and what is holy.

The Original Sin was a sin against God the Holy Trinity; it was a sin against the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. And that’s exactly what our First Parents did, they feared, and loved, and trusted someone else, something other, than God Himself. They feared, and they loved, and they trusted the devil and his word more than God. They feared, and they loved, and they trusted themselves and their own interpretation of God’s Word more than God. And, when they ate, their eyes were opened and they could see in a way they couldn’t see before. They could see with eyes, and with reason and intellect, and with will that was different than, and in opposition to, God’s will. And now, it doesn’t matter what God says is right or wrong, good or evil, but what matters is only what men say, what you say, as every man and every woman has become his or her own god, a god unto one’s self. That is the result, the fruit of Original Sin, and every human person is conceived and is born into this corruption so that every thought, every desire, every word, and every deed that comes from a man is sin.

And, the fruit of sin is that it causes men to call good evil and evil good. Thus, once their eyes were opened, Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, they thought their nakedness was evil, so they covered themselves up and they hid from each other and from God. But, their nakedness was not evil; God made them that way, perfect and holy, sinless and good. Then, when God called to them and sought them out, Adam and Eve blamed each other and they also blamed God. Adam considered the good wife that God had given him to be evil, and he considered God to be evil for giving her to him in the first place. And, Eve considered the serpent that God had made to be evil, and she too considered God to be evil for creating it. Their eyes may have been opened, but truly, they had become blind; they were blind to God’s Word and they were blind to God’s will, and all that they could see was what their own judgment and will could see which now was in contention with and in opposition to God.

And, so it has been with men ever since the Fall. Men call evil good, and good evil. Were it not for God’s gracious intervention in our humanity, we would all die eternally. But, where man in his justice would quickly condemn such a rebellion, God calls man’s kind of justice evil and instead, entered Himself into humanity to redeem it from condemnation and death. God spoke to the devil saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Immediately on the heels of man’s sinful rebellion God spoke His Word of Gospel promise and restoration. He did not judge man as man would judge, but He sacrificed Himself in love and mercy.

The seed of the woman, Jesus, has indeed bruised and crushed the devil’s head when He was struck in death upon the cross. In love and mercy, the Son of God, made man, laid down His life unto death upon the cross for Adam and Eve and for their offspring, even you. Though men look upon Jesus’ humility, suffering, and death upon the cross and consider it weak, pathetic, and evil, we, the children of God, who know and love the Word and the will of God, call the Friday of His death what it truly is, good.

And, though we must suffer through the many ramifications of our sins – toilsome labor, grasping for power, dissatisfied passions and desires, pain, sorrow, disease, and death – in the midst of these and even through these God provides for us, cares for us, and carries us through. As God shed the innocent blood of the animals He created so that His children Adam and Eve might be clothed, so too He shed the innocent blood of His Son Jesus that our sins might be washed from us and that we might be clothed in His holiness and righteousness once again.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homily for Invocabit – The First Sunday in Lent


Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21

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

Both St. Matthew and St. Luke say that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. St. Mark, less gently, says that the Spirit drove Him or cast Him into the wilderness. Regardless, on this the three Evangelists agree: Jesus did not just wander into his confrontation with the devil.

Immediately after His baptism by John in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit cast Jesus out into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the devil. Jesus was chrismated, was anointed by the Holy Spirit for that very purpose: As the new Adam, to resist and overcome the temptation of the devil by the Word of God; as the new David, to slay that demonic Goliath with the five smooth stones of the Word.

But, whereas Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden because of their sin, Jesus, who knew no sin of His own, was made to be sin for us. He was baptized in the sewer of man’s sin, but instead of emerging cleansed in Holy Absolution, He was made to be a curse for us. Nevertheless, His Father loved Him and was pleased with Him, because, though He was innocent, He laid down His life in sacrificial love for you. And, whereas David, a man after God’s own heart, abandoned the Ark of the Covenant on the battlefield, committed adultery with his commander’s wife, and then murdered Uriah the Hittite by sending him to the frontlines of the battle, Jesus is the express image of the heart of God and His glory.

In Adam, we see a man who was holy, free, and without sin deceived by the devil, trusting and fearing him more than God, and submitting himself to enslavement to sin and death. And, in David, we see a man, we see all men, conceived and born in sin, whose every inclination is to sin always. We have battled with the devil and have lost. We battle with the devil every day and succumb often. Thanks be to God that He drove His holy and sinless Son into battle with the tempter for us, carrying the burden of our sin, fasting from worldly sustenance, but finding His strength and placing His trust solely upon the Word of God to resist temptation and to overcome the devil for us and to seal the victory in His death upon the cross.

I think that we are tempted to downplay the humanity of Jesus, to think that resisting the devil’s temptations was easy, child’s play for Him. But, that’s not what the Scriptures teach about Jesus, and that’s not what we confess with the whole Church about Jesus in the Creeds. Jesus is at the same time both God and man. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother. He has a rational soul and human flesh just like you. But the key thing that we must understand and confess today is that our Lord is not a mishmash of divinity and humanity, that is, Jesus’ divine and human natures are not confused or comingled in His person; this is to say that there is not a scrap of human nature in His Godhead, and there is not a smitch of deity in His manhood, any more than there is in your or mine. Jesus came to save us, in our nature, not to put on some flashy, theandric, superhuman performance that would be fundamentally irrelevant to our condition. Jesus faced the tempter, the devil, in hunger and thirst and in physical weakness, as a man, just like Adam, even more just like David, and even more still just like you.

Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations, not by summoning up His divine power and glory – that’s exactly what the devil wanted Him to do! – but by finding strength and counsel, and by placing His trust in the Word of God, just like you do. The devil tempted Jesus to use His divine power and turn stones into bread that He might eat and satisfy the desires of His flesh. But, Jesus refused, trusting that the LORD would provide all that He needed to sustain His body and life. Then the devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, quoting the Scripture saying that angels would bear Him up, lest He strike His foot against a stone. Again, Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation and put His trust in the LORD and in His Word. Then, a third time, the devil tempted Jesus to take for Himself earthly power and glory, and Jesus resisted Him again by putting His trust in the LORD and in His Word.

If Jesus would have used His divine power, He would have blown it for us all. But, because He suffered the devil’s temptations as a man, as one of us, and resisted, placing perfect fear, perfect love, and perfect trust in God alone, he remained innocent, sinless, and holy and He could take His innocence to the cross, bearing your sins, bearing my sins and the sins of the world, and die, the sinless for the sinful, thus breaking the curse of death that hanged over us. And, on the third day, He was raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep.

The devil began his tempting by challenging Jesus’ divinity saying, “If you are the Son of God….” The devil knew full well who Jesus was, but he wanted Jesus to act like Superman rather than like Clark Kent. But, if Jesus were to have used His divine power to resist the devil’s temptation, then that would have done nothing for all us Clark Kents who do not have such power. Jesus is not Superman, but He is the perfect Man, the fullness of what God created Man to be, for you. Though He demonstrated that Adam could have withstood the temptations of the devil if he had placed his fear, love, and trust in God and His Word, He also demonstrated that sinful David, and sinful you as well, can face Goliath-like temptation and overcome by fear, love, and trust in God and His Word. But, more than either of these, Jesus has resisted and overcome the devil for you and has died for you to set you free from his tyranny. So, now, there is nothing to fear from that liar and deceiver. The emperor of this world has no clothes, and his kingdom is slipping through his fingers. The gates of hell are overcome by the Church of Christ in water, word, body, and blood. For, though He would not use His divine power to do what the devil tempted, Jesus uses it now to provide the bread of His body to feed and strengthen you, to call upon all the angelic host to guard and protect you in all your ways, and to exercise His divine power and authority over heaven and earth by forgiving your sins and giving you eternal life.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Homily for Ash Wednesday


Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19

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

There are few more sobering words in the Holy Scriptures or in the Divine Liturgy of the Church than those which each of you heard just moments ago: Remember, O man, that you are dust, and that to dust you shall return. Those words are a blunt reminder of the certainty of your death. You will die, that is certain, and your death is what you have rightly earned and merited for your sin – the sins that you have committed in thought, word, and deed, and the sin that you have inherited from your father Adam. As I look at you, I see death, impressed upon your foreheads, just as you see it impressed upon mine, dust and ashes, the stuff of which we are made. There is no avoiding this reality, for all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. However, as I look at you, I also see something that brings me unspeakable comfort and joy – the cross of Jesus the Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. Though you are marked with the ashes of death, the cross is an even more powerful reminder that all your sin is atoned for and that even your enemy, death, has been conquered in Jesus’ death upon the cross. And, while the deathly ashes now stain your brow, soon you will wash them away for another year. Yet, still you are marked, you are marked with the cross of Christ crucified in Holy Baptism – a mark which is invisible to you and to me, but a mark which shines glorious to our God and Father, for it is the mark of His divine love and mercy, grace, forgiveness, and peace that can never be taken away from you.

And so, each year Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten pilgrimage. Lent serves as an annual reminder and opportunity for you to return to your LORD in repentance, to confess your sins and to be washed clean in the purifying blood of Jesus. For, it is not a man who calls you to repent, but it is your LORD God Himself who says to you “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” We return because there is someone to return to, thanks be to God! We prodigal sons and daughters who have taken our God for granted and who have squandered his grace in reckless living are called to see how far we have strayed, where the gods we have made for ourselves have lead us, and to see our loving Father running toward us with open arms ready, not to chastise or to punish, but to embrace and to forgive and to restore. He has killed His best Lamb for you, even His only beloved Son, that you may feast on His flesh and drink His life-giving blood and live with Him forever.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me.” Yet even now, in the midst of your sinful rebellion and your idolatrous ways, return to the LORD, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster – He relents over your disaster, the disastrous misery and death of your backsliding ways. Return in fasting, return in humility, return in repentance, because He has already prepared your restoration and even now He calls you to it.

For, your repentance, your returning is His work by His Word. The LORD calls “Return to me,” and His sheep hear and know His voice and return. The LORD is jealous for you; He will not share you or forfeit you to another. And, instead of punishment and death for your rebellion, He blesses you. He sends you His blessing: Grain, that you might eat the bread of His body. Wine, that you might drink His blood and live. And oil, that you might be consecrated and sanctified, set apart and marked with His Name, as His people, in Holy Baptism. Through these blessings He has made you partakers of His divine nature so that you are not a slave, but a son and an heir.

In blindness you cried out for mercy; in Christ you have received it in all fullness. You have been freed from bondage to the world, the passions of the flesh, and death, therefore do not submit yourself again to slavery. This day you are called to a fast. Fasting is not a command of the Law, but it is a response of faith to the freedom and the life that we have graciously received in Christ Jesus. Jesus says “When you fast…,” not “If you fast…” But, fasting is not starvation, but it is a willful, intentional abstention from the desires and the passions of the flesh that would lead you back into slavery. Whatever it is that enslaves you, that keeps you in joyless bondage, that hinders your God given vocation, that gets between you and your spouse, between you and your children, whatever it is that gets between you and your God – cut it out and throw it away; it is an idol and a foothold for the devil who desires only to keep you away from God and in slavery to sin and death.

And, give to those in need. Again, this is not a command of the Law, but it is a response of faith. Giving to those in need is part of showing love to your neighbor, love that is selfless and sacrificial and that flows from God’s love for you in Christ Jesus. This kind of love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It is patient and kind. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

And, pray. Pray alone, in private, with or without words. Pray in your vocation, in your many vocations, live your life as a prayer to God. And pray in the solemn assembly with your faithful brothers and sisters in Christ with the elders, with the children, with brides and bridegrooms, and even with nursing infants, for you are together with them the Body of Christ and together partakers of His divine nature. No man is an island, and no Christian is ever alone, though the devil is working to divide and separate you from the body of Christ. This is all the more reason to fast from the worldly and fleshly desires and passions that he utilizes to isolate you and imprison you and kill you.

Therefore, as much as Ash Wednesday is a trumpet call to repentance, it is also a call to arms and to war against the temptations of the world, the desires and passions of the flesh, and the treachery of the devil. Lent is boot camp for Christians as we, together, through fasting, service, prayer, and repentance, shed the excess baggage that weighs us down and keeps us from living as the free people of God unto His glory. And as we purge ourselves of our idolatries, we are equipped with all that we need for the battle. In this regard, St. Paul’s exhorts the Church at Ephesus as well as you today:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

People of God, Ash Wednesday and Lent are much less about what you might give up than they are about returning to what you have been given and have received. The ashes of this day are a sign that you have died to the world, to fleshly desires and passions, and to the devil, but that you live in Christ your crucified, risen, and reigning God and Savior. God calls you to live in that life and to not return to slavery to sin and death. But, God knows that, while the spirit of the new man is willing, nevertheless, the flesh of the old man is weak. And so, He has left you a blessing: His Body, His Blood, His Baptism, His Absolution, His Word. These are your heavenly treasures here on earth; and, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Homily for Quinquagesima


Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Isaiah 35:3-7

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

Three weeks ago today we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. On that day we heard how Jesus lead three of His disciples high upon a mountaintop and there was transfigured before them and how He shone with the glory of His divine nature. But the glory of that mountaintop experience was but a glimpse, a brief foretaste of a glory that would be revealed in Him later. Though Peter, like all men, would have preferred to stay on the mountaintop in glory, Jesus lead his disciples, and He leads us, down from the mountain of glory and into the valley of the shadow of death amongst people possessed by unclean spirits and afflicted with all manner of disease, where men struggle for greatness over and against each other, where Jesus’ is rejected and opposed by most, and where He taught in parables so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. For, although Jesus is the glory of God the Father incarnate, His glory is not revealed in power and majesty as men desire to see, but His glory and His power and His majesty are revealed in weakness and in humility, in sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness that must be seen for the glory that they are with eyes of faith. Indeed, Jesus’ glory, the glory of God the Father, was revealed in its fullness upon another mountaintop, a mountaintop which is called Golgotha in Aramaic and Calvary in Latin, which means the place of a skull.

Through the Church’s liturgy we have walked in that valley with Jesus these past three weeks, but truly we live each and every day of our lives in that valley, surrounded by enemies, darkness, and death. But we do not faint with fear, we are not overcome with anxiety, for our Lord and our Good Shepherd is with us in the valley of death to lead us and to feed us, to guide us and to chasten us with the rod and the staff of His Word. And now, in the Church’s liturgy, Jesus has set His face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. Jesus said to His disciples, and He says to you, “See.” His Word is a performative and creative Word, the very Word of creation and life, but it was not understood and it was rejected. The disciples were blind to the way in which Jesus’ glory as the Son of the Father would be revealed.

Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

The disciples heard Jesus well enough, yet they did not hear Him with the ears of faith; they saw Him and His teaching in action, yet they did not see Him with the eyes of faith. This was not the first time that they had heard Jesus teach about His suffering, death, and resurrection, but they were blind to His meaning because it did not make sense according to their human reason and expectations and their sin-wrecked ideas about glory, power, and majesty. The disciples’ blindness, the blindness of Quinquagesima, stands in contrast to the glorious sight of the Transfiguration. Indeed, it is a blind man who can see that, despite His humble appearance, Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of God, while His own disciples stumble in blindness.

Indeed, it is a physically blind man who can see better than Jesus’ disciples who Jesus is and what He has come to do. He called Jesus by the Name given at the Annunciation by Gabriel, Jesus, God’s Salvation, and He called Jesus by the Name of His human lineage and nature, Son of David. The blind man had heard of Jesus, His teaching and His wondrous deeds, and he confessed with his mouth what He already believed about Jesus in his heart, that Jesus is God dwelling amongst men as a man and that He is, above all else, merciful. The blind man cried out to Jesus, not because of His powerful, glorious, and majestic deeds, but because he believed Jesus to be God in the flesh, and because he believed Jesus to be merciful.

And so, it is a blind man who can truly see, while the seeing show themselves to be blind, rebuking the man and telling Him to be silent. Yet, the blind man cried out all the more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped dead in His tracks; He never passes by a cry for mercy. Even though He had set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and to die, He stopped and commanded the blind man to be brought before Him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “Lord, let me recover my sight,” the man replied. And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.

It was indeed the man’s faith that made him well, but this was not a work that he performed that earned Him Jesus’ favor, but it was trust, simple, child-like trust that clung to Jesus and would not let go. The blind man’s faith gave him true sight to see that Jesus was the most important thing to him, his one thing needful. Apparently there was a time that this man could see, for he plead “let me recover my sight,” but even without his sight he could see better than most. Jesus said to him “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well,” but the real healing had occurred sometime before that, when the blind man believed, for then he could truly see. As glorious, powerful, and majestic as was this man’s healing, the recovery of his sight was truly secondary to the healing of his sin-sickness unto death that he received through faith in his merciful Jesus.

In the recovery of his sight the blind man glorified God, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness. God is glorified when you receive His gifts in faith, for the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts in faith. The blind man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God in His worship. And so, our Gospel lesson today began with Jesus’ disciples who, though they had seen Jesus’ glorious works and wonders with their own eyes, could not see that Jesus must suffer and die and be raised from the dead on the third day just as the prophets had written, but it ends with a blind man who could see this and so much more, who simply trusted and embraced Jesus as His merciful God in human flesh.

The disciples were at a crossroads, so to speak, for Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. This was the reason for His appearing; it was a path that He submitted Himself to willingly in love for His Father and in love for you. All who trust in Him, who cling to Him desiring mercy will receive it, and they will follow Him through suffering and death into eternal life. Though surely blindness, disease, persecution, suffering, and death are common to all men, you, Christians, will experience these acutely as you love others and you have been loved and as you show mercy as precious mercy has been shown to you. For, God is love, and Jesus is God’s gift of love for the world, and mercy is love in action toward others.

Dear Christians, do not subject yourself to a self-imposed blindness, refusing to see that love is mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice. As we journey with Jesus to the cross this Lenten season, let us remember the great love and mercy that has been poured out for us in Jesus and let us glorify God by showering this same love and mercy upon our neighbors, even our enemies, and especially upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. And, take comfort and receive strength in faith and knowledge that you do not make your pilgrimage alone, but that God’s love incarnate, Jesus Christ, goes with you and that He has blazed the way through death for you unto eternal life. Jesus’ glory is not in His power and majesty as men count glory, power, and majesty, but it is in His selfless, sacrificial love and mercy laid down and poured out for the world. We were given a foretaste of His resurrection glory in the Transfiguration, and even now we are given a foretaste of His victory feast in this Supper of His glorified body and blood. Now water breaks forth in this barren wilderness and streams well up in this desert that your eyes may be opened, that your ears may be unstopped, that you may leap like a dear and sing for joy as you follow your merciful Lord unto Jerusalem, to Calvary, to the Kingdom of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.