Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homily for Wednesday of Ad Te Levavi–The First Week of Advent


Isaiah 40:22-30; Jeremiah 23:5-8; Zechariah 9:9-12

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

You have to admit, the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. Indeed, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. And so, we have proclaimed with the Psalmist saying, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” And, we have heard the words of the Prophet, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the ruler of the earth as emptiness.” Our Lord created all things. He sustains all things. And, He has promised to bring this creation to an end and usher in a new creation. Thus, we might well expect that our Lord would work salvation in like kind, with great power and might in a magnificent display of His deity. But then, the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways.

For, through generations of men, the Lord prepared us for His coming by remaining faithful and true to the promise He made to our First Parents, the promise that He repeated again and again to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, and to all the world, that He would send His Messiah, a King, a Savior to redeem the world from sin and death. And, each generation believed the Messiah would come in their time; indeed, Eve believed her first born son to be her Lord. Yet, though there were types of the Messiah aplenty in figures like Melchizedek, Isaac, and Joseph, the Passover Lamb, the Holy Manna, and the bronze serpent, and the shepherd David, the coming of the true Messiah was delayed. The Lord waited until time was full to send His Son. The Lord waited patiently, mercifully, desiring that all men be saved and none perish. The Lord delayed His coming because His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. The Lord delayed His coming because the righteous will live by faith, by trust in the Lord’s goodness and mercy, His faithfulness to His Word, trusting not in the might, reason, or emotions of men of flesh.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Everyone expected the Messiah to be a great and powerful leader and king. Make no mistake about it, the people of each generation thought that they had the man be he Joseph, Moses, Saul, David, or another. Indeed, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, the people were prepared to crown Him their King. They laid down their cloaks before Him and praised Him waving palm branches all the while crying out hosanna, save us! They called Him the Son of David, the great king.

But then, He went on to do the most unkingly things imaginable. He caused a ruckus in the temple courts by turning over the tables of the money changers and casting them out. He brought upon Himself the displeasure and wrath of the religious leadership of the Jews by undermining their teachings and threatening their comfort and power. Then, He permitted to allow Himself to be arrested, instructing His disciples not to draw the sword. He was tried and convicted, scourged and beaten, mocked and spat upon, and then He was crucified and died. God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts.

But, isn’t that precisely what the Lord had been teaching us all along? Isn’t that entirely consistent with the ways and thoughts of God? Our Lord’s first promise of the Messiah He issued shortly after man’s fall into sin saying that the seed of the woman would crush the seed of the serpent’s head. The Messiah would be a man, born of woman like all men. God repeated that promise again and again through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, up through David and the prophets, right up to the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, to Jesus. Isaiah prophesied that the virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be Immanuel, God with us. And, Malachi prophesied of the one who would precede the coming of the Messiah by preparing His way before Him; that one was John himself who prepared the way for Jesus by baptizing and preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shot aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Didn’t see that one coming? God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. And that is one reason why we take this extra time in Advent to prepare for our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is an opportunity to tune in a little closer and to ponder God’s Word and His wisdom and His promises that He has consistently fulfilled throughout all the generations of men. It’s all there, after all, in His Word. It always has been and it always will be. But, our thoughts and ways are so very different from God’s that, if we don’t pay close attention, we’re likely to chase after the wrong kings, the wrong gods, and ignore, or worse, our God who comes to us humble and lowly, but having righteousness and salvation for the whole world.

Our King has come, the Messiah, Immanuel, Jesus the Christ. He has come in lowliness and humility. He has taken His throne upon the cross. He has been crowned our king with a crown of thorns. And He has served His subjects in righteousness and forgiveness, laying down His life in death for the world. And, still He comes to us in lowliness and humility under the forms of Word, water and oil, bread and wine bestowing the gifts He died to secure for us. And, he is coming again in glory and great power and might that every eye will see and, because of which, every tongue will confess Him Lord and King to rescue us out of this fallen, broken world of sin and death, shame and suffering, and bring us into His eternal kingdom of peace. May we always be prepared for His coming by remaining in His Word and in His gifts where His promises are given and are kept for the life of the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homily for Ad Te Levavi (The First Sunday in Advent)

Ad Te Levavi


Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8

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

Behold! The King is coming! Behold! The King has come! Behold! The King is coming!

But, when He comes, how does He come? Then, He came in lowliness and humility, scandalously born of a virgin mother in a stable, laid in the animal’s trough. Then, He came in lowliness and humility, riding upon a donkey and her colt. Now He comes in hidden glory under the forms of bread and wine, water and oil, and the proclaimed Gospel Word of God by the lips and the hands of sinful men. Then, He will come in the fullness of God’s power and glory and every eye will see Him and every tongue will confess Him to be the Lord. Then He will be our King in every way imaginable, even as He is our King now, and He will execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The eyes, ears, and the heart of faith recognize the Lord’s coming in all these ways, which is to say, that the faithful recognize the Lord’s Parousia, His presence amongst us, at all times. For, while there are three advents, three distinct comings, there is truly only one Parousia, only one presence. Your Lord Jesus is present with you then, now, and always, just as He has promised to be, even to the end of the age. Thus, this new Church Year begins in the manner the past one ended, with the faithful watching and waiting for His coming, in all the ways that He comes, remaining prepared for His coming by receiving the gifts of His Parousia, His true and abiding presence amongst us.

“O Lord, how shall I meet You,” we sang with Gerhardt and the Church. Indeed, that is our focus and preparation in Advent, to be prepared for the coming of our Lord and to meet Him in all the ways that He comes to us. And, in this mildly penitential season, one way in which we prepare ourselves for our Lord’s coming is by examining ourselves and by confessing our sins. So, we prayed in the Collect, “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.”

For, mighty deliverance from the perils of our sins is what Jesus came to bring. And thus, He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. His sword is His Word, the Word of God that proceeds from His mouth and will not return to Him void, a Word of Law that crushes all, and a Word of Gospel which is soothing balm to the repentant and the only source of true hope and comfort. For those who receive Him, He is their righteousness, but for those who reject Him, they are left to be judged by their works according to God’s perfect and holy Law.

But, behold, God has raised Him up, a righteous branch, the only righteous branch and the only source of life. There is no life but to be grafted into Him, and all that are grafted into Him remain in Him, and He in them, and they bear much fruit. And, their fruit is love, the fulfilling of the Law. For, the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law because love does no wrong to a neighbor. Each and every day that passes is an opportunity to draw from the source of life and love Jesus Christ as a branch draws life from the vine and to bear the fruits of love. Drawing life from the Parousia of Jesus now through the means which He offers His grace is what it means to be watchful and waiting in hopeful expectation for His coming as King and Judge. For, each day salvation is nearer to us than it was the day before, or the day when you first believed.

Therefore, do not be offended and scandalized at the humility of His coming. Do not be persuaded by the world, by your flesh, and by your fleshly reason to doubt His presence now, for none who wait for Him shall be put to shame, but they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. They were offended and scandalized by His birth of the Virgin Mary. They were offended and scandalized by the lowliness and the humility of the Bethlehem stable. They were offended and scandalized by His upbringing as the carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth. They were offended and scandalized by His mercy and compassion to notorious sinners and the unclean. They were offended and scandalized by His suffering, crucifixion, and death. And they tried to cover up, hide, and deny the proof of His resurrection on the third day just as He had said.

But, He has kept every one of His promises. And, God, His Father, has kept every one of His promises. He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. He will not leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love which is in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

To prepare and strengthen you as you await His coming in patient and hopeful expectation, come, now, and receive Him where He is present for you now. For, in this Holy Sacrament, your Lord Jesus is present to enter your mouth and your heart, to commune in and with you, to nourish you His branches that you may be fruitful and full of life and love with which you may be a blessing to your neighbor. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homily for The National Day of Thanksgiving

Thankful Leper


Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20; Deuteronomy 8:1-10

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

Thanksgiving is a fruit borne of another’s graciousness; it is our response to what another has done for us. Thus, the one thankful leper who returned and fell at Jesus’ feet giving him thanks is a fitting symbol for us this day. However, in our common parlance, where please and thank you are seen as mere platitudes or means to an end, do we truly understand the spirit of true thankfulness and gratitude?

The thankful leper did not return to Jesus merely to offer Him a platitude, but he returned to die to himself at Jesus’ feet. He completely divested himself of all dignity and honor, of all right, merit, and privilege, and he submitted himself completely to Jesus, confessing Him to be the very source of undeserved grace, mercy, and love. The fact that he was a leper placed him amongst the lowest social tier, but the fact that he was a Samaritan leper made him to be of no count or consideration at all, but, on the contrary, he would have been hated and despised by all. And yet, Jesus accepted him, He showed mercy to him, and He healed him. And, when the Samaritan leper saw the fruit of Jesus’ love borne in him in his being cleansed from leprosy and healed, he returned to Jesus to give thanks to the one who showed him undeserved mercy and who restored to him life.

True thankfulness is a matter of life and death. We cannot truly be thankful when we believe that we have earned or merited, deserved or chosen the good things that we have. But, true thankfulness is the fruit of life being borne out of death, of a lifeless branch being grafted into the True and Life-giving Vine.

Our life as Christians must be to recognize this each and every day of our lives, to die to ourselves and to live to Christ each and every day. Let each day begin and end by dying to yourself, by returning to the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness shown to you in Holy Baptism by confessing your sins and receiving God’s gracious absolution anew. Let us say grace before each of our meals, that is, let us recognize and confess that each morsel we place into our mouths, and those that we throw away, are precious, undeserved and unmerited gifts of God’s grace, mercy, and love. And, after our bellies are full, let us return thanks to the Lord for all His benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. To assist us in this life of faith, our father in faith Martin Luther has left us prayers for giving and returning thanks in the Small Catechism and in our hymnals: The Morning Prayer, the Evening Prayer, Asking a blessing, and Returning Thanks. To be a Christian is to return to the Lord in thanksgiving, which is to die to yourself in humility and repentance and to acknowledge the Lord as the giver of all good and perfect gifts.

In a way, it is somewhat unnecessary for the Church of Christ to observe a National Day of Thanksgiving, for each and every Lord’s Day we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, and we fall down at the feet of Jesus, giving thanks and praising God. We bring nothing to Him but ourselves, our praise and thanksgiving, for He alone is the giver of all things. We come as lepers, even Samaritan lepers, for grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, for acceptance, healing, and cleansing of all our sins. And, the Lord gives us all these things and more and sends us on our way by faith to show His fruits to the world, to bear forth grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all in the Name of Jesus, to the glory of the Father.

And yet, there is another fruit borne in thankfulness, and that is the peace and contentment of which St. Paul has written, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus.” For, one fruit of thankfulness is contentment and peace in your life, in your present situation, with what you have. Have you not seen how it is often those who have the least that appear to be the most content and at peace, even happy and free? Indeed, the pilgrims who celebrated the first thanksgiving meal had come through extreme hardship and suffering and were truly thankful for the food and shelter that they had, recognizing that it was all the gracious gift and providence of God.

Thus, let us commemorate and celebrate this annual National Day of Thanksgiving as a unique opportunity to take stock of all the things we are thankful for: Food and clothing, to be sure, family and friends, a devout husband or wife, devout children, our bodies and lives, and, especially, the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness we have received as a free and perfect gift from our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ. And, let us show thanks by dying to ourselves daily and living to Christ in selfless words and deeds toward our neighbors, especially the least of these, in thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us, as fruit borne on us, His branches, mercifully grafted into the True Vine Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Homily for The Last Sunday of the Church Year



Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25

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

Every bit as much as the sheep and the goats of last Sunday’s Gospel lesson were both part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, so today all ten of the virgins, both the wise ones and the foolish ones, are invitation holders to the marriage feast of the Bridegroom. That is to say, they’re already in good with the Bridegroom. They’ve been chosen. It’s party time for the whole lot of them! All the young ladies need to do is, well, nothing at all, but wait…, wait for the Bridegroom to arrive.

But, waiting is boring, right? It certainly can be. And, this fact is probably best exhibited in children. Children often find it very difficult to wait. Think of the weeks and the days before a birthday or a visit from grandparents or a favorite cousin. Think of the months before Christmas or a trip to Disney World. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Children often find it difficult to wait. And, adults, too, often find it difficult to wait. So, while we wait we fill our lives with distractions, a book or a movie, maybe a crossword puzzle. And, when young people get bored, well, there are temptations to do things that aren’t well thought out and are bad for them, things that get them into trouble or worse.

This was true for our ten virgins as well. In their waiting, no doubt they primped and they partied, they danced and they talked, all the while biding the time until the Bridegroom arrived. However, the Bridegroom was delayed. Indeed, we are often faced with delays in this life, are we not? And, we can empathize with the virgins’ exasperation as they cried out, “Oh no, how much longer do we have to wait?” Well, they partied and primped some more, they danced and talked some more, and, eventually, all ten of the young ladies fell asleep. Yes, all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive.

And then comes the crux of the story, literally, the crisis, the judgment: At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ And, a piece of information that we were told at the very beginning of the story bears fruit: Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Thus, when the delayed Bridegroom arrived in the middle of the night, the foolish young ladies realized that their lamps were going out and that they did not have any more oil. But, why was this piece of information given at the very beginning of the story? Likely, it was to show that it was neither the amount of oil that the virgins possessed nor their preparedness that merited their attendance at the wedding banquet, but it was the Bridegroom’s gracious invitation alone. No works or deeds, words, or even the thoughts of the heart get you into, or keep you out of, the kingdom of heaven, but the Lord’s gracious invitation alone, received and kept in faith alone or rejected.

And so, it is about having oil, but it is not about how much, for the oil is a symbol of faith and trust and it is a symbol of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Oil isn’t something that you do or think or speak, but oil is something that you have, or something that you don’t have. Faith is like oil, either you have it, or you don’t. It’s not about how much faith you have, after all, faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, and I reckon that you don’t have faith like that, neither do I. But, faith in Christ saves, regardless of how big or small, strong or weak that faith might be. Faith in Christ saves because it receives what Christ has done and it clings to Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The oil represents faith and Christ’s gift of His Holy Spirit. There is no place and no one from which to purchase faith, and you cannot borrow or receive the faith of another, you have to have your own. Thus, the failing of the five foolish virgins was not that they didn’t have faith, they did, but rather that they allowed their faith to grow weak and thin. Oh, they thought they had enough to be prepared when the Bridegroom came. They were very practical, just like you, thinking that they would only bring enough oil to get them into the early evening when the Bridegroom was scheduled to arrive. But, they didn’t count on his being delayed. Does anyone count on a delay? But, delays happen, don’t they, and then it’s best to be prepared. The five wise virgins seemed foolish in carrying around extra flasks of oil. It was as if they overpacked for a one night stay. Nevertheless, when the Bridegroom was delayed, they had enough oil to wait Him out.

Jesus told this parable to His disciples in the days preceding His crucifixion and death. He knew that they would understand His coming again to mean that He would come very soon. And so, Jesus is both warning them and comforting them, and us, for a delay in His coming. He tells them not simply to wait for Him but also to watch for His coming at a day and hour they do not know. They are to not simply believe, but they are to trust and wait in eager expectation – that is what faith does. They are to take the example of the five wise virgins and bolster their faith, feed their faith, strengthen their faith for the waiting and the watching so that, no matter when Jesus returns, they will be ready and prepared, not by their thoughts, words, and deeds, but because they have faith. But, how do they do this? Where do they go to bolster, feed, and strengthen their faith? You cannot buy faith from vendors. You cannot borrow the faith of others. You have to have and receive faith for yourself. Where then is faith given, fed and strengthened, replenished, and sustained? In and through the means that Christ has appointed during this time in which He is delayed in returning: The preaching of the Gospel. The gift of the Spirit in Holy Baptism. The forgiveness of sins in Absolution. And communion with Jesus in His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Through each of these means of grace Christ has promised to be present with you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. There is no better way to be prepared for His coming than remaining in His gifts. And, these gifts are not something that you must do for Him, but they are the fruits of what He has done for you in His suffering and death upon the cross. He promises you that if you remain in Him that He will remain in you and that through these means He will be with you always, even to the end of the age. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.

For, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of heaven is a gift of God’s perfect and uncompromising grace for all people regardless of their thoughts, words, and deeds for the sake of His son, the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. He has prepared everything for everyone and He has called all the world to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. You are invited. You are in good with God because of Jesus. Do you believe this? If so, then keep on believing this. Keep your faith alive and strong, even if He is delayed in His coming. Wait for His coming. Watch for His coming. Be prepared for His coming by bolstering, feeding, and strengthening your faith. Yeah, I know it’s hard to wait. God knows it’s hard for you to wait too. He knows that you will be distracted. He knows that you will fail at times. He knows that you will fall asleep, that you may even be asleep when Jesus returns. But faith is like oil in a lamp. If you have faith, and if you are sustained and kept in faith by His gracious gifts, then you are well prepared for His coming, even if you fall asleep. For the trumpet will sound, “Here is the Bridegroom! Wake up! Wake up!” Then, all you virgins, made pure, spotless, innocent, and holy in the blood of the Lamb, will come out to meet Him and will enter the marriage feast of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. But, for now, while we are waiting and watching with eager and hopeful expectation, we gather around and receive this foretaste of that feast to come in Holy Communion with our Lord who has come, who comes to us now, and who is coming for us at a day and an hour we do not know. Therefore, with the Church of Christ of all times and of all places we cry out, “Maranatha,” come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, come.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homily for The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)

sheep and goats

Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:3-14; Daniel 7:9-14

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

The Church of Christ always has Her eyes set upon Her Lord Jesus. In Advent She is focused upon Her Lord in His coming as an infant child, the Babe of Bethlehem. Throughout the Epiphany, Easter, and Trinity seasons She is focused upon Her Lord who has come as the Lamb of Calvary. And now, at the end of the Church’s Year of Grace, She is focused upon His coming again as Redeemer, Judge, and King.

He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. Our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, has been, is, and will be with us always, even to the end of the age. He was before the foundation of the world. He sustains the world in its present existence. And, He is coming again at the world’s end. And, throughout it all, He is a two-edged sword, He is a stone of stumbling and a cause of division amongst men. Indeed, the Prince of Peace did not come to bring peace, but a sword; that is to say, Jesus did not come to leave things as they are. But, Jesus came to break hardened hearts of stone, and Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless and to the despairing. But this world must, and it will, pass away; its very elements will burn and melt in fire.

And when He comes again, He will not come in lowliness and humility. He will not come in a scandalous manner that will be questioned and doubted. But, when He comes again, He will come in the fullness of the glory of God with a multitude of the heavenly host, and He will sit upon His glorious throne. Then all will be gathered before Him from all the nations and every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

But He was, and He is, and He will be the same Jesus, the same Lord. Those who believe know this and they can see His glory now through the eyes of faith. They can behold the same glory beheld by Mary and Joseph, by Moses, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, and by Adam and Eve after their fall. It is a glory that is hidden but, nevertheless, is real, like the mass of an iceberg below the surface of the water with just the peak exposed for all to see. He was Lord of Lords before there were men. He was Lord of Lords before there was a world. And, as it was in the beginning, so it is now, and so shall it ever be in the world that has no end.

And, this is the truth. He is the Truth. Jesus is the Truth incarnate; Jesus is the Truth in human flesh. He has always been the Truth, and He is the source of all things that are, the very Word of God, the Word of creation apart from whom nothing was, is, or ever shall be. But, at His Father’s bidding, He willingly laid aside His glory and became what we are so that we might become, in Him and through Him, what He is. And, here’s the really amazing thing – He has done this for everyone in all the world, for all of creation, He has done this for you, whether you accept it or not, whether you believe it or not. And, because of this, God the Father has given Him the Name that is above all names, the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

And so, when He comes, He will come as King and He will come as Judge. He will come with the fullness of His glory and with the fullness of His Kingdom, and no one, no one will be able to deny Him any longer. Then He will judge all men; then He will judge the world. He will judge the world in this way, like a shepherd separating His flock, dividing the sheep from the goats. He shepherded them both, cared for them both, fed and gave drink to them both, and He died for them both, laying His own sinless body into the jaws of the wolf, that both His sheep and His goats would be spared and live. But, though He did this for them all, though He died for them all, there is a key difference between His sheep and His goats, the goats believed that it was their good works that kept them in the Good Shepherd’s flock while the sheep truly believed that they were there by grace alone and thus they trusted in their Good Shepherd’s favor alone.

This difference is exhibited in the responses of the sheep and the goats to Jesus’ judgment concerning them. To the sheep on His right Jesus said, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The sheep’s mystified and humble reply is, “When?” “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” They simply cannot imagine that they have done such a thing for anyone, least of all their Lord Jesus. And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

The sheep do not look to themselves for righteousness. They do not find righteousness within themselves. When the sheep look to themselves they see only unworthiness and helplessness. But the Lord declares them blessed, inheritors, and righteous. Blessedness, inheritance, and righteousness are each things that come from outside of you; they are bestowed upon you by another. The righteous sheep are recipients of Christ’s righteousness. They are blessed by the Father for Jesus’ sake. They will inherit Christ’s kingdom because He died for them and has presented them pure, holy, and blameless before His Father in heaven. The sheep do not look to their works; they do not look to anything in themselves at all, but their eyes are set on Jesus and Him alone. When Jesus points out that they actually have done much good to others and that they have in fact done good to Him, they are amazed, they are stunned, they are incredulous. They cry out, “When, Lord?” But the truth and the reality is this, when they kept their eyes upon Jesus, gratefully receiving the gifts of forgiveness, love, and mercy He died to give them, then they were equipped to bear fruitful good works toward their neighbors in need who exemplify our Lord Jesus who, though He was rich, became poor and needy, low and humble, He suffered mockery and ridicule, suffering, pain, and even death for you and all His precious sheep and goats.

Yes, even for the goats. The goats belong to Jesus too. They too are the recipients of Jesus’ atoning life, suffering, and death. But the goats are shocked and stunned that Jesus could say that they abandoned him hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. The goats are certain that there has never been a time that they did not serve Jesus when He was in need. That is because they were so focused upon serving Jesus and being recognized for their service that they neglected and ignored, perhaps even despised, the poor and the lowly, the sick, naked and imprisoned people who truly had needs and in whom Jesus is exemplified. For, when you are concerned and worried about earning and meriting favor with Jesus for yourself, how can you be concerned with and serve your neighbor in the selfless way of Jesus?

Jesus calls His sheep to Himself, to inherit the kingdom that was prepared for them before the foundation of the world, but to the goats Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Indeed, as much as the kingdom of heaven was prepared for the faithful even long before the foundation of the world, so the hell of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels, but not for people, not even for goat-like people. But, nevertheless, that is where some will find themselves, not because of Jesus’ judgment, but because of their rejection of Jesus’ gracious gift and their insistence that they be judged according to their works, their wisdom, and their reason. The sheep are those who listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him, while the goats are those who stubbornly go their own way. Moreover, it is the nature of sheep to follow their shepherd’s voice, trusting Him to lead them to good pasture and cool water, while it is the nature of goats to walk along the cliffs and the precipices which represent sin and the temptation to sin.

But you must understand that the goats are every bit as much a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock as are the sheep. For each and every one of them has the Lord provided, cared for, protected, kept, and even laid down His life to save. In their goatishness, however, they have chosen to go their own way. They have actually chosen a damnation that was not intended for them at all. Their judgment is not the result of their failure to do good works, but their judgment is the result of their refusal to believe, and their faithlessness which made it impossible for them to do good works, to bear the fruits of faith.

And, what you must understand also, dear Christian, is that seeing Christ in everyone is the fulfillment of the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus has promised to be with you always, even to the end of the age. Because of His incarnation and ascension to the right hand of the Father He now fills all things in His humanity and in His divinity. Thus, Jesus is you neighbor, and He is seen and served most clearly in the poor, the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, sick, and imprisoned. That is to say, Jesus is seen and served in the humble and lowly and in the despised of this world.

St. Peter warns that in these last days scoffers will come saying “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately overlook this fact, says Peter, “that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” That is to say, the earth and the world had a beginning; so too, will it have an end at a time that we do not know. The scoffers would have you believe that the world will continue onward perpetually evolving in a natural course under the authority and control of no God at all, therefore, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die, but don’t worry about any accountability or judgment for your actions, for there is no one to judge, therefore judge for yourself what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what is moral, ethical, and virtuous.

“But the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done in it will be exposed.”

Therefore, “what sort of people ought you to be?” That is the question. Will you be a sheep or will you be a goat? Will you listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him, or will you choose to go your own way and skirt the precipices of sin?

You do not have to gaze into the heavens to find Jesus. Nor do you have travel or send your gifts far away to serve Jesus, for He is right where He promised to be, with you, always. Jesus is in the face of your neighbor in need of kindness, charity, grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. By loving your neighbor you love Jesus. And you love your neighbor only with Jesus’ love. There’s no need to calculate how much love you show, for there’s always more with Jesus. There’s no need to make certain you are seen in your charity, for Jesus knows the intents of your heart and the deeds that you do in secret. And the best place to begin in your charitable service is right in your own home, towards your husband or wife, your children, and the members of your church. Each and every one of them is the face of Jesus, hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison for you to serve with the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness Jesus has show to you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Homily for The Feast of All Saints (observed)



Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17

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

Jesus said: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. And, blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

However, when Jesus said these words, He was not describing you. Neither was He giving you a new law commanding you to be poor, mourning, or meek, hungry, merciful, pure and peaceful, or persecuted. Don’t make Jesus out to be Moses. Your Jesus isn’t a new law-giver, but your Jesus is the Gospel incarnate. Your Jesus is the Good News of your reconciliation with God in human flesh. No, Jesus isn’t describing you in these Beatitudes, but He is describing Himself, and, thus, He is describing you when you submit yourself and are willing to die to yourself and to live to and in Him and He in you. For, while poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger, mercy, purity, peacefulness, and persecution do not earn you blessedness, or anything else for that matter, for blessedness can only be given, never, earned, merited, deserved, or taken, there is, nonetheless, blessedness in being poor, mourning, meek and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, there is blessedness in being merciful, pure and peaceful, and there is blessedness even in being persecuted for Jesus’ sake and reviled on account of Him.

That is what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to take up your cross daily – and, not a cross of your choosing, but the cross the Father has chosen for you – to be a Christian is to take up your cross daily and to follow in the path and footsteps of Jesus through poverty, mourning, hunger and thirst, being merciful to all and pure in heart, and peaceful even in the face of suffering, reviling, and persecution. To be a Christian is to die with Jesus to the desires and the passions of the flesh, to the values and the virtues and the idols of this world, to amass treasure in heaven, not on earth, to live in this world while not becoming a part of this world that Christ may be proclaimed in your words and your deeds and that all may know that you are His disciples, not because you are pious and perfect, not because you go to church a lot, not because you wear religious jewelry, not because you listen to Christian music, but because you love the unlovable and you forgive the unforgiveable and you show mercy to those who don’t deserve it just as you have been loved and forgiven and shown mercy by God the Father for the sake of Jesus Christ His Son.

No, dear Christian, the Beatitudes do not describe you. No, they are not a new law for you to obey. But, the Beatitudes describe Jesus, and, thus, the Beatitudes describe all disciples of Christ as they are baptized into Him. Thus, the Beatitudes describe most perfectly those who have died in Christ and are now with Him, the Saints and holy ones of the Lord that we commemorate this day. They are the ones who have come out of this life of great tribulation and are now before the throne of God and the Lamb. Like you, they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb in Holy Baptism. But, no longer are they poor and mourning, no longer do they hunger or thirst, no longer are they persecuted and reviled, but they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple. You are the saints and holy ones of the Lord who still walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but they, they are those who have passed through and out of this valley and they dwell in the Father’s house for evermore.

For, the saints in heaven are everything but dead. In fact, they are more alive than you or I! Jesus taught that whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Him will save it for eternity. The saints in heaven truly live because they died to this life and world. Even while they lived here on earth, they died to selfish desires and passions, they died to the values and virtues and idols of this world. And, because of this they suffered persecution and reviling in this world and were considered the very least of men. But now, they truly live and worship the Holy Trinity in His presence without fear, and they enjoy His favor and comfort and joy and peace that no one can take from them. No, the saints in heaven are not dead examples of piety and of how to live the Christian life, they are not dead examples of how to fulfill the law, but they are living examples of God’s promises kept and secured for you in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who died and who lives.

These living saints are in heaven, gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb. But you saints are still here on earth, gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb. For, indeed, there is but one place in this veil of tears and the valley of the shadow of death where the entire body of Christ is gathered as one, where heaven condescends to and penetrates this earthly sphere, and we, dear saints in Christ, are there now. For, called, gathered, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God through His Word and in and around His Holy Sacraments, we kneel at this semi-circular festal board in communion with those saints who, though we cannot see them, are surely present with us now, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, for they are with Jesus and Jesus is surely present with us now both in His divine spirit and in His true, resurrected, and glorified body and blood to forgive, renew, and strengthen our faith until we come out of this great tribulation into the fullness of God’s glory and life in heaven. And so, this day in which we commemorate the saints of God who are with Him in heaven, we celebrate, not merely the great example of faith and works they provide us, but we celebrate and give thanks and praise to God for the promises He has fulfilled for them and for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. To Him alone be all praise, honor, glory, and thanksgiving with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.