Sunday, March 25, 2012

Homily for Judica (The Fifth Sunday in Lent)



John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14

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

It has become most difficult to communicate today, hasn’t it? It seems, no matter what you say, someone will misunderstand. They take your words out of their context. They will misinterpret your tone or inflection. They will broaden the definition of a clear and precisely defined word, and they will narrow the definition of a broadly defined word. And, when you argue your case, they will say it all comes down to semantics, “That’s your interpretation”. Then, when it comes to an established text, each and every interpretation is considered to be equally valid, regardless of what the author meant or intended.

Foolishness! Mindless rubbish and foolishness! Words mean things. Languages were developed to help us to organize our thoughts, to facilitate functional communication, and to establish names and categories for the things that exist in this world in which we live. Thanks to European Continental philosophies, however, and the rise of Post-Modernism, it is widely believed that words no longer mean anything in particular, or rather, words can have a multitude of meanings both to the hearer as well as to the speaker. But, if a word can mean anything, then it effectively means nothing. And, as go words, so goes what words refer to, truth.

Is it any wonder that so few truly believe in God today? Even amongst the great religions of our world, many practitioners proclaim themselves spiritual or religious, but they do not truly believe that a deity exists. While they may embrace some moralistic doctrine, they do not believe in a Creating, Redeeming, and Sanctifying God who is before all things and the source of all things. After all, the God confessed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, even if not in the fullness of His Trinity, is a God who reveals Himself by speaking words, and words can mean anything, or nothing, right?

Make no mistake about, dear Christian, you worship a God of Word. That He is a creator and that He is powerful you may well observe from nature, but, that He is good, that He is love, that He is a Trinity consisting of Fatherhood, Sonship, and the Spirit of love and sacrifice, you will know this only by trusting in His Word. The Word God speaks is a powerful, creative, and life-giving Word. It is a performative Word which brings into being what it says: “Let there be light”, and there was light. “Little girl, get up”, and the little girl got up. “I forgive you your sins”, and they are forgiven. “This is my body; this is my blood”, and it is. God’s Word is powerful and creative, not because of what God says, but because of who God is. When Moses asked God His Name as He spoke to Him from the burning bush, God answered, “I AM”. I AM – I exist. I AM EXISTENCE. When it comes to God, His Word is powerful and creative, His Word means something, because He IS SOMETHING, because HE IS.

Before Abram was to hear God’s Word, God IS. And, before God’s Word was spoken, God IS. And, when God’s Word was spoken, what He spoke came to be. This is what St. John means when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” All things that are are because of the Word of God. And the Word of God became flesh in Jesus and made His dwelling amongst us. When men reject Jesus, they reject the Word of God. But the Word of God has always been rejected by men, ever since the First Man Adam rejected God’s Word in favor of man’s word, inspired by the Enemy.

Our Gospel lesson today contains a portion of Jesus’ teaching concerning the Word of God. In the verses just before today’s reading Jesus had said to the Pharisees and to other Jews who had previously believed in Him “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” They responded in outrage saying “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” It seems that the Jews of Jesus’ day had short, or at least, selective memories. Indeed, the people of Israel had been enslaved to no less than the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and, presently, the Romans. Jesus then went on to teach them saying that they received neither Abraham nor God as their father, for, if they did, then they would listen to Jesus’ Word and believe in Him. Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. […] Whoever is of God hears the Words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Strong words, aren’t they? Surprising, perhaps? Jesus had drawn a line in the sand, that was certain. The unbelieving Jews continued to attack Jesus verbally, accusing Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan and blaspheming God. Yet, still Jesus appealed to them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” But, that only enraged them all the more. “Now we know that you have a demon!” they shouted, “Abraham died, as did the prophets, but you say, ‘If anyone keeps my Word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Their hearts were so hard, their eyes so blind, their ears so closed that they would not, they could not see, hear, or believe Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst them.

Jesus is the Word of God made man. He is the Word of creation, the powerful and performative Word of God that never returns to Him void, but always and necessarily accomplishes the purpose for which He was sent. He is the two-edged sword that proceeds from the mouth of the Father, that cuts both ways, but always cuts. The question is not, “Is He telling the truth?” but the question is, “Do you believe the truth or do you believe the lie?” The Pharisees and the Scribes claimed to know God, but they rejected His Word and they rejected Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. They chose to believe the lies of their father the devil and to set themselves against God and His Word, Jesus.

Likewise, though they may have been sons of Abraham according to the flesh, they were not sons according to the spirit and faith of Abraham. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day,” Jesus told them, “He saw it and was glad.” Then the unbelievers chided Jesus saying, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Then Jesus answered them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” And, because He used God’s Divine Name in reference to Himself they picked up stones to throw at Him believing that He had blasphemed the Name of the God they did not know.

If Father Abraham is to be remembered for anything it is for his faith, that He believed God’s Word and promise, and that God counted his faith to Him as righteousness. That is to say that there was nothing special about Abram. Abram was an idolator like his father Terah. God called Abram out of idolatry and promised Him a land and descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens and, particularly, an heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. Abram believed God and, in His grace and mercy, God counted Abram’s faith for righteousness. Abram was not without sin. Indeed, the deeds and events of his life vacillated from incredible faith to moments of extreme weakness, doubt, and unbelief. Nevertheless, Abram repented of his sins and God absolved him, always counting his faith, even very small and very weak faith, to him as righteousness. Then, when God commanded Abram to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son of promise, Abram continued to believe in God’s Word and promise. He confessed his faith even as he and the boy approached the mountain that God had showed him saying to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Though he was prepared to sacrifice his son at God’s command, still he believed that, somehow, God would keep His Word and promise to bless him with an heir from his own flesh who would bless all nations, even if that meant God would have to raise Isaac from the dead.

When Jesus told the Pharisees and the Scribes that Abraham rejoiced that he would see His day, He was referring to that day God spared Abram’s son Isaac on the mountaintop, providing a ram as a substitute that the boy could live. What Abram saw that day was that God would indeed provide for Himself the lamb of sacrifice. God’s own Son, Jesus, is that Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and, thus, who has blessed the world with forgiveness and life. Abram believed God’s Word, and God sent His Word, God sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of Abram and Isaac and Jacob and of all who believe and trust in the Word of God promised and the Word of God, Jesus, God’s promise kept and fulfilled. When Jesus died on Mount Calvary, as the only-begotten Son of God, the Lamb of God caught in the thicket of man’s sin, there was no substitutionary ram, but God’s only Son died that all you Isaacs might live. God’s Word spoke, “It is finished,” and it is. That is the truth; believe it, for Jesus’ sake.

Because He has died in your place for your sins and the sins of all humanity, Jesus says to you, “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” There is life for you, there is life for all, but that life is in the Word of God, that life is in Jesus Christ, God’s Word made flesh, crucified, died, and raised for you. You keep Jesus’ Word by believing in it, by trusting in it. You keep Jesus’ Word by gathering in and around His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. You keep Jesus’ Word by reflecting His life and light and mercy and compassion to your neighbors in word and deed. Clinging to Jesus’ life-giving Words, you are delivered from death’s sting and its eternal judgment.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Homily for Lenten Vespers in the Week of Laetare (Lent 4)

(No Audio Available)

The Wound of Mockery

Matthew 27:27-31

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

There have always been pagans, agnostics, and atheists; that is to say, there have always been unbelievers. In fact, we were all such at one time. From the call of Abram, however, God began to set a people for Himself apart from the others. He chose Abram. He called Abram. He gave Abram justifying faith, setting him apart from the unbelievers, so that Abram believed God’s promise of a son of his own flesh who would bless all nations, and God counted Abram’s faith to him as righteousness.

At times in history, the heirs of Abram’s faith have enjoyed broad acceptance and influence in society and culture. However, there have also been times of persecution, sometimes in the form of mild mocking and ridicule, and sometimes in the form of violence, imprisonment, and execution. Arguably, since the 1960s, Christians in the United States have suffered from such mild mocking and ridicule, while enjoying still considerable broad acceptance and influence in society and culture. However, in the past decade, it is apparent that the rhetoric of mocking and ridicule has been heightened and has become more and more aggressive. Additionally, the broad acceptance and influence of Christianity upon society and culture has been lessoned considerably. Now, arguments can be made that Christians themselves have contributed to this due to highly visible hypocrisy in some corners of the Church: Televangelist embezzlement scandals, the Westboro Baptist protests at the funerals of our servicemen, violent attacks upon abortion clinics and doctors, and the cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. These are horrible atrocities, to be sure, and they are clearly contrary to the central tenets of our Christian faith, doctrine, and confession, and they must be condemned by all believers. However, Christians are not unique in their capacity for sin, but “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Needless to say, we do not need to create enemies and persecutions for ourselves, for these will come quite readily of themselves from the hearts, mouths, and hands of sinful men.

It is said that you reap what you sow, and that is often true. Your words and deeds speak what you truly believe in your heart, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” and “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person”. Though the Christian Church as a whole may be mocked, ridiculed, and persecuted, if you treat your neighbor with compassion, mercy, love, charity, and forgiveness, it will be the rare unbeliever who will have anything negative to say about you. Generally, when it comes to personal relations, you reap what you sow, and the meanness, selfishness, judgment, and hypocrisy you show to others will be returned to you in loads.

That you occasionally get what you deserve stands in stark contrast with your Lord Jesus and the mockery, ridicule, and persecution He suffered for your sins, not His own. After His own people, the children of Israel, had betrayed and denied Him and handed Him over to the Roman government under Pontius Pilate, the pagan, unbelieving Romans had their shot at Him. The soldiers took Jesus away from the crowds, into the governor’s headquarters, the way a lion carries off its prey to a secluded area before getting to the task of flesh-tearing and blood-spilling. They gathered the whole battalion before Him. “And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a reed in His right hand.” What they were mocking and ridiculing was much less Jesus Himself, but what He represented to them – hypocrisy, weakness, and meanness. They did not recognize Jesus as a king, but they knew that the Jews did not either. They adorned Him in a mocking array of kingly vestments – a robe, a crown, a scepter – and, in ridicule, they knelt and bowed before Him in mocking worship saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” “And they spit on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head.” The Roman soldiers didn’t care about Jesus. They had their own pantheon of gods and goddesses. They had no respect for the Jewish religion because they saw that the Jews themselves did not believe or practice their own religion. In mocking Jesus, they were mocking the Jews, their religion, and their God. After they had their fun, “they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.”

God created our First Parents, Adam and Eve, and their children, to be kings and queens of the world that He had made. But they forsook that in favor of an attempt to be gods unto themselves. Human history is a record of man’s rebellion and idolatry, worshipping created things, even by the hands of men, instead of the Creator of men and all things. The best of men are idolaters who confess their fleshly weakness and turn in repentance to God for forgiveness; the worst of men live in hateful, angry denial of God and mock and persecute those who trust in Him. When they act in such a way they are acting out of their nature and the hardness of their hearts. Interestingly, this may be preferable to those who feign to be Christians outwardly, while inwardly, in the heart, harboring all manner of wickedness, hypocrisy, and unbelief. Jesus says of such persons, “O that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I spit you out of my mouth.”

Contrary to the unbelief of both the Jews and the Romans, Jesus is indeed the King of the Jews, the King of heaven and earth, who left all that behind and humbled Himself to become a sinful wretch for us that we might be restored as kings and queens once again. Ancient iconography depicts this restoration in icons of the resurrection of Jesus showing a man and woman, Adam and Eve, being raised from their tombs and, sometimes, wearing crowns upon their heads. C. S. Lewis famously wrote of this restoration at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as Aslan showed the victorious Pevensie children the four thrones in Cair Paravel saying, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”

Jesus willingly bore the mockery and ridicule, the persecution, suffering, and cruel death to secure for you your restoration. In doing all this, in boundless, selfless love, Jesus showed Himself to be the true King that He was, a King that so loves His subjects that He would willingly lay down His own life into death for them. Your King has died for you and has been raised for you that you may live and reign in Him and with Him. What kingly love. What perfect love. What selfless love. May your Lord’s kingly love be reflected in your lives, words, and deeds in selfless, sacrificial love and service of your neighbor to the glory of God the Father. And, may your suffering be for and because of Christ and not because of meanness, selfishness, judgment, hypocrisy, and unbelief. Help us Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homily for Laetare (The Fourth Sunday in Lent)


John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

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

There is a saying, “The devil will find work for idle hands to do”. That’s because the devil is always busy; he never rests, and he wants you to be always busy and never resting too. In contrast to the devil is your God and heavenly Father who wills for you to have a regular and consistent times of rest. He Himself worked for six days in creation and then He rested on the seventh day and sanctified that day to be a day of rest for all generations. Rest is a necessary and important part of our lives. We need our eight hours of sleep each night to keep our bodies healthy and our minds sharp. Most of us get much less than that. But, even during our waking and working hours we need to take a break and sit down, or lay down, and rest a bit.

Your God and Creator knows this about you, and so He designed your bodies to take rest, even if you try to resist it and continue working. But, what about rest for your soul, rest for your spirit? Yes, you need spiritual rest as well, but that doesn’t happen autonomically, you have to make that time, you have to take that time, you have to set that time apart and keep it sacred and holy. Perhaps this is because your spirit doesn’t count hours, days, months, and years, for the life of your spirit has no end. Thus, it is in conflict with your flesh which is dying, which is all too aware of the passing of time. But still, your spirit needs rest, and that rest is not found in sleep or in taking a break, but it is found in the Lord, in His Word and in His presence, and in prayer, meditation, and contemplation upon these.

Ultimately, rest is about faith and trust in God, that God will provide, that you will have enough of whatever it is that you need, that you will persevere, no matter what may happen, that eternal life with God cannot be taken from you, even if your physical life perishes. Satan wants to keep you so busy living this life, which is really death and leads only to death, that you lose sight of the promise of true and lasting life with your heavenly Father.

It was this lesson about rest that the Lord wanted the children of Israel to learn in the Exodus, to put their fear, love, and trust in God to provide and protect and to keep His promise of deliverance from their enemies and the hope of a promised land of milk and honey in which to dwell. But, not long after the Lord delivered them from harsh slavery under the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the Israelites began to grumble that they had no food and they longed to be slaves again in Egypt where at least there was meat and bread. In response to their grumbling, the Lord literally caused bread to rain down from heaven upon His people. Each morning a flake-like substance appeared on the ground as the dew dried. The Israelites did not know what it was and so they called it manna, which means, “What is it?” They were commanded to gather as much as each of them could eat for the day. And, when the amount gathered was measured against an omer, both those who gathered less and those who gathered more found that they had the amount that they needed. No one had lack or need, but all had as much as they could eat for the day. The Lord provided them their daily bread just as Jesus taught His disciples and you to pray for – literally, bread for the day. Still, the people did not trust in the Lord. They tried to leave some of the manna till morning, but it bred worms and stank. And, later, the children of Israel began to grumble again saying, “there is no food and water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

All this fretting and worrying about food for the body – Your Lord would have you find rest from these. He says to you, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus, the New Moses, had lead a large crowd of people into the wilderness after performing wondrous signs in the towns and cities in the region of Galilee. It was near the end of the day and the Passover was about to begin when the people could do no work. To test His disciples, Jesus asked the question they all were thinking, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The disciples answered according to the ways of the flesh, exclaiming the hopelessness and despair of unbelief – “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said to them, “Have the people sit down.” In the midst of their despair and hopelessness, when their minds and hearts were overwhelmed with impossible concerns about feeding the flesh, Jesus tells the people to rest. The Lord will provide what is needed; as it was in the beginning, so it is now, and ever shall be.

“So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.” St. John further tells us that there was much grass in the place, a subtle reminder that, as God provides for all living things, like cattle and livestock, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so too, and how much more, does He provide for men created in His image. Jesus took the meager offerings of bread and fish, gave thanks to God for His providence, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. He did not wave His hands. He did not speak a magical incantation. He did nothing to draw attention to Himself or to glorify Himself, but, in the distribution of the bread and fish, miraculously, by God’s providence, all ate their fill and were satisfied. Then Jesus instructed His disciples to gather the leftovers into baskets. When all the fragments were gathered, twelve baskets were filled to their brims.

When you take rest in the Lord, in His Word, and in His gifts, you will find that you have all that you need and more. You receive plenteous forgiveness, plenteous mercy, plenteous grace, and plenteous love. You have food for your bellies, clothing for your body, and a roof over your head. As David sang, “My cup overflows”. And, as Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you, a good measure, shaken together, pressed down, filled to overflowing will be put into your lap. For, with the measure you give will it be measured back to you.” For, taking rest in the Lord and in His gifts means trusting in Him to know your needs and to provide for them because He is your God and Creator and He is good. Taking rest in the Lord means living freely and not in bondage and slavery to the desires and passions of your flesh and the values and virtues of this world. Do not sell yourself into slavery once again as the children of Israel were ready to do in order to fill their bellies with Egyptian meat and bread. Satan is always tempting you to feed your flesh and to live not by the Word of God just as He tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread as He tempted Him in the wilderness. Jesus resisted that temptation and defeated the devil, and He obeyed His Father’s will and trusted in His Word for you. Thus He did for the five thousand what He would not do for Himself, He took man’s meager offering of bread and fish and He miraculously fed them till they were satisfied, trusting that the Lord knew their need and that He would provide.

Of course you know that there are starving people in the world, even in this rich and abundantly blessed country. You know that there are people who do not have adequate clothing and shelter. This is not because God has not provided, but this is because of man’s sin, greed, and lack of compassion and mercy. There is enough food in the world, perhaps in our nation alone, to feed the entire world’s population and have multitudinously more than twelve basketfuls leftover. But men would rather let food spoil or destroy it rather than give it away. And the same goes for clothing and shelter. Greed and selfishness, mercilessness and lack of compassion are the fruits of unbelief that you bear when you do not take rest in the Lord and confess Him as the good give of all things needful. Your heavenly Father would have you take rest in Him and receive His gifts. And, from the abundance of your blessing He would have you bless others that they may take rest in Him and receive His gifts also. This is the true worship of your God and Lord, for the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts.

In the beginning, the Lord created the world and all things in it in six days. On the seventh day He rested and He sanctified the seventh day to be a Sabbath, a day of rest. Our First Parents were tempted by the devil to forsake that rest and to strive and desire food for their bellies in defiance and unbelief of God’s Word. The result of their rebellion and disobedience was that the providing of bread for their bellies would become difficult and grueling work and that the end result of our striving for food would be death. Thus, in His mercy and compassion, God set Himself to work again, to recreate the world that man, His creation, cast into ruin. He sent His Word, His Son, to be conceived and born as a man, under the Law, to be obedient to the Law and to suffer and die for the sins of men. Jesus fulfilled all that God’s Law required. He did it in perfect faith, love, and trust, without grumbling, out of love for God and out of love for you. He suffered and died on Good Friday. He rested in the tomb on the Sabbath. And he rose again on the Eighth Day, having fulfilled the Law, having destroyed the power of death and the grave, and having fulfilled the Sabbath rest of God’s command. Now, there is no need to observe the Sabbath on any particular day, for it has been fulfilled, but Jesus has become for you God’s Sabbath rest. Through faith in Jesus, you have rest from your labors. Through faith in Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins. Through faith in Jesus, though Holy Baptism, you have died and have been raised in Jesus, a new creation. Through faith in Jesus, you live, now, and forevermore. His mercies are new every morning. To receive them in faith is to worship Him in the highest way possible. Let us be glad to come to the House of the Lord. Let us be glad to remember His Sabbath Day and to keep it holy.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Oculi


The Wound of Apathy and the Wound of Denial

Matthew 26:36-45, 69-75

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

Tonight we will consider two wounds which we inflict upon our Lord: Apathy and Denial. It was previously planned that these two wounds would be considered separately, but as it is, it is appropriate to consider them together, for they are related.

Apathy comes from the Greek apatheia which means “freedom from emotion” or “freedom from suffering”. Today we use the word apathetic to describe someone who doesn’t care or who is disinterested. In our readings from the Passion this evening we see that the disciples in the garden were somewhat apathetic to Jesus’ prayerful suffering and temptation. They were too overcome by confusion and sorrow to stay awake with Him and watch through the night. Each time Jesus returned to them He found them sleeping. While it may seem harsh to say that they didn’t care or that they were disinterested, the truth is that they did not connect emotionally with Jesus’ suffering; they did not share in His suffering or empathize with it. They were free from emotion, free from suffering; they were apathetic.

Apathy is a terrible wound, for it reflects a condition of the heart that is unable or unwilling to let down its defenses and make itself vulnerable – that is, apathy reflects a condition of the heart that is unable or unwilling to love. You wound your Lord when you are apathetic or indifferent to His suffering and death and the love He showed to you then and now. You also wound your Lord when you are apathetic and indifferent to sin and to the wage it earns, death. You look on sin lightly, considering it no big deal. You take your Lord’s suffering and death for granted as cheap grace believing, “Aw, what the heck. It’s paid for.” You consider lightly the reality of hell and eternal separation from God’s grace. You live your life as if God did not matter, as if you are what matters most.

Three times Jesus returned to His disciples to find them sleeping as He prayed in extreme anguish and terror of death and hell, looking into the depths of God’s wrath against man’s sin, knowing that His Father demanded that He drink it all, down to the bitterest dregs. His suffering was for them. His suffering was for you. The least you could do is stay awake and pray with Him, pray for yourselves, feel anything at all that your Lord and God had to suffer and die for your sins to release you from the bonds of eternal death and damnation. How could they not stay awake? How can you take your Lord’s suffering and death for granted and keep on sinning, thinking it no big deal?

Now do you see how the wound of apathy is related to the wound of denial? Does not your apathetic attitude towards sin and hell, towards prayer and meditation on God’s Word, toward participation in worship and sharing Christ’s love and forgiveness towards others, reflect your denial and unbelief, not only of Jesus, but of God’s Word, of even God Himself? Are you beginning to see that apathy, denial, and betrayal are, in a sense, all the same wound? The worst wound you inflict upon your Lord and God is unbelief. You believe, but your flesh is weak. Your emotions and perceptions are easily deceived. Your reason wants to decide for itself what is good and what is evil, what is true and what is false, what is faithfulness and what is not. The first sin is the same as every other sin ever committed, every sin you commit, to make yourself god, to place yourself above and before God, to place your fear, your love, and your trust in yourself or anything else before God. Your flesh wants to avoid suffering in every way, thus it is inclined to apathy. Your flesh fears suffering, harm, and death above all else, thus it is inclined to deny Jesus rather than risk the scorn, the mocking, and even violence from the hands and mouths of those who hate Him. Your flesh is always looking for a way to avoid suffering and harm and to promote itself, thus it is inclined to betray Jesus in order to secure wealth, health, reputation, and prosperity.

However, take heart and be comforted, for your Lord and Savior Jesus is not apathetic towards you, and He will never deny you. Those three times He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping, Jesus was seeking to rouse them to fervent prayer and watchfulness. And, those three times Peter denied Jesus, Jesus had foretold this to Peter that he might remain vigilant and watchful and avoid this temptation. But, knowing the weakness of your flesh and the smallness of your faith, Jesus willingly took the cup of suffering and death and drank it to the bitter dregs for His disciples, for you, and for all men. Jesus went to the cross to suffer and die for all your betrayals, for all your apathy, and for all your denials of Him, that you might, like Peter, repent and receive forgiveness and restoration and life in Him.

When you are tempted to be apathetic, indifferent, and disinterested in bearing the cross your Lord has chosen for you, remember His passion for you, His fervent desire for you, His boundless love for you. He willingly bore all temptations, suffered all violence, and died your death that you might have His life and live with Him in His Father’s kingdom forevermore. In watching Him in His suffering and death, in meditating upon His love poured out for you, you will find strength and courage to bear your cross and follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Homily for Oculi (The Third Sunday in Lent)


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 great temptation of the Church of Christ is to accommodate and to assimilate Herself to our world and culture. For, the Church is tempted, pressured, and even attacked, both from without and from within, to compromise Her confession that Jesus is the only Name under heaven by which men must be saved, that He is Truth and the only judge of morality, of good, and of evil, who has not taken the Law of God away from men, but has fulfilled it for us, and that the Church of Christ is His body on earth in and through which His gifts are given and distributed: the forgiveness of sins, faith, life, and salvation. Indeed, the Church exists on earth today, as always, that men may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life.

But the Church, which is the body of Christ, goes in the way Her Lord and Head Jesus. She is spoken against, mocked and ridiculed, She is persecuted, and hated, and there are not few who would love to kill Her. That’s ok, for Her Lord and Head took the mocking, ridicule, persecution, and hatred, even suffering and death to the cross where He died for the sins of the world and rose in victorious life for all men, even those who hate Him. Jesus has sanctified the Church’s suffering and has promised that, through it, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. So, as they did to Jesus, so will they do to you. They will take your love, mercy, and compassion, so long as you keep your faith, truth, and convictions to yourself. They will gladly use your hospitals, orphanages, adoption agencies, and soup kitchens, but you’d better not talk about truth, morality, or ethics. “Just shut up and give me what I want.” Because if you don’t, well…. They’ll call you every name in the book – ignorant, uneducated, bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, immoral, evil – because, along with showing compassion, mercy, and love to your neighbor you dare to say what you believe, what Jesus has taught, and what God has given in His Law, at the very least in the Ten Commandments. “How very un-post-modern of you.” Keep up the good work.

“Whoever is not with Me is against Me,” Jesus taught, “and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” Is that a shocking statement to you? I hope not. Yes, Jesus really is that exclusive. He really is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only source of Life for all men, whether they believe it or not. But, He is for all men, without exclusion, whether they believe it or not. What lead Jesus to make this statement was that people were claiming that Jesus cast out demons and performed other miracles by the power of Beelzebul, that is, by the power of Satan. Though He was doing good, they accused Him of doing evil. Others tempted Him to produce another sign before they would believe Him. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, taught them saying, “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?” Essentially, He was saying, “Look, there is good and there is evil. Evil does not cast out evil. Satan is not going to work against himself.” Can you believe it? A man who was possessed by a demon and couldn’t speak is freed and healed and the crowd has the nerve to call Jesus an evil magician. It seems that post-modern relativism isn’t as new as we might think! When it comes to Jesus and our Holy Triune God, good is good and evil is evil – and that’s the Truth. It’s only the world of men that there are shades of gray. Thus, Jesus teaches, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

It was a similar incident that occurred in our Old Testament lesson today where God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians, between His servants and Pharaoh’s magicians, and between His power and the power of Beelzebul, Satan. In the first plague that God sent upon the Egyptians, He caused the Nile River and all the waters of Egypt to turn to blood without distinguishing between His people and the Egyptians. But, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to produce the same effect by their secret arts; Satan enabled Pharaoh’s magicians to copy the miracle God had performed through His servants Moses and Aaron. In the second plague, God caused frogs to cover the entire land of Egypt. Once again, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same by their secret arts, but they were unable to then make the frogs go away. Thus, Pharaoh had to plead to Moses and Aaron to plead with their Lord to take the frogs away. Then, in the third plague, which was our Old Testament lesson today, God sent gnats or lice upon all the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to do the same and they confessed to Pharaoh, “This is the Finger of God.” This was a stunning confession, for the Finger of God is the Holy Spirit and, when the magicians say this to Pharaoh, it shows that they know there is a power greater than their own, yet it is a power that they do not honor and serve. In the following plagues, God began to set His people Israel apart from the Egyptians by sparing them the effects of the plagues while the lands of the Egyptians suffered.

Satan is strong, but God is stronger. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform some powerful signs, but they soon met the limits of what they were able to do. Satan’s power now is but lies and deceptions. In truth, it is you who give him power, by believing in his lies and succumbing to his temptations. Jesus compared Satan to a strong man, fully armed, who trusts in his armor. But, Jesus is a stronger man who attacks him and takes away his armor and divides His spoil. Does it seem odd to you to think of Jesus on the offensive, in attack mode? Yet, that is exactly how He describes Himself in relation to Satan. And, that wasn’t the first time. When Peter made his bold confession of Jesus saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus commended him saying, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Did you hear it? The gates of hell will not withstand the attack of the Church, but they will fall before Her. What, did I shock you again? I hope not. I know, you’re used to hearing about Jesus’ love, mercy, and compassion, not His judgment against sin and evil. Yes, Jesus is God’s love incarnate for all men. Yes, Jesus loves all men without distinction or discrimination, even those who hate Him. Yes, Jesus loves all men, but Jesus hates sin. He has mercy and compassion on sinners, but sin is judged, condemned, and damned.

When you were baptized, the Stronger Man Jesus attacked the strong man Satan and ran him out of the palace he had made and guarded in your heart. That day you gained a powerful enemy in Satan who was not pleased to let you go. Jesus taught, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” How do you keep the strong man and his minions out of your heart? You gather with Jesus. That is, you gather where Jesus is present with His Words and with His Wounds. You gather with Jesus in constant repentance, in great humility, and in faith and trust in Him. For, Jesus is the Stronger Man, not you. He is your strength. He is your faith. And He is your victory over Satan’s temptations all the days of your life.

Further, you must mark, distinguish, and discern what is the Lord’s will and command and what is contrary to it. That is, as St. Paul writes, you must be “imitators of God, as beloved children” and “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” You are to be set apart from the world as were the children of Israel in Egypt, partaking not in sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness, indulging not in filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking, but instead giving thanks to the Lord for all things, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”

And, so it is that the Church is both attacked and She is on the attack. How does the Church attack? The Church attacks, not with violence, not with weapons, and not with force; the Church attacks, not with insults, not with slander, and not with libel; the Church attacks, not with politics, not with laws, and not with government; but the Church attacks with the Word of God and with Truth, for She is Christ’s body, and He is Her Head and Lord, and He is the Stronger Man who fights against Satan and his demons, who indeed has defeated them in His death upon the cross and sends them fleeing by His authoritative Word. And, as the Church suffers attack, she places Her trust and Her hope in Her defensive armor: The belt of Truth, the breastplate of Righteousness, the readiness of the Gospel of Peace, the shield of Faith, and the helmet of Salvation. Indeed, the only offensive weapon the Church has is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Apart from this offensive weapon and defensive armor, you cannot hope to stand against the strong man, Satan. Staking your claim that you are a child of God, born from the womb of the Church in Holy Baptism will do you no good whatsoever if you do not have faith that clings to Christ, for there is no blessing in having the Church as your Mother if you do not hear the Word of God and keep it.

Dear Christian, you have been redeemed out of death by the Stronger Man Jesus Christ who passed through death for you destroying Satan’s armor in which he trusted. Still that lion seeks to devour you and he will use every manner of attack within his power to do so. Beware of his temptations, lies, and deceptions and strengthen your faith by gathering with Jesus where He is present with His Word, which is Truth, and with His Wounds which bring forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are your armor to protect you from attack. And, for a weapon, you have the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Use it in love, that it may cut down the lies of the enemy and rescue those imprisoned by them. At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, and the light of Christ will shine in and through you, exposing all manner of evil and deeds of wickedness, revealing in you the fruit of all that is good and right and true.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Invocabit


“The Wound of Betrayal”

Matthew 26:20-25

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

You always hurt the ones you love. But, why is that? Is it not because that in your day to day lives, at work, at school, out in the world, where you interact with so many people all the time, you put up walls and barriers to protect yourself from emotional hurt and harm, not letting people get too close, so that you are not vulnerable? For, the thing about love is that it is open and selfless and sacrificial. Love is naked, with nothing to hide. By definition, when you love somebody, you open yourself up and make yourself vulnerable. And, those you love, when they love you in return, make themselves vulnerable. Thus, you are able to hurt the ones you love, and likewise, they are able to hurt you.

Betrayal is a particular way in which you hurt those you love. To betray means “to deliver over into the hands of an enemy”, or “to be false or disloyal to”, or “to commit treason against”. To betray comes from the Latin word tradére which means “to hand over”. Interestingly, from that same Latin root we get the words betrayal, which is a negative kind of “handing over” and tradition, which is a positive kind of “handing over”. In order to betray someone, however, first you must have their trust, which means that they have lowered their defenses and made themselves vulnerable to you, which means they love you.

Just think for a moment of the great betrayals of history and of literature. Brutus, flesh and blood to Julius Caesar, plotted and carried out his Uncle’s assassination. Realizing the depth of his betrayal, Caesar famously asked of his nephew, “Et tu Brute?” And then there was Benedict Arnold who fought valiantly in the American Revolution as a soldier and general only to then betray his country to the British by plotting to deliver over the American Fort at West Point. The plot failed and Arnold fled to Britain where he was not welcomed with open arms as even the British would not receive a man who so readily betrayed his country. But, arguably the most famous traitor of all was Judas Iscariot who betrayed his friend, teacher, master, and Lord Jesus unto the hands of His enemies for thirty pieces of silver.

That Thursday evening in the upper room was an intimate gathering. Jesus and His twelve disciples – the men whom He had personally called and chosen to follow Him, to hear the secrets of the mysteries of the kingdom, to witness His miraculous works of feeding, healing, and even resurrection of the dead, and to behold Him transfigured in glory with Moses and Elijah – Jesus and His disciples gathered to eat the Passover meal. They were as close as a family, each of them having left their families and livelihoods to follow Jesus. Jesus knew each one of them personally; He loved them and they loved Him. And, when Jesus said that one of them would betray Him, they were cut to the heart and filled with sorrow and, one by one, they did not deny, but they each asked, “Is it I, Lord?”

Each of the disciples knew that they were capable of betrayal. I hope that you can confess that you are capable of betrayal as well. You have been betrayed by loved ones, particularly when your love for them was not returned. And, surely you have betrayed someone who loves you, perhaps by divulging a secret they confided in you, by not defending them when someone spoke poorly of them, by lying to them, or by using their trust in you against them. And, have you betrayed Jesus? Have you betrayed Him for the sake of friendship, reputation, or the admiration of others? Have you delivered Him over to enemies by denying Him, like Peter, in the face of opposition to or accusation of your faith in Him? Have you sold Him out, like Judas, for material wealth, influence, or power? You have. We all have.

But, take heart and be comforted, for, though Jesus knew the hand of His betrayer, He did not act out in bitterness and call Him out, but rather He said, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” When Judas asked Jesus, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” Even in betrayal, Jesus loved Judas, and He would go to the cross and suffer death for him. Yes, Jesus died for Judas too, as much as for Peter and the other disciples, and for you, for me, and for all the world! Jesus knew that He had to suffer and die and on the third day rise again. Jesus knew that He would be, and that He had to be, betrayed into the hands of sinful men. For all men are traitors who hand over Jesus to the Enemy, for all men are flesh of Adam’s flesh who betrayed his own flesh and His God.

And, still Jesus eats and drinks with sinners and traitors, but now He has washed you in His innocent shed blood and clothed you in His righteousness. He invites you to eat His flesh and to drink His blood for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for Holy Communion in His life and blessings. And, through these means, you know His love, so that, when you are betrayed by those you love, you may continue to love them and forgive them as you have been loved and forgiven by your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And, in so doing, you take up your cross and follow Him in the way that leads to everlasting life.

After betraying Jesus, Judas was contrite and sorrowful for what he had done. Though he returned the blood money, he could not find relief from the guilt that pressed upon him. Jesus said that, for the man who betrayed Him, “it would have been better for that that man if he had not been born.” Jesus said this, not to curse Judas, but out of love and pity for him, for He knew that Judas would despair of his sin but that he would not look to Jesus in faith for forgiveness. And, though forgiveness was there for Judas, though Jesus died for Judas and was and is his forgiveness, Judas could not see it, feel it, or believe it. In his hopelessness and despair, he took his own life, believing it better to be dead than to suffer under the burden of his guilt. Indeed, it would have been better for that man if he had not been born.

You always hurt the ones you love. Jesus so loved you that He died for all the hurts and the betrayals you inflict upon Him and all those that you inflict upon those you love. Though you will at times betray, walk away from, and deny Jesus, He will never leave or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from God’s love which is in Jesus Christ. Though you may betray Him with a Judas’ kiss, He will continue to call you to Himself that He might embrace you with His love and forgiveness and cleanse your guilt and shame once more, lifting you out of deathly despair and hopelessness into His eternal life.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Homily for Reminiscere (The Second Sunday in Lent)

Canaanite woman, 1









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.

Today it may seem to you as if the world is going to the dogs. All around you, your Christian concepts of morality, ethics, and justice are being challenged. You see that murderers are permitted to live while over a million unborn children are denied life in the United States each year. You hear that someone changed the definition of marriage, effectively rendering it meaningless, so that it is but merely a contractual agreement between person A and person B, completely separated from the potentiality for the pro-creation and nurturing of children. And, presently, you hear that the government is seeking to force your Church to provide and, directly or indirectly, to pay for life-ending drugs to its employees, even when the sanctity of life is a core tenet and belief of your faith. These three challenges to your Christian morality, ethics, and justice today are but the visible tip of an iceberg whose bulk and mass remain yet to be seen. And, in light of the rancor and mobilization of the opponents of your faith, you Christian are right to wonder, “How long will my Christian faith be tolerated by those whose central doctrine and tenet is claimed to be tolerance?” However, you must not succumb to the temptation to judge your opponents to be outside of the Lord’s mercy because of their immorality, for your Lord Jesus suffered and died for them too, and there is not one who is without sin or who merits God’s mercy and forgiveness, not even one.

Jesus’ disciples surely felt this way as much as you. Indeed, when that Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon came crying after Jesus, they wanted to send her away. They judged her as unworthy of the Master’s attention and outside of God’s grace and mercy. After all, the Canaanite woman belonged to a tribe of people that shouldn’t even exist, for long ago God had judged their idolatry and commanded the Israelites to destroy them all, leaving not one man, woman, or child alive, that they may not corrupt the children of Israel. Though she cried out for mercy and addressed Jesus just as they did, as “Lord” and as “Son of David”, still they asked Jesus to send her away. Interestingly, while Jesus did not answer the woman or acknowledge her plea, neither did He acknowledge the disciples’ plea and send her away, but He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now, that was, and is, an absolutely true statement, and it is representative of what is unique about Jesus’ words in contrast to the words of mere men. When Jesus speaks, truth is spoken – period. How men hear Jesus’ words and how men interpret Jesus’ words does not change, alter, or affect the absolute truth and reality of His words. This is what the Scriptures mean which describe Jesus’ words as a two-edged sword and that it will not return to God void, but it will accomplish that purpose for which it was sent. In this case, the disciples understood Jesus’ words to confirm their belief that this woman had no business to address Jesus or to ask Him for anything, but the Canaanite woman understood Him differently. The disciples focused on the words “of Israel”. The Canaanite woman focused on the words “lost sheep”. The woman knew that she was not an Israelite. She knew that she had nothing that made her worthy or deserving of Jesus’ mercy. However, she also believed that Jesus had come to save the lost, and she counted herself amongst them. Thus, Jesus’ words only encouraged her to cry out all the more, saying, “Lord, help me.”

This time Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Again, that was, and is, an absolutely true statement, in and of itself, thus, it is not necessarily the case that Jesus was calling the woman a dog. However, that is precisely what Jesus’ disciples considered her. In fact, the Jews did derogatorily call the Canaanites dogs. That saying went back all the way to when the Israelites sent spies into Canaan to report on the strength of its armies and the fruitfulness of its land. One of those spies was a Gentile named Caleb, which means dog, and another was Joshua, which in English is translated Jesus. The first time spies were sent, they reported back that there were fierce giants in the land of Canaan and the Israelites cowered in fear and refused to enter. Caleb tried to reassure them that the land was conquerable in accordance with the LORD’s promise, but they did not listen to Caleb or trust in the LORD who had said that He would deliver the Canaanites into their hands. Because of their unbelief, the children of Israel were caused to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Then, after the death of Moses, Joshua lead the children of Israel through the parted waters of the Jordan, much in the way that Moses had lead Israel across the Red Sea, into the promised land of Canaan. There they conquered the Canaanites, leaving no man, woman, or child alive, with the exception of Rahab the prostitute and her family who had helped Joshua. When the land was divided up amongst the tribes of Israel, Caleb was given Hebron as an allotment for the tribe of Judah in recognition of his faithfulness when he first spied out the land. Isn’t it interesting that the Gentile dog Caleb showed great faith in the LORD and was given a share in the promised land of Israel? Did the Canaanite woman remember this bit of Israelite history? Did Jesus’ disciples?

When Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to he dogs”, the Canaanite woman did not argue, but she confessed saying, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Did she remember how the Gentile dog Caleb was grafted into the children of Israel and was allotted a share in the land of promise? Perhaps. But, this much is certain, she took no offense at Jesus’ words, even if they seemed insensitive, uncaring, and harsh, but, in great humility, and in greater faith, she held Jesus to His Word and that He would show the mercy that she believed He must. And, just as the Gentile dog Caleb was commended for His faith, so too does Jesus praise the Canaanite woman, saying, “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

True faith clings to Jesus even when He seems not to answer, even when He seems to ignore you, even when He seems to say to you “No”, and even when He seems to be the one causing your affliction. True faith clings to Jesus even when He has permitted life to pin you to the ground and to put your hip out of socket, even when He permits you to suffer pain and sorrow, even when He permits you to be overcome by your enemies. True faith clings to Jesus even when He seems to permit the wicked to prosper, even when He seems to permit His Church to suffer attack, even when the enemies that surround you seem to be as unconquerable giants. For, true faith is a struggle, a struggle with God, and your God will test you to prove your faith true.

And so, when it seems to you that all the world is going to the dogs, you’re probably right, but do not fear, do not despair, and do not lose hope, for whether you are one of the Master’s children or one of His little dogs, the bread of life, Jesus, is given for you that you may eat and live. And, as much as you may decry, and probably should, the immorality, godless ethics, and injustice in your world today, you must not, because of your faith, count yourself to be moral, ethical, and just and so merit a special relationship with Jesus by your works. For, if you are of child of God by faith, that is His work alone, to His credit alone, as much as is the turning of a murderer, an adulterer, or a fornicator in repentance and in faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For, the day will come when God’s judgment will be pronounced upon all men; you must not, then, presume to pronounce your own judgment beforehand. And, so it is that the righteous live by faith, trusting in God’s mercy and forgiveness upon them despite their unworthiness, because of His love and grace alone. And, rather than burning in righteous anger against those who appear to of lesser morality, poorer ethics, or perpetrators or benefactors of injustice, you should walk in the way of the Lord, abstaining from sexual immorality, controlling your own body in holiness and honor and not in the passion of lust like those who do not know God. For God has not called you for impurity but in holiness. Thus, you are not to be complacent in the face of godlessness, and neither are you to participate in it, but you are remain steadfast in faith, trusting in the Lord’s promise of deliverance, and being an example of holiness that others may see Christ in you and know His love and forgiveness, that God the Father be glorified in all things.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Funeral for Adele Frommhold


John 14:1-6; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27

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

To comfort and console His disciples after telling them that He must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, suffer and be killed, and on the third day, rise again, Jesus taught them that His going away was necessary, that He might prepare a place from them, and that He might return to take them to be with Him in His Father’s house in heaven. But, as much as you may find it difficult to understand why your loved ones have to suffer and die, so too did Jesus’ disciples struggle to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words.

Indeed, our great temptation is to consider what happens between birth and death to be all that there is. And, if that is our perspective, then our losses and struggles, trials, tribulations, and sufferings are all amplified and made to seem larger and more disastrous than they truly are. Since death is seen to be a fearsome and final enemy that no man can escape, it is permitted to cast a shadow even upon the joyous moments of our lives, lurking like an evil thug in the darkness just beyond our vision.

No one wants to live that way, in fear and in sadness, and so we are tempted to rationalize suffering and death, to neutralize it by saying that it’s natural, just a part of life, something to be embraced. But that is a lie. For, there is nothing natural about death, but, on the contrary, death is the most unnatural thing of all. We were not created to die, but to live in holy communion with God. It was a lie that first introduced death into the world, a lie that our First Parents believed, a lie that we have no choice but to believe now, and a reality that we all have to live with until it at last comes to us personally.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says to you, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. […] I go to prepare a place for you.” I know it’s comforting to think of the Father’s house as a mansion with many rooms, and that there’s one there with your name on the door. But, that’s not exactly what Jesus is saying. Rather, after suffering death and rising again, Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father in heaven to secure a dwelling place for you in the presence of God in His holiness. That doesn’t mean that He built a room or even made the bed and tidied the place up, but rather, He did what was necessary to make you holy, that you could enter the holiness of God and live eternally in His presence. Jesus took your sin and uncleanness upon Himself and He died in your place, taking your sin and death with Him and destroying them forever. Now, while we all must pass through death, death cannot hold us any more than death could hold Jesus. He has become for us the stick in death’s craw, crushing its jaw and breaking its teeth. Jesus stands in victory over death as the way to eternal life, the truth that you will live, even though you die, and the life of all who die in Him.

This truth is what Job confessed more than 2,000 years before Jesus’ birth as he suffered and believed he was facing death saying, “I know that my redeemer lives […]. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, […].” Likewise did St. Paul confess this truth saying, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Let not your hearts be troubled…

Your beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, neighbor, and sister in Christ Adele has passed out of this valley of the shadow of death and is in the Father’s house forevermore. She has believed in Jesus even as she believed in God and she has followed Him in the way the leads to everlasting life. And, as she lived her life in this world, she did not live in fear of suffering and death, but she took comfort and found strength in her Lord and Savior who had conquered those enemies before her. Therefore, she could live her life in the Lord and from the Lord, loving as she had been loved, showing compassion as she had received compassion, serving the Lord by serving others to the glory of His Name.

The Lord made Adele to be a pillar of faith in her family and in her community. She and her husband Albert were charter members of this congregation where she taught Sunday School and served as Secretary, Treasurer, and Vice President. She and a small group of determined and faithful Lutherans began meeting in the basement of the Town Hall in Pawling, and Albert and Rudy helped to build this church building about fourteen years later. This year Adele would have been 92. The congregation and church that she helped to build will be 50. Adele was a child of the Greatest Generation, an immigrant who lived through the Great Depression, who helped to rebuild this country with a sense of conservatism, frugality, toughness, and pride. She was a builder in so many important and significant ways.

We give thanks to the Lord this day for Adele and the faith that He gave to her and the blessing that He made of her, and we take comfort and celebrate the life she now lives in Jesus in the presence of God the Father in His house with many rooms. Let us not be troubled, but let us be encouraged and strengthened in faith as we make our pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death knowing that, like Adele, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For, we know the way that He has gone, and we know also the way that Adele has gone, for He is the way, and the truth, and the life. In and through our Lord Jesus we have access to the Father and eternal life now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.