Sunday, September 30, 2012

Homily for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)



Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

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

You have heard the proverb “Pride goeth before the fall.” This saying is a colloquialism of Proverbs 16:18, which reads in the King James Version of the Bible, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” How many fables, moral lessons, and anecdotal stories are based upon this Proverb, which we all know to be true? Those who are puffed up with pride and are full of themselves often rise to lofty heights, yet too often do they also meet with a precipitous fall. Lucifer’s great sin, and the cause of his fall, was his pride. Though he was one of the highest of God’s angels, an angel of light as his name means, he begrudged the LORD to be a servant, particularly as servant to God’s most treasured creatures, man.

Did Lucifer want to be a god himself? Quite likely, yes. But, this much is certain, he did not want to serve mankind, whom he deemed to be beneath him. Yet, God loved mankind and gave him dominion over all things that He had made, even the heavenly ranks of holy angels. Lucifer’s pride could not tolerate that truth. His pride consumed him and filled him with anger and resentment and the darkness of hatred for God, and, even more, hatred for man loved by God. Lucifer’s pride caused him to fall from the highest ranks of God’s holy angels to the darkest depths of hellish separation from God’s presence.

In his fall, Lucifer became Satan, which means adversary or enemy, the accuser of men. He knew that he could not defeat God, therefore He attacked and defeated mankind whom God loved. Cunningly, he tempted our First Parents by appealing to their pride. He promised them that by disobeying God they would become like God. But, that was a lie. They were already like God, made in His image, the highest of all that He had made. Though they were the highest of the high, Adam and Eve gave into their pride and they fell precipitously, just as Satan who deceived them.

However, God’s love for mankind moved Him to right this situation. Though our First Parents rebelled and fell from grace, God had compassion for them and showed them mercy. He set in motion a great plan of redemption through the sacrificial offering of His Son. Mysteriously, and beyond human wisdom and understanding, God pre-ordained before the foundation of the world that His own Son would become a man, would fulfill the holy Law of God in perfect obedience and righteousness, and would suffer and die in man’s place, redeeming him from his sin, restoring a right relationship with God once again.

Though Satan was undoubtedly aware of God’s plan, once again his pride blinded him and he truly believed that he could thwart God by destroying Jesus. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross, Satan thought he had won, but truly the opposite was the case. Jesus knew no sin, but God placed upon Him the sins of all mankind. Taking our sins to the cross with Him, they died there with Him and were buried, while He alone rose from the dead. Truly the cross of Jesus Christ is the sign of Satan’s defeat. In His selfless, sacrificial, and innocent suffering and death, the Seed of the Woman, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, crushed the ancient serpent’s head. He rose from the dead on the third day, just as He had said, the living proof of Satan’s defeat and the forgiveness of man’s sins through faith in the victorious and atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The war in heaven of Revelation chapter twelve describes the result of Jesus’ victory on the cross. Satan, the accuser of men, has been thrown out of the presence of God. No longer can he accuse you before the Father, for your sins are atoned for and forgiven in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Satan cannot accuse you, judge you, or condemn you any longer, for you have been justified, wholly apart from yourself, by the obedience, suffering, and death of Jesus for you.

However, though Satan cannot accuse you before God, now he roams and prowls the earth in a violent rage, for he knows that his time is short. Satan cannot harm you, for you have been sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ, yet, he does have one powerful and dangerous weapon that he uses against you – lies and deception. Satan cannot defeat God. He cannot defeat Jesus. But, he can, and he does, attack you by lying and deceiving, tempting you to disbelieve that you are forgiven and righteous before God in the blood of Jesus. He tempts you to sin, he makes sin seem attractive to you, even the right thing to do. But then, when you do it, he accuses you of your sin, and he tempts you to believe that you are not forgiven, that you cannot be forgiven, that you are beyond God’s forgiveness and outside of His grace. This is a lie, a deception! But, how often do you believe it? How often do you allow Satan to cause you to disbelieve God’s love and forgiveness? How often do you allow Satan to cause you to doubt God’s goodness and mercy?

Satan’s purpose in lying to you and deceiving you is to separate and isolate you from your brothers and sisters in Christ, from your neighbor, and, ultimately, from God. He has no other reason for doing this than hatred for God and for you whom God loves. There is no victory for him to win. There is no power or glory for him to gain. There is only his evil, twisted, hatred, and the anger and fury which fuel it. He wants to see you destroyed eternally, and he relishes in the irony that it is all a lie and a deception, for he knows that you already have eternal life in heaven with God as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thus, Satan is your enemy. He is your only enemy. Indeed, it is true to say that no man is your enemy, but all men have the same enemy. It was pride that caused his fall. He was too filled with pride be your servant. He was jealous of God’s love for you. His pride and jealousy consumed him, and it corrupted him and transformed him into a self-loving, self-worshipping, and self-righteous demon. But, he was not a demon before, but an angel, a messenger, as that word means, to bring the Word of God to men. For, that is the work of God’s holy angels, to proclaim His Word to men. Often the Holy Scriptures use that same word to describe pastors, for they too proclaim the Word of God to men. However, while pastors perform the message-bringing function of angels, they are not angels in an ontological or essential sense. God’s holy angels also protect and defend His children from the attacks, lies, and deceptions of Satan. Truly, angels guard and watch over you, just as Luther teaches you to pray for both in the morning and evening. Yet, they are servants – servants of God, and your servants – therefore, you are not to pray to angels or to worship them, but you are to thank God for their service and honor and glorify Him.

Further, you may emulate the angels of God by serving your brothers and sisters in Christ and your neighbor in need. Put away your pride, and serve all in the faith and knowledge that, when you serve the least of your brothers, you are serving Jesus. You must bear with all your brothers, sisters, and neighbors in patience and kindness, even those who do evil to you or hate you, believing and knowing that God alone is judge and that He works all things, even the evil things men do, for the good of those He has called in Jesus Christ. For, God has ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order that you will be helped and defended here on earth.

Do not be afraid! No matter what befalls you in this life, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That is the truth! Anything else is a lie of Satan! But, he is ceaseless in his attempts to cause you not believe that! He never sleeps or rests, but he prowls the earth like a lion seeking prey to devour. He will try to isolate you and separate you from your brothers by tempting your pride, causing you to judge and condemn and hate others and thereby separate from them. Then he has you, then he has them, to work on in private, in isolation, without the support of the body of Christ and the family of God. He will lie to you and deceive you so that you take your eyes off the cross of Jesus Christ and forsake the redemption He won for you there.

Therefore, pray that God send His angels to protect you and defend you, and pray for the Church of Jesus Christ to persevere. And, more than anything else, continue to gather around the Words and the Wounds of Jesus Christ as His body and receive the forgiveness of your sins again and again; be strengthened and encouraged in His Word, and commune with your Lord and Redeemer who laid down His life in selfless, sacrificial service for you to purchase, win, and redeem you for eternal life with Him, His Father, and His most Holy Spirit in the courts of heaven. There, as now, in a foretaste of that great feast to come, you will worship with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, God, and the Lamb upon His throne, Jesus, to whom be blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might forever and ever! Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Homily for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14) – Rally Day



Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23

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

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. This Proverb is one of the best known passages in all of Holy Scripture. But, what does it really mean? What is the fear of the LORD? And, why does it bring wisdom? First and foremost, the fear of the LORD is reverence and awe. Reverence and awe are our natural response when we recognize and acknowledge the LORD to be God and the Creator of all things. When we recognize that our existence is not happenstance, but that each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, apart from any will or intention of our own, even that of our parents, then we are caused to look outside of ourselves to the LORD, and to begin to seek Him and to know Him. What we know about Him by observing ourselves and the world we live in is that He is powerful and creative – and that compels our reverence and awe. However, when His Spirit calls us in faith, then we begin to see that, not only He is powerful and creative, but He is also loving, merciful, and gracious. Then we truly begin to fear the LORD in the fullness its meaning, and that is the beginning of wisdom.

And so, wisdom is a relationship and an order, and the fear of the LORD is the beginning of that relationship and order – when we come to realize and to recognize the God who has always been there, who is the very Creator and Source of our lives and of all things that exist. Then we begin to discover a Divine Law that has always been there as well, a Law that we had misappropriated to other things, other men, and other gods, but now we appropriate to the true and only God. For, we all have our laws, and we all have our gods. For many, god is an incomplete version of the true God. For many others, god is an impersonal force or energy that we can learn to utilize to our benefit or for the benefit of others. For so-called atheists and secular humanists, god is more personal (and subjective) than that – you are your own god, and man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and experience are the only truth.

Last week, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we heard about two men who were so concerned about the letter of the Law as they understood it that they could not, and would not, obey the spirit of the Law to help a brother in need. But then, along came a Samaritan, a man who, in many ways, could be said to not be under the Law – for he was not a Jew, at least, not fully, and his people were not of the covenant or bound by God’s Law as the priest and the Levite were – and, in his freedom, he was able and willing to step down into the ditch with his half-brother and help him.

Fast forward to this week – you just heard Jesus’ story of the ten lepers. All ten appealed to Jesus for mercy. All ten were commanded to go show themselves to the priests. All ten were healed on the way. But one, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to offer Him thanks and to praise God. Now, if all you take away from this story is that it is good to give thanks to God, then you’re missing about ninety-five percent of the story. There’s much more going on than that. How must the Samaritan have felt when Jesus commanded him to go to the priests? He couldn’t do that; he was a Samaritan. By law, he wasn’t permitted in the temple. Thus, when the Samaritan leper saw that he was healed, he returned to the man who had healed him, Jesus, and he worshipped God there, at his feet. The Samaritan leper was free from the law to worship God without fear, recognizing His merciful and gracious presence in Jesus.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The Samaritan leper awoke from his spiritual death to see that the LORD God was standing right before Him, not to destroy him, not to judge him, not to condemn him, but to forgive him and heal him and restore him. And all this was the LORD’s gift to him, free, no strings attached, by grace flowing from the boundless love, mercy, and compassion of God. The forgiven Samaritan leper was wizened to see that the Law could not condemn him when the LORD God forgave him and treated him as His own son. Arguably, the other nine, faithful Jews, still sought to win God’s favor by obedience to the Law. They saw Jesus as a Rabbi, a teacher of the Law, and they dutifully obeyed his command to go and show themselves to the priests. Only the healed and forgiven Samaritan leper could see with eyes of faith that Jesus is the LORD’s Great High Priest. Therefore, the thankful leper went to see the only Priest who could ever forgive sins and restore sonship with God; he went to see Jesus, and falling down at his feet, he thanked Him and He worshipped God who, in Jesus, has graciously visited His people.

St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson today, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Please understand what this means, and what it does not mean: What this means is literally that “you are not under the Law”. That is to say that the Law no longer condemns you, because Jesus has fulfilled the Law for you. However, what this does not mean is that you are free to disregard the Law, that you may willfully disobey it without penalty. No, you are not under the Law’s condemnation, but you have been freed from the Law that you may do it without fear of condemnation when you fail.

Likewise, Solomon gives you instruction in wisdom in today’s reading from Proverbs: Keep hold of this instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. […] The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

The wicked walk in darkness, and they stumble upon they know not what, because they are driven and compelled by fearful obedience to, or willful rebellion against, the Law of God and / or the self-created laws of men. To walk in the way of the wicked is to walk without recognition of the LORD, the source of light, the knowledge of whom is wisdom. This is why we have prayed with the Church this morning, “O Lord, keep Your Church with Your perpetual mercy; and because of our frailty we cannot but fall, keep us ever by Your help from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation.” Therein we confess that, on our own, we will stumble and fall. Therefore, we pray for the Lord’s mercy, believing and trusting that we receive it through Jesus Christ, and we return to the Lord, not only to give thanks, but we return to our Lord Jesus, recognizing and confessing in Him, God’s gracious visitation.

As we this day celebrate the commencement of another year of Christian education, we do so in recognition and acknowledgement of our LORD and God as the very source of our life and the giver of all things good and needful. We are thankful for His mercy, compassion, and love; we are thankful for His forgiveness and grace; and we are thankful for His gracious visitation of us in Jesus Christ. As parents and pastor, Sunday School teachers, assistants, and Christian brothers and sisters, let us commit ourselves anew to teaching our children to fear the LORD and to grow in wisdom. Let us teach them the love of the Law done under the freedom of the Gospel. And let us teach them God’s Word that He may instill in them the fruits of His Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, for, against such things there is no Law.

By teaching our children the way of wisdom, by leading them in the path of uprightness, the LORD promises that, when they walk, they will not be hampered, and if they run, they will not stumble – for, they will be free from the traps and snares of legalism, and they will be protected against self-righteousness and contempt for the Law, but they will walk and run and live in the light of the Gospel, the Good News of God’s Law fulfilled, His wrath turned away, and His life bestowed through the obedience and self-sacrifice of His Son Jesus the Christ. He is not a God that is far off, but He is very near, even here in your midst. Come, kneel before Him and give thanks, praise, and worship to the LORD, and come, receive from Him anew forgiveness, life, and salvation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)



Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

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

Today’s parable of the Good Samaritan is an illustration of the nature of God’s love shown to mankind. Jesus offered the parable in response to a young lawyer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, by all counts, that’s simply a bad question. Why? Well, it’s a bad question because “doing” concerns labor and merit, while “inheriting” concerns being given and receiving. That is to say that you do not do anything when you inherit, but someone else has given you an inheritance because of who you are – because you are a son or a daughter, a grandchild, a nephew or a niece, or at least a close family friend. You inherit because the giver has recognized that you are related to him, and what he has he gives to you, whom he considers to be his own flesh. That’s why the lawyer’s question was bad. It betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding about the passive nature of inheritance, that you cannot do anything to inherit eternal life, but you must receive it, as a gift, by being related to the giver, part of his family, flesh of his own flesh.

But, the man was a lawyer, therefore he asked a question about the law – “What must I do?” Therefore, in turn, Jesus directed him back to the Law – “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered correctly saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and you neighbor as yourself.” That was the correct answer. That was what Moses taught as a summary of the entire Law of God – love. Jesus told the young lawyer that he had answered correctly and He said, “Do this, and you will live.”

Now, of course, therein lies a problem. Jesus’ command is a bit too open ended for our liking. We want to ask, “What do you mean by ‘do this’? How much do I have to love? Whom shall I love? When shall I love?” We want to narrow the Law of God down a little (maybe a lot!). We want to make it more precise, more do-able. But, Jesus didn’t let the lawyer off the Law’s hook, and neither does He let you off. You want to do the Law? Then, do it. But, the lawyer isn’t comfortable with Jesus’ open-ended command. He wants to narrow it down and make it more do-able. Thus, in an attempt to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The trap is sprung. It is then that Jesus replies by telling His disciples and this young lawyer the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is not a parable about works that you should do, but it is a parable about, and it is the answer to, the question “Who is my neighbor?” It is a parable about relationships. And, it is a parable about mercy, compassion, charity, and grace, which is to say, it is a parable about love, which is the fulfilling of the Law of God.

Who is my neighbor? That question has a sour ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of question a child asks when he’s trying to get out of something. It’s the kind of question a defendant in court asks when he’s trying to justify himself and appear not guilty. It’s the kind of question, let’s face it, that we all ask all the time. Historically, the Jews of Jesus’ day considered other Jews to be their neighbor, beginning with their own family and relatives, extending to friends and neighbors – but only Jews. They did not consider their half-brothers, the Samaritans, to be their neighbor. They Jews felt justified in walking past a Samaritan in need; they felt no obligation to help. The irony in Jesus’ parable, then, is that two upstanding Jews, a priest and a Levite, both passed by a man beaten and bloodied and left for dead in the ditch, and that man was not a Samaritan, but a Jew himself, a son of Abraham and a neighbor. Further, the person who finally does stop and help the man is not a Jew, but a despised Samaritan.

Do you see how twisted and contorted things become when we do not love? We try to narrow down our Lord’s command to love, to exclude some persons, to narrow the definition of our neighbor so that the Law appears more do-able, so that we can feel good about ourselves, that we’re doing pretty good, helping, caring for, and loving those few persons within our narrow definition of neighbor. Then, we think, we can stand on our own goodness, our own good works, our own justification and righteousness, as we judge ourselves to be, if not perfect, better than most.

No doubt the priest and the Levite had lots of reasons for not helping their brother in distress. Some of those reasons, they had convinced themselves, were actually faithfulness to the Law. For instance, the Law said that they could not touch a dead body or they would be ceremonially unclean. After all, that man in the ditch could very well have been dead. However, Jesus states that they were coming down the hill from Jerusalem to Jericho. They had already been to the Holy City for worship and now they were on their way home. They had nothing to fear about becoming ceremonially unclean. Further, they showed their hypocrisy upon leaving worship, where in Word and prayer they heard about God’s mercy and compassion, by not showing the same mercy and compassion to the man lying in the ditch. Likewise, so do you trump up reasons and justifications for not helping your neighbor: “He’ll just use my money on drugs or booze.” “Somebody else will come along to help.” “I’ve helped others, it’s someone else’s turn.” “He might jump me and take my money or worse.” Come on, I know that you’ve felt it. I have too. At least be honest about. Confess it. Bring it into the light. Then the Lord can forgive you and take away the guilt. But, don’t try to justify your thoughts and deeds. Don’t try to bend, stretch, or compromise the Law to make yourself feel better. Don’t try to narrow the definition of who is your neighbor. For, your neighbor is anyone and everyone who is near you, who you can help. Your neighbor is your husband or wife, your son or daughter, your next door neighbor, your friends, and even your enemies, and your neighbor is the stranger you do not know.

“Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” You know, I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the teaching “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” mainly because I do not always love myself. Often, I find myself quite unlikeable and unlovable. But, that too is a sinful falling short of what God has called us to be. Truly, we are called to a higher love of both the self and our neighbor, a love that truly sees no man as enemy, but each man as a brother or a sister, flesh and blood, as my own body, having common parents, washed in the same blood of Jesus Christ, having the same God and Father. The unknown person on the street is but another brother for whom Christ died. That brother is of the same flesh and blood as I, having the same Redeemer and Father as I. And, as St. Paul has taught, “No man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.”

When we attempt to narrow the definition of neighbor, we commit a two-fold error. First, we deny that all men are our neighbor, brother, and common flesh and blood. Second, we falsely believe that we can keep God’s Law if we narrow it down and make it more do-able. When you encounter a neighbor in need, you should see yourself in that man or woman, even as you should see Christ in him. Jesus teaches that by serving your neighbor in need you are truly serving Him. The point of His teaching in Matthew 25, however, is much less what you should do than how it is that you should view other men – as brothers, as flesh and blood relatives, as family, let alone neighbors. In fact, Christ is in each and every person on this planet, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, or religion. Jesus Christ died for the justification of each and every one of them as much as for you. Do not consider unclean those brothers and sisters Jesus has made clean.

This is the Law of Love – to be merciful as He, Jesus Christ, is merciful; to be charitable as He is charitable, to show compassion as He has shown compassion, and to love as He has and is love. This is not a Law that you can do, but it is the Gospel that you must be in Him. You cannot justify yourself by doing this Law, but you must show your justification by being it. God is love, and to live in the right relation to God through faith in Christ means to have His love shed abroad in our hearts. He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. Everyone who loves the parent loves the child. No one can force us to love. The only way is for us to receive the love of God when He showers it upon us in and through His means of grace. Then we can love as He first loved us.

Though the Samaritan had every human reason to reject and pass by the Jewish man in the ditch, nevertheless he recognized his brother in need, and he recognized his own pitiable self in that stranger, and he stepped into that ditch with the man, bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and took him to an inn and paid for his care. Because he could empathize with the man, he had compassion and showed him mercy, knowing that there, but for the grace of God, laid he. That was before the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now, when you encounter your brother in need, you see in him, not only your own lowliness and need, but the poverty, humility, and suffering of your Lord Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity for you to serve your Lord, showing to Him a portion of His own mercy, compassion, charity, and love that He has richly and abundantly showered upon you, by serving your neighbor and brother in need.

Indeed, Jesus does command you to “Go, and do likewise.” But that command comes only after He has stepped into the ditch of sin and death with you, bound up your wounds and poured on the oil of His Holy Spirit and the wine of His Precious Blood to heal you and restore you, paying to the last penny all that was required to set you free from your debt of sin and guilt. Thus, Jesus’ “Go, and do likewise” is much more akin to Him saying “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And He invites you to eat of His flesh and to drink of His blood that He may dwell in you and you in Him, that His love, mercy, charity, and compassion may dwell in you and flow through you, filling you to the brim and to overflowing into the lives of your brothers, your neighbor, your flesh and blood to the glory of God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.