Sunday, July 29, 2012

Homily for The Eighth Sunday after Trinity ( Trinity 8)

wolf sheeps clothing


Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29

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

Listen carefully; I have an important truth to share with you today: It is not ok to say that it is ok to do what the LORD has said it is not ok to do. Now, that seems like an easy enough principle to understand, doesn’t it? Apparently, unfortunately, it isn’t. Similarly, it is not ok to say that it is not ok to do what the LORD has not said it is not ok to do. You see, that’s the other side of the same coin. So, do you get it? Let me summarize: No one should permit, encourage, and bless what God has forbidden and has not blessed, and, likewise, no one should forbid, discourage, or condemn what God has not forbidden or condemned. Therefore, whoever claims to speak for God had better only say what God has said, without adding to it, and without taking away from it. That is what it means to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God through whom He speaks, called and sent by God to proclaim His Word to men.

And yet, the LORD has said that there will be false prophets who speak “visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” Such false prophets continually say to people who despise the Word of the LORD, “It shall be well with you” and “no disaster shall come upon you,” or, in other words, “Go ahead, keep on doing what you’re doing. God said not to? Oh, that’s a misinterpretation. Go ahead, it’s ok. God loves you.” Go ahead and curse like a sailor. Go ahead and download music and movies without paying for them. Go ahead and have sex outside of marriage. Go ahead and cheat on your taxes. Go ahead and terminate that pregnancy. Go ahead and bless that same-sex marriage. God didn’t mean what those bigoted, hate-mongering, fear-peddling preachers say He meant. God loves you and He just wants you to be happy. The LORD says that such false prophets “heal the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” They are those false prophets who “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran,” says the LORD; “I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my Words to my people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”

And it is an unfortunate reality that there will always false prophets, for they will always have an audience to hear them, men who want to have preached to them only what they want to hear. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Therefore it is imperative for a Christian to be able to discern a true prophet from a false prophet, the true preaching and teaching of the Word of God from the lies, distortions, and myths devised by men. But, how is this to be done? How can you tell a true prophet, true teaching, from a false prophet and lies? Your Lord Jesus teaches you that you will recognize them by their fruits.

By their fruits? What does it mean that you will be able to distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet by their fruits? What kind of fruit does a prophet bear? Jesus expands the analogy saying, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” That is to say, if you’re eating tasty and nourishing apples, it’s because they came from a good apple tree. One simply cannot get good fruit from a bad tree. Now, the fruit of a prophet is what he preaches. If it is the pure Word of God, it is good fruit, good to eat because it nourishes your faith and strengthens you on the way to eternity. If, however, God’s Word is perverted, corrupted, or watered down with human opinion, it is poor fruit. Instead of promoting spiritual health, it gradually introduces the poison of false doctrine into your spiritual diet until you are no longer able to judge what is true and what isn’t.

But Jesus also teaches you that a false prophet will often try to deceive you by appearing to be good and true. Though they are truly ravenous wolves, they will come to you in sheep’s clothing. This is to say, additionally, that you cannot discern a true prophet from a false prophet by their outward appearance. Indeed, there are many who claim to prophesy in the Name of the Lord who appear to be true on the outside, but inwardly are diseased and full of uncleanness leading to death. To your eye they may appear to be charismatic and attractive, successful, having great wealth and large congregations, or they may appear to be humble and poor and full of compassion for those in need. But, you cannot discern a true prophet from a false prophet by what your eyes see, but you must discern them by their fruits.

Again, the fruit of a prophet is what he preaches. Does he preach God’s Word purely, without adding to it or taking away from it, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even when it convicts you, even when it convicts himself? Or, does he pervert, corrupt, or water down God’s Word with human opinion, preaching to the itching ears of men? His appearance is not important. What does he preach? What is his fruit? Is it good to eat, nourishing and strengthening your faith? Or is it bad, poisoning you with false doctrine?

Let us consider how it was in the beginning. In Eden there were two trees, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By appearance, the fruit of both trees was good and attractive. However, God’s Word proscribed that the fruit of the Tree of Life would give life and that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring death. There was a false prophet in the garden who came to our First Parents in a disguise to deceive them. He told them lies, twisting God’s Word about the forbidden fruit, saying that it would not bring death but rather knowledge and god-like wisdom and enlightenment. Listening to the words of the false prophet, and judging by appearances that the fruit was good, Adam and Eve both ate the poisonous fruit and sin and death entered the world.

Ever since the Fall, there have been true prophets and false prophets. The true prophets were not perfect, but they were sinful men just like you and me, but they proclaimed and taught the Word of the Lord in its truth and purity, both its condemning Law and its comforting Gospel, always pointing to the great and true Prophet to come, the Messiah, whom God would send to destroy the power of death. The false prophets employed the tactics of the great False Prophet, lies and deceptions, and they watered down and corrupted the Word of the Lord with human opinions. They obscured the Gospel proclamation of God’s salvation in the Messiah, Jesus, and taught men salvation by works or to be comfortable in their sin and that there was no need for salvation at all.

In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, the True Prophet, Jesus, to destroy the power of death that came from the poisonous fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to restore to us access to the fruit of the Tree of Life. He took your poison, sin, and death into Himself, He drank from the cup of God’s wrath down to its bitter dregs until it was finished and there was nothing left, and then He died upon the cursed tree of the cross. There is nothing attractive in the outward appearance of either the great Prophet Jesus or the good fruit that He brings. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

Yet He is the true Prophet of God. And, blessed are those who are not offended by Him. His Name is Truth and His tree is the Tree of Life. From it He brings you good fruit that leads to eternal life. Whoever eats of His fruit will live forever. Whoever tastes of His hand will taste and see that the Lord is good. He is the righteousness of the sinner and the justifier of the guilty. He is the Man of Mercy to those who are afraid. He is the lover of souls to those who think themselves hated by God. He brings the medicine of immortality and bears the fruit of eternal life. And those who hear Him receive Him gladly and are welcomed by Him into the kingdom of heaven.

And so, it is true, you will know a true prophet by his fruits. That is to say, what fruit does he proclaim to you? What fruit does he direct you to? What fruit does he serve to you to feed you? The true prophet will proclaim, direct, and serve to you the good fruit of the Tree of Life, Jesus, for the forgiveness of your sins and for life that never ends. The true prophet will only and always point you to Jesus and His fruits and He will feed you with His pure Word and His holy body and precious blood, the fruits of death on the cursed tree of the cross, become for you now the Tree of Life with every good.

He is not one who is far off. He is at hand. And by His wounds you are healed. By His suffering you find peace with God. All who look to Him are heard and all who call upon His Name are saved from death and hell. Come and eat from the Tree of Life. Eat the good fruit of the true Prophet and be saved.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Homily for The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)

H-61 Trinity 7 (Mk 8.1-9)


Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

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

In times of need, and in times of plenty, your Lord provides you all things good, beneficial, and needful to your body and soul. As you walk through the valleys of your life, always in the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd leads and guides you to His font of living water and to His life-giving banquet, even in the presence of your enemies – sin, death, and Satan. Before His Incarnation, He provided the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, holy manna in the wilderness, and water from the rock which St. Paul tells us was the Christ, Jesus. After His Incarnation, in two distinct and unique events, Jesus fed five thousand, and then four thousand men with a small amount of bread and fish. In each event, basketfuls of leftovers were collected after the masses had eaten their fill and were satisfied. Then, on the night in which He was betrayed, in fulfillment of the Passover, Jesus fed His disciples with bread and wine, in, with, and under which were His life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith by the power of His performative and creative Word. And, your Lord has left you His meal of sustenance in your times of need, and His feast and banquet of joy in times of plenty, that you would be provided all things good, beneficial, and needful to your body and soul until the day He returns and you will, once again, eat from the tree of life in the presence of God in a day upon which the sun will never set.

Today’s Gospel lesson is the account of one of these miraculous feedings, the lesser celebrated, the Feeding of the Four Thousand, recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel, chapter eight. Likely, some of you were not aware that there was a feeding of the four thousand, but you know only of the feeding of the five thousand. And, likely, some of you have been instructed, or believe, that these two accounts are but two tellings of the same event. But, this is not the case.

In the first place, St. Mark’s Gospel contains both accounts – both the feeding of the five thousand in chapter six, and the feeding of the four thousand in chapter eight. In the second place, the details of each feeding are different and unique. In the feeding of the five thousand, the crowds were not far from towns and villages where they could easily purchase food to eat. Nevertheless, Jesus instructed His disciples to feed the crowds in the desolate place where they were. St. Mark tells you that the people sat down in green grass in groups, as at tables at a banquet. There is no sense of urgency or desperation in the feeding of the five thousand as there is in the feeding of the four thousand. However, in that second miraculous feeding, the crowds had been following Jesus for three days, presumably with little food or drink, and many of the people had come from far away. They could not simply be released to purchase food in nearby towns and villages, for the people were weak and would faint on the way. Again, Jesus instructed the four thousand to sit down, not on green grass, but on the ground in that desolate place. There is no mention of the four thousand being seated in groups, as in a banquet. In contrast, in the feeding of the five thousand, the Lord had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, but, in the feeding of the four thousand, the Lord had compassion on the people because they had nothing to eat.

No, these two accounts of miraculous feedings are not one and the same, rather, they are to be contrasted and compared, their similarities and their differences, that the Lord’s constant presence and providence may be revealed. In those times in your life when you seem to have all that you need, when it is easy to believe that you are the master of your life and the provider of your own sustenance, then the Lord continues to provide you all that you need for your body and life. Though you may take His providence for granted and fail to return thanks, your Lord invites you to His feast and banquet of the finest of wines and the choicest of meats. And, in those times in your life when you are in need and want and you do not know how you will overcome the challenges, deadlines, and debts that lie before you, and you are tempted to despair and hopelessness, your Lord provides you a meal of sustenance to carry you through the lean times, for He has compassion for you and He will not let you perish. And so, this continuing miraculous meal of the Lord’s body and blood is at every serving a banquet and feast for some and a meal of sustenance and survival for others. Thus, Jesus says to you, eat and drink of it often, for, in times of plenty and in times of need, at all times, His flesh and blood is what you need for your body and soul.

But there is also a connection to creation in these miraculous feedings. In both the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus had placed both His disciples and the crowds in a situation where the very best of their efforts were not enough. In the feeding of the five thousand, though the villages and towns were not far off, Jesus insisted that His disciples feed the crowd in the desolate place where they were. Considering only their own meager offerings of bread and fish, the disciples despaired of their ability to obey Jesus’ command and feed the crowds. Similarly, in the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus had led His disciples and the crowds three days into the wilderness and there had arisen a crisis situation where they were hungry and there was no food to be found. In both cases, the only hope for the disciples and the crowds was the miraculous providence of Jesus. However, in both cases, also, Jesus performed the miracle through the ordinary work of His disciples. He did not wave His hands in the air or utter grand poetic incantations, but Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people. And then He blessed the fish also and had the disciples set them before the people. And, in the distribution, they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces that were left over – twelve basketfuls in the feeding of the five thousand, and seven basketfuls in the feeding of the four thousand.

So, what is the connection with creation? Well, first and foremost, your Lord Jesus created and provided what was necessary for the life and sustenance of His people by the creative and life-giving power of His Word. What was, and is, impossible for man, is possible for God who created and still sustains man and all things by the power of His Word. But, second, the numbers in the accounts of the feedings are meaningful – the number of the days, the loaves, the fish, the leftovers, and the crowds. In general, the numbers of the loaves of bread and the fish fall short of an important Christological number, eight. It is the number seven that is prominent in the feeding accounts – there are five loaves and two fish in the feeding of the five thousand, and there are seven loaves and a few small fish in the feeding of the four thousand. While the number seven is an important biblical symbol indicating fullness and completion – as God created all things in six days and rested on the seventh, proclaiming it a Sabbath day of rest – after the fall into sin, the number seven is no longer sufficient, but it must be fulfilled and superseded. That brings us to the number eight, a number singularly connected with the resurrection of Jesus Christ – who was crucified, died, and was buried, and, on the third day (or, the eighth day) rose again from the dead. The significance of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday, the third day after His death on Friday, or the eighth day when taking into consideration the entire seven-day week before it, is that Jesus fulfilled God’s Law and command on behalf of fallen, sin-wrecked man and the former creation, and He died, He fulfilled the Sabbath by resting in the tomb, and He rose again, in the flesh, at the dawn of a new day, the first day of a new creation, a day on which the sun will never set.

Jesus had intentionally led His disciples and the crowds to end of their own providence, to the point where they realized their dependence and turned to Him for help. In both feedings, Jesus worked through and with the bread and fish and the hands of His disciples to provide for His people. He fulfilled all things, and there were abundant leftovers – twelve basketfuls in the feeding of the five thousand, and seven basketfuls in the feeding of the four thousand – for, with Jesus, there is always more – more forgiveness, more sustenance, and eternal life and salvation for anyone and everyone who will not reject Him and His gifts.

For you, to make that three-day journey in this wilderness life is to leave you depleted, empty, faint, and dead – still in your tomb. Your seven loaves – your work, your toil, and your sweat – earn you only death. But, Jesus has taken your death into himself and, in exchange, He has given you His life. For, He is the Bread of Life, come down from heaven, as both sustaining manna in your wilderness life, and as a rich banquet feast of abundance and plenty, giving eternal life in heaven. In Jesus Christ, you have been fulfilled. Therefore, in Jesus Christ, may you also find satisfaction from want or need in your life, but also abundance from which to share and give to others.

In that regard, we are blessed today to celebrate with the Church God’s Saint Mary Magdalene. Jesus had cast from Mary seven demons – a number, perhaps once again, representing the fullness of sinful corruption. In humble repentance, thankfulness, and love, Mary later, at the house of Simon the Pharisee, kissed Jesus’ feet and anointed them with costly ointment. The Fathers of the Church, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, and St. Theophylact, explain Mary’s actions in this way: From her tears, the Lord Jesus notices a humble heart, troubled by sins committed. From her kiss, He notices her faith and trust. From the anointing, He notices the intention of her heart, that from now on she will use everything that is precious to her for the glory of Christ. Moreover, He praises the thankfulness of her heart that she showed through many signs of love; He says, “Her many sins are forgiven, on account of which she has loved much.”

May you so cling to Jesus in faith and trust and love and so receive His comfort, strength, and forgiveness to complete your journey through the valley of your life, surrounded by the shadow of death. For, you are not alone – you are never alone – but the Lord, your Good Shepherd is with you, guiding you, providing for you. And He has passed through this valley before you and for you and has emerged victorious over death in new and eternal life. He knows the way. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life – even the Life of the world. And He is present here, now, in this meal of sustenance for you who are famished and fainting from the travails of life in this sin-wrecked world, even as He is present in this banquet feast of plenty and joy for you whose needs are fulfilled at this present time. He is for you, He is for all, that you may be satisfied and full, with an abundance of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to spare, to the glory of God the Father, in His holy Son Jesus Christ, through His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homily for The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

H-60 Trinity 6 (Mt 5.17-26)


Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

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

The fundamental error that you make concerning the Law of God is that you believe that God gave you His Law so that you would know what you must do to fulfill its demands. However, God’s Law does not state what you must do if you are to fulfill its demands. Instead it states what you must be if you are to be able to stand in the presence of God. For, the Law of God states what is right and good, and the good is always a part of the being of God. Thus, the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, do not tell you what you must do, but they tell you what you must be. Moreover, the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, tell you who God is and what He is like, and, therefore, they tell you what you must be, and what you will be, to live in Him – You must be holy, as He is holy.

Your God and LORD commands you to be holy, just as He is holy. And, this is the great curse of the Law, for you cannot make yourself to be holy through your obedience to the Law. You cannot work or earn your way into holiness, for holiness is a state, or a condition, of sinlessness and righteousness and goodness – in other words, to be holy is to be like God, for God alone is holy. And still, He commands you to be holy, just as He is holy.

Jesus’ teaching about the Law of God today follows directly after His teaching of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapter 5. Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, no an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” It is popular to think that Jesus came to give you a new law, a law that is somehow, easier for you to do. After all, you think, “God surely would not command me to do something that I couldn’t do.” But, you are wrong. He has done precisely that. And, that is the point. Jesus taught that God’s Law of perfect goodness, righteousness, and holiness, not only will not pass away, but Jesus has made it even harder for you to fulfill than the Law and the Prophets originally appeared to teach!

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Yes, you think that so long as you have not wrung anyone’s neck you have kept God’s commandment and Law. But, Jesus says that if you have been angry with someone, if you have insulted someone, you have broken the commandment. Moreover, Luther explains in the Catechism that, not only hurting or harming your neighbor in his body, but failing to help him and befriend him in his bodily needs is a transgression of God’s commandment and Law. And then, but a few verses later, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And, after that, He continues to remake and remodel the well-known commandments of God’s Law. Do you see, then, how Jesus expands, broadens, and adds to the commandments? He would crush your sinful, rebellious, self-righteousness and pride that you might turn to Him for forgiveness. For, He will not lighten the Law and the Commandments of God for you. He will not make them easier for you to do. But, He will fulfill them for you that you may be good, righteous, and holy in Him – that you may live in Him forever.

And you thought the Pharisees were bad, right? You have heard it said, again and again, that the Pharisees were bad guys. The Pharisees were bad because they were the teachers, the shepherds, the pastors of the children of Israel, and they did not preach the Gospel, the “Good News” of forgiveness in the Messiah, but instead they burdened the people with severe preaching of the Law. You have heard it said that the Pharisees loved the Law of God, but I say to you that the Pharisees hated the Law of God. They did not keep it themselves, and they did not teach the children of Israel to keep God’s Law and commandments either. Instead, they changed God’s Law; they softened it and rounded off its sharp edges, to make it more do-able. That’s what you thought Jesus came to do, right? WRONG! God’s Law can not, and will not, pass away. It is always in force, for it is good and holy, and it is part of God Himself. Again, you must remember, the purpose of the Law is not to teach you what you must do so that you can fulfill it, but the purpose of the Law is to teach you what you must be to stand in God’s presence – that you must be good, righteous, and holy, as God Himself is holy. And, that is to say that you must receive His righteousness and holiness as a gift – a gift that He has given in the Messiah, Jesus.

The Pharisees did not love God’s Law and commandments, but they hated them and they feared them. They did not teach them rightly to the children of Israel. Instead, they changed God’s Law; they softened it and rounded off its sharp edges, to make it more do-able. And then, they added to the Law laws, commandments, and rules of their own, cunningly designed to make them look and feel good. The Pharisees could fulfill the law of their own design. Everyone looked to them as the most good, righteous, and holy men on the planet! As for the people, well, they either became puffed up and full of self-righteous pride, believing that they too kept God’s Law well and good, or, if they were honest with themselves, they fell into hopeless despair, knowing that they did not keep the law and commandments set forth by the Pharisees, but hearing not Gospel forgiveness from their lips either. Do you see how the Law of God impacts sinful men? The Law of God is perfectly good, righteous, and holy, and it is eternal and unchanging – “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Thus, Jesus was not teaching His disciples, and He is not teaching you, that you must do better at fulfilling God’s Law and commandments, but, instead, He is teaching you that you must believe and trust in Him, that He has fulfilled God’s Law and commandments for you by His good, righteous, and holy death upon the cross. It was upon that cross, in His last breath, that He proclaimed “tetelestai,” “It is accomplished,” “It is finished.”

Jesus has fulfilled God’s Law and commandments for you. Believe and trust in Him, and you have the goodness, righteousness, and the holiness that is necessary to stand in the presence of God without fear. That is the Gospel truth, plain and simple. However, you must not conclude from this Gospel truth that you need not obey God’s Law and commands any longer, for, as Jesus teaches, they have not passed away, but they have been fulfilled. Do not then get the idea that you can do whatever your sinful flesh pleases, simply asking for forgiveness after the fact, and believe that you will enter God’s kingdom. In theological jargon, that is called antinomianism – it literally means “against the law”. Dietrich Bonheoffer called it “billige gnade,” or, “cheap grace”. And, this is what St. Paul warns against in our Epistle today saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

We Lutherans are sometimes criticized for being antinomian, for cheapening God’s grace, and often justifiably so. We have a rich doctrine of grace, centered in Christ, which glorifies God. But, let us not take that grace for granted and forget how costly it comes to us, for the price is the death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, on your behalf. And so, God’s grace must have its way with you, raising you from the death of sin to new life in Jesus Christ. The Law has been fulfilled so that you are free to love your neighbor and to love God with Jesus’ love poured out for you. You must not attempt to relax God’s Law, as Jesus says, and as the Pharisees did, but you are called to a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees – that is, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that comes extra nos, from outside of you, Christ’s righteousness, given to you as a free gift of God’s grace. You must, as St. Paul says, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

That life began in Holy Baptism, when you were buried with Jesus in His death, and were raised with Jesus to new life that can never die again. Thus, consider your obedience under God’s Law and commandments in this life to be preparation for the life that never ends. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “In the perfect and eternal world the Law will vanish. But the results of having lived faithfully under it will not.” But, perhaps St. Paul said it better still, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Blessed be the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has done all things well and has made all things new, in the most Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary



Luke 1:39-56; Romans 12:9-16; Isaiah 11:1-5

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

Often the blind have better vision than those who can see. Often the deaf comprehend more than those who hear. For, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. And, His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. Indeed, we live in a time when only that which we perceive is believed to exist. What supreme arrogance, even foolishness, to think that this enormous and, apparently, expanding universe must operate according to the limitations of our five senses and our reasoning. For, what are they in comparison to the impenetrable depths of our galaxy, let alone what lies beyond? And, what are they in comparison to that of which they are made of, let alone the one who made them, upon who’s speaking the foundations of the universe were made and all things came to be and are yet sustained?

When God speaks His powerful, creative and life-giving Word, stars and planets find their course, mountains and oceans take their place, plants and trees begin to grow and to bear fruit, hearts and lungs begin to circulate life-giving blood and air, eyes and ears begin to see and to hear His handiwork, and minds begin to know their Creator through His creation, even through their very own selves, and they are attuned to His voice and to His Word, even if they try not to hear. For, the Word of God has gone out into the world and it will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.

And so, when God’s life-giving and creative Word was spoken by an angelic messenger into the ear of a young virgin maiden, chosen by God by His unique grace, mercy, and wisdom alone, that Word accomplished what it said, and Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Son of God, the same way that she, and Abram, and all the faithful, had conceived their faith long ago – by hearing. Though she did not understand the how and the why, Mary believed the Word of the Lord and she said “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Henceforth, all would call her blessed because she “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And, to this day, Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, is rightly remembered and venerated, not because of her unique holiness or her important works, but because of the unique grace and mercy the Lord showered upon her and because of the unique faith He created in her, faith that simply received, clung to, and even conceived the Lord’s life-giving and creative Word. To this day, Mary remains for us a premiere example of the childlike faith Jesus calls us all of us to, faith which He says enters into the kingdom of God.

The Church calls Mary Theotokos, which means, the “Mother of God”, for the child she conceived, carried, and bore was not only a man, though He was truly a man, but He was the Son of God – perfect God and perfect Man. Her womb had become the ark and temple of God, yet greater, for abiding therein was much more than the glory of God, but the glory of God as a man, fully alive. God had visited His people to redeem them. This, Mary’s aunt Elizabeth, herself six months pregnant with a son who would be called John the Baptist, acknowledged and confessed by the Holy Spirit upon Mary’s greeting saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” She couldn’t help herself. The Word of God had located Himself in the womb of Mary, and in His presence, and at His command, faith is created, life is given, the sea roars, the rivers clap their hands, and the hills sing for joy together before the LORD.

Dear Christians, receive the clear and constant teaching of the Holy Scriptures that life and faith come from God’s life-giving, creative Word. We are the passive recipients of His gifts even as our eyes receive light, our noses receive aromas, our hands receive sensations, our tongues receive tastes, and our ears receive sounds. So are we the recipients of God’s gift of faith and knowledge of Him, even as we are the recipients of His gracious gift of life itself. The Word of the Lord alone has the power to open deaf ears to hear and blind eyes to see, to release the mute tongue to speak and to sing praises, to release from the bondage of sin and guilt, and to raise the dead to new and eternal life. When the LORD speaks, people listen – even the mountains, the oceans, and the stars listen – unless you willfully stop your ears. Yet, even then, you cannot silence the Law of God that is written upon your heart and neither can you refrain from observing God’s handiwork in creation and His sustaining providence for all, even those who reject Him.

John the Baptist could not help but leap for joy in his mother’s womb, for the Word of God, even God Himself, had entered His presence. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and confessed God’s presence in Mary, and she confessed the blessedness Mary had received in humble faith. And Mary confessed that she was the humble recipient of God’s gracious visitation, a servant and a magnifying glass for the glory of the LORD. She confessed the external and objective workings of God to bring righteousness and justice to His sin-wrecked people and creation as He had continually promised to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

As Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, there is blessedness in being poor in spirit, meek, and humble. There is blessedness in hunger and in thirst for righteousness. There is blessedness in showing mercy and in making peace, even in the face of persecution. These qualities are means of blessing, not because they are meritorious works, but because they restore a right relationship between yourself and the Lord. He is your God, who desires above all else that you receive His good gifts. And, the less that you have of the qualities and distractions that the world and the flesh value, the more your God and Lord can, and will, shower upon you His grace, mercy, and love.

What we celebrate on this The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not Mary’s greatness or holiness, or even her strong and humble faith which, nevertheless, is a great example for us, but what we celebrate is the LORD’s gracious visitation of His people to redeem them from their sins and to restore us to communion and life with Him. This Mary believed and received in humble faith. This Elizabeth acknowledged and confessed upon Mary’s greeting. And this caused John the Baptist to leap for joy and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that he might proclaim the coming of the one whose sandals he was not worthy to untie – the shoot from the stump of Jesse, upon whom the Spirit of the LORD rests and remains – the Messiah, our Lord, our Savior, and our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.