Sunday, October 28, 2012

Homily for The Festival of the Reformation (observed)


Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

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

We celebrate the Festival of the Reformation, not because of the birth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, not because of the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the vernacular German, nor even because of the great deeds and bold confession of Martin Luther and other reformers, but we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation because of the eternal Gospel proclaimed to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And the eternal Gospel is this: The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, […] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Thus, what Luther and reformers both before and after him accomplished through their reforms served to strip away the layers of man-made law, tradition, and superstition that had enshrouded and obscured the pure Gospel message that men are justified, not by works and obedience under the Law, not by their personal piety and devotion, but by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood.

But the Gospel had become obscured long before the corruption known as indulgences had become normal practice. In fact, the Gospel had become obscured long before the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law began to layer their own laws and traditions upon the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel had become obscured long before the incarnation and birth of Jesus, long before Moses and the Ten Commandments, long before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to at least Cain and Abel. In fact, from the moment that God first promised that He would send a Savior who would crush the serpent’s head and remove our guilt and the sting of death, man has striven to offer something of his own to God as payment for his sin and to reject the gift of grace that God Himself has provided.

The eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angelic messenger is exactly that, eternal. It is a message that was proclaimed before the foundation of the world and it is a message that remains unchanged then, now, and always, world without end: The hour of [God’s] judgment has come. When God sent forth His only-begotten Son to be subject to the Law that binds all men, to suffer and die to remove the guilt of all men, it was finished. All that was necessary to justify men before God was accomplished without any work, merit, or even faith from men. That is the eternal Gospel message proclaimed God’s angels, His messengers, be they angelic spirits, prophets, apostles, and evangelists, ministers and pastors in the Church of Christ, or even you, dear Christian, as you share this Good News with your neighbors in word and in deed. How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the Good News!

The eternal Gospel is extra nos, outside of us, and that is why it is Good News. Your justification does not depend upon you in any way. Your standing before God does not depend upon your good works. It does not depend upon your obedience to the Law. It does not depend upon your piety, your tithing, or your attendance at church. It does not even depend upon your faith, but it depends only, solely, and completely upon the Lamb of God Jesus Christ whom God put forth as the propitiation for your sins. If your justification were to depend on anything at all from you, then you could never know comfort or peace, for there would always be uncertainty that you have done enough or believed enough or given enough. If your justification were to depend on anything at all from you then there would be no Good News, no Gospel, but only the rigid, inflexible, and condemning Law of God that you cannot keep.

Yet, that is exactly what sinful man wants to believe, that there is some way in which we can justify ourselves. Whether you believe that Jesus died for your original sin so that you can pay God back for your actual sins or that you can purchase God’s forgiveness with tithes, prayers, or time, you are, in effect, saying, that Jesus, in His obedience, suffering, and death, did not do enough. You are saying that Jesus’ suffering and death was not sufficient to make you right with God. You are saying, “Thanks for the gift of Your Son, God, but that’s not enough, so here’s what I’ll give you to make up the difference.” Or, to put it another way, any gift that you have to earn, buy, or deserve is not a gift at all. If it’s not a gift then it’s not grace. And if it’s not grace, then you are still in your sins, bound under the Law, and condemned to eternal death and separation from God.

Jesus taught in our Gospel lesson that “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” That is to say that, while God desires to give men the kingdom of heaven for free, by grace, as a gift, men desire to take the kingdom of God on their own, according to their own terms. Indeed, the generation of men from the time of John the Baptist, even from the time of the Patriarchs, and yes, even from the time of Cain are dissatisfied with God’s plan of salvation, the Gospel “Good News” of Jesus Christ. This generation of men are like children who will not dance before a happy flute or mourn at the sound of a funeral dirge. They rejected John the Baptist because he did not eat and drink and they rejected Jesus because He did.

What is it that you tell God you will or will not do? What is it that you tell God He can or cannot do. What is it that you tell God and the whole world you will or will not believe? What part of His Good News do you reject and say, “That’s all fine and good, but it’s not enough?” Have you not heard that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom? That God alone is God, and you are not? Indeed, that is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and the First Commandment of the Law of God. It is meant, not to encourage you and embolden you to justify yourself, but it is meant to condemn you in your guilt so that you despair of self-justification. For, only when you confess that you cannot justify yourself can you truly receive grace for what it is, a gift – a pure, and perfect gift. And, when you do receive God’s grace as a pure and perfect gift, then He is glorified as just and the justifier of the one who has faith in His pure and perfect gift of grace, Jesus Christ.

There is a Latin phrase that says ecclesia semper reformanda, the Church is always being reformed. Indeed, this is most certainly true. The Reformation that we commemorate today began, symbolically, on October 31, 1517. But, in truth, it was but the rolling boil of a reformation that had begun much, much earlier, as faithful men of God, His holy angels and messengers, called men to repentance and proclaimed to them the one and eternal Gospel of our justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the nature of sinful man to desire to justify himself, and thus, the Church is always, continually in a state of reformation. Today the Church of Christ needs reformation every bit as much as it did in 1517, and today God still raises up prophets and evangelists, angelic messengers to proclaim the Good News to those dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. Indeed, God has raised you up for this purpose promising, “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven.”

There is no higher worship of God than to receive His gifts. And the most precious, pure, and perfect gift He has given is righteousness in His Son, Jesus Christ. Strive, not to please God by your works or to earn His favor by your words, deeds, and piety, but strive to not let anything or anyone obscure the eternal Gospel of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Ecclesia simper reformanda, the Church is always being reformed; so too are all the members of the Church which is the body of Christ, that is you, dear Christians. Let every day of your God-given lives be a Festival of the Reformation in which you repent of your sins and receive God’s holy absolution by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Homily for the Christian Funeral for Flossie Ballard (1/14/1921–10/24/2012)


John 10:14-18, 27-30; Philippians 2:1-11; 1 John 3:1-3

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

The Old Testament closes with these prophetic words of Malachi describing what would happen when the promised coming Messiah arrived: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Indeed, once Jesus had come and begun His ministry, He comforted His own forerunner John the Baptist by sending His disciples to remind Him of what his own blind eyes had seen and heard. For, the light of Jesus, who is the Light of the World, the Light which no darkness may overcome, had brought light to John’s darkened eyes, and had brought the knowledge of salvation through faith in Jesus to the darkened eyes of many.

Blindness is a terrible handicap. As you all know, our dear sister in Christ, Flossie, was born blind. Her mother was blind, and her father was deaf. She had a brother, Byron, who was blind as well. However, though she was legally blind, I tell you that Flossie could see much better than most seeing people. And I can tell you that, spiritually, her vision was 20/20. For, her eyes had been opened long ago by the Word of the Lord, which the Holy Spirit sowed in her heart, which He guarded, protected, and nourished so that it grew strong and produced a harvest a hundredfold. The Lord called dear Flossie through His Word, and He made her a Christian, a precious lamb restored to His heavenly Father’s flock. And so, today we take comfort and even joy in the knowledge that Flossie now stands in His holy presence, where there are no tears or sorrow, no hunger or thirst, and no blindness in the full-glorious presence of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, upon His throne. Flossie dwells where God’s sheep may safely graze. We would not wish her back, but our wish and our hope is to be with her there one day. That God has promised. That Jesus has died to win and secure. That the Holy Spirit has called you to by the Word of the Lord, sealed you in faith and Holy Baptism, nourished you in Jesus’ body and blood, and will deliver you unto when your pilgrimage through this Valley of the Shadow of death has ended, and you have passed through and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I met Flossie when she was living at the King’s Apartments in Pawling. I was freshly ordained and installed as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of Christ the King next door, and I quickly assumed the ministry of providing a Bible study at the apartments. Flossie was a member a small but devoted group that met every Thursday at 2:00pm. One day after Bible study, Flossie invited me to her apartment to see her Bible. I was surprised when she showed me a Bible set that looked like the Encyclopedia Britannica! It was an eighteen or more volume set of the King James Version in Braille, and it took up an entire bookshelf! I’ve often thought about that set of books and about Flossie, about how she was proud of it and wanted to show it to me, how she obviously loved and cherished the Word of the Lord, and I imagine her sitting with an open volume and her fingers running over the cells and raised dots, reading the Word of the Lord. Then I think about myself, and about so many others having the gift of sight that do not cherish and read God’s Word which is readily, easily, and abundantly available to us. Indeed, often the blind can see better than the seeing.

However, truth be told, Flossie could see better than many imagined. She wasn’t completely blind, but she was legally blind – which is blind enough for me. She wore here characteristic very, thick-lensed glasses, and she could make her way through large print books and magazines well enough. But, she could also spot a person she knew from several feet away. No doubt, her poor vision was aided by superior hearing and other senses. It was foolish for someone to think that because Flossie couldn’t see well that her hearing was not sharp; indeed, she could hear extremely well, and her mind was sharp, and she knew when people were trying to pull a fast one. But that truth hits on something sad about Flossie’s life. Flossie knew more than the darkness of blindness, she knew the darkness of sin and evil that still dwells in men’s hearts. She had met betrayal and even violence in her life. Those of you who knew her closely, she may have shared with you some of the emotional pain that she bore and suffered. Yet, despite that pain, indeed, through it and even because of it, Flossie was an optimistic, joyful, grateful, kind, and compassionate soul. Sometimes those who have been hurt so much by others are careful to not hurt others at all.

A funny story about Flossie: As I already indicated, I met Flossie shortly after becoming the pastor of the Lutheran Church in Pawling. Flossie came to worship every once in a while. She certainly came to all of our functions – potlucks, fairs, etc. Everyone at the church knew her. Truth be told – I assumed that she was a member of my church! I always considered her that way. However, some time later – I don’t remember when – she told me that she had been the secretary at the Methodist Church for eighteen years. It was then that I looked Flossie up in our church registry, only to find out that she was not a member of the Lutheran Church. Thenceforth, I considered Flossie to be a Methodist – no problem. Then, some time later, Pastor Mark Allen came to the Methodist Church. In a conversation with him he mentioned his dear member Flossie. Ah, I thought, there’s the proof – Flossie’s a Methodist! But then, later still, after a Bible study, Flossie spoke to me privately and said, respectfully and with tender kindness, that she wasn’t sure if she should keep coming to my Bible study. Surprised, I asked her, “Why?” I’ll never forget when Flossie said, “I don’t think that I believe what you believe.” You see, I’m a Lutheran pastor, and, as a Lutheran, I believe and teach the baptism of infants and young children along with the baptism of older children and adults; I was surprised to hear that Flossie didn’t believe about baptism as I was accustomed to teach it. I remember saying to her, “Flossie, you’re a Methodist. Methodists and Lutherans share a similar understanding of baptism.” She looked at me with a strange expression and said, “But, I’m not a Methodist. I’m a Baptist.” Thoroughly confused, I assured Flossie that, yes, she should continue to come to the Bible study, and that I would be sensitive to the fact that not everyone at the study was a Lutheran. Actually, I’ve never had more than one or two Lutherans in the group the entire time I’ve lead it! Flossie did continue to come, and I learned much from her and from the other perspectives of Christian faith and life that made up our little study group. Such is the family of faith and the body of Christ that is His Church. Thanks be to God that, in heaven, we will not be Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, or any other denomination, but in Jesus Christ, God will have finally made us all Christians.

Dearly beloved, family and friends of Flossie Ballard, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, today we say goodbye to our dear sister in Christ, Flossie. Though we will miss her terribly, though we will weep and mourn, we do not mourn like those without hope. We have the same hope that Flossie had throughout her earthly life – hope in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to redeem us from our sins, who rose victorious from the dead to defeat death and give to us eternal life. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are His precious lambs. He will never leave us or forsake us, and nothing can separate us from God’s love, which is in Jesus Christ. This is our hope, this is our faith, and this is God’s promise to us, and to Flossie, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Flossie has joined the holy company of heaven. We look forward to that day that we will join her before the Lamb of God on His throne in eternal worship, peace, and joy. Even so, we pray, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly, come!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Robert Capon on God’s “Vulgar Grace”

"My life is a witness to vulgar grace – a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up a ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request – ”Please, remember me” – and assures him, “You bet!”

A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mind. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough."

-- Robert Capon, "The Romance of the Word"

HT: Christopher Gillespie

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homily for The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)


Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-11; Micah 6:6-8

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

Do you not find it ironic that your Lord tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven and then tells a parable about a king who forgives only once. What’s with that? You are to forgive endlessly, but God forgives only once? But then, this is a parable of the kingdom of heaven, which is not like the kingdoms of men.

In the kingdoms of men you think that you want justice, what’s right, above all else. Therefore you sympathize with Peter in his desire to limit forgiveness. A repeat offender deserves justice, punishment, you believe. However, when the king exacts such harsh punishment upon a servant who owed him a debt, most likely you sympathize with the servant and feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, that it’s not right or just. But, then, when the king entirely forgives his servant’s debt out of pity for him, don’t you feel that that is unjust as well? No one is supposed to get somethin’ for nothin’. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all. Do you see how twisted your thoughts about justice are? By what measure or barometer do you decide what is just, what is right, and what is fair and good?

Jesus knows this about you, and He is a master storyteller. He tells you this parable to expose your hypocrisy and your self-righteousness about justice. As He continued His parable, next He had the servant who was mercifully and graciously forgiven the entirety of his debt literally wring the neck of another servant who owed him a pittance in comparison. Though the servant pleads with him only for a little more time, he had him arrested and thrown in prison until he could pay back every last cent. Of course, in prison he could not earn a wage, therefore, he would never get out. How does this twist in the story affect your sense of justice? Are you not outraged that the servant who was forgiven so much could then refuse to forgive, or at least be merciful with, a servant who owed him so little? Do you not now empathize with his fellow servants who witnessed this wickedness and went and reported to their master what had taken place? From what high place do you stand in judgment? Did you not sympathize with this man before, and now you condemn him?

Remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. What then is Jesus teaching you about the kingdom of heaven? Is it not as it was with King David when the Prophet Nathan exposed his murderous sin by telling him a story? When David heard that the rich man had taken the poor man’s ewe lamb and killed it, he was filled with rage at the injustice and shouted that the man deserved to die! Then, the Prophet said to him, “You are the man!” When you hear the Prophet’s story, when you hear Jesus’ parable, like David, you are quick to judgment, filled with self-righteous anger, ready to condemn. However, what is truly exposed is the truth that you are the man. It is as if Nathan is pointing his finger at you, saying, “You are the man.” You are the unforgiving servant. For, if you had been forgiving, you would not have desired condemnation in your heart for the wicked servant. You would not have snitched on the unforgiving servant, wishing that the king would exact punishment. You would have forgiven. You would have gone to him, exhorted him to repentance, and brought him back into the community, restored him.

You are the other servants who told on the wicked servant, who refused to forgive and wanted him to get what he deserved. You want justice. You want people to pay for the evil they do, and not just in this life. You want them to pay eternally. You condemn them. And so the Lord says, be careful what you ask for. If it is a God who condemns and exacts justice for others that you are asking for, you will have a God who condemns and exacts justice also for you. If that is the sort of king you want, that is the sort of king you will have. If that is the kind of God you want, that is the kind of God you will get, for you, too, will pay for all your evil. Therefore, humble yourself before the king because He, and only He, is the greatest in the kingdom. Do not suppose that you can demand justice for everyone else but yourself. You’re not unique. You, too, have been forgiven much. You, too, have received God’s compassionate mercy. You have received forgiveness seventy-seven fold.

Thus, you are each of the debtors in Jesus’ parable: the forgiven debtor, the debtor who wouldn’t forgive, and the debtor whose forgiveness was revoked because he wouldn’t forgive. And, your sense of justice is shown to be imperfect, changing, and biased. God’s justice alone is perfect and unchanging. Repent, and receive forgiveness. Then, forgive as you have been forgiven. Give, as you have been given to. And, do not condemn, as you are not condemned.

For Jesus’ sake, alone, God has forgiven you, once, but for all. The only way that can be revoked is by your refusal to accept it. When you refuse to forgive others, when you choose to judge and condemn, then you put yourself back in God’s debt, you throw off His forgiveness and re-shackle yourself under the burden of your sin, with its judgment and condemnation. When you pray in The Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” you are confessing that your own forgiveness is linked to your forgiveness of others. If you will not forgive others, then you place your own forgiveness in jeopardy. For, in truth, it is only with Jesus’ forgiveness that you are able to forgive others. You have no ability to forgive of your own, nor reason that you should be forgiven. That is why Jesus says that you should forgive seventy times seven. That is to say, there is no limit to your forgiveness of others, just as there is no limit to God’s forgiveness of you. For, your forgiveness rests in Jesus Christ, the once for all, and for all time, sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross for the sins of all people, of all times and all places. For the sake of His Son, God will never revoke His forgiveness. But, if you will not then forgive others, you have rejected God’s forgiveness of yourself.

God’s forgiveness was at great cost, the cost of His only-begotten Son. But, His sacrifice was necessary so that you could be judged righteous through faith in Him. God’s forgiveness of you is for Jesus’ sake alone. It is yours, free, without any cost or merit. When you forgive others, it is at no cost to you. But, when you refuse to forgive others, you rob God, reject and refuse Him, and thus willfully choose to cast yourself outside of His forgiveness. May the Holy Spirit guide you and counsel you to forgive as you have been forgiven. May He continually draw you to Jesus’ Words and Wounds that your forgiveness may be renewed, your faith strengthened, and your salvation confirmed. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” May He grant it to you, for Jesus’ sake.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thanks to Rev. Jason Braaten for portions of this homily and for much of the inspiration behind it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Funeral for Gerda deFranceschi


John 5:24-30; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Lamentations 3:22-33

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

Richard and Sonia, Debbie and John, Great-Grandchildren, family and friends of our departed sister Gerda, brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace unto you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hear again the Word of our Lord: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Dearly beloved, eternal life is not something a Christian receives in the resurrection, when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day, but eternal life is what a Christian lives here and now, in this life, in this world, but not of this world. For, a Christian is born again in Holy Baptism to a life that will never end. Death has become but a doorway into the presence of God, for those clothed in Jesus’ righteousness pass through unscathed.

Sadly, most of us do not live our lives in this knowledge. That is to say, we do not think of our lives as being eternal right now, but we think that is something that comes later, after we die. This is sad, because we miss out on the joyous peace and freedom Jesus died for us to enjoy. We look at our lives as an ever-hastening turning of the calendar page while not living life to its fullest, and fearing inevitable death. But, Jesus died to set you free from all of that. Jesus died that you may live your life without worry, anxiety, clamoring for material wealth and possession, and fear. Jesus died that you live free now, knowing that your treasure is secure in heaven and that nothing can take it away from you. Our dear sister in Christ, Gerda, knew this truth throughout her earthly life, and she knows it in fullness in her heavenly life now.

Gerda lived about as full a life as a human being can – ninety-nine years this past January. Born in Bremerhaven, Germany, Gerda came to the United States when she was only sixteen. If you knew Gerda, then you heard the story of how she met the man who would become her husband, Bruno deFranceschi, the very day she arrived in New York. Gerda and Bruno were married just shy of sixty-nine years when Bruno died in 2000. Those last years Gerda faithfully ministered to her husband while he was at the Lutheran Care Center in Poughkeepsie. After Bruno died, Gerda remembered her love daily, telling her guests readily that his ashes were buried in the yard just outside her kitchen window, and relating that she and he would be buried together when the time came. Gerda liked to tell stories, many of them over and over again, each and every time you would visit. Though I often heard here question what was wrong with the world, I can’t say I ever heard her complain. I attribute that to faith, a certainty and a knowledge that, no matter what happened, God was in control and the victory was already hers in Jesus Christ.

Did I mention that Gerda could bake? You all know that well enough. A visit with Gerda meant some of that good, strong, German coffee purchased from Adam’s – the only place Gerda wanted to shop – and some banana bread or some other scrumptious goodie. Debbie told me about how when she was a child her grandmother tried to get her and John to drink coffee. In one attempt, Gerda filled their milk glasses at dinner with half milk and half coffee. To this day, neither Debbie or John drink coffee. Debbie also shared with me that one of Gerda and Bruno’s homes had two kitchens so that Bruno could cook meals downstairs and Gerda could bake upstairs! She said that going to their storage room was like going to the supermarket, there was so much food in there! Richard says that his mother was the best cook, baker, and hostess, as most of you know.

Gerda loved her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Each time John and Debbie visited, Gerda gave one of them a jar containing all her pennies she had saved up. One time John would get the jar, the next time Debbie would. Debbie says that they felt like they were rich. Later, when the great grandkids would visit Opa when he was in the nursing home, Gerda stuffed ten dollar bills in his hand for him to give each child, making them feel rich too.

Gerda insisted that Richard go to college, making him the first in their family in the United States to graduate with a degree. In appreciation for that, Richard created a scholarship at SUNY Cortland to be given to a first-generation immigrant student. When Debbie was in college, Gerda knitted her some slippers in the schools colors of gold and blue. She wore them all over the dorm and the other girls like them. When Debbie told her grandmother this, she sent ten pairs more!

Gerda was a proud woman, but not arrogant. She was proud of her homeland, and she had many keepsakes and mementos from Bremerhaven throughout her home. She was proud of her husband, and she was proud of her son, her grand-children, and great grand-children. She carried herself with dignity and took pains to dress well and maintain a neat and proper appearance. Gerda could be stubborn, but that was really the product of her good sense of order and what was proper, right, good, and true. Gerda was also proud of her Lutheran faith and her church. She and Bruno were charter members of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Pawling, NY. She had many dear friends here and was a regular and anticipated participant at church bake sales. She remembered Pastor Gronbach with joy and happiness. As he preceded her death by only three weeks, Gerda and Bruno are reunited with their pastor in the presence of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In the last few years Gerda was ready to die. She wasn’t morbid about it, nor was she despairing, although she did have moments where loneliness and confusion over came her. Anyone who visited Gerda the past year or so likely heard her say that she didn’t want to live to be one hundred. Having ministered to a few souls near that age or beyond, I know that that is not an uncommon sentiment. But, I still maintain that Gerda was at peace with her life and with her Lord, and therefore, she was at peace with death whenever it should come. Though she probably wouldn’t put it quite the way I am stating it, she knew that she had already died, many years ago, in holy baptism, and that the life she lived now would never end, that death was but a doorway into the presence of God. Long ago, Gerda heard the Word of her Lord, and she passed over from death to life. And, on the Last Day, when Jesus returns in glory, Gerda will be amongst those dead in Christ who will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with her and them in the clouds and will meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Take comfort, then, that God has kept His promise to Gerda, and that God has kept His promise to you – You are mine. I have named you, claimed you, and sealed you in the blood of My Son, and nothing can separate you from my love which is in Jesus Christ, your Lord. Through faith in Him, by the power of His creative and life-giving Word, you have crossed over from death to life, now, and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)


John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

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

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” These words Jesus spoke to an official who pleaded that He would come to Capernaum and heal His son who was near death. I can almost imagine Jesus sighing and shaking in His head in disappointment. However, this probably wasn’t the first time that He had encountered weak faith in men, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. As it was, the constant refrain of the people to whom He was sent, the chosen people of God, the children of Israel, was “What sign will you do so that we may believe!” Earlier in Cana, Jesus had changed water into wine in a quiet and decidedly unspectacular way, simply by speaking His Word. Initially, at least, this fact was lost on the official as he insisted that Jesus come down to his house. Likewise, even after feeding 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, the crowds cried out for a sign like that of Moses and the manna in the wilderness. And, we cannot forget Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, who, upon hearing of His Lord’s resurrection from the dead infamously proclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Are you so unlike the official whose son was dying? Are you so unlike the hungry crowds in the wilderness? Are you so unlike Thomas, wrangling with his doubt? I know that I’m not. In fact, I am Thomas. I need to see and to touch Jesus’ wounds to believe. Thankfully, graciously, Jesus comes to me, and Jesus comes to you, not by Word alone, but also in the seeable, touchable, and tastable means of water, bread, and wine to forgive our sins, especially the sin of unbelief, to strengthen our faith, and to give us life in and through Him. Your Creator, God, and LORD so loves you so as to condescend to come to you, who cannot come to Him, even though His creative Word alone brought forth creation out of nothing, spoke light into the darkness, and brought forth life where there was no life. Jesus is God’s creative Word become man and dwelling amongst us; His Word is forgiveness, life, healing, and salvation – with, or without seeable, touchable, and tasteable means which are bonus and icing on the cake.

What if you pray, but the cancer remains? What if you pray, but the baby dies? What if you pray, but the divorce still happens? What if you pray, but the job never comes? Did God fail you? Did He not hear your prayers? Is he cruel, vindictive, or simply impotent? Or, do you question whether He truly exists at all? If you are honest with yourself, and you need to be, then you will confess that you have thought these thoughts, entertained these doubts, and felt this way from time to time. Doubt is one of the ramifications of sin. Sin has separated you from God so that you cannot be in His presence, you cannot see Him or hear Him or touch Him. Though you are deaf, dumb, and blind in your sin, and though you cannot come to God or enter His presence because of your sin, your God comes to you, and He unstops your ears, looses your tongue, and opens your eyes that you may see, hear, touch, taste, and speak once again. However, doubt hinders your trust and weakens your faith so that you suffer from uncertainties, misgivings, and temptations to sinful fear and pride. Doubt causes you to need a sign, and to fall into greater doubt, eventually into unbelief, if you do not get what you think you want.

The official in today’s Gospel lesson was struggling with doubt. He had faith – faith enough in what he had heard about Jesus, about the miracle He had performed at a wedding in Cana, in order to compel him to go to Jesus and to plead for His help. But, still he was looking for a sign; he wanted Jesus to come to where his son was, maybe speak an incantation, call on some angels, wave His hands in the air, something. Though Jesus called him to faith saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,” the official continued to plead, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” But, you see, Jesus was right. In fact, Thomas was right too. You, I, we, mankind – we do need to see and touch and taste! Though the Word is sufficient in itself, though God’s grace is sufficient for us in all things, we need the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. God knows this, and He has delivered, and He delivers Jesus to us still in Word, water, body, and blood.

For your sake, God sent forth His Son, His Word, to become a man, to fulfill the Law, and to suffer and die for your sins and the sins of all mankind, and to be raised, victorious over death and the devil. For your sake, the Word of God became flesh, died in the flesh, was raised and ascended in the flesh, and will come again and remain forever in the flesh. While the official knew that he needed Jesus, he didn’t know that Jesus was God’s Word in the flesh. Thus, Jesus took the official’s faith in the Man, and He added to it faith in the Word of God that had become that Man. Bo Giertz wrote, “Jesus had never worked miracles to impress people or to make himself popular or to be believed. To do this was one of the temptations of the devil that he resisted. He used his power to help others, but never himself. He used it to reveal the mercy of God and God’s presence. For those who had eyes to see, his miracles revealed that the kingdom of God was at hand and that the Messiah had come.”

To show this to the official, and to show this to you, Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the Word that Jesus spoke to him and he went on his way. Before he arrived at home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering, precisely at the hour in which Jesus said, “Your son will live”. The official did not need to see his son healthy and standing in order to believe, but now he trusted, not only in the Man who could heal, but he trusted in the Word of God made flesh who is healing and eternal life. The man and his entire household believed in Jesus.

Your Lord Jesus calls you to such a faith – a faith that clings to His Word without seeing and without touching. Nevertheless, He has compassion for you in your weakness of faith and in your doubts and He gives you so much more than even His disciples and Apostles enjoyed, His glorified flesh and blood to see, to touch, to taste that you may commune with Him and dwell in Him and He in you. Still He directs you to the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us that you may believe that you will live, even if you die, because He has died and yet lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He says to you, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then He asks you, “Do you believe this?” May your answer be the same as my answer, and the same as another father of a boy possessed by a demon: Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. And, He does; and, He will.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homily for The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)


Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

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

You are invited. Only, you can say “No, thank you”. You are in. Only you can make yourself to be out. Such is the nature of kingdom of heaven. Everything is prepared. God has done it all. He has slaughtered His Lamb. He has done what was necessary so that you could come. He has sent His servants to you with this Good News, that you are invited, that you are in. It’s done! It’s finished! Only you can say “No”. Only can make yourself to be out.

The invitation was sent first to the King’s chosen ones, those ordinary, sinful, idolatrous people upon whom God chose to show His mercy and shower upon His grace. The invitation went to Abram and to his descendents, a people who were no nation, whom He made to be a nation, even His own children, by grace. Their history has been one of faith and prosperity followed by betrayal, idolatry and denial, leading to judgment, repentance, restoration, repeat. But then, when the time was right, God sent His only-begotten Son to end that vicious cycle by fulfilling God’s holy Law and by suffering and dying in the place of men. It’s done! It’s finished! God, the King, sent His servants to call His children to the feast, but they would not come. Some were distracted by the pleasures of life and they paid no attention. Some were embroiled in their work, their wealth, and their possessions. Some violently opposed Him, and treated His servants shamefully and killed them. The King was angry. He sent His troops and He destroyed those murderers, and He burned their city. They were invited. They said “No, thank you”. They were in. They made themselves to be out.

But, the King did not prepare the feast for nothing. His only-begotten Son did not suffer and die in vain. His wedding hall will be filled. Therefore, He sent His servants to the main roads to invite as many as they would find there. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good, for the wedding invitation is not based on the qualifications of those invited, but it is based upon the grace and mercy of the King and the merit and work of His Son. The feast is free, as the Prophet Isaiah declared saying, “he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” You are invited. Only you can say “No, thank you.” You are in. Only you can make yourself to be out.

Thus far, this parable of our Lord Jesus proclaims the universal grace and mercy of God the Father, and the universal atonement accomplished by the selfless, sacrificial, and substitutionary suffering and death of His Son. There is no one who has ever lived, or who will ever live, that is left out of the LORD’s gracious invitation. There is no one for whom the Lord Jesus did not suffer and die. There is no one for whom is not provided the wedding garment of Christ’s holy, innocent, and righteous blood. But, that garment is necessary. Jesus’ blood is necessary for admittance into the wedding hall of heaven.

It is here that our Lord’s parable takes a slightly unexpected turn. There was a man there in the hall that had no wedding garment. He had been invited. Likely he was one of those good or bad found walking on the main roads. He was there at the LORD’s invitation and as His guest. But, he was not wearing the proper wedding garment. Perhaps to your ears this seems a light, pardonable offense, and perhaps you are taken aback at the King’s response to the man found without a wedding garment? The King said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” You see, the man was not even expected to come wearing the proper garment, but wedding garments were provided all of the guests. The implication is that this man refused to wear the garment. He insisted on participating in the feast on his own terms, according to his own will, desire, and wisdom. Can you now see the great offense this was to the King? However, the offense is seen even more clearly when the spiritual meaning of this parable is understood, that the wedding garment is the sacrificial blood and righteousness of the King’s Son, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ atoning blood, you are invited. Only you can say, “No, thank you.” You are in. Only you can make yourself to be out.

The ungarmented man had no answer, he was speechless. Then the King said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is the King’s righteous and just judgment. Does it seem harsh. Yes, indeed it does. But, as much as we misjudge the breadth and depth of God’s mercy, grace, love, compassion, and forgiveness in Jesus, so too do we misjudge His holiness, righteousness, and justice. God’s holiness and righteousness cannot permit even the smallest sinful imperfection – that’s simply the nature of who God is, His holiness, and what it means to be God. Yet, He has made it possible for all of us and everyone to stand before Him without fear by covering us with the cleansing, holy, innocent, and righteous blood of Jesus. This is the garment that is absolutely necessary to enter His presence. You receive that garment when you believe what God has done for you in Christ Jesus and do not reject Him. Baptism is a sacramental sign and seal of God’s promise made and kept for you in Jesus. To reject Jesus, or to attempt to enter God’s presence apart from Jesus, without His cleansing blood, is to stand before God naked in your sin. Thus, it is not wickedness on God’s part that casts you out, but it is your own refusal and rejection of the atonement He provided for you at great cost in the blood of His own Son, Jesus.

And, what of the weeping and gnashing of teeth? Is this not the fruit of the knowledge of what could have been and what should have been? Those who reject the LORD’s gracious invitation and the garment of Christ’s righteousness, when they find themselves locked outside of the feast in the wedding hall of heaven, they will weep and gnash their teeth in the full knowledge of what they gave up entirely of their own free will and of their own fault. As the time will be too late then to repent and receive God’s gifts of love and forgiveness, grief and sorrow over their self-chosen fate consumes and contorts them so that they are bound hand and foot in anger and fury and grief in the darkness of separation from the God of light, holiness, and righteousness. For many are called, but few are chosen. Indeed, all are called through the chosen One, Jesus Christ. And, rejection of Him alone is the cause of being cast into darkness.

So, what are you to make of this parable? What does it mean for your lives today? Well, you can take great comfort in the breadth and height of God’s love for all mankind in Jesus Christ, that He has invited all to the wedding feast in heaven and that He has provided in His Son Jesus all that is necessary to stand in His holy and glorious presence. And, you know that His invitation is for you today, now, as St. Paul has taught you, “Now is the day of salvation.” Further, Isaiah teaches you, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near,” and St. Paul exhorts you, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” For, if you are invited – and you are, and, if you are in – and you are, then what do you have to fear? Nothing! What do you have to be anxious about? Nothing! All that you need, all that is necessary for your eternal life and salvation has been accomplished for you, and no one can take it away from you. You are sealed and clothed in Christ’s holiness and righteousness, cleansed and purified in His innocent shed blood – You are in! What does this mean for your life now? Live like you believe and know that this is true! Live like you already have one foot in heaven and that you’re patiently looking forward to standing there with both feet, body, and soul. That is to say, live like the Christ you have been given, the Christ you have received, and, indeed, the little-Christ you have been made to be – now! – making the best use of the time, because the days are evil, not being foolish, but understanding what the will of the Lord is, not getting drunk with wine, but being filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. For, the time is short, and while the Enemy seeks to lead men astray by means of lies and deceit, let yourselves, people of God, work to lead your brothers and sisters and your neighbors to believe and receive the LORD’s gracious invitation and live, now, and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.