Sunday, January 27, 2013

Homily for Septuagesima



Matthew 20:1-16; 2 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

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

As the news of the Sandyhook massacre began to break, there was a great amount of misinformation and conflicting accounts. This is understandable as reporters first on the scene were trying to make sense of a confusing situation that was still unfolding. At one point it was reported that there were two or more shooters. When it was confirmed that there was only one shooter, he was misidentified as his brother in New Jersey. There were reports that the shooter’s mother was in the school, but it was later reported that she was found dead in her home. The number of victims reported dead or wounded continued to change for at least thirty-six hours. I do believe that this confusion and misinformation is understandable, as reporters were doing their best to get the facts and report on them.

However, after a couple of days, it became clear that reporting the facts had been replaced with telling a story. Objective reporters quickly transformed into subjective storytellers, spinning and maintaining a narrative, a story. That story goes something like this: Mass shootings like those at Sandyhook, Aurora, and Columbine are the result of too many guns, the easy availability of guns, and semi-automatic and fully automatic guns labeled “assault rifles”. It doesn’t really matter which news network you watch, which newspaper you read, or what mass-media means you access news and opinions from, they are all telling, essentially, the same narrative and story. Is that because the story is true? Evidence suggests otherwise. But, that is the crux of the problem – the contemporary news media, indeed, our culture, do not seem to be concerned with evidence and truth, but with the telling and fostering of a narrative, a story.

Now, perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, for, we, as a culture, have effectively denied the existence of truth. This is the result of a philosophy called Post-Modernism that came into being in mid-twentieth century. Whereas Modernism, which preceded it, encapsulated the philosophical quest for knowledge of truth and the nature of truth, Post-Modernism posited that all truth is but a human construction, based upon, not what is absolutely true in itself, but upon human assumptions and predispositions. Today, people are less concerned about what is true than what is true for you. This is another way of saying, “What is your narrative or story? And, what then is your meta-narrative, the story behind your story?” And so, we no longer desire or believe in the truth. However, the first to disbelieve in the truth were not modern philosophers the likes of Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard, but more ancient Post-Modernists like Pontius Pilate who infamously questioned “What is truth?”, and, earlier still Satan who tempted Eve by asking “Did God really say?” and then directly contradicting the truth of God’s Word by saying “You shall not surely die.”

Truth be told, Satan’s meta-narrative lies behind the story we like to tell ourselves – that we are good, decent, and faithful people, better than most, and that we deserve God’s favor and all the blessings we enjoy in life. After all, Satan’s temptation amounted to this: It doesn’t really matter what the truth is. It doesn’t really matter what God says in His Word. You can be like God yourself, deciding for yourself what is good and evil, right and wrong. No one can judge you, therefore, judge for yourself, by your wisdom, knowledge, and rule. And that’s exactly what we do. We think that by being obedient to most of God’s commands, as we judge both His commands and our obedience, that we are doing well and deserve and merit His favor. But, this is a lie, and that is the truth.

Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard exposes our meta-narrative for the lie that it is. Jesus masterfully takes a story about work, merit, and wage and says that it is about the kingdom of heaven. In the parable, a master hires laborers to work in his vineyard, at different times throughout the day, and promises them each a denarius at the end of the day. At the day’s end, he paid each of them one denarius, regardless of how long they had worked. Those laborers hired first are outraged, expecting that they would receive more than those hired later in the day. Now, why would they think that? Did they not agree to work all day for a denarius? Why should they be disgruntled if the master pays everyone the same, regardless of their hours worked?

Ah, but this is where their, and our, meta-narrative is exposed. Remember, Jesus’ parable is not about equal pay for equal work, but His parable is about the kingdom of heaven. What is earned for our sin and rebellion is not a wage of money, but a wage of death. And, what our Master Jesus pays out is not money, but forgiveness. As forgiveness is His alone to give, and as we all merit only death, Jesus chooses to give to those who trust in Him last the same forgiveness that He gives to those who have trusted in Him for years. Why would you begrudge Jesus’ generosity in forgiving those who come to faith late in their lives, or in ways that are different from you?

You see, their, and our, meta-narrative is about fairness and equality – these are our underlying assumptions which lead us to outrage at the perceived injustice that those who worked little get paid the same as those who worked much. However, whether we are talking about wages earned for hours worked, or the forgiveness of our sins, what our Master Jesus does with His forgiveness is His choice alone. Ironically, in the parable, every man received exactly what He was promised, regardless of hours worked. In the kingdom of heaven, however, we are happy to not receive what we have merited for our sin, death, but to receive, instead, that which we have not merited, earned, or deserved, forgiveness, by the grace, mercy, and love of God in Jesus Christ.

We don’t like the truth. We can’t handle the truth. When our First Parents sinned and rebelled against God, they hid in fear from their Creator. When He called to them, they blamed each other, and, ultimately, they blamed God Himself. They created meta-narratives, stories, to cover their misdeeds, to justify themselves, to pass the buck, and to put themselves in a good light. When it comes to horrific tragedies like Sandyhook, Aurora, and Columbine, the story that is not being told, and one that reflects the truth of the matter, is the story of mental disorder, depression, anger, and hatred. These are truly at the root of such violent and horrific massacres. Ah, but that is a story we want to hide, ignore, or debunk, because that story, that truth, exposes how irreparably broken we are by sin.

Our culture has worked hard for centuries to push God, His Word, and Truth out of the meta-narrative of our existence. Men, who do not find their lives’ value and meaning in being the holy creation of our good and holy God are left to create another value and meaning for their lives. What they create is a narrative, a story, one that says that we are simply the most advanced species in a long chain of species that originally evolved out of some primordial soup of chemicals having their origin in the Big Bang, wholly by chance, with no intelligent direction or design. When this is your meta-narrative, then the value and meaning of any human life is not in itself, but is determined by someone else who, like the laborers in the vineyard, are going to value their own lives and well-being above those of others or yourself.

It’s pretty clear that the Sandyhook shooter did not find value or meaning in his own life. Likewise, he did not find value and meaning in the lives of his victims. Since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973 and unrestricted abortion became legalized, over 54.5 million babies have been killed because someone else decided that their life and well-being was more valuable and meaningful than the lives and welfare of unborn children. Of course, the narrative that permits this horror to continue is one of equality and fairness, of women’s rights and a woman’s choice to decide what happens to her body. Do you see why it is necessary to tell a story and not deal with the truth? You have to get God and His Word out of the picture in order to justify an atrocity, in terms of death count, even worse than the holocaust.

Here’s the truth: We live in a godless culture of death. The culture of death leers at us daily: pornography and the degradation of sexuality, substance abuse, violence, broken families, children abused and abducted, and the growth of the abortion industry as it gobbles up lives, money, and our future. Death is our wage for sin and, since we cannot avoid it, we have done the opposite, we have embraced it and celebrated it and made it a human right. That’s a meta-narrative, created and sustained by men to avoid the truth.

What is truth? God’s Word is Truth. And Jesus Christ is God’s Word and Truth made flesh, who lived and died for you and for your salvation that you might have rich and abundant life. Jesus Christ is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life through whom you have access to the Father. There is no other way, no other story, for He is the Truth. Therefore, as the ancient Didache says:

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.

[…] The way of death, on the other hand, is this: It is evil and accursed—murders, adulteries, lust, illicit sex, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness—those who do not fear God. The way of death is the way of those who persecute the good, hate the truth, love lies, and do not understand the reward for righteousness. They do not cleave to good or righteous judgment; they do not watch for what is good, but for what is evil. They are strangers to meekness and patience, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, without pity for the needy and oppressed. They do not know their Creator; they are murderers of children, destroyers of God's image. They turn away from those who are in need, making matters worse for those who are distressed. They are advocates for the rich, unjust judges of the poor. In a word, the way of death is full of those who are steeped in sin. Be delivered, children, from all of this!

Yes, little children, may you be delivered from all of this, for Jesus’ sake.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Homily for The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord



Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

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

In the wilderness, the fullness of the glory of God filled and abided within a tent made of linen, woven from goat hair, covered with ram skins, constructed by men, all His own creation. Hundreds of years later, the fullness of the glory of God filled and abided within the Holy of Holies, in the temple made of wood and stones, overlaid with gold and jewels, constructed by men, all His own creation. Then, hundreds of years later again, the fullness of the glory of God filled and abided within a tent of human flesh, as the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, first, conceived within the virgin womb of a young woman of His own choosing, and then as a man, born of Mary, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. As John the Evangelist has put it, “we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, in our midst – in Hebrew the word is shekhinah, in Greek it is pleroma – means that the fullness of the God who has made all things, who still sustains all things, has become and has filled the stuff of His creation to redeem and to save it from destruction in the person of Jesus. This truth was revealed in the Transfiguration of Our Lord as the veil hiding the fullness of the glory of God was lifted from Jesus for a moment, and the glory that was always there, though veiled and hidden, was revealed for His closest disciples to behold. This event was a bookend to what occurred in Jesus’ baptism, which you heard about last week, where the Father anointed Jesus with His Holy Spirit that He might become the sacrificial lamb of His own providence, and He verbally proclaimed Him to be “His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.” Then, there was the Father’s Word, while the eyes beheld only lowliness and humility, but on the Mount of Transfiguration, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were stunned by the brilliant light of God’s glory in the man Jesus, along with the witness and testimony of Moses and Elijah, so that they fell down as though dead. That glory had been there all along, veiled, hidden, in, with, and under the human flesh and nature of the man Jesus. He was, and is, and ever shall be nothing less than God in flesh, God as a man, Emmanuel, God with us.

But, why the veil? Why does God mask His glory in human flesh? Why didn’t He, why doesn’t He, simply reveal the fullness of His glory so that everyone would believe without a hint of a doubt? The answer to that question, perhaps surprisingly, is love. No man can bear to behold God’s unveiled glory. No sinful man can behold God and live. Therefore, God has done the unthinkable, He has come to us under a veil of lowliness and humility that we may come to know Him according to His love, His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness. In Jesus, we have come to know God and His love gradually as He grew from infancy to manhood. In Jesus, we have received God, not as a threat, but as a gift. And, in observing His compassion, His mercy, and His love in action, in word and in deed, we can see, hear, and know God.

Indeed, those closest to Jesus had more than an inkling suspicion of who Jesus was before His Transfiguration. In fact, just eight days earlier, Peter had been brought to the confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In His miraculous deeds, healings, cleansings, casting out demons, and resurrections, men could see that, despite the veil of humility, God was at work in Jesus to save His people from their sins. You see, God does not force Himself on anyone. His will is that you trust in Him because He is good and because He loves you, despite what you see with your eyes and comprehend with your finite reason, the way you trust your earthly fathers who, though they are imperfect and sin, still love you and desire good for you, how much more will your heavenly Father graciously give you all things that are good for you.

Sin is always rooted in idolatry. An idol is anything that gets in between you and God, anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before and above God. The idol that most of us fashion everyday of our lives is ourselves. You make yourself to be your own god, placing your needs and your desires before and above God’s Word, will, and command. When you feel that you are cast in a bad light, you justify yourself believing that your rule of righteousness is all that matters. Often, your idols are bound up in your false ideas and beliefs about God. Like Peter, you worship glory. You believe that in order for God to be present you must have a glorious experience, your emotions must be worked up into some transcendental ecstasy. And, if they’re not, then all you have is dead, rote ceremonies and the traditions of men. You, like Peter, are all impassioned and excited when you think of the god of your own creation, but then, when He tells you that He must go to the cross and suffer and die in humility and lowliness, and that you, His disciple, must take up your own cross of humility and suffering and sacrifice and follow Him, you shout with Peter “No Lord! This can never happen to you! There’s no glory in suffering and death! You need to build a glorious kingdom here on earth, a big, beautiful church with a fellowship hall, a gymnasium, and a coffee house! Why all this morbidity, all this talk about sin and death? Just show people how to live a better life, how to have a loving marriage, how to raise successful children, and how to be happy, then they will flock to you!” To you, o theologian of glory, as to Peter, your Lord Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.” Repent.

You don’t know what God’s glory is, what it looks like, even when it’s staring you straight in the face. The fullness of God’s glory was, is, and ever shall be, in the person of Jesus. The fullness of His deity dwelt, dwells, and ever shall dwell bodily in the person of Jesus Christ. When you behold Him, you behold God. Your God reveals His glory, not in the ways in which men count as glorious, but in the humble, the meek, the weak, and the vulnerable things of this world, that the wise, and the strong, and the glorious in men’s eyes might be shamed and be seen to be as nothing. Why does He do this? That all your idols which you have made, and to which you have sold and enslaved yourself, might be exposed for the rock, wood, plastic, and dying flesh that they are, and be destroyed.

Peter’s response to the glory of God revealed in Jesus’ transfiguration was to attempt to preserve that glorious mountain-top experience by constructing tabernacles in which to house God’s glory once again, much as had once occurred in the wilderness long ago. However, the Father’s voice was heard yet again, just as it was at Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,” and this time the command was spoken, “Listen to Him.” The revelation of the fullness of God’s glory dwelling bodily in Jesus was a foretaste of what will be revealed on the Last Day when Christ returns in glory, and every eye will see Him, and every tongue will confess Him to be God and Lord. But, for now, they are to worship and to follow Jesus, not because of His glory, but because of His Word and promise. Then the glory was veiled once again, and they were alone with Jesus. And the disciples and Jesus went down from the mountain, back into the valley where humble and broken, sin-wrecked and diseased, demon-possessed people clamored for Jesus, and He forgave them and He healed them and He raised the dead by the power of His Word.

Just a few days later, they entered into Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets of God. The disciples considered this to be the complete opposite of the glory they had beheld on the mountain-top. But, Jesus would ascend yet another mountain-top, not the temple mount, for Jesus was the temple of God, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily, but, rather, a rugged, rocky hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, the place of a skull. There the fullness of God’s glory would be revealed, not in bright light and an awesome worship experience, but in the selfless suffering and sacrificial death of God for you and for all men. For there is no greater love possible than that a man should lay down His life and die for His friends.

Peter and the disciples, indeed, all the world, would be scandalized by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. No one would see it for the revelation of God’s glory that it truly was. However, after Jesus’ resurrection, after Pentecost, fifty days later, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles, giving birth to the Church, then Peter understood and could encourage and instruct Christ’s Church with the words of his epistle, “we have something more sure [than the revelation of God’s glory in Jesus’ Transfiguration], the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we still have that sure and enlightening Word of life which you hear with your ears, read with your eyes, wear in your Baptism, and eat in the Lord’s Supper. And, though it comes to you in lowly and humble forms and means, it is the fullness of the glory of God for you, that you may have light in this darkness, strength in your weakness, life in this world of death, and hope for life that never ends. The Transfiguration of your Lord is a foretaste and a reminder of the glory that has always been with you and for you, that is with you and for you now, and that will be revealed to you in fullness on that day upon which the sun will never set. Until then, hear, read, see, and taste the fullness of God’s glory in the Word of God made flesh for you, Jesus Christ, with whom God the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What do public education, the breakdown of the traditional family, the ghettoization of the church, and the morality of our culture have in common?

The public school system in the United States has become, and not recently, a machine of the state having the purpose of producing the kind of citizen that most benefits the state’s purposes and desires. What the state most needs to stifle is individuality and individual thinking and creativity. Here’s a quote from  a 30 year teacher in New York City schools and former New York State Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto, from his book Weapons of Mass Instruction – A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling:

Take a second to think about these utopian algorithms – dividing people from one another and from their natural allies, is right at the head of the list, but all require wiping the slate as clean of close emotional ties – even ties to yourself! – as possible. Family, deep friendships, church, culture, traditions, anything which might contradict the voice of authority, is suspect. An independent mind  is the worst danger of all, but twelve years spent in a school chair (and now in front of a computer terminal or television, etc.), will convert the most crowded inner life into a virtually blank slate.

From the same book, here’s a quote from William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906 from his book The Philosophy of Education, 1906:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual….

The great purpose of school [self-alienation] can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places…. It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

Harris is far from a lone radical in the history of public education in America. The model is a Hegelian one from Prussia, used by American industrialists like J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie and communists and socialists like Karl Marx alike. Thus, education isn’t actually a political issue, but an instrument wielded by those in power regardless of their political affiliations. All the other social issues we wrangle with – marriage, sexuality, abortion, women’s rights, religious discourse in the public square, gun control, the nature and meaning of life, etc. – are indoctrinated into our culture and society through the public school system. We learn what we are wanted to learn – nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Homily for the Pawling Epiphany Walk


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

The Prophet’s phrase “the stump of Jesse” might cause one to imagine something like a smoldering landscape of toppled trees, charred and dead, the ground hot and burnt so that no seed may sprout. Yes, that is a fitting image to capture Isaiah’s meaning, for such would become the kingdom of David, the children of Israel, by the might and sword of Assyria and Babylon, God’s instruments of judgment upon Israel’s idolatry and apostasy. Israel would be cut down and seemingly without hope of restoration, unable to revive herself.

But, then it happened. When they least expected it. When all hope was vanquished and the strength of men was dried up – a shoot, new and alive, sprung forth from death, not from David, but a new David, from the stump and root of David’s father, Jesse. And, the Spirit of the LORD would rest upon Him, as a man, so that He would have God’s wisdom and understanding, God’s counsel and might, God’s knowledge and the fear of His LORD, as a man. Therefore His reign would be an eternal reign, not like David, but a reign of righteousness and faithfulness and peace.

Peace – that is something our world has known little of, so that our concepts of peace surely fall short of the true peace that our Lord and God desire for us. Therefore, we are tempted to interpret the concluding verses from this reading from Isaiah, about Christ’s peaceable kingdom, as being a picture of heaven to come in the Lord’s parousia. And, surely they do describe that coming kingdom, for they describe a world where there is no evil, a world where we don’t persecute one another, where there is nothing to fear, where nothing kills and nothing dies. It’s a creation without the fall into sin, a world like this one when it was first formed by the Creator’s hand “and God saw that it was good.”

However, Christ’s peaceable kingdom has also come, and it is coming, and it is present amongst you even now. For, the wolves and the lambs, the leopards and the goats, the calves and the lions, the cows and the bears, the little children, the nursing infants, and the venomous cobras, are they not you and I? Does not Christ lead us now to not strike back to those who strike us, to forgive all who trespass against us, and to love all, even our enemies and those who hate us? The way of peace now, as then, is through selflessness and sacrifice. Though we cannot enjoy that peace perfectly now, we can live our lives as in training for it, shouldering the burdens we bear in peace, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ shares and shoulders the burden with us. More than that, He has borne it all for us upon the cross and has passed through the last enemy, death, into life.

Now He stands before us as a signal for all peoples, and He calls to us, to gather His remnant from all the places they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. He came as a little child. He died as our suffering servant. He is coming as our Lord and King.

The Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Baptism Jesus


Matthew 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Isaiah 42:1-7

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

Jesus’ baptism was different than both John’s baptism, which it fulfilled, and the baptism He Himself would institute after His death and resurrection. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, a baptism for sinners who hoped for their savior. Jesus’ own baptism by John was not a baptism of repentance, for He had no sin of which to repent, but His baptism was a consecration into His work of salvation, into His work of being their hoped for Savior by dying on the cross. Therefore, John was right, Jesus did not need to be baptized by him, but Jesus wanted to be baptized that He might fulfill all righteousness.

When Jesus was baptized, His Father proclaimed the acceptability of His self-offering saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This was, and is, a remarkable proclamation, for countless men, women, and children had stepped into the Jordan’s waters before Jesus, and never once could God the Father proclaim that He was well pleased as He could and did with His own Son Jesus. Indeed, all those men, women, and children before Him brought their idolatries, adulteries, murders, thefts, and countless other sins into the water with them, and when they stepped out they were considered clean by God on account of the work His Son would do for them on the cross. However, when Jesus, clean, pure, sinless, and holy, stepped out of those waters, He took upon Himself their sins, your sins, and my sins, the sins of all men, women, and children who will ever have lived and died. Jesus’ baptism was His consecration as our Holy Prophet, our Great High Priest, and the King of heaven and earth. He was proclaimed to be righteous by His Father. He was anointed and chrismated by the Holy Spirit. And He was sent forth, bearing our burden of sin, to face temptation, suffering, sorrow, and death for us, in our place, as our substitute, with whom the Father was, and is, well pleased.

In His baptism, Jesus became the scapegoat for us. The Father placed upon Him all our sin, guilt, and iniquity and sent Him out into the wilderness to face all that Azazel, Satan, could throw at Him. This St. Matthew captures saying “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Stronger still, St. Mark says that “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” There, Jesus was tempted by hunger and weakness, He was tempted by power and greed, He was tempted by pride and the desire to be a god unto Himself – just as all men are, just as you are. However, Jesus resisted and overcame all temptations by faith and trust in the Word of God, bearing with suffering, in love for His Father and for you. He suffered all for you, ultimately, even your death. The wages of sin that you have earned, Jesus bore in His flesh and suffered in His soul for you, that you might be the other goat, offered in sacrifice to the LORD, a living sacrifice which receives forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

Yet, despite His washing in the water of the Jordan, St. Luke records these words of our Lord indicating another baptism with which He would be baptized, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” The baptism to which Jesus was referring was His baptism into death on the cross. In the Jordan, Jesus had stood flesh and blood as our brother, taking upon Himself our sins and the sins of the entire world. As St. Paul puts it, “He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” In His baptism, Jesus took upon Himself our sin, and therefore, our death, for “the wages of sin is death.” When Jesus suffered and died upon the cross, He drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sin to the bitter dregs so that there was no wrath left, but it was finished.

Then, after His death and resurrection, Jesus commanded His apostles saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” and He promised, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The baptism which Jesus instituted was, as John had prophesied, a baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The Spirit was His to give, for the Holy Spirit had descended upon Him and had anointed and chrismated Him for baptism into death for our sins, and the Father gave to Him “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Now, that’s a fairly comprehensive authority. Truly, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that does not belong to Jesus, over which He does not have authority and control. And, the good news is that, through baptism and faith, everything that belongs to Jesus, belongs to you as well. “But, pastor, whatever do you mean?” you may be asking. To understand this truth you must understand the meaning of your own baptism. Your baptism, whether it be a sprinkling of water upon your infant forehead, or the total immersion of your entire adult body, or any other kind of washing, at any age or any time, when water was applied to you along with the words of Jesus’ command, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” – your baptism was, and is, as St. Paul teaches, a baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that His death is your death, and His resurrection is your resurrection. Therefore, just as the Father gave all authority over heaven and earth to His Son with whom He is well pleased, so has He given this and all things to you who are baptized into Him and who believe in Him. You are His own adopted sons and daughters, heirs with Jesus of all the blessings and joys of heaven. More than that, you are the Bride of Jesus Christ, His body, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, in Holy Communion with Him so that He is yours and you are His. His perfect faith, trust, love, and obedience count for you. His perfect suffering and death count for you. His glorious resurrection and ascension count for you. And, He is coming for you to raise you from death to eternal life, with a new body and your eternal soul, like unto His own, to live and reign with Him and worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

And yet, your baptism is not only a guarantee of good things to come, but it is the guarantee of your possession of these good things now. For, when you were baptized, you died with Jesus and you were raised with Him in spirit. And, already, now, you have a new and holy spirit that loves the Lord, whose will is His will, who loves His Word and His Law and desires to keep it and do it. Already, now, you have a new and holy spirit, a new man, that will never die. Yes, the flesh will die, the body must die, but the spirit will never die. Your baptism is a powerful gift of God’s grace, it is a powerful means and channel of receiving God’s grace, made possible by Jesus’ own baptism, death, and resurrection, into which you have been baptized.

What does this mean for you and your life now? It means that you may take comfort and find confidence and strength in your baptism into Christ. For, as with Christ the Father is well pleased, therefore He is well pleased with you in Christ. And, as Christ is victorious over temptation, sin, death, and the devil, even now you hold the victory over these enemies. Be certain, however, that though the spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. Further, be certain that the baptized in Christ have a powerful enemy in Satan who will not rest from seeking to lead you astray into sin. When you suffer Satan’s attacks, when temptation is strong and sin is crouching at the door to devour you, remember your baptism, make the sign of the cross in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and pray to God for strength to resist the temptation, to persevere through suffering, to cast out doubt and fear, and to flood your soul with the Light of Christ in His Word. For, that is one of the great gifts of Holy Baptism – wearing Christ and His righteousness, being covered with Him, sealed in the Holy Spirit, named, claimed, and christened with God’s Holy Name. For, Jesus has promised He will never leave you or forsake you. The Father has promised that nothing can separate you from His love which is in Jesus Christ. And, again Jesus has promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord

Epiphany Icon


Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6

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

On Christmas Eve we chanted these words from Wisdom of Solomon, “When all was still and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.” In the darkest hour of man’s night of sin, when there seemed to be no help on the horizon, no hope for salvation, that was when God acted. That is when God acts. Once again He spoke His creative Word into the darkness saying, “Let there be Light”, and His creative Word accomplished that purpose for which it was sent: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. Once again there was Light, and His Life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, and cannot, overcome it.

Wise men from the East, Gentiles, caught a glimpse of that Light. They had only an inkling of what it might be, for they too, with all the world, dwelt in the midst of deep darkness. But they were looking for a light. They were searching the stars, reading the stories and searching the prophecies of wise men in other lands. They were searching for God in all the wrong places; they were searching for God in too many faces. Yet, still, they were searching; they were looking outside of themselves for help, for hope, and for Light. God permitted them to observe the star, but it was not the star that lead them to Jerusalem, but it was His Word which they had heard and read and searched as they groped around in the darkness. They had heard of a prophecy, of a great King, and, they came to worship Him, indicating that they expected this king to be more than an earthly ruler.

The wise men were most likely astronomers, perhaps even astrologers, who searched and read the stars of the heavens looking for guidance and direction in their lives. This may not be as bad as it sounds, for the stars were put in their place by our God and Creator, and they do indeed provide guidance and direction, marking north, south, east, and west; and, the movement of the constellations across the heavens mark the changing of the seasons. However, astronomy becomes astrology, and that is idolatry, in the same manner as anything else, when the creature is feared, loved, and trusted before and above the Creator. The wise men were most likely guilty of this, as are we all.

Yet, the wise men stand in unique contrast to both Herod and the chief priests and scribes of the people of Israel. Herod and the priests and the scribes did not search the heavens and look to the light of the stars for guidance and direction, but, moreover, though they were the keepers and the interpreters of God’s Word, neither did they look to it for light, guidance, and direction. Thus, when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, at the palace of King Herod – for, where else would you find a king, but in a palace in a royal city, they thought – Herod remembered that there was prophecy in God’s Word about such a king, and he quickly inquired with the keepers and the interpreters of the Word where this child king was to be born. And, the priests and the scribes knew right where to look, the Prophet Micah, where it says “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” They knew right where to look, and yet, they weren’t looking! And, when Herod finally took an interest and sought to find the child, it wasn’t out of fear, love, and trust in God or in His Word, but it was out of fear, and hate, and jealousy for his throne and for the one he believed was prophesied to take it from him. Herod didn’t want to come and worship the newborn King, he wanted to come and murder Him!

Here we have an example of two kinds of people, both walking in the same darkness, but for different reasons, and with different results. The wise men from the east knew they were in darkness and they were searching for light, even if they didn’t fully know or understand what that light was or would be. In contrast, Herod, the scribes, and the Pharisees were actually keepers and interpreters of the source of all light, God’s Word, but they loved the darkness more than the light. They refused to be guided and directed by the light of God’s Word and they chose to live their lives and to conduct their deeds under the cover of darkness because their deeds were evil. When the wise men heard the Word, they made haste to Bethlehem to find the Christ child to worship Him. But, when Herod heard the Word, he was troubled and his heart was hardened. Herod burned with anger and jealousy, with fear and hate for this newborn King of prophecy, and for the Word of God which proclaimed Him.

The Light of God’s creative and life-giving Word entered into the world in the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ – and that has changed everything! Darkness has been penetrated and overcome by the Light of Christ, as it was first in the creation, and it shall never obscure, overcome, or prevail against the Light ever again. Wherever the Light of God’s Word, the Light of Christ, shines, there simply is no darkness. And yet, people still walk in darkness, in ignorance and unbelief. People still choose to dwell in darkness because their deeds are evil. But, not you, O Jerusalem, city on a hill. You are filled with, and you shine with, the Light of God’s Christ. You are not the Light, but His Light fills you like a lamp and shines out of you into the darkness of this world, and upon those who dwell in it, so that not only is your path illumined before you, but others may walk in safety through the valley of the shadow of death.

This is what the Prophet Isaiah declares when he says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” On your own, you have no light, but you dwell in deep darkness. But, when the Light of the LORD shines upon you and fills you, you shine with His Light, the Light of the world for all to see. This is what your Lord Jesus means when He says, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” Likewise, Jesus teaches, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” You see, the eye is a receptive organ; it receives and responds to the stimulus of light. If there is no light, the eye receives and sees nothing. But, when there is light, the eye will receive it, unless it is not clear, or unless the eye is willfully closed. “Therefore,” Jesus warns you, “be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

My dear Christians, whether you were once searching for light in the darkness, or you were all too comfortable dwelling in darkness and were afraid of the light, the Word of God is spoken into you, “Arise, shine, for your Light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord,” writes St. Paul, “Walk, therefore, as children of Light.”

The wise men followed the light of the star, and the light of God’s Word, and they were led to the Christ child. There they worshipped Him and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts fit for a king. For, Jesus is a King, but He is not like the kings of men. He reigns in selfless, sacrificial service, in humility and love. He rules, not with power taken from men, but with authority given by God, in righteousness, justice, and peace. The wise men had to be surprised at what they found, an infant child, helpless and humble, weak and vulnerable, and yet they believed the Word that they had heard, that this child was the King of the Jews. Even so, the light of the Word of God has guided and directed you, not the mountains of natural glory, not to the thrones of human power, but to the altar of sacrifice where your King Jesus is present for you in the humble and lowly forms of bread and wine, that you may present yourself before Him as a living sacrifice and receive His Light and eat His flesh and drink His blood, the flesh and blood of the only Son of the Father, begotten before the foundation of the world, the Word and Light of creation, made flesh and dwelling amongst you, Jesus Christ. In Him is life, and the life is the Light of men, that you may shine with His Light, illumining the way to Truth and Life.

While our resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ now fills all things in heaven and earth, even the glorious mountains and the vast and deep oceans, even the expanse of the heavens with its billions upon billions of galaxies, stars, and planets, He is not in those places and things for your life, light, and salvation, but He is where He has promised to be, in His Word made flesh which He has attached to and fills the humble, the lowly, and the ordinary things of His creation – Bread, wine, water, and the words of a book read, spoken, and proclaimed to you – to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.

Dear Christians, let us also follow the Light of God’s Word to the place where it rests upon the altar of sacrifice in the House of Lord, where His Mother, the Church, gathers with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven around the throne of King Jesus, the Light of the world, God in flesh made manifest. Let us worship and bow down with all the children of the Light in praise and adoration, receiving His light, His love and forgiveness, and go out illumining the world and those walking in darkness and the shadow of death that they might walk in darkness no longer, but seek, find, and receive the Light of Christ and live, and thereby glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Homily for The Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (New Year’s Eve)

F-6 Circumcision and Name  (Lu 2.21)


Luke 2:21; Galatians 3:23-29; Numbers 6:22-27

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

Your God always works through means. That is to say that, the God who made all the stuff that there is, who still sustains all that stuff, always works through the stuff of His making for your good. He attached His creative Word to the fruits of two trees in the Garden, to Aaron’s staff and Moses’ serpent of bronze. He attached His creative Word to the Passover, the tabernacle and the altar of burnt offering, the Ark of the Covenant, and to the Holy of Holies in the temple. And, he attached His creative Word to circumcision, that it might be attached to Holy Baptism and to the Supper of His Son’s body and blood.

God attached His creative Word to circumcision saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” There is something unique, particular, and personal about circumcision. In other Old Testament sacraments, God attached His Word to external, inanimate objects, to stuff. In circumcision, however, God attached His creative Word of promise to man’s flesh, literally. In circumcision, God’s benediction was not spoken over you by a priest, but into your own flesh. In circumcision, there was no ambiguity in God’s Word “this covenant is for you” – it was crystal clear who the “you” was, for you carried it in your own flesh. Though it was possible to be circumcised and be an unbeliever, it was impossible to be a believer and still reject circumcision and the promises God attached to it.

Nevertheless, circumcision did not remove sin, original or actual, but it was God’s promise that He would look upon you in grace and mercy and not in wrath against your sin. Circumcision was God’s work, in your flesh. The sign was irrevocable, for God would not go back on His promise, but faith in that promise was a necessity which men had the freedom to reject. Though only males were circumcised and bore the sacramental sign of God’s covenant, the promise was for all of the offspring that man would bear. This was not some sort of patriarchal prejudice, but it got directly at the root of man’s problem, sin. As we are conceived and born in sin, God’s covenant promise was attached to the very source and beginning of human life. No one was, is, or ever will be conceived and born without a human father – that is, except one, Jesus.

Yet, circumcision was but a sacramental sign pointing ahead to a future fulfillment. That fulfillment came in the circumcision of Jesus, eight days after His birth in Bethlehem. Jesus had no human father and, therefore, He bore not the corruption of original sin. Nevertheless, He submitted Himself to circumcision in His innocent flesh that His heavenly Father’s covenant promise might be given to His offspring by faith. Therefore, in the circumcision of Jesus, all people are circumcised once and for all, because He represents all humanity, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “In [Jesus Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.

Because of Jesus’ circumcision in the flesh, you are God’s child today, not by the shedding of your blood, but by faith in God’s creative Word of promise made flesh, Jesus Christ, who submitted to circumcision in your stead and became obedient under the Law and fulfilled it, dying in your place and rising from death to give new and eternal life to all who are born again with Him by baptism and faith. St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

That new life began on the eighth day, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, reinforcing the connection between circumcision on the eighth day and Holy Baptism. In the Church, the number eight is symbolic of the fulfillment of God’s work of re-creating His sin-broken and fallen world and humanity. The new life begun in Jesus’ resurrection on the eighth day will never end. The eighth day is literally the day upon which the sun will never set. That is the day and the new life into which you are baptized. Therefore, to be baptized is literally to be born again, to a new life that will never die. That is why baptismal fonts, like this one, as well as pulpits and lecterns and other church furnishings are often eight-sided – they are symbolic reminders of God’s covenant and promise kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

As the world celebrates the beginning of a new year this evening and remembers the passing of the old, so the Church celebrates the new life and the new Name that She has been given in the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. In Holy Baptism and faith you are sealed in God’s Benediction, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” His Name is not only proclaimed to you, but it is placed upon you, marking you as His offspring, His child, His heir, with and in Jesus Christ His Son, with whom He is well pleased.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.