Sunday, April 28, 2013

Homily for Cantate–The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Holy Spirit - Trinitarian


John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

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

There is but one will, God’s will, and His will alone is good. Likewise, your enemy has but one goal, that you do not acknowledge, believe in, or follow God’s will, but that you recognize another will, your will, his will, instead of God’s. And, from the look of the world today, you may be convinced that he is winning, or that maybe he has already won. For, the only recognized good and truth today is tolerance – that is, tolerance of the many and varied wills of anyone and everyone in this fallen and broken world. However, the definition of tolerance has been changed, for it no longer means to bear with or to endure, which is God’s will, but today it means to accept and to bless as true and good. Therefore, you are no longer free to hold and practice God’s will and truth, because it does not tolerate, according to today’s usage, it does not accept or bless as true and good the will of another, the will of the flesh, the will of Satan. And, to be sure, following God’s will is going to put you at enmity with the world. It is going to separate you from the world and from the masses. It is going to divide friends and even families. For, to walk in accordance with God’s will, God’s Word, God’s Truth, is to consider all other wills, all other truths, and all other goods to be lies. And, I assure you, this will not go unnoticed by your enemy and the world.

Last week you heard Jesus’ teaching that you will suffer and mourn while the world will rejoice, and He wasn’t kidding. However, Jesus also taught you that it will be only a little while before your sorrow will be turned into joy, joy that no one can take from you. Therefore, so that you do not become too comfortable in this world, in this flesh, He has gone away. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven. And, though you may long that He were here with you now, thinking that it would be so much easier to believe and to persevere if only He were here, He says that it is to your advantage that He has gone away, that He might send you the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide you to Jesus, and to what is true, and to what is truly good – His Father’s will.

The Holy Spirit does this by convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. But, that word convict needs some explanation. The word convict is a judicial term, most often heard in the setting of a courtroom. To convict someone in court requires the presentation of evidence, or testimony, from which the proof of a man’s guilt or innocence is established. Hence, it is often said that a person was convicted of a crime. The convicted man, as well as others, may maintain that he is not guilty, but the evidence of testimony tells what is really true. The word convict in this passage concerning the work of the Holy Spirit carries both the connotations of convincing and announcing a verdict. When it is said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, both of those realities are meant. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince the world by announcing the verdict of God concerning such things as sin, righteousness, and judgment. Even if no one in the world believes the testimony, it is no less true. (Lutheran Catechesis, Peter Bender)

Dear Christian, you must not make peace with the world. You must not simply go with the flow and accept what the world accepts and reject what the world rejects. Therefore, thankfully, this is precisely how the Holy Spirit can help you. For, the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word of Law and Gospel and the Holy Sacraments ever continues to preserve and to keep you in faith, trusting in God’s Word, exposing the teachings of the world as lies. Often you experience this as your conscience telling you what it right even if the worldly doctrine you are hearing sounds reasonable and good according to the wisdom of men.

The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, showing that the way of the world is the way of unbelief, making you uncomfortable in following its path. Now, you must understand that this will not always be pleasant. Holding to the Word and to the will of God will not increase your popularity among men. Your own flesh, reason, and wisdom, which are corrupted by sin, will war against you, being used by your enemy to deceive you into believing good to be evil and evil to be good. This is why St. James exhorts you saying, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” However, the Holy Spirit works through the vehicle of the Word of God. Therefore, you must hear that Word, and read that Word, and be in that Word regularly. If you distance yourself from the fellowship of the faithful, become neglectful in your prayer and study of the Scriptures, and entertain and accommodate the godless things of this world, then you will gradually find yourself on your own, with your only counsel being your own deluded thoughts and wisdom and the counsel of the enemy.

Likewise, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness by showing that the righteousness of the world, which is works, and tolerance, and preaching “Peace, peace!” where there is no peace, is a lie, and that Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen, and ascended alone is true righteousness. It is necessary that men be turned in repentance to faith in Christ, for the world has been judged, guilty, and all men are guilty sinners judged righteous only through Christ, who’s sacrifice the Father has accepted as full atonement for the sins of all mankind so that Jesus is the righteousness before God by which men must be saved.

And, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The judgment of God that the sinner is righteous for Christ’s sake sets men free from the judgment of the Law that the devil uses to condemn the world. Since God forgives us all sins and declares us righteous for Jesus’ sake as a gift of His grace, the devil cannot accuse us of sin or damn us to eternal death. (Lutheran Catechesis, Peter Bender)

However, while you must not make peace with this world, neither must you seek to Christianize the world by force, coercion, or political maneuvering. Your purpose in this world is as leaven, salt, and light. It is by your own love and obedience to God and His Word, and the love of God for you, poured out upon you in Jesus and overflowing out of you in love, mercy, grace, charity, and compassion towards your neighbor in word and in deed, that the Holy Spirit will open deaf ears and blind eyes, break up hardened hearts, and raise the dead to new and abundant life. Therefore, again, St. James exhorts you, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

This is to say, the best way to get people to love the Lord and His Word is for you to love the Lord and His Word by keeping it and doing it. And the best way to get people to honor marriage and sexuality is by you honoring marriage and sexuality as God’s Word has honored and blessed it. And the best way to get people to love true tolerance and peace is to live peaceably and with tolerance in humility, meekness, and selflessness in the world, but not of the world, in service to your neighbor, be he godly or ungodly. For, a little leaven will leaven the entire lump; a little salt will make savory the entire pot; and wherever there is light, there is no darkness at all.

Yes, it is to your advantage that Jesus has gone away, for He has sent you the Helper, His Holy Spirit, just as He had said. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. He daily and richly forgives you all your sins. And, on the Last Day, He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

Jesus told His disciples that He had much more to teach them, but that they could not bear it at that time. But, on Pentecost, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit upon them, and they began to understand the inexhaustible fullness and depth of God’s Word and the mystery of faith so that they could not contain themselves, but bubbled over in joy and the desire to share this Good News and proclaim it to the ends of the earth. How is it that you come to learn the deeper mysteries of faith? Is it not through living in this world, but not of the world, through suffering, persevering against temptation, being subjected to mocking, ridicule, persecution, and even death? Through these things, the Holy Spirit is honing and sharpening you, carving you back into the image of God in which you were made – a work that will not be completed until the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. He is making you to be of one mind and one will – God’s will – that you may love what He has commanded and desire what He has promised, that among the many changes of this world, your hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Homily for Jubilate (The Fourth Sunday of Easter)

H-47 Easter 4 (Jn 16.16-22)


John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31

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

Fear is a powerful motivator. That is why your enemy, Satan, uses fear to motivate you to do his will. He wants to make you uncomfortable, uneasy, and uncertain about your safety, about your finances, about your children, about your future. For, when he’s got you on edge, then you are open to him, his lies and deceptions, his subtle manipulations. First, he gets his foot in the door of your soul, and then it’s all too easy for him to bust right in and take control.

When a megalomaniac foreign leader aims his nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles at American cities; When a sociopathic young man enters a first grade schoolroom and systematically slaughters six-year old children and their teachers; When bombs explode and innocent by-standers are killed and maimed – even the most grounded of Christians may begin to consider God’s providence in permitting such evil, suffering, and death. And, that’s not to mention economic and financial uncertainty, dysfunction and strife within the family, and the sensation that the world and culture is changing faster and more than you are able or willing to adjust and cope with. When these types of forces bear upon a soul, all sorts of emotions begin to well up within you like a slippery slope: doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, hate, and despair. Any one of these is an opening for the devil who will turn them into something far worse – unbelief.

They had been so optimistic, Jesus’ disciples. Everything seemed new, exhilarating, relevant, and fresh when it all began. Jesus taught with an authority they had never heard from the rabbis. His preaching was comforting and liberating, pointing to God’s mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness instead of to what they must do to satisfy a wrathful and demanding god. But then, when He was betrayed by one of their own, arrested and tried before the Jewish counsel and Pilate, then stripped, scourged and beaten, and crucified until He was dead upon the cross – they were filled with doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, hate, and despair. Like sheep, they were all scattered, each going his own way as frightened and confused prey for the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Jesus knew this about them, and Jesus knows this about you – O you of little faith. Therefore, He prepared them for His going away saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me. […] Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” Jesus knew that His disciples would be shaken by the horrific events of His Passion and that the devil would seek to sift them like wheat, therefore He comforted them and He prayed for them to His Father saying, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” And, this is key – Jesus does not pray that you should be raptured out of this world and life with all its brokenness, evil, suffering, and death, but He prays to His Father that you would be protected from the devil’s assaults as you make your pilgrimage way through this wilderness valley of the shadow of death.

When you are afflicted with doubt and uncertainty and are tempted to fear, anger, hate, and despair, you will be tempted to think that it is a good thing to just drop out – that is, to isolate yourself from those persons and things you believe can harm you, to anesthetize yourself in drug or drink so that you do not feel the fear, pain, and suffering, or even to end your own life, believing it better to be dead than to continue to suffer, bear, and endure. And, this is precisely what Satan wants; he wants you to seek an escape, a way out other than the Way that God has ordained for you – Jesus. For, Jesus is the only Way, the only Life, and the only Truth. And, Satan wants you to forget that, to doubt that, to disbelieve that, to despise and to hate that – for, it doesn’t really matter to him, because anything, anything at all, that takes your focus off of Jesus and puts it on to something or to someone else is a victory for him.

St. Paul experienced these very same feelings, emotions, and temptations. In his Epistle to the Church in Philippi, Paul confessed his inner conflict saying, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. […] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Paul wrote this Epistle while he was in prison for confessing Christ and proclaiming the Gospel of His death and resurrection. He was well in touch with suffering and the temptation to anxiety and doubt, fear, anger, hatred, and despair. Still, he did not pity himself and, in faith, he submitted himself to God’s alien will to permit him to suffer, confessing that his own suffering was bound up with and sanctified in Christ’s own suffering. Therefore, Paul exhorted and comforted the Philippians, and all Christians saying, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

Suffering has been granted to you – chew on that for a moment. I know that it’s difficult to comprehend, but it’s absolutely the truth. Suffering is something that your gracious, merciful, loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God grants you, allows you, and permits you to experience – for the sake of Christ, and because it is good for you. Your Father and Your Lord Jesus know the willingness of your spirit as well as the weakness of your flesh. There is a sinful law in your body that is at war with the desire of your heart to serve God. And, Paul writes, “So long as we are at home in the body we are apart from the Lord.” Thus, it is natural for a Christian to long to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. However, that is not your call. That is not a choice you get to make. Your heavenly Father has a purpose for you in this world and life, for you are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [you] should walk in them.”

Here the significance of the Incarnation is made manifest – “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.” That is to say that, in Christ, God took upon Himself your humanity and humbled and submitted Himself to His own holy and perfect Law which you transgressed, fulfilling it for you, in your place, perfectly, without sin, so that He might present Himself as a holy, pure, perfect and undefiled sacrifice for the sins of humanity, of all the world. Therefore, His death was a full and atoning sacrifice, and His resurrection is the proof that it is finished, that all that was necessary to make you right with God again was accomplished. Now, though your must pass through suffering and death, death cannot hold you; it has become but a doorway to new and everlasting life in and with your Holy Triune God.

Still, there is more! Not only will you enjoy full, perfect, and satisfying life forever with God after you pass out from this veil of tears, but that life is already yours now, though veiled and hidden, because Christ has taken up your flesh and blood and redeemed it. Because He lives, you live, now and forever! Christ is risen, and you are risen in Him, so that the life you live is Christ’s life, lived in and with you. This is why St. Paul exclaims, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Therefore, you can live that resurrected life now, without anxiety and doubt, fear, anger, hatred, and despair. Though the way may be uncertain and the path unclear, faith in the Word of God become flesh, Jesus Christ who has faced death, defeated it, and passed through its hell to life, will lighten your path and provide you a sure footing upon which to stand against all temptation, suffering, evil, and even death – His holy and true Word of life and power.

Though the desire to depart and be at home with Christ is a pious and a holy desire, the Christian, following Christ’s example, and living Christ’s life, submits to God’s holy will in love and trust, saying with the Mother of Our Lord, “May it be to me according to Your Word.” A Christian remains faithfully at the place where he is needed as God has determined, and he goes thankfully through the gates of life when the portals open to the joy of the Lord. We live as “sojourners and exiles” in this world, subjecting ourselves for the Lord’s sake to the vocations and authorities He has established.

All your life is but a little while from the perspective of eternity with Christ. You can bear with most anything in the knowledge that it will soon pass. How much more then can you bear with sin, trial, and tribulation, even suffering and death, knowing that Christ has suffered and borne and overcome these things and even now bears them with you that you may overcome and pass through the valley with Him into the Father’s pasture, where His sheep may safely graze? Our example and trailblazer is Christ Himself who, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” He is risen, and He is ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven so that He now fills all things – so that He is present with you now and always, just as He promised, with His Words and His Wounds to comfort you, to strengthen your faith, to forgive your sins, and to seal and keep you in Him for eternal life. Though you have sorrow now, you will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Homily for Quasimodo Geniti (The Second Sunday of Easter)



John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Ezekiel 37:1-14

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

The Second Sunday of Easter is a very fleshy Sunday. It’s all about the body of flesh – sinews and muscles, bone and skin; touching, handling, seeing, and believing; breath and spirit – life. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And so, we have the repeat of a reading heard at the Easter Vigil, Ezekiel prophesying to a valley of dry bones. And, by the Word of the Lord and His Spirit-breath they are enlivened, a remembrance of the creation of man on the sixth day and a foretaste of the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day – “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. […] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of those who fall asleep. He was raised in His flesh and blood body – the same flesh and blood with which He enclosed Himself in the incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the creative Word and Spirit of God, now glorified, passing through walls and doors, appearing and disappearing at will, yet still His body, recognizable by the wounds of His sacrifice, now appearing as glorious scars.

This was the body He presented the evening of that first Easter Sunday to His disciples huddled in fear behind closed doors. He “came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.” And then He showed them His wounds, His hands and His side. “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” First, He proclaimed to them His Word, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them the sign of that peace, His wounds. The sign strengthened and reinforced their faith so that they were glad when they saw their Lord. He spoke His peace to them again and He ordained them by breathing His Spirit upon them with His Word, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

But, Thomas wasn’t there. So the disciples went and found him. And, filled with Christ’s Holy Spirit, now set apart for the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, they told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But, Thomas wouldn’t believe them. He insisted, “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.”

Thomas should have believed the Word of the Apostles, of whom Christ promised, “He who hears you hears me.” But He didn’t. He needed more. We all do, and God knows this. Therefore He graciously provides us seeable, touchable, tasteable signs to strengthen and reinforce the faith of His people. Though His Word of grace is sufficient, He graciously gives you even more that you may believe and have life in His Name. Still He sends His Apostles, His pastors and undershepherds to proclaim His Word of grace and to show you His holy wounds, His blessed sacraments, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper, that you may believe and have life in His Name.

Eight days later, on the next Sunday, again Jesus appeared to His disciples, this time Thomas being with them. He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Theologians have disagreed whether Thomas touched the Lord or not. Some have maintained that the text does not expressly say that Thomas touched and that it was likely sufficient that he saw – “Seeing is believing.” However, I am inclined to believe that Thomas in fact did touch Jesus’ wounds. After all, this was the invitation and command of His Lord who, by His Word alone spoke the stars into existence and commanded Lazarus to rise up from death and leave the tomb. Moreover, the Lord would not have you merely see and adore His body and His blood, but invites and commands you to take and eat, to touch and to handle, for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, life, and eternal salvation.

Thomas’ response to this enfleshed Word of grace from Jesus was a confession even more profound that that of Peter, “My Lord and my God!” There was no doubt for Thomas any longer. He had the Word and He had the flesh – He had Jesus, His Lord and His God. And so do you! Jesus asked Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That is you! You are those who have not seen, not in the way that Thomas and the other Apostles saw, and yet you believe. And to strengthen and reinforce your faith in His Word, Jesus gives you His body and blood that you may touch and handle, taste, and believe, and have life in His Name. In truth, you have something greater than the disciples who ate and drank with their Lord, for you eat and drink your Lord’s body and blood and share communion in and with Him. You couldn’t be any closer to Him than you will be when He raises your body from the dead to commune with Him in heaven.

The resurrection of our Lord has changed everything! The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, never to hold you in death again. His is not there! Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus is not in the tomb. His body does not lie in the grave. He is not there, but He is here – in living Word, living water, living flesh, and living blood – for you. He is here, now, for you, that you, blessed of the Father, may hear and believe and have life in His Name. He is here, for you, now, that you, O Thomas, may touch, handle, taste, see, and believe, “My Lord, and my God!”

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