Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homily for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When you think of God’s holy angels, I would venture to guess that the word humility does not immediately cross your mind. For, in the Bible, angels are described as being glorious and dazzling, powerful, and even terrifying to behold, but not humble, right? Well, actually, the angels are quite humble. In fact, they submit themselves as servants of the LORD to do His bidding, and they submit themselves to serve men, the Church, to you, and to me.
Likewise, we must humble ourselves when we think and speak about God’s angels, for, in truth, the Bible has but a few things to say about them and we must humble ourselves to neither say too much or too little. For example: When did God create the angels? Well, the first mention in the Bible of an angel of any kind is the introduction of the serpent in Genesis chapter three. As we learn later that the serpent was actually Satan, a fallen angel and the prince of demons, it seems clear that the angels were in existence at least some time prior to the tempting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We may speculate, then, that they were created within the six days of creation as described in Genesis chapter one, and we may even speculate that they were part of the heavenly host before creation, but that would, indeed, be speculation, for Holy Scripture simply has not explicitly indicated when the angels were created.
Additionally, the Bible is clear that angels and human beings are distinct, unique creatures of God. Thus, angels do not become men, though they may appear in the form of men, and, similarly, men do not become angels. Now, I know that this goes against many a Hallmark card, Hollywood movie, and popular television program, but, nonetheless, we do not become angels when we die. Jesus does teach that, in the resurrection we will be like the angels, but being like them, in terms of eternal life and holiness, is different from actually being angels.
The Bible speaks of ranks or hierarchies of angels: seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, archangels, principalities, and angels. We will sing of these today in our Communion Hymn “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.” The seraphim are the highest rank of angels and are those closest to God and who immediately behold His face and glory. They are described by Isaiah and St. John in the Revelation to be surrounding the throne of God singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The seraphim were also depicted in the form of statues guarding the Holy of Holies in the temple. Most of the ranks of angels serve primarily in the heavenly realms in the choirs of heaven and as ministering angels. Powers and principalities are actually named by St. Paul as amongst the kinds of angels that rebelled against God and fell from grace. However, it is the Archangels and angels that make most of the appearances to human beings in the Bible. Specifically, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel are named and appeared at important events in connection with God’s plan of salvation and the birth, life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. The rank of angels simply called angels constitute the multitude of the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus.
The chief function of the angels is to serve God and to protect His Church and to deliver messages from God to men at momentous occasions. In the Old Testament, a particular angel called The Angel of the LORD, whom many theologians believe to be the Son of God prior to the Incarnation, made physical appearances to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses. Michael appears in Daniel and Revelation, and, of course, Gabriel figures prominently in the birth narratives of St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s Gospels. The word angel means messenger of God, and angels have often served in such a capacity. Additionally, there is something to the idea about personal guardian angels that keep watch over and protect each of us, particularly the weak and defenseless, young children, the poor, and the elderly.
In respect to the angelic role of protector and guardian, this is a key aspect of the propers for The Feast of St. Michael and all Angels. In Daniel, the Archangel Michael is said to be “the great prince who has charge” over God’s people Israel. Though it was spoken to Daniel in the seventh century B.C., and the seeming referent would be God’s covenant people Israel, the fact that the prophecy was for a later time likely indicates that the referent is the New Israel, that is, the Church of Jesus Christ. This interpretation is only bolstered by the reference to a time of great trouble and the awakening of “those who sleep in the dust”, which surely denotes the resurrection on the Last Day. Similarly, today’s reading from Revelation describes “a war in heaven” in which “Michael and his angels” were fighting “against the dragon.” Many have speculated as to when this “war in heaven” occurred; was it the original rebellion of Lucifer before the fall of man, or is this a war that is yet to come at the end of time, or is this war in connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection? You may rest assured and know that this “war in heaven” was indeed in connection to Jesus’ death and resurrection, by which He “crushed the serpent’s head” and took away the sting of death forever. Because of Jesus’ victory on the cross, Satan and his angels, that is, demons, were no longer granted audience with the LORD God in heaven and were thrown out, down to the earth. They were conquered, the Revelation states, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” a clear reference to Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection. However, a great woe is proclaimed to the earth, “for the devil has come down […] in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.”  Satan knows that his time is short because he knows that he has been defeated. However, he will still work endlessly through lies and deceptions to make sure that God’s people do not believe that. Therefore, do not be deceived, but trust in the Lord and remain in His Word and His Wounds that you may persevere through temptation, suffering, and even death, but do not be afraid, for the Lord is victorious and He has given His holy angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways.
Here I will return to the subject of humility once again, for it was the sin of pride, which is idolatry, which prompted Jesus to teach about humility and even angels in the Gospel from St. Matthew appointed for The Feast of St. Michael and all Angels. Jesus’ disciples came to Him inquiring, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In answer, Jesus placed a little child, a paidion in the Greek, meaning an infant or very young child, in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” You see, pride is said to have been the sin of Lucifer, idolatry, which caused him to rebel against God and fall from His grace. Lucifer wanted to be greater in importance, rank, and power than the man, Adam, that he had made the crown of His creation, and Lucifer wanted to be greater than God Himself – hence the proverb, “Pride goeth before the fall.” One of Satan’s greatest and most effective temptations is pride and idolatry. In fact, pride and idolatry were the temptations he used to conquer and enslave Adam and Eve. And, pride and idolatry are effective temptations he uses on you today. Perhaps our greatest defense against Satan’s temptations of pride and idolatry is humility, selflessness, and servanthood. For, when you think more of others than you do of yourself, then you will find contentment and peace in who God has called you to be and you will draw your strength, your purpose, and your fulfilling from Him.
Indeed, this is how it is for a little child. An infant child does not boast of anything at all, nor does she seek greatness in the eyes of men. But, a little child trusts completely and unwaveringly in her mother to feed her, clothe her, and protect her from harm and danger. Likewise, Jesus would have you become like little children and trust in Him and cling to Him alone for all your needs of body and soul. He would have you, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and […] not lean on your own understanding.” Further, Jesus attaches a wonderful promise of great blessing to childlike faith, trust, and selflessness: “I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Yes, the angels have that kind of access to the Father; they behold His face as none of us in the flesh can presently do. Now we see the Father through a glass dimly – that is, through the Word of God proclaimed and the Sacraments worn and consumed – but then, in the resurrection, then we shall be like the angels and see the Father face to face. However, until then, we take comfort and find strength in Jesus’ promise that God’s holy angels are watching over us, guarding us, and protecting us who will humble ourselves in repentance and faith and thereby receive God’s gracious gifts in Jesus Christ. Moreover, we take comfort and find strength in the message they bring us: We are forgiven by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Come now and receive the gifts He died to give to you: His Word and Spirit, His washing of renewal and regeneration, His absolving Word, and His body and blood. You may not yet see His face, but He knows you and He calls you and He remains with you to sustain you and keep you that you may persevere through all temptations and receive the crown of eternal life that no one, not even Satan and his evil horde may take from you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Spirituality of Ordinary Life

The following was a talk, not a sermon or a homily, that I presented at a dinner in honor and thanksgiving for three nurses who responded to a man who had suffered cardiac arrest at a graduation ceremony. The man, Peter, is alive and well today due in large part to the actions of these three nurses who knew their vocation and responded in service of their neighbor. The purpose of my talk was to encourage them in their God-given vocations and to see the miracles that God is performing by them and through them each and every day.
You are probably aware that there is a war going on today. Ok, so you’re aware that there are many wars going on today. But, I’m not talking about Afghanistan, Egypt, or Syria. I’m not even talking about politics, education, healthcare, or the “culture war”. No, the war that I am talking about involves our understanding and expectations concerning the supernatural, the spiritual, the miraculous, and the divine. You see, there is a war going on here, in that belief in the spiritual is being attacked and undermined both from without, that is from naturalistic and materialistic philosophies and worldviews and the people who hold them, as much as it is being attacked and undermined from within, that is, from spiritual religions and denominations and the people who hold them. What I mean is that spirituality has come to be understood as something absolutely, unequivocably distinct and separate from the material and earthly stuff of which this world consists and from the mundane, day to day lives of the people who claim to believe in the supernatural, the spiritual, the miraculous, and the divine.
A quick Google search for the definition of the word miracle demonstrates my point. It reads: “A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” Did you catch the part about being “not being explicable [that is, explainable] by natural or scientific laws”? That’s a huge problem! Why is it necessary that the miraculous not be explicable by natural or scientific laws? Is it only those things and events that we cannot explain that are to be attributed to God? Well, that’s very convenient for atheists and for the contemporary breed of materialistic naturalist neo-Darwinian scientists and philosophers who consider belief in the supernatural, the spiritual, the miraculous, and the divine a form of insanity, a disease, and a moral evil. For such as these, this definition permits them to dismiss anything that they cannot explain as merely a gap in their scientific knowledge that will, in time, be bridged and the possibility of the divine eliminated.
However, too often those who consider themselves spiritual think in this same way: For something to count as a miracle, and possibly be attributed to God, it has to be unexplainable by nature and science. The result of this is, first, that we play directly into the hands of those who wish to discount and discredit spirituality altogether, and second, we often look for, and think that we find, God in the wrong places, and we too often fail to find Him working in the places He has promised to be.
But, what are those places where God has promised to be? Where is God working in this world? You see, what I’m talking about here is the spirituality, not of the extraordinary and the unnatural, but, rather, the spirituality of the ordinary, mundane, day to day lives that you and I lead in this world. I’m talking about how God works with you and through you for the benefit of your family, your friends, your neighbors, and, yes, even complete strangers. This is a spirituality that is rooted, not in the inexplicable, the unnatural, and the non-scientific, but in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh dwelling amongst us.
Perhaps, however, that is where the problem and the confusion lie: in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. For, surely, this was the miracle of all miracles! God became a man and made His dwelling with us, in our flesh, in the world that He had made. If the incarnation is true – and it most assuredly is – then, I hope that it is needless to say, that changes everything. Why does it change everything? The incarnation changes everything because God is not merely afar, outside of nature and time and everything that we know, live, and experience in our lives, but He has permanently penetrated, entered, and taken up flesh and blood, bone, in the material world of atoms and cells and gravitational forces, rays and particles of light, etc. In other words, the God who made all things permeates all things and sustains all things. God entered this world in the flesh and blood human body and soul of Jesus Christ. He lived in that body, was tempted in that body, suffered and died in that body, rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven in that body. Now, Jesus fills and permeates all things visible and invisible. Therefore, Jesus is in this world still. He is with you at all times. And you have become His hands, His heart, and His mouth to all His people whom He shed His precious blood to redeem from sin and death.
That means that the supernatural, the spiritual, the miraculous, and the divine are not merely those things and events that are inexplicable by nature and scientific laws. Miracles happen everyday, through everyday people in their everyday lives and vocations. You may ask, “When did the Lord perform a miracle through me?” Particularly to the Christian, Jesus promises “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Our God is not a watchmaker God who set the world in motion and then walked away having no further involvement in it, but our God is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that He has made. He does not merely work outside of and upon His creation, but He works in and through His creation for the benefit of His creation to the glory of His Name.
Further, the ways in which God works in and through His creation are often decidedly unspectacular and seemingly unmiraculous to human eyes that cannot see the miraculous for what it is because of human minds bound in captivity to materialistic naturalist neo-Darwinian science and philosophy. Even those who truly believe in the spiritual and the divine, those who believe in miracles, are wont to think of them only as those extraordinary, inexplicable events that seemingly defy nature and the laws of science. The Lord would have you see, however, that such a view is severely limited, and is limiting of our limitless God who has penetrated His creation in order to redeem it and restore it and sustain it until its recreation is fulfilled. For, indeed, the miraculous is all around you every day, all the time!
Indeed, each of you is here tonight to celebrate many miracles that have surrounded our host Peter as the result of the cardiac arrest he suffered on June 22, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. Each of you were there Mary, Leigh Ann, and Mary – and not by chance. You were there to witness the graduation of your own children, your daughters, that is first and foremost why you were there. But, you were also there for a reason that you could never have suspected beforehand; you were there that day to be the hands, heart, and mouth of Jesus, to save Peter’s life. Here, human reason, which is captive to and blinded by a materialistic naturalist neo-Darwinian worldview, will say “It was just a coincidence.” But, it was not a coincidence, it was your vocation, your calling. For, you were there that day, not only as mothers, but you were there as nurses. You had the gifts and skills, and the heart and the mind to use them when they were needed, to help Peter, to save Peter. And, that is no coincidence. For, God has made each of you, and God has blessed each of you with gifts with which you serve others to His glory, and God has called you to service and given you the many and varied vocations that you hold. Don’t ever discount that or allow others to talk to you of coincidence. Though you may think that you were only doing what was right to do in a given situation, I say to you that you were doing what God has called you to do. One thing that is all but certain is that, if you were not there, we would not be here tonight, for Peter would not be here. And, that is nothing less than miraculous.
Of course, you are aware that the miracles did not end there. One of you received a text message from the ambulance containing one word, “Saved.” Those EMTs were living out their vocation too. Then, was it a coincidence that the cardiologist on the job that weekend just happened to be a specialist in electro-cardiology, able to provide precisely the specific care that Peter needed? And I know that there were several other unique experiences, events, and situations, each, alone, seemingly insignificant, but, taken together, showing the miracles that God was working through ordinary people doing their ordinary vocations without Hollywood special effects or awe-inspiring signs and wonders. The lack of signs and wonders does not make your work and the experiences you’ve had any less miraculous; in truth, when you see them with the eyes of faith, you see the richness and the depth of what God is doing all the time through the people He loves and has saved and purchased in the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. We live in a miraculous world filled with miraculous lives inhaling and exhaling the life-breath of God. You are His hands, His heart, and His mouth.
This is the spirituality of ordinary life, life that is sacred, holy, and precious to God, the Creator and giver of life. Mary, Leigh Ann, and Mary – this is your vocation, your calling. When you recognize in your vocation their Giver, you will find that miracles are happening through your hands, your heart, and your mouth every day. Thank you for faithfully living in your God-given vocations. Thank you being Jesus’ hands, heart, and mouth in saving Peter that day in June. To God be the glory in all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Homily for The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 17)

H-71 Trinity 17 (Lu 14.1-11)


Luke 14:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Proverbs 25:6-14

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

Upon first hearing, you might think that today’s Gospel is primarily about showing humility in social situations. However, while humility and selflessness are expected traits for a Christian, they are truly the fruit of a more fundamental trait: freedom under the Gospel. Indeed, when you realize, acknowledge, and confess the freedom that you enjoy in Christ, then all fleshly striving, fear, and rivalry will become unnecessary foolishness, for you will see that you already have all things needful and that you want for nothing, and that the praise, honor, and glory of men is a fleeting and needless thing, and that the true riches are often unseen and unquantifiable to all but the Lord Himself.

Today’s Gospel begins on a Sabbath, with our Lord Jesus dining “at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.” As St. Luke informs you, “they were watching Him carefully.” Why were they watching Him? Well, because, conveniently, there was a man there in their midst who was suffering from dropsy, a swelling of the limbs due to the retention of fluids. You see, the Pharisees were conflicted; they knew that is was always lawful to show love and mercy to a neighbor, but, you see, they held to a very strict interpretation of the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” They interpreted the letter of the Law to mean that they were not to lift a finger to do anything on the LORD’s day of rest, not even to help a neighbor or a brother in need. Again, they knew that the spirit of the Law required them to help, but they were enslaved to the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and they were more afraid of being called out by the other Pharisees present than they were the LORD who gave them the commandment in the first place. Therefore, they were watching Jesus to see what He would do. Would Jesus obey the spirit of the Law and help the man with dropsy? Or, would He cower under the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and ignore the man just as they were doing? How would Jesus respond to peer pressure?

Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. You see, though the Pharisees were free under the same Gospel that has freed you and I, they chose to live as slaves under the letter of the Law, striving to do the Law in order to justify themselves before God, when God, in Jesus, proclaimed to them the Good News that the Law was being fulfilled in Jesus so that they did not have to live in slavery to fear at keeping the letter of the Law, but were free to live the Law of love towards others, without fear of condemnation, to the glory of the LORD. They knew what they were supposed to say: “Yes, it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, for love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they were afraid to say what was right, for fear of judgment by the other lawyers and Pharisees, and so, they said nothing. Then, Jesus answered for them, not with words, but with deeds: “He took [the man suffering from dropsy] and healed him and sent him away.”

“Which of you,” Jesus then asked them, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And, again, they remained silent. For, the truth is, each of them would indeed help their own son or ox in need on the Sabbath, but their self-imposed slavery under the letter of the Law would not permit them to say so for fear of judgment, or loss of prestige, before their peers. Again, they knew what was right, but they were afraid to do it – not afraid of God, mind you, but they were afraid of other men, their judgment, and damage to their reputation. This is why they were slaves to the Law. The Gospel always proclaims your freedom the result of the Law fulfilled in Jesus, but the Law always shows your sins and unworthiness, judges you, and damns you to hell. The Law paralyzes you with fear so that you do not do what you know that you should, but, instead, you do that which you know to be wrong. Talk about peer pressure, right?

Then Jesus taught them in a parable about not taking the best seats at a wedding banquet. It is here that you may be tempted to think that this parable is primarily about Christian humility and, as a result, miss the more fundamental point about the joy of living in the freedom of the Gospel. Jesus had observed that the guests who were invited to the banquet at the ruler of the Pharisee’s house strove to choose the places of honor at the table. He knew that they were obeying the rules of a man-made social law that valued such things as place, honor, prestige, and glory, and that they interpreted the Law of God similarly. If they could not secure a place of honor, then they would be miserable and feel short-changed and embarrassed before their peers. Therefore, Jesus taught them that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that it certainly is not that way in the kingdom of His Father. He said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’ exhortation is to take the lowest place. But, why? Because worldly place, honor, prestige, and glory before men mean nothing to God or in terms of eternal life. Moreover, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has set you free from all of that nonsense! Forget about place, honor, prestige, and glory; you are free! You are free to enjoy the feast for itself, not because of your place in regard to others! Consider the Good News: You are invited! You get to attend the wedding banquet wholly apart from your own goodness or badness, your place, honor, or anything other than the goodness and grace of the host, your heavenly Father. Amazingly, and sadly, too often you miss out on the joy of the feast, the joy of life, because you bow down in slavery to the fallen, broken expectations of this world, the flesh, and other men. Jesus would have you live free from all of that, in His love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness given to you by grace alone, through faith alone, absolutely FREE!

In truth, this is exactly where you stand! This is your place! You are in, and no one can make you to be out! Jesus has set you free, only you can sell yourself into slavery again. But, if you insist on winning the favor of men by elevating yourself over your brother and your neighbor, coveting the accolades, praise, honor, and glory of men above all else, then, instead of being exalted in the Father’s kingdom, you will find yourself humbled before all, embarrassed, and demoted to the lowest place. For, Jesus warns, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You see, humility is an important teaching in this Gospel, but it comes as the result of the freedom you enjoy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the Law for you, in your place. Therefore, He has set you free from its judgment and condemnation and from the necessity to perform it in any way to justify yourself before His Father. Jesus has done it; it is finished; you are justified! Therefore, you are free to do the Law without fear or coercion. Therefore, do not submit yourself once again to laws that keep you from doing what you know is good and right to do! Primary amongst these things is how you relate to your brother and your neighbor. In this regard St. Paul exhorts you to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul explains further that, though you are many, you are truly of “one body and one Spirit” having “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Therefore, the opinions and values of men, the world, and the flesh are meaningless and count for nothing, for there is no distinction in terms of justification, forgiveness, righteousness, for there is no distinction in terms of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out upon you in and through your Lord Jesus Christ.

To submit yourself once again to the judgments of men, the flesh, and the world is like a freed prisoner returning to his jail cell. But, Jesus has set you free, free even to do that. Further, He knows that you are weak and that part of you desires to be imprisoned. Therefore, to keep you focused on freedom and strong to resist temptations, to protect and keep you from the assails of the evil one, He calls you to return to Him for sweet absolution, He binds up your wounds and pours on the salve of His Holy Spirit, He strengthens you with His Word which is life, and He feeds and nourishes you with His body and blood that you may live in and with Him. You are His; He has bought you with a dear price. But slavery to Christ is the sweetest freedom. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homily for The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)



Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24

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

Our Old Testament lesson today picks up right where we left off last week, with the Widow of Zarephath and her son. Last week we heard how God afflicted the entire land of Israel with a severe famine, promising King Ahab that he would not send rain until the Prophet Elijah prayed for it. Because of the famine, a widow was about to prepare her last handful of flour and use her last measure of oil to bake some bread for her son and herself, after which she despaired that they would surely die as there was no more food to be had anywhere in Israel. Nevertheless, Elijah commanded the widow to first prepare a cake of bread for him, reminding her of the LORD’s promise, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” Indeed, the Prophet, the widow, and her son ate and were satisfied for as many days as the famine remained in the land, and the jar of flour was not spent, and the jug of oil was not emptied.

It is this same widow and her son that we hear about in today’s Old Testament lesson, only, now the widow’s son has died. This is to add insult to injury, a double-offence. For, the woman was already in dire straits because her husband had died, and now her only son has died, and this after the LORD had spared them both from the famine, demonstrating His faithfulness, mercy, and grace. Why would the LORD put her to the test once again and in this manner? What could be the LORD’s purpose in permitting this trial to come upon her? Indeed, it is the same as it was for Job and for all of us, that the LORD’s righteousness might be revealed. As He withheld rain from falling upon Israel, so God would show that He was the LORD of life as well as creation by the power of His Word. Elijah, the Prophet, a title meaning “spokesman for God”, called upon the LORD to relent from the disaster He had permitted to come upon this widow and her son, “and the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” When Elijah presented the boy to his mother alive, the poor woman had to confess, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and the Word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” And, the LORD was glorified.

The widow of Zarephath was beyond hope. She had lost her husband to death which, in turn, had caused her to lose her source of income, inheritance rights, and even social standing. To be a widow in the ancient world, and even in first century Israel, was to be cast amongst the most poor, orphans, and landless immigrants. But, to make matters worse, her only son, who was her last hope of redemption and life, had become ill and died. The woman was devastated, hopeless, and despairing, and she, like Job, believed and knew that the LORD had permitted this to happen to her.

Now, this is an important and necessary truth for Christians to confess. God is the LORD of life and all creation. This is why you are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all else, for there is no other god before and above the LORD. This is Jesus’ meaning when He teaches you, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That one “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” is not Satan, as many are wont to think, but He is the LORD God. The One who gives life may also take it away. Further, because He is the LORD of life and all creation, Jesus teaches you, as you heard last Sunday, to not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, what you will eat and wear, for the LORD knows what you need and He provides you all that you need for your body and life. Therefore, when tragedy, want, and need befall you, do not despair, and do not worship anxiety, fear, men, the gaining or loss of material wealth, nor any other idols, but call upon and pray to the LORD, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of your life and all things; He will hear and answer in accordance with His good and gracious will and wisdom, and He will work all things, even horrible, wicked, and unimaginable things, for the good of those who love Him in Jesus Christ.

Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson, another widow has lost her only son to death. Jesus and His disciples, a veritable procession of life, were entering the town of Nain when they met head-on a veritable procession of death, a crowd of mourners carrying the dead young man on a funeral bier. This story always reminds me of the stanza of Luther’s Easter hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden, Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands in which we sing, “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.” Jesus said to the mourning widow, “Do not weep,” for victory over death was as good as done, even if the boy had not been raised, because Jesus was going to die for him, in his place, in your place, in my place, for all the world, and take away the sting and curse of death forever. Therefore, Jesus touched the bier, shocking and scandalizing all around, for He takes your uncleanness, sin, and death upon Himself and He bears it upon the cross of Calvary. But, He raised him up by the power of the LORD’s Word, “‘Young man, I say to you, arise,’ and the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” All the crowds cried out, just as the widow of Zarephath had confessed of Elijah, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And, they were right.

In the darkest hour of our night of sin and death, when all hope is vanquished and despair has set in, when we grimly go about the task of preparing our last meal before we die, that is when the LORD acts – that is when the LORD has acted: Jesus resurrects our last hope…, Himself. Yes, Jesus is our last and our final hope, for Jesus is, was, and ever will be our only hope. Indeed, this is the Christian faith: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This faith is true freedom, freedom to live your life without fear and anxiety of want, need, or even death, but freedom to live your life in love for God and for your neighbor. Indeed, this is what St. Paul was talking about in the Epistle lesson today, that you may live each and every day of your life, persevering through every trial and tribulation, in faith grounded in love. In this faith and love, it is Christ who gives you “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” For, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Through feast or famine, want or plenty, the LORD will ensure that “the jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty.”

Your life is the breath of God who is before and after you, and who sustains you each and every day of your life. Therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” Likewise, Jesus teaches you, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” The LORD would have you have this eternal perspective on your life. Your life is not what happens between birth and death, but you are a living soul having a beginning but no end. You were made for life – God’s life in Christ. He is your oil. He is your meal. And, He is inexhaustible. Call upon Him in your time of need and He will fill you to overflowing. You will persevere. Receive His gifts of selfless love: mercy, forgiveness, faith, strength of soul, peace of mind and spirit. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be quenched. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” “God has visited His people!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homily for The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)

H-69 Trinity 15 (Mt 6.24-34)


Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16

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

Jesus says to you, “Do not be anxious about your life.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Easy for Him to say,” right? After all, there are an awful lot of things to be anxious about in your life, aren’t there? Money: Will you have enough of it when you retire? Will you have enough of it to send your kids to college? Will you have enough of it to buy groceries for the next week? Health: Will you develop heart disease, diabetes, or cancer? Will you maintain a sound mind into your old age, or will you suffer from senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease? If you suffer a stroke or a completely debilitating health incident, who will make decisions concerning your treatment, whether you are given life support or whether they pull the plug? Kids: Will they remain safe from predators and abusers? Will they make smart and moral choices concerning sex, drugs, and alcohol? Will they get into a good college, find a good spouse, continue to practice their faith and attend church? And that’s just a smattering of personal, home and family life anxieties. That’s not to mention things like terrorism and war, crime, taxes, politics, etc. “Do not be anxious about your life?” “Right, easy for You to say, Lord!”

And, besides, you think, isn’t anxiety natural? Isn’t it irresponsible to not worry? Why, then, does Jesus exhort you to not be anxious? He exhorts you to not be anxious because anxiety and worry are a type of worship and bondage to a false god, an idol. He indicates this by saying, “No one can serve two masters.” Now, have you thought of anxiety and worry as a master? Likely not, but they most definitely are. Anxiety and worry can be all encompassing and enslaving. They can rob you of contentment, peace, and joy in your life, and they can be serious distractions to the work that you should be doing, the care that you should be giving, and the love that you should be sharing. Moreover, Jesus asks, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” You can’t, and you don’t! So, then, what’s the point of being anxious? Why worry? What does it benefit you? Absolutely nothing! Rather, instead, anxiety robs you. Worry kills you, little by little, each and every day of your life that you are consumed with fear of what tomorrow will bring, each day of your life that you live and love for fleeting, worldly pleasures and possessions, and each day of your life that you place your trust in people and things that do not, will not, and cannot last.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Well, is it? For some of you, food and clothing are a pretty big part of your life and what gives it meaning and purpose. However, for others of you it’s success, your own, or your children’s. For others of you it’s sports, health, material possessions, the right car, the right house, the right husband or wife. But, are these things truly your life? Are they the meaning and the purpose of your life? Do they give definition to your life? If you are honest with yourself, and you might as well be, they probably do, at least in some small way. You see, Jesus didn’t teach against this because it was an uncommon human temptation and sin. Jesus would have you see that these created things are gifts of His Father, your Creator. If you are anxious and worried about obtaining them and keeping them, then you have placed your fear, love, and trust in created things, God’s gifts to you, instead of giving Him thanks and praise for them and receiving them as gifts, rich and abundant, to meet your own needs and to share with others. These gifts are for you, but they do not define you and give your life meaning. You are created in God’s image, therefore He must define you and give your life meaning.

Moreover, you are of much more importance to Him than the created material things He has made. Jesus’ point is that, “if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” The irrational beasts of the earth crave these things and are consumed with their pursuit, but God has created you and blessed you with a rational soul that you may be self-aware and aware of God. Therefore, you have the ability to see and to know that, not only does God provide you all that you need for your body and your life, but He provides these for you in abundance. You have enough for yourself, and surplus to share with others. You can freely give your last “handful of flour” and “a little oil” trusting that the Lord will provide for you and yours. For, when you give to others, your Lord promises that it will be given back to you, “a good measure, shaken together, pressed down, running over” which will be poured into your lap.

It is in this regard that Jesus makes a distinction between the faithful Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles. He speaks of the Gentiles here much in the same way in which I did of the carnal beasts – they are driven by fleshly, carnal instincts to pursue carnal desires and passions. But not so you, Jesus teaches; not so you, children of the New Israel, who place your fear, love, and trust in Him. To you, Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow.” You see, it’s all about faith, which is, itself, a gracious gift of God your Father. God the Holy Spirit creates faith within you through the Word of God. It is faith that trusts God to keep His promises. It is faith that fears God’s righteousness and holiness and what it would mean if God were to renege on His promises. It is faith that loves God, His Law, His Will, and His Word, love that flows from His love for you poured out in His Son, Jesus Christ.

You do not live in continual pursuit of carnal desires and passions, but you live “by the Spirit” and you “walk by the Spirit.” Therefore, worry and anxiety over mammon – that is worldly, material goods and fleshly desires and passions – these are not your masters. Yet, you do have a master, the Lord. Here is where some Christians try to straddle the fence. While they try to shun worry and anxiety over worldly and fleshly things, they also remain unwilling to surrender completely to God and to submit to and confess Him as their Lord and Master. However, Jesus doesn’t speak this way, and neither does He allow for fence-straddlers. Indeed, He says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” No, Christ has not set you free to fend for yourself, but you still have a master, the Lord, and, in a sense, you are a slave. Yet, though you may be a slave, you are truly free in Christ. You are freer even than the birds of the air who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet are fed by their heavenly Father. And, you are freer even than the lilies of the field who neither toil nor spin and yet are arrayed more than Solomon in all of his glory. This is similar to Jesus’ teaching, “He who is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” You either belong to God in Jesus, or, well, you don’t. But, if you don’t belong to God in Jesus, don’t bother kidding yourself that are free. Indeed, apart from Christ is the worst kind of slavery, even death.

St. Paul has words for you today about what it means, and what it looks like, to walk by the Spirit, to have the Lord as your Master, to be a slave of Christ. You must have a spirit of gentleness towards all, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ, bearing each other’s burdens, tolerating, enduring, and even suffering each other’s boorish behavior and annoying idiosyncrasies. You must seek to restore a brother who is enmeshed in sin, showing him mercy and compassion and forgiveness, keeping watch yourself that you are not tempted. You must be humble, for we are all slaves together under the same Master, members of the same body, brothers and sisters sharing the same Life and Breath, and “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Let your work be of and for the Spirit, doing good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Herein St. Paul describes the life of the Christian – you are an extension of Christ to others in this world, His hands, His heart, His voice, to the glory of His Father.

But, in your life and in your labors, do not worry and do not be anxious, for the Lord is working with you, and in you, and through you that you will be fruitful, having enough for yourself and abundantly more to give to others. Therefore, do not permit mammon – the world and your flesh – to distract you from the task at hand and the one thing needful, but in faith, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This is especially important to remember at this time of the year, even this very day, as children return to school, vacations are over and you return to your busy, work-a-day lives – remember what is the purpose and meaning of your work and your striving: Are you sowing to your own flesh, or are you sowing to the Spirit? Further, has the fruit of your labors become the thing in which you place your fear, your love, and your trust – the thing that you worry about having enough of and are anxious of losing? If so, then repent; return to the Lord in contrition, asking forgiveness. He will restore you and give to you and bless you that you might be a blessing to others, always, to the glory of His holy Name.

But now, come and receive of His gracious plenteousness. Be still and let the Lord work for you. He is present to pour into your lap a good measure, shaken together, pressed down, running over – His grace, mercy, love, and compassion in Jesus Christ. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be renewed. The Lord feeds you with wholesome food and clothes you with His righteousness. He blesses you, that you might be a blessing – and you are.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Homily for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)

Thankful Leper (2)


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

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

Today is one of two days each year in which you will hear the story of The Cleansing of the Ten Lepers; the other is Thanksgiving Day. Now, the selection of this text for Thanksgiving Day may seem obvious, since Jesus commends the one leper who, upon seeing that he had been cleansed of his leprosy, returned to Jesus to give thanks to God. However, while thanksgiving to God is surely a part of Jesus’ teaching in this story, we should be thankful that we are also able to hear it on this late Summer day in September, which is not recognized as a National Day of Thanksgiving, for this story is first and foremost not about giving thanks to God, but the story of The Cleansing of the Ten Lepers is first and foremost about recognizing that Jesus is God come in human flesh to save us from sin and death, and the fact that we are cleansed and forgiven, not that we might return to our ordinary work-a-day lives, but that we live as cleansed lepers, that we live as forgiven sinners, and that we live as raised dead, always, always living in praise and thanksgiving to God in and through Jesus Christ.

King Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, His necessary and final destination, to ascend His throne, the cross, and be crowned with thorns, robed in purple, beaten, scourged, and crucified until dead, that He might rise from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and lead His people, those who believe, the New Israel, out of death and into eternal life. That’s what Jesus was doing on the road between Samaria and Galilee! He walked that path to Jerusalem straight and true, never wavering, taking the shorter route through Samaria and Galilee, which most Jews would walk around because the Galileans were seen as second-class citizens, and the Samaritans, well, they were considered detestable and unclean. Interestingly, Jesus selected all of His disciples, with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot, from the Galileans, and repeatedly in His parables He held up a Samaritan as the protagonist and example of true faith, even as He does in this story of The Cleansing of the Ten Lepers.

This seemingly insignificant detail of Jesus’ path to Jerusalem is in truth exceedingly significant. When the ten lepers approach Jesus, where have they come from but from the outcasts and losers, the Galileans, and from the doubly outcast and losers, the Samaritans? The Galilean lepers were like dead ducks to the Jews, cut off from both society and temple, but the Samaritan leper, he was a duck twice dead! The broader point, here, is that these are the folks Jesus was going to Jerusalem to save. They are the “lost sheep of the House of Israel”, they are the Prodigal Son, they are the Pearl of Great Price, they are you, they are me, they are all of humanity that recognizes and confesses our lost condition and helplessness and cry out to the Lord “Kyrie eleison,” “Lord, have mercy!”

Yes! You must see yourself as one of the Galilean lepers, or, better yet, you must see yourself as the Samaritan! For, the fact that there were ten lepers who approached Jesus is no minor detail either, but ten is a symbolic number meant to communicate the totality of the Lord’s people, all those who will repent and believe and thus receive the cleansing forgiveness Jesus went to the cross in Jerusalem to secure for you by His innocent suffering and death. The path that Jesus walks to Jerusalem is straight through the midst of the dead, who confess their deadness and their desire to live. As the ‘70s am radio classic so eloquently expresses it, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” And, your Lord Jesus, your God, would have it no other way.

All ten lepers cried to Jesus for mercy, and Jesus cleansed them all without exception. In fact, He ordered them to go and show themselves to the priests, for this was what the Levitical law required for a cleansed leper to be declared clean once again. For, they were clean already, because of their faith in Jesus, all they needed, and solely for the sake of human sensitivity, was the declaration of the same from the priests. This is very much like the paralytic whom Jesus cleansed. Jesus said to him, “Your sins are forgiven you,” and the man was healed. However, the scribes and the Pharisees took issue with Jesus’ pronouncing forgiveness, therefore, because of the weakness of their faith, Jesus told the man, “Rise, take up your mat and walk,” and he did. The point is, the true healing is absolution, forgiveness; anything and everything else is secondary, gravy, icing on the cake.

But, then, Jesus takes the story a different direction in order to make a distinction for the purpose of teaching. One of the ten lepers, when he saw that he was healed, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” All ten lepers were cleansed, but only this one returned to give thanks. Then, to boot, Jesus tells us that that one was a Samaritan. What is Jesus’ point? Well, as I indicated earlier, all of the lepers, who represent all humanity, were already despised, cut-off, dead to both society and temple, and the Samaritan was even worse off than that. Therefore, Jesus’ point is two-fold: First, no one should think himself to be better than another in terms of righteousness before God Whether you are a Galilean leper or a Samaritan leper, you’re still a leper, and there’s nothing that you can do to change that, but you must be cleansed and healed, you must be forgiven by Jesus. Second, the deader you realize you are, the deader you confess yourself to be, the more receptive you will be to Jesus’ mercy, love, and forgiveness; or, in the words of St. Dylan, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I cannot stress to you enough that Jesus wants you to see yourself in this way. You must see yourself in this way, for only lepers can be cleansed, only sinners can be forgiven, and only the dead can be raised to new and eternal life. This is why Jesus then turns and asks, not the Samaritan leper, but His disciples, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Thanksgiving and praise are just two of the fruits of faith. They, along with good works, are, as Paul Speratus, paraphrasing St. James, writes, “The proof that faith is living.” The thing about fruit, however, is that it will come, naturally, of its own accord, if there is true and living faith. Where was the fruit of faith, where was the proof of faith in the other nine equally cleansed lepers?

Moreover, we must pay close attention to the words of Jesus in describing the cleansed Samaritan leper’s response: He “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” The cleansed Samaritan leper praised God with his voice, and he also praised God by falling down at Jesus’ feet and giving Him thanks. He worshipped Jesus, and believed that he was praising God! Just who did the cleansed Samaritan leper confess Jesus to be? God in the flesh. Emmanuel, God with us. Abraham’s Son of Promise. The Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. David’s Son and David’s Lord. Jesus, God’s Salvation for all men, of all times, and in all places.

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Now that you have been cleansed, healed, and forgiven, what’s next? What way will you go? Presumably the other nine lepers whom Jesus’ cleansed returned to some semblance of their former lives. However, the cleansed Samaritan leper, I believe that he took up his cross and followed Jesus. Indeed, this way and path is described in both our Old Testament and Epistle lessons today. King Solomon writes in Proverbs: “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. […] Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” Likewise, St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Walk by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

As leprosy is a disease of the flesh, what better figure could Jesus use to exemplify that, once cleansed from the sins of your flesh through His gracious absolution, you must not return to sinful, fleshly living, but walk in the way of righteousness and holiness, in the way of Christ? And, a key component of that kind of righteous living is the confession that you are always, always, a forgiven sinner, a man, once dead, but now raised to new life in Jesus Christ. Therefore, may you live every day like the thankful cleansed Samaritan leper, remaining clean, forgiven, holy, and righteous by returning to Jesus, by trusting in Jesus alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Today Jesus is passing through Galilee and Samaria, even Pawling, New York. He has heard your cry for mercy and He has answered. Come, then, and fall at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving, praising God for His gracious visitation. Receive Him who will not leave you as orphans, but who communes with you in flesh and blood, that He may walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death, that you might fear no evil, nor be swayed to the path of evil, but walk in holiness and righteousness all the days of your life. Remain in Him, and He will remain in you, and you will be fruitful with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – to the glory of God the Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.