Monday, May 26, 2014
The American Legion of Pawling, NY puts together one of the most reverent and beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies I've ever seen. I have been honored and blessed to be a part of these remembrances each year I've served in this community. This year I offered the following invocation:
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father in heaven, we gather this day in remembrance of those brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives in death, in order to protect and to secure the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation. Today we remember that freedom is not free, but that it has been bought with a costly and precious price. Help us, we pray to remember this truth every day of our lives that we may treasure and value freedom and seek and act to secure it of others ourselves.
In Your immeasurable love for the world, you have revealed that the greatest love possible is for a man to lay down his life for his friends, his brothers, and his neighbors. Such love was the motivation for the sacrifice of those we remember this day: Love of liberty and love of country, but even more the love of mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons, and the love of countrymen known and unknown, of all colors, classes, and creeds, both the aged and the unborn. Love is sacrifice, for love always gives and love always thinks more of another than oneself.
Father, we thank you for your love and for their love. We thank you for each one of them and for their sacrifice. We thank you for the freedoms you have procured for us through them. And we thank you for blessing us in this great nation with your providence even as we pray that you would make us a rich blessing to others.
Comfort this day and every day those families who mourn the deaths of those who have died for us. Move us to respect, revere, honor, remember, and thank them for their sacrifice. May we never take them for granted, but enjoy and share and guard the liberties that they fought and died to protect.
Help us, we pray, to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for us to also sacrifice ourselves for others, especially in words and deeds of mercy, compassion, and love so that the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, the homeless find shelter, the sick are provided treatment, and life at every moment is valued and protected. Make us to be your words of comfort, your hands of service, and your heart of mercy.
In the + Name of your love poured out on us all, Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday in the Church Year has the Latin name Rogate, which means “to ask,” or, “to pray.” Traditionally, the Church has observed four Rogation Days, the Major Rogation on April 25, and three Minor Rogation Days, the three days before the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, this coming Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension on Thursday. Rogation Days are set apart as days of fasting and prayer, thus the Sunday before the Minor Rogation Days, that is today, came to be known as Rogate Sunday. However, while, traditionally, the theme of Rogate Sunday is prayer, I suggest to you that, if this day is about prayer, then it begs that you begin to think differently about what prayer is and about how you pray. For, when your Lord says to you “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you,” it begs the question, “Why?” Why will the Father give you what you ask in Jesus’ Name? What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ Name?
In this regard, it is no coincidence that the Minor Rogation Days precede the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. The implication is that there is something about Jesus’ Ascension that moves the Father to grant what you pray for, that is, what you ask in Jesus’ Name. And, to understand the significance of this final event of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, His Ascension, it is necessary that you first understand the significance of the first event in His earthly life and ministry, His Incarnation. What happened in the Incarnation that changed how God the Father relates to you His creatures? What changed? I say to you, everything! Absolutely everything!
When the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, God entered His creation as one of His creatures. This is remarkable and astounding! When our First Parents sinned they rebelled against God. They made themselves unclean, unholy. They could no longer stand in the presence of the Holy LORD. Their sinful corruption affected a break, a separation from God. And, they knew it; they felt it in the very essence of their being. They hid themselves in the bushes and they covered their nakedness for shame in their guilt. They could sense God’s holiness all about them and they knew that there were not within it, that they were outcasts by their own doing, that they were wholly other. Holy God required, He demanded, that His creation be holy as He is holy. It was not meanness or bad will that cast them out, but it was the holiness and righteousness of God; it was light and darkness, the sacred and the profane. “What partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? What fellowship has light with darkness?”
And yet, the LORD did the unthinkable, the impossible; He penetrated His fallen creation and became a man. The Creator became a creature “born from the substance of His mother,” “perfect God and perfect man.” The LORD plunged Himself, His holiness and righteousness, into the muck and mire of man’s flesh and blood, sin and death. And that has changed every thing! No longer is there a separation between God and man, for God has become a man. No longer is flesh and blood barred from the holy presence of God, for God’s holy presence has tabernacled in the flesh and blood of a man, born of a woman, with men and women for brothers and sisters and neighbors. Thus, Jesus routinely taught both His disciples and His adversaries that the kingdom of heaven had come upon them and was in their midst, for wherever Jesus was, there was the kingdom of heaven and heaven’s King.
So, how does the Incarnation affect your prayer? There is no need for your prayer to ascend to heaven, for heaven has descended to earth. Heaven is present, God is present in the person of His Son Jesus. This is why the leper approached Jesus saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” and Jesus replied, “I will; be clean.” This is why the centurion approached Jesus saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly,” “only say the word, and my servant will be healed,” and Jesus replied, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” To ask Jesus is to ask God; to pray to Jesus is to pray to God; Jesus is God, in the flesh, His kingdom of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness come down to earth to re-create, restore, renew, and to reign.
God had always been present with His people. He walked with our First Parents in the Garden before their rebellion. Afterward, He made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to send one from woman’s seed who would fill our greatest need. In the Exodus, God tabernacled in the midst of His people, traveling with them in their pilgrimage, and making them holy through the sacrificial system of the tabernacle and then the temple. And yet, all this pointed to the greater tabernacle and temple made without human hands, Jesus. In Jesus are fulfilled the covenants, the tabernacle, the temple, the sacrificial system, and the priesthood, for Jesus is our Great High Priest and the holy and innocent sacrifice of God’s self-offering.
And yet, still there is more. In the Incarnation of Jesus, God had visited His people to redeem them. Mankind’s redemption was accomplished in Jesus’ death upon the cross. Then, the fruit of Jesus’ victory was borne; God raised Him from death to life. But, God did not raise His Son Jesus merely to live a holy life on earth; He raised Him that He might seat Him, in flesh and blood, as a man, at His right hand in heaven. Thus, in the Ascension of Jesus, God the Father elevated all humanity to a status higher than that of Adam and Eve, higher even than the angels of heaven: A man now sits and reigns at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. And, where He is, He has promised you shall also be.
Thus, once again, let us turn to prayer and ask, “What affect does Jesus’ Ascension have upon our prayer?” Well, what does Jesus teach? “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” And then, Jesus explains why the Father will give you what you ask in His Name saying, “In that day you will ask in my Name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Jesus is referring to His Incarnation. Because you have believed that He is God in the flesh, God will grant you whatever you ask in and through Jesus’ Name. However, Jesus’ Name is not merely a word, a phrase, or a sentence or statement of any kind, but Jesus’ Name is the holiness and righteousness of God. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray in accordance with who and what you believe and confess Jesus to be. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray in accordance with God’s Holy and perfect will manifest and revealed in Jesus. So, don’t pray for Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets, but pray for anything and everything that is in accord with God’s perfect and holy will manifest and revealed in Jesus.
“I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father,” Jesus taught. In sinful rebellion, man separated himself from God. But, in the Incarnation, God became a man and restored flesh and blood to Himself through the death, resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. In God’s plan of salvation we see that it’s all about koinonia, communion fellowship, and the one-flesh union. Communion fellowship (koinonia) is akin to marriage, the one-flesh union. Sin breaks that fellowship. It creates a barrier, like a force field, separating us from God. But God, in Jesus, has penetrated the barrier we have created in our sin like a hole in the ozone layer and has plunged Himself into our humanity, taking upon Himself our sin and dying our death. But, because He was sinless, innocent, righteous, and holy, God raised Jesus from the dead and He has ascended out of this world to the right hand of His Father in heaven taking us with Him. He has promised that He will come again to raise us from the dead and take us to Himself in eternal communion fellowship with Him in heaven.
And, this is why God the Father gives you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name – not because you pray so very eloquently nor because you are so very sincere, nor because you are so very pious, good, righteous, or holy – but, God the Father gives you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name because Jesus is you, and through faith in Jesus’ Incarnation, death, resurrection, and Ascension, you are Him. God hears and answers you because He hears and answers Jesus, your Bridegroom and the head of His body the Church. You are one flesh with Him now and for eternity. Believe His Word and live, for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
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.
If you watched television in the late 70s or early 80s, then you undoubtedly heard the following words: “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Those words typically overlaid the scene a social event, perhaps a party, wherein a young professional had remarked that his broker was E. F. Hutton, causing the moderately loud party to stop all conversation to listen to him. The point conveyed was that E. F. Hutton is a voice of authority in the financial world and that, while there are many voices offering advice and counsel, Hutton’s was the only one that was worth dropping everything else for and listening to.
The Word of God is that kind of word, and much, much more. The Word of God has power; it is a performative and creative word that has power in itself to bring into being what it says. By this Word were all things made that have been made; apart from this Word was nothing made. This Word became flesh and blood, a man, Jesus. Thus, when Jesus speaks, He speaks with the authority of God. Jesus does not quote the rabbis or appeal to their authority, but what He speaks is the Word of God, authoritative in and of itself, and all creation listens, cannot help but listen, and receives His Word in faith or rejects it in unbelief. The Word has gone out of God’s mouth and will not, does not, and cannot return to Him void, but it will accomplish the purpose for which it has been sent. Whether it is in Creation, the Covenants, the Ten Commandments, the Tabernacle, the Temple, in Jesus Himself, in the Church and the Sacraments, or in the Bible, the Word of God is creative and performative, bringing into being what it says.
God’s Word is the power in, with, and under the sacraments. We were witnesses of this power just this morning as the power of God’s Word in the invocation of His Name in blessing upon young Johannes cast out Satan and replaced His occupation with that of the Holy Spirit of God. Yet again Satan’s kingdom has been plundered, it’s gates unable to stand against the advance of Christ’s Church, His kingdom and His reigning. In this way God hears and answers your prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” Thus, Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
Additionally, the Holy Spirit works through Confession and Absolution to plunder Satan’s kingdom, for when God says your sins are forgiven by the mouth of His rightly called pastors, they are forgiven and will be recalled never again. And, in the proclamation of the Gospel in the lections and homily or sermon, the Holy Spirit drives out Satan from every heart that receives God’s Word and does not reject it. And, in the Holy Supper, the Holy Spirit joins you in Holy Communion with Christ your Lord and with your brothers and sisters in koinonia, fellowship, with Him, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
The Holy Spirit is the power of God in and through His Word and His Word made visible, the Blessed Sacraments. Through these means the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” The Church needs the Holy Spirit of God. You need the Holy Spirit of God. Without His gracious, performative, and creative work you would not and could not believe. Without His gracious, performative, and creative work you could not “believe in Jesus Christ, [your] Lord, or come to Him.” And that is why it was necessary that your Lord Jesus go away. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”
The going away to which Jesus refers is His Ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven. Jesus’ Ascension was necessary, for it is man’s ascension, it is your ascension as well. Jesus’ death was satisfaction for your failing and inability to keep God’s Law. Jesus’ resurrection was the fruit of His faith, innocence, and perfect obedience. But, Jesus’ Ascension is restoration and exaltation of humanity before God. A man now stands in the beatific vision of the presence of God in a way in which not even our First Parents enjoyed. And, He who is your head has promised that where He is, you, His body, will one day be. However, had Jesus not ascended, then this could not be so. And so, it is good for you, it is good for the Church, that your Lord has gone away.
Your Lord has gone away, but He has not left you as orphans. Indeed, He has sent to you a comforter and a counselor, a helper, His Holy Spirit. As God gave Adam a helper in the woman Eve and joined them and blessed them to be one flesh, so Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit as a helper that, through Him, you remain in blessed communion with your Lord in heaven even while you sojourn here on earth. The Holy Spirit will always and only direct you to Jesus, for He speaks, not on His own authority, but whatever He hears He speaks, and He declares to you the things that are to come. He glorifies Jesus, for He takes what belongs to Jesus and declares those things to you. All that belongs to the Father belongs also to Jesus; these things the Holy Spirit takes and declares to you.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin because truth and life are revealed in Jesus Christ alone. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness, for Christ alone is risen from the dead and has ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is the true and only way to the Father. And, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged and even now his kingdom is being ransacked and plundered. As the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens through Word and Sacrament, God’s kingdom comes and is reestablished as Satan’s kingdom falls, is overtaken, and is driven out. Christ’s victory is won and even now He reigns, though Satan still occupies much of the world and the hearts and minds of men within it. But, each and every day, as the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed, infants and men are baptized, the repentant are absolved, and the faithful are fed, nourished, and strengthened, his grip is slipping, his lies and deceptions are exposed, and his kingdom dissolves all around him. He is a toothless lion who is defeated by a Word from the Lord. And, when Christ returns on the Last Day, all eyes will be opened and will see that Satan’s kingdom and rule were a lie and a deception all along, that Christ is and has been in control all along, using each and every of Satan’s weapons and afflictions against him for His own good purpose and the glory of His Father.
Therefore, do not be dismayed that you do not see the Lord, or that He delays in His return, or that the wicked may seem to prosper for a time. The victory is Christ’s, and the victory is yours in Him. He has given you His Holy Spirit as a helper during this time of the Church in which you wait and watch for His return that you may be guided to His Truth, comforted in your sorrow, and persevere through trial, tribulation, and affliction at the hands of the enemy. And He promises you this, that He is with you, even now, until the end of the age. Through His Word and Water, Body and Blood, He is with you and is as close to you as your ribs within your flesh. He fills you as the air within your nostrils and lungs. He is your life that enlivens you, and He will keep you through all things, even death, unto life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit evermore.
Glory be to God in heaven from whom comes every good and perfect gift!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
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.
“The waiting is the hardest part,” according to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and they’re right. Whether you’re waiting in fearful anxiety for the results of your biopsy to return, or you’re waiting in joyful anticipation for your son’s or daughter’s wedding day, the waiting is hard and fraught with impatience, anxiety, worry, fear, and worse.
Your enemy, Satan, knows this well, therefore he waits and he watches for the opportunity to take advantage of your conflicted state. Satan tempts you in your impatience to take matters into your own hands and to act rashly and foolishly and without faith, trusting in your reason, wisdom, and instincts above and before God. Then, if you are successful, he will pump you full of self-righteous pride, and if you fail, he will use that against you to bury you in guilt, despair, and hopelessness. Either way, he wins, for he has successfully taken your eyes, your faith, and your hope off of Jesus and has placed it upon something, anything else. Likewise, Satan lies to you and deceives you through your anxiety, worry, and fear so that you place your fear, your love, and your trust in other things and persons in place of God. Once again, he wins.
But, why is waiting so hard? As Jesus taught with wisdom and eloquence, you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying. Has the Lord not promised you that He will return for you and that you will live with Him forever? Has the Lord not promised you that even now He is with you and will see you through all things, joys and pleasures, trials and tribulations, even death? Then, why do you worry? Why is the waiting so hard when you know that what you’re waiting for will come and that it will be ok in the end? Do you not trust in the Lord and His Word with all your heart, soul, and mind? Do you think that He has lied to you, deceived you, or didn’t really mean what He said? Do you not believe that He is risen from the dead just as He said?
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will me.” Jesus spoke these words to His disciples before His Passion. In some respect, He was preparing them for His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. When He was dead and buried, they would not see Him. But, in a little while, they would see Him again resurrected from the dead. But mostly, primarily, Jesus is looking beyond His death and resurrection to His Ascension and Parousia. This is to say, the “little while,” to which Jesus refers, in which His disciples will not see Him, is the time between His Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven and His Parousia, His coming again on the Last Day in power and great glory. Thus, that “little while” is right now.
So, if the disciples, who were with Jesus, had some trouble understanding what Jesus meant by “a little while,” what does that mean for you who are living nearly two thousand years later and have never seen Jesus at all? It means that you should take to heart the words of your Lord to St. Thomas that you heard two weeks ago, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And yet still, whether you see or not, it is ultimately faith which apprehends the “little while” before Jesus’ appearing. Thomas and the other disciples needed faith to believe as much as you do, even though they were much closer to Jesus physically, visibly, and aurally than you are. For, though they could see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and touch with their hands, none of it made any sense to their reason. Faith took over where their reason failed, thus their faith was not unreasonable, but it was most reasonable indeed. And, so it is with you. Though you do not see, hear, and touch the Lord in the same way as the disciples before you, you have their testimony and the testimony of countless others, and you have the Apostolic teaching handed down over generations of faithful disciples, and you have the Holy Spirit whom Jesus poured out upon His Church on Pentecost as a counselor and guide, creating and sustaining your faith and pointing you always, always to Jesus.
In one sense, the “little while” for Jesus’ disciples was only ten days, for that was the time between Jesus’ bodily Ascension and His promised sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. For, by His Holy Spirit, through His Word and Sacraments, Jesus would be with His Church always, just as He said. Indeed, through these same means He is with you now, and He will continue to be present until He comes again in flesh and blood, body and soul on the Last Day. However, in another sense, Jesus was referring specifically to the much longer and unknowable time between His Ascension and His Parousia, the time in which you now live and wait. It is in this regard that Jesus describes for His disciples what that time will be like using the analogy of a mother giving birth. An immensely timely and appropriate analogy, I might add, being that today is Mother’s Day.
Jesus used the analogy of a mother giving birth because such an event is fraught with joyful and expectant anticipation mixed, often, with anxiety and fear because labor is an arduous and painful experience in which the life and welfare of both mother and child are at some risk. Jesus teaches point blankly that you will experience sorrow in your life, you will weep and lament while the world rejoices in spite of, and often because of, your sorrow and suffering. But, He also teaches that your sorrow will turn into joy. In this regard, the “little while” in which you live before Christ’s return is like unto a mother giving birth. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
Now as both a pastor, and as a husband and father, I have had the experience of ministering to numerous women shortly before and after giving birth, and I can attest that Jesus does indeed speak the truth, with the possible exception of that “no longer remembering the anguish” part, at least shortly after giving birth. Truly, the mother who cries out “Never, never again!” during labor and delivery, soon thereafter smiles, laughs, and weeps with joy for the gift of life in a new son or daughter lying at her breast. Indeed, many will willingly and joyfully go through it all again without thought of the pain and sorrow of childbirth because of the joy of new life.
“So also,” Jesus teaches, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Your Lord is frank and honest with you; you will experience sorrow, pain, and suffering personally and in the lives of those you love. But, just as a mother giving birth experiences pain and sorrow, and then joy after the birth, so too is your pain, suffering, and sorrow for a “little while,” and you too will receive joy, joy that no one will ever take from you. Not only will you receive joy, however, but Jesus teaches that your sorrow will turn to joy. And, this is the heart of the Gospel this day, that the Lord Jesus is Lord of all. Jesus is the Lord of life and death and everything in between and thereafter. Whatever you suffer, you suffer because He permits you to suffer. Your suffering is not caused by Him, but He allows it to come upon you and He uses it for good in accordance with His holy divine love, will, and providence. Jesus gives you the very real analogy of the joy a mother experiences after giving birth, though while in the course of labor things might appear hopeless and endless, so that you might view the experiences of your life in a similar way. For, while the child that is born is born into a life intermixed with sorrow and joy, the life to come in Jesus’ kingdom is only joy.
This is a life lesson meant to change your perspective from a perspective limited to only what occurs between birth and death to an eternal perspective that is unlimited, looking far beyond physical death to the resurrection of the body and into all eternity. What is a moment of sorrow from the perspective of eternity? What is a fleeting pleasure from the perspective of endless joy, joy that no one can take from you? Such a perspective must surely have an impact on your day-to-day life. How can you not forgive one who has sinned against you, when all your sins have been forgiven and washed away? How can you not love your neighbor, even a stranger, when immeasurable, eternal love has been poured out upon you? How can you not freely give to one who has need, when all your needs of body and soul are provided you by your heavenly Father because He knows you need them and He loves you.
Perhaps here is another motherly analogy. For, does a mother not willingly sacrifice her own comfort, pleasure, welfare, body, and life for the child she carries within her? And then, after birth, does she not continue to sacrifice her own comfort, pleasure, welfare, body, and life for the new life the Lord has blessed her with? Each of you have been born of a mother for a purpose beyond that of self. You were blessed with birth and life to be a blessing to others. Your birth was the beginning of your life, but your death will not be the end. Therefore, in the words of St. Peter, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” Honor those in authority over you. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”
You are sojourners and exiles. This world in which you live is not your life. Yet still, you are given to live it mindful of God. Therefore, live your life without fear and anxiety over future or present sorrow, but for the joy laid up before you, just as Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” And, to help you and aid you on your way that you may persevere, our Lord and Good Shepherd Jesus goes with you. He calls you and teaches you, feeds you and protects you through Word and Water, Body and Blood. As His disciple you take up your cross, the cross He has chosen for you, and you follow Him in the way He leads – the way through, not around, the valley of the shadow of death, and through death into life with Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.