Sunday, August 30, 2015

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)

Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There are many ways to understand and to speak about sin. Sin can be defined as disobedience or rebellion, the breaking of moral rules or “missing the mark,” or simply falling short of God’s commands and expectations for your behavior and life. However, there is another way to understand and to speak about sin that, I believe, gets straight to the heart of the matter: Sin is a failure of love. We love the wrong things, or we love the right things in the wrong way. Either way, sin is a failure of love.
This understanding of sin gets straight to the heart of the matter, because it gets straight to the heart of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Luther explains the First Commandment in his Small Catechism in this way: “You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Concerning fear and love, St. John writes in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Likewise, concerning trust and love, St. Paul writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Even Luther’s use of fear and trust in God in his explanation of the First Commandment directs you to love, the fulfilling of the Law.
That you love, what you love, and how you love is directly connected to what you believe about God, what you think about God, and whether you trust in God above all things. That you love, what you love, and how you love is what is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching today in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. For, what you fear, what you love, and what you trust in will permit, or prohibit, you from loving your neighbor. Fear, love, and trust in God above all things frees you to love in any, and all, situations, any, and all, of your neighbors, without fear.
Jesus had just sent out the seventy-two before Him to proclaim peace and that the kingdom of God was near. He sent them with this promise alone, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” The seventy-two returned with joy at their success proclaiming, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your Name!” Jesus acknowledged this truth and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, but He exhorted them to not to rejoice in the subjection of spirits, but to rejoice that their names were written in heaven. Then, Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
This prayer of Jesus leads you directly into today’s Gospel. Turning to His disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” But, what was it that Jesus’ disciples could see that the prophets and kings of old did not? Well, to put it plainly, they saw Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the covenant promises of God. More to the point, however, Jesus’ disciples saw that God was not their enemy, that they should fear Him, not as a cruel master, but as a loving Father, and that they were not slaves of legalism, but free to act in the same love they had freely received from their loving God.
Immediately, a lawyer, a student of God’s Law, stood up to put Jesus to the test. The lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question exposed his misconceptions about God’s Law and of how men are saved. You cannot do anything to merit inheritance. An inheritance is something that you receive freely because of your relationship with the giver of the inheritance. However, the lawyer was not interested in a relationship with God. Instead, he desired to merit eternal life by his works. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but he feared, loved, and trusted in himself and in his works. Therefore, Jesus answered the lawyer’s Law question with a Law answer: He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
However, the lawyer was not satisfied. Jesus had pricked his conscience by saying “Do this, and you will live.” The lawyer knew that he did not properly love God or his neighbor, and Jesus’ command to “Do this, and you will live” let him know the Jesus knew that he did not properly love God or his neighbor too. The lawyer’s sin was a failure of love – He did not love God above all things. Instead, the lawyer loved himself, and he trusted in his works. He despised God’s Law and saw Him as a cruel master instead of a loving Father. And, because he did not love God, he could not love his neighbor.
Thus, seeking to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And, who is my neighbor.” Since he did not love God, but feared Him as a cruel master and despised His Law, the lawyer sought to find a loophole, a way around the Law’s demands so that he could justify himself. This is kind of like an employee doing only the minimal, perfunctory duties his job requires, and doing them spitefully and full of loathing for his vocation and his employer. Because he did not love God, the lawyer could not love his fellow man. However, knowing this, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question this time with a parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, so that seeing, he would not see, and hearing, he would not hear.
The parable goes like this: A man was attacked by robbers. They stripped him and beat him and left him for dead by the side of the road. First a priest, and then a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, passed by. Neither man went to the aid of the man alongside the road. However, next, a Samaritan passed by. The Samaritan helped the man, pouring wine and oil upon his wounds and binding them. He placed him upon his own animal and took him to an inn, providing the innkeeper money to cover for the man’s care with the promise that he would return and pay whatever additional costs were incurred. When Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer had no choice but to answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The parable is really quite simple. The priest and the Levite could not help the man who had fallen among robbers because they were in slavery to the Law. They, like the lawyer, were students of God’s Law, experts and teachers of the Law, and yet, they did not see the spirit of the Law, love, but they saw the Law as a cruel master and they obeyed it out of fear of punishment for breaking it and out of pride in what they deemed to be their own meritorious works. Like the lawyer, the sin of the priest and the Levite was a failure of love – they did not love God above all things, therefore they could not love their neighbor, the man who had fallen amongst thieves.
However, the Samaritan came to the man’s aid. Now, the fact that the hero of Jesus’ parable was a Samaritan was not lost on the lawyer. Jews in Jesus’ day considered Samaritans to be corrupted in terms of ancestry from Abraham and, therefore, outside of God’s covenant with Israel. And yet, the Samaritan quite obviously loved his neighbor and had mercy upon him, even as the most respected and revered religious leaders of Israel passed by and did nothing. The Samaritan could love his neighbor because he rightly loved God. He believed God to be loving, gracious, and merciful. He himself had received such love from God. Therefore, he did not view God and His Law as a cruel master, but as a loving Father. The Samaritan was not enslaved to the Law of God, but he was free to love his neighbor and come to his aid.
You see, the Law of God, the moral law of the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial laws that guided the worship and day to day practices of the people of Israel, was given 430 years after the covenant that God made with Abraham. That covenant was not a covenant of Law, but of grace. And, though the Law was given later, it did not annul the covenant of grace. As God once looked upon Abraham with favor and blessed him because Abraham feared, loved, and trusted in Him, still you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, and not by your works of obedience under the Law.
And, as you have freely received, so must you freely give. Jesus’ command, “You go, and do likewise,” is not a command of the Law, but it is an exhortation, even a promise and an empowerment of the Gospel. Just as He sent out His seventy-two to preach the Gospel equipped only with His gift of the authority of His Word, so Jesus sends you out to love your neighbor with His love. However, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, how you hear Jesus’ words – as a commandment of the Law, or as a promise of the Gospel – is directly related to how you view God and His Law: Do you fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Or, do you fear and despise God and His Law as a cruel master and tyrant? Jesus would have you see Him and His Father the way the disciples and the Good Samaritan did: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”
What do you have to do to inherit eternal life? You don’t have to do anything, but you do have to be something – You have to be a child of God, a recipient of His love, and a bearer of His love. You are His child, born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. You are the recipient of His love poured out for you in Jesus’ holy, innocent blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And you are a bearer of His love when you love others as He has loved you. Such love is not a work, but it is a fruit – Jesus’ fruit. Therefore, it is perfect and holy and pleasing to the Father. When you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, you need not fear God and His Law as cruel master, but receive Him as a loving Father who daily reaches down to you in your death to heal and to bind up the wounds inflicted upon you by sin and Satan. He has carried you here, to this inn, to this hospital, the Church, upon the burdens of His Son Jesus who has paid all that was necessary to heal you, to care for you, and to preserve you until He returns to save you and to take you to His Father’s home in heaven. Come, eat and drink His saving love that you may love God and neighbor and live.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Christian Funeral for Johann "Jack" Hermann Knuppel

John 5:24-30; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Lamentations 3:22-33

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

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember and to celebrate the faith and life of our dear brother in Christ Johann Hermann Knuppel, affectionately known to us simply as Jack. God the Father has kept His promise to Jack, He has called Him home in His Son Jesus, by His Holy Spirit in and through His Word, Holy Baptism, and through the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. The Good Shepherd Jesus has called His faithful sheep Jack home, to where His sheep may safely graze.

Jack was a gentleman’s gentleman, possessing a gentle disposition and good manners, and carrying himself with both dignity and humility, and not a small amount of humor. He was a faithful, Christian man, and a staunchly Lutheran one at that. He lived his Christian faith and life naturally and publically. That is to say that, you knew Jack was a Christian by His love, just like Jesus said you should. Jack taught Sunday School and was an administrator of the Luther League, a Lutheran youth organization. He enjoyed reading the Scriptures. He even enjoyed reading Luther! I’m not kidding, he had the entire collection, all seven volumes, of Luther’s sermons – and he read them. I very much enjoyed having Jack in Bible class. He asked really challenging questions, and he never accepted anything just because I said so. Next week, he’d have a hand written list of more questions and several passages he had looked up that were pertinent. Jack enjoyed coming to our men’s confessions study on Saturday morning. He and his friend Edgar would drive together. I can imagine the conversations they had on the way!

But, Jack didn’t just show his faith and love for the Lord by attending church and Bible studies, he also lived it in loving service to others. His beloved neighbor, friend, and, in his later years, caregiver Mary Stops told me how Jack and Kay had promised to care for her sister Kelly who had Down’s Syndrome if anything should happen to her. And, Mary knew that they would have done it, too! For, Jack and Kay took care of each of their mothers, living right there in their own home, for many years. Since one of them had to be home to care for their mothers at all times, Jack and Kay took turns going to church every other week. Kay’s mother died peacefully in the Lord right there at home, but it became necessary for Jack’s mother to stay at the Kent nursing home in her last months. Still, Jack visited her daily and brought her cookies and, after her death, he continued to visit the Kent and brought cookies to the residents there.

Jack and Kay were married over 50 years. When Kay died in 2000, Jack was heartbroken. He spoke of her often, always with a sad and wistful tenor in his voice. When I visited his home, nearly every time he pointed out a picture of Kay. For his career, Jack was a court stenographer. Mary related to me a story of a time when Jack served as court stenographer and none other than Albert Einstein was on the stand! After the day’s proceedings, Einstein complimented Jack saying that he was good at his vocation and that he could never do that! However, Jack was also an artist. He painted watercolors, oil based, and tempera paintings of flowers, landscapes, and even neighbor’s houses! Once Jack donated a painting of Santa Claus landing against a neighbor’s house in a wintry landscape to our Oktoberfest Dinner and Auction. One of our parishioners purchased it because it looked so much like their home! On one visit to Jack’s home, he showed me some of his works in progress. He was working on watercolors of flowers at the time. What he often would do was to make a light pencil tracing of a beautiful flower out of a book or magazine and then paint it and bring it to life. Now, some might call that cheating, but I know that my painted flowers would look nothing like the beautiful works Jack produced, tracing or not!

And, this is all just scratching the surface. There is so much more to say and to remember and to give thanks for about Jack. Truly, his was a life well-lived, because he lived it in faith and love for his Lord and God, and in love and service to his brothers and sisters and neighbors to the glory of God. And, that is what we are all called to do. Therefore, we give thanks to God this day for the gift of Johann Hermann Knuppel, affectionately known as Jack, for, Jack was a gift to us and to many, and he was an example of how our Lord would have us live and serve.

I know that Jack’s last years did not go the way he had thought and hoped they would. All he wanted was to remain in his own home, and, thanks to money he’d saved over the years, and his loving neighbor and friend Mary, unlike so many others, he was able to do just that. However, as his strength left him and he couldn’t get out and about like he used to, and even moving around the house became challenging, he became lonely, and bored, and even a little depressed. Inevitably he began to ask, again, like so many others, “Why does the Lord keep me here?” That is a very human question, and there is no sin in asking it.

But, the LORD has words of comfort and hope for those who seem to be experiencing the LORD’s grief: “The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Likewise, Jesus Himself taught that those who hear His Word and believe, even in life, already have eternal life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Thus, Jack, and you, and all believers in Christ can face the good times and the bad times with the bold confidence and confession of St. Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

That is the faith that our brother in Christ Johnann Hermann Knuppel had. That is the faith that sustained Jack all his many years, through good times and bad times, through Kay’s death, and through his own physical decline unto death. And now, we take comfort and find hope in the promise our LORD made to Jack, and the promise our LORD has made to you as well: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” And, “nothing can separate you from my love, which is in Jesus Christ, your Lord.” If the LORD’s eye is upon the sparrow, then you may know that He watches over you too.

The LORD has kept His promise to Jack. Jack has died, but He is alive with the LORD, and with Kay, and with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Still, he awaits with the saints in glory that yet more brighter day when the saints, triumphant, rise in bright array, and the King of glory will lead them on His way singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia! Take heart. We are not like those without hope. Jack is with the Lord, and you will see him again. On that day, you will stand with him and all the saints in flesh and blood bodies and see with your eyes, touch with your hands, and hear with your ears those you love who have gone before you, and together we will sing “Holy, Holy, Holy! Glory to God and to the Lamb and to the Holy Spirit evermore.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Christian Funeral for Norman Westin

John 14:1-6; Romans 8: 31-39; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks to God for the life and faith of our departed brother in Christ Norman Westin. We give thanks to God for Norman’s life because all life is God’s gift, and Norman’s life was a unique and special gift to us. Truly, each of your lives would have been something different and something less without Norman, for he touched each of you in a special way, and that is why you are here today in his remembrance.
We celebrate Norman’s life and his faith because he was a kind, caring, and compassionate man, and because he gave life to so many others – his dear children Richard and Claudia, his precious six grandchildren Gregory, Diana, Emily, Katherine, Julia, and Amos, and his beloved helpmate in life, through good times and bad times, through richer and poorer, until death parted them, his love, his wife Margaret – Norman gave life to you in so many ways, even as he gave life to so many more in service, in charity, in kindness, and by inspiration. Therefore, we celebrate a life that was well-lived. Norman’s life was well-lived because it was not lived in selfish pursuits or in meanness, but in humility, in love, and in selfless service to others, just as the Lord called him to live and to do.
And, lastly, we celebrate, remember, and give thanks this day because we know that Norman, even though he has died physically, is more than alive spiritually with his creator, God the Father, and with his redeemer, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and that he is now among that multitude of hosts in white robes standing before the throne of the Lamb of God in heaven praising the one who has defeated death and has secured real, lasting, even eternal life for all who call upon the Name of Jesus and trust in Him. Now he waits in peace and joy until that day when you will join him there, that day when you will see Norman again, not as a memory or a photograph, but face to face, when you will put your real flesh and blood arms around him again, hear his true voice again, see his true face again, and feel his true heart beat again, healthy and strong, full of life that can never die.
Yes, that is what we are truly gathered here today to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks to God for. And, that will surely bring tears – tears of sorrow comingled with tears of joy – for, we are not like those who are without hope. For, we worship a God who has passed through the valley of the shadow of death and has destroyed the door of the grave that would keep us in, who, even now walks with us as we make our pilgrimage through that dark valley and will lead us safely into His Father’s house where He has prepared a place for each one of you who will believe.
I only met Norman a couple of times, so, I cannot say that I really knew him. Nevertheless, I found him to be kind and peaceful, welcoming, and attentive. From speaking with his family and learning about Norman’s life and accomplishments, I am all the more confirmed that my positive first impressions were accurate and true. Norman was a man who made plans, set goals, and strove to achieve them. He didn’t just play baseball and football in high school, but he lettered in those sports and he captained the football team. He wasn’t just an architect, but he served on the Mt. Kisco Architectural Review Board and was Chairman of the Mt. Kisco Planning Board. And, when he did a crossword puzzle, he did it quickly and correctly the first time, with a pen! Margaret related to me that Norman liked to tell a funny story about his commutes on the train. As it was, there was a group of businessmen who used to have a contest to see who could finish the crossword puzzle in the newspaper the quickest. One man would frequently shout out “I’m done!” Amazed that this guy could finish first again and again, the men asked to see his puzzle. It turns out that it was filled, not with the correct answers, but with nonsensical gibberish! The man confessed that he didn’t really care about the puzzle, but that he simply enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship and sense of belonging. I suspect that Norman liked that story because he valued those things too. Norman loved his family and adored his grandchildren, and they adored him too. He had a wonderful sense of humor, an easy laugh, and an ability to make friends wherever he went. He will be dearly missed by many.
Sorrow is a part of our lives since the Fall. Truly, there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” as much as there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” But, all time is the LORD’s, and He gives, and He takes away as He knows to be best – Blessed be the Name of the LORD always. And, despite our times of sorrow and mourning, despite times of suffering and pain, despite times when it appears that God is not in control, or that He is vindictive, or that there is no God at all – despite all that, “God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Truly, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ – not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword, and not even death. Therefore, if not even death can hold us, then what have we to fear? Nothing. For, our Good Shepherd Jesus shares our sorrows and pain, our grief, and even our death, and He lives victorious over sin, death, Satan, and the grave. And now He accompanies and leads you to His Father’s house where He has prepared a place for Norman, and for you, and for all His children who believe and trust in Him and who follow Him.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” You believe in the LORD? Believe also in His Son, Jesus. For, He has prepared all things for you, and He will come again to take you to be with Him in His Father’s house forevermore. There you will be reunited with Norman, and with your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends, neighbors, and with all the saints before the glorious throne of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, where there will be no sorrow, no weeping, no pain, no suffering, and no death, but only peace and joy in the presence of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)

Luke 16:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The peace movement of the 1960s was fueled by the realization that war is a huge money-making business. Truly, nothing will bring a nation out of a recession or a depression like a great war. Wars create jobs, increase gross national production, and focus people upon the enemy “over there” instead of the problems right here at home. And so, youth growing up in the 60s rebelled against war, and they advocated for peace. They adopted the famous “peace sign” as the symbol of their movement, a symbol designed in the 1950s as the logo for a British campaign for nuclear disarmament. They held rallies and sit-ins protesting the Vietnam War, and they practiced the ideals of what they believed would make for a peaceful society and world: Free love and free drugs, freedom from clothing (and from deodorant and shaving too!), freedom from work, from money, and from laws, etc. John Lennon exhorted his generation to simply imagine a world without heaven or hell, countries, religion, and possessions, as if imagining could change reality. But, it couldn’t. Still, there were greed and hunger, poverty and suffering, racism, and hatred. For, you can imagine all you like, still there is no peace. Imagine as you may, the things that make for peace cannot be found in worldly mammon or by your own works and merit. For, before there can be peace with your fellow man, there must first be peace with God, and peace with God is not something that you can buy, or merit, or even imagine into being, but peace is something that God has worked, that God has declared, and that God has realized in His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross for the life of the world.
God’s peace incarnate approached Jerusalem and wept over it saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” For, when He entered the temple, God’s house of prayer, He beheld that men had made it to be a den of robbers. The people were trying to purchase or merit peace with God by their sacrifices, by their tithes, by their prayers, and by their works. But, such things cannot make for peace with God. In truth, they rob from God, for all things belong to Him, yet men feign to buy His favor and peace by offering Him His own gifts as the sacrifice of their own hands and hearts. Jesus wept because He foresaw the judgment that would soon fall upon them: “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” For, the wrath of God against human sin is very real, His holiness and His righteousness literally cannot tolerate a speck of it, and God’s Peace incarnate, the only peace possible, Jesus, was approaching Jerusalem in the prophetic knowledge that He would be rejected. When God’s Peace makes His visitation, there can be only two possible outcomes: Receive Him in faith to your great blessing, or reject Him in unbelief to your judgment and condemnation.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the city of God’s Peace, because He knew that He would be rejected. He taught daily in the temple, and many were drawn to Him and to His teaching, but “the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him.” They, the religious leaders of the people of Israel, took a “lying pen” to the Law of God and bent it and distorted it, making it into a lie. They lowered the bar of the Law’s expectations in order to make it appear more do-able and keep-able, and they preached that men could justify themselves by keeping it, so that men sought peace, not in the LORD of hosts, but in their works and in their merits. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people healed the wound of God’s people lightly, saying, “Peace, peace,” where there was no peace.
The Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, had come to visit His people. The only question was, would He be received in faith or rejected in unbelief? In the same way, the Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, visits His people today. Here, in this holy fellowship, the Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, visits you, His people, in Holy Word and in Blessed Sacrament. How will you receive Him – in faith, to your great blessing, or in unbelief to your judgment and condemnation? The Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, is the two-edged Word-Sword of God, cutting both ways, for the healing of the faithful and for the judgment of unbelievers. “Once He came in blessing, all our sins redressing; came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy; bore the cross to save us; hope and freedom gave us.” But, “Soon will come that hour when with mighty power Christ will come in splendor and will judgment render, with the faithful sharing joy beyond comparing.”
What will God’s Peace incarnate find when He makes His visitation? Will He find that the Lord’s “house of prayer” has been made a “den of robbers,” or will He find His people waiting for Him in faithful patience, watching for Him in hopeful expectation, fearing His holiness and righteousness with reverence, loving and trusting in Him for His goodness and faithfulness to all generations and for forgiveness and life and salvation? As the early Church confessed in the Didache, “There are two ways, the way of life, and the way of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” so there is no fence-straddling when it comes to your peace with God – it is in and through faith and trust in the Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, or there is no peace with God, period. There is no agnostic middle way in which you can avoid making a commitment, for “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” There is no yin-yang blending of black and white, darkness and light, good and evil, faith and unbelief that results in ambiguous greyness, for the Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, is the Light of the World that scatters the darkness. In Him there is no darkness at all.
Therefore, do not look to find peace with God in your works and in your merits, in your tithes, or even in your faith, but receive the Peace of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, as He comes to you to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to commune with you in body and blood, and bestow upon you life, salvation, and sonship with His Father. Indeed, you have but two things to do in this life – and, really they are one and the same, and they are not even things that you do, but they are things that you are: Fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and love and serve your neighbor as you love and serve the LORD.
Now, you have tremendous, incredible, and amazing freedom in this, for there is no Law against love. However, “your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Now, Jesus was referring to the destruction that would befall Jerusalem in less than a generation when the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem for four years and finally completely destroy the city and all who remained in it in 70 AD.
However, you, too, have enemies who barricade you and surround you and hem you in. They are the wise men and false prophets who continually say to you  “Peace, peace when there is no peace,” telling you that all is well for you, even as you disregard the LORD’s Word and Commandments and follow your own way and the ways of the world. Do not regard them or give heed to them! For God’s Peace incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes to you today in blessing through Word and Sacrament to forgive and to heal and to strengthen and to save, but He will come another day, on a day that you will not know, to judge the wicked and to save the faithful. His blessed visitation now is meant to prepare and to keep you for that day that you need not be afraid.
Come now, and be clothed anew in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His gracious visitation now is your peace with God today and tomorrow, and for as many tomorrows as he may grant you. This is the gate of heaven, and it is open to you through God’s Peace incarnate, Jesus Christ, that you may be partakers of His heavenly treasures.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.