Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Festival of the Reformation (Observed)

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 4:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. It does that quite effectively, don’tcha think? Well, truth be told, often you do not see it that way. In fact, your response to the uncompromising Law of the LORD is to, well, compromise it. You attempt to lower the bar of the Law, so to speak, to make it more do-able. You actually convince yourself that you can do the Law on your own, if only you understand in the right way. You see, the way it reads, the way the LORD gave the Law to you, simply terrifies you. You think to yourself, “Surely the command ‘Do not murder’ means only that I am not to physically kill someone in anger or rage. Surely it doesn’t mean things like terminating an inconvenient pregnancy, or assisting an elderly or suffering person out of their misery, or being angry, mean, spiteful, and unforgiving towards another person.” Same goes with the command “Do not commit adultery.” You think to yourself, “Surely this command does not prohibit looking without touching, viewing pictures and videos in magazines, on the internet, or on television. After all, who have I harmed if I haven’t touched?” In these ways you attempt to lower the bar of the LORD’s Law and make it more do-able. But, the Law of the LORD cannot be lowered; it cannot be bent, or revoked. The Law does not apply only at one time or another, but it is unchanging and it is uncompromising. The Law does not pass away.
The Law must be fulfilled. And, you cannot fulfill it. Therefore, if you will attempt to live by the Law, then the Law will crush you. No, you cannot fulfill the Law, therefore, I say to you, let it crush you. Let that weight fall upon you and break you into pieces. For, then, the Lord Jesus can raise you up. Jesus will raise you up from your failing to keep the Law. Jesus will raise you up from sin and death. Jesus will raise you up when you trust in Him, because He has fulfilled the Law of the LORD perfectly for you, and He has suffered and died for you, and He is raised from death victorious for you. The bar of the Law has never been lowered. It can never be lowered. But, better than that, the Law of the LORD has been fulfilled for you. Now your Lord Jesus invites you to share in the freedom and life that flows from the fulfilled Law of the LORD – His freedom and life which He graciously pours out for you, received by you in faith and trust without cost, without works, and without merit.
That is the Gospel, and that is what we are celebrating today on this Festival of the Reformation. We are not celebrating an historical event, a socio-political uprising with religious overtones, or the bravery of a medieval priest-monk-professor. And, we are certainly not celebrating the fracturing of Christ’s body, the Church. But, we are celebrating the restoration of the free proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which had become obscured, distorted, and compromised by men attempting to lower the bar of Law and justify themselves by their obedience, works, merit, and cooperation with God. This is the violence of which our Lord speaks, violence committed by men against the kingdom of heaven.
Men try to take the kingdom by force, that is, by works and by merit. But the kingdom does not come that way. The kingdom comes by grace alone. It cannot be taken by force, by works or by merit. But, now it has been manifested, revealed, uncovered, which means, it was there all along, but men couldn’t see it because their eyes were blinded by sin, their ears were stopped, and their hearts were hard. Some received the Law of the LORD in joy, deceiving themselves that they were righteous and kept it faithfully. Some received the Law of the LORD like a funeral dirge, yet they did not mourn and weep for their lost condition, but they hardened their hearts in pride against a God who set the bar so exceedingly high. They refused to fear the LORD and receive His Law as He gave it, for the purpose He gave it. It was to crush them and turn them to the LORD’s grace and mercy in repentance.
That was precisely the message that John the Baptist came preaching and teaching: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Our Lord Jesus preached the same message, and so did the Apostles after him. That same message is preached to you still today: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” This is the Gospel, even the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angel of Revelation “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” “Fear God and give Him glory,” the angel cried, “because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” What hour was that? It was the hour of Jesus’ death upon the cross, the hour in which the Law of the LORD was fulfilled for you, the hour in which Jesus spoke “It is finished,” and it really, truly, completely, and forever was.
This is the Gospel, the eternal Gospel. This is what had become obscured, distorted, and compromised in Luther’s day. The Gospel was so obscured, distorted, and compromised that Luther himself was enslaved to the Law and could find no escape, no comfort, and no peace. For that is what happens to those who believe that they must fulfill the Law of the LORD in order to make peace with God, they are either pumped up with pride, convincing themselves that they are doing just fine, or they find themselves drowning in a pit of despair believing that, no matter how hard they try to keep the Law they still fall short and can never find peace with God. Again, the Law was not given that you might do it and justify yourself by it, but the Law of the LORD was given to shut your mouth, to silence you. God has given the Law that the whole world may be held accountable to Him. The Law serves only to reveal your sins to you; no man is justified by works of the Law. Therefore, be still, shut up, stop striving, and know that the LORD is God. God has manifested His righteousness, the righteousness that makes you righteous, apart from the Law – “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
In Luther’s day it was believed that faith in Christ was not enough. Guess what, people still believe that today! The Roman Church sold indulgences, and still sells them today – pieces of paper that you can buy with money that forgive sins now and after death in purgatory (another unbiblical doctrine). Yet, no better are contemporary so-called Evangelical churches that preach to you the Gospel out of one side of their mouth and then shackle you under the Law again from the other. Their grace-talk is followed immediately by works-talk. They say contradictory things like, “Jesus saves you by grace alone, all you have to do is this, that, and the other thing. And once you’re saved, Jesus expects you to change, to be better, to make your salvation sure or maybe you weren’t really truly Christian in the first place after all.” Hogwash! “Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor; good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.”
While Luther and the Reformers affected many reforms within the Church, it all started with works and indulgences, attempts to do the Law of the LORD or to lower the bar of the Law to make it more do-able. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Each of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses dealt with the single topic indulgences, the idea that man’s work, merit, or money could pay for sins for oneself or for others. In nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door, Luther did what was customary in his late-medieval college town in order to engage in a theological discourse and debate over this central aspect of our Christian faith and doctrine. However, due to the work of reformers like Wycliffe and Hus, who had preceded Luther, and the advent of the Guttenberg printing press, Luther’s theses were translated into the common tongue and were copied and spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Now, one could say that it was merely chance, or one could believe that the LORD had raised up Luther at the right time and the right place to manifest, reveal, and uncover the Gospel once again that those walking in the darkness of sin and death, held captive by legalistic teaching and preaching and false doctrine, could hear the pure, unadulterated, eternal Gospel proclaimed once again and find comfort and peace in the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith (alone).” We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone whom God has put forward as a propitiation by His blood, passing over our former sins.
“The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther claims that it was this passage, Romans 1:17, that cast the scales from his eyes and released the shackles from his soul, freeing him to live, not in a continual and losing battle to acquire righteousness by works, but in the righteousness bestowed upon Him by God through faith in the propitiation that God Himself has put forward, Jesus Christ. Indeed, Luther was so struck and convicted by this Gospel proclamation that he added the Latin word sola, meaning alone: “The righteous shall live by faith (alone).” From this we derive the classic Lutheran solas: sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Christus – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. And, there is yet a fourth, and appropriate, sola: sola scriptura – scripture alone is the sole source, norm, and rule of our faith, confession, and doctrine.
The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. What bliss, peace, and comfort there is in silence! Close your mouth, and have your ears opened. Listen to the Word of your LORD and God, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Receive Him and trust in Him alone in all the ways He comes to you: Word and water, body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, salvation, and eternal life. You cannot take the kingdom by force, therefore, stop trying. But, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Grace alone. Grace upon grace. The righteous shall live by faith.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Homily for The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)

John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
What does faith look like? What does faith sound like? What does faith do? Clearly, there are answers to these questions. In fact, St. James famously indicates so in his statement, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” So, faith is something that can be seen and identified, primarily by our works. However, the problem is that our judgment, our measurement, and our evaluation of our own works, not to mention the works of others, is fallen, tainted, and corrupted by sin. As much as we might try, and truly believe that we do, nevertheless, we measure and evaluate our own works, and the works of others, according to our values, beliefs, and opinions, and not according to the values, truth, and all-knowing wisdom of God. And so, we value that which God does not value, and we deem virtuous that which has no virtue, and we esteem great in our eyes that which is nothing in the eyes of God.
Today’s Gospel exhibits for us the nature and the characteristics of faith: how it begins, grows, and increases, and, at last, is perfected. Yes, faith is a continually changing, growing, and evolving thing. And yet, still it is faith – true and only faith – at each and every stage. A man who has been born is not immediately the husband of a wife or the father of a son, but he has growth and increase by the year, month, week, and day. Likewise, a seed that has been sown in the earth does not ripen at once, but requires time. First, it springs up as a little shoot, this becomes a stalk, from this an ear grows, and from this grain. So, too, faith has its growth and increase. First, the heavenly seed, God’s Word, is scattered. When it is taken up in faith, it springs up and brings forth good fruit so that a man begins to trust in God, love his neighbor, and chasten his body, and become a new creation of God, not all at once, but throughout his life until the grave.
This we see today in the Galilean official who asked Jesus to come to his home and heal his son. The concerned father had faith in Jesus, that is why upon hearing that he was nearby, he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son. Obviously, the man believed that Jesus could and would heal his boy. His faith was real and true faith, even salvific faith, faith given and created in him by the Holy Spirit of God through the Word of God. And yet, we can see that his faith was not yet fully formed and matured, for he demanded, not once, but twice, that Jesus come physically to his home and heal his son. If his faith was fully formed and mature then he would have known that Jesus’ physical presence was not necessary, but only His Word and His will. Like a certain centurion, he should have confessed before Jesus, “Only speak your Word and my son will be healed.” But, he didn’t. This concerned father and official did not yet trust fully and completely in Jesus and His Word, but he desired “signs and wonders” in order to believe.
Yet, look how our Lord responds to this man of weak faith, but of faith nonetheless. Yes, Jesus rebukes the man, and I won’t say mildly. He said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” I sense a tone of frustration and great disappointment in our Lord’s voice. I know, many Christians have great difficulty imaging our Lord as being frustrated or angry, but I suggest to you that to deny such is to deny Jesus’ humanity. Jesus was truly disappointed. He said to His closest disciples and friends, “O you of little faith.” Likewise, Jesus was truly sorrowful and He wept real tears when His friend Lazarus died, and when He prayed in the garden. And Jesus was truly frustrated and angry when he called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” and when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple in Jerusalem. For, our Lord was, and is, truly human, truly a human man in all the ways that means, yet without sin, and truly God at the same time, in one person, one man, one Lord, one Christ. And so, Jesus was frustrated and disappointed with this man of faith, and with all men of faith, who, because of their fallen sinfulness and brokenness, find it so incredibly difficult to believe. That’s why one of my favorite confessions of faith in the entire Scriptures is that of another father of a demon-possessed son: “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”
And, that’s just what Jesus did with the official and father in today’s Gospel. He rebuked the man for his weakness of faith, for often God strikes before He heals, afflicts before He consoles, kills before He gives life, and condemns before He saves, just as He did with the Canaanite woman who begged Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. But then, as He did with that Canaanite woman’s daughter, He healed the man’s son, and the woman’s daughter, with a Word: “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live’.” This was both a challenge and an invitation to believe, and both the official father and the Canaanite mother did indeed believe – they already believed – and their children were healed just as Jesus had said. Then, since the man desired a sign when he didn’t need one, after he believed in the Word of Jesus, Jesus also granted him the sign – As he was going down to his home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering since the very hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” Then he and his entire household believed at the Word of Jesus alone.
The Word alone, sola. The Word alone is sola gratia, for it comes to us by grace alone. The Word alone is sola scriptura, for it is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, alone. The Word alone is sola Christus, for the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and made His dwelling amongst us. And, the Word alone is received by faith alone, sola fide, for only by this gift of the Holy Spirit, delivered through the Word alone, can a soul believe in the Word made flesh and cling to Jesus alone in faith and trust for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
For, who is this Jesus in whom we trust but the very Word of creation in the beginning. The Word the Father spoke into the nothing saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light – the Word by whom we confess “by whom all things were made.” This is the Man the concerned official and father begged to come to his home and heal his son. “Who do people say that I am?” Elijah? John the Baptist? The Great Prophet? But, what about you? “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And, upon this confession, this rock, Christ has built His Church, and the gates of hell will not, and cannot, prevail against Her. For, the confession of Christ as the Son of God, as the Word of God made flesh dwelling amongst us, this confession is the full and mature fruit of faith, which is made evident in the fruit of faith, good works that serve our neighbor and glorify God.
What kinds of signs and wonders are you looking for, O you of little faith? Do you hope that next November’s election will produce a political savior who will restore godly order and morality in your county? Do you hope that violence and crime in your neighborhoods and communities will come to an end and that there will be peace and comfort and easy security again? Do you hope that this little congregation will be filled to standing room only, its coffers overflowing with money, providing numerous programs and services to meet your needs and desires? Or, do you merely hope for your spouse to love you, your kids to respect you, and to have enough money to retire without having to sacrifice your creature comforts or change your lifestyle? Well, maybe you’ll get some, or any of these things. Or, maybe, even likely, you’ll get none of these things. Thanks be to God that your faith is not in things such as these, or in any thing at all, but your faith is in Jesus and in His Word.
Thanks be to God that the Word of Creation, Jesus Christ, is present with you now with His Word and with His Wounds to do for you, and to you, precisely what He says in His Word: Your sins are forgiven. Your faith is re-created, restored, and strengthened. His life-giving blood cleanses you from all sin and you are declared holy and righteous in Him. He gives you life that will never end. And, He has promised to raise your mortal body from death to be reunited with your immortal soul in heaven.
So, what does faith look like? What does faith sound like? What does faith do? Faith believes in Jesus. Faith trusts in Jesus. Faith clings to Jesus. And, faith receives Jesus. But, faith is never alone. Faith produces fruit. Faith produces good works – works that are counted as good in the eyes of the LORD because of the atoning blood of Jesus. Faith in Jesus and His Word clothes you in His righteousness as with defensive armor, armor that makes you strong in the might of the Lord to withstand the spiritual forces of evil in these evil days, and a shield that can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one. And more, the Word of God, and the Word made flesh Jesus, is the very sword of the Spirit that fights for you to defend you, to preserve you, and to keep you through life, through trial and tribulation, and through even death, unto life everlasting.
So, what does faith look like, sound like, and do? Faith believes, trusts, clings to, and receives Jesus, and faith produces good fruit, good works. That is to say, faith is a continually changing, growing, and evolving thing. And yet, still it is faith – true and only faith – at each and every stage. May the Holy Spirit who has created this faith within you continue to nourish and strengthen, preserve and protect you in faith throughout all your days. May the Son, Jesus Christ, whose blood has cleansed you of all sin, continue to be your strength, your life, and your salvation, as you trust in Him and receive from Him forgiveness and life through His Words and His Wounds. And, may the Father who created you and who gave you life continue to work through you to give life to others, using your hands, your heart, and your voice in loving service of others, that they may know Him and His Son and live, and that His Name would be glorified to the ends of the earth.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Homily for The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The parables of our Lord are often simple on the surface, complex and even confounding in the details, and yet again simple in their final meaning. Today’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet is no exception. In this parable the invited become the uninvited and the uninvited become the invited – even notorious bad people, you know, sinners. But, then, even amongst the newly invited, no one gets in without the proper wedding attire. In fact, one such soul among the newly invited was found not wearing the king’s provided wedding garment and he was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Therefore, what are we to make of this our Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet? What does He want you to learn and to know and to believe as a result of hearing it?
To answer those questions it is necessary to wrestle with those difficult aspects of the parable: Who were the invited? How does one get oneself uninvited? How does one get invited if one were not invited in the first place? What about the wedding garment? How do you get one, and how do you keep it? And, just what is so offensive about not having one that it merits so harsh a penalty as being bound and cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth? Yes, these are the questions we must answer, for they constitute the heart of the parable and Jesus’ teaching.
First, Jesus was speaking to His opponents, to the chief priests and the Pharisees who did not believe in Him. Jesus often spoke to willful unbelievers in parables because, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” That is to say, they see and hear well enough – they have functioning eyes and ears; they are not blind or deaf – and yet they willfully close their eyes to Jesus’ signs and miracles, and they willfully stop their ears so that do not hear His Word rightly and believe. They represent the invited that make excuses to not follow their Lord because they worship the false gods and idols of mammon, worldly wealth, material goods, the esteem of men, and the passions and desires of the flesh. The Lord Jesus was sent to them in fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Moses and the David, their forefathers. However, they rejected their Messiah, their Christ, and their God as a sacrifice to their false gods and idols, as a sacrifice to Satan, for there is no other God but the Holy Trinity.
How does one get oneself uninvited? You get yourself uninvited by willfully resisting the Holy Spirit, by willful and intentional unbelief, and by rejecting the LORD’s gift of mercy and forgiveness in unrepentance, unbelief, and in idolatry. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, all are called, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” and He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In Jesus, the LORD has made it possible for all men to be saved. Everyone who has ever lived, who lives, and who ever will live has been purchased and redeemed and ransomed and atoned for in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection – everyone! But, only those who believe and trust in Him will be saved.
Because not everyone knows this wonderful and gracious truth about Jesus, the LORD has sent the Gospel invitation out into the whole world, “to the main roads” and “to the highways and the hedges.” He tells His ministers to “invite to the wedding feast as many as you find,” without condition, both good and bad, for Jesus has redeemed them all. This is the Gospel in its fullness and sweetness. There is nothing that is required – not good works, not piety, not holiness, and not even faith – for even faith will be given as a free and gracious, perfect and holy gift. That’s some invitation! The point is this: Everything is prepared! The invitation is just as Isaiah prophesied: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Do you get it? Do you comprehend how incredibly, wondrously gracious is the LORD’s invitation? Would you even consider rejecting His invitation? Sadly, tragically, so very, very many will and do. And, those of you who have accepted the invitation, beware that you do not consider the LORD’s grace and mercy lightly. Do not take it for granted. For, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Therefore, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” And, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
For, even those who are invited can become uninvited, and even those who are in can make themselves to be out. There was one man at the wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable who, presumably, had been out and had been made to be in. He was one of those who received the invitation after those who were invited rejected it. He was one of those on the “main roads” and the “highways and the hedges.” Graciously, by the LORD’s abundant mercy, he became one of the invited, and there he was at the great wedding banquet sitting with the others at the Master’s banquet table. But, there was a problem. He wasn’t wearing the proper wedding attire. Now, this doesn’t mean that he was poorly dressed, but that he had refused to wear the wedding garment that the LORD had provided. You see, in Jesus’ day, such a festive event as the wedding of a king’s son would have meant pulling out all the stops, even the king providing the proper wedding attire for the invited guests at his son’s wedding. To refuse to wear the provided garment would be a grave offense to the king and to his son, the bridegroom. It would have been a dishonor and disrespect of the highest order. Such a rebellious and disrespectful guest would surely expect to be cast out of the banquet, if not arrested, imprisoned, or worse. This is why Jesus uses this image, of a rebellious and disrespectful invited wedding guest who refused to wear the provided wedding garment. The man is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Many who are invited and who receive the invitation and come to the feast refuse to wear the LORD’s provided wedding garment. Huh? What garment is that, you ask? The LORD’s provided wedding garment is none other than the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, which covers all your sins and makes you holy to stand before the King, the LORD, in His holiness. Can you imagine the gall of refusing the innocent, righteous, holiness of Jesus’s blood and feigning to stand before the LORD Almighty in your own clothing with your own works and merit? The Prophet Isaiah says that even the very best you have to offer are but filthy rags before the LORD. Not to mention that the LORD’s garment comes at the dear and precious cost of His only-begotten Son. What a low-life, filthy, ingrate you would have to be to presume such a thing. What a rebellious, disrespectful clod of dirt you would have to be to insinuate that Jesus’ death was not sufficient, or that you could offer a better work, or that your sins are not so bad as to require anything more than what you can muster. Then God’s sacrifice was unnecessary. Jesus’ death and blood were insufficient. This is what is implied by those who think they can bring anything of merit before the LORD. This is what is suggested by those think that they cooperate with the LORD in their justification. On the Last Day – for, that’s what this parable is really all about – on the Last Day, their rebellious, disrespectful, unbelief and idolatry will be exposed for all the world to see. On the Last Day, they will be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, because they will know without a doubt, all will know without a doubt, that they rejected the LORD’s gracious invitation to put their trust completely and solely in Him for their life and salvation. They will know that the reason they are suffering in darkness instead of feasting in light is because of their willful rejection of Jesus and their unbelief. They will know that it is their own damned fault.
But you, you are not like those who have no hope. No, you have entered the banquet hall having washed your filthy garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. You have received the proper wedding garment, a gift of the King and LORD of heaven and earth and of the entire universe and whatever, if anything, lies beyond it. You were not on the A-list, but you are still the recipients of the LORD’s gracious invitation. He sent His ministers to the main roads and to the highways and the hedges to find you, to call you, to invite you, to clothe you, and to welcome you into His banquet hall. You received the LORD’s wedding garment when you were baptized and washed clean in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And you eat and drink in His banquet hall a foretaste of the Great Feast that is yet to come in heaven, the feast of Christ’s victory over sin, and death, and Satan. This food will preserve and keep you until our Bridegroom returns. And, you will keep your wedding garment spotless and sure through contrition over your sin and repentance, receiving the LORD’s gracious absolution again and again and again. You will be saved in the banquet hall of the Church from the darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth outside, just as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the destroying flood waters upon which they floated to safety in a new land and world.
You are invited, and you are clothed, and you are fed and nourished, protected and kept in Jesus Christ. Therefore, you may be a messenger to others of the LORD’s gracious invitation, that His banquet hall may be full. Go, and tell this Good News. Go, and live this Good News in word and in deed. Go, and give and love and forgive like you have nothing to lose, for you truly have nothing to lose. All is yours. Nothing is withheld. Everything is a gracious gift of the LORD, and you are the LORD’s appointed stewards of His gifts. You buy bread without money and drink wine without cost. You have the Lord’s life within you, and plenty to spare. Spend it, share it, to the glory of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Homily for The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 19)

Matthew 18:9:1-8; Ephesians 4:22-28; Genesis 28:10-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Those having the God-given eyes of faith to see this fact are not scandalized or offended by Jesus, but those who do not believe accuse Him of blasphemy. Therefore, when Jesus saw the faith of the friends of a paralyzed man, He dispensed with unnecessary words but plainly stated, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” In other words, He didn’t heal the man’s paralysis, immediately. Yet, there is no mention that the friends of the paralyzed man were scandalized or offended in any way. However, the scribes who were standing nearby were offended. They said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”
Knowing their hearts, Jesus said to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Notice that He did not say, “Why are you so insensitive, callous, or mean,” but He intentionally called their thoughts evil. But, why were their thoughts evil? Their thoughts were evil because they called good evil and evil good. The scribes called God’s forgiveness spoken by Jesus, the Son of God, evil. This is nothing other than to call Jesus evil and His Father evil. Therefore, I ask you, who was doing the blaspheming?
Still, consider the compassion and the mercy, even the love our Lord still had for His accusers, the scribes. Though they did not believe in Him and they accused Him of sin and blasphemy for speaking the Truth, Jesus mildly rebuked them and lovingly taught them, inviting them to believe and understand. He said, “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” Jesus did this for them, the scribes, because He loved them, so that they would believe.
But, why did He not heal the paralyzed man at first? Before the faithful, Jesus addressed the man’s greatest and underlying sickness, sin. Among you, the faithful, though you pray, though we all pray, the sicknesses you and your loved ones suffer are not always healed. And yet, there is not doubt that our sin-sickness unto death is healed and taken away. Blessed are those who love not their lives even unto death. You must learn that the true sickness that leads to death and eternal separation from the grace and mercy of God the Father is your sin. If nothing else you suffer were healed, but you were forgiven your sins, certainly you must rejoice and be glad! To not hold this belief and perspective on your life both temporal and eternal is to expose your secret idols and false gods. The proper and godly belief and perspective confesses that all that you have and all that you are, even your life itself, belongs to the LORD, and that you are the recipient of His gracious and loving gifts to steward and manage in service of others and to His glory.
Such a perspective is neither miserable and depressing nor prudish, and neither is it a morbid deathwish, but, rather, it is true Christian freedom and life, beholden to no one and no thing by your God, Creator, LORD and giver of your life. Those who freely have received must freely give without resentment or begrudgingly to the glory of God. “The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” While this is never an easy faith and perspective to hold because of your sinful flesh and fallen mind and will, it is the faith and perspective of the new spiritual man within you born of water and the Word in Holy Baptism, who both desires to do the LORD’s will and is capable of doing it, not for merit to justification, but in response to grace, mercy, and love you have received from God the Father through Jesus Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection.
However, you should believe and know and take comfort in this important fact and Truth: Your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ “has authority on earth to forgive sins.” More than that, in His incarnation, He took on your flesh so that He might suffer the temptations and sorrows, sufferings, and even death that you suffer, all while being perfectly faithful, obedient, innocent, and righteous, as a human man, for you. Therefore, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
In His incarnation, Jesus became the bridge between heaven and earth. Since, in your sin, you cannot ascend to heaven, God has descended to earth in the God-Man Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God became what you are – sinful and unclean – so that you may become what He is – the very holiness and righteousness of God. “He, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” This fact and Truth was prefigured in Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up on earth, with its top reaching into heaven. Upon the ladder were angels ascending and descending. At the top of the ladder was the LORD God speaking, once again, His covenant promise that He had made to Jacob’s Father Isaac and Grandfather Abraham: “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Jacob recognized and confessed the significance of this saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Jacob called the place Bethel, which means “House of God,” for he understood that the holy LORD God had reached out and touched earth through His ministering angels by means of the ladder that had its feet upon the earth and its top in heaven. That ladder prefigured Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. For, in Jesus, God has visited His people, not only by ministering angels, but personally as our brother and friend. And, where God is, so there are “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” That is why Jesus “has authority on earth to forgive sins,” for, only God can forgive sins, and Jesus is God in human flesh as a man. Thus, for Jesus, it truly is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” than it is to say, “Rise and walk.” Likewise, blessed are those who have been given the eyes and ears of faith to believe that, in Jesus, God has kept His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for Jesus is the promised offspring of the patriarchs in whom all the families of the earth have been blessed.
You have received so much more than the mere healing of your bodies’ illnesses, you have received the forgiveness of your sins which brings eternal life and salvation. Since you are Jesus’ friends, even His brothers and sisters, you must not be scandalized or offended that the primary healing your Lord chooses to give you is the forgiveness of your sins, for you must know that this is the one thing needful for us all. Truly, this gift that you see you have is your encouragement and strength of faith to persevere through all trials, temptations, and tribulations, knowing that the Lord has secured for you life and salvation in His sacrificial death and resurrection and that He is the ladder and bridge between heaven and earth, and the very Way and Gate into the Father’s kingdom.
The crowds were astonished when Jesus healed the paralyzed man. They were afraid, and they glorified God. But, the great Truth that they walked away with that day was the Gospel, the Good News, that God had visited His people in forgiveness and mercy and they did not perish, and, that God had given this authority to forgive sins to the man Jesus Christ.
But, to give such authority to Jesus is to give it to all men, for Jesus is not simply a man unto Himself, but He is all flesh, He is all men. He is the New and Greater Adam, the Father of us all, David’s Lord; and He is our brother and our neighbor, David’s Son – Son of God and Son of Man. He is Emmanuel, God with us. And, He has come to grant us forgiveness, release from the paralysis of sin and death. He has come to bring us spiritual healing now and physical healing now in accordance with His will, but perfect healing and life in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.
Christ has come to you this day and has raised up your New Man once again in the forgiveness of your sins; and, your forgiveness is as certain on earth as it is in heaven. Now your Lord says to you, “Come, eat my flesh and drink my blood, and live; for, whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! For, the Incarnate Son of God Himself is present in Word, Water, Body, and Blood; and, where Christ is there is forgiveness; and where there is forgiveness, there is eternal life and salvation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.