Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Reflection on Knowledge and Faith

Recently, frescoes dated from the 4th century were discovered in a catacomb underneath a modern office building in Rome. Amongst the frescoes are what Vatican archeologists believe to be the oldest known portraits of the Apostles Paul, Andrew, and John, as well as another portrait of Peter that is consistent with other, earlier, iconographic images of the Apostle. Consequently, questions have been raised concerning the accuracy of images created 250 years after the death of their subjects.

This discovery has caused me to ponder, again, Epistemology, the branch of Philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. Epistemology considers questions such as: What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? What can people know? How do we know what we know? These are not ridiculous questions as some are want to think, but they bear considerably upon our worldviews, history, science, religion, and, well, just about everything!

Consider the debates that occur regularly concerning the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. Typically, two viewpoints prevail, though there are several others: Those holding to an Originalist philosophy interpret the Constitution conservatively, seeking to determine the author’s original intent. Others maintain that the Constitution must be interpreted in the context of other decisions. This philosophy of interpretation may be called Contextualism or Dynamic Evolution. In but a little over two hundred years there has become considerable disagreement and debate concerning what the Constitution means and what the intent of its authors was. How do we know what the authors meant? How do we know the interpretation they intended or would desire for today? Does it matter? These are Epistemological questions in the context of United States history.

Recent conversations I have had with unbelievers and atheists have born the importance of such questions about the Christian faith. Unbelievers ask: How do you know that God is three-in-one? How do you know the Bible is true? How do you know God exists? If God does exists, how do you know He has the ability to change things in the world? If God is God, why must I believe in Jesus? These are not ridiculous questions, but they deserve to be answered by Christians (1 Peter 3:15).

What questions such as these, in addition to the discovery of the portraits of the Apostles, have caused me to contemplate these past few days is the importance of tradition in conjunction with faith and reason. I tend to share the Foundationalist views of St. Augustine and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga that all of our beliefs rest ultimately on beliefs accepted by faith. In regard to the portraits of the Apostles, we cannot know if the frescoes accurately depict the actual Apostles. However, both their antiquity and their consistency with earlier iconography, along with the tradition of the Church handed down in the writings of the early Church Fathers and other Christian traditions, lend credence to the belief that they are rather close approximations of the actual Apostles.

Ultimately, perhaps, we cannot know the answers to many questions that unbelievers might ask us; we accept them as truth by faith – faith informed by reason and evidence historical, biblical, experiential, etc. But is this not how any belief is justified, experientially? The Preacher to the Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Preacher uses the words assurance and conviction to describe faith; these are strong words that most would count as knowledge. This is to say that faith is no weak, unfounded belief in something that may or may not exist, but faith is objective – this is to say, you do not simply have faith, but you have faith in something. Tradition is the shared faith of a community – a family, a tribe, a nation, a congregation, a denomination, a religion, etc. Tradition serves objective faith, but it must never be the object of faith.

The questions asked by unbelievers and atheists should be answered in accord with faith and tradition, acknowledging that it is a matter of faith – reasonable faith. It is not the job of a Christian to convert anyone – that’s the Holy Spirit’s work! – but it is the job of a Christian to confess your faith before men (Matthew 10:32). There is good reason, drawn from experience and tradition, grounded in faith, to believe that the frescoes in the Roman catacomb are fairly accurate depictions of the Apostles. Can we know for certain? Perhaps not. Can we know anything for certain? We believe…., in something…., and that is faith, religious or otherwise. And faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is faith that is assured and convicted, it is a confession. Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33)

In Christ’s service, Pastor Ellingworth

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)


Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Last Sunday we considered God’s love manifested as grace. Today we see it manifested as mercy to all who suffer. Grace and mercy are as two sides of the same coin; they are both manifestations of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus.

When I teach catechumens about grace and mercy, I explain it this way: Grace is when God gives us good things that we do not deserve. Mercy is when God does not give us bad things that we do deserve. One is a giving, and the other is a withholding. Both come from God: His will, His action, His love. The seeking love of God that we heard about last week, seeking, finding, and restoring the lost, is grace. Today we focus upon God’s love shown in mercy through which He works through the sufferings, pain, and losses we experience as the result of sin to preserve and keep us in His Son unto eternal life. We hear that God works man’s intended evils for good. We hear that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. And we are exhorted to be merciful to all as God our Father has been merciful to us: to judge not, to condemn not, to forgive, and to give as we have been the benefactors of such rich and lavish love, mercy, and forgiveness.

The story of Joseph and his brothers from our Old Testament lesson is a powerful example of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because their father Jacob loved Joseph more than the others, being the son of his old age. To add to their burning jealousy, Jacob gave Joseph a many colored coat and Joseph had dreams in which his brothers bowed down before him. They plotted to kill him, but, after Reuben’s intercession, they decided merely to sell him into slavery. Well, as the story goes, Joseph ends up in Egypt, and, after much injustice and suffering, ends up the right hand man of the Pharaoh. When famine hit the region, indeed his brothers did travel to Egypt and bow down before Joseph and receive food and live. When their father died, the brothers were fearful that Joseph would exact revenge upon them for the wrongs they had done to him; they were afraid that they would get what they deserved for their sins. So, they schemed once again and sent message to Joseph that their father Jacob had requested Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers as his dying wish. But the lie was not necessary, for Joseph had already forgiven his brothers. Joseph replied, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Joseph was merciful to his brothers, he did not give them the bad things that they deserved, but he forgave them and he restored them. They offered to be servants, slaves, but Joseph called them brothers and he gave to them an allotment of good land and provided for them and their children. This true and historical story is comparable to the Parable of the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son), told from the perspective of mercy.

In today’s Epistle lesson, we hear that the fallout of man’s fall into sin impacted not just all humanity, but all of God’s creation. All of God’s creation is in bondage and subjection to corruption, and this is bad! But, once again, we hear that God works through this evil and corruption for the good of His creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing,” says Paul, “for the revealing of the sons of God.” Dearly beloved, we are the sons of God of whom Paul speaks! The revealing of our sonship began with the Incarnation of the Son of God as the Man Jesus Christ, but the consummation of this revealing will not be realized until the resurrection of our bodies. Paul says that all of creation, that is, the entire universe and everything in it, waits with eager longing for that moment! Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: We don’t always feel like sons of God, do we? In fact, is there not pain, suffering, sorrow, and death in our lives? Do not the people we love the most hurt us and we them? Does not sickness and disease, war and violence, economic distress, fear, depression, and sadness affect us and those we love? Yes, and this is the result of sin, the wages we have earned for sin, the reaping of what we have sown. Paul acknowledges suffering, but he says to you that all of your sufferings, all of the sufferings of humanity and of the entire creation, these “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As bad as things might be at times, what is to come is so glorious and joyous and wonderful that there is no point of comparison between the two! Paul compares the sufferings of this present time to a woman in the labor of childbirth. There is suffering and pain in labor and childbirth, but there is such joy in the birth of a child that the suffering and pain preceding are barely an afterthought. And so, this is how you should view pain, sorrow, suffering, trial, and tribulation, as preparation, as instruction, as catechesis for the glory in which you will soon be revealed and will live forever. But, even now, that glory has already begun to be revealed in you. It was first revealed in the Incarnation of the Son of God in the Man Jesus, and in Jesus, it has begun to be revealed in all who are in Him through Holy Baptism and faith. We have already now begun to walk in the new life, for we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” and we “groan inwardly as we await eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Thus, we know the divine mercy of God’s love, that He does not give us what we deserve, what we have earned for our sins, death, but, instead, He gives us life in His Son. Nothing is held against us, but all is forgiven in Jesus. How then can we judge a brother? How then can we condemn a brother? How can we withhold forgiveness from a brother? We cannot. The debt that has been forgiven us; the guilt that has been cleansed from us; the sin that has been atoned for us; these have truly set us free. How can we keep a brother in chains and bondage? We cannot. We must give and forgive as we have been given to and forgiven, for, grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Your forgiveness is intimately connected to the forgiveness you show others. The judgment and condemnation that is withheld from you is intimately connected to the judgment and condemnation you withhold from others. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

The Lord has prepared this feast today for His sons who are day by day being revealed. The feast, too, is a hidden glory as the Son of Man is present in lowly forms. We, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan and long, with all creation, for the glory to be fully revealed when we will feast with the Lord, not through veiled forms, but face to face. And this is a feast of reconciliation, that what was lost has been found and restored. It is a feast of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. You who come, eat, and drink do so in love, forgiveness, and mercy towards your brothers, making peace with them before you bring the gift of yourself to the Lord’s Table. It is the chains that you place upon your brother that keeps you in bondage; the Lord has set you free in Christ Jesus, do not place yourself back in chains by withholding freedom from another. He who fills the cup and satisfies the hungry heart fills you with overflowing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you might shower your brothers in the same to the glory of God the Father through His eternal Son in the life of His Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homily for the Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 3)


Luke 15:1-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11; Micah 7:18-20

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

The scribes and the Pharisees, the religious scholars and theologians of Jesus’ day, holy in the eyes of other men, stand in judgment of the Only Holy Man Jesus saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And, what they accuse Him of is true! Jesus does indeed enjoy table fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts – and this is good news for sinners! This is good news for you and for me! Thus, ironically, but providentially, the scribes and the Pharisees serve as unwitting preachers of the Gospel, which is the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus! For, this is the reason that Jesus came into the world: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts. And, these came to Him in throngs, for, in Jesus, they found, not judgment and condemnation, but the grace and the forgiveness of God, Who cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. But, this was a great offense to the scribes and the Pharisees who had judged and condemned such people. They were offended that Jesus would show grace and love to such sinners. They were offended that God’s grace and mercy could extend to such sinners as these. They wanted to reign in and to limit God’s grace, thus they are offended that “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”

For, such table fellowship follows reconciliation. It is a sign that all is forgiven, all is restored and made right once again. It is a celebration that someone lost has been found and returned to the family of faith. Thus, Jesus presents three parables about the restoration of the lost in response to the grumbling accusation of the scribes and the Pharisees: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son. And, in each parable, something that was lost has been found and restored. And, the restoration of the lost results in rejoicing and feasting, both on earth and in heaven!

The third parable, the Parable of the Lost Son (or, The Prodigal Son), which we did not hear today, involves the restoration, not of an animal (a sheep) or of an object (a coin), but of a beloved son who treated his father with contempt, squandered his love, his grace, and his wealth, and found himself, penniless and powerless to help himself, once again in his father’s love and grace, fully restored to sonship despite his prior wickedness. When we hear this parable with the ears of faith, we see that it is not about the prodigal son at all, but it is about the selfless and sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of the father, who is God the Father. Likewise, the Good Shepherd is God the Son, and the Woman is the Church of Christ, seeking the lost that they might be saved and restored. And there is rejoicing on earth and in heaven.

In the first parable Jesus poses this question to the scribes and the Pharisees, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” I’ve thought about this question for a long time now and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only human answer to this question, whether you are a scribe or a Pharisee, a shepherd, a butcher, a baker, or a candle-stick maker, is that no one would do such a thing!” No one would leave the ninety-nine sheep to go and seek for the one that wandered off. One out of a hundred, of a possession as valuable as sheep, would not merit possibly exposing the other ninety-nine to risk. But, I think that is exactly the response Jesus intends to evoke, for, ultimately, the parable isn’t about human shepherds, or scribes, or Pharisees, or any others, but it is about the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, who, out of boundless mercy and compassion, did leave the heavenly places, inhabited by flocks of angels, archangels, dominions, and powers, to seek and to save one lost man, Adam, in whom we all are one. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

In the second parable, a woman has lost one of her precious silver coins, so she lights a lamp and diligently sets about searching for it until she finds it. And, when she has found it, there is a festival celebration that what was lost has been found and restored. This woman is the Church and the flock of the Good Shepherd. And, you each are a precious coin, marked, in Holy Baptism, with the image of the Prince, Jesus Christ. You are each a found sheep, redeemed by the selfless sacrifice of your Good Shepherd. And there is rejoicing that you have been found, and there is table fellowship with Jesus in which He receives sinners and eats with them, even as there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

For, the Church is not a memorial for saints, but She is a hospital for sinners. Indeed, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Those who will not confess that they are sinners will not and cannot, receive the forgiveness Jesus came to give. It is like a person, sick unto death, who refuses to admit that they are sick and, therefore, will not seek the aid of a physician. There is treatment and there is healing for the sick who will receive it, but it will not and cannot benefit those who refuse it. This is the situation with the scribes and the Pharisees; they judged Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners just as they judged the sinners who flocked to Him. But they would not confess that they too were such lost sinners in need of finding, restoration, and forgiveness. They too were sick unto death with sin, and there was healing for them in Jesus Christ, just as for the tax collectors and prostitutes, but they would not and they could not receive it. They refused to acknowledge their need of the Great Physician, therefore they would not and could not receive the healing He came to give to them. Only the lost can be found, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

We all share in the same common disease of sin, and the diagnosis, left untreated, is terminal, death. But Jesus teaches in the Parables of the Lost that He came to seek and to save such lost and dying sinners as you and me, and that you are so precious and immeasurably valuable to Him that He risks everything to find you, save you, and restore you. For, you are more valuable to him than one in one hundred sheep. You are more precious to Him than one in ten silver coins. And you are more beloved of Him than one in two sons.

So, on this Father’s Day, what a wonderful picture of Fatherly love we are presented with. God, your Father, is not satisfied with ninety-nine out of a hundred sheep, or that He still has nine out of ten silver coins, or that one son remained home by His side. But, He is jealous for all His creatures, His priceless children whom He loves with selfless, sacrificial grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He will not stop seeking His lost children no matter how far they stray, but He has sent His Son Jesus to seek and to save the lost, laying down His life to bring them back into the fold of the Church to bind up their wounds in Holy Absolution and to restore them to sonship in Holy Baptism. And there is feasting and rejoicing in the Holy Supper, on earth as it is in heaven, that what was lost has been found and restored.

In the love and sacrifice of our earthly fathers we catch a glimpse, a reflection, of our Heavenly Father’s love and sacrifice for us. The image is sometimes dim and tarnished by sin to be sure, but if we have known the love and sacrifice of such imperfect men in this fallen and broken world, how much more then does our Heavenly Father, Who is holy and unchanging, love us with an eternal and perfect love?

Come to the feast of joy, found children of our Heavenly Father! The Man who receives sinners and eats with them is here to feast with you; He is both host and meal. Do not be offended that He receives and eats with such as these. We are brothers and sisters, one and all, of one holy and divine Heavenly Father. He will have all His children, in His time, found, forgiven, and restored. And there will be rejoicing and feasting, on earth as in heaven, both now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

St. Ambrose on the Figures in the Parables of the Lost

On The Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (Luke 15:1-32):

Who are these three persons: the shepherd, the woman, the father? Is not Christ the Shepherd, the Church the woman, and God the Father? Christ Who took upon Himself your sins bears you upon His own Body; the Church searches for you; the Father receives you back. As a shepherd He brings us back, as a mother He looks for us, as a father He clothes u s. First, mercy, second, intercession, third, reconciliation; each to each; the Redeemer comes to our aid, the Church intercedes for us, the Creator restores us to Himself. It is the same diving mercy in each operation; but grace varies according to our merits.

The sheep that strayed is brought back by the Shepherd. The silver piece that was lost is found. The son turns back fully repentant from his sinful wanderings, and retraces his footsteps to his father. […] And so Israel is saved as a man; Juda is gathered in a as though it were a sheep. I would prefer to be a son than a sheep; for a sheep is brought back by a shepherd, the son is honored by the Father.

Let us therefore rejoice because that sheep which had fallen by the way in Adam is uplifted in Christ. The shoulders of Christ are the arms of His Cross. There have I laid down my sins; upon the neck of that sublime yoke of torment have I found rest. This sheep is one in kind, but not one in outward appearance. For we are all one body, but many members; […] So therefore the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost; that is, all men: for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.

Rich then is that Shepherd of whose portion all we are but a hundredth part. For He has besides the innumerable flocks of the Archangels, of the Dominations, of the Powers, of the Thrones and all the rest whom He left upon the mountains. And since they are rational flocks, they not unfittingly rejoice because of the redemption of men. Let this also incite us to a just and upright life, that each one shall believe that his own conversion to God is pleasing to the angelic choirs, whose protection he should seek, and whose good will he should fear to lose. Be ye therefore a joy to the angels; let them have cause for rejoicing in your own return.

Neither is it without significance that the woman rejoices because of the silver piece that was found. For this is no ordinary piece of silver, upon which is the figure of the Prince. And because of this, the Image of the King is the wealth of the Church. We are His sheep; let us pray that He will place us amid the waters of refreshment We are, I say, His sheep; let us seek of Him a place of pasture. We are pieces of silver; let us jealously cherish or value. We are children; let us hasten to our Father, Who with the Son and Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homily for the Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)


Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

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

Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke is often called The Parable of the Great Banquet. In context, in Luke’s Gospel, however, today’s pericope is one of four teachings of Jesus that occur during a single meal at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Throughout that meal, Jesus had occasion to teach about how love is the fulfilling of the Sabbath Law, how humility is a virtue as opposed to the vice of pride, and about the virtue of charity and grace, selfless giving without thought of recognition or compensation.

But, what occasioned our Lord’s teaching in The Parable of the Great Banquet was the exclamation of one of those who sat with Him at the meal: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The man was most likely thinking of the type of banquet that would typically be held by the Jews following a great victory in battle. Many Jews of Jesus’ day held the false belief that the Messiah would be a great king like David who would free Israel from bondage and captivity to the Romans. Even if the man were thinking about a spiritual victory, feast, and kingdom, he was sighing for something he believed to be far off, while the Bread of Heaven Himself sat there before him.

Parables are funny things, they seem so simple on the surface, and yet their meaning eludes and confounds so many, so that seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear. Often this frustration is expressed “Why doesn’t Jesus just speak plainly? Doesn’t He want people to understand and believe?” Well, of course He wants people to understand and to believe. Nevertheless, He will not force Himself on anyone. Jesus preaches to the Law inscribed on all men’s hearts even while He extends to them the Gospel invitation. Only those who feel the conviction of the Law and drop their facades of pride and self-righteousness will turn in repentance and receive forgiveness and life. Ironically, how often a pastor is told by his parishioners, “You should just preach like Jesus, you know, simple stories, and parables. He was always so clear, a child could understand Him.” Such a comment, however, brings to my mind something one of my seminary professors is still known to regularly say: “You know not the Scriptures or the power therein.” God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the parables were constructed by the Wisdom of God incarnate, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is Wisdom that speaks when Jesus speaks, and the truly wise among men bring nothing to the table but humility and repentance.

The Church’s lectionary has wisely paired the wisdom of Proverbs this day with the wisdom of The Parable of the Great Banquet. Recorded nearly a millennium before the advent of Jesus, our pericope from Proverbs is The Parable of the Great Banquet told in the high form of wisdom literature: Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” In both Proverbs and in the Parable, the great feast is fully prepared and many are invited simply to come, eat, and drink. Yet, how so very many refuse! In the Parable, those who refuse offer worldly and fleshly excuses or justifications. These betray their pride and self-righteousness and expose their false religions and idolatries. In Proverbs, those who refuse are scoffers and wicked men. It is the humble and selfless man who accepts reproving and instruction that is wise and righteous. In accepting reproving and instruction, the wise man becomes wiser still, for, to the one that has, more will be given, and to the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away; for, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Let us now turn directly to the Parable. The “man” is God the Father and the “great banquet” He has prepared is the fulfillment of the Passover Feast in the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. All was fully prepared and “many” were invited to the feast, so God “sent His [Suffering] servant to say to those invited ‘Come, for everything is now ready’. But they all began to make excuses.” One has purchased a field and must attend to it. Another has bought five yoke of oxen and must examine them. And another has married a wife and cannot come. All three excuses sound reasonable enough to fleshly ears and worldly wisdom. In fact, at least two of the excuses were counted as reasonable exceptions to military service in the Old Testament (Deut. 20:6-7). However, this story being a parable, and parables being what they are, there is at the same time a literal and true meaning and a deeper, spiritual meaning. Spiritually, the excuses offered by the three invitees had to do with their preoccupation and love of worldly, physical, and fleshly things over and against the spiritual gifts of God. Here, the Fathers of the Church, especially Augustine and Gregory, offer us insight as to how the early Church understood this parable.

Augustine writes: In the purchase of the farm, the pride of dominion is signified. For to have a farm, to hold it as their possession, to occupy it, to have it subject to them, to rule it, delights men. The first man wished to rule, and wished no one to have dominion over him. And what does having dominion mean but taking delight in one’s own power?

Augustine and Gregory both understand the five yoke of oxen as a symbol for the five senses of man, which also are yoked in pairs: two eyes with which to see, two ears with which to hear, two nostrils with which to smell, a tongue and palate which work together to taste, and a sense of touch, paired in a concealed manner, being both internal and external. The five senses are creaturely and of the earth; they can only perceive what has been made by God and according to God’s own design. Yet, men trust in these creaturely senses and not in their Creator. They will not believe anything unless what they can discover by the fivefold perception of the body. They regard these five senses as the sole norm of their decisions. Such a man was the Apostle Thomas who famously insisted “Unless I see with my eyes and touch with my hands, I will never believe.” Such a man also was the guest at the meal who exclaimed “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Again, this man was sighing for what he believed was far off, while the Bread of Heaven Himself sat there before him. For, it is not what is seen that feeds us, but what is believed. Indeed, what faithlessness and idolatry that our God-created and God-given senses should be loved and trusted more than our Creator and Giver God!

Augustine and Gregory alike also see the man who has taken a wife as a symbol for the desires of the fleshly over and against the spiritual. Augustine summarizes all of the excuses of the invitees, saying “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

But, are not these the excuses that serve all men who decline to come to the Lord’s Banquet? The invited guests offered these excuses to justify their absence, to justify their refusal to come to the feast that the Lord had prepared for them. And, their excuses demonstrated their belief in their own self-sufficiency, that they had no need of handouts from the Lord. The owner of the farm viewed himself as the owner of his own life, dependent only upon himself and his own works and labor. The owner of the five yoke of oxen, likewise, has made himself the judge of what is real and what is true; but the reality is that man is slave to his senses, created by God, perceiving only what God has created them and allowed them to perceive. It is the Lord who is Truth, not what can be perceived by our God-created and given senses. The man who has married a wife and cannot come is one who is completely enslaved to fleshly desires and passions. For him, the sensations of the flesh have become all important and above the One who created the flesh and its sensations that He might be worshiped and glorified as the Lord and giver of all things.

And, the Master was angry with the invited guests and their excuses. He ordered his servant to bring in those people who were unable to provide for themselves, people like the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. These are set in contrast to the invited guests who made excuses. For, the truth is that the invited guests should have seen that all the material and worldly things that they valued and loved were gifts from God; they should have gone to the Master’s feast out of love, reverence, and thanksgiving. But they refused. For, they did not truly love the master. They believed that their fields, oxen, and marriage were the fruits of their own labors. They did not respect, love, or thank the master for his kindness, grace, and mercy. And, none of those invited, offering their own excuses and justifications, will taste of the Master’s banquet, but even today the invitation is extended to all those pilgrims on the highways and the byways of this world who will receive and not refuse the Lord’s gracious invitation.

For, God the Father’s Suffering Servant has called you by His Word to the Master’s Banquet where He is both Host and Meal. His invitation will not be rescinded, it can only be rejected. All is prepared for you, the finest of meats and the choicest of wines, that you may eat His flesh and drink His blood and live. There is no need to covet dominion, power, and control, for the Lord knows what you need and He willingly and lovingly gives you all things. Must you see and touch, taste, hear, and feel to believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. Nevertheless, the Lord graciously meets you where you are in Word, Bread, Wine, and Water that He might dwell in you, flesh, blood, and Spirit, and you in Him. Have you a spouse to love you and to give you physical comfort and security? They are a gift of God to you that you might have a glimpse of the love and comfort you will find in the Lord. And this feast, at which we recline this day and every Lord’s Day, is but a foretaste of the Feast that is to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. For, blessed is everyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Are You Done?

The following is an excellent post critiquing our contraceptive culture’s view on the purpose of marriage and children and provides a solid, Christian answer to that wrong-minded question “Are you done?”. The post was written by Rev. Ben Ball and was posted to the blog Lutherans and Procreation.

From what I understand mothers are asked this question all the time following the births of their children, sometimes even in the delivery room. Until today, I have never been asked.
This morning I went to my Doctor for a regular checkup. The Lord blessed us with our third child and first son in April, so the receptionist, nurse and doctor all greeted me with congratulations - very nice. Everyone in there knows I'm a pastor and I look like one too when I arrive, dressed in clericals and such - currently too hot for a cassock to wear 'round town.
As I was getting my blood drawn (lousy cholesterol) the nurse asked, "So, now that you have the boy are you done?"
I honestly did not know how to respond other than, "I certainly hope not. The Lord has given us these and I pray He gives us more." No reply to that.

The contraceptive mind must run like this. One has children to get what he wants. Now that I have a masculine child there be no need for anymore, right? I have the BOY, my hunting buddy, the guy to teach how to play baseball, football etc. MY little man, MY guy. There can only be so much attention and love (AND MONEY) to go around. Happy! Content! Finished! Desires Fulfilled! So, Done! Time for the snip snip appointment, or perhaps get my wifey to her doctor to get the tubes put in a knot or whatever other method the human mind has concocted to disrupt or destroy.

Note also the assumption that the Christian pastor must have the mentality of everyone else. He and his bride can only take so much - 2 girls, 1 boy, enough is enough. Done. But then why the question- "Are you done?"

I think it has to be the law written on the heart of all these people who ask. They know that they should not be saying, "I'm done." It has been put into their conscience by the Lord Himself to be fruitful and multiply. Let it be said once again, as with all posts of this nature, we are not dealing with the hard and difficult cases. And so that denial of Life must have company, not only with the spouse but with everyone else. If only we all say that we are DONE, than it will be OK. If only we all together reject the gifts that God Himself gives we will be OK. Safety in numbers; safety then in our choices. Choices that reject God's gift of the lives of human beings. Choices that say "No thanks God, I'm done with You giving me things that you call blessings. I am done with you creating life, people, human beings, children that you fearfully and wonderfully make through the means of the union of husband and wife. I'm done with your Son Jesus wishing the little children to come to Him. Done with Him putting His hands on them and blessing them at the font. I'm done with the very purpose of marriage itself, not by your choosing but by mine. No thank you God, I AM DONE."

I say no thanks to that. The Blessed Holy Trinity is the giver of Life, so let's let Him decide when we're done. No thanks to saying "no thanks" to the Father, (the Maker of Heaven and Earth) to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, (In him was life; and the life was the light of men) and to the Holy Spirit, (the Lord and Giver of Life). Let's let it be up to the Blessed Trinity whether we are done, or not. Or whether we'll be given sick children, or healthy children. Let's let Him decide whose going to be living and who is going to be born. Let's even let Him decide when we should die. Let's let Him decide when our parents should die. Let's even let Him decide when our children should die - long after we are dead, d.v. Let's let Him be God, and us be creatures. Let's believe that He really is the one who makes children, that they really are His, and He seems not to be done yet. As of this writing, the Father has not sent His Son to return on the clouds with all His Holy angels.

HT: Rev. B. T. Ball

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lutheran Mythbusting: Lutherans Avoid Others They Disagree With!

The Lutheran doctrine of church fellowship is frequently misunderstood, both those who are not Lutheran, and by Lutherans. Here are some clarifying remarks from one of the Missouri Synod’s presidents:

“To be sure, we should not hate and persecute those who adhere to a false faith. Nor should we avoid civil association with them. We should all the more in all things show them complete faithfulness, love, and friendliness. But God has not commanded us to maintain church fellowship with them. He has, in fact, strictly forbidden it. And we should certainly not think that all who belong to false-believing fellowships are stiff-necked enemies of the truth and children of perdition. We should certainly not forget that where the Word and Sacrament still essentially remain, where something of the sweet Gospel still resounds, there also children will be born to the Lord as the morning dew. Indeed, we can and should rejoice that we stand in the innermost and sweetest fellowship with all those who have saving faith in the heart, hidden before God, even though out of weakness they may be burdened by all sorts of error. But we cannot enter into church fellowship with such persons. Indeed, we do not know who they are, but the Lord knows those who are His. Where we establish public church fellowship, there must also be present public unity in the faith and Confession.” (pp. 511-12)

Schwan here strikes the right balance, doesn’t he, between broad Christian kindness and firm confessional faithfulness. Our insistence that church fellowship be based on agreement in doctrine–this is often caricatured as though we think that only Missouri Synod Lutherans will be in heaven! Schwan shows this is not the case.

One other brief and timely quote from Schwan, this one from his 1896 Synodical Address:

What is it to us, then, whether our Synod is large or small, honored or despised, in the eyes of the world? She will remain under God’s blessing as long as she honestly stands for God’s Word and honor. Nor do we wish for a longer existence than that. Therefore, we commend all this to God! (p. 554)

HT: McCain

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Homily for the First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)


Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6

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

Today we enter the Trinity / Pentecost season of the Church’s Year of Grace, otherwise known as “that long green season”. But there’s a reason for the color green, for, green symbolizes growth, and the Time of the Church is the time of the Church’s growth by the Holy Spirit sent on Pentecost. For it is the Holy Spirit that grows the Church, not men, no matter how pious or earnest, not evangelism programs, no matter how well intentioned, not ecclesial bureaucracies, no matter how much they might appeal to human pride and wisdom. And, providentially, for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this time of the church year coincides with the Gregorian calendar in terms of seasons so that we are in the middle of Spring approaching Summer and have finally progressed beyond the last killing frost. Now is the time of sowing seeds, of planting, watering, nourishing, fertilizing, weeding, of growing. There is work to be done while the daylight is long and the conditions are good, the work of spreading the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection of the life of the world. This time of the Church Year focuses and directs our attention upon, and teaches the Church anew, how the Holy Spirit accomplishes this work through the body of Christ, the Church. Now is the time in which the Church remembers and learns anew Who She Is and why She is, that She exists for the sake of the people Jesus died to save, that She exists for the life of the world. But, it is the Holy Spirit’s work, the sowing, planting, watering, nourishing, fertilizing, weeding, and growing, through the Church, while there is yet time. For, the harvest is coming, today, tomorrow, or the day after. Pray that when the Lord comes to reap His harvest, the Church may be found actively leavening the world with the Gospel Word and Holy Sacraments.

But, the Enemy tempts the Body of Christ to grow complacent, to become fat and lazy, lethargic, self-righteous. The Enemy lulls the Church to sleep saying, “Your Bridegroom is delayed. Perhaps He’s not coming at all. Take a little rest, you’ve been faithful in much, you’ve done well, you’ve earned it. After all, those people out there, they’ve had their chance to hear, but they’ve closed their ears and cursed you. You’re much better than them. Take some rest, you deserve it.” Or, the Enemy tempts the Body of Christ to take matters into Her own hands, believing that it is men who must grow the Church. And, so, men create program after program and build towering bureaucracies rivaling the Tower of Babel, treating the Church of Christ like a business, utilizing marketing and strategic planning aimed at selling a product to fickle and self-serving consumers. “If people aren’t filling the pews and the coffers, then we need to redesign, repackage, and remarket our product.” The questions become “What do consumers want? What do consumers like?” Rather than “What do sinners need?”

In the first case, the Church becomes self-serving and unconcerned with those outside Her walls. We become like the Rich Man in the parable, feasting sumptuously on the feast of God’s Love and forgiveness in Jesus, but greedily keeping it to ourselves, passing by and disparaging the Lazarus’s outside our doors. But, as the Apostle warns, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” Do not be deceived, every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire. The Time of the Church is a time to be reminded and instructed anew who the Church is and why the Church is. The Church is the Body of Christ consisting of all believers, and She exists on earth today to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and devil for the life of the world. This is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church, through you, in your divine vocations, to forgive sins, have mercy, show compassion, grace, and charity, to love your neighbor, your brother, with the love of God, in Christ Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And, this work starts when you leave this place, for, the Spirit goes with you, in you, and through you, that you might be a leavening agent, a light, in this world of sin, darkness, and death. What happens out there matters! We are not here to serve ourselves. You are not here for yourself alone.

In the second case, the Church, again, becomes self-serving, but, by being overly concerned with those outside Her walls. That is to say, the Church becomes an end in Herself; the most important thing becomes, not faithfulness to God’s Word, but the growing the institution. The bottom line, numbers, is the Gospel of such a church, and, the bottom line is to be increased by any means necessary. If the Name of Jesus is offensive, then it must be removed. If liturgical appointments, altars, pulpits, crosses, liturgy, hymns are offensive, then they must be removed. If the preaching of the Law is offensive, it must be removed. If Sacraments are seen to be tired traditions not relevant to today’s culture, they must be removed. Give the people want they want, no mind to what they need. Entertain them, make them feel good, give them the latest self-help advice, a practical do-it-yourself therapy, something positive and self-affirming. If you build it, they will come…, for a while, then it needs to be redesigned, repackaged, remarketed, “New & Improved”, “the Church 2.1”.

This is a powerful temptation today. We look at the empty seats and we wonder “Where is everyone? Are we doing something wrong?” Add to this concern the financial concerns of the Church and we are tempted to alter our message or change our ceremony, or develop some new program, marketing approach, or whatever, to make people come to church. We become like Abram who, in his old age, despaired that he had no son, no heir, that his line would end with him. “What was it all for?” he thought. Even though God promised Abram that he would have a son, an heir of his own flesh, and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, he took matters into his own hands and went into his wife’s maidservant Hagar, and she conceived and bore him a son, Ishmael. The Lord made Ishmael into a great nation, but He did not give Ishmael his blessing and much wickedness and strife came from, and still comes from, the descendents of Ishmael. Church growth tactics, taken from the business schools, may produce growth in attendance and money in the coffer, but they are quite often at the expense of faithfulness to God’s Word and in contradiction to, and denial of, the workings of the Holy Spirit in and through the Bride of Christ, the Church.

For, the bottom line is this, the Church of Christ is the Church of Pentecost, born of the Holy Spirit, birthing Christians by the fiery Word of the Gospel and the watery womb of Holy Baptism, feeding, nourishing, forgiving, and strengthening those born again of water and Spirit with the flesh and blood of the incarnate Word of God Jesus Christ. By the workings of the Holy Spirit, over three thousand souls were added to the Church on the Day of Pentecost, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. And the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, in and through you, His Church, continues to add to the number day by day those who are being saved.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.