Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)

Easter Chancel








Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27

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

Zechariah had prophesied that the LORD would strike His own Shepherd and scatter the sheep. Jesus had warned His disciples of precisely that after celebrating the Passover with them Thursday evening when He said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night.” And, though they all denied it vehemently, shortly thereafter, in the Garden of Gethsemane, came the betrayer, Judas, with a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, and they arrested Jesus, and, just as He had foretold, all the disciples left Him and fled.

Can you imagine the terror and the confusion of that night. The band of disciples had seen and heard many wonderful and miraculous things, and they really did believe Jesus to be the Messiah, even God’s own Son. However, they didn’t really understand what that all meant. When they listened to Jesus’ teaching, their faith and their understanding was increased, but, then the devil would come and twist the meaning of Jesus’ words in their hearts and minds, and tempt them to vie for power and glory, to covet material wealth and earthly prestige, and to grumble and to despair when things didn’t go the way they had imagined or hoped. So, the reality that Jesus was arrested, and that one of them had betrayed Him, wasn’t really something that they were prepared to handle. They were terrified for their own lives, and they, perhaps, began to think that maybe they were wrong about Jesus all along. After all, they had their families, their occupations and livelihoods, their homes, and their positions in the religious and civic communities that they had given up. What were we thinking? The man that they thought was God’s Messiah had been arrested, and, whatever was going to happen, it surely wasn’t going to be good. They were terrified, and so they ran.

The LORD struck His own Shepherd and He scattered the sheep. It was the LORD’s will to crush Him. Who’d you think was responsible, the devil? Impossible! The devil has no power over God, nor over the Son of God in human flesh, Jesus. The devil only has power over you. Long ago, he came knockin’ on the door of your heart, and you let him in! And, before you knew it, he’d rearranged the furniture, painted the walls, and hanged up new curtains so that everything you thought, everything you spoke, and everything you did bore his imprimatur. He corrupted your will, he corrupted your passions, and he corrupted your desires and then he used them against you. He used you against others. He said that you would not surely die. But, he lied. You die. You die because you rejected Life and chose death. God is the only LORD of Life; any other god brings only death.

It was because of death that the LORD of Life had to die. It was necessary. It was the only way to raise you from death to life again. So, the Father sent His Son in the form of a man, in human flesh, born of the Virgin, without sin, so that God could die and you could live. However, so corrupted by sin and death we were that we could not see it; we could not understand it or receive it. Jesus had taught His disciples about His death and resurrection several times, and they, who so boldly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, rebuked their Lord when He said such things. But Jesus knew who was behind their words and deeds. What did Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” So, when it became apparent that Jesus was going to die, they acted out in violence at first, Peter cut off some poor man’s ear, and then they all ran away in fear and left Jesus alone. Jesus had prayed in Gethsemane that there might be some other way, but there was no other way possible, and so He submitted to His Father’s will, and He submitted to arrest, trial, scourging, mockery, crucifixion, and death, because it was necessary, it was necessary to raise you from the dead.

When Jesus died Friday afternoon, there were only a few of his disciples present, most of whom were women, including His mother Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the wife of Zebedee. There was also a centurion present and some others gentiles keeping watch. And then there was John, the only Apostle recorded to be present. All the others had fled in fear. Perhaps this meager band of faithful women and gentiles, along with the young Apostle John, represented the firstfruits of what Jesus had prophesied, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Regardless, the faithful few were sorely grieved and wracked with sorrow, confusion, and fear and doubt. After all the horrors of the day, it was now approaching sundown and the Sabbath was soon to begin. So, they hastily took Jesus’ body and laid Him in the tomb, and then they departed to their homes where they observed the Sabbath in bitter tears.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” They came to finish their work of Friday evening, preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Once again, despite Jesus’ teaching about His suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, the women believed Jesus to be dead, yet another casualty of that lying serpent Satan. They expected to find His body there in the tomb, just as it had been laid there Friday evening.

In some ways, they were not so unlike the Prodigal Son as he was returning home, prepared for and expecting the worst. “Who will roll away the stone for us? It’s impossible, they thought.” But, before the Prodigal Son even caught site of his home, he saw His father running towards him with his arms open wide. And, before he could recite his carefully prepared speech and offer his labor as a servant, his father had restored him fully as a son and an heir and showered his love upon him. So too, the fearful and anxious women found that their fears and anxiety were without warrant as the stone had already been rolled away. And, an angel, a messenger of God was there, and he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go; tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In somewhat stark contrast to the struggling faith of the women at the tomb and of Jesus’ disciples and Apostles, we also heard this morning of the bold and confident faith of a man named Job. God permitted Satan to afflict Job – and, again, we must remember that Satan has no power at all that God does not permit him to have – and so Satan took from Job his children, his wealth, his home, and, finally, he afflicted his body just short of killing him. Yet, even in the midst of all his suffering, Job proclaimed his faith in the resurrection of His Redeemer, God’s promised Messiah, and he proclaimed his own bodily resurrection saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” And, with all that being said, add to it that Job lived as much as two thousand years before Jesus’ birth! Stripped of everything that men are tempted to put their fear, love, and trust in, Job was left with two options, curse God and die, as his so-called friends and even his wife tempted him to do, or cast all his fear, love, and trust upon the LORD and Giver of Life. Job’s confession of faith demonstrated where He put His trust.

Indeed, worldly fears, loves, and trusts keep us from placing our fear, love, and trust in the LORD of life, so that we return again and again to the bondage of sin and death. “Who will remove the stone?” Sin and unbelief is the stone that would keep us in our tombs. It is the leaven that St. Paul says that we must cleanse from our hearts, minds, hands, and lips, the leaven of malice, evil, and sin, for Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Even after seeing the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, and the angel who told them that Jesus had risen just as He had said He would, the women were astonished and filled with fear. They fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Indeed, as Father Abraham told the rich man who was in torment in hell, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” It is always the Word of the LORD to which we must listen. The angel didn’t simply pass along information to the women, he preached to them, and what he preached was Christ and Him crucified. That was what was important. Jesus died. He was laid here in this tomb. But He is not dead anymore, He is risen, just as He said. And that has changed everything! That same truth was what Job put his trust in so many centuries before, and that same truth is what we put our trust in today. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. There is no need to struggle and to strive for worldly power and glory, to covet material wealth and earthly prestige, and there is no need to fear the loss of these things, nor even death itself, the old and evil leaven. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. It is finished. The stone of sin has been removed. You are free to live resurrected lives in His love, grace, and mercy, sharing these with all as they have been richly and abundantly shared with you.

So let us keep the Feast of freedom gallantly; Let alleluias leap. Let love grow strong anew, and great, let truth stamp out the lie. Let all our deeds, unanimous, confess Him as our Lord who by the Spirit lives in us, the Father’s living Word.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Homily for Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)


John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14

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

This night the Church celebrates Her LORD’s merciful deliverance. For the LORD has delivered His people, the LORD has delivered His creation, from the bondage of sin, death, and corruption. Rejoice now, all you heavenly choirs of angels! Rejoice now, all creation! Sound forth, trumpet of salvation, and proclaim the triumph of our King! Benedicite, omnia opera – All you works of the LORD, bless the LORD!

O Creation, the LORD has called you out of nothingness to life and grace, bless the LORD! The LORD spoke His creative Word and you were created, bless the LORD! O Father, our Creator; O Son, the Father’s creative Word; O Spirit of Divine Love, Lord and giver of Life; all creation praises and glorifies You, Most Holy Trinity, now and forever.

O crown of the LORD’s creation whom the LORD so loved, despite your rebellion, that He did call you to repentance before sending the cleansing flood, saving righteous Noah and his sons, eight souls in all, bless the LORD. To whom the LORD promised He would provide an ark of salvation from his Seed through whom all the world would be saved from sin and death, bless the LORD. All God’s people, bless the LORD! Bless the LORD for His merciful deliverance!

O children of Israel, delivered from slavery and captivity in the prison house of Egypt, lead safely through the killing waters by cloud and fire, bless the LORD! You baptized of the LORD, delivered through death to life in Holy Baptism, bless the LORD! For this merciful washing we give you thanks and praise now and forevermore!

O once lifeless bones, now enlivened by the living Word and Spirit, bless the LORD! O bones, whom daily are raised from the death of sin by the Word and Spirit, bless the LORD! O resting bones who will be raised by the Word and Spirit at the trumpet call on the Last Day, bless the LORD! Praise be to the Father whose Words alone speak eternal life. Praise be to the Son, the word of God who defeated death by His innocent death. Praise be to the Spirit, the breath of God who is able even to bring life out death. Praise the Holy Trinity all you works of the LORD.

O chosen ones, chosen by God’s grace and divine election, not by your works or blood descent, but counted righteous by grace through faith in Christ, bless the LORD. O nations, grafted into the True Vine by the same grace, adopted sons and daughters and spiritual descendants of Abraham, bless the LORD.

O reluctant and hard-hearted Jonah, who, knowing God’s grace and mercy and the power of His Word, would not prophesy to the Ninevites but fled from the LORD; who, nevertheless, served the LORD’s will, being swallowed by the great fish, staying there three days in prayer, prefiguring our Lord’s three day sojourn in the heart of the earth; delivered out of the fish alive to proclaim the grace and mercy of the LORD, bless the LORD for His merciful deliverance.

O children of God, tried in the fiery furnace of temptation, bless the LORD, for He is present with you. He has suffered Satan’s worst for you and has overcome, now He gives you His strength that you might persevere. He has claimed you, named you, and sealed you as His own in Holy Baptism so that nothing can separate you from the Father’s love in Jesus His Son, bless the LORD.

This night the Church celebrates Her LORD’s merciful deliverance. For the LORD has delivered His people, the LORD has delivered His creation, from the bondage of sin, death, and corruption. Rejoice now, all you heavenly choirs of angels! Rejoice now, all creation! Sound forth, trumpet of salvation, and proclaim the triumph of our King! Benedicite, omnia opera – All you works of the LORD, bless the LORD!

Christ, the Word of God, has brought forth Creation out of nothing, bless the LORD.

Christ, the Ark of Salvation, has gathered us into His Body unto salvation, bless the LORD.

Christ, the New Moses, has lead His people out of bondage to sin and death into the Promised Land of heaven, bless the LORD.

Christ, the Word of God, has proclaimed life and has sent forth His Spirit of Life to enliven those dead in sin, bless the LORD.

Christ, the New Jonah, has spent three days in the heart of the earth and has been raised to proclaim victory over death and the grave, bless the LORD.

Christ, protector of the faithful, is our strength in temptation and our comfort in the face of danger and death, bless the LORD.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Homily for Good Friday


John 18:1 – 19:42; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

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

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani. These words our Lord Jesus uttered in His dying breath upon the cross. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? But, you must understand that, though these words are words of great distress and anguish, they are not words of hopelessness or despair. Upon the cross we see the full meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus is a human man; He is not a Superman. He eats and He drinks, He sleeps, He laughs and He weeps, He feels anger, compassion, and love. He knows temptation. He knows pain and anguish. And, upon the cross, He knows what it means to be completely cut off and forsaken by God the Father, as a man.

It was according to His human nature that Jesus experienced the distress and anguish of separation from the Father, a separation that was the result of sin, your sin, and my sin. You should take notice that nowhere in the narratives of Jesus’ Passion is there a suggestion that Jesus cried out in agony at His scourging, at His beating, or at His crucifixion, though He surely did. The scourging would have left the flesh of Jesus’ back, arms, and legs in bloody ribbons as leather straps with biting shards of bone and stone would have cut, ripped, and torn His flesh with vicious furrows. The repeated vesting and then removal of His robes and clothing, combined with the savage beatings and slappings with hands, fists, sticks, and clubs would have opened His wounds all the more, even as bits of His flesh were torn away. Additionally, the blows to His head would have driven the long, cruel thorns of His crown into His brow, His temples, and His skull. Then, as spikes were driven, not through the thin flesh of His hands, but through His wrists and feet, and the whole weight of his torn and wounded body hung from them upon the cross, He surely writhed and cried out in excruciating pain and anguish. And yet, this is not recorded in the accounts of His Passion. And so, this fact serves to draw our attention to the one cry of Jesus’ anguish that is recorded for us – My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

For Jesus, being forsaken by His Father was the greater anguish by far. As the Divine Only-Begotten Son of God the Father from eternity, there has never been a time that Jesus, according to His Divine Nature, did not know and experience His Father’s gracious presence. And, on the cross, that remained true; the forsakenness that Jesus experienced on the cross was not experienced according to His Divine Nature, but by His divinely assumed human nature. Thus, again, it was as a human man, as human as you and I, that Jesus experienced the distress and the anguish of being truly forsaken by His Father.

This is important for you to know and to remember, for, what Jesus suffered was not for His own guilt and sin, but it was for yours and for mine. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. Further, what Jesus experienced was much less the wrath of God the Father against sin than it was the separation from God that is the result of sin. For, forsakenness is being cut off from the Father’s gracious presence; it is to experience what is the necessary wage of our sin, death, for, apart from God’s gracious presence, left on our own, we are truly dead.

But, this is why the Son of God became incarnate, and this is why Jesus was forsaken by His Father and died, that Godforsaken men, that Godforsaken you and Godforsaken me, would be restored to the Father’s gracious presence. All that Jesus experienced in His life, in His temptation, in His suffering, and in His last hours and death upon the cross He experienced and suffered as a human man, as your brother, as your substitute, for you. Now you need never experience the forsakenness of God, for Jesus, as a man, has removed the guilt of your sin forever. God the Father always looks upon you in grace, love, and mercy in and through and for the sake of His Son who submitted to death, even death upon the cross, that you might live.

And, as He suffered the distress and anguish of separation from His Father, Jesus continued to place His fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus did not despair, He was not without hope, but He prayed. He prayed the Psalms, the prayer book of the people of God. He prayed the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” and Psalm 31, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Popular Christian piety holds that Jesus silently recited all the lines of the Psalter that lie between these two verses as He hung upon the cross. Jesus always turned to the Word of God in time of need. According to the writer to the Hebrews, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His [fear of the LORD].”

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Jesus was alone with evil and darkness, yet His words were a prayer, not a cry of despair. He wasn’t accusing God. He wasn’t screaming out in disappointment because the help He had hoped for failed to appear. This isn’t a cry from someone who has lost faith. It is a prayer that pours out from faith like a spring. But, at the same time, Jesus lets us know that He was truly forsaken by God and that He tasted the utmost extreme consequences of our fall from God. He shows us that He is still doing this in obedience to God’s will and that He still has perfect faith in God. So this verse fits very well with the other words of Jesus from the cross. When He says, “It is finished,” He means precisely the work that His Father gave Him to do. He did this when He kept the Law that we beak on every point and when He tasted the consequences of all our neglect and wrongdoing down to the last drop. And when He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” He was also displaying the same obedience and faith. He was obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homily for Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday)


John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14

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

As we began this Holy Week on Palm Sunday, you heard again how your Lord comes to you, in humility, in lowliness, and in service. On this Holy Thursday, you will remember and commemorate and hear once again why He came. He came to you because you could not, and would not, come to Him. He came to you to wash you clean of your sins in His holy and precious blood. He came to restore you to His Father, and more than that, He came to have fellowship with you as a brother, to commune with you as His Bride, to become what you are, man, that you might become what He is, God, partakers of His Divine Nature.

He came as your Passover Lamb that you may eat of His flesh and live, that you may be marked by His blood and the Angel of Death pass over you. And so He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you.” He had always been the Bread of Life, for He is the Word of God incarnate, of which a man may eat and truly live. He sustained Israel in the desert. He satisfied the multitude in the wilderness. Now, He gives His incarnate Word-body-bread for you to eat that you may be sustained and satisfied and more, that He may dwell in you and you in Him, as one flesh, and truly live. You truly live because He is True Life.

In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The covenant is new because Jesus is the fulfillment of the old. Everything that God had promised to Adam (and to the devil!), to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to you, has been fulfilled in the incarnation of His only-begotten Son, His baptism, His passion, death, and resurrection. And so, the holy and precious blood of our Passover Lamb is given to you now to drink. Previously you were forbidden to drink blood, for the life of living things is in the blood. But now, that you may know whence True Life comes, you are given His blood to drink that you may have His Life and truly live. That His blood is given you to drink means that it is much more for you than a sign, it is a seal, it is your life itself. The Angel of Death does not only pass over you, but He has no claim on you whatsoever. Jesus freely gave His life unto death in your place so that His blood not only marks you as His own but it seals you in Him, in His death, in His resurrection, and in His life. The sign of this sealing for you is the water and the Word of Holy Baptism.

And so, He rose from supper and laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. Peter was offended by his Master’s servant posture, His lowliness and humility. We share this typical human sentiment. We are scandalized and offended by the seeming weak and lowly ways in which our LORD’s kingdom comes amongst us. How can water, word, bread and wine do such great things? How can a man forgive sins? And, because we do not understand, we justify ourselves, believing that we do not need such common and foolish things. We rebuke our Lord with Peter saying, “You shall never wash my feet.”

But Jesus answered Peter, with no hint of rebuke, but He simply spoke the Truth, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” It is with humility and lowliness that our Lord comes to us. If we refuse to receive Him in the ways in which He comes then we cannot receive Him at all. Then we will miss out sharing with Him, communing with Him, and we will miss out on all His blessings and benefits including the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

“Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” zealous Peter replied. This side of Peter, too, we can relate to. Dissatisfied with the humble and lowly means in which our Lord comes to us we want to supersize them and make them more glorious. And so, we add to them our own ideas and inventions, feigning piety, and, like the Pharisees, we make the LORD’s free gifts into requirements of the law.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean,” Jesus replied. You have been washed, and you are clean, and that is the Truth. You did not wash yourself; you had nothing that could remove the stain and the guilt of sin. The LORD has washed you in the blood of His Son, the True Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. This washing is yours by baptism and faith. In Christ, you are clean, and one who is clean need only wash his feet in repentance and be cleansed, renewed, forgiven, and restored.

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” Jesus asked. No, they did not. They could not, not until Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; and only then did they fully understand when they received the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In the washing of His disciples’ feet, Jesus had given them an example of how they should live. They were to be extensions of Him, members of His own body. They were to serve others as He had served them. They were to forgive others as He forgave them. And the service and the forgiveness that they would give to others would not be their own, but it would be Christ’s service and forgiveness working through them. Thus, by their humble and merciful service and forgiveness, people would see in them Jesus Christ, for they would see Love.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” It is a new commandment because the old one has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is a not a commandment of the Law, but it is a promise of the Gospel. Jesus gives the new commandment with the promise that His disciples will do as He has done to them. They will serve with His service. They will forgive with His forgiveness. They will love with His love. And the LORD will be glorified as men see in the words and the deeds of His disciples the love of God for all men in Jesus Christ.

And so, we gather this night in remembrance of Him that we might be washed and cleansed anew, forgiven and restored partakers of His Divine Nature, that we might be love as He is love. We do this in remembrance of Him, but this is not a mere memorial, but this is heaven on earth. The Lord said that He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until He would drink it anew with you in His Father’s kingdom. Our Lord, who is raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven is present for you now in this Holy Sacrament with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Our remembrance this evening, and every Lord’s Day, is where True forgiveness, life, and salvation are found that these may continually be manifest in us to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Homily for Lenten Vespers–Week of Judica (Lent 5)


Genesis 22:1-14

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

What kind of father would sacrifice his son to his God? What kind of God would demand such a sacrifice? With a cursory reading and hearing of this text, without the eyes and the ears of faith, these are the questions that you are left with. For, if you do not fear the LORD your God, then you will puff yourself up with pride and place your reason and your wisdom above God and His will and His Word. And, if you do not love the LORD your God, then you will think His will and His ways to be evil, not good. And, if you do not trust in the LORD your God, then you will consider Him an impersonal, capricious, and vindictive power that cares or thinks nothing of His creatures’ wellbeing. But, that is not the type of God that you have, nor is that the type of God that Abraham put his fear, love, and trust in.

God had promised Abraham that His descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and as countless as the grains of sand along the seashore. Even though Abraham and his wife Sara were quite aged and beyond childbearing years, Abraham believed God, and God counted his faith to him as righteousness. Without fear, love, and trust in God, in His goodness, His will, and His Word, we would expect Abraham to be outraged at God’s command to sacrifice his only son. But , we see that Abraham is not outraged, and that he obediently rose early the next day with his donkey, his servants, and his son, with the wood for the fire upon Isaac’s back, the fire, and the sacrificial knife in hand and headed out to place of which God had told him. Why would Abraham do this? What did he believe about this God who commanded such a thing? Abraham believed God’s promise and that He would, and that He could, keep it, no matter what.

However, there are few clues in the text that inform us of the quality of Abraham’s faith, and what He truly believed about His God. For instance, when Abraham came within sight of the sacrificial mount, He said to his two servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Despite the LORD’s command and his own intention to obey it, Abraham confessed his faith that God would yet keep his promise – Abraham’s only son Isaac would return, and he would be the heir of his own flesh through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Then, a while later, when his son inquired where the sacrificial lamb was for the burnt offering, in faith Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Here we see that Abraham even believed that the LORD would provide a substitute for a sacrifice, sparing his only son, or else that God would raise His son from the dead and keep His promise. Further, it even seems that young Isaac shared the faith of his father, submitting to be prepared and bound for sacrifice right up to the very moment the knife would be plunged into his flesh. What kind of father would sacrifice his son to his God? The kind of father who truly feared, loved, and trusted in his God above all things. What kind of God would demand such a sacrifice? The kind of God who is so jealous for His people, for their fear, love, and trust above all things, that He would provide of Himself what was required to restore sinful man to Himself. And so, the Angel of the Lord, who identified Himself as God, commanded Abraham to stay the knife and to spare his Son. And, when Abraham looked up, he beheld a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham took the ram that the LORD had provided and sacrificed it in the place of his son.

Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide,” and the Jews thereafter called it “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” Jerusalem was founded upon that mount and Solomon erected his temple there. If not in this exact location, then certainly nearby was Golgotha, the mount of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Indeed, on the mount of the LORD all has been provided for Abraham and Isaac, for you, and for all the world.

The ram caught in a thicket by its horns points us to the strong, but willing, sacrifice of the Lamb of God, God’s only Son whom He loves, Jesus Christ, upon the wood of the cross on Golgotha, the place of a skull. Where Abraham’s only son and all his descendants were spared, there the Son of God laid down His life unto death for the life of the world. The LORD has provided. The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. The world has been judged not guilty, vindicated. It is finished. For all which it is our duty to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for Palmarum (Palm Sunday)


Matthew 21:1-9; Matthew 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12

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

The last time you heard read the text of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem it was the First Sunday in Advent, last year. Then the text served to prepare you for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. Indeed, today’s hearing stands in stark contrast to that of November past. And yet, it is the same story, describing the same event, and even for the same purpose – to prepare you for the Parousia of Our Lord, His coming and real and abiding presence amongst us.

Following the rebellion of our First Parents, the Parousia, the real presence of the LORD, was a fearful thing: Adam and Eve hid themselves in fear from the presence of the LORD. Moses and Isaiah were afraid to look upon the presence of the LORD. Even in the New Testament, whenever an angel of the LORD appeared before men they were sore afraid. Such fear, even genuine terror, before the presence of the LORD, was a right and proper response from sinful men prior to the Parousia of the LORD in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, when Isaiah beheld the glory of the LORD in a vision he was right to confess, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Yet, it was always the LORD’s will that He would dwell with His people in communion and peace, not in a relationship of fear and distrust. So the LORD visited His people through various means which served to veil His presence that men might enter into His presence and live. Indeed, the entire sacrificial program of the Tabernacle and the Temple served in this capacity as the LORD covered over men’s sin for a time that they might abide in His presence. Yet, though rivers flowed with the blood of sacrificed bulls, goats, and lambs, the true communion of presence that the LORD willed for His people was only hinted at. But then, when time was full, the LORD sent forth His Son to enter into human flesh, to become a man, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The LORD came in His presence, His Parousia, not in might and power, that men would cower in terror and run away from His presence, but in lowliness and humility, even weakness, as a helpless and poor child, that men might be drawn to Him and receive Him as a gift. In Jesus, the Son and Word of God became flesh and made His Parousia, His real and abiding presence and dwelling, amongst men. He came to His own as one of His own, but His own people did not receive Him. But, to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Isaiah described the humility of the LORD’s Messiah in this way, “He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

It was in this way, humble and lowly, that Jesus entered the Holy City Jerusalem. He did not come in might and power on a war horse with soldiers to subdue and domineer over men, but He came in meekness and humility as a Servant King riding upon a donkey, a beast of burden, with His ragtag band of disciples. Though the people received Him at first, laying down their cloaks and palms, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” how quickly their shouts of joy and praise turned to shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” when it became apparent that He was not the kind of king they desired.

What corrupted and sin-twisted minds and hearts men have! We run and hide in terror from the holy presence of the LORD and we reject and crucify His Son when He visited us in His gracious Parousia. Ironically, the very power and might that men so fear, they also crave and desire for themselves. The people wanted a king and a savior that would fight for them against the Romans, a king that would come in warfare and terror against Israel’s enemies and would restore the glory and power and wealth and throne of King David. Men want a tyrant for a god and king, someone who will lay down the law for them to obey and who will enforce it with strength, even brutality. For then we can self-righteously claim that we do it, that we keep the law ourselves, or, if we fail, we can feel justified in disparaging such an unjust ruler.

But, your God knows this about you. He knows the double-mindedness of your hearts. He knows your lust for control and power and the admiration of others. He knows the murder in your hearts and how you view others as obstacles to your own success and pleasure. He knows your greed, your lust, and all your insatiable desires and passions. He knows how you care only for yourself and for your selfish wants and desires. He knows all this, yet He loves you; still, He loves you. And so, He comes to you, He brings His real and abiding presence to you, His Parousia, in lowliness and humility, and He lets you have your way with Him that, ultimately, He will have His way with you.

And so, Jesus rides into that mob-like crowd with their sin-warped hopes, desires, and expectations, humble and mounted on a donkey, in lowliness, to be crowned their King. He entered the Holy City Jerusalem, not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life for the world. His throne was not bedecked with gold and jewels, but of wood and nails. His royal crown was made of twisted, savage thorns, His robe a torn, muddied, and bloodied shroud. He was the Son of David, but He was also David’s Lord. He was sinless, but He was condemned and executed as a sinner. He was the Son of God the Father, but He died that we Barabbases, the sons and daughters of sinful human fathers, might live and be free. The LORD’s passion is for you; it has only and ever been for you. Behold, your King comes to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted upon donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

His is a real and abiding presence – His Parousia – then, now, and always. He is the LORD who is present, present for you, always for you, present to serve. Receive Him now as He comes to you, riding in lowliness and humility in bread and wine, that you may be forgiven, refreshed, strengthened, and restored. The LORD who has created you has also redeemed you, and He wills, not to be worshipped by you as an object, but to commune with you in a relationship of intimacy and unity such that His relationship with our First Parents was but a shadow.

As we together reflect upon His Passion this Holy Week, may we remember that it was in divine and holy love that the LORD has visited His people. He came to His own, who could not and would not come to Him, to restore them to Himself. Even though they rejected Him, mocked Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him, He came to them to lay down His life for them, to die for them, that they might live through Him, in Him, and with Him. In His dying Words He plead the Father’s forgiveness, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and through Jesus, they, and we, are forgiven. All this He gladly suffered.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Homily for Judica–The Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lent 5)


John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14

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

The Latin name of this Fifth Sunday in Lent, Judica, means to judge. It comes from the first words of Psalm 43, verse 1 which serves as the Antiphon to the Introit today, Judica me Deus, “Judge me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people.”

Now, typically, when you ask God to issue a judgment, you are looking for His judgment upon someone else, someone that you have already judged to be wrong, sinful, unholy, or unrighteous. But today, however, you are asking God’s judgment upon yourself. Now, it would surely be a reckless and a foolish thing to ask your Holy God for a judgment upon your sinful self, that is, unless you were confident that His judgment was going to be in your favor. Thanks be to God, because of Jesus Christ, God’s judgment is in your favor! Indeed, that is why modern English translations of Psalm 43 use the word vindicate in the place of judica, for God’s judgment of you is a judgment of vindication.

But, how can you be so confident that God has judged you righteous? You can be confident because it is finished. “It is finished” – those were God’s words spoken through His Word made flesh, His Son Jesus Christ, upon the cross as He gave up His Spirit and He died the death that you had earned as the wages of your sin. God made Him who knew to sin to be sin, to be your sin, to be the sin of the world, to be accursed for you and the world, and to die upon the cursed tree of the cross. Thus, in Jesus’ death, God judged you, God judged the world, to be innocent, righteous, not guilty, and vindicated.

Of course, it was King David who wrote the words “Vindicate me, O God” about one thousand years before Jesus’ death. How was it, then, that David could be so confident that God’s judgment of him would be in his favor so many years before the moment of God’s judgment in the death of Jesus? The answer to that question is the same as it was for Adam, for Noah, for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for Moses, and for all of the Old Testament saints: God had promised. God had promised Adam (and Satan!) that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. God had promised Noah that He would have mercy upon man despite his sins. And God had promised Abraham that through the offspring of his own flesh all nations of the world would be blessed.

Indeed, this is what Jesus was speaking of when He said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” But, when did Abraham see Jesus? And, what was Jesus’ “day” that Abraham saw? What Abraham saw was the mercy of God as his only son Isaac, the son of God’s promise, was spared and God provided a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute for Abraham’s only son. Of course, Abraham believed that the LORD would do something, even if he had no certain idea what that something might be, because Abraham believed the LORD’s promise – Abraham believed God, and God counted that to him as righteousness. When the Angel of the LORD commanded Abraham to stay his hand, and when he lifted up his eyes and gazed upon the ram caught in a thicket, Abraham beheld Jesus’ day, that is, the day of man’s vindication, as the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, caught in the thicket of man’s sin, willingly laid down His own life in place of ours. And, to be sure, Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day!

Jesus’ day is the day of God’s judgment on your behalf, the judgment of your vindication. It was a day promised by God upon man’s fall into sin and repeated and reconfirmed again and again through the patriarchs and the prophets. All the sacrificial blood of bulls and goats pointed to that day. Each and every Passover Lamb pointed to that day, the day that God would pass over man’s sin and spare him death by laying down His own life in death on the tree of the cross. Jesus’ day is a day of divine, sacrificial mercy and love for you and for all the world. God does not pronounce upon men the judgment of death that we deserve, but He gives us what we do not deserve – grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

The day of Jesus’ death was the day of life for all men. Jesus promised that anyone who keeps His Word will never see death, for He is God’s Word of promise in human flesh. His life is given to you as a free gift, there is nothing to do, it is finished. All that is necessary is that you keep His Word, that is, that you believe in His Word and trust His Word for your life and salvation and not yourself and your works. Keep what has been given to you, and you will live and never see death, that is God’s promise to you in Christ Jesus.

Judica Sunday is the beginning of Passiontide, the two weeks preceding Easter when the Church focuses intensely upon Jesus’ Passion, suffering, and death for the life of the world. In John’s Gospel, which is featured prominently during Passiontide, Jesus states plainly that it was for judgment that He came into the world, even as He also says that He did not come to judge the world but to save it. Both statements of our Lord are true and they do not contradict each other. Jesus did come into the world for judgment, namely that the world would be judged innocent, vindicated, in and through Him. Thus the judgment that Jesus came into the world for was upon Him in our stead and so the world has been saved.

Soon we will commemorate and remember that specific day of our vindication, Jesus’ day, a Friday that we universally declare Good. It was a day that Abraham saw and rejoiced in. It was a day that God made in which we still rejoice even today as we eat and drink the fruits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and share with Him in His victorious resurrection and life now and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Homily for Laetare – The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent 4)


John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

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

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Most of us can’t even imagine what that must be like, to not want, to lack no-thing, to be fully and completely satisfied, fulfilled and complete.

For, in our lives we want for much. We are a hungry people: hungry for food, hungry for meaning and purpose, hungry for love, hungry for justice, hungry for forgiveness. We spend our lives searching for these things, craving these things, and finding them, temporarily, but often in the wrong people, the wrong places, and the wrong things. Bruce Springsteen was right, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” but like Bono sings, we “still haven’t found what [we’re] looking for,” so, like Mick Jagger, we “can’t get no satisfaction.”

Jesus knows this about you. He has compassion for you. He says to you, “You shall not want.” He gives you all that you need and more for your body and your life now, and in the life to come. His grace is sufficient for you. However, in our lives, sufficiency is usually not want we want; we think that we need more than we have, and we want more than we need. But God’s grace in Jesus Christ is sufficient, and it is all and more than we need.

Jesus gives us daily bread. Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. God gives this daily bread to all people, even those who hate Him, but we pray that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. All this He lovingly provides us out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.

And we grumble. O, we of little faith, how we grumble. We look the gift horse in the mouth and we grumble that we do not have enough. We grumble that what we have is not what we want. So we labor and we struggle to earn our daily bread, believing that it is by our works and our striving that we are fed and clothed and sheltered and that these things are constitutes life. What poor and pitiable people we are; what a poor and pitiable Church we are. The truth is that we are poor, wretched, beggars. What meager offerings we present before the Lord: two fish and five loaves, not enough for a crumb apiece. On our own, by our own devices, we are hopeless and lost.

But we are not on our own. We have never been on our own. With thanksgiving, Jesus takes our meager provisions and provides satisfaction, what we need, and more. There is no need to gather or to hoard, to look upon others with jealousy, for with Jesus there is no need, no want. Jesus is our daily bread, our Bread of Life, our bread king. The one who comes to Him shall never hunger; the one who believes in Him shall never thirst. He provides for all your needs of body and soul, and His mercies are new each and every morning. That’s the first lesson for today.

There is a second lesson, it has to do with the leftovers, for the Bread of Life always gives more than we need. The lesson is this: give it away. Give it away! Even if you think that you don’t have enough, give it away. You deceive yourself. Give it away, even then. For in the giving you lighten your load that you might keep on receiving. “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." When the Israelites tried to hoard the manna it bred worms and stank. The widow’s oil and meal was never exhausted throughout the prophet’s stay. Use what is given to you, for you and your family, it is a gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and it is sufficient for you for today. Give the rest of it away, and do not worry about tomorrow, God will provide you tomorrow’s bread tomorrow.

And a third lesson is this: The Bread of Life is present now to satisfy your hunger and thirst with His body and blood. Each Lord’s Day He takes much less than five loaves and two small fish and He satisfies all His people with His immeasurable gifts of forgiveness, everlasting life and salvation. Take and eat, you shall not want. Take and drink, your cup runneth over.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.