Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Prayer and Blessing 2011

James Earl Jones reading the Gettysburg Address–Pawling, NY 05/30/11

This year’s Memorial Day Ceremony was special in that a new Memorial Monument Plaza was dedicated in addition to a new Civil War monument. James Earl Jones, a Pawling resident and veteran, read the Gettysburg Address as the new monument was revealed and dedicated. It was a moving and memorable moment. The prayer and blessing I offered was a revision of the one I prepared for last year but was unable to deliver due to some organizational confusion. It was a privilege and an honor to be able to deliver the prayer on this special day. The Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony is something that Pawling definitely gets right. It is the epitome of small town Americana and is profoundly reverent and moving and honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.


Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Gift of Your love poured out for us in the selfless sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. As we remember this day those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, we think of how they have followed in the footsteps of Your Son. We thank You for those men and women who have laid down their lives in loving, selfless, sacrifice for us, for our nation, for our freedom, for our families, and for our children. They are an image, a reflection, and an extension of Your love, grace, mercy, and compassion for all people.

A life given in love is never given in vain. Help us to honor their sacrifice by cherishing the freedoms they died to preserve. Help all citizens of this great nation to sacrifice themselves in humble service to their neighbors, recognizing that all we have comes from Your gracious hand, and that we are but stewards and managers of Your boundless providence.

Grant our nation humble and faithful leaders who bear the sword You give them for the good of those under their charge and make this nation, under God, a beacon light of charity, mercy, hope, and peace for the world, that those dwelling in the darkness of sin and death may know true Peace in the Light of Your love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Hold our service men and women in Your strong arms. Cover them with your sheltering grace and presence as they stand in the gap for our protection. We also remember the families of our troops, and ask for Your unique blessings to fill their homes, and Your peace, provision and strength to fill their lives. May the members of our armed forces be filled with courage to face each day, and may they trust in the Lord's mighty power to accomplish each task. Let our military brothers and sisters feel our love and support.

Finally, loving Father, bless this memorial, that all who gaze upon it and read the names inscribed here may know the love poured out for them in the sacrifices made by their brothers and sisters.

Redeeming Savior Jesus, bless this memorial that all who enjoy safety, comfort, peace, and freedom in this great nation may remember the blood shed to secure these gifts.

Sanctifying Spirit of God, bless this memorial, that your love, exemplified in those who have laid down their lives for us, would so abound in us, that all may know your love as they see it reflected in our love and service to our neighbor.

May the Peace of God that passes all understanding, that peace which the world can neither give nor take away, abide with us to bless us, this day, and even forever more.

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

Homily for Rogate–The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)


John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

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

In our lessons today, we begin to see more clearly why God the Father sent His only-begotten Son to be incarnated in human flesh as a man, and we begin to see more clearly why Jesus had to suffer, die and be buried, and then rise again on the third day. It was necessary. It was necessary to remove the barrier of sin that separated you from God. It was necessary to open heaven to you and to give you access to the Father.

And that is what you now have, access to God the Father through Jesus Christ. That means that you can go directly to God with your requests and concerns just as a child goes to her loving father. You have access to God the Father; you can enter His presence in boldness, without fear of punishment or reprisal, through Jesus. What was prohibited from you now is permissible; what was closed is now open to you through Jesus.

But, notice how I keep emphasizing through Jesus. You have this access to the Father that you now enjoy only in and through Jesus the Christ because of His incarnation, suffering, death and burial, and His resurrection on the third day. However, because of all that, you do have access. More than that, Jesus says that you are not a slave, but a son, and if a son then you are an heir of everything that belongs to God the Father through Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus says to you “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” He will give it to you because He loves you as His own son or daughter. He will give it to you because He has loved you in His Son. And, because He has given everything that belongs to Him to His Son, He will surely give you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name.

Now, to be sure, people ask for all sorts of things from God their Father, whether in Jesus’ Name or not, and the Father does not give them to them. Perhaps you have asked of God and have not received. But, for what have you asked? Is what you have asked for something that truly abides in Jesus’ Name? Is what you have asked for something that truly belongs to God the Father, that is, of God the Father? Have you asked for new Cadillacs or winning lottery tickets and not received them? Were you surprised? Did you begin to doubt God’s love? Or, did you begin to doubt the strength of your faith or the sincerity of your prayer? Foolishness! Pagan, idolatrous foolishness is what that is! New Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets are not of God but they are of the world; they are not in Jesus’ Name. The things of that are of God, the things that are the substance of Jesus’ Name are described by James in the Epistle Lesson, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world, that is, the Father’s selflessness and sacrifice, humility and mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness revealed in the life, words, and deeds of His Son, His Name, Jesus. Therefore, Jesus promises you that whatever you ask in His Name, the Father will give to you. Whatever you ask in accordance with who the Father is as revealed in His Son, His Name, Jesus, He will give to you.

So, what’s in a Name? Names are, or were, important, meaningful, and even powerful things. Adam was given the authority to name all the creatures God had made. By naming them, Adam exorcized authority over them and was given stewardship over them and over all creation. Abram and Sarai, Jacob, Cephas and Saul, and many others were given new names when they were called into a new relationship with God. Likewise, a name was given to a child at the time of his circumcision even as a name is given to a child still at Baptism because the child has entered into a new covenant relationship to God. And so, asking the Father in Jesus’ Name encompasses all of these Biblical understandings of name; it means to ask in faith and trust and in communion with Jesus who is the revelation of God’s Name and all that God wills, and is, and does.

The Latin name for this Sunday in the Church Year is Rogate, a name which means ask. As you might expect, it comes from the Latin translation of Jesus’ words in the Gospel Lesson, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Of course, the way you ask God for anything is by prayer, so Rogate Sunday is very much about prayer. It’s not so much about how to pray, but it is about what to pray for. You are to ask, you are to pray for, anything that is in Jesus’ Name with the promise that your heavenly Father will give it to you.

To ask for things that are not in accord with God’s Name is to take the LORD’s Name in vain. Jesus has taught you to pray “Hallowed be Thy Name.” We confess in the Small Catechism that “God’s Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.” “In our prayers we should ask for everything that tends to the glory of God and to our own and our neighbor’s welfare, both spiritual and bodily blessings. We should also praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done.”

God the Father has promised both to hear and to answer the prayers of His children through His Son Jesus Christ. This truth was demonstrated in our Old Testament Lesson when Moses prayed to God on behalf of the people bitten by poisonous serpents. God heard and answered Moses’ prayer and commanded Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” But, this was only a type, a shadow, of how God truly intended to answer Moses’ prayer. In the fullness of time God would send forth His Son and raise Him up on the tree of the cross in death that everyone who is bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan, when he sees it, shall live.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, heaven was opened to Him and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. The Father was well pleased with His Son and would give to Him whatever He asked. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, on the Day of Pentecost, from the heavens opened by Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon His Church. Now God’s children, baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, have access to the Father so that whatever they ask in Jesus’ Name, the Father will graciously give to them.

“Baptized into Your Name most holy, O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I claim a place, though weak and lowly, among Your saints, Your chosen host. Buried with Christ and dead to sin, Your Spirit now shall live within.” Those words we sang and confessed together in our opening hymn. Baptism into the God’s Name, the Name of the Holy Triune God revealed in the incarnation, life, words, and deeds, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of God’s Son Jesus the Christ, His Name, has given you access to your God and Father so that whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name He will surely give to you. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray as one who has been baptized. For it is in the water that He put His Name upon you, claiming you as His own, making you a son of God with access to the Father. By His incarnation and crucifixion, our Lord Jesus broke through the barrier of sin which separated us from God, opening a portal to the Father. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray with faith in Him as the one Mediator between God and men, who gave Himself a ransom for all. Like Moses in the wilderness, Jesus is our go-between and intercessor before the throne of heaven. He was lifted up for us on the cross that we might be saved and restored to fellowship with the Father. Looking into this perfect teaching of liberty we pray with boldness and confidence as dear children of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Homily for Cantate–The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)


John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

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

“This is for your own good.” Many of you likely heard those words some time ago when you were children. You likely heard those words as you were bent over your father’s knee just moments before his outstretched palm, or maybe his belt, found contact with your rear end. You likely heard those words because you had done something wrong and you were being disciplined, not punished. And, while I do not intend to make a judgment before you as to the appropriateness, the effectiveness, or the potential good or harm of spanking, I do intend to remind you that the discipline meted out was for your own good; for, true discipline is always an act of love, and it is always for your own good as you are turned away from behaviors that cause yourselves and others harm.

Discipline is teaching and correction according to a rule. The one who receives discipline is a disciple. And, it is good for the disciple to receive teaching and correction, to receive discipline, for that is how the disciple learns and grows and becomes conformed to the rule, conformed even to the teacher. However, teaching and correction can sometimes be an unpleasant and even painful process. For, behaviors, attitudes, and habits must be changed, and some must be discontinued altogether. All the while, new behaviors, attitudes, and habits must be learned, often requiring great diligence, hard work, and patience. Thus, the disciple is not so unlike a raw block of marble awaiting the sculptor’s hammer and chisel. While each blow of discipline causes the disciple discomfort and even suffering, gradually the image becomes clearer and after many blows and the shedding of much dross, the sculpture is finished, and the image born from the mind and heart and hands of its creator is complete. For, a disciple is the image of his teacher and he is a public witness to his master’s teaching. Thus, discipline continues even after the image has been realized; indeed, discipline is a new life and a new way of living. And, when the Master is Jesus the Christ, and you, dear Christians, are His disciples, your lives must be the image of His humility and selflessness, of His love, mercy, grace, charity, and forgiveness.

After eating the Passover meal with His disciples that Holy Thursday evening before His betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus taught His disciples at length about the mocking, suffering, and persecution at the hands of the world that they would experience because of Him as His disciples. Then Jesus taught them about His going away, first in death, and then in His ascension to the Father, and of His sending of the Holy Spirit. But, the disciples stopped listening at the part about their mocking, suffering, and persecution at the hands of the world. Even at that late hour, just hours before the fulfillment of the prophets’ and Jesus’ own teaching about His betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection on the third day, the disciples were still clinging to worldly, fleshly, and material possessions and the concerns, the passions, and the desires of the flesh. Thus, in a final teaching before His going away, Jesus taught His disciples saying that it was for their own good that He was going away. For, “If I do not go away,” Jesus taught them, “the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

The disciples needed the Helper, it was for their own good, and you and I need the Helper too, it is for our own good. However, the thing about a Helper is that you must be willing to admit that you need help and that you cannot help yourself. Fortunately, one of the things that the Helper does is convict the world concerning sin; that is, the Holy Spirit causes you to realize that you are a sinner and that you fall short of God’s glory, that you need help. This we confess about the Holy Spirit in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This also we confess with the Psalmist David singing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Apart from this work of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, you could never be turned in repentance and would remain in your sin, separated from your God.

But, the Helper does more than that. The Helper also convicts the world concerning Righteousness. The world and your flesh count righteousness according to works. The world’s righteousness is one of vengeance, and revenge, and of putting one’s self over another by hook or by crook. But the righteousness of God is revealed in Christ’s death for the sins of the world. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And, lastly, the Helper convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God declared the world righteous through Him. Therefore Satan is judged and condemned. The prince of this world has been cast out as a pretender by the coming of the true King. But, still, that great liar Satan continues to make and to keep his own disciples, teaching them to despair of forgiveness and righteousness, or to find righteousness in themselves and in their works. Thus, the Holy Spirit continues to convince the world of Satan’s judgment and condemnation that men might be turned from their works and their ways to faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus the Christ.

It is for your good that Jesus has ascended to the Father and is no longer bodily with you, for now He has sent to you the Helper, the Holy Spirit. It is for your good, for, though your sins have been atoned for and Jesus has conquered death and Satan for you in His victorious death and resurrection, these become yours only through faith. You must be turned from your sin in repentance. You must be turned from discipleship to the passions of your flesh, the world, and Satan. And, for this, you need help; more than that, you need the Helper, the Holy Spirit. For, it is only by the Holy Spirit through the Holy Word and the Holy Sacraments that your being turned in repentance is possible. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and the Truth is Jesus the Christ. The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to you; and all that belongs to the Father is given to Christ – all this is declared to you by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.” Sin is covered because of Jesus. Righteousness is ours because of Jesus. Judgment is not against us because of Jesus. He becomes sin. He gives us His righteousness. Our heavenly Father judges us worthy of everlasting life because of Jesus. The Helper, the Holy Spirit is a gift of your Father in heaven from whence every good and perfect gift comes. As James writes in the Epistle, Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” You are the LORD’s disciples, His children, called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept by the Helper, the Holy Spirit. As disciples you are disciplined, it is for your own good, that you may be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, ever being conformed in the image of your Master and Teacher Jesus the Christ.

And, “In the same way [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active in Christ’s Church, calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping, forgiving, creating, strengthening, and sustaining faith when and where He pleases in those who do not refuse Him.

It is for your good that Christ has gone away to the Father. But, as the way of Christ to the Father was through the cross, so also is the way of Jesus’ disciples through the crosses that He chooses for you. You will have sorrow and grief, says your Lord Jesus, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. Let us, then, have sorrow and grief for the proper things, the needful things. God the Father of lights has given you the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift of joy that no one will take from you. And, He has made you the firstfruits of His creatures, new creations. Let us, then, even in our little while of sorrow, sing to the lord a new song; let our souls praise the King of heaven, let us live boldly in the mystery of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let us join with the Holy Spirit as he glorifies our risen Lord Jesus Christ, both now and unto eternity!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homily for Jubilate–The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4)


John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31

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

You have to wait for a lot of things in this life. Throughout your working years, you have to wait as you faithfully make contributions to your 401k or to some other retirement plan, watching it slowly rise and, sometimes, watching it radically fall, all with the hope that it will, over time, increase to a sufficient amount to carry you through your retirement. And, when you were younger, it probably seemed like you were always waiting for the next milestone in life. When you were sixteen you could drive a car. When you were eighteen you finally graduated high school, you could vote for the first time, and you could be drafted into the military. When you were nineteen, or maybe twenty-one, you could legally enjoy a beer. And then, when you were twenty-five, well, perhaps you stopped counting. And, if you have young children or grand children, you know how hard it is for them to wait patiently for that promised bowl of ice cream, for their chance to use the computer or to watch TV, or for that trip to Disney World. To them, it seems like the promised reward will never come. It’s hard to wait patiently in hope and faith that what is promised will actually be delivered and fulfilled.

On the day before His death, Jesus comforted His disciples saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” He was referring to His death, which would cause His disciples great fear, pain, and suffering as they would witness their Lord’s betrayal and arrest, His unjust trial and conviction, His mocking and scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial. Jesus knew that His disciples did not fully understand or believe what He had been teaching them concerning His death and resurrection, so He comforted them, much the same way you might comfort a young child, by saying, “A little while….” “A little while…” is comforting because it suggests, it promises, that, after an unknown, but, nonetheless, determinate period of time, the disciples would see Jesus again. John tells us that they didn’t understand Jesus’ words “A little while…” and that they were confused, so Jesus gave them an analogy to help them out. Jesus compared the little while of weeping and lamenting and derision by the world that the disciples would face to a woman in the pangs of childbirth. Certainly, in the throes of labor, the pain and anguish can seem overwhelming and never ending. Yet, when the child is born, there is only joy and rejoicing so that she no longer remembers the anguish. Indeed, many mothers who cry out in labor “Never again!” after the delivery willingly, joyfully go through it again and again. Jesus used this analogy to comfort His disciples saying to them, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” As the Gospels proclaim, that Thursday evening, that dreadful Friday, and all that somber Sabbath, the disciples did weep and lament in fear, doubt, and confusion. But, on Sunday, the First Day of the Week, when Jesus appeared to them alive, resurrected in the flesh, still bearing the wounds of His crucifixion, they were glad when they saw the Lord.

Jesus walked and talked and ate and drank with His disciples and countless others for forty days after His resurrection from the dead, and then He ascended, in the flesh, to the right hand of His Father in Heaven from whence He came. His ascension, too, Jesus had in mind when He said “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Indeed, you and I stand with Jesus’ disciples and with all Christians since Jesus’ ascension in this little while of nearly two thousand years! And, to be sure, amongst the faithful, there is weeping and lamenting while the world around us rejoices, mocks our faith, derides our values, and calls evil good and good evil. But your Jesus assures you, just as He assured His disciples nearly two thousand years ago, that it is but a little while, and then you will see Him.

Now, you may be thinking that our Lord has a rather confused understanding of time and of the possible meanings of a little while. Well, I assure you that our Lord is not confused and neither is He ignorant of how time works, rather it is that He has a different perspective from which to view time and He would have you share this perspective with Him. St. Peter explains Jesus’ perspective in this way, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” That is to say that your God and your Lord have an eternal perspective that sees all things at all times at one time. This is why Jesus can say to you that in a little while you will see Him, because He sees this already as an accomplished fact! Indeed, God saw your salvation in His Son before He created the foundation of the world! How is this possible? God has an eternal perspective while you, if you use only human reason, limited by your perceptions and experiences, focused only upon fleshly and material things, have a temporal perspective. Dr. Luther helps us to understand this with the analogy of a great and tall tree. When the tree is standing and we observe it longitudinally, we cannot see the entire tree at once but only the bottom, or the middle, or the top; however, if the tree is fallen and lying transversely on the forest floor, then we can gaze upon its bottom, its middle, and its top all at the same time. In a similar way, God does not see time longitudinally [looking from one end to the far end]; He sees it transversely. This is part of what it means that your LORD is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End; He has created all things, He sustains all things, He has redeemed all things, and He fills all things. Now, that’s an eternal perspective!

However, that, for your God, one day is a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day, this is not some mathematical formula for you to use to calculate time and by which to predict events in the future as some are want to do. For example, a certain contemporary false teacher is proclaiming that you and I will not gather here in this place next Sunday, for, he claims, Jesus is going to return this coming Saturday, May 21, 2011 and all living believers will be raptured out of this world; Then, five months later, on October 21, 2011, this earth and world will be completely destroyed – all this, despite Jesus’ clear teaching, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

No, you are not given to know how long a little while might be – indeed, not even Jesus knows that! – nevertheless, there is great comfort in knowing that God the Father knows and that He, in fact, already sees Jesus’ return and your resurrection as an accomplished fact. And, when you adopt the eternal perspective of your LORD through faith, you will receive strength to persevere through all of life’s unpleasant little whiles knowing that, in a little while you will see Jesus in glory and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. The Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz wrote concerning this matter,

It’s human and understandable to feel that times of difficulty and suffering last a long time. Time goes very slowly when we suffer. Yet the apostle Paul says that our affliction is momentary and weighs little. He can say this because he sees suffering in the big picture. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). That’s the correct perspective. It shows us that it really is only a little while.

And yet, the apocalyptic false teachers who would attempt to calculate the date of the Lord’s return are certainly right about one thing; to quote Bishop Giertz once more, “It’s a common and disastrous mistake to think that Jesus’ return is a long time off and that we have plenty of time to fix all ‘that stuff about God’ later.” Since no man will know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return we must live each and every day as if it were that day. It is in this spirit that St. Paul writes both to warn and to encourage you to live as sojourners and exiles in this world, abstaining from passions of the flesh and worldly desires which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct honorable so that no one may have anything against you. Be submissive to human institutions of law and justice as to the Lord, for He utilizes these means to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. Live in the freedom of the Gospel, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Honor everyone. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be a good and honest employee to your boss, whether he is good and just or evil and unjust. The point to all this being, the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.

And, while suffering and sorrow may seem like more than you can bear, you can take comfort that everything that happens in this temporal life has an end, yet the LORD remains the same and His years have no end. Further, the LORD has given us a foretaste of eternity now in His blessed Word and Holy Sacraments which feed and nourish, comfort and strengthen the good work of faith that the LORD has begun in you and will preserve and keep it until He completes it in you at the Day of Jesus Christ. And to this Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in whom you live and move and have your being, be all glory now and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homily for Misericordias Domini – The Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)


John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16

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

Well, the FBI’s Most Wanted list is one man shorter this week. Public Enemy no. 1 is dead. Do you feel any safer? Do you feel any less fearful? Ironically, you may actually feel more fearful. After all, there is a certain comfort in knowing your enemy. Better the enemy you know than the enemy that you do not know, right? When you know your enemy, you feel that you know yourself – that is, your enemy is “them” while you belong to some group of people called “us”, “us” and “them”. It’s comforting to be “us”, isn’t it? Being “us” means that you know what you believe, you know what you value, you know that you are right, but most of all, being “us” means that you know that you’re not “them”. So, with Public Enemy no. 1 dead, with “them” being short one more man, why do you not feel any safer? Why do you not feel any less fearful? Ah, because, there’s always another enemy, and it is the nature of fear to keep you fearful.

I learned from a wise professor when I attended Doxology in 2009 that no man is my enemy. Let me repeat that for you – No human being is your enemy. I had to learn that, and still it’s hard for me to remember, and it’s even harder to believe! I suspect it will be hard for you too, and that you will have to learn this. But it’s true, no man is your enemy. And yet, you do have an enemy, an enemy that is common to all men, and you may be surprised to hear that your enemy is not Satan, the devil, though he is most assuredly against you, but the common enemy of all men is not Satan, but fear.

Satan is not your enemy, because Satan has been defeated in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. Likewise, for the same reasons, death is not your enemy, because death has been defeated. But, fear is your enemy because it is the fruit of unbelief. Neither Satan nor death can keep you from life in Jesus Christ, but fear can do that because fear keeps you from fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. If you truly believe that Satan is defeated, then why do you fear him? And, if you truly believe that death is defeated, then why do you fear death? And, if you truly believe Jesus when He promises you that, even though you die, you will live forever, then why do you put your fear, love, and trust in worldly and material things and in the health of your body and in the labor of your hands? And, why do you fear losing these things?

Do you not see how your fear of losing things keeps you in slavery? You fear losing your job. You fear losing your home. You fear losing your health. You fear losing the love of your spouse and your children. As a nation, we fear losing our possessions and our way of life. We say that we fear losing our freedom, but I wonder about that when we are so enslaved by fear of losing all the things we’re so afraid of losing! The time, energy, money, and resources that we spend on keeping and defending our possessions is immense and all consuming. It is like mighty shackles and chains that keep us from living in freedom and without fear.

But, why are you so afraid? What are you truly afraid of? Jesus Christ has conquered God’s enemy, Satan, so that in Him you have no enemy either in spirit or in flesh. Christ died to set you free, and He rose again from the dead as living proof that death and Satan have been defeated and you are free. But, Satan and men alike will use fear to cast you back in chains, to enslave you once again. They will lie to you and deceive you so that you begin to doubt that you are free in Christ, so that, setting your sights only upon this earthly life, you begin to fear once again losing earthly and material things. Indeed, fear is a powerful enemy that can motivate you to become selfish and unloving, angry, hateful, violent, and murderous. Fear can become for you an idol, a god, and fear is not a god that loves, or gives, or sets free, but fear is a god that takes, and binds, enslaves, and kills you and those you would and should love.

Jesus died to set you free from fear that you may worship the living God who is love, who gives of Himself, and who has set you free from sin, Satan, and death that you may live forever in Him. He has said to you repeatedly, “Do not fear”, and He has given you His Peace in His Son raised victorious from the grave. He lovingly and graciously gives you all that you need to support your body and life and more, for when you give to others of what He gives to you, He continues to give you even more. He doesn’t force you to give, He doesn’t force you to do anything – fear does that – but He invites you to give of what He has given you and He promises that in your giving you will also receive.

On the contrary, fear keeps you self-centered and curved in on yourself. Fear never gives but always takes. Fear separates you from others and it compels you to name them enemy. Fear compels you to name your brother your enemy, to judge him and condemn him, then to cut him off and to kill him. But, God is love, and love never does harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Love always gives, even to those who would harm you. Love always gives, therefore love is always free, not coerced or compelled. And, with the measure you give it will be measured back to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be poured into your lap.

Today is Misericordias Domini, which means the mercies of the Lord. But, this Sunday is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday and it is also Mother’s Day. The images of our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ and of our loving mothers serve as two perfect examples of the sacrificial love and mercy that you are called to in Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He does not flee in fear when the wolf comes, as do the hired hands, but instead He throws Himself into the jaws of the beast to protect His sheep. The Good Shepherd does not fear the wolf because He knows the Father and the Father knows Him, that is, because He fears, loves, and trust in God above all things. Though the wolf can hurt Him, and even kill Him, He does not fear, because neither wolf nor death is His enemy and the love of God is stronger than both wolf and death. The hired hands, on the other hand, forsake their callings and run from the wolf, leaving the sheep under their care to be killed. Because of fear, the hired hands are turned in on themselves and care nothing for the sheep. Such a powerful enemy is fear.

A mother, too, out of love, willingly bears suffering in her body as she conceives and bears a child, causing physical anguish, sometimes even to the point of death. A mother does this because she recognizes what has been given her by God in this privilege of being involved so personally and physically in God’s creation of life that she sacrifices herself for the love of God and for the love of life in bringing forth a child. Perhaps here, most clearly, we can see how fear, fear of losing material and worldly wealth, fear of losing comfort, health, and life, too often causes mothers and fathers to take rather than to give, to hate rather than to love, and to kill rather than to give life through the ungodly abomination that is abortion. Such a powerful enemy is fear.

Fear is the absolute opposite of love, and that is why fear is your greatest enemy. As your Pastor, I know that you are afraid, and your God knows that you are afraid. All around you, in the news media and in the images you see and in the words that you hear, these tell you that you should be afraid. There are people who want to take your money. There are people who want to harm your children. There are people that want to kill you. You are afraid of losing your jobs, your homes, your comfort, your health, your security in retirement. There are endless wars on countless fronts. There are terrorists and terrorism. There are tornados and earthquakes and tsunamis and the threat of nuclear disaster. There are cancers of all sorts and tainted food and drink and air. Our youth are in danger of drugs and alcohol and promiscuity. There are cyber-predators, cyber-bullies, and cyber-identity theft. And, church attendance and income is down while financial obligations are up, what will we do? We are so afraid!

In his first inaugural speech, after a time arguably much worse than now, speaking of the Great Depression and the prospect of turning the U.S. economy around, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This is most certainly true, that is, if your fear is in, or the result of, anything other than your God. For your God does indeed expect that you fear Him – that is, that you revere Him and trust in Him and love Him above everything else, above all that you have, above all that you need or want, above even your life and your death. But, your God who expects this fear of you also says to you, “Do not be afraid”, for He alone is the giver of life and of all things needful and not a solitary soul comes into this life or leaves it apart from His will and power. And, He has revealed Himself as the God who loves, even the God who is love, who has loved you so that He laid down His own life unto death that you would live with and in Him. So, apart from your God, there is absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth that you should fear or fear losing – absolutely nothing. And to live without fear, dear children in Christ, is to be truly free.

Blessed be the Father who has set us free from fear through the death and resurrection of His Son in the love of His Holy Spirit. And, to this Most Holy Trinity be true fear, love, and trust, and glory and praise both now and forevermore. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oui, vraiment, c’est incroyable!

Star Wars existentialism -- en Francais!

You won't be disappointed!

Homily for Quasimodo Geniti (The Second Sunday of Easter – Easter 2)


John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Ezekiel 37:1-14

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

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Now what? So what? What does the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead mean for your life today and tomorrow and until there are no more tomorrows? How then should you live? What should you do? Well, in some ways, nothing has changed, for, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. But, then, on the other hand, everything has changed, for the Word of God has become flesh, has suffered unto death, and has been raised from the dead in the flesh. So, while the Word of God has always been the life of men, no longer is death the end of man, neither in the flesh nor in the spirit.

And, you already share in the first fruits of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, for you have been baptized into His death and you have been raised in His resurrection. All that properly belongs to Him, righteousness, Sonship, eternal life, is given to you as a free gift of God’s grace through baptism and faith. Through baptism into Jesus’ death, your sinful nature and all your guilt has been crucified, died, and buried – it is finished! And, through baptism into Jesus’ resurrection, your new man has been raised with Christ to life to serve and to praise the LORD freely without compulsion of the Law. Yet, this is only the first fruits, for there will be the death and resurrection of your body in time to come. And, that is important to remember and to not discount. For, God created Adam as a flesh and spirit man. And, as the flesh alone is not a man, so the spirit alone is not a man. However, when Adam sinned, he introduced death into the world, resulting in that Adam, and all his descendents thereafter, would die in body and in spirit. Yet, while all men experience, in time, the death of the body, because of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the death of the spirit need not be experienced at all. Further, because of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the death of the body is not the end of the body, but your flesh and blood body will be raised when Christ returns on the Last Day.

Ezekiel was given a preview of the Last Day when the LORD lead the prophet by His Spirit to view the end result of Adam’s sinful rebellion, death, as his descendents laid dead in a valley of exceedingly dry bones. The LORD commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, to proclaim the Word of the LORD to the dead, dry bones. Ezekiel did so, and the bones came together, bone to bone, and sinews and flesh covered them, yet still there was not the breath of life in them. Then the LORD commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. Ezekiel did so, and the breath came into the flesh and blood bodies and they lived and stood on their feet, and exceedingly great army. Then the LORD commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the, now living, men yet again saying, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.” “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” Thus, in the same way in which the LORD’s creation of man was not complete until the LORD breathed His Spirit into the man’s nostrils and Adam became a living being, so too the LORD has promised both to raise your flesh and blood body and to revitalize you with His life-giving Spirit.

Indeed, in order to keep His promise, it was necessary that God become a man. In the Incarnation, the Word of God assumed the flesh of man from the virgin Mary and became the New Adam. Jesus, the Second Adam, bore not the corruption of sin common to all men generated of man’s seed, for He was conceived, not by a man, but by God. Thus, already, in the Incarnation, the flesh of man experienced redemption as the LORD assumed it and it was not destroyed, just as the burning bush that Moses beheld contained the Angel of the LORD in fire and yet was not consumed. So it was that Jesus’ obedience under the Law counted as man’s obedience. But, still, there was the matter of the death of the body to be dealt with, so the God-Man Jesus submitted to suffering, crucifixion, and death as His Father willed, as a man, the innocent for the guilty, and then God raised Him from the dead. Why did God raise Jesus from the dead? He raised Jesus from the dead because He was innocent. He raised Him from the dead because He was obedient. He raised Him from the dead because He laid down His life willingly in love for God and for you His neighbor. And, God raised Jesus from the dead as the first fruits of those who fall asleep; for, now, that is what death is like, sleep from which you will awaken, that you may believe and live now in freedom and love and forever in eternity. Jesus’ death was because of who you were, but Jesus’ resurrection is to demonstrate who you are! You are sons and daughters of God in Him and through Him, and what you will be has not yet appeared; But when He appears, you will be like Him, for you will see Him as He is.

So, Thomas wasn’t really so much of a doubter as he has come to be called, but what Thomas was looking for was the whole man Jesus. Show me the body! That’s what Thomas needed to see. Thomas was no Gnostic; He wasn’t going to be satisfied with a disembodied spirit for a Lord. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Unless I can see Jesus with my eyes, and touch Him with my hands; unless I behold Him in flesh and blood and spirit, I will not, I cannot believe. If Jesus’ body and spirit are not reunited and alive, then death is not undone, my faith is futile and I am still in my sin, I am dead. Now, surely you can relate to Thomas. I know I can! The motto of our skeptical and cynical age is “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The other disciples had the advantage of having Jesus appear before them and show them His wounds, and His presence amongst them brought them peace and joy. But, Thomas wasn’t there, He didn’t make it to church that first Sunday and He missed out on Jesus’ real presence! Of course it was difficult for him to believe, maybe even impossible. Thomas needed to see the body in order to believe that Jesus was raised, just as He had said. And, you need to see Jesus’ body too! You need to hear with your ears, see with your eyes, touch with your hands, and taste with your tongues, and so Jesus comes to you in His Divine Service, through His Word and through His Means of Grace to bring you His peace.

Thomas wasn’t there that first Sunday, but he was there the second, and, once again, Jesus came amongst His disciples with His real presence and He proclaimed peace. The peace that Jesus proclaimed was peace with God, that is, justification, restoration, and reconciliation with God. Jesus’ peace includes the forgiveness of sins, victory over death, and eternal life, now, and forever. Jesus gives His peace in His real presence amongst His people through His means of grace, the proclamation of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper. Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him, to handle His flesh and His wounds that He might believe saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And, Thomas did believe, and he confessed with his lips what he believed about Jesus in his heart, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus lovingly gave Thomas what He needed to believe; He gave Himself, His flesh and blood real presence to strengthen Thomas’ faith and to reassure and comfort His disciples. And, these Jesus still gives to you today that you may have His peace, peace that the world cannot give. But you receive so much more than even Thomas and Peter and the other Apostles and disciples, for, to you Jesus gives His resurrected and glorified flesh and blood to eat and to drink that He may live in you and you in Him in Holy Communion, even as He has given you His Spirit in Holy Baptism so that you were born again, a new life and a new man.

Quasimodo geniti – Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. The resurrection of Jesus is the power behind Holy Baptism. And, your baptism is the only death that will ever truly matter for you, for when you were baptized, you died; you died with Jesus and were buried. But, in your baptism you were also raised to new life, for you were baptized into Jesus’ resurrection, so that, in your baptism, you were truly born again to a new life that never ends. Thus, Easter is like unto your birthday, your new birth unto eternal life. Now what? So what? How then should you live? What should you do? Live as newborn infants, who long for the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word and Holy Sacraments, and by these, grow up into salvation just as you are nourished by food and drink and grow up to be a woman or a man – it is the natural thing that you were created to do.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Many interpret Jesus’ words to Thomas as a mild rebuke of his unbelief, and perhaps they are. However, we might also understand these words as encouragement for Thomas and the Apostles that, because of their eyewitness testimony, many others who did not have the blessing of seeing, hearing, and touching Jesus in the flesh and blood will, nonetheless, be blessed with faith. Further, after seeing, hearing, and touching His resurrected Lord in the flesh and blood, Thomas made a confession of faith that eclipsed even that of Peter who had confessed Jesus to be the Christ and Son of God; Thomas confessed upon seeing Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Then, John concludes the story by writing, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

There are three that testify to Jesus’ bodily resurrection and real presence: The Spirit of the Gospel, the Water of Holy Baptism, and the Blood of the Holy Supper. Jesus has given you these gifts of His real presence that you might see and hear and touch and taste and believe, and that believing, you may have life in His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.