Sunday, August 28, 2011

Homily for The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)


Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12

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

It is a profound thing to consider that your Jesus, God in human flesh, the incarnate Word of creation…, it is a profound thing to consider that your Jesus wept. What sort of sorrows, what sort of pain, what sort of compassion could move our God to tears? What sort of sorrows, what sort of pain, and what sort of compassion move you to weep tears? These too your Jesus experienced and felt. And so, your Jesus wept.

Yet, the weepings of your God and Lord should cause you to pause and consider just what it means that God is moved to weep bitter and heavy tears. For, when you weep, do you not weep for your pain, for your hurt, for your loss as much as you weep for the pains, the hurts, and the losses of another? Is not your weeping often conjured up as a swelling of emotional pathos motivated by pitiable images of starving children and flood-ruined homes on the television or in a magazine? Is it not often but a general sorrow and grief at the loss of others in the knowledge that one day, sooner or later, you too will wither and die and be washed from the face of the earth as in a terrible flood?

I say this to you, not to belittle your pain and sorrow, your grief, your compassion, and tears, but to cause you to see that, though your sorrows, grief, compassion, and tears are very real, they are also, because of sin, mingled with self-concern, even selfishness, and, at times, even a dark pleasure at the sufferings of others. I say this to you so that in contrast you may see the purity, the sinlessness, the holiness, and the selflessness of the weepings, the sorrows, the grief, and the compassion of your Jesus.

For, when your Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus, there is no hint of weeping for His own loss or for His own imminent crucifixion and death, but there is only the purest, holiest grief and sorrow at the reality of death itself. Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death because death is the wage and the fruit of man’s sinful rebellion against God and His Holy will. Jesus weeps because death is not natural, like people are want to believe, but death is the most unnatural of things in the world. For, your God is the God of life, not of death. Death is the complete and utter opposite of your God. And your Jesus’ weeps at Lazarus’ death because this demonic, evil fruit of your sin has claimed another victim, because another precious soul is robbed of God-given life. The Greek word for the sort of compassion your Jesus has for mankind and for you is the torturous word splagchnizomai. Literally, splagchnizomai means a churning of the bowels, or, a gut-wrenching grief and sorrow. Indeed, the word even sounds like what it means. But, this is what it means for your Jesus to have compassion. And, this is what it means for your Jesus, your God, to weep.

Your Jesus, your God, felt this same splagchnizomai, this same gut-wrenching compassion, as He drew near to the City of Peace, Jerusalem. Ironically, the City of Peace, Jerusalem, the place where Melchizedek, the King of Salem, which means peace, whose name means King of Righteousness, visited Abraham and blessed him; the City of Peace, Jerusalem, where David and Solomon prayed and where Jeremiah prophesied; ironically, the City of Peace, Jerusalem, had, since its foundation, been anything but a city of peace. This is because men look for peace in the wrong places, in the wrong things, and in the wrong people. Thus, Jesus weeps saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” The things that make for peace with God are the repentance of sins and His merciful and gracious forgiveness. The things that make for peace are located in your Jesus who was rejected by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and crucified unto death. The religious leadership of the Jews taught the people to find peace in their alms and in their prayers and in their sacrifices, that is, in their works with the result that the people remained in their sins and could never know True Peace with God through the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ. Like Jeremiah prophesied, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Not only did the religious leadership of the Jews fail to shepherd the people under their care to the source of True Peace, but they directed them away from Jesus to their works which merited them only death.

Thus, they did not, indeed, they could not know the time of their visitation. The Word of God became flesh and tabernacled amongst His people in a gracious visitation of mercy and forgiveness, but He was rejected by the Jewish religious leadership and by many individuals as well who were blind to the things that make for peace. Because of their rejection of Him, Jesus can see the future fruits of their sinful rebellion when the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy every building, every person, and every child but forty years later.

Jesus came to Jerusalem, Jesus came in the form of a man, to show mercy and forgiveness to sinners and to reveal the judgment of the self-righteous. He came as Peace incarnate – real peace, peace with God – to all who would receive Him, but to those who rejected Him, He came as the sign of their self-chosen condemnation.

When He entered the temple, His Father’s House, He overturned the tables of the money changers and of those who trafficked in the things that cannot bring peace and He drove them out of the temple saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Those who teach and believe in justification by works rob God and they rob Jesus of glory and of what rightly belongs to God alone. We do not buy and sell forgiveness. And, if you believe that you merit God’s favor because of your works or if you believe that you have chosen or decided to follow Him, then you deceive yourself and worse, you rob your Jesus of the merit of His atoning death and the glory due His Name.

God has always visited each and every generation, seeking sinners and showering them with mercy, grace, and forgiveness but leaving the self-righteous in their chosen condemnation. And when time was full God sent His Son to redeem those under the Law that they might receive adoption as sons. Jesus is God’s gift of Peace. Do you understand the things that make for your peace? In Jesus, God has visited His people and redeemed them; He has established peace between God and man. Do you believe this? Or, do you look to yourself or to your works, to your prayers and your piety to be assured to your peace with your God? Is your heart a house of prayer or is it a den of thieves robbing your Jesus, your God of the glory due His Name?

God has visited His people in grace and mercy and forgiveness in your Jesus, but He will visit again in judgment at a time no man will know. But, if you know the things that make for peace with God, if you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, then you are judged already – Not guilty! Acquitted! Free to live! Likewise, those who insist that their peace with God is connected to their works and their merit, they stand condemned already. They will be exposed for what they are on the Last Day.

God has visited His people in grace and mercy and forgiveness in your Jesus. And, your Jesus is present with His gracious visitation now to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, and to give you His eternal life. For, the Church is the New Jerusalem, the new Israel, the City of Peace, peace with God. May the Church ever be a house of prayer and not a den of thieves. And may the Church always glorify God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homily for The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)


Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34

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

Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Manager is scandalous to Christians and unbelievers alike. How are we to understand Jesus’ commendation of the manager in the parable for his shrewd and dishonest management of his master’s goods? Unbelievers cry “Contradiction! The Bible is fallible!” while Christians shrug their shoulders in embarrassment. But this only goes to show you that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still as radical today as it was two thousand years ago and that we are as thoroughly enmeshed in worldly wisdom and values as were those who first heard this parable with their own ears.

Like Jesus’ hearers two thousand years ago, we too are offended by the manager’s wasting of his master’s possessions. This is because we believe strongly in individual, personal worldly and material possessions – “What’s mine is mine. I earned it. I bought it. It’s mine.” We are ready to condemn the manager and see him rot in prison or worse. Thus, we are doubly offended when Jesus has the master commend the dishonest manager in the end for his shrewdness in doing favors for his master’s debtors by slashing their debts by twenty and even fifty percent. How could Jesus commend such dishonest, wasteful, and unjust behavior?

But what does Jesus say? He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” What does this mean? Well, the dishonest manager was a man of the world; he had only his own self-interest in mind. We can relate to that. He had been wasteful with his master’s possessions to begin with, but once he realized that he was going to lose his management and his livelihood he shrewdly thought to use his master’s possessions to make friends for himself so that when he was unemployed they would remember and be kind to him. Now, while that may be the kind of survival instinct you might resort to when your back is against the wall and your life depends upon it, I imagine that most of you disapprove of the manager’s proposed solution to his problem. And yet, the master in Jesus’ parable commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

The key to understanding Jesus’ meaning in the parable is the distinction between “sons of this world” and “sons of light”. You were sons of this world, but now, through baptism and faith, you have been born again as sons of light. And, while the wicked sons of this fallen world will use any means necessary to secure their life and well-being, how much more should the forgiven sons of light use any means necessary to secure their eternal life and well-being? Too often the sons of this world show their desire and love for their life and possessions, perishable things, while the sons of light, Christians, chase after these same perishable things and neglect and risk losing the eternal dwellings and life that is already theirs by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Just as the dishonest manager made friends for himself by means of unrighteous wealth, so too Jesus exhorts you to make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth. The key distinction here, however, is the word means. For the sons of light, unrighteous material wealth and worldly possessions, even our lives in this world are but means to an end, they are not the end itself. The sons of this world consider these things to be an end, but for you sons of light they are only means. This is because you recognize that all your wealth and possessions, even your life, is not yours but is a gift to you from God your heavenly Father over which He has given you management, stewardship. Jesus states this plainly when He says, “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Moreover still, Jesus says that all those worldly and material things that we get so worked over and fret and worry about and risk all, even our salvation, to keep and protect are but little things, unrighteous wealth, and false riches. The shrewdness that you use to keep and protect your little things, your unrighteous wealth, and your false riches, use that same shrewdness with the things that are much, that are righteous, and that are true riches.

For, ultimately, that which you so love and put your trust in that you fear losing it, that has become your master. If little things, unrighteous wealth, and false riches are what you fear, love, and trust then they are your master and you are their servant. Look around. How many people do you see who daily serve such worldly, material, and perishing things? The hours, the days, the years, and the decades we serve and toil to earn, to buy, to possess little, perishable things that never truly belong to us at all and that only collect dust upon our shelves, that lose their luster and appeal and then are taken to the dump when we grow tired of them or when we die and our children see no value in that which we fretted and worried and worked and toiled and sweated to obtain. Who’s serving who? Are you being served by what you possess or is what you possess being served by you? Does what you possess possess you? Are your possessions your master?

“No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus says, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” We confess in the First Article “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.” And we also confess what this means:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

All that you have, your physical and material possessions, your family and children, even the food that you eat, the water that you drink, and the air that you breathe comes to you as the good and gracious gift of your loving Creator and God. These are His possessions over which He has given you management and stewardship to use for yourself and for your family, and to use for the benefit of others to the glory of God’s holy Name. You are not to waste God’s possessions. You are not to squander God’s possessions. And you are not to hoard God’s possessions in greed, lust, and gluttony. Neither are you to serve God’s possessions or worship them, but you are to manage them in such a way that God’s people are served and helped and God is glorified. Unrighteous wealth is not an end, but it is a means to be used to the glory of God. As the sons of the world are shrewd in using unrighteous wealth to make friends, so much more should you Christian sons of light make use of unrighteous wealth in service of your neighbor to the glory of God.

There is no contradiction in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus would have you be generous with that which is not yours, to be a dishonest manager according to the wisdom of the world. For, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and He graciously provides you with more than you need for yourself and your family physically, materially, and spiritually. The dishonest manager took a gamble that his master would honor the debts he reduced by twenty and fifty percent because he believed his master to be gracious and generous. How much more is your heavenly Father gracious and generous toward you, and through you, toward your neighbor, toward all the world? Through the gracious and generous gift of His Son He has given you all that you need to support your body and life: eternal food, eternal drink, eternal forgiveness, and an eternal home. You can never lose these, for they are secured for you as your treasure in heaven. You can never lose these gifts, but you can only reject them and walk away. For your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the ultimate dishonest manager, and He has not merely reduced your debt to His Father and Master but He has canceled and released your from it entirely. He now invites your to partake of His gifts freely and live, and He sends you as managers and stewards of His boundless grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness to shower these freely upon others to the glory of His Father. Scandalous? Yes! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Homily for The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 8)


Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29

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

If Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel lesson in today’s public square He would most certainly be accused of fear-mongering. For, Jesus warns you to watch out for false prophets and false teachers who, wouldn’t you know it, are going to look just like the true prophets and teachers. But, He says to you that you will know them by their fruits, that is, by what they teach and by what their teaching produces. However, is it not the case that what is bad for us often seems the most attractive to us? So, how are we to know the good from the bad? What exactly then would Jesus have us do, live in continual paranoia, trusting no man, but considering all suspect of deception and false teaching? Would He have us live our lives in constant fear?

Well, yes, if that is understood in the correct way. That is, Jesus would have you put your complete faith and trust in no man but rather in God alone. Also, Jesus would have you fear no thing and no one in this life or world but God alone. However, He would not have you live in paranoia and fear, for, indeed, that would be the fruit of unbelief and godlessness. But rather, believing that our God is not a God who is far off, but that He is near to us, and that He fills heaven and earth, we are to be discerning and cautious, but we are not to be without hope, despairing and afraid.

Jesus says that you will recognize a prophet by his fruits be they good or bad. The fruits of the prophet, in this case, are not so much works, or even outward piety and righteousness, but rather they are the prophet’s preaching and teaching. Does the prophet’s teaching accord with God’s Word or not, particularly about the person and the mission of Jesus Christ? Does the prophet preach and teach from the mouth of the LORD, or does he speak a vision of his own heart? The prophet is sent to preach and teach God’s Word; his preaching and teaching is his fruit. It is as impossible for a true prophet to preach and teach contrary to God’s Word as it is for a good tree to bear bad fruit, or a grapevine to bear something other than grapes, a fig tree to bear something other than figs. Likewise, it is as impossible for a false prophet to preach and teach God’s Word in its truth and purity as it is for a diseased tree to bear good fruit. Such does not and cannot happen, thus you will know them by their fruits.

Still, due to our own fallen and sinful flesh, it can be difficult to discern the false from the true, to discern good fruit from bad. This is especially true since a false prophet will intentionally try to deceive you by appearing, in all external ways, to be a true prophet of God. False prophets, says Jesus, will come to you as wolves in sheepskins so that they appear to be a part of the sheepfold, the flock. Thus, the sheep are not alarmed by the presence of the false prophet and they are lead into a false sense of security, safety, and comfort. This is precisely what a false prophet desires, that you, the sheep, are comfortable and happy in your present sinful condition. For example, a false prophet will preach and teach that sexual relations outside of the marriage of a man and a woman is not sinful. And, in turn, instead of calling sinners to repentance, the false prophet blesses their sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. Likewise, a false prophet will preach and teach that it is not sinful to terminate an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy and, instead of calling sinners to repentance, they bless murder and the destruction of God-created life. This is to say that a false prophet will preach and teach in such a way that you remain comfortable and at peace with your sin, when the truth is that unrepentant sinners are under God’s judgment and wrath. As the true prophet of the LORD Jeremiah puts it, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” and they say “‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”

Fearmongering and paranoia? No. An exhortation to watchfulness? Yes. How can you tell the true prophet from the false? You will recognize them by their fruits. The fruits of the true prophet are not outward righteousness or success, but faithfulness in proclaiming the Word of the LORD. For, there is no other measure of a prophet than the Word of the LORD. You are not to consider his appearance, his personality, his age, or even his own piety and righteousness, but you are to consider only this: What are his fruits? Is he faithful in his proclamation of the Word of the LORD.

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth,” thus sings the Psalmist. That is to say, hear the Word of the LORD always. Whether it be a Word of Law or a Word of Gospel, hear the Word of the LORD. Whether it strike you to the heart and call you to repentance or shower you in gracious comfort, peace, and forgiveness, hear the Word of the LORD. Whether it be a Word that unsettles you and calls you to change your lifestyle or a Word that confirms you in the path that you are traveling, hear the Word of the LORD. And whether it be a Word that calls you back to the flock or a Word that shepherds you on your way, hear the Word of the LORD.

And the Word of the LORD is very near you; it is in your mouth and it is in your heart. And the Word of the LORD made flesh, Jesus Christ, is present with His Word and with His Wounds to forgive, renew, strengthen, and keep you in the one true faith unto life everlasting to the glory of the Holy Triune God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Homily for The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)


Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

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

Part of the curse that Adam brought upon himself, his children, and the entire world when he rebelled against God and sinned was that the earth would no longer provide sustenance freely and naturally apart from man’s burdensome labor and toil. Where, in the beginning, “the LORD God made to spring up out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,” after the fall, the ground was cursed in Adam’s sin so that it produced thorns and thistles so that, in pain, toil, and sweat, man was forced to till the ground and to strive against nature in order to eat his daily bread. And yet, despite all his toil, labor, pain, and sweat, the bread that man produces cannot give true and lasting life, but, like the widow at Zarephath and her son, a man can only expect to work hard, eat his daily bread, and then die. It’s like the old coal mining folk song says: You load sixteen tons, what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go; I owe my soul to the company store. For all our striving, for all our toil, for all our pain, sweat, and labor, what do we get? We get what we deserve. We get what we have earned. We live another day, we get older, and we die. For, the wages of sin, what we earn, what we merit for our sin, is death, and man cannot and does not live by bread alone.

Four thousand years later, our Lord Jesus came to break Adam’s curse. He was born in Bethlehem, which means the house of bread, David’s town of Messianic promise. He came as our Bread King to graciously provide men with bread that leads to life, true and lasting life, bread which a man may eat and truly live. For, Jesus is the bread made not by human hands which sustained the children of Israel forty years in the wilderness of sin. And, Jesus is the widow’s meal and oil that was never depleted. And, Jesus is the bread that satisfies countless multitudes, four thousand today, five thousand tomorrow, with grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that they did not deserve, or earn, or merit, because He has compassion upon humanity and sacrificially laid down His life for men. And Jesus is the pure and holy Passover Bread having not the leaven of sin. He is food for the journey, our exodus out of this world and life of sin into true and eternal life in His sacrificial death and resurrection.

For Jesus bore our sixteen tons of sin upon the cross. Throughout His life and ministry He sowed His seed everywhere He could, regardless of the condition of men’s hearts, and He sent His disciples and apostles to do the same to the ends of the earth that, when He returns for the harvest, the barns of heaven might be filled with precious wheat.

In the miracle of the Feeding of the 4,000, and then again in the Feeding of the 5,000, Jesus provides a sign that He is the undoing of Adam’s curse. In Jesus, men will eat and live without toil, pain, and death. In Jesus, men will eat bread and live. In Jesus, the wilderness is again a garden and He is the very Tree of Life. No one who comes to Him will be turned away. All who eat the bread of His flesh will live. No one who dies in Him will die eternally, but he will be raised in a resurrection like His to eternal life.

In these days there are great crowds of people, surrounded by food, who have nothing to eat and are literally starving to death. Our cupboards and refrigerators are filled with plenty, and yet we are starving for the things our bodies truly need. This is true physically and biologically, and even more this is true spiritually. In this great and prosperous nation where the individual is god and individual choice is the altar at which this god is worshipped, we labor and toil and purchase the things that we falsely believe give us life, prosperity, and happiness. But, in the end we still die. Indeed, we die a little more each and every day. With each and every potato chip and pizza slice we consume we draw a little closer to death. Though we are fat and obese, though our homes are filled with luxuries and material goods, we are dying, we are literally starving to death.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they had been with Him for three days and they had nothing to eat. The people were like children who grumble and complain when vegetables and nutritious foods are served to them that they have nothing to eat. They had been eating all the wrong things and searching for all the wrong things to eat even while they had the life-giving Bread from Heaven in their midst. Perhaps you are not so unlike the children of Israel, searching for food and life in all the wrong places, when right here, in your very midst is the Bread of Life, Jesus, the Holy One of Israel. He has had compassion for you and He has allowed His precious body to be broken that you may eat of His flesh and drink of His blood and be satisfied and live. More than that, He will provide for you in superabundance that there will always be more than you need so that others may eat and live too. For, the life you live in Him is His life. It is a free gift to you like the fruit of Eden for which you do not labor, toil, and sweat and by which you will not die but will live eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I know that your flesh desires the things that lead to death. That is because it was conceived and born in sin and death and it wants nothing to do with true and eternal life. Your own flesh lies to you and deceives you so that you desire and pursue things that are bad for you and that serve only you and your selfish, fleshly desires. But you have been born again in Holy Baptism. You live a new life in Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the watery womb of the Church. And you are not alone, you are no longer an individual, but you are part of a new family, the one body of Christ, His Holy Bride, the Church. There is no place for individualism and selfishness in the body of Christ – such a cell in the body would be a cancer – but the thought, love, and compassion of each member is for the other members, that is, for the body. In this way, the new life of Christ in the Church is like Holy Marriage as husband and wife die to themselves and live to Christ as one flesh.

In Holy Baptism you were called out into the wilderness, away from the fallen trappings of this world which bring only death, and there you drowned and died with Jesus. But there too you were raised with Jesus to new life and you were returned to the world to live in the world, but not of the world, to be a leaven of mercy, love, compassion, and righteousness to the world, but not to be leavened by the world. And Jesus feeds your new life in Him with the Living Bread of His Word and with the Word made flesh, His true and present body and blood.

Listen to the Prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” For Christ Jesus has miraculously turned the bread of death into the Bread of Life in this Holy Sacrament, and He gives you His very body and blood for your forgiveness. And, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and forevermore. In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.