Sunday, September 25, 2011

Homily for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)


Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23

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

There were ten lepers. All ten were healed. But, one leper returned to give thanks to God. Now, you, go and do likewise. Amen. Have you heard that sermon before? I know I have. I’ve probably even preached that sermon before. And, to be sure, there’s a bit of that teaching in the story of the ten lepers. However, if that is all that you take away from Jesus’ teaching today, then what you will have received is but a nice lesson in morality, a teaching in the Law that says to you, “You, go and do likewise,” a command that you do not and cannot keep, but you will have missed out on the rich and profound Gospel that Jesus would lavish upon you today. For, the story of the ten lepers is about thanksgiving only in a secondary, or even a tertiary, way. But what the story of the ten lepers is truly about is finding life in death.

For, the ten lepers in the story were dead. Because of the disease which ravaged their skin and made them unclean, they were dead to their families, they were dead to their friends and their community, they were dead to all manner of livelihood and providence, and they were dead to worship and prayer and making the necessary sacrifices at the temple. In fact, their flesh was literally dead and dying, for leprosy is a disease caused by an infection which deadens the skin to feeling, particularly pain. Thus, lepers would accidentally cut, tear, and puncture their flesh without knowing and the wounds would become infected. In some severe cases, lepers became living, stinking, decaying, corpses of men.

But, what should get your attention immediately in this story is Jesus’ response to the lepers’ cry for mercy. Jesus doesn’t acknowledge their leprosy, He doesn’t wave His hands or touch them or do anything physical at all, He doesn’t even give them His typical “I am willing, be healed,” but He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. Now, showing one’s self to the priests is what the law required after one had been healed from leprosy. A healed leper must show himself to the priests in order to be pronounced clean and thus restored to their families, communities, and the rites of the temple. But Jesus didn’t heal the lepers. Rather, He instructed them to go, in their leprosy and uncleanness, and present themselves to the priests. What must they have been thinking? What would happen when they appeared before the priests? Wouldn’t they be sent away in disgrace, maybe even arrested, or worse?

Nevertheless, away they went. What faith they must have had in Jesus to go, in their leprosy, to show themselves to the priests as He commanded? Yes, it appears that all ten lepers trusted in Jesus despite what their eyes and their ears told them. I posit to you, however, that these ten lepers could only place such faith in Jesus because they were effectively dead to this life and this world. That is to say, they had nothing to offer, they had nothing to boast of, they had nothing to fall back on, therefore they had nothing to lose. The ten lepers were so lost that they had nothing to lose by trusting in Jesus with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind. They were brothers in faith with both the Good Samaritan of last week’s Gospel and the man left half-dead in the ditch. Did they know that they would be healed on the way? I don’t think so. But, you see, it didn’t matter! They couldn’t be any worse off by trusting Jesus and obeying His command. What, would they become even more leprous, more cut off, more dead than they already were? No, of course not.

But, then the story takes a turn. As the ten lepers journeyed to show themselves to the priests, all ten were cleansed and healed. Then, one leper, when he realized that he has healed, returned to Jesus and fell at His feet giving thanks and praising God. Presumably the other nine continued on their way to show themselves to the priests and return to their lives and livelihoods. And therein lies the crux of the story. Jesus doesn’t raise the dead so that they can return to their old way of life, living to themselves and to the flesh and the world, but Jesus raises the dead to live a new life in Him. All ten lepers believed and trusted in Jesus. All ten lepers went at Jesus’ command to show themselves to the priests despite what their own eyes and ears told them. But when they discovered that they were healed and clean once again, nine of the cleansed lepers thought to themselves “Hallelujah! I’m free! Now I can get back to living once again!” But, the one leper realized that, despite his healing and being made clean, he was still a leper – a cleansed leper, to be sure – but a leper nonetheless. That is to say that his cleanness and his healing was because of, and dependent upon, Jesus, even still. Alone, he knew that he was nothing, that he was dead in his sin and uncleanness. But in Jesus alone, and still, was he clean and whole. And, because of this, the cleansed leper returned to Jesus and laid down his life before Him, thanking Him and praising God. He would not return to his former life, for, there was no former life to return to. Only by confessing his deadness could he receive and live a new life, Jesus’ life, in the world but not of the world.

You see, to understand the story of the ten lepers as a story about giving thanks is really to miss Jesus’ point altogether. As wonderful and precious to God as thanksgiving is, thanksgiving is but a fruit and a response to the even greater and more precious thing that has happened, which God Himself has worked, faith itself, bringing life out of death. The thankful leper returned to Jesus because he knew that he was alive, in every way that you can understand that word, in, through, and only because of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. Now, I’m fairly certain that the other nine lepers were very thankful for their healing and cleansing too. But the difference is that they thought that they had been raised from death to live a life like their old life, to continue to love all the same things they used to love and to desire all the same things they used to desire, to live as if this life were our own to do with as we please in amassing possessions and pleasures and platitudes and power. In contrast, the thankful leper knew that he shouldn’t be alive at all, thus the life he lived, he lived to Christ, and his death was, and is, and will be, only gain.

But, are you not often more like the nine healed lepers who did not return to give thanks than you are like the one leper who returned and fell at Jesus’ feet? Do you not treat your forgiveness as the beginning of a new life, a second chance to go forward and live a better life in this world much like the life you had before you believed? Do you give thanks for the mercy and forgiveness shown to you, for the life given you, or do you take that for granted? How have you lived differently from when you first believed? How have you lived differently from when you last received absolution?

Do these questions make you uncomfortable? Good! They should, for that is the Law of God reflecting how far you fall short of what the He in His Law demands. That is why you should focus much less on the giving thanks in this story and much more upon the deadness of the leper who returned. For, the leper who returned was truly grateful because he realized how dead, how truly lost he was, and he realized how found, healed, and alive he was made to be. Likewise you are found lost sheep, healed and cleansed lepers, and raised dead. That is to say that you always live in Christ as forgiven sinners and that you carry your failings, even after mercy and forgiveness, as glorious scars. Along with the thankful leper at Jesus’ feet you may see yourself whole: dead and risen, an outcast and accepted, a leper and cleansed.

Ten lepers received life that day two thousand years ago, but only one recognized that the life He received was Jesus’ life. Nine of the lepers understood their new life as a second chance to try do better. Only that one leper was willing to confess that he was still dead, still a leper and an outcast, but that, despite this, by grace alone, he was blessed to live a new life that was not his own, not merely a second chance to better himself, but a chance to live to Christ and in Christ, and through Christ to his neighbor.

The Samaritan leper returned to give thanks to Jesus and to praise God. This was not the first work of his new life but it was the first fruit of his death. Only those who are truly dead to themselves can bear the fruit that the True Vine Jesus causes them to bear. One of those Christ-borne fruits is thankfulness, but the first fruit to be borne in death is faith itself. You are carried to Jesus as helpless infants. You are found by Jesus as lost sheep. You are raised by Jesus out of death. And you are restored by Jesus to sonship with the Father even though you are prodigal sons and daughters. And, as St. Paul teaches, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires and have died to themselves, for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will save it.

For you to live is Christ and to die is gain, for, Christ and His Word are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. And, your Jesus, who is Himself alive out of death is present for you now in His life-giving Word and healing Wounds for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for your communion in His holy and perfect life. Return to your Great High Priest who has raised you from death to His most glorious life and has washed you clean in His precious blood. Give thanks to Him in this Holy Eucharist and live in Him who is life today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)


Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

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

The Gospel lesson assigned for this day is the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan. I imagine that about half of you will soon tune me out and begin thinking about today’s football game, where to have lunch, or what you need to pick up at the grocery store because you’ve heard this parable many times before and you believe that you understand it well enough. But I say to you, you’ll want to pay attention to this sermon today, for I venture that you haven’t heard it taught quite this way before.

As for the other half of you, I imagine that you will be listening extra attentively today because you love this parable and you receive a considerable amount of comfort in believing that you imitate the Good Samaritan in the parable pretty well and thus obey Jesus’ command to “Go, and do likewise”. But I say to you, you’ll want to pay attention to this sermon today, not because it will confirm you in your justification by works, but because it will teach you how to receive and to give grace.

For, this so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a parable of the Law and judgment, nor is it a lesson in morality concerning how you should treat others, but it is a parable of grace – free and boundless grace. And, contrary to popular opinion, the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan is not really about the Samaritan at all, but it is about the naked and beaten half-dead man lying in the ditch.

No, the parable is not about the Law, for the Law cannot help you. The Law must, and will always, leave you alone, naked, and dying in a ditch. The Law cannot help you. That is why the Priest and the Levite pass by on the other side of the road. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to help you, maybe they don’t, but they probably do. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because they represent the Law and they can’t help you. They can’t even help themselves.

And there’s the crux of the situation: Because of the Law, we are all like the poor fellow in the ditch, wounded, bleeding, dying, and utterly alone with no ability to remedy our situation. If we’re going to get out of the ditch, be bandaged up, healed and restored to life, someone’s going to have to help us, someone’s going to have to lift us up out of the ditch and carry us and care for us at their own expense. Thus, the crux of the situation is this: Do you confess that you are the man in the ditch? Do you confess that you are dead in your sins and trespasses, unable to change your dead and sinful condition? Do you depend and trust upon the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ to step into your sin and death and to raise you up to new life? Or, do you insist upon your self-righteousness and good works, believing that you are not dead in your trespasses, but that there is at least something about you that makes you better than others and more worthy in the sight of God? That is to say, do you identify with the good, pious, and self-righteous Priest and Levite? Or, do you identify with the selfless Good Samaritan? I say to you today, it doesn’t matter, either way you remain in your sins. For, the Law cannot help you. And, no works, no matter how good they may be, no matter how pure and selfless your motives may be, no works can save you from sin and death. No works can raise you from the ditch of the grave to new and eternal life. Only Jesus can do that. And Jesus has done that, not because He was the Good Samaritan and was better than most, but because He became what you are, the man in the ditch, and He died your death and God the Father raised Him to life because He loves Him, because He laid down His life for you.

Now, I recognize that this is a somewhat unorthodox treatment of the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan, but I make no apologies for that. For, despite what you’ve heard, despite what I’ve heard, Jesus is not teaching you in this parable to imitate the Good Samaritan when He says to you, “You go, and do likewise.” Rather, Jesus commands you to imitate Him and Him alone. Yes, Jesus did indeed act like the Good Samaritan many times throughout His life and ministry. Yes, He most certainly did step down into the ditch with unclean sinners with absolutely no concern for himself and lift them up, care for, and heal them. But Jesus never saved anyone by His selfless acts of kindness anymore than you can save anyone, even yourself, by imitating the Good Samaritan. Rather, Jesus saved the man in the ditch, and Jesus saved you and all men, by becoming what you are, by becoming that man who fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. And it is that kind of selflessness, it is that kind of good works that Jesus calls you to imitate and to go, and do likewise.

For, the way of Jesus is not the way of good, pious, or even gracious and merciful works, but the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection. Jesus came to save sinners, and only sinners can be saved. Jesus came to seek the lost, and only the lost can be found. And Jesus came to raise the dead, and only the dead can be raised. In fact, Jesus Himself exemplifies the least amongst men, the poorest amongst men, the weakest amongst men, the most pitiable amongst men, and the most unrighteous amongst men as men and the world count these things. He came from the heights of the heavenly Jerusalem into the ditch of our Jericho and there He fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and left him half dead upon the cross. But He did this willingly, He did this selflessly with no concern for Himself and His own well-being. He had everything to lose and He willingly lost it all for you.

Now, what keeps you from going and doing likewise? Is it not that you believe that you do have something to lose? Is it that you have your money to lose? Your health? Your reputation? Your life? What is it that you love more than you love God? What is it that you love more than love your neighbor? Jesus invites you to lose it. Jesus invites you to become a loser like Him. For, Jesus’ “You go, and do likewise” is not a command of the Law, but it is an invitation to receive grace like the naked, half-dead man lying in the ditch. When Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise,” it is tantamount to the call, “Take up your cross and follow me.” No, this is not a parable meant to inspire us to go out and do good and then feel good about ourselves because we have been good neighbors. This is a parable about entering the way of Christ.

In baptism you died with Jesus and in baptism you have been raised with Jesus. The life you now live is His life and you live it to God and to your neighbor. Jesus sends you out to your neighbor as lambs in the midst of wolves, that is, He sends you out to die to yourselves for the sake of your neighbor. He has not called you to good works. He has not called you to virtuous worship. He has not called you to outward piety. But He has called you to die with Him and to live with Him in selfless, sacrificial service.

As St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle, “promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.” One of those promises was that an heir of Abraham’s own flesh would inherit the blessing of the covenant God made with Abraham that in him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. Thus, Paul writes, the righteous will live by faith. When you confess that you are in the ditch, naked, helpless and half-dead, then you sinners will be forgiven, you lost will be found, and you dead will be raised. Only when you have lost everything are you in a position to receive everything by grace. Only when you have received everything by grace are you in a position to lose everything for your neighbor. The man in the ditch had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Good Samaritan had everything to give because he had nothing to lose. To embrace Jesus (the biggest loser) is to be lost to the world and to everything in it. But the promise remains that “He who loses his life will find it.” And, your lostness is the one thing no one will ever be able to take away from you.

Losing is the name of God’s game, and it’s the only game in town: follow Me, or follow nothing. Following Jesus does not mean imitating the Good Samaritan, but it means taking up your own cross and dying to yourself. It means being so lost that you have nothing to lose so that you can be truly merciful to your neighbor. Don’t worry about imitating the Good Samaritan and his works, as good as they are. Rather, spend your time and energy losing the things that keep you from being lost, dying to the things that keep you from being dead, and then join Jesus in His Passion for sinners, the lost, and the dead. For, the highest worship of God is not in your praises, thanksgivings, and works, but the highest worship of God is in receiving His gifts. Then, when you have died to yourself, repeatedly, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Homily for The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 12)


Mark 7:31-37; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Isaiah 29:17-24

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

Two little eyes to look to God; two little ears to hear His Word; two little feet to walk in His ways; two little lips to sing His praise; two little hands to do His will; and one little heart to love Him still.

Perhaps some of you have sung or read this little hymn to your children or perhaps you remember it from your own childhood. This hymn teaches us that God has given us our eyes, ears, feet, lips, hands, and heart that we might praise Him with our whole lives as a living sacrifice. But too often are our eyes focused, not upon God, but in greed and jealousy or lust upon what belongs to another. And too often our ears are tuned, not to God’s Word and His Will, but to the siren song of the world and its values and ideals. And too often our feet are upon a path that leads us away from God and His way. And too often do our lips utter lies and curses and blasphemy instead of singing God’s praise. And too often our hands are taking from or harming our neighbor instead of serving our neighbor and glorifying God. And, need I ask you about your heart? For, what does Jesus say about your heart? Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

In at least one way the deaf mute man in today’s Gospel lesson was better off us. At least his lips and tongue were not spouting off lies, curses, and blasphemy. However, not only could he not sing God’s praise, neither could he hear God’s Word. But, he was completely in silent bondage and he had to be brought to Jesus for healing. Apparently the deaf mute was born this way. Similarly, each of us is conceived and born in sin and is likewise unable hear the Word of God and to sing His praise until we are brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism and He speaks His “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened” upon us.

Ephphatha is the very Word of creation which is creatively powerful to bring into existence that which it speaks ex nihilo, out of nothing. Ephphatha is God’s “Let there be…, and there was.” Thus, when Jesus speaks “Ephphatha, be opened” to the deaf mute, He speaks His creative Word and He opens ears that have never heard and looses tongues that has never spoken, and the result is praise of the Lord of Creation, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst us, Jesus.

But you should note that, though Jesus’ Word was sufficient to open the ears and to loose the tongue of the deaf mute, Jesus graciously touches the man with His own flesh and blood hands and shows Him the Creator’s love. First He took the man aside in private, and then He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. These actions were for the deaf mute himself and not for the crowds. It was an act of tenderness and love to a man who could not hear the Word or speak a plea for help, let alone praise God. Then Jesus looked up to heaven, He sighed and said to him “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” For, the creative Word of God the Father in heaven alone produces ears that can hear and lips that can sing.

The healing of the deaf mute clearly demonstrates the divine monergism of God in justification, conversion, and faith, that is to say, these works are God’s work alone and they involve no cooperation from sinful men. Thus, it should not be surprising that the early church connected this Gospel account with the Sacrament of Holy Baptism since the deaf mute, unable to hear or to speak from birth, was completely passive in receiving Jesus’ gracious Word and sacramental action. Indeed, a part of the ancient baptismal rite is called the Ephphatha. That very word Ephphatha was spoken by the priest as he touched both the ears and the mouth of the baptismal candidate. It was only after the opening of the ears and the loosing of the tongue that the baptismal candidate was then asked to renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways and to confess his faith in the Apostle’s Creed.

A similar expression from Psalm 51 is utilized at the beginning of the Matins liturgy as we chant together, “O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth will show forth Thy praise.” Since Matins is the first office prayed upon waking in the morning, these first words uttered at the beginning of the day are a confession that, apart from the Lord’s merciful action, our lips cannot praise Him. Traditionally, Matins would be prayed daily, even before the Divine Service on Sunday mornings, so that, each and every day, God would be invoked to restore us to baptismal purity and grace so that we are able to sing His praise. Indeed, the idea of a daily return to our baptisms is what is behind Luther’s exhortation “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then Luther instructs us to repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and to pray the Morning Prayer. All of this is, in a sense, a return to our Holy Baptism and to God’s gracious forgiveness and life which He gave us in Holy Baptism however long ago.

When it comes to justification, being made right with God, and when it comes to your conversion and even faith itself, you are like the deaf mute in today’s Gospel, and you are like the newborn infant or even an older candidate in Holy Baptism, you are passive. Your justification, conversion, and faith is a new work of God’s ongoing re-creation by His powerful, life-bestowing Word. He creates life where there was only death. He opens ears that could not hear His Word. And He looses tongues to sing His praise. Or, as the children’s hymn puts it: Two little eyes to look to God; two little ears to hear His Word; two little feet to walk in His ways; two little lips to sing His praise; two little hands to do His will; and one little heart to love Him still.

The objectivity, the externality, the extra nos (outside of us) nature of our justification, conversion, and faith is not a hindrance to our faith, but it is the very source and reason for the confidence and comfort we enjoy. This is what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency, is from God.” This is why Job can confidently say “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and this is why St. Paul can boldly say “I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Why then do so many insist that they have chosen to believe, or have decided to follow Jesus, or have earned or merited God’s favor in at least some small way? Why? Because the flesh is sinful and corrupt and it conspires with the devil to keep you in sin and death. If you trust in yourself for justification, conversion, or faith, then you build your house on shifting sand. For, you are in continual flux emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. What you believed was right yesterday you know to be wrong today. What you felt two hours ago has changed and now you feel differently. You are ruled by your fickle and impulsive passions and desires and by your flesh which wants what it wants because it wants it, not because it is true, right, or good. Like Paul exclaimed, the good that you want to do, that you do not do; but the bad that you do not want to do, that is what you find yourself doing! That is what the flesh is like. It desires to keep on taking and eating from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to be like a god unto itself. The flesh says “No God, I won’t do it your way.” And so, a choice and a decision is made, but it is always, always, a choice and a decision to follow the way of the flesh that leads to death and it is always a choice and a decision against God and against God’s Will and God’s commands.

Repent and be turned from the way of the flesh that leads to death. Repent and be turned back to God. For, even now your Jesus is present with His Words and His Wounds to unstop your ears and to loose your tongue that you may sing His praise. He speaks to you His “Ephphatha, be opened” and, as it was in the beginning, so it is now and every shall be, His creative Word brings into being what it says.

And when He has opened your ears and your mouths, He will not leave them empty, but He will fill them with His Word and with His Word made flesh and blood so that you will be justified, so that you will be converted, and so that you will have faith anew. He will return you to the grace and purity He once gave you in Holy Baptism, as many times as is necessary, every day of your life until you live with Him eternally in the presence and glory of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Homily for the Funeral of Joyce Kullman


John 15:1-17; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 40:1-11

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

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.

But you did not need to be reminded of that fact today. For, each of you gathered here this day knows this to be true. Today you are only too familiar with frailty of your own flesh and of how each of your lives is but a breath in the sweeping history of this world. For, you are here this day because your beloved wife and mother, your cherished sister, and your dear nana, and a sister in Christ to us all, has been struck down in shocking suddenness so that we have all been reminded that our flesh is surely grass that is here today and gone tomorrow.

But I would have you know today this truth as well: Though you are grass, you are God’s grass, sown by His own gracious will and hand. He has planted each and every one of you in a family, in a community, in a nation, in this world of His making, that you would grow and mature and bear much, and good fruit. For, God is a gardener and He is a farmer, He is a shepherd, and He is a father and a husband. He tills the rocky soil your hearts, He prunes your gangly, fruitless branches, he leads and chastens you, His wayward sheep and children, and He forgives you and redeems His oft adulterous Bride. For, He is a God of life and He is a God of love, and you are His precious planting in which He delights.

Moreover, God did not create you to die, but He created you to live for Him, in Him and with Him. Your God is not a god of the dead but the true and only God of the living. Death is but the fruit of disobedience and rebellion against His will and Law, against God Himself. It began with Adam and Eve, but it continues through all of us sons and daughters of Adam, and it brings us much heartache and pain, suffering and sorrow. For, death is not natural and it is not God’s will, but death now belongs to God and it is not outside of His will and His power.

This is because God so loved the world, God so loved you His precious planting, that He planted His Son Jesus into this world as a grain of wheat that would die and bear much fruit. He made Him to be sin that knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Then God raised Jesus from the dead, the first fruits of those who die in Him. And because He lives, we will also live. And even though we die, death has lost its sting and we shall never die.

This truth is what drives St. Paul to write in boldness: I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He also puts it this way: If God is for us, who can be against us? And this way: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Remembering that all flesh is grass is good for you! It helps you to put things into their proper perspective. It helps you to put your life into the proper perspective. You are a precious planting of the LORD, sown to bear good and much fruit. And, through Holy Baptism you have been grafted into the True Vine Jesus Christ so that His death is your death and His life is your life. Likewise, His fruit is your fruit; if you abide in Him He will abide in you and you will bear much fruit. And the fruit of Jesus Christ is love.

God is love. In love, God sent His Son to die that you might live. In love, Jesus laid down His life in death for your sin. In love, God raised Jesus up so that you might be raised from the dead and live eternally in His love. God is love. Greater love is not possible than this: that a man should lay down His life for His friends. Jesus has laid down His life for you. Now He commands you and empowers you to love one another as He has loved you. You are a precious planting of the LORD, sown to bear good and much fruit – and the fruit you bear is love, that your joy may be full.

Dear Russ, Tracie, Jen, Ken, Chris, and Maria; dear Karen, Eric, and Nina; dear family and friends, brothers and sisters Christ, our sister in Christ Joyce was and is a precious planting of the LORD, sown to bear good and much fruit – and the fruit that she has borne is love, and her joy was and is and ever shall be full.

True, God-given love is not so much an emotion as it is an action or a deed. Love is self-sacrifice, and that is why no greater love is possible than to lay down one’s life for another. But selfless, sacrificial love need not only be borne in such a final way, but the love of God is made manifest in us whenever we sacrifice our own personal, material, financial, and emotional needs to help with the needs of another.

Such selfless and sacrificial love marked every facet of Joyce’s life and deeds. Joyce lived to help others because she long ago had died to her self and lived her life for Christ. She was and is a gleaming example of Jesus’ teaching, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Joyce showed love for all people regardless of age, gender, race, financial status, or creed. She was a loving and patient teacher of children and youth with special needs, learning, and behavioral disorders. Kids that others would right off as unteachable, Joyce taught and loved. She helped senior citizens, going well beyond just checking in, taking them to doctor appointments, sometimes in Manhattan (!) and spending her own money, time, and self with no concern. She and Russ adopted you five grown children as infants and gave you a loving home, a good education, and set you on the path to self-sufficient adulthood you each enjoy now. And Joyce was absolutely a pillar in this little church, teaching Sunday School, Confirmation, and countless other things for countless years, serving on the Church Council, and ministering to church members and families in their times of need. All of this she did without a hint of self-concern or self-interest out love for her Lord and for the people He died to redeem.

Joyce is a precious planting of the LORD, sown to bear good and much fruit. She has abided in Jesus throughout her life and He has abided in her. She knew that her flesh was grass, therefore she trusted in her Lord. Though today we will commit her body to the earth, we take comfort that her soul is with Jesus and that her joy is full. On the Last Day she will be raised with a new body like the resurrected body of Jesus and we with her will behold Him with our own eyes face to face. For, our victory over death is secured in Christ’s victory over death and our resurrection is secured in Christ’s resurrection.

Now we walk through the valley of the shadow of death surrounded by enemies and we are comforted, for our LORD goes with us to guide, feed, refresh, and protect us. But Joyce, she has passed through that valley and now dwells in the house of the LORD.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Homily for The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity(Trinity 11)


Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15

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

The scene in Jesus’ parable is played out week after week, each and every Lord’s Day, in this modest temple of the LORD and in Christian churches, basilicas, and cathedrals large and small, glorious and humble, throughout the world. Two men go to church to pray, one a self-righteous Pharisee of a Christian, the other a humble and repentant sinner and beggar of a Christian. The former trusts in his own righteousness by his works and so stands condemned in his sins; the latter boasts of nothing in himself but instead confesses his sins and unworthiness and pleads for God’s mercy. And, as in Jesus’ parable, it is this latter man who leaves church today justified, that is, made right with God, and not the former.

Each and every one of you must come into this temple each and every Sunday, and each and every day were it offered, to confess your sins and your unworthiness and to plead for mercy from your God and Father through Jesus Christ. For just as there is no distinction between the Pharisee and the tax collector, so there is no distinction between the disobedient child, the petty thief, the adulterous husband, the murderer on death row and the outwardly pious, respected, and obedient Christian – there is no distinction when it comes to justification, being made right with God. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

However, what you must understand is that the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable was telling the truth. All the things that he boasted of before the LORD were true and they were good. He wasn’t an extortioner, a blackmailer, or a thief. He wasn’t outwardly unjust, he wasn’t an adulterer or even a tax collector. Rather, he was faithful in his prayers, he fasted twice a week, which was more than commanded by the law, and he gave tithe on all of his income. He was pious and he was fervently religious. He kept the law better than anyone else and everyone respected and revered him as a faithful and pious man of God. Indeed, the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable is the kind of man every pastor would gladly have in his parish despite his sometimes boorish arrogance. He is the kind of man you would look up to as an outstanding example of godliness, faithfulness, and piety, even if he did look down his nose a bit at the hoi polloi of obvious and notorious sinners.

But the tax collector, in contrast, I wouldn’t invite him into my home and I’d watch him closely around the collection plates, my wife, and the children of the parish. The tax collector is the kind of man that you’d pass by on the street, likely crossing to the other side to avoid. You might even report him to the authorities. He made his living and a whole lot more extorting people by charging whatever he wanted in taxes he collected for the hated Romans. He likely lived in luxurious squalor at the expense of his own people, spending the peoples’ hard earned money, which he stole from them, on wine and women and worse. Though he wins the day in Jesus’ parable because he is humble and repentant and Jesus says that he, and not the Pharisee, went home that day justified, don’t you suspect that the next day, and every other day of the week after that, that the tax collector was right back at his old ways? And then, the next Sabbath, there he is once again in the temple in humility and repentance, beating his breast in sorrow over his sins, pleading for mercy from God? And you know what? God will forgive him again, and again, and again, and again.

But why? That’s unfair! That’s unjust! Yes, it is, thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that He does not give us what is just. Thanks be to God that He does not give us what we do deserve, what we have earned, and what we have merited. For, there is no distinction between the Pharisee and the tax collector when it comes to justification. Indeed, despite all of the Pharisee’s good and pious works, and despite all of the tax collector’s wicked works, there is no distinction between them. And, likewise, there is no distinction between you and the worst sinners you can imagine. For, as St. Paul writes, “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

What this means is that your righteousness, your right relationship with God, does not depend upon you, or upon anything you do, or even upon your repentance or what you believe, but it depends upon one thing, and one thing only, Jesus’ Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. This St. Paul also writes in what can only be described as a creed, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

Thus, the reason that the good and pious Pharisee went home that day still in his sins and not right with God is because he could not see that he was dead in his sins. The Pharisee believed in a God that would work with him and his good works, cut him some slack and say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But what the Pharisee truly needed was not a God that could work with him, but a God who could raise Him out of death to new life. In contrast, that is exactly what the tax collector was looking for. He knew that he was a sinner. He knew that he had nothing to offer God. He knew that the best of his works were worse than filthy rags. He could not begin to look up to heaven but he bowed himself down in the dust and cried out, not for grace, not for leniency, not even for forgiveness, but the tax collector cried out only for mercy fully believing that he didn’t deserve even that! He likely knew in his heart that he’d fall right back into the same sinful wickedness tomorrow. That only served to drive him deeper into the hopelessness of being saved by his works so that he depended all the more on God’s mercy alone. The tax collector didn’t need a God to pat him on the back and send him on his way. He didn’t need a God who would overlook his failings and say, “That’s ok.” He needed a God who could raise him from the death of sin and from eternal death. And that’s the God the tax collector had. And that’s the God that you have too. You have the one and only God of Life who alone can raise you from death to life.

For, in death, as in life, there is no distinction. Indeed, death truly is the great equalizer, is it not? The good and the bad, the rich and the poor, it matters not, we all die. Each and every descendent of Adam and Eve is conceived and born in sin, and the wages of sin is always and invariably death. “Who can deliver me from this body of death?” asks St. Paul. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” For, Jesus Christ your Lord did not come to reform the reformable or to improve the improvable, but Jesus came to raise the dead. Jesus came to raise those dead in their sins to true and eternal life in Him. But if you insist that you have no sin, or that your sin is not so bad as to be fatal, you deceive yourself and you remain in your sin and in death. For, only the dead can be raised, and only sinners can be forgiven. Therefore, empty yourself of your pride and your arrogance. Confess your sins and repent. Throw yourself daily before God’s mercy and trust that, through Jesus Christ, God is merciful and God has forgiven. And live a new life, Jesus’ life, to the glory of the Father. But, beware of the complacency of measuring your goodness against others. Rather, measure yourself against God’s standards—then repent. For, God is ready to justify the worst of sinners, even you, by His generous grace in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.