Sunday, October 30, 2011

Homily for The Festival of the Reformation (observed)

Due to an October Nor’ Easter, church was canceled and this sermon was not preached, thus, there is no audio.

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

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

We celebrate the Festival of the Reformation, not because of the birth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, not because of the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the vernacular German, nor even because of the great deeds and bold confession of Martin Luther and other reformers, but we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation because of the eternal Gospel proclaimed to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And the eternal Gospel is this: The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, […] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Thus, what Luther and reformers both before and after him accomplished through their reforms served to strip away the layers of man-made law, tradition, and superstition that had enshrouded and obscured the pure Gospel message that men are justified, not by works and obedience under the Law, not by their personal piety and devotion, but by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood.

But the Gospel had become obscured long before the corruption known as indulgences had become normal practice. In fact, the Gospel had become obscured long before the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law began to layer their own laws and traditions upon the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel had become obscured long before the incarnation and birth of Jesus, long before Moses and the Ten Commandments, long before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to at least Cain and Abel. In fact, from the moment that God first promised that He would send a Savior who would crush the serpent’s head and remove our guilt and the sting of death, man has striven to offer something of his own to God as payment for his sin and to reject the gift of grace that God Himself has provided.

The eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angelic messenger is exactly that, eternal. It is a message that was proclaimed before the foundation of the world and it is a message that remains unchanged then, now, and always, world without end: The hour of [God’s] judgment has come. When God sent forth His only-begotten Son to be subject to the Law that binds all men, to suffer and die to remove the guilt of all men, it was finished. All that was necessary to justify men before God was accomplished without any work, merit, or even faith from men. That is the eternal Gospel message proclaimed God’s angels, His messengers, be they angelic spirits, prophets, apostles, and evangelists, ministers and pastors in the Church of Christ, or even you, dear Christian, as you share this Good News with your neighbors in word and in deed. How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the Good News!

The eternal Gospel is extra nos, outside of us, and that is why it is Good News. Your justification does not depend upon you in any way. Your standing before God does not depend upon your good works. It does not depend upon your obedience to the Law. It does not depend upon your piety, your tithing, or your attendance at church. It does not even depend upon your faith, but it depends only, solely, and completely upon the Lamb of God Jesus Christ whom God put forth as the propitiation for your sins. If your justification were to depend on anything at all from you, then you could never know comfort or peace, for there would always be uncertainty that you have done enough or believed enough or given enough. If your justification were to depend on anything at all from you then there would be no Good News, no Gospel, but only the rigid, inflexible, and condemning Law of God that you cannot keep.

Yet, that is exactly what sinful man wants to believe, that there is some way in which we can justify ourselves. Whether you believe that Jesus died for your original sin so that you can pay God back for your actual sins or that you can purchase God’s forgiveness with tithes, prayers, or time, you are, in effect, saying, that Jesus, in His obedience, suffering, and death, did not do enough. You are saying that Jesus’ suffering and death was not sufficient to make you right with God. You are saying, “Thanks for the gift of Your Son, God, but that’s not enough, so here’s what I’ll give you to make up the difference.” Or, to put it another way, any gift that you have to earn, buy, or deserve is not a gift at all. If it’s not a gift then it’s not grace. And if it’s not grace, then you are still in your sins, bound under the Law, and condemned to eternal death and separation from God.

Jesus taught in our Gospel lesson that “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” That is to say that, while God desires to give men the kingdom of heaven for free, by grace, as a gift, men desire to take the kingdom of God on their own, according to their own terms. Indeed, the generation of men from the time of John the Baptist, even from the time of the Patriarchs, and yes, even from the time of Cain are dissatisfied with God’s plan of salvation, the Gospel “Good News” of Jesus Christ. This generation of men are like children who will not dance before a happy flute or mourn at the sound of a funeral dirge. They rejected John the Baptist because he did not eat and drink and they rejected Jesus because He did.

What is it that you tell God you will or will not do? What is it that you tell God He can or cannot do. What is it that you tell God and the whole world you will or will not believe? What part of His Good News do you reject and say, “That’s all fine and good, but it’s not enough?” Have you not heard that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom? That God alone is God, and you are not? Indeed, that is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and the First Commandment of the Law of God. It is meant, not to encourage you and embolden you to justify yourself, but it is meant to condemn you in your guilt so that you despair of self-justification. For, only when you confess that you cannot justify yourself can you truly receive grace for what it is, a gift – a pure, and perfect gift. And, when you do receive God’s grace as a pure and perfect gift, then He is glorified as just and the justifier of the one who has faith in His pure and perfect gift of grace, Jesus Christ.

There is a Latin phrase that says ecclesia semper reformanda, the Church is always being reformed. Indeed, this is most certainly true. The Reformation that we commemorate today began, symbolically, on October 31, 1517. But, in truth, it was but the rolling boil of a reformation that had begun much, much earlier, as faithful men of God, His holy angels and messengers, called men to repentance and proclaimed to them the one and eternal Gospel of our justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the nature of sinful man to desire to justify himself, and thus, the Church is always, continually in a state of reformation. Today the Church of Christ needs reformation every bit as much as it did in 1517, and today God still raises up prophets and evangelists, angelic messengers to proclaim the Good News to those dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. Indeed, God has raised you up for this purpose promising, “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven.”

There is no higher worship of God than to receive His gifts. And the most precious, pure, and perfect gift He has given is righteousness in His Son, Jesus Christ. Strive, not to please God by your works or to earn His favor by your words, deeds, and piety, but strive to not let anything or anyone obscure the eternal Gospel of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Ecclesia simper reformanda, the Church is always being reformed; so too are all the members of the Church which is the body of Christ, that is you, dear Christians. Let every day of your God-given lives be a Festival of the Reformation in which you repent of your sins and receive God’s holy absolution by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Homily for The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 18)


Matthew 22:34-46; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Deuteronomy 10:12-21

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

When it comes to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, perhaps surprisingly, there is complete agreement between the Pharisees and Jesus. Indeed, the oft disparate Rabbi and the Pharisees agree: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, when Jesus gave this answer to the lawyer who questioned him, the teachers of the Law had to be satisfied; Jesus gave the correct answer, just as any of them would have answered themselves.

Indeed, Jesus’ answer is agreed upon as true and good amongst all three of the great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three of the world’s greatest religions agree that the greatest commandment in the Law is that you should love God above all things and that you should love your neighbor as yourself.

Why, then, if they agree, did the lawyers and the Pharisees reject Jesus as God’s anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ of God? Why, then, if they agree, do both Jews and Muslims reject Jesus? Well, that is precisely the question that Jesus asked the Pharisees after He had correctly answered their question to Him concerning the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus asked, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” For, your answer to that question reveals how you understand the Law of God. Indeed, your answer to that question reveals if you understand the purpose of the Law at all.

Jesus’ question is not a new question. In fact, it is a question that He seems to have routinely asked people. Indeed, it was a pivotal point in the Gospel when Jesus asked His disciples a form of this same question saying, “Who do people say that I am?” They said to Him, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praised Peter for his bold confession saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

But, what did Peter say that elicited such praise from our Lord? Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the anointed of the Lord, and the very Son of God. That is precisely what the lawyers and the Pharisees did not confess the Christ to be. They answered that the Christ was the son of David, that is, a man, but they did not believe the Christ to also be the Son of God. What they were looking for in the Christ was a great and holy man, a great example of faith and obedience to the Law, a great rabbi or prophet, but not the Son of God.

They believed that the Christ would be a great leader and teacher who would show them how to fulfill the Law of God and be justified by their obedience to the Law. Because they strove so very hard to be obedient, naturally they looked down on others whom they judged to be less obedient, particularly notorious sinners, prostitutes, the sick and unclean, and other outcasts. They did not love these less-than-righteous and they believed that they were justified in their lovelessness because there was nothing in them meriting their love. And so, you can see how men who claimed to uphold the great commandment of the Law, to love God with all that they are and to love their neighbor as themselves, in actuality did not love their neighbor, and therefore they did not love God.

If the Christ were merely a man, even a perfectly obedient and sinless man, then we sinners would still be in our sin. We would still be bound under the Law to perfect and sinless obedience, and thus, we would stand condemned and consigned to death and hell. But, if the Christ were also the Son of God in human flesh, incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered unto death and was buried and on the third day rose again from the dead, then we are freed from the condemnation of the Law and we live in the grace, mercy, and loving forgiveness of God and can freely love our neighbors with His love, needing not to worry about our own standing before God.

To set the lawyers and the Pharisees straight, Jesus quoted the words of King David in Psalm 110, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?” If this seems confusing to you, that is because, in our contemporary English, the two uses of the word “Lord” seem to be the same. However, in the original Hebrew in which the Psalm was written, the first “Lord” is the divine name of God, YHWH, or ADONAI which pious Jews would use to replace the divine name which they would not speak. Thus, what David has truly said is, “God said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’.” And so, the Christ, whom the lawyers and the Pharisees see only as the son of David, the son of a man, David himself calls his Lord. Further, this Lord of David is seated at the right hand of God to rule over all things. Clearly, the Christ is much more than the son of David, but He is the Son of God Himself.

Every single human being who lives, has lived, and ever will live knows the Law of God, for all of creation testifies to it and it is written on our very hearts. But the Law of God cannot save, but it only condemns. The Law of God causes us to despair of life and salvation because of our disobedience and unworthiness or it causes us to become puffed up with self-righteousness and pride believing that we are so much better than the disobedient sinners we see all around us. Thus, to believe in the Christ of God, even Jesus, as the best of men, the best at keeping the Law of God, a great example of piety, obedience, and faith is a no-brainer. Indeed, many believe Jesus to be a great moral and ethical teacher, but that does not make him any different than other great moral and ethical teachers such as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa. They are all men, they all sin, they all die, and none of them can save you. But, to believe that the Christ of God, even Jesus, is no mere man but the holy Son of God in human flesh, that is a truth revealed only by the Holy Spirit of God.

Jesus said that David confessed this truth “in the Spirit” just as did St. Peter of whom Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Likewise, as we near the end of this Church Year, we are building to the proclamation of the fullness of our confession, in the Spirit, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and the King of the universe who fills and sustains all things. And then, as we begin a new Year of Grace with the beginning of Advent, we will confess in the Spirit, once again, our Lord’s incarnation when the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us and the Son of God became the Son of Man, even the son of David, the Christ. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see and the ears that hear what you hear.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Acts 1:1-8; Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 96

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

St. Luke, the beloved physician and companion of St. Paul, addressed both the Gospel bearing his name and the Acts of the Apostles to an unknown Christian by the name of Theophilus. While many biblical scholars believe Theophilus to be a wealthy and respected Roman patron, some suggest that, given the catechetical nature of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts, it is likely that Theophilus, a name which means “lover of God”, is but a symbolic name and therefore suggest that Luke’s intended audience is actually all lovers of God seeking healing, life, and immortality in the Words and the Wounds of the Divine subject of his work, Jesus Christ, who is at once the very Medicine of Immortality and the Great Physician of both body and soul.

As it is, the combined works of St. Luke that are his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles constitute more than one-third of the New Testament. Thus, it should not be surprising that many of the most beloved stories and accounts in the New Testament come to us by the hand of St. Luke. Some of these beloved stories include The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal son, The Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. A common theme amongst these accounts is the paradoxical nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the lost can be found. Only the dead can be raised. Indeed, though the Medicine of Immortality that is the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is available to everyone, absolutely free, by grace alone, nevertheless, there will be those who deny that they are sin-sick unto death and thus will not receive it, be healed, and live.

For, the truth is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not received well by the world. It is resented. It divides people. It instills hatred and violence. It brings out the true colors of people – both those who repent and those who reject the preaching of the Gospel. This truth is illustrated in the life of St. Luke Himself, for tradition tells us that Luke was sent out by Jesus as one of the seventy-two preachers of the Good News and that he repeatedly suffered for the faith along with St. Paul. Indeed, Paul Himself says: “Luke alone is with me” – even as many abandoned Paul in his own suffering for Christ and the Gospel. And yet still, preachers are sent, the Gospel is proclaimed, and sinners repent and receive the Good News of the forgiveness of their sins. As so it is that, as the Prophet has proclaimed, beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Good News.

And, the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke is filled with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Luke’s most beloved account is his telling of the Nativity of Our Lord. It is from St. Luke’s hand that we receive the stories of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the birth of Jesus, and of the shepherds quaking in fear at the angel’s announcement. And, from the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel the Church has received four great canticles (songs) of faith: The Gloria in Excelsis, the Magnificat of Mary, the Benedictus of Zechariah, and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon.

Additionally, a little known eastern tradition also claims that St. Luke was the first iconographer of the early Christian Church. That is to say that St. Luke was the first to write (or to paint) an icon of Our Lord Jesus and His Virgin Mother Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer). Indeed, icons of St. Luke often portray him writing this first icon of our Lord. But also, St. Luke is depicted in iconography and in ecclesial art as a sacrificial ox or bull. This is because St. Luke’s Gospel so vividly portrays our Jesus as the atoning, sacrificial Lamb of God whose self-offering has taken away the sin of the world.

And so, on this Feast Day of St. Luke, we give thanks to God for the example of faith displayed in the beloved physician, learned scholar, gifted artist, and faithful preacher of the Good News who was chosen by our Holy God to reveal to us His Son that we might be turned from our sin in repentance and receive the Medicine of Immortality in the Words and Wounds of Jesus and then glorify God by sharing His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness with others that they too might be healed and live and glorify God.

Therefore, let us pray with the Church of Christ of all times and in all places: Almighty God, our Father, Your blessed Son called St. Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul. Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 17)


Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17-24

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

The First Table of the Law, the first three commandments, establish our relationship with God: You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. In sum, you should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Or, to put it another way, you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

The rest of the commandments, numbered four through ten, establish our relationship with our fellow man, our neighbor. Thus, the Second Table of the Law can be summed up in this way: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. However, our obedience to the Second Table of the Law, our love of our neighbor, depends upon and flows from our obedience to the First Table, our fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

As it is, then, the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy,” serves as a transitional commandment from obedience to the First Table of the Law to obedience to the Second Table of the Law, for, the Sabbath Day of rest is a day to rest from the labors of serving one’s self that you might be freed to serve your neighbor. And, in God’s wisdom and by His design, in serving your neighbor, you serve and glorify God, thus placing your fear, your love, and your trust in Him above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself.

This understanding of the purpose of the Sabbath Day, a day of rest from self-service that you may be freed to serve your neighbor, serves to illumine the merciful healing Jesus performed on the particular Sabbath Day depicted in our Gospel lesson. Jesus celebrated that Sabbath with a group of Pharisees at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. These teachers of the Law still respected Jesus and considered Him one of their own, but Luke is certain to point out to us that they were watching Him carefully. Coincidentally, or not, Luke tells us that a man suffering from dropsy, a retaining of water in the tissues of the flesh known today as Edema, appeared before Him. Luke’s use of “Behold,” seems to indicate the surprise nature of this man’s appearance. Perhaps, however, it was no surprise at all, but the man was intentionally brought into the house to see what Jesus would do. Why else would this unclean man be in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees? Thus, Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees and He asked them a question in accord with what He knew they were thinking in their hearts, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent.

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. That’s what the Law of God commands. But, how did the Pharisees and the lawyers interpret this Law? Well, from other Sabbath encounters with Jesus recorded in the Gospels, it is apparent that they interpreted the Law by the letter without understanding the spirit of the Law at all. If Jesus would heal this man with dropsy on the Sabbath, then, they concluded, He could not be the Prophet or the Messiah for, in their eyes, He would have broken the Law. Their answer to Jesus’ question would be, “No, it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath.” However, they knew that they couldn’t say that, right? So, they remained silent. They would watch and see what Jesus would do (as if they didn’t already know). Then, they would go and stir up the people and bring charges against Him before the Sanhedrin.

So, Jesus took the man and healed him and then sent him away. And, then He said to the lawyers and Pharisees, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Once again, they could not answer Him a word. They couldn’t answer Jesus because they knew that He was right. They would, immediately and without hesitation, help out their son or beast of burden that was in need. However, Jesus knew that they would object to His Sabbath healing of the poor man suffering from dropsy. But, why?

It is because they know the letter of the Law, but they do not know the spirit of the Law. Further, in their attempt to obey the letter of the Law they disregard the First Commandment, that is, they do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Oh, they fear God, but they do not honor Him and revere Him, they do not love God, but they fear Him as tyrant and as a merciless lord. They do not trust in His promises of mercy and grace. Therefore, the Law of God is a rigid rule placing burdensome, impossible demands upon them. Since they know that they cannot possibly obey, they have to water them down and make them more doable. Then they could stand up with pride before others and boast of their holiness and piety. Additionally, in their denial of grace and mercy they would use the Law of God against people, adding their own laws to it, so that they appeared all the more deserving of honor and praise while imprisoning others, along with themselves, under the Law’s judgment. The lawyers and the Pharisees would not lift a finger to help someone in need because they interpreted the Law of the Sabbath only in terms of what they must do to merit God’s favor. God said to rest and not to work. So they rested and they would not help someone in need, and they were ready to condemn anyone who would. But their hypocrisy is exposed by Jesus’ question, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

What the lawyers and the Pharisees could not understand and did not believe was the spirit of the Sabbath Law. The day of rest was meant to be a day of rest from self-serving activities, working to earn a wage, working to earn merit with God, so that one could be free to selflessly serve others and to glorify God. Their eyes were blind to the spirit of God’s Law. They could not see that the letter of the Law meant their death, thus they could not see that only by surrendering to the Law and being crushed by it, only by dying, could they be raised to new life in God’s mercy and grace. No, the lawyers and the Pharisees had constructed a law unto themselves, their own rules, their own morality, where they were the judge of right and wrong, good and evil, and by their law they judged themselves good, and they judged Jesus to be evil. They abhorred Jesus’ disregard for the law as they imagined it. They abhorred the mercy and grace that He showed to unclean, diseased, and demon-possessed sinners. Jesus literally turned the tables of the Law upside down and showed that the only fulfillment of God’s Law is love – love toward God and love toward your neighbor.

The letter of the Law is meant to expose your selfishness, how you are turned in to yourself and are motivated by selfish desires and passions. But the spirit of the law frees you from obedience to the Law in order to earn or merit God’s favor. In His Law God says to you, “There is no hope of earning or meriting My favor. There is nothing that you can do to remove your sin. You are spiritually dead, cut off, like a branch withering by the roadside. But take heart and be comforted, I love you, I have always loved you, and I will take away your sin, and I will die your death, and I will give you My life. I will draw you into Me and you will be My people, and I will be your God. In Holy Communion with Me, you will love with My love, you will give with My gifts, and you will forgive with My forgiveness. I will restore in you My image, and they will know that you are Mine when you have love for one another.”

Selfishness and self-interest is the very opposite of love. One who thinks only of his own wants, needs, desires, and passions cannot consider the needs of others. The lawyers and the Pharisees need not to worry about breaking the letter of the Law if they would only act in love. As St. Paul has written, “against such things there is no law.” Symbolically, the self-centered will always choose the best seats at a banquet and the place of honor. They are motivated by an ungodly standard of measurement, a law of men that values such things. They are concerned only with themselves and their own honor and glory. But the one who lives by the spirit of the law is concerned with elevating others and will take the lowest position for themselves, being thankful to be at the banquet at all. Jesus concludes His teaching saying, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Find rest from your labors in God’s mercy and grace and be freed to serve your neighbor in selfless love and thus glorify God. As the Lutheran Confessions state, the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts. For, only by receiving from God do you have something to share. You can give to others only of what God has given to you. You can be merciful to others only as God has been merciful to you. You can forgive others only as God has forgiven you. And, only by finding your rest in the Lord from having to earn or merit His favor can you be truly refreshed and equipped to serve others and truly worship and glorify Him.

Today is a day of rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says your Jesus. Here, at the altar this day, and in His Word and Absolution, is the rest that you need and the rest that your soul craves and desires. Here is the merit of Jesus’ labor and the fruit of His work which is finished. “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,” says the Lord. Ask not what you must do, but only receive what He has done.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Homily for The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)


Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17-24

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

The scene is descriptive. You can picture it in your mind with supreme clarity. A funeral procession is winding down the hillside away from the walled city on a hill. Men are carrying the body of a young man upon a bier. A great crowd follows, wailing in grief and sorrow because a young man is dead and a young mother is widowed and childless. No one can do anything to change the situation. No one can offer any real comfort. It is an utter tragedy, senseless and inexplicable. But it is real. It is all too real.

But, by chance, there was another procession that day, one approaching the walled city on a hill. In this procession, no one is wailing in grief and sorrow and no one is dead. In fact, the great crowd was dancing and skipping and shouting out in joy and laughter, and the one leading the procession is the Lord of Life Himself, Jesus. The great crowd accompanying Jesus had heard his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and had followed Him through the region of Capernaum as he healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. They had witnessed Jesus’ power and authority in releasing all manner of men from their captivity to sin and death. Now they would witness Jesus’ power and authority over death itself.

Jesus’ saw the grieving mother from a distance and He had compassion for her. You must understand that He did not simply feel bad for her, but He was filled with gut-wrenching compassion for her in her lostness and the real and necessary wages of sin, death, that had been paid out to her young son and her husband before him. Jesus said to her, “Do not weep,” for the weeping, the grief and the sorrow, would be borne by Him. And then He reached out and touched the bier, for the uncleanness of sin and death would be borne by Him as well. But the real miracle was in His Word, as it always is, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” “And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

The scene is descriptive. You can picture it in your mind with supreme clarity. Martin Luther once put it this way in his hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden (Christ Jesus Lay In Death’s Strong Bands): It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death, its sting is lost forever.

Death is all too real. In a sense, we are all part of that funeral procession winding down the hillside away from the Garden of Eden. There the poisonous venom of sin first entered our First Parent’s veins. Now it flows through the veins of all of us who live and breathe and die. That day it was a young man who received his wage in death, tomorrow it is an old man, the day after a wife and mother, and the day after that a newborn child. But, the young man that day represented the best of us, alive in health and vigor of youth, all the world open to us and ripe with potential and possibility. But he was taken by death, the inarguable due wage we all earn for sin. If that young man cannot escape death, then what hope is there for any of us?

On our own, left to our own devices, there is no hope. We are dead. Even while we live, we live each day in the knowledge that death is coming, sooner or later, at a time we cannot know. There is no hope…, until we set our eyes on Jesus. When we lift up our eyes out of this life and world of death, the trappings of worldly idolatries and corruption, when we admit that we are dead, or at least the living dead, and lift up our eyes, then we can see Jesus who has come, and who comes to us now, as the Lord of Life, our Redeemer and Savior.

Jesus has compassion, gut-wrenching compassion, on you in your grief and sorrow, your sin and death. And He does the unthinkable, the unimaginable, and the incredible – He touches your bier. He takes your sin, He takes your uncleanness, He takes your death upon and into Himself. He didn’t raise the dead boy to life until He first took from him that which caused his death. Jesus didn’t cast death away, He took it into Himself, He swallowed it up as scripture plainly saith. He drank your cup of poison for you, to the bitter dregs, so that you could live. He sucked the poisonous venom from your wounds and He became what you are, the living dead, so that you could become what He is, truly and eternally alive.

And, just as that dead young man represented the best of us, doomed to die despite how alive we believe ourselves to be, so Jesus has become the living man for all of us so that in and through Him we are alive now and we will live, even through death, forevermore. Jesus is our true Adam, in whom we are all one, who has defeated death by dying for you, His Eve, His Bride. When faced with the serpent’s temptation He overcame by the Word of God and faith. And when you were threatened by the devil, Jesus, our Second Adam, took the serpent’s bite Himself. He laid down His life in love, unto death, for you.

Life died that you might live. Life died for you, young and old and newborn. The Bridegroom died that His Bride might live. But the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended.

The funeral procession that day was heading to the tomb, and nowhere else. There was no expectation of encountering Life; there was no hope that anything or anyone could change that hopeless situation. But, when Jesus came, incarnate in human flesh, when Jesus came as a man, that changed everything: The Son of God became the Son of Man. The highest in God’s glory divested and humbled Himself and became the lowest. He who was sinless was made to be sin for us. He who is Life became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

The great crowd that followed Him did so because they saw in Jesus power and authority over all manner of disease and evil spirits. And when Jesus met that somber funeral procession, they witnessed His authority over death itself. But His power and authority did not come simply from might or will, but Jesus had power and authority over sin and death because of His perfect and obedient fear, love, and trust in God His Father above all things and because of His perfect and obedient love for all men. Jesus bore the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

In Jesus, people began to turn from fear, hopelessness, and despair to faith in God’s promises finding their fulfillment in Jesus. And so, they followed Him, they listened to His teaching, they witnessed His miracles, they told others, and ultimately, they brought their sick and their dying, their demon-possessed loved ones, and they brought their children to Jesus that He might touch them with His holy hands and speak His life-creating Word of blessing upon them, that He might raise them spiritually, and physically, from death to His eternal life.

In a similar way most of you were brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism. And, in a similar way many of you have brought your own young sons and daughters to Jesus in Holy Baptism. There beside the still waters, through the hands and the voice of His undershepherd, Jesus touched you with His holy hands and Jesus spoke His life-creating Word of blessing upon you. In Holy Baptism the procession of death was met head-on by Jesus’ procession of life in a strange and dreadful strife, but the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. In Holy Baptism Jesus has touched you with His holy hands and has spoken His Life-creating Word of blessing upon you, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And, as it was in the beginning, so it is now, His Word brings into being what He says. And then, Jesus returned you to your Mother, the Church.

Yes, we all have the same Mother, for there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We all have the same Mother, the Bride of Christ, the Church, which is one body, and of which Christ is Her Head. As the Fathers have taught us, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation outside of the Church. There cannot be salvation or life outside of the Church, for the Church is the body of Christ and there is no salvation outside of Him. We are saved by His humble and obedient perfect life, death, and resurrection, not merely in an external and objective way, but we are saved by being grafted into Him, born again from His death into His life, living in, to, and from Him in selfless, sacrificial love and service to our neighbor, especially those of the one body of faith, the Church. And if we would bring people to Jesus that He might touch them with His Holy Hands and bless them with His life-creating Word, then we must bring them to where He is present with His Words and His Wounds to heal and to bestow life and to bless; we must bring them to where He is present with His body as Her Head; we must bring them to Holy Baptism, we must bring them to Confession and Absolution, we must bring them to the Word of God preached, we must bring them to the Word of God confessed, we must bring them to the Word of God eaten and drunk, that is, we must bring them into Holy Communion with the Lord and Giver of Life, Jesus Christ, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Homily for The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)


Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16

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

Everyone has a master, and most of us have many masters; but, nonetheless, everyone has a master. As Americans, however, we don’t like to think that way. We don’t like to think of our boss as a master and we don’t like to think of our possessions as a master. But, we do like to think of ourselves as masters of ourselves. Indeed, the American dream is to work hard, to earn a respectable wage for your labor, to purchase for yourself a home and a car and to put food on the table for yourself and for your family. We think that at the end of each eight hour day a man ought to be able to sit at the dinner table with his wife and his children and say “Life is good. I’m the master of my house. I have built for myself a family, a home, and a life. I am the king of my castle. Life is good.” But, we deceive ourselves. We are not kings unto ourselves and neither are we masters of ourselves. And yet, everyone has a master, and most of us have many masters, but, everyone has a master.

What it comes down to is this: You cannot serve God and mammon. Yes, I know that many Bible translations say money, and that’s a fair translation, but the Greek word is mammon and it denotes much more than just money. Mammon is all manner of material wealth and possessions. Further, the connotation of the word mammon is negative: lust, greed, and avarice. In the New Testament, mammon is often personified as a false god that is worshiped by men in their lust, greed, and avarice and in their anxious worrying about acquiring and preserving material wealth and possessions.

You cannot serve God and mammon. And you cannot, despite what you think and feel, you cannot serve two masters, for either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Whether you are a willing servant of your master or an unwilling slave, it doesn’t really matter, for, either way your master is he (or it) that you depend upon for your life and for your livelihood, and thus you fear him (or it), and you trust in him (or it), and maybe you even love him (or it). And so, you cannot serve God and mammon, and you cannot have two masters, for, if your master is not the true and only Triune God, and if it is not He alone that you fear, love, trust, serve, and worship, then your master is the false god mammon and you are an idolator who worships that which has been created rather than the One who has created all things.

We Americans cherish our freedom, but we deceive ourselves, for we make ourselves to be slaves to the false god mammon. We worship mammon by fearing the loss of our material wealth and possessions, by loving our material wealth and possessions, and by trusting in our material wealth and possessions for safety, health, and happiness. But who amongst you has not felt at times that the things you possess, in truth, possess you? Who amongst you cannot relate to the idea expressed in that anti-drug commercial on tv several years ago where the cocaine-addict dialogues with himself saying, “I do coke so I can work longer, so I can earn more, so I can do more coke, so I can work longer, so I can earn more, so I…, so I…, so I….”? Particularly in this time of economic uncertainty, three years now into a recession, when fuel prices and food prices keep going higher and the stock market keeps going lower, when your personal income has plateaued, if you managed to keep your job at all, and the cost of everything you need and want keeps climbing higher and higher, people are afraid and they are worried and they are anxious about tomorrow. Well, when you fear, love, and trust in mammon, that is what you are left with – fear, worry, and anxiety. You are servant and a slave of a false god that cannot hear you or answer your prayers, that cannot comfort you, relieve your fear, worry, and anxiety, or add an hour to your life.

When you worship the creature you cannot worship the Creator; you cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon makes you a slave to material wealth and possessions. You are in chains to these because you can only be concerned with acquiring more and protecting what you have. Mammon keeps you incurvatus in se, turned inward to yourself, therefore you are not, and cannot be, concerned about your neighbor. In contrast, the true worship of the true God frees you from these chains so that you are not worried and anxious about food and drink, house and home, clothing and shoes, and all other material and bodily needs because you recognize that God provides all these out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you. Only by serving God alone as your master are you freed to live and love without fear, worry, and anxiety and to love your neighbor freely and without coercion. And, in serving your neighbor, you serve your God – not the false god of material wealth and possessions, but the true God who lovingly provides you with all that you need to sustain your body and life now and forever.

God has made you and all creatures and still takes care of them. He provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field which are here today and gone tomorrow, and you are much more precious to God than they. And God provides for the Gentiles and unbelievers as well as you, but how much more will you receive if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? All the things of creation are passing away. The money you work so hard to earn is worth less today, and less still tomorrow, than when you earned it. The car, tv, computer, and appliances you purchase today will last five to ten years, but they will be out-of-date and out-of-style long before that. The clothes that you wear get a little thinner and less beautiful with each wear and wash. Your home needs constant repair and maintenance and still it slowly decays. And need I remind you of your body and your health? No, you know the transient nature of the flesh well enough. Like the prophet has spoken: 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. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

But your Father in heaven, your Creator and God, has not created you to wither, decay, and die; that was not God’s will for you, but Satan’s will for you. Rather, God has created you for life, eternal life in communion with Him. You were conceived and born in sin, and the wages of your sin is death, thus, you die. But in Holy Baptism, your sin-corrupted spirit has already died and has been raised to new life in Jesus Christ. Your new spirit, your new man, knows his God, fears, loves, and trusts in his God and therefore loves his neighbor as well. But your flesh, well, that’s a different matter altogether. The flesh is still corrupted by sin and it will die. But it too will be raised in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Until then, however, God has called you to live and to walk by the spirit, bearing one another’s burdens, sharing all good things with one another, and doing good, especially to those of the household of faith. To live according to your corrupted flesh is to serve mammon and to worship mammon in fear, worry, and anxiety. But to live according to the spirit is to live Christ’s holy life in thought, word, and deed, to know the Truth incarnate and to be truly free. If you abstain from your fleshly desires and passions and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all that you need to support your body and life will be added to you and you will be content and at peace, which is unspeakably better than the fleeting pleasures and peace that the world and material wealth and possessions can give.

And, as the flour and the oil belonging to the widow of Zarephath was not depleted or spent, but nourished those of her household throughout the prophet’s stay, so even now, where God is feared, loved, and trusted above all things, these simple elements of mammon are pressed into bounteous service in bread, which is Jesus’ body that you may eat and be of one flesh with Him, and in simple wine, which is Jesus’ blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Likewise, the oil of the Holy Spirit has christened you to be God’s own beloved child in Jesus Christ so that you are clothed in raiment more glorious than that of Solomon, the holy and perfect righteousness of God’s own Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. For, you are of more value to God than anything else in the world that He has made. May He, likewise, be of the greatest value and of love to you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.