Sunday, February 24, 2013

Homily for Reminiscere (The Second Sunday in Lent)

H-30 Lent 2 (Mt 15.21-28)


Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Genesis 32:22-32

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

The Fall of Man is many things – a fall from grace; a fall from the image of God; man’s serving God divorce papers; the beginning of the death of man – yes, the Fall of Man is many things, but above all, the Fall is a choice, in fact, man’s first act of free will as he exercised his own will in opposition and in rebellion to the will of God, the only will, that was from the beginning, manifest in the Word of God who was with God, who was and is God, by whom all things were made and are still preserved. Truly, man’s freedom of will rests in his freedom to choose and to do in opposition to the will of God, for to will anything else is not man’s will, but God’s will, which, before the Fall, our First Parents were in perfect and righteous harmony with.

It was Satan who tempted man to exercise his freedom of will, to willfully choose to do what God had forbidden. However, the serpent masked and disguised this willful rebellion, this sin, as something good and to be desired – knowledge, particularly the knowledge of good and evil. Yet, even that is telling, for if one truly had a choice between good and evil, who would not choose the good? Truly, the Fall had happened even before the choice, when the mind and the heart of Man set his will against God’s will, the only good. It was a choice that was made manifest in action, in the taking and eating of the forbidden fruit, a choice that was, itself, the evil fruit of a will divorced from the good, a will divorced from God.

To be sure, Man has his conception of what is good and what is evil, and the fruits of Man’s fallen will are lies, deceptions, and treachery, jealousy, arrogance, and pride, murders and wars, striving for power, wealth, and glory, never being sated, but hungering and thirsting ever for more to possess, more to consume, and more to control, having no pity and no mercy, having no love or compassion for brother or neighbor, unless it is self-serving, according to man’s fallen will. This is what the Fall and sin has done to you – it has corrupted your discernment and judgment of good and evil. This is because, now you discern and judge what is good and what is evil, not according to God’s will, but according to your own will, which is necessarily something different, something other, and something in opposition to God’s good and perfect will.

Left to your own devices, you, O fallen man, call evil good, and good evil. But, thanks be to God, He has not left you on your own. He has taken the evil that you call good and He has born it Himself. He has taken the fruit of your fallen free will, sin and death, upon Himself and He has born the death that you merit, giving you, in exchange, His righteousness, holiness, and life. However, even after conversion and faith, after you receive a new heart, and a new man is raised up within you who loves the Word and the Will of God and wants to think and say and do it, still there wars within you this corruption that keeps you from always doing what you know that you should and refraining from what you know that you shouldn’t do. Moreover, your fleshly mind and heart are still corrupted by sin and resist the willing spirit of God within you, hence the phrase “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The theological term for this strong desire to think and to act in discord with God’s will is concupiscence. The LORD Himself described this condition of man prior to the great flood saying, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and […] every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” St. Paul wrestled with this condition saying, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” He even referred to a law within his members that was at war with the law within his mind and spirit saying, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Daily this old man, your sin-corrupted flesh and will, rears its ugly head. Therefore, daily you must drown him and put him to death by returning to your Holy Baptism in repentance and faith. This is a war, a struggle, in which you wrestle with God like Jacob, refusing to let Him go without a blessing. Then, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “he who struggles with God.” To be a Christian is to struggle with God – to struggle and to wrestle with His Word and His Will in faith and trust that He alone is good and true and faithful, even when His Word and His Will hurt your sensitivities, your reason, and put your politically-correct hip out of socket. Don’t give up and turn away in anger and resentment. In those times when God’s Word and Will seem to be pinning you to the floor, keep struggling, keep wrestling, and don’t let go, but hold on…, hold on…, hold on… until God turns your struggle into a blessing.

God is no respecter of what men value, what men praise, or what men consider good or evil. That’s why Jesus regularly ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and would not condemn an adulterer or shun a leper. However, God looks on the heart of a man, and that ought to put the fear of God into each of you. Therefore, you should keep in mind these three things: First, not all that appear blameless according to man’s moral code are seen as blameless by God. Second, there are no sins so great that they cannot be forgiven by faith in God. Third, there are no sins so little that they do not need to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

Faith keeps asking for help even if it is rejected. Faith keeps wrestling with God and doesn’t let go. “Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him?” And, if He does, faith believes that it is always undeserved grace.

This is what we learn from the Canaanite woman whom Jesus proclaimed to have great faith. According to their own discernment and judgment of good and evil, the disciples considered the woman unworthy of Jesus’ attention and begged Him to send her away. And, according to outward appearances, they weren’t wrong. In fact, Jesus even told her that He was not sent for her and her kind. And, when she persisted, He even labeled her a dog. However, that was when her faith really kicked in. She didn’t argue with Jesus about His judgment upon her. She didn’t deny that she was not one of the children of Israel or even that she was a dog, but she accepted Jesus’ judgment upon her saying, “Yes, Lord.” But, still, like Jacob, she didn’t give up, she didn’t let go – not until she got her blessing. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” she said. Can you feel the joy welling up in our Savior’s heart, spreading across His face in a glowing smile? I can. “O woman,” Jesus replied, “great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

O Christian, you must understand that the Will and the Law of God will kick you in the teeth from time to time. It will call you a dog and put your hip out of joint. Often it will seem to be in direct contradiction to what seems right to you, what feels right to you, and what the world and your culture tell you are right, and true, and good. That’s okay; don’t give up, hold on, and don’t let go – don’t let go until He gives you a blessing. For, His Word, His Will, and His Law is good – it is the only good, in opposition to which everything else evil. God knows that you don’t see it that way, that you can’t see it that way, because your very flesh and mind are corrupted by sin and you are bound in concupiscence. God knows that your new spirit is willing, but that it is your flesh that is weak. Therefore, accept His judgment against you, that you are an unworthy sinner and a dog. But, don’t give up, hold on, and don’t let go until He blesses you with forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. For, He is the bread of life of which a man may eat, even but a crumb, and live forever. And, as you strive and struggle and wrestle with God, His Word, His Will, and His Law, He is making you holy even as He has declared you to be holy for Jesus’ sake. He will eat and drink with you, and He has adopted you to be His child, His son, and an heir to His kingdom – if you will not give up, but hold on, and do not let go. He will bless you, and He will make you a rich blessing to others to the glory of His Name.

Come, His children, to His table and eat, not crumbs, but the true manna from heaven that is the body and the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of yours sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and eternal salvation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The power of Man to make himself what he pleases means the power of some men to make other men what they please.

Abolition of Man
The modern institution of public education in the United States has its beginnings in Prussian Socialism informed by Marx and Hegel, and pragmatised by Bacon, Dewey, and Mann. The goal was not to educate an embodied soul, but to school a child into a specific kind of citizen – the product desired by the state. Family, traditions, religion, traditional morality and ethics were all obstacles to this production and therefore are to be “schooled” away.

In The Abolition of Man (1944), C. S. Lewis prophetically warned of the day when the state would successfully impose its program upon mankind. How very right he was, and is:

“The final stage [of Man’s conquest of Nature] is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have ‘taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it? For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”

“…the man-moulders of  the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.”

“In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao [Logos, Absolute, etc.] – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgments of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education.”

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 1944.

Lenten Vespers–The Theology of the Cross–Week of Invocabit

Moses in the Cleft of the Rock


“Seeing God from Behind”

John 9:1-7; Exodus 33:12-23

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

“Show me!” Moses said. “Show me, Lord, so I will know that you will be with us. So I can be sure that you will be with us. Show me your ways,” Moses said. “Show me… your glory!”

One has to wonder why Moses was so unsure… and so demanding. After all, what had God done to make Moses doubt Him? First, God had called Moses into His service from a burning bush, and had revealed His Name to him there. He was, if you want to think of it this way, on a first Name basis with Moses! Then, when God sent Moses down into Egypt to rescue His people, He kept His promise to Moses and was with him in Egypt, performing great signs and wonders in bringing the people of Israel out in the Exodus, and then protecting them from the pursuing Egyptian army, and then providing water and manna to eat and drink in the wilderness. And just now, Moses had spent 40 days and 40 nights with God on Mt. Sinai – One-on-one, face-to-face, receiving the Law and the instructions for the building of, and worship in, the Tabernacle. What had God not done that would call His faithfulness into doubt? What made Moses so uncertain and unsure that God would be with them now?

Well, it’s not what God had done… it’s what the people had done. It was the golden calf, where the people replaced God’s Divine Service with their own bovine service – it was Idolatry 101. And faced with this specter of sin and rebellion, Moses wondered. Moses doubted. Moses wavered. Because of this, “will God still be with us? Will He still be faithful to such faithless people? So show me!” Moses said. “Show me! Prove it! Convince me! I need to know.” It is a demand that sounds very much like us today, does it not? For we want to know too! For we are sinful, and we live amongst a sinful people in a sinful world. “So show me, God, that you are with me and love me. Show me! Prove it! Convince me! I need to know. Show me by answering my prayer. Show me by healing me. Show me by making things go my way. Show me by making me healthy, wealthy, and wise. I know what you have said, but… show me! Show me your ways! Show me your glory!”

But God wouldn’t do it for Moses, and He won’t do it for us. Instead, God does this strange thing of letting Moses see Him from behind. Now, a great deal of ink has been spilled across the centuries trying to determine what exactly it was that Moses saw there – what it means to see God’s “back.” But one thing’s for sure – it’s not what Moses wanted. It wasn’t the fool-proof, fail-safe, rock-solid, no more doubts and fears assurance that Moses asked for! Because, Moses, your assurance will never be in what you can see, in God’s visible glory – but in His promise, in His hidden glory.

For, in fact, Moses had already seen God’s glory – in the burning bush, in His mighty and miraculous acts, in His booming voice on Mt. Sinai – and still He doubted. Another glimpse of God’s glory wasn’t gonna do it for Moses! Oh, maybe it would for a short time… until sin entered the picture again, until sin would again make Moses unsure – And for us too. Glory will never do it. For maybe we see God’s glory in the greatness and majesty of creation, or in some great event of deliverance and rescue in our lives, or in how our lives are improving. OK. But what then happens, when sin enters the picture for us? “What happens to our faith when the glory of creation turns violent in hurricanes and floods and schoolroom massacres? What happens if we are not delivered from a tragedy in our lives? What happens when our lives do not improve, but struggles and suffering descend on us instead, and when my sin again rears its ugly head, when I fall into idolatry, selfishness, and other great shame and vice? How then can I know if God is still with me? That God still loves me? How can I be sure?” You see, this theology of glory, this founding your faith on knowing, on seeing, on proof, will always leave you, in the end, empty-handed, grasping for answers, groping for security, searching for assurance with an appetite that can never be satisfied.

But – for Moses and for us – there is a “side” of God that can be seen. That side that He wants us to see. Not the side of glory and greatness, power and majesty – but His back side… the opposite side… the side of His humility, grace, service, and love. The side that He showed Moses, to assure him that the sin of Israel would not cause Him to disown them and leave them, but that He would have mercy on them and forgive them. It is the side of God we see on the cross. For as the apostle John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18) And as St. Paul would write: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ – a great and glorious thing to be sure! – has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6) And so the answer to our “Show Me’s,” the side of God that God wants us to see, is Jesus. And it is the cross where Jesus shows us the hidden glory of God. For the cross is where we see, most surely and truly: God’s love, in coming to be with us in our flesh; God’s mercy, in not rejecting us, but coming to die, for us, in our stead; God’s faithfulness, in keeping His promise to save us; God’s steadfastness, in that He would let nothing stop Him; and God’s forgiveness, that because our sins are upon Jesus on the cross, they are no longer on us.

And what greater thing could we see than that? Miracles leave us perplexed and the naked power and glory of God leaves us in awe – but it is the cross that leaves us assured and secure. Assured and secure that God does not, and has not, left us in our sin, but has come to us to bear our sin and to be our Savior. And so it is only in the light of Christ and His cross that we see the glory of God. As like the man born blind, we are washed in His water and given the eyes of faith to see: To see God on the cross for me, suffering for me and dying for me, that He might also rise for me, that I may be His own, that I can be sure, with an assurance greater that what I can see – with the assurance of faith, the assurance that my sins are forgiven, the assurance that my God is not only with me, but for me.

“Show me your ways! Show me your glory!” Moses asked, and we ask. And God has. Look at the cross, and see!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

This sermon series was written by Rev. James Douthwaite, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA. Sermons have been adapted for local usage.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Homily for Invocabit (The First Sunday in Lent

Lent 1 Temptation


Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21

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

In His Baptism, Jesus became the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. The Word of the Father proclaimed Him to be His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. He was the Man, the New Man, the True Man, the Second and True Adam. The Holy Spirit of God rushed upon Him and remained with Him, marking Him as the Lamb that God had provided. Then He was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness or, as St. Mark records, the Spirit drove Him out, or even, threw Him out into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.

Jesus is your David. Jesus is your Christ. Jesus is your scapegoat. And Jesus is your Adam – which means, Jesus is you, for you are His Eve, His Bride. This time, when Adam squares off against the devil, He does not stand silently as the temptations befall you, but you are the one who is with Him, and yet says and does nothing. And, this is no garden of paradise filled with fruit-bearing and life-giving trees, but this is a barren and fruitless wilderness, and Adam is hungry and thirsty from fasting. The only thing that is the same is the temptation – “Did God actually say?”

The contrast is striking, and intentional. When your First Adam faced temptation, he had everything that he needed, he lacked nothing. He had plenteous food and water, he had Eve, his helpmate and wife of his own flesh and bone, and he had communion with God, walking and talking with Him, in harmony with His Word and His will. Likely, this is why Satan went after Eve. Eve hadn’t been around when God spoke to Adam about the Trees. She heard the Word and learned the command from Adam. Therefore, Satan sowed a seed in her heart and mind, a seed of doubt – “Did God actually say?” “Well, God has said thus and thus,” she thought correctly. But, somehow, she just wasn’t as certain as she had been before. She felt compelled to bolster God’s Word by adding her own word to it saying, “…neither shall you touch it.” And so, the answer to the devil’s question, “Did God actually say?” is, actually, “No, He didn’t.” He did not say what Eve said that He said.

Oh, Eve, Bride of Adam, what have you done? Oh, Adam, oh man, what have you done? You have traded the Truth of God for a lie. You forsook life and chose the way that leads only to death. You have rejected grace and have chosen wrath. You have rejected communion with God and have chosen forsakenness. You have fled from God in guilt and shame and fear. When He called to you, you hid, passed the buck, and blamed Him. Now you are barred from the garden paradise, life, and communion with God, for your own sake. Is there any hope for your restoration? How could there be? Only God knows. Repent. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent?

And that is precisely what He has done. Before the sun sat on the day you rebelled and betrayed your Creator, His plan was already in action: The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Though you, oh man, created in the image and the likeness of God, desired to be God yourself and to judge for yourself what is good and what is evil, take heart, for, in mercy and in selfless love, your God and Creator has become a Man, your brother to defeat the devil and take away the sting of death forever.

In the incarnation, God became a Man and dwelt among us as one of us. He fulfilled the Law’s demands, perfectly loving both God and neighbor. And, when He was baptized by John in the Jordan, God proclaimed that He was His beloved Son, with whom He was well pleased. Then He chrismated and anointed Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God’s offering. And the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness as your David to do battle with the Satanic Goliath. However, Jesus did not face the devil and temptation simply in your place as your substitute, but He faced the devil and temptation in your flesh, with you, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, so that His strength in the face of temptation, his reliance on the Word of God, and His victory over the devil were, and are, your strength, your faith and trust, and your victory as well.

Though He was at His weakest according to His humanity, He found strength in the Word of God alone. Three times the tempter tempted Him, first to feed His belly, then to test God, and finally to claim power and glory for Himself, and three times He resisted, not with violence, not with anger, but with faith and trust in the Word of God alone saying, “It is written.”

Consider the objectivity of those words. Jesus understands the Word of God to be something that is true and certain in and of itself. Because this Word is written, because this Word has been spoken, you can bet your life on it. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’” This Word is true! You can face any temptation, you can face the devil himself and overcome by trusting in it. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” This Word is true! Here the devil cunningly quotes the Word of God, but only partially, leaving out the important Words “to guard you in all your ways.” Never had the Father commanded Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple; thus to do so would be to “walk in a way” outside God’s Word and command. “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” This Word is true! And here, in this final temptation, Jesus, the Second Adam, has overcome and resisted all the temptations the First Adam failed. He perfectly feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things, for you, with you, in your flesh and bone.

“Ecce homo,”– Pilate said, “Behold the Man,” “Behold Adam.” When Jesus died on the cross, He died as the True Man, the True Adam, the True Son of God, for all men. He did not merit, earn, or deserve death – you do – but, He, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Your Lord Jesus has taken your Tree of Death and has died upon it for you, and with you, and He has made it to be for you again the Tree of Life. Because of Jesus’ incarnation, obedience, suffering, and death, you are no longer barred from the garden paradise, life, and communion with God, but you have access to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. When you die, death cannot hold you, for Jesus has taken death’s sting, sin, away, but death has become an open door to the Eden of Heaven where God Himself is present, and the Lamb, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and the Tree of Life flanks the River of Life that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. Though now we see through a glass dimly, then we shall see face to face. And, until that day, He has given you a foretaste of the feast in heaven at this communion table of His body and blood that you, His Bride, may have strength, and hope, and faith to persevere until His comes.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Homily for Ash Wednesday



Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19

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

When the cloud of glory and the primordial light of the Son of God faded, and Moses and Elijah rejoined the white-robed throng around the throne of God and the Lamb, then Peter, James, and John arose and beheld no one but Jesus only. That was the Transfiguration of our Lord which we celebrated together nearly four weeks ago. It was a foretaste of the Lord’s glory which was always with Him, though veiled, that they and we will enjoy with Him eternally in heaven when He returns and raises our dusty bodies from the dusty earth of which they were made. Our Lord granted His disciples this glimpse of His glory that they might have faith to persevere through what was about to happen in Jerusalem, when King Jesus would mount His throne, not in Herod’s palace, but upon Golgotha’s cross.

The days between the Transfiguration of our Lord and His crucifixion and death in Jerusalem were a kind of Lenten pilgrimage for His disciples. They, who were prone to desire and praise magnificent signs and shining glory were prepared to discover that God’s glory is not in the things that men count as glorious and praiseworthy, but in the humble and lowly things, the despicable things, and things that are not. The disciples’ Lenten pilgrimage was preparation for them in which they had opportunity to de-stone and weed the gardens of their hearts, to remove all the obstacles, all the idols they had raised up for themselves which obscured their faith and focus on Jesus, that they might fix their eyes upon Jesus only and behold the glory of God in action for them, laying down His life in death for His friends.

For you too, dear Christian, this Lenten pilgrimage serves the same holy purpose. This is an opportunity for you to reflect all the more upon those things, those people, those actions, those emotions that you have put your fear, love, and trust in above and before God. In many cases, these are things that are permissible and good in themselves, but you have allowed them to control you and to obscure your faith and focus on Jesus. Lent is an opportunity for you to be freed from these idols that you may serve Christ.

And truly, this is what the Lenten discipline of fasting is all about. Fasting means to willingly abstain from something that in itself is both permissible and good. In so doing you show both yourself and your Lord that you can take this earthly thing or leave it – you are not a slave to it, you don’t have to insist upon it. This is the right way for a Christian to live. We should use this world and its goods as if we didn’t need them. No created thing should control us. We should not permit ourselves to be bound or captive to anything. Nothing should be allowed to be more important to us than the Lord Himself.

A related Lenten discipline is almsgiving. By abstaining from certain things – at least for periods of times – we can give money and possibly time to serve Christ in a special way. It can be a good form of fasting to abstain from something and instead give the money to a special Lenten collection or to something else.

And yet another Lenten discipline is prayer. When you abstain and give alms, then most assuredly temptation will come. The devil will take advantage of your weakness just as he did with Jesus when He fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days. He will tempt you to place your fear, love, and trust in the worldly things that you have given up and take your eyes off of Jesus. He will tempt you to think that this is all for show or that it’s something that only superstitious, unenlightened people do. Therefore, pray. Pray all the more during Lent. Pray, not just alone, or with your family, but pray here with the body of Christ, the Church. Make use of the extra services in both Lent and Holy Week that you may resist the temptations of the devil and root out your idols.

But, whatever you do or don’t do, if you fast or not, give alms or not, attend extra services or not – whatever you do or don’t do, don’t do it to be seen by others and to win their praise. Others will see you, and that’s okay, but don’t do it to be seen. If you do, it’s not the doing that’s wrong, but it’s your heart that’s wrong. Don’t wear the ashes because someone will be impressed with your piety, but wear the ashes because you know and confess that you are a sinner and that you merit only death and eternal damnation. Those ashes are a confession that you are dust, and that to dust you will return; You are Adam, and to Adam you will return. But, those ashes are also in the form of a cross, for Jesus, the Second Adam, has taken your sin upon Himself and has died your death that you may live. Indeed, you are Adam, and to Adam, that is, to Jesus, you will most surely return.

No one said it would be easy, least of all your God and Lord Jesus. His way to life and glory was through Golgotha’s cross. And, to you His disciple He has said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is what you have been called to. You have been called to leave behind all the things that obscure your faith and focus on Jesus and follow Him. You have been called to deny your desire and praise for magnificent signs and shining glory and follow Jesus in humility and lowliness, not around suffering and death, but through these into life. Yet, like His disciples of old, your Lord provides you a foretaste of His glory to preserve your faith along the way. He gives you His resurrected and glorified body and blood to eat and to drink that He may commune in you and you in Him – that where He, your head, is, there you, His body, shall surely be.

Lent is an opportunity for you to take stock, once again, of what is true, what is lasting, and what is most needful. Your Lord teaches you to lay up your treasures in heaven, not on earth, for where your treasure is, there you heart will also be. And, your God calls to you, “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” And, with the preacher to the Hebrews I, your pastor, exhort you, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” For, now we set our faces steadfast to go to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, where it will all be accomplished.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Homily for Quinquagesima

H-26 Quinquagesima (Lu 18.31-43)


Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

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

I know that the cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal and a stumbling block for you. However, you should know that it is also a scandal and stumbling block for me, and for every Christian preacher and believer, and for unbelievers as well. For, when it comes to Christ crucified, your eyes are blind, even though you see. When it comes to Christ crucified, your reason and your wisdom, your stolen knowledge of good and evil, these get in the way, they cannot understand and they reject the only means of your salvation.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus was about to lead His disciples up to Jerusalem and to His cross. You, Christian, are about to go there too. He said to them, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” “But they understood none of these things,” and neither do you. In fact, “This saying was hidden from them,” and from you, “and they did not grasp what was said,” and neither do you.

For, the scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ has made you blind. It has confounded your reason and your wisdom, which are fallen, corrupted, and broken by your sin so that you cannot possibly see the wisdom of God’s ways, you cannot possibly understand His knowledge, because your sight and your reason and wisdom are fallen, corrupted, and broken by your sin. And so, you are no better than either the disciples of Jesus “who understood none of these things” or the blind beggar alongside the road who needed to be told that Jesus was present – that is, except that, the blind beggar knew that he was blind and that he needed healing and restoration. Therefore, upon hearing the Good News that Jesus was present, he cried out to the only source of healing and comfort for mercy, and nothing but mercy, through faith alone.

Those who were in front rebuked the man and told him to be silent. You do the same. This weak, pitiful man, they thought, has no business in the presence of our Rabbi and Master. Who is it that cries out to the Lord for mercy that you despise and wish to silence? This blind beggar had nothing, no money, no food, no clothing, no home, and no sight – and he knew it. Therefore, he did not offer anything to Jesus, or to anyone, but he begged, he pleaded and he cried out to Jesus alone for mercy. That is what you cannot understand or tolerate, that is what you want to silence – singular, focused, unwavering trust in Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, and no one and nothing else. This blind beggar did not cry out to the government, he did not cry out to the church, he did not even cry out to the disciples for anything at all, but he cried out to Jesus alone, for mercy alone, in any way that Jesus might choose to dispense it. He doesn’t ask for your approval or your prayers. He doesn’t ask for your grudging handouts or tolerance. He doesn’t ask for your councils, programs, rules, policies, or laws. He begs for, he needs, he clings to Jesus’ mercy alone – period.

Jesus’ mercy scandalizes you and causes you to stumble for the same reason that you are scandalized by Jesus’ cross and Jesus crucified. Jesus’ dead body on the cross communicates something to you. It is repulsive. It is offensive. It is morbid. It is weak. It is foolish. It is scandalous and it causes you to stumble. You don’t want to look at it. You don’t want to be reminded of it. You want to look away from it – and Satan wants you to do just that. You see, don’t believe that nonsense that Hollywood puts out about the devil. Don’t believe that nonsense that the horror writers scribble about. Satan has but only one goal, to take your eyes off of Jesus, to get Jesus out of the way. And, he has only one way of accomplishing that goal – lies. He tells you lies, he deceives you, so that you will take your eyes, your faith, off of Jesus and put them on, well…, truly anything else will do just fine.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, Jesus taught that the seed is the Word of God. When the seed falls upon the hard trodden path, upon the heart hardened by sin, it does not penetrate, it is not received. Then, Jesus teaches, “the birds of the air devoured it,” or, “then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” The central teaching of Jesus’ parable is that it is the Word of God alone that creates faith. This is one of the three Lutheran Solas – Sola Scriptura, or, Scripture Alone. You heard about another Sola two weeks ago in Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. That Sola was Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone. In today’s Gospel of the Healing of a Blind Man you hear of the third Sola, Sola Fide, or Faith Alone. Thus, over these three weeks of Pre-Lent, the Gesima Sundays, you have heard that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and that faith is created by the Word alone, that is, by Scripture alone.

Yet, there are two other Solas in the Lutheran Christian faith. They are Sola Christus, or Christ Alone, and Soli Deo Gloria, or to God alone be the Glory. Sola Christus is absolutely essential and is confessed in all the other Solas, for it is through Christ Alone that grace is given and faith is created, and it is Christ Alone that is the object of faith. Further, it is in Christ Alone that God is Glorified. And so, it all begins with Christ, and it all comes back to Christ, and in the end, God is glorified for His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, and His forgiveness which are in, and through, and with Jesus Christ alone.

God so loved the world that He has graciously given and put forth His Word, His Son Jesus, as a seed into soil that, in His death, He might draw all men to faith in Him and to the life He is and bestows. In doing this, God is glorified, not only by Jesus’ self-sacrifice, but by your self-sacrifice in rooting out all the stones and weeds, and thistles of sin in your hearts in repentance and by bearing the fruit of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness towards others that has been showered upon you in God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ.

Sola Gratia, Grace alone – What does this mean? It means that salvation comes to you from outside of you, without your works or merit, as a free and perfect gift. It is given to everyone the same, no strings attached. Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone – What does this mean? It means that God gives you His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word alone, and not through mysticism or nature or human reason, wisdom, philosophy, or any other way. Sola Fide, Faith alone – What does this mean? It means that Faith itself is a gracious gift of God that comes from outside of you through the Word alone, but is planted in your heart where it is nurtured and grows by the Word alone and bears the fruit of love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Yet, all of these are included in Sola Christus, Christ alone. And, through all of these, Soli Deo Gloria, God alone is glorified.

St. Paul, in his epistle today, exhorts you to put aside faith and trust in anything but Jesus. Paul speaks so eloquently and beautifully about love that this passage has been misunderstood as speaking primarily about the love between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. It certainly does instruct us in the nature of love, and so this application is not inappropriate. However, that is not the primary meaning or purpose Paul has in mind. What Paul does have in mind are all of the lies that Satan speaks to you about what God has said and about what Christian faith is really is. Paul addresses tongues, prophetic powers, mysteries, knowledge, sacrifice, and even faith, but he warns that, without love, these are nothing. The devil lies to you so that you believe that these fruits are the main thing that is important so that your faith is not in Christ, but in these signs, these fruits of faith. So very subtly he gets Jesus out of the way; he takes your focus off of Christ and Him crucified and puts it on, well…, anything at all. And, he is very successful, for you often believe his lies and, unwittingly, in your striving to follow Christ, follow the devil on the path that leads only to death, taking others along with you.

The love that St. Paul is talking about is not a feeling or an emotion, or even a disposition, but that love is a person, that love is Jesus Christ. God so loved the world…, God loved the world in this way: He gave His Son. Jesus is God’s love for the world; Jesus is God’s love for you. Jesus, dead on the cross, is the ultimate image of God’s love for you, for He was patient and kind; He did not envy or boast; He was not arrogant or rude; he did not insist on His own way; he was not irritable or resentfull; He did not rejoice at wrongdoing, but in the truth; He bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things. God’s love in Jesus never ends.

When Jesus talked to His disciples about what He must do in Jerusalem, they didn’t understand Him and the saying was hidden from them and they did not grasp what He said. That’s because they did not have their eyes focused on Jesus alone, but their eyes were on, well…, anything else. Ironically, the blind man could see better than those who could see. When he heard that Jesus was present, he cried out to Jesus alone for mercy. He had faith, not in outward works and signs, not in human wisdom or reason, but he had faith in Jesus, faith that had come through Jesus’ Word, by God’s grace. Whichever soil he may have been, he wasn’t the hard trodden path, and the devil was not able to lie to him and steal the Word from his heart. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answered, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man to see that, despite the humility and the weakness of Jesus’ appearance and, despite the horror and the repulsiveness, the scandal and the offense of what He must accomplish on the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus was the love of God for Him and for all the world, poured out. Faith which receives the gift of love that God has given, and is not offended and does not stumble over it, will bear fruit a hundredfold, and God will be glorified. May you so in love put away your impatience and meanness, your envy, pride, arrogance, and rudeness, your selfish insistence to have things your way, your irritability and resentfulness, and bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and selflessly endure all things for the sake of love, for the sake of Jesus, who alone is your life and salvation, the object of your faith, the grace of God given through His Word, in whom alone God is glorified.

Satan wants to take your eyes off of Jesus and to place them on, well…, anything else. But you, Christian, must remember that, despite what you see or feel, Christ crucified is precisely how God has loved you and the world. The Church of Jesus Christ, along with St. Paul and all the Apostles, continues to preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, as the only Way, Truth, and Life through faith in whom alone we are saved. Though you were blind, through grace, by faith in the Word of God made flesh Jesus Christ, now you see. Glory be to God alone.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Homily for Sexagesima

sower hand


Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13

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

The pen is mightier than the sword. This English idiom has become a modern proverb connoting that the power of words is even greater than that of brute force and the threat of violence. Throughout the modern era, tyranny has been quelled, bondage broken, oppression dissuaded, not with force and violence, but with words and ideas. Indeed, our own nation’s revolution was fought primarily with words and ideas until force and violence necessitated that common citizens, farmers and laborers, rise, take up arms, and fight. Even then, it was the might of words and ideas that motivated and impassioned them to self-sacrifice for a cause they deemed more important and precious than their own lives and livelihoods.

Why are words so powerful? Because, words mean things, or at least they used to, or did they? Again, throughout the modern era, it was nearly universally believed that words had referents, or objects, that were true. Yet still, at the time of this nation’s birth, Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” And, you can be certain that Pilate was not the first to ask, “What is truth?” Thus, we can conclude that the power of words does not necessarily come from their truth, for a falsehood and a lie can be every bit as powerful, and often more so, than the truth.

Last week I spoke to you about the narratives, the stories that sinful men construct to cover their sin and to justify the dark thoughts of their hearts and the wicked deeds that they do. Today I will speak to you about the nuts and bolts of these false narratives, words, of their power and influence, and of where truth can be found. For, there is something fundamentally different between the words of men and the Word of God. The words of men sometimes refer to truth, and often they do not, while the Word of God is Truth, and more than that, it is a promise and obligation that must, and will, be fulfilled, so that the Word of God is both performative and creative, bringing into being what it says.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, we often focus primarily upon the four different kinds of soils which represent the conditions of men’s hearts in receiving the Word of God and then bearing fruit. Our Lord describes men’s hearts as being hard and impervious to God’s Word, rocky and prohibitive to the Word’s being deeply rooted, thorny, so that the fruit of the Word, faith, is strangled and choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life, and good soil, fertile and receptive to the Word and bearing the fruit of faith and good works in abundance. We often spend a great amount of time discussing the need for our hard hearts to broken by God’s Law, for the rocks and stones of sin to be removed in repentance and absolution, for the thorns and weeds to be identified for the idols they are and be plucked out and removed, but seldom do we focus upon that which is constant and unchanging in Jesus’ parable – The seed, which is the Word of God.

Though the seed bears fruit only in one-fourth of the soil upon which it lands, that is by no fault of the seed. For, the seed, which is the Word of God, has the power to bear fruit wherever it is received. Isaiah compares the Word of the Lord to the rain and the snow which come down from heaven, watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, saying, “so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but is shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the things for which I sent it.”

You see, the Word of God is quite different than the words of men; it is not powerful because of the truth of its referent, but the Word of God is powerful in itself, because it is the Word of God and it is true. As Bo Giertz has put it, the Word of God “has not only a message to proclaim, but it has a responsibility to fulfill. […] God acts through His Word.”

“The same is true,” Giertz continues, “about the words of the Bible. It is not simply a collection of teachings or a fund of stories. It is God who speaks to us. Even with regard to things that happened and were spoken centuries ago it is written for our sake. It has been written for our instruction.” Thus, you must not receive the Bible as merely a collection of old stories, or a history of ancient peoples, or even as a guide for how to live your life, but you must receive the Bible as the living, performative, and creative Word of God. Do not think that by reading the Bible you are performing a work pleasing to God or meriting His favor, and do not think that reading the Bible makes you a Christian, or a better Christian, but you must read, hear, and inwardly digest the Word of God as bread for your life, “for man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Therefore, the question a Christian must ask is much less “What does God want me to do?” than it is “What has God done?” and “What is God doing?” and “What does God say in His Word?” For example, what God has or has not said about homosexuality is frankly of little importance compared to that performative and creative Word that God has spoken about our sexuality and about marriage, “that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’.” This is not a word of man, rooted in man’s opinions, philosophy, politics, or persuasion, but this is the living, performative, and creative Word of God – the Truth – in opposition to which everything else is but a human construct, narrative, story, and a lie.

But, you do not want to hear this Word. You want to relax God’s Word and make it not so absolute and difficult, and you feign even to believe that because Jesus came in mercy, love, and compassion that He somehow soft-peddled God’s Word, but that is the false-narrative of men, a lie. In truth, Jesus unpacked the full meaning of God’s Word teaching, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” I ask you, where in Jesus’ teaching about God’s command to not murder do you get the ridiculous idea that it is somehow okay to kill unborn children through the atrocity called abortion and euphemize it as choice?

Likewise, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I ask you, where in Jesus’ teaching about God’s command to not commit adultery do you get the ridiculous idea that it is somehow okay to view pornography or any other kind of smut, to have sexual relations outside of marriage, or to even live together outside the covenant of holy matrimony as God has spoken it into being? Here then these words of your Lord: “But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God’.”

Are these hard words? Do they offend? Good! Do you worship God, or the god of your own making? He keeps sowing His Seed, His performative and creative Word, regardless of your receptivity, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?” His seed, His Word will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent – thanks be to God. His Word is powerful and creative. It is at once a proclamation and a promise, whose fulfillment is guaranteed.

And, it is this Word of God, this Truth, in contrast to which everything else is a lie, even His only-begotten Son, that became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. He is the same Word of Truth in whose Name we are gathered this day, who has absolved you of your sins and has strengthened you in faith this day. He is the same Word of Truth who comes to you now with His flesh and blood to commune with you, His Bride, that you may be one flesh with Him, and live and be fruitful, and multiply in love, and life, in service to all men in all the places He sends you, bearing His life-giving Word in your hearts, and upon your lips, and in your deeds to the glory of the Father, in His Son, the Word made flesh, by the power and grace of His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.