Sunday, March 31, 2013

Homily for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)

Resurrection Icon


Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27

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

The traditional Gospel lesson appointed for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, St. Mark 16:1-8, has been read aloud in Christian congregations since at least the seventh century. However, it may seem an unusual selection as it records no appearance of our resurrected Lord and it ends on the rather down and uncertain note that the women who heard the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Therefore, let us see today if we can unpack the wisdom of the Church in selecting the lessons you have heard today on this most joyous and festive of days in the Church’s Year of Grace.

First, you must note that the Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were not going to the tomb because of their belief in Jesus’ Word that He would rise again on the third day, but they were going to finish the preparations for His burial that they left incomplete when the sun set on Friday beginning the Sabbath. They were going to embalm a lifeless body. They had no expectation that they would not find it in the tomb, let alone that their Lord had risen from the dead.

Additionally, they were concerned about something else: the very large and extremely heavy stone that blocked the way in and out of the tomb. However, as they approached the tomb, fully immersed in their anxiety over the stone, looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back. Wholly apart from their faith or fear, or anything at all, their problem had been solved.

While that was a real stone, rolled away from a real tomb, in which Jesus’ dead body really laid, in which His really alive body laid no longer, that stone holds a symbolic meaning for you as well. It symbolizes your doubts and fears, your sins and idols, anything that keeps you in the tomb of unbelief, sin, and death. As for the fretting women that first Lord’s Day, your stone has been rolled away too. Wholly apart from your faith or fear, or anything at all, your problem has been solved.

Likewise, St. Paul exhorts you to “cleanse out the old leaven” in your hearts, the “leaven of malice and evil”, that you may be a new lump. That is to say, whatever it is that gets in between you and God, cut it out, cast it out, purge it out, for even a little leaven leavens the whole lump. What stone keeps you from truly living resurrected lives? What leaven keeps you anxious and fearful so that you do not fully believe in the Words of Jesus and the fact that He is risen, just as He said?

You have the confession of Job as an example of the kind of confidence and life that can be yours through faith in the Word of God, that He keeps His promise. In the midst of horrific suffering and loss, over 1,500 years before the birth of Jesus, Job confessed His unwavering faith in the Word of the Lord saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.” Job confessed his faith in the Word of the Lord and counted it as an accomplished fact that his Redeemer already lived, resurrected from the dead, and that, on the Last Day, his own destroyed flesh would be raised and he would behold his God with his own eyes.

Now that’s faith, to be sure! However, it was not faith unique to Job, for the same faith was shared by Abraham and Mary, the mother of our Lord, and many others. However, both the Marys and Salome that first Lord’s Day struggled to believe. Though their Lord had truly risen, just as He had said, they were still in their tombs, though the stone of sin and death had been rolled away for them too.

The faith of Abraham, Job, and Mary is available for you as well, for the stone of unbelief, sin, and death has been rolled away from your tombs. Jesus has called you to life and faith just as He called Lazarus from his tomb by the power of His life-giving Word. You are risen! You are risen indeed! Alleluia! You have been raised from death to new life, to live free and without fear, anxiety, doubt, and unbelief – to live resurrected lives even now, here in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, until your Good Shepherd leads you at last through death into life that never ends in His Father’s house and kingdom. You can confess with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth,” even as you face darkness, suffering, and even death. You can confess, you can speak and not remain silent in fear, even as did your Lord’s disciples by the end of that day, when they could not help but speak and testify of His resurrection, though it brought them ridicule, persecution, and ultimately death. For, this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. It is the eternal day upon which the sun will never set, for Son of God has risen, the firstfruits of those who fall asleep in Him. The stone has been rolled away. Let us never succumb to the devil’s lie that it remains. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Let us go forth in peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Homily for Holy Saturday–Vigil of Easter

Creation - 4th day


John 20:1-18; and the following Old Testament Accounts: The Flood; Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea; The Valley of Dry Bones; Jonah Preaches to Nineveh; The Fiery Furnace

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

The mighty works of God are done in and through and to the darkness, in the shadow of night, obscured by cloud. This is not because God is darkness or shadow or cloud – “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” – but, these elements of darkness are chaos, the abyss, the dwelling place of Leviathan, evil, the devil and the fallen angels. These God overshadows and brings into order by means of His creative Word, which is Light.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He brought order to chaos and spoke Light into the darkness. The darkness fled before the Light of God, for wherever the Light shines, there is no darkness at all. In this way, the darkness of chaos, evil, and the devil is controlled by God, used by God against its own fallen will, for the good that God determines. For, the devil is God’s devil, and is only able to accomplish that which the Lord permits.

Yet, darkness fills not only the vacuum of space and the heart and mind of evil, but also the hearts and minds of men. By the time of the generation of Noah, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Therefore God cleansed the earth with water that the race of men might once again multiply on the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it, beginning with eight souls who were not so completely closed to the Light of His Word. Noah and his family were blameless in the sight of God, not because they were blameless, but because God knew their faith and counted them as blameless. Therefore He saved them by the washing of the flood – the same flood that drowned and killed the wicked and unrepentant.

Darkness was also made manifest in the nations of men, none more than Egypt under Pharaoh. The Egyptians worshipped the Sun God Ra, whom they falsely believed to be the source of light, and thus they were a people of darkness. The land of Egypt and its Pharaoh came to symbolize hell and Satan which keep the children of God in bondage and slavery. Therefore, through His servant Moses, God lead His people out of bondage and captivity through the Red Sea on dry land while closing the waters upon the wicked Egyptians. Both this washing and the washing of Noah’s flood, the inspired writers of the New Testament teach refer to the washing and the rebirth of Holy Baptism, wherein God’s Word of Light releases us from the devil’s bondage and raises us in new birth as children of the Light.

Ezekiel witnessed a prophetic vision of the power of God’s creative Word of Light over the forces of darkness and death as he prophesied God’s Word, breathing His life into a valley filled with dry bones. Though they were seemingly defeated, dead, and scattered to and fro, God’s Spirit gathered and assembled them, raising them to life, a great and vast army of Light. Likewise, Jonah too witnessed the power of God’s creative Word of Light in turning the men of wicked Nineveh to faith in God even though he resisted and would not have mercy on them himself. And, when refusal to bow to the darkness of idolatry caused Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be cast bound into a fiery furnace, the Word of God protected them from the fires of darkness.

Indeed, the mighty works of God are done in and through and to the darkness, in the shadow of night, obscured by cloud. And, this is the night in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life. This is the night when Jesus, the New Moses, lead God’s people out of the darkness of bondage and captivity to sin, death, and Satan by means of the cross. This is the night in which God’s Passover Lamb was raised victorious over these enemies, still bearing the wounds of His sacrificial suffering and death, now as glorious scars and holy wounds. This is the night of the New Creation, when once again Light penetrated and chased back the darkness – Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk, therefore, as children of the Light.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Homily for Good Friday



John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

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

Your Lord Jesus Christ “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He is the Lamb of God’s self-offering who willingly suffered the horns of His strength to be caught up in the thorns of your sin and took your place upon the sacrificial altar that He would be consumed by the Father’s righteous wrath. He drank that cup, undiluted, to the bitter dregs so that it was finished, it is finished, there is nothing left, but the Father’s wrath is dried up, it’s fire is extinguished, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

For, this is the way in which God so loved the world: He gave His only Son. And, the Son of God went willingly, because He is the love of God incarnate. For, God is love. And, love suffered, died, and was buried because there is no greater love possible than that a man lay down his life for his friends. He has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” All this He willingly suffered out of love for His Father and love for you.

You were the object of that love, and now your are the fruit of that love. For, you were born again, born anew from the side of Jesus on the cross. The water and the blood that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side are your new life. You are born out of His side through means of Holy Baptism like a new Eve and Bride brought forth from the side of the New Adam and Bridegroom Jesus. For, you have been baptized into Jesus’ death and buried with Him. And, if you have been united with Him in His death, you are also united with Him in His resurrection that you might walk in newness of life.

But, what does that newness of life look like? How then does the Bride of Christ appear and act and live? How do you as members of Christ’s body live Christ’s life in the world while remaining not of the world? The Prophet Isaiah described Jesus as the Suffering Servant saying, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” As I read and pondered these words of the Prophet Isaiah this week, I could not help but think that, while they properly and prophetically describe our Lord Jesus in His humiliation and suffering, they are also descriptive of Christ’s Bride, the Church, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh.

For, indeed, there have been many times throughout Her history that the Church has been despised and rejected by men, ridiculed, mocked, and hated, and has suffered persecution. And, when this has occurred as the result of Her faithfulness to Her Lord and His Word, then She has served as a light in the darkness of sin and death and as leaven and salt in this world to the glory of God. In fact, often when the Church has suffered persecution, She has been blessed with new life and growth as the early Church Father Tertullian wrote saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” For, just as it was the Father’s will to crush His Son so that He might be a grain of wheat planted in the earth that dies and bears a harvest a hundredfold, so too does the Church bear witness to the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God by serving, and not being served, even unto death for the life of the world.

However, suffering will come of its own accord, in response to faithfulness to the Lord and His Word. Therefore, the Church, nor any of Her members, need not seek it out, for it will readily come upon you. Moreover, you, O Christian, cannot choose the crosses that you will bear, but the Lord has chosen them for you, that your strength to persevere will be in Him alone who has suffered all for you. For, truth be told, too often, rather than the radiant Bride that Her Bridegroom Jesus has called Her, and made Her, to be, too often the Church wears the costume of, and exhibits Herself like unto, the Whore of Babylon, inviting and provoking the mocking, the jeers, and the hatred of the world, not because of Her humility and selflessness, but because She is pompous and proud, self-righteous, uncharitable, unmerciful, and unforgiving. Instead of bearing the griefs and sorrows of this fallen and sinful world, too often She has courted favor with Caesar and put Her trust in the laws of men, wielding them like a weapon upon the weakest and the poorest of men. Indeed, the Church is continually tempted to wield both the swords of spiritual authority and of political authority as She once did in Rome before the Reformation.

However, the Prophet’s words describe Jesus in His humility and lowliness as our Suffering Servant and as God’s sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And, if these words also describe Christ’s Church, and they do, then they describe Her in Her Lord Jesus Christ, with His life, His love, His mercy, His charity, and His forgiveness flowing from Him through the Church, making Her a beacon light of hope in this world of darkness, sin, and death.

For, God has so loved you, and He has loved you in this way: He sent His only Son to willingly suffer and die on the cross in selfless, sacrificial service to you, so that the love of Christ now controls you, because you have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. Through Jesus’ suffering and death, God has reconciled you to Himself. Therefore, He has given you the ministry of reconciliation, that is, the service of making others right with God through Jesus Christ. And yet, this service of reconciliation is not your work, but it is God’s work in Christ through you. For, you serve with His service. You love with His love. You bear with others in His patience. You forgive others with His forgiveness, regarding no one according the flesh, but all as sons and daughters of God, redeemed in the precious, holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ.

In this way you fulfill your calling for which you were made, for which you were born again from the side of the New Adam, Jesus Christ, in water and blood, filled with His Spirit. For, you are His helpmate, His Bride, His New Eve, the Church, the mother of all the living, to the glory of God. For, there is salvation in no one else but Christ, and there is no salvation outside of the Church which is His body. Therefore, as Christ suffered and died to reconcile you with God, so has He made you ambassadors for Christ that you may die to your self and serve others, exhorting them to be reconciled to the God who has loved them to the end in His Son. For, the message of reconciliation is this: Christ has died; and Christ has risen. God “has made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homily for Holy (Maundy) Thursday

Holy Thursday - foot washing


John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14

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

Why is it that Christ’s Church is certain to be full on Christmas and Easter, but much less than full on the other fifty Sundays of each year? Is it not because, in general, people do not feel a deep down need for God’s Word and Sacraments? I mean a true need, a hunger and thirst, a desire to be filled with God’s good gifts in Jesus Christ. For, surely a person that is hungry will seek out food to eat and be satisfied, a person who is thirsty will seek out drink, and a person who feels a need for God and His good gifts will readily seek them and will not stop until he is sated. Therefore, I suspect that many people simply do not feel such a need.

But then, why do they come on Christmas and Easter, or Mother’s Day, for that matter? If they are not coming because of their need, then why do they come? Perhaps they come simply because it is what you’re supposed to do. Perhaps they come because they believe that they should honor God with their presence at least once or twice a year. Perhaps they come because they believe that doing so is sufficient, that so long as they show up on Christmas and Easter they have done what is necessary to merit God’s approval. Either way, if you are not coming out of your need for God and His good gifts, because of what God is doing for you and giving to you, then you must be coming because of what you believe you are doing and giving. Dear Christian, may the Holy Spirit of God convict you to see the folly in such thinking.

Worship, the Divine Service, or Gottesdienst as our Lutheran forebears called it, “God’s Service”, is first and foremost God’s selfless, sacrificial service to you apart from, before, and throughout your response of praise, thanksgiving, and selfless, sacrificial service to your neighbor. God descends to you, who cannot ascend to Him. He washes you clean with Jesus’ innocent shed blood and raises you from death to life. He clothes you in Jesus’ righteousness, adopts you as His sons, and feeds and nourishes you with His Word and the holy Wounds of His Son. He fills you with Himself, from whose love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness springs forth in and out of us praise, thanksgiving, and a desire to love one another as you have been loved by God in Jesus Christ.

On that frightful night of the Plague of the Firstborn, it was God’s service, God’s Word, that marked and protected the Jewish faithful so that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes and spare their firstborn. He instructed them to slaughter an unblemished lamb at twilight and to mark the lintels and doorposts of their homes with its blood. Then they were to roast it and eat its flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Anything remaining after the household had eaten was to be burned in fire. Now, there was nothing special about these sacrificial lambs. Their blood had no power to atone for sin or keep death at bay. But, it was the Word of God, which He attached to the lamb, to the blood, and to the ceremonial action that gave it the power of a sacrament. It was God’s service, God’s Word, God’s action from the mercy, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father, which redeemed the Hebrew firstborn from death.

Likewise, on the night in which He was betrayed, before eating the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus served them by washing their feet. This was not a mere cleansing of dirt from the body, but it was a sign, like the lamb’s blood marking the doors of the children of Israel, that God would do, that God was doing, all that was necessary to make men clean, righteous, and holy before Him, to be able to stand in His presence once again, more than that, to commune with Him, in Him, and truly live.

John preserves for you the protestation of Peter as catechesis in the objective nature of God’s service in making you clean. Peter was scandalized that Jesus, His Lord and Master, would condescend to wash his feet. He vehemently protested, “You shall never wash my feet.” But, Jesus explained to Peter saying, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand,” and “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Here Jesus teaches both the necessity and the benefit of His washing – being a part of Jesus, His body, in communion with Him. Of course, Peter, never tepid, but always hot or cold, is still confused and insists, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

And, here, is displayed how it goes with you. For, you are Peter, vacillating in zealousness or apathy, adding to or subtracting from the Word of the Lord, while trusting in it not for the powerful, creative, true, and life-giving Word that it is. It is by Jesus’ washing you in His holy, innocent, shed blood that you are clean. This is both necessary and sufficient so that you need not do anything but receive it in faith. Surely that cannot be enough, you think. It can’t be that easy, you protest. But it is, because it’s all Jesus, all the time. He gives, you receive. It’s like having your feet washed. It’s like having the wind blow upon you. It’s like being born – pure passivity, pure reception, pure and holy grace.

However, as St. James teaches, the faith that is received by grace alone is never alone. Faith is proved by works. Therefore, James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Thus, after washing His disciple’s feet – after cleansing them from their sins, purifying, and absolving them – Jesus taught them saying, “Do you understand what I have done to you? […] for I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Then Jesus gave them a new commandment, a new mandate, after which this day is called Maundy Thursday, “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Now, perhaps you think this new commandment to be something too easy as well. In truth, it is easy, and it is also the most difficult thing to do imaginable. It is easy because it is with God’s love in Christ that you are to love others. That is what Jesus means by saying “as I have loved you” – you are to love with His love, the love you have received from him, which you are to show to others. For, you have no love of your own to give. God is love. God loves. And it is with God’s love in Jesus Christ that you love.

However, loving in this way is also the most difficult thing to do imaginable because this kind of love, God’s love in Christ, is boundlessly wide and immeasurably deep. Your personal well is not so wide and deep and, too often, is nearly bone dry. How then can you love as Jesus commands? By yourself, you simply can’t. First, you must be loved; you must receive Jesus’ love. You must stop doing and begin receiving. Stop trying to chase and grasp the wind, but permit the wind of God’s Holy Spirit to blow upon you through His Word. Stop trying to make yourself clean by your obedience, piety, and works of charity and mercy, and permit Jesus to wash you in His blood and make you clean. If He says that you are clean, then you are clean. Believe it, trust in it, cling to His Word of promise. And, stop striving to be born again by your decision and choice. You had no choice, you made no decision when you were born the first time; so it is that you do not choose or decide to be born again in the Spirit, but this is the work of the Holy Triune God alone. Stop, be still, receive, believe and be filled with Jesus. Then you will love with His love, and it will be easy, for it will flow out of you like an overflowing chalice into the lives of your brother, your neighbor, your friend, and your enemy.

This truth St. Paul speaks of saying, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you….” Paul had nothing to offer to anyone other than what he himself had received. And, what had he received from the Lord? Particularly, in this passage, it was the Lord’s Supper, our Lord’s institution, which we remember and celebrate this night. The Lord’s Supper is a powerful sign of God’s love in Jesus Christ. While it’s power comes from His Word, in love God wraps His creative and life-giving Word in lowly bread and wine that you may handle it, eat it, and drink it, just as He once wrapped His creative and life-giving Word in human flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer and die with your sins, in your place, and to be raised to life that you might live with Him forever in His kingdom.

This is the feast of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ. Come and receive. Take, eat His body. Take, drink His blood. He is for you, the perfect and holiest of gifts. He will fill you with His love to the brim, and He will fill you to overflowing that you may truly love one another as He has loved you. His new commandment, His mandatum, is not a commandment of the Law, but it is fruit of the Gospel. He has perfectly loved you so that you may love one another, not perfectly, but with His perfect love. What you deliver to others is only that which you yourself have received.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Homily for Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

Palms and Cross


Matthew 21:1-9; 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12

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

To be sure, Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. However, before, above, and beyond all that, Jesus Christ is God. In the beginning, our First Parents dwelt with God in a garden kingdom, knowing, loving, and capable of doing His will. Until temptation came, and then desire, discontent, covetousness, and pride, and man sinned and fell and was in harmony with God’s holy will no longer. Our First Parents came to fear their Creator. They hid from Him, they lied and they blamed each other, and they blamed God. No longer able to abide in God’s holy presence, they were mercifully expelled from the garden and barred from eating the fruit of the tree that must necessarily keep them alive forever, but separated from God’s holy presence.

Outside of the garden kingdom, sin quickly began to bear fruit. In anger, jealousy, and resentment, Cain rose up and murdered his brother Abel. Like his parents, he was afraid of God and tried to justify his wicked deed, driving himself further into sin and despair. He feared that other men, his own brothers and cousins, would attack and kill him even though God promised to protect him and to avenge him seven-fold. From this point forward, there began a divide between the descendents of our First Parents, those who walked with God, trusting and fearing Him, and those who hated and feared God and raised up for themselves false gods, even themselves as god. Therefore the promise God gave of a Messiah, a Savior, in Genesis 3:15, was preserved, not through Cain and his descendents but through another son of Adam and Eve, Seth.

The biblical record chronicles the ever-increasing wickedness of mankind: idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery and fornication, coveting, theft, tyranny, slavery, warfare, and much, much more. In fact, it was so bad that, by the time of Noah, God looked upon mankind and saw that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So, God sent the flood and washed the earth clean while saving eight repentant souls who trusted in Him. Though God promised to never again destroy all life by a flood, the flood was a foreshadowing of the Red Sea crossing, and both were a foreshadowing of Christian baptism which drowns the old sinful nature in each of us and raises up a new man in Christ, joining us into His death and resurrection. Yet, sin was still in the world, in the flesh of men. Men were, and are still, conceived and born in sin and concupiscence, assuring that, despite our best intentions, apart from faith and trust in God and in His Word of promise, wickedness and evil will continue to proceed from the hearts of men.

Which is why, despite the promises, the covenants, God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, despite the providence with which He protected and provided for Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, despite the miracles He performed through Moses and Aaron, leading them out of slavery and captivity to Pharaoh in to the land of promise, the people of Israel rejected God’s kingship and demanded a king like the Gentile nations that surrounded them. Still they set their will against God’s will and Word. Still they put their fear, love, and trust in their own wisdom, in the works of their hands, and in men and in gods of their own making. And, this was still going on in Jesus’ day, even as He rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey to mount His throne as King of kings and Lord of lords, not the throne in Herod’s temple, but upon the throne of the cross on Golgotha.

King Jesus entered the Holy City in the way no other king ever would or ever did. He did not ride in upon a warhorse in great pomp backed by military might, but He rode upon a lowly beast of burden, an animal commonly used by humble peasants for humble work. He was received, not by the high and the mighty, but by peasants and women and children who laid down before His path their garments and branches of palm. Who were these crowds? They were those who were still looking for the Messiah of promise, who still trusted in God and in His Word, they were the remnant of Israel. They had no doubt heard that Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind. They had heard that He had miraculously fed the five thousand. And now there were rumors circulating that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. So they clamored around the streets of Jerusalem leading to the temple to catch a glimpse of this great Rabbi who seemed to be fulfilling prophecy all over the place believing that He just might be the promised, prophesied Christ of God. Indeed, the words of their praise indicate just that. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they cried the words of Psalm 118, “blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” However, though they were looking for the Messiah, the crowds did not understand Jesus’ kingship in the light of the cross. Do you?

The remnant of the children of Israel were watching and waiting for the coming of the Messiah, but they had become confused about how the Messiah would come and what He would do? Had they forgotten about the Lamb that God Himself would provide so that the offspring of Isaac and Jacob could be spared? Had they forgotten about the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy who would be wounded for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities? They, who were once no people, whom God had made to be a people, had come to expect that certain gifts and blessings from God should continue or be realized once again. Since God had once made Israel a great nation and blessed her with kings who were known amongst the nations for their might and strength, they came to expect that God would make the people of Israel a great and renowned nation once again. And so, even these faithful, this remnant, expected God’s Messiah to restore glory to Israel by freeing her from her Roman occupiers, for they had come to place their fear, love, and trust in God’s blessings before and above God Himself, and this is a form of idolatry that you practice as well.

For, when the nations rattle their sabers, when the economy appears unstable, when the cost of the necessities of life climbs higher and higher, are you not overcome with fear? Does your fear turn into anger or despair? Do you look to a charismatic preacher, a politician making promises he cannot keep, or to the government as a savior? That’s what the children of Israel were looking for when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – a political savior, a king, someone they could put their fear, love, and trust in who would give them what they wanted: food for the belly, prosperity for their descendents, freedom from their captors, and glory amongst the nations of men. God had blessed them before, they thought, now their trust was in His blessing, and not in God and His Word.

Pilate was right, Jesus is a king, but He is not that kind of king. Zechariah said it best, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” To believe that the Messiah would be anything other than a humble, selfless, self-sacrificing savior is simply to not believe in the Word of God. But, that is exactly the problem, isn’t it? God’s Word consistently describes the Messiah using words like humility, lowliness, righteousness, peace, forgiveness, and suffering. He does not come to conquer our enemies, but He comes to redeem us from sin and death. He does not come to bring Israel, the Church, or even you personally, glory, power, wealth, and prosperity, but He comes to suffer and die to set you free from your guilt.

But, Jesus is a king; He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. His throne is not of gold and precious jewels, but His throne is a cross of wood. His crown is not of gold, silver, and gemstones, but His crown is a gnarled and twisted crown of piercing thorns. When He is lifted up in death upon the cursed tree of the cross, it is then that He draws all people to Himself. This man, Jesus, crucified and dead upon the cross, is the King of the universe, God’s Son, our Savior; He is the love of God poured out for all men so that all who look to Him will be saved from death and hell and live in His kingdom forever.

Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who did what kings and lords are truly called to do, lay down their lives for their countrymen, their friends, leading the troops into battle even when death is certain. And that is what King Jesus has done, He has gone to battle with our true enemy – not Pharaoh, not Caesar, nor any other man, king, or nation – but sin and death and Satan. In dying, He has defeated these three and has taken away the strongman’s armor in which he trusted: He has removed the sting of death, which is sin, and has disarmed Satan so that his only weapons are lies and deception. He has poured out His own holy and innocent blood as a new covenant, setting all who trust in Him free from the waterless pit. And, for all your sins that have kept you separated from God and life, He has restored to you double in blessing, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Thus, on this Palm Sunday, as on every Lord’s Day, we receive Him who comes in the Name of the Lord, present with us in the humble and lowly forms of bread and wine that we may eat and drink and live in and through Him in Holy Communion. And, this day we are pleased to welcome to this communion a young son and daughter of our Lord to the glory of God in Christ Jesus through His most Holy Spirit. “Hosanna! Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Homily for Judica–The Fifth Sunday in Lent–The First Sunday of Passiontide



John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14

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

Isaac was the child of promise, a child that would be conceived in a barren womb by God’s Word of promise alone, much as that Word had been spoken into the nothingness in the beginning, conceiving the heavens and the earth. That is to say, what was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah was possible for God, for whom all things are possible. There was nothing that Abraham or Sarah could do in order to conceive; there was no way to force God’s promise to be fulfilled on their own terms or by their own machinations. There was only faith, or better yet, trust – trust in God, trust in God’s Word, trust in God’s promise. There was only faith, but that was enough.

God chose Abraham. There was nothing special about him. He was an idolator amongst idolaters, a man of unclean lips dwelling amongst a people of unclean lips. God could have chosen anyone else, and probably should have chosen no one at all, but He didn’t; He chose Abraham and He called Him. And, Abraham believed God – Abraham trusted in God – and God counted Abraham’s faith, Abraham’s trust, as righteousness. That is to say, Abraham wasn’t righteous, and neither was his trust righteousness, but God chose to look at it that way; God chose to count Abraham’s faith as righteousness. So long as Abraham had faith – so long as he trusted in God and in His Word – Abraham didn’t have to be perfect, it didn’t matter that he was unclean, for God considered him clean – it was His choice, His work, His mercy, and His grace, because of the Son of Promise that God Himself would provide.

It was twenty-five years later that God fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Sarah conceived when she was ninety years old and she bore the son of promise, Isaac, whom God had promised would be the father of Abraham’s offspring as countless as the stars in the heavens. All along, God had been honing Abraham’s faith, strengthening it and increasing it. Though Abraham believed God in the beginning when He first called Him to leave his father’s home and journey to an unknown land that God would reveal to him, God continued to lead Abraham by faith and not by sight, blessing him again and again, answering his prayers, and increasing his wealth and prosperity. Though Abraham faltered when God delayed in blessing him with the son of promise, after Isaac’s birth, Abraham’s faith and trust was stronger than ever before. That is why, when God commanded that Abraham sacrifice his only son Isaac, the son of God’s promise, trusting in the LORD and in His Word of promise, Abraham was prepared to do it.

This story of the would-be sacrifice of Isaac, perhaps more than any other story in the Holy Scriptures, confounds believers and unbelievers alike, and provides unlimited fuel for the fire being fanned into flame by atheists and those who hate God and His Word. They ask, “How can a good God command His faithful servant to sacrifice the son that He promised to him? Even if God knew that He would stay Abraham’s hand, what wicked perversion to put a man through such torture and terror.” These are, of course, questions of theodicy, seeking a justification for God’s actions. Sometimes they are described as the problem of evil or the problem of suffering. Countless theologians, philosophers, and armchair psychologists have written treatises on theodicy, nearly all of them unsatisfying. I will simply remind you of what I stated earlier: God owed nothing to Abraham. He called Him of His own choosing, not because there was anything special or righteous or good about Abraham, but he was a sinner just like you and me. God chose to bless Abraham. If God chose to revoke the blessing, He was free to do so. God is holy; we are not. God is good; we are not. God is God; we are not, but we are His creatures. What complaint does the pot have before the potter? If the pot develops a crack, the potter is justified in destroying it. To approach theodicy in any other way is to transgress the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” particularly yourself.

However, there is much in the story of Abraham and Isaac that the atheists and unbelievers, and, sadly, many Christians fail to see. This was a test, a test of Abraham’s faith and trust, not in God’s goodness, not even in God Himself, but of faith and trust in God’s Word of promise. Would Abraham trust in God’s Word even when it appeared to be so terribly wrong, even evil? Would Abraham kill his son of promise, trusting that God would still keep His Word and, someway, somehow, provide through him offspring as countless as the stars in the heavens? There is a powerful witness in this story that Abraham’s faith in God’s Word was precisely that strong. God was not wrong in counting Abraham as righteous, as He was not wrong in counting Job as righteous, as He was not wrong in counting Mary, the mother of the Son of Promise that God really had in mind, as righteous and blessed because she believed and trusted in the Word of God even when it seemed so terribly wrong, impossible, and even evil.

The first indication of the profound nature of Abraham’s trust comes when he first gazes upon Mount Moriah, three days journey from his camp. It was then that Abraham gave instruction to his servants traveling with him and Isaac saying, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Was Abraham lying to his servants when he said that he and Isaac would return to them? No, he was not. In fact, the preacher to the Hebrews in chapter eleven, verse nineteen says of Abraham, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham so trusted in God’s Word that he believed that, even if God required the sacrifice of his son of promise, God would still keep His promise and would raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham truly believed that he and the boy would return.

The second indication of the profound nature of Abraham’s trust comes when the boy Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Then Abraham answered him saying, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Here Abraham confessed his faith that God, ultimately, would provide His own sacrificial Lamb. Indeed, God did just that when “the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy.’” Then “Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Thus, Isaac’s life was spared by the sacrificial lamb God provided. Yet, Abraham knew that this gift was but a foreshadowing of the True Lamb that God Himself would provide as a substitute for all the sons of men in His only-begotten, beloved Son Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’,” and his offspring through his son of promise continued to confess, “On the mount of the LORD is shall be provided.”

This was the faith of Abraham, and this was the faith of his offspring through his son of promise, Isaac, the children of Israel – that the LORD would provide in His own Son of promise, the Messiah, the Lamb of God’s self-offering that would atone for the sins of all men, the sins of the entire world. What Abraham experienced that day on Mount Moriah was a type and foreshadowing of what God would accomplish on that very mountain upon which Jerusalem would be founded and the temple constructed, where the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus, would bear the wood of the cross upon His back and lay down His life into death for His friends, for His enemies, for those who hate Him, for the life of the world. That day on Mount Moriah was the day of which Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Therefore you too, offspring of Abraham, children of promise, not according to Abraham’s flesh, but according to Abraham’s faith – we remember that day and we celebrate that day, the day in which God had mercy upon us all, loved us all, and died for us all that we might live in and with Him forever.

All who have Abraham as their spiritual father rejoice in the day of Jesus’ self-offering just as did he. They are the true children of Abraham, and they are the true children of God. However, those who reject Jesus have another father. Jesus Himself teaches that their father is the devil, a liar, and a murderer, and the father of lies. Those who reject Jesus reject the Lamb of God’s offering, the sacrifice that God has provided as a substitute. Therefore, they will not be released and return home, as was Isaac, but they will be burned in the fire of God’s wrath against sin. For, there will be a judgment upon those who reject the judgment that has already been placed upon and fulfilled in Jesus’ self-sacrifice upon the cross. For, Christ has been judged in your place, as your substitute, for the atoning of your sins. He, who was innocent, was made to be sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God. Never did the blood of countless bulls and lambs atone for sin, but the blood of the Lamb of God’s self-offering has taken your sin away that you may live in peace with God. More than that, in His Son He has adopted you as sons, sons of promise: “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never taste death.” He has been judged, guilty, in your stead. Therefore, you are judged, not guilty, even innocent, righteous, and holy by declaration of God’s Holy Word. It is finished. Go, in His peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homily for Laetare–The Fourth Sunday in Lent

H-34 Lent 4 (Jn 6.1-15)


John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

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

After the five thousand were miraculously filled with bread and fish, they were ready to take Jesus by force and make Him king. I’m sure you can understand why. How often have you thought, if only God would perform some amazing miracle before you, then you would believe? If only God would do something that would irrefutably prove His existence, His goodness, and His power, then all the world would believe. But then, you wouldn’t really trust in God or in Jesus or in His Word, but you would trust in the sign, the miracle, the bread and the fish, or whatever. If you eat, you will be hungry again. God performs miracles for you every day, and yet you don’t believe, still you clamor for more. So too, Jesus taught His disciples, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God has set His seal.”

The bread that Jesus provided for them was just a sign of the True Bread from heaven that gives life to the world. That bread was not mere bread for the belly, but that bread is Jesus Himself. That is why Jesus had the disciples gather up the leftover fragments of bread, twelve basketfuls – He didn’t want the people to horde the bread, to trust in the bread, but in the provider of the bread, God, and the True Bread He has provided, Jesus. The same was true with the children of Israel in the wilderness. There, God daily provided them bread to eat and instructed them to gather only enough for the day. If they gathered more than a day’s bread, He caused it to spoil and to breed worms so that they would not trust in the bread, but in the provider of the True Bread, the Word of God. That is why, when Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread and feed His belly, Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” It is a kind of slavery to trust in bread, wealth, flesh, and the knowledge of the mind. Therefore, your God, who would have you live free, takes from you the chains that you permit to bind you: bread spoils, wealth is stolen and decays, the flesh grows weak and dies, and knowledge cannot save you from death.

Allegorically, St. Paul compares your slavery to created things to the covenant of the Law symbolized in Hagar and her son Ishmael. God had promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a son of promise whose descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and from whose seed would come the promised Messiah. However, trusting in the flesh and not in God, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, and conceived a son with her, Ishmael, a son of slavery. Still, God kept His Word and promise, and Sarah conceived and bore the son of promise, Isaac. Paul states, “This may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. […] She corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”

Abraham and Sarah were enslaved under the covenant of the Law to trust in their works. They did not trust in the Word of the LORD, that He would provide them a son, but they trusted in the works of the flesh to produce a son according to their will, in opposition to the will of God. Indeed, Hagar did bear a son, but he was not the son of promise, but a son of slavery. There was no blessing in Ishmael, but there was instead a curse – Ishmael and his descendents persecuted Isaac and his descendents. Likewise, trust in works, no matter how good they may be, cannot save but they lead only to slavery and death. But, you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. Therefore, trust not in the works of the flesh or in any material, worldly, created thing, but trust in God, His Word by which a man may live, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ who is the bread of life come down from heaven which a man may eat and truly live.

Interestingly, the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each have an account of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper, but John does not. Or, does he? Yes, indeed He does, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand is the beginning of it in chapter six. Throughout John chapter six, Jesus teaches His disciples that He is the true bread come down from heaven saying, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John tells us that the Jews who listened to Him understood Him literally and they grumbled saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus answered them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

The Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, is the only source of life. You scramble around in the darkness of spiritual ignorance trying to feed your bellies, trusting in your ability to earn bread and in the ability of bread to give you life, while you neglect the source of all life, the one thing needful for your body, soul, and life. You make yourself a slave to stuff, and to the desire for stuff, thinking that these will give you life, while you are dying, while you are literally starving yourself to death because such food does not last. If the fruit that brings knowledge also brings death, then what have you gained?

Come, eat. Come, drink. The LORD has provided. The LORD continues to provide daily bread that you may eat and drink and live. For, you are no longer “children of the slave but of the free”; therefore do not submit yourself once again to a yoke of slavery under the Law demanding works of the flesh, but trust in the Word of the LORD, His Word of promise. All your striving to attain your daily bread by the works of your hands serve only to fill your belly for a moment, which eventually ends in death. Jesus is the bread of life come down from heaven; Jesus is the bread of promise, a new covenant of grace that you may eat and be satisfied, that you may drink and never thirst again, that you may live eternally in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Homily for Oculi–The Third Sunday in Lent

H-32 Lent 3 (Lu 11.14-28)


Luke 11:14-28; Ephesians 5:1-9; Exodus 8:16-24

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

Today is one of those days in which some of you may be tempted to believe that this pastor, this congregation, this church body is simply out of touch, stuck in some medieval mire, and irrelevant in our enlightened, modern, and post-modern world. For, today I’m going to preach to you about the devil, Satan, and his minions of fallen angels that we call demons. In fact, today you have heard Jesus’ own teaching about demons as He cast a demon out of a man and then taught the crowd that had gathered about the danger of more demons returning if a man is not filled with the Holy Spirit of God.

Today, scientific materialists hold that all things that exist can be explained in terms of matter, stuff, that can be seen and measured, leaving no place for the spiritual or the supernatural. They scoff and wag their heads and, increasingly, shake their fists at those who believe in angels, demons, and God and consider them unenlightened at best, but more typically, ignorant and backward, and more recently, dangerous. It’s difficult to tell, however, if they represent the majority, or if they are simply the loudest voice in the world today. Either way, they have been successful in making shipwreck of the faith of many a soul who have come to regard religion as mythology or fantasy, and the Bible as merely a collection of men’s writings serving their purposes of suppressing knowledge and keeping people in ignorance and fear that they may more easily be controlled.

However, even if you have resisted the siren’s call of scientific materialism, and you still believe in the devil and his demons, you may be tempted to simply blame them for all the evil and suffering in the world, even for your own sinful failings, and deny your own culpability and need to repent of your sins and be absolved and forgiven. You may be quick to recognize the demons in your brother and neighbor, but deny those who cohabitate with you in your own house. Jesus’ teaching today informs you that, not only is Satan’s kingdom not divided against itself, but that if you wrongly believe that you can live with your demons and keep them locked in their bedrooms and live happily ever after, you are dead wrong. Jesus taught that the spirit cast out of a man will return, and if he finds the house of a soul unoccupied – that is, by the Holy Spirit of God – he will move back in, this time with seven other spirits more evil than itself, and the state of that person will be worse than the first. Likewise, if you believe that you can dance with the devil and remain in control of your faith and your life, you are dead wrong – sooner or later, he’s going to take the lead.

Ya can’t have it both ways. There is no fence-straddling when it comes to faith in the Lord. If you are not with Jesus, then you are against Him. And, if Jesus is not the Lord of your life and the God of your salvation, then the devil is. “But, Pastor, how can you say that? That’s so absolute. That’s so black and white. Surely God is not so rigid and inflexible as that.” I didn’t say it, the Word of the Lord did, Jesus did. And, His Word is true, for there is God, and there is everything else; there are those who put their fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and there is everyone else, for God says “You shall have no other gods,” and He isn’t kidding. If the house of your soul is divided against itself, divided between the Lord and the devil, it cannot, it will not stand.

We are all born, we are all conceived in sin and iniquity, as David confessed in Psalm 51, as spiritual children of the devil. I know that is hard to hear, but it is the Word of the Lord and it is true, for all inherit our First Father’s sin, which is truly ours, and we quickly and perpetually add to it our own actual sins. However, in Holy Baptism and faith, we are literally born again. That is to say, the old evil spirit in us is cast out, and a new and holy spirit from God is raised up within us. In Holy Baptism, Jesus casts out the evil spirit within us by the Finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of a new and holy spirit within us. Though we receive this one baptism for the forgiveness of our sins and it need never be repeated, the gift of Holy Baptism must be received in faith. Without faith, both baptism and its gifts remain, but the baptized cannot benefit from them.

However, be sure of this, when you were baptized, the evil spirit which possessed you was driven out. Your sin-corrupted and fallen man was drowned and died and a new man, a holy spirit was raised up within you and took up residence in the house of your body. While the Holy Spirit will bear with your letting the demons back in for a while as He fights with you and for you to keep them out, He will not bear with them forever. If your faith becomes weak because you have danced with the devil and permitted him to take the lead, your heart will harden and your faith will die – the Holy Spirit will leave. And, when He has left, who will there be to prevent any number of demons from claiming you as their home – and your last state will be worse than your first? Repent.

For, when you repent, when you confess your sins and are absolved of them by God’s Word and Jesus’ blood, you need not be baptized again, but you return to the one baptism you have received, the baptism which was always there, the baptism you rejected is still efficacious to you when you receive it in faith – and the Holy Spirit will return to you with all His gifts, blessings, and benefits. But, the Holy Spirit will not cohabitate with demons. Your Jesus will not abide with you if you are against Him. And your God will not share you with any other god, if there truly were any other god but Him.

What demons do you show hospitality to thinking that you can harbor them and that the Holy Spirit will remain with you? What neutral position do you attempt to claim between good and evil, right and wrong, what God has commanded or forbidden and what your flesh, culture, and world tell you are good and right and true. How often do you believe that what God’s Word says is sin, what Jesus’ shed His blood and died to forgive, is no sin at all? How often do you call God a liar and accuse your Lord of doing evil, casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons? Repent, and return to your baptism, that the Holy Spirit may fill the house of your soul and guard it.

As Jesus was teaching these things, a woman in the crowd cried out “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” That is most certainly true as Mary herself confessed “all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” Though her confession was true, she was, unfortunately, missing the point. The flesh can neither bestow nor preserve and protect blessedness. Only the Word of God can do that. In fact, it was the Word of God spoken to Mary by God’s messenger Gabriel that blessed her womb as she conceived the Word become flesh Jesus, who, after His birth, nursed at her blessed breasts. So also are you blessed, so also are all men blessed, not by the flesh, but by the Word of God. “Blessed are those,” Jesus says, “who hear the Word of God and keep it.”

In truth, it is in hearing the Word of God that faith is created and forgiveness and life are bestowed. It is the Word of God that exorcises the demons and sends them fleeing. And, it is the Word of God the preserves, keeps, and protects you in the true faith that you may resist temptation and the assaults of the devil. In truth, you were born again from the blessed womb of your Mother the Church in the font of Holy Baptism. In truth, you are suckled and nourished at the blessed breasts of your Mother the Church as you hear and eat and drink and keep the Word of God in the proclaimed Word, the incarnate Word in bread and wine, body and blood, and the cleansing Word in Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, that you may walk in love as imitators of God, beloved children, children of light to the glory of the Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.