Sunday, August 25, 2013

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)

good samaritan


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

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

The lawyer’s question betrayed his fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Law of God. He asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” From that question alone, Jesus knew all that He needed to know about this man. For, the Law of God is not about I – it’s not about you but the Law of God is about others, your neighbors. The lawyer was interested in himself, thus he asked, “What must I do to inherit?” But, the purpose of God’s Law is not what you must do to get something you want, but the purpose of God’s Law is for you to love your neighbor.

“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus asks, not only the lawyer, but you. Do you hear and read the Law as instructions and commands for what you must and must not do? That is only part of the Law of God. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not slander, do not covet – what these prohibit is clear enough. However, do you not hear and see the command within them to love your neighbor? For, the command “Do not murder” means much more than merely “do not harm your neighbor in his body,” but it includes also the command “to help and befriend him in every bodily need.” This is why Jesus teaches, “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.”

The same is true with the other prohibitive commandments. Each also has a prescriptive component rooted in love for your neighbor. The prohibition against adultery prescribes that “husband and wife love and honor each other.” The prohibition against stealing prescribes that you help your neighbor “to improve and protect his possessions and income.” The prohibition against slander and gossip prescribes that you defend your neighbor and speak well of him, explaining everything in the kindest way. And the prohibition against covetousness prescribes that you help and be of service to your neighbor in keeping what he has. Even the commandments that are not directly prohibitive – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy; honor your father and your mother – these are about love, love for the Word of the Lord and love for your parents and authorities over you as you love the Lord Himself.

Love is the only commandment, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, if, like the lawyer who put our Lord to the test, you’re doing the Law of God in order to gain something for yourself, then you are focused on the letter while you miss the Spirit of the Law entirely.

Jesus said to the man, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer got Jesus’ point. Do you? You see, the lawyer spoke the correct words, he answered correctly: the love of God and the love of neighbor is the fulfilling of the Law. Love is the Spirit of the Law which undergirds and accompanies the letter. But, even though he answered correctly, Jesus’ Words piqued something in the man’s heart. The lawyer felt the need to justify himself. What this means is that he understood that Jesus was pointing him to something other than doing the Law to gain something for himself. Jesus was, in fact, pointing him away from himself and to his neighbor. Therefore, when Jesus said to him, “Do this, and you will live,” the lawyer felt the crushing weight of the Law coming down upon him, for he was self-interested, selfish, and self-righteous, and he realized that the keeping of God’s Law is not about the self at all, but about love for God and for the neighbor. No doubt, the lawyer did a pretty good job of keeping the letter of the Law. In fact, Jesus doesn’t chide the man for his works, but instead, he tells him a story to help him to truly see what the Law of God is all about. That story is the well-known and beloved Parable of the Good Samaritan.

As the story goes, a traveler “fell among robbers who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” I’m not certain that it’s wise to make too much of it, but the use of the words “fell among” seems to indicate a certain passivity, even innocence on the part of the traveler. It’s not that the traveler was doing anything wrong, but he simply “fell among robbers” and found himself in a predicament where bad things happened to him that he was powerless to stop. Perhaps Jesus’ purpose in using this language is that we identify with the traveler. For, too often we are stripped and beaten and left half dead by life, and by the sinful men and women who live it, through no particular fault of our own.

However, another possible way to understand this language is in terms of the letter of the Law, particularly the Levitical Law and its code. After all, that is what the lawyer knew so very well and put his fear, love, and trust in performing so that he felt self-righteous and justified. But, the lawyer’s reading of the Law was of the letter and not of the spirit, therefore, it brought no comfort to the terrified sinner, no hope to those despairing of salvation, but instead left them stripped, beaten, and half dead lying in a ditch that would soon become a grave.

Therefore, when first a priest and then a Levite pass by, they do not help the man. They cannot help the man, for they are bound by the same robbers that left him naked, bleeding, and dying in a ditch – but they don’t know it (or, do they?). You see, again, what is Jesus’ purpose in telling this parable? He is trying to get the lawyer to see that he is misinterpreting the Law that he believes he knows so very well. He is trying to get the man to understand the spirit of the Law, love, which he is able to state in a perfunctory manner from rote memory, but which he does not know personally, and therefore cannot show to his neighbor. Jesus tells this parable to the lawyer in order to pique his heart of mercy and compassion, that he may see, and know, and believe that this is the true meaning, purpose, and fulfillment of the Law of God.

When the despised Samaritan comes along, he alone does the priestly work that the Law requires, which the priest and Levite of the letter of the Law neither would nor could do. The Samaritan was moved by compassion, by love, to step down into the ditch with the bleeding, wounded, and dying traveler and to pour out his selfless gifts of oil and wine, to bind him up and bear him upon his own beast of burden, pay what was necessary to keep him and provide for him, and leave him with the promise that he would return. “Which of these three,” Jesus asks, “do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Both the lawyer, and you, and I must answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” And that is the purpose and the fulfilling of the Law: Love.

Love is the spirit of the Law. The lawyer, who was an expert in the Law, couldn’t see that. Jesus helped him to recognize it in the works of the Good Samaritan. For, works of the Law, even performed to the very letter of the Law, without love, are, as St. Paul has written, noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, or as Isaiah has written, filthy rags. Yet, moreover, on our own, we can no more fulfill the spirit of the Law than can we the letter. We cannot love God or our neighbor as the spirit of the Law requires, therefore, once again, we must identify with the half dead man in the ditch. We are Adam, who, upon sinning, his eyes were opened and he saw that he was naked and he was ashamed and afraid. This is what the Law does to sinners, it exposes you and leaves you vulnerable and unable to help yourself. God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” Like Jesus, God the Father gets to the root of the matter – sin. Adam was always naked, and his nakedness was good. It was sin that caused him to see the good things of God as bad. Likewise St. Paul confesses that he didn’t know what sin was until the Law came. The Law cannot save us, but it has “imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Indeed, as we heard last Sunday, Jesus “has done all things well!” He has fulfilled both the letter and the spirit of the Law. He has been the Good Samaritan, binding up the wounds you have suffered under the Law, pouring on His selfless gifts and paying the price for your life. And, He has been the man in the ditch, taking your place upon the cross, suffering mocking, beatings, scourging, and piercings at the hands of robbers, dying, and being buried in the earth that He might rise again to life and redeem you out of death and the grave. And, He is the innkeeper who cares for you and provides for you in this inn of His Church. And, He is the true Priest and Levite whose office is to serve you in love, mercy, and compassion, which He Himself receives in superabundance from His gracious and merciful Father in heaven.

Indeed, He has done all things well! He has fulfilled the Law of His Father in letter and spirit. He has done this for you, in your stead, so that you are healed, forgiven, made righteous and holy in the sight of His Father once again. Now He commands you, He exhorts you, He sends you as holy priests and Levites to “Go, and do likewise.” Go, and love like Jesus, with Jesus’ love. Go, and have compassion like Jesus, with Jesus’ compassion. Go, and show mercy like Jesus, with Jesus’ mercy. He has done all things well! He has fulfilled the Law in letter and spirit so that you are free to do it, without compulsion or coercion, without fear of failure and punishment, but you are free to do it, you are free to be it, in Jesus’ love. But first, you must be served by Him, here in this inn, His Church, where He cleanses you with water and anoints you with the Holy Chrism of His Spirit in Holy Baptism, where He forgives you with the healing balm of His Holy Absolution, where He feeds you with His faith creating, sustaining, and life-giving Word, and where He communes with you in life, through death, unto life that never ends in the Holy Supper of His Body and His Blood. Through these Holy Means He showers His mercy upon you, that you may go and do likewise to the glory of His Father.

In Jesus’ + Name. Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Homily for The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 12)

H-66 Trinity 12 (Mk 7.31-37)


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

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

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” These words of King David from Psalm 51, the Christian Church has spoken, sung, and chanted in the liturgies of Matins and Vespers since at least the sixth century. For centuries, Christians have prayed these words in the morning and in the evening and so have book-ended their daily lives with the confession that, unless the Lord opens our lips, not to mention our ears and our eyes, they are, and they will remain, utterly closed and unable to sing His praise, to confess His Name, or even to hear His life-giving and faith-creating Word at all. For, apart from the Lord’s gracious action, that is our state: spiritually deaf, dumb, blind, and dead towards God – just like Adam before God breathed His living breath into him; just like the blind man begging by the roadside; just like Lazarus before Jesus’ creative and life-giving Word called him to life; and just like the deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel. However, when the Lord opens our lips, our ears, and our eyes, then we will most certainly praise Him, not only in our direct and intentional prayers and praise, but also in our casual and day to day conversations with our families, with our neighbors, and with our co-workers, just as branches joined to the life-giving vine most certainly produce good fruit.

Yet, opening our ears and our eyes and our lips to speak, sing, and chant His Father’s praise is not all that our Lord does or can do. No. But, by His Word, He makes the lame to walk and lepers to be clean; He makes barren lands and barren wombs to be fruitful even as He once spoke light into the darkness and brought forth everything out of nothing, by the power of His life-giving and creative Word, His Word of life which is life, apart from which is only death. Thus, even now, by His same life-giving and creative Word He opens your ears to hear His Word and He creates faith within you through the preaching of His Word, He raises you from death to life in Holy Baptism, He forgives you and makes you clean through His Holy Absolution, and He feeds and nourishes you, His life communes with you, in the Holy Supper of His body and blood with the promise that He who has begun this good work in you will see it to completion in the Day of the Lord, and Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Therefore, as your mouth has been opened by the Lord to speak and sing His praise, you must not keep it closed and remain silent. For, your Lord has promised that He who confesses Him before men, He will confess before His Father in heaven, but He who denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father in heaven. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is working in you and with you to make of you bubbling spring and a fruitful vine of His prayer and praise, mercy, and compassion. You can no more “tell no one” than could Jesus’ disciples and the crowds after witnessing the healing of the deaf-mute. And, yet, you do not, but you remain silent, just like the women at Jesus’ empty tomb, because you are afraid. Like St. Paul, you know what you want to do, but you do not do it, and the things that you do not want to do, that is what you continually find yourself doing, for indeed, your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.

Therefore, you must not listen to your flesh. You must not obey your flesh. Rather, you must, as Jesus teaches, die to yourself and live to Christ in His righteousness. And, this is the fruit, not of the Law of God, but of the Law of God fulfilled, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because He has done all things well, making even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, He has fulfilled the Law’s demands and has set you free to do it without fear of condemnation, to do it, not to earn salvation, but to do it because you have been saved. Where the Law of God, because of your sin, left you deaf, dumb, blind, and dead, a barren wasteland and a fruitless field, the Gospel has given you a confidence and a sufficiency, not from yourselves, but from God. It is precisely because your righteousness comes from outside of you, not from inside of you, and because your righteousness is found in Jesus’ works, not in your works, that you can be confident and without fear, that you can stand before God and receive His gifts, open your lips and sing His praise, and tell everyone what He has done. Apart from Jesus, your words and your deeds are nothing, even filthy rags, but because of Jesus, in His Holy Spirit, that which once had no glory – your works – has been made to be glorious in His sight.

Jesus did some rather strange things in the healing of the deaf-mute. While His Word was sufficient to open his ears and to loosen his tongue, Jesus also accompanied His Word with symbolic actions: He put His fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting His touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Was this all for show, to draw attention to Himself? No, not at all, for, indeed, Jesus first took the man aside from the crowd privately. Further, even after healing the man, Jesus told him, His disciples, and the crowds not to tell anyone. No, Jesus never seeks to glorify Himself. But then, what was the purpose of His actions? Truly, it may have been only compassion. Jesus often utilized touch in connection with His Word of forgiveness and healing. However, St. Mark’s use of the specific word “finger” brings to mind the Old Testament usage of “the Finger of God” which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized was at work through Moses and Aaron. Jesus Himself used this figure in St. Luke’s Gospel saying, “But if it is by the Finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Perhaps Jesus placed His fingers into the deaf-mute’s ears to communicate that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Additionally, the use of spit and touching the man’s tongue may have a symbolic connection to Holy Baptism where common water is sanctified by the Word of Jesus’ mouth so that it becomes a lavish washing for the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Now, some may say that this is allegorizing, and perhaps it is. However, following these actions, Jesus looked up to heaven, sighed, and said to the man, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” making a clear connection between His actions and the blessing of His Father, that the deaf-mute would know the source of His healing through the Word of Jesus.

When you and I sigh, it is usually because of a sense of exasperation, futility, hopelessness, or despair. That is because we are sinners. We know that our best efforts fail and are soiled by our sin, and we daily suffer the effects of other sinners directly and indirectly. But, this is not why Jesus sighs. When Jesus sighs He breathes in our curse and He breathes out our cure, the blessing of His Word, the impartation of His Spirit, which gives life. For looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said “It is finished.” He breathed His last and handed over His Spirit. He gave His life into death so that you will live. He took the curse into Himself, your sin into Himself, He suffered in your place, died in your stead and was raised from death, out of the tomb so that you who trust in Him are forgiven your sins, rescued from death, have eternal salvation. And now He gives you His Body and His Blood. He gives you Himself, the embodiment of His Father’s Word, to make it embodied in yours, taking away your sin and giving you His righteousness, His holiness, His purity, His life. Indeed, He does all things well. And in Him, so do you.

Pray that the Father will continue to open your ears and to loosen your tongues by the Holy Spirit delivered through His proclaimed Word again and again. And, do not remain silent, but sing His praise in word and deed; tell everyone what He has done! For, you were deaf, and now you hear; you were blind, and now you see; you were mute, and now your lips have been opened, your tongue has been loosed; you were dead, but now you are alive in Christ. For you, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Therefore, die to yourself and live to Christ by laying down your life for your brother and sister, for your neighbor, for the Lord. Your sufficiency is not in yourself, but in the Lord. It is not of the letter, but of the Spirit. The Law indeed was, and is, glorious, therefore, how much more glorious will be ministry of the Spirit be?

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.