Sunday, October 27, 2013

Homily for The Festival of the Reformation (observed)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is often said that justification is the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls. But, what does this statement mean? That is to say, what does justification mean? Justification is about how your are made to be right with your God: Are you made right with God by your works, by being obedient to the Law, or are you made right with God by grace, by the works and merit of Jesus? The former is the way of the Law, which leads only to death, while the latter is the way of the Gospel, which bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation.
St. Paul teaches you plainly in Romans, “By the works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight.” Likewise, Paul teaches, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, […] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
And so, God’s Law is the great leveler, condemning us all equally without exception: The Law of God condemns the Jew and the Gentile, the clean and the unclean, the Pharisee and the prostitute, the good and the bad, the saint and the sinner. However, the Gospel, likewise, forgives and redeems equally and without exception all who believe in Jesus Christ “whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.” This is to show God’s righteousness, that, though He has all things against you, He willingly holds no thing against you, but forgives you all things through Jesus Christ. Therefore, God retains His justice and righteousness, and at the same time He justifies you who have faith in Jesus.
There is no cause for boasting, for there are no works or merit you can (or would want to) take credit for, for God has done all things necessary for your justification. He has done what you could never do: He has made you right with Him once again. Likewise, there is no cause for despair, for your sin-corrupted works and worthless merit have no role in your justification at all! As they cannot count for you, neither do they count against you if you repent and trust in Jesus for forgiveness.
However, the flesh does not like this arrangement. The flesh insists that it deserves credit and merit for its good works and that it, on the contrary, does not deserve judgment and condemnation for it’s bad works. The flesh considers the wisdom of God in justification to be foolishness. Often, the proclamation of the Gospel is met with rebellion, anger, and violence. Thus, Jesus lamented, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
The Prophets and the Law are the entirety of the Old Testament scriptures. As our resurrected Lord taught the Emmaus disciples, these all testify of Him. What they teach, specifically, is that God’s Law is Holy and Righteous, demanding perfection: You must be holy, as the LORD your God is holy. God set the bar so high that no one could possibly reach it, for the Law was never intended to be the means of your justification, making you right with God. Thus, God instituted the sacrificial system that the sins of the children of Israel could be atoned for, covered over for a time. But, they had to be repeated over and over again, year after year. Indeed, no man was ever forgiven his sins by these sacrifices, but God looked away from his sins for a time. That’s why, when John the Baptist came, he pointed to Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s Law saying, “Behold, the Lamb that God has provided, who does not merely cover over your sins, but who actually takes them away!”
But, what was the reaction of the religious leadership, and even many of the laity of Israel, to Jesus’ preaching of the Law’s fulfillment and it’s Third Use and fruit, love? They denied His divinity saying, “Aren’t you the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, the son of Joseph whom we know?” They denied His ability to forgive sins saying, “Only God can forgive sins.” And, their fathers killed the Prophets whom God sent to testify about Jesus even as they would kill the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles Jesus would send in His Name.
Jesus described them in this way: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’.” His meaning is that the flesh is never satisfied. First it wants to boast of its works and merits, but then the Law crushes man’s pride and reveals the best of man’s works to be but filthy rags. Thus, disdaining the Law, man lowers the bar for himself (if that were possible) so that he may do what the Law requires according to his own, not God’s, definition. This is what the Pharisees were especially good at doing. They made the Law do-able for themselves, but un-do-able for the laity, the people they were supposed to be serving. Yet, even then, they couldn’t do it perfectly. Therefore, they lowered it again, and again, and again. However, often the opposite occurs: The flesh recognizes that it cannot fulfill the Law’s demands and thus is plunged into hopelessness and despair. This will leave the poor soul either in the morass of despair, or his heart will be hardened and he will rail against God’s Law and God Himself crying, “Unfair! Unjust! Evil!” The devil steals the Word of the Gospel away from that heart altogether and it returns to the hard soil it was before.
Likewise, Jesus taught that they rejected John because he didn’t eat and drink in the legalistic ways that they did saying “He has a demon,” while they rejected Jesus because He did eat and drink, calling Him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collector’s and sinners!” John, the forerunner of Jesus, represented the Law and the Prophets, the final word of the Law to be spoken. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and He is the fulfillment of John as well. Where John commanded men, not to perform the Law to be saved, but to repent of their failings, their sins, in keeping it, Jesus would be justified by His deeds. Jesus alone did all things well; He fulfilled the Law along with all Messianic prophecies: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus is the Wisdom of God, often personified as Sophia in the feminine, thus He teaches, “Wisdom is justified by Her deeds.” Of no man but Jesus could this be said, for Jesus alone kept the Law perfectly, in perfect love and obedience, and had no sin of His own to corrupt His works or His merit. Therefore, not only did Jesus fulfill God’s Law for you, in your place, but He could take your sin and guilt upon Himself and put it to death and bury it, leaving it behind in His empty tomb forever.
Still, the flesh rebels against and rejects this Truth and Wisdom. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time rejected Jesus’ Gospel and considered it “expedient that one man should die for the people.” They despised the Law of God and preferred their own law instead. They couldn’t possibly see the Gospel for the Good News that it was, for they trusted in their works and merits and deceived themselves that they kept God’s Law, thus they saw no need at all for faith in Jesus or the forgiveness He offered.
However, Pharisees are not consigned only to first century Israel, but each generation has its own fleshly legalists. In Luther’s time it was the magisterium of the papacy, cardinals, and bishops. The magisterium taught that works (prayers and pilgrimages) and money (tithes and indulgences) could merit God’s forgiveness. Luther exposed this for the legalistic false teaching that it was, insisting from the Scripture that men “are justified by faith (alone) apart from works of the Law.” In fact, what we are commemorating this day is Luther’s nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses on Indulgences to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31st, 1517. Each of these ninety-five theses dealt specifically with the question, “How are we justified before God?” How you answer that question will inform how you treat countless other doctrines in the Church: Who is Jesus? What does His sacrificial death mean? How can I know that I am saved? Is God wrathful or gracious? What am I to make of suffering and death? How should I understand the command to perform good works? Etc. This is why the doctrine of justification is said to be the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls, for if any part of your justification depends upon you, you can never be saved, and if you are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then you need do nothing to be saved at all but believe and trust in Jesus and receive God’s most gracious gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
In Jesus, the hour of God’s judgment has come – bearing your sins, Jesus was judged guilty in your place, and you have been judged innocent. Moreover, Jesus received the sentence you deserved, death, and He went to your cross, was crucified, died, and was buried. But He rose again from the dead because He had paid the penalty for your sin and, having no sin of His own, the grave could not hold Him. Therefore, He has taken away the sting of death, sin, and He has taken away the power of sin by fulfilling the Law. This is the eternal Gospel that must be proclaimed again, and again, and again “to those who dwell on the earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”
Thus, the Reformation continues, for the flesh and sinful men will continually rebel against and reject the Gospel and return to the chains of the Law, God’s, man’s, the devil’s, or otherwise. Semper ecclesia reformanda, the Church is always being reformed, for we must daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annually cast off the shackles of the Law and works righteousness, repent, and receive the soothing balm of the Gospel. The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. And, the Wisdom of God will appear as foolishness to man’s flesh and corrupted reason. Therefore we pray and we repent, this day and every day, that God would continue to send His angels, His messengers, His pastors, teachers, and evangelists to proclaim to us the eternal Gospel again, and again, and again. And He will, and He does. Even now He has prepared His table before you in the presence of your enemies that you may eat and be satisfied, drink and be quenched. And He promises that He will never leave you or forsake you, but that He will keep you and protect you as you pass through the valley of the shadow of death. For, “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.” And, though “the old evil foe now means deadly woe,” “He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.” You may be surprised to hear that Luther said that “one little word” was “Liar!” However, this makes sense, because Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and He exposes Satan for what he is, a liar. Therefore, when Satan lies to you saying, “You must do more if you are going to merit God’s forgiveness,” or, “There is no forgiveness for you, your sins are too great,” just say to him, “Liar! My Jesus is the Truth, and He has set me free; for I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and that is the truth.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homily for The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)


Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-11; Micah 6:6-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The problem with indebtedness is that someone else owns your car, your home, and your life. In a very real sense, when you are in debt, you have sold yourself into slavery. As a result, you live every day in the fear that the rightful owner might come knocking on your door and demand that you pay back in full what you owe. And, if you can’t do that, you’re going to lose your car, your home, or, perhaps, even your life, as your wages are garnished, fines and penalties accrue, and you are sued, or possibly even imprisoned. Yes, of course, there are bankruptcy laws, we even call it bankruptcy protection today but they are a relatively new invention originating in 16th century England. The concept, however, finds its roots in 9th to 14th century Italy. Whenever a man refused to pay his debts, those he owed would storm into his house or workplace and destroy his workbench. In Italian, broken bench is “banca rotta,” from which we get the English word bankruptcy.
Spiritually, you are indebted and bankrupt to your Creator. In the beginning He provided you everything you required to live and to prosper. But you took what He did not give, what He had forbidden, and now you owe. And, how are you ever going to repay your God who made you and all things? What, O indebted man, do you truly own that you could repay Him with? This is what the Prophet Micah is getting at when he says: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” None of these are truly yours, for you have nothing of your own, and all these already belong to Him. No, if the LORD is not merciful and forgiving, there is no hope for you. But, He is merciful and forgiving; therefore there is hope, and more than hope, for forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is more than hope, because your LORD, Creator, and God did not send His henchmen to break your bench, but He sent His own Son to be broken for you, in your place. In Jesus, God did the unthinkable: He switched places with you. He became the debtor, and you go free. He didn’t merely lower your APR or write-off a portion of your debt, but He completely erased it, canceled it, tore it up, forgave it. Still, a debt is a debt; and, forgiven or not, someone still has to pay. That someone was God Himself, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus paid for all your debt to God’s righteousness until it was finished, canceled, paid in full. He drank the cup of God’s righteous wrath against your sin down to the bitterest dregs, so that there is nothing left. Therefore, you don’t need to bargain with God for more time to make things right – not withstanding the fact that you could labor in hell for all eternity and never come close – but you need only receive His forgiveness by grace alone as a gift – the most pure, holy, and perfect gift you could ever imagine. And, you must understand that receiving this gift is not a work; faith and trust in God is not a work. For, anything that you might dream to offer God towards paying your sin debt, negotiating it down, even believing that your receiving the gift is a work that you do (because you have to take it?), is a slap to the face of God, suggesting that Jesus’ suffering and death for you was insufficient, not enough. No, either God has forgiven your sin debt one hundred percent in Christ Jesus or you are still in debt to Him.
You see, this is the radical nature of God’s grace and of our Christian faith. Finished really means finished! Free really means free! Forgiven really means forgiven! And, that’s because grace really means grace. With God, it’s really all or nothing: It’s all His grace, or it’s no grace at all. It’s all His forgiveness, or it’s no forgiveness at all. It’s all His work, to His credit and glory, or it’s none of His work at all – which means it’s all your work, and you will never, never be able to make yourself right with God by your works and merit. However, some think this sounds too easy, that sinners are let off Scot free, that that somehow cheapens grace. Yes, while it is true that our sin-corrupted flesh and reason will seek to take advantage of God’s grace, such people deceive themselves and remain in their sins. For, God’s grace is anything but cheap. In truth, it is the most costly thing there is, costing no less than the holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Before moving on to Jesus’ parable of The Unforgiving Servant, I want to take a moment to address an objection that is raised by some Christians to the use of language concerning the payment of debt, punishment, God’s wrath, and substitutionary atonement. The use of such language offends some Christians because they believe that it somehow lessons or contradicts God’s true motive in sending His Son to forgive our sins: Love. They argue that for God to have wrath against man for His sin so that He has to sacrifice His own Son to satisfy and satiate His wrath makes God to be an angry and vengeful God, not a God of love. Likewise, they argue that for Jesus to bear the punishment we deserve as a scapegoat negates His great love and compassion for mankind, acting more out of obedience to His Father than from love. While I can appreciate the desire in such remarks to keep the focus on God’s boundless love instead of on negative things like wrath, debt, punishment, etc., nevertheless, the Bible, and Jesus Himself, often uses such language and imagery to illustrate the nature of our sin and God’s righteousness, as well as His love and forgiveness. In fact, Jesus’ parable of The Unforgiving Servant is a perfect example of this.
When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him, Jesus answered Peter and all the disciples with a parable saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” Now, who is it that said that it was proper to compare God and His kingdom to a debtor / debtee transaction? That’s right, it was Jesus who said that. You see, however, the words “may be compared” are of key importance. Jesus is not saying that the kingdom of heaven is a debtor / debtee transaction, but only that such worldly things serve to illuminate what is truly a Divine and holy mystery. It is very similar to Jesus’ teaching about prayer where He said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” The point is that, as imperfect and broken as human relations are in this world, they still bear a shadow or a dim reflection of what is holy and true. God can use them, and He does use them, that we may know Him better and His will and love for us in Jesus.
In truth, the entire parable is about love. The cancelation of debts, mercy, and forgiveness are really fruits of this overarching and underlying good law: love. Peter was seeking to place a limit upon forgiveness, upon love, to make that commandment more do-able. That’s what we do with love; we make it conditional. But, God’s love is unconditional; it makes no demands upon us at all. How many times should you forgive? How much love should you show? There is no limit. Further, the one who has wronged you does not need to deserve, earn, or merit your love and forgiveness, but you must give it always and unconditionally, even if they hurt you again, and again. Now, that’s Law! You bet it is! If you are to abide and live by that standard, then there is no hope for you. But, that’s where the Gospel comes in and says, “Do not be afraid! Lift up your head. I forgive you, for Jesus’ sake. Moreover, I love you perfectly and completely. I will give you love and more that you can truly love your brother, your neighbor, even your enemy, because you will love them with my boundless, limitless love. You will forgive them, as I have forgiven you, with my boundless, limitless forgiveness.”
You see, Jesus has fulfilled the Law to love for you. Mind you, He has not done away with it, it is still there, but He has fulfilled it for you. This means, not that you are free to not do it, but rather that you are free to do it, without coercion, without fear, but with Jesus’ love. In fact, you must do it; you must show love, and you must forgive. But, these musts are not terrifying commands of the Law, but fruits of the Gospel. You must love and forgive your brother, your neighbor, and your enemy because you are forgiven by God in Jesus – you are a branch connected to the True Vine, and Jesus says that you will bear much fruit. You must love them and forgive them, not only with your head, with your intellect and mind, but you must love and forgive them from your heart. Why? Because love and forgiveness are the fruit that Jesus bears through you when you believe and trust in Him. They are His fruit, borne through you, by which all will know that you are His disciples.
This is what you pray regularly in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Your forgiveness of others is connected to your receiving forgiveness from God – and vice versa. If you will not, or can not, forgive your brother, your neighbor, and even your enemy, from your heart, that is a sign, a bad sign, that Jesus is not in your heart, or that His foothold there is slipping. Now, I know that this may sound like the preaching of the Law – and, to some of you, it probably is, and probably needs to be – but what I mean to preach to you now is the sweet liberty of the Gospel. You are truly free from your sin debt. It is canceled, paid in full by God in Jesus Christ because He loves you. But, will you, now that you are released, freed, and forgiven, hold your brother, your neighbor, even your enemy, in their sin debt and refuse forgiveness? What did the master in Jesus’ parable say to his servant whose debt he forgave when he in turn would not forgive one indebted to him? “You wicked servant! I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Therefore, forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. Give with Jesus’ grace. Love with Jesus’ love. This grace is not cheap, but the most costly grace imaginable. Therefore, do not be stingy and withhold from others what has cost God so very, very much, which He has purchased and given in love for you and all the world.
Come now and eat and drink deeply from the True Vine, Jesus Christ, that you may live with His life and bear His fruit of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. For, this fountain is ever-flowing, and its waters are sweetness, peace and eternal life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Homily for The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)


John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician, and Christian apologist Blaise Pascal posited that human beings all bet with their lives either that God exists or that He does not exist. Given the possibility that God actually does exist, Pascal continued, and assuming the infinite gain or loss associated with belief in God or with unbelief, a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God, for, if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.) instead of an infinite loss (the loss of eternal life and the receipt of eternal death and damnation). Pascal’s argument first appeared in his Pensées (Thoughts) and has come to be known as “Pascal’s Wager”.
It must be understood that Pascal’s Wager was not intended to be a proof of God’s existence, but, rather, an exercise of reasonable probability in how a man should live his life. His argument goes something like this: Either God exists, or He does not exist. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions. Nevertheless, you must wager; it’s not optional. However, if God exists, and you have wagered accordingly, you gain all. And, if God does not exist, whether you wager correctly or incorrectly, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is, for, there is an infinity of infinitely happy life to gain, while what you stake is finite.
I trust that, while you can see the reasonableness of Pascal’s Wager, you can also see that betting on God’s existence according to mere rational probability in respect to what you will either gain or lose accordingly is a far cry from what the Holy Spirit calls you to believe about God and His goodness in the Holy Scriptures and in the proclamation of His Gospel message. And yet, this does not make Pascal’s Wager incorrect, for, indeed, it is true – you do stand to receive infinite gain by believing in Him and trusting in Him, while unbelief in Him and rejection of Him will gain you infinite loss. Is this not what St. Paul teaches, at least in part, by saying, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” Ah, but there is a difference, and not an insignificant one: St. Paul is speaking in faith in the eternal, benevolent, and Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and not merely in consideration of what his faith will benefit him. Paul is speaking about how he will live his life in the world because of His God who has loved Him to the end in Jesus Christ.
Bo Giertz wrote in his notes on today’s Gospel, “Only he comes to God who loves Him and seeks to do His good and gracious will, whether it pays off or not.” What this means is that you must not believe in God and trust in Him merely because He gives you what you want, but you must believe and trust in Him because His Word is true and good, even when it accuses and scolds you, even when you do not receive what you want. In the Gospel, an official, probably from Herod’s court, wanted Jesus to come to his home and heal his son who was dying. No doubt he had heard, maybe even observed firsthand, the miracle He had previously performed in Cana, turning water into wine. Jesus rebuked him for demanding a sign, His physical presence in attendance to his dying son; He said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Then He told the man, “Go; your son will live.” John tells us that “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
The lesson here is that, while signs and wonders are indeed significant and wonderful, they are not the one thing needful, but the one thing needful is the Word of God. Indeed, signs and wonders are nothing apart from the Word of God just as baptism, without the Word, is only water, and communion, without the Word, is unsatisfying bread and cheap wine. But, with the Word of God, the water of Holy Baptism is a cleansing, regenerating, and faith-creating flood, and Holy Communion is the real and true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. As the story goes, before the man reached his home, his servants came to him with the news that his son had recovered. He knew that it was at the very moment Jesus said, “Your son will live.” Though he did not see the miracle being performed by signs and wonders, it happened nonetheless – just like the water being changed to wine at the wedding in Cana.
But, this is the continual revelation of Holy Scripture: God’s Word is powerful and creative, bringing into being what it says. In the beginning, God created all things that are by His powerful and creative Word so that “All things were made through [the Word], and without [the Word] was not anything made that was made.” Moreover, the powerful and creative Word of God, by which all things were made, “became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus, “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” When Jesus heals, He is re-creating and restoring His fallen and broken creation. When Jesus forgives, He is doing the same. He takes the world’s sin and brokenness and uncleanness upon Himself. He takes it to the cross, to your cross, and there He dies with it and for it so that it is no more, and He buries it in His tomb, your tomb, from which He has risen, leaving it dead and buried behind.
The official wanted signs and wonders. That’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with signs and wonders. However, your God would have you love Him, not because of signs and wonders, but because of His goodness and the truth of His Word. He has performed countless signs and wonders, and He performs them for you every day. But, signs and wonders are a secondary thing to His Word, even a fruit of that true and life-giving Vine. Pascal was right, if for the wrong reason: There is infinite gain in believing and trusting in God. You gain in this life by living in accordance with His Word. Through His Word He blesses you; and through His Word He makes you a rich blessing to others. And, when this life is ended, He will bless you with eternal life. It’s a win-win situation, a no-brainer! For the Christian, to live in this world is to live Christ’s life in humility, kindness, charity, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and most of all love. Then, when this life is ended, to die is only gain.
Yes, the world and men will assail you, but they are not your true enemy. Indeed, St. Paul exhorts you that you “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, abut against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This means, no man is your enemy, for we all have but one enemy, Satan, the evil one, the enemy of God, His Son, His Word, and His people. However, you do not face the enemy or his flaming darts alone or unprotected. You are covered in the holy armor of God: Truth, righteousness, and the Gospel of peace. These are the Word of God that mark you, guard you, and protect you – they are defensive armor against the assaults of the devil, the world, and the flesh. In truth, the only offensive weapon you have is the Sword of the Spirit, which, also is the Word of God.
Be not afraid; the Lord is with you. He is faithful and true, and He keeps His Word. As in the miracle at the Wedding at Cana, when Jesus changed the water into wine, the Lord works through His powerful and creative Word, often hidden and unseen, without signs and wonders. But, He works, and He is working. By His Word He created all things, sustains all things, and re-creates all things for the good of those who love Him in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is through you, more than through signs and wonders, that He does much of His work. It is through your hands, your mouth, and your heart that He comforts and heals, helps and befriends, serves and intercedes for all His people. It is through your vocations as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, teachers, bankers, managers, carpenters, nurses, caregivers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers that He serves His people and provides for all their needs of body and soul. He does this all through you “who [love] Him and [seek] to do His good and gracious will, whether it pays off or not.”
Of course, it does pay off temporally; and it will pay off eternally. For, His Word has spoken so, and His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, has died and has been raised to new and eternal life, the only sign and wonder that truly matters. And, to strengthen, keep, and protect you from the evil one in this new week, He gives you the sign and wonder of His body and blood in Holy Communion. “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homily for The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a party, a festive wedding banquet, in which everything is prepared, ready, and free, to which you are invited, so that you need do nothing at all but come. You don’t even have to buy a new suit or gown, for wedding clothes are included in the invitation. And yet, you refuse to come. You make excuses. Or, you insist on paying for your dinner, wearing a suit or gown of your own purchase and choosing. Haven’t you heard the saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” The kingdom of heaven is a gift to you. You cannot buy it. You cannot earn it by your works. And, you certainly don’t deserve it. But it is yours for the taking, absolutely free, no strings attached, as a gift. You are in, by the Father’s, by the King’s gracious working. Only you can make yourself to be out.
But, this is a parable, an analogy. The kingdom of heaven isn’t really a wedding feast, although there will be a feast and a wedding, but the kingdom of heaven is a relationship of love between a father and a son. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” Long before the invitations were sent, the guests invited, the beasts slaughtered, and the dinner prepared, long before all that, there was a father and a son. The son is getting married, and the father is going to throw a wedding feast for his son whom he loves. It’s all about the son. The banquet is for him and his bride whom the father loves. Indeed, the father’s love for his son is what makes the wedding feast to be the incomparable free gift of grace that it is. For, the father has done everything for the sake of his son because he loves him. And, that’s why absolutely everything that is necessary is already prepared and there is nothing for you to do, nothing for you to bring, nothing for you to buy, nothing for you to earn or to deserve, but it’s all free, absolutely, completely free by grace, and by grace alone, because of the father’s love for his son.
Yet, this isn’t any ordinary wedding banquet, for the kingdom of heaven isn’t any ordinary kingdom, and the King of Heaven isn’t any ordinary king. Likewise, the invitation isn’t any ordinary invitation, but it’s more like an offer you cannot refuse. Of course, you actually can refuse it, and, sadly, many do, but what I mean is that you shouldn’t refuse it, you shouldn’t want to refuse it, and, if you truly knew the nature of the invitation you have received and the implications of its refusal, you wouldn’t want to refuse it. No, this is no ordinary banquet, but this banquet is life, and its refusal is death. To refuse the King’s gracious invitation is to say, “No thank you, I’d rather die first.” Be certain of this, you will! This is why Jesus warns you of the grave implications of refusing to come to the wedding feast, or of insisting that you come on your own terms. Twice the king appealed to the invitees to come to the wedding feast, but they refused. Some even killed the king’s messengers! Therefore, “the king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” The wrath of God is not His proper disposition towards us, but rather His alien, or foreign disposition towards those who refuse and reject Him, but it is nevertheless real and uncompromising. Yet, no one need face God’s wrath against sin, for the invitation is to all through Jesus Christ – It is His wedding feast, and the Father, the King, would have His banquet hall filled.
Thus, the king said to his servants, “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” You see, badness or goodness are not conditions for participating in the wedding feast, but it is acceptance of the king’s gracious invitation. It was, and it is, by the king’s grace alone, for love of his son, that anyone is invited. It is by grace alone that you are saved, it is by grace alone that you must be saved, for it is by grace alone that you can be saved. Those initially invited were found unworthy because they refused and rejected the king’s gracious invitation. However, those invited later were not found unworthy even though some of them were bad. It is not badness that condemns you, or goodness that saves you, but you are saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Still, one of those guests gathered from the highways and the hedges was found by the king in the wedding hall without a wedding garment. The king had him bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness outside the gates. Why such harsh treatment to one who had responded positively to the king’s gracious invitation? Well, again, it is by the king’s grace alone that anyone enjoys his banquet, which includes, not only the invitation, mind you, but the proper attire as well. In order to demonstrate the totality and completeness of his grace upon his invited guests, the king in Jesus’ parable even supplied the proper wedding attire. His guests need not purchase, borrow, or worry about having the proper clothing, for all would be provided by his grace alone. Free means free – period! Thus, the king asked the man, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” To put it another way, “What arrogance and disrespect, to reject and to refuse the wedding garment I have provided for my guests!” Grace is the only way in. You are invited by grace, and you must be clothed by grace. Anything that you do and put your trust in will surely put you out.
But, again, this is a parable. Therefore, we’re not even really talking about a wedding or a banquet, and we’re certainly not talking about the proper tux or gown! The wedding garment is Christ’s righteousness, given to you by grace alone in Holy Baptism. The only way that you can enter into the kingdom of heaven is through Christ: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ’s righteousness must cover you. Jesus’ blood must cover you. And, holy Baptism gives this gift to you, purely and freely by grace alone – no strings attached. You don’t even have to understand it. You don’t even have to believe in order to receive this gift. But, this gift gives all that is required: It forgives sin. It clothes you with Christ’s righteousness. It even creates faith that clings to Christ alone. It’s a gift of God’s grace – perfect, pure, and holy, unlike any other gift you could ever imagine or receive! That’s what the man who was cast out had refused and rejected. He had refused and rejected God’s gift. He had refused and rejected Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, he had no standing before the King, and necessarily, he was cast into His alien wrath.
But, here’s the real kicker: You’re not just guests at the wedding. You’re the Bride! The wedding garment of Holy Baptism isn’t a tux or a gown, but it’s a wedding dress, pure white and spotless. Jesus says that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, only one is chosen – You, His precious Bride, the Church! “From heaven He came and sought Her to be His Holy Bride. With His pure blood He bought Her, and for Her life He died.” Though you are many, you are one body, His body, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. He will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love. His Father loves you because He loves His Son. Graciously He gives you all things, for He sees you as one flesh and one body with His Son. In Him, nothing is spared or reserved, but all things are yours. But, apart from Him, you have nothing.
That’s why Jesus warns, “Whoever is not with me is against me” and “You cannot serve two masters,” for you are wholly His by grace alone, or you have no part with Him at all. That is why the Prophet exhorts you to “seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near,” for the time is coming when the gates to the wedding hall will be shut, and outside there will be darkness, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. But, the good news, the Gospel is this: No one need be found outside! The invitation is to all, whether Jew or Gentile, good or bad, believer or unbeliever. It is delivered by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD and it has the power to create faith when and where He pleases. But, don’t try to buy or to work your way in, and don’t try to wear your own garment of works and pride – you will be cast out. But, come without money. Come without works. Just, come, and receive. For the LORD is good, and He graciously gives to all whose eyes look to Him, to those who desire the goodness of the LORD.
Come, now, and receive His gifts. The invitation is for you today to feast on this foretaste of the Great Wedding Feast of the kingdom of heaven. All is prepared for you, the Bride, to receive the goodness of your Groom. “Our Bridegroom and our Lord is He, who gives us our identity; and He whose promise can’t grow old has nothing that He will withhold. For this is He who did ascend and preaches still to all earth’s end through all His preachers who proclaim salvation in our Savior’s Name.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.