Sunday, January 26, 2014

Homily for The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 3)

Matthew 8:1-13; Romans 12:16-21; 2 Kings 5:1-15a

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but speak only Your Word, and my servant will be healed. Do you hear the faith of the Centurion whom Jesus praises saying, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith?” Jesus made a point of this Gentile’s confession within earshot of His Jewish disciples and hearers so that they might know that it is faith that makes one an heir of Abraham and not Jewish descent or the works of our hands. It is faith that clings to God’s Word of promise and trusts in Him that saves us by God’s free grace: grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.
Indeed, this doctrinal axiom was stated by God to Abraham when He made His covenant with Him saying, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” We are told that Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. This is to say that Abraham was not righteous in himself, and neither was his faith righteousness, but rather the LORD chose to look upon Abraham’s faith in this way and to count his faith to him as righteousness. Abraham contributed nothing in his part of the covenant – nothing that is, except for his faith, faith that God Himself had raised up within him.
And, so is it with you as well. You bring nothing to the table to offer to or to negotiate with the LORD. Indeed, spiritually, you were not even alive before God’s gracious intervention, but you were dead in sin and unable to make any movement toward God spiritually, mentally, or physically. You were like Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, Jesus’ friend, who was dead and buried in his tomb. Could Lazarus have done anything to change his dead condition? Could he have chosen to rise up and walk and to accept Jesus into his heart? No. The only thing Lazarus could have done was to waste, and stink, until he was no more. So, also, you were conceived and born in sin that leads to death. You were spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind until the Word of God opened your ears and eyes and raised you from death to life in Him. Your faith, like Abraham’s, is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
And, truly, even after faith and conversion, you are not worthy in yourself that the Lord should enter under your roof. However, the Lord has made you to be worthy by His grace, which you receive through the faith He has raised up within you (just like Abraham and Lazarus!), and therefore you are worthy! You are worthy because the Lord has made you to be worthy, even as you believe because the Lord has called you to faith, and therefore you live, because the Lord has given you His life.
Indeed this is true for all the Lord’s saints from Adam and Eve to you, your children, and your children’s children, even unto those whose life is yet to be conceived. We all inherit Adam’s sin and the death that is sin’s due wage. And, likewise, we are all saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in God’s Word alone (which is to say, Jesus Christ alone). Therefore, in terms of justification before God in Jesus Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” But, you see, this passage from Galatians does not teach the equality and non-differentiation of roles as is popularly thought today, but rather it teaches the universal atonement of all humanity in Jesus’ death and resurrection which we all may receive through faith in Him. Therefore, St. Paul continues by saying, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” And, here the Apostle is teaching to the Church what Jesus taught His disciples: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” But, those who come do so by God-given faith in His gracious gift of His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Our First Mother Eve had this God-given faith. The LORD made His first promise of salvation shortly after our First Parent’s fall saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” While this promise was made directly to the serpent, Eve took those words to heart and believed. When she gave birth to her firstborn son, Cain, Eve famously proclaimed, “I have begotten a Man, the LORD!” believing that the LORD had already fulfilled His promise, delivering the Seed of Promise. While she was mistaken about the identity of the promised seed, Eve’s faith in the LORD’s Word of promise is extraordinarily clear. As an interesting side-note, Jewish tradition holds that Cain’s name was a prophecy of the instrument he would later use to murder his brother Abel, a reed cane. Further, instead of Eve’s faith being shaken by the horrible sin of her firstborn son whom she believed came in fulfillment of the LORD’s promise, Eve named her third son Seth, a name that means “planted” as in “a planted seed.” Again, though she was at first mistaken about the identity of the LORD’s promised seed, nevertheless, she remained faithful that the LORD would keep His promise and provide.
There were many faithful men and women between Adam and Eve and Joseph and Mary, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David. And then comes Mary. In many ways, Mary was a Second Eve. If Eve was the “mother of all the living” who, by her sin, plunged all her offspring into death, then Mary is the New “Mother of all the Living” who, by her faith believed the Word of the LORD, as incredible and ridiculous as it surely seemed, that she would conceive and bear the Son of God who would save His people from their sins, and in faith replied saying, “Let it be to me according to your Word.”
“Let it be to me according to your Word.” “But only speak your Word, and my servant will be healed.” “Abraham believed the Word of the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” This is the Christian faith: Faith in the Word, and in the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. It is this faith that God counts as righteousness, Christ’s righteousness imputed to you by grace. You receive this faith as a gift, a gift that lays hold of Jesus and clings to Him alone. In this faith you receive Christ’s righteousness, righteousness that clothes you and covers you, righteousness that you did not earn, merit, or deserve, but that was given to you, declared of you, by God for the sake of Jesus.
This righteousness was given to God’s chosen people first, that through them all the world might be embraced and covered. Hence we are continually given in the Scriptures examples and stories of Gentiles who believe and are forgiven and declared righteous through faith in the God’s Word of promise. Indeed, this is the case with Naaman the Syrian leper who, despite how foolish it seemed to his reason and wisdom, finally submitted to the Word of God and permitted himself to be washed in the Jordan River, a precursor of Holy Baptism. When he emerged, his flesh was restored as that of a newborn child. In a similar way his sins had been forgiven. Also, as I stated earlier, this is the case with the Roman Centurion who trusted in the Word of God spoken by Jesus that his servant would be healed without His even being present.
The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, but apart from faith in Christ, there is no salvation – neither for the Jew or the Gentile – but only weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Word of God is powerful, authoritative, and creative, bringing about what it says. This Word creates faith where there is nothing even as it brought forth all things in the beginning and continues to sustain all things to this day. This Word is Truth, the only truth, and therefore it is the only way of salvation and life. This Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us that, in beholding Jesus, we behold the fullness of the Godhead and His glory. This Word was baptized for you, obedient for you, suffered and died for you, and was raised from the dead for you and ascended to the Father in heaven for you. And this Word will soon return to raise your body from death to eternal life with Him, which was His goal and purpose for you in the beginning.
No, because of your sin you are not worthy that the Lord should enter under your roof. However, you believe and trust in His Word by the faith He has created in you, therefore the LORD counts you as righteous and worthy for Jesus’ sake. You have heard His Word to you this day: “You are forgiven.” Now, therefore, come, and receive His body and blood shed for you, the source and seal of God’s forgiveness, trusting His Word, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and receive the life that He gives and keeps on giving, for where there is the forgiveness of sins, there must surely follow life and salvation.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Homily for The Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And so we are in the midst of the season of Epiphany. Each Sunday’s lessons were selected over a millennium ago by the gathering of the faithful, the Church, because they manifest whom Jesus is and what He has come to do. Therefore, when we consider these Scriptures, we must consider not only how they would have been heard and understood at the time of their telling, but also what meaning was intended from their placement within the Gospel narrative and the Church’s historic lectionary. Thus, the Wedding at Cana tells us, not merely the story of a particular wedding, although it certainly does that, but we must consider also the Evangelist’s placement of this particular story within the Gospel he authored. Indeed, this story appears only in John’s Gospel, and it is followed immediately by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, which the other Gospels place within the account of Jesus’ passion. What are we to make of John’s inclusion of this wedding, seemingly ignored by the Synoptics? What are we to make of John’s unusual connection of this narrative with the cleansing of the temple? These are but two questions to be considered on this Second Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord, that Jesus may be made manifest before us as God’s Son and our salvation in human flesh.
Understood as God instituted it, there is something about marriage that is connected with death – the death of the self. For, in marriage, the husband dies to himself and pledges his life to his wife; likewise, the wife dies to herself and pledges her life to her husband. In this selfless and self-sacrificial way, the two become one flesh. They are no longer two, but they are one flesh, even one creature, united by God, which man must not separate. St. John records Jesus’ first miracle having taken place at a wedding and, to be sure, passion imagery abounds: The crisis occurred “on the third day” of a wedding feast. Jesus said that His “hour had not yet come.” In the casting out of the money-changers from the temple, which follows immediately upon the wedding narrative, Jesus makes an explicit reference to His death and resurrection saying “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The temple He was referring to was His body. For, it was through His suffering, death, and resurrection that Jesus perfectly loved His Bride, the Church, giving His life for Her. He loved Her more than He loved Himself. He laid down His life for Her in selfless, sacrificial love that She might live. This is the connection that John, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write, mean for you to make.
Therefore, the crisis was not merely that a wedding banquet had run out of wine, though that would surely have been a social blunder and a great embarrassment for the family, but rather the crisis was that man’s life, joy, and hope for the future had run out because of his sin – the joylessness and hopelessness of death had become his fate. This was the crisis that His faithful mother, who believed in Him, asked Him to resolve. This was the crisis that He did resolve by fulfilling God’s Law for us and by dying in our place, that we might have life and joy and hope once again. Those six stone jars held water used to purify men for participation in the feast. Jesus had those jars filled to the brim so that they were full and complete, and then He did something more: He changed the water into wine, the finest wine imaginable. Where the water only purified for a time, His blood that He shed upon the cross for us purifies forever. Indeed, He gives us His cleansing blood now in the fruit of the vine which we drink in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and eternal life through faith in Him.
John’s Gospel is thought to be constructed around seven signs performed by Jesus, of which the changing of water into wine is the first. Thus, John’s Gospel is more a catechism intended to teach the faithful revealed truths about Jesus than it is a narrative telling the story of His life and works. Each and every account recorded by John was selected and recorded for a specific purpose. Ultimately, that purpose was to demonstrate that, in Jesus, God’s Messianic reign had begun through which Jesus would restore His Father’s kingdom and make all things new. This is precisely how we must understand today’s Gospel: Jesus is revealed as God’s Messiah come to restore His fallen creation by means of His selfless and sacrificial death on the cross. Where man’s sin had introduced suffering and death into the world, robbing us of peace and joy and hope, Jesus came, not merely to reverse the curse, but to fulfill perfectly and completely all that we failed to do and then, even more, to recreate, restore, and renew His Father’s kingdom.
Jesus is the perfect and sinless Bridegroom who selflessly laid down His life in death to redeem His Bride, God’s children, the Church from Her sin and death. His life was Her life. She had forfeited Her own life, not for Her Husband, but to Satan. While God was faithful and selfless, His people played the adulterer, the fornicator, the idolater, and the unfaithful Bride. Because of this, man’s wedding feast had run out of wine, and there was no human way of getting more, of restoring man’s peace, hope, and joy. Mary, the mother of our Lord, has long been a symbol of the entire Church. In this narrative, it is Mary who appeals to Jesus in faith saying, “Do something!” Mary believed that Jesus was able to do something and that He would. His odd sounding protest is actually quite revealing, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ “hour” is the time of His passion, His suffering and death upon the cross. Jesus answered His mother saying, “The time for me to lay down my life in selfless sacrifice and death for the Church has not yet come. Nevertheless, I will give this foretaste and foreshadowing of who I am and what I will do now. I will change the water of purification into the wine of joy as a sign that my dear Bride may trust in me and believe that I will purify Her and restore to her hope for eternal life and joy when I shed my blood for Her upon the cross.”
When the master of the feast tasted the water that had been made to be the finest of wines, he exclaimed, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Indeed, this is how it is with men, but not with God. Whatever you have received from God that you count as good, now, is but a foretaste of the goodness He has laid up for you. This is as true for you today as it was for Adam in the beginning, for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, for David, for the guests at the wedding in Cana, and for the saints at rest with Jesus now. We are all, still, waiting in hopeful and joyful expectation for the feast to come, the Great Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end! Yes! That is how the Revelation describes heaven, as a wedding feast where the Bridegroom is Jesus and where you, His Church, are the Bride! It is pictured as Eden, the Garden of Paradise, on steroids – so much greater still than that which we commonly consider perfection and paradise!
This kingdom is yours even now, though you do not see it or experience in its fullness and glory. However, you do see it and experience it through God’s Word and His Blessed Sacraments, particularly and especially in the Supper of the Lamb who has died and is alive again. Here at this banquet table we receive our sustenance and life, our hope and faith is strengthened and renewed, and we are kept and preserved in eternal life through Holy Communion with our living Lord and Husband. Yet, as good and comforting and revitalizing as it is, it is but the dimmest foretaste of that Great Feast to come! It is like manna during out wilderness pilgrimage. It is like the overflowing cup as we walk though the valley of the shadow of death. But, it is enough, it is more than enough for now, for through it, in communion with Christ, we do not walk alone, but He is with us, just as He promised, unto the end of the age.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (The First Sunday after Epiphany)

Matthew 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Isaiah 42:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
John came preaching in the wilderness, wild and crazy looking with his camel’s hair coat and leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey. But, why did he come in this way? He came in this way because he was a prophet; in truth, he was the Prophet, the final Prophet, the voice and messenger promised who would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John was in the wilderness, because he wasn’t merely calling individuals to a ceremonial washing, but he was calling all of Israel, all the sons and daughters of Jacob, to repentance – more than that! – to conversion once again, from unbelief to belief. For, the son of God, Israel, had rebelled against and rejected his God and father and had fallen into apostasy and unbelief. Though God had permitted judgment to fall upon Israel again and again, being conquered by the Assyrians and the Persians, that they might be turned in repentance, only a very few, a remnant, of the faithful remained. Therefore, just as Moses had once lead Israel out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to the waters of the Jordan that they might pass through them into the Promised Land, so then did John call all of Israel back into the wilderness that they might be born again in baptism and repentance, passing through the Jordan’s waters into the Promised Land of god’s kingdom once again.
John’s baptism was a real baptism, even if it was somewhat different than Jesus’ baptism, or the baptisms we undergo as Christian believers. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who came to John repented and were forgiven their sins by being baptized. Yet, still, John’s baptism was a foretaste, a preparation, until that day Jesus came to be baptized. When Jesus was baptized, John’s baptism was fulfilled, all righteousness was fulfilled, and John’s baptism was no more. Jesus was baptized in the place of Israel, in the place of all Jews and Gentiles, in the place of all people, in your place and in my place. When Jesus stood in the waters of the Jordan, He brought no sin of His own, but He sanctified those waters, and all waters, that those who followed Him in like manner, in faith in Him, might be reborn, cleansed, and renewed. He brought no sin of His own, but when He stepped out of those waters He bore the sins of all who were washed in them, the sins of all Jews and Gentiles, the sins of all people, your sins, and mine.
And to think, John would have prevented it, if that were even conceivably possible. He was right, though. He did need to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. John was right when he confessed that he was not worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. Even our Lord Himself does not deny this! But, Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Note that Jesus did not say it was fitting for me to fulfill all righteousness, but He said it is fitting for us. Indeed, John was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. John was the forerunner, the messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus. John did this by preaching to and by baptizing for the repentance and forgiveness of sins. This was necessary preparation. Likewise, it was necessary that Jesus be baptized in this way, even though He had no personal need for it. It was necessary if Jesus was to become Israel, God’s son, the new Adam. Not only must Jesus do all that was required for the first Adam, but He must make amends for Adam’s and Israel’s transgressions, for the sins of all people, of all times, and all places. “You’re right John. You should be baptized by me. Nevertheless, permit it to be so. For, in this way, you and I will fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all people. You are necessary to this plan. Baptize me, as God has ordained.”
And, He did. And, when Jesus came up out of the water, some amazing and wonderful things happened. The heavens were opened to Him. It is most likely that only Jesus beheld this phenomenon, for, before His death and resurrection, Heaven was not opened to men; no man could gaze upon God in His glory and live. However, to sinless Jesus, heaven was opened. And, behold, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove. It was not a dove, but the Spirit descended in a way similar to a dove. Again, only Jesus beheld this anointing prophesied of by Isaiah as we heard today in our reading from the Old Testament. This was Jesus’ chrismation, His anointing, making Him the Christ of God, the Christened and Anointed One, the Messiah. Then a voice from heaven spoke saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Once again, it seems that only Jesus heard this voice. Yet, it is remarkable and wonderful for, not since Adam before his fall could God say this about a man, but about His Son in the flesh, as a man, God could truly say He was pleased, He was satisfied, it was good once again.
Jesus came to the Jordan good, and He left the water that day good as well, but Jesus also left the water that day bearing your sin. His baptism was the beginning of His kingly reign that would culminate with His taking His throne by mounting the cross and being crowned with thorns. He is David’s son and David’s Lord. He is Israel in one man, the second Adam to atone for the sins of the first. He is the mercy seat of God standing in the midst of the waters that we might pass safely through into the Promised Land of God’s kingdom. We cannot help, nor should we, but compare the events of the day of Jesus’ baptism with those of His Transfiguration. For, on that day, Jesus stood, not within the waters of the Jordan, but upon a mountaintop. And, appearing with Him were Moses, God’s appointed leader of the first Exodus, and Elijah, the great Prophet – a type of John the Baptist – who decreased that Elisha might take his mantle and increase. And, what were these holy three discussing? They were discussing the departure that Jesus was about to accomplish by means of His death on the cross in Jerusalem. Tellingly, the Greek word translated as departure is exodus.
Jesus is God’s anointed servant, His Chosen One in whom His soul delights, upon whom His Holy Spirit descended and remained. He is Jacob (Israel), the son and Son of God. Jesus was baptized for Jacob, in the stead and place of Jacob, Abraham, and Adam, and you and I. Because, “In Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man,” Jesus came as the Man – the only Man and the True Man. He was baptized for us, that we might be baptized into Him: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
This is the Epiphany of our Lord – that God in flesh was made manifest amongst us. However, Jesus is not merely one of us, but Jesus is us, and we are Him. Jesus was baptized for us and anointed with God’s Holy Spirit that He might die for us upon the cross and that would actually mean something, actually do something – that He might receive in full the due wage for our sins. He did, and it was finished. And then, because God the Father was fully pleased with His Son in every way, He raised Him from death, removing that barrier and enemy for all who trust in Him. Jesus was born for this, to die, that you might be born again out of death into life through repentance, faith, and baptism into His death and resurrection. It was all for you. Jesus did it all for you. He is the love of God for you, laying down His life into death that you may live. Believe this. Receive this. Trust in this and in nothing else, not your self, any one or any thing else.
Yes, you will still sin. But, God has given you His Spirit to counsel you in His way and His Word. He will not let you continue in sin, but He will seek you and call you back to Him in repentance that He might forgive you anew. No, you need never be baptized again, but you may, you must, return to your baptism again, and again, and again until He comes. And, along your pilgrim way, He clothes you with His righteousness, absolves your sins, feeds you with His Word, His Body, and His Blood. And, in these ways, through these means, He keeps you in Him and He is always with you, even to the end of the age, just as He promised. You are baptized. You are God’s child. You have been adopted into the Perfect Man and Son Jesus. Your Father will never leave you or forsake you. There is no need to doubt. There is no need to fear. This is the Truth. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Homily for Pawling Epiphany Walk 2014

Isaiah 9:2-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Magi came to Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews. Instead, they found Herod, a puppet-king for Caesar, a cruel, paranoid, ruthless, and violent tyrant of a king who was religiously Jewish, culturally Greek, and politically Roman. The Magi came from Eastern darkness seeking wisdom and light. They followed the star God provided, but for the wrong reason, in accordance with the darkness of their sinful and idolatrous wisdom. Nevertheless, by light to the True Light they were ultimately lead, no thanks to the wisdom of men. Their gifts were fit for a king, a king like Herod who values costly gold, rare incense, and precious resin. They bowed down and worshiped the King, but not the king they imagined in the darkness of their sin and death.
But, He was the King, the True King, the Light and Savior of the World. The people who walked in darkness beheld the True Light of Creation. In His mercy and grace He multiplied His Nation and increased Her joy. He was born to be their King. He was born to be your King. His Kingdom was founded upon His shoulders as He hung dead upon the cross, your cross, my cross. There He was sentenced, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. There was His throne established – a throne of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and peace with God.
The events and details of His birth were a portent of His death for the life of the world. He was born in the darkness of mankind’s sinful ignorance and death, when all was still and it was midnight. That is when God acted. That is when God always acts. His Light penetrated our darkness, took on our sin, and suffered our death on the darkest Friday there will ever be that you, who were children of darkness, might now be light in the Lord. The Magi were looking for what they wanted, but, by the grace of God, they found what they needed, they found what we need – the Light of the world the darkness cannot overcome.
Light and life was born at Christmas. Jesus is God’s perfect gift to us that keeps on giving. Each and every time we gather in His Name, receiving His Word and His Blessed Sacraments, we receive God’s gifts – we receive Jesus, God in flesh made manifest. Receive this gift of Light and Life. Let it shine in you. Let it shine through you that others dwelling in the darkness of sin and death might receive His Light too. This is the Gospel of Epiphany: The Magi returned home a different way, the way of Light and Life, to walk in darkness no longer. May you children of Light do the same.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.