Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homily for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It’s no coincidence that the Gospel appointed for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is the account of Jesus’ disciples vying for greatness in the Lord’s kingdom. Indeed, a similar struggle for greatness occurred long, long ago, shortly after the LORD’s creation of heaven and earth, the account of which struggle and the victory of St. Michael the Archangel over Satan and his fallen angels being the focus of this festival day.
One of the LORD’s holy angels, Lucifer, whom Isaiah calls the “Day Star” and “son of the dawn,” and Ezekiel “a guardian cherub,” fell from holiness and grace because of his great pride, desiring to be “like the Most High,” that is, like the LORD Himself. Lucifer was a “signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” and a “guardian cherub” “in Eden, the garden of the LORD.” He was “blameless in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till unrighteousness was found in [him].” That unrighteousness was pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder.
Because of his pride, Lucifer became a profane thing. He literally fell from holiness and grace. Therefore the LORD necessarily cast him from His presence, for the unholy cannot abide in the presence of Him who is holy and holiness. Cast out and away from the LORD’s presence, Lucifer gnashed his teeth against the LORD – against His holiness and His righteousness, and against His just judgment. Lucifer knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Therefore he hates himself, and He hates the LORD, but, most of all, he hates you Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, because the LORD loves you and has created you to be the very crown of His creation, all that He has made, giving your dominion over all of creation, all plants and animals, the earth, moon, sun, and stars, and even over the heavenly angels themselves who serve the LORD and who guard and protect you whom the LORD loves with boundless love.
Thus Lucifer, now Satan, the Enemy, and the Devil, the Accuser, knowing that he could not attack and defeat the LORD, set about to attack, defeat, and defile his beloved creation, Adam and Eve, and you their children. Satan hates you because he hates the LORD and he hates himself. He hates his sorry, miserable, and irreversible condition, which he knows is his own damn fault. Therefore, he has set himself against the LORD and against you, and he exists only and always to take down as many of you with him as he possibly can.
And, that’s why he tempted our First Parents. Though he came in the disguise of one of the LORD’s creatures, a serpent, and though he talked smoothly and convinced them that he had their best interests at heart, that they become wise and like the LORD Himself, Satan was motivated by hatred and he used lies and deceptions to appeal to their pride so that they would fall just as he did. And it worked. And it still works.
“Did God really say?” he asked. The question seems innocuous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. For, that question necessitates that the Word of the LORD be subjected to another’s criticism and judgment, a supposedly higher standard and rule, man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and will. For, to evaluate “Did God really say?” is to judge the veracity, the goodness, the justice of the LORD’s Word and will by the reason, intellect, wisdom, and will of man. This is the creature evaluating and judging the Creator. This is an act of insurmountable pride. This is to make oneself to be god. And, that is impossible, for only the LORD is God who is before all things and the source, Creator, and sustainer of all things. The LORD alone is good, the very standard, measure, and rule of goodness. And the LORD alone is just, the very standard, measure, and rule of justice. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are judged by the LORD, not the other way around. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are good or evil, just or unjust, truth or lies in comparison and in relation to the LORD’s Word and will.
Revelation twelve describes a great war in heaven between St. Michael and the LORD’s angels and the Dragon, that is Satan, and his fallen angels. St. Michael was victorious and Satan was defeated and was thrown down to the earth along with his demons. Now, inevitably, people want to ask, “When did this great war happen?” And, you will hear many answers to that question. Some will say that this happened shortly after creation, but before the temptation in the Garden. Others will say that this happened at Christ’s crucifixion and death upon the cross. Others still will say that this is happening now, or is yet to happen. My dear children in Christ, I say to you simply, “Yes.” I think the most responsible answer that can be deduced from the Scriptures is that what John was given to see in the Revelation was from the perspective of the LORD Himself who is not bound by time, who sees all things at the same time. Certainly Lucifer’s rebellion and fall occurred prior to his tempting of our First Parents. And, clearly Satan has been at work tempting and deceiving the LORD’s people throughout the time of the Old Testament. Yet, there is no doubt that Satan was truly defeated when our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross. Yet, still Satan prowls this earth like a roaring lion seeking to devour, and the faithful are sealed in Holy Baptism that they may resist Satan’s temptations by the Word of the LORD and by prayer. Indeed, Satan will finally be imprisoned in hell for eternity when our victorious Lord returns in power and glory on the Last Day. Therefore, the great war in heaven described in Revelation twelve is an overarching narrative of the LORD’s victory over Satan in Jesus Christ, a victory ascribed to St. Michael the Archangel whose name means “Who is like God?”
The point is that, though Satan still rages and deceives and leads many astray, he is already conquered and defeated. The LORD God through His Son Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and his demonic angels. Satan no longer has an audience before the LORD by which he may accuse you. Indeed, you “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” of God, Jesus Christ. Through Holy Baptism and faith, the gifts of the LORD’s grace in Jesus Christ, you have been sealed and assured that the Lord will be with you always and will never leave you or forsake you. This is His promise to you, His Word that cannot be broken. His promise is not dependent upon your faith, be it strong or weak. His promise is not dependent upon your piety, be it high or low. His promise is not dependent upon your good works, be they many or few. His promise is not dependent upon your church attendance, your knowledge of the Bible, the quality of your marriage, the obedience and faith of your children, or anything else but the promise of Jesus Christ, the Word of the LORD made flesh. All that is required of you is faith, that is trust, which is itself the gift of the Lord by the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who confesses Jesus before men will Jesus also confess before His Father in heaven.
Do not fear the devil. But, do not be na├»ve about him and his ways either. He is very real and he is very present. His angels are about you all the time, just as the LORD’s angels are about you all the time. They are even here, in this holy sanctuary, right now trying to disrupt the proclamation and the reception of the LORD’s Word and Sacraments. They are in your homes, always working to set husband against wife, and children against their parents and each other. They are very real and they are very present. But, do not fear them, and do not fear him. His only weapons are lies and deceptions. That is why you must hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the LORD. For, by making the Word of the LORD your steady diet, you will be strong in faith and in knowledge of the Word to identify and to resist the devil’s temptations when they come. Moreover, pray. Pray for the Lord’s protection, pray for the strengthening of your faith, and pray for deliverance from the Evil One. For, the LORD has promised that His holy angels will “guard you in all your ways.” Thus, Dr. Luther teaches you to pray in the morning and in the evening, “Let Your holy angel be with me that the Evil Foe may have no power over me.” Likewise, Jesus taught His disciples, and He teaches you, that whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And, Jesus continues, “I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
And, here we come full circle. Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder. Humility is the very opposite of pride. Jesus teaches that the humble, the poor in spirit, the selfless and the lowly are great in the kingdom of heaven and that their angels behold the face of God. This is because the humble are open to the LORD’s will and His Word. The humble do not place their own reason and intellect, wisdom, and will over and above the will and the Word of the LORD. The humble do not make themselves out to be gods, or god, but they submit themselves to the LORD, and they acknowledge and confess Him to be the only true, holy, and righteous God.
And so, there is a promise and there is a warning. The promise is that the humble will receive the kingdom and will be guarded and protected by the LORD’s holy angels. However, the warning is that you must beware of haughtiness, arrogance, and pride. These were the cause of Lucifer’s fall, and these are the chief temptations Satan used against our First Parents, and continues to use against you their children. Moreover, beware of looking down on those you think to have weak faith, or a compromised confession, or less than pious lives. Beware of looking down on the little children who in simple faith believe much easier and trust more completely. Beware of looking down on others at all, and worse, of leading others astray by your own words and deeds. As the Proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
But, now, let us join the LORD’s holy angels in glorifying and praising the LORD as they do continually before His holy throne in heaven. For, in this Holy Eucharist, heaven comes down to earth and we are privileged to receive the Lord’s body and blood and to laud and glorify His holy Name “with angels and archangels,” even St. Michael, “and with all the company of heaven.” This day you will be with Jesus in Paradise, for wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom of heaven.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Homily for The Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Matthew 9:9-13; Ephesians 4:7-16; Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew was a tax collector. We all know that. Most of the youngest children in our congregation know that from their Sunday School classes. So what? Well, a lot! That Matthew was a tax collector is to say that he was the worst of the worst in first century Jewish culture. Why were tax collectors so bad and so despised and hated by the people? Because they were Jews who collected taxes from their Jewish brothers, sisters, and neighbors for the hated, occupying, imperialistic Romans, that’s why! And, more than that, tax collectors notoriously over-collected and kept the extra for themselves. Today we call that extortion! So, tax collectors were living high-on-the-hog at the expense of their countrymen. They were hated and they were despised and, I suspect you would agree that they earned the reputation they had, and for good reason!
Why did Jesus choose and call Matthew to be a disciple. Well, truly only the Lord knows! But, we could ask the same question concerning any of the disciples, even the prophets and the patriarchs. Why did Jesus call Peter? Why did God call Isaiah, Elijah, Moses, or Abraham? Why has Jesus called you? To be sure, there was nothing in Matthew that men would account as virtuous or meritorious. Surely even Matthew would confess the same. But, that’s precisely the point Jesus was making. After all, who was looking on when Jesus called Matthew but the self-righteous Pharisees? I can almost imagine our Lord scanning the crowd looking for just the right soul to make the Pharisees squirm and stumble. “Ah! The tax collector! Matthew, come hear my son! Follow me!” And, Matthew got up immediately at the Word of Jesus and followed Him. Then Jesus went with Matthew to his home and He ate a meal with him. And, who was there at Matthew’s house but many other tax collectors and sinners. Well, the Pharisees got the message, and they were furious. They asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And, hearing of this, Jesus made His point more clearly saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
And, so, the answer to the question, “Why Matthew?” is the same as to the questions, “Why Isaiah? Why Elijah? Why Moses and Abraham? Why you?” Jesus means to make the point that tax collectors and sinners are no different than prophets and patriarchs or even you. And Jesus means to make the point to the Pharisees that they also are sin-sick unto death and need the healing of the Great Physician – forgiveness. But, since they will not admit and confess that they are sick, that they are sinners in need of forgiveness, they will not receive healing forgiveness, because they will not receive the Great Physician – they will not receive Jesus.
Matthew held no belief that he had any worth, value, or merit to Jesus. He knew his sinful shortcomings all too well. Indeed, they were on display in the public square for all the world to see. Thus, when the Great Physician called him saying, “Follow me!” Matthew gladly left all that behind. Moreover, Matthew himself had to be stunned, as were the Pharisees, when Jesus came to his own home to dine with him. There, in the midst of Mathew’s sin-filled life, his sin-filled home, filled with his sin-filled friends, Jesus comes to forgive and heal. In fact, Jesus’ dining with the tax collectors and sinners was a demonstration of their justification, that Jesus had made them right with God again. Jesus forgave them and made them clean. Only the unclean can be made clean. Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the sick can be healed. The truth is that we are all sin-sick unto death – every last Pharisee of us all! – but Jesus has come to heal and to forgive us, and He gives us the meal of His body and blood as a sign of our justification and restoration, and even more, He communes with us, His Bride, flesh and blood in a one-flesh union.
Matthew was empty. He was empty of Himself. Therefore, the Lord saw fit to fill him with His Spirit, His Word, His mercy and His grace. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” In the same way the LORD said to Ezekiel, “Open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then the LORD gave Ezekiel a scroll of a book and commanded him to eat it and then go and speak to the house of Israel. The Word that was given to Ezekiel was a Word of lamentation and mourning and woe, for it was a Word of Law against the hard foreheads and the stubborn hearts of Israel. Still, this Word was sweet in Ezekiel’s mouth, for the Law of God, just as the Gospel, is sweet and good and righteous and true. But the LORD promised to equip Ezekiel for this work. The LORD said, “Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks.” And, the Lord likewise equipped Matthew and all the Apostles; and so does He equip His pastors and preachers today. And so does He equip you who “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
Matthew, who had nothing, received everything from the Lord. He was given the Word of the Lord to proclaim in His Gospel which tells the coming of the true King of Israel, and of heaven and earth, who rules in grace, mercy, and righteousness, forgiving the sins of the repentant and terrified and healing their sin-sickness unto death and its ravaging effects upon humanity and all creation. Of King Jesus, the Psalmist writes, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” King Jesus descended from the throne of God to the earth, humbling Himself to be born of a virgin. He was obedient even unto death upon the cross. Being well pleased with His Son, God the Father raised Him from the dead and gave Him the Name that is above every Name – a Name to which every knee must necessarily bow and every tongue confess as Lord and King to the glory of God the Father. Having ascended back to the Father, the first fruits of all who will be raised in Him, He has sent forth His Spirit to equip the saints “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” He has given His Church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” to proclaim the Word of the LORD in its truth and purity and to faithfully administer the Sacraments our Lord instituted for the benefit of His people until He returns. This Word He gives to you that you may not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This Word He gives to you that you may speak the truth in love and so build up the whole body of Christ in love.
The same love Christ showed to Matthew and the other tax collectors and sinners, to prostitutes, lepers, and the unclean, He shows to you again, and again, and again that you may know His love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and peace and share it and show it with those who have not known and who have not heard. “Follow me,” your Lord Jesus says to you. Even now He is present to recline at table with you. Only tax collectors and sinners, liars and cheats, and those who struggle with anger, the unforgiving and the unmerciful, the lustful and the adulterous, the slothful and the gluttonous, and those who are sick need come. This feast is for you. It is the medicine of immortality for your soul, even the Great Physician of body and soul Himself. Our Lord, who is mercy and sacrifice, desires mercy and not sacrifice from you. This means, He does not desire your ritual obedience, but the LORD desires that you show and share His mercy to others. Jesus “came not to call the righteous,” thanks be to God, “but sinners.” Jesus has come to call Matthew, Isaiah, Elijah, Moses, Abraham, and even you. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why Dolan, and Francis, and Benedict are Right

The following is a terrific article on evangelism and the Missio Dei. The title is ridiculous and misleading as the article does not quote or reference any of the Catholic leaders. Obviously the author of the article is inspired by them. Nonetheless, the content of the article is spot on.

Why Dolan, and Francis, and Benedict are Right

Homily for LWML Mid-Hudson Zone Rally

Luke 24:44-53; Romans 10:11-17; Isaiah 62:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
True evangelism is always done in love – love for God, and love for God’s people. The prophet Isaiah gives us a beautiful example – A young bridegroom rejoicing over his bride. His delight is in her. He is thankful for her. He loves her so that he cannot but speak of her to everyone he meets. Often he does not think about it at all, but his love for his bride bubbles out of him like water from a live spring.
Such was the love Isaiah had for Zion – for Jerusalem, as she appeared before God’s eyes as a radiant bride. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,” says the prophet; “and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.” Now, to be sure, the people of Jerusalem were not always loveable, they were not always righteous or faithful. But the prophet loved her anyway, because the LORD loved her and intended to do what was necessary to restore to her a good name in place of the tarnished name she had earned for herself, and to make her radiant before the eyes of all, as she was truly radiant before the eyes of the LORD who loved her.
That is how you must view others, those who do not know the Lord as you do – you must love them as God’s people, you must love them as His Bride, even when she acts the whore and denies Him, dishonors Him, is unfaithful to Him, and feigns not to know Him at all. For, those people, those souls, they are not numbers to be counted, they are not victories to be won, they are not numbered as notches on your bedpost as you attempt to be “soul-winners” for Christ. But, they are the God’s prodigal children, they are His lost sheep, and they are His harlot Bride. The LORD has already accomplished all that is necessary to restore Her, to renew Her, and to save Her – that is the Evangel, the Gospel, the Good News! Therefore, evangelism is not saving the lost so much as it is proclaiming to the lost that they are not lost at all, but that they are found and saved by God in Jesus Christ!
This is the good news that Isaiah will not keep silent about. And you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, must not keep silent about it either. The LORD says that all who call on His Name will be saved. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
And so the LORD sends you. No, you are not Apostles, you are not prophets, you are not pastors, but you are something very, very special, dear to the LORD, and important – you are priests, the priesthood of all believers. And what do priests do but make sacrifice and intercession. The first and greatest sacrifice you make is yourself: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite hear, O God, you will not despise.” “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Yet, as St. Paul teaches, nothing you do counts for anything at all if it is not performed in love:  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, and if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. And our Lord Jesus Himself teaches that the greatest love possible is to sacrifice yourself for others, to love others as you have been loved, which means to love others more than you love yourself.
And so, again, true evangelism is done, and can only be done, in love. But, as you have been loved, so are you equipped and sent to love. For, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Even more than His people, you are His Bride. Christ Jesus, your Adam, your Bridegroom, was laid down in the sleep of death for you. His side was opened that you might be born of water, blood, and Spirit. You are His Eve, His Bride. As He has loved you and laid down His life for you, so are you equipped to lay down your life for others, loving them as you have been richly loved.
This must be the motivation for evangelism – love for God, and the love of Christ with which you are loved and with which you love others. In this way, like Isaiah, you may love the unlovable, as the unlovable have been lovingly loved. True evangelism flows from the LORD through Christ to His Bride into the world and back to Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Love was, and is still, the only motivation. Go, tell the Good News of what the LORD has done. Tell the Good News in love, with love, in word and deed. For Zion’s sake, do not keep silent. For Jerusalem’s sake, do not keep quiet “until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Homily for The Feast of the Holy Cross

John 12:20-33; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In 1951 the surrealist artist Salvador Dali painted an image of Christ upon the cross entitled “Christ of Saint John the Divine.” Now, while depictions of Christ upon the cross are anything but rare, most paintings and sculptures portray Christ crucified from the perspective of those gazing upon Him, looking up at Him or directly at Him. In contrast, Dali depicts our crucified Lord from the perspective of God the Father looking, not downward precisely, but down, and across, and upon Christ upon the cross and all the earth at the same time. This is to say that Dali’s “Christ of Saint John the Divine” spans the heavens over the face of the earth, at once enabling the viewer to step back and to ponder the universal significance of the event that is the death of the Son of God. As Christ proclaimed, “It is finished,” and breathed His last, so the Father gazes downward upon His mission accomplished for the life of the world.
Sometimes the surreal is simply more real that what appears to be reality. Indeed, Jesus Christ was crucified in atonement for the sins of the entire world, not just for a few thousand Jews, Greeks, and Romans residing in first century Jerusalem. Jesus Himself speaks of the cosmic ramifications of His crucifixion and death saying, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” This is the truth exhibited by Salvador Dali in his surrealistic painting, which is more communicative of ontological reality than the works of artists who tried to portray what Christ’s crucifixion might have really looked like as perceived with the limited perceptions of men.
Flesh and blood can only reveal a part of reality. Man’s eyes perceive a man dead upon a cross. Man’s ears perceive His perplexing words, faintly recalling the words of the prophets of old. Man’s hands perceive malleable and weak flesh, all too easily pierced and torn, mortal just like all men. But that’s only part of the story. There is a reality that is hidden to all perception but the eyes and the ears of faith. Those who are given eyes to see and ears to hear by the Holy Spirit of God through His Word confess the reality of who Jesus is and what He has done. St. Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This truth was revealed to him, not by his flesh and blood perceptions, but by the Holy Spirit of God alone. So too did St. Bartholomew confess, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” And, St. Thomas confessed, “My Lord, and my God!” Even the demons, who see reality beyond the limits of perception, confess Jesus to be the Son of God. All of these could see that there was more to Jesus and, ultimately, to His cross, than meets the eye.
That’s why God prepared us to receive Him beforehand. God prepared us, not by giving us lots of impressive signs to see and hear, touch, taste, and smell, but he gave us His Word. Well, He did give us signs, but not often in the ways in which our sinful, fallen flesh, mind, and reason would desire. For example, God gave us the sign of the bronze serpent raised up on a pole. God had sent poisonous serpents to bite the children of Israel when they rebelled against Him and disobeyed, failing to trust Him to guard and protect them as He had promised. After many people died from the poisonous venom, the people cried out to Moses asking Him to pray that God would take away the serpents. Moses did pray, but God did not take away the serpents. However, God did provide a way that those who had been bitten could be healed and live. The LORD commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it up on a pole, with the promise that whoever looked to it would be healed and live. This was a miraculous and marvelous sign to be sure! However, to the eyes and the ears of most it was absurd, offensive, and decidedly un-glorious.
This is precisely why Jesus alludes to that sign in the desert 1,500 years before His birth and He interprets it in relation to His being lifted up on the cross in death. Just as the children of Israel bitten by poisonous serpents could look to the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole and receive healing and live, so now all children of the New Israel, of all races, nations, and cultures, can look to Christ crucified and receive healing forgiveness and live. Indeed, Jesus’ prophetic words, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” were fulfilled in His death upon the cross for all people of all times and all places. Just as Dali portrayed in Christ of Saint John the Divine, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Thus, the cross of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is justifiably the center of our faith and our confession. We confess with St. Paul and preach Christ, and Him crucified.
But the cross is always offensive, scandalous, and even embarrassing. To the eyes and ears of men it seems pitiful, despicable, weak, and foolish. An ancient inscription was once found on the Palatine in Rome dating between the first and the third centuries. The inscription depicts a figure on a cross having the head of a donkey. Written in Greek beside it is the title “Alexamenos worships his God.” Mockery of Christians and their faith is nothing new. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” writes St. Paul, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Yes, the cross of Jesus Christ is the power of God, whose power is made perfect in weakness. On the cross, God showed the greatest love possible for you, laying down His own life and suffering death that you might live. And so, the cross is our faith and confession. The cross is our victory over death. We mark ourselves in the morning and in the evening with the sign of the cross, in remembrance that we were marked with the same cross when we were baptized into Christ. We begin and end our worship with the sign of the holy cross. And, when we are laid to rest, we are marked with the same sign once again at the end of our life that marked us at the beginning and sealed us throughout all our days.
The Feast of the Holy Cross is one of the earliest annual celebrations of the Christian Church. The day traditionally commemorates the discovery of the true cross in Jerusalem by Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. However, in our observance today, knowing the location of the true cross is of no more consequence than knowing the location of Noah’s Ark or the Garden of Eden. The cross without Christ is of no more value and significance than a pole without the bronze serpent. Further, neither the cross nor the pole nor the serpent had power to affect anything apart from the Word of God. And that is why the cross of Jesus Christ is so much more than a piece of wood or a pole, for upon the cross the Word of God made flesh sacrificed His life for the life of the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the glory of God, for it displays His love, mercy, and forgiveness for all the world.
The Holy Scriptures would also have us see in the cross of Jesus the restoration of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was most likely an ordinary fruit-bearing tree. What made it special was that God had attached His Word to it making it life-giving through its fruit. Jesus is the Word made flesh who, in turn, makes the tree of the cross a life-giving tree once again. Life is restored to all who look to Jesus in faith and trust in Him for forgiveness, the fruit of His life-giving tree. Now He invites you to take and eat and drink of His fruits in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of faith, and for life everlasting.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.