Sunday, March 29, 2015

Homily for Palmarum - The Second Sunday In Passiontide (Palm Sunday)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The last time you heard read the text of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem it was the First Sunday in Advent, last year. Then the text served to prepare you for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. Indeed, today’s hearing stands in stark contrast to that of November past. And yet, it is the same story, describing the same event, and even for the same purpose – to prepare you for the Parousia of Our Lord, His coming and real and abiding presence amongst us.
Following the rebellion of our First Parents, the Parousia, the real presence of the LORD, was a fearful thing: Adam and Eve hid themselves in fear from the presence of the LORD. Moses and Isaiah were afraid to look upon the presence of the LORD. Even in the New Testament, whenever an angel of the LORD appeared before men they were sore afraid. Such fear, even genuine terror, before the presence of the LORD, was a right and proper response from sinful men prior to the Parousia of the LORD in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, when Isaiah beheld the glory of the LORD in a vision he was right to confess, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Yet, it was always the LORD’s will that He would dwell with His people in communion and peace, not in a relationship of fear and distrust. So the LORD visited His people through various means which served to veil His presence that men might enter into His presence and live. Indeed, the entire sacrificial program of the Tabernacle and the Temple served in this capacity as the LORD covered over men’s sin for a time that they might abide in His presence. Yet, though rivers flowed with the blood of sacrificed bulls, goats, and lambs, the true communion of presence that the LORD willed for His people was only hinted at. But then, when time was full, the LORD sent forth His Son to enter into human flesh, to become a man, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The LORD came in His presence, His Parousia, not in might and power, that men would cower in terror and run away from His presence, but in lowliness and humility, even weakness, as a helpless and poor child, that men might be drawn to Him and receive Him as a gift. In Jesus, the Son and Word of God became flesh and made His Parousia, His real and abiding presence and dwelling, amongst men. He came to His own as one of His own, but His own people did not receive Him. But, to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Isaiah described the humility of the LORD’s Messiah in this way, “He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”
It was in this way, humble and lowly, that Jesus entered the Holy City Jerusalem. He did not come in might and power on a war horse with soldiers to subdue and domineer over men, but He came in meekness and humility as a Servant King riding upon a donkey, a beast of burden, with His ragtag band of disciples. Though the people received Him at first, laying down their cloaks and palms, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” how quickly their shouts of joy and praise turned to shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” when it became apparent that He was not the kind of king they desired.
What corrupted and sin-twisted minds and hearts men have! We run and hide in terror from the holy presence of the LORD and we reject and crucify His Son when He visited us in His gracious Parousia. Ironically, the very power and might that men so fear, they also crave and desire for themselves. The people wanted a king and a savior that would fight for them against the Romans, a king that would come in warfare and terror against Israel’s enemies and would restore the glory and power and wealth and throne of King David. Men want a tyrant for a god and king, someone who will lay down the law for them to obey and who will enforce it with strength, even brutality. For then we can self-righteously claim that we do it, that we keep the law ourselves, or, if we fail, we can feel justified in disparaging such an unjust ruler.
But, your God knows this about you. He knows the double-mindedness of your hearts. He knows your lust for control and power and the admiration of others. He knows the murder in your hearts and how you view others as obstacles to your own success and pleasure. He knows your greed, your lust, and all your insatiable desires and passions. He knows how you care only for yourself and for your selfish wants and desires. He knows all this, yet He loves you; still, He loves you. And so, He comes to you, He brings His real and abiding presence to you, His Parousia, in lowliness and humility, and He lets you have your way with Him that, ultimately, He will have His way with you.
And so, Jesus rides into that mob-like crowd with their sin-warped hopes, desires, and expectations, humble and mounted on a donkey, in lowliness, to be crowned their King. He entered the Holy City Jerusalem, not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life for the world. His throne was not bedecked with gold and jewels, but of wood and nails. His royal crown was made of twisted, savage thorns, His robe a torn, muddied, and bloodied shroud. He was the Son of David, but He was also David’s Lord. He was sinless, but He was condemned and executed as a sinner. He was the Son of God the Father, but He died that we Barabbases, the sons and daughters of sinful human fathers, might live and be free. The LORD’s passion is for you; it has only and ever been for you. Behold, your King comes to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted upon donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
His is a real and abiding presence – His Parousia – then, now, and always. He is the LORD who is present, present for you, always for you, present to serve. Receive Him now as He comes to you, riding in lowliness and humility in bread and wine, that you may be forgiven, refreshed, strengthened, and restored. The LORD who has created you has also redeemed you, and He wills, not to be worshipped by you as an object, but to commune with you in a relationship of intimacy and unity such that His relationship with our First Parents was but a shadow.
As we together reflect upon His Passion this Holy Week, may we remember that it was in divine and holy love that the LORD has visited His people. He came to His own, who could not and would not come to Him, to restore them to Himself. Even though they rejected Him, mocked Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him, He came to them to lay down His life for them, to die for them, that they might live through Him, in Him, and with Him. In His dying Words He plead the Father’s forgiveness, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and through Jesus, they, and we, are forgiven. All this He gladly suffered.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Judica - The Fifth Sunday In Lent / The First Sunday In Passiontide (Lent 5)

John 12:1-2; Acts 20:7-12; Revelation 3:14-22

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This evening’s Gospel was selected because of the presence of a certain man reclining at table with Jesus. That man was Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, whom He had raised from death. However, to understand the full significance of this table fellowship, it is necessary to read backward a bit into St. John’s Gospel. For, this meal is the culmination of a long, and heightening, discourse of conflict between Jesus and the religious leadership of the Jews, a conflict that began back in chapter six of the Gospel, where Jesus performed the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. In that miracle, Jesus began to teach the people about the true life that He came to bring to those who will put their trust in Him saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Lazarus had died. Jesus permitted him to die. And, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by the power of His Word – For, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And so, there is Lazarus, the man who died, but is alive, reclining at table with Jesus, the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. Lazarus is the living proof of Jesus’ teaching in the Feeding of the Five Thousand, for, he is not alive because of the worldly bread that he ate, or the worldly things that he did, or by the power and works of any man, but he is alive by the power and the work of God’s Word, Jesus, alone – a life Lazarus received as a gift by faith and trust in Jesus alone. “It is the Spirit who gives life;” says Jesus, “the flesh is no help at all. The Words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. […] This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Lazarus at table, dining with Jesus, is the meaning of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Lazarus at table, dining with Jesus, is what Jesus came to make possible for all whom the Father grants to come to Him, even you.
The whole point of Jesus’ sign of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is that Jesus is the true Manna of God, even the Bread of Life, the Word of God, made visible and tangible and edible, for the life of the world, of which a man may eat and live. Of any other bread, men eat and die. But, of Jesus, the Bread of Life, men eat and live, so that, even though they die, they shall live forever, for all who live and believe in Him shall never die. In John’s Gospel, it is precisely this teaching of Jesus that so confounded and scandalized the Jews that many who had followed Him, followed Him no longer. For, they knew that only God could give life, and Jesus claimed to be the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. Abraham was a man of God, and He died. The Prophets were men of God, and they died. King David was a man of God, and he died too. Yet, Jesus claimed that He was the Bread of Life, the Word of God in human flesh, who alone could conquer death and bestow new and everlasting life. Was Jesus greater than Abraham, the Prophets, and David? Was Jesus the Messiah, the Christ of God? Yes! That is precisely whom Jesus claimed to be! Indeed, in, perhaps, the climatic moment of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus was confronted by the scribes and the Pharisees with these very accusations, Jesus even invoked God’s Divine Name saying, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” And so, the Jews picked up stones to throw at Him for the sin of blasphemy. And, when they murdered Him on Good Friday, they knew precisely who He claimed to be. Perhaps, they even believed Him.
That is why they wanted to murder Lazarus. Lazarus was living proof of Jesus’ Words, “I am the Bread of Life,” “If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever.” “And so, six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at table.” It was the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week – the Saturday that is coming up for us in three days. The Jewish religious leadership wanted to kill Jesus before the Passover, seven days later, and they wanted to kill Lazarus who was the living proof of the truth of Jesus’ Words. Jesus had taught, “I am the Bread of Life,” “If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever,” – and there was Lazarus, who was dead, alive, reclining and dining at table with Jesus, the Bread of his life, and the life of all men who trust in Him.
These are not just words. And, Jesus’ teaching is not symbolic, nor is it an allegory. Jesus truly is the Bread of Life, the Word of God made flesh, of which a man may eat and live. He is not merely alluding to the Lord’s Supper, but He is the Lord’s Supper, both Host and Meal. This meal is not merely a memorial as some are want to believe, but it is what Jesus says it is – forgiveness, life, and salvation. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John, writing in the late first, and early second, centuries referred to the Holy Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ.” That was true for Lazarus and the first century Jews and early Christians, that was true for Ignatius and the Fathers of the Church, that was true for Luther and the Reformers, and that is true for you and I today, and for our children and our children’s children tomorrow, until the Lord returns in glory and we will all recline together with Him in His Father’s house forever.
Your new life, begun in Holy Baptism, is nourished, strengthened, kept, preserved, and protected in this Holy Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper is not just something you do out of obedience to your Lord. It is not just something that you do out of love for your Lord. It is not just something you do to receive the forgiveness of your sins. Of course, the Lord’s Supper is all of these things, and so much more! But, first, and foremost, the Lord’s Supper is your life, both now, and through, and after death. It is as necessary as eating, drinking, and breathing – Man does not live by bread alone, but man does indeed live by the Word of God, and the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, the Bread of life of which a man may eat – must eat – and live.
In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul stopped to preach and teach at a congregation in Troas in Asia Minor on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. There was a young man there named Eutychus was overcome by sleep as St. Paul preached and talked on through the evening. I’m certain that most of you can empathize with young Eutychus. And, so it happened that he fell asleep, and he tumbled out of a third-story window, and he died. Eutychus physically died. And yet, St. Paul comforted the congregation saying, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then, St. Paul celebrated the Eucharist with the congregation, a meal at which young Eutychus, raised from death, also communed.
Death is real. Death still happens. Death is what we have earned and merited for our sins. But, death is not the end of the story. Death is not the end of your life. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death. You have been baptized into Jesus’ resurrection. The life you now live is bound up in Him. The life you now live will never die. Yes, your body will die, – in time, you will be thankful for that – but your soul, your spirit, will never die. Indeed, your soul and spirit have already died, and have already begun a life that will never end. And the source and food of your life is Jesus, His body and His blood, the Word of God made flesh, and the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live.
You see, the Holy Eucharist is the resurrection and the life now, even as it is a foretaste of the resurrection and the life that is to come. To eat and to drink Jesus’ body and blood is to commune with Him, so that His life is your life – life that physical death cannot end or take away. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Do you believe this? Then let us approach the Lord’s Supper with reverence and joy, for it is Jesus’ life given us to eat and drink and live. And let us receive the Lord’s Supper, not in mere remembrance or obedience, but as our life, now, and until, through, and beyond physical death, to the resurrection of our bodies and to life everlasting. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homily for Judica - The Fifth Sunday In Lent (Lent 5) - The First Sunday In Passiontide

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Judica Sunday receives its name from the first words of the historic Latin antiphon to the Introit for this day, “Judge me, O God.” Now, invoking God’s judgment upon one’s self is not something a poor, miserable sinner would want to do; that is, unless that poor, miserable sinner knew already that the judgment was going to be in his or her favor. Thankfully, this is the case with you today, for God has already judged in your favor by condemning His Son in your place; He has declared Jesus guilty, and you, you He has declared innocent. Our translation of today’s antiphon to the Introit captures this subtle difference and translates the word for “judge me” as “vindicate me.” – “Vindicate me, O God.”
God judges you righteous. He vindicates you of your sin-guilt on account of His Son. This means, of course, that you had absolutely nothing to do with your vindication. Let’s face it, you were guilty; even still you sin and you merit only guilt and death. But God has vindicated you on account of Jesus’ condemnation and death for your sins, past, present, and future. You did not pay off your debt to God by your good works. You did not impress Him with your faith and piety. You did not even choose to believe in Him. But He chose you. He sacrificed Himself for you. He satisfied the blood-guilt debt of your sin and He forgave you it. He judged you innocent, paying the debt Himself, thus you are vindicated.
Do you believe this? If you do, then God is your Father. If you do not, then your father is the devil, the father of lies. For, even in this age of test-tubes, fertility drugs, surrogates, and implants, the truth remains that everyone has a father. And you did not choose your father. You were begotten, wholly apart from your will and choosing. You did not choose how tall you would be. You did not choose the color of your eyes or of your skin. You did not choose any of those fleshly things. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the flesh is guilty and condemned. That is why you must be born again of water and the Spirit. For that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. And you did not choose your Spiritual Father in your spiritual re-birth any more than you chose your fleshly father in your fleshly birth.
If God is your Father, then you will love Jesus, for Jesus was sent from the Father to be judged in your place. And Jesus has been judged, sentenced, and killed for your sin-guilt. He, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that, through Him, we might become the righteousness of God. But before the words of Psalm 43 are ours, those words are Jesus’ words. “Vindicate Me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” cries Jesus. And Jesus was vindicated by the Father through His death on the cross, because He was innocent and blameless. The guilt for which He died was not His own, nevertheless, that guilt died with Him and it is gone, dead, and buried. Thus, your vindication from sin-guilt and death is because of, and in, Jesus’ vindication. Therefore, if God is your Father, then you will love Jesus, for Jesus was sent from the Father to be judged in your place. Jesus has been judged; Jesus has been vindicated – and the whole world in Him.
Some scribes and Pharisees of the Jews claimed to have God as their Father. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.” But the scribes and the Pharisees did not love Jesus and they did not believe that He came from God but thought that He was a demon-possessed liar. Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” What you believe about Jesus is living proof of who your father is. Only those born of the Holy Spirit of God believe Jesus, love Jesus, and are therefore vindicated in Jesus. It’s not a matter of choice, but a matter of birth. Jesus asks, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” and then He explains, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Mercifully, not being of God is a reversible condition. Repent, that is, be turned by the Holy Spirit of God. Stop obeying the lies and the will of your father the devil and listen to the truth of God. If you are not baptized, be born again of water and Spirit. If you are baptized, be restored to your baptismal purity. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
For God is a Father unlike Abraham, sacrificing His only begotten Son, not under compulsion, but out of love for you. And Jesus is a Son unlike Isaac whose life was spared, but who willingly laid Himself down upon the cross for you. And Jesus is a High Priest unlike any other high priest, offering up the atoning sacrifice, not of the blood of goats and calves, but of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. And the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of true life, sent forth by the Father and the Son to create faith and to draw back in repentance those who have been turned by the devil on the road that leads to death and hell that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.
Again today we get to receive this promise of an eternal inheritance. Our Great High Priest Christ Jesus delivers it to us at this Table. Here the sacrifice our Lord freely and willingly once made upon the cross is given to us as our life. These holy gifts free us from seeking our own glory and unite us to our Lord that, with and in Him, we may always seek only the honor of the Father, who with the Son and the All-Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Laetare - The Fourth Sunday In Lent (Lent 4)

John 2:1-12; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Genesis 18:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We worship a God who is, at once, far off, and very near. Truly, He who made the heavens and the earth, and fills them, also contains Himself within the bread and the wine that you eat and drink in Holy Communion, that He may fill you and enliven you as your own flesh, and as the life-giving blood that courses through your veins. Yes, our God, who is the source, origin, and sustenance of all things, deigns to commune with you in a one-flesh union of holy love and holy life.
The Holy Scriptures are truly a love story, displaying, again and again, and in many and various ways, the God who loves you drawing near to you to commune with you, and doing what was necessary to restore you to holy communion with Him. And so, the Angel of the LORD and two angelic companions – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – visited Abraham and Sarah to communicate God’s Word of promise, that aged, barren, and hopeless Sarah would conceive and bear a son through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. Yes, your LORD God Himself is involved in matters so personal, and so intimate to you, matters such as the pain of childlessness, the miracle of conception, knowing the darkest places of your despair and hopelessness, and showering them, and filling them, with His life-giving presence and light.
The LORD knew how Sarah’s pain in barrenness would make it difficult for her to believe, therefore, He visited her personally to proclaim the good news that she would indeed conceive and bear the son of promise, just as He invited doubting Thomas to touch and to handle His wounds, just as He invites you to wear His righteousness in Holy Baptism and to touch and handle His wounds, to eat and drink His body and blood, in Holy Communion. Likewise, an intimate meal was central to this angelic visitation. Abraham washed the visitors’ feet and made them comfortable, while Sarah prepared unleavened cakes for the guests, along with curds and milk and the meat of a calf Abraham had prepared for the occasion. Indeed, fellowship at the table is central to the intimate communal relationship your God desires to have with you, His body, His Bride, His Church. Through this Holy Communion meal, your LORD joins you into Himself, and all the love He has for you is communicated to you personally and intimately. Your God, who is far off, is so very, very near to you.
Similarly, He, in whom the fullness of the deity dwells bodily, Jesus, was present at a common wedding in nearby Cana in Galilee. He was a guest and an intimate part of the fellowship of that seven-day wedding feast. However, on the third day of the feast, they ran out of wine. This would have been a great social embarrassment for the new family, their parents and extended family, and even the community itself. For, in a culture in which family name, dignity, and respect are of central importance, this seemingly small inconvenience, by our modern standards, was similar to the shame and despair that Sarah, and Elizabeth, and countless other Hebrew women experienced in being barren and unable to conceive.
When Mary brought their distress to His attention, Jesus replied, seemingly in rebuke of His mother saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? [Or, literally, “What does this have to do between you and me?”] My hour has not yet come.” Mary, too, knew the Holy Love of God that had visited her when she, in her virgin barrenness, was made to be fruitful and conceived by the Holy Sprit of God, Jesus, the Son of God, and the Holy Love of God incarnate. With God, all things are possible. Jesus is the living fruit and proof of that Truth, even the Word of Life become flesh, having made His dwelling amongst us. And, though it was not His time – that is, the time of His Passion – He had compassion upon this new family, their parents and extended family, and the guests invited to the wedding, and He visited them in their barrenness and unfruitfulness, in their hopelessness and despair, turning water, intended for the purification of the people from their sins, into the finest wine of hope, and life, and joy.
Yet, His time would come. And, when Jesus took up His throne upon the cross, it was the ultimate expression of His love for you, and for the world, and for His Bride, the Church. Greater love has no man than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends, even for His enemies, and for you. Yes, Jesus’ Passion and Death was an act of love, the greatest love imaginable. It was also a wedding, as in the death of the Holy Bridegroom, His harlot bride was reborn, recreated, holy and pure in the purifying and cleansing Holy Blood and Water from Her Bridegroom’s, Her Adam’s, pierced side. And, He made this barren one to be fruitful and to multiply, His lifeblood flowing through Her, His Spirit-breath animating Her, granting Her vitality and vibrancy. For, now, out of Her once-barren womb, springs new life in those children of Christ born again in Holy Baptism, nourished, sustained, protected, and kept alive for everlasting life in His life-giving body and blood in Holy Love and Communion.
Your life is in Christ. And, yet, your enemy tempts you to find your life in other places, persons, and things, even in your self. Thus, St. Peter exhorts you saying, “[Jesus’] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” “Partakers of the divine nature” – that means participants, members, koinonia, fellowship. That is intimate, body language; that is communion with Jesus, with God, and with His Holy Love.
Your life is in Christ. That means that, you do not live alone. Your life is in Christ. Your life comes from Him, in communion with Him, His life flowing through you, and out of you in fruitfulness, giving life to others. Just as, apart from the vine, a branch is not fruitful, so, apart from Christ, you can do nothing. Therefore, you must continually draw your life from the True Vine, Jesus Christ, and remain in Him, that He will remain in you, and that you will be fruitful. This, too, St. Peter exhorts you to saying, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God has visited His people in Jesus Christ. He has made the barren to be fruitful and has blessed us with hope and joy and life. Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.” In Holy Love, Christ has brought you into Himself, into the Communion of Saints, with the Father and Holy Spirit, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.