Sunday, July 31, 2016

Homily for The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)

Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I would venture to guess that most of you know little of the structure of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and that most of you are not particularly interested in knowing. I do not fault you for that. After all, as one parishioner has been want to say on occasion, “We’re a long ways away from St. Louis.” This is most certainly true. However, the structure and offices of the LCMS actually have some relevance and bearing considering today’s Gospel Lesson. The LCMS is divided into thirty-five Districts, our own being The Atlantic District, each of which has an elected President, or, if you like, a Bishop. Each District, in turn, is divided into Circuits. The Atlantic District has ten Circuits, each of which has its own elected officer, a pastor, called the Circuit Visitor. Whereas the District President is charged with ecclesial (that is, churchly) oversight of the Pastors and the Congregations in the District, the Circuit Visitor represents the District President in ecclesial oversight of the Pastors and Congregations in the Circuit, the local cluster of congregations. As the name suggests, the job of the Circuit Visitor is to visit the Pastors and the Congregations of the Circuit, in the stead of the District President, to see how they are doing, to encourage them in their ministry, to guide them towards faithful practice, to suggest correction if necessary, and to pray for them. Presently, I serve as Circuit Visitor for Atlantic District Circuit Three which includes eight congregations: St. Luke’s – Putnam Valley, Redeemer – Peekskill, Christ the King – Pawling, All Saints – Lagrangeville, Our Savior – Fishkill, St. Timothy – Hyde Park, St. Mark’s – Hudson, and Resurrection – Cairo. However, in my fourteen years at Christ the King, I/we have never been “visited” by our Circuit Visitor. In fact, the District President has only visited this congregation twice in that time, and that was at my personal invitation. Happily, I can report that our current District President has visited me once since taking office last September. And, I have to confess that my own “visitation” of the Pastors and Congregations of our Circuit has amounted to the monthly Winkels (Circuit Meetings) that we hold, rotating congregations from month to month. However, while I do see the Pastors of the Circuit regularly, and while I do visit the congregations, I cannot say that I am truly fulfilling the fullness of the intention and purpose and spirit of the Circuit Visitor, for, although the LCMS does have a structure of hierarchical oversight, the foundation of our structure is congregational – which means that each congregation is independent in its governance, but subscribes to a common confession of faith – making the ecclesial offices of District President and Circuit Visitor merely advisory and lacking real authority.
Now, what has any of this to do with today’s Gospel Lesson? Well, last Sunday I asked you the questions, “What will you do throughout this time of your life in which you have been given management over the Lord’s blessings and goods? And, what will you be found doing when He returns at a time and an hour you cannot know?” Our Lord Jesus Christ is somewhat like a Circuit Visitor or a District President – A Bishop – who could call upon you at any time to “see how you’re doing.” And, Jesus is not one without authority, but He has been given all authority over heaven and earth and all things. Jesus has authority to demand an account of your management at any time. As I said last week, however, this should not cause you to fear or to despair, for the “things you should be found doing” when He comes in visitation amount to receiving and sharing what He has done for you and what He continues to give to you.
In today’s Gospel Jesus lamented that Jerusalem “did not know the time of their visitation.” The Greek word translated here as visitation is episkop─ôs, which has the same root form as bishop or overseer, and from it comes our word pastor. Jesus visited Jerusalem as the Great Bishop, Overseer, and Pastor of His Church. But, what did He find when made His visitation? How were His managers and stewards doing in their management of His goods and gifts? Jesus knew what He would find even before He entered the city. Therefore He wept over Jerusalem, and He wept over the fate that He foresaw for them saying “The days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” What Jesus prophesied that day happened roughly thirty-three years later when the soon-to-be Emperor Titus sacked Jerusalem, killed thousands, and destroyed the temple and the city. The destruction of the temple effectively ended the sacrificial system and the priesthood, and all remaining Jews were scattered. That was the Day of Judgment for Israel which so many of the end times prophecies of the Scriptures pointed to. Jesus’ prophecy concerning the judgment of Jerusalem had been fulfilled.
The occasion of Jesus’ visitation upon Jerusalem happened on the very same day as His Triumphal Entry into the Holy City, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. The crowds received Him with great joy and pomp believing Him to be the Messiah King who would free them from Roman oppression and make Israel great once again. But, they had the wrong idea about King Jesus, about what kind of a King He was and would be. Jesus processed, not to Herod’s or Pilate’s palace and throne, but to the temple, to His Father’s House. And, what did He find there when He entered? He found moneychangers and vendors of sacrificial animals, pigeons and doves. The moneychangers exchanged the currency of pilgrims that had traveled from all over the Middle East so that they could pay the temple tax. The tax itself was an unholy thing, but the moneychangers added insult to injury by overcharging and extorting the pilgrims for their services. They took advantage of the poorest and the weakest in order to make a profit, and this in the LORD’s House. Similarly, the vendors of sacrificial animals overcharged, extorted, and took advantage of the pilgrims and worshippers, holding the law over their heads in order to force them into paying their inflated prices by either guilt or fear. As I quoted Jesus’s words last Sunday, so I do once again today, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”
What did Bishop Jesus find when He visited His people? How did He find them managing His goods and His gifts? He found them managing them poorly. He found them greedily hoarding them and withholding them from those who needed them most. He found that they had made the things of His creation into their idols and gods. Jesus was furious with righteous indignation. He made a whip of chords and thrashed the tables of the moneychangers and vendors and overturned them, sending their coins and their animals flying through the temple court. And He shouted, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Now, it has been popular over the decades past to think that what Jesus was upset with was the fact that worldly transactions were going on in the temple court, the church. Because of that, many churches have forbidden bake sales and tag sales and have declared 50/50 raffles and auctions a thing of the devil. But, they are missing the point. Jesus’ righteous anger was not about the buying and selling per se, but it was about the people’s lack of mercy. Jesus was angry, not that they were buying and selling, but that the people were robbing each other. Just as in last week’s Gospel, the Lord commands you to make use of unrighteous wealth to win friends, that is, use the worldly stuff the Lord has given you management over to help other people and thereby glorify God. However, that was not what Jesus found His people doing. And, were Jesus to visit us today, what would He find us doing? Would He find us using the worldly things He has given us management over to the benefit of others and to the glory of God? Or, would He find us greedily hoarding them, covetously desiring them, and putting our fear, love, and trust in them above and before God, which is idolatry and false worship?
God had visited His people in Jesus Christ, but the people rejected Him. They did not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, and they did not recognize Him when He came because they had long ago forsaken the Word of the Lord and followed instead the teachings of men. The truth of the matter is this: God comes near to and visits His people still. Jesus comes near to you and visits you in the preaching of the Gospel. How do you receive Him? The Third Commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Luther explains this commandment saying, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Rejection of preaching is not only a violation of the Third Commandment, it is a rejection of our Lord’s Visitation at that time. Today, just as in Jesus’ time, people “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” As in Jeremiah’s time, people have turned away in perpetual backsliding. And, because they despise the Word of the Lord and will not hear it, they mismanage their Lord’s possessions and make them to be their idols and gods. They know not the Word of the Lord, but they believe in a false word that contains not the Spirit. They preach tolerance and love and peace that are rooted, not in Christ, but in human conceptions of fairness and equality. They continually say “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace with God, for they have rejected Him and His Word and Commandments. What man declares peace is an abomination before the Lord. But, a day is coming when the Lord will visit His people, not in mercy, calling them to repentance, but in judgment. On that day “the wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the Word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?”
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” When Jesus visited Jerusalem, it was not in judgment, but in mercy. That is why He wept over the city and the fate that would befall His people there because of their rejection of Him. It was the religious leadership of the Jews who taught them in the ways of the Law but failed repeatedly to proclaim to them the Gospel. It was the religious leadership who were given management of the Lord’s gifts, but who squandered them and idolized them and taught the people to do the same. Elsewhere Jesus had pity on the people because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Soon they would arrest Him and try Him and condemn Him and execute Him outside the walls of the City of God’s Peace, “for it is not permissible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.”
Still, the people, the hoi polloi, were hanging on His every Word. And, so must you hang on to, cling to, and keep sacred the Holy Word of God and gladly hear and learn it. For, your Lord is making His visitation upon you right now in this Divine Service. How do you receive Him? In faith, to your great and abundant blessing, or do you reject Him in unbelief and self-righteousness? Your body is the temple of the Lord in which His Holy Spirit has established His home. May the temple of your body be cleansed by Jesus’ Word, received in humble faith, and may your soul and faith together be strengthened in His pure Word of Law and Gospel, and may you be equipped to manage and to share His gifts, both material and spiritual, with others to the glory of His Name in your life, words, and deeds. In receiving Him today, and every Lord’s Day, in His visitation of grace and mercy, you are well prepared for His visitation in judgment on the Last Day, should it come today, or tomorrow, or in a thousand years.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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