Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)

Luk6:36-42Roman8:18-23Genesis 50:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday we considered God’s love manifested as grace. Today we see God’s love manifested as mercy to all who suffer. Grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin; they are each manifestations of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ.
When I teach catechumens about grace and mercy, I explain it this way: Grace is when God gives us good things that we do not deserve. Mercy is when God does not give us the bad things that we do deserve. One is a giving, and the other is a withholding. And yet, both come from God: His will, His action, His love. The seeking love of God that we heard about last week – seeking, finding, and restoring the lost – is grace. Today we focus upon God’s love shown in mercy through which He works through the sufferings, pain, and losses we experience as the result of sin to preserve and keep us in His Son unto eternal life. We hear that God works man’s intended evils for good. We hear that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. And we are exhorted to be merciful to all as God our Father has been merciful to us: to judge not, to condemn not, to forgive, and to give to others as we have been the benefactors of such rich and lavish love, mercy, and forgiveness.
The story of Joseph and his brothers from our Old Testament lesson is a powerful example of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because their father Jacob loved Joseph more than the others, being the son of his old age. To add to their burning jealousy, Jacob gave Joseph a many-colored coat and Joseph had dreams in which his brothers bowed down before him. They plotted to kill him, but, after Reuben’s intercession, they decided merely to sell him into slavery. Well, as the story goes, Joseph ends up in Egypt, and, after much injustice and suffering, becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man. When famine hit the region, indeed his brothers did travel to Egypt and bow down before Joseph and receive food and live. When their father died, the brothers were fearful that Joseph would exact revenge upon them for the wrongs they had done to him; they were afraid that they would get what they deservedfor their sins. So, they schemed once again and sent message to Joseph that their father Jacob had requested Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers as his dying wish. But the lie was not necessary, for Joseph had already forgiven his brothers. Joseph replied, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Joseph was merciful to his brothers, he did not give them the bad things that they deserved, but he forgave them and he restored them. They offered to be servants, slaves, but Joseph called them brothers and he gave to them an allotment of good land and provided for them and their children. This true and historical story is comparable to the Parable of the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son), told from the perspective ofmercy.
In today’s Epistle lesson, we hear that the fallout of man’s fall into sin impacted not just all humanity, but all of God’s creation. All of God’s creation is in bondage and subjection to corruption, and this is bad! But, once again, we hear that God works through this evil and corruption for the good of His creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing,” says Paul, “for the revealing of the sons of God.” Dearly beloved, we are the sons of God of whom Paul speaks! The revealing of our sonship began with the Incarnation of the Son of God as the Man Jesus Christ, but the consummation of this revealing will not be realized until the resurrection of our bodies. Paul says that all of creation, that is, the entire universe and everything in it, waits with eager longing for that moment! Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: We don’t always feel like sons of God, do we? In fact, is there not pain, suffering, sorrow, and death in our lives? Do not the people we love the most hurt us and we them? Does not sickness and disease, war and violence, economic distress, fear, depression, and sadness affect us and those we love? Yes, and this is the result of sin, the wages we have earned for sin, the reaping of what we have sown. Paul acknowledges suffering, but he says to you that all of your sufferings, all of the sufferings of humanity and of the entire creation, these “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As bad as things might be at times, what is to come is so glorious and joyous and wonderful that there is no point of comparison between the two! Paul compares the sufferings of this present time to a woman in the labor of childbirth. There is suffering and pain in labor and childbirth, but there is such joy in the birth of a child that the suffering and pain preceding are barely an afterthought. And so, this is how you should view pain, sorrow, suffering, trial, and tribulation – as preparation, as instruction, as catechesis for the glory in which you will soon be revealed and will live forever. But, even now, that glory has already begun to be revealed in you. It was first revealed in the Incarnation of the Son of God in the Man Jesus, and in Jesus, it has begun to be revealed in all who are in Him through Holy Baptism and faith. We have already now begun to walk in the new life, for we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” and we “groan inwardly as we await eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of ourbodies.”
Thus, we know the divine mercy of God’s love, that He does not give us what we deserve, what we have earned for our sins – death, but, instead, He gives us life in His Son. Nothing is held against us, but all is forgiven in Jesus. Howthen can we judge a brother? How then can we condemn a brother? How can we withhold forgiveness from a brother? We cannot. The debt that has been forgiven us; the guilt that has been cleansed from us; the sin that has been atoned for us; these have truly set us free. How can we keep a brother in chains and bondage? We cannot. We must give and forgive as we have been given to and forgiven, for, grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Your forgiveness is intimately connected to the forgiveness you show others. The judgment and condemnation that is withheld from you is intimately connected to the judgment and condemnation you withhold from others. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back toyou.”
The Lord has prepared this feast today for His sons who are day by day being revealed. The feast, too, is a hidden glory as the Son of Man is present in lowly forms. We, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan and long, with all creation, for the glory to be fully revealed when we will feast with the Lord, not through veiled forms, but face to face. And this is a feast of reconciliation, that what was lost has been found and restored. It is a feast of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. You who come, eat, and drink do so in love, forgiveness, and mercy towards your brothers, making peace with them before you bring the gift of yourself to the Lord’s Table. It is the chains that you place upon your brother that keeps you in bondage; the Lord has set you free in Christ Jesus, do not place yourself back in chains by withholding freedom from another. He who fills the cup and satisfies the hungry heart fills you with overflowing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you might shower your brothers in the same to the glory of God the Father through His eternal Son in the life of His Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)

Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The setting for today’s Gospel is the house of a ruler of the Pharisees to which Jesus had been invited for the observance of the Sabbath. However, Luke tells us that this was no friendly invitation, for the scribes and the Pharisees “were watching Him closely.”
Knowing that He had their undivided attention, He took the opportunity to teach them by example. There was a man with dropsy before them. Dropsy was a form of edema, a retaining of fluid causing swelling of organs and tissue. Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Of course, the answer is, “Yes! It is always lawful to show mercy, love, and compassion, because love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they remained silent, so Jesus took him and healed him and sent him on his way. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Still, they had nothing to say.
You see, they knew that Jesus was right. For the scribes and the Pharisees, the question was not so much whether it was lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, than, rather, whoit was that was to be healed. What they would unquestionably do for their own kin or possession, they would not do for someone they judged to be of a status beneath them, unworthy, or unclean.
Next, Jesus instructed them about the godly virtues of humility and selflessness. Noticing that they chose the places of honor at the banquet table, Jesus said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Similarly, Jesus said to the man who had invited Him: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
This teaching addressed the same problem as the first: selfishness, self-righteousness, and pride. When you love yourself, you cannot love your brother and neighbor in need. And, as we heard in last Sunday’s Epistle, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
All of this serves as the context and setting for today’s Gospel. It was immediately following Jesus’ teaching about showing mercy on the Sabbath and the godly virtues of humility and selflessness that one of the Pharisees who reclined at table with Him said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus did not correct the man, for, indeed, he was correct, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” However, what the man was incorrect about was whowould be in attendance at that banquet: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, not to mention, Gentiles from every tribe, people, language, and nation. Therefore, Jesus answered the man by telling a parable, the Parable of the Great Banquet.
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready’.” At first, the invitation went out to a few selected guests, the children of Israel with whose father, Abraham, God had made a covenant of grace, counting his faith in His promise to him as righteousness. That covenant was passed down to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, and all the way to David. The covenant was for the children of Israel, but it was not only for them. Indeed, the children of Israel, themselves, were chosen for the redemption of the entire world.
God’s covenant with Abraham included these specific words: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Israel was blessed that they might be a blessing. They were chosen to be a beacon light in a world of sin and darkness. They were to be leaven, leavening the entire lump of sinful humanity. And, they were to be salt, seasoning the world with the Word of the LORD that men might repent and be adopted into His covenant of grace as sons and co-heirs.
Of course, that covenant, and all of its reiterations over the course of 1,500 years of history, was fulfilled, not in the son of Abraham, but in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom He put forward and offered up as the full and perfect sacrifice for the sins of world. And, that is precisely what the scribes and the Pharisees did not accept, would not, could not, and refused to believe – that the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, not to mention, Gentiles from every tribe, people, language, and nation, would recline with them at the banquet of the King in the kingdom of heaven.
The man reclining at table with Jesus was indeed correct: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” However, he did not know or believe how correct he was. For him “everyone” did not include everyone. Particularly, his “everyone” did not include the man with dropsy whom Jesus healed, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, the Gentiles, nor, increasingly, even Jesus Himself.
In Jesus’ parable, the man giving the great banquet sent his servant to call his invited guests saying, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But, they all began to make excuses. Each of them had something they deemed to be more important, or of more value to them presently, than eating bread with the master at the great banquet to which they had been invited.
Perhaps the significance of the invited guests’ refusal is somewhat lost on us in our culture, for such a refusal in first century Israel would have been a great insult, not only to the master, but in the eyes of all the people. It was customary in Jesus’ day to first invite guests to a feast weeks or months in advance and, later, when the feast was prepared, a message was sent to those invited to come to the feast. It was the second invitation that the invitees in Jesus’ parable rejected.
But, remember, this is a parable. Therefore, the master of the feast is the LORD, and the invitees are the children of Israel. Moreover, they were invited, first, through the covenant of grace that the LORD made to Abraham. Then, in the self-offering and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, all that was necessary for them to join in the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven was prepared, finished, and complete. The LORD sent His Son, just as the prophets had proclaimed, to announce this Good News and call the invited guests to the feast. This was the second invitation, which they rejected.
Therefore, the master, the LORD, has extended the invitation to those that the first invitees were to have invited on His behalf: the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and the Gentiles. He sent His servants, His prophets, pastors, evangelists to go “to the streets and lanes of the city” and “to the highways and hedges” and call the people, no, to compelthe people, “to come in, that [His] house may be filled.” And then, following that rich proclamation of grace, Jesus adds the harsh result of the first invitees’ rejection: “None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
God’s invitation to eternal life and salvation is universal. It has been signed, sealed, and delivered to the world in Jesus Christ. He is for everyone, without exception, and that is the Truth. All who trust in Him with Spirit-given faith, all who cling to Him and do not let go, all who receive His Baptism and do not reject Him will be saved. Therefore, why do so many people say “No”? They say “No” because they are idolaters, fearing, loving, and trusting in created things before and above the LORD and Creator of all things. They say “No” because they falsely judge themselves righteous, or at least better than others. They say “No” because they believe that, by their good works, they are secure in their invitation to the great banquet in the kingdom of heaven saying, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Yet, as true as that statement is, another is also true: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.” This is a biblical wisdomway of saying, “Come, for everything is now ready.” The LORD’s Passover Lamb, Jesus, has laid down His life in sacrificial death for you that you may come, eat, and live. All that was necessary for you to join in the great banquet of the kingdom of heaven has been prepared and accomplished for you. Come, and eat. Come, and drink. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
The Lord invites you this day to partake of the feast He has prepared as a foretaste of the great banquet that is yet to come.Receiving what God gives is the highest form of worship.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Trinity, which you may think of as “that long green season.” Green is the color of life and growth. As the first half the Church Year focused upon the life, deeds, death, and resurrection of Jesus, so the second half of the Church Year focuses upon the life of Jesus lived in and through you, His body, the Church. It is no coincidence, then, that the lesson of today’s Gospel is that the life of the Church, and your lives, its members, have their origin in, and are sustained by, God’s Word.
Jesus’ story about the Rich Man and Lazarus is a story about life and fruitful growth borne in and through believers by God’s Word. Though not specifically called a parable, this story is set in the midst of a string of Jesus’ parables and must be interpreted in that context. Indeed, apart from this greater context, there is precious little reason given why the rich man is in torment in Hades while Lazarus is being comforted in the bosom of Abraham. Beginning with the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the (Lost) Prodigal Son, continuing through the parable of the Dishonest Steward, and ending with Jesus’ teaching against the love of money and divorce, it would be accurate to say that all of these parables are about hearing and trusting in the Word of God and, consequently, bearing its fruit of selfless, sacrificial love. Thus, the only reason we can surmise that the rich man is suffering torment in Hades is that he did not hear “Moses and the Prophets,” the Word of God, and, consequently, He did not bear the fruit of God’s Word – He did not love.
It was not the rich man’s riches that affected his fate anymore than it was Lazarus’ poverty that affected his. Indeed, biblical heroes of the faith Abraham, David, and numerous others were unquestionably wealthy and, likewise, are unquestionably a part of the company of saints with Jesus in heaven. Neither should it be supposed that the rich man was a bad man or even an unbeliever. He called Abraham father, and Abraham, in turn, called the rich man son. Likewise, Jesus provides nothing in his telling of the story that would cause us to suppose that Lazarus was an especially good or faithful man. All that we are told is the straightforward fact of each man’s condition: The rich man, in his lifetime, received good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, bad things. Now, Lazarus is comforted, and the rich man is in anguish.
The inescapable conclusion we must draw from Jesus’ telling is that, it’s not what we have or do not have that matters, or even a particular quantity or quality of observable works, but it is where we place our fear, love, and trust. These must be placed in God’s Word, despite the conditions of our life, and they must affect a change in us, a change in our hearts, causing us to love. Truly, love is the fruit and the only good work produced in and through us by trust in the Word of God. Indeed, love, and only love, is the fulfilling of the Law of God. However, love is the necessary fruit of faith. That is what James is getting at when he says, “I will show you my faith by my works” and, “faith without works is dead.” Or, as we make our sung confession with Paul Speratus in “Salvation unto Us Has Come, “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone and rests in Him unceasing; and by its fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” Likewise, St. John summarizes in today’s Epistle, “This commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Jesus tells us that the poor man Lazarus laid everyday outside the gates of the rich man’s house desiring to be fed with scraps from the rich man’s table. Jesus means for us to surmise that his desire went unfulfilled though the rich man feasted sumptuously every day. Now, I know that we immediately think of all the homeless beggars we pass by at the intersections, or on the sidewalks of our larger cities, some of whom are undoubtedly shysters, and we wonder, does the Lord really expect me to give to all of these? While we should never be calloused and cold-hearted to those in need, I believe that the message is directed more towards those we have some sort of relationship with, in our own communities, neighborhoods, church, and family. The fact is that the rich man knew Lazarus, walked past him everyday, and didn’t love him so as to feed him from the scraps that fell from his table. Again, it’s not the work, or lack thereof, that is truly the problem, but rather it is the lack of love, which is evidence of the lack of fear, love, and trust in the Word of God. Jesus hints at this lack of love by declining to provide the rich man’s name, while He named Lazarus; The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, but to those who are not His sheep He will proclaim, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”
Both men died, and Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, a place of comfort, while the rich man was buried and in anguish in Hades. Why? The only reason given is that the rich man received his good things in his lifetime and Lazarus received his in the afterlife. Again, however, this parable is not about wealth and possessions in contrast to poverty and need, but it is about faith and its fruit, love. The rich man had love, but his love was for his possessions and wealth and not for God or neighbor. However, there is nothing given that would indicate that Lazarus had love either; rather, Lazarus seemingly had only want and need. And yet, Lazarus’ faith and love are displayed in his want and need. Lazarus could not help himself, but he was a beggar; he begged before his neighbor and he begged before God. To be a beggar is to be completely empty and selfless. Martin Luther famously uttered these words as he was dying, “Surely, we are all beggars.” Lazarus’ faith and love was not in himself but in God. Indeed, his very name means “God is my help.” The LORD has mercy on the helpless. Those who have not He blesses and fills with good things. And, He does this, primarily, through those who have, through the likes of the rich man, through you, and through me.
When the rich man, in anguish in Hades, appealed to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, thinking that they would believe if someone rose from the dead, Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Moses and the Prophets are the Word of God. More specifically, they represent the Law of God, the Law which is fulfilled in love for God and for the neighbor. Jesus was rich, and yet He forsook all that He had to save us. He who had riches and power and glory willingly, selflessly, and sacrificially became poor that He might raise us up from the poverty of sin and death to the riches of fear, love, and trust in God and its fruit of love for the neighbor. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled in Jesus and, ironically, He did rise from the dead, and a terrible many remain unconvinced and do not believe.
The greatest work that you can do is to love – love God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. And, this work is much less a work that you do than it is a work God the Holy Spirit does in and though you through faith and trust in His Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Whatever you fear, love, and trust in above and before God is an idol that you must cast away. Created things are not bad in and of themselves, but it is what you make them to be in your heart that makes them idolatrous and evil. And, whatever serves to quell your love for God and man you must pluck it out and throw it away, lest you forfeit your life and the Lord give you what you desire – a life away from His love and gracious presence forever. However, you need not be afraid, for “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." The rich man Jesus Christ became poor for you, therefore God has made Him the richest in His kingdom. And, He is present now, for you, to feed you, not with scraps, but with the choicest meat of His body and the finest wine of His blood, that you may be forgiven, nourished, strengthened, protected, equipped, and sent to love others with His love. In loving others you are loved and remain in His love. Therefore, in love, you need not fear life or death or anything at all.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.