Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)

Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the over-arching stories of the Holy Scriptures goes something like this: Once you were free in the LORD, but you rebelled and sinned and, in so doing, sold yourself into slavery. However, in boundless mercy and grace, the LORD did what was necessary to set you free once again: He became a man, obediently fulfilling the demands of the Law, suffering and dying bearing the penalty for your transgression, setting you free through faith in Him. But, what will you do with your freedom? Will you fear, and love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, will you put your fear, your love, and your trust in other things, or in other people, or in your self? These are all creaturely, created by the LORD Himself, and yet you fear not having or losing them, you love and treasure them more than the LORD who created them, yourself, and all things, and you trust in them that, by possessing them, you will be independent and free. That is idolatry, for you have made of them to be gods, and you have made yourself a god, a god unto yourself.
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Now, what is mammon? Mammon is all manner of material and worldly wealth and possessions. Mammon is stuff – all the stuff that you think you have to have, all the stuff you’ve got that you don’t know what to do with anymore, all the stuff that has taken your money, wasted your time, and crowded you out of your house and home. And, mammon is a master that you serve, and a false god that you worship. To live in service and worship of mammon is to be a slave. Moreover, if mammon is your master and god, then you cannot serve and worship the true and only God who made you, your stuff, the world, and everything in it.
However, it is not that mammon is evil. Money isn’t evil, and neither are material things and worldly possessions. God created them, and He looked at all that He made and declared it to be very good. No, mammon isn’t the problem. You are. For, what do you do with mammon? Do you not crave and desire to have it, fear to lose it, covet what is not yours, and greedily hoard what is? Mammon didn’t make you do it. You do it because of your fallen, sinful nature. You continually make idols and false gods out of the stuff the True God has made and has given you to be a steward of.
You see, the so-called “unrighteous steward” of Jesus’ parable wasn’t really unrighteous, was he? I mean, there’s no indication that he was greedy for money and covetous of earthly goods and possessions. His chief concern was that he was soon going to be out of a job and that he wouldn’t be able to provide for himself. Likewise, when he hatched his great scheme to make friends for himself with his master’s money, he didn’t keep a cut for himself. All he was seeking to do was gain the favor of others for that inevitable day when he would be out on the streets without food, clothing, and shelter.
Now, we can speculate on what the steward was thinking as he hurriedly reduced the debts owed his master by fifty and twenty percent, but one thing is clear – the steward was not beholden to mammon, to money. On the contrary, the steward cared so little about money that he spent it, not on himself, but on others in order to help them, and to bring them, relief and joy. True, the steward did have in mind his own welfare when he would be out of a job, but that all the more goes to show that he was not materialistic, or a slave to money. He did not serve mammon. Indeed, he made mammon to serve him!
I know this doesn’t sit well with you. It doesn’t sit well with me either. “That’s not fair,” we protest. “That’s illegal,” we shout. And, that’s why Jesus’ conclusion to this parable confounds us so very much. For, when the master finds out what his steward has done with his money, he is not angry with him, he does not punish him, he does not fire him, he does not have him thrown in jail, but, instead, he commends him for his shrewdness. How can Jesus hold up a dishonest crook as a commendable steward? What does he mean to teach us in this way?
Well, suffice it to say, the parable is much less about shrewdness in the ways and means of the world as it is about fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus ends the parable with a proverb saying, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Here, Jesus is making a distinction between the unbelieving masses and His own believing children whom He calls “the sons of light.” To put it plainly, Jesus is saying that the unbelieving “sons of this world” know how to use money and possessions to get what they want and need. The problem is that they do not recognize that these things belong to, and are given them, by the LORD, and that they are stewards of His providence that they might use it to benefit themselves and others to the glory of His Name. Because they do not recognize God’s providence, they credit themselves for their wealth and possessions, and they are greedy and selfish and manipulative, because they are ruled by the fear of losing or not having enough. They are slaves to mammon, therefore they cannot serve God.
Not so, you sons of light. Your Lord Jesus teaches you to “make friends for yourselves by means off unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now, Jesus says a lot in a few words here. First of all, it is key that he calls wealth “unrighteous.” This does not mean that money is evil, but that it is not holy or sacred. It has no lasting value, and any value it has at all is only what men ascribe to it. In the eyes of the Lord, money and material possessions are nothing and are worthless. Moreover, they will not last. They will pass away. You know that the saying is true, “You can’t take it with you.” No, money and possessions are not evil, but men use them for evil purposes. Therefore, Jesus exhorts you to receive these gifts for what they are, temporal gifts to help you and others in this life. Don’t make them into masters! Don’t make them into gods! Instead, receive them in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD and use them in fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Use them for yourself and for your family, and use them for the benefit of others, not expecting anything in return, but because you know that all belongs to the LORD and the LORD loves and provides for all.
Jesus concludes His teaching saying, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to the true riches.” Here it becomes clear that how we manage (steward) the LORD’s possessions over which He has given us stewardship here on earth is connected to the spiritual gifts the LORD has given us both now, and in life eternal. Again, the message is actually quite simple, “Don’t enslave yourself to wealth and possessions. Do not put your fear, your love, and your trust in them.” As I said in the beginning, one of the over-arching stories of the Holy Scriptures goes something like this: Once you were free in the LORD, but you rebelled and sinned and, in so doing, sold yourself into slavery. However, in boundless mercy and grace, the LORD did what was necessary to set you free once again. But, what will you do with your freedom? Will you fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, will you put your fear, love, and trust in other things, other people, and in your self? “You cannot serve God and money.”
St. Paul writes in our Epistle today, “these things took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did.” Thus, Paul exhorts you saying, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were.” Likewise, the prophet Samuel teaches that the service and worship of mammon produces pride, whereas the LORD values humility saying, “You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” How you view and understand unrighteous mammon – wealth and material possessions – is directly connected to what you believe about God. If God is your master, then you will receive these worldly and material things as the gifts they are. You will be good stewards of them, not fearfully and greedily amassing them and hoarding them, nor covetously desiring to have those things that belong to others, but using them, as the good gifts that they are, for your benefit and for the benefit of your family, but also for the benefit of your neighbors to the glory of God. These are the little things in which you must be faithful now so that you may be entrusted with the true riches of the kingdom of God.
For, you also have stewardship of spiritual things now, things like grace, mercy, love, charity, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. The LORD so lavishly pours them upon you, and into you, that you simply overflow with His goodness. Of the sheer abundance of these riches you are blessed to be a blessing to others, to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, come, now, and receive of these spiritual gifts that you may be strengthened and filled to overflowing. And, do not hesitate to share them with all you encounter, whoever the LORD causes to cross your path. For, in serving them, you serve Christ, your true master, and you demonstrate that mammon is a gift of the LORD, and not your god.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Festival of St. Mary of Magdala

John 20:1-2, 10-18; Acts 13:26-31; Proverbs 31:10-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You have to face it, there are a awful lot of Mary’s in the New Testament! It can get a bit confusing at times to sort them all out! The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke each identify Mary of Magdala as a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. However, there is a church tradition that also links Mary of Magdala with the unnamed “woman in the city who was a sinner” mentioned in St. Luke’s Gospel who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and kissed them, though there is no scriptural basis for this conclusion. Similarly, another church tradition links Mary of Magdala with the unnamed woman whom Jesus saved from being stoned to death for adultery in St. John’s Gospel, yet once again there is no scriptural basis for this identification. Nevertheless, it is easy to see why, today, the name Mary Magdalene often evokes the image of a prostitute and adulterer, for when something is repeated long enough, whether it is true or false, it is often believed to be true regardless of refuting evidence. Add to this the suggestions of spurious documents often written hundreds of years after the Gospel which claim that Mary Magdalene held a special place amongst Jesus’ disciples and may even have been His wife and the mother of His child, sometimes said to be a daughter, we are left with a most confused conception of Mary of Magdala that can be far removed from the testimony of scripture. As a result, we are want to say, “Will the real Mary of Magdala please stand up!”
What we know about Mary of Magdala must come from the scriptures and not from speculation or spurious extra-biblical documents. And, what we know about Mary of Magdala from scripture is that: Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary. She followed Him, supported His ministry, and witnessed His crucifixion. She lingered at Jesus’ tomb and was the first person to see Him after His resurrection. Jesus called her by name saying, “Mary,” and she answered by calling Him “Rabboni,” which means, “Teacher.” Though she wanted to hold on to Him and never let Him go again, Jesus forbade her to cling to Him, but He sent her to tell the other disciples about His resurrection, effectively making Mary of Magdala an apostle to the Apostles. What we discover when we strip away all the historical speculation and conspiracy theories concerning Mary of Magdala and deal only with what the scriptures say concerning her is that she was a woman of great faith and love for her LORD God and for His Messiah, Jesus, whom she also loved and followed because He was the fulfillment of God’s Word for the life of the world.
And so it is that Mary of Magdala is like unto the woman of valor -- or more accurately, according to the Hebrew, the woman of power-- as described in our Old Testament reading today from Proverbs. Proverbs 31 is much beloved and treasured by all for its vivid depiction of the ideal godly woman. Such a woman “fears the LORD” and is “far more precious than jewels.” Unlike the virgins in Jesus’ parable, “Her lamp does not go out at night,” but she remains ever faithful and vigilant in maintaining and sustaining her faith, and the faith of her husband and children. Idle words do not fall from her lips, but “she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Her value is not estimated in jewels, charm, and beauty, but in her fear of the LORD and in her works, the fruit of her faith. And so, you see, that the woman of valor, the woman of power, is powerful in faith in the LORD and is fruitful in works of love, mercy, and compassion which serve her family and neighbors and glorify the LORD. Her beauty is not in vain and ephemeral, fleshly and worldly things, and her strength and power are in the LORD her God.
However, this is not the way you’ve come to think of Mary of Magdala, is it? No, our perverted and fallen world, culture, and flesh, even within Christ’s Church, have made Mary out to be a sexual being, a prostitute and an adulterer, instead of a woman of faith and piety who clung to her Lord Jesus in faith. “But, if she had seven demons she must have been a horrible sinner?” you may ask. No, not necessarily. Neophytes, that is, new believers are often attacked ferociously by the devil as he knows that they are beginning to slip his grasp. Jesus had done a wonderful thing for Mary. He set her free from demonic oppression. She followed Him and served Him with eager devotion, likely from the very beginning of His ministry, and she readily told any and all the great things He had done for her. She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion and she was likely the very first to arrive at Jesus’ empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Mary of Magdala was a woman of valor, a woman of power, for Christ was her strength and her power, the source and object of her faith and works.
Early Easter morning, Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark. Surely she was wondering, like those who would come after her, how she would roll away the massive stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb. Whatever she thought and believed about Jesus’ teaching concerning His resurrection on the third day, Mary had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Imagine her astonishment, even her horror, when she saw that the stone had already been rolled away! Her first thought was that those who had handed Him over to be crucified had now taken away His body, so she went to tell Peter and the other disciples. Returning to the tomb, Mary eeked up the courage to look inside. There she beheld two angels in white robes standing at the head and the foot of where Jesus had lain. Some early Church Fathers have seen in this an analogy of the Holy Trinity: Two angels representing the Father and the Spirit, standing at the head and foot of where the Son, Jesus, had lain. Hadlain, for He was not dead, but God’s Son had risen, He was alive, just as He had said He would be! Then she turned around, and there He was, though she didn’t recognize Him. You see, some things are truly too good to be true, or so we suppose! There was Jesus, alive and standing right before her, but her limited reason and understanding would not permit her to see. Like the angels before, Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Her Teacher and Redeemer, her Good Shepherd and Bridegroom was right there before her; there was no need for weeping. But then, Jesus called her by name. “Mary,” He said. And then her eyes were opened and she saw Him and knew that it was Jesus! “Rabboni!” she cried, which means “Teacher!” And, she wanted to throw her arms around Him and hold on to Him, but He said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God’.” Mary went at once and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and that He had said all these things to her!
Mary’s sins, just as your sins and my sins, once threatened as a large stone to keep her in her tomb. But, Jesus took away the stone and set her free from her sins. The grave could no longer hold Mary, and it can no longer hold you! Released from the burden of her sin, Mary was free to live and to serve her LORD and her neighbor to the glory of His Name. Instead of using her mouth to make excuses for her mistakes, like the woman of valor and power Mary used her mouth to speak wisdom and kindness. The woman Jesus released from demonic oppression had become a mouthpiece for the LORD, filled with His Holy Spirit. It was St. Thomas Aquinas who first gave Mary of Magdala the title “Apostle to the Apostles” saying, “Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life.”
St. Mary of Magdala is but one of a multitude of our LORD’s saints who extol His mighty works and sing His praise in witness to others. She stands with us as our sister in Christ whose sins have been forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. As Jesus healed Mary from her infirmities, so has He healed us and has made us witnesses of His grace and mercy, love and compassion. Let us go forth and proclaim His love and forgiveness to all in boldness and hope and joy!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.Te

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Christian Funeral for Marlys Ann Ellison

John 14:1-6; Revelation 7:9-17; Lamentations 3:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Now, what is a saint but one who has been made to be holy in the blood of Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer? Our sister in Christ, Marlys, was made to be a saint when she was claimed and named by Jesus in Holy Baptism so many years ago. In Baptism, Jesus’ death and resurrection became her very own, as St. Paul has written, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” and “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Likewise, Jesus Himself did say of His saints, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Our sister Marlys died in the LORD Wednesday morning, and her death was precious in our LORD’s sight. However, the truth is that Marlys died in the LORD many years ago, when her old sinful flesh was drowned in Holy Baptism into Jesus’ death, and was raised with Jesus in His resurrection to a new life that can never die. In Holy Baptism, Marlys was marked and sealed in Jesus’ Name and with the Spirit of God, along with His unbreakable promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” “I am with you always,” and “Nothing can separate you from My love in Jesus Christ.” Marlys did not become a saint of God on Wednesday morning, but she was made to be a saint long ago in Holy Baptism when she passed over from death to life.
That is why she was not afraid to die. Marlys believed and confessed that Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior who had died for her sins and had been raised for her justification. She believed and confessed that Jesus’ death and resurrection became her own in Holy Baptism through faith. And, she believed and confessed that death would be like sleep, as Jesus teaches, from which she fully expected to wake unto a day upon which the sun will never set. And, that is why those of you who knew Marlys knew her to be a woman of great faith. Most important to her was to be in church every Sunday, (and at the Waverly Veteran’s Post every evening). And, next to her faith came her family. Daily she prayed for her children and grandchildren. She kept her grandchildren’s faith statements from their confirmations on her refrigerator as a reminder to herself and to them of the promises God had made to them in Jesus. Those who have known Marlys for a long time saw her faith in her words and deeds, but even those who knew her only a short while could say the same. Marlys’ cleaning lady in Waverly, for example, and a nurse at the assisted living home in Des Moines that she had only been at for a short while, each acknowledged that, in Marlys, they had found an affirmation of their own faith, and they believed that God had brought them together for that purpose. Someone described Marlys as an iconin the family. I like that term “icon.” It’s from a Greek word that means image. St. Paul used that word to describe Jesus saying, “He is the icon (or image) of the invisible God.” That is why Jesus could say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Well, in a very real sense, he who has seen Marlys has seen Jesus, for she was an icon and an image of Jesus’ love, compassion, mercy, and grace to others, as all the LORD’s saints are called to be.
I think that a lot of people today, even a lot of Christians, believe that Christianity is about obeying strict rules, not having any fun, and judging people. That likely is the result of the fact that many who claim to be Christian practice a Christianity of words, but not deeds. Isaiah spoke of such people long ago saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” But, that’s what made Marlys so special; she didn’t simply pay lip service to her faith, but she lived her faith every day in countless ways. And, most of those ways were not flashy and impressive, but they were the simple, ordinary, humble, loving, and serving things that she did for others simply because that’s who she was in Jesus Christ. She baked a world famous chocolate cake and loved to share them and give them as gifts. She could drive a combine all day and still come home and cook a wonderful meal for her family. She believed that good food could heal all ailments and she readily applied her remedies to her children and grandchildren. She loved to have fun with her family and friends, playing cards, bridge, cribbage, hearts, and schaafskompf, and cheering on the Hawkeyes and the Cubs. She enjoyed quilting, but she refused to mend socks. She never smoked, but she kept a drawer full of candy and would regularly have a glass of wine, a margarita, or whatever, “for medicinal purposes,” a Platte trait, or so I’m told. When Milan passed away twelve years ago, Marlys assumed the role of matriarch and guided the family in the straight and narrow way. She was a treasure and an inspiration to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who called her “G.G.” – Great Grandma! Yes, in these simply, ordinary, humble, loving, and serving ways, Marlys was the hands, heart, feet, and voice of Jesus to countless many. She was one of the LORD’s saints, and she was, and she is, precious in His sight.
Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in His Son Jesus, your Savior. For, He has prepared a place in His Father’s house for Marlys, and now He has taken her there. And, He has prepared a place in His Father’s house for you as well. Marlys followed her Lord Jesus along the Way. And now, you may follow her along the same Way, for the Way is Jesus, and there is no other way. And now that great multitude of saints in white robes has grown by one more, even as more continually are being ransomed out of this great tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They hunger and thirst no more. They suffer pain, sorrow, and grief no more. They die no more. And, the Lamb Jesus Christ is their Shepherd, and God His Father wipes every tear from their eyes. Those who die in the LORD are not dead, for indeed, they died in Holy Baptism long ago, and they lived their lives to the LORD. Moreover, we will see them again, not merely as disembodied souls, but in glorified flesh and blood bodies, just as you knew them in this life, but perfected and glorified in Jesus Christ. You will see G.G. with your own eyes. You will hear her with your own ears. You will touch her with your own hands. And you will hug her with your own arms yet again, and not with those of another. And, no one will take from you your joy ever again. This is the wonderful, joyous comfort and hope we enjoy in Jesus Christ so that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. May the God of all hope and comfort sustain you in your sorrow and fill you with His Peace which passes our human understanding until the day He raises your bodies to be like unto Jesus’ glorified body and you see Him face to face with G.G. and all the saints who now rest in Him.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Seventh Sunday After Trinity (Trinity 7)

Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Old Testament reading sets the stage: God is the actor. He designs the set and then furnishes it. He selects the actors, and He gives them their roles. He writes the script, and He gives the directions. All is ready and in order. The lights dim, and the play begins. There is one God. There is one man. And, there is one rule: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Now, of course, you know how that play went. The one rule was quickly broken. The one man did not fear, love, and trust in the one God above all things. He took and he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and, in so doing, he plunged himself and all of creation into sin and corruption and death. However, ironically, because God is good, the man’s fall was not the end of the story, but it was the beginning of a new story. For, the man’s rebellion and fall was quickly countered by the LORD’s Gospel promise: Once again He would set to work to redesign and furnish the set, a new creation, to select the actors, Abraham and the children of Israel, and to rewrite the script. This time, the climax would not be man’s rebellion and fall from grace, but, this time, the LORD Himself would become an actor in His own play. He would plunge His hands into the stuff of His creation, fallen, broken, and corrupted by sin, and become one of His own creatures, so that He could re-create, renew, and restore His fallen creation from the inside out. “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” “And His Name shall be called Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.”
It was Emmanuel, “God with us,” who was present in the garden with our First Parents. The one rule was to trust in Him. The forbidden fruit was merely the necessary ramification of there being a rule at all. When you have a rule, you either keep it or you break it. You either fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or you don’t. Yes, it’s truly that black and white. No, there truly is no fence straddling, no shades of gray. You see, the righteous will live by faith as much before the Fall as after. Will you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or not?
Likewise, it was Emmanuel who was present in Egypt, providing food and shelter for the children of Israel during the great famine through His servant Joseph. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the wilderness providing food and shelter for the children of Israel as they made their pilgrimage to the promised land. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple, dwelling in the midst of His people. And, it was Emmanuel who marked the division between the good kings of Israel and the bad. And, it is Emmanuel who is the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. And, it is Emmanuel who is your bread for the day. For, the righteous will live by faith, then, now, and always – faith in Emmanuel, the one who is present, “God with us.”
Likewise, it was also Emmanuel who was present at the feeding of both the 5,000 and the 4,000. What had they to fear? Emmanuel, God, was with them. Would they fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, would they fear hunger and fainting? Would they trust in their own abilities to procure food? Would they love fleshly, worldly, and material things more than the LORD and His Word? The disciples and the crowds already knew of the long and steady history of God providing for His people, often in the direst of situations and in miraculous ways. In fact, our Gospel reading today about The Feeding of the 4,000 follows shortly upon the even more miraculous Feeding of the 5,000! When will we learn? When will we finally believe and trust? The righteous will live by faith, always!
 “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall [a woman], who is ninety years old, bear a child?” “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” “Who then can be saved?” “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Do you see how all these questions are the same question? They are all questions of doubt and unbelief, questions of weak and little faith. They are questions that arise when you think that you have to solve your own problems yourself, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work, and be independent and self-sufficient. They are questions that you ask when you believe that you are on your own and that no one can, or will, help. Therefore, you either fool yourself into believing that you truly are alone and on your own, and that you are quite capable of solving your own problems, or, and more likely, you fall into hopelessness and despair, because you realize that you cannot make it on your own. Either way, your fear, love, and trust is not in the LORD, but it is in yourself. You have become your own god and you have transgressed the First Commandment of the true and only God.
And, when you are so very busy worshipping the god that is yourself, you cannot see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help you. Jesus’ statement about the crowds and their hunger was meant to evoke a confession from His disciples: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” The disciples immediately looked to their own meager provisions and abilities, and they despaired: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Their fear, love, and trust was not in the Lord in their midst, Emmanuel, but it was in themselves. They were so very busy worshipping the god that was their self that they could not see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who was present in their midst to help.
Once again, the Lord Jesus took their meager provisions, blessed them, and offered thanks to His Father, and distributed them to the crowd. Once again, the crowd ate and they were satisfied. And, once again, the disciples collected the leftover fragments of bread, this time seven baskets full. They ate and they were satisfied because God was present in their midst. Truly they had no need to fear. While the LORD may not always provide what you want, He always provides what you need – and what you need is not always what you think you need, but what you truly need, that is, what serves you and preserves you for life with Him. It is the end that matters. What, then, is the end – that is, the result and goal – of your fear? What, then, is the end, result, and goal of your works? What fruits do they bear?
St. Paul addresses these questions in our Epistle reading today. Paul says that when you were slaves – that is, when you were slaves to sin, which is the sinful fruit of your self-idolatry – you bore the fruit of unrighteousness. Paul provides a lengthy list of these fruits in chapter one of his epistle to the Romans: fornication, wickedness, covetousness, envy, murder, deceit, pride, boasting, disobedience, lack of mercy, lack of charity, and lack of compassion, etc. It’s not difficult to see how, when you are afraid of losing, or not having, you can fall into these sorts of sins. Your fear of losing, or not having, bears the fruit of making you greedy, covetous, and envious, proud, boastful, and unmerciful, etc. For, when you are afraid of losing, or not having enough, you are focused upon your own needs and upon your ability or inability to procure them. However, the LORD would have you not think of your own needs first, but of the needs of others. And, the LORD would have you not trust in your own abilities first, but in the LORD, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help.
“But,” St. Paul continues, “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus has set you free from your idolatrous worship of your self. You are free from the fear of having to provide all things for yourself. You are free from the fear of losing, or not having. You are free from being you-centered so that you might be Christ-centered – which is to be neighbor-centered, as you see Christ in the weakest of your neighbors and brothers.
For, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end: There is one rule – You shall have no other gods – not even yourself. What does this mean? You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And, when you truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then you will have no fear of losing or not having. You will be free – free to love and to serve and to give without fear. By dying to yourself, you are free to live to God in Christ Jesus. And, this is life, indeed.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Christian Funeral for Jerald William “Jerry” Quibell

John 11:17-27; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Job 19:23-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story of Lazarus is profoundly human. It gets to the heart our struggle to know God and to understand His ways. It exposes the deep-seated corruption of sin that has diminished our reason and our senses and, thus, our ability to know God. And, it speaks to the often unspoken longing we all have for something beyond this flesh and life, beyond death, that fulfills and completes us and reveals in truth what we were meant to be all along but can no longer remember.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died. The glaring fact, however, is that Jesus knowingly let him die. When Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick, He did not rush to Lazarus’ side, but He intentionally stayed where He was two days longer before setting out for Bethany where Lazarus lived. On His way to Bethany, Jesus received word that Lazarus had died. Not surprisingly, Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, were upset with Jesus. Both of them appealed to Him saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” a sentiment to which we can surely relate.
Now, you must understand that Martha and Mary were people of faith. More than that, they and their brother Lazarus were close friends with Jesus. Jesus and His disciples dined regularly at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It was on one such occasion that, while Martha was busy and distressed preparing the meal, Mary sat and listened at Jesus’ feet. Later, just before Jesus’ crucifixion, Martha and Mary and the resurrected Lazarus were with Jesus and His disciples at another meal in the house of Simon the leper. It was there that Mary anointed Jesus’ head and feet with costly ointment, which, she said, was in preparation for His burial. But now, at the death of their brother Lazarus, even these women of faith questioned Jesus’ delay asking, “Why?”
We know that the wages of sin is death. We know that all people must die. But, why must some people die so young and in such horrible ways? Why are some families seemingly afflicted by continual tragedy, misfortune, disease, and death? Why do bad things happen to, if not perfect, at least, good people? These are questions that speak to our human condition, and these are questions that are surely in the minds and hearts of many of us, to one degree or another as we commend our brother Jerald into the arms of Jesus.
I think that most would agree that Jerald and his family experienced more than what most would consider a normal amount of tragedy and sorrow in their lives. Jerry’s son Todd died suddenly and unexpectedly at work only four years ago. No one expected that to happen and everyone was left asking, “Why?” But, then Jerry’s wife Karen died suddenly and unexpectedly a year later. Again, everyone was stunned and was left asking, “Why?” Lightning isn’t supposed to strike twice in the same place. It’s tragic and shocking enough to lose one family member to sudden and unexpected death, but two, and in two years’ time? And now, Jerry has died somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly. Perhaps some are beginning to ask, “Lord, are you with this family or not? For, if you had been here they would not have died.”
The answer to the question “Why do we die” is really not difficult to answer, even if we don’t like the answer. We die because of sin: Our First Parent’s sin, your sin, my sin, Gerald’s sin, sin in general. As the Scriptures teach, “The wages of sin is death” – always and only. We will all die. However, that’s not the end of the story, is it? No! Our God who created us in love, loved us so much that He did the unthinkable – He gave His only Son, Jesus, into death for us, as our substitute, paying the penalty for our sin in His innocent life laid down in death upon the cross. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of death has been destroyed. Yes, we still die, but death cannot hold us as it could not hold Jesus. This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, death still stings, but it’s sting is temporary and fleeting.
Jesus felt the sting of death too when He approached Lazarus’ tomb. When He saw the pain and suffering and the grief of His dear friends and others, Jesus was moved with deep compassion and He wept. Jesus wept that death had to come to His people who were created to live. Jesus wept at the pain, suffering, and sorrow death brought into people’s lives. And, Jesus wept because His people did not understand that, even now, He was the Lord of life and death, who, if they believed in Him death could not hold them and they would live through and past death into life everlasting with Him in His kingdom. The best that Martha and Mary could muster was belief in the resurrection on the last day. What they couldn’t understand is that, for those who trust in Jesus, even in life, death is already defeated. Jesus even says in St. John’s Gospel, “whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Perhaps surprisingly, that is why the patriarch Job could confess nearly 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” In the midst of his own horrible suffering and impending death, 2000 years before the birth of Jesus, Job could confess that he was already living a life that would never die.
We take great comfort in the fact that Jerry was baptized into Jesus Christ. Long ago Jerry died with Jesus and was raised with Him to a new life that cannot die. Perhaps his was a simple, childlike faith, but there’s nothing wrong with that. That faith gave him a positive outlook on life, even in the face of terrible tragedy and loss like Jerry experienced and suffered. He was always quick with a funny, spunky remark and a comic all the time. He enjoyed laughing and making others laugh. Jerry enjoyed the outdoors: Hunting, archery, fishing, ice-skating and roller-skating. And, he enjoyed his classic cars and could often be seen driving around town in his truck just for the pleasure of it. And, Jerry enjoyed watching his grandson Kyle play basketball, football, and soccer. His grandson was the love of his life.
Yet, all these good things, these blessings and joys, were intermixed with pain and sorrow, suffering, and death. Why? Was Jesus not there? Yes! Yes He was! Through baptism and faith, Jerald was in Jesus and Jesus was in Him. Jerald had already passed over from death to life. Jerry had died and was buried with Jesus in baptism, and he was raised with Jesus to a new life that cannot die. And so, our faith and our hope and our comfort are in our Lord Jesus Christ who claimed Jerry as He own and promised He would never leave him or forsake him, and that nothing could ever separate him from His love. And thus, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. No, we have a great hope, even a promise, that those who die in the Lord are blessed and are with Him, and Christ will raise them up on the last day. Therefore, all the faithful and the Church cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Christian Funeral for LeAnn Lois Meier

John 14:1-6; Revelation 7:9-17; Isaiah 25:6-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are a whole lot of things that we take for granted in life, are there not? When we are young, we take it for granted that our parents will always be with us. As we grow up, we take it for granted that we will get a good job when we graduate high school and college. As we work our adult lives, we take it for granted that social security will help us out when we retire, and that our kids will be there to support us. Of course, it’s easy to see, when you think about it, why it is extremely foolish to take any of these things for granted. How about water, and sunlight, food, and air to breathe? Yes, we too often take these things for granted as well. However, if you’ve ever had to go a day without water, or a couple of days without food, it becomes all too apparent how desperately we need them. And, if you’ve ever been forced to hold your breath for more than a minute, it becomes all too apparent how desperately we need and depend upon fresh air to breathe, to live. Not being able to take in enough air to breathe is a terrifying feeling, as countless younger siblings can attest to from a childhood swimming experience. Truly, there few more terrifying feelings than not being able to breathe.
Our dear sister in Christ LeAnn knew that feeling as she battled with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) these past five years. Simple tasks like walking to the restroom or even repositioning herself in a chair would affect her loss of breath and her inability to regain it again quickly. Add to that the looming knowledge that things were only going to get worse and it is easy to imagine how very frightening LeAnn’s condition truly was. Something as natural as breathing – That’s a saying we use for things that are supposed to be easy and thoughtless, something we take for granted, “It’s as natural as breathing – for LeAnn became an ever-present struggle, a continual concern and need, and a matter of life and death.
However, for most of us, talking to LeAnn, visiting with her, you wouldn’t know it. You wouldn’t know that something as easy and natural, something so taken for granted like breathing was a terrible struggle and all consuming concern for LeAnn. Sure, maybe those closest to her, Charlie, Chad, Kristin, and Nicole, saw her in a moment of unmasked discomfort and even distress, but for most, and for most of the time, LeAnn showed little evidence of the true struggle she was facing simply to breathe. However, that was LeAnn – always concerned about others, their needs, their comfort, their happiness and welfare. She didn’t want to be a burden to others, but she wanted to serve them, to care for them, and to make them happy and comfortable. Thus, it is not really ironic that LeAnn’s symptoms began to manifest when she was serving as caregiver for Charlie during his battle with prostate cancer. Pushing Charlie in a wheelchair at the hospital, LeAnn began to huff and puff and wheeze, all out of breath. Charlie thought she sounded like a horse and lovingly joked, “The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be!” Neither of them could have guessed the reason or cause of her shortness of breath. Didn’t matter, there was a job to do. Onward she pushed, right through the huffing and puffing.
But, that was LeAnn – always concerned about others, their needs, their comfort, their happiness and welfare. LeAnn loved her family, she loved her grandchildren. She loved attending their school events, she wrote poems for them with clues for scavenger hunts. What she enjoyed most in life was being with her family: Being a homemaker, boating, and bowling, just hanging out around the house with her family and her friends. When her IPF made it difficult or impossible to do those things, LeAnn apologized to her family and friends for being a burden. Of course, she wasn’t a burden, but she wanted them to be happy, because she loved them – she loved you all so dearly.
When the diagnosis came five years ago, you were informed that IPF is a relatively slow-progressing, but terminal, disease. I know that five years doesn’t seem all that slow, especially considering LeAnn was only in her early 60s. And yet, there were five years, and that was time to reflect and prepare, time to spend together and really grow, not taking anything for granted, not even breathing. Most of those years weren’t really too bad. And, while, the last couple years were a bit more of a struggle, it’s really been since your premature return from Texas this Winter that the symptoms have really become more severe. Now on the highest level of oxygen assistance, a trip to the kitchen or restroom became too much. And in the last month or so, an adjustment of position in a chair would leave LeAnn breathless, even with the highest level of oxygen. That is truly terrifying, and it would not be wrong to say that LeAnn began to suffer. They said the disease was relatively slow-progressing, but terminal. It was becoming clear that the terminus was on the horizon.
Why does God allow suffering? Philosophers and theologians alike have been asking that question for millennia.  While God does indeed allow suffering – He allowed, even willed, that His own Son suffer and die for our sins and the sins of the world – it is simply wrong to conclude that God created suffering. He did not. Suffering was introduced into the world because of the sin of our First Parents, a sin that we have inherited and are equally guilty of with them. The wages of sin is always, and only, death. Why is there suffering in the world? Because of sin. Why do we die. Because of sin. Did LeAnn suffer and die because of her sin? Well, yes, but not any specific sin. We all die because of our sin, and because of sin in general. This is not the LORD’s doing, but an enemy has done this, God’s enemy and our enemy, Satan. Satan causes suffering, and he uses it to destroy your faith. And, God permits Satan to cause suffering, but He uses it to create and strengthen faith, in ways we most often never know or realize. For a Christian, the diagnoses of a terminal disease can be a very faith-affirming thing, for it motivates us to hone in on what really matters in life, and in death, with a laser-like focus. What mattered to LeAnn? Her faith, and her family; that’s what mattered. LeAnn’s faith permitted her to put others first and her personal needs second. And, her beloved family became most important. She was intent to enjoy the time that she had and to take nothing for granted.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge. God so loved the world, God so loved LeAnn, and God so loved you that He gave His only Son into death and raised Him up again that you might so pass through death with Him and live with Him in His kingdom forever. Our enemy Satan was defeated in Jesus’ death upon the cross, and in His resurrection He left death and the grave abandoned and powerless. They could not hold Him, and they cannot hold those who trust in Him, those who have been baptized into Him; they have died with Him in His death, and they will be raised with Him in His resurrection. Isaiah foreshadowed this saying, “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” Likewise, Jesus said “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” And, our Lord Jesus revealed to St. John in the Revelation a preview of the saints in heaven, a multitude in white robes, saying: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [They shall breathe freely and shall not suffer pain, or sorrow, discomfort, or death.] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That countless multitude in white robes has grown by one precious soul in the sight of the LORD. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ.
Our heavenly Father has seen fit to call His precious saint LeAnn to her heavenly home, prepared for her by Jesus her Savior and Redeemer. As painful and real as her loss is, and as much as we will miss her, in faith and truth we do not wish her back. No, we do not wish her back, but our only wish and hope is to be with her where she is. And, that is precisely the promise our God and LORD has made us in His Son. We will see LeAnn again. Charlie, you will see your wife again. Chad, Kristin, Nicole, you will see your mother again. You will see your grandmother, your friend, your sister in Christ again. You will see LeAnn with your flesh and blood eyes. You will hear her with your flesh and blood ears. You will touch her and hug her with your flesh and blood hands and arms. Each of you had a private moment to say goodbye, to reassure LeAnn that you would be ok, and then LeAnn went to Jesus. That goodbye is temporary. You will see her again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you ever again.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
From our perspective, sitting comfortably removed from first century Israel by nearly 2,000 years, it’s easy for us to judge and to condemn the scribes and the Pharisees as unloving, unmerciful, self-righteous, legalists. For, in truth, they were all that, although not for the reasons we often suppose. Surely, they didn’t know it, and most certainly no one else thought of them that way at the time. On the contrary, the scribes and the Pharisees were the most honored and respected of men. They were seen as holy and righteous by nearly all, for they took the Law and the commands of God in the Scriptures exceedingly seriously, and they honestly tried, and in many ways they truly succeeded, to practice them and live them in their own lives. They were visibly and recognizably pious, moral, respectable, and good. When Jesus recounted one Pharisee’s boasting concerning himself in the temple, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get,” we must understand that he actually did do these things, which most others failed to do. Consequently, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel stating, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” should cause you to pause and reflect upon just what Jesus, and God His Father, truly expect and desire from you. If it is works and obedience under the Law, then the scribes and the Pharisees were the absolute epitome of faithfulness and righteousness. And yet, Jesus regularly lambasted and laid into the scribes and the Pharisees like no others, not even the heterodox Samaritans and the pagan Romans, for their self-righteousness and for their failure to show love, mercy, and compassion to others.
For, love, mercy, and compassion, charity, grace, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, and humility – these are the true piety, the true faithfulness, and the true obedience that the Law requires, even the fulfillment of the Law and its saving fruits. And, these all flow from the heart that has been broken by the Law’s demands and finds no comfort and peace, no righteousness in itself, but only in the love, mercy, compassion, charity, grace, and forgiveness that has been shown and poured out upon it in the selfless, sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The scribes and the Pharisees were truly obedient to the letter of the Law, but they were deaf, dumb, blind, and dead to the spirit and fulfillment of the Law, which is love. They believed that so long as they didn’t physically murder someone, have sexual intercourse with someone to whom they were not married, or steal from someone, that they were obeying God’s Law and were righteous, and yet they could muster no love, mercy, compassion, charity, grace, or forgiveness for others. Truly, they could only give to others of what they themselves had received, but because they justified themselves as righteous according to their works under the Law, they could not receive God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, for they didn’t believe that they needed it! Therefore, they could not truly love others. You see, you can only give of what you yourself have received. You can only love with God’s love. You can only give of God’s good gifts. And, you can only forgive with God’s own forgiveness. If you cannot do these things, that is a sure and certain sign that you do not have them from God. Thus, you are no better than the scribes and the Pharisees. In truth, you are much worse off, for I am certain that you do not obey the external letter of the Law as well as they did either.
However, Jesus says that your righteousness must exceedthat of the scribes and the Pharisees if you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now, it should be obvious, therefore, that the righteousness of which Jesus speaks is not a righteousness of obedience to the letter of the Law, for the scribes and Pharisees were very pious and obedient in that respect, but it is a righteousness which comes from outside of you and which changes your heart so that it bears the fruits of the Spirit without coercion, without threat of punishment, without a striving for self-justifying righteousness by works. Such righteousness is characteristic of a heart that has been broken by the Law, absolved, soothed, and comforted by the Gospel, is humble and repentant, and thus overflows with the love of God in Jesus Christ in love for God and in love for the neighbor. Such love isthe righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and only such righteousness saves and receives entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This righteousness comes from outside of you, it is created in you, and it flows through you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God because of Christ Jesus your Lord. This righteousness you must have if you hope to be saved, but you cannot produce it on your own, and neither can you earn it or merit it by your obedience under the Law, but you must receive it in faith as a free gift of God’s grace, and you must not hinder it’s work in and through you, but rather you must work with it, in love towards God and in love towards your neighbor, not in word only, but in deeds flowing from a changed heart, a broken and contrite heart, a humble and repentant heart.
Many Christians like to believe that Jesus relaxed and softened the Law of God, or even abolished it for believers today. They deceive themselves, for nothing could be farther from the truth! What does Jesus say? “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus explained what the spirit of the Law truly teaches: “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Now, anger, insults, and curses are not actions of the will and the hands so much as they are passions, thoughts, and desires of the heart. Jesus is not speaking of works and obedience under the letter of the Law, but of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, which are the fruit of the spirit of the Law, which flow from a changed heart crushed and broken by the Law, but absolved and healed by the Gospel. Similarly does Jesus speak concerning adultery, referring not to physical intercourse, but rather to lust in the heart, once again referring to a condition of the heart and not obedience under the letter of the Law. Quoting the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus says of such people, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
No, true righteousness, the righteousness of which Jesus speaks, the righteousness which inherits the kingdom of heaven, is the love of a heart that has been broken and crushed by the Law so that it is humble and repentant, full of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for all, even those who hurt you, who hate you, and who wish to kill you. Such surely seems a high bar and an impossible task for one who seeks to justify himself by obedience to the Law, but for one who has died with Jesus in Holy Baptism and has been raised with Jesus to new and everlasting life, that one has died to sin and now lives with, to, and for Christ. You have died with Christ, and you now live with Him, therefore you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It has become popular today for Christians to say they are spiritual, but not religious. They are well meaning, I suppose, if wrong-minded. Religion is simply a rule or an order. What such Christians are most often doing when they say they are spiritual, but not religious, is rebelling against and rejecting any sort of order or rule for their life and worship. This is extremely popular in the West and in the United States in particular, where freedom, independence, and equality are most highly valued even above truth and morality, which are sadly derided and considered old fashioned or simply non-existent and false. The fallen flesh and the Old Adam hate rules and order, and thus they hate religion too. However, listen to this exhortation from St. James concerning the true religion: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” You cannot be merely a hearer and not a doer and consider yourself a Christian or hold any hope that you are saved; you cannot be merely spiritual, but not religious. True Christians no longer strive to obey the Law of God out of fear and coercion, seeking to justify themselves by their works, but they bask in the freedom of the Law fulfilled in Christ, and they freely do it out of humility and repentance, bearing the fruits of love for God, and love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for the neighbor, to the glory of God. Thus we prayed in today’s Collect, “graft into our hearts the love of Your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.”
All of our Christian life is defined by death and resurrection. When you were baptized, you died in Christ and were raised in Him to new life, His life lived in and through you. You should reflect on that truth and remember it whenever you participate in the Divine Service, for the Invocation, Confession, and Absolution are nothing less than a renewal of your Holy Baptism as you wash your robes clean once again in Jesus’ cleansing blood. And, as you are a new creation, born again of water, blood, and spirit, you are nourished, sustained, and equipped through the Word of God and the Word made flesh as you commune with God by eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood. And then, you are sent back into the world, forgiven, refreshed, strengthened, and equipped, to love and forgive, to share with and to comfort others, with the love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness you yourself have received from God in Christ Jesus. Literally, you love with Jesus’ love, you give of Jesus’ gifts, and you forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. This is the true religion, and this is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, the righteousness by which you will enter the kingdom of heaven. You are what you eat. You give of what you have received. Come, eat and drink and live. Go, sharing and caring with Jesus’ love that others may know Christ and live. In this way God’s kingdom will be filled, and His Name is glorified.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)

Luke 5:1-11; 1 Kings 19:11-21; 1 Peter 3:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God’s ways are not our ways. You, and I, all of us know that to be unequivocally true. But why? Are our ways always so wrong? Do we never do the right thing, the righteous thing, the virtuous thing? Of course we do. We build hospitals to heal the sick. We give food, clothing, and money to provide for the poor. Our young men and women lay down their lives to defend our freedoms and to secure freedoms for others. Of course, we also destroy infant lives, we better ourselves at the expense of others, and we tend to think more of ourselves than of anyone else. But why must God’s ways always be so very different from our ways? Why must God’s thoughts be so completely the opposite of our thoughts?
There is an answer to that question, and I think that you will agree that it is every bit as true as the fact that God’s ways are not our ways, even if you don’t find it very satisfying. The answer to the question “Why?” is, “Because He is God, and you are not.” That’s why.
We so want God to act in the ways in which we think that He should act. We so want God to be like us. It’s only human after all. But God is not like us; God is not a human creature. God created humanity in His image, not the other way around. So, whose ways must be conformed to whom? Whose thoughts must submit to whom?
The greatest obstacle to faith, and the greatest contributor to suffering, is pride. Pride is your idol, your god. An idol is anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before God; an idol is anything that gets in between you and God. It’s a First Commandment thing: You shall have no other gods before me – not even yourself. It’s an Original Sin thing – man is not content to be created in the image of God, but man wants to be God himself. We want to determine what is wisdom and what is foolishness, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. But it is pride. It is arrogance. It is self-righteousness and self-centeredness and self-ISH-ness. And it is sin. And it brings death. And it is utterly, and truly foolishness.
Each of our lessons today speak to us of foolishness. For it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that God would speak to Elijah, not in a mighty wind, not in a jarring earthquake, and not in a blazing fire, but in a still, small voice – even a whisper.
Likewise, it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that you do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling but rather do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, even love your enemies.
And so also was it foolishness in the eyes of the world, indeed foolishness in the weary eyes of Simon, James, and John, when Jesus told them to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”
Foolishness. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, neither are man’s ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than man’s ways and His thoughts than man’s thoughts.
Man’s pride separates him from God. The man who trusts in himself does not seek God – he is a fool. But God is merciful and just, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He calls the fool to repentance and afflicts man’s pride to break it. Elijah feared for his life because he trusted only in himself and knew that he had not the strength in himself to survive. But in his self-despair, Elijah was receptive to God’s Word. God demonstrated to Elijah that He would act, not in ways that men find impressive – winds, earthquakes, and fire – but in His way, the way of His Word.
Simon, James, and John despaired at the failure of their own efforts to catch fish. But in their broken and weary desperation they were receptive to Jesus’ Word “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” By that Word alone they put to their boats and let down their nets, not expecting anything, but catching instead a great catch of fish.
Why are God’s ways and thoughts so different from ours? Because He is God and we are not – thanks be to God. In His grace and mercy, God loves us enough to crush us; God loves you enough to crush your pride, to beak your self-reliance, to destroy your self-righteousness. It is a good thing to be broken by the Lord – for He is powerful and willing to put you back together again, not as you were before, but as a new creation, restoring you once again to His image.
God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. He does the unthinkable. He does what men would never do. He saves the best wine for last. He eats and drinks with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He touches the unclean with no concern for Himself. And He lays down His own life for men who hate Him. Foolishness.
And so, thanks be to God, His ways and thoughts are not your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your pride, your reason, and your assumed wisdom. He breaks you, so that He can re-create you in the image of His Son.
Through the foolishness of the Gospel – the preaching of Christ crucified – a great catch of fish – you – is still brought into the boat – the Church. The message of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to the world; but to you, that cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.