Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)

Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There are many ways to understand and to speak about sin. Sin can be defined as disobedience or rebellion, the breaking of moral rules or “missing the mark,” or simply falling short of God’s commands and expectations for your behavior and life. However, there is another way to understand and to speak about sin that, I believe, gets straight to the heart of the matter: Sin is a failure of love. We love the wrong things, or we love the right things in the wrong way. Either way, sin is a failure of love.
This understanding of sin gets straight to the heart of the matter, because it gets straight to the heart of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Luther explains the First Commandment in his Small Catechism in this way: “You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Concerning fear and love, St. John writes in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Likewise, concerning trust and love, St. Paul writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Even Luther’s use of fear and trust in God in his explanation of the First Commandment directs you to love, the fulfilling of the Law.
Thatyou love, whatyou love, and howyou love is directly connected to what you believe about God, what you think about God, and whether you trust in God above all things. Thatyou love, whatyou love, and howyou love is what is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching today in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. For, what you fear, what you love, and what you trust in will permit, or prohibit, you from loving your neighbor. Fear, love, and trust in God above all things frees you to love in any, and all, situations, any, and all, of your neighbors, without fear.
Jesus had just sent out the seventy-two before Him to proclaim peace and that the kingdom of God was near. He sent them with this promise alone, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” The seventy-two returned with joy at their success proclaiming, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your Name!” Jesus acknowledged this truth and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, but He exhorted them to not to rejoice in the subjection of spirits, but to rejoice that their names were written in heaven. Then, Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
This prayer of Jesus leads you directly into today’s Gospel. Turning to His disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” But, what was it that Jesus’ disciples could see that the prophets and kings of old did not? Well, to put it plainly, they saw Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the covenant promises of God. More to the point, however, Jesus’ disciples saw that God was not their enemy, that they should fear Him, not as a cruel master, but as a loving Father, and that they were not slaves of legalism, but free to act in the same love they had freely received from their loving God.
Immediately, a lawyer, a student of God’s Law, stood up to put Jesus to the test. The lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question exposed his misconceptions about God’s Law and of how men are saved. You cannot do anything to merit inheritance. An inheritance is something that you receive freely because of your relationship with the giver of the inheritance. However, the lawyer was not interested in a relationship with God. Instead, he desired to merit eternal life by his works. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but he feared, loved, and trusted in himself and in his works. Therefore, Jesus answered the lawyer’s Law question with a Law answer: He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
However, the lawyer was not satisfied. Jesus had pricked his conscience by saying “Do this, and you will live.” The lawyer knew that he did not properly love God or his neighbor, and Jesus’ command to “Do this, and you will live” let him know the Jesus knew that he did not properly love God or his neighbor too. The lawyer’s sin was a failure of love – He did not love God above all things. Instead, the lawyer loved himself, and he trusted in his works. He despised God’s Law and saw Him as a cruel master instead of a loving Father. And, because he did not love God, he could not love his neighbor.
Thus, seeking to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And, who is my neighbor.” Since he did not love God, but feared Him as a cruel master and despised His Law, the lawyer sought to find a loophole, a way around the Law’s demands so that he could justify himself. This is kind of like an employee doing only the minimal, perfunctory duties his job requires, and doing them spitefully and full of loathing for his vocation and his employer. Because he did not love God, the lawyer could not love his fellow man. However, knowing this, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question this time with a parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, so that seeing, he would not see, and hearing, he would not hear.
The parable goes like this: A man was attacked by robbers. They stripped him and beat him and left him for dead by the side of the road. First a priest, and then a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, passed by. Neither man went to the aid of the man alongside the road. However, next, a Samaritan passed by. The Samaritan helped the man, pouring wine and oil upon his wounds and binding them. He placed him upon his own animal and took him to an inn, providing the innkeeper money to cover for the man’s care with the promise that he would return and pay whatever additional costs were incurred. When Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer had no choice but to answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The parable is really quite simple. The priest and the Levite could not help the man who had fallen among robbers because they were in slavery to the Law. They, like the lawyer, were students of God’s Law, experts and teachers of the Law, and yet, they did not see the spirit of the Law, love, but they saw the Law as a cruel master and they obeyed it out of fear of punishment for breaking it and out of pride in what they deemed to be their own meritorious works. Like the lawyer, the sin of the priest and the Levite was a failure of love – they did not love God above all things, therefore they could not love their neighbor, the man who had fallen amongst thieves.
However, the Samaritan came to the man’s aid. Now, the fact that the hero of Jesus’ parable was a Samaritan was not lost on the lawyer. Jews in Jesus’ day considered Samaritans to be corrupted in terms of ancestry from Abraham and, therefore, outside of God’s covenant with Israel. And yet, the Samaritan quite obviously loved his neighbor and had mercy upon him, even as the most respected and revered religious leaders of Israel passed by and did nothing. The Samaritan could love his neighbor because he rightly loved God. He believed God to be loving, gracious, and merciful. He himself had received such love from God. Therefore, he did not view God and His Law as a cruel master, but as a loving Father. The Samaritan was not enslaved to the Law of God, but he was free to love his neighbor and come to his aid.
You see, the Law of God, the moral law of the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial laws that guided the worship and day to day practices of the people of Israel, was given 430 years after the covenant that God made with Abraham. That covenant was not a covenant of Law, but of grace. And, though the Law was given later, it did not annul the covenant of grace. As God once looked upon Abraham with favor and blessed him because Abraham feared, loved, and trusted in Him, still you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, and not by your works of obedience under the Law.
And, as you have freely received, so must you freely give. Jesus’ command, “You go, and do likewise,” is not a command of the Law, but it is an exhortation, even a promise and an empowerment of the Gospel. Just as He sent out His seventy-two to preach the Gospel equipped only with His gift of the authority of His Word, so Jesus sends you out to love your neighbor with His love. However, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, how you hear Jesus’ words – as a commandment of the Law, or as a promise of the Gospel – is directly related to how you view God and His Law: Do you fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Or, do you fear and despise God and His Law as a cruel master and tyrant? Jesus would have you see Him and His Father the way the disciples and the Good Samaritan did: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”
What do you have to do to inherit eternal life? You don’t have to do anything, but you do have to be something – You have to be a child of God, a recipient of His love, and a bearer of His love. You are His child, born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. You are the recipient of His love poured out for you in Jesus’ holy, innocent blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And you are a bearer of His love when you love others as He has loved you. Such love is not a work, but it is a fruit – Jesus’ fruit. Therefore, it is perfect and holy and pleasing to the Father. When you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, you need not fear God and His Law as cruel master, but receive Him as a loving Father who daily reaches down to you in your death to heal and to bind up the wounds inflicted upon you by sin and Satan. He has carried you here, to this inn, to this hospital, the Church, upon the burdens of His Son Jesus who has paid all that was necessary to heal you, to care for you, and to preserve you until He returns to save you and to take you to His Father’s home in heaven. Come, eat and drink His saving love that you may love God and neighbor and live.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 12)

Mark 7:31-37; 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Isaiah 29:17-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Two little eyes to look to God; two little ears to hear His Word; two little feet to walk in His ways; two little lips to sing His praise; two little hands to do His will; and one little heart to love Him still.
Perhaps some of you have sung or read this little hymn to your children or perhaps you remember it from your own childhood. This hymn teaches us that God has given us our eyes, ears, feet, lips, hands, and heart that we might praise Him with our whole lives as a living sacrifice. But too often are our eyes focused, not upon God, but in greed and jealousy or lust upon what belongs to another. And too often our ears are tuned, not to God’s Word and His Will, but to the siren song of the world and its values and ideals. And too often our feet are upon a path that leads us away from God and His way. And too often do our lips utter lies and curses and blasphemy instead of singing God’s praise. And too often our hands are taking from or harming our neighbor instead of serving our neighbor and glorifying God. And, need I ask you about your heart? For, what does Jesus say about your heart? Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
In at least one way the deaf mute man in today’s Gospel lesson was better off us. At least his lips and tongue were not spouting off lies, curses, and blasphemy. However, not only could he not sing God’s praise, neither could he hear God’s Word. But, he was completely in silent bondage and he had to be brought to Jesus for healing. Apparently the deaf mute was born this way. Similarly, each of us is conceived and born in sin and is likewise unable hear the Word of God and to sing His praise until we are brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism and He speaks His “Ephphatha,”that is, “Be opened”upon us.
Ephphathais the very Word of creation which is creatively powerful to bring into existence that which it speaks ex nihilo, out of nothing. Ephphathais God’s “Let there be…, and there was.”Thus, when Jesus speaks “Ephphatha, be opened”to the deaf mute, He speaks His creative Word and He opens ears that have never heard and looses tongues that have never spoken, and the result is praise of the Lord of Creation, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst us, Jesus.
But you should note that, though Jesus’ Word was sufficient to open the ears and to loose the tongue of the deaf mute, Jesus graciously touches the man with His own flesh and blood hands and shows Him the Creator’s love. First He took the man aside in private, and then He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.These actions were for the deaf mute himself and not for the crowds. It was an act of tenderness and love to a man who could not hear the Word or speak a plea for help, let alone praise God. Then Jesus looked up to heaven, He sighed and said to him “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”For, the creative Word of God the Father in heaven alone produces ears that can hear and lips that can sing.
The healing of the deaf mute clearly demonstrates the divine monergism of God in justification, conversion, and faith, that is to say, these works are God’s work alone and they involve no cooperation from sinful men. Thus, it should not be surprising that the early church connected this Gospel account with the Sacrament of Holy Baptism since the deaf mute, unable to hear or to speak from birth, was completely passive in receiving Jesus’ gracious Word and sacramental action. Indeed, a part of the ancient baptismal rite is called the Ephphatha. That very word Ephphathawas spoken by the priest as he touched both the ears and the mouth of the baptismal candidate. It was only after the opening of the ears and the loosing of the tongue that the baptismal candidate was then asked to renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways and to confess his faith in the Apostle’s Creed.
A similar expression from Psalm 51 is utilized at the beginning of the Matins liturgy as we chant together, “O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth will show forth Thy praise.” SinceMatins is the first office prayed upon waking in the morning, these first words uttered at the beginning of the day are a confession that, apart from the Lord’s merciful action, our lips cannotpraise Him. Traditionally, Matins would be prayed daily, even before the Divine Service on Sunday mornings, so that, each and every day, God would be invoked to restore us to baptismal purity and grace so that we are able to sing His praise. Indeed, the idea of a daily return to our baptisms is what is behind Luther’s exhortation “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”  Then Luther instructs us to repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and to pray the Morning Prayer. All of this is, in a sense, a return to our Holy Baptism and to God’s gracious forgiveness and life which He gave us in Holy Baptism however long ago.
When it comes to justification, being made right with God, and when it comes to your conversion and even faith itself, you are like the deaf mute in today’s Gospel, and you are like the newborn infant or even an older candidate in Holy Baptism, you are passive. Your justification, conversion, and faith is a new work of God’s ongoing re-creation by His powerful, life-bestowing Word. He creates life where there was only death. He opens ears that could not hear His Word. And He looses tongues to sing His praise. Or, as the children’s hymn puts it:Two little eyes to look to God; two little ears to hear His Word; two little feet to walk in His ways; two little lips to sing His praise; two little hands to do His will; and one little heart to love Him still.
The objectivity, the externality, the extra nos (outside of us) nature of our justification, conversion, and faith is not a hindrance to our faith, but it is the very source and reason for the confidence and comfort we enjoy. This is what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency, is from God.” This is why Job can confidently say “I knowthat my Redeemer lives!”and this is why St. Paul can boldly say “I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Why then do so many insist that they have chosento believe, or have decidedto follow Jesus, or have earnedor meritedGod’s favor in at least some small way? Why? Because the flesh is sinful and corrupt and it conspires with the devil to keep you in sin and death. If you trust in yourself for justification, conversion, or faith, then you build your house on shifting sand. For, you are in continual flux emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. What you believed was right yesterday you know to be wrong today. What you felt two hours ago has changed and now you feel differently. You are ruled by your fickle and impulsive passions and desires and by your flesh which wants what it wants because it wants it, not because it is true, right, or good. Like Paul exclaimed, the good that you want to do, that you do not do; but the bad that you do not want to do, that is what you find yourself doing!  That is what the flesh is like. It desires to keep on taking and eating from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to be like a god unto itself. The flesh says “No God, I won’t do it your way.”And so, a choice and a decision ismade, but it is always, always, a choiceand a decisionto follow the way of the flesh that leads to death and it is always a choice and a decision againstGod and againstGod’s Will and God’s commands.
Repent and be turned from the way of the flesh that leads to death. Repent and be turned back to God. For, even now your Jesus is present with His Words and His Wounds to unstop your ears and to loose your tongue that you may sing His praise. He speaks to you His “Ephphatha, be opened”and, as it was in the beginning, so it is now and ever shall be, His creative Word brings into being what it says.
And when He has opened your ears and your mouths, He will not leave them empty, but He will fill them with His Word and with His Word made flesh and blood so that you will be justified, so that you will be converted, and so that you will have faith anew. He will return you to the grace and purity He once gave you in Holy Baptism, as many times as is necessary, every day of your life until you live with Him eternally in the presence and glory of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)

Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is not intended to teach us how to pray. Jesus gave us His own example and The Lord’s Prayer to teach us that. Thus, the Pharisee is not bad because he positioned himself for prayers at the front of the temple where all could see him, and neither is the tax collector good because he stayed in the back and didn’t draw attention to himself as he prayed. No, the parable is not really about how to pray, what to say and do when you pray, or even how to worship properly at all. What the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is about, however, is justification, that is, how we are made right with God.
Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselvesthat they were righteous, and treated others with contempt,” and He concluded the parable saying of the tax collector, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himselfwill be humbled, but the one who humbles himselfwill be exalted.” The Pharisee placed his trust, not in God, but in his own goodness, in his obedience, in his works, in his tithes, and even in his worship in the temple – He exalted himself. Moreover, in his pride he treated others with contempt whom he considered beneath him and unworthy: extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, tax collectors, sinners of all sorts. Again, it was not the Pharisee’s outward actions that condemned him, but it was the pride and self-righteousness of his heart which prohibited him from bearing the fruits of love, mercy, compassion, charity, and forgiveness towards others. Moreover, because he trusted in his own righteousness, he could not receive “the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” righteousness that comes from God in Jesus Christ.
Righteousness and justification do not come from our obedience under the Law, good works, piety, prayers, worship, or anything else that we do, but righteousness and justification come from God inJesus Christ and are received by Spirit-created faith and trust in Him. It’s not about anything that we have or anything that we do, but it’s all about what God has done. That is why those who have next to nothing often find it easier to believe and receive, and why those who have much often struggle to believe. Abram’s faith was said to be great because he had great wealth, land, and possessions, and yet he believed and trusted in the Word of the LORD when He called him and sent Him to an unknown land, promising him a son and heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed: “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD creditedit to him as righteousness.” Similarly, Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, not because there is anything inherently wrong with wealth and possessions, but because wealth and possessions do not make for righteousness and justification, but can actually become obstacles and hindrances.
So it was that a tax collector, who was most likely quite wealthy, having extorted and embezzled his own people under the authority of the Roman government, who maybe gave tithes to the temple, or maybe didn’t, who may have prayed and fasted, or maybe not, went down to his house justified. The tax collector knew that, when it came to a right relationship with God, he had nothing to offer, but that he was a sinner and he placed no trust in his obedience under the Law, good works, piety, prayers, worship, or anything else that he did. It was not his prayer posture of kneeling and bowing his head in the back of the temple court that justified him, for those were but the outward signs of the humility and unworthiness he felt and knew in his heart, but it was his faith and trust in God’s Word of Promise and mercy that justified Him. The tax collector believed the LORD, and the LORD creditedit to him as righteousness.
“The doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls.” That is what Martin Luther called the doctrine of justification, how we are made right with God. I believe that the Christian Church today has a fundamental problem that is the result of confusion on this fundamental doctrine of justification: We suffer from a lack of identity, of who we are and why, as Christians and as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. That is why, since my arrival here just shy of one year ago, I have set myself to the task of teaching, through catechesis, Bible Studies, topical studies, sermons, meetings of the Council, the Elders, the Congregation, Altar Guild, Musicians, and through personal conversations, and also through some less obvious means such as liturgical catechesis, actions, and vestments, and more. All of this has been aimed at forming and confirming our identity in Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning incarnationally through Word and Sacrament in His body, the Church, of which we are all members through baptism and faith. Through this ministry I have sought that you should find your identity in Christ first and foremost and that this identity would be self-evident in the fruits of your identity and faith in Christ, love, mercy, compassion, charity, and forgiveness towards others to the glory of God in Christ Jesus.
Many of you have no doubt heard my cliché dictum, “When visitors come to worship at St. John, at the very least, while I hope for more, at the very least I want to have them walk away saying, ‘I don’t know whatthese people believe, but it’s very clear that they believe something special and something importantis happening here’.” Visitors know this because it is self-evident in the reverence we show when we worship. It is, in fact, a confession of what we believe about Jesus’ real presence in our midst, just as the tax collector’s humility was a confession of both his unworthiness and of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. You see, we can’t see into anyone’s heart, which is why, seemingly, the only immutable law of our age is “Don’t judge.” However, because we can’t see into anyone’s heart, we have to go by their words and their deeds, and it is a confessional principle that what we say and what we do are an outward expression of what we believe, teach, and confess. Therefore, people expect that what they see and hear us doing is what we believe. May our worship together always communicate to visitors, to our community, and to each other, by what we say and do, that Christ is present here in a way that He is not present anywhere else, in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, both spiritually and physically, even as He is the Word of God made flesh for the life of the world.
There is great pressure and great temptation to change what we say and do, particularly in worship, in order to accommodate the contemporary world and culture and to bring in the lost. These temptations are often couched in very spiritual and pious sounding language, delivered always with the best intentions, and seeming all so wise according to human reason and wisdom and the best business practices of the day. Beware of such talk, as surely Satan’s temptations sounded reasonable and wise, even good, quoting the Scriptures themselves! We must remain firm on the solid rock of God’s Word and what it means, as opposed to what youthink it means, and what youthink it means, and what youthink it means, …. As a congregation, and as heads of households, as families, and as individuals, we must hear, learn, mark, and inwardly digest God’s Word as food and oxygen and water that we may be able to withstand temptation when it comes upon us. Moreover, we can only give to others what we first have ourselves. And, Christ’s Church cannot be a light shining in the darkness if it blends in with the darkness. We are called to be inthe world, not ofthe world, and to not be conformed to the ways of this world, but rather to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
That is to say, we must keep things ordered the right way, the way of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable. The tax collector knew that he had nothing to bring to the table, unlike the Pharisee who boasted of his real and true works, which were but filthy rags before the LORD because they did not flow from faith and trust in God and His Word, but from self-righteousness and pride. The tax collector knew that he was a sinner and that he was worthy of nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. Therefore, he threw himself on the mercy of the LORD. This, in itself, is an act of great faith and trust. The LORD saw his faith, and He credited the man’s faith to him as righteousness, just as the LORD credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. Notice, however, that neither Abram or the tax collector, or you or I, are said to berighteous, but we are creditedcounted,considered, and declaredto berighteous. Whenever we come before the LORD, we come as unworthy sinners, yet unworthy sinners forgiven and declared to be righteous in the blood of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I think of the Church of Jesus Christ in this way: “This church is not a memorial for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the sick can be healed. Only the unrighteous can be declared righteous. Only the dead can be raised. Forgiven, healed, righteous, and alive forever: This is our identity in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone.
C.F.W. Walther said “Man’s justification by the Gospel is not a deed which man himself does, but which is done to him by God. It is not something which goes on inman’s heart, but something which goes on outsideman, in God’s heart.” Walther also said “Man’s justification by the Gospel is not to be compared to an actual cleansing from stains, but to the putting on of a beautiful white garment which covers the stains.” When we come to the Divine Service, we come to be so served by our loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving God. In Holy Absolution He forgives our sins anew and cleanses us of all impurities, restoring us to our baptismal purity. Through the reading and preaching of His Word He strengthens our faith even as He rebukes, comforts, and exhorts us in it. In the Lord’s Supper we actually commune with Jesus and share in all His blessings and benefits including Sonship with the Father, His Kingship over heaven and earth, and His life that cannot die. This is why the German Lutherans called our worship Gottesdienst, which means God’s Service; God serves us in the Divine Service, and He sends us to serve our neighbors with His Divine Gifts.
Your identity, your life, is in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, apart from whom there is no life, there is no relationship with the Father, there is no Church. As we move forward, we will continue to grow together as a family of faith, fed, nourished, sustained, protected, equipped, and sent forth with His God’s blessing to be a blessing to others as He has richly blessed us in Christ Jesus. And, as we leave His temple this day, and every Lord’s Day, we do so as the tax collector in Jesus’ parable: We return to our homes justified in the blood of Christ, and blessed to be a blessing to the glory of His Holy Name. Thanks be to God alone through Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most poignant ecclesial symbols of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is known as The Pelican In Her Piety. In a time of famine and distress, the female pelican has been known to pluck her own feathers from her breast and to pierce her own flesh in order that she might feed her tender brood with her own blood that they might live. It should be easy to see why The Pelican In Her Pietybecame a symbol for Christ as He sacrificed His own life and shed His precious blood that we might be forgiven and restored and have life in Him, even His life in us. So powerful and evocative was this image that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of it in his communion hymn Thee We Adore, O Hidden Saviorsaying (LSB 640)“Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood, Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food; Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.” 
Today’s Gospel was not the first time that Jesus visited and wept over Jerusalem. In chapter thirteen of St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’”Notice how Jesus compares Himself to a hen seeking to gather her brood under her wings, just like the pelican, but He adds that Jerusalem, that is, the children of Israel, and particularly her religious leadership, were unwilling to be gathered to Him. Thus, Jesus continues, “And I tell you, you will not seeMe until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’”
I wish to draw your attention for a moment to the words “you will not seeme.”In the Gospels, seeingis often more than general eyesight and vision, but it is a seeing in faith, a spiritual seeing, a seeing what is really real and truerather than what only appears to be true. Many people could see Jesus. They saw Him as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. They saw Him as an itinerant rabbi. They saw Him as a prophet, maybe even John the Baptist returned from the dead. They saw Him as an instigator. They saw Him as a threat to their power, authority, and wealth. That’s what that whole dialogue with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi was all about: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” Many, most, seeing people didn’t seeJesus rightly. But, then there were a few blind people, even a few Gentiles, who could seewhat others could not; they could seethat Jesus was the Christ, even the Son of God. When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He prophesied that they would not seeHim until they would see the prophecy of Zechariah fulfilled, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”That day would be Palm Sunday, the very day Jesus wept once again over Jerusalem and spoke the words in today’s Gospel, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your Visitation.”
They did not seeJesus with the eyes of faith, but they were spiritually blind to Him, and this moved Jesus to weep over the city of Jerusalem, for He knew the end of the path they were walking. They were His people, His children, His brood. He was about to pluck His own breast and tear His own flesh and die for them all that they might live in Him, but they refused to gather with Him. And, because of their blindness, because of their rejection, they could not seethe things that would make for peace with God. In fact, the LORD hid these things from them so that they could not seeand believe and be saved. People commonly say, “seeing is believing;” In this sense, they are right! Those who seebelieve, but those who do not believe cannot see, for they are blind. Though Jesus proclaimed the Word of the LORD and called them to repentance that they might find peace with God, they considered themselves secure saying, “We are God’s people, we have Abraham as our father; No evil can possibly overtake us.”As Jeremiah prophesied to Israel long ago, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Still, Jesus remained among them, teaching daily in the temple, but instead of believing in Him and finding peace in Him and His Word, they believed that He was a deceiver and that His doctrine was false and dangerous, and the religious leaders of the people sought to destroy Him.
What the people of Jerusalem could not seewas that God was visiting His people in grace in His Son, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus had visited Jerusalem before. He and His disciples had ministered and taught the Word of the LORD there that hearts might be turned in repentance and that they might know peace with God. However, they did not know the time of their visitation. Now, the Greek word translated visitationhere is episkopē, which also means bishopoverseer, and pastor. That word is used of your pastor every bit as much as it is used of your District President, or Bishop. Both the weekly visitation of your pastor, and the occasional visit of your Bishop, are visitations of grace. They come to you, not in judgment, but with the things that make for your peace with God: The preaching of the Gospel. The forgiveness of sins. Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. Every time we gather here is the time of the Lord’s gracious visitation. This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”However, when Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time, His visitation will be one of judgment. And, that is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He saw that so many of the children of Israel, and particularly the religious leadership of Israel, did not believe and could not see the things that made for peace. They found peace in their obedience and works under the Law, as they interpreted it. They found peace in their outward works of piety, in their prayers, in their temple rites and rituals, but they could not seethat these things were truly signs of promises made and kept by God in the sacrifice of His Lamb, His Son, Jesus Christ. Once again, the prophecy of Isaiah rings true: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He saw the coming judgment of their unbelief. The terrible prophecy Jesus proclaimed described the utter destruction and decimation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D. The Romans laid siege to the city and barricaded it so that no fresh food and water and supplies could get in, and no refuse, sick and dying, or dead corpses could get out. This went on for a few years before the Roman army destroyed the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city. They found a decimated populace, weak and diseased, with evidence of suicide and cannibalism. The Romans destroyed the city and the temple, leaving not one stone standing upon another, and the remaining Jews were sent out and dispersed into the surrounding nations – because they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus wept, not because this destruction could have been averted, – maybe it could have been, maybe not, but that’s not the point – rather, Jesus wept because everything had been provided for them that made for their peace with God. Peace in Hebrew is shalom, which means fullnessand completeness. The name Jerusalem contains a form of shalomand means “Foundation of Peace.”Jerusalem’s history, however, is anything but peaceful, full, and complete. Again, Jesus recounted that city’s infamous history calling it “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”As Jerusalem did to the prophets whom God sent, so would it do to God in the flesh, His Son, Jesus Christ. The city named the Foundation of Peacewould reject and destroy the One who is Peace with God, because they did not know the things that make for peace, but they found peace in things that made for death and destruction, saying to the people, “‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace,”and they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus is our shalom, our fullness and completeness, and the Foundation of our Peace with God and with one another. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest in whom we find shelter, refreshment, and protection. In His Son Jesus, God has visited His people and has redeemed them. And, when we gather here in His Name as His baptized children, members of His body, He visits us anew, not in judgment, but in grace, mercy, love, compassion, and peace. When you come to church, you must not think that you are doing a good work, that you are serving God, or anything else of the sort, but rather you must believe that you are coming into the presence of God’s Peace, that you are entering His Sabbath Rest, and that you are knowing the Lord’s gracious visitation. I am not suggesting that this congregation alone, let alone Lutherans, have cornered the market on the Lord’s gracious visitation, – not at all – but I am saying that God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is present with you here, for you here, in a way that He is not present for you elsewhere, though He is truly present everywhere. Here, in this place, in Word and Water, Body and Blood, He is present for you in grace, that He may gather you under His wings and heal you with forgiveness, feed you with His flesh and blood, strengthen you with His Word, and send you bearing His gifts just as The Pelican In Her Pietysacrifices herself for the sake of her brood that they might live and flourish and fill the world.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This day, and every LORD’s Day, is the day of His gracious visitation; may we always seeit and knowit, and may it be marvelous in our sight! Though the Romans, the Gentiles, the world and its culture have us barricaded, surrounded, and hemmed in, though they threaten to tear us down to the ground, we gather in the LORD’s house of prayer, taking shelter under His gracious wings as we hang on His every Word and are made partakers of His heavenly treasures. Let us never forget the things that make for our peace, and let us cling to them and preserve them, for they are our life and salvation, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Holy Marriage of Megan Sherburne & Shane Wallace

Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33; Genesis 2:7, 18-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Every Christian marriage is a reflection of the first marriage, instituted by God, in Eden, before our First Parents’ sinful rebellion. An important thing to take note of concerning that first marriage is that marriage was created, instituted, and blessed by God. Today we like to twist and bend language so that words mean different things or nothing at all, but twist and bend as we may, we cannot change what marriage truly is as God created and instituted it in the beginning. Indeed, God created the man and the woman whom He joined together in marriage. Adam didn’t have to go out and find his wife, his “soul mate,” but God presented her to him, and at once he recognized her as his own flesh and bone, in a near literal sense. “Therefore,” says the LORD, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Now, there is no human equation where 1 + 1 = 1. Thus, St. Paul says of marriage, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” Yes, in a mysterious way, the vows you, Shane and Megan, make this day before God and this congregation, and the marriage union you enter into one with the other, is a reflection, if dimmed and tarnished by sin, of Christ’s one-flesh union with His Bride, the Church. Thus, the love you have for each other is analogous to the love that Christ has for His Bride, the Church. And, this is what that love looks like and does: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.” “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her…. […] In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”
You see, the kind of love God has called you to and promises to bless you with is a sacrificial love – a love that lays down it’s selfish wants and desires, even it’s self, for the sake of the beloved. That is how God has loved you and all the world – selflessly and sacrificially, even to the point of becoming flesh and blood and dying the death we all deserved in our place that we might live. This is not the love of warm feelings and romantic comedies, but a love that loves even when that love is not returned, even when that love, at times, seems unloving and causes pain and sorrow. Now, if you are thinking to yourself, “I can’t love like that!” that’s a good thing, because you truly cannot. And, that is precisely why your being married here, in Christ’s Church, before His altar, is so incredibly special and important. For, this ceremony isn’t primarily about tradition, or reverence, or just simply the way we do things, but this ceremony is first and foremost about Jesus’ forgiveness, grace, and blessing. God loved us before we could love Him in return, and He forgave us in Jesus Christ before we could ask His forgiveness. Truly, it is with God’s love for us that husbands love their wives, and wives their husbands. And, similarly, it is with God’s forgiveness that we are able to forgive each other. Today you are asking God’s blessing upon your one-flesh union. He will bless it, and He will make you a blessing to others. For, when we love and forgive each other we reflect the image of Christ who loved and forgave, and still loves and forgives, His Bride, the Church.
If you are hearing me correctly you will understand that love is not primarily a feeling, but sacrifice. And, because of our sinful flesh, marriage takes work, patience, and a whole lot of forgiveness and sacrifice. It is important, it is crucial, that you keep Jesus Christ at the center of your marriage, that you attend the Divine Service regularly and receive the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. For, you can only give of Jesus’ gifts. You can only love with Jesus’ love. And you can only forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. You know this, Megan, for you made it clear to Shane from the beginning that you were willing to sacrifice your relationship, your marriage, rather than neglect or compromise your faith. And Shane, you were willing to sacrifice yourself for Megan and submit to catechesis, ultimately being baptized and confirmed in the same confession and faith as your bride. I have to say, you are off to a good start! That’s the kind of selfless, sacrificial love that will sustain your marriage through both good times and bad times, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.
Another thing that you got right, Shane, is that you asked both Megan’s father and mother for permission to marry their daughter. You could have simply told them you were going to get married; that’s the way many do it today. But, no, you felt it important, respectful, and right to seek their blessing. This is good, right, and salutary because it is not just that you and Megan become a new family today, but the Wallace and Sherburne families become a new family today. By asking their permission, you honor your father and your mother, and you honor God, thinking of others before and above yourself in selfless, sacrificial love.
After joining our First Parents in holy marriage, God blessed them that they would be fruitful in love, bearing children whom they would teach in the ways of the LORD, and in showing selfless, sacrificial love to others to the glory of His Name. In the procreation of children, you will be blessed to participate with God in His ongoing work of creation. Truly, in the procreation of children, God’s blessing of fruitfulness is further manifest as now, husband and wife, father and mother, share together a mutual object upon whom to shower their selfless, sacrificial love, a love that is creative, always giving life to others.
Now, I’ve talked a lot about the sacrificial, selfless nature of love, thinking more of the needs and welfare of others above and before yourself. However, there is another aspect of this love that isn’t discussed much and is easily overlooked, and yet it is the most important and sacred of all. Shane and Megan, this day you pledge yourself to love, honor, and keep each other emotionally and physically, but also spiritually. What I mean is that, Shane, you are making a covenant promise this day to love, honor, and keep Megan, body and soul, until the day she or you dies in the Lord. Likewise, Megan, you are making a covenant promise this day to love, honor, and keep Shane, body and soul, until the day he or you dies in the Lord. I want you to understand deeply, profoundly, the promise and responsibility you pledge yourself to this day. This day you marry a Christian soul purchased in the blood of Jesus for eternal life with Him in heaven. Today you pledge to preserve that soul in Christ with everything that you have and with everything you are, with the Holy Spirit’s help, until death do you part. Your marriage, blessed by God, is a sacred trust and covenant promise. As Blake Shelton has put it, “God gave me you.”
Shane, God gave you Megan to love selflessly and sacrificially as your own body. Megan, God gave you Shane from whom to receive this holy love and to return it to him to the glory of God. No longer think of yourselves as two, but as one flesh, one body, one in Christ. And the LORD bless you and keep you and make you fruitful in selfless, sacrificial love towards one another and towards all to the glory of His Name. Today you have asked His blessing. Today He blesses you, and He makes you to be a blessing.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.