Sunday, March 24, 2019

Oculi - The Third Sunday in Lent (Lent 3)

Luke 11:14-28; Ephesians 5:1-9; Exodus 8:16-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The great temptation of the Church of Christ is to accommodate and to assimilate Herself to our world and culture. For, the Church is tempted, pressured, and even attacked, both from without and from within, to compromise Her confession that Jesus is the only Name under heaven by which men must be saved, that He is Truth and the only judge of morality, of good, and of evil, who has not taken the Law of God away from men, but has fulfilled it for us, and that the Church of Christ is His body on earth in and through which His gifts are given and distributed: the forgiveness of sins, faith, life, and salvation. Indeed, the Church exists on earth today, as always, that men may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life.
But the Church, which is the body of Christ, goes in the way of Her Lord and Head Jesus. She is spoken against, mocked and ridiculed, She is persecuted, and hated, and there are not few who would love to kill Her. That’s ok, for Her Lord and Head took the mocking, ridicule, persecution, and hatred, even suffering and death to the cross where He died for the sins of the world and rose in victorious life for all men, even those who hate Him. Jesus has sanctified the Church’s suffering and has promised that, through it, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. So, as they did to Jesus, so will they do to you. They will take your love, mercy, and compassion, so long as you keep your faith, truth, and convictions to yourself. They will gladly use your hospitals, orphanages, adoption agencies, and soup kitchens, but you’d better not talk about truth, morality, or ethics. “Just shut up and give me what I want.”Because if you don’t, well…. They’ll call you every name in the book – ignorant, uneducated, bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, immoral, evil – because, along with showing compassion, mercy, and love to your neighbor you dare to say what you believe, what Jesus has taught, and what God has given in His Law, at the very least in the Ten Commandments. “How very un-post-modern of you.” Keep up the good work.
“Whoever is not with Me is against Me,”Jesus taught, “and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”Is that a shocking statement to you? I hope not. Yes, Jesus really is that exclusive. He really is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only source of Life for all men, whether they believe it or not. But, He is for all men, without exclusion, whether they believe it or not. What lead Jesus to make this statement was that people were claiming that Jesus cast out demons and performed other miracles by the power of Beelzebul, that is, by the power of Satan. Though He was doing good, they accused Him of doing evil. Others tempted Him to produce another sign before they would believe Him. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, taught them saying, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”Essentially, He was saying, “Look, there is good and there is evil. Evil does not cast out evil. Satan is not going to work against himself.”Can you believe it? A man who was possessed by a demon and couldn’t speak is freed and healed and the crowd has the nerve to call Jesus an evil magician. It seems that post-modern relativism isn’t as new as we might think! When it comes to Jesus and our Holy Triune God, good is good and evil is evil – and that’s the Truth. It’s only the world of men that there are shades of gray. Thus, Jesus teaches, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”
It was a similar incident that occurred in our Old Testament lesson today where God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians, between His servants and Pharaoh’s magicians, and between His power and the power of Beelzebul, Satan. In the first plague that God sent upon the Egyptians, He caused the Nile River and all the waters of Egypt to turn to blood without distinguishing between His people and the Egyptians. But, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to produce the same effect by their secret arts; Satan enabled Pharaoh’s magicians to copy the miracle God had performed through His servants Moses and Aaron. In the second plague, God caused frogs to cover the entire land of Egypt. Once again, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same by their secret arts, but they were unable to then make the frogs go away. Thus, Pharaoh had to plead to Moses and Aaron to plead with their Lord to take the frogs away. Then, in the third plague, which was our Old Testament lesson today, God sent gnats or lice upon all the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to do the same and they confessed to Pharaoh, “This is the Finger of God.”  This was a stunning confession, for the Finger of God is the Holy Spirit and, when the magicians say this to Pharaoh, it shows that they know there is a power greater than their own, yet it is a power that they do not honor and serve. In the following plagues, God began to set His people Israel apart from the Egyptians by sparing them the effects of the plagues while the lands of the Egyptians suffered.
Satan is strong, but God is stronger. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform some powerful signs, but they soon met the limits of what they were able to do. Satan’s power now is but lies and deceptions. In truth, it is you who give him power, by believing in his lies and succumbing to his temptations. Jesus compared Satan to a strong man, fully armed, who trusts in his armor. But, Jesus is a stronger man who attacks him and takes away his armor and divides His spoil. Does it seem odd to you to think of Jesus on the offensive, in attack mode? Yet, that is exactly how He describes Himself in relation to Satan. And, that wasn’t the first time. When Peter made his bold confession of Jesus saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus commended him saying, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Did you hear it? The gates of hell will not withstand the attack of the Church, but they will fall before Her. What, did I shock you again? I hope not. I know, you’re used to hearing about Jesus’ love, mercy, and compassion, not His judgment against sin and evil. Yes, Jesus is God’s love incarnate for all men. Yes, Jesus loves all men without distinction or discrimination, even those who hate Him. Yes, Jesus loves all men, but Jesus hates sin. He has mercy and compassion on sinners, but sin is judged, condemned, and damned.
When you were baptized, the Stronger Man Jesus attacked the strong man Satan and ran him out of the palace he had made and guarded in your heart. That day you gained a powerful enemy in Satan who was not pleased to let you go. Jesus taught, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”How do you keep the strong man and his minions out of your heart? You gather with Jesus. That is, you gather where Jesus is present with His Words and with His Wounds. You gather with Jesus in constant repentance, in great humility, and in faith and trust in Him. For, Jesus is the Stronger Man, not you. He is your strength. He is your faith. And He is your victory over Satan’s temptations all the days of your life.
Further, you must mark, distinguish, and discern what is the Lord’s will and command and what is contrary to it. That is, as St. Paul writes, you must be “imitators of God, as beloved children” and“walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”You are to be set apart from the world as were the children of Israel in Egypt, partaking not in sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness, indulging not in filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking, but instead giving thanks to the Lord for all things, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”
And, so it is that the Church is both attacked and She is on the attack. How does the Church attack? The Church attacks, not with violence, not with weapons, and not with force; the Church attacks, not with insults, not with slander, and not with libel; the Church attacks, not with politics, not with laws, and not with government; but the Church attacks with the Word of God and with Truth, for She is Christ’s body, and He is Her Head and Lord, and He is the Stronger Man who fights against Satan and his demons, who indeed has defeated them in His death upon the cross and sends them fleeing by His authoritative Word. And, as the Church suffers attack, she places Her trust and Her hope in Her defensive armor: The belt of Truth, the breastplate of Righteousness, the readiness of the Gospel of Peace, the shield of Faith, and the helmet of Salvation. Indeed, the only offensive weapon the Church has is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Apart from this offensive weapon and defensive armor, you cannot hope to stand against the strong man, Satan. Staking your claim that you are a child of God, born from the womb of the Church in Holy Baptism will do you no good whatsoever if you do not have faith that clings to Christ, for there is no blessing in having the Church as your Mother if you do not hear the Word of God and keep it.
Dear Christian, you have been redeemed out of death by the Stronger Man Jesus Christ who passed through death for you destroying Satan’s armor in which he trusted. Still that lion seeks to devour you and he will use every manner of attack within his power to do so. Beware of his temptations, lies, and deceptions and strengthen your faith by gathering with Jesus where He is present with His Word, which is Truth, and with His Wounds which bring forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are your armor to protect you from attack. And, for a weapon, you have the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Use it in love, that it may cut down the lies of the enemy and rescue those imprisoned by them. At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, and the light of Christ will shine in and through you, exposing all manner of evil and deeds of wickedness, revealing in you the fruit of all that is good and right and true.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Reminiscere - The Second Week of Lent

John 5:1-18; 1 Kings 18:20-40

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The First Commandment of the LORD is that He alone is Your God and that you must fear, love, and trust in Him above and before all things. That First Commandment is the foundation of all the others so that, if you transgress any of the Commandments, you have necessarily transgressed the First and the Greatest Commandment as well. However, the first three Commandments each speak of your relationship with God Your Father: He must be the first and foremost object of your fear, love, and trust. You must revere and use His holy Name appropriately. And, you must hold His Word sacred and sanctify time for hearing it, and for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
While the Scriptures forbid the worship of other gods, truly there are no other gods. This fact is shown clearly in our First Lesson this evening from 1 Kings chapter 18 in the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Baal was the name of the supreme god worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia. The practice of Baal worship infiltrated Jewish religious life during the time of the Judges and had become widespread in Israel during the reign of King Ahab.Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children. Worship of Baal involved sensuality of all kinds, cultic prostitution, and often the sacrifice of firstborn children. Before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, the LORD warned against worshiping Canaan’s gods, but Israel turned to idolatry anyway. 
Ahab was the most notorious of a long line of wicked kings in Israel. Ahab took Jezebel, the daughter of a priest of Baal, as his wife and queen. In spite of God’s laws forbidding idolatry and the worship of any god but the Lord, Ahab married Jezebel who brought to Israel with her hundreds of priests and prophets of Baal. A weak and self-pitying man, Ahab abdicated his rule to his queen and enacted what she decreed, contrary to the Commandments of the LORD.One of Jezebel’s first acts was to order the execution of the prophets of the Lord and to set up altars to Baal. During the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, at the height of Baal worship in Israel, God directly confronted their paganism through His prophet Elijah.
From 1 Kings: “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.”
“How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” That’s a great question! You see, we sinful human beings like to have our cake and eat it too. We hate being committed to any one thing or person for fear that we might be missing out on something better. We’d rather straddle the fence than choose a side and stand firm. We prefer shades of gray to uncompromising black or white, shadows to darkness or light. However, the LORD is a jealous God. He will not share you with another. If you are not with Him, you are against Him. There is no middle ground. There is no lukewarm trust and obedience. There is no other way.
Elijah demonstrated precisely that. Elijah demonstrated that Baal was no god at all, but a creation of men, unable to hear or speak or answer the people’s prayers. Though they danced and shouted and cut themselves so that their blood gushed forth, no god answered them and the sacrifice remained untouched upon the altar. Then Elijah, to emphasize that there is no God but the LORD, had water poured on his sacrifice, not once, but three times, so that the sacrifice and the wood were saturated. Upon Elijah’s invocation, “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” “And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.” The LORD will not share you with another god, not that there is another god.
“You shall have no other gods.” The First Lesson demonstrates that well. “You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God.” The First Lesson demonstrates that well also. “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Our Second Lesson addresses the Third Commandment. By the time of Jesus, the Third Commandment had been reinterpreted by the Pharisees to mean simply, “Don’t do any work on the Sabbath.” The true meaning of the Sabbath, however, was rest– to take rest in the LORD and in His Word. That is why Luther explains the Third Commandment saying, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Like the First and Second Commandments, the Third Commandment is about your relationship with God your Father. To be sure, for Old Testament Israel, the Commandment to keep the Sabbath included the cessation of work, and on a particular day, the Sabbath Day, Saturday. However, the spirit of the Law is much broader than that, binding not only physical acts, but words and thoughts and desires of the heart. The Pharisees emphasized the letter of the Law and gave no credence to the spirit of the Law. In His obedient life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and reinterpreted the Sabbath in terms of Himself. Truly, the Father has given authority over all things to His Son, and Jesus invites you to keep the Sabbath Day by finding rest for your weary souls in Him.
But what is meant by keeping the Sabbath Day holy?” Luther answers: “Nothing else than to be occupied with holy words, works, and life.” It was such as these that the Jewish religious leadership rejected and accused Jesus and His disciples of doing and thereby transgressing the Law of Moses. When Jesus healed a paralyzed man on a Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill Him. However, necessary and loving work not only is permitted by the Third Commandment, but it is commanded by the law of love. Jesus demonstrated this repeatedly throughout His ministry. The Gospels record seven Sabbath healing miracles performed by Jesus. In one Sabbath healing Jesus challenged the Pharisees and exposed their hypocrisy, saying, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” They had no answer and remained silent.
To keep the Sabbath Day holy is to make it holy and sacred to yourself. That is to say that you set aside a day, a significant time, to take your rest in the LORD and in His Word and gifts. Your soul should desire this rest and gladly seek it. Failure to make the Sabbath a priority in your life is also a transgression of the First and Second Commandments, for you have not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things, nor have you called upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Your LORD invites you to take both spiritual and physical rest in Him. Jesus invites you saying, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Indeed, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath and He is your Sabbath rest. In Jesus, you may find rest from your laborious striving to be restored to the LORD by your works and obedience according to the Law.
You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Yes, these are the LORD’s Commandments, and they are Law. However, they are good and true, and blessed are you if you keep them.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reminiscere - The Second Sunday in Lent (Lent 2)

Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Genesis 32:22-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We are the unworthy recipients of God’s precious gifts. Jesus was no more for us than He was for the Canaanite woman. He was the children’s bread, sent to the house of the children of Israel, not us Gentile dogs. Nevertheless, we, like this intrepid Canaanite woman, have been the blessed recipients of the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table. Like little dogs, we too eat the very same Bread intended for the children of the King, and that Bread gives us the very same gifts it gave them: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
The gifts come to us because they were refused by those to whom they were first given. Though the gifts were always meant to come to us through them, they refused the gifts, not only for themselves, but for us as well. Thus we see that Jesus’ disciples wanted to shut this Gentile dog-woman up. They appealed to Jesus to send her away. They had no mercy. They showed no grace. They had no love. The children of the King thought they were justified in judging and condemning her. She was a Gentile dog, after all, a pagan idolater from a long line of idolaters, a Jewish-Gentile half-breed progeny of those wicked people whom Joshua and the children of Israel had failed to destroy when the LORD gave them the land of Canaan as He had promised.
Jesus tested the woman’s faith, though it wasn’t much of a test, really. He already knew her faith. Her faith was visible in her humility and her boldness, that, though she offered nothing and had nothing to offer, her faith made her bold enough to even come before Him. Moreover, she confessed Him to be the Son of David and her Lord. Her faith was self-evident, bearing the Spirit’s fruits of humility, selflessness, endurance, and love. No, it wasn’t much of a test of this woman’s faith, but it was a test of the disciples’ faith. Jesus had lead them to this test as He lead them directly into the Gentile district of Tyre and Sidon. Who did they expect to find there? For what reason did they believe that Jesus had brought them there? Were they surprised when a distressed Canaanite woman followed them and cried out to Jesus for mercy?
She cried out for mercy – not for money, not for food, not for acceptance, not for anything other than mercy. And, the disciples had no mercy to give. Jesus gave them a chance. This was their test. He said not a word, but He waited to see what they would say. They did not show mercy to the woman, but, rather, they begged Jesus to send her away. This is the exact opposite of mercy. Not only would they not help her, or even listen to her, but they wanted Jesus to reject her too. Then Jesus answered her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He was speaking the truth. Jesus was not sent for Gentiles like her, but for the children of Israel. But the children of Israel, Jesus’ disciples – they were sent to be a light to lighten the Gentiles. It was the disciples’ vocation, it was the Jews’ vocation, to show the Canaanite woman mercy, but they refused.
Likely, the disciples became hardened in their position, while Jesus’ words had the opposite effect on the woman. With Jesus’ apparent rejection, her faith caused her to cry out all the more, “Lord, help me.” Once again, Jesus tested His disciples, but the disciples remained unmoved. He knew their faith, too, as He knew hers. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus answered. “You tell her, Master,” the disciples agreed. They failed the test. But, the woman – the woman passed Jesus’ test. Even though she did not get what she pleaded for immediately, even though Jesus seemed to be against her and unwilling to help her, she did not let go, she did not give up. Faith, real faith, is like that. Faith is tenacious and dogged. Faith believes and trusts even when things don’t look or sound the way we think they should. Faith doesn’t let go – not without a blessing. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire,” Jesus replied. And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus praised the woman for her faith. However, it was not because of her faith that her daughter was healed, but it was because of the object of her faith, Jesus. That is to say that, what she believed about Jesus – that He would hear and answer her plea for mercy, that He would and could heal her daughter – it was the very real qualities in which she believed, and which she confessed of Jesus, that healed her daughter. Likewise Jesus at times said, “Your faith has saved you.” Faith heals, faith saves, because of what faith believes and trusts in. Faith believes and trusts in Jesus. Thus, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The Canaanite woman’s faith simply would not let go of Jesus no matter what – not without a blessing.
Just like Jacob. Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau whom he believed desired to kill him. Jacob left his wives, his servants, his children, and all his possessions on the other side of the river and he was utterly alone. He had no one and nothing to comfort him, and he believed that certain death was coming swiftly for him. Like the Canaanite woman, Jacob was in a desperate situation, all alone, with no ability to help himself. Thus, he put his trust in God. But, then, even God became his enemy. An angel of the LORD, even the Son of God Himself, wrestled with Jacob all through the night. Though Jacob was tired and weary and could not prevail, he would not let go, not without a blessing. Then the LORD put Jacob’s hip out of joint, causing him excruciating pain and suffering. Still, Jacob would not let go, not without a blessing. Then the LORD released Jacob and He blessed him. The LORD changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means, “one who wrestles with God and prevails.” This is what it means to have faith. This is what it means to be a Christian – to struggle and to wrestle with God and to not let go, no matter what, even when God seems to be against you, even when God seems not to answer your prayers, even when God seems to be the one causing your affliction, tribulation, and suffering. The Christian does not let go, not without a blessing.
God’s power is made perfect in your weakness. When you are weak, when your back is against the wall, when you are all out of options, when you are utterly alone and painfully aware of your weakness and insufficiency, that is when your faith will shine the brightest and enlighten all around you, that is when the LORD’s power can really be seen and experienced and known. From the Canaanite woman, and from the Patriarch Jacob, you may learn to have a dogged faith, persistent in prayer and lament to our Savior Jesus Christ in every trial and need. God may test you. So be it. But, as God granted the desires of both the Canaanite woman and Jacob because they held tight in faith and did not let go, so will He bless you and make you a blessing. Moreover, though you are not the children of Israel by blood descent, you are the children of the true Israel sharing the faith of Abraham. You have been adopted as sons and daughters of the King in the innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Your LORD and King has chosen you in His Son and has granted you all things that belong to Him through faith in Him. Therefore, don’t let go. He will never let go of you. Trust in Him, regardless of what you see and hear. Your faith will heal and save you and those you love, for your faith is in Jesus Christ who is your life and salvation.
Even now, the Master’s table is prepared that you may eat, not crumbs and scraps, but the flesh and blood of God Himself and live. Eat and be strengthened. Drink and be forgiven. Remain in Him, cling to Him in faith and trust, and you will be blessed, and you will be a blessing.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Invocabit - The First Week of Lent

John 8:31-59; Exodus 32:1-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There was a time when God’s Word was sufficient for man, but it was a precious short time in the grand scope of history. In Eden, God spoke and man believed. Moreover, man believed and did not doubt. The serpent’s temptation was an attack upon God’s Word, or more precisely, it was an attack on man’s faith and trust in God’s Word. “Did God really say?” Shockingly, and sadly, that question is all that it took! For the first time our First Parents thought something about God and about themselves and about God’s Word and creation other than what God had actually said. You see, God had said something, something everlasting and irrevocable. But now, that wasn’t good enough for man. Man desired something else, something more in order to believe, which means, secretly, man suspected that there was something more, and that God was holding out on him. It is man’s desire that leads to sin and death. It’s what we value and treasure most in our lives that control us. It’s what we fear losing or not having, what we love and will sacrifice other things and people for, and what we trust in for our comfort and security and peace that is our god. And, since that first temptation to believe that God was holding out on us, that God is not good, we have not been and cannot be satisfied with God alone, but we crave and desire something other and something else, a desire that is insatiable, unfulfilled, and leads only to death.
It is likely that the Israelites did not think that they were committing wholesale idolatry in their making and worshipping the golden calf, but they simply, but sinfully, desired more than what God had given them. They desired some sign or material proof of God’s presence. They had understood Moses to be the visible presence of the LORD amongst them, but in his absence, how quickly they became afraid and insecure and clamored for reassurance that God was with them. Therefore, Aaron collected their golden jewelry, melted it down, and formed for them a golden calf, which the people understood as a physical, material representation of the invisible God. When he offered burnt offerings before the golden calf, Aaron even called it a “Feast to the LORD.”
But, it was idolatry, despite what seemed wise to men or their pious intentions. And, God’s wrath burned hot against His people and their idolatry. The LORD was prepared to destroy them, but Moses intervened, calling to remembrance the LORD’s covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, the LORD relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people. Yet, still, the LORD was angry and the people had sinned grievously. Moses commanded the sons of Levi to kill their brothers, companions, and neighbors, and about three thousand men were killed that day. And, the LORD sent a plague upon the people because they had sinned and rebelled against the LORD.
“You shall have no other gods.” That is the First Commandment. So simple, so clear, isn’t it? And yet, it is the most difficult for us to keep, and surely if we transgress any of the LORD’s commandments we transgress this first and most important one. This commandment is written on our hearts and is preached by our consciences, and yet we do not keep it. It is the reason our First Parents hid from the LORD when they sinned. They no longer loved or trusted in the LORD, that He is good, but they considered Him evil and cruel, withholding from them knowledge, and power, and glory. And, they no longer feared the LORD in a proper way, with reverence, honor, respect, and obedience, but they despised Him and feared harm to themselves or deprivation of bodily and worldly pleasures.
It is God who has made us, and we confess “that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses,” “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have” “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” It should be self-evident that the One who has made you is greater than you, that you are not Him, but He is other than you and beyond you. Moreover, this One, our LORD, has made all things, thus He is above and greater than all things. Therefore, anyone or anything that you place your fear, love, and trust in above or before God is necessarily an idol and a false god, for you have placed your fear, love, and trust in the created above and before the Creator.
The First Commandment need not have been spoken, for it is simply the right order of things. As the Creator, source, and origin of all things that are, union with the LORD is life, and rejection of Him is, by necessity and definition, death. This is why Jesus taught, “He who is not with me is against me” and “no one comes to the Father except through me” – there simply is no other option or way. Thus, when the LORD says that He is a jealous God, He does not mean that He is envious of others or desirous of that which does not belong to Him, as we understand and experience jealousy, but rather the LORD is jealous of what is His, and that is you – to put it plainly the LORD will not share you with another, with an idol, a false god, or the devil, but He wants you fully, completely, and entirely in body, soul, life, obedience, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
Thus, the LORD has attached both a threat and a promise to His First Commandment saying, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” His threat is dire and unjust from our fallen human perspective. Because our wisdom, reason, and intellect, and our perceptions are all corrupted by sin and concupiscence, we are prone to call the LORD’s good, righteous, and holy wisdom foolishness and evil, and ours good. We must continually repent of this and humble ourselves before the LORD and His holy will and Word. And yet, as severe as His threat is, “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me,” the LORD’s promise is all the more sweeter, extending to “a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Although the threat is real and severe, it is alien to the LORD and is not His proper will and work, whereas the promise is proper of the LORD and reflective of His goodness and will towards His creation, of which He made mankind His crowning achievement and placed in dominion over all things that He has made.
There was a time when God’s Word was sufficient for man, but it was a precious short time. God’s Word is truth and life, thus did Jesus teach, “If you abide in My Word, You are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To the Pharisees who rejected Him Jesus said, “Whoever is of God hears the Words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” They understood that Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the promised Messiah. They rejected Him and sought to destroy Him. They wanted something other, something else. The Word of God is truth and life, and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the Word made flesh, who is truth and life and the only way to the Father.
Let us pray: Lord God, author and source of all that is good, give us wisdom to fear Your wrath, strength to love You above all things, and faith to trust in Your promises alone, that by Your grace we may serve You all our days and finally come to inherit Your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Invocabit - The First Sunday in Lent (Lent 1)

Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On this first Sunday in Lent, let us together repent of a particular error of Scriptural interpretation that we have all made, that we have all believed, that we have all trusted in, and that we have all taught to others at one time or another: Our Lord Jesus did NOT face the devil’s temptations in the wilderness in order to teach us how to resist the devil by quoting Bible verses at him. If that were the purpose of today’s Gospel then we would be the saddest lot and the most to be pitied of men, for we would remain in our sins and the devil would be victorious. But that is NOT why our Lord Jesus faced the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Our Lord Jesus faced the devil’s temptations in the wilderness for us, in our place. He stood in for you, and for me, for all men, as the Second Adam, to undo the sinful failings of the First Adam. It was the Garden of Eden all over again, only, this time, it wasn’t a garden full of foliage and fruit, – paradise – but it was a barren wilderness and our Lord was hungry and thirsty from having fasted forty days since the Holy Spirit lead Him, no, threw Him to the wolf, to redeem all you sons and daughters of Adam from death and separation from God, the fruit and wage of your sinful rebellion and unbelief.
To take the emphasis off of Christ is to make this Gospel a mere moralism and Law, a Law that you cannot keep and that cannot save you. Jesus alone is your Savior, not the Law, not your obedience, not your works, not your good intentions, pious thoughts or actions. Christ was baptized for this confrontation. Christ was baptized for you. The Son of David faces your Goliath for you and He overcomes by the Word of the LORD. And yet, even for Him, the Word of the LORD was not an offensive weapon, but it was a defense in which He trusted. You see, I know how you like to think of the Word of God as a weapon. You think that’s what St. Paul teaches in Ephesians six where he says to take the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” No, St. Paul says to take the sword, but he mentions nothing about wielding it. Further, the sword of the spirit is named last in a list of purely defensive armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel as shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Christ does not wield a weapon any more than you, but He trusts, perfectly, in the Word of God. He did this for you, in your place, making satisfaction for all your failing to trust in the Word of God, trying to fight the devil by your own devices, and failing again and again and again. No, this Gospel is no lesson in how to fight the devil. This Gospel is REAL Gospel, the Gospel that Jesus is your Champion, your Victor, and has resisted the temptation of the devil for you, in your place, trusting in the Word of God alone, and walking away in sinlessness and holiness. This was necessary, and it is pure Gospel, for now Jesus could take His sinless flesh and blood body and soul to the cross and die there for your sins and it would actually count, it would actually mean something, because it would really be finished, just as He said, there was not, there is not, and there will never be anything that you need to do to be holy and justified before God. You believe in God? Believe also in Jesus, that He has done it all for you, and you will be, you are, saved.
Let us take a moment and consider the specific temptations our Lord Jesus suffered. The devil’s first temptation was not a test to see if Jesus doubted His Sonship to the Father, as some might think, but this was a direct test of where Jesus would place His trust; would He trust in God and in His Word or would He trust in His own understanding or in His ability to wield the Word of God as a weapon? Jesus was extremely hungry after fasting forty days. The devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread was a temptation to place His own needs above obedience to His Father. Jesus answered the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” You see, our Lord did not fight the devil, brandishing the Word of God like a sword, but He trusted in God’s Word and found strength in it to persevere through His hunger and temptation. The Word of God was His food and His sustenance.
The devil’s second temptation was, once again, a test of Jesus’ faith and trust. This time, our Lord’s faith and trust in the goodness of God was put to the test. The devil tempted Jesus, telling Him to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, even quoting the Scriptures saying that angels would catch Him in His fall. Here we see what a slippery and cunning deceiver the devil is. He uses the Word of God, but He twists it, and he takes it out of context, and he intentionally leaves out related and explanatory passages. In this case, while quoting from Psalm 91, “He will command His angels concerning you,” the devil intentionally left out these words, “to guard you in all your ways.” “All your ways” means the ways of God, His will and commandments. To put God to the test in this way would be to intentionally deviate from the ways and the will of God and His commandments. Therefore, once again, Jesus placed His faith and trust in the full counsel of God’s Word and replied to the devil quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The devil’s third and final temptation was, yet once again, a test of Jesus’ faith and trust. However, this time he got right to the crux of the matter, Jesus’ faith and trust in God Himself. The devil offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if He would fall down and worship him. This was a temptation set against the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” If Jesus were to succumb to this temptation, He would have submitted to power and glory as a god, and the devil himself as a god, above and before His God and Father. The temptation to sin against the First Commandment was also behind the first two of the devil’s temptations, for the transgression of any Commandment is always, first and foremost, a transgression against the First. Jesus answered the devil one last time, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” Then Jesus commanded the devil, “Be gone, Satan!” And the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him, just as the Scriptures had said, just as Jesus had believed – for you.
All this Jesus did for you. He was baptized for you. He suffered temptation for you. He was obedient for you. He trusted in God’s Word and submitted to His will for you. Then, He took His faithfulness and His obedience to the cross for you, where He suffered all, even death and forsakenness by His Father, for you – for your sin, for your disobedience, for your faithlessness and unbelief, for your rebellion against your God and Creator, for you. All this Jesus did for you, because He loves His Father, His God, and because He loves you.
Jesus didn’t do all this to show you how to go and do likewise. The Gospel is no “What Would Jesus Do?” manual of moralism! Jesus came, the Seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15, to crush the serpent’s head for you, to restore you to a right relationship with God the Father, and to Shepherd you out of death back into Paradise with Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. Our First Parents are a tragic example of what happens when we try to fight for ourselves by using God’s Word as an offensive weapon that we wield against the devil. How quickly they, our perfect and flawless parents, were deceived and fell. And you think that you can stand on your own against the devil, even with the Word of God? Don’t be a fool! Jesus did not teach you to fight. Jesus taught you to trust. More than that, He trusted for you and He died for you that you may trust in Him and live.
God knows that you have no way to fight against the devil, therefore He promises to protect you and to fight for you. All you need to do is trust in Him. Not long, perhaps immediately after our First Parents sinned, God uttered His first Gospel promise that woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head. Then, as a foreshadowing of the Sacrifice God would make to restore you to Him, He shed the innocent blood of animals in order to cover the nakedness of the Man and Woman He had made. All of the sacrifices on Jewish altars, all the sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple, all the blood of bulls and goats shed over millennia pointed to the Sacrifice that God would make to cover your sins, to take them away, and make you right with your Creator once again. What Abraham confessed on Mt. Moriah as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, “The LORD will provide for Himself the Lamb for a sacrifice, my son,” God did indeed provide in His Son Jesus upon the cross. Of that day, Jesus said, “Abraham saw and rejoiced and was glad.” Indeed, we also remember that dark and terrible day, and we rejoice and are glad in it. For, on that day, “he, who once by a tree overcame, likewise by a tree was overcome.” All this He did for you. And, you are baptized into Him so that His blood has cleansed you from your sin and His Name now marks you as His own. In Holy Baptism, His death is your death, and His resurrection and life is your resurrection and life.
Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God, is your Champion and your Victor. God does not call you to fight with the devil, or to wield His Word like a weapon, but He calls you to trust in Him, to trust in His Word, and to trust in His Word made flesh, Jesus. For, “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabbaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.” And now your Champion, your Victor, your Shepherd, your God has prepared this table before you in the presence of your enemies. Come, eat and drink and be satisfied by these fruits from His Tree of Life as a foretaste, until you dwell with Him once again and forever in Paradise.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today represents a new beginning. However, it is not a beginning from scratch, but rather it is a return to the beginning from whence you came. “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Out of dust you were created, and you have often lived very dusty, dirty, and unclean lives, but you have been washed clean, restored and renewed in the blood of Jesus, and you have been marked with the cross, the symbol of Jesus Christ who makes all things new.
For, even now, your God and LORD calls you to return to Him. Yes, after all that you have thought, after all that you have spoken, and after all that you have done that was against His Word and His Will, and after all that you have not done that you should have done, yes, even now, your God and LORD calls you to turn back to Him in repentance, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and to rend your hearts and not your garments; for the LORD seeks not the death of sinners, but rather that they turn from their wickedness and live.Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.
This is a great opportunity for you to stop whatever it is that you are doing and return to the LORD. Stop eating the bread that leads only to death. Stop working and striving to serve only yourself and your selfish desires. Stop walking the path that leads to death and the grave. Stop, and turn around, for the LORD your God has prepared a feast of salvation for you, grain, wine, and oil, that you may be satisfied and be no longer a reproach among the nations.
For, like the Prodigal Son you have strayed far from your loving Father. You have listened to the tempter’s voice and have begrudged your Father the things that He has not given you while you have disdained the good things that He has given you. You have satisfied your flesh and your passions as if this flesh and life were all there were, with no thought that with each breath you draw closer to death and that each breath is granted you by the God who created you and sustains you still. And, while you were fashioned to have a relationship with your Creator, you fled and hid and ran from Him and sought fellowship with men who perform their wicked deeds under cover of darkness and you crave and desire to fill your bellies with that which is unclean, unhealthy, and unbefitting man created in the image and likeness of God.
Repent and be turned, and rejoice that there is something and someone to return to. For, before you turn He is there, and when you turn you will find your Father running towards you with His arms wide open, ready to kiss you and clothe you in forgiveness and to restore you to life with Him. Indeed, He has killed the fatted calf in celebration that you, His child, who was dead, have been restored to life. But, more than that, He became what you are, sinful, unclean, and subject to death, that you might become what He is, holy and righteous and immortal. He sent His own Son into your flesh and became the Prodigal for you. As a man He forsook all the glory and honor that was rightfully His and He consorted with tax collectors and sinners and the likes of you. He lost everything for you, dying in your place as if He were the rebellious son, the whore, the self-righteous Pharisee, the glutton and the drunkard, to win your forgiveness.
Return to the LORD in repentance. Return to your baptismal purity and be renewed, restored, and washed clean once again in the blood of the Lamb. You need only wash your feet and you are completely clean, for there is one baptism for the remission of your sins. That unseen, filthy ash that covers you cannot take away the seal your God has placed upon you and, even still, the cross of Jesus Christ shines through. You are His and He will never leave you or forsake you. Indeed, nothing can separate you from His love which is in Jesus Christ your Lord.
Today represents a new beginning for you. You are forgiven and restored; go and sin no more. Do not return to the corruption of this world, being filled with sinful desires, but remain vigilant in prayer, in fasting, and in doing good to all, especially the least in this world. For, the Lord Jesus is with you and, as He has suffered for you, so He suffers with you and will equip you with grace and peace and knowledge, granting you all things that pertain to life and godliness through which you may become partakers of the divine nature.
The LORD’s call is for you today, and then tomorrow, and then each and every day He grants you breath: Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Each and every day, die to your self and live to God. Return to the LORD in repentance and live in Christ, in love, in mercy, in compassion, and in forgiveness for the sake of Jesus, to the glory of God the Father, in His most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2019


Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ teaching, seeing and hearing have nothing to do with being able to physically see and hear. That is to say that, neither your possession of fleshly eyes and ears nor their proper functioning will provide you the sight and the hearing to which your Lord is calling you. Indeed, many people in Jesus’ day, as well as in yours, see and hear well enough, and yet their eyes and their ears are closed to Jesus’ Word and teaching. And, if you believe that you see and hear, but you do not do, then Jesus’ Word to you today is a call to repentance that your eyes and ears may be opened more fully to His Word that you may both receive and share His love.
In last week’s Gospel, the Parable of the Sower and the Soil, your Lord called you to have ears of faith that you might hear the Word of God and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”.Today you are told of a conflict which occurred on the road to Jericho between those having eyes to see and a blind beggar sitting along the roadside. In this account you are called to see that neither the seeing nor the blind have the 20/20 vision of faith to believe and hold fast the truth that Jesus must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again on the third day.
Immediately prior to the encounter with the blind man on the road to Jericho, Jesus had taken His twelve disciples aside to share with them this Paschal mystery. His first word to His disciples was this, “See”.This imperative was much more than a mere attention-getter, but it was a creative and performative Word; it was good and life-bestowing seed having the power to create faith and trust unto fruit-producing life. “See,”Jesus said, “we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But, hearing, they did not hear, and seeing, they did not see“they understood none of these things”.They could not grasp the meaning of Jesus’ Words. Moreover, the Evangelist tells you that the meaning was hidden from them. This is in accord with what you confess in the Small Catechism about the work of the Holy Spirit, that you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit must call you by the Gospel, enlighten you with His gifts, sanctify and keep you in the true faith. It is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that you receive eyes and ears of faith that you may believe in Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior and bear fruit in love.
Though the disciples certainly believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were blind to the fullness of what that meant. They could not comprehend or believe in the Paschal mystery which Jesus taught them because their hearts were overcome with worldly values, concerns, and anxieties. The soil of their hearts was at times thorny, stony, and even hard. Like Peter, all of them were at once capable of the bold confession that Jesus is Christ and Lord and denial of what the Christ must accomplish. Thus, their faith, like yours, often struggled and languished and, at times, failed to bring forth the fruit of works in love. Indeed, St. Paul provides you a long list in today’s Epistle lesson of seemingly glorious works that count for nothing if they are not borne from a heart of faith and love.
Thus, when Jesus, His disciples, and a great crowd encountered the blind man sitting along the roadside as they traveled to Jericho, their response to the man’s plea for Jesus’ mercy was not to bring Him to their Master but to rebuke him and command him to be silent. Even though they confessed Jesus to be their Lord and Master, they did not understand that He had come to redeem the least of men, whom He counted as brothers. Likely, they considered the man’s blindness to be the result of his sin; thus, rather than show him mercy and compassion, they stood in judgment over him and counted him unworthy of the Master’s presence or time. They failed to understand that Jesus had come in mercy and compassion and in love to all because their eyes and their ears were not fully open to the Word of God. Moments earlier Jesus had taught them that He must be delivered over. Indeed, God the Father, even then, was delivering overJesus for the sake of sinners, to release them from bondage and slavery to sin, sickness, and death.
When the blind man asked what all the commotion was, the crowd could confess only the humanity of Jesus, His name and hometown. But, the blind man, in his blindness, could see considerably more than they. He cried out to Him saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Though he was blind, he had heard and seen through the Word of the Prophets about the Messiah and what He would do and how He would come. His only plea is for mercy. And, mercy is precisely who Jesus isand what He had come to do.Jesus, God’s anointed, isthe love and mercy of God incarnate, dwelling amongst us as our brother. Those having the Spirit-given eyes of faith will see this Truth and cling to it for life and salvation.
When Jesus asked the man “What do you want me to do for you?”the blind man replied, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.Ironically, the blind man could already see better than most who were not blind. He trusted in Jesus completely that He could, and would, restore his sight. Jesus granted the man his vision, but He said that it was the man’s faith that had made him well. Indeed, the restoration of the blind man’s vision was the outward sign of his inward faith, with which he could see already that this man Jesus was the Lord of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love.
Faith in Jesus is the one thing needful. The blind man had faith, arguably even more than the disciples. Even though he was blind, he had the necessary vision to see that Jesus was God’s mercy and compassion in human flesh. Upon his healing, that man became a disciple of Jesus too and followed Him, glorifying God. And yet, even His vision could be improved upon, for the Lord and Master he followed was going to the cross to suffer and die. Though he could see clearly now, could he see that this was necessary and good, that Jesus’ death on the cross was the true healing to which the recovery of his sight only pointed? The truth is, no, he could not. For, in truth, all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him unto death and not a one believed that He was raised from the dead until they saw Him in the flesh with their own eyes once again.
Dear Christians, disciples of Christ, brothers and sisters of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you are those who believe even though you have not seen. Your seeing is a gift of God’s grace and mercy delivered by the Holy Spirit though Word and water, body and blood. You no more chose to believe than does a blind man to see, and yet, you believe, and this is a pure gift of God’s grace by the creative power of the good seed of His Word. You have joined in the train of the disciples and blind Bartimaeus in following Jesus through suffering and death on the cross to the resurrection to new and eternal life. Now we set our faces with our Lord Jesus to go to Jerusalem to die with Him that we might rise and live with Him in the resurrection. In baptism you have already died with Him and have been raised with Him, but still the flesh must have its end and its new beginning. Now you must journey with Jesus down from the mount of Transfiguration glory, where all can see and believe, into the valley of the shadow of death where all men live, where all men experience suffering, pain, loss, and death – for lost and suffering men are whom Jesus was sent to redeem, men just like you.
But, when you have been given eyes to see Jesus for the Suffering Servant, Lord, and Savior He is, then you must share the mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love of Jesus with all you encounter, as did blind Bartimaeus, that all the people, when they see it, give praise to God. And, to forgive you, sustain you, and to strengthen you in faith, Jesus still comes to you in humble means, Word and water, bread and wine, that in receiving Him in these humble and lowly means you may see Him, not according to outward appearances of lowliness, but according to His heart of mercy and compassion, that you might behold Him by faith and follow Him to the cross through death into life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.