Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The ironic thing about wisdom is that it is the seemingly foolish, the simple, and the humble that often are proven to be the most wise. Little children are often wise. The poor are often wise. The sick and the dying are often wise. Prisoners, pariahs, and social outcasts are often wise. In fact, these are the sorts of people that are continually raised up in the Holy Scriptures as icons of wisdom and of faith. Therefore, this begs the question: What is wisdom? For, certainly wisdom is not mere knowledge, as even unschooled children and the simplest and uneducated can be wise. Neither is wisdom worldly success or power, for the poor and the disenfranchised can be wise too. No, wisdom is neither knowledge, nor success, nor power, nor anything else that the world and humanity values, but wisdom has to do with a right relationship with the LORD – a relationship of fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things – for, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
Thus, it should be no surprise that the Wisdom of the LORD runs counter to the wisdom of the world and of men. “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom,” for the world and men count foolish things as wisdom, evil things as good, temporal things as eternal, and heretical and blasphemous things as valuable and virtuous. And, so it was that Jesus was reclining at a banquet when a foolish man bellowed out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Just prior Jesus had chided the master of the feast for inviting affluent guests and those who could return the favor of his invitation some day and awarding to these people the best seats at the table. Instead, he directed His host, and all present, to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, [and] the blind” who cannot repay. No doubt enthused by Jesus’ words, this man seems, now, to be relieved and secure in counting himself unequivocally among those “Blessed… who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” However, knowing the man’s heart, Jesus began to teach again, this time about a banquet to which the invitees refused to attend. They each had wise-seeming excuses, common excuses, maybe excuses you might have made, but their refusal was foolish, unbelief, and damnation.
The banquet was ready. All had been prepared. The invitations had been sent. There was literally nothing to do but to come. However, this was no ordinary banquet – the kind you can refuse and expect to be invited again – but, this was the banquet of eternal life in heaven with the Holy Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There was only one choice, and it wasn’t to say “yes” and to come – for the invitees were already inby the gracious work, preparation, and invitation of Jesus – but the only possible human choice, the foolish and damnable choice, was to say “no,” to reject the invitation and to refuse to come to the feast. But, that is precisely the choice those first invited made, and “they all alike began to make excuses.” Oh, yes, they were most practical excuses, wise even! One man had just bought some real estate and had to care for it. The field needed planting. The grass needed mowing. The house needed power washing. There was dusting to do, and so much more. Another had just purchased some livestock. They needed to be groomed and trained and fed and bred, etc. And yet another had just gotten married. There was the honeymoon, and the picking out of window treatments, and both spouses working and commuting. And, that’s not to mention the families with kids! With the football and wrestling and band and orchestra and homework and camping, etc., who has time for banquets and feasts? All very practical, don’tcha think? Great excuses too! No one can argue with them. Nevertheless, a choice had been made, the only choice that could be made, and it was a foolish choice.
The Master was angry. He ordered His servant to bring in all those who had not been invited, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” The servant did so, and still there was room. Then the Master ordered his servant to compel still more to come to the feast so that His house would be filled. The Servant did so, and He is stilldoing so, but the banquet hall is filling up, and time is running out. You see, the invitation to the LORD’s banquet is not an invitation that you should refuse, no matter how wise you believe your excuses to be. Of those original invitees who refused to come, none of those who were invited shall taste of the Master’s banquet, but they will find themselves locked outside where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
In Jesus Christ, all are invited to the Master’s banquet. All are in, no exceptions, through Jesus Christ. In truth, Jesus is the invitation, and Jesus is also the feast. God so loved the world in Him and through Him that He gave Him over into death that no one who believes in Him should perish. And still, so many refuse the invitation. God has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus Christ, not holding our sins against us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us all. Wisdom has built her house, hewn her pillars, slaughtered her beasts, mixed her wine, and set her table – It is finished. And Wisdom has sent out her young women to call the invited to the feast – Come! Come, you simple. Come, you senseless. Come, you who have nothing. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” You are already invited. You are in. Only you can refuse and make yourself to be out.
Now, that would be foolish, don’t you agree? “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” But, why is that? The fear of the LORD is the acknowledgement that He is the LORD, that He is God, and that you are not. The fear of the LORD is the acknowledgment that He is righteous and holy and just and that you are not. The fear of the LORD is the acknowledgment that you are a poor, miserable sinner deserving temporal and eternal punishment for your sin of thought, word, and deed. But, the fear of the LORD is also the acknowledgment that the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and that for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, He has reconciled you to Himself, He has invited you to His banquet, you are in – only you can make yourself to be out.
The fear of the LORD is terror before His holiness and righteousness, His just judgment, and wrath against your sin and rebellion. If you do not feel this then you need to wake up before it’s too late. However, the fear of the LORD is also amazement, wonder, and joy in the acknowledgement that the LORD is gracious and merciful and loving and that He forgives you all your sins for the sake of Jesus who suffered and died for you that you might live. And, the fear of the LORD is lived out in your life when you readily and daily acknowledge your sin and unworthiness and humble yourself before the LORD and before your neighbor. And, the fear of the LORD is confessed in worship when you confess with your words and your actions that our holy, righteous, just, merciful, gracious, and loving God is really, truly, and actually present with us, as we receive His gifts in deep reverence and humility, listening attentively and actively to His Word, singing the liturgy and the hymns to each other in recognition that they are not mere and lifeless words, but they are His Words which He has spoken to us and which we now confess as good and true as we sing them and live our lives in accordance with them.
Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn her pillars, slaughtered her beasts, mixed her wine and set her table. It is finished. The feast is prepared, for you and for all. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be sated. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But, will you come? Will you eat and drink? Will you be blessed by the LORD? Or, will you make excuses? Will you deny that you have need? Will you refuse to submit yourself, to indebt yourself to Him? The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, because fear, love, and trust in the LORD confesses the truth about yourself, what the LORD has said about you: You are a sinner in need of forgiveness. You are dead and in need of life. And, you are invited by the LORD to the feast that He has prepared in His Son – a feast at which He is both Host and Meal. Come, eat the Bread of Life and live. Come, drink the life-giving blood of Life Incarnate for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life everlasting. You are invited, but do not attempt to bring anything besides your wretched self. And, do not try to buy or merit your way in. This feast is by invitation only, without cost, and with no expectation of reciprocation. However, do know this: If you eat and drink of the LORD’s banquet, you will not return home the same as you came. You will be changed. You will be filled. And, you will be blessed. You will be blessed to be a blessing to all who will not refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation. You will be His servants and His messengers. You will be His hands, and His heart, and His voice, loving, not in word and talk, but in deed and in truth, to the glory of the Father, in the Name of the Son, and through His Most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)

Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand Jesus’ meaning when He said, “You must be born again of water and the Spirit.” Our Lord gently rebuked him saying, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Our God, who is a righteous, just, and holy spirit, is utterly unapproachable and unknowable by us sinful and mortal men, therefore He approaches us and makes Himself known to us through material, fleshly, and worldly things: In a bush that burns yet is not consumed; in illumining and guiding pillars of cloud and fire; between the cherubim upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant; behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies; in the flesh and blood body of a man born of a virgin mother; in bread and wine and water, and in the preaching of men called and set apart for His purposes. Indeed, because of the Incarnation of the Word and Son of God, and because of His Ascension, and because of the Pentecost miracle of His outpoured grace, our God also makes Himself to be known through our brothers and sisters and neighbors as Jesus taught, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We are given to know our heavenly God in the earthly things He has made. This is what the rich man in Jesus’ story failed to do; he failed to recognize God in the poor man Lazarus lying on his front porch. Now, this is not a story about the evils of riches and the blessedness of poverty. Neither is this a story that should be used to promote social welfare programs and guilt the faithful into action and service, which all too easily becomes works righteousness when we trust that we are justified because we are “good people” who do “good things” for needy people. No, Jesus’ story illumines for us where God can be found and approached and how He is rightly worshipped, served, and glorified. We find and approach God in those brothers, sisters, and neighbors He places before us in our lives that we may extend the good things He has blessed us with to them and glorify Him by showing forth His goodness, love, grace, mercy, charity, and kindness. We rightly worship, serve, and glorify our God when we help, serve, and love our neighbor with His love.
St. John picks up Jesus’ teaching in the Epistle, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” The rich man saw the poor man lying on his porch every day. He saw his need, he even knew his name, he had the means to help him, but he did nothing. You see, some are want to make this story a mandate to the Church as an institution to social ministry, and to Christians to vote for social welfare and social justice legislation. However, Jesus’ story is not about institutions or governments or even the Church; it’s much more personal than that! The poor man was the rich man’s poor man. God caused their paths to cross. Because of the Incarnation, because of the Ascension, because of Pentecost, the poor man was Jesus. The rich man had an opportunity to feed and clothe Jesus, to give him drink and to care for him, in the person of poor Lazarus lying right before him. By loving the poor man whom he could see, the rich man had an opportunity to show His love for God whom He could not see. But, he did not love his brother whom he could see, because he did not love his God whom he could not see.
However, the rich man did have love. He had love for his clothing, the finest linens and costliest purple gowns. He had love for his food, feasting sumptuously every single day. He had love for his dogs who received the rich tidbits and scraps from his own table. He had love for himself, that he might be relieved of his torment. And, he even had love for his brothers that they might be spared what he was suffering. Yet, in all this, the rich man did not truly love God, whom he could not see, because he did not love those who did not meet his estimation of what was loveable. Even in death, in torment in Hades, the most concern he could eek out for Lazarus was to treat him as a servant, as a slave. “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” “Send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” “They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham answered, “let them hear them.” The rich man refused saying, “No.” Then Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Now, “Moses and the Prophets” are the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. It is the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that creates faith in cold, dead hearts like ours and the rich man’s, and kindles in them the fire of His holy love. Not only did the rich man fail to love the poor man whom he could see, but he failed to love God whom he could not see. God has revealed Himself in His Word, and in the poor man set before him, to both of which the rich man said firmly, “No.”
Abraham himself once said “No” to God, after first saying “Yes.” Abraham was a rich man having huge flocks and herds along with his father’s wealth and possessions. When the LORD promised him a son from his own flesh through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed, Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s belief, His trust in His Word, to him as righteousness. But, then, when some time had passed and the LORD’s promise had not been fulfilled, Abraham began to doubt and he became fearful – of what? Of losing his wealth and possessions. Abraham said, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household [a servant, a slave] will be my heir.” Then Abraham took matters into his own hand and conceived a son by his wife’s handmaiden Hagar. This was not an act of love, love for God, love for God’s Word, love for Sarah, love for Hagar, love for any potential offspring Hagar might bear him, but this was an adulterous act of fear. What is the connection between fear and love? St. John explains in his epistle saying, “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.” We know that later, after this first fear and failing of Abraham to love and trust in the LORD and His Word, the LORD put Abraham’s fear, love, and trust in Him to the test by demanding him to sacrifice his son, his only son whom he loved, the son of promise, Isaac. This time Abraham did not fear, nor did he hesitate to obey the LORD, but he loved Him and trusted Him completely believing that the LORD would still keep His Word of promise, even if his son had to die. Thus, now, from heaven, Abraham is able to counsel the rich man, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
In a very real sense, Abraham’s son Isaac was raised from death. Nonetheless, Abraham loved and trusted in the LORD and His Word before and apart from this miraculous sign. And, of course, the true sign of resurrection would be granted, not in the son of Abraham, but in the only-begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, whom God gave over unto death because of His love for the world. Because God is love, God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son into death, that all who believe in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life. In the same way, the LORD commands us to love others, without fear, as He has loved us, sacrificing of ourselves for those whom God has given us to love. In this way, Jesus says, all will know that you are His disciples, when you sacrifice yourselves in love for each other and for all.
And, you do not have to go far to find those whom God has given you to show selfless and sacrificial love. They say charity begins at home, and truly the sacrificial love of God you are given to share begins at home. You have been given your husband or wife, you have been given your children first and foremost. Beyond them lie your extended family, your neighbors, co-workers, and fellow members of the body of Christ, the Church. And, beyond that, the people of your community. Perhaps much farther down the list and outside of your immediate context and vocation lie the poor in other communities, states, and nations. It is always a good and God pleasing thing to love all that you can, but not when it is at the cost and sacrifice of those He has put right before you like poor Lazarus on the rich man’s porch. “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
This may seem like a tall order. It is not, however, when you remain filled with the Father’s love. That is why you are here today – to receive from Him anew: love, mercy, grace, compassion, charity, and more. Here in His Church, the Father’s love is literally poured into you so that you are filled to the brim, and then He keeps on pouring so that you overflow with His love, love plenteous to fill the lives of those He gives you to love. Come and drink from the ever-flowing fountain of His blood. Come and eat of His lifegiving body. Receive from Him these earthly things that you may receive from Him also the heavenly things, and having these, that you may have something to give to your brother.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Just wait until your father gets home.How many of you, as children, have heard those frightful words? How many of you, as mothers, have uttered those frightful words? But, are fathers really as bad as all that, causing the hearts of their children to melt with fear and foreboding at the very mention of their father’s presence? Yes, that is, if fear is understood in the proper way. That is to say that a child should notfear being abused by his or her father physically, verbally, or emotionally. And, neither should a child fear that his or her father is against them or that he is their enemy in any way. But, indeed, a child shouldfear his or her father so that they revere him, honor him with their lives, and avoid what displeases him.
For, the proper fear of our earthly fathers serves to teach us children of God the proper fear of our heavenly Father. And, this is not to suggest that our earthly fathers are perfect – perfectly loving, perfectly good, and perfectly holy like our heavenly Father – for fatherhood, just as motherhood, just as marriage, and just as every other human relationship known to mankind, is tainted and corrupted by sin so that these institutions and relationships are but dim, murky reflections of their God-created ideals. Still, they are reflections none the less. For, even though tainted and corrupted by sin, the heart and the will of most fathers is still for the good of their children in that they desire to give them things that are good for them and to provide for them with what they need to support their bodies and their lives. And, this is a reflection, even if a dim and murky one, of our perfect, loving, good, and holy God and Father in heaven. To fear and to love our earthly fathers is to fear and to love God. This we confess in the Explanation to the Fourth commandment in the Small Catechism. In both Proverbs and Psalms, the Holy Scriptures equate the fear of the LORD with true wisdom. Consequently, the LORD promises that blessing comes in honoring and obeying our earthly fathers, for, when we fear, love, honor, and obey our earthly fathers, we fear and love God our Father in heaven.
Indeed, the presence of God our Father is a fearful thing. God the Father is to be feared for His measureless mercy and grace, compassion, and love. But, God the Father is also to be feared because He is righteous and holy and perfectly just. He is to be feared because, in contrast, as St. Paul has written, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Thus, when Isaiah beheld the LORD in His glory, seated upon His throne, he feared for his life saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”Isaiah’s fear of the LORD was a confession. It was a confession, at once, of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness, but also of Isaiah’s own sinfulness and uncleanness. Therefore, Isaiah stood in the LORD’s presence in humility, with no claim of merit and with no offering in hand, in the full knowledge that he had no right to be there, but that by all right he should be destroyed, yet also believing and knowing that God is merciful and gracious, compassionate, and loving. Such humility and repentance are the signifiers of true fear, honor, love, reverence, and trust.
Upon Isaiah’s confession, the LORD remedied his problem; He forgave Isaiah and cleansed him of his sinful uncleanness as Isaiah recounts, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’.” Isaiah did nothing to merit or to deserve this merciful and gracious action of the LORD, rather, instead, he confessed his inability to make himself clean. But, the LORD had mercy upon Isaiah and graciously cleansed him and forgave him by means of the Sacrifice that He had prepared for Isaiah, and for you, and for all mankind before the foundation of the world. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
For, the only altar in the temple of God from whence come the removal of guilt and the atonement of sins is the altar of sacrifice. And, the coals upon this altar were already burning, indicating that they had been used for sacrifice, and, upon touching Isaiah’s lips, his guilt was indeed removed and his sin atoned for, confirming the validity of the sacrifice. For, the High Priest who serves in the temple of God is Jesus the Christ who is both Priest and Sacrifice as the writer to the Hebrews states, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”Thus, for the same reason that God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it up on a pole, that all who had been bitten by poisonous serpents, when they looked upon the bronze serpent raised up on the pole, would be healed and live, for the same reason, God sent forth His Son as a sacrificial victim to be raised up in death upon the cross, that all who have been bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan, when they look to Jesus will find that they are cleansed of their guilt and that their sins have been atoned for.For in this way did God so love the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish abut have eternal life.
Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice which has removed your guilt and which has atoned for your sin, is your heavenly Father’s gift to you by grace. You did not merit it or deserve it, but it is the truest and most perfect gift there could be, the gift of true and perfect and holy love, for no greater love is possible than this, that a man should lay down His life for His friends. For God did not just havelove for the world, but God acted inlove for the world in this way, He sent His only-begotten Son into your flesh, to live your life, to be tempted with your temptations, to be obedient to the Father’s will and command for you, to die in your place, and to be raised and returned to God as a guarantee that you have been redeemed, forgiven, and restored to God your Father.
This is what your God and Father in heaven has done for you. And, now you receive the benefit of His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness by the working of His Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. Jesus taught Nicodemus, “You must be born again of water and the Spirit,” for, just as your natural birth was not of your own will or work, and in conception and birth you received the guilt of Original Sin, so your spiritual re-birth was not of your own will or work, and in Holy Baptism you received cleansing of your guilt and atonement for your sin through Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice and gift of love for you and the entire world.
Your God and Father in heaven is continually pointing you outside of yourself to Him and His gifts. He would have you confess Him as your Creator, your Redeemer, and your Sanctifier, and these three as persons in the one Triune Godhead, the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, in this Holy Trinity there is unity even as there is trinity, three persons, yet one God, with each of the persons being equally God. And, these three persons work together at all times in creation, redemption, and sanctification, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
On this blessed Feast of the Holy Trinity, that just happens to occur on this civic holiday of Father’s Day, we are thankful for the many and various ways in which our Holy and Triune God reveals Himself in love and mercy to sinners such as us. In our loving fathers we see an image of our loving God and Father who provides for us all that we need for our bodies and lives. In our spouses we see an image of our loving God and Savior as husband and wife sacrifice of themselves each for the other becoming one flesh. In our families we see an image of our God and sanctifier as the family is a sanctuary of love set apart from the world while in the world.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Feast of Pentecost

John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
That prayer was answered on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after our Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, ten days after His glorious ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven that He might fill all things. On the Day of Pentecost our Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon the faithful, His Apostles, His Church, fulfilling His promise to be with them always to the end of the age. How would He be with them? Jesus would be with them whenever they gathered together in His holy name, whether there are two or three, or two or three hundred, or two or three thousand, or more. Jesus would be with them in the preaching of Holy Scripture, whether it be the Old Testament or the New, the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Evangelists, or the Epistles, for they all testify about Jesus, for He is the Word of the LORD made flesh. Jesus would be with them in Holy Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, and in His Holy Supper, which are nothing other than the Word of the LORD attached to material, physical elements through which He delivers to His people His gracious gifts, and they are nothing less than precisely what the Lord say that they are – a cleansing flood of forgiveness of sins bringing about new life and salvation, and His very body and blood of which a man may eat and live and never die.
That day they gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, the same upper room where they had celebrated the last Passover meal with Jesus, the same upper room where Jesus appeared to them on Easter Sunday and proclaimed peace to them and showed them the wounds in His hands and side, the signs and proof of that peace in His death and resurrection, the same upper room where they gathered again the following Sunday, where Jesus appeared amongst them once again and beckoned Thomas to see and touch and to believe. On this day the Holy Spirit rushed through that room like a mighty wind as tongues like fire appeared above their heads, blessing them with the miracle of unlearned languages that the Holy Gospel could be proclaimed in all the languages of men and fill the world. And, after Pentecost they continued this pattern, “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,”“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” The Lord answered that prayer on the Day of Pentecost, and He continues to answer that prayer, our prayer, today. We need the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and to kindle love – true love – in our hearts. “If anyone loves me,” Jesus says, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” To love Jesus is not mere knowledge of Him or belief in Him – even the devil knows of Jesus and believes in Him – but it is to love His words and to keep them. Jesus says that His disciples are not those who merely speak His name or even those who believe in Him, but Jesus’ disciples are “those who hear the word of God and do it.” Therefore, if you are truly Jesus’ disciple, if you are truly a Christian, you must love God’s word and desire to hear it regularly and abide by it in your daily lives. Indeed, this is how Luther explains the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”: “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.” Those who despise God’s word and refuse to hear it and abide by it are no Christians, though they be present in the congregation. They are weeds planted among the wheat, who appear pious on the outside, but whose true nature is hidden and unseen. While we can only discern by the outward appearance, God, who looks upon the heart of a man, is not deceived or mocked. Truly, this would be the case with us all were it not for the gracious working of the Holy Spirit “who has called [us] by the Gospel, enlightened [us] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [us] in the true faith.”
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” We need the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with true love – true love for Jesus, true love for God’s Word, and true love for others – and not just head knowledge. And, that is what this Divine Service is for. In this Divine Service the Lord answers our prayer, filling us with His Spirit, kindling in our hearts the fire of His love through the Apostolic teaching of God’s Word, the fellowship of the faithful, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers, the liturgy, all through which the Holy Spirit performs His faith-creating and sustaining work. We are vessels, jars of clay, in which the Holy Spirit dwells. We appear weak, foolish, ordinary on the outside, but here we are filled with the Holy Spirit through the means of grace that we may become His temple and a dispensary of His love to others.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.” We need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, to melt them, to fill them with a holy fear of every sin and impurity, and to fill our hearts with true and holy love for Jesus, His word and His commandments, and for all, to the glory of His holy name.
In a few moments, young Jacob will confess his faith before the LORD and before you, His people. This is a terrific opportunity for you to renew your own confession of faith. Jacob will renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. He will confess his faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and in His word, pledging to keep it and uphold it even unto death. He will confess his faith in the LORD’s means of grace, the proclaimed word and the blessed sacraments, again pledging to make faithful and regular use of them and to live his life in accord to the LORD’s word and commandments and not fall away, even unto death. This confession is no light matter. It is not trivial or informal. It is no joke, but it is a deadly serious matter. You all made this same confession at one time or another. Pray that the Holy Spirit would come and fill your hearts anew and kindle in them the fire of His love that you may keep your confession in faith unto death. He has promised to answer your prayer.
Indeed, He is answering your prayer right now, in this place, through His means of grace, His word and blessed sacraments that you may have faith to endure and fervent love for the LORD, His word and commandments, and for your neighbor to the glory of His holy name.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It has been the custom in western culture and tradition that a woman who weds a man takes his family name as her own. Along with her husband’s name comes his reputation and the reputation of his family. The wife assumes both her husband’s name and reputation just as he, in turn will be impacted by his wife’s behavior in upholding and defending his name and reputation, and vice versa. Name and reputation are very important to our LORD and God, thus He has given us two specific commandments concerning the proper use of His Name (the Second Commandment) and our upholding and defending the names and reputations of our neighbors (the Eighth Commandment). Remembering this fact will help us to understand the somewhat surprising statement of the LORD in our reading from Ezekiel today, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.”
The LORD’s name and reputation had been profaned among the nations, among the pagans, among the Gentiles, by His own people, by His own Bride. By adopting the practices, culture, customs, and religion of the surrounding nations, the people of Israel had tarnished God’s holy name and reputation, making Him appear no different than the gods of the Gentiles or any other pagan god or idol. They took the LORD’s holy name in vain when they feigned to be His people and yet behaved and worshipped like everyone else. And, we do the same today when we do not hallow His name, keeping it sacred and holy in our lives, words, deeds, and worship. We do the same today when we divorce our spouses, live together and / or engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, when we bless as good and God-pleasing what God Himself has called an abomination and has forbidden in His commandments, and when we support deeds and civic legislation that is in direct contradiction to the LORD’s clear Word and commandments. We do the same today when our worship becomes focused upon what we want and feel and upon what we do for God rather than upon His objective word and promises in Word and Sacrament through which He does everything needful for us. Thus, just as when the LORD saved Israel from her enemies, so does the LORD save us, not for our own sake, but for the sake of His holy name which we have profaned among the nations:
“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
All this the LORD has done for you by His Holy Spirit through His word and Holy Baptism, not for your sake, but for the sake of His holy name, especially now, at the end of all things.
St. Peter says in today’s Epistle, “The end of all things is at hand.” Those words were penned nearly 2000 years ago. When will the end times come? Are we living in the end times? Now! Yes! The end times began 2000 years ago with the coming of Jesus, and they will end the day when He comes again and the dead are raised, and not a moment before. These are the end times, the last days; and they have been and will continue to be until the Lord returns in glory. Therefore, how then shall we live? St. Peter answers, “be self-controlled and sober-minded,” “keep loving one another earnestly,” show hospitality without grumbling, use the gifts you have been given for the good of all, “in order that in everything God might be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Now, there are those who claim the title Christian for themselves who will take away only one thing from Peter’s list of appropriate end-times behaviors – Love. They will point particularly to Peter’s statement, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” And, they will misinterpret Peter’s words to mean that, because of love – because of Jesus’ love and our love – there is no such thing as sinful behavior any more. That is not at all what Peter’s words mean, however. In fact, to conclude such is effectively to throw the rest of the epistle, the teachings of Sts. Peter, Paul, James, John, the Evangelists, and Jesus Himself, the entire New and Old Testaments into the crapper! What Peter means, and what his words clearly and plainly state, is that we continue to love our sinning brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, neighbors, and everyone despite their sin. What Peter does not mean, however, is that we should treat their sin as if it were no sin at all and therefore fail to call them to repentance. That is to do precisely what the prophet Jeremiah warned us not to do, to falsely proclaim peace with God to those committing willful and intentional sin when there is in truth no peace with God at all. It is to leave them in their sins, in rebellion to God, and without His forgiveness and true peace. Such is, in fact, the exact opposite of the love that St. Peter and Jesus have called us to.
Now, mind you, speaking the Truth in love is unlikely to win you many friends in this world today. In fact, that is precisely what both Peter and Jesus have told you in advance so that, when it happens, you will remember that they told you these things. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. […] If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Likewise, Jesus says the same, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Our Lord Jesus was perfectly loving of all, even His enemies, yet not once did He tell a sinner to keep on sinning, saying that it was alright with God, don’t worry. No, in fact, He instructed them to repent that they might be saved and to go and sin no more.
It’s hard to say the right thing, to remain faithful to the LORD and His word and commandments. It’s so much easier to go with the flow, to take the easier path and justify our silence by a misunderstanding of what it truly means to love our neighbor. And, that’s why Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to counsel and guide us in the way we should go. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, not of lies and misinterpretations. Speaking the truth will bring you suffering; your Lord Jesus and the Apostles and Evangelists have made this clear with their teaching and with their own persecution, rejection, suffering, and deaths. But, take heart, when you suffer for the sake of Jesus and His name, you join Jesus in His own sufferings, and the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon you and strengthen you that you may endure and persevere. Through the ministry of the Spirit of Truth, we are cleansed from the deceit of our idols and given a new heart and a new spirit, the heart and Spirit of Christ.
Yet, it is not for your sake that the LORD saves you and preserves you, but it is for the sake of His holy name. As He calls you out of death to life, from sin to righteousness, from selfishness and hatred to love that truly loves all so that you truly desire for all to live and not perish, the LORD works through you to bring these gifts to all the world. Which is why you are here today. You are not here today primarily to praise and give thanks to the LORD, although you will surely do that, but you are here today primarily to receive from the LORD His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that you may be truly able to praise and glorify Him in your lives lived in the world, but not of the world, in service of others. Therefore, you do not have to be here, but you get to be here, you need to be here. You need to receive His absolution. You need to hear His word proclaimed to you. You need to receive His body and His blood into yourself in Holy Communion that you may have something, not of yourself, but of the LORD, to give to others, that you may forgive with His forgiveness, give with His gifts, and love with His love – for there truly is no other gift that is of any value at all. In this Divine Service, this Gottesdienst, God’s service of you, the LORD renews His Spirit within you, causing you to walk in His statutes and to obey His rules with the promise that you will dwell in the land He has promised you and that you will be His people, and He will be your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.