Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You have heard the proverb “Pride goeth before the fall.” This saying is a colloquialism of Proverbs 16:18, which reads in the King James Version of the Bible, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” How many fables, moral lessons, and anecdotal stories are based upon this Proverb, which we all know to be true? Those who are puffed up with pride and are full of themselves often rise to lofty heights, yet too often do they also meet with a precipitous fall. Lucifer’s great sin, and the cause of his fall, was his pride. Though he was one of the highest of God’s angels, an angel of light as his name means, he begrudged the LORD to be a servant, particularly as servant to God’s most treasured creatures, man.
Did Lucifer want to be a god himself? Quite likely, yes. But, this much is certain, he did not want to serve mankind, whom he deemed to be beneath him. Yet, God loved mankind and gave him dominion over all things that He had made, even the heavenly ranks of holy angels. Lucifer’s pride could not tolerate that truth. His pride consumed him and filled him with anger and resentment and the darkness of hatred for God, and, even more, hatred for man loved by God. Lucifer’s pride caused him to fall from the highest ranks of God’s holy angels to the darkest depths of hellish separation from God’s presence.
In his fall, Lucifer became Satan, which means adversary or enemy, the accuser of men. He knew that he could not defeat God, therefore He attacked and defeated mankind whom God loved. Cunningly, he tempted our First Parents by appealing to their pride. He promised them that by disobeying God they would become like God. But, that was a lie. They were already like God, made in His image, the highest of all that He had made. Though they were the highest of the high, Adam and Eve gave into their pride and they fell precipitously, just as Satan who deceived them.
However, God’s love for mankind moved Him to right this situation. Though our First Parents rebelled and fell from grace, God had compassion for them and showed them mercy. He set in motion a great plan of redemption through the sacrificial offering of His Son. Mysteriously, and beyond human wisdom and understanding, God pre-ordained before the foundation of the world that His own Son would become a man, would fulfill the holy Law of God in perfect obedience and righteousness, and would suffer and die in man’s place, redeeming him from his sin, restoring a right relationship with God once again.
Though Satan was undoubtedly aware of God’s plan, once again his pride blinded him and he truly believed that he could thwart God by destroying Jesus. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross, Satan thought he had won, but truly the opposite was the case. Jesus knew no sin, but God placed upon Him the sins of all mankind. Taking our sins to the cross with Him, they died there with Him and were buried, while He alone rose from the dead. Truly the cross of Jesus Christ is the sign of Satan’s defeat. In His selfless, sacrificial, and innocent suffering and death, the Seed of the Woman, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, crushed the ancient serpent’s head. He rose from the dead on the third day, just as He had said, the living proof of Satan’s defeat and the forgiveness of man’s sins through faith in the victorious and atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The war in heaven of Revelation chapter twelve describes the result of Jesus’ victory on the cross. Satan, the accuser of men, has been thrown out of the presence of God. No longer can he accuse you before the Father, for your sins are atoned for and forgiven in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Satan cannot accuse you, judge you, or condemn you any longer, for you have been justified, wholly apart from yourself, by the obedience, suffering, and death of Jesus for you.
However, though Satan cannot accuse you before God, now he roams and prowls the earth in a violent rage, for he knows that his time is short. Satan cannot harm you, for you have been sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ, yet, he does have one powerful and dangerous weapon that he uses against you – lies and deception. Satan cannot defeat God. He cannot defeat Jesus. But, he can, and he does, attack you by lying and deceiving, tempting you to disbelieve that you are forgiven and righteous before God in the blood of Jesus. He tempts you to sin, he makes sin seem attractive to you, even the right thing to do. But then, when you do it, he accuses you of your sin, and he tempts you to believe that you are not forgiven, that you cannot be forgiven, that you are beyond God’s forgiveness and outside of His grace. This is a lie, a deception! But, how often do you believe it? How often do you allow Satan to cause you to disbelieve God’s love and forgiveness? How often do you allow Satan to cause you to doubt God’s goodness and mercy?
Satan’s purpose in lying to you and deceiving you is to separate and isolate you from your brothers and sisters in Christ, from your neighbor, and, ultimately, from God. He has no other reason for doing this than hatred for God and for you whom God loves. There is no victory for him to win. There is no power or glory for him to gain. There is only his evil, twisted, hatred, and the anger and fury which fuel it. He wants to see you destroyed eternally, and he relishes in the irony that it is all a lie and a deception, for he knows that you already have eternal life in heaven with God as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ.
Thus, Satan is your enemy. He is your only enemy. Indeed, it is true to say that no man is your enemy, but all men have the same enemy. It was pride that caused his fall. He was too filled with pride be your servant. He was jealous of God’s love for you. His pride and jealousy consumed him, and it corrupted him and transformed him into a self-loving, self-worshipping, and self-righteous demon. But, he was not a demon before, but an angel, a messenger, as that word means, to bring the Word of God to men. For, that is the work of God’s holy angels, to proclaim His Word to men. Often the Holy Scriptures use that same word to describe pastors, for they too proclaim the Word of God to men. However, while pastors perform the message-bringing function of angels, they are not angels in an ontological or essential sense. God’s holy angels also protect and defend His children from the attacks, lies, and deceptions of Satan. Truly, angels guard and watch over you, just as Luther teaches you to pray for both in the morning and evening. Yet, they are servants – servants of God, and your servants – therefore, you are not to pray to angels or to worship them, but you are to thank God for their service and honor and glorify Him.
Further, you may emulate the angels of God by serving your brothers and sisters in Christ and your neighbor in need. Put away your pride, and serve all in the faith and knowledge that, when you serve the least of your brothers, you are serving Jesus. You must bear with all your brothers, sisters, and neighbors in patience and kindness, even those who do evil to you or hate you, believing and knowing that God alone is judge and that He works all things, even the evil things men do, for the good of those He has called in Jesus Christ. For, God has ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order that you will be helped and defended here on earth.
Do not be afraid! No matter what befalls you in this life, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That is the truth! Anything else is a lie of Satan! But, he is ceaseless in his attempts to cause you not believe that! He never sleeps or rests, but he prowls the earth like a lion seeking prey to devour. He will try to isolate you and separate you from your brothers by tempting your pride, causing you to judge and condemn and hate others and thereby separate from them. Then he has you, then he has them, to work on in private, in isolation, without the support of the body of Christ and the family of God. He will lie to you and deceive you so that you take your eyes off the cross of Jesus Christ and forsake the redemption He won for you there.
Therefore, pray that God send His angels to protect you and defend you, and pray for the Church of Jesus Christ to persevere. And, more than anything else, continue to gather around the Words and the Wounds of Jesus Christ as His body and receive the forgiveness of your sins again and again; be strengthened and encouraged in His Word, and commune with your Lord and Redeemer who laid down His life in selfless, sacrificial service for you to purchase, win, and redeem you for eternal life with Him, His Father, and His most Holy Spirit in the courts of heaven. There, as now, in a foretaste of that great feast to come, you will worship with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, God, and the Lamb upon His throne, Jesus, to whom be blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might forever and ever! Amen.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)

Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian faith and life is one of mystery and paradox. Many of its claims and teachings are counter-intuitive – they do not follow or make sense according to human reason, wisdom, and perception. For example, if you want to be rich with heavenly treasure, then you must be poor in spirit. If you want to save your life, then you must lose it. If you want to live, then you must die. For, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, came, not to save the righteous, but sinners, and onlysinners canbe saved. This is the lesson that your Lord would teach to you again, today, from yet another perspective, that if you hope to enjoy resurrection to new life, then you must face and accept your death.
So, the Holy Spirit has inspired St. Luke to include in his Gospel an account of Jesus miraculously healing ten men afflicted with leprosy. In the story, there were ten lepers who, because of their leprosy, were dead to ordinary social life. They were unclean and thus cut off, separated, from the community. They had to stay a good distance from other people and shout out “Unclean!” when in the presence of others to warn them of their disease. They could not participate in the ceremonies of the temple or the fellowship of the synagogue. They were lepers, outcasts, dead to their families, dead to their former friends, dead to ordinary social life, and utterly incapable of being healed or changing their status on their own. They had nothing of their own – not health, not wealth, nor good reputation – so they had nothing to keep and they had nothing to lose. Thus, they were in the perfect position to receive mercy. And it was mercy, and only mercy, that they cried out for from Jesus.
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,”all ten lepers cried from a distance. And, what did Jesus do? How did Jesus respond to their plea for mercy? Jesus looked at them, and then He spoke to them saying, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Did Jesus touch them, wave His arms in the air, and shout “Be healed”?No! Jesus did nothing of the sort. Rather, He told them to go and to show themselves to the priests. While they were still lepers, still outcasts, still dead to ordinary life, Jesus commanded them to act as if they were healed and no longer outcasts. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”That was the protocol according to Leviticus 14:2-3 which specified the necessary ceremonies for the removal of ritual defilement from a leper who was already physically clean. Luke does not tell us what the lepers thought about Jesus’ response to their plea for mercy: Did they take Jesus seriously? Did they merely walk away confused and in dismay? They came to Jesus pleading for mercy, and He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. Regardless of what they thought of Jesus’ response, however, they went as He commanded, and, as they went, they were healed.
Jesus did not heal them then and there on the spot, though He certainly could have done it that way. But why not? Why did our Lord choose to heal the lepers in such an unspectacular way, in a way which allowed for the likelihood that most would not see a connection between the healing of the lepers and Himself? Indeed, the Christian faith and life is one of mystery and paradox in which we walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore us to wholeness in the resurrection. The ten lepers had nothing to lose and anything, everything, to gain; they were dead to the world and couldn’t help themselves in any way. Thus, they were prepared to receive mercy as a gift. They had the gift of faith, and it doesn’t matter if it was great faith or small faith, strong faith or weak faith, they had the gift of faith, first to call upon Jesus for mercy, and second to do as He commanded even though it seemed unspectacular and useless foolishness. They went as Jesus commanded, and, as they went, all ten were cleansed of their leprosy.
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.”One of the ten ex-lepers makes the connection. He knows that His cleansing was the result of God’s mercy in and through the unlikely means of this man Jesus. The man recognized that Jesus had not only cleansed him of his leprosy, but that he had restored him to his people, his community, his friends, and his family – that he was a son again! But to drive the point home all the more Luke informs us that this man was not only a leper, and therefore dead to ordinary social life and an outcast, but he was also a despised Samaritan. Thus, he was a twofold outcast, a double loser, a duck twice dead. Ten lepers were cleansed, but only one returned to give thanks, and he was a Samaritan.
Doubly dead, that is how you must see yourself in relation to your Lord. You have nothing to bring to the Lord to merit His favor. You have nothing to do for the Lord with which to earn His favor. You have only to pray Kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy.”You must walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore you to wholeness in the resurrection.
Yes, in the resurrection – your confidence and faith is in that future and final healing and restoration. Through Holy Baptism and faith in Jesus Christ you are, even now, healed from the leprosy of sin and death, and you have, even now, the gift of eternal life. You live, even now, as a forgiven sinner, every bit as much as the ten men lived as cleansed lepers. You have died to sin in Christ and you have been resurrected to new life in Christ. But, just as this resurrection has occurred spiritually, so must it, and so will it occur physically in the resurrection of the body. Just as you died spiritually to sin in Holy Baptism and were raised to new life in Jesus, so too must the body die and be raised to new life in Jesus. Thus, by dying, you live and by losing your life in this world you save it. For, the Christian faith and life is mystery and paradox and you must walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore you to wholeness in the resurrection.
And, this is where thanksgiving comes in. By returning to Jesus to give thanks and praise the Samaritan leper confirmed his faith in God through Jesus that it was God who had mercy on him and granted him cleansing and healing from his leprosy. God does not need our thanksgiving or our offerings, but we need to give them. In giving thanks, by offering our praise, our time, or talents, and our treasures and wealth, we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from the gracious hand of God. We give back to Him only of what He has given to us and thus glorify Him as our God, the Creator, giver, and sustainer of all things.
God provides for all our needs of body and soul through the multitudinous vocations of others. God heals through the vocations of doctors, nurses, and surgeons. God feeds through the vocations of farmers, millers, butchers, and grocers. God protects through the vocations of military service, policemen and firemen, and government.If God wants people to glorify and honor Him, why does He hide Himself in lowliness and weakness? God hides Himself in these ways because we need Him to. We need to become like the thankful leper and recognize with the eyes of faith how dead we are before God and merciful He is towards us, forgiving our sins at His own cost and providing for all or needs of body and soul.
Even now He requires nothing of you, He needs nothing from you, but He has called you here to receive His gifts: mercy, grace, forgiveness, faith, love. He is the God who came, not to be served, but to serve, and to lay His life down for the sins of the world. Let us return in thanksgiving, glorifying the Lord our God for the mercy He has shown to us in His Son Jesus.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We want to skip directly to the end, don’t we? – “You go, and do likewise.”That’s the point of Jesus’ parable, isn’t it, to give us an example of faith in action, to teach us how we should live? “Be like the Good Samaritan,”that sounds like something we can do, doesn’t it? In fact, often we are Good Samaritans, helping out others in need, and that fact makes us feel pretty good about ourselves, doesn’t it?
So, we want to skip directly to the end. But, to do so is to misinterpret the parable so as to strip it naked of all its comfort which flows from the mercy of God while turning it into a simple morality lesson. And yet, that’s not to say that there isn’t a simple morality lesson in the parable, after all, Jesus does end it saying “You go, and do likewise.”But that is a command of God’s Law, which condemns us, unless we first learn how it is possible for us to fulfill the Law of God and not stand under its condemnation. And, this too, and foremost, Jesus would teach us in this parable, what the nature of mercy is and that we are all in need of it in abundance.
The story begins with a lawyer doing what lawyers do – looking for a loophole. The lawyer stood up, so that all eyes were upon him, and He asked Jesus a calculated question to test Him, to try Him as a prosecutor would try a suspect before a judge and jury, even to tempt Jesus. The lawyer’s question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”Do you catch the subtle irony in his question in his use of the two verbs doand inherit? By definition, you cannot doanything to inheritsomething; if you have to dosomething then it’s not an inheritance. But, this lawyer knew what he was doing, that was exactly the point. For, he was not a lawyer of the civil law of either Rome or Israel, but He was a student and teacher of God’s Law. He knew God’s Law well and he believed that he did it pretty well. His self-righteousness had puffed up his pride so much that he thought he’d put this itinerant rabbi that’s got everyone all astir to the test of the Law. And, since the lawyer asked Him a Law question, Jesus gave Him a Law answer: You want something to do? You’re a lawyer, what’s your reading of the Law?The lawyer answered correctly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”Indeed, that is the great summation of the Law of God; you can’t get more correct than that. And, Jesus acknowledged the lawyer’s correct answer and replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
“Do this – and you will live.”How does that settle with you? That statement should not make you comfortable and secure. If it does, then you have not wrestled with the Law of God in its full strength and weight and you have not been honest with yourself. Do this and you will livedoes not mean try your best. Do this and you will live means alwayslove God, without ever failing, with absolutely all that you are, 100%; oh, and while you’re at it, alwayslove your neighbor, without ever failing, as you love yourself. Do that, and you will live. Now, how does that settle with you? How did that settle with the lawyer in the parable? Not very well. It says that after hearing those words of Jesus the lawyer sought to justify himself. The lawyer stood convicted by the Law of God, even as he himself understood it, because he knew that he failed to love God perfectly and completely and that he failed to love his neighbor. He was convicted and embarrassed before the crowd of people he sought to impress; he stood there squirming in his shoes, looking for a way out, looking for a way to save face. So, to take the attention off of himself, he puts Jesus on trial once again asking, “And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer knew that this was a matter of debate amongst the Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees, for instance did not see known sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes or persons that had been declared ceremonially unclean to be neighbors. It was quite permissible according to the Law as they interpreted it to mark and shun such persons. Yet, it was widely known that Jesus associated and even ate and drank with such as these. The lawyer was looking to justify himself; he was looking for a way to direct the conviction of the Law away from himself and on to Jesus, and so he exposes Jesus, hoping to force him into taking a side on this controversial issue, believing that Jesus would answer that sinners, and all people, are equally neighbor, and then be able to condemn Him with the support of the scribes and Pharisees. Thus, this is the setting for Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan; Jesus’ reply to the lawyer is a story with a lesson in it, a parable.
But parables are not what they appear to be on the surface, it takes the eyes of faith to see their truth and it takes the ears of faith to hear their message. And, spiritual eyes and ears are not earned or purchased any more than are their physical cousins, but they are gifts of grace. Jesus addressed His disciples concerning the great blessing of spiritual ears and eyes just before the lawyer stood up to put Him to the test. It almost seemed like Jesus knew this was going to happen ;->. Again, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not in reply to the lawyer’s question “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”but in reply to the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbor?”However, in the parable, the Master answers both questions for those having eyes to see and ears to hear.
You know the story well. A man fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead. Both a priest and a Levite pass by on the other side of the road, but a Samaritan had compassion upon the man, went to him, bound up his wounds, poured on oil and wine, placed him on his own beast of burden, took him to an inn and paid for his stay there promising to come back and repay the innkeeper whatever else it cost to care for the man. It’s a simple story, but only on the surface, about a man who finds himself in a terrible predicament and is utterly incapable of helping himself out of it. What the man needs is someone to help him, someone to have mercy and compassion upon him, someone to be a neighbor to him. Though three men pass by, it is not the highly regarded priest or Levite that shows mercy to the man, but it is the despised Samaritan, a man the priest and Levite would likely not consider their neighbor.
Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”And, the lawyer again answered correctly, if reluctantly, “The one who showed him mercy.”  It was not a coincidence that the two men in the parable who passed by and left the bloodied and beaten man in the ditch were themselves students and teachers of the Law like unto the lawyer himself. The lawyer wanted to justify himself in the light of the Law by defining his neighbor in a very narrow way and then to claim that he has done the Law well serving as neighbor to a select group of people. But, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not about the Law of God and what we must do to inherit eternal life, but it is about the mercy of God in the Good Samaritan Jesus Christ who comes to those who cannot come to Him and helps those who cannot help themselves at His own expense, even at the expense of His own life in His crucifixion, suffering, and death upon the cross.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not meant to inspire us to go out and do good and then feel good about ourselves because we have been good neighbors. This parable is about entering the way of Christ. So, when Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,”it is tantamount to His call, “Take up your cross and follow me.”If we reduce this parable to a lesson in morality then we stand convicted by the same Law of God that convicted the lawyer – “Do this, and you shall live.”We don’t do it. We can’t do it, not as the Law of God requires. Every time we pass by a homeless person or a beggar on the street it is a reminder, a lesson in the grace and mercy of our Good Samaritan Jesus; of course we should help, and not just give them a dollar or a few coins, but really help, get to know the person, take them to get food, clothing, and shelter, show real compassion, real mercy to them. But we don’t, and more often than not we pass by on the other side. If by “Go and do likewise” Jesus means be like Him in every circumstance and you will live, then we are all condemned to death and hell.
But that is not the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus would have you relate to the man stripped naked, beaten and bloodied, and left for dead by the side of the road, not the Good Samaritan. We are the man, Adam, who had everything, all that we needed to live comfortably and at peace, who was overcome by the robber Satan who stripped us of all that we had and left us wounded, crippled by sin, and half dead, unable to help ourselves. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who found us in this condition and had compassion upon us. He cared for us, healed our wounds, and made all arrangements for our care at His own expense, taking our stripes, our sin, our death upon Himself so that He became like the man left for dead by the roadside. Yes, it’s all about Jesus; it’s always all about Jesus!
We need to see ourselves as a helpless person who receives mercy from an unexpected and completely undeserved quarter, for, the primary definition of a Christian is not a person who does good deeds, but a Christian is one who knows that he is in need of mercy and that he has received mercy from the Son of God. In Holy Baptism your Good Samaritan Jesus applied to you the healing oil of His Holy Spirit and bound up your wounds. He brought you into the inn of His Church at the expense of His own body, His own life laid down for yours. There He continues to care for you with the bread of His body and the wine of His blood, and with His Word of mercy and forgiveness that you may be strengthened, preserved, and kept for His return.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Christian Funeral for Jeffrey Dean Sherburne

Matthew 11:25-30; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jars of clay. That is how St. Paul describes our human bodies. Jars of clay are incredibly versatile and useful. They can hold life-sustaining food and water, fruitful wine that brings joy to our lives, healing oil, and countless other useful things both secular and sacred. It was jars of clay that preserved the Holy Scriptures for us so that we still have the Word of our LORD today to give us faith and hope and courage to face the myriad challenges, trials, and tribulations that come our way. Yes, jars of clay can be very strong and enduring, weathering the forces of nature, the wars of men, and the attack of demonic forces commanded by Satan. Yet, jars of clay are also very fragile. If they are dropped, they can easily shatter. If they are struck, they can easily break. But, if jars of clay are protected and cared for, there is no limit to the things they can accomplish and the people they can help and serve and influence.
Jars of clay hold treasures. And, the specific jar of clay we are thinking of, remembering, and giving thanks to God for this day is Jeffrey Dean Sherburne. Jeff was a perfect image of the jars of clay St. Paul describes. Jeff was strong, and yet fragile. The LORD worked in and through Jeff to help, serve, and influence countless people in countless ways. And, Jeff was strong, enduring and weathering powerful storms and forces, thankfully, most of us never have to face. Jeff was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken,” and lastly, Jeff was “struck down, but not destroyed.” The LORD made us to be strong, but fragile, jars of clay, says St. Paul, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Jeff knew, understood, and believed this throughout his life, and this belief and knowledge made him the husband, father, son, and friend you all knew him to be.
Jeff knew that he was the LORD’s jar of clay, hand made by his Creator and God and filled with His glorious treasures: grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, peace, kindness, selflessness, sacrifice, and more, that God’s grace might extend, through Jeff, to more and more people to the glory of God. Because of this faith and knowledge, Jeff had the spirit of perseverance and endurance. He never complained, but was always ready to lend a hand, to take the lead, to get ‘er done – a useful, versatile, strong, even if fragile, jar of clay holding the LORD’s gracious and glorious treasures. If those treasures were for Jeff alone, then they would be of little value or glory, but because Jeff knew the purpose of his gifts, the purpose of his calling, his vocations, Jeff could continue on and persevere though whatever was laid upon him for the love of his God, his family, his friends, and, frankly, anyone the LORD had placed in his path.
Jeff lost his right arm in a work accident in 2004, a tragedy that might have ended the careers of many. But, not Jeff. Jeff fought his way back and he adapted to his new situation in miraculous ways. Jeff was able to do more with one arm than many men can do with two (and, here, I speak for myself!). The affliction that befell him did not crush him. Though Jeff may have been perplexed as to why the accident had to happen, he was not driven to despair. Through his faith and the gifts of his baptism into Jesus, Jeff carried the death of Jesus in his body, thus the life of Jesus was also manifested in Jeff’s body. Then, when the cancer diagnosis came, surely that would crush him, so it seemed reasonable to think. If they had not asked it before, surely now most everyone, and surely Jeff himself, was justified in questioning God, “Why?” However, once again, Jeff was afflicted, but not crushed. He may have been perplexed, but Jeff was not driven to despair.
That was part of the treasure in Jeff’s jar of clay: His faith, his hope, his perseverance and endurance, his love and wanting to serve others. Through Jeff, God’s grace extended to more and more people to the glory of God. Because of that treasure, Jeff could face the crushing blows of losing an arm and of cancer in faith, hope, perseverance, and endurance. While his outside was wasting away, Jeff’s inner self was being renewed day by day. What, to the eyes appeared to be a crushing affliction was, in comparison, a light momentary affliction preparing Jeff for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. That is why we must not look to the things that are seen, which are transient and passing away, but to the things that are unseen, which can never perish, but remain eternal.
You see, the treasure is hidden in the jar of clay. It is there, and it is seen, not directly, but through words and deeds of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, sacrifice, and service. This treasure was hidden in Jeff just as it was hidden in Jeff’s Lord, Jesus. And, just as Jeff’s treasure was Jesus hidden in his jar of clay, so did Jeff share in Jesus’ suffering, and Jesus in Jeff’s suffering. Truly, that was the source of Jeff’s strength, perseverance, endurance, and hope. Jeff was yoked with Jesus, which made His burden light, for the Lord carried the burden along with Jeff. “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
It needs to be stated plainly: The LORD permitted this to happen to Jeff, just as He permitted His own Son Jesus to be mocked and scourged, crucified and killed – Just as God permitted Satan to afflict righteous Job. Why? I don’t know why. We’re not given the answers to all the questions we may have, but we are given what we need to know for forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son whom He raised from death, and in whom all who trust in Him will be raised from death to life that cannot die. As God permitted Job and His own Son Jesus to suffer, so also God permitted Jeff to suffer. The “why” is a mystery we cannot know. However, we do know this: God loves His Son, and God loves Job, and God loves Jeff so that He gave all, He gave His only-begotten Son Jesus over into death on the cross, that more and more people might be saved. Both Job and Jesus were afflicted, but not crushed; they were perplexed – they asked “Why?” – but they were not driven to despair. In faithful trust, perseverance, and endurance they clung to the LORD and the LORD delivered them and restored them – all that Job lost was restored to him sevenfold, and Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father in all power and glory having authority over all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. Even now our brother Jeff rests in comfort and peace in the presence of His Redeemer Jesus. The spirit-treasure within us would not wish him back, but we await in hope and expectation the resurrection of all flesh and a blessed and joyous reunion in the heavenly courts of our Father’s house in heaven.
For, this is our hope: Not merely that Jeff is now without suffering, cancer, pain, and tribulation – though that is certainly the truth! – but our hope is in the resurrection of Jeff’s body, and of our own bodies, glorified, perfect, and holy to live forever in the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a joy that no one can take from us! Indeed, this is what Job confessed, in the midst of his tribulation and affliction, over 2000 years before Jesus’ birth: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” You will see Jeff again. You will see your beloved husband, father, son, friend Jeff again – not merely spiritually, or in a memory, but face to face, in the flesh, with your own flesh and blood eyes. You will hear him again with your own flesh and blood ears. You will hug him again with your own flesh and blood arms. This is the hope, the treasure, that fills your jars of clay. This is your hope, and nothing less, and no one will take that joy from you.
At the end of the day, it was faith, family, and farm for Jeff, and in that order. It was Jeff’s faith that made him who he was: Devoted husband, doting father, loving son, faithful friend, a hard and tireless worker, a selfless man of service to others, a lover of simple things, natural things, good things, godly things, humble, patient, kind, good. Jeff was a treasure in a jar of clay. The treasure lives on and cannot die. The clay will be raised, glorified, and we will know Jeff again as we knew him before, only the treasure will no longer be hidden, and the clay will be unbreakable and complete.
We often say in the Church that our worship, particularly the Lord’s Supper, is a foretaste of the feast to come, a little bit of heaven here on earth. Truly, that is what worship is: Heaven comes down to earth and we worship our LORD “with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” Well, that Thursday morning that the Lord Jesus called Jeff home to Himself, Teresa walked into the room and found Jeff with one leg out of bed trying to get up. She asked, “What are you doing?” And, Jeff answered, “I’m getting ready to go to church.” I think that’s telling of how important Jeff’s faith was to him. Was he delusional? Was this a comment from his subconscious? Was he referring to his going to heaven shortly thereafter? I don’t know. Nevertheless, that is what he said, and it bubbled up from the deepest part of who Jeff was. In life, when it was planting or harvesting season and there was work on the farm to be done, Jeff was known to say on Sunday morning when asked about going to church, “Would you rather I be in church thinking about farming, or farming and thinking about church?” I think that statement comes from the same place as Jeff’s getting ready for church on the morning he was transferred to the Church Triumphant. This is who Jeff was. This was the treasure in Jeff’s jar of clay. And we know this, “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.” There, you will see Jeff again, and no one will take your joy from you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 12)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Knowledge of the Scriptures cannot save you. Only faith can do that. So, whether you seek wisdom like the Greeks, or signs from God like the Jews, these do not and cannot save you. Only faith can do that. You are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in God’s Son Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, hear, read, and study the Word of God – Yes! To be sure! – but do not think that your knowledge of Bible history, of the great stories of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and that your memorization of countless verses can save you. Only faith can do that.
Our First Parents succumbed to the temptation to become wise in a worldly and fleshly way. However, the wisdom they thought they were gaining was really a lie. Indeed, they could only attain that wisdom by rebelling against and rejecting the true wisdom of God, His Law and His Word. They exchanged God’s Truth for a lie because they desired to be like God – they desired to be gods themselves. And, so do you. God didn’t make them that way, covetous, jealous, discontent, rebellious – but He gave them the freedom to rebel against Him, the freedom to choose according to their own will, against His will. They should never have rebelled against God were it not for Satan’s tempting; but, alas, that is the way the tale goes. And, you are their rebellious children, carrying their corruption in your own body, your will enslaved by sin, with freedom only to rebel, to choose against God, His Word, and His Will – spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind. Who will save you from your body of death? Who will open your eyes, your ears, and your mouth? Who will release your tongue?
“O LORD, open Thou my lips and my mouth will show forth Thy praise.” Salvation comes to you from outside. “Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He.” He turns a desert into a fruitful field. He opens the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind. He opens the mouths and looses the tongues of those who cannot speak. He says “to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’.” Did you hear that? He did not say that a Savior will come. He did not even say that the Messiah will come. But, He said, your God,your King, will come. Your God, your King, will come and He willsave you!
In Jesus, Emmanuel, which means God with us, God has visited His people to redeem them, to savethem! Jesus is God in the flesh come to save His people. He is your Savior, your King, and your God, and this is His salvific, kingly, and Godly work – to save you, to save you from sin, and from death, and from Satan. And so, the crowd that had heard Jesus’ teaching and that had witnessed His miracles brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. They brought to their King one of His subjects who was captive to the effects of sin that He might save him, release him, and heal him. They brought the man to Jesus, just as you bring your infant children to Him, that He might bless them and touch them, speak His Word of Absolution to them, release them, heal them, and save them. And He did: Jesus took the man aside from the crowd, put His fingers into the man’s ears, took spittle and touched his tongue; and “looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened’.” And, the man’s “ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
Just as the Word of God was once spoken into the nothingness before creation and all things came to be, just as the Word of God called Lazarus to life out of death, just as the Word of God was spoken from the cross, “It is finished,” and it truly was, just as the Word of God was spoken to the deaf and mute man and his ears were opened and his tongue was loosed, so too is the Word of God spoken over the re-creative waters of Holy Baptism and a spiritual nothing, a spiritual Lazarus, a spiritually deaf and mute man, woman, or child is brought out of the nothingness, is raised to life out of death, his ears opened, his tongue loosed to confess, to thank, to praise, and to serve. For God has come to save His people. In Jesus, God has visited His people to save them. The King has come, and His reign has begun. Your King reigns over heaven and earth, and His reign is seen and confessed in the proclamation of His Word and the forgiveness of sinners in Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper of His very body and blood.
Though Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, spat and touched his tongue, these actions and signs alone did not release the man, but it was Jesus’ Word spoken, “‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened!’” It was this performative and creative Word, in, with, and under the elements and Jesus’ actions that opened the man’s ears and loosed his tongue. And, it is still that performative and creative Word, in, with, and under the elements and the actions of the Blessed Sacraments that creates in you a clean heart, forgives you of your sin, and strengthens and equips you for every good work.
On this Rally Day, in which we celebrate the kick-off of another year of Christian Education, let us ever keep this truth in mind and on our hearts. The Word of God is like no other word. God’s Word is powerful, performative, and creative – it has the power to bring into being what it says. If God’s Word says that you are forgiven, then you are forgiven. If God’s Word says this bread is His body and this wine is His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, then that is precisely what they are. And if God’s Word says that He will never leave you or forsake you and that nothing can separate you from His love in Christ Jesus, then you can bet your life and your soul that He will keep His promise.
Therefore parents and teachers, guard and keep this Word and make every effort to keep it pure, to teach it in truth and purity, whole and undefiled, for it is powerful for life unto salvation. And students, listen attentively to this Word and ponder it in your hearts and in your minds as the Holy Spirit works through it to open your ears, hearts, and minds to it that your faith may be strengthened, that you may have courage to resist Satan’s temptation and to remain firm, and that you may have comfort when you walk in darkness knowing that you are not alone and that the Word of the LORD is a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.
Because God made you spirit and flesh, body and soul, His Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, as one of us, as our brother. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is Spirit Word in human flesh, God and man in one person to be your King, your Savior, and your God. Just as He used His fingers and spit along with His Word in healing the deaf mute, so does He minister to you, forgive you, and heal you with Spirit Word and created elements, bread, wine, and water. Do not despise the lowliness of these means any more than you could possibly despise the human flesh and blood body the Word of God has taken up. Rather, give thanks to the LORD your God who comes to you who could not come to Him. Behold, your God comes. Let us receive Him and give thanks.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Why did the LORD have regard for Abel and his offering, but not for Cain and his offering? Abel was a shepherd, and he offered to the LORD the firstborn of his flock. Cain was a farmer, and he offered to the LORD a portion of his harvest of the fruit of the ground. Both offerings were appropriate, and both were God-pleasing in content, but the LORD had regard for Abel’s offering alone. But, why? The preacher to the Hebrews explains that it was a matter of faith and trust; he writes, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” And so, we learn that it was not the offering that was the problem, but rather it was the heart of Cain. And, what was the problem of Cain’s heart? Perhaps Cain trusted in his offering. Perhaps he trusted in the fruits of his labor. Perhaps he trusted in his own righteousness. But, whatever it was that he placed his trust in, he did not place his trust in the LORD for his righteousness. Thus, he placed his trust in himself. And, thus, the LORD had no regard for Cain’s offering.
The rest of that Old Testament account truly deals with the poisonous fruit of Cain’s self-righteousness. Cain became jealous and angry of his brother Abel, and that the LORD had regard for Abel’s offering and not his own. Further, he became angry with God. Nevertheless, the LORD said to Cain that if he did well, he would be accepted. But, He also warned him that if he did not do well, sin was crouching at the door, and that its desire was for him, and therefore he must rule over it. Now, that is a key statement. Truly, there was no outward difference between Cain and Abel. They both experienced the same temptations to sin, temptations that are common to all men, the same temptations that you and I face every day. They are the temptations of fear, greed, selfishness, jealousy, anger, judgment, and hatred. They are the temptation to self-righteousness, which is nothing other than transgression of the First Commandment, to have a god before and above the LORD – namely, yourself. All such temptations serve to drive you into yourself, and to drive a wedge between you and others. Such are the tactics of Satan, who prowls around like a lion, seeking to divide the flock and to prey upon those who become separated and stray.
You know the story all too well. Cain rose up against his brother Abel while out in the field and he murdered him. Cain had already murdered his brother in his heart, now he had murdered him physically as well. When the LORD inquired about Abel, Cain infamously answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This too is the fruit of self-righteousness – judgment, condemnation, separation – as Cain forsook his stewardship and care for his own brother, flesh of his own flesh, and blood of his own blood. Fear, greed, selfishness, jealousy, anger, judgment, and hate – these are the fruits of self-righteousness. These are the temptations we face daily which Satan uses to cause us to judge, condemn, and hate our neighbor so that we will separate from them, avoid them, and fail to love and serve them. Self-righteousness is contradictory and antithetical to love, and it receives, not God’s blessing, but His curse. To hate your neighbor, let alone your brother, is to hate God, and it is to worship your self. The only relief from this curse is to do well and be accepted, which is to say, repent of your sin, be turned from your hateful self-righteousness and idolatry back to God, in humility and selflessness, and He will accept you, just as He regarded Abel’s offering in faith and trust. He will accept you, not because of your faith, but because of the object of your faith, Jesus. Abel’s faith, so many millennia before the advent of Christ, was faith in the goodness and faithfulness of the LORD, that He would keep His promise to send a savior from the seed of a woman. Your faith is in that seed who has come, and who has been planted in the soil in death, who now is risen to new and eternal life, bearing fruit a hundredfold.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus taught a parable to illustrate this point. Once again there were two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Both men did the appropriate and pious thing to do, they went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed, giving thanks to God for many good things in his life: being one of God’s chosen, not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer, or a tax collector. He was a good and pious man, well thought of as an outstanding example of godliness and holiness. He wasn’t perfect, but he did recognize God as having set him apart. But, there was a problem in his attitude – a problem with his faith and trust, just as there was a problem with Cain’s faith and trust. The Pharisee thanked God for setting him apart from other men. He even thanked God for making him a holy and pious man. However, the Pharisee’s faith and trust was not in God, but in what God had made of himself – God had set the Pharisee apart from other men and provided him gifts that made him pious and holy, but, instead of trusting in God the giver of the gifts, he trusted in himself and the gifts he had received. Is this a subtle distinction? Perhaps, but it is a significant and important one.
Consider the Pharisee’s attitude towards the tax collector, who also had done the appropriate and pious thing to do, going to pray in the temple. In his prayer of thanks to God, the Pharisee actually used the pious tax collector as an example of the type of person he was thankful not to be. The Pharisee viewed the tax collector much in the way that Cain viewed his brother Abel – with contempt, judgment, anger, condemnation, and hatred. His attitude rather should have been that of St. Paul’s who said, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle… But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”In contemporary parlance we might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The Pharisee boasted of his tithing to the temple. He trusted in his works, not in God. And, the Pharisee viewed the tax collector as beneath him, standing in judgment and condemnation over him, not recognizing that the same grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that he enjoyed from the LORD was showered upon the tax collector as well.
In contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector stood far off and would not even lift up his eyes, but he beat his breast and confessed his sinfulness and unworthiness of God’s grace and mercy saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collector did not boast of anything at all. He did not offer anything to God but his broken and contrite heart. He trusted in God to be merciful to him. He trusted in God’s good will towards him. And Jesus concludes his parable saying that “this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other [the Pharisee]. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Next to the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer of the tax collector, and many other sinners, lepers, blind persons, and people in need of help and healing, Kyrie eleisonLord, have mercy, is the finest prayer in all of scripture. When we pray this prayer in worship, we are praying like the humble tax collector, offering nothing to the LORD, but trusting in Him and receiving from Him mercy and forgiveness. As Martin Luther said in his dying words, “We are all beggars, every one.” This prayer is a confession that all that we have, all that we are that is good, just, and godly is His gift to us, by grace, received in, and clung to, in faith in Jesus Christ. We may judge actions and deeds by the Law of the LORD – for example, tax collectors notoriously extorted the people they collected from, and this was wrong, it was stealing, and perhaps a host of other sins – however, when it comes to justification before God, no man may judge another, for we are all in the same sin-boat together. There is no difference between Pharisee and tax collector, Cain and Abel, leper, adulterer, pastor, or layman – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
One can look as this Sunday’s lessons as a study in contrasts: Cain and Abel; Pharisee and tax collector; the house of prayer that is the temple and the house of prayer that is the soul of a man. Last Sunday you heard Jesus’ words concerning the temple in Jerusalem, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers”. Today you have heard the spiritual meaning of those words. Your body is the temple of the LORD; what kind of spirit dwells in it? Is it filled with the Holy Spirit of God, the Lord and giver of life, who graciously gives to all things needful, or is it filled with your own self-righteousness? When you pray, when you give an offering, when you serve God, do you return to Him with acknowledgement and thanksgiving what you know belongs to Him and is His gift to you, or do you rob God and claim for yourself what is His, offering to Him your own works, your own gifts, your own righteousness? Is the temple of your body and soul the LORD’s house of prayer, or is it a den of robbers? As Jesus taught in His parable, there were two men who went to the temple to pray. Both men returned to their homes, but only the humble and repentant tax collector returned to his home justified.For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The Pharisee wasn’t a bad man by human standards. Indeed, he was not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer, or even a tax collector. And yet, in his heart, he had done all these evil things and more against God: robbing God of His glory and righteousness, betraying God’s holiness and faithfulness, stealing from God by claiming His gifts and His works as his own. Like Cain, the Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous. In so doing he exalted himself and now must take a lower place. In contrast, the humble tax collector boasted of nothing in himself except his sinfulness and unworthiness. The house and temple of his body and soul were full only of God’s Holy Spirit. As he prayed in the temple with his eyes and face cast down, already he was exalted higher than the self-righteous Pharisee. And when he died he was exalted to the host of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven around the throne of the Lamb.
You, dear Christian, too are the house and temple of the LORD. Daily purge your soul of self-righteousness and spiritual extortion and adultery, praying day and night Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy. And the Lord will exalt you and will make His home with you. He will settle you in a home and a family so that you are not alone. All this He has accomplished for you in the gracious visitation of His Son Jesus Christ. He is your righteousness, an alien righteousness, come from outside you, but credited to you when you receive, believe, and confess Him as Lord and God. And God is in His temple now, this House of Prayer, to fill you with all good things. Bring to Him nothing but your broken and contrite heart, and He will give you a new heart and all things beautiful and holy.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.