Saturday, February 27, 2021

Reminiscere - The Second Sunday in Lent (Lent 2)


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


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The woman who cried out to Jesus asked only for mercy. Moreover, she asked on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter, not herself. But, Jesus did not answer her a word. This was a test, but Jesus was not testing the woman and her faith, He knew that well enough already, rather, Jesus was testing His disciples’ faith and their understanding in who He was and of what He was sent to do. Would they approve of Jesus’ showing mercy to this Canaanite dog? No, they would not. For, though the woman cried out only for mercy, the disciples, in turn, begged Jesus for justice saying, “Send her away.”

But, they were right. It would have been just to send her away. She was, after all, a Canaanite, the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham who uncovered his father Noah’s nakedness. The Canaanites were the pagan occupiers of the land that God promised to give into the hand of Abraham and his descendents. They were perpetual deniers of God’s grace, whose history included child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, and other occult activity, and sexual depravity. So, yes, the disciples were right, Jesus would have been just in sending her away. But, then, of course, He would have been just as just to send the disciples away too. Be careful what you ask for!

But, Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save it; He did not come to send anyone away, but to call all men to Himself. Indeed, it would be through the greatest injustice imaginable, the selfless, sacrificial death of our holy, sinless, and innocent Lord Jesus, that all people would finally be set free from the demonic possession that is sin and death.

Still, the disciples were right, Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, initially, and it would not be right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogsSend her away and be done with the matter. Case closed. Justice is served.

But, again, the woman was not seeking justice, but mercy. On her knees in humility before Jesus she accepted His judgment confessing, “Yes, Lord, You are right, I am an unworthy dog. It is wrong of me to ask for or to expect that the bread intended for Your children be given to me. But, even still, the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And, here was what Jesus wanted His disciples to hear and to see, true and tenacious faith. The Canaanite woman placed her faith – her fear, love, and trust – in Jesus, no matter what. She placed her faith in Him by pleading, not for justice, but for mercy. She placed her faith in him by clinging to Him even when He did not answer her. She placed her faith in Him even when He seemed to reject her. And, finally, she placed her faith in Him even to the point of completely divesting herself, confessing her sin, guilt, and shame, while believing Jesus to be merciful, no matter what. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

After this, Jesus began a great ministry of healing, healing that flowed from God’s mercy and the forgiveness of sins. Crowds of Canaanites and Israelites came to Jesus on a mountainside and there He healed them all. Then, after a few days, having compassion on them, men, women, children, Canaanites, and Jews, Jesus fed them, over 4,000 in all, with bread until they were full and satisfied.

It is no coincidence that Jesus compared the woman’s plea for mercy to a plea for bread, for Jesus is the Bread of Life for all the world, that whoever eats of His flesh will have eternal life. For, Jesus was the Bread from heaven, the manna that the children of Israel ate during their wandering in the wilderness. It is not outside the realm of likelihood that the nearby Canaanites scooped up some of that mysterious bread, that was left behind by the children of Israel, for themselves, just like dogs under the children’s table. Likewise, it is no coincidence that this exchange with the Canaanite woman occurred just before Jesus miraculously fed a multitude from many places with bread until they were satisfied. Jesus is the Bread of Life given for the life of all the world.

Thus, what the disciples learned that day was that being a true Israelite, a true child of God, is not about belonging to a certain bloodline nor of being of Abrahamic descent, but what makes one a true Israelite and a true child of God is faith in Jesus, God’s Son and His gift of life, no matter what. That means trusting in Jesus even when He doesn’t seem to answer. That means trusting in Jesus even when He seems to reject you. That means trusting in Jesus even when He seems to be the one who is causing you affliction!

We see this last point most clearly in Jacob, who wrestled with a Man until the breaking of the day, and when the Man saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He put Jacob’s hip socket out of joint! Many theologians and Fathers of the Church understand that Man who wrestled with Jacob, and who fought dirty, to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Even though the Man put Jacob’s hip socket out of place and caused him excruciating pain, Jacob refused to let Him go until He gave Him a blessing. Was Jacob stubborn, thick headed, or a fool? Undoubtedly. But, did he have faith that the Man could and would bless him? Yes, most definitely, yes! Then, in response to Jacob’s tenacious faith, the Man changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning  one who has striven with God and has overcome.

For, that is what faith is like; faith is a struggle with God. But, faith clings to God and His promises no matter what and so overcomes. Faith believes that God is good and merciful and that He will answer in the way He knows best, no matter what. Even if what you pray for is not given to you or relieved of you, God is still merciful and good, no matter what. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but no one ever said it would be easy, least of all Jesus. The world, the devil, and your own flesh conspire against you, daily, so that you will lose faith and fall into unbelief and despair.

But, when you wrestle with God, do not let go of Him, but cling to Him in stubborn, thick headed, and foolish faith. Don’t let go of Him until He blesses you. And, while you struggle and wrestle with God in faith, make use of the means through which He blesses you: His Word; His Baptism; His Absolution; His Supper – for these are all Bread, the Bread of Life, of which a man may eat and be strengthened in faith and live.

And don’t consider what’s just, but plead for mercy, likewise being merciful to others – all others – as God is merciful to you in Christ Jesus. For, you will overcome, you will persevere, and even now you are more than conquerors through Him has loved you and who loves you now, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wednesday in Invocabit - The First Week of Lent


The Passion History – Part I: The Lord’s Supper

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The word passion means to suffer. Thus, when we speak of the Passion of our Lord we are speaking particularly of Jesus’ suffering, beginning with His temptation in Gethsemane through His burial and deathly rest in the tomb. Jesus’ passion was something that He permitted to happen to Himself. It was the will of His Father to which, in love and obedience, Jesus willingly submitted and suffered. Jesus went willingly to His passion, to His cross; no one forced Him. Jesus went to His passion out of love for His Father and out of love for you whom His Father loves so much that He gave His only-begotten Son. Jesus’ passion includes His betrayal by Judas, His arrest in Gethsemane, His trials before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate, His mocking, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial. Jesus predicted His passion to His disciples no fewer than three times, though they didn’t understand His meaning and, in fact, His meaning was hidden from them. His passion was for them. His passion was because of them. But, it was His Father’s will that He suffer and die and rise again, for God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son over unto death.

It was Passover, the festival commemorating the Lord’s deliverance of His people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt by the death of the firstborn culminating in their baptism in and through the Red Sea. It was this event that Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah about on the Mount of Transfiguration. St. Luke tells us that they were discussing the exodus that Jesus was about to make in Jerusalem by His death and resurrection. Jesus is the New Moses. Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God’s offering. His exodus was through death on the cross, blazing a path into the Promised Land of His Father’s Kingdom. This was His purpose, the reason for which He was sent. Jesus is the seed of the woman promised to Adam and Eve and the serpent who would crush the serpent’s head. Jesus is the promised Lamb of God’s own providence who spared Abraham’s son and all sons of Abraham who share the faith of Abraham in the Word and promises of God. Jesus is the true Lamb of God which all those sacrificial Passover lambs prefigured and pointed to, because of who’s blood the wrath of God passes over all who are baptized into Him and trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. This was His purpose. This is why He was sent. The Son of God was sent to suffer and die for the sins of mankind. It was necessary and it was sufficient. The hour had come and Jesus was ready to fulfill His purpose, to lay down His life for the world.

Our translation says that Jesus earnestly desired to eat this Passover meal with His disciples. St. Luke’s Greek is more emphatic reading, “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Just as He would frequently say, “Truly, truly I say unto you,” Jesus doubled His words to emphasize His great desire to fulfill His Father’s will and to redeem His people. However, what is even more interesting are Jesus’ words that He desired to eat this Passover “before I suffer.” The beginning of the Day of Passover, the 14th of Nisan, was regularly celebrated with a meal that was not the Passover meal, but which anticipated the Passover meal that would be celebrated at the end of the day, the next evening, Good Friday in this case, after the Passover lambs had been slaughtered between 3pm and sundown. Thus, the meal Jesus ate with His disciples at the end of the day on Holy Thursday was anticipatory of the Passover feast that would be celebrated the next evening before sundown. That is why Jesus said, “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I say to you that I shall not eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” The fulfillment to which Jesus referred was His death on the cross the next day, the Day of Preparation, Good Friday, at approximately 3pm when the Passover lambs were slaughtered for the Passover feast to be eaten that night as the sun set and the Sabbath began. This explains why the disciples were not surprised at the absence of the Passover lamb, which would be slaughtered the next day. This meal anticipated that Passover meal, and Jesus was the Passover Lamb of God who would be slaughtered at 3pm on Good Friday.

In anticipation of the Passover meal and His own sacrificial offering as the Passover Lamb of God on Good Friday, Jesus shared bread with His disciples saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” Then He gave thanks over a cup of wine and shared it with His disciples saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Once again, the disciples did not understand His meaning, but neither were they scandalized by it, for they had heard Him speak this way before. They ate and they drank in anticipation of the next evening’s feast unknowing what was to transpire that very evening after supper when they went with Jesus to His familiar place to pray on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Meanwhile, aware that something truly marvelous was occurring, having begun with Jesus’ triumphal arrival in Jerusalem just days ago on Palm Sunday, the disciples bickered about places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. In answer to their misguided confusion, Jesus taught them that He Himself, though their Rabbi and Master, greatest at the table, was among them as one who serves. To demonstrate this visibly and physically Jesus removed His outer garments, cinched up His robes, bent down and began to wash their feet. When He was finished, Jesus said to His astonished disciples, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me the Master and the Lord, and it is good that you say this, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Jesus wasn’t only teaching them humility and servant love, but He was preparing them for their Apostolic ministry, after Pentecost, when they would go boldly into the world preaching the Gospel and serving others, and laying down their own lives just as Jesus will lay down His life for them and for all. He said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither is he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives anyone whom I shall send, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives him who sent me.” That remains true today as then. The Lord’s Apostles today are His pastors who preach to you the Gospel and serve you with His gifts. Whoever receives those whom the Lord has sent receives Him and His Father who sent Him.

None of them were perfect. None of us are perfect. But the Lord knows His own, His chosen. Even at that intimate table was one who would betray Him. “Already Satan had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him.” Jesus said to the disciples, “The Scripture must be fulfilled, ‘He that eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me’.” “Truly, truly, I say to you that one of you will betray me.” They all wondered who it could be. Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I shall give the piece of bread after I have dipped it.” He gave the piece of bread to Judas and said to Satan, “What you are doing, do it quickly.” After receiving the piece of bread and at these words, Judas went out immediately, and it was night. Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in Him God is glorified.”

In His humility and service, in His betrayal, and in His sacrificial passion and death, the Father glorified His Son, and Jesus glorified His Father. The disciples did not understand how His passion, suffering, and death could be glorious, and we have often have trouble understanding that as well. That is why Jesus has left us the New Covenant in His body and blood, as a last will and testament that it is fulfilled, it is finished. All that was necessary to restore us prodigal sons and daughters to our God and Father has been fulfilled by Jesus. Jesus’ words, “This do in remembrance of me,” are not merely a call to reenact the meal, but to remember, and to live in that remembrance, that it is finished, that in Jesus’ death we have all died, and that in Jesus’ resurrection we have all been raised. Thus, the Lord’s Supper is not merely a reenactment or a memorial, but it is a living participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection as St. Paul proclaims: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

Jesus earnestly desired to eat this Passover with His disciples before His passion. Later that same night He was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the High Priest’s guards, tried before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate, was mocked and scourged, crucified, died, and was buried. God has provided the Lamb for the sacrifice. It is finished. Whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. This we do in remembrance of Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Invocabit - The First Sunday in Lent (Lent 1)

Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Immediately following His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Or, if you prefer St. Mark’s treatment, the Spirit “drove Him,” or literally, “threw Him,” out into the wilderness, into the devil’s jaws. Suffice it to say, Jesus was baptized for this purpose, to be tempted by the devil and overcome. Thus, you must be careful not to minimize what Jesus suffered, endured, and overcame in His temptation. This was a one-on-one personal assault of the enemy of God, the father of lies, he who was a murderer from the beginning, upon the Son of God, freshly consecrated as the Son of Man. The Spirit came upon the man Jesus in His Baptism, and the same Spirit immediately drove Him into His work of redeeming you and me and all people. Jesus was baptized for you. Jesus faced Satan’s temptations in the wilderness and overcame them for you. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for you. And, Jesus suffered, died, and was raised for you that you may live with Him and His Father and Spirit forevermore.

Thus, we can, and indeed we must, relate the consecration of the young and unassuming shepherd-boy David as king over Israel and the consecration of Jesus in His baptism, for neither man was the seeming chosen one of the LORD according to the reckoning, wisdom, and judgment of men, and yet each was anointed with the Holy Spirit, consecrated and set apart as the Holy One of the LORD, and then was immediately thrust into conflict with the devil – David with the Philistine champion Goliath, and Jesus with Satan himself. Neither man’s kingship nor consecration was visible or apparent to the eyes and wisdom of men, and yet, they were each the LORD’s Chosen One, and each were truly King – David, the King of Israel, and Jesus, the King of Heaven and Earth. Therefore, do not kid yourself, for, in your Holy Baptism, you too were consecrated for a life of continual battle with the devil, the world, and your own sin-corrupted flesh. Truly, as soon as the water hit your forehead and the Name of the Holy Triune God was spoken upon you, Satan set his sights upon you to destroy you. Satan hates you because he hates God who loves you so much that He would become a man in Jesus Christ and die for you to redeem you from sin and death. Before you were baptized, you belonged to the devil, but now that you have been cleansed and claimed and named in Jesus’ innocent, holy, and righteous blood, you belong to the LORD. Thus, you have a sworn enemy in Satan for the entirety of your life this side of heaven.

Further, just as David did not choose his battle with Goliath, and Jesus did not choose His battle with the devil or His cross, so neither do you or I choose the temptations, battles, and crosses that we must bear, but the Holy Spirit chooses them for each of us as He knows to be best. And, Jesus did not face temptation by the devil and overcome it by the Word of the LORD in order to show you how to do it. No, you must not think that, for Satan knows the Word of the LORD much better than either your or I, than did Martin Luther, or any theologian of the Church or pope, and, as were our First Parents in the Garden, you are defeated before you utter a single word. But, in fighting against the temptations of the devil, the best offense is a good defense. Indeed, you are to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

Now, I know that it may sound like the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon, but it is not. The sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God, is a defensive weapon meant to ward off the attack of Satan. You are not an onward Christian soldier going off to war, but Satan will bring the war to you. Indeed, Satan’s attacks are more like terrorism and guerilla warfare in your neighborhood, your backyard, and your bedroom than they are like soldiers going off to fight conventional battles in foreign lands. No, you are not on the offense, you are not on the attack, but your vocation is to stand firm and resolute, trusting, not in yourself, your wisdom, or even in your faith, but in the Word of the LORD alone, in Jesus, the Word made flesh. You do not attack the devil with the Word of the God. Do that, and you will lose. In fact, you must not enter into a conversation with him, neither in word or thought. If you do, then he has already won – again, take the example of our First Parents in the Garden. No, but the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is a defensive weapon. Remember it. Take shelter in it. Speak it alone in defense against Satan’s attacks, for it is a mighty fortress and a trusty shield and weapon.

Satan used the Word of God against Jesus, because he knew that was the only thing that might persuade Him. However, Satan is an angel of light. He makes evil things look good in order to deceive you. He uses the Word of God, but he twists it, he misinterprets it, he misapplies it, and he takes it out of context in order to deceive you. Thus, you cannot trust a word even from a Christian, even within the Church, unless you are able to check it against God’s Word.  Indeed, the devil’s most dangerous deceptions come from within Christ’s Church, as wolves in sheep’s clothing. And so, you must always be on guard, watching, immersing yourselves in the Word and Sacraments, that you may be protected and be able to recognize Satan’s attacks when they are upon you.

Thus, Satan’s first temptation of Jesus seemed reasonable enough. Jesus was hungry after fasting forty days; why not turn stones into bread? He could feed Himself, and He could feed others who were hungry. What could be wrong with that? Didn’t David feed his hungry soldiers on the showbread? Doesn’t Jesus Himself teach us to give to those who ask and care for the poor, for orphans, and for widows? Ah, but the devil’s temptation was not merely to feed the belly, but for Jesus to do so in order to prove that He was the Son of God. To prove it to the devil? Maybe. Or, perhaps, Satan was tempting Jesus to doubt His Sonship Himself. It was a challenge, an attack, and the temptation was to strike back, for Jesus to defend Himself by taking offensive action and to go against the will of His Father and the Holy Spirit, to take matters into His own hands and not trust in the LORD but in Himself. “Did God really say that you are the Son of God?” Do you see how Satan seeks to get into your brain and into your heart and cause you to doubt? Soon you are justifying yourself saying, “The fruit looks good to eat, and it is useful for gaining knowledge; what harm could it do?” No, the best offense is a good defense. Jesus stood firm and He answered the devil with the sword of the Spirit, with the Word of the LORD: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” The hunger was real, and no doubt it remained. But, let God be true and every man, and devil, be a liar.

Seeing that getting Jesus to doubt the truth and faithfulness of God’s Word wasn’t going to work, Satan had to change his tactic: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’.” Jesus trusts in the Word of God, let Him put that Word, and God, to the test. This was not a temptation to doubt the Word of God, but to use it in an ungodly, faithless, and manipulative way. Jesus was tempted to take what was not His, according to His human nature and God’s plan of salvation, and be as God the Father Himself. It is God the Father who commands His angels, not Jesus. At His arrest in Gethsemane the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus rebuked one of His disciples who drew his sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” The temptation here is a temptation we all face, but particularly spiritual leaders in Christ’s Church, to seize upon glory now, and bypass suffering and the crosses the Spirit has chosen for us to bear. It is the temptation to a theology of glory instead of the theology of the cross. Jesus answered the devil saying, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test’.” You and I test the LORD, we literally tempt the LORD, when we attempt to bargain with Him saying or thinking, “God, you do this for me, and I’ll do this for you,” and its many variations: “God, heal my daughter, and I’ll be in church every Sunday.” “God, let me get this job, and I’ll give 10% of all I earn to Your Church.” Etc. All to which God says, “Get behind me Satan.”

Truly, already Satan has been defeated. Each of his temptations, Jesus withstood and overcame by the Word of the LORD alone. Frustrated and desperate, Satan dropped his charade and got down to brass tacks: “All these [kingdoms of the world and their glory] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This is what he wanted all along, but subtly and deceivingly covered up. There was nothing left for Jesus to answer except, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve’.”

No, Jesus does not teach you how to fight the devil with the Word of God, but He does give you an example of what Christian faith, and the Christian dressed in the defensive armor of God, looks like in defense against Satan’s attacks. And so, what you must take away from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a greater awareness of the subtle craft that Satan uses in his attacks upon you, that he is an angel of light who makes evil appear good and wise in order to deceive you. He uses the Word of God, but he twists it, he misinterprets it, he misapplies it, and he takes it out of context in order to deceive you. Your vocation is not to take on Satan in hand-to-hand or word-to-word combat, but your vocation is to stand firm on the Word of God and to withstand and persevere through Satan’s attacks. Resist the devil and he will flee from you, for a time. And, do not be deceived by those Christians who claim personal victory over Satan. There is no victory over Satan save the victory Christ won on the cross. Thus, when you are tempted and attacked by Satan, stand firm in God’s Word, clothed in Christ in your Holy Baptism, a mighty fortress, and you need not fear the devil and his evil horde. For, take they your life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, the victory has been won for you by Jesus. Thus, the kingdom yours remaineth.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday



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


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There are few more sobering words in the Holy Scriptures or in the Divine Liturgy of the Church than those which each of you heard just moments ago: Remember, O man, that you are dust, and that to dust you shall return. Those words are a blunt reminder of the certainty of your death. You will die, that is certain, and your death is what you have rightly earned and merited for your sin – the sins that you have committed in thought, word, and deed, and the sin that you have inherited from your father Adam. As I look at you, I see death, impressed upon your foreheads, just as you see it impressed upon mine, dust and ashes, the stuff of which we are made. There is no avoiding this reality, for all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. However, as I look at you, I also see something that brings me unspeakable comfort and joy – the cross of Jesus the Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. Though you are marked with the ashes of death, the cross is an even more powerful reminder that all your sin is atoned for and that even your enemy, death, has been conquered in Jesus’ death upon the cross. And, while the deathly ashes now stain your brow, soon you will wash them away for another year. Yet, still you are marked, you are marked with the cross of Christ crucified in Holy Baptism – a mark which is invisible to you and to me, but a mark which shines glorious to our God and Father, for it is the mark of His divine love and mercy, grace, forgiveness, and peace that can never be taken away from you.

And so, each year Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten pilgrimage. Lent serves as an annual reminder and opportunity for you to return to your LORD in repentance, to confess your sins and to be washed clean in the purifying blood of Jesus. For, it is not a man who calls you to repent, but it is your LORD God Himself who says to you “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” We return because there is someone to return to, thanks be to God! We prodigal sons and daughters who have taken our God for granted and who have squandered his grace in reckless living are called to see how far we have strayed, where the gods we have made for ourselves have lead us, and to see our loving Father running toward us with open arms ready, not to chastise or to punish, but to embrace and to forgive and to restore. He has killed His best Lamb for you, even His only beloved Son, that you may feast on His flesh and drink His life-giving blood and live with Him forever.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me.” Yet even now, in the midst of your sinful rebellion and your idolatrous ways, return to the LORD, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster – He relents over your disaster, the disastrous misery and death of your backsliding ways. Return in fasting, return in humility, return in repentance, because He has already prepared your restoration and even now He calls you to it.

For, your repentance, your returning is His work by His Word. The LORD calls “Return to me,” and His sheep hear and know His voice and return. The LORD is jealous for you; He will not share you or forfeit you to another. And, instead of punishment and death for your rebellion, He blesses you. He sends you His blessing: Grain, that you might eat the bread of His body. Wine, that you might drink His blood and live. And oil, that you might be consecrated and sanctified, set apart and marked with His Name, as His people, in Holy Baptism. Through these blessings He has made you partakers of His divine nature so that you are not a slave, but a son and an heir.

In blindness you cried out for mercy; in Christ you have received it in all fullness. You have been freed from bondage to the world, the passions of the flesh, and death, therefore do not submit yourself again to slavery. This day you are called to a fast. Fasting is not a command of the Law, but it is a response of faith to the freedom and the life that we have graciously received in Christ Jesus. Jesus says “When you fast…,” not “If you fast…” But, fasting is not starvation, but it is a willful, intentional abstention from the desires and the passions of the flesh that would lead you back into slavery. Whatever it is that enslaves you, that keeps you in joyless bondage, that hinders your God given vocation, that gets between you and your spouse, between you and your children, whatever it is that gets between you and your God – cut it out and throw it away; it is an idol and a foothold for the devil who desires only to keep you away from God and in slavery to sin and death.

And, give to those in need. Again, this is not a command of the Law, but it is a response of faith. Giving to those in need is part of showing love to your neighbor, love that is selfless and sacrificial and that flows from God’s love for you in Christ Jesus. This kind of love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It is patient and kind. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

And, pray. Pray alone, in private, with or without words. Pray in your vocation, in your many vocations, live your life as a prayer to God. And pray in the solemn assembly with your faithful brothers and sisters in Christ with the elders, with the children, with brides and bridegrooms, and even with nursing infants, for you are together with them the Body of Christ and together partakers of His divine nature. No man is an island, and no Christian is ever alone, though the devil is working to divide and separate you from the body of Christ. This is all the more reason to fast from the worldly and fleshly desires and passions that he utilizes to isolate you and imprison you and kill you.

Therefore, as much as Ash Wednesday is a trumpet call to repentance, it is also a call to arms and to war against the temptations of the world, the desires and passions of the flesh, and the treachery of the devil. Lent is boot camp for Christians as we, together, through fasting, service, prayer, and repentance, shed the excess baggage that weighs us down and keeps us from living as the free people of God unto His glory. And as we purge ourselves of our idolatries, we are equipped with all that we need for the battle. In this regard, St. Paul exhorts the Church at Ephesus as well as you today:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

People of God, Ash Wednesday and Lent are much less about what you might give up than they are about returning to what you have been given and have received. The ashes of this day are a sign that you have died to the world, to fleshly desires and passions, and to the devil, but that you live in Christ your crucified, risen, and reigning God and Savior. God calls you to live in that life and to not return to slavery to sin and death. But, God knows that, while the spirit of the new man is willing, nevertheless, the flesh of the old man is weak. And so, He has left you a blessing: His Body, His Blood, His Baptism, His Absolution, His Word. These are your heavenly treasures here on earth; and, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2021



Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Isaiah 35:3-7


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Three weeks ago today we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. On that day we heard how Jesus lead three of His disciples high upon a mountaintop and there was transfigured before them and how He shone with the glory of His divine nature. But the glory of that mountaintop experience was but a glimpse, a brief foretaste of a glory that would be revealed in Him later. Though Peter, like all men, would have preferred to stay on the mountaintop in glory, Jesus lead his disciples, and He leads us, down from the mountain of glory and into the valley of the shadow of death amongst people possessed by unclean spirits and afflicted with all manner of disease, where men struggle for greatness over and against each other, where Jesus is rejected and opposed by most, and where He taught in parables so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. For, although Jesus is the glory of God the Father incarnate, His glory is not revealed in power and majesty as men desire to see, but His glory and His power and His majesty are revealed in weakness and in humility, in sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness that must be seen for the glory that they are with eyes of faith. Indeed, Jesus’ glory, the glory of God the Father, was revealed in its fullness upon another mountaintop, a mountaintop which is called Golgotha in Aramaic and Calvary in Latin, which means the place of a skull.

Through the Church’s liturgy we have walked in that valley with Jesus these past three weeks, but truly we live each and every day of our lives in that valley, surrounded by enemies, darkness, and death. But we do not faint with fear, we are not overcome with anxiety, for our Lord and our Good Shepherd is with us in the valley of death to lead us and to feed us, to guide us and to chasten us with the rod and the staff of His Word. And now, in the Church’s liturgy, Jesus has set His face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. Jesus said to His disciples, and He says to you, “See.” His Word is a performative and creative Word, the very Word of creation and life, but it was not understood and it was rejected. The disciples were blind to the way in which Jesus’ glory as the Son of the Father would be revealed.

Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

The disciples heard Jesus well enough, yet they did not hear Him with the ears of faith; they saw Him and His teaching in action, yet they did not see Him with the eyes of faith. This was not the first time that they had heard Jesus teach about His suffering, death, and resurrection, but they were blind to His meaning because it did not make sense according to their human reason and expectations and their sin-wrecked ideas about glory, power, and majesty. The disciples’ blindness, the blindness of Quinquagesima, stands in contrast to the glorious sight of the Transfiguration. Indeed, it is a blind man who can see that, despite His humble appearance, Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of God, while His own disciples stumble in blindness.

Indeed, it is a physically blind man who can see better than Jesus’ disciples who Jesus is and what He has come to do. He called Jesus by the Name given at the Annunciation by Gabriel, Jesus, God’s Salvation, and He called Jesus by the Name of His human lineage and nature, Son of David. The blind man had heard of Jesus, His teaching and His wondrous deeds, and he confessed with his mouth what He already believed about Jesus in his heart, that Jesus is God dwelling amongst men as a man and that He is, above all else, merciful. The blind man cried out to Jesus, not because of His powerful, glorious, and majestic deeds, but because he believed Jesus to be God in the flesh, and because he believed Jesus to be merciful.

And so, it is a blind man who can truly see, while the seeing show themselves to be blind, rebuking the man and telling Him to be silent. Yet, the blind man cried out all the more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped dead in His tracks; He never passes by a cry for mercy. Even though He had set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and to die, He stopped and commanded the blind man to be brought before Him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “Lord, let me recover my sight,” the man replied. And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.

It was indeed the man’s faith that made him well, but this was not a work that he performed that earned Him Jesus’ favor, but it was trust, simple, child-like trust that clung to Jesus and would not let go. The blind man’s faith gave him true sight to see that Jesus was the most important thing to him, his one thing needful. Apparently there was a time that this man could see, for he plead “let me recover my sight,” but even without his sight he could see better than most. Jesus said to him “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well,” but the real healing had occurred sometime before that, when the blind man believed, for then he could truly see. As glorious, powerful, and majestic as was this man’s healing, the recovery of his sight was truly secondary to the healing of his sin-sickness unto death that he received through faith in his merciful Jesus.

In the recovery of his sight the blind man glorified God, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness. God is glorified when you receive His gifts in faith, for the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts in faith. The blind man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God in His worship. And so, our Gospel lesson today began with Jesus’ disciples who, though they had seen Jesus’ glorious works and wonders with their own eyes, could not see that Jesus must suffer and die and be raised from the dead on the third day just as the prophets had written, but it ends with a blind man who could see this and so much more, who simply trusted and embraced Jesus as His merciful God in human flesh.

The disciples were at a crossroads, so to speak, for Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. This was the reason for His appearing; it was a path that He submitted Himself to willingly in love for His Father and in love for you. All who trust in Him, who cling to Him desiring mercy will receive it, and they will follow Him through suffering and death into eternal life. Though surely blindness, disease, persecution, suffering, and death are common to all men, you, Christians, will experience these acutely as you love others as you have been loved and as you show mercy as precious mercy has been shown to you. For, God is love, and Jesus is God’s gift of love for the world, and mercy is love in action toward others.

Dear Christians, do not subject yourself to a self-imposed blindness, refusing to see that love is mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice. As we journey with Jesus to the cross this Lenten season, let us remember the great love and mercy that has been poured out for us in Jesus and let us glorify God by showering this same love and mercy upon our neighbors, even our enemies, and especially upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. And, take comfort and receive strength in faith and knowledge that you do not make your pilgrimage alone, but that God’s love incarnate, Jesus Christ, goes with you and that He has blazed the way through death for you unto eternal life. Jesus’ glory is not in His power and majesty as men count glory, power, and majesty, but it is in His selfless, sacrificial love and mercy laid down and poured out for the world. We were given a foretaste of His resurrection glory in the Transfiguration, and even now we are given a foretaste of His victory feast in this Supper of His glorified body and blood. Now water breaks forth in this barren wilderness and streams well up in this desert that your eyes may be opened, that your ears may be unstopped, that you may leap like a dear and sing for joy as you follow your merciful Lord unto Jerusalem, to Calvary, to the Kingdom of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2021



Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

A great crowd had been following Jesus for several days. The crowd included Jesus’ disciples, Mary His mother, and countless others who had heard His teaching and had witnessed His miracles and were hoping both to hear and to see even more still. However, not all who initially heard Jesus would remain with Him to the end. Therefore, to prepare His disciples so that they would not lose heart when it would seem to them that their preaching failed to produce visible or quantifiable results, Jesus taught them to trust, not in their own methods, techniques, and crafted oratory, but in the powerful and creative Word of God alone. This teaching Jesus presented in the form of a parable, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. For, the truth is that many who hear the Word of God will not mature to produce the fruit of faith and will fall into unbelief once again. But, why is that? Is the Word of God to blame? Has the Word of God somehow failed to create faith or to sustain faith to fruitfulness? Heavens no, of course not! No, the problem lies with the enemy of both God and man and with man’s own sinful, restless, and rebellious heart, soul, and mind.

Thus, Jesus teaches that the Word of God is like seed cast by a sower. Like a seed, the Word has power in itself to live, grow, mature, and bear fruit. However, for this to happen, there must be soil, for the Word of God lives, grows, matures, and bears fruit in the soil of human hearts. Thus, if a heart is hard and is closed to the Word of God, the Word will not penetrate. Then the enemy, the devil, will snatch the Word away from a man’s heart so that it cannot take root. The heart will remain hard and closed until, perchance, the Word comes again. Indeed, this is the condition in which all of our hearts once were, for this is the condition in which we were conceived and born, a congenital condition which we have inherited from our fathers, and from our father’s fathers, all the way back to our First Father Adam, the very fruit of his original sin. Therefore, if faith fails to mature and bear fruit, the fault lies not with the Word of God, but with hardened human hearts, souls, and minds. For, it is by God’s grace alone, though His Word alone, that any human heart is broken, tilled, softened, and prepared to receive the Seed of His Word.

But, even when it does, maturation and fruitfulness are not guaranteed. That is to say, once again, fruitlessness is not a fault of the Word, which is always powerful, creative, and fruitful in itself, but the fault lies with the condition of the soil of the human heart. Even when the heart is receptive to God’s Word, it may be rocky or weed-infested, or both! As in your own gardens, rocks in the soil prevent your plants’ roots from rooting deep in the soil, which prohibits them from receiving the nutrients they need to thrive and to be fruitful, and which also prohibits them from gaining a strong anchor by which to remain firmly planted when drought, flood, and winds come. Likewise, when weeds, thorns, and thistles grow up alongside your maturing plants, they threaten to crowd them out and strangle them, and they rob nutrients from your plants, and they compromise their rootedness and stability. Like your gardens, rocks and weeds and thorns sometimes compromise the soil of your heart. Jesus teaches that the rocks are the remaining hardness in your heart which must be continually broken by the preaching of God’s Word of Law that the stones of unrepentance and unbelief may be removed, that your struggling and maturing faith will have root to weather the storms of trial and tribulation that will surely come your way. Likewise, Jesus teaches that the weeds and thorns are the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” which compromise your faith and threaten to choke it out so that it cannot mature and bear fruit.

Gardening and farming is hard work. Even with good soil and just the right amount of sunshine, warmth, and rain, weeds, blight, and insects harm and hinder the healthy growth and maturation of crops and limit and prohibit their fruitfulness. In modern agriculture, a crop yield of 1:3 is considered the minimum necessary to sustain human life. This means that for every three seeds sown, one fruit must be produced for human consumption, one for animal consumption, and one for planting to provide the next crop. A multi-billion dollar industry is built around making crop yield as efficient and plenteous as possible. In contrast to modern agriculture, however, Jesus’ indiscriminate sowing of the seed of the Word of God in places where it is likely to be snatched away by the devil, prohibited from taking deep root, or strangled out by material cares and anxieties seems foolish, reckless, and grossly inefficient. In fact, in only one quarter of the soil in which the Seed is sown does faith mature and bear fruit. However, when and where it does, it yields, not 1:3, but a hundredfold. Truly, God’s ways are not man’s ways, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.

Then, what would Jesus have His disciples, His apostles, His pastors learn from this parable? He would have them learn to lean not on their own understanding, but to trust in the Lord and in His Word, the powerful and creative seed that will create faith in the hearts of men where and when the Spirit of God chooses and is pleased. Their job is not to devise more efficient means of sowing the seed, but to broadcast and proclaim the Word of God to all people at all times and in all places. Our God is not concerned with crop yields and ratios, but His Word has gone forth from His mouth and it shall not return to Him empty, it shall accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. That is a fact, a truth, and a promise. Thus, men are, and will be, without excuse. No one will be able to say, “I did not know,” or “I never heard.” Those who have ears to hear will hear because those ears are given by God Himself, they are a fruit of God-created faith, the fruit of the seed of His Word. However, those ears that are given to hear must continue to hear and not become closed once again, for the good soil in Jesus’ parable are “those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Often it seems as if the Word of God is falling upon deaf ears. Even amongst those who receive the Word with joy, many fall away disillusioned that they still face trials and tribulation in their lives, that there is inefficiency or infighting in the church, that not everyone seems to be as spiritual as themselves, or whatever other rocks, weeds, and thorns Satan sows in their heart right along with God’s Seed of the Word. Jesus taught His disciples to place their faith and trust not in what their eyes see but in what their ears hear, in the Word of the Lord. The questions to be asked are never “Is our church growing numerically and financially? Are we producing more works, services, and programs? Are we targeting the right audiences, those who will strengthen our congregation and make us more prosperous?” No, these are not the questions the Lord would have us ask. The only question that matters is this: “Is the Word of God being proclaimed in its truth and purity? Is the seed being broadcast and sown wherever it can be?” If it is, then that’s all that really matters. All your rationalizing, all your attempts at efficiency, all your judging the faith and commitment of others, all your worrying, fretting, and anxiety – these are the rocks, weeds, and thorns that are making you fruitless and that threaten to destroy your faith altogether. Repent, and cling to the Lord and His Word in humility and patience. He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in His way, in His time.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Hearing is a passive activity. If you desire to not hear, that takes effort. You must stop your ears or drown out the noise, otherwise you will hear, you cannot help but hear. Therefore, you do not need to do anything to hear. But, you do need to not do something, that is, you need to not refuse to hear, to not close your ears, your heart, and your mind to God’s Word. For, indeed, the Word is near you right now for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and salvation for all who believe. Hear the Word proclaimed to you. Eat, drink, and wear the Word of God made flesh in bread and wine and water. He alone who has made you to be good soil is able to preserve you as good soil and make you fruitful, even a hundredfold. The seed is the Lord’s, the soil is the Lord’s, and the fruit is the Lord’s. You are His precious planting, the work of His hands and the Word of His mouth. Remain in Him, and He will remain in you, and you will be fruitful, and the Lord will be glorified.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.