Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Festival of the Reformation

(Audio)

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

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

The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. It does that quite effectively, don’tcha think? Well, truth be told, often you do not see it that way. In fact, your response to the uncompromising Law of the LORD is to, well, compromise it. You attempt to lower the bar of the Law, so to speak, to make it more do-able. You actually convince yourself that you can do the Law on your own, if only you understand in the right way. You see, the way it reads, the way the LORD gave the Law to you, simply terrifies you. You think to yourself, “Surely the command ‘Do not murder’ means only that I am not to physically kill someone in anger or rage. Surely it doesn’t mean things like terminating an inconvenient pregnancy, or assisting an elderly or suffering person out of their misery, or being angry, mean, spiteful, and unforgiving towards another person.” Same goes with the command “Do not commit adultery.” You think to yourself, “Surely this command does not prohibit looking without touching, viewing pictures and videos in magazines, on the internet, or on television. After all, who have I harmed if I haven’t touched?” In these ways you attempt to lower the bar of the LORD’s Law and make it more do-able. But, the Law of the LORD cannot be lowered; it cannot be bent, or revoked. The Law does not apply only at one time or another, but it is unchanging and it is uncompromising. The Law does not pass away.

The Law must be fulfilled. And, you cannot fulfill it. Therefore, if you will attempt to live by the Law, then the Law will crush you. No, you cannot fulfill the Law, therefore, I say to you, let it crush you. Let that weight fall upon you and break you into pieces. For, then, the Lord Jesus can raise you up. Jesus will raise you up from your failing to keep the Law. Jesus will raise you up from sin and death. Jesus will raise you up when you trust in Him, because He has fulfilled the Law of the LORD perfectly for you, and He has suffered and died for you, and He is raised from death victorious for you. The bar of the Law has never been lowered. It can never be lowered. But, better than that, the Law of the LORD has been fulfilled for you. Now your Lord Jesus invites you to share in the freedom and life that flows from the fulfilled Law of the LORD – His freedom and life which He graciously pours out for you, received by you in faith and trust without cost, without works, and without merit.

That is the Gospel, and that is what we are celebrating today on this Festival of the Reformation. We are not celebrating an historical event, a socio-political uprising with religious overtones, or the bravery of a medieval priest-monk-professor. And, we are certainly not celebrating the fracturing of Christ’s body, the Church. But, we are celebrating the restoration of the free proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which had become obscured, distorted, and compromised by men attempting to lower the bar of Law and justify themselves by their obedience, works, merit, and cooperation with God. This is the violence of which our Lord speaks, violence committed by men against the kingdom of heaven.

Men try to take the kingdom by force, that is, by works and by merit. But the kingdom does not come that way. The kingdom comes by grace alone. It cannot be taken by force, by works or by merit. But, now it has been manifested, revealed, uncovered, which means, it was there all along, but men couldn’t see it because their eyes were blinded by sin, their ears were stopped, and their hearts were hard. Some received the Law of the LORD in joy, deceiving themselves that they were righteous and kept it faithfully. Some received the Law of the LORD like a funeral dirge, yet they did not mourn and weep for their lost condition, but they hardened their hearts in pride against a God who set the bar so exceedingly high. They refused to fear the LORD and receive His Law as He gave it, for the purpose He gave it. It was to crush them and turn them to the LORD’s grace and mercy in repentance.

That was precisely the message that John the Baptist came preaching and teaching: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Our Lord Jesus preached the same message, and so did the Apostles after him. That same message is preached to you still today: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” This is the Gospel, even the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angel of Revelation “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” “Fear God and give Him glory,” the angel cried, “because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” What hour was that? It was the hour of Jesus’ death upon the cross, the hour in which the Law of the LORD was fulfilled for you, the hour in which Jesus spoke “It is finished,” and it really, truly, completely, and forever was.

This is the Gospel, the eternal Gospel. This is what had become obscured, distorted, and compromised in Luther’s day. The Gospel was so obscured, distorted, and compromised that Luther himself was enslaved to the Law and could find no escape, no comfort, and no peace. For that is what happens to those who believe that they must fulfill the Law of the LORD in order to make peace with God, they are either pumped up with pride, convincing themselves that they are doing just fine, or they find themselves drowning in a pit of despair believing that, no matter how hard they try to keep the Law they still fall short and can never find peace with God. Again, the Law was not given that you might do it and justify yourself by it, but the Law of the LORD was given to shut your mouth, to silence you. God has given the Law that the whole world may be held accountable to Him. The Law serves only to reveal your sins to you; no man is justified by works of the Law. Therefore, be still, shut up, stop striving, and know that the LORD is God. God has manifested His righteousness, the righteousness that makes you righteous, apart from the Law – “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

In Luther’s day it was believed that faith in Christ was not enough. Guess what, people still believe that today! The Roman Church sold indulgences, and still sells them today – pieces of paper that you can buy with money that forgive sins now and after death in purgatory (another unbiblical doctrine). Yet, no better are contemporary so-called Evangelical churches that preach to you the Gospel out of one side of their mouth and then shackle you under the Law again from the other. Their grace-talk is followed immediately by works-talk. They say contradictory things like, “Jesus saves you by grace alone, all you have to do is this, that, and the other thing. And once you’re saved, Jesus expects you to change, to be better, to make your salvation sure or maybe you weren’t really truly Christian in the first place after all.” Hogwash! “Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor; good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.”

While Luther and the Reformers affected many reforms within the Church, it all started with works and indulgences, attempts to do the Law of the LORD or to lower the bar of the Law to make it more do-able. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Each of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses dealt with the single topic indulgences, the idea that man’s work, merit, or money could pay for sins for oneself or for others. In nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door, Luther did what was customary in his late-medieval college town in order to engage in a theological discourse and debate over this central aspect of our Christian faith and doctrine. However, due to the work of reformers like Wycliffe and Hus, who had preceded Luther, and the advent of the Guttenberg printing press, Luther’s theses were translated into the common tongue and were copied and spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Now, one could say that it was merely chance, or one could believe that the LORD had raised up Luther at the right time and the right place to manifest, reveal, and uncover the Gospel once again that those walking in the darkness of sin and death, held captive by legalistic teaching and preaching and false doctrine, could hear the pure, unadulterated, eternal Gospel proclaimed once again and find comfort and peace in the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith (alone).” We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone whom God has put forward as a propitiation by His blood, passing over our former sins.

“The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther claims that it was this passage, Romans 1:17, that cast the scales from his eyes and released the shackles from his soul, freeing him to live, not in a continual and losing battle to acquire righteousness by works, but in the righteousness bestowed upon Him by God through faith in the propitiation that God Himself has put forward, Jesus Christ. Indeed, Luther was so struck and convicted by this Gospel proclamation that he added the Latin word sola, meaning alone: “The righteous shall live by faith (alone).” From this we derive the classic Lutheran solas: sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Christus – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. And, there is yet a fourth, and appropriate, sola: sola scriptura – scripture alone is the sole source, norm, and rule of our faith, confession, and doctrine.

The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. What bliss, peace, and comfort there is in silence! Close your mouth, and have your ears opened. Listen to the Word of your LORD and God, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Receive Him and trust in Him alone in all the ways He comes to you: Word and water, body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, salvation, and eternal life. You cannot take the kingdom by force, therefore, stop trying. But, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Grace alone. Grace upon grace. The righteous shall live by faith.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.


Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)

(Audio)

Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-7; Micah 6:6-8

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

On the corner of West 44th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan you will find the National Debt Clock which keeps a running, cumulative accounting of the national debt year after year, day after day, minute by minute, second by second. Needless to say, it has a lot of digits. On the left side of the clock, the numbers, thankfully, move rather slowly, but on the right side, even into the thousands of dollars, the numbers fly by so quickly that they appear as a digital “8,” the shape from which all the other numbers are formed. Recently I Googled the words “National Debt Clock” and I found the website USDebtClock.org which features a multitude of real-time “clocks” monitoring U. S. debt and all sorts of financial indices. As of Saturday afternoon, the U. S. Debt was roughly $28.9 trillion. That breaks down to $86,828 per citizen and $229,000 per taxpayer. Suffice it to say, our nation, and every citizen and taxpayer in it, is in serious debt.

Ah, but that’s ok, right? After all, some of the richest and most powerful men and women in the country have mastered the art of turning debt into wealth. For them, debt is good! Well, debt may be acceptable and necessary at times, so long as the one you owe the debt to doesn’t come expecting payment, though I’m uncertain how it can be good. The U. S. economy is, seemingly, based upon, even dependent upon, debt. The only reason that we haven’t tanked is because we are generally thought to be “good for it.” That is to say, other nations, banks, etc. are willing to loan the U. S. money (or products) on credit with interest in the belief that the U. S. will be able to pay it back. And, truth be told, many American households are run on this principal as well. But, what happens when you don’t have good credit? What happens when the lender wants to be paid now and you don’t have the cash? That’s when the chickens come home to roost. That’s how it is with you concerning your sin.

Before God, you are a debtor having no credit and no way to pay Him back what you owe. You inherited your debt from your father, and from your grandfather, and from your great-grandfather, all the way back to your First Father Adam himself. And, don’t think that it’s somehow unfair that you are held accountable for someone else’s debt, for “in Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man.” No, Adam’s debt is truly your debt, and my debt, and the debt of every human soul, and your debt must be paid back in full. However, the debt you owe God because of your sin is only half the problem. You transgressed His commandments. You rebelled against your God. You chose to exercise your will over and above and in opposition to His will. You put your fear, love, and trust in other things and in yourself before God. You wanted to be a god unto yourself. The wages of this, your sin, is death. Now, supposing you could pay back your debt to God for your transgressions, which you cannot, you still must die for them. Your death is the fair, just, and righteous penalty for your sin. Death is what you have earned and merited. Death is what you deserve. You can pay it; in fact, you will, even as you are paying it in the decline of your body and mind right now. But, when you have paid your debt in full, you will have nothing left, you will be dead. And, worse than that, you will suffer in hell for eternity. You will never get out.

This is what Jesus had in mind when He taught His disciples in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Yes, Jesus’ point in the parable is that you must forgive as you have been forgiven, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Some translations read, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” for it is our debt to God that has been forgiven in Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. However, to illustrate the enormity of the debt you owe to God the result of your sinful transgression, Jesus speaks in terms of financial indebtedness. Suffice it to say, the debt the U. S. owes, exemplified by the National Debt Clock, is but a drop in the bucket compared to your debt, and my debt, to our holy and righteous God.

Once again, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…,” for this is yet another parable of the kingdom. Whatever you are to learn from Jesus in this parable is meant to teach you something about God and His kingdom. The parable begins with a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. The amount is equivalent to something like ten billion dollars, an insurmountable and impossible debt for anyone to pay. The point is that the debt you owe to your Master God is insurmountable and impossible for you to pay. However, because the indebted servant pleaded with his Master for mercy, even if wrongly trying to strike a deal for more time to pay, the Master unexpectedly, amazingly, and graciously canceled the entire debt and let His servant return home forgiven and free. That is precisely what God your heavenly Father has done for you in Jesus Christ, giving Him unto death to satisfy your debt and pay the penalty you owed for your sin, death, that you might be forgiven, restored, and live. And so, the rest of the parable is truly about you: Do you recognize the debt your LORD has forgiven you? Do you recognize the love and mercy He has shown to you in canceling your debt in the blood of His own Son? If you do, then how can you hold anyone in their sins and transgressions against you? If you do, then how can you withhold forgiveness from those who are indebted to you a mere pittance in comparison to the debt your LORD has forgiven you?

As Jesus tells His parable, the servant for whom the Master had canceled the entirety of his debt and set him free went immediately to a fellow servant who owed him a small debt and demanded from him repayment in full. The unforgiving servant showed no mercy or forgiveness to his fellow servant but had him arrested and thrown in prison until he could repay the entirety of his debt. Of course, in prison, the poor indebted servant could never repay. When the Master received word of this He was understandably furious and He revoked His mercy and forgiveness and delivered His unforgiving servant to the jailers until he should repay the entirety of his debt. And, because this parable is not about financial indebtedness at all, but about forgiveness and the lack thereof, Jesus added, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Now, again, this parable is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. What it reveals is that your God has mercifully and graciously, completely and entirely forgiven you the debt you owed to Him in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. This is real and true for you, and it is irrevocable and certain. However, you must bear the fruit of the LORD’s forgiveness in your own love for your brother and sister, for your neighbor, for the stranger, and even for your enemy. To refuse to forgive others as you have been forgiven will not revoke the LORD’s forgiveness of you – that remains and stands irrevocable in the blood of Jesus Christ – but it is for you to refuse and to reject the LORD’s mercy and forgiveness yourself. If you refuse to forgive from the heart, then you have refused and rejected the LORD’s forgiveness for yourself.

Remember that Jesus told this parable to Peter and the disciples who had sought to place a limit upon forgiveness. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” asked Peter, “As many as seven times?” Peter thought he was being generous! “I do not say to you seven times,” replied Jesus, “but seventy times seven.” Do not think that Jesus meant that you should forgive only 490 times, but, rather, that you shouldn’t count, but forgive always and without consideration. But, even if you did attempt to limit your forgiveness to only 490 times, you would surely lose count before that.

Now, I’ve preached it and taught it and said it countless times before, but it needs to be said again: When you forgive others, you forgive with God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. It’s not really your forgiveness, but God’s. Therefore, what have you to lose? Nothing! When you forgive another who has sinned against you, it costs you nothing. In fact, when you forgive others you also free yourself from the self-imposed burden of keeping another person down. Or, to put it another way, you are an extension of God in Christ to others. You are Christ’s hands and heart, mouth and voice. When you forgive others, you extend to them Christ’s forgiveness. You are a branch of the True Vine Jesus, and the fruit you bear is forgiveness, mercy, love, and compassion. Needless to say, as a fruitless branch is cut off and thrown into the fire, so there can be no such thing as an unforgiving, unmerciful Christian. That is why the judgment against the unforgiving servant is so extremely harsh. By not loving and forgiving others, the unforgiving Christian demonstrates his lack of fear, love, and trust in God.

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?” Thus we prayed in the Antiphon to the Introit this day. This is the confession of the Christian who knows the debt he owed to the LORD that the LORD has mercifully and graciously forgiven in the blood of Jesus. This is also the confession of the Christian who knows that he is no better off, no less sinful and guilty and in debt before the LORD than his brother or sister, than his friend or neighbor, or even than the stranger or his enemy. As Martin Luther famously confessed as he was dying, “We are all beggars.” Just as we all share a part in our national indebtedness, right down to every taxpayer and every citizen, so much more are we all together indebted to our God and Father. Therefore, in humility and lowliness we think no one beneath ourselves. However, in faith and trust and in fervent love for our God and Father we believe and know that we are forgiven, for He poured out the life of His Son Jesus in death upon the cross for our sins and for the sins of all the world. And, He invites you to come, drink freely of His mercy and forgiveness. Let His mercy and forgiveness fill you and flow out of you unto others for the life of the world. You are an extension of His grace and mercy, love and forgiveness, to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)

(Audio) 

John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

 

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

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” These words Jesus spoke to an official who pleaded that He would come to Capernaum and heal His son who was near death. I can almost imagine Jesus sighing and shaking His head in disappointment. However, this probably wasn’t the first time that He had encountered weak faith in men, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. As it was, the constant refrain of the people to whom He was sent, the chosen people of God, the children of Israel, was “What sign will you do so that we may believe!” Earlier in Cana, Jesus had changed water into wine in a quiet and decidedly unspectacular way, simply by speaking His Word. Initially, at least, this fact was lost on the official as he insisted that Jesus come down to his house. Likewise, even after feeding 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, the crowds cried out for a sign like that of Moses and the manna in the wilderness. And, we cannot forget Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, who, upon hearing of His Lord’s resurrection from the dead infamously proclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Are you so unlike the official whose son was dying? Are you so unlike the hungry crowds in the wilderness? Are you so unlike Thomas, wrangling with his doubt? I know that I’m not. In fact, I am Thomas. I need to see and to touch Jesus’ wounds to believe. Thankfully, graciously, Jesus comes to me, and Jesus comes to you, not by Word alone, but also in the seeable, touchable, and tasteable means of water, bread, and wine to forgive our sins, especially the sin of unbelief, to strengthen our faith, and to give us life in and through Him. Your Creator, God, and LORD so loves you so as to condescend to come to you, who cannot come to Him, even though His creative Word alone brought forth creation out of nothing, spoke light into the darkness, and brought forth life where there was no life. Jesus is God’s creative Word become man and dwelling amongst us; His Word is forgiveness, life, healing, and salvation – with, or without seeable, touchable, and tasteable means which are bonus and icing on the cake.

What if you pray, but the cancer remains? What if you pray, but the baby dies? What if you pray, but the divorce still happens? What if you pray, but the job never comes? Did God fail you? Did He not hear your prayers? Is he cruel, vindictive, or simply impotent? Or, do you question whether He truly exists at all? If you are honest with yourself, and you need to be, then you will confess that you have thought these thoughts, entertained these doubts, and felt this way from time to time. Doubt is one of the ramifications of sin. Sin has separated you from God so that you cannot be in His presence, you cannot see Him or hear Him or touch Him. Though you are deaf, dumb, and blind in your sin, and though you cannot come to God or enter His presence because of your sin, your God comes to you, and He unstops your ears, looses your tongue, and opens your eyes that you may see, hear, touch, taste, and speak once again. However, doubt hinders your trust and weakens your faith so that you suffer from uncertainties, misgivings, and temptations to sinful fear and pride. Doubt causes you to need a sign, and to fall into greater doubt, eventually into unbelief, if you do not get what you think you want.

The official in today’s Gospel lesson was struggling with doubt. He had faith – faith enough in what he had heard about Jesus, about the miracle He had performed at a wedding in Cana, in order to compel him to go to Jesus and to plead for His help. But, still he was looking for a sign; he wanted Jesus to come to where his son was, maybe speak an incantation, call on some angels, wave His hands in the air, do something. Though Jesus called him to faith saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,” the official continued to plead, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” But, you see, Jesus was right. In fact, Thomas was right too. You, I, we, mankind – we do need to see and touch and taste! Though the Word is sufficient in itself, though God’s grace is sufficient for us in all things, we need the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. God knows this, and He has delivered, and He delivers Jesus to us still in Word, water, body, and blood.

For your sake, God sent forth His Son, His Word, to become a man, to fulfill the Law, and to suffer and die for your sins and the sins of all mankind, and to be raised, victorious over death and the devil. For your sake, the Word of God became flesh, died in the flesh, was raised and ascended in the flesh, and will come again and remain forever in the flesh. While the official knew that he needed Jesus, he didn’t know that Jesus was God’s Word in the flesh. Thus, Jesus took the official’s faith in the Man, and He added to it faith in the Word of God that had become that Man. The Swedish Lutheran theologian Bo Giertz wrote, “Jesus had never worked miracles to impress people or to make himself popular or to be believed. To do this was one of the temptations of the devil that he resisted. He used his power to help others, but never himself. He used it to reveal the mercy of God and God’s presence. For those who had eyes to see, his miracles revealed that the kingdom of God was at hand and that the Messiah had come.”

To show this to the official, and to show this to you, Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the Word that Jesus spoke to him and he went on his way. Before he arrived at home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering, precisely at the hour in which Jesus said, “Your son will live”. The official did not need to see his son healthy and standing in order to believe, but now he trusted, not only in the Man who could heal, but he trusted in the Word of God made flesh who is healing and eternal life. The man and his entire household believed in Jesus.

Your Lord Jesus calls you to such a faith – a faith that clings to His Word without seeing and without touching. Nevertheless, He has compassion for you in your weakness of faith and in your doubts and He gives you so much more than even His disciples and Apostles enjoyed, His glorified flesh and blood to see, to touch, to taste that you may commune with Him and dwell in Him and He in you. Still He directs you to the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us that you may believe that you will live, even if you die, because He has died and yet lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He says to you, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then He asks you, “Do you believe this?” May your answer be the same as my answer, and the same as another father of a boy possessed by a demon: Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. And, He does; and, He will.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

 
Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9
 
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The parables of our Lord are often simple on the surface, complex and even confounding in the details, and yet again simple in their final meaning. Today’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet is no exception. In this parable the invited become the uninvited and the uninvited become the invited – even notorious bad people, you know, sinners. But, then, even amongst the newly invited, no one gets in without the proper wedding attire. In fact, one such soul among the newly invited was found not wearing the king’s provided wedding garment and he was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Therefore, what are we to make of this our Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet? What does He want you to learn and to know and to believe as a result of hearing it?
To answer those questions it is necessary to wrestle with those difficult aspects of the parable: Who were the invited? How does one get oneself uninvited? How does one get invited if one were not invited in the first place? What about the wedding garment? How do you get one, and how do you keep it? And, just what is so offensive about not having one that it merits so harsh a penalty as being bound and cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth? Yes, these are the questions we must answer, for they constitute the heart of the parable and Jesus’ teaching.
First, Jesus was speaking to His opponents, to the chief priests and the Pharisees who did not believe in Him. Jesus often spoke to willful unbelievers in parables because, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” That is to say, they see and hear well enough – they have functioning eyes and ears; they are not blind or deaf – and yet they willfully close their eyes to Jesus’ signs and miracles, and they willfully stop their ears so that do not hear His Word rightly and believe. They represent the invited that make excuses to not follow their Lord because they worship the false gods and idols of mammon, worldly wealth, material goods, the esteem of men, and the passions and desires of the flesh. The Lord Jesus was sent to them in fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Moses and the David, their forefathers. However, they rejected their Messiah, their Christ, and their God as a sacrifice to their false gods and idols, as a sacrifice to Satan, for there is no other God but the Holy Trinity.
How does one get oneself uninvited? You get yourself uninvited by willfully resisting the Holy Spirit, by willful and intentional unbelief, and by rejecting the LORD’s gift of mercy and forgiveness in unrepentance, unbelief, and in idolatry. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, all are called, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” and He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In Jesus, the LORD has made it possible for all men to be saved. Everyone who has ever lived, who lives, and who ever will live has been purchased and redeemed and ransomed and atoned for in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection – everyone! But, only those who believe and trust in Him will be saved.
Because not everyone knows this wonderful and gracious truth about Jesus, the LORD has sent the Gospel invitation out into the whole world, “to the main roads” and “to the highways and the hedges.” He tells His ministers to “invite to the wedding feast as many as you find,” without condition, both good and bad, for Jesus has redeemed them all. This is the Gospel in its fullness and sweetness. There is nothing that is required – not good works, not piety, not holiness, and not even faith – for even faith will be given as a free and gracious, perfect and holy gift. That’s some invitation! The point is this: Everything is prepared! The invitation is just as Isaiah prophesied: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Do you get it? Do you comprehend how incredibly, wondrously gracious is the LORD’s invitation? Would you even consider rejecting His invitation? Sadly, tragically, so very, very many will and do. And, those of you who have accepted the invitation, beware that you do not consider the LORD’s grace and mercy lightly. Do not take it for granted. For, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Therefore, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” And, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
For, even those who are invited can become uninvited, and even those who are in can make themselves to be out. There was one man at the wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable who, presumably, had been out and had been made to be in. He was one of those who received the invitation after those who were invited rejected it. He was one of those on the “main roads” and the “highways and the hedges.” Graciously, by the LORD’s abundant mercy, he became one of the invited, and there he was at the great wedding banquet sitting with the others at the Master’s banquet table. But, there was a problem. He wasn’t wearing the proper wedding attire. Now, this doesn’t mean that he was poorly dressed, but that he had refused to wear the wedding garment that the LORD had provided. You see, in Jesus’ day, such a festive event as the wedding of a king’s son would have meant pulling out all the stops, even the king providing the proper wedding attire for the invited guests at his son’s wedding. To refuse to wear the provided garment would be a grave offense to the king and to his son, the bridegroom. It would have been a dishonor and disrespect of the highest order. Such a rebellious and disrespectful guest would surely expect to be cast out of the banquet, if not arrested, imprisoned, or worse. This is why Jesus uses this image, of a rebellious and disrespectful invited wedding guest who refused to wear the provided wedding garment. The man is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Many who are invited and who receive the invitation and come to the feast refuse to wear the LORD’s provided wedding garment. Huh? What garment is that, you ask? The LORD’s provided wedding garment is none other than the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, which covers all your sins and makes you holy to stand before the King, the LORD, in His holiness. Can you imagine the gall of refusing the innocent, righteous, holiness of Jesus’s blood and feigning to stand before the LORD Almighty in your own clothing with your own works and merit? The Prophet Isaiah says that even the very best you have to offer are but filthy rags before the LORD. Not to mention that the LORD’s garment comes at the dear and precious cost of His only-begotten Son. What a low-life, filthy, ingrate you would have to be to presume such a thing. What a rebellious, disrespectful clod of dirt you would have to be to insinuate that Jesus’ death was not sufficient, or that you could offer a better work, or that your sins are not so bad as to require anything more than what you can muster. Then God’s sacrifice was unnecessary. Jesus’ death and blood were insufficient. This is what is implied by those who think they can bring anything of merit before the LORD. This is what is suggested by those think that they cooperate with the LORD in their justification. On the Last Day – for, that’s what this parable is really all about – on the Last Day, their rebellious, disrespectful, unbelief and idolatry will be exposed for all the world to see. On the Last Day, they will be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, because they will know without a doubt, all will know without a doubt, that they rejected the LORD’s gracious invitation to put their trust completely and solely in Him for their life and salvation. They will know that the reason they are suffering in darkness instead of feasting in light is because of their willful rejection of Jesus and their unbelief. They will know that it is their own damned fault.
But you, you are not like those who have no hope. No, you have entered the banquet hall having washed your filthy garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. You have received the proper wedding garment, a gift of the King and LORD of heaven and earth and of the entire universe and whatever, if anything, lies beyond it. You were not on the A-list, but you are still the recipients of the LORD’s gracious invitation. He sent His ministers to the main roads and to the highways and the hedges to find you, to call you, to invite you, to clothe you, and to welcome you into His banquet hall. You received the LORD’s wedding garment when you were baptized and washed clean in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And you eat and drink in His banquet hall a foretaste of the Great Feast that is yet to come in heaven, the feast of Christ’s victory over sin, and death, and Satan. This food will preserve and keep you until our Bridegroom returns. And, you will keep your wedding garment spotless and sure through contrition over your sin and repentance, receiving the LORD’s gracious absolution again and again and again. You will be saved in the banquet hall of the Church from the darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth outside, just as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the destroying flood waters upon which they floated to safety in a new land and world.
You are invited, and you are clothed, and you are fed and nourished, protected and kept in Jesus Christ. Therefore, you may be a messenger to others of the LORD’s gracious invitation, that His banquet hall may be full. Go, and tell this Good News. Go, and live this Good News in word and in deed. Go, and give and love and forgive like you have nothing to lose, for you truly have nothing to lose. All is yours. Nothing is withheld. Everything is a gracious gift of the LORD, and you are the LORD’s appointed stewards of His gifts. You buy bread without money and drink wine without cost. You have the Lord’s life within you, and plenty to spare. Spend it, share it, to the glory of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)

(Audio)

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.

It’s no coincidence that the Gospel appointed for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is the account of Jesus’ disciples vying for greatness in the Lord’s kingdom. Indeed, a similar struggle for greatness occurred long, long ago, shortly after the LORD’s creation of heaven and earth, the account of which struggle and the victory of St. Michael the Archangel over Satan and his fallen angels being the focus of this festival day.

One of the LORD’s holy angels, Lucifer, whom Isaiah calls the “Day Star” and “son of the dawn,” and Ezekiel “a guardian cherub,” fell from holiness and grace because of his great pride, desiring to be “like the Most High,” that is, like the LORD Himself. Lucifer was a “signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” and a “guardian cherub” “in Eden, the garden of the LORD.” He was “blameless in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till unrighteousness was found in [him].” That unrighteousness was pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder.

Because of his pride, Lucifer became a profane thing. He literally fell from holiness and grace. Therefore the LORD necessarily cast him from His presence, for the unholy cannot abide in the presence of Him who is holy and holiness. Cast out and away from the LORD’s presence, Lucifer gnashed his teeth against the LORD – against His holiness and His righteousness, and against His just judgment. Lucifer knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Therefore he hates himself, and He hates the LORD, but, most of all, he hates you Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, because the LORD loves you and has created you to be the very crown of His creation, all that He has made, giving your dominion over all of creation, all plants and animals, the earth, moon, sun, and stars, and even over the heavenly angels themselves who serve the LORD and who guard and protect you whom the LORD loves with boundless love.

Thus Lucifer, now Satan, the Enemy, and the Devil, the Accuser, knowing that he could not attack and defeat the LORD, set about to attack, defeat, and defile his beloved creation, Adam and Eve, and you their children. Satan hates you because he hates the LORD and he hates himself. He hates his sorry, miserable, and irreversible condition, which he knows is his own damn fault. Therefore, he has set himself against the LORD and against you, and he exists only and always to take down as many of you with him as he possibly can.

And, that’s why he tempted our First Parents. Though he came in the disguise of one of the LORD’s creatures, a serpent, and though he talked smoothly and convinced them that he had their best interests at heart, that they become wise and like the LORD Himself, Satan was motivated by hatred and he used lies and deceptions to appeal to their pride so that they would fall just as he did. And it worked. And it still works.

“Did God really say?” he asked. The question seems innocuous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. For, that question necessitates that the Word of the LORD be subjected to another’s criticism and judgment, a supposedly higher standard and rule, man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and will. For, to evaluate “Did God really say?” is to judge the veracity, the goodness, the justice of the LORD’s Word and will by the reason, intellect, wisdom, and will of man. This is the creature evaluating and judging the Creator. This is an act of insurmountable pride. This is to make oneself to be god. And, that is impossible, for only the LORD is God who is before all things and the source, Creator, and sustainer of all things. The LORD alone is good, the very standard, measure, and rule of goodness. And the LORD alone is just, the very standard, measure, and rule of justice. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are judged by the LORD, not the other way around. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are good or evil, just or unjust, truth or lies in comparison and in relation to the LORD’s Word and will.

Revelation twelve describes a great war in heaven between St. Michael and the LORD’s angels and the Dragon, that is Satan, and his fallen angels. St. Michael was victorious and Satan was defeated and was thrown down to the earth along with his demons. Now, inevitably, people want to ask, “When did this great war happen?” And, you will hear many answers to that question. Some will say that this happened shortly after creation, but before the temptation in the Garden. Others will say that this happened at Christ’s crucifixion and death upon the cross. Others still will say that this is happening now, or is yet to happen. My dear children in Christ, I say to you simply, “Yes.” I think the most responsible answer that can be deduced from the Scriptures is that what John was given to see in the Revelation was from the perspective of the LORD Himself who is not bound by time, who sees all things at the same time. Certainly Lucifer’s rebellion and fall occurred prior to his tempting of our First Parents. And, clearly Satan has been at work tempting and deceiving the LORD’s people throughout the time of the Old Testament. Yet, there is no doubt that Satan was truly defeated when our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross. Yet, still Satan prowls this earth like a roaring lion seeking to devour, and the faithful are sealed in Holy Baptism that they may resist Satan’s temptations by the Word of the LORD and by prayer. Indeed, Satan will finally be imprisoned in hell for eternity when our victorious Lord returns in power and glory on the Last Day. Therefore, the great war in heaven described in Revelation twelve is an overarching narrative of the LORD’s victory over Satan in Jesus Christ, a victory ascribed to St. Michael the Archangel whose name means “Who is like God?”

The point is that, though Satan still rages and deceives and leads many astray, he is already conquered and defeated. The LORD God through His Son Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and his demonic angels. Satan no longer has an audience before the LORD by which he may accuse you. Indeed, you “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” of God, Jesus Christ. Through Holy Baptism and faith, the gifts of the LORD’s grace in Jesus Christ, you have been sealed and assured that the Lord will be with you always and will never leave you or forsake you. This is His promise to you, His Word that cannot be broken. His promise is not dependent upon your faith, be it strong or weak. His promise is not dependent upon your piety, be it high or low. His promise is not dependent upon your good works, be they many or few. His promise is not dependent upon your church attendance, your knowledge of the Bible, the quality of your marriage, the obedience and faith of your children, or anything else but the promise of Jesus Christ, the Word of the LORD made flesh. All that is required of you is faith, that is trust, which is itself the gift of the Lord by the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who confesses Jesus before men will Jesus also confess before His Father in heaven.

Do not fear the devil. But, do not be na├»ve about him and his ways either. He is very real and he is very present. His angels are about you all the time, just as the LORD’s angels are about you all the time. They are even here, in this holy sanctuary, right now trying to disrupt the proclamation and the reception of the LORD’s Word and Sacraments. They are in your homes, always working to set husband against wife, and children against their parents and each other. They are very real and they are very present. But, do not fear them, and do not fear him. His only weapons are lies and deceptions. That is why you must hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the LORD. For, by making the Word of the LORD your steady diet, you will be strong in faith and in knowledge of the Word to identify and to resist the devil’s temptations when they come. Moreover, pray. Pray for the Lord’s protection, pray for the strengthening of your faith, and pray for deliverance from the Evil One. For, the LORD has promised that His holy angels will “guard you in all your ways.” Thus, Dr. Luther teaches you to pray in the morning and in the evening, “Let Your holy angel be with me that the Evil Foe may have no power over me.” Likewise, Jesus taught His disciples, and He teaches you, that whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And, Jesus continues, “I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

And, here we come full circle. Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder. Humility is the very opposite of pride. Jesus teaches that the humble, the poor in spirit, the selfless and the lowly are great in the kingdom of heaven and that their angels behold the face of God. This is because the humble are open to the LORD’s will and His Word. The humble do not place their own reason and intellect, wisdom, and will over and above the will and the Word of the LORD. The humble do not make themselves out to be gods, or god, but they submit themselves to the LORD, and they acknowledge and confess Him to be the only true, holy, and righteous God.

And so, there is a promise and there is a warning. The promise is that the humble will receive the kingdom and will be guarded and protected by the LORD’s holy angels. However, the warning is that you must beware of haughtiness, arrogance, and pride. These were the cause of Lucifer’s fall, and these are the chief temptations Satan used against our First Parents, and continues to use against you their children. Moreover, beware of looking down on those you think to have weak faith, or a compromised confession, or less than pious lives. Beware of looking down on the little children who in simple faith believe much easier and trust more completely. Beware of looking down on others at all, and worse, of leading others astray by your own words and deeds. As the Proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

But, now, let us join the LORD’s holy angels in glorifying and praising the LORD as they do continually before His holy throne in heaven. For, in this Holy Eucharist, heaven comes down to earth and we are privileged to receive the Lord’s body and blood and to laud and glorify His holy Name “with angels and archangels,” even St. Michael, “and with all the company of heaven.” This day you will be with Jesus in Paradise, for wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom of heaven.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.