Trinity XXI 2017

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

What is faith?  We talk a lot about it.  We know that it is necessary for salvation, because faith is that conduit that delivers to us all that Christ did for us on the cross.  We know that it is created by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.  We know that it is strengthened through the Sacraments.  We know that it is what motivates our good works towards God and neighbor.  But what is faith? 

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews summed it up nicely when he said that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  Our Lutheran confessors asserted that “Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers” (Ap IV 49) and that “faith wrestling with despair” is also true worship (Tr 44).  To summarize all of these points, faith is a gift from God, placed in things which we cannot see, that goes against everything our flesh would have us believe.

All of these points are brought to bear in today’s Gospel.  As we have heard each time a miracle happened in our appointed Gospel reading, the real miracle is what is done for the person spiritually, not physically.  Jesus’ interaction with the nobleman from Capernaum is no different.  The second sign Christ works in Cana of Galilee is the creation of saving faith in an entire household, not the resurrection of the little boy.

When the nobleman first comes to Jesus he does not have true faith.  He simply knew, like all of the other Galileans, that Jesus did flashy things and healed people.  His son is dying, and Jesus is his last hope, since nothing else has worked.  Even though his request sounds pious enough, Jesus knows that his faith has a false foundation because it is not founded in the unseen, but the seen.  The underlying intention here is, “You heal my son and I’ll believe in you.”  Faith doesn’t work like this, receiving the benefits God offers on our terms.  Rather, faith receives God’s benefits on His terms, while we wrestle with the despair that insists on proof in order to believe. 

So Jesus speaks a Word of love to the nobleman, to the Galileans, and to us: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”  This is not an insult; this is the loving correction of Almighty God.  Jesus is speaking like a parent disappointed by an “F” on a report card.  He’s not angry; He’s sad.  He wants the nobleman to have true faith, so He rebukes him to attempt to teach him what true faith looks like.

What does true faith look like?  It looks exactly like the nobleman after Jesus instructs him.  Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your son lives.”  He does exactly what Jesus says.  He leaves believing in something he cannot see.  But he has a long journey home, about seventeen miles.  Imagine what those miles were like.  He was a day away from home.  He had an entire day in which his faith wrestled with despair.  While on one hand he believed what Jesus proclaimed, his flesh had doubts.  He could not see his son breathing or playing or hear his laughter.  As far as his flesh was concerned, his son had died while he was gone.  But faith had to wrestle against that despair, clinging only to the Word of Jesus, only to His promise, “Your son lives.”  Faith was confident in what it could not see because of Who created the faith and the confidence.

His faith was confirmed when his servants met him on the road and repeated to him the very Word of Jesus: “Your son lives.”  Though his flesh asked them at what hour it happened, his faith already knew the answer.  His faith received the benefit God gave in the son’s restoration to health and life.  And that faith could not help but overflow.  He told his whole household that when Jesus speaks, things happen.  Faith was created in them, faith which believed in Jesus Christ even though He never did His work in their midst.  They believed in Him whom they had not seen.

Our faith is the same as this nobleman’s faith.  We have peaks and valleys, good days and bad.  There are times when our faith is commended by God, when it is an example to others.  But there are also times when, like the nobleman, our faith needs to be tested and our flesh rebuked.  When we have these times, God sends us crosses, trials that teach us to rely on Him, trials that teach us how to wrestle against despair, trials that teach us that God is in control.

You heard that right!  God sends you the trials you have in your life.  How could that possibly be loving?  The truth is that it’s one of the most loving things He can do.  Just like muscles that aren’t used become weaker and weaker until they are almost useless, so does faith need to be exercised to stay healthy and strong.  When God sees that your faith is waning He sends the cross of hardship so that your faith will end up stronger than it started.  He causes your faith to wrestle with despair so that He can teach you how His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), to teach you to rely on Him when it seems like despair will gain the upper hand.

For these times when you must wrestle, He has given you the armor which St. Paul described in today’s Epistle.  When despair seems stronger than faith, when Satan is whispering all of his lies in your ear, you have God-given armor to defend you against his fiery arrows and the best weapon you’ll ever need: the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  This is the only weapon God has given you for a reason.  He is preparing you for your last and final battle.  When God is calling you from this world, when you face your moment of death and everything has been taken from you, the only thing you will have left is the promise He has given you in His Word.  Satan will try to tell you that everything God has promised you is a lie.  But because God has tested your faith in this life and by that testing made it grow stronger and stronger, you will be able to wield that sword of the Spirit.  You will be able to use it to silence Satan because through each test, all God left you was His Word, His promise that does not fail.

So when the devil attacks, when he causes your faith to wrestle with despair, to question the existence of what is unseen, turn your eyes from him to the One who defeated him on the cross.  Jesus Christ has promised you that He is the perfect Sacrifice and that His Blood covers all your sin.  When Satan would bring you to despair, remember that Jesus Christ died and rose again for you and that He has promised to raise you with Him.  Take up the sword of the Spirit by clinging to all these Words and promises of God which, though they cannot be seen yet, will be revealed to you when Christ brings you to His eternal glory.  There you will see exactly what the nobleman saw: that God is faithful, that what He promises He accomplishes.  Then your faith which God began in you He will bring to completion, because you will no longer have to trust in that which you cannot see, for you will behold God face-to-face.  

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity XX 2017

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

In today’s introit we praised God for His “steadfast love.”  If you’re a Psalm reader, you know this phrase well.  “Steadfast love” is the English Standard Version’s translation of the very important Hebrew word hesed.  NIV translated it as “unfailing love” and the King James used “lovingkindness.”  This word is used in the Psalms 127 times, and it is in more than half of the Psalms.  Obviously steadfast love as one of God’s many attributes is an important thing.  David and the other Psalm writers felt it was so important that it had to dominate their writings.  The translations of hesed give us a bit of an understanding of the definition of this major word.  It’s much more than mercy.  Mercy, while it is something wonderful, especially when it comes from God, falls short.  Mercy can be a one-time event.  “I had mercy on the passenger behind me on the airplane who kicked my seat, but next time he does it I’m going to get angry.”  Hesed endures.  It is rooted in patience.  It is not temporary or measured. 

Hesed is the only reason we can pray, the only reason we can approach God and not be destroyed.  God is merciful.  He does not hate us because of our sins.  He loves us for the sake of His Son.  In the Old Testament God established the Temple so that the people would have the means to be cleansed, returned to God’s favor, so they would be declared to be good and holy because the blood of the sacrifice was covering them.  In God’s mercy He gives His goodness and holiness to people who do not deserve it.  Without God’s steadfast love giving us what we do not deserve, His goodness and mercy are terrifying.  They demand things of us that we cannot give.  But because God is patiently, enduringly merciful, we know there is forgiveness.

That is why Psalm 48 is paired with today’s Gospel Reading.  On its own, this Parable is terrifying.  Not everyone invited is saved.  Why some, not others?  Psalm 48 direct us away from ourselves and to God.  We don’t focus on God’s holiness, on His demands.  Instead we think, pray, meditate on God’s steadfast love, His mercy that endures forever, that forgives sins lavishly, in ways that make no sense to human reason.  We can go to the altar of God, our exceeding Joy, because as Isaiah promises, our God will abundantly pardon.  No one goes to the Temple, to God’s altar pure or worthy.  They go defiled by sin, in need of cleansing and forgiveness, needing to hear the declaration that they are holy.

It is the same with the wedding banquet in today’s Gospel.  Those who were invited were not worthy.  No one is.  The servants went out looking for anyone and everyone.  They didn’t go to get soccer moms from all the right suburbs, surgeons who are male models in their spare time, and just enough homeless people to make it look like they tried.    The servants go to get literally everyone.  They go looking for any sinner, anybody still breathing, the good and the bad.  Just as there is no one who is worthy, there is no one who is without need. 

They all need wedding garments.  No one comes ready or worthy.  They need to be washed and covered.  They bring nothing to the banquet except that they are loved in Christ.  They are dressed as though they were the bride.  This is a banquet of grace, of mercy, of the Lord’s steadfast love.  Jesus does all things necessary for all to be saved.

And that is what makes the man who refuses the garment so horrible.  He was welcomed as more than a guest, allowed a place even though he was not worthy.  But he would not repent.  He insisted on his own way.  He kept his own garments.  He dared the Lord of the banquet to notice and complain.

The Lord of the banquet did notice and He did complain.  He had the man cast out.  The banquet is for the unworthy, but not for the impenitent.  It is for those whose sins are covered by Christ, not for those who want to stay in their sins, who want to thumb their nose and God and tell Him, “I’ll do it my way, thanks.”

This Parable is a call to repentance.  Each one of us live on the edge of falling into that state of impenitence.  Every time we sin nonchalantly, we act as if sin is no big problem.  We think we’ve stumbled on the greatest bargain ever known to man.  I love to sin; God loves to forgive.  What a match!  Except that is not true Christianity.  That is not the repentance demanded by Jesus in His first sermon and again in today’s parable.  Repentance means there is sorrow over sin and an intention never to sin again.  But the devil doesn’t want us to talk about repentance or to look carefully at how we walk, as today’s Epistle admonished.  He wants us to think our own garment is good enough, that we don’t need Jesus’ Blood and righteousness as our glorious dress. But relying on our own actions, our own disposition gets us thrown into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Instead, the only thing on which we can rely, the only thing that gives complete certainty is God’s steadfast love.  None of us come here pure or worthy.  We come defiled by sin, in need of cleansing and forgiveness, needing to hear the declaration that we are holy.  And God in Christ Jesus rights every wrong.  He makes us pure, worthy, forgiven, and holy.  And not just once, but daily.  At our Baptism we were given Christ’s righteousness, Baptized into His death and resurrection.  And by daily contrition and repentance that Old Adam drowned so many years ago is drowned again and put to death with all sins and evil desires.  This is the work the Holy Spirit does as He dwells in us.  He points us to the cross, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, where we find balm and healing in His holy wounds.  From that cross we receive goodness and mercy that we could never deserve.  But it covers us, preserves us, and gives to us eternal life.

What about keeping that gift safe?  Is that up to you?  Do you have to keep yourself in the faith?  No.  The God who gave you salvation as a gift preserves it as a gift!  Because your salvation could easily slip through your fingers if you were the one who had to cause it and hold onto it, and because God desired to guarantee it so completely and certainly, He placed it for safekeeping into the almighty hand of your Savior, Jesus Christ, from whose hand no one can snatch you away.  As St. Paul asks, “Who can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus [your] Lord?” (FC SD XI 45-47) 

Take heart, dear Christians.  Your salvation is won by Christ, and you stand today covered in His wedding garment, His righteousness given at your Baptism.  Your place at the eternal wedding feast is guaranteed, not because of your own action, but because of the steadfast love, the never-ending mercy of God, who abundantly pardons.  

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity XIX 2017

Note: Epiphany observes the Michaelmas Skip in the Lectionary.  For that reason, Trinity 16, 17, and 18 were skipped this year to use all the Readings assigned for the end of the Church Year.

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

The Church Year is always preparing us for what lies ahead.  Advent prepares us for Christmas and Lent for Easter.  The Lectionary, our calendar of readings, has its eyes in two places.  First, what we need to know for our Christian life at this moment.  Second, what we need to know to be prepared for what is coming.  This wisdom of the Church is timeless.  We have been using this cycle of readings for well over 1,000 years and they are just as applicable today as they were when the lectionary was assembled, yes, and just as applicable as when the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of these sacred Words a thousand years plus before that.  As we march on towards the end of the Church Year our attention shifts.  Yes, we still see the focus on growth in the faith, but that focus becomes less general and more specific.  Our growth in the faith is precisely because the devil wants to defeat us.  Over the next several weeks we will see more and more how the devil is doing his best to try to defeat us.  Though, thanks be to God, he lacks God’s omnipotence, he still works in this world just like he did in Eden when he deceived Adam and Eve.  Today as we hear the healing of the paralytic, the devil wants us to focus on the wrong things.  He wants us to see Jesus as someone who doesn’t listen to us, as He first forgave the man and only after a little bit of outrage gave the man what he really needed—or what everyone thought he really needed.  The devil wants us to focus on this body and this life as all there is at the neglect of the life to come.  But Jesus has come to precisely to heal us, but to give us forgiveness, the only healing that truly matters.

This Gospel Reading tells us how we should have been listening to the Gospel Readings in September as we heard one healing miracle after another.  It’s easy for us, who know all too well the burden of the flesh we wear, to get caught up in the healings and get a little frustrated with Our Lord.  He healed all of these other people, but when is He going to heal me?  It doesn’t seem like much to ask, especially when we hear of Jesus healing someone three weeks in a row.  But then comes this paralyzed man and Jesus starts to shift our focus.  He shows us that the healing miracles are never about the healing.  That miracle is always secondary to the real miracle: forgiveness, faith, and the eternal life that comes from those two things.  That’s what Jesus shows us here, as these men bring their friend to Jesus.  He heals him of his real problem.  No, his legs did not work.  It’s true, the first century was an awful time for people with disabilities.  They had no ramps, no Americans with Disabilities act, no anti-discrimination laws, no organizations dedicated to teaching you how to normalize life with limbs that did not work.  So even though it seems like the paralysis is the real problem, it’s not.  See, the man’s legs are going to stop working again.  He’s going to die, he’s going to go the way of all flesh.  If Jesus merely healed his legs and not his soul, what good would that be for him?  Jesus saw what was more important for the man in the long run.  He looked past the difficulties of the here and now and saw the need he truly had and filled that need.

That is what Jesus does for you.  He knows you need healing from any number of ills.  He addressed that last week when we heard His Sermon on the Mount, His reminder not to be anxious.  He knows what it is that you need for this body and life and He will give it to you because He loves you and takes care of you.  You may not receive the physical things you want in the way or at the time you expect them, but you have to trust God’s timing.  God’s time is the best time.  Remember, He is omniscient, He knows everything.  He knows when giving you what you want might actually be harmful for you, something you don’t see at the time.  So instead, He gives you what we truly need.  What He said to the paralytic He says to you: “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.”

Remember, the devil doesn’t want that.  So he hisses into your ear that this is the easy way out, God holding out on you, God once again not giving you what you really need.  But the devil is a murderer.  He does not want your sins forgiven and he wants you to see forgiveness as a nice side bonus, but not something you need today and every day.

The truth is that healing the man’s paralysis is the easier thing to do.  God could have—and has—done it with only a Word.  He has done it three times by this point in Matthew’s Gospel.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the more difficult task.  Consider what your forgiveness cost Him.  He didn’t need flesh and blood to heal paralytics.  The Old Testament contains all the proof you need that God can work through His Word spoken by other people to heal the sick and raise the dead.  But for forgiveness to happen Very God of Very God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.  God took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to take onto Himself the entire burden of all your sin.  He carried it to the cross and there endured the righteous judgment of holy God against all your sin, and the sin of the whole world.  He died the death that you should have, so that you will not die eternally.  So when He speaks His Word of forgiveness to you, that Word is covered in His Blood, signed and sealed by His death.

It’s easier to heal you, to make everything right in your world.  But it’s not the act of perfect love that He wants to give you.  He can heal your body now, but you will still stand before His judgment seat.  He can wipe out all your enemies, but you will still stand before His judgment seat.  He can reunite your fractured family, but you will still stand before His judgment seat.  His concern is for that Day, the Last Day, when you will stand before Him and give an account.  And on that Day, what would you rather have, what would you rather point to, a happy life now, something that cannot save you, or the garment of Christ’s perfect righteousness, His saving Blood covering all your sin and guaranteeing your admittance into heaven, where every tear will be wiped from your eye and no sorrow can ever plague you?

The answer is easy, and, thanks be to God, that has been given to you at your Baptism into Christ, and it is given to you again and again in the Words of Absolution and in the Feast of Jesus’ Body and Blood.  You are forgiven; heaven is opened to you.  Faith, clinging to everything Jesus has done for you, has saved you.  But that doesn’t mean life here will be a smooth ride.  That’s why the Holy Spirit has gathered you here today.  He knows there are countless things that weigh you down.  So He has brought you here to give you Jesus, the one thing that gives you the strength to bear life’s crosses.  The Holy Spirit points your eyes to font and altar.  You are Baptized.  You are fed with Christ. Take heart; your sins are forgiven.  Heaven is opened and eternal life is yours.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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Trinity XV 2017

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

What is making you anxious?  As you sit here this morning, what is pulling your mind away from giving your full attention?  Every one of us has something that bothers us, that captures our attention.  Maybe it’s aches and pains.  Maybe you have a diagnosis of cancer or some other disease and you haven’t had the strength to open up about it yet.  Maybe you spent a few hours last night looking at your bills and the balance of your bank account, and seeing that one had a higher number, and it certainly wasn’t the bank account balance.  Maybe it’s school—you don’t know how you’re going to get through tomorrow, having to sit through another class with him, or how you’re so far behind in your work even though school has only been back in for a few weeks.  Whatever your age, occupation, or gender, anxiety is something we all deal with.  Something that has to do with this body and life captures our attention, and the devil uses it to turn our eyes from God and His protection and providing to what is going wrong in our life.  Whatever the cause of your anxiety, Jesus has a message of joy and peace for you: “Do not be anxious.”

Wait.  What?  That’s supposed to be Gospel?  “Do not be anxious?”  I’m coming in with big concerns.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills.  I don’t know if I’m going to lose my job this week.  I don’t know how my kids are going to manage.  I don’t know why everything at home seems so unhappy.  And, Jesus, Your grand advice, Your solution is “Don’t be anxious?”  What gives!  How can You be so dismissive?  I’ve spent all month hearing Gospel Readings where You healed lepers and gave deaf people their hearing back.  I know You raised Lazarus from the dead.  I heard the Old Testament Reading just a few minutes ago where You miraculously fed that widow, her son, and Elijah with barely enough flour to make bread.  You gave everyone else miracles and to me You shrug Your shoulders, wave Your hand, and say “Don’t be anxious.” 

We have a tendency to mishear that statement of Jesus.  The devil wants us to hear that statement as dismissive.  He wants us to see God as aloof, up on high making demands of us while giving nothing in return.  He used to act, He used to help His people.  But now He is absent, and doesn’t seem to care or be involved.  The devil’s reasoning goes, If the Lord was involved in this world, we wouldn’t have to be anxious.  We wouldn’t have to choose between serving God and money because then we’d have all the money, all the health, all the time, all the happiness we need and we could serve Him, love Him, and obey Him perfectly.  But because God hasn’t held up His end of the bargain, we certainly shouldn’t be expected to, either.  And we know the devil isn’t the only one who uses that kind of logic.  That’s what the media likes to report in the aftermath of every disaster, natural or manmade.  If we had a dollar for every time we saw a post with that reasoning on Facebook or saw a reporter in waist-deep water coaxing that negative confession out of a hurricane victim, we’d be rich.  Repent.  We have all been misled by the devil and our own sinful nature.  God is not aloof.  He is involved in this creation in ways we cannot even comprehend.  He loves you and cares about you.  He is with you always, no matter how dark your road.

When Jesus says “Do not be anxious,” He doesn’t let that declaration stand alone.  It may sound like law, a demand for us to follow, but it really is Gospel.  It’s the same as telling a starving person, “Come to the table and eat.”  Yes, it’s a command, but it comes with a promise.  You don’t invite the starving person to eat at an empty table.  You invite because the table is spread with a feast.  Jesus doesn’t tell you “Don’t be anxious” and then leave you to your own devices.  He tells you “Don’t be anxious” and shows you why you don’t have to be.  He tells you “Consider the lilies of the field.”  But this word “consider” is much more than “think about.”  Its root is the same word as disciple, which means “learner.”  So, be taught by the lilies of the field.

The lilies don’t toil, they don’t spin.  They don’t stay awake at night, wondering who will water them before the scorching heat of midday comes.  They simply exist.  They go about their daily business of beautifying God’s creation.  They rejoice in the work God has given them to do and go about it knowing that God will sustain them and has their best interest in mind.

What can this teach you about your daily life in the midst of so many and great struggles, dangers, and things that cause crippling anxiety?  If God takes care of lilies and sparrows, things that, in the long run, are inconsequential, how much more will He take care of you, the crown of His creation?  If the Lord sees and knows every sparrow’s wing stroke, every petal of every lily, how much more does He know what happens in your daily life, how much more does He care about what happens in your daily life, and how much more will He cause it all to work out for your eternal good?

God is not absent in your struggles.  He sees and knows every single one of them.  And even if it doesn’t make sense at the time, He allows these crosses to come at the time and in the way that they are best for you.  Look at these struggles as exercise and faith like a muscle.  Without exercise, muscles waste away.  The Lord uses these struggles to strengthen your faith.  He teaches you that you can rely on Him.  It is just like you sing in a favorite hymn: “His oath, His covenant and Blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”  The Lord teaches you that things in this life are perishing, that money, self-help books, drugs, alcohol, sex, chocolate, none of that will help you.  He allows every earthly prop to give way to teach you that He alone is your solid Rock, the only one on which you can stand amid the sinking sand of this life.  He teaches you that He is always present for you in this place, speaking to you in His Word, feeding you in His Sacraments to strengthen your faith.  He teaches you that you can cast every burden on Him and He will sustain you.  He teaches you that He is in control of all things.  He may not give you a miracle like restoration of hearing or sight, curing of leprosy, or raising from the dead, but He will give you forgiveness.  He will give you His peace that the world cannot take from you.  He will give you eternal life where none of these things plague you, where no tear will ever again roll down your cheek.

 

So, what is making you anxious?  Do not worry, saying “What shall we eat” or “What shall we drink” or “How can I push on?”  Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  He will provide what you need for this body and life.  And to help you when everything is overwhelming, rejoice in the greatest gift He has given you: Himself.  Come, receive Jesus Christ as He comes to you to give you His peace that no one can take from you, peace that helps you bear all your crosses while here you wander until you praise Him yonder.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity XIV 2017

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

Leprosy is  a terrible disease.  We hear about it regularly in the Bible.  The disease begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings.  From the skin the disease eats inward into the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.  Wherever the leper went he was required to have his outer garment torn as a sign of deep grief, he was also required to shave his whole head and cover his head with his clothing, a sign of lamentation at death—his own death.  Furthermore, he had to warn passersby of his condition by crying out “unclean, unclean!” wherever he went.  He couldn’t greet anyone or receive a greeting, because in the middle east in the first century, you didn’t greet someone without embracing them, which would also make that person unclean.  If you were blessed enough to have your leprosy go away, you didn’t just go home.  You had to show yourself to the priest, who examined you and quarantined you for seven days, just to make sure you really were healed.  On the eighth day you had to make offerings and sacrifices and be involved in a very lengthy and elaborate ritual to declare you clean and fit to return to society.  Leprosy was no joking matter.  (Easton’s Bible Dictionary; Leviticus 13-14)

Though leprosy is a real disease, it is an excellent representation of sin and spiritual corruption.  It begins small, spreads gradually, and ends up in disfigurement and the corruption of the entire body and eventually death.  Sin does the same thing.  Sin corrupts, degrades, and defiles our inner nature and renders us unfit to enter the presence of a pure and holy God.  Think of Paul’s far from exhaustive list in today’s Epistle.  People involved in adultery, fornication, hatred, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfishness, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and all other sins are not fit to inherit the Kingdom of God.  People with spiritual leprosy—which includes all of us—are deserving of God’s righteous wrath.  “The flesh lusts against the Spirit,” that is, the Holy Spirit who wants us to do the things of God, to put forth love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Our flesh does not want to do any of those things.  It thinks only of itself and its own pleasure.  Repent before your spiritual leprosy leads to its rightful end.

To show what that repentance looks like, St. Luke has recorded the miraculous healing of ten lepers.  How Our Lord crosses paths with this band we do not know, but their belief is evident.  They cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us!”  You do the same thing.  Daily by virtue of your Baptism you cry out to the Lord, “Forgive me!  Have mercy!”  Every time you gather here with deepest repentance you groan “I a poor, miserable sinner confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee.  Forgive me!  Have mercy!”

When the lepers begged for mercy Jesus gave it.  He did not say “I forgive you” or “Be healed,” but declared them clean.  “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” He tells them, a roundabout way of declaring them healed, since only people without leprosy could go to the priests.  And then one obeyed perfectly.  It isn’t that nine failed to return to give thanks.  They did that, but they also didn’t make the same confession the one did.  He went to the Chief Priest, Jesus Christ, the One for whom all the other priests were but shadows and previews.  His actions confess Jesus as the only one to whom he could confess his sin and receive full and perfect forgiveness.  He returns and shouts the praises of God and prostrates himself in worship of God-in-the-flesh.  He didn’t disobey Jesus, but confessed Him as Christ, the Messiah, the One come from God to bring full healing in body and soul.

This is the same thing that happens to you every time you confess your sin.  God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ, has mercy on you, forgives you all your sins, and restores your spiritual life to perfect health.  He may not give you perfect healing in your body, but He gives you perfect healing where it matters most. 

Levitical law required that the one healed of leprosy be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificed animals.  Now in the new covenant you are sprinkled with the Blood of the sacrificed Lamb of God in Holy Baptism.  At the Font He declared you free of spiritual leprosy, free of every sin, and promised to heal you of your every sin until He calls you to Himself, preserving your coming in and your going out from that time forth and even forevermore.

He has given you His Holy Spirit who fights for you against the flesh and leads you to do those things that are pleasing to Him.  At the Font when your Old Adam was drowned in those waters, Christ crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires, the Holy Spirit was made yours to bring forth His good fruits that help keep your flesh from its old ways and lusts.  The Spirit is with you, fighting for you and within you.  And in those times when your flesh rises up and wins, the same Spirit is with you to lead you back to Christ to make your confession of sin, to again hear His voice declare you free of sin, redeemed from sin and shame, reclaimed from chains and bonds and even eternal death.

But in this life, death is your hope.  As morbid as it may sound, it is not.  The death of this body is a good thing because, just like we sing in the Easter hymn, “Jesus lives and now is death but the gate of life immortal.”  Because you are in Christ, you are promised a blessed end.  The day will come when you will be free from sin, free from this evil flesh that wants nothing more than to give into every lust and sharp temptation, free from every evil thing you do that your New Man does not want to do.  In Christ you will die, your soul will be carried to Him, and at the Last Day you will receive this body back, but perfected.  One day you will know what it is to have a body that works perfectly, that doesn’t age or ache or contract disease, that works just as it did when God lovingly fashioned it with His own Hand and breathed His own breath into it.  Then you will be with that Samaritan leper and all the fellow redeemed, glorifying God with a loud voice, worshipping at the feet of Jesus giving Him thanks for His great mercy that has no end.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity XII 2017

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

As Jesus heals the deaf-mute man, He sighs.  This is an intriguing action by Our Lord, and through the centuries has been the object of a great deal of analysis and guesses as to why and what it means.  If you follow the word “sigh,” or “groan”—the other way the Greek word is translated—throughout Scripture you begin to see that Jesus’ sighing is not a small thing.  As Jesus sighs, He expresses His anger over sin and the destruction it brought in His once good creation.  He reveals His compassion for His children, His desire that they be free of sin and experience the new heaven and new earth.  And by His sigh He intercedes for the deaf-mute man, indeed, for all of creation, praying for him and us all in ways which we cannot because sin keeps us from praying for what we ought.  The sigh of Jesus reveals the love which He has for us, the love which sent Him to the cross and now preserves His Church for the salvation of the world.

Sighing comes about as a result of sin.  Scripture shows us that women sigh at childbirth, a result of sin’s curse of pain and anguish in the delivery.  Individuals sigh as they suffer under disease and heartache, death and destruction, all things that were never intended to be a part of God’s creation.  People sigh as a sign of penitence and to express deep distress.  Sighing never indicates anything good.  As we sigh, we indicate that we know what we are experiencing is far from perfect.  When Jesus sighs, it reveals His anger over sin.  He witnesses things like what this man in the Gospel experiences, and He experiences righteous anger.  Sin gave birth to diseases and mutations in the human body that resulted in the death of senses.  When God created man’s ears, He created them to hear His own voice as He walked with them in the beauty of Eden.  When God created man’s tongue, He created it to declare His praise, to confess His great love for His creation.  But sin took away these chief functions of man.  Now this man could not hear the Words of the Book, the very voice of God recorded for the edification of His people.  Now this man could not confess his sin to God, to thank Him for the forgiveness afforded him, could not make known God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people.  Jesus sighs in anger at the destruction sin has brought about.  Not anger at that man, but anger over his situation.  And in this man we must see ourselves because he represents all of us, as we have all been marred by sin and stand not only with souls defiled by sin, but bodies broken by it as well.  Jesus’ agony over that man is the same agony He has over every ache and pain, every disease, every trouble your body experiences.  He hates that it has affected the body He created; that it has had the potential to harm faith as you wonder if God even cares about your affliction.

But therein is Jesus’ compassion as well.  Jesus isn’t like us in the twenty-first century, deluded by social media activism, equating anger with action.  Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you’ve done something to fix the situation.  We think that because we share a news article, put a special filter on our profile picture, use a special hashtag, or some such thing we’ve done something to help the cause.  No!  Putting an “I stand with Texas” filter on your picture didn’t do a single thing to help anyone affected by the hurricane.  The money you sent to LCMS Disaster Relief does do something real.  Don’t equate gestures with activity, because they are not the same thing!  Sorry to be cliché, but real action is putting your money where your mouth is, putting into action what you say is important.

And that’s exactly what Jesus’ sigh does.  It reveals His compassion because after it He acts, and acts in a way only God can.  He speaks the powerful word, Ephphatha, be opened.  And then with the same power His Word had at Creation, Jesus speaks this man into perfect hearing and speech.  Faith, which makes him righteous and which comes by hearing, is his as he hears the Word of God from the very mouth of God, and his tongue is loosed to proclaim the mercy of God, something he and the crowds cannot help but do.  This is exactly what faith does!  It declares the mighty acts of God to all who will hear because faith cannot help but confess its Source and what good things He has done for His children.  Jesus’ sigh and action here looks ahead to the greater miracle He will perform when His breath leaves Him, not in a sigh, but as He breathes His last and yields up His spirit on the cross as He dies to forgive the sin of the world.  Here the man receives merely a foreshadowing of what awaits him because of what awaits Jesus.  If he and the crowds cannot help but sing Jesus’ praise at this miracle of restored hearing and speech, imagine their elation and their new song of praise today as they stand in heaven, witnesses and recipients of Jesus’ greater miracle!  Now their tongues truly are loosed for the tongue’s chief and greatest purpose: singing the new song of all the redeemed before the Lamb for all eternity.

And that is exactly the reason why the Holy Spirit gathers you here this day and every Lord’s Day.  He knows the sin from which you need to be freed.  He knows that the only thing that can save you, that can reclaim you from the devil’s snares is the strong Word of God.  So He brings you to this place to hear the most powerful word Jesus speaks: “I forgive you all your sin.”  By that strong Word of Absolution all your sin is washed away and your tongue is loosed to sing the praises of God, to join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in their song of “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the one whose glory fills the heavens and the earth.

Because you have heard the Word of God at your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection and then again and again in the Divine Service and other places, heaven is opened to you.  Your ears have heard, the Holy Spirit has worked, and faith is created, faith which clings to all the Words God speaks to His people.  Because the Holy Spirit has converted you, opened your ears and loosed your tongue, one day you will be free from the sighing you know all too well.  In the new heaven and the new earth, sighing is a thing of the past, for “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads.  They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 35:10).  There you will experience life the way God intended it to be—in a body free from death, disease, and all of sin’s effects, in perfect relationships with your neighbor, and in unbreakable communion with God. 

For all this, for undeserved love and healing of body and soul, we give God highest praise.  Because He has sighed, hated sin and its effects and then destroyed them by Jesus’ cross, you will be free from sighing, and your sighing will be replaced by praise.  Until you are taken from the sighing of this world, until the Lord makes haste to deliver you, may His Holy Spirit keep you in the faith, in the sure and certain hope of all that lies ahead.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity XI 2017

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

In the Church there is a Latin phrase often used when discussing the Divine Service and its conduct.  That phrase is Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi; loosely translated and applied, the way you worship reflects what you believe, and what you believe shows itself in how you live.  Though this phrase finds its natural home in the things of the Church, it applies well to all other areas of our life as well.  If you believe it’s important to drive safely, you will teach others to drive safely and you naturally do so yourself.  But the problem arises when you say it’s important to drive safely, tell others to be safe on the road, and yet drive like you’re in a demolition derby—your phone in one hand, coffee in the other, and your knees steering the car.  Obviously what you say you believe you don’t believe because your life reflects something different.

This is the same principle at work in today’s Gospel.  The Pharisee and Tax Collector are going to the Temple for the evening sacrifice.  They are devout Jews who make the services of the Temple an important part of their daily life.  During this sacrifice and its burning, it was customary for people to offer out loud their individual prayers to God.  This was much like our time of silence before we make our confession at the beginning of the Service.  It was a time to remember why these sacrifices were being made, a time to reflect on one’s life and conduct and how they were not in line with what God commands, a time to implore God’s aid in leading a life that pleases Him.

With that context in mind, we see where the actions of the Pharisee and Tax Collector reveal what they truly believe.  The Pharisee begins by standing by himself, removed from the rest of the worshippers.  He does this because he believes himself to be ceremonially pure, while everyone else was unclean.  If he accidentally brushed up against another member of the congregation, he would become unclean, something he couldn’t risk.  Standing aloof from the others, he begins to speak.  Typically, Jewish prayers began with an acknowledgement of God’s goodness followed by requests, a model we still follow today.  In the case of the Pharisee, he takes on his own model of prayer, which wasn’t prayer at all, but merely self-advertisement.  He neither thanks God nor makes a request.  He boasts all the good that he has done—that he isn’t unclean like the rest of the people there, that he fasts more than required, gives ten percent of everything, not just agricultural income like the Law required, and shunned outward sexual immorality. 

On the other hand we have the tax collector.  Tax collectors were the most reviled of all people.  Though Jews, they were seen as traitors, sellouts to the Romans.  They abused their own people, stole from them, and got rich off them.  We have a higher regard for IRS auditors than first century Jews did for tax collectors.  The tax collector also stands by himself, but not in a self-protecting manner like the Pharisee.  He knows he is hated; he feels the icy and scornful stares of the rest of the congregation.  Remorseful, he beats his breast.  He closes his hands into fists and beats on his chest above his heart quickly and forcefully.  This is a gesture of extreme sorrow and anguish, something only done by Middle Eastern men in the most dire of circumstances.  Beating the heart also acknowledges what Jesus says in another place: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19).  And then he speaks.  What our English versions all record falls incredibly short.  He does more than plead for God’s mercy.  The word we here translated as “mercy” is not the same word we sing in the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy upon us…”  That’s the Greek word e)lee/w. The word in this Parable is i(la&skomai, closely related to the word for a sacrifice which covered sins and restored the relationship between God and man. The tax collector isn’t just asking for the withholding of a punishment that is deserved, but pleads that it would be withheld and that the benefit of the atoning sacrifice being offered would be his.  After the evening sacrifice was made, the tax collector beat his breast in extreme sorrow for his sin, and pleaded with the Lord that the sacrifice just made would cover his sin.  It as if he said, “O God, let it be for me!  Make an atonement for me, a sinner!”  There in the temple this man, aware of his own sin and unworthiness, with no merit of his own to commend him, longs that the great atonement sacrifice might apply to him.  And we learn from Jesus’ Words that it does. 

In this Parable Our Lord teaches us that righteousness is a gift of God made possible by means of His atoning sacrifice, which is received by those who, in humility, approach as sinners trusting in God’s grace and not their own righteousness.  It is as St. Paul said to the Corinthians: We can only stand and be saved by the Gospel, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.  Our own righteousness, as good or abundant as we think it may be, like Cain in the Old Testament Reading, it does us no good, it does not make God look at us favorably.  It is only when we despise ourselves, confess our complete sinfulness, and come to God as sinners in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice that we can go down to our house justified.

That’s why our Divine Service takes the shape it does.  We don’t begin by giving worship to God because we know we aren’t worthy to do so.  We begin with a confession, that we are poor, miserable sinners, and we implore God that, for the sake of the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, we would be forgiven.  Only after our sins are forgiven do we give worship to God.  And we follow that pattern from Invocation to Benediction—God gives and we respond in thanksgiving. 

What we take away from this Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is that trusting in ourselves gets us nowhere.  It is only when you throw yourself upon God’s mercy and implore Him that His Son’s sacrificial death would be your covering that you have any hope.  And because you are Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you go down to our house justified.  Those waters are the pledge and seal, the assurance that Christ’s sacrifice was for you, that it is yours.  And in just a few minutes you will come to this Altar, and in kneeling make your request again for the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice, and He will give it to you, the Body broken and the Blood shed for you on Calvary.  Then He sends you out into the world forgiven, at peace with God, awaiting the ultimate exaltation on your last day.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity X 2017

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

Everyone is looking for peace. In the end, that’s what each of us wants. Think about the commercials you watch on TV. Their end goal is to get you to buy their product, their service, their pill because, whether they say it or not, their claim is that it will give you peace. Buying Old Navy’s clothes will help your child who is new to their school fit in. Alex Trebek tells you that purchasing more life insurance through Colonial Pen for only cents a day will give you and your loved ones more financial peace. The dizzying parade of prescriptions will ease your restless legs, lower your cholesterol, eliminate your double chin, lift your sagging eyelids, enhance your memory, mood, and stamina, and give you the happy, peaceful life you’ve always wanted while you watch the sunset on the beach as your grandkids play in the background. But all of these things give you the kind of peace that only the world can give, and if it’s a peace the world can give, the world can take it away. Those Old Navy jeans won’t help your child find peace at their new school when all of the kids are obsessing about jeans from the next store over. Life insurance won’t give you any peace if you can’t afford the premiums. Pills won’t give you peace when your medicine cabinet is full of the next round of drugs up for class action lawsuits. Like Jerusalem, we are so often chasing after what we think will give us peace, when what—or really, Who—will give us peace is right in front of us. The will of God is to give us peace that passes our understanding, and that peace is given in Jesus Christ Our Lord.

As Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in today’s Gospel He has just finished riding into it on the back of a donkey on Palm Sunday. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem’s rejection of God’s love which will become obvious in just a few days as the Messiah is sentenced to death, mocked, and crucified. If only they believed what the voices of the Prophets promised in their sacred Word, that now shines the Long-expected, the One come to give them eternal peace, the only peace that really matters. They knew He was coming, but they didn’t care. And as we find as we examine the Gospel accounts, the Jews knew who Jesus was, but rejected Him anyways. They, just like us today, wanted peace to come through things like retail therapy, prescriptions, and false alliances with the world. The people of Jerusalem chased after everyone who said “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

They believed in that false peace right up to the year 70 when the Roman general Titus laid siege to the city, torturing Jerusalem’s residents beyond belief. In the end, 600,000 people were killed and the entire city was consumed by fire. The events that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem were so gruesome that the historian Josephus said he doubted future generations would believe a word of it, assuming it to be made up because it was so horrific.

Jerusalem’s destruction is a warning for us that we should repent and examine our lives. It reminds us that this world is not our home. But we so often live like it is. We hang our hope on the next election, the next pill, the next diet, some person, ideology, or technology. We convince ourselves that if only we had a few hundred more dollars, were a few pounds lighter, a few years younger or older, or could go back in time and undo a foolish mistake from our past, then this world would be a happy place, something we’d be entirely happy with.

But it never works out that way. Instead of living life content with what we have, with our situation in life, we get angry when our worldly peace is fleeting. And then we self-medicate. We bring peace into our swirling, restless minds, our broken hearts, our fractured relationships, our sharpest pains, our darkest depressions with all kinds of sins. We try to find peace in alcohol, drugs prescription and illegal, pornography, affairs, gossip, slander, hate, greed, wealth, possessions, Facebook rants, suicide, lies, the list goes on and on. We search for peace in all the wrong places, and when our medication of choice fails we move onto the next thing, wandering aimlessly, looking for peace where none can be found.

It is over this that Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps for you when you cannot find peace. He does not cry tears of anger, but tears of love, tears of sorrow, tears of compassion. And you cannot find peace because you are searching for it in everyplace, everything, everyone that isn’t Him. It is as St. Augustine eloquently penned, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.” Just like Jerusalem sought her peace in relationships that could never bring the earthly peace they wanted, and the people to whom Jeremiah prophesied found their peace in the lying words of false prophets, we respond to sin as it manifests itself in our life in various forms, not by turning to God, but by trying to find the solution ourselves. We turn from the God of peace to the once good creation now corrupted by sin and the devil. Like we just sang: “I have sinned and gone astray, I have multiplied transgression, chosen for myself my way.”

But your God’s almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy and pity. He has the peace which passes all understanding and wants to give it to you. He knows that life in a sinful, fractured, dying world leads you to despair, to restlessness, to sin. Satan uses it to drive you from God. So God shows mercy and pity. He does not turn His back on you even though you may turn yours on Him. He wants to forgive you, and He always stands ready to do it. If He did not want to forgive you, to restore you to Himself, to give you true and lasting peace He would not have sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you. But He has, and for Jesus’ sake you are forgiven, for Jesus’ sake you are promised peace in heaven for all eternity.

That peace comes because Jesus, the Prince of Peace came into the City of Peace as a Peace Offering. Jesus gave Himself as a ransom, as the substitute in your place to pay the price for your sin. He Himself is the Lamb that is slaughtered, the scapegoat that is banished. He wipes clean your slate. He reconciles you to the Father. He comes to His frightened disciples on that first Easter evening giving them the only peace that matters: the peace that comes from forgiven sin. And that is the peace Jesus gives to you. He forgives all your sins. He visits you in His Word, in His Body and Blood, in the Baptismal waters. Here in this place Jesus fulfills the angelic Christmas hymn we sing each week: “Glory be to God on high and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Life in this world is terrible. Yes, there are moments of good, glimpses into the beauty of heaven and the majesty of God’s glory. But along the way we know what it is to lack earthly peace and contentment. When the struggles of this life are too much to bear, when you don’t know how you can go on another day, come to the Supper. Here Jesus prepares you to face whatever ills may come, but reminds you that no matter what is taken away from you, they yet have nothing won; the kingdom ours remaineth. You have peace with God. He has bought you and washed you. He has named you and fed you. He will not let you go. You are His and He is coming back for you. Until then, cast your burden on the Lord. Rejoice in His peace that passes all understanding. He will sustain you, and in Christ there will be better days.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus

Trinity IX

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

If you take today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Unjust Manager, at face value and compare it to today’s Catechism quote, you would find that they don’t seem to go together.  It seems like Jesus commends the unjust manager, who does the opposite of helping his neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income.  So, does Jesus want us to waste people’s money and con our employers out of their money to bribe our neighbor so they will treat us kindly when we get fired?  Not quite.  We have to remember how we read the Parables.  The Parables are always about how things work in God’s Kingdom, which is different from how they operate in the earthly kingdom.  Parables always reveal something about God’s relationship to us.  Though this Parable may seem to teach us lessons contrary to Christianity, Jesus uses it to reveal the vast mercy and grace of our God.

The Parables are not moral tales like Aesop’s Fables, nor do they go alongside Emily Post’s etiquette columns.  However, they do help teach us earthly lessons from time to time.  Today’s is one that does that.  To borrow the cliché, this Parable teaches us to put our money where our mouth is.  That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  The sons of this world, those who do not have faith in Christ, may use God’s good gifts for selfish reasons, but we, the sons of light, can learn something from them about how to use our money.  But it’s not just about money.  It’s also about time and abilities.

Those of the world know that it’s wasteful to spend time and energy on something that doesn’t support their interests, desires, or long-term goals.  Talk to any accountant or financial planner and they’ll set you straight.  Put everything at your disposal to work to achieve your long-term goals.  Don’t waste time and energy on things that don’t support your end goal.  This Parable is Jesus saying, “Hey, Christians!  Take a page from the world’s playbook.  Put your resources to work for what you say is your end goal, your greatest desire.”  To say that in another way, ask yourself a question.  If you say that being in communion with God and being prepared for eternity in heaven with all the fellow redeemed is the most important thing in your life, then how are you putting your time, money, and other resources to work for that goal?  Are you supporting the congregation with your money or talents?  Are you spending time in Scripture, strengthening your faith?  Are you praying at all times, or was the last time you prayed the last time you came to church?  What Jesus teaches us by way of the unjust manager is that at least he was honest about what his real desire was—his own comfort and self-preservation.  He did everything he could to achieve that goal.  If your greatest goal is heaven, are you doing and supporting the things that strengthen your faith that will keep you steadfast in it until the Lord draws you to Himself?  That is why Jesus hits us with that sobering statement: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”

So, there it is.  There’s the crux of the matter, the point Jesus is driving home in this parable.  You can serve God or God or money or self and everything else that will fade away, rust, destroy, be eaten by moths, stolen, left here when you die.  Earthly wealth can either delight you and you can take pride in things, or earthly wealth can be put to good use, supporting the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church on earth, helping to spread the Gospel in our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our nation, and to the corners of the earth.  What will it be?  Will you put your time, talents, and treasure to the service of God, or will you put it to work bringing to you the lusts of your hearts, perishing as idolaters as St. Paul reveals of the Israelites in today’s Epistle?

But before you jump up and send in your stewardship pledge to the church office, remember that your actions have betrayed you.  Jesus wouldn’t have spoken this Parable if He didn’t know that, while we can say one thing, and perhaps succeed for a while, we give in and do the other.  Money and self are always more fun.

Though you are unfaithful in regards to unrighteous wealth and therefore undeserving of true riches, go back to the Parable, to one major detail that goes unsaid but pulls the whole Parable together.  The Master, the One who has given everything in the first place, is merciful.  He is not a hard Master.  If he was, the debtors in the Parable would have refused to obey the unjust steward.  Instead they sit down and reduce their debts, not hesitantly or with questions, but gladly.  They knew that debt reduction, and probably even debt forgiveness, was standard operating procedure for the landowner.  The text doesn’t say that, but look at the Master’s reaction when he finds out what the unjust steward did.  He doesn’t get angry.  Instead He commends, He praises the steward!  He tells him, “Now you get it!  This is how I operate, how I handle My business.  I want to be merciful!  It’s not about what I get out of it, but how My people are served.”

This is the same way God approaches you.  God has graciously given you those good gifts you learn about in the First Article of the Creed: body and soul, clothing and shoes, food and drink, and all the rest.  But He doesn’t just give them to you, but richly and daily provides you with all of them, and defends you against danger! 

Even though your response to these gifts has not always been the faithful use of them and you should suffer eternally for that, God will not allow you to suffer and die.  Instead He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do just that.  Jesus died in your place to forgive you all your sins.  He gave all He had in support of His one thing needful, His greatest desire.  He gave His life to save you, to forgive you all your sins.

Just like the sons of this world put all their resources into the things they love, so does Our Lord Jesus Christ.  He puts all His resources into you.  By the Holy Spirit He gathers together bodies of believers to form congregations.  He sends Pastors to congregations to deliver His Gifts in the Word and the Sacraments.  Jesus wants one thing: to give you His forgiveness so you can live with Him eternally.  And He makes sure that happens.  Here He forgives you for serving the things of this world instead of God, and He feeds you with His Body and Blood that strengthen your faith toward Him and your fervent love toward one another and that faith then wants nothing more than to use every God-given gift in service of the neighbor to give proof of the indescribable love of God.  

This Parable may not be the easiest to understand, but in the end, it’s not about the unjust steward.  It’s all about the abundant mercy of the Master, all about the God who richly and daily forgives you through Christ Jesus.  In Him, your debt isn’t reduced from one hundred to eighty, or even one hundred to fifty.  It’s not even reduced to zero.  In Jesus Christ your debt is paid in full and you are given a surplus of grace and mercy, divine love that will sustain you in this life and bring you into His everlasting home He has prepared for you.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity VIII

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

We aren’t strangers to Luther’s Table of Duties from the Small Catechism.  We hear those verses of Scripture that speak to our responsibilities as Baptized Christians during our time in the Catechism before the Service starts.  And just a few weeks ago the section we read together was entitled, “What Hearers Owe Their Pastors.”  The best summary of Scripture’s list of what hearers owe their Pastors is listening ears and respect.  But I think Luther missed an opportunity to elaborate.  How is it that you hearers should listen to us Pastors?  You should listen with a discerning ear.  You should listen while your eyes study the Scriptures.  Your job as a hearer in this regard was summed up well by St. John in his first Epistle where he said: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).  That’s not to say you should listen with suspicion.  My job isn’t to sprinkle in a heresy or two just to make sure you’re on your toes.  In fact, I made vows to do the exact opposite of that!  Instead, you should listen to make sure what I say is in accord with what God’s Word teaches and with the summary of the faith as found in the Small Catechism.  Sadly, not every Pastor is faithful to Scripture.  Just as God revealed through the Prophet Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament Reading, some people go out claiming to be from God and preach lies that are contrary to the Scriptures or claim to be sent by God when they go out only by their own dreams and imagination.  So, you as hearers owe it to your Pastors to be diligent studiers of the Scriptures so you can grow in faith and knowledge and encourage us to do the same.  But you don’t just owe that to us; you owe it to yourself to be a student of the Scriptures, to immerse yourself in the living and active Word by which the Holy Spirit increases your faith and prepares you for the life to come.  Immersing yourself in the Word will never, ever be a bad thing for you to do.

Jesus does not have indifferent words for those who would lead you astray and teach things contrary to the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  He calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing, a demonic name, and rotten trees with bad fruit which should be cut down and thrown into the fire, shorthand for hell.  This may sound harsh to our modern ears, but Our Lord is showing us that doctrine is not an indifferent matter, someplace we can agree to disagree.  People who claim to stand in the stead of Christ and teach or preach false doctrine do not stand in Christ’s stead, but the devil’s and can lead you to eternal death.  Theology is that serious.  It’s not just a playful pastime.

Why?  Remember Jesus doing battle with the devil in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).  Every Word that comes from God to us is precious and to be held in the highest regard.  Hearing the Word of God, holding it sacred, and gladly hearing and learning it brings great blessings, the greatest being eternal life.  Hearing false doctrine that obscures the Gospel and teaches us to live in ways that are blatantly contrary to the Word of God bring condemnation.

That’s why the Lord was so angry in the days of Jeremiah.  False prophets were leading people directly to hell.  Hear again what Jeremiah said: “[The false prophets] say continually to those who despise the Word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”  Certainly those being led astray claimed to believe in the true God, those in the Gospel who call Jesus “Lord, Lord!”  The modern equivalent are the people we all know who claim to be Christians but intentionally live contrary to the Ten Commandments—refusing to attend the Divine Service, refusing to honor authorities, demanding that it is their right to have sex with whoever they please, doing everything possible to take that which is not their own, saying whatever they want about whoever.  Repent.  The people who meet that description of knowingly breaking God’s Law aren’t just sitting out there, enjoying a leisurely brunch or sleeping in.  Every one of us have been led to believe we can live like that by the false preacher that lives inside of each of us, called our sinful nature or the Old Adam.  That’s why we all must hear preachers who preach the same sermon that Jesus did: “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mk. 1:15).

That’s not to say we are saved by our works, that there is a list of things to do to earn God’s favor and gain heaven.  Of course, we can never do that because all of our attempts at self-made righteousness always fall short.  Those who call out to Jesus, “Lord, Lord!” and go to hell are the same ones in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats who plead their own works, who tell Jesus, “No, I didn’t feed You when You were hungry or clothe You when You were naked because I never saw You like that.  But look at everything else I did.  Shouldn’t that count for something?!” 

Our works are never enough.  But Jesus doesn’t just fill in our gaps and make up for the places we’re short.  He is completely righteous while we are sinners through and through.  He is completely living while we are in the midst of death.  So, Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death are our hope.  When we are led astray by the unholy trinity of preachers, the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, we turn to the Atonement, to Jesus laying down His life in our place, doing everything to accomplish our salvation.  That is our trust—His death and resurrection, not our works.  And on top of this, Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit who protects us from false prophets and false teachers who would lead us astray.  The Bible, which He has caused to be written for our learning and salvation, is our shield against the spiritual wolves.  When you don’t know if someone is teaching correctly, read Scripture, review the Catechism.  Read the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer.  Every attack the world has, every sin they say is okay and want you to go along with has been addressed in God’s Word.  Living not by bread but by that Word of God helps you find those who teach the simple truths of God’s Word that lead you on the way of salvation.  They remind you that you are Baptized into Christ, that He forgives you and by His Holy Spirit gives you the ability to turn from sin and live in ways that are pleasing to your Father in heaven.  And because you are given Christ’s work and His Spirit, “you are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity VII 2017

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

Jesus teaches us to rely on Him, to cast our every care on Him, because He cares for us.  The miraculous feeding of the 4,000 was the second time the disciples saw Jesus feed a crowd.  As the end of Mark 8 shows, Jesus is questioning the disciples about their lack of faith.  They saw Him feed 9,000 men, plus women and children with only a few loaves of bread and a few small fish.  But the disciples still did not believe, they did not think that God had all things in His control and that He would cause everything to work out for their good.

The First Article of the Creed and the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer complement one another, teaching us that God works all things out for our good because He is the one who gives us everything necessary for this body and life.  Belief in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth is what is necessary to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Without faith, there is no prayer.  If you don’t believe in God or that He is almighty, then why bother praying?  The act of prayer is a proof of faith.  Even if you only pray because someone makes you or you think you should because of some legalistic obligation, there is still an underlying faith, perhaps a small or weak one, but faith nonetheless.  It clings to even the slightest expectation that God will hear your prayer and have the ability to grant it, even if the motivation to pray isn’t from the best of desires.

Many things drive us to prayer—pain and suffering, weakness and distress, and even despair.  Most of our prayers revolve around First Article gifts—the things of this world and our daily lives.  These are good prayers, and things our heavenly Father wants us to pray to Him about.  He cares about those things because He cares about us.  When you pray for food, health, employment, a good house, or the like, you are confessing that you believe God has made you and all creatures and that He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them.  Prayer confesses to God that you seek your daily bread from Him, which includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of this body and life—things like food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods a devout spouse, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  You believe that He daily and richly provides you with all you need to support this body and life.

But it’s more than the material things that you rely on from day to day.  Prayer confesses that God defends you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil.  This is where prayer appears the most because nothing prompts prayer like dangerous or difficult circumstances.  This is where the theology of the cross is shown clearly in our lives.  No matter what bad things happen in our life, we know that God is in control.  It’s what we just sang in the hymn: “We sought the Lord in our distress; O God, in mercy, hear us.  Our Savior saw our helplessness and came in peace to cheer us.”  Each of us has a story of a time that something awful should have happened to us.  Because of your own sin or the sin of someone else or a combination of the two, something evil should have befallen you.  But it didn’t.  And that’s something to marvel about, something to praise God for.  And what this has shown you is that you’re not as alone as you might think.  You’re not as isolated as the devil, the world, and your sinful nature would lead you to believe.  Quite the contrary—you are God’s child!  He never leaves or abandons you.  He has promised to be with you in all circumstances.  Like you pray for in Luther’s Morning and Evening prayers, God’s holy angels attended to you and kept you from all harm and danger.

But that isn’t the only divine aid you receive.  Your fellow Christians are here for you, too.  The person sitting next to you has gone through difficult circumstances of their own.  They can relate to you in a way you may not realize unless you talk to them.  By sharing your story, you are opening yourself up to the love and concern of a Christian brother or sister.  You might think your story is too embarrassing or it’s too hard to let people into your world, but that’s exactly what the devil wants you to think.  He wants you to think no one cares about you, that everyone around you is looking for an excuse to look down at you, to make fun of you, to have something against you.  The devil wants you to think that, to get you to isolate yourself because then he can attack all the more.  He feeds off your loneliness.  He divides you from God and neighbors and then attacks, convincing you that you don’t need anyone else, that you can do everything by yourself and bear all your own burden without the consolation of the brethren, your like-minded Christian family.  He gets you to see the Third Article gift of the Christian Church as something you don’t need, and if he succeeds, you’re not only cut off from your fellow Christians, but from the place where Christ feeds you and forgives you, because you think you don’t need this place, this family, this gathering around Christ Himself.

This may sound like self-help hokum, a ‘turn to your neighbor, share a story, cry, and hug’ moment, but it’s not.  Remember that even Luther taught in the Small Catechism that God’s First Article gifts are not limited to food and clothing.  He includes with all the things necessary for this body and life: “Good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”  Christian conversation and consolation are blessed things the Lord has given to us to help us endure to the end, another weapon to use against the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Just like Jesus could turn a few loaves of bread and small fish into food for 9,000+ people, so can He use a few minutes of listening to go a long way for a Christian friend in need, or for your own good when someone else is your listening ear.  Sharing Christian hope begins here in the church as the Word is read and preached, and radiates out to the narthex, to Founders Hall, to the parking lot, to the ride home, to your home, to all the places you go.  Christian faith is not something confined to Sunday morning or this building.  When we comfort one another with the consolation of Jesus Christ and the hope of the Gospel, it brings light and life to someone who finds themselves in a desolate place.  Just like Jesus had compassion on the 4,000 who found themselves in a desolate place, so does He have compassion on everyone whom He has created.  And that compassion led Him to the cross where He died in our place and then to the giving of the Holy Spirit to gather us into communities centered on Jesus and His death and resurrection that give us hope beyond what seems like an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth. 

There is a common thread running through last week’s Gospel and today’s.  Last week we heard about our inability to keep God’s Law and our total unworthiness to inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Today we heard about our inability to do something as simple as feed ourselves without divine intervention.  Jesus makes it clear that only He can rescue us from the dire situations of temporal and eternal death.  All hope must be placed in Jesus Christ who came to fulfill the Law for us and remove its curse from us.  He brings to the point of despair, of knowing that there is nowhere to turn but to God alone, so we understand completely that of our own we have no strength and can only rely on Him for help in this life and salvation in the life to come.  He works through crosses, through these trials we endure, to strengthen our faith, to teach us that our help is not of ourselves, but is in the Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. 

Today our source of hope and encouragement is another miraculous feeding.  We are fed with bread blessed by Jesus, and given to us along with His very Body, the one broken for us on the cross.  We are given wine to drink that is the Blood of Christ, shed for our forgiveness.  The miracle is that in this bread and wine Christ is truly present and gives us good things.  Through it He strengthens our faith toward Him and our love for one another.  He gives us every good thing that we need to encourage us on our journey towards heaven.  He feeds us to prove that we can cast our every burden on Him because He cares for us.  To God all praise and glory.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity VI 2017

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

If you came to church today feeling like you were a fairly decent person, I’m sure the Readings we have heard today have changed that perception.  “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” doesn’t sound like much Gospel.  For as bad of a rap as we give them, the Pharisees were good people in a worldly definition of good.  They were the people you would trust with the most intimate secrets, knowing the combination to the safes at Fort Knox, and the like.  They were good people.  They strove to do everything correctly, to be honest and upright people.  They did it for the wrong reasons, of course, but to the outside world they made the saintliest grandmother look like the member of a biker gang.  So, unless you’re better than them, there’s no way you’re entering heaven.  And since you’ve been confronted by the Ten Commandments, St. Paul’s admonition to stop living in sin, and Jesus’ revelation that keeping the Ten Commandments is far more than simply keeping the letter of the law, you have been shown that, no, there is no way your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, and, no, you cannot hope to enter heaven on your own merits.

You know this because the Law has done its work.  The Law always accuses.  Since the Fall into sin, there is no good use of the Law.  It will never reveal an ounce of righteousness in us.  When Jesus begins to unpack the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, He exposes our hypocrisy, our false belief that we are good people, that our sins are just little mistakes to be expected, and not a big deal.  But we see that they are a big deal.  A deadly, damned-to-hell big deal. 

It’s not just the letter of the Law we have to keep, but the spirit of it as well.  Jesus reveals that by the time we break the actual Commandment, there has been a long lead-up to it.  Murder doesn’t simply begin with taking the life of another person.  It begins with thinking life would be better without that person around.  That’s what Jesus means when He says that insulting your brother or calling him “you fool” is equal to murder.  It’s not the insult itself that damns.  Even Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “fools and blind men” later in Matthew’s Gospel (23:17).  It’s the underlying attitude, the anger at the person that thinks whatever situation just happened that brought about the outrage wouldn’t have happened had they not been present.  Then this leads to hatred, and hatred left unchecked can lead to murder, bringing it about that the person in question no longer exists in this life.

Were we to read on, Jesus goes on to explain that the same process is involved in sins against the Sixth Commandment as well.  It’s not just the act of adultery, being intimate with someone who is not your spouse, but the lead-in that is sinful as well.  Looking at another person and lusting over them is equal to committing adultery.  You may not have been physically intimate with them, but in your mind you were.  Just like murder, lusting after someone can lead to physical action, and every step along the way has broken the Commandment not to commit adultery.

What we are shown is that sin is a slippery slope.  It may start with something that seems innocent enough—an insult hurled in your head or a lingering glance at the person who has piqued your lust.  But even that is a sin and it becomes a gateway that leads to greater sin.  Even if we all took Xanax around the clock or dressed everyone in unflattering mumus, put the strictest of parental controls on our Internet connections, and cut off the sexual images that have taken over every form of media from newspapers to TV, we still would not be free from sin.  Our mind can conjure up images that lead to sin, and unless we can burn out our memories, we will always recall what someone did to us that day on the playground in second grade and become angry.  So long as we are in this sinful flesh we will never be entirely free from uncalled for anger against our neighbor, impure lust, covetousness, boasting, and all the rest.

Our minds, inspired by the way the world works, tell us to try harder.  To read the rules and strive to follow them, to become experts in the rules.  Those who follow the rules and are good people will be rewarded.  But the solution isn’t the Law.  It’s not trying to keep the Ten Commandments, because there we can only find hell.  St. Paul told the Romans that the more we study the Law the more we see our sinfulness.  As we meditate on God’s Law we see that no part of us is unstained by sin.  Even though the Law of God is good, it’s not good news for us who break it.

What did we sing in the Introit at the beginning of the service?  “Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy.”  Our righteousness is never sufficient and our good works are never enough.  We don’t tell God, “Look at all the good I’ve done and judge me by that.”  Instead we plead for mercy, for forgiveness, for the withholding of what we truly deserve.  At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus already reveals what He will do to give us that mercy.  He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.”  Jesus came to fulfill the Law in your place.  He actively does all the things written in the Law, keeping every Commandment perfectly where we have not, and He passively suffers everything the Law demands for sin, being judged in our place.  He alone has the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Whenever we become angry with our neighbor and break the Fifth Commandment, our prayer is for mercy, to be delivered because of Jesus’ righteousness.  When we look at our neighbor with lust in our heart and break the Sixth Commandment, we pray for mercy, to be delivered because of Jesus’ righteousness.  When we waste our time, lie, speak words that harm our neighbor’s reputation, covet our neighbor’s house, spouse, or life, the only thing we can do is plead for mercy, praying “O Lord Jesus, deliver me in Your righteousness.” 

And He does!  He makes His righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees yours.  He gives you His righteousness, His fulfillment of the Law, His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  He Baptizes you into His death and resurrection.  He gives you the benefit of that death and resurrection in the words of Absolution and in His forgiving and strengthening Body and Blood.  Jesus takes onto Himself what you deserve and pours into you what is His, to guarantee your forgiveness and everlasting life.  By His Holy Spirit He gives you new light, new hope, new strength, new powers, the ability to turn from sin, and when you do sin, the ability to cry out for mercy that responds in forgiveness.  Because you cannot keep the Law, Jesus has in your place.  The Law is fulfilled by the Gospel, by Jesus dying and rising, and keeping you in His forgiveness and His grace until you reach your journey’s end.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity V 2017

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

 One of the greatest struggles we face as Christians is that between faith and unbelief.  On one hand, we have faith—the belief in Christ as our Savior, the confidence that God has our eternal best interest in mind, and the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is with us always to speak to our hearts and minds the very Words of Jesus.  But unbelief is never far away.  It lives in our rational, fallen mind.  It tells us that God plays no role in our lives.  This unbelief thrives on pessimism and optimism, on failure and success.  When things go wrong, we question if God cares, if He is really watching, and, at worst, if He really even exists.  When things go well, we pat ourselves on the back, proud of all the work we accomplished all by ourselves.  “Pessimism and optimism are human emotions.  Where they rule, faith is falsified.  For faith has nothing to do with emotions.  [Rather, faith] is the unshakable trust in the unbreakable promises of God” (Sasse, Lonely Way 1, 72, emphasis added).

We see all of this come to bear in today’s Gospel as Peter, James, and John are confronted by Jesus as He turns their fishing boat into a floating pulpit.  After laboring all night and coming home empty-handed, they are frustrated, tired, and in no mood to listen to others give unsolicited advice.  But there they are, floating along listening to this new preacher when suddenly the preacher starts to tell them how to fish.  He tells them to let down their nets in the wrong part of the lake at the wrong time of day.  It’s a sort of adding insult to injury after a full night with no catch.  They still had to wash and fold the nets as if they had caught something, and now they’ll have to repeat the process because some traveling preacher thinks He knows something about fishing.  You can hear the terseness in Peter’s voice: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.”  But then something else takes over—faith.  Instead of allowing pessimism and failure to run the show, the faith created in him by the preaching of Jesus takes over and he changes course: “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net.”  His faith in the face of seeming failure is rewarded by a catch of fish so large the entire fleet can’t bring it to shore.  He, along with James and John, are given faith, an unshakable trust in the unbreakable promises of God.  They see that the One who spoke these very fish into being on the fifth day of Creation is standing in their boat.  But joy doesn’t last long.  They realize that emotions, not faith, had been running their life.  They trusted in themselves, not God, to provide.  Peter confesses His sin along with the punishment he deserves—abandonment by God.   But Jesus does not abandon him to death.  Rather, He has mercy on him, forgives him, and sends him out into life forgiven to be a witness to the mercy of God.

What about you?  How has optimism or pessimism challenged your faith?  The devil uses these emotions to eat away at faith, to try to convince us that God is not in control, that He is not present among His Church today as He was during His earthly life.  And all of this comes to bear far more in pessimism than optimism.  The devil likes it when we wring our hands, when we would rather sit and weep daintily into a lace handkerchief or write a post on Facebook than boldly fight the devil, challenging him as Jesus did with the very Words of Holy Scripture.  Instead of calling him a liar, that one little word that can fell him, we play the part of our first parents.  We listen to his sales pitch and instead of realizing that it’s a gimmick, that it’s too good to be true, we start to believe him.  We look at the sins not just allowed, but celebrated and encouraged by our nation—sins like murder and adultery and discrimination.  We look at our cities through the lens of the nightly news that begins with 15 minutes of homicide, robbery, and bigotry.  We look at our families, complete with dissention, a refusal to bear with one another in love, and drama that would make even daytime TV and soap operas blush.  And then we look at ourselves and see our failures, our depression, our every imperfection.  “Where is God in all of this,” we ask ourselves.  How does faith factor in when my eyes see nothing but sin and evil, failure and the trajectory that things will only continue to get worse?

Jesus’ call of Peter, James, and John began with a ridiculous command: “Let down your nets for a catch.”  It made no sense to listen to Jesus.  They were tired, hungry, and angry.  Going to shore without fish meant going home without a paycheck.  When Jesus told them to do something completely contrary to logic, they had every earthly right to reject the command, and would have even felt justified if they had refused and given Him a sermon of their own.  But they listened.  Against all rational judgment, in the face of pessimism and failure, they let down their nets and at Jesus’ command a miracle occurred. 

You, Christian people; you, beloved of the Lord, are the fish.  In the chaos of the sea that is your world, nation, city, and family, the Church is the net and the boat.  By Word and Sacrament Jesus has rescued you from the evil.  That doesn’t mean that failure and sinful pessimism or optimism, trust in anyone but God, will stop on this side of eternity.  Faith is not a prosperity gospel—just believe hard enough and the bad stuff will just disappear.  The world will not stop being evil.  But it is into this evil world that your Lord came in the flesh.  It is this evil world full of sin and death that Jesus loves, and it is for this evil world that He died.  While you were still sinners, Christ died for you.  When you trusted in yourself, Christ died for you.  When you doubted God’s goodness, Christ died for you.  He forgives you all of your sin.  He will not cast you off forever, departing from you because you are a sinner.  Rather, He comes to you all the more, reaches out to you more earnestly, with greater compassion.  He is present among you as He has promised to be—speaking to you in His Word, forgiving all of your sins with His declaration of Absolution, strengthening your dying body and blood with His risen, life-giving Body and Blood.  He has lived in this world and witnessed firsthand how overwhelming it can be to give into the human emotions of optimism and pessimism and abandon faith, so He works all the more to strengthen your faith and to keep you in it. 

The turmoil in your life and the war going on inside of you will have an end. You will not be in this war between faith and reason forever. Jesus has died and has risen again. He has ascended into heaven. He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, and He will take you and all believers into His kingdom which will have no end. No one will be plucked out of His hand. And on this side of eternity, you are not alone. You are surrounded by an innumerable host of saints, both here in time and there in eternity, people who intercede for you and with you, bearing with you in love.

Take heart.  The God who has created faith in you will sustain it, and He will see you through until that faith attains its end in heaven.  Then you will see clearly that God is love.  God wants the best for you, and He is good to you in Christ.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2017

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

As God reveals His plan of salvation for the world, we see embodied the truth which God speaks: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord” (Is. 55:8).  The Feast which we observe today, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, is part of what St. Luke records as the lead-in to the birth of Christ.  We see again proof that God does not function in the ways we would.  He does not send His Son to be born of a powerful or wealthy family, but into poverty and derision, and by circumstances which prove that God has His hand involved.  By the birth of Christ, and especially in Mary’s hymn, which we still sing today, we understand that God’s work and His eyes are in the depths, but man only in the height.

When St. Mary went to visit her cousin, St. Elizabeth, the once barren and almost equally unexpectedly pregnant mother of St. John the Baptizer, Mary was only a child.  She was a pregnant, unwed teenager.  She had claims to a royal lineage, but the dynasty was long defunct.  King Herod was neither of the Davidic line nor a Jew.  And Caesar probably didn’t know who David was.  Mary’s family was poor, without honor or prestige in Nazareth.  If she, or anyone else in her family, tried to get any mileage out of being a distant relative of King David, they were probably laughed at, thinking they were making it up, or worse, scorned because the hearer thought they were trying to be better than everyone else.

Regardless, Mary knows the truth.  She knows the genealogy.  She knows God’s Word, that of her family would come the Messiah, even if she is thought a fool, vain, or uppity for it.  And then comes the unexpected—Gabriel visits, the Holy Spirit overshadows, and Mary conceives in her womb without the intervention of Joseph or any other male.  She is now highly favored, blessed among women, the mother of God.  Yet if there were laughs at claims of royal blood, how much more will they laugh when she claims that her Child is not illegitimate, and she is still a virgin? 

Likely embarrassed and hiding the news, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her aged cousin.  Before Mary can tell Elizabeth what has happened, Elizabeth’s baby, John the Baptizer, the promised Forerunner, leaps in joy as his God and Lord visits.  And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, confirms John’s confession by addressing Mary as “the mother of my Lord.”  She recognizes that, just as God was involved in her conception after a life of barrenness, so has God done miraculous things in bringing about Mary’s Child, fully God yet fully Man from the moment of His conception by the Word of God.  Elizabeth praises Mary, not for who she is, but for the faith created in her by the Word, the faith which clung to the promise of the Savior to come.  She believed, and that faith is counted to her as righteousness, as she carries the One who gives that righteousness.

And then the Holy Spirit again visits Mary and she sings one of the most beautiful confessions of the faith man has ever known.  Her hymn, which we know as the Magnificat, confesses Christ, confesses the seemingly ridiculous ways of God.  He has raised up the lowliest of women.  She is humble, knowing that she is not deserving of this honor, not worthy for even an angel to speak to her, let alone to give life to God in the flesh.  So she extols the merciful God who gives gifts to His creation.

And in those gifts is seen the ridiculousness of God in the world’s eyes.  Since Satan’s pride infected us at the Fall, our eyes have not been focused on God’s mercy or the needs of our neighbors.  Rather, as Proverbs declares of us, “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes!  And their eyelids are lifted up” in arrogance (Prov. 30:13, addition from NKJV footnotes).  We clamor to help those above us, hoping to earn some kind of favor for them.  Luther, commenting on the Magnificat, writes of man being the opposite of God: “No one is willing to look into the depths with their poverty, disgrace, squalor, misery, and anguish.  From these all turn away their eyes.  Where there are such people, everyone takes to his heels, forsakes, and shuns and leaves them to themselves; no one dreams of helping them or of making something out of them.  And so they must remain in their depths and in their low and despised condition” (AE 21).  But because God is perfect, because no one is above Him, all He can do is look down into the depths to regard those of low degree.  And He looks down to us in the depth of sin and death and looks and remembers the mercy that He promised to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

This is why Mary magnifies the Lord.  To magnify means to proclaim greatness.  It doesn’t mean to make larger, as if it were something small or insignificant, but to laud it, or to cause it to be held in greater esteem or respect.  Mary lauds God’s character: His goodness, the great things He does on our behalf, and the promises He makes and keeps.  That is why we sing with her.  Our praise of God is centered on who God is and what He does for us, specifically His salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

This salvation, the mercy spoken to our fathers, is that God sees us in our distress and acts to help us.  Mercy is God’s answer to our misery.  All the heartaches and distresses that we know in this life are seen and known by God.  He knows your sickness, sadness, depression, broken relationships, hurts, and everything else.  He knows how all these things can weigh heavily on your heart, adding to your distress.  You can only be lifted up by God’s mercy.

God’s mercy and forgiveness, help and salvation are all dependent on the child in Mary’s womb, everlasting God in the flesh.  Jesus will be the one to lift you up because He was lifted up on the cross.  In Him, God has seen your distress, your sin, and your death.  He has acted in mercy to save you by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is in Him that the Mighty One has done great things for you.

God is faithful to His promise to you.  Through Word and Sacrament He gives the forgiveness that Jesus died to win.  When Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead He will bring you in your perfected body to the heavenly home He went to prepare for you.  He will bring that promise to pass just as He kept His promise to Eve and Abraham.  Until then, ponder all these things with Mary, focus on the mercy of God in the flesh.  And when you do you can sing with her “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession 2017

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

On this day in 1530 a man named Christian Beyer stood before Emperor Charles V and a host of other people to make a confession of what his group, derogatorily called the “Lutherans,” believed.  As he stood to confess the faith, he did so on the basis and with the comfort of Holy Scripture: “I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and will not be put to shame.”  There was a lot at stake—livelihood, reputation, and even one’s life.  Just seven years prior two young men, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, were burned at the stake for confessing what was called “Luther’s doctrine,” which really is the doctrine of Scripture.  And Luther himself could not come to Augsburg to confess the faith because there was a bounty on his head.  Today the Church gives thanks for the host that has gone before us that boldly and unwaveringly confessed the Scriptural, Christian, and Apostolic faith, and prays for the strength to do the same.

The confession read at Augsburg might have been new as it relates to its composition, but in reality it was very old.  It was a confession of the teaching of Holy Scripture and a correction of the abuses that had corrupted the Church, that obscured the Gospel and insulted the suffering and merit of Christ.  Theologians and princes signed onto it, making this confession their own.  And we still do this today, we still confess that the Augsburg Confession is a correct exhibition of the Word of God.  You heard it just a few weeks ago at my Installation, when I repeated the vow of my Ordination: “I make these confessions my own because they are in accord with the Word of God.”  But it’s not just Pastors who make a confession of the Gospel that salvation is found in Christ alone.  At your Confirmation you promised, by the grace of God, to continue steadfast in your confession and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.

Where does a confession come from?  Where did Luther and the other Lutheran fathers obtain the substance of their confession and the strength to declare it in the face of kings and the rulers of this world, even though it could mean certain death?  Where does your confession find its root?  A confession is born out of faithfully hearing God’s Word which proclaims that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  That truth is at the heart and center of everything we hold to be true.  That’s why the beating heart of Epiphany or any other Lutheran congregation isn’t activities or groups, but the Divine Service.  Here we hear and receive Christ.  He speaks to us and we speak His Word back to Him.  We are shaped by the cross, forgiven, restored, renewed to fellowship with God as He feeds us the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for our salvation.  We are sent out into the world forgiven and made bold to speak the glorious truth of the Gospel, that, despite what we have done there is forgiveness, full and free, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is not something we earn, not something we need a boost from God for so we can obtain it ourselves.  This is the gift of God given so that no one can boast, but declare, “The Lord has done great things to me and holy is His Name” (Luke 1:49).

This truth is at the core of the Augsburg Confession.  Luther and the other Reformers weren’t out to do something political, but to preach the Gospel.  Clearly and carefully our forefathers in the faith declared the truth of forgiveness by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and drew out its Biblical implications for the life of the Christian Church.  Whether the Augsburg Confession is dealing with sin or the Lord’s Supper or the Office of the Holy Ministry, all Christian teaching revolves around the article on which the Church stands or falls, the doctrine of justification:

It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake, through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in His sight. (AC IV)

That’s what it means to be a Lutheran.  We aren’t a Lutheran out of some sort of German pride, brand loyalty, or adoration of a sixteenth century monk-turned-reformer.  Being Lutheran is a confession that you are totally dependent upon God, totally helpless without Him, deserving of nothing but hell were it not for His love, His Son, His Spirit.  Apart from this central truth, the total proclamation of every Word of Holy Scripture, there is no hope.  If anything depends on me, it will utterly fail.

By God’s grace you are no longer a stranger or a foreigner, an enemy of God, but a fellow citizen with the saints and members of the household of God.  Through the Word and the Sacraments you have been given faith, you have God’s Name placed upon you, and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit who enables you to make a good confession of Christ before men.  By God’s grace you are given the ability add your “Amen” to this great Confession which we commemorate today.  It confesses the same faith in the same Jesus that has saved every generation since time began.

The Augsburg Confession was written, not to pat ourselves on the back as a learned or superior group of people, but to give glory to Jesus Christ, to restore the bold confession of His Name, His cross and resurrection, His salvation.  We make it our own in the humble acknowledgement that only the pure Word of God can give us true comfort and can sustain the Church against her enemies.  May God preserve us in our confession of the true faith by His Holy Spirit until He draws us to Himself.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Trinity 1 2017

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

As we enter into the second half of the Church Year, our attention shifts.  In the first half of the Church Year we focus on the life of Christ.  Annually we repeat the cycle of birth—life—death—resurrection—ascension—giving of the Holy Spirit.  Having heard once again what Our Lord has done to accomplish our salvation, we now ask a very Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”  In other words, what implications does the first half of the Church Year have on my life today?  Nothing the Church does is haphazard or accidental.  The paraments and vestments have changed to green, the color of life and growth.  Now our attention shifts to our spiritual life as it grows out of the life of Christ.  The love He gave to us, embodied in His death and resurrection, we imitate by caring for others, by using the gifts and abilities God has given us to serve our neighbor.  The faith created by the Word, seeks to grow and do those things which are pleasing to God.

But it can be tempting to think or to worry that our actions or financial status on earth cause our salvation, especially with Gospel Readings like the one we heard today, the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  The Old Testament reading, whose promise is repeated several times in the New Testament, does not let us believe that.  What does Moses record by divine inspiration?  “Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”  And don’t forget—Abraham was rich, proof that even the rich can go to heaven!  Faith alone saves.  However, as St. James teaches, faith naturally lives in a very specific way, doing good works which please God, serve the neighbor, and supply proof that faith is alive and active.  As the Epistle and Gospel teach, one of those proofs that we love God, whom we cannot see, is that we love our brother, whom we can see. 

Lazarus and the Rich Man lay that out perfectly.  The Rich Man had every opportunity to demonstrate love for his fellowman, since one of the poorest, most vulnerable members of his community was literally at his doorstep.  But don’t be misled by our translation of what Our Lord tells; the Greek here is vivid.  Lazarus wasn’t gently laid at the Rich Man’s door by caring friends; he was dropped, thrown down there, probably by people who didn’t want to look at a sore-ridden homeless person in their white picket fence neighborhood.  Doubtlessly, thought they were being helpful, but passing the buck and expecting someone richer than you to be charitable for you is not charity on your part. 

The Rich Man thought he was a good, devout, God-fearing person.  He calls Abraham his father.  He touts his lineage as the reason he should receive divine aid.  But as we see laid out in the exchange between the Rich Man and Abraham, he did not have faith that caused him to do what the Law of God commanded, that he see to the welfare of the poor.  Instead, he put his faith in himself, in his possessions, in his family tree.  He has no faith in the Word of God and rejects God’s chosen, promised way of salvation.  When he asks that Lazarus visit his brothers, he openly rejects something as foolish, as simple as faith created by the Word of God.  He wants flashy signs with a high production value—a Scrooge-esque vision of what evils await unless the one receiving the vision change course.  Even when surrounded by the flames of hell, unbelief refuses to repent. 

On the other hand, Lazarus is the image of faith.  Although we usually assume Lazarus to be a beggar by trade, Jesus does not call him one.  Even when he is thrown at the Rich Man’s door, he does not beg.  Instead, Jesus says he simply desires or longs to be fed with what falls from the table.  He trusts in God to provide for all his needs, and knows that his days are in God’s hands.  He accepts whatever comes from his God, fearing, loving, and trusting in Him above all things.

Lazarus is the picture of how we are as Christians.  He suffers as we all suffer in this life, and he lives by faith.  He trusts the promises of Holy Scripture, that the Messiah would come, that God loves him and cares for him.  His sorrows don’t impress God, rather God uses his sorrows to keep him dependent.  That’s what crosses do in this life, the suffering we all endure.  They teach us that we cannot rely on ourselves at all, but rather trust in God to satisfy the desire of every living thing.  The crosses you bear, be they illness, poverty, addiction, lust, all are designed to teach you to pray, “Let no false doctrine me beguile, let Satan not my soul defile, grant strength and patience unto me to bear my cross and follow Thee.” 

In the Gospel, we see these crosses in the form of Lazarus’s wounds.  Our translation is wrong when it says “moreover, the dogs came and licked his wounds.”  The Greek is simply “but the dogs came and licked his wounds.”  Lazarus received mercy, he received compassion from the dogs.  They didn’t do anything to change his situation, but they did help him bear that affliction.  They were a blessing to him, not a further curse.  Our wounds are licked by the dogs God sends to us, in the form of pastors, Christian friends, and especially His gifts in the Divine Service.  When we receive these divine blessings they may not necessarily remove the cross, but they make it easier to carry.  We receive strength and encouragement from the Word of God, from the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, from the ability to call upon His Name in prayer in every trouble, from the families—biological and otherwise—into which God has placed us. 

The point of all this is that God would not leave us in unescapable sorrow.  He reaches out to us.  We have Moses and the prophets and are comforted by their promises.  We have hope!  And He sends the Gospel to us, the cleansing and life-giving Words by which He creates faith that receives every good, perfect, and merciful gift from above.  No matter what your circumstances, addictions, abuse, neglect, sin, God does not leave you in your sorrows without comfort.  He reaches out to you in love which gives you the ability to reach out to others with that same love, a reflection of the dying love God has for His children. 

As your faith grows and does those things which are pleasing to God, the greatest good work it can do is bring you to this place, to receive from God those gifts He loves to give in an abundance you could never deserve.  Here you have every consolation, every comfort, and promise, and hope which you can confess to those around you.  And because of the gifts of God you have been given, like Lazarus the angels will carry you to Abraham’s bosom where you will see Jesus Christ, your Savior and your Fount of grace.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity 2017

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

 

The christian faith is full of mysteries, things we will never be able to wrap our minds around.  As hard as we try to explain it, the rational mind does not have the ability to comprehend the mysteries of the faith.  The Lord’s Supper is a mystery.  How can the Body and Blood of Jesus be present at the same time as the bread and wine?  From common sense we know that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  If I try to occupy the same space as the wall, I’m going to hurt myself.  If two cars try to occupy the same space, the police have to be called and maybe even a tow truck or two because it’s impossible for the cars to coexist in one place.  How can Jesus, as we confess, be born of the Virgin Mary?  How can Jesus exist without the necessary mode of conception?  And today we confess something we cannot begin to explain but must take as a matter of faith.  How can there be one God but three Persons?  How can they be coequal and share the same majesty and not have one before or after the other?  Mortal, fallen minds cannot understand the mysteries of the faith, but God uses these mysteries for our salvation and for our good, to teach us that we are not able to do everything ourselves and must rely fully on Him.

As proof of this, when explaining the mystery of rebirth through Holy Baptism to Nicodemus, Jesus tells us that we cannot even comprehend earthly things.  He said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”  We may be able to give scientific explanations for wind and why certain weather patterns create more wind than others, but its very existence is a mystery.  We do not see the wind, only its effects.  We do not where it goes after it blows past us.  And similarly, the weather.  The weather is not like a player piano roll, repeating itself in one continuous, identical cycle.  If we cannot wrap our minds around these everyday things that we take for granted, how can we wrap our minds around the eternal, almighty God.

It is not possible for us to subdue the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to our reason or math or geometry.  Attempts to put the Trinity into an understandable form always fall flat at best, and at worst lead into heresy.  There is not one God who wears different masks or acts at one moment as creator, at another as redeemer, and at another as sanctifier.  None of the Persons are interchangeable.  Try as we might, attempting to succinctly and accurately comprehend fully the Holy Trinity will always result in frustration because nothing can adequately describe this mystery.  Instead, we must, in reverence, confess that there are things we cannot fully comprehend, but nevertheless benefit from.  Just like the wind brings refreshment on a warm day and helps sustain the earth, so does the Trinity provide a multitude of benefits we cannot comprehend.

The greatest benefit of the Triune God is His love for His creation which seems like the most frivolous love imaginable.  The Father loves the Son and in love the Holy Spirit proceeds from both.  And this love they have for one another is perfect, so they were never incomplete.  They never needed to give love to someone else or receive it from someone else because of the perfection of the Godhead.  Nevertheless, on the sixth day of Creation they said to themselves, “Let Us make man in Our image.”  They knew what was ahead, the rebellion of Satan, the Fall of Adam and Eve which would doom the whole world to death, and even the sins that you and I commit.  They knew that we would never be deserving of their love, and that we would never perfectly reciprocate it.  But He chose to create us in love and for love, and chose to bring us back into Himself, even after we rebelled against Him.  Before He formed us in our mothers’ wombs, He knew us.  And therein is the greatest all mysteries, not the Trinity or the Incarnation, or the Lord’s Supper, but the mystery that God loves us and wants us to be with Him and has sacrificed His only-begotten Son to win us back to Himself. 

That’s why God has names.  We know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  Yes, those are their primary roles, but we do not know them by their Function, but by who they are for us, because by Baptism we have been brought into relationship with them.  Because of Jesus Christ, we call God “Our Father.”  Because the Father sent the Son into our flesh to be tortured and to be crucified, He is both the Son of God and our Brother, the Substitute who stood in our place to pay the price the Law demanded for sin.  To bring us back to our rightful home the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to give us the faith necessary for salvation and to keep us steadfast in it until the Last Day. 

This may be a mystery beyond our comprehension, part of the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God, His ways impossible to comprehend, but it reveals to us who God is, what the Gospel is, and that is love.  Like Isaiah, though we should be undone because we are people of unclean lips and unclean hearts, the Father poured out His wrath on Jesus Christ so He would not have any to pour out on you.  Like the mystery of the Trinity, we will never be able to fully understand this mystery of our salvation.  But that does not stop us from endless rejoicing.  The Father loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you, and the Holy Spirit delivers the Son’s sacrifice to you and holds the cross before your eyes today and every day.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Pentecost 2017

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

 

What does god reveal to us in the account of the Tower of Babel?  He reveals to us that one common sin infects us all, the sin of pride.  We think we know better than God, that we can outsmart Him and that we don’t really need Him at all.  Look at the people at Babel.  They are already the descendants of Ham, who sinned against his father, Noah, by showing off Noah’s nakedness to Shem and Japheth.  So now, relatives of a cursed family seek to avoid any further curses from God.  The history of the Flood is still common knowledge.  They know that it came about because of God’s righteous wrath over the great sin of the people.  So instead of intending to amend their ways, the people in Babel come up with a way to avoid any future punishments of God—or so they think.  They abuse technology for their own sinful gain by making bricks by a new method and build a tower that reaches to the heavens.  That way, should God change His mind and send another earth-covering flood, they can climb the tower and be safe, not in God’s divinely-inspired ark, but by the work of their hands.  God sees this rebellion, knows that their future wickedness will know no bounds if left unchecked, and so He limits their collaborative potential by confusing their languages. 

 

At Babel, the people thumbed their nose at God.  They told Him they had no intention of living as His people, of living lives of repentance and imploring His aid to live as He commands.  And their use of technology proved it.  How often do we, as people with far better technology than the people of Babel, do the same thing?  Instead of dealing with the sins against the Sixth Commandment that lead to a dreadful array of diseases and infections, our pharmaceutical companies simply mix up another cocktail to curb AIDS and its evil cousins.  The Internet, which can connect people around the globe and can be used for good is filled with the evils of porn, gossip, hatred, theft, and the list goes on.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg of our abuse of technology. 

 

But this evil day cannot and will not continue forever.  But do not be lulled into false hope.  God does see, He does know what evil defines these days.  Just as He was not unaware of the goings on at Babel, He is not unaware of the evil of this present age, the evil that lurks in the flesh each one of us wears.  When Moses recorded the dialogue in the Godhead, “Come, let Us go down,” it does not mean that God was distant and simply wanted to see what was going on.  He was delaying His judgment in mercy, to allow time for repentance.  But the time for mercy had ended and the time for judgment had come. 

 

Just like the people at Babel, each of us wants to find a way around God’s judgment against sin.  We want to give into our fleshly lusts, to live just like our worldly neighbors, but escape the wrath of divine judgment.  But you cannot have it both ways, you cannot serve God and yourself.  The only way to avoid God’s wrath is by repentance, by lamenting sin and hating its tyrannical hold on you. 

 

But this can only happen if God comes to you and makes His dwelling in you.  And that is exactly what today, the Feast of Pentecost, celebrates.  The Lord comes to you, not in judgment, but to remove judgment.  When the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the gift of speaking in other languages they had not studied, the judgment of Babel, was reversed.  Pride caused the languages of the world to be divided, but Christ’s humility caused the Good News of God’s forgiveness to be preached in every language.  What the pride of the Tower of Babel divided, God has put back together in the holy Christian Church.  Pride caused one language to become many, but in the Church of Christ those many languages and people are made one by the Blood of Christ.

 

So the Church is not American or German or Greek or any other ethnicity.  The Church is Christ’s, and the day of Pentecost reveals that the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of our own resurrection and life in God’s Kingdom—is for everyone, of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  People are welcomed into the Church, not because of the color of their skin or common culture, but because they are made brothers and sisters of Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism, clothed with the same white robe of Christ’s righteousness. 

 

All of us, though diverse in many ways, are made one in Christ.  We are inheritors of a common gift, the peace of Christ.  He does not give a worldly peace, nor does He give as the world gives.  He gives us a peace beyond understanding, the peace of sin forgiven, the peace of death, hell, and the devil defeated. 

 

And this gift comes by way of the Holy Spirit as He delivers Christ to us.  The Father sends the Son to do the work of redemption.  The Son sends the Spirit to deliver all that He has done for your salvation.  The Son wins forgiveness, the Spirit delivers forgiveness, so that we are reconciled to the forgiving Father.  The Spirit’s home is the Gospel, delivering each good gift it gives.

 

So the Holy Spirit comes to make us holy.  We cannot achieve that holiness by ourselves.  We all know the sins toward which we gravitate, the evils we want to do and the evils we do.  Lest you worry that your sins are too great, the Holy Spirit turns your eyes from yourself and your sin to Jesus.  As Luther so beautifully preached: “‘Yes,’ you say, ‘I am a poor sinner and have provoked God to anger.’  How true!  But do you not hear what Christ says?  ‘I give you My peace, God’s grace, and the forgiveness of sin.  You must not look at yourself; you must fix your eyes on what I give you.  As you know, you have My Baptism, Sacrament, and Gospel, which are noting but tokens of grace and peace.’”

 

Pentecost is about consolation.  We are sinners, people of great pride, selfishness, and rebellion.  But the Holy Spirit is poured out generously in Word and Sacrament to bring you to repentance, to deliver the healing of the Gospel, the declaration that all your sin is forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And now the Spirit delivers that forgiveness to you in the Body and Blood of Jesus, the peace that the world cannot give you, nor can it take away from you. 

The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.