07 May 2015

Homily for Easter 5 - Cantate

"The Truth, the Spirit, and You"
John 16:5-15

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Remember what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” (Jn. 16:13-14)

We’re still celebrating the Easter season and our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. By His own death He has conquered death. He gives life to all in the tomb, and all heading toward the tomb. Our Lord brings forgiveness for sins and life in the face of death. He has defeated our worst enemies—sin, death, and Satan. So how do you live with such good news? How do you live in such glorious comfort and hope? How do you walk through life as God’s holy people? Here’s why Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches you the Truth, who is Christ, to comfort and sustain you.

I. What is Truth?
Just before he sentenced Jesus to be crucified, Pontius Pilate asked the question: “What is truth?” Little did he know that Truth—Truth Incarnate, the Son of God in the flesh—was standing right there in front of him. And we enlightened 21st century Americans are not that much different from Pilate. Our society teaches us to ask “What is truth?”—and in the same skeptical way that Pilate asked. We think that truth is in the eye of the beholder. You have your truth, and I have my truth, as they say. But this is a big lie.

Sadly, we in the Church start believing this lie. We might say it this way: “You believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want.” Or we might say it this way: “That’s your interpretation of the Bible. My interpretation is this….” Or when the pastor gives us God’s Truth from the pulpit, and we don’t like it, we might say, “Well, that’s just his opinion.” We really should be ashamed of ourselves for believing and promoting lies like this. My, how we love to exchange God’s Truth for society’s lies!

The Truth of God is very simple. The Truth of God says, “All mankind are liars” (Ps. 116:11)--yes, that includes men and women, girls and boys. The Truth of God also says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Yes, that means all of us. The Truth of God also says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God” (Rom. 3:10-11). Yes, that includes you and me. The Truth of God tells us to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (Jas. 1:21), because that filthiness and wickedness comes from us…and that’s the truth!

But the Truth of God is very simple in another way too. The Truth of God is Jesus Christ Himself—Truth in the Flesh. What does Jesus, very Truth in the Flesh tell us? He tells us to be comforted. He tells us that we are “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). The Truth of God tells us that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Truth also tells us this: “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10). What wonderful and glorious Truth we have in our Lord Jesus Christ! That’s what Truth is.

II. What does the Spirit do?
God cares for His Truth very much. He wants you and me to embrace His Truth. You see, people’s lives – your lives and my life – depend on God’s Truth. So God wants us to hear His Truth correctly. He knows that all of the personal, private interpretations so popular today only confuse. That’s why our Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit. As Jesus told His disciples, He also tells us: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth….” The Holy Spirit’s “job” is to guide His people, His Church, into God’s Truth. He doesn’t just float around and give some kind of warm-fuzzy, spine-tingling, feel-good experiences. He doesn’t just sit around waiting to zap us with a language that no one else understands. The Spirit’s “job” is this: to direct our minds and hearts to Jesus, the Truth of God. When we focus on Jesus and trust Him, the Spirit is doing His work. And when we have life in the Risen Lord, we get to see that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17). How did Jesus say it? “He [the Spirit] will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.”

Jesus tells us how the Spirit guides us into all Truth. He convicts and convinces “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” First, the Spirit must show us our sin. He must convict us of our own unbelief, our own ways of thumbing our nose at God and living by our own sinful desires. Second, the Spirit convinces us that Jesus died to forgive our sins, and He lives to give us life with God. You don’t need to make God like you. He already loves you, and He sent His Son to show the great depths of His love. Third, the Spirit keeps reminding us that Satan is defeated. He may tempt us; he may trouble us; but our Lord has conquered the old evil foe. The Truth of God always shields us from Satan’s attacks.

III. What does this mean for you?
The most important thing this means for you is that the Holy Spirit is always doing His “job.” He is always leading the Church as a whole and all Christians individually into the Truth, that is, into Christ. Remember how you learn to say it from the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified me in the true faith.” When someone says, “I gave my heart to Jesus,” or “I let Jesus into my heart,” it’s not really accurate. To tell the truth: the Holy Spirit brings you to faith and enlivens you and keeps you in the faith.

The Small Catechism goes on: “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps [her] with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Yes, the Spirit brings you into the Church, and she is your Mother in the Truth. Just as an earthly mother gives birth to her children, the Church gives birth to you and your brothers and sisters in Christ as she proclaims the Truth of Jesus and His mercy and salvation. Just as an earthly mother clothes and feeds her children, your spiritual Mother, the Church, clothes you in the robe of Christ’s righteousness when you are baptized. Then she feeds you on the food of Christ’s Body and Blood to sustain your soul and strengthen your faith. And just as an earthly mother corrects and comforts her children, your spiritual Mother, the Church, the Bride of Christ, corrects you by showing you your sin, and she comforts you by giving you the mercies of God in Christ.

This is why today is called “Cantate,” or “Sing! Sunday.” As we live together in the Truth—the Truth who is Jesus and the life that the Spirit gives—we can’t help but sing. As Colossians 3(:16) says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Here’s why the Spirit gathers us together in God’s house. When you sing the liturgy and hymns, you sing not just for yourself, but also for those in the pews with you. So, sing the liturgy and those hymns with joy! Sing them with mouths wide open, with throats full of gratitude and praise! The people around you need to hear the Truth Who is Christ. When you say your “Amen” throughout the service, say it like you mean it! “Amen” is your word, your joyous participation in God’s service. Shout out your “Amens”; God loves to hear them! And your neighbor needs to hear them too.

The Spirit of Truth leads us into all Truth—into the crucified and risen Christ. Amen. This is most certainly true.

27 April 2015

Homily for Easter 4 - Jubilate

"Christian Joy"
John 16:16-22

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus had gathered His disciples together on the night when He was betrayed into the hands of sinners. He knew that in a matter of hours He would be brutally executed on a cross. His disciples were filled with sorrow. So He comforted them. And just as He comforted His disciples in our Gospel reading, He also comforts you now with the very same words: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn. 16:22).

So, dear Christians, where is your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?

Friedrich Nietzsche lived from 1844 to 1900. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor as well as a German philosopher. Nietzsche developed a very bitter, anti-Christian, atheistic philosophy. He viewed Christianity as stain on the history of humankind. Hermann Sasse said this about Nietzsche: “His desperate destitution and loneliness is the loneliness of the modern man” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, I.70).

Yet we Christians can learn something from this bitter, unbelieving philosopher. Here’s one thing Nietzsche said to Christians: “You must sing me a better song so that I learn to believe in your Redeemer; Why are his disciples so joyless in their salvation?” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, I.70). So, dear Christians, where is your joy?

Today we have a good, God-given answer to Nietzsche. As Psalm 66(:1) says, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” That’s where today gets it’s name: Jubilate - “Rejoice! Sunday.” Why make a joyful shout to God? Why rejoice? Because of God’s great Easter victory! In Jesus Christ, God has conquered death. He has restored all of His creation. He has given new life and new meaning in life. It’s something to shout about. It gives great joy, great delight. And, as lonely, bitter Nietzsche reminds us, it’s what the world needs to hear: CHRISTIAN JOY.

So, dear Christians, where’s your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?

Perhaps it’s hiding. Perhaps your joy is hiding under the sheer burdensome weight of worldly sorrow. The disciples were weighed down with sorrow. Their Lord was leaving them. What would they do? How would they survive life in a hostile world? You see, they’re not that different from us. Nor are we that different from them.

Each of us has personal sorrows, to be sure. Perhaps it’s family turmoil, a son or daughter who just won’t listen and obey, or a parent who just doesn’t seem to understand. Perhaps it’s stress at work; the boss never seems satisfied; you feel like you can never do your job well enough. Perhaps it’s illness—physical illness, such as cancer or arthritis, or mental illness, such as depression. Perhaps it’s the loss of a loved one—and that sorrow never seems to go away completely. Perhaps it’s trouble paying the bills, or losing those few extra pounds. We have our sorrows.

And nature around us brings many sorrows too. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes remind us how small we really are. We’d love to be in control of life and nature, even figure out the path of the tornado or hurricane, or when an earthquake will hit, so that we can avoid the damage and loss of life. But when the natural disasters strike, we get a wake up call. We are pretty small compared to the ominous, dark, green clouds, the high-voltage lightning strikes, and the powerful, rumbling earth. Yes, we have our sorrows.

But the greater sorrow comes in how the unbelieving world treats Christ and His Christians. Christ was crucified because people did not like it that they were wrong and He was right—about God, about death and life, about sin and forgiveness. They did not like it that God would come into the world in the flesh and teach us to repent of our sin. They did not like it that Jesus—not they—would restore the world. And Jesus restores not by demanding better lives, but by defeating death and giving grace and life.

So, to use Jesus’ words, we weep and lament, but the world rejoices. You see, the world did not like Jesus and His followers. It still doesn’t. Christians and Christian preachers are told, “Don’t mention Jesus,” in their prayers and messages. More Christians in Africa have just been martyred by ISIS, complete with videos of the barbaric brutality for all to see. Closer to home, Christians are fair game for lawsuits and government action and conviction by media firestorms and even death threats just because they choose not to participate in so-called “same-sex marriage” ceremonies. We can even hear and read editorials claiming that it’s high time for someone to force—compel—Christians to accept the LGBT lifestyle. Yes, we have our sorrows!

So, where’s the comfort? Where’s the joy? It’s in the words of our Lord Jesus. He tells you what He told His disciples: “a little while.” The sorrow, the pain, the burdens of life in this sin-infected world last only a little while. The disciples would be separated from Jesus only a little while. He would go to the cross, but He would rise again and return. He would go away from them, but He would come back after a little while. And He did, and that’s a good thing. You see, when Jesus went away, leaving His disciples in sorrow, He trampled down sin and death, He reunited all people with God, and He brought life and immortality to light. He did that for His disciples then, for you now, and for all people. In His bitter death and sweet, delightful resurrection, He wins life and wholeness for you. Now that gives great joy!

And think about the joy that you receive every time you come into this place. Church is like no other place on earth. It’s heaven on earth. You see, here Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes in His message of mercy read, proclaimed and sung. He comes in His holy, precious Body and Blood. Here’s God, in the flesh, showering you with His grace and mercy, giving you His life. That’s Christian joy! A little while, and you will see Me, Jesus says. Here you get to “see” Jesus with the eyes of faith. You get to hear Him and taste Him. Here’s Christian joy!

So, what helps you endure the sorrows and burdens of life in this broken world? The joy of life in Jesus. What helps you make a difference in the world, in the very lives of people around you? The joy of Christ’s victory over death. What is the only thing that spurs on the Church to carry out her mission in the world? The sheer delight and joy that in Christ you are forgiven, in Christ you have life, in Christ you have perfect peace with God. It’s a reality, and it gives great joy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer proclaimed this great line in a sermon in 1933: “Without the church, the whole world is joyless and miserable, and there is no end to hunger and thirst” (Ascension Day Sermon, 1933; cited in Little Book on Joy, p. 169). Do you want to see Christian joy? Look at how we rejoice even in the face of sorrow and death! Look at how we delight in Christ and His victory over death! That’s Christian joy. And it’s a joy that we can gladly show to the world. Amen.

20 April 2015

Homily for Easter 3 - Misericordias Domini

"The Shepherd Knows His Sheep"
John 10:11-16

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’ This is why children pray in this way, ‘I believe in one holy Christian church.’” (SA, III:12). So said Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles. They are most fitting words to hear on this “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Not only do we get to receive the comfort of the Good Shepherd, but we also get to rejoice in being His flock, that is, His Church. As Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Good Shepherd Jesus knows His little sheep, and His little sheep love to hear His voice.

We city-slickers may not know all of the intimate details of tending sheep, but somehow the picture of a shepherd still brings comfort and speaks of protection. But why? I mean a shepherd does not strike you as some kind of super-hero, does he? We can have Superman or Batman or Spiderman, but somehow “Sheepman” just doesn’t cut it. Even Mighty Mouse seems more “superhero-ish” than “Sheepman”! So, what makes Shepherd Jesus so “good”?

Listen to Jesus: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now, a first century Palestinian shepherd would rarely die defending his sheep. Oh, he might try to act like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman, and risk his life, or put his life on the line. But actually “lay down his life” and sacrifice himself? No way. After all, who would take care of the sheep if he should die? But Good Shepherd Jesus does give His life for His sheep. That’s what makes Him “good” and noble. Jesus also says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn. 10:18). Remember, no super-hero can lay down his life and take it up again. But Jesus can. He’s no wimpy super-hero. He’s true God and true Man, begotten of the Father from eternity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.

But that’s not all that makes Him “good.” Good Shepherd Jesus does not just lay down His life for giggles or to show off. No, He “lays down his life for the sheep.” You see, He knows His sheep. He knows you; He knows me. He knows that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Is. 53:6). He knows that we tend to wander off from His tender care and keeping. He knows that we easily get spooked at the least little noise or trouble around us. He knows that we get absolutely terrified, if and when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

So, Good Shepherd Jesus laid down His own life for you, His sheep. And not only did He lay down His life on a blood-soaked cross, but He also took it up again in His glorious resurrection. Not only was He sacrificed as a Passover lamb, but He is also risen to give you His new, divine, and eternal life.

If you’re not sure of that, just ponder what Good Shepherd Jesus gives you on the altar today—His very own Body and Blood, pulsating with His glorious, eternal, resurrection life, given and shed for you. So think of Good Shepherd Jesus also as your Passover Lamb. He was slaughtered and roasted on the cross, but He is also risen to give you His life.

Look above the altar, in the middle of the reredos. You see the victorious Lamb of God, complete with His banner of victory and His glorious sunburst of a new dawn. Remember that He rose to give you life with Him. But also look at the front of the altar. There you see another animal—a pelican feeding her pious brood. Notice that she feeds them by plucking her own flesh and blood and giving it to them. That’s how Good Shepherd Jesus gives His life for you, His sheep. He feeds you on His own life-giving Body and Blood.

We’ve heard about the Good Shepherd; let’s hear about His sheep. A shepherd is not a shepherd without his flock of sheep. And a flock of sheep must rely on its shepherd for everything, from food and drink to healing and protection. And how does this happen?

I used to think that sheep are nothing but smelly, stupid animals. Well, they are smelly, but a friend who used to be a shepherd once taught me, a shepherd of souls, the truth about sheep. Several years ago, I preached on Good Shepherd Sunday about smelly, stupid sheep. Then a couple of days later I had to get a haircut. Little did I know that my barber had formerly done some sheep-hearding. So, I sat down in the barber’s chair. We began discussing John chapter 10, sheep and shepherds. Then my barber said, “Pastor, sheep aren’t stupid; they just can’t see well. They have to listen for their shepherd.” He then went on to tell me that sheep have such keen hearing that several different voices can call out to them, but they will know the voice of their own shepherd.

That’s what Jesus says about His flock: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27). Jesus’ sheep don’t just follow any voice that’s popular or that draws massive crowds or that sells lots of books. Jesus’ sheep, His believers, can discern His voice. They can discern His voice even amidst the din and racket of the shopping mall of modern American Evangelical religion. Jesus’ faithful sheep can discern His soothing voice, even though the noise of things contemporary and theatrical seems to drown it out.

Yes, it does matter what church you belong to, because you will not hear Jesus’ voice at every church. Just because a church has a religious bookstore or a fashionable coffee stand or a rocking praise band on a Sunday morning, that does not guarantee you’ll hear the voice of Jesus. Beware of the religious hirelings—that is, pastors—who merely seek to line their pockets or have good looking numbers on their statistical reports. Chances are, you won’t hear the voice of Jesus from them, because they are puppets of that old satanic wolf who loves to hunt down and eat Jesus’ little sheep.

Why is this important? Not only does Jesus say that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, but He also says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28). Now there’s good reason to listen only to the voice of Jesus, and not to the modern, religious mindset. When you listen to Jesus’ voice, you have eternal life! When you listen to Jesus’ voice, no one can snatch you out of His hand.

Two weeks ago at the Easter Vigil, we got to hear three young people confess faith in this Good Shepherd Jesus. They promised to be faithful to Him until death. After all, He has already promised to be faithful to them. Their voices quivered with nervousness, but Jesus’ voice will always give them life and protection. Their promises may seem like mere words, but we pray that Good Shepherd Jesus will help them to keep their promises and rejoice in life with Him. Actually, all of us who have been confirmed and taken these vows need to perk up our ears. All of us need to pay attention to what we’ve promised. After all, all of us have promised “to continue steadfast” in the Christian confession and Church. All of us have vowed “to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.”

Don’t let anything, no matter how popular or appealing, lure you away from Christ and His Church. After all, here’s where you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd. You also promise “to be faithful in the use of God’s Word and Sacraments.” May God graciously help you keep that promise! You will always be tempted to sleep in after a late Saturday night. You will always be tempted to do something supposedly “more fun” than “go to church”—whether it’s shopping or fishing or a Cardinal’s game or a Blue’s playoff game. But remember, the more you stay away from Jesus and His Church, the more you miss out on hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd, and the more you miss out on receiving His gift of life.

But the more you are here, in this place, to hear Good Shepherd Jesus and receive His Body and Blood from the altar, the more peace and joy you always have. You see, your Good Shepherd tends and feeds you through His Word proclaimed and His Sacraments given out. You do need to be in His green pastures and beside His still waters for Him to restore your soul. He does prepare a table before you so that your cup will always run over with His goodness and mercy.

Now we know how Luther could say it: “God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’ This is why children pray in this way, ‘I believe in one holy Christian church.’” Here in the one holy Christian Church, your Good Shepherd Jesus knows you, His little sheep, and you get to learn to love His life-giving voice. Amen.

06 April 2015

Homily for the Resurrection of Our Lord


"Speaking of Life"
Mark 16:1-8

Listen here.


P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Friday left us in the darkness of death, the valley of the shadow of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Saturday gave us a day of rest, just as Christ rested in the tomb from His labors of recreating the world. And today? Well, today we come to life, the resurrected life, the new life in Christ’s image. Actually, it all began last evening. In the Biblical way of telling time, the day begins at sundown the evening before—evening and morning, Day One, and so on. So, we just couldn’t wait! We sat in vigil last night … waiting … and then feasting on this new life in Christ. If every Sunday is a little Easter, well then, this Easter Day is a BIG Sunday. Oh, and the celebration is not done at sundown today. No, we keep celebrating this life, we keep speaking of this life, for a whole week of Sundays. In fact, that’s what we do for all of our lives—speak of this new life in Christ.

But that’s not at all what was on the minds of the women. No, they were still dwelling in the shadow of death. Their devotion for their Lord Jesus had to be put on hold while they piously observed the Jewish Passover Sabbath. On Friday they saw their Lord die. They watched where He was buried. They vowed to return to anoint Him properly. While their Master rested in the sleep of death, they rested on the Sabbath day. And when the dawn of the first day of the week came, they went to finish the burial. They intended to anoint Jesus with spices so that the stench of death would not overtake Him.

Little did they know that while they were preoccupied with death, their Lord was already alive again. In their great devotion and in their dire grief, they neglected to think of the large stone until it was too late. Who would roll it away? They knew it was too large and too heavy for them to move.

Now their preoccupation with death should not surprise us. We too are preoccupied with death. How so? Well, for one thing, look at all the diet plans, all the health magazines, and all the fitness gurus. They all promise one thing—a better, healthier life, a life that cheats death, or at least puts death on hold for a few more years. For another thing, look at how we react to any event that even remotely reminds us of death—children getting hurt on the school playground; adults turning to alcohol or drugs to ease the pressures of family and work; or American citizens held captive by ISIS. And another way we are preoccupied with death is viewing death as a savior. Some look to suicide as a solution to the stresses of life in a fallen world. Some view death as relief from debilitating illness or injury. Remember 29-year old Brittany Maynard, seeking “death with dignity” from her brain cancer? And our culture promotes the killing of unborn babies merely to preserve the convenience or careers of the parents.

As the women went to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices to prevent the stench of death, we find ourselves doing whatever we can to avoid the stench of death. Pass more safety standards for playground equipment. Enact stricter pollution controls. Make sure people don’t eat the wrong kinds of foods. We are preoccupied with death—with avoiding it, ignoring it, and even denying it.

But we cannot avoid death. Just look at the cemetery. The death rate is one per person—always has been, always will be this side of eternity. Ignoring it or denying it is simply living a lie. And the death is not just outside of us, in our circumstances. It’s inside us. The stench of death emanates from within, inside the human heart. Yes, the stench of death begins in each of us, with the jealousies, the anger, the suspicions, and the self-serving motives. You see, the stench of death is what leads each of us to focus on ourselves. But as we gaze inward for answers and solutions, we still find nothing but misplaced priorities and dead ends, that is, death, separation from God, absence of loving and trusting Him.

The women were caught in the cycle grief that first Easter morning. You could say our whole lives are trapped in the cycle of death. The spices that the women wanted to put on Jesus’ corpse couldn’t change His death. The “spices” of our man-made prescriptions for death might smell nice for a while, but they still cannot change the simple fact: we’re all bound for the grave.

“And looking up, [the women] saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.” Their problem with the tomb of Jesus was taken care of for them. Your problem with your own grave is also taken care of for you. Did the women do anything to move the stone? No. Can you do anything to solve your own death problem? No way. But the stone of your death problem is rolled away for you in Christ, the crucified and risen Savior, the Lord of Life.

“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” The devout women had planned on seeing a crucified corpse, not a vibrant young man. The other Gospels say this was an angel, but Mark says, “young man.” It’s no accident, and no contradiction. After all, what picture does a young man bring but youth, vitality, strength, even life itself? And he was dressed in a long white robe—not ordinary clothing, but the heavenly color of God working His life. Something special was happening here. No dead corpse, but rather a vibrant, vigorous message of God’s handiwork.

The sermon preached by this messenger of life that would put the puzzle together. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here.” It can be alarming to be rescued from your daily dilemma of death. There is a certain familiarity with the dead world and the self-seeking desires that come from our inner death. But God’s messenger seeks to calm our troubled spirits, to put our fears to rest. You see, life with the living Christ is much better than living as selfish corpses in the world any day!

The young man’s proclamation gives comfort to the women and to us. If you seek Jesus, you seek the crucified Christ. The only true Savior is the One who was handed over to death. But in His death He destroyed death. In our culture many look for spirituality, but they only want a generic religion, a self-made substitute for the real God. The true Savior is the Jesus who died. You cannot have a resurrection without a crucifixion. You cannot grasp the fullness of Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday. It’s a package deal. The Crucified Christ is the Living Lord.  The Man of Sorrows and death is the God who brings life and immortality to light.

P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On April 1, 2001, 24 U.S. military men and women were detained and interrogated in China for ten days. Due to a mid-air collision, their plane had to make an emergency landing in Hainan. On April 11, those 24 service men and women were finally set free and sent home. It was big news and their homecoming was broadcast on all the news programs. You could see the pride, the joy, even the exuberance. What a blessing and what a celebration it was to have our service men and women home safe and sound. But that pales in comparison to the victory and the homecoming we have because of Jesus’ resurrection! That ceremony at Whidbey Island, in Washington State, has gone into the history books. But the rich, exuberant celebration of Christ’s new life will go on for eternity, and we, with all believers in Christ, will proudly sing and joyously dance and feast together with Christ for all eternity.

But what about here and now? We aren’t quite to the eternal banquet just yet. Notice what else the young angel-man told the women at the tomb: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter….” These first witnesses to the empty tomb were to speak of Christ’s new life for the world. They were to talk it up with the disciples. And even Peter gets singled out. He who denied Christ would be restored.

In the same way, you are witnesses to Christ’s resurrection life. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Your Baptism joins you to Christ’s new life. You are also partakers of His life in the Lord’s Supper. The very Body that hung lifeless from the cross now gives you eternal life. The very Blood that flowed from His sacred veins in death now pulsates in you to make you alive and keep you alive in Christ. Christ’s resurrected life is your life.

So, how can you keep all this Good News to yourself? Why not joyously speak of life—life in Christ—to people you know? Why not go out of your way to invite your family and friends into the Church, this unique place of Christ’s life for the world? What’s more important for real life—life with God—who wins American Idol, or what Christ has done for you and the world?

You have Good News to tell! The world’s death and your inner death are not the last word. Christ’s new life is! Are you afraid of what other people might think of you, if you “talk religion”? We see what happens to pizzeria owners in Indiana who stand for the life and truth of our risen Savior. We see how, more and more, we Christians are becoming fair game to be hated and despised and threatened. But we still have something—or Someone— the world needs. We have the Lord of Life! We have His forgiveness! We have His new life even now!

So don’t be alarmed. The women were afraid too. But the Bible also tells us that they did indeed tell the disciples. And the disciples couldn’t contain themselves. They also spread the life-giving news: Christ is risen. If you want life, real life, here He is. He will give it to you free.

In a world preoccupied with death, we need some Good News, some news of life. People around us need that same Good News, that same life. In our crucified Christ we also have a Living Lord. And He gives His life for the  life of the world. So, as we enjoy the new life given by Christ, let’s also speak of His life for all to enjoy. “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1). “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

04 April 2015

Homily for Good Friday

What Great Love!
John 18-19

Listen here.

When we began the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, we prayed: “Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness.” We began our journey through Lent and to the Cross by confessing that God hates nothing and no one He has made, and we pleaded for His lovingkindness and mercy in granting us forgiveness.

Now we’ve arrived at the Cross of Christ. Today we pray that God would “graciously behold this [His] family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing…to suffer death on the cross.” Yes, our whole human family needs the pardon and forgiveness that Jesus accomplishes on the Cross. And, yes, we in the Church, God’s family chosen and set apart in our Baptism, also need the forgiveness and life that Jesus gives today.

So, don’t pity Jesus! Don’t walk away today/tonight thinking, “Poor Jesus.” He does not want or need your pity. But He does want to give you His mercy. Yes, our human family, in its sinful, deadly rebellion against God, put the Lord of Life to death. But He willingly plunges Himself into the depths of our sin and death in order to bring us back to life with Him. He can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.” What great love our God has shown in His Son! “With His stripes we are healed.” They were the stripes that we, our sin, and our death inflicted upon Him, but He absorbed them willingly and without complaint. In turn He heals us from the wounds and the sores that the disease of sin and death works in us. What wondrous love!

Right before He went to the Cross, Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

So when you ponder the arrest and abuse of the all-powerful Creator of the world, when you ponder Peter’s three-fold denial of his ever faithful Lord, when you ponder the kangaroo court that lied about the Truth-made-flesh, when you see the Innocent One convicted as though guilty, think “What great love God has for me.” When you consider Pontius Pilate trying to get Jesus off the hook, but then caving to the whims of the angry mob, when you consider how Jesus the great Healer suffers the wounds of scourging, think to yourself, “What great love!” When you remember the soldiers stripping bare Him who covers Himself with light and with the deep as with a garment (Ps. 104:2, 6), think, “What great love!” When the angry shouts of “Crucify Him!” echo in your ears, especially knowing that you, a sinner, would have joined in, think, “What great love He has even for me!”

And what great love flows forth when He speaks from the Cross. First, He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Not only does He forgive those who condemned Him, pounded the nails and jeered at Him, but He also forgives you for all the sins in which you know not what you do.

As Jesus told the thief crucified with Him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43), you may rest assured that whatever you suffer in this life, your Crucified Lord promises that you will be with Him in paradise, even today. What great love!

What great love He showed to His Mother and the disciple whom He loved. Even in the midst of His excruciating pain and His struggle to breathe, the Lord “said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27). In His great love, your Savior makes you part of the same family, His family of faith. May it be to us as the Lord has said.

Then He prayed “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46; Ps. 22:1). Of course, being the Son of God He could not be separated from His Father and the Holy Spirit, but being true Man He certainly did experience the separation from God that we, His creatures, brought on ourselves. So, when we pray in our dark, forsaken loneliness, we can know that our Savior and God is there, in the lonely despair, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). What great love!

When Jesus cried, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28), not only did He fulfill Scripture by consuming the sour vinegar of our sin and death, but He also showed how He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness. And we need not thirst for life, because the water that our crucified Lord gives becomes in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). What great love!

And what great love as our loving Lord of Life handed Himself over--voluntarily, willingly--into death. He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46) and, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30). He trusted His Father to bring Him out of death and hell, and when He did arise, He brought us out of death to live with Him. So, it’s all finished—His forgiveness for your sins, His victory over death, His gift of life with God. What great love!

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).

03 April 2015

Homily for Holy Thursday

Washed and Fed to Love
John 13:1-15, 34-35

A new commandment I give to you, Jesus said, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (Jn. 13:34). That’s were we get one name for today—“Maundy Thursday”—from mandatum, meaning “command.” We also call it “Holy Thursday” because this is Thursday of “Holy Week.” Whatever the name, the theme is the same: Love.

But how was Jesus’ bickering band of disciples supposed to love each other? How are we? This group of men who argued over the seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom—how were they supposed to love one another? How are we? Didn’t the Law already command us to love our neighbor as ourselves? So what’s new about this “new commandment”?

Jesus ties His mandate to love one another with the Supper He gives us. Jesus’ words to love one another also go hand in hand with His servant act of washing His disciples’ feet. And it all happened in the Upper Room: foot washing, Lord’s Supper, and Jesus’ new command. It all happened on the night when He was betrayed into death. So it goes for our love for one another. As Jesus’ holy people, we can only love one another as we are connected to Jesus—to His Body and Blood, by His Cross and in His Supper.

John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. For that we look to Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. Paul. But St. John is still catechizing us. The Lord’s Supper is woven into the background. Since we know and have the Lord’s Supper, St. John is expanding our horizons on what it means to cling to Jesus’ love and actually to love one another.

The Lord’s Supper is in the background when Jesus turns Old Testament washing water into New Testament wine at the wedding of Cana. The Lord’s Supper is in the background when Jesus feeds the five thousand and proclaims Himself the very Bread of life. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink,” He said. “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:55-56) The Lord’s Supper is in the background of the whole sermon Jesus preaches in the Upper Room on this night of His betrayal. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)

Baptism and Lord’s Supper go hand in hand in John. They are just as close as the foot washing and the Supper in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified. They are bound together just as the water and the blood that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side at His crucifixion.

Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him that night. He knew one of His own disciples would betray Him. He knew that all things were given to Him by His Father, that He had come from God, that He was going to God. He knew that the time of His Passover was near—the time when His blood would paint the wood of the cross so that death might pass over.

So, knowing all this, Jesus rose from the table, laid aside His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist and poured a basin full of water. He knelt down. He began to wash His disciples' feet. Then He dried them with the towel He was wearing. Jesus did what no Hebrew slave was ever asked to do—wash feet.

Now foot washing was a crucial part of social etiquette in Jesus’ culture. It was something like our moms saying, “Don’t forget to wash your hands before supper.” They did that, but they also washed their feet. Remember, Jesus and His disciples reclined on pillows at a low table, instead of sitting in chairs as we do. That put your neighbor’s feet very close to your face, and vice versa. Thus, foot washing!

And yet foot washing was one of the lowest and most menial tasks. Only the lowest rank of slave would do it. But here in the Upper Room, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Incarnate Word through whom all things where made, sets aside His own garments and wears the lowly towel of the humblest slave. What extreme humility! The One called Teacher and Lord washes the feet of His disciples!

But Peter objected. “You shall never wash my feet!” Peter is too proud to have Jesus bend down and wash his feet. That same sort of pride keeps us from Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper, and the Gospel preached. It also keeps us from bending down to wash the feet of brothers and sisters in our midst. Surely Jesus is more glorious than a bath, a spoken word of forgiveness, and a bit of bread and wine! Surely washing feet is not a proper use of our great spiritual gifts! Isn’t the real Jesus more glorious, more “spiritual,” than some crucified foot-washer? But that’s not faith; that’s unbelief. “If I do not wash you,” Jesus says, “you have no share with Me.”

So we too must be washed by Jesus, bathed as little children, baptized into His death and resurrection. We cannot wash ourselves. We wouldn’t even if we could. Like little children who play in the mud, we rather enjoy the filth of our sin. We’ve grown accustomed to it. But we cannot come to the table with dirty feet. So Jesus bends down to us in His humbled, crucified humanity to wash us. He reaches down to the dirtiest and most deeply soiled places in our lives, down to the soles of our feet, where we touch the earth from which were made, the dirt to which we return in death. He reaches down to the place where the dirt of our earthly life is ground in and stubborn. And washed by Jesus, baptized into His death, we are cleansed from head to toe.

Jesus’ washing drowns our stubborn pride—the ego of our old Adam. It frees us from the bondage of our pride to serve others in the humility of Christ. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus shows us the posture of the disciple before the world: stooped down as a servant with towel and basin, washing filthy feet. To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus means having your feet washed by Jesus so that you may, in turn, wash the feet of others. It means being loved by a humbled and crucified Christ so that you may be humbled and crucified to love one another, in Him.

And washed by Jesus, you are clean, ready for Supper. You can recline and relax at His table. You can let your defenses down. At His Table, Jesus is host and servant and main course, all at the same time. He gives His precious Body to eat and His Passover Blood to drink. And as fruitful branches are to the vine, so you are to Jesus at His Table. He is the true Vine; you are the branches. You are grafted into Jesus through faith; you receive His life into you. Apart from Him you can do nothing. “Take eat. Drink of it all of you.” His life flows from the cross to the chalice and into your mouths. And His life in you bears fruit. His love for you overflows to your neighbor.

It’s in this context that Jesus gives His “new mandate.” He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” What’s “new” with this commandment? It’s not the love. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the old commandment from Moses. What’s new is Jesus’ washing and feeding—His Baptism and His Supper of Body and Blood. These are Jesus’ “mandates” for you. This is how you learn to love one another.

Jesus’ new mandate to His disciples is to receive His love in all the ways He wants to give it. Jesus’ new mandate means being loved by Him so that His love flows through you to one another. His love is poured out for you in His death and poured into you in His Baptism and His Supper. His love bears fruit as it has its way with you. It leads you to bend down, wash each other’s feet, serve each other, and live for each other’s benefit.

As we learn to be filled with Jesus’ self-giving love, His love flows through us to each other. As we sang earlier:

“Jesus gave to His disciples
A commandment that was new:
‘Show My love to one another,
Do as I have done for you;
All the world will know you love Me
As you love each other too.” (LSB, 446:5)

Amen.

30 March 2015

Homily for Palm/Passion Sunday

"Ride On...to Die!"

Philippians 2:5-11 & Matthew 27:11-54

Listen here.

St. Paul sums it up well. Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). You see, the “likeness of men” comes from the “image of God” given to Adam and Eve in the garden. And that likeness and image is to be servants—servants of God and servants of one another; trusting God and loving one another. But that’s what Adam and Eve and all of us lost in that fateful Fall into sin. “Here, let me be ‘like God’…on my own terms…in my way…according to my desires.” And that’s what King Jesus marches on to overcome. So He made Himself nothing.

St. Paul continues: “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Our Suffering Servant King completely and utterly emptied Himself on that Cross. We just heard St. Matthew tell the story in all its grueling details. So the simplest—and perhaps the best—application for each of us is to hear these words: “For you! All for you!”

But let’s ponder it a bit more. Let’s use our final hymn for today to ponder how Jesus’ emptying of Himself, Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, and Jesus’ death on a cross changes you and your life.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry.
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road,
With palms and scattered garments strowed. (LSB 441:1)

He rides in majesty, but this ticker-tape parade will soon give way to jeers and boos and whips and nails. The adoring crowd, though, shouted something life-changing, even if they didn’t realize how life should change. “All the tribes hosanna cry,” we sing. “Hosanna” means “save now.” And that’s exactly what our meek Suffering Servant King does. He doesn’t necessarily save us from occupying armies or corrupt governments. But He does save us from what enslaves us most—our sin and our sins; our inner rottenness and our thoughts, words and deeds that reveal that inner spiritual “cancer.” So “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming sitting on a donkey’s colt!” This week we get to follow our Lord as He rides on…to die. Don’t miss any of it.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin. (LSB 441:2)

Jesus’ majesty IS lowly pomp. His triumph DOES come in dying. You see, that’s the only way to conquer sin—yours and mine—and capture death that holds all of us captive. It’s that sin and death that make you and I think we are the center of the universe. It’s that sin and death that make you and I think we can dictate to God how He ought to bless and come to our aid. It’s that sin and death that must be conquered in each of us. And that’s what Jesus rides on to do. He dies. He sheds blood. He forgives. He washes you clean. He makes you new. That’s His real triumph. That’s why He rides on…to die. Don’t miss any of it later this week.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The angel armies of the sky
Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice. (LSB 441:3)

King Jesus is commander-in-chief of “the angel armies of the sky”—Lord God of Sabaoth, Lord God of power and might. All He had to do is nod and those mighty heavenly soldiers would have come to His rescue, eyes blazing, swords swinging, with more shock and awe than we could imagine. But no. They sit. They wait. They watch. From the stands. "Our Commander is sacrificing Himself? He doesn’t want our aide?" What a wonder it must have been. King Jesus, Lord God of Sabaoth, was sacrificing Himself to bring an end to this ages long spiritual conflict. King Jesus, Commander-in-Chief, was surrendering Himself in order to win the war. To end the hostilities. To bring peace between God and people. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Lk. 2:14). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:1, 10). That’s why He rides on—to die.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh.
The Father on His sapphire throne
Awaits His own anointed Son. (LSB 441:4)

Amazing! God the Father sits and watches too! Since He’s the father from whom all fatherhood is known, and since we know that any human father worth his salt would want to step in and help his suffering son, this is truly amazing. But no. God the Father sits on His sapphire throne. He watches. He waits. His own anointed Son single-handedly engages in this “last and fiercest strife.” His own anointed Son single-handedly bears the full load of sin and death. His own anointed Son single-handedly endures the scorn and the forsakenness. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” His Son cries out. “Why are You so far from saving Me, from the words of My groaning?” (Ps. 22:1). And the Father just sits there, letting it all happen, without lifting even a finger. But all this was by His eternal will. All was going according to His loving plan. King Jesus was heard because of His reverence (Heb. 5:7). And now we get to draw near God’s throne of grace with confidence. Now we get to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). That’s why He rides on to die.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign. (LSB 441:5)

So, His majesty is seen in lowly pomp. His royalty is evident in a crown of thorns. His throne is a bloody cross. His warm stately hands and feet are pierced through with cold metal spikes. He bows His “meek head to mortal pain.” Why? Why go through all that excruciating shame and torture? Why suffer? Why shed innocent blood? Why gasp in agony for six long hours? Why voluntarily give up His spirit? Why? For you. All for you! That you “may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

That’s why He rides on. To die. For you. That you may live. That you may be restored to the “likeness of men” and the “image of God.” That’s what we celebrate this week and into next Sunday. Don’t miss any of it! Amen.

16 March 2015

Homily for Lent 4 - Laetare

"Rejoicing in His Refreshment"
John 6:1-15
with "Farewell and Godspeed to a Pastor Entering Retirement" for Rev. Daniel Preus

Listen here.

For three weeks we have been struggling. First, we struggled with temptations. Second, we wrestled with our Lord for His mercy. And last week we struggled with the demonic forces that influence and inhabit us.

Today we get a break in the struggle. Today we receive some refreshment. Today the Lord of the Church feeds and refreshes us. So, before we plunge into the Lord’s painful Passion and dehumanizing death, we get a breath of refreshing air. Psalm 122 summons us to rejoice in the Lord’s refreshment: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” So let’s consider 1) Our Need for Refreshment, 2) Our Source of Refreshment, and 3) Our Lord’s Miracle of Refreshment.

1. Our Need for Refreshment
St. John says the time of the Passover was near. The Passover was the meal given by God to the Israelites just before they left Egyptian slavery. After they were liberated from slavery, they lived in and traveled through the wilderness. There they discovered what it meant to rely on God. They had no food. They grumbled against God and His servant Moses. But God in His grace decided to provide for His people—to refresh them with bread from heaven.

When Jesus feeds the 5000, He realizes that the multitude is far from home and food. He has been teaching God’s Word, and they have been listening. He had even healed many in the crowd. But they needed refreshment; they needed food for strength and sustenance. So Jesus provided it—and in ample quantities.

We also live and walk in a wilderness—the wilderness of this world. This world is not our Promised Land. This world brings all sorts of enticements and temptations to draw us away from Christ our Savior. This world teaches philosophies and mantras that feed our self-serving egos and keep us ignorant of God’s good ways. This world is where we like to grumble and complain just as the Israelites did. Against whom do we complain? Against God and His servants. “How dare He give us salvation and forgiveness and then leave us to struggle in faith!” “How dare He leave us in this world and not make life easy and perfect and carefree for us!” “How dare God tell us not to believe or do things that are popular in the world around us!”

You see, you and I are much more like the Israelites than we want to admit. We want bellies full on food more than we hunger for God’s Word and ways of forgiveness and life. We strive for ease of bodily life but we think little of the refreshment and life that come from Jesus. We wrestle against temptations and sin, and often they put us in a sleeper hold. And so we get drowsy to our need for Christ. We struggle with trusting our Lord, because sometimes our prayers seem to go unanswered, and sometimes His great promises don’t seem to change the harshness of life. Yes, we live in a wilderness. Yes, we need refreshment.

2. Our Source of Refreshment
Our Lord Jesus knew the multitude needed Him and His provision. All they had was a poor boy’s lunch—five loaves of barley bread and two little fish. That could not provide refreshment for well over 5000 people. Neither could the Israelites provide refreshment for themselves—not in the hostile wilderness. Neither can we provide eternal, spiritual, faith-strengthening refreshment for ourselves. Even as forgiven children of God, we need help.

Your Lord Jesus Christ is very glad to give you that refreshment and help. He is your true Source of refreshment. You see, it is truly a blessing that you know and feel your need, your poverty, and your inability to refresh yourselves. It’s a blessing because Christ wants you to turn to Him for relief. He takes the insignificant five barley loaves and two fish, and makes a feast for five thousand.

But poor five thousand! If they had to depend on the disciples, they would not have had a crumb apiece! Poor Church if she must depend on us! You and I are not the source of refreshment for the Church, not even for our congregation. Our “niceness” and our good intentions are poor substitutes for the Lord’s rich feast. When we draw attention to ourselves, we give other people a poor boy’s lunch rather than the Lord’s rich feast of refreshment.

However, our Lord Jesus Christ drew faith out of the need of the disciples. He also raised the faith and expectation of the multitude when He said, “Have the people sit down.” Five thousand people sat there, eagerly waiting. Yes, waiting on Christ is the secret of the Christian faith and life. When you wait on Christ, He fills you with Himself, the Bread of Life. When you wait on Christ, you’ll never go away empty from sermon, prayers, or Sacrament. When we draw attention to Christ, we draw each other and others around us to the true Source of Refreshment!

3. Our Lord’s Miracle of Refreshment
When Jesus feeds the five thousand, He’s teaching you that He, and He alone, has the power and ability to satisfy human hearts. Your Lord Jesus Christ satisfies your human nature as nothing else can—not the world, not sin, not passing pleasures, not high positions, not great learning, not even health, wealth, or happiness. Today your Lord Jesus teaches you that He alone is Bread for you; He alone is your daily Bread. And He is the true, solid, satisfying, sustaining, life-giving Bread of Life.

After Jesus fed the 5000, He taught His disciples and the crowd what it meant. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” He said. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (Jn. 6:51). Notice how your refreshment flows from the Savior’s torture on the Cross. Notice how your life is found in the Savior’s death. What a miracle of refreshment!

Jesus went on to explain it this way: “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides Me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:55-56). This may not yet be the Institution of the Lord’s Supper in Jesus’ ministry, but who could miss the connection? Real refreshment comes from the Holy Communion with our Lord. As you eat and drink, you are abiding in Christ and Christ is abiding in you. After our Lord fills us with Himself, we thank Him for His refreshment. One prayer after Communion says, “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” Another prayer says, “You have given us pardon and peace in this Sacrament.” The Lord’s Meal of Body and Blood is real refreshment indeed!

Is it any wonder, then, that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers”? They knew their source of refreshment in this barren wilderness of a world. And when the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved, it reminds us that many outside the church need the Lord’s refreshment in our day too. The Church is not a place for us to think only of ourselves. No, it’s a place where the Lord refreshes us, and His refreshment energizes us to bring others to be refreshed in and by Christ.

Today we also get to rejoice in the refreshment that our Lord has given through Pastor Daniel Preus. By God’s grace, Daniel has served the Lord and His people for many years. Our Lord has used Daniel’s service to bring the real refreshment of forgiveness, life, and salvation to many. Whether Daniel served in the parish, or at Concordia Historical Institute, or as one of our synod’s vice-presidents, or as Director of Luther Academy, he has always labored to dish out the Lord’s refreshment that comes only from Christ crucified and risen. In his book, Why I Am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center, Pr. Preus says this about the Lord’s Supper: “In this family Meal, the Lord provides the forgiveness and life that we need. In this eating and drinking, our bodies and souls receive hope and strength as we spend a moment in eternity” (122). That’s the Lord’s real refreshment!

Today we also get to rejoice in the refreshment that our Lord is now giving to Pr. Preus in retirement. We have been blessed by his faithful service here at Hope these past ten years, and we thank God for bringing him here to us. Now we say, “Farewell and Godspeed.” But we also know that our Lord will continue to refresh Pr. Preus with forgiveness and life. And, while we may say, “Farewell and Godspeed” now, we also know that we have an eternity of our Lord’s refreshment where we will all be reunited.

Rejoicing in the middle of Lent? Yes! Here we find true refreshment in the Lord’s House, with His Word and at His Table.

“O living Bread from heaven,
How well You feed Your guest!
The gifts that You have given
Have filled my heart with rest.
Oh, wondrous food of blessing,
Oh, cup that heals our woes!
My heart, this gift possessing,
With praises overflows.” (LSB 642:1) Amen.

09 March 2015

Homily for Lent 3 - Oculi

"One Stronger"
Luke 11:14-28

Listen here.

In Judges 14 Samson was looking for a wife. He came to the vineyards outside the town of Timnah, and a young lion confronted him. “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon [Samson], and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat” (Judg. 14:6). Some time later Samson returned to Timnah to take his bride. He turned aside “to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate” (14:8-9). A while later Samson gave this riddle based on his victory over the lion: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (14:4).

What does Sampson have to do with Jesus and our Gospel reading? When we view Samson as a prototype—a preview, a teaser trailer—of our Lord Jesus, our Gospel reading makes perfect sense. Just as Samson went to Timnah to find and marry his bride, our Lord Jesus comes into this fallen world to gather His spiritual Bride, the Church. Just as Samson conquered the strong lion, our Lord Jesus conquers the hellish lion, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Just as Samson scraped sweet honey out of the lion’s carcass and gave some to his parents, Jesus scoops sweet salvation out of His conquest of the devil and gives that sweet life and love of God to us. We can also say that our Lord Jesus scoops the sweetness of a holy people—forgiven, redeemed, and rescued from sin—a people who in turn give a sweet smelling aroma in their lives of thanksgiving, praise, service, and love—and He gives that people—us—to His Father.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man. You would think that people would rejoice. After all, a man had been freed from Satan’s shackles. But no! Some folks complain. They accuse the loving Lord of life of committing nefarious no good. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” they claim. Then our Lord Jesus speaks to the nonsense of Satan being divided against himself. He says it’s foolish that a kingdom would be so divided. After all, Satan and his evil horde of devilish minions are far from divided. They are very much united. They are united around the single purpose of drawing you and me away from God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are united in consuming you and me in order that we may not enjoy the sweet life, love, and salvation of our Mighty Savior.

Consuming? Yes, consuming! Remember St. Peter’s words. The devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

C. S. Lewis illustrated this quite nicely in his book The Screwtape Letters. In these fictional letters from the underworld, senior tempter Screwtape instructs his young nephew, Wormwood, on the art of tempting a Christian “patient.” Like salt and pepper throughout these letters, Screwtape sprinkles little hints about the demonic urge to sink their teeth into and devour the souls who belong to “the Enemy,” who is God. C. S. Lewis capped off these delightfully wicked letters with a juicy sequel. It’s called “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” Screwtape is the guest of honor and main speaker at a banquet of young devils who have just completed their training at tempter school. Screwtape begins his toast by commenting on the low quality of the souls on which they were feasting. Screwtape says:

It would be vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality…. Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII or even a Hitler! There was a real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own…. Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century…. Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t…. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 154-155).

Screwtape goes on to say, however, that the quality of the souls is not as important as the quantity, the numbers. Even though it means less “quality,” Screwtape rejoices in the greater numbers. He says, “The sort of souls on whose despair and ruin we have—well, I won’t say feasted, but at any rate subsisted—tonight are increasing in numbers and will continue to increase” (p. 157). What’s the point? Satan and his minions love to devour Christians. And by ourselves, we Christians are powerless to prevent it—as powerless as juicy, red slabs of meat tossed to a hungry lion.

And just how do Satan and his army of tempters try to consume and devour us? You see, they are constantly trying to stew us and marinate us in the juices of the fallen world.

Ponder how Satan and his tempters flex their muscle in the world. ISIS persecutes Christians in Iraq and Syria, abducting and killing them. Security in shopping malls increases due to terror threats. Moms and dads at odds with each other, fighting over child custody. Hospital beds where labored and irregular breathing signals death’s nearness. Inappropriate images of men and women causing lustful thoughts. Adulterous hearts enjoying a love affair with earthly riches and pride. Tongues twisted with unkind words about another child of God. Indifference towards hearing and learning God’s Word and receiving His Sacrament. New man-made teachings which ask “Did God really say?” Nonexistent family devotions because life is too busy. Constant accusations that God could never forgive such bad thoughts and actions.

Also ponder what St. Paul tells us today. He warns us against sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, and deceiving with empty words. These are just some of the ways that the devil prowls around looking for tasty little filets of Christians to devour. While we’re at it, we might as well remember St. Paul’s list of works of the flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). When you find yourself participating in such things, Satan is sinking his claws into you, basting you for his consumption, and just waiting, with mouth watering, until you finally end up on his dinner plate.

Not a pretty thought, I know! And that’s why we need One Stronger than strongman Satan. We need Someone to come into Satan’s domain—this fallen world—and attack him, overcome him, take away his armor, and divide his spoil. That One Stronger is the Son of God Himself, the Word made flesh. Just as Samson fought against the lion at Timnah, our Lord Jesus came into our fallen world to fight against the old evil foe, the lion who prowls around looking for souls such as ours to devour. Every time Jesus healed someone from a disease, and especially from demon-possession, He showed that He is the One Stronger who came to defeat strongman Satan. But never forget the way that Jesus ultimately defeated the devil! The ultimate disarming of the devil came in the death of the Son of God. The devil thought that he had his greatest feast of all eternity—conquering and consuming the Son of God. But death cannot swallow the Lord of Life! Even in death, our Lord Jesus is like a poison pill, a good dose of arsenic, to Satan and his minions. On the cross, in the tomb, and then on Easter Sunday, our Lord Jesus conquered our hellish foe.

So now, returned to life, our Lord continues coming to His world to fetch His Bride, the Church. And He brings to her—to you, to me, to all who belong to His Bride—the sweetness of forgiveness, life, and salvation with God. Yes, your house—the house of your soul—has been swept clean by Jesus’ dying and rising. Now, you can leave it empty, and risk more demons moving back in to ravage the place again, or you can keep it filled with the Holy Spirit. And how does the Holy Spirit fill the house of your soul? He comes to you in the Gospel proclaimed, in your Baptism, in the Absolution, and in the Holy Supper. I highly recommend the sweetness of the life of God over the bitterness of satanic captivity. You see, the sweet life of God leads you out of your sin and death, and into real life—life of trusting our Mighty Savior, life of living in His love for you, life of practicing His love for those around you. As St. Paul says in our Second Reading: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

So, when you sense Satan prowling and growling, eager to sink his teeth into you, remember this: your Savior Jesus is the One Stronger. By His Cross, He has overcome Satan. In your Baptism, you have been joined to Christ for His sweet life and love. In the Supper, you get to taste and see that out of the strong one has come something sweet. Ah, how sweet is that forgiveness, life, and salvation with God! All of this helps you defy sour-puss Satan. As we sang in the hymn earlier:

Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not no soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me!” (LSB 594:3). Amen.

02 March 2015

Homily for Lent 2 - Reminiscere

"Eyes Fixed on Jesus"
Matthew 15:21-28

Listen here.

It’s a hard thing when God turns against you—when He ignores your prayer with the silent treatment; when He does not come to your aid right away; when He seems to work against you and for the good of others; when He seems to lash out at you; when He afflicts your spirit and troubles your mind; when He causes you sleepless nights; when He allows you to endure various physical and bodily afflictions.

It’s a hard thing when God turns against you. If God turns against you, who else is there to help you? Really, there’s no where else you can turn.

Scripture says our God is compassionate and gracious. It says He does not willingly grieve His beloved children. It even says that He promises to hear and respond to our prayers. So if all of that is true, then why does He turn against us? Why does He test us? Why does He let evil happen to us? Why does He say to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him”? Why does He touch Jacob’s hip and dislocate it so that Jacob must limp through the rest of his life? And why does He give the devil permission to destroy Job’s family, and afflict Job with horrible sores and sickness? And why does He treat the woman in today’s Gospel with such disdain and harshness?

The Catechism gives the answer: “God’s will is done when he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.” God’s will is also done “when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”

So our Lord turns against us, or is slow to help us, or allows evil to happen to us for two reasons. First, so that He might break our stubborn, unbelieving will. And second, so that He might lead us to rely solely and completely on Him and His Word. You see, our Lord’s desire is not to torment us. No, He wants us to confess our inability to help ourselves and trust His ready and constant help. Our Lord’s will is not to give us the fleeting happiness we so often look for, but to give us the true joy of salvation, firmly rooted in the Gospel that the Spirit delivers to us. Our Lord sees the big picture. He has the long view of our salvation. And so He does whatever He must in order to turn our eyes, our hearts, and our hopes away from ourselves and toward Him and His unwavering mercy—toward His dedicated, persistent and resolute compassion.

The woman in today’s Gospel is our role model. Jesus tells her, “Woman, great is your faith.” Her faith is not great in and of itself. No, her faith is great only because of Jesus. She believes that Jesus will help her in spite of His harsh treatment. Her faith is great only because she believes God’s promises over against God’s threat. Her faith is great only because she relies and depends so persistently on our Lord’s mercy. She believes that His mercy is so great that even He will not be able to turn her away from her hope and her heart’s desire.

So let’s always keep in mind what this woman does not do. She does not point to her faith. She does not say, “Lord, you must help me because I believe in you.” Also, she does not point to her rights. She does not say, “But Lord, I have a right to your help because I have lived a good life.” Instead, the woman fixes her eyes solely on Jesus as the embodiment of the Father’s compassion, as mercy in the flesh. That’s why she says, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” That’s why she cries out with persistence, “Lord, help me!” And then the most daring and marvelous statement of all: “Yes, Lord, I believe what you say about me. I am exactly what you say—a dog not worthy of your goodness. But even little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. And so, I will be satisfied with even the smallest amount of Your kindness, even the tiniest portion of Your forgiveness, even the faintest hint of Your smile, even the most grudgingly spoken forgiveness. I know that will be more than enough.”

Do you see where the woman fixes her hope? In nothing but the Lord Jesus. You see, she knows that the only thing that stands between her and the death of her little girl, the only thing that stands between her and God’s fullest anger, is our Lord Jesus and the mercy that only He can give. In fact, her eyes are so fixed on God’s compassion in Christ that she will let nothing—not even Jesus Himself—dissuade or discourage her. She is like a pit bull—her teeth are clenched for dear life to the promised help that our Lord gives in His body—the body that would later be nailed to a cross. And nothing will make her let go.

So, if you’re looking for an example of faith, then look no farther. But if you’re looking for faith itself and the help and compassion that this woman received, don’t look at her. After all, she’s ignoring you. She doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks about her beggarly persistence. She is intent on hearing and receiving the help that only the Lord can give. Instead, let your heart and mind turn to the same Lord who helps this woman. Fix your eyes on the same Lord to whom the Holy Spirit even now directs you. Fix your eyes on the same Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Remember, He also received the Father’s “silent treatment” and cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). Remember the physical and bodily afflictions He endured to heal you and bring you back to God. Focus your gaze on the same Lord who speaks and gives you His mercy and compassion and help even now in His Word, in His Baptism, and in His Supper.

When your eyes are fixed on the Lord Jesus, when your ears are tuned to His cross-won forgiveness, and when your teeth are clenched to His Body and Blood, then you don’t have to worry about what others think or say; you’re not ashamed of your tears or your kneeling or your humility. And above all, when you fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of your faith, then you let nothing—not your pride, not your sinful desires, not your fear, not the enticements of the world, not all those daily chores—you let none of those things stand between you and the comfort your Father gives by His Spirit in His Son’s Absolution and Supper.

You see, the will of God is not only that He makes you His holy child—just like His only-begotten Son in His sight. The will of God is also that you remain holy, that you continually have the heart and mind of Jesus, that you constantly live the holy life that He has given you right here and now. Our Lord does whatever it takes to keep the eyes of your faith fixed on Him—even things like the silent treatment when you pray, or the responses that make you wonder if He really does hear you or love you. Just remember: our God is compassionate and loving. And He continually presents, offers and gives to you that mercy located nowhere else but in the flesh and blood of His own beloved Son. Amen.