10 April 2014

Homily for Lent 5 - Judica

My homily for this past Sunday, Lent 5 - Judica:

Jesus Picks a Fight
Text: John 8:42-59, with Genesis 22:1-14 and Hebrews 9:11-15

Jesus sure knows how to pick a fight! Of course, He does so without sin, because He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21); His every thought, word, deed, and motivation were “without sin.” (Heb. 4:15). But pick a fight, He does. And not only does He pick a fight with the religious leaders of His day; He also picks a fight with…are you ready?…with YOU!

What else do you call it when you hear Jesus say provocative things like this in our Gospel reading: “If God were your Father, you would love Me” or “You are of your father the devil” or “You have not known [God]” or—and here’s the real kicker—“Before Abraham was, I AM.” Each of these statements by itself lays down the gauntlet. But fire them off like a machine gun, and, well, Jesus is lighting a short fuse to a warehouse full of TNT. Yes, Jesus is picking a fight. And it’s a fight He intends to win.

Now, before you get too incredulous about Jesus picking a fight—and before you swoop in to rescue Jesus by dressing Him up as a silky soft, meek and mild Savior—remember what the Bible says about our God who is a mighty warrior. Psalm 89 sings of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. But it also sings to God: “You have a mighty arm; strong is Your hand, high Your right hand” (Ps. 89:13). The picture of a warrior charging into battle. And Moses told the Israelites to remember that they were slaves in Egypt, “and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). And how did God do that? By “picking a fight” with Pharaoh and the Egyptian slave masters, sending plagues to show His might, and thus delivering His people. And let’s not forget how Moses and the Israelites sang God’s victory song after they crossed the Red Sea: “I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea…. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is His name” (Ex. 15:1-2).

Truthfully, the whole story of salvation is one of God “picking a fight” with His enemies, that is, with those who undermine His good creation and His people with sin, evil, and death. What happened right after Satan seduced Adam and Eve to eat from the fruit and fall into sin? God promised the evil foe a fight he would not forget: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall [crush] your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). Yes, God picks a fight with those who oppose Him.

It’s exactly what happens in our Gospel reading. The Pharisees and scribes have been dogging Jesus with their snide questions and their innuendos. So, our Lord takes the fight right back to them. “If God were your Father”—but by your thoughts, words, and deeds, it’s clear He’s not!—“you would love me”—and it’s clear you don’t love Me.” And Jesus knew who was really behind their snide suspicion and their lurking unbelief: the devil himself, the same satanic foe who invaded and spoiled God’s good order in the Garden. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

Jesus knew who was pulling their puppet strings. He knew they were but the marionettes of the master liar and murderer. And that’s whom Jesus really came to fight—the old evil foe—just as God had promised in the Garden.

But that does not let the Jewish leaders off the hook. They were still willing accomplices as they challenged the Lord, as they accused Him of having a demon and being a Samaritan. In other words, they were trying to protect themselves and safe-guard their own man-made, man-focused religion. That’s why Jesus had to “pick a fight” with them.

It’s also why He has to “pick a fight” with you! You see, you and I are not that different from the scribes and Pharisees. We want to protect ourselves. We want to safe-guard our own man-made, man-focused religion and worship. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we want to  “be like god, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

Pastor Jonathan Fisk has written a fabulous book that exposes this. It’s called BROKEN: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible. For six chapters Pr. Fisk unmasks six spiritual lies that we Christians often stumble into and hold onto. They have names such as Mysticism, Moralism, and Rationalism. They also have idols—things we fear, love, and trust more than God and His Word—things such as Emotion, Reason, Material Things, Religion and Freedom. What are those six rules, or spiritual lies? Pr. Fisk outlines them: #1) You find God in your heart. #2) You find God in your hands. #3) You find God in your mind. #4) You find God in the world. #5) You find God in the churches. And #6) You find God in God’s absence.

Now, I’m not trying to give you a book report (though I do recommend the book). Rather, I’m leading you to Rule #7 that you need to break—or that Jesus needs to break in you. What is that final rule? It’s the common thread in all of those other rules: that YOU can find God. It’s the rule that you are all too eager to follow, because it leads you to worship yourself—keep yourself in charge of your religion, your faith, your “spiritual walk,” and so on. It’s the lie that we human beings are the measure of all things. It’s the lie that says you and I can fear, love, and trust in ourselves. But when we do, we end up lacking true fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

It’s the lie that Jesus came to fight. It’s why Jesus came to “pick a fight” with the scribes and Pharisees. It’s why Jesus comes to “pick a fight” with you, even on a daily basis. He wants to rescue you from “the father of lies.” He wants you to hear the words of God. He wants you to keep His word so that you “will never see death.”

Martin Luther captured this grand, cosmic fight well in his Large Catechism. Listen carefully for how Jesus picks this fight and what it means for you: “For when we had been created by God the Father and had received from Him all kinds of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil. So we fell under God’s wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, just as we had merited and deserved. There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God—in His immeasurable goodness—had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness. He came from heaven to help us. So those tyrants and jailers are all expelled now. In their place has come Jesus Christ. Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation. He has delivered us poor, lost people from hell’s jaws, has won us, has made us free, and has brought us again into the Father’s favor and grace. He has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection so that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness” (LC II 28-30).

Yes, Jesus comes to “pick a fight,” a fight with sin, death, and the devil—a fight with the sin that lives in you. Not only was it a fight He intended to win from eternity; it was also a fight to the death—His death. Just as God provided the lamb for a sacrifice in place of Isaac, He also provides the true Lamb—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—for the ultimate sacrifice in place of you and me and all people. Jesus’ fight for your salvation came to its climax on the Cross. However, instead of flexing His mighty right arm, He extended His arms in weakness to be nailed to a tree. Instead of triumphing with might and power, He gained the victory by giving up His spirit and dying. But the victory would reveal its glory on the third day, when He rose from the grave.

And we can truly thank Jesus for coming into the world and picking this fight with us—that is, with our sinful desire to be like god. As Hebrews says, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Jesus’ fight with sin, death, and the devil—a fight that bloodied Him and nailed Him to a tree—forgives all your sins, all of your worship of yourself.

And, yes, this fight is a daily event for you and every Christian. After all, “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.” But remember, it’s Jesus, the great I AM, who picks the fight, and it’s Jesus, “Yahweh in the flesh,” who wins the fight. And so in your Baptism, “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever" (SC, Baptism).

So, as we head into this “Passiontide” phase of Lent, now we begin focusing more on Christ’s cosmic fight against the devil and our sin and our death. What great Good News that He, our Victor, has come to pick that fight and win that fight! Amen. 

That’s how Jesus wins the fight in you on a daily basis. That’s also how you live with a pure and clean conscience.

02 April 2014

Pres. Harrison Encourages Pastors

"It's not easy business being a pastor," says the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, as he examines the charge given to pastors in 2 Tim. 4:1--2. "But I want to encourage you. The Word of God is living and mighty and active ... . And the Word of the Lord does not return void." Watch this video to hear more from President Harrison as he offers words of encouragement from Martin Luther's Invocavit sermons from 1522.

Sasse on the Word of God, the Church, & the Sacraments

What is the relationship between the Word of God and the Bible? Between the Word of God and the Church? Hermann Sasse provides some excellent and necessary insight:
For the church of the Reformation, both belong inseparably together: the written and the proclaimed Word, the Bible and the "preaching office or oral Word" [Predigtamt oder mundlich Wort], as Luther said in Schwabach Article VII, the forerunner of Augustana V. This homogeneity explains how the church sank roots among hitherto pagan peoples. If the Word of God were identical with the Bible, it would suffice to send the Bible in their own language to the people concerned. But because the Bible and the Word of God are not identical, there is sent to every people one or more preachers of the Word.

But neither would it suffice were these preachers to come without the Holy Scriptures, bearing the Word of God only in their heads and hearts. The Scriptures and the preaching office, the written and the proclaimed Word, belong together. The content of the Scriptures must be preached, and not only read in private. And the preaching office should expound the Scriptures, as the content of its sermon is bound throughout to the Scriptures. But because every form of the Word of God is truly the Word of God, the church of necessity can never be deprived of one of these two forms....

The Word of God, the written and proclaimed Word, creates and builds the church. There is no other means to build the church of Christ. For the Word of God alone creates faith. Certainly the Sacraments belong to the Word, and it is the experience of church history that wherever the significance of the Sacraments is misunderstood or neglected, the Word will also be despised or falsified. But the Sacraments ever exist only together with the Word, with the Word of the institution and the Word of promise. Thus the Augustana says that through the Word and the Sacraments the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith, "where and when it pleases God" [AC V 2]. This means we cannot prescribe the effectual power of Word and Sacrament. It is God's free grace, should he bring a person to faith through them. But we have the promise that the Word of God "shall not return void" (Isa 55:11). Thus the church will exist everywhere the Gospel is rightly preached, but only there. And it must be the continual prayer of the church that it be and remain the true church of Christ, as we pray in Luther's hymn in the worship service: "Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word." Herein as we pray we also admit that we cannot keep ourselves steadfast in this Word, nor can the church by itself do so. (Hermann Sasse, "The Church and the Word of God," in The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Volume I (1927-1939), 156-157.

31 March 2014

Homily for Lent 4

Real Refreshment
Text: John 6:1-15 (with Exodus 16:2-21 & Acts 2:41-47)

Today is about refreshment, real refreshment, from the Lord of life Himself. For three weeks in Lent we’ve been hearing about the heat of battle. First, it was the battle against temptation. Next, it was the battle of faith. Last week, it was the battle against the devil himself. Are you feeling weak and worn down yet? Well, today we get a refreshment break. That’s why today is also called “Laetare”—“Rejoice! Sunday.” It comes from Isaiah 66(:10-11): “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.”

Can we really rejoice in the middle of Lent, though? Isn’t Lent all about repentance and reflection? Yes, and that’s why we had the battle imagery for three weeks. But today we get a little pause for refreshment. We need this refreshment, because starting next week we will go down into the valley of the shadow of death with our Lord Jesus. So, let Jesus refresh you here today. You see, when Jesus feeds you on Himself, He gives you real refreshment for both body and soul.

Today we hear the story of Jesus feeding and refreshing over 5,000 people. The Gospel of John links this event to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. That reminds us of Old Testament Israel as each family sacrificed a lamb, then roasted it, and then ate it in haste. After all, once supper was over, they quickly had to get up and escape from their Egyptian slave masters. It was a refreshing meal of God’s salvation and rescue.

The other gospels also tell us that Jesus had been teaching all day. So He and His disciples and the large crowd were physically exhausted. It was also a meal of physical refreshment. Jesus comes to feed and refresh both soul and body.

Jesus looks at the hungry, tired crowd and asks a question of His disciples: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Yes, Jesus knew exactly what He would do, but He also wanted to see if His disciples could figure out how to trust Him. It’s as if He threw them a hot potato. And everyone knows that you don’t hold on to a hot potato. Instead, you toss it back. But the two disciples tried to hold on to that “hot potato.” Philip worried about  and lamented the great need. “Two hundred [days’ wages] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” he complained. Andrew, on the other hand, worried and complained about the meager resources. “Lord, we only have five little barley rolls and two small ‘fishies.’ It’s merely a boy’s lunch.” One worried about the great need. The other worried about the meager resources. But neither of them looked to Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Now, isn’t that just like you and me? We do that all the time. Not only is our habit of worrying a sin against God, and not only is our complaining a sin against God, but such fruitless activities also exhaust us and wear us out. Take your time, for example. When Monday morning rolls around, you look at the great need of things you have to do through the week. Shuttle the children to school. Rush to work and do all those work tasks. Go to the doctor and have those tests taken. Rush home. Fix dinner. Eat dinner. Do the grocery shopping. Oh, and help with homework, clean the house, and get everyone ready for bed. Then you look at your meager resources. Only 24 hours in a day and only 7 days in the week. How will you get it all done in such limited time? And if one more thing gets added to your “To Do” list, you feel like your head will explode. But you forget to look to Jesus. Is it any wonder you are worn out?

Or take another example: your family finances. First, you worry about your great need—all those bills, all those expenses, all those unexpected things like car repairs and medical bills. Then you worry about your limited, meager resources. How will you make that paycheck stretch through the next two weeks, especially when most of it seems to evaporate within hours after you deposit it? You worry about your great need, then you worry about your meager resources. You might even throw in a little complaining for good measure. But you keep forgetting to look to Jesus. Is it any wonder you feel tired and worn out?

We can also apply this to our life together in the congregation. We worry about the great need—conducting services in the Lord’s house; educating our children in the Christian faith; supporting our workers who bring us the Gospel in word and song; paying the bills for heat, light, insurance and other needs; making needed repairs. Oh, and did I mention setting aside and giving away money to promote the Gospel and help other people around the globe? But then we look at the meager resources. How will this week’s offerings look? Next month’s income? How many bills must we hold before we pay them? It doesn’t help, but we still worry. It doesn’t help, but we still complain. And we keep forgetting to look to Jesus!

Yes, Jesus knew what He would do. He just wanted to see if His disciples would learn to trust Him. He knows exactly what to do with you, your life, and our congregation. He also wants to see if we will learn to trust Him. And, as we see in today’s refreshing story, Jesus takes care of all of our great needs even with the most meager of resources.

Jesus told His disciples to have the people sit down on the grassy hill. He took the five little barley rolls, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples so that they could distribute them to the hungry people. You can almost hear them as they give out the pieces of bread: “Take, eat … given for you.” Then Jesus took the two little ‘fishies,’ gave thanks for them too, and gave them to the disciples to give to the crowd. Now, can you imagine how the disciples must have reacted? They dole out little pieces of bread and fish, and yet the bread and the fish don’t run out! They just keep on doling out the little morsels. And it's an all-you-can-eat feast! And everyone ate until they were full!

What a great picture Jesus gives of Himself! In fact, after this feast, He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). There were 12 whole baskets of leftovers. There’s always plenty of Jesus, the Bread of Life, to go around. Remember, He is the bread born in Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” He is also the bread that was baked and broken in the hellish heat of the cross. You see, He gives His Body for food and His Blood for drink. The very Body broken and Blood shed on the cross are also given to you in a most refreshing Meal. As Jesus also says, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6:54-56).

The disciples worried about the great need, but Jesus showed them that He meets every need. They worried about the meager resources, but Jesus showed them that they had food enough to feed the crowd, and plenty to spare. The twelve baskets left over tell us that there’s always plenty of Jesus to go around. There’s plenty of real refreshment with Jesus. Remember, Jesus also says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29). You see, in Jesus, there's plenty of rest and refreshment because in Jesus you have full and free forgiveness. In Jesus, all of your worrying, all of your complaining, all of your forgetting to look to Him--it's all forgiven.

You know, it continually amazes me. So many of us these days lament and moan about how frazzled and frustrated we are, about how little time and money we have, and about how many demands are made on us. People are just plain fed up and worn down. Is there any real refreshment? Many people look to more activities—such as sports events, spendy vacations, or shopping sprees. But often these things only add to the frazzle and frustration, especially when the bills come due, when the fun is over, and when life’s demands come rushing back.

Would you like some real refreshment for your troubled souls and hectic lives? Here it is: Jesus the Christ, who gives His Body and His Blood for you to eat and to drink. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Ps 34:8) When you have Jesus, you have real refreshment. And when you look at your time, your finances, and your congregation, you need not worry or complain over the great needs or the meager resources. Instead, look to Jesus, the very Bread of Life. As we will soon sing:

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

Amen.

26 March 2014

Sasse on Christian Revelation

In his essay "The Church and the Word of God," delivered in 1934, Dr. Hermann Sasse contrasts Christian revelation over against the personal revelation views of Cherbury, Fichte, and young Schleiermacher. What is Christian revelation? Here's Sasse:
The truth of our faith depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ appeared once, was sacrificed once for (Heb 7:27; 9:26, 28), that he suffered "under Pontius Pilate" [Apostles' Creed]. Should it be shown that the NT recounts not historical truth in its witness to Christ, rather only a myth, the apostles would be false witnesses (1 Cor 15:15). Then what Paul wrote would apply: "Your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" [1 Cor 15:17-18 NKJV]. And finally, Christian revelation, directly because of this historical character, is bound to the witness of history and thus also the witnesses of history. It is bound to their word and to the written record of this word.

The contents of the Christian faith are not simply the objects of our experience. The incarnation, the death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ are not facts which we can know from our own experience. We know of them only through the testimony of the Scriptures....

Biblical revelation is an "offense" for the religious and moral man of every age, just as it is "foolishness" to the philosophies of all ages [cf. 1 Cor 1:23]. It is a foreigner also in the world of religions....

The content of Bible revelation cannot be expressed in any theoretical thesis, neither in a thesis concerning the love of God and men, nor in the form of "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men." The content of biblical revelation is much more the truth as a person; it is Jesus Christ. (Hermann Sasse, "The Church and the Word of God" in The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Volume I (1927-1939), 151-152.)

17 March 2014

Homily for Lent 2

Our Truest Friend
Text: Matthew 15:21-28, with Genesis 32:22-32 & 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

Last week’s readings reminded us that we Christians have an enemy who likes to act like our friend. Today’s readings remind us that we have a Friend who sometimes seems to act like our enemy.

What do I mean? Satan comes to us with his mask of friendliness, but behind that mask he has only malicious  intent, hatred and destruction. The devil befriends us because he desires to torment us and drive us away from God. But our true Friend, who sometimes wears the mask of an enemy, or so it seems to us, has a different desire. Behind His occasional rough handling of us, He desires only that we come to share in His joy, His peace, His light, and His love for all eternity. The enemy sugarcoats his malice. But our true Friend sometimes disguises His benevolence behind a guise of bitterness.

Jacob learned this as he wrestled through the night with that mysterious figure on the banks of the Jabbok River. Yes, he walked away from the encounter limping and in pain, but he walked away a blessed man. He even walked away as a man with a new name: “Israel.” He wrestled and struggled with God and with men, and he prevailed. With that new name and that blessing, he was strengthened and encouraged to face his brother Esau. Remember, Jacob last saw his brother Esau 20 years earlier, and at that time Esau wanted to kill him for stealing the family blessing. So this mysterious figure wrestling with Jacob may have seemed like an enemy, but He turned out to be Jacob’s dearest Friend. He was the same Friend who had promised Jacob: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28:15).

And what about the woman in today’s Gospel? She knew something of the Friend who disguises Himself as an enemy, wouldn’t you say? Like so many others, she came to our Lord, crying for mercy. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” And look at how her best and truest Friend treated her: “He did not answer her a word.”

He just ignored her…as though she weren’t even there…as though He never heard her cry…as though He did not see her desperation! He just kept walking. Who could blame this woman if she thought that this was no Friend at all, but rather an enemy? But did she give up? No! She kept crying out behind Him, begging for His mercy. The disciples must have wondered, “What on earth is He up to? This is getting downright embarrassing! Look at all the people starting to stare! “Send her away,” they cried, “for she is crying out after us.”

And how does her dearest and truest Friend answer that? “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Who was He looking at, when He said that? Was He looking at the disciples, or at the woman? If He was looking at the woman, was He making it clear that He knew she was not a Jew? Yes, she had called Him “Son of David,” but He knew she was a Canaanite. He knew she had no claim on Him at all. He owed her absolutely nothing. So, would she give up now? Would she just crumble and lie on the road in a heap of despair? Would she believe the whisperings of the real enemy when he told her: “See, He does not love you. He doesn’t care for you at all. You don’t belong to those who might hope for His kindness. Despair and die!”

Such thoughts probably did wage war in her heart. But she did not give in to them. She refused to take “No” for an answer. She refused to believe that the love and mercy of this Friend is too small to embrace her and her daughter. So, as Jesus was answering His disciples, she ran around Him and planted herself in the dust right in front of Him. She lifted her tear-stained face to Him, to heaven,  and pleaded with persistence: “Lord, help me.”

Surely He would help now, right? Wrong! He delivered His sharpest blow yet: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He didn’t just call her a dog, did He? Yes, He did indeed! Luther was quite honest. He said, “If he had spoken in this manner to me, I would have been scared off…. I would have been frightened to death” (HP 1:325). But the woman does not let her Friend scare her off. She looks up at Him and says, “Yes, Lord.” Yes what? Yes, Lord? “Yes, Lord, I am a dog. I am nothing but a dog. I have absolutely no right to the children’s bread. But I am Your dog, Lord. Won’t you please give me just a little table scrap? Won’t you please toss some little crumbs under the table for me? That’s all I ask, just a crumb of mercy for my little girl. Please?” Luther said this about the woman’s faithful comeback: “Thus she catches Christ with his own words, and he is happy to be caught” (HP 1:325).

In that split second, the guise of the enemy vanished. Instead, Jesus showed Himself for who He really is: her Friend—her dearest, best, and truest Friend, her Friend who will not abandon her in her need. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” He gave her that little crumb she begged for: “her daughter was healed instantly.”

Have you walked in this woman’s sandals? Perhaps you are kneeling in the dust beside her even now? Your dearest, truest Friend seems to ignore your pleas for mercy. His followers seem rude and impatient. He seems to insult you. He seems to handle you or someone you know quite roughly. And Satan sneaks up behind you and whispers in your ear: “Go ahead, hang it up. Forget about Him. He has no room for you in His heart.” But, dear friends, don’t ever pay attention to those sly, deceptive whispers! Instead, hold on tight like Jacob did: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Be persistent like the Canaanite woman was. Plead for His mercy; fall down before Him crying, “Lord, help me!”; be glad to be the little dog who loves the tiny crumbs of His mercy.

Persist in believing that your Lord truly is your truest and best Friend forever! After all, He is! He showed it by the path that He walked for you…all the way to Calvary…all the way to the excruciating pain and forsakenness of the Cross. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Yes, He laid down His life for yours. He shed His blood to blot out your doubts and despairs. He poured Himself out into death so that death may no longer hold you. And your Friend did not stay dead—no matter what cable TV shows or Hollywood movies may try to sell us this season. Your truest, dearest, best Friend did rise from the dead, triumphing gloriously over death and grave. And His triumph is His pledge and promise that the life He gives you—even now in His holy Meal—is the life that never ends.

Dear friends, this is your truest Friend! As the hymn says, “But, oh, my friend, My friend indeed, Who at my need His life did spend.” Since your Lord Jesus Christ has done all this for you, faith knows that behind the mask of all the rough handling, it will find a Friend complete with mercy and kindness and love. “Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine! Never was love, dear King, Never was grief like Thine. This is my friend, In whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend!” (LSB 430:2, 7).

This is why the Apostle Paul can urge us in our second reading to grow in living and pleasing God, and to “do so more and more.” Even when we see our dearest Friend wearing the mask of rough handling, the Apostle reminds us that “the will of God is [our] sanctification”—the will of God is to make us holy, make us His children. Our divine Friend is purifying us from the impurities of our doubts and despairs. He is making us holy in the same faith that the Canaanite woman had. And as the Apostle says elsewhere, “We have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s a peace that helps us rejoice in the midst of our sufferings. It’s a peace that helps us know that God uses our sufferings to produce endurance, character, and hope, “and hope does not put us to shame” (Rom. 5:1-5).

So, don’t let the rough treatment scare you. God’s love has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit. Even though He may seem to ignore your prayers or insult you, or even leave you limping, He IS your dearest, truest Friend, the One who endured cross and grave, and left the grave empty. Faith clings to Him and never lets go, because He works all things for our good. Amen.

Homily for Lent 1

(Better late than never, here's my homily for Lent 1 - Invocabit, focusing on the Gospel reading of Matthew 4:1-11.)

The REAL Bible C.O.D.E.

Perhaps you’ve heard those ads on the radio or seen them on your favorite websites. They’re about a secret code that, once you learn it, will unlock some hidden message in the Bible. There’s “The Biblical Money Code.” According to this code, you’ll learn “lost investment principles of Scripture to go from making $15,000 a year … to giving away up to $50,000 a year.” Sounds appealing. And there’s the ad for a “Hidden Bible Code” that gives an unknown treatment for cancer. When you search the Internet, gobs and gobs of Bible code sites come rushing for your attention. Supposedly, if you can discern the correct letters of the Hebrew or Greek text, you can unlock the “real” hidden message of the Bible. People have been trying it for centuries.

Well, today let’s play along just a bit. But today let's figure out right here, right now what is the REAL Bible C.O.D.E. And to do that, we’ll use the letters of the word “code”—C-O-D-E. And, by the way, once you learn this “code,” I guarantee you that you will never need to waste your hard-earned money or your precious time on any of those books or CD sets at Barnes & Noble or on the internet.

The “C” in the real Bible C.O.D.E. stands for “Christ.” Martin Luther said that the Scriptures are the manger that hold and deliver Jesus the Christ. When you have Christ, you have THE key that unlocks all of the Bible. Without Jesus, the Bible will always remain a locked book. That’s what leads people to search for investment secrets or patterns in Hebrew and Greek letters. They miss the real secret—the true mystery—that comes through in every page of the Bible. And that mystery is Jesus Himself.

When you begin reading your Bible, you can see Jesus there, always there, from the very beginning. He is the Word through whom “all things were made…and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:3-4). Christ is even there in the Garden when Adam and Eve fell to the serpent’s wily deceit. What? You didn’t hear that in our first reading? Just because you didn’t hear it doesn’t mean He wasn’t there.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God told them not to eat—after they brought sin and death into God’s good world—they tried to hide from God. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.” The Hebrew word for “sound” is literally “voice.” “The VOICE of the LORD God” was walking in the garden. And what is that “voice” but the Word of God—the same Word that created; the same Word that goes walking and running to find and rescue His fallen creatures. Not only that, but Adam and Eve also tried to hide themselves from God’s presence. Literally, it says, “from the FACE of God.” And which Person of God has a face? Jesus the Christ.

And, if that weren’t enough, Christ Himself shows up in the first promise of the Gospel. God told the old evil foe in serpent’s guise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Not only was Christ right there in the Garden, but, as God promised, He would also come to squash the satanic serpent’s head. Christ Himself would rescue His fallen creatures—all human beings—from sin and death. And just to give a foretaste of how that feast would taste, “the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” A small gracious act that prepares all of us for God’s grace in Christ on a cross. A sacrifice would be made. Blood would be shed. Adam and Eve, all humanity, including you and I, would be recipients and beneficiaries.

So, Christ Himself is THE key to the real Bible C.O.D.E. When you fix your eyes on Him, you see what the real and quite apparent message of the Scriptures truly is. No spiritual hucksters need apply.

What about the “O” in the real Bible C.O.D.E.? It can stand for “overcomes.” Or “outwits.” Or “overthrows.” Or even “offsets.” From the Garden, we fast forward to a desert. Jesus Christ goes fresh from His Baptism into the hot, dry, dusty wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The old evil foe wants to try his wiles on the Son of God made flesh and blood. “Hey,” he thinks, “it worked in the Garden all those centuries ago. Let’s make it work again in the barren wilderness.”

But that first Gospel promise was still in effect. In fact, it was kicking into gear in fullest measure. This hungry, thirsty, tired, worn out Man who is also God, overcomes the devil’s seeds of doubt. He overcomes the traps of temptations. And how does He do that? Jesus Christ outwits the sly, satanic foe by trusting His heavenly Father and appealing to the Scriptures. You see, those Scriptures are not a book of magic incantations to unlock secret pearls of wisdom. They are very clear and open truth. They reveal God’s rescue story for all of us.

Not only did Jesus overcome and outwit Satan in the wilderness, but He did the same things on the Cross. And all for you. Let’s add the word “overthrow.” What Jesus did on a smaller scale in the wilderness, He did on the universal scale on the Cross. He fully and finally overthrew Satan and his evil, lying schemes. He fully and finally overthrew all of the temptations that lead you away from God, that lead you to think you are in control of your world and everything in the world. He overthrew your sin and your death. We call that “forgiveness of sins.” And all by being weak, by suffering, by dying, and finally by rising again.

Now let’s add the word “offsets.” It’s a synonym for “redeems” or “atones.” Jesus Christ “offsets” your sins, your doubts, your weaknesses in time of temptation. He has made amends for you before God. He has made restitution for you before God. He takes Satan’s accusations against you, and He offsets them, makes up for them, atones for them. Oh, those accusations are true, to be sure. You are a sinner. You and I have not feared, loved, or trusted God as we should. You and I have not loved our neighbor as we should. But your Lord Jesus cancels out those sins by His shed blood and His innocent death.

Now to the “D” in the real Bible C.O.D.E. Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, let’s attach two words to this letter—“death” and “devil.” Here’s the good news for you today and every day: Christ, true God from eternity and also true Man, overcomes and offsets death and the devil for you. We see it in the Garden; we see it in the wilderness of temptation; and we see it especially on the Cross. And we’ll celebrate the victory in full measure on Easter.

And finally, what does the “E” stand for in the real Bible C.O.D.E.? We could say “everyone.” After all, Jesus suffers temptation and cross to redeem the whole world. But let’s keep two other words in mind—“everyday” and “eternally.” Christ Jesus overcomes, outwits, overthrows, and offsets death and the devil each and every day for you, and His victory lasts into all eternity.

You know how you are tempted. You know how you often give in to those temptations to stray from God and His way, to doubt God, to ignore God. You know how you constantly give in to temptations to not love your neighbor. So, Jesus is always at work to overcome the wiles of Satan and the stench of death in your life. Hebrews 4 reminds us that our Lord knows exactly what you and I go through day after day. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

That’s how we begin this season of Lent—fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. His work of overcoming sin, death, and the devil continue each and every day. We cannot win the battle. But Christ already has. And so you and I may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” You and I “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” That, dear saints, is the real “code” to the Bible—hearing and receiving Jesus and His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation.

And one final thought. You’ve probably noticed that Hollywood is getting into “Bible-based” movies. A movie called The Son of God just came out, and a movie called Noah will soon come out. I can imagine some Christians saying, “Awesome! Bible-based movies.” I can hear others asking, “Is that really how it happened?” Well, don’t let those kinds of movies replace the real thing. Read the book! Use this time of Lent to open your Bible and see Christ at work for you. Go to the source. You don’t need  to rely on Hollywood’s version of the Bible, and you certainly don’t need any secret codes to unlock some hidden mysteries in the sacred pages. You have the  real C.O.D.E.—Christ overcomes, outwits, overthrows, and offsets death and the devil. And He does it everyday and for all eternity. Just for you. Amen.

Honoring St. Patrick

On this day of remembering St. Patrick, many are donning the Irish green, drinking Irish stout beer (or beer colored green with food dye[?]), and dining on corned beef and cabbage. All this even though St. Patrick himself was not Irish, but rather a Roman citizen from Britain.

That's all fine and good in a First Article sort of way. But how about honoring St. Patrick for the truth of the Gospel that he confessed and proclaimed? After all, he was a Christian missionary to the land of the Irish, and he stoutly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

I can think of no better way of honoring St. Patrick than looking to and even singing the hymn attributed to him--a hymn that boldly confesses the Holy Trinity and our life in Him by virtue of our Baptism.
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
By pow'r of faith, Christ's incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heav'nly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The pow'r of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heav'nly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
the hostile foes that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In ev'ry place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me those holy pow'rs.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit Word,
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!
(Lutheran Service Book, 604)
Prayer of the Day: 
Almighty God, You chose Your servant Patrick to be a missionary to the Irish people who were wandering in darkness and error. You bound unto them the trinitarian name through Baptism and faith that they might dwell in the light of Christ. Bind unto us this same strong name of the Trinity as we remember our Baptism and walk in His light, that we may come to dwell at last in the eternal light of the presence of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 1285)