23 January 2018

Exploring the One-Year Lectionary...Again

Nine years ago, I posted my sectional paper, "Exploring the One-Year Lectionary," which I delivered at the 2008 Commission on Worship's Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music, held in Seward, NE.

Evidently, some are still interested in accessing the paper and reading it! Thank you!

I had forgotten, however, that I had stored the paper on Apple's now-defunct "iDisk" storage system with the old "mac.com."

Now that I've again been asked for a copy of this paper, I've stored it over at my podcast site, Sacred Meditations (which Apple will not be able to discontinue. :-).

To access it, just click here: "Exploring the One-Year Lectionary" and the PDF file should open right away.

And, while I'm in this shameless-self-promotion mode, go ahead and check out my "short-cast" for prayers and meditations on God's Word! :-)

21 January 2018

Homily for Transfiguration - 2018

"Transfigured"
Matthew 17:1-9

Listen here.

Make no mistake about it. When you see Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop, you see your own glorious future. You also will be transformed and transfigured. But also, don’t doubt this: it will be a rough, dark road to get you there.

This glorious sight of Jesus outshining the sun itself is no random event, no mere magic show. Jesus is not just showing off His divine glory. No, this event is intimately connected to what happened six days earlier. Jesus had asked His disciples who they confessed Him to be. Peter spoke up for all of them: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). “Well done, Peter!” Jesus said. “You’re confessing the faith that My Father has given you. Believe me, I will build My church on that very confession.” Then Jesus spoke of going to Jerusalem, suffering many things, being killed, and then being raised on the third day. We accept the words well enough, but Peter strongly objected: “Never Lord! How can you even think that?” So Jesus countered and corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! … You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:23).

We, like Peter, love the picture and promise of radiant glory. We’re not so sure about the harsh reality of gloomy suffering—not for Jesus, and certainly not for ourselves.

So when Jesus is transfigured—revealing Himself as the very source of all light and glory—He seeks to comfort and sustain His distressed disciples. Suffering? Death? Cold, dark grave? The mere thoughts of such things, let alone going through them, lay us flat like a boxer giving a gut punch followed by an undercut. Jesus knows His disciples are laid flat by His prediction of the Passion. He wants to encourage them and sustain them. It’s as if Jesus is telling them, “Yes, it will be dark and deadly. Yes, you too will be shaken to the core, as well as opposed, hunted down, imprisoned, even executed just for confessing Me. But let not your hearts be troubled. Here is what lies on the other side of suffering and death, both Mine and yours.”

You see, this was not the first time that Jesus was transfigured and transformed. He has been the radiant, brilliant source of all light and glory since before the beginning of time—along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Then, when the time was right, the Son of God actually transformed Himself by taking on our human flesh and blood. In taking our humanity into Himself, He transfigured Himself—He hid Himself—in humility.

So when Jesus predicts His passion and death, He’s simply unveiling what lies further back in the deep dark recesses of His glory—His suffering in the garden, His arrest, His trial, His bearing the cross to Golgotha, the pounding of spikes into His hands and feet, the lifting of the cross into its place, and the weight of His body hanging from wrists nailed into the cross beam. This is the Son of God completely revealing Himself. This is His real glory—suffering so to redeem and forgive us sinners who had fallen from our glory. It’s on the mount called Calvary that you are transfigured.

Peter, James, and John basked in and soaked up the brilliant glory of Jesus transfigured. Peter even wanted to extend his mountaintop experience with a bunch of tents. Moses and Elijah, though, were there for a different purpose. Yes, they are heroes of the faith—Moses the icon of the Law and Elijah the representative of the prophets. Yes, Moses’ skin shone with a most incredible suntan after his time on the mountain with God. Yes, Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, and hence did not taste death. But Moses and Elijah were also there as fellow sufferers with Jesus. Consider the many times God’s people rejected Moses with their complaining over things as mundane as food and water. Remember the times that Elijah had to flee for his life from the government out to get him or the time he took on the many prophets of Baal. The same people rejected Jesus. On top of that, Moses and Elijah appeared to speak with Jesus about His “exodus”—His soon-to-come suffering, His pending Passion (Lk. 9:31).

With all of this darkness and gloom hanging over the disciples, they desperately needed some encouragement, some hope, some promise. That’s why Jesus shone brighter than the sun—just a small glimpse of what lies ahead. That’s why the Father’s voice boomed from the cloud: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” That voice still bids us to listen to Him, and Him alone. And we find that voice speaking ever so clearly in the Scriptures. After all, here’s “the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Here’s what awaits all who follow Jesus—first, the suffering and dying of a fallen world; then, the glory and radiance of new life with Jesus. It’s the way it works since we humans first transfigured ourselves from God’s holy people into the devil’s sinful slaves. We should have had the brilliance of a trusting, loving relationship with God all along. Instead, we chose the nakedness of self-centered shame. Instead of being clothed with God’s glory, we had to settle for being covered by garments of animal skins.

But Jesus has come to reverse all that. He’s the new Moses as He leads us out of our slavery to sin and death and into the Promised Land of His mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life. He’s the new Elijah—surpassing all the prophets—because He alone has the words of eternal life. He is transfigured on one mountain, but on a different mountain—the one called Calvary—He accomplishes your transfiguration. He transforms you from sinners to saints, from people suffocating in death to people breathing the very air of life.

Make no mistake about it. The transfiguring and transforming continues. He who was transfigured from humility back into glory now comes transforming Himself in the bread and wine of His holy Supper. And with that Meal, He begins and continues transforming our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

So we live patiently and trustingly, awaiting that day when our own transformation will burst forth with brilliance. Much like putting up with the inconveniences of renovating an organ or soon a sanctuary, we bear with those things that are not yet set right—the crosses we bear, the sorrows we endure, the losses we suffer. But as we live patiently and trustingly, we draw strength and resolve from our transfigured Lord of glory. He sustains us. He gives the promise, the hope, the courage.

And so we can be people of life in this world of death. By God’s grace in Jesus, we can resist being conformed to this world. Instead, we are transformed by Jesus renewing our minds, by discerning what His good and acceptable and perfect will is. We can rejoice with those who march for life year after year. We can work with those who help mommies and daddies to keep their babies as well as teach them how to be better parents. We can run into the muck and the mess of our culture of death—this culture bent on snuffing out lives in the womb and shortening the lives of those who suffer or become frail with age. You see, our Lord of glory gave those people their very lives. He wants to protect their lives. He wants to transform them to eternal life too.

Our transfigured Lord reveals Himself to be the Lord of life in the face of death. This glorious revelation sustains us and gives us hope and courage as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death. Through Jesus’ transfiguration, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Amen.

14 January 2018

Homily for Epiphany 2 - 2018

"New Wine"
John 2:1-11

Listen here.

Put yourself in the shoes of the master of the feast. You’re putting on the wedding banquet of the year for everyone in Cana of Galilee. The groom, the bride, and all the guests have been counting on you to provide the best food, the best drink, the best celebration—a celebration to give lasting memories for years. Then you notice a major faux pas. It would make you—along with the bride and groom—the laughingstock of the century. Running out of wine? At the wedding of the year? Who could ever live that down?

Then, in the midst of the stress and the shame, your employees bring you a cup. More wine? New wine? Where did this come from? Then you take a sip. NEW WINE! Better wine than what you first served. Better than anything you’ve ever tasted! Where did THAT come from?!

What IS this new wine? Did Adam and Eve have such good wine in the Garden of Eden? If they did, the wine at Cana might just be on par with it, if not better yet. We do know this is NOT the kind of wine that made Noah drunk (Gen. 9:21). It’s not the kind of wine that led Lot’s daughters to make him drunk so they could have children by him (Gen. 19:32). None of that debauchery with Jesus’ new wine.

We might get a hint of this new wine in the sacrifices of the tabernacle and the temple. Take a lamb, add some fine flour, and a bit of beaten oil for the main course, and then some wine for the drink offering (Ex. 29:40). God included wine on the menu for many of the sacrifices in His place of worship. In fact, He even prescribed only the best flour, the best oil, and the best wine—the first fruits (Deut. 18:12).

Then, when God’s people returned from exile and got reacquainted with God’s good Word and teaching, God used Ezra and Nehemiah to remind them of His joy for them. He wanted to turn their 70 years of repentance into lasting and ongoing joy. “Don’t weep and mourn anymore,” God said, “but rather eat the fat, drink the sweet wine, and share with those who aren’t ready.” After all, that day was “holy to our Lord.” And here’s the heart of the message: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

The psalmist speaks of wine that gladdens the heart of man (Ps. 104:15), but this new wine that Jesus brings goes beyond that First Article gift. This is the wine that made David sing, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8). The wine of God rescuing him; the wine of safety, security, and joy in the joy of the Lord Himself. Truly a gift of the Second and Third Articles.

This new wine of Jesus is the wine spoken of by the prophet Amos—the mountains dripping sweet wine, the hills flowing with it (Amos 9:13). This wine comes from the Divine Vintner who raises up the fallen tent of David, who repairs and rebuilds His people, who makes them His Church that will stand for all eternity. It’s the wine that Isaiah also proclaimed—the Lord making a feast on His mountain, a feast of rich, fatty food and well-aged, well-refined wine (Is. 25:6-8). You see, on that same mountain God Himself would feast on something completely different: He would swallow up death forever.

The new wine that appeared suddenly and miraculously at Cana of Galilee is the wine of new life and resurrection for you and for me.

Ah, but it’s not yet Jesus’ “hour” when He confronts those empty jars and that embarrassing void of wedding wine. Yet Jesus still gives a prelude, a preview, a teaser trailer of what He actually came to do. Those empty wine cups? Those empty water jars? He would fill them. And in filling them, He would fill the people who drank from them. He would fill them not only with savory fruit of the vine, but also and especially with His saving life.

Jesus is no mere bartender rushing in to rescue a wedding party on the brink of collapse. He has a bigger and better purpose. He comes to rescue the whole human race—people like you and me; people including you and me—from their emptiness of God’s goodness. When His “hour” does come—on the cross—He will drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath and judgment. He will be the laughingstock of all around Him, even spurned by His closest friends. He will suffer the shame and humiliation of a cross. He will swallow up death forever. But in drinking that bitter cup, He will ensure that we can taste and see that the Lord is good. He will make death itself void and bare. He will give us the sweet joy of the Lord. That’s the sweet wine delivered at Cana. It’s also the sweet wine delivered here at this altar today.

Your Lord Jesus comes to fill your emptiness. We live in a world that has so much stuff, such overloaded schedules, such a plethora of things and people and activities for filling our lives. And still we are empty on the inside. Some try to fill the emptiness with the old wine, or old booze, of this fallen world. Some try to fill the emptiness with the fruits of the sexual revolution—free sex with whomever you wish, without all the so-called constraints of one man-one woman marriage for life. Some try to fill the emptiness with the meaning of “likes” or “follows” or viral videos on social media. For those who fill themselves with the booze, the numbness eventually wears off and the emptiness remains. For those who fill themselves with the sexual conquests du jour, they still sense the emptiness of commitment and real love. For those who get their meaning from clicks and likes, well, we know how quickly things change in Internet land.

What’s your emptiness? What is it that makes you think and feel that if you could have that one thing, you would finally be complete and whole? Whatever worldly, created thing you think could fill that emptiness, just know that it can’t; it won’t.

Jesus gives the new wine at Cana’s wedding to show you that He fills your emptiness with Himself. Just as He filled the stone water jars with the best wine, and just as He restored the joy of the bride, the groom, and the master of the feast, so also He restores you and your joy by filling you with Himself—with His forgiveness, with His life, with His salvation. You are cleansed by the purifying water of His Baptism. You are filled with the new wine of His Supper.

So your God has joy in you, and He restores that joy in you by revealing His Son—the Bridegroom of the feast. We don’t need to get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery. Instead, let’s be filled with the Spirit. Let’s address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Let’s sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts (Eph. 5:18-19).

We don’t need to fill ourselves with the ways of the world when it comes to sex and marriage. Instead, let’s remember and extol the profound mystery of Christ and His Church—the profound mystery of the one-flesh union of love, life, and commitment. That profound mystery reveals itself in joyful little glimpses when wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord and when husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.

What IS this new wine? It’s Jesus revealing Himself to you and for you. It’s Jesus bringing you into the joy of His Father and the Holy Spirit. It’s Jesus filling your emptiness with Himself—His life, His resurrection, and His joyous purpose in life. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). Amen.

15 October 2017

Homily for Trinity 18 - 2017

"Do You LOVE God?"
Matthew 22:34-46

Listen here.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” … Do you love God? I don’t expect anyone here actually to say, “No, I rather hate God.” Who in their right mind would say that? But do you really LOVE God? Are you completely devoted to Him? Is He the One you think and daydream about all the time? Is there no one else on earth with whom you would rather spend your time than with God? Is there nothing that you’d rather do than be with God, talk with Him, enjoy His stories, and just revel in His company?

Or is God just Someone we learn about in Catechism class or Bible class or sermons? Learn about Him, but keep Him at a distance. Stick Him under the microscope of our quest for religious knowledge or in the petri dish of our fascination with things spiritual. Is God little more than an intellectual pursuit, once a week or whenever we happen to think of Him? Do we merely learn to say the right words about Him, such as He’s all-present, or all-powerful, or all-knowing? Is God simply Someone we talk about when we want to sound religious? Or do you truly LOVE God?

The Pharisees certainly claimed to love God. But when He came to them in the flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, they put Him to the test. You see, they did not want this God, the One who took on our human frame to free us from sin and death, to get too close to them! They did not want God to get too personal or too intimate. So they tested Jesus: “Which is the great commandment in the [Torah]?” They wanted to reduce all five books of Moses to the bare minimum. They wanted a bumper-sticker slogan that would fully capture the law of God.

We fallen creatures like to do that. We like to defang God’s law—render the Doberman harmless. One speaker called it the “religion of St. Minimum.” What’s the least that I have to do to get by? How often do I really have to go to church? How often do I really need to pray? How much money do I really have to give? How much do I really have to know? What’s the bottom line? What's the bare minimum? The religion of St. Minimum tries to keep things practical, painless, and puny. It delights in loopholes. It bargains with God to be “fair.” “So, Jesus, what’s the one commandment that we really need to keep?” But that’s not love. What boyfriend, fiancĂ©, or husband could get away with telling his sweetheart, “I only want to spend the minimum amount of time with you”?

Jesus sensed the trap. He knows what’s in our hearts. He knows how we like to twist and turn, and wiggle out from under God’s commands. So He gives not one, but two greatest commands. The first one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” That’s the Hebrew way of saying, “Love God with every last fiber in your being; hold nothing back.” Then Jesus said, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The two go together. You cannot claim to love God if you don’t love your neighbor. When you do love God, you will naturally also love your neighbor whom God gives you. So Jesus does boil God’s law down to a minimum in these two simple commandments. But they are far from minimal in shaping our life. Love God with your whole being; and love whomever God puts next to you.

If you’re still looking for a bumper-sticker slogan, you can distill God’s law down to one four-letter word: L-O-V-E. As St. Paul said, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). But we even have troubles with this word “love,” don’t we? For one thing, we think love is a feeling, a warm-fuzzy on our insides. But love is not a feeling. Love is a deliberate action of our will toward another person. When we love God or our neighbor, it does not mean that we have certain feelings about God or our neighbor. Sure, feelings are there with us, but love is not essentially a feeling.

Another trouble we have with “love” is that we think it’s something that we “fall” into. We fall into ditches and holes filled with mud, but we don’t fall into love. Besides, falling means losing your balance, losing your control. Love is not an out of control, loss of balance experience; love is a deliberate action of our will toward another person. To love means deliberately to turn ourselves toward another person. One commentator explained it this way: “[Jesus] opens the hearts of believers, like flowers to the sun, to their living posture. We were made for love…. [Jesus] does not so much give an activity that can be calculably done as he gives a direction to face” (F. D. Bruner, Churchbook, 794). The Bible describes love in self-sacrificing terms: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

How do we love God and neighbor? Let’s count the ways. We love God by having no other gods in our hearts, by giving God our whole-hearted fear, love, and trust. We love God by using His Name in worship and prayer, and by giving glad attention to His Word. We love God by honoring the authorities He has placed over us, starting with our parents; by caring for the health and well-being of our neighbor’s body; by upholding marriage in the way we conduct our sexual lives; by helping our neighbor improve and protect his possessions and income; by upholding our neighbor’s reputation and not participating in gossip or slander; by being content with what we have rather than continually wanting what we don’t have. These are just some of the ways that we love God and our neighbor.

And so we reflect God’s love toward us—the way the moon reflects the light of the sun, or the way a polished mirror reflects the light that strikes it. When God first made Adam and Eve, they perfectly reflected His love. They were created in the “image of God.” God is love, and Adam and Eve were perfect reflectors of God’s love. But their rebellion ruined the mirror. Our self-centeredness and inborn desire to be little gods in place of God has distorted the reflection of God’s love. Just as fingerprints and gunk smudge the reflection in a mirror, so our sinfulness has destroyed our reflection of God’s love.

Do you LOVE God? Do you have wholehearted love for God, sacrificing your all for Him? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? You know you don’t love like that. Not even Mother Teresa loved like that. And here’s why we need the question that Jesus used to test the Pharisees. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The Pharisees knew that the Messiah, the Christ, would be a blood descendent of King David. But there’s more to the Messiah than a royal bloodline. He is also David’s “lord.” As David said in Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” The Messiah is David’s son, a human being, but He is also David’s “Lord.” He is both God and Man, begotten of His Father from all eternity and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus is talking about the mystery of His Incarnation. In Him God has become man. And in Him humanity is recreated and renewed. In Him people are restored to be what God intended them to be. He came to restore the image of God to our fallen race. He loves God with His whole heart, with His entire being, with His whole mind. He loves His neighbor as Himself.

St. John said it well: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation—the means of forgiveness—for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). Jesus loved us to death on the Cross. It was the deliberate action of His divine-human will toward us loveless, unlovely sinners. In Baptism we receive God’s great love in Christ’s death and resurrection. In Holy Absolution, our Lord keeps telling us, “I love you by forgiving you.” And consider the great feast we’re about to enjoy. Here Jesus puts His own Body and Blood into our mouths so that we can love God with our whole being and love our neighbor as ourselves. After the Meal, we’ll even pray that God would “strengthen us…in faith toward [Him] and in fervent love toward one another.”

“We love—both God and neighbor—because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). Jesus’ death and resurrection free you to love God and one another. You no longer have to love; you get to love. We don’t love God in order to obtain His love; we already have His love in David’s Son, Jesus. Now we get to love God with every fiber of our being and we get to love our neighbor as ourselves, reflecting the love that our Lord has given to us. Amen.

08 October 2017

Homily for Anniversary of a Congregation - 2017

"Hope for Years to Come"
1 Kings 8:22-30; Revelation 21:1-5; Luke 19:1-10

Listen here.

Last year, President Matthew Harrison preached from this pulpit, leading up to our 100th Anniversary festivities. He said, “Happy Birthday. You don’t look bad for a hundred.” Now here we are a year later. Let me say, “You don’t look bad for boldly entering your second century.” And what a time to turn 101 as a congregation and be gaining steam as God’s dearly loved children who bear witness to Him and His works of salvation!
It was on this date, October 8, in 1916 that Hope Lutheran Church was founded—smack dab in the middle of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” Well, we know that did not happen. Human hopes of creating a perfect world, however grandiose or modest, just cannot change our fallen human nature or a world ravaged by human sin and ego.

Then, in a most counter-cultural move, our forebears actually spent good money to build this beautiful building just as the Great Depression was bearing down on the land. Receiving God’s gifts and singing His praises always takes precedence over what’s happening in this worrisome world.

And then there was the post-World War II era. War had struck again; austerity measures were fresh in mind; the fog and chaos of war had impacted many. Hope congregation, though, served as a place of solace for a growing number. I still remember a letter from a former choir director of Hope at that time. Several years later, he wrote back saying how the Gospel in sermon and song gave order and solace, even hope and healing, to many in those years.

And so it goes. God graciously gathers a people. He binds them together into His body, the Church, and in local congregations thereof. He continually comes to visit and restore, to forgive and give hope. How does He do that? Through the message and the means that He puts in those congregations—through the message of Christ crucified for sinners and raised for our justification, the message of a new Jerusalem awaiting all who come to faith through that Word, and through the Sacraments that actually deliver His eternal mercy. This is how our gracious God brings hope in a world given to despair.

It’s what King Solomon prayed for as he dedicated the temple that he built over 900 years before Jesus. Solomon confessed that the highest heavens cannot contain God. Then he asked if God would actually dwell on earth. The answer, of course, was—and still is—“Yes!” And God puts His name in and on the place where He dwells, so that His people have a place to pray and a place to listen to Him. As Solomon prayed, so God always promises: “And when You hear, forgive.” That’s what God does in the specific places of congregations. You see, we need specific places where God’s forgiveness reigns supreme. It’s that very forgiveness in Christ crucified and risen that brings healing and hope in our worrisome, fallen world.

It’s what happened to Zacchaeus when the Lord of the universe just had to stay at his house that day. It’s a divine “must” that Jesus had to carry out. You see, that is God’s nature, God’s character, God’s “M.O.”—His way of operating. When Jesus stepped into that house, salvation entered and reigned supreme. And Zacchaeus was a changed man. Changed by Jesus from a greedy, self-serving tax collector into a charitable soul who would serve others and even make reparations to those whom he had cheated. Jesus changed Zacchaeus and made him a man of hope, a child who could look forward to the age to come. That’s also what Jesus does when He enters specific places such as this. When He comes to visit with His grace and forgiveness, salvation enters this house. And we are changed—forgiven, given hope. And people we bring with us are changed. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He gives the hope. He IS our hope, even in this world of despair. “Our hope is in the Lord.”

This is no mere hope for a better life now, in this world broken in despair and reeling with evil. We hope for much more than an end to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. We long for much more than simply no more mass shootings or disruptive demonstrations or painful racial tensions. We eagerly await much more than a medication or a therapy that can take away whatever disease or injury we may suffer, be it arthritis or cancer or paralysis or chronic pain. Yes, we certainly hope for a time when all of these maladies, and many more, will be a distant memory. But we also have to admit and confess that we human beings are not—and cannot be—the ones to make that happen. Sure, we can help others, we can give aid, we can improve, in some modest ways. We can even lessen and alleviate some of the symptoms of the things we suffer in this worrisome, fallen world. But we mere mortals cannot overcome the evil. We are powerless to fix the real brokenness.

So let’s be cautious—let’s be discerning—when we listen to the politicians, the talking heads, and the experts in various fields, especially when they talk about bringing about a more perfect world, a less evil place to live and move and have our being.

Our hope is not in ourselves, because we mere mortals are the fallen creatures. We are the lost ones whom Jesus comes to seek and to save. And He comes to seek and save us from ourselves. You see, each one of us has the very same darkness and evil in the heart as did the Las Vegas shooter, as do the political opportunists, as do the terrorists around the globe, as does every tyrant through history, as does every human being on the face of the planet.

We cannot hope in ourselves, but we can and do hope in Jesus Himself. You see, since He does indeed dwell on earth in His Church, He is also with us in the times of darkness. That’s when He gives us the greatest hope. He is there with us in the midst of the darkness and despair.

So cling to His promise in our second reading. Do you want a world without mass shootings and wars and terrorism and natural disasters? Look to the one Man who promises to deliver—and actually can deliver—“a new heaven and a new earth.” He who wept tears of sorrow for us who are so misguided, so enslaved to sin and death—“He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” He who promises “neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” actually went through all the pain that we endure—the pain of loss, the pain of grief, the pain of whips on His torso, the pain of thorns in His scalp, the pain of spikes in His wrists and feet, the pain of abandonment, the pain of suffocating to death. Then this one Man who suffered your death, my death, and the death of every mere mortal actually burst the bonds of death. This one Man—the salvation who comes into our house—actually rose from the grave. Only this one Man can say, “Death shall be no more.”

Only this one Man can give hope for a better life, hope for a new world free from evil and tragedy. In this one Man—Jesus the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man—God’s eternal promise is fulfilled and made real: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” That promise is very real now, as we walk by faith. One day it will be even more real, when we get to live it by sight.

So, dear people of Hope, you have hope in this world of darkness, despair, evil, and death. Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He creates in you a clean heart; He renews a right spirit within you (Ps. 51:10). He restores to you the joy of His salvation, and He upholds you with a willing spirit (Ps. 51:12). And you have the privilege—the high calling—of living, speaking, and showing this hope for all to hear and see. He is making you new, and through you He is giving hope for years to come—hope for a whole eternity yet to come.

If it’s worth hearing once, it’s worth hearing for the one-hundred first time: “Happy Birthday!” Amen.

01 October 2017

Homily for Trinity 16 - 2017

"Innards of Mercy"
Luke 7:11-17

Listen here.

We get a little Easter at the beginning of October. It really shouldn’t surprise us. After all, every Sunday is a little Easter. In this story of Jesus raising the widow’s son, we have a miracle that shows just who Jesus is. He is the great prophet whom God had promised for centuries. He is the fulfillment of their centuries-long hope for rescue from death. When Jesus comes, the age of Messiah—the new creation—has dawned. “The Creator Himself has come in the flesh to re-create His fallen creatures” (Just, 307).

Jesus, His disciples, and a great crowd—probably filled with joy that they were with Jesus—approach the little town of Nain. As they draw near to the town’s gate, they are met by a somber, tear-filled procession of death. A man had died. And not just any man. “The only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” What torture for her! Not only had she buried her husband however long before this, but now she was burying her son, her only-begotten son. Talk about ripping her heart asunder! Now she had absolutely no security in Israelite society. She would have no means of support. Everyone would ignore her. Everyone except Jesus, that is—that other only-begotten Son in our Gospel.

When Jesus sees her completely heartbroken, uncontrollably weeping, utterly despairing, He has compassion on her. This is key. It’s much more than feeling sorry or uttering, “Poor thing.” No, Jesus pours out His inward parts in mercy for her. It’s the same “tender mercy of our God” that Zechariah sang about at the birth of his son, John the Baptizer (Lk. 1:78). It’s the same outpouring of inward parts of mercy shown by the Good Samaritan to the beaten, bloodied man in the ditch (Lk. 10:33). It’s the same outpouring of the bowels of compassion that the prodigal father showed to his prodigal son when that son returned home in repentance (Lk. 15:20). So Jesus pours out His guts of mercy for this poor woman. God’s reign of grace and life is breaking into our world of misery and death.

Then Jesus tells her, “Do not weep.” Can you imagine? If I’m in this woman’s shoes, I’d be bristling at such an outlandish command at such a time as this. “Do not weep?! Sir, how can you even? I’ve lost my only-begotten son, my pride, my joy, my only means of support. Surely you can’t expect me to do a happy dance? Surely you can’t expect me to feel nothing, to be stoic? Of course I’m gonna weep! Of course I’m gonna cry out with the agony that overflows inside!” Now if any of us would say such a thing at a funeral, it would be quite insensitive. But Jesus can say it, and only Jesus can say it. You see, only Jesus can say it because only Jesus can do something about it.

Then Jesus does something verboten—forbidden: He actually touches the coffin-cot. Gasps all around! According to Jewish law, that would make one ritually unclean. But not Jesus! He is the very source of ritual cleanness, the true fount of genuine healing. He may very well take this young man’s death and uncleanness into Himself—soaking it up as a sponge, so to speak. But He also transmits His cleanness and His healing—and His life—into the lifeless man on the coffin-cot.

And Jesus’ words to the young man—“I say to you, arise”—say what they do and actually do what they say. By the way, the original Greek is different from the English. The English makes it sound as though the young man could muster up the energy and willpower to “arise” of his own accord. Not so in the Greek. It’s a passive verb. Jesus actually says, “Young man, I say to you, BE RAISED.” Not “raise yourself,” but “be raised”…that is, by Someone else. And who is that Someone else? Jesus, of course. And how does He raise this dead young man? By His Word, of course. His Word says what it does and does what it says, making alive, forgiving sins, and delivering salvation. As Jesus said elsewhere: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).

So when Jesus comes on the scene—whether in the flesh at Bethlehem or at Nain or on the cross, or even in our midst in His Word—He comes to pour out His guts to give His mercy. He comes to fulfill and complete all those other resurrections in the Bible. The prophet Elijah raised the widow’s son, to be sure (1 Kgs. 17). Then the prophet Elisha raised the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kgs. 4).  Actually, God raised those two boys through His prophets. Jesus Himself would raise Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8) and His friend Lazarus (Jn. 11). However, all those resurrections were only the “teaser trailers” or “promo videos.” Jesus comes to show that He is “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25). He alone has the power, the only power, over death.

According to Martin Luther, the first and main thing to take away from this account of Jesus raising the widow’s son is FAITH—that we recognize our Lord Jesus from His works and believe in Him. Luther makes this application: “This and similar works of Christ should remind us that we must be very courageous and unafraid in times of sickness, pestilence, and life-threatening danger. At moments when the world says, All is lost, the Christian always responds, Not so, God still lives, and Christ rules at the right hand of God” (HP 3:25). The widow at Nain learned that she had a helper and Savior in Jesus. Her son who was resurrected learned that he had a Savior who overcomes death itself.

You and I get to learn and believe the same things, whatever our distress, whatever our lament or grief, whatever comes our way in our lifelong battle against the grave. And we have the benefit of having the rest of the story of Jesus. He showed how much He is our helper and Savior, how completely He has overcome death and the grave by going to a cross, by suffering death itself, and by rising on the third day. Even now in the Gospel and Sacraments—in words, and water, and bread and wine—our Lord spills out His mercy to comfort us, tells us not to weep, and raises us from our sin and death. What a great prophet and Savior we have! God has visited and still visits His people!

Then, according to Luther, there’s a second thing we can take away from this marvelous miracle. That is HOW TO BE MERCIFUL. Just as Jesus poured out His innards of mercy for the widow, and just as He touched the coffin-cot of the dead young man, we also learn to identify with those who suffer and spill out our innards of mercy for them. St. Paul put it this way: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Luther drives the point home this way: “When my poor neighbor is sick it doesn’t only mean that I should gladly help him, but his suffering must become mine in such a way that I feel it as my own, as we see here with our Lord” (HP 3:26).

Now this being merciful actually goes in two directions. One is the physical, to be sure. The other is the spiritual. Showing mercy when physical tragedy and suffering strike is easy enough to see. Our neighbor may need clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, and so on. So we spill out the innards of mercy to help them.

But mercy is also needed in spiritual matters. What are we to do when young people are not being nurtured and raised to believe in Christ? What are we to do when grown people disregard Jesus coming in His Word and Sacraments? What are we to do with our multitude of neighbors who know nothing of Jesus and His pouring out of His innards of mercy on the cross and through the empty tomb? We weep with those who weep. We identify with them by getting to know them. We speak of Jesus and His works for them. Now and then that may involve confronting our neighbor with his/her sins. And, yes, that is merciful. After all, we don’t want our neighbor to end up separated from God for all eternity. Most of all, we want to carry them on their own coffin-cot of spiritual death to the one Man who can help, the one Man who can say, “Be raised.”

So the greatest lesson from today’s Gospel is this: not to despair when things go badly, especially when we face the grave. We have the greatest Prophet—the Savior Himself—who comes to help us and raise us. And the second is like it: that we, like Jesus, identify ourselves with our neighbor in his grief, whether physical or spiritual. May God lead us in pouring out our innards of mercy, just has He has done for us. Amen.

24 September 2017

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels (Obs.) - 2017

"God's 'Army Rangers'"
Matthew 18:1-11 & Revelation 12:7-12

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“Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” That’s how we end our morning and evening prayers in the Catechism. So how do you envision God’s holy angels?

Our standard image of angels includes wings, of course, bright halos, flowing white robes, beautiful long hair, and even kind, effeminate features. But that’s not entirely Biblical. It would be far better to picture God’s holy angels as battle-hardened soldiers with gear such as breastplates, shields, spears and swords. Or, in 21st century parlance, let’s picture them with helmets and night-vision goggles, flak jackets and fully automatic machine guns.

Today we are talking about God’s “heavenly hosts,” the ranks of angel armies. Let’s call them “St. Michael and his Army Rangers” or “St. Michael and his Navy Seals.”

How do we benefit from picturing Michael and the angels as heavenly Army Rangers or spiritual Navy Seals? Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” God’s angels are spirit beings—not flesh and blood—created sometime in those first six days of time. God sends them out to serve. Whom do they serve? You, of course! You who are to inherit salvation. Just as a nation sends its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to protect and defend its land and way of life, God also sends His angel armies to protect and defend you, His loved and redeemed children.

Why do we need God’s “heavenly Army Rangers” and “spiritual Navy Seals”? You and I are caught in the middle of a cosmic battle, a heavenly war, that makes World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the War on Terrorism combined look like a game of Tiddly-Winks. It’s the war of “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels [fighting] back.” It’s the war that started with the serpent’s temptation of Eve and Adam in the Garden. It’s the war that causes you and me to doubt God’s goodness, to turn away from Him, to choose our own path, and to make ourselves “like God.” It’s the war that prompts each of us to live all of life trusting and bowing down to “me-myself-and-I” rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As St. Paul says: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). St. Peter gives a different image: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

It’s the cosmic battle that prompts you and I to think and act like the disciples—to worry about who’s the greatest in the kingdom. It’s the heavenly, spiritual war that leads you and I to look down our noses at becoming like children and humbling ourselves like a child. And don’t think we are passive victims in this battle! No, you and I actively, even ambitiously, take up arms and fight against God’s ways. You and I actively wring our hands and twist ourselves in knots as we worry, fret, and complain. We do it when we fret more over graying hair and varicose veins than we do over the demons lurking to sink their claws into us. We do it when we get more worked up over our AC quitting in the middle of July (or even this past week) than we do over the unquenchable fire that we truly deserve because of our doubts and despair of God’s goodness in all things. We do it plenty in the times of hurricanes, earthquakes, and racially charged protests in our city.

So God’s angels—His “heavenly Army Rangers,” His “spiritual Navy Seals”—are His guardian gifts to you. They help you and defend you on earth as they muzzle Satan and his demonic horde. But God’s angels really do not wield swords and spears, or even sniper rifles and Beretta pistols. Rather, they carry a concealed weapon. It’s in their mouths and on their tongues. Their angelic weapon of choice? The Word of God. As St. John says, the angels “have conquered [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

The angels’ concealed weapon—the Word of the living God—is a bloody weapon indeed. It’s covered with and soaked in the blood of the Lamb—the Son of God who laid down His life, sacrificed Himself, and paid the ultimate price to conquer the dragon and his lying horde once and for all. And the angelic words shield you from the fiery lies of the dragon. They’re not trivial words. They’re very weighty and mighty words. They’re words that say, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So you really don’t need wing-ed angels; you need “word-ed angels.” Thus the psalmist teaches us to sing: “Bless the LORD, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word!” (103:20).

The same goes for those other “angels,” as Scripture calls them, those other messengers sent from God to serve for the sake of you who inherit salvation. Those other “angels,” those other messengers, happen to have flesh and blood. They are the pastors of the Church. They are the men whom God has called and placed among you. They live and work in the stead and by the command of your Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. And they also carry the same concealed weapon as Michael and his heavenly host: the blood-soaked Word of God.

When God sends these flesh and blood “angels” to you, He arms those little messengers with only a word—the Word of the Lamb. In fact, you can proudly say that your pastor is supposed to give you only the Word, only the message of Christ slain for sinners and raised to give life.

You see, it’s this Word that became flesh, dwelt among us, bled out on the cross, and rose again to bring life and immortality to light. It’s this Word that converts you into little children so that you can enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s this Word breathed into the water that gives you new birth from above. It’s this Word that cuts off the hands and feet that are your sins, that cuts to the heart and leads you to confess your sins and receive the Absolution. It’s this Word that comes to you in the Body and Blood of the Supper and makes you a partaker of His never-ending life. It’s this Word that makes each of you truly the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

That’s the concealed weapon of Michael, all the heavenly hosts, and even flesh and blood messengers standing in pulpits. And what a glorious and weighty Word it is! You deserve hell, but He—the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—gives you heaven. He defends and protects you from the dragon and his evil horde. Every time you hear Jesus Christ proclaimed and given out for you, “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.”

Now you get to sing:

Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken
By the devil’s seething rage,
Thwarts the plan of Satan’s minions;
Wins the strife from age to age;
Conquers sin and death forever;
Slams them in their steely cage. (LSB 521:1)

Amen.

17 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 14 - 2017

"Cleansed to Praise"
Luke 17:11-19

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When you hear and ponder these ten lepers, you want to think of yourself—suffering the ravages of the leprosy of sin. When you hear and ponder Jesus’ healing of these lepers, you want to remember your Baptism—where Jesus cleanses you of what ails you most. And when you ponder the one cleansed leper, the Samaritan, who returned to Jesus—you want to put yourself in his shoes and take your cue from him on how to live all of your life in your Baptism.

First, let’s consider the ten lepers. Johann Gerhard said, “In these ten lepers is given to us a picture of the human race, which has been infected with the leprosy of sin; for sin is in many respects comparable to leprosy.” (Postilla 2:151). The Bible’s term “leprosy” no doubt refers to something like Hansen’s Disease—a bacterial infection that can affect nerves, skin, and eyes and lead to loss of feeling and even paralysis. Biblical “Leprosy” may also refer to something like eczema—more of a skin rash, or dermatitis, with scaly, flaking skin and itchiness. The real point is that leprosy is a most accurate picture for what ails us most: the infection and disease of sin.

To borrow more from Gerhard, our sin is like leprosy in several respects:
  • Leprosy affects and destroys the whole body. Sin also totally infects, affects and destroys our strength in both body and soul—nothing sound from head to toe.
  • Leprosy is a disease that spreads. So does sin, coming into the world through one man and spreading to us all. St. Paul calls it “the works of the flesh”—you know, all those nasty things of “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger” and so on—all those symptoms that even present themselves in us, at least from time to time.
  • Leprosy, at least in Gerhard’s day, could not be healed by man’s efforts. Today, treatments may prevent the disease from getting worse, but they cannot reverse the  damage. And remember the story of Naaman. He sought healing from the King of Israel, but the King of Israel cried out, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive?” (2 Kgs. 5:7). Sin, though, absolutely cannot be healed by human means—not by doctors, paramedics, or politicians. After all, those “desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.”
  • Leprosy, according to Gerhard, is a “herpetic contagion”—a viral disease—that spreads to others who are healthy. Modern medicine may quibble with just how it spreads. However, sin itself does spread its contamination. Just think of the many ways our fallen world infects us all in thought, word and deed to think, speak and act in ways that go against God’s Word in mistrusting God and not loving our neighbor—“rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.”
  • And leprosy, once it takes hold, eats its way more and more through the body. Likewise, sin. One sin leads to another, and that one easily to yet another. First, the misdeed; then the excuse; then the cover-up; then the lie; and so on.

If it weren't for our leprosy of sin, we would not need police officers and rulings of law courts. If it weren't for our leprosy of sin, we would not have protests, whether peaceful, disruptive, or destructive.

So, let’s imitate the ten lepers as Jesus comes passing along between the Samaria and Galilee of our lives. Let’s lift up our voices and cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And let’s listen and heed Him when He bids us to show ourselves to the priest—no, not those priests at the Jerusalem temple, but a different priest. Which priest? Jesus, our great High Priest who has passed through the heavens (Heb. 2:14). “For 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” (Heb. 2:15). As Gerhard asked: “How can one be quit of his spiritual leprosy?…One must find his way to Christ, the sole physician for one’s soul” (Postilla, 2:152). “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 2:16). “Offered was He for greatest and for least, / Himself the victim and Himself the priest” (LSB 637:1).

Actually, we don’t have to find our way to Him. He has found His way to us! Just as the ten lepers were cleansed before they found their way to the priests—and not by their own reason or strength, nor by their decision or will—we are cleansed in the bath of our Baptism—not by our own reason or strength or decision or will. Our baptismal bath sprinkles us with the very blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ crucified. After all, He is the One who comes by water and blood; not by the water only but by the water and the blood (1 Jn. 5:6).

In Leviticus 14, cleansing of lepers happened, first, by killing a bird in an earthen vessel over fresh, living water. Then, a live bird, a piece of cedarwood, and a scarlet yarn were dipped in that blood and fresh water. And then, the priest, using the live bird wet with blood and water, would “sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease” (Lev. 14:7). Not only is Jesus both victim and priest for you, He is also the dead bird and the living bird for you. He is the One who cleanses you “by the washing of water with [His] word, so that He might present [you] to Himself in splendor” (Eph. 5:26-27), cleansed of your leprosy of sin.

So now we want to put ourselves in the shoes of the one cleansed leper who returned to Jesus. Now we want to take our cue from him on how to live all of life in our Baptism. I’m sure the other nine former lepers were generically thankful as civic courtesy and politeness would dictate. But they went on to live their lives apart from Jesus. However, the one cleansed leper—the Samaritan—“turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” He actually did more than just giving thanks. He gave Him praise, as Jesus said. He returned to the Giver of the gift of cleansing. He was not merely content to enjoy the gift; he wanted to enjoy and be with the Giver.

That’s living your baptismal life. Not just a generic thankfulness for a quick healing. Not just a slight nod and a mental note that something special happened some time along time ago, but then getting back to “real life” or “your life,” however you might define that for yourself. No, the baptismal life is about living all of life in Jesus, with Jesus, and in the presence of Jesus. Daily contrition and repentance. Drowning that Old Adam in you. Making him die with all sins and evil desires. And then—thank the Lord and sing His praise!—emerging and arising every day to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Your one-time baptismal cleansing becomes your daily routine—not a slogging-through-it routine, but a joyful living in the blood and water that continually heals and cleanses.

We all know how we wrestle with sin every day. That leprous disease keeps flaring up even in us who are cleansed by Jesus’ blood and water. We will keep wrestling with our leprous sin until Jesus returns on the Last Day. It’s not a matter of Jesus’ healing not fully doing its job. It has! But it is a matter of living in faith, continually receiving His cleansing, and thus praising Him as did the Samaritan.

Martin Luther confessed this in the face of those who deny that sin remains after Baptism. The fact that sin remains after Baptism quickly smacks down any perfectionism—that is, thinking you can be free of all sin or attain a sin-free life this side of heaven. It also topples any notion of “once-saved-always-saved.” While the healing for that Samaritan former leper, and the other nine, was instantaneous, Jesus chooses to heal us over the long-haul. The sin is forgiven, to be sure; Jesus’ healing, though, is ongoing. Here’s how Luther expressed it:

“This life…is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.” (“A Defense and Explanation of All Articles” [AE 32:24]).

And so we return to Jesus yet again, around His Table. “Draw near and take the body of the Lord, / And drink the holy blood for you outpoured” (LSB 637:1). We return to receive the healing He gives. We return to give praise to Him. “Let us praise the Word Incarnate, / Christ, who suffered in our place. / Jesus died and rose victorious / That we may know God by grace. / Let us sing for joy and gladness, / Seeing what our God has done; / Let us praise the true Redeemer, / Praise the One who makes us one” (LSB 849:3). Amen.

10 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 13 - 2017

"Christ, Our Samaritan"
Luke 10:23-37

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On January 17, 1546, Dr. Martin Luther preached what would be his last sermon in Wittenberg. He would preach five more sermons after that in other places before his death on February 18, 1546. In his final Wittenberg sermon, Luther focused on the text of Romans 12:3, where St. Pauls says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Luther began his sermon by highlighting two main points that are to be taught and preached in Christian pulpits. First, we ensure that “faith in Christ is rightly preached.” Second, we preach that “the fruits and good works are rightly taught and practiced” (AE 51:372). First, we preach the “good tree,” to use the picture Jesus gives; then, we preach the fruits of faith that grow from that tree. Then Luther appeals to and explains the parable of the Good Samaritan, our Gospel for today. Notice who the Good Samaritan is:

After baptism there still remains much of the old Adam. For, as we have often said, it is tame that sin is forgiven in baptism, but we are not yet altogether clean, as is shown in the parable of the Samaritan, who carried the man wounded by robbers to an inn [Luke 10:30–37]. He did not take care of him in such a way that he healed him at once, but rather bound up his wounds and poured on oil. The man who fell among robbers suffered two injuries. First, everything that he had was taken from him, he was robbed; and second, he was wounded, so that he was half-dead and would have died, if the Samaritan had not come to him. Adam fell among the robbers and implanted sin in us all. If Christ, the Samaritan, had not come, we should all have had to die. He it is who binds our wounds, carries us into the church and is now healing us. So we are now under the Physician’s care. The sin, it is true, is wholly forgiven, but it has not been wholly purged. If the Holy Spirit is not ruling men, they become corrupt again; but the Holy Spirit must cleanse the wounds daily. (AE 51:373).

Now there’s a Gospel-driven, Christ-centered reading of the Good Samaritan! It’s the very thing that many prophets and kings through the Old Testament desired to see, but did not have the opportunity; they just kept looking forward to it in faith. It’s the very thing that the disciples did get to see, even if they did not quite get it until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s the very thing that the lawyer who stood up to test Jesus needed to hear, but he thought too highly of himself.

Earlier in Luke chapter 10, Jesus sent out the seventy-two, instructing and authorizing them to preach His peace and heal in His name. When they returned, they were exuberant that even the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name (Lk. 10:17). But Jesus had to temper their enthusiasm, lest they think more highly of themselves than they ought. “Do not rejoice in this,” Jesus said, “that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:2). Then Jesus the Son rejoiced in the Holy Spirit that God the Father actually hides these things from the worldly wise and understanding folks, and instead reveals them to little children—that is, to those who receive Him by faith.

So the lawyer stands up to test Jesus. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Wrong question, Mr. Lawyer! Not only do you not do anything to receive an inheritance—after all, an inheritance is pure gift—but you’re also thinking more highly of yourself than you ought. But Jesus plays along. Mr. Lawyer asks a what-shall-I-do question, so Jesus gives a here’s-what-to-do answer. He points the lawyer to the Law—love God with every ounce and fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this, and you will live.” Oops! The lawyer knows he’s been caught. Can he truly keep all that law? What about those less-than-desirable neighbors? “There must be an exception, an escape clause, for who really counts as my neighbor,” he thinks. Then comes Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan.

You see, the lawyer thought more highly of himself than he ought, and even that height of self-esteem was not high enough. He did not realize that, actually, he was the man who had been robbed and beaten and was lying half-dead in the ditch. He did not realize that he was in need of a Good Samaritan to rescue him and bind up his wounds. After all, the priest and the Levite—symbols of the old law itself—could not and did not help. “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” Only the Good Samaritan could help.

Only the Good Samaritan can help you and me. We too are that man who has been robbed and beaten by sin, death, and the devil. We are the ones lying half-dead in the ditch along the road. As Luther proclaimed, “Adam fell among the robbers and implanted sin in us all.” If we want to be like the lawyer—thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought—then we only “annul the covenant previously ratified by God” and make void God’s promise of rescue and healing in Jesus. If we want to think and believe and live as though our eternal inheritance “comes by the law”—asking the what-shall-I-do questions in our life with God—then we miss the point that Jesus makes in telling this parable about Himself.

You see, Jesus does it all. He is the Samaritan who comes to your rescue. When He was accused of being a Samaritan and having a demon, Jesus only objected to having a demon (Jn. 8:48-49). He never objected to being a Samaritan, because, after all, He is the Good Samaritan par excellence. Again, as Luther proclaimed, “He it is who binds our wounds, carries us into the church and is now healing us. So we are now under the Physician’s care.” Here we have the cleansing bath of His Baptism, the healing therapy of His words of forgiveness, the sustaining, life-giving medicine of His Supper.

This is the sober judgment of faith that St. Paul urges us to take on—the sober judgment of receiving Christ, our Samaritan and His healing care.

To our friends from Emmaus, this healing is especially for you this day. You have labored long and hard and faithfully to keep the Jefferson Avenue branch of the Good Samaritan’s hospital open and functioning. You have labored long and hard and faithfully to offer other people, robbed and beaten by sin, death, and Satan, the very healing of Jesus and His forgiveness. But this chapter of the Emmaus hospital had to come to a close. And now you no doubt feel much like the man lying half-dead in the ditch. But please do not beat yourselves up. Please do not rob yourselves of the forgiveness and peace that Jesus has given and still gives to you. “He it is who binds [your] wounds, carries [you] into the church and is now healing [you].” Good Samaritan Jesus binds up your wounds so that you may find healing in His wounds. He places you on His beast of burden as He bears your burdens. He still brings you into His inn—His Church, still takes care of you, and still pays for all of your care until He returns.

And I know I can speak for your brothers and sisters here at Hope. With sober judgment we say, “Welcome! We welcome you as fellow sinners being healed by Christ, our Samaritan. Please join us as we all convalesce together under Jesus’ compassion.”

The healing of Christ, our Samaritan, is also for all of us who are concerned over the recent hurricanes—first Harvey, now Irma, and possibly Jose yet to come. Some people are making news by pronouncing these hurricanes as God’s judgment—for our current president, for our decaying Western values, for whatever. Perhaps…but perhaps not. There’s just one problem with pronouncing these hurricanes as God’s specific judgment for some specific problem: God Himself has not clearly told us in His Word. What He has told us is that when tragedies like this happen, we do not point out other peoples’ sins. No, Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3, 5). Translation: do not think more highly of yourself than you ought in pronouncing such judgments on God’s behalf. Added translation: Don’t miss the healing of Good Samaritan Jesus. We all are that man lying half dead in the ditch, even as hurricanes roar. Jesus comes to rescue and heal us all. And, yes, as we convalesce, we get to be neighbors to those who fall prey to such disasters. We get to show the fruits of faith by showing charity and giving relief aid.

This is the Good News of our Good Samaritan, Jesus Himself. Amen.

03 September 2017

Homily for Trinity 12 - 2017

"First, the Hearing, Then the Speaking"
Mark 7:31-37

Listen here.

You may be familiar with the “telephone game.” Perhaps you’ve played it a time or two. It starts with a simple sentence whispered into one person’s ear. Then, one-by-one, that person whispers the sentence to the next person, and that person to the next, and so on. The fun of the game is in hearing the giggles when the sentence suddenly becomes funny, or seeing the puzzled looks when the whispered sentence sounds odd. Then, by the time the sentence reaches the last person in the group, the sentence is completely different than the first sentence uttered.

Usually the “telephone game” is used to teach that gossip is bad, because details get twisted and lost in transmission. True enough! But it also reveals something else. Our ears and our mouths are not so reliable after all. You and I may not be completely deaf or have a speech impediment as the man in our Gospel, but we still need Jesus’ healing in our ears and our mouths.

The first thing we learn of the man in today’s Gospel is that he was deaf. He could not hear. And if you know anyone with a hearing problem, especially from early on in life, you’ve probably noticed a correlation. If that person cannot hear well, he/she cannot speak well either. The two go together: First, the hearing; then the speaking.

So, the deaf and mute man has two problems—a hearing problem and a speaking problem. The same is true for you and me. If you are not clearly speaking Christ and His forgiveness to people around you, chances are you are not hearing it all that well either. First comes the hearing; then comes the speaking.

You would think that speaking of Christ and His forgiveness would be easy for us Christians—second nature, in fact. After all, isn’t that what we hear and treasure week after week in the Divine Service? First, we confess our sins, and Jesus is gracious to forgive all our sins through the spoken Absolution: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We hear from each other when we sing these words: “O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” We hear the goodness of Jesus in the sermon. We confess—speak together—the Creed to each other. We even get to hear these words as we sing them to each other: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people….”

So, if you and I have an impediment in speaking Christ to other people, it’s not because the words are absent or in short supply. It’s because we’re not hearing Him that well. You and I are intent on hearing other things, other news, other messages. Your ears and mine get filled with the sounds of the culture and the things we like to hear, rather than the things we need to hear. We so like the sounds of the radio or iTunes, so we can talk about the latest hit release or download. We like to hear the latest buzz, the celebrity gossip, the depressing news story, the latest gaffe from a politician, the Midwest Sports Report, the weather report, or the big rumor about someone we know. And then, quite naturally, we talk about these things. First comes the hearing; then comes the speaking.

And just how do you and I use our mouths? We complain. We moan and we groan. We put other people down—even for the slightest of slights. Perhaps some of those “colorful metaphors” of a four-letter variety come slipping or spewing out. Perhaps we love to tell the stories—whether true or false—about other people. Whatever the case, we are revealing the impediment in our speech. Our tongues are weighed down by the ball and chain of our sin.

So, Jesus must come and heal us in our ears and our mouths, just as He healed the deaf and mute man. Remember how Jesus healed the man. The details are crucial. First, Jesus takes the man away from the crowd. No distractions here! Jesus wanted the deaf and mute man to focus only on Him. Then, Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears. Not only would Jesus get that infamous ear wax on His fingers, but by touching the man, Jesus was identifying with him. He was taking the man’s hearing problem on Himself. He was also communicating to the man what He was about to do. Then Jesus spat and touched the man’s tongue. Excellent communication skills! How else do you tell a man who can’t hear that you’re about to unshackle his tongue as well? And finally, with a look up to heaven, and a sigh at how creation is broken by sin, Jesus said, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

And the man was healed—restored in body and soul. “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The man got his ears and his mouth back—rescued from the bondage of sin and Satan, restored to the way that God had intended from creation, ready to use in hearing and confessing Christ.

Dear saints, Jesus heals you of your deaf ears and of your speech impediments too. He takes you away from the multitude of the world and brings you to this very place—a place that’s supposed to be different from the hustle and bustle of the work-a-day, shop-till-you-drop world, a place that’s supposed to sound different from the clamoring, pulsating din of everyday news and commentary, hits and downloads and text messages. Jesus wants you to focus on Him. You see, in this place He heals you. Every time you hear God’s Word read, proclaimed, sung, or even see it poured over someone with water, think of it as Jesus putting His fingers into your ears to open them. Jesus also touches your tongue with His very Body and Blood to communicate with you. Here’s what He says: “Be opened!” That is, “Ears, be opened to hear the goodness of My salvation for you. Tongue, be released to speak the forgiveness of Christ to other people.”

Not only does Jesus touch your ears with His words and your tongue with His Body and Blood, but He also took your flesh and blood on Himself. He identified so fully with you that He even took all of your sin, all of your doubts, and all of your fears on Himself. And He died on the cross and shed His innocent blood to restore you to life with God. Now that’s good news! Not only are your ears opened up to hear Jesus, but heaven is opened up to receive you. Not only is your mouth unshackled to speak Jesus, but the ball and chain of your sin is loosed and you are free from sin.

So how can you not speak Christ to people around you? How can you hold back on speaking the Good News of life and forgiveness in Jesus? Remember how the deaf and mute man came into contact with Jesus in the first place: “And they brought to Him….” Some friends brought the man to Jesus. They themselves had heard Jesus’ life-giving words, and they wanted their deaf and mute friend to enjoy Jesus’ healing also. Evangelism is just that simple. In John chapter 1 we see another simple evangelism story. Philip is talking to Nathanael. He says, “We’ve seen the Messiah, the Savior!” Nathanael questions him. But Philip simply says, “Come and see.”

That, dear saints, is what Jesus also calls you to do: bring your loved ones and your dear friends here to meet Jesus. Here, in the Divine Service, Jesus Himself takes you and other people away from the world. He puts His Word into your ears and theirs. He touches your tongues and theirs with His very Body and Blood—the same Body and Blood broken and shed on the Cross. Also remember this helpful little pearl of wisdom from The Lutheran Study Bible: “One of the greatest joys in life is that someone comes to faith in Jesus because they heard the Gospel from you” (On 1 Cor. 1:14, emph. added).

So, what did the man do after Jesus healed him? No doubt he enjoyed his new-found hearing. No doubt he enjoyed speaking plainly and clearly, especially of the One who healed him. No doubt, he spoke of Jesus the healer to all who would listen. Sure, some didn’t want to hear him. Some may have thought he was, well, wacko. But I doubt the formerly deaf and mute man would let that bother him. He was probably much like a young bride-to-be with her new engagement ring, or like a young man with his new car. He just couldn’t wait to let people know. He just couldn’t wait to bring other people to be healed by Jesus. That’s what happens when Jesus opens your ears to hear His Word proclaimed and releases your tongue with His Body and Blood. Amen.