29 October 2008

"Spread the Wealth Around"?

It would appear that one of our U.S. presidential candidates has had socialist tendencies (i.e. "spread the wealth around," "redistributive change," etc.) for some time now. Listen here:

Is this really the direction that our nation wants to go--politically, economically, and culturally--in this election? What does this say about the education in our land when so many seem to resonate with such a worldview? What impact would such a grand paradigm shift have on the Church in this nation? Might we Christians have to take a crash course in keeping the faith from our brothers and sisters in lands such as, say, Russia?

HT: The folks at Naked Emperor News for making this available.

Homily - Reformation Day (Observed)

Here's the homily that I preached at both my congregation, Hope, St. Louis, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Cole Camp, MO for the "Reformation Festival" of the Sedalia Circuit of the Missouri District (LCMS). It was a great joy, honor, and privilege to join the brothers and sisters in central Missouri in order to proclaim the Good News of the Son setting us free from our slavery to sin, also since my wife and I got to see many relatives on her side of the family. Here's the homily:

The Son Sets Us Free
Reformation Day (Observed; at Hope & at Reformation Festival, Trinity, Cole Camp, MO)
John 8:31-36

In the late nineteenth century Joel Chandler Harris gave us the Uncle Remus stories with their famous, and impulsive, character Br’er Rabbit. In one story Br’er Rabbit has an unfortunate encounter with a Tar Baby, a lump of tar fashioned by Br’er Fox to look like a creature and thus lure Br’er Rabbit into a trap. Br’er Rabbit spots the Tar Baby and begins talking with it, but the Tar Baby does not respond. Impulsively, Br’er Rabbit concludes that the Tar Baby is stuck up. He insults and threatens the Tar Baby, but still the Tar Baby does not respond. Fed up with the Tar Baby acting stuck up, Br’er Rabbit hauls off and hits the life-sized but lifeless lump of tar. And his fist gets stuck. Then he hits it with his other fist. And that fist gets stuck. Then, totally upset with the Tar Baby, Br’er Rabbit uses one foot to kick the Tar Baby, and, yes, you guessed it, his foot gets stuck. Finally, Br’er Rabbit tries to hit the Tar Baby with his head…and gets stuck. Well, things don’t turn out too well for Br’er Rabbit, because Br’er Fox comes out from his hiding place and threatens to eat Br’er Rabbit.

What does Br’er Rabbit have to do with our Gospel reading or with celebrating the Reformation in the Western Church? Remember Jesus’ words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Just as the Tar Baby grabbed Br’er Rabbit’s attention and lured him in, so also our sin appeals to us and lures us in. But there’s more. Just as Br’er Rabbit tried to fight the Tar Baby and got hopelessly stuck, so also with our sin. We can try to fight against our sin, even our many actual sins, but we’ll only get stuck—stuck as if punching, kicking and head butting a gooey, sticky Tar Baby.

In our Gospel reading, the Jews who believed Jesus were not at all convinced that they needed to be set free from any tar baby of slavery. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Pretty comforting words, if you think about it. But the folks who had believed in Him objected. “We are offspring of Abraham,” they reminded Jesus. “We have never been enslaved to anyone.”

I guess those folks somehow forgot about the 400 years they were enslaved in Egypt, making bricks and serving harsh Egyptian slave masters. I guess they happened to forget about the 70 years they spent in exile in Babylon because they had been faithless to the God who loved them, redeemed them, and freely gave them the Promised Land. I guess it slipped their mind that at the very time they said they’d “never been enslaved to anyone,” their country was subject to the Roman Emperor and his mighty armies. I guess it’s like Br’er Rabbit trying to say, “I never got stuck with no Tar Baby.” It just wasn’t true.

Jesus, though, knows better. He knows that they most certainly have been slaves and still are slaves, but He’s not thinking of politics and race relations. He’s thinking of the heart of the matter, of what enslaves every human being: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” He’s thinking and speaking of our spiritual life. When we commit sins, we show that we are slaves to sin. The more we commit sins, the more we punch and kick that ol’ “tar baby”…and the more we get stuck. And if you’ve ever gotten tar on you, you know what a mess it is. Just imagine getting stuck in it.

Only Jesus, the Son of God, can free us from the tarry mess of our sinful state and our sins of thought, word, and deed. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And how does He do that? First, by taking on our human flesh and blood and becoming one of us. St. Paul called it “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” But that’s not all. He also took the tarry mess of our sin upon Himself. “And being found in human form, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). As Jesus hung on that cross, hands and feet pierced with nails, head wounded with a crown of thorns, He put Himself in our place of fighting our “tar baby” of sin. “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). That’s what St. Paul means when he says in our second reading: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

This is why we celebrate Reformation Day today. No, we do not celebrate Martin Luther hauling off and smacking the pope a good one, as if he were Br’er Rabbit and the pope were the Tar Baby. No, we do not celebrate Martin Luther throwing off the shackles of some burdensome church tyranny and starting his own, freer kind of religion. He even said that he was not trying to start his own church. No, we do not gather on this day for a Lutheran pep rally and cheer, “Luther, Luther, he’s our man; if he can’t do it, no one can.” And we certainly do not gather to sing a modified version of that song by Queen: “We are the Lutherans, my friend. And we’ll keep on fighting till the end.” So let’s not be like those folks in our Gospel reading—let’s not say, “We are offspring of Luther and have never been enslaved to anyone.”

Instead, we celebrate Reformation Day because Luther and the Reformation remind us to fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith. After all, it’s only by Him that we can be and are free from the tar baby of our sin. This is the “eternal Gospel” that the angel carries in our first reading.

Let’s go back to what happened on October 31, 1517. We know the story. Luther posted his “95 Theses” for scholarly debate. He saw some problems and abuses in the church of his day, and he wanted to correct those abuses with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the freedom from sin in His cross-won forgiveness. Remember how Luther began those “95 Theses”: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance. That’s the one thing that the offspring of Abraham in our Gospel reading did not have. That’s the key thing that was missing in Luther’s day as people tried to seek God’s graces by man-made works designed to merit God’s favor.

But it’s the very thing that Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading. No, I didn’t hear the word “repentance” there either, but it’s what our Lord is teaching us. “If you abide in My word…you will know the truth.” What truth? The truth that you and I are enslaved in our sins. How so? When we give in to works such as “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-20). Ew! What a tarry mess! And, try as we might, we cannot free ourselves from such things.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And how’s that? By His death and resurrection; by His gifts of life and forgiveness that free us from the tar baby of sin and death. Also by being brought into His house, the Church, where we live in repentance. It’s not enough just to be pardoned; we also need to be brought into Jesus’ home, the Church. We’re not just saved from sin; we’re also saved for living as God’s children.

The Son remains forever in the house of His Church. It’s where we are freed and cleansed from the tar of our sin in the purifying waters of Baptism [just as Sergei and Slav now have been]. It’s where we live confessing our sins day in and day out and hearing the liberating words of our Lord’s Absolution. That Absolution keeps cleansing us from the tar of the sins we keep getting on ourselves. The house of His Church is where our Lord’s holy Body and Blood free us in forgiveness and strengthen us to resist reveling in the tar baby of our sins.

When the Son of God sets us free from our sin and sins, He also frees us to live in the fruit of the Spirit—in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). When we practice such things, we do not try to merit God’s favor. You see, we can truly practice such things only when we already have God’s favor in Christ Jesus. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

So, instead of trying to fight the tar baby of our sin with our punches and kicks against our sticky sins, let’s cling to the truth of Jesus’ word of truth: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” After all, He has kicked sin and death in the teeth, and He frees us to live with Him in His house. Amen.

23 October 2008

Barak Obama: Not Just "Pro-Choice" But "Pro-Abortion"!

Here's an absolute must-read article on the intersection between politics and the moral issue of abortion: "Obama's Abortion Extremism," by Robert George. Mr. George takes on the weak claims from many Catholics and Evangelicals who claim that Barak Obama is "the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view." He also shows just how bad a Barack Obama presidency could be for the support of human life in America.

Here's George's introduction to catch your interest:
Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.

Yet there are Catholics and Evangelicals-even self-identified pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals - who aggressively promote Obama's candidacy and even declare him the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view.

What is going on here?
And here's another paragraph to put a potential Obama presidency in its truly horrific perspective:
What kind of America do we want our beloved nation to be? Barack Obama's America is one in which being human just isn't enough to warrant care and protection. It is an America where the unborn may legitimately be killed without legal restriction, even by the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion. It is an America where a baby who survives abortion is not even entitled to comfort care as she dies on a stainless steel table or in a soiled linen bin. It is a nation in which some members of the human family are regarded as inferior and others superior in fundamental dignity and rights. In Obama's America, public policy would make a mockery of the great constitutional principle of the equal protection of the law. In perhaps the most telling comment made by any candidate in either party in this election year, Senator Obama, when asked by Rick Warren when a baby gets human rights, replied: "that question is above my pay grade." It was a profoundly disingenuous answer: For even at a state senator's pay grade, Obama presumed to answer that question with blind certainty. His unspoken answer then, as now, is chilling: human beings have no rights until infancy - and if they are unwanted survivors of attempted abortions, not even then.
By all means, read the whole article, not just in order to be informed, but also in order to support and defend God's gift of life ... for all human beings.

Thanks for the Milestone!

According to sitemeter.com, this blog has been visited just over 50,000 times - 50,784 to be exact (at this writing). Not bad, I suppose, for being up and running for just over a year now. (Actually, I don't know how that relates to other blogs, but, hey, I appreciate it.)

So, thank *you* very much for reading (and for checking back in recent days and weeks when I haven't posted as much - a bad habit I hope to overcome soon)! I couldn't have done it without you, the readers. :-)

21 October 2008

Homily - Trinity 22

My homily from this past Sunday:

Unlimited Forgiveness
Matthew 18:21-35

During World War II a young Nazi officer lay dying in a Polish hospital. He wanted to confess his horrible actions, be forgiven, and die in peace. So he asked a nurse to bring a Jewish man to his bedside. When the Jewish man arrived, he listened to the soldier’s confession. The soldier confessed how he had herded Jewish people into a house, set gasoline cans inside, and then ignited them with hand grenades. The soldier also recalled how he gave orders to shoot a father and a daughter when they tried to escape. “We shoot,” he cried, “oh, God…I shall never forget it…it haunts me. Please forgive me and let me die in peace.” The man got up and left the room without saying a word. Later some rabbis confirmed this man’s actions and wrote this: “Whoever is merciful to the cruel will end up being indifferent to the innocent…. Let the SS man die unforgiven. Let him go to hell.” (Concordia Pulpit Resources, 9:4, p. 10). Ouch!

Jesus, though, has something different to teach us today. Our Lord Jesus calls us to trust His forgiveness so that we will also forgive one another.

In the verses just before our Gospel reading Jesus teaches us to go to our sinning brother, tell him his fault, and seek to gain him back in forgiveness. Peter was listening carefully and catching on. His newfound insight led him to ask a question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Now Peter was being very gracious and generous. Writings from Jewish rabbis around that time show that the going rate for forgiving someone was three times. After that, a person ought to know better. So Peter was being very gracious. He doubled the going rate and added one more forgiving act for good measure. After all, “seven” is the Biblical number of completeness.

Our sinful flesh always wants to put limits on forgiveness. We also ask Peter’s question: “How often shall I forgive?” Sometimes we might even ask it this way: “How often to I have to forgive?” Too often there’s no sweeter sound to our sin-clogged ears than, “Don’t get mad; get even.” We don’t want to appear weak or soft on crime, and we certainly don’t want to be “taken advantage of.”

Oh, to be sure, forgiveness is very laudable – in the right situation. I remember when Pope John Paul II forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. He was applauded for his graciousness. But then again, John Paul was considered a “man of God”—as such he’s supposed to be more forgiving than most. We also hear talk of forgiveness after school shootings such as Columbine several years ago. But then again, the evil shooters took their own lives, and we don’t have to look them in the eye anymore. Still, we, along with Peter, like to ask, “Isn’t there a limit to my forgiveness?”

However, Jesus answered Peter this way: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” It really doesn’t matter how you do the math – is it 77 times, or 490 times? – Jesus is teaching us to live and practice unlimited forgiveness. And His parable gives the reason why. A certain king forgives a servant, but the servant can’t forgive his fellow servant.

Yes, let’s consider the enormous, massive, infinite debt of our own sins. Augustus Toplady wrote a well-known hymn. You know it. “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure: Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r” (LSB 761:1).

How much guilt and power does our infinite debt of sin have? Mr. Toplady did some calculating. In 1775 he was “inspired” by the national debt. (Yes, there was one back then too!) Toplady wanted to show how a sinner’s debt can never be repaid. Since we sinners sin in all we do, he said, “Let’s say people sin once every second.” Yes, you heard correctly: one sin per second.

Let’s crunch the numbers. That adds up to 3600 sins per hour and 86,400 sins per day. Each year it adds up to 31,536,000 sins. When we can first drive a car, at age 16, we’d carry 504,576,000 sins on our record. When we’re 30 years old, enjoying family times with our children, we’d lug around 946,080,000 sins. When we’re 50 years old, the children are grown and the house is empty, our conscience would be overloaded with 1,576,800,000 sins. And when we reach 80, getting ready for the end of life, we’d have have to wrestle with 2,522,880,000 sins. Wow!

What’s the point? Our debt of sin is infinite. We cannot even begin to pay it back, no matter how many times we promise to “do better.”

But here’s the good news. There is forgiveness for our infinite debt of sins. As God told His Old Testament people: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her… that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Is. 40:1-2).

Yes, double – double forgiveness – for all sins! Jesus has more forgiveness than you’ve got sins for. No matter what your debt is, Jesus paid it and forgives it—“not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.” The king in Jesus’ parable absorbed the loss of the servant’s “gazillion” dollar debt. In the same way, Jesus Himself, our King and Savior, has absorbed the debt of our sin. He did not demand justice. He did not hold a grudge. He simply absorbed it, paid it Himself, and forgives. Unlimited forgiveness.

This is what our Baptism tells us. Our infinite debt is washed away. This is the infinite mercy of God that drives us to our pastor to confess our sins and hear the words of Jesus’ forgiveness. And when we eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood, we receive Jesus’ even more infinite forgiveness.

Now we can consider the debt of our neighbor’s sins. In Jesus’ parable this debt seems large—a paycheck for three month’s work. But compared to the massive debt of billions of dollars, it’s nothing. This is the way to view our neighbor’s sins against us. Yes, our fellow Christians sin against us, disappoint us, anger us, even offend us. But what is that debt compared to how we have sinned against God? Honestly, it’s nothing. It’s a mere speck in our brother’s eye compared to the 2 x 8 plank sticking out of our own eye.

St. Paul said it well: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:12-14).

It really is a matter of faith toward God as well as love for our neighbor. If we cannot forgive our brother or sister, then we really have not trusted God when He revealed our infinite debt of sin. It also means that we don’t trust God’s forgiveness that comes through His beloved Son. You see, God also gives that same forgiveness to our neighbor. If God forgives him or her, why can’t we?

But God does forgive our neighbor. And so the best thing we can do for our neighbor who sins against us—whether a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, a fellow member at church—is to give your forgiveness too. That’s how our neighbor can see God’s forgiveness in action.

You see, the Church is the Body of Christ. As Christ forgives us, we also get to forgive each other. Jesus doesn’t want His body members to harm each other by not forgiving. No, He wants the same forgiveness that He gives to flow through His whole Body. When we trust and rely on Jesus’ forgiveness for us, we can also freely forgive each other and trust that Jesus has forgiven our neighbor as much as He has forgiven us.

Keep this in your mind and heart as you come to the Lord’s Table today. Jesus places His forgiveness into your mouths in the same Body and Blood that carried your infinite debt of sins to the Cross. He unites you to Himself and restores you to His image as one who forgives. Your hands and mouths that receive Christ’s Body and Blood may also speak and show His forgiveness to others. Amen.

13 October 2008

Homily - Trinity 21

Do We Really Believe God’s Word?
John 4:46-54

It’s very hard to believe God’s Word, and I mean really believe it. Just ask the nobleman from Capernaum. He had heard about Jesus turning water into wine at Cana. He had heard about Jesus miraculously healing other people, and he wanted just such a miracle. His son was feverish and almost to the point of death. But would he really believe God’s Word?

Or would the nobleman believe the miracle over the Word? Jesus had to call him to the carpet for his trust in “signs and wonders.” “Unless you see signs and wonders,” He told the nobleman and us, “you will not believe.” You see, “signs and wonders” are for the weak in faith, for those whose faith can handle only milk but not meat. Yet Jesus still wants to help the nobleman, and us, grow in believing Him, the Word of God in the flesh.

It’s amazing how a personal tragedy or hardship in life turns us to the Word who is Jesus. But do we really believe God’s Word in the flesh? Perhaps we are like the nobleman, who needed proof before he could believe.

Perhaps we are like Thomas, who needed to see Jesus and put His fingers into Jesus’ wounds before he would believe. Every year on the Sunday after Easter we get to hear about Thomas. Jesus first appeared to ten of His disciples, but Thomas was absent. And he would not believe the Word that the others later proclaimed to him until he saw and touched Jesus in the flesh. The next Sunday, Jesus did appear to Thomas of the weak faith, and He did grant Thomas his request. Then Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).

Or perhaps we are like Elijah, who expected to see and hear God in the loud wind, or in the earthquake, or in the raging fire. But God was not in those things. No, Elijah heard God in the “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12). Sure, God certainly allows and sends natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, so that we might turn from our self-centered thoughts and ways. He even allows and sends economic downturns so that we might repent and trust Him for every need. But He speaks to us in the still small voice of His Word, especially in the Word made flesh, Jesus the Son of God.

Do we really believe God’s Word? Or would we rather look for things that are much more monumental or tangible? Would we rather seek God’s love for us in what looks good and successful? Perhaps preaching the Gospel and giving out the Holy Sacraments don’t seem to do their job anymore. Perhaps we’d rather see the capacity crowds and even standing room only in the church. Perhaps we’d rather see the “faith healer” do his or her work to the applause of cheering and adoring crowds.

But if we want these things, we’ll have to be ready for the consequences. When we need the healing and don’t get it, we’ll be told, “Well, you don’t have enough faith. You need to read your Bible more and pray harder. Come back when you have enough faith, and then we’ll see what we can do for you.”

Notice that the nobleman’s faith grows beyond wanting mere signs and wonders. He persists. He says, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” He wanted more than a miracle; he wanted the Lord Jesus to help him. He knew and trusted that only the Word of God in human flesh could give life. But would he really believe this Word? It seems that he would not be satisfied until Jesus dropped what He was doing and made a personal visit to Capernaum.

Again, you and I are like this nobleman. Perhaps we get past the immature need for “signs and wonders,” but we still want to tell God how to do His job of being God. Perhaps we think that God must immediately heal us of the disease or injury that we have. Doesn’t He know how it will get in the way of daily life? Perhaps we try to convince God to remove the family trial that we’re going through. Doesn’t He know that it’s torture? Perhaps we think that God must immediately rescue us from our economic downturn. Doesn’t He know that we desperately need that wealth?

But Jesus will not be dethroned from His place as God’s eternal Word of love and life for us. The nobleman begs for Jesus to come to his home, but Jesus says, “I’ll do something even better. I won’t come to your home, but I will heal and give life back to your son.” “Go your way; your son lives.” That’s it! Just a word. It’s all the nobleman had to go on. As one preacher once said, “The nobleman went home with only a word in his pocket.” Would he really believe that Word?

As the nobleman went home, his servants met him on the way. They told him that his son had recovered. He asked, “At what time?” They said, “Yesterday at about 1 PM.” The nobleman knew that was the time that Jesus had said, “Your son lives.” So, really, two people are cured here—the young lad who was sick and almost dead, and his father who fought the disease of unbelief. “He himself believed, and all his household.”

Do we really believe God’s Word? Do we really trust this Man who brings life into this world of death? You see, Jesus comes to heal us here today. If we’re honest, we really don’t trust the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, at least not as we should. Truth be told, we want to add all kinds of “signs and wonders”—whether they are outward signs of success or inward wonderful feelings. Somehow, we think, that will give the Spirit a nudge.

But Jesus knows how to heal and give life. You see, God does not hate us or His creation. In fact, He longs to be in communion with us. Even though we are sick in our sin, sick to the point of death—like the nobleman’s son—He still loves us and wants to heal us. That’s why He sends His only-begotten Son into the flesh. “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” (1 Jn. 4:9). Jesus took our sickness of sin and death upon Himself. He took upon Himself the punishment and wrath that we deserved. And when He died on the cross, He trampled death to death. When He came forth from the grave victorious, He burst a big hole in death’s belly. Now sickness and death have no more dominion over us. Oh, sure, we’re all bound to catch a virus now and then, sometimes even contract a deadly disease. But those things cannot separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Now we get to live!

That’s the Word that we get to hear over and over again. Just as Jesus told the nobleman, “Your son lives,” He also tells us: “You now live.” And notice how Jesus tells us this—through His Word. So, do we really believe His Word? In the face of our daily struggles, we can certainly believe the Word that comes to us here in the Divine Service. We can certainly believe what Jesus says to us through Holy Scripture, through the Word read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit. As Jesus said, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (Jn. 5:24).

And this same Jesus, this same Word in the flesh, also says: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:53-54). Let that be the Word in our pocket, the Word that we can truly believe, the Word that says, “You live, because you eat and drink Me!”

No, we don’t need to look for signs and wonders of a man-made variety. We have the divine wonders of Jesus the Word. We have His signs called Sacraments. When times get rough, when illness and death strike, these gifts from God sustain us and strengthen us. After all, Jesus comes to tell us, “You now live.” And, yes, we can really believe it. Amen.

10 October 2008

Homily - Trinity 20 - Midweek

Here's my homily from our midweek Divine Service this past Wednesday, complete with a most interesting modern depiction of the parable and a picture of the grapevine that goes around the reredos at Hope's altar (mentioned toward the end of the homily).

Inheritance from the Vineyard
Matthew 21:33-46

“This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.” Such cruel, vicious words, and yet it had to happen. And let’s thank God it happened.

When Jesus tells this Parable of the Tenants, He summarizes the whole story of the Bible, and He lets us in on the real purpose of His journey into our world and taking on our flesh and blood. You see, the tenants certainly wanted the vineyard for themselves, but they did not at all want a relationship with the vineyard Owner. Sounds like all of humanity after Adam and Eve fell into sin. Especially sounds like the nation of Israel when they were comfortable and prosperous in the Promised Land. They thought that they could run the vineyard just fine without the Owner. They thought that they could live life on their terms, under their control.

So when the vineyard Owner sent His servants, the prophets, the tenants did not like the reminder. Those servants reminded the tenants that the vineyard did not belong to them. They reminded them that they did not belong to themselves. And that was pretty uncomfortable! And how did they deal with that unsettling discomfort? Beat and kill the messengers. Pretend nothing happened. Continue thinking that they could live life on their terms.

Then the vineyard Owner sent His Son. “They will respect my son,” He said. No, He was not being na├»ve or ignorant. He full well knew that those wicked tenants would kill His Son. But He also wanted to confront them with what they should have done from the beginning—respect His Son; live life in a loving relationship with Him; fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, especially above themselves.

But the tenants saw a self-serving opportunity. Kill the Son, and they could have the inheritance all to themselves. Throw the Son out of the vineyard as if they were throwing out the trash. Little did they know that the inheritance would indeed come by killing the Son! How ironic.

And what was the vineyard Owner looking for all this time? The fruit from the vineyard. And what is that fruit? Faith—faith that wants to be in a relationship with the vineyard Owner, God Himself. Faith that says, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).

There’s just one major, uncomfortable thing about that faith, though. It means that we must die to ourselves. We must kill not the Son, but our own egos that say, “It’s my life; I can do with it what I want.” How hard that is!

It’s so hard that the Son of God freely and willingly took our death upon Himself. He was thrown out of the vineyard and nailed to the cross in the garbage heap called Golgotha. But when He was tossed out like rubbish on the garbage heap, He brought life and immortality to light. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He suffered rejection and death and He rose again victorious to change us wicked tenants into loyal sons and daughters of the God who has always loved us. If anything, this parable shows just how God continues to love and forgive us even though we repeatedly reject Him in our doubts and unbelief. This is the Lord’s doing—loving us sinners—and it is marvelous in our eyes.

It is so marvelous that we can say with St. Paul: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” Yes, this Son who was killed for the inheritance really does give us the inheritance of God’s vineyard in His death and resurrection. And that puts all of life in a new and different perspective.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news the past few weeks, you know how our nation’s economy has fallen on hard times. Perhaps you’ve even lost some of what you set aside for your retirement. Do not fear. You still have your inheritance of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness, life, and salvation. We can indeed count all things loss, especially our persistence in living life on our terms. You see, when we don’t have the Son of God, we really don’t have anything. But when we have Christ Jesus, we have more than we can imagine—life with our loving God, communion with our vineyard Owner, mercy and forgiveness for wanting to be in charge of all of life. As St. Paul says elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

In our Baptism, we are joined to the Son who was killed in order get the inheritance. When we die to ourselves and rise again in the life of Jesus, we receive His eternal “retirement plan.” And when we come to the Lord’s Table, we once again see how marvelous the Lord’s doing is in our eyes … and in our mouths. The very Body and Blood that was thrown out of the vineyard as rubbish is truly our treasure and delight. It’s the only source of real life.

When you come to the Lord’s Table this evening, take a look at the wooden reredos behind the altar. Notice what goes each side and across the top—a vine with grapes on it. Yes, here in this Holy Meal, we are restored to life in God’s vineyard. Here we are strengthened in the fruit that God looks for—faith in Him, in the Son He sends into the world, and in the Holy Spirit who gives us life. So come, and leave behind your desires and ways of living without God, the vineyard Owner. Come, and receive your inheritance. Amen.

08 October 2008

Prolonged Depression?

Yes, I'll admit it: the economy is on my mind a lot lately. As do many, I wonder what's going to happen next, what it will mean for people's retirement, what it will mean for all of us in general, from day to day. Are we heading for another recession? A depression? A prolonged depression? Will any of us have any money left, either in retirement funds or in daily operating checkbooks? (No, I'm not trying to sound "doom and gloom"; just trying to echo the thoughts that seem to be so prevalent.)

Mostly I wonder how all of this "economic downturn" may effect the Church, particularly in terms of folks coming to the Divine Service to discover or relearn where their true meaning and purpose in life is, namely, in Jesus Christ and His life and salvation. Difficult economic times could very well bode well for the Church, because, after all, the golden calves of our humming, ever-growing economy and our super-soaring social status based on material wealth sure seem to be biting the dust. Only time will tell, of course, how things will turn out. Only our Triune God and Savior can truly provide for what we really need, regardless of how much money we may or may not have.

In the meantime, perhaps we can learn a little something from history. We might wonder if we could ever get ourselves into another "Great Depression." Some say, "Yes, we could"; others say, "No, we have too many correctives in place these days." But you might be interested in this article from "MoneyNews.com".

According to two UCLA economists (yes, "left coast"!), it would appear that FDR's policies, usually credited with rescuing the nation from the Depression's destruction, may very well have prolonged the early 20th century economic downturn. I had to take a little time to wade through the statistical details in the article, but I also find it helpful to look at this historical event from a different perspective. I hope you will too. Here's the article's concluding paragraph to spur you on to read the whole thing:
"The fact that the Depression dragged on for years convinced generations of economists and policy-makers that capitalism could not be trusted to recover from depressions and that significant government intervention was required to achieve good outcomes," Cole said. "Ironically, our work shows that the recovery would have been very rapid had the government not intervened."
Certainly gives another healthy serving of food for thought regarding our most recent governmental interventions in economic bailouts/rescue packages, doesn't it?

Who Says?

We keep hearing Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and his political allies place the mess of the failed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--government-run mortgage companies--at the feet of "deregulation." Then, either by subtle insinuation or overt accusation, Sen. Obama and his cronies tell us that those "wascally Wepublicans" (my Elmer Fudd-esque term) are the culprits behind the "deregulation" of Fannie and Freddy.

But who was really trying to warn and regulate and who was truly stonewalling and putting the brakes on regulation? Let their own words answer that: