23 May 2014

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12 May 2014

Homily for Easter 4 - Jubilate

Texts: Isaiah 40:25:31; 1 John 3:1-3; John 16:16-22

"Eternal clock" by Robbert van der Steeg. Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic 
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Happy Mother’s Day, moms. It’s that one day a year when society says, “Thou shalt honor thy mother with all kinds of affections.” And so I trust, moms, that you know how loved and appreciated you are. After all, none of us would be here without you. And did you catch how even Jesus sings mom’s praises in our Gospel reading? Yes, she has “sorrow” as she goes through the pains of giving birth, but—and it’s our Lord who says this—after the baby comes, “she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” So, moms, we thank the Lord for you and for your vocation of giving us life and nurturing us. And now, let’s hear what our Mother in the faith—the Church—has for us today.

Waiting. We spend so much of our time doing it – waiting in the check out line at Schnucks; waiting for the stop light to change from red to green, especially when there’s no traffic coming from any other direction; sitting in a waiting room waiting to see the doctor; waiting for your teenager to arrive home safe so that you can finally go to sleep. We spend so much of our time just waiting. And we don’t enjoy it at all, not one little bit.

Then along comes Isaiah today, and he talks of waiting in attractive, positive terms. “They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Normally, we think of waiting as something that wearies and exhausts us, something that tests our patience and makes our kindness wear thin. However, Isaiah suggests that waiting actually invigorates us, strengthens us, and fulfills us. Now, of course, he wasn’t referring to just any waiting; he spoke of waiting “for the LORD.”

And what does it mean for us Christians to wait “for the LORD”? The Apostle John boldly says this in his first letter: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Yes, he means it, and it is quite true. In our Baptism into Jesus, all that belongs to Jesus has been given to us. He is the beloved Son, and when we are baptized into Him, WE also become the beloved children of God. His Father becomes our Father. His inheritance becomes our inheritance. Everything that belongs to Him, He gives to us, especially a life that death cannot destroy.

How is that possible? Because He came to take all that belonged to us – our sin, our doubts, even our impatience in waiting – and make it His own. Not only did He take our sin on Himself, but He also took our death and everything we deserved for our sin. And He bore it all for us on the cross. Now He gives to us all that belongs to Him through Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now, of course the world knows nothing of this. The world sees us Christians as just ordinary people. But let’s not be surprised. After all, as St. John says, “The reason why the world does not know us (that is, as God’s beloved children) is that it did not know Him.” The real problem, though, comes when WE forget to see ourselves that way, when WE forget to BE who we really are, when WE forget to ACT according to our high and holy calling.

You see, we ARE God’s children right now, not just at some time in the far-distant future. And we are His waiting children. We are waiting on the Lord. We are waiting and looking forward to a glorious moment: that instant when Christ Himself will appear. The Bible calls it the “Parousia,” or “Presence of the Lord.” We often call it His “coming,” but it’s really more of an unveiling of His hidden presence. It’s not as if Jesus will come rushing in at warp speed from a galaxy far, far away to save the day. Instead, it’s more like a curtain being lifted suddenly and swiftly so that we can see the wonderful truth that our Lord has always been here, hidden within the life of His holy Church.

And His “appearing” is not His alone. In an instant we too will be changed, and we shall be like Him, complete with bodies incorruptible, filled with light, shining with the glory of God. Right now, we walk around cloaked. Our glory is hidden from and unknown to all around us.  It’s even hidden from us. But the moment of our Lord’s appearing will also mean the unveiling of who we truly are. And we’re eagerly waiting for it!

“And everyone,” says St. John, “who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” You see, when you’re waiting for that glorious moment – that moment when you will be revealed as a child of the Eternal Father, a brother of His beloved Son, an heir of His eternal estate – you take care to start living that way already. Even without the glorious robes of our future nobility, we seek to live as princes and princesses who just happen to be dressed as paupers in this world. That’s the way it was for our Lord. So, we always want our behavior and our life-style, our living and our acting, to reflect the hope that we have in Jesus, the hope of the children’s great unveiling at the Appearing of our Savior.

But waiting CAN be painful. Jesus repeatedly says it in today’s Gospel: “A little while…a little while…a little while.” Think of little ones in the back seat on a road trip: “Are we there yet? How much longer? I’m hungry. I have to go….” And the dreaded answer? “A little while.” Grr! Jesus said this to His apostles the night before He entered His Passover. He warned them that they would not see Him – meaning His death and burial. But then, He said, they would see Him again and their hearts would rejoice, and no one would be able snatch their joy away from them – here meaning His glorious, life-giving resurrection.

But as the Church reads these words today, we think of more than just the Apostles and the past. Ever since our Lord ascended to God’s right hand, we also live in the “little while” of our Lord. We see Him no longer, but “again a little while, and [we] will see [Him].” We live and wait for that moment when He will see us again. As He says, our hearts will rejoice. You see, that joyful moment of His return, of His appearing, His unveiling, will also be the rebirth of all of creation. As our Lord says, “See, I make all things new.”

And so we wait. Although sometimes we get impatient and fearful and cry out: “O Lord, how long?” At those times, however many and however frequent they are, we get to hear the sweet voice of our Lord: “It’s only a little while.” When we go through the very real difficulties, the fears big or small, and the trials that tax us and wear us down, we need to hold on to that “little while.” Think of what the Church Father Basil the Great said: “The complete human existence is only a tiny interval compared with the endless age our hopes rest in” (Letter 140).

Just think of it this way. Compared to the glorious inheritance that Christ has won for us – an eternal inheritance, an eternal life, unending joys, and a family reunion that goes on for endless days, and with family members whom you love and adore – compared to this our entire earthly pilgrimage is only “a little while.”

So we wait. And when the waiting grows difficult, when we are tempted to forget who we are in God’s Beloved Son or what we are waiting for, let’s remember this: in His rich mercy our Lord Christ spreads a table before us and feeds us with His very Body and Blood. Here He forgives all our fears and impatience and forgetfulness. Here He reminds us that we are truly, genuinely His – His brothers and sisters, His co-heirs. Here He gives us a foretaste of that glorious Day. It’s how He strengthens us to go on waiting. It’s how He comforts us that the “little while” really does have an end, a glorious end and completion beyond all that we can imagine. Yes, indeed, “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength…they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

06 May 2014

Homily for Easter 3 - Misericordias Domini

Our Good and Noble Shepherd
Text: John 10:11-16, with Ezekiel 34:11-16 and Psalm 23

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The notion of a shepherd and his sheep may be a bit foreign to us city-slickers. But the image of shepherd and sheep is woven throughout the Bible for our comfort. And something tells me that even though we don’t know all of the ins and outs of shepherds herding their sheep, we still, by God’s grace, draw great comfort and strength from the picture of Jesus as our “Good and Noble Shepherd.”

We’ve heard from the prophet Ezekiel. God Himself is the shepherd who seeks out His sheep. You see, sheep like to wander. And they really don’t know how to wander back to their shepherd. But God seeks them out and finds them. God brings them to their own pasture land. Sheep get hungry and need to eat. God feeds them. Sheep get scraped up, battered, and bruised in their wandering. God heals them. Sheep get distressed and scared. God Himself makes them lie down to rest.

And so here you are—in your proper pasture land called the Divine Service. God Himself has gathered you here today. He has searched you out and found you. Here He feeds you on the food of His Word. He knows how you are scraped up from your own failings and your own sin. He knows how you are battered and bruised in the rough and tumble changes and chances of daily life. He knows, as we heard last week, how you are frightened and scared. But here, in this place, this little heavenly pasture land here on earth, your Good and Noble Shepherd gives you rest.

We’ve also heard from King David. As a young lad he was a shepherd boy. Then God graciously recruited him to be a king—that is, a shepherd—for the people of Israel. And David sang the sweet, soothing words of Psalm 23. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” We also learn to pray these words because they are a balm of healing and a wall of protection. But next time you pray these words, go ahead and add a word. Add the name “Jesus.” “The LORD JESUS is my shepherd.”

Your crucified and risen Lord Jesus makes you lie down in green pastures. Your Lord Jesus leads you beside the still waters of your Baptism. He restores your troubled, disjointed soul. He leads you in the paths, the well-worn tracks, of His “right-ness.” And what about the shadows of death all around you—the dark spots of wars and broken families, of cultural chaos and inner doubts? Well, your Lord Jesus is with you in the midst of it all. His rod and staff comfort you and guide you. And think of the table that your Lord Jesus prepares for you right here in the presence of enemies all around. He anoints you with the oil of His forgiveness every time you come to rest in this pasture land called “church.” Your cup runs over with the very Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Yes, you may be lost, little lambs. Yes, you may scared, scattered sheep. But your Lord Jesus—your Good and Noble Shepherd—gives you His goodness and mercy, in this house and forever.

This all sounds very good. And it is! But what really makes our Shepherd good and noble? Is it the beautiful, pastoral settings of green pastures and babbling brooks? Is it the image of a shepherd holding a little lamb in his arms? Certainly it can’t be that someone—anyone—would deign to associate himself with such stinky little critters as sheep?! Any old shepherd can do these things.

What makes your Shepherd good and noble? Listen again to the Shepherd’s voice: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). And just a few seconds later in His sermon He says: “Just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (Jn 10:15). And even later He adds this: “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn 10:18).

What makes Jesus your Good and Noble Shepherd? He lays down His life for you, His sheep. An ordinary shepherd just protects and defends his sheep. If he dies on the job, the sheep are quickly scattered and devoured by wolves. But Good and Noble Shepherd Jesus does lay down His life for His sheep. And this is the very way that He gathers you together and protects you from the wolves. That’s what Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all about. Jesus, your great Passover Lamb, is slaughtered and sacrificed in your place. And now He is the risen, victorious Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This Lamb of God is also your Good and Noble Shepherd.

This is what our altar and our Easter banner proclaim. Here stands the Lamb of God. He holds the banner of His victory over death. And from Him comes the radiant sunburst—the sun of healing, the dawn of new life that only He can bring. His victory over death is your victory over death. He heals you and makes you whole. This is what makes your Shepherd Good and Noble.

Good Shepherd Jesus talks about wolves who catch and scatter the sheep. Yes, there are wolves in this sin-plagued wilderness of the world. And yes, we do need to be aware of them. Wolves can come in all sorts of disguises. They can ravage the flock of Jesus—that is, His Church—in physical ways and in spiritual ways. Wolves can use the evils all around us—evils such as illness and disease, wars and conflicts, poverty and drugs, sex outside of marriage and even changing the definition of marriage. What do they try to accomplish? These wolves want to separate you from Christ and make you scared, scattered little sheep. These are things we can see.

But wolves also ravage in spiritual ways. They come dressed up as preachers who proclaim twisted messages. “All religions are equally valid.” “We’re all going to the same place anyway.” “We all worship the same God; we just call on Him with different names.” Or even “You can have your best life now.” Again, these wolves of false preachers twist things so that you end up being scared and scattered and distracted from the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

Here’s why Jesus says, “they will listen to My voice” (Jn 10:16). The sheep who listen to Jesus and His words and His deeds, they are the singular, united flock that rests comforted and protected. But Jesus doesn’t want you merely to imagine that you’re comforted and fed. He wants you to hear and receive His sweet Good News. And so He sends under-shepherds called “pastors.” The faithful pastor speaks so that you can hear the voice of Jesus. When you hear the sermon, when you see the Baptism, when you receive the Communion, you really do hear the voice of your Good and Noble Shepherd. He says, “I laid down My life for you. I took it up again for you. Now I give you My healing, My life, My peace in the forgiveness of sins.”

What makes Shepherd Jesus so Good and Noble? The simple, undeniable, historical fact that He lovingly and willingly laid down His life for us and took it back up again. Now Good and Noble Shepherd Jesus leads us and feeds us, comforts us and heals us. Amen.