29 June 2015

Homily for Trinity 4

"Suffering Forgiveness"
Genesis 50:15-21

Listen here.

The Trinity season is all about growing in the Christian faith and life. That’s what the color green tells us. We are in the time of life and growth.

Also, the Christian faith entails a radical change in life. After all, your God has saved you from sin, death, and hell through your Lord Jesus Christ. So what could be more radical than blessing those who persecute you? What could be more radical than loving your enemies? What could be more radical than forgiving those who wrong you?

Today’s Old Testament reading gives us a true, historical example of this radical, new Christian life. In this story of Joseph forgiving his brothers we have a story of suffering forgiveness. And it really is amazing how God gives us exactly what we need to hear, especially after Friday’s Supreme Court ruling—or we should say, “fiat”—on same-sex marriage.

Joseph, this great man of God, practiced suffering forgiveness. After he had suffered ill-will from his ill-mannered brothers, he practiced forgiveness. After suffering in slavery, false accusation, and prison, he practiced forgiveness. Let’s fill in the story.

Joseph was only 17 years old when his brothers sold him into slavery. They were jealous that he was daddy’s favorite. They especially despised him when he dreamed about how the whole family would bow down to him. Once in slavery, he lived in Potiphar’s house, because he was the head slave. But then he suffered misfortune again. Potiphar’s wife tried getting Joseph into bed with her. When he nobly resisted temptation, she cried sexual harassment. So off to prison for Joseph. After a few years there, 30-year old Joseph was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams. God would send 7 years of bounty followed by 7 years of famine. And, by God’s grace and favor, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to prepare for the famine. Joseph suffered slavery, false accusation, and prison. But later he was exalted to the second highest office in all Egypt.

Then, when Joseph was about 39, his brothers came to Egypt to buy food to take back home—famine relief for God’s people. After a lengthy charade, Joseph saw evidence that his brothers were repentant over selling their younger brother into slavery 22 years earlier. Then Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and forgave them. Soon after, father Jacob relocated to Egypt to live under the providing hand of Joseph. Then, 17 years later, Jacob died. And then comes our reading.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’” After 39 years, their sin of selling Joseph and counting him dead was still tormenting them. Even 17 years after Joseph explicitly forgave them—pronounced absolution to them—after 17 years of living with Joseph’s great kindness and love, they still wrestled with their guilt and shame.

And the same is true for us. Our sins plague us—often weeks, months, even years after the fact. Even after we receive absolution for our specific sins, the consequences and constant reminders may very well plague us. There is no peace, no rest, no quiet conscience for sinners except through faith alone—faith that looks to God’s words of mercy and forgiveness.

“So they sent a message to Joseph saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died, “Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’” We don’t have any record of Jacob giving such instructions—maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. But it does seem that the brothers wanted to force Joseph’s hand to pardon them. The brothers don’t doubt that God forgives them. But they do question if their brother, Joseph, forgives them.

That’s sin for you. That’s your sin for you. We like to rely on God’s Law, even for Gospel pardon. We don’t doubt God’s forgiveness for us. But we certainly don’t trust each other’s forgiveness. Like Joseph’s brothers, we look with jaded eyes upon the pardon and acts of kindness from brothers and sisters in Christ. And our mistrust leads to trying to dictate, or legislate, each other’s actions.

At the same time, Joseph’s guilt-ridden brothers give us a great Biblical truth. Our servanthood to God also means servanthood to each other. To love God means to love the people He puts in our lives. To serve Him means to serve them, especially by forgiving them.

“Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” Surely, he thought, 17 years of showing them his pardon would speak for itself. But even in forgiving his brothers, Joseph suffered. He suffered forgiveness. He forgave them. Period. No questions asked. No forcing them to make promises never to hurt him again. Joseph could very well have been hurt again by his brothers. That didn’t matter. He forgave them anyway. He suffered forgiveness. That is, he let forgiveness happen. He let forgiveness, not self-protection, reign supreme. And now, 17 years after he had first absolved them, he had the privilege of absolving them again.

So why did he weep? Simply because he knew his brothers did not trust his forgiveness. What was the solution? Did he chew them out for not trusting him? No. He forgave them again. Joseph is a good example for us. It really doesn’t matter how much someone offends you or hurts you. You have the God-given privilege of forgiving over and over and over—seventy times seven, as Jesus said.

Joseph preached a wonderfully comforting sermon to his brothers…and to us. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear.” See how the forgiving flows freely from Joseph to his brothers. Was Joseph in the place of God? When it came to revenge, no. It is God’s place to avenge, to repay, for wrongs done. Ah, but when it came to forgiveness, yes, Joseph was in the place of God. He practiced and lived out the forgiveness that God had first given him. Joseph overcame his brothers’ evil with the good of forgiveness. So it is for us.

St. Paul said it this way: “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” (Col. 3:13). Jesus said it this way: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:37-38). Sure people may hurt you. They may hurt you frequently or repeatedly. They may step on your feelings, your ideas, your plans. They may do it intentionally or by accident. But one thing always stays the same. The Christian life is lived in suffering forgiveness—that is, in letting forgiveness, and nothing else, rule the day.

Here’s another way Joseph is a good picture, or role model, for us. Just as Joseph endured his exile in slavery and prison, we too are more and more living in exile in this foreign land. With Friday’s Supreme Court ruling and fiat, we must realize that we Christians are the exiles. We may even end up in prison for holding firm to God’s Truth.

But before we get too worked up about same-sex marriage, let’s remember that heterosexuals have also been doing a pretty good job of destroying marriage themselves. The Supreme Court has only affirmed the inevitable. What should the Church do in response to this Supreme Court fiat? What her Lord always calls her to do: repent. Just because something becomes legal in all 50 states, that does not make it right or godly. But we can repent, just as Joseph did in his exile.

Repent of your own sexual sins, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, whether they be adultery, fornication, pornography, self-pleasure, or just that so-called “innocent look.” Repent of taking such sins so lightly, for being afraid to confront them in yourself or in people around you.

And just in case you’re wondering how that whole “Judge not, and you will not be judged” thing fits in: Jesus is not advocating for a “live and let live” approach to life in general or to such sins as plague us today. Listen to how Dr. Jeff Gibbs explains this same saying in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Jesus takes in hand an important matter, namely, the danger that a disciple with an arrogant spirit, who is blind to his own personal faults and failings, may pass judgment on a fellow disciple or even reject him. Jesus is not forbidding all judgments with regard to our brothers and sisters, but a hypocritical kind of judging. Moreover, his disciples certainly are to proclaim God’s Word of Law and Gospel to all people, and God’s Law rightfully accuses and judges sinners. Christians must proclaim God’s Word if they are to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ int he world.

“Here, however, Jesus is speaking primarily to relationships between fellow Christians, as shown by his repeated use of the term ‘brother’. That Jesus has in mind an attitude in which a person is blind to his own shortcomings and failings is made clear by the picture of a beam stuck in one’s eye.” (Matthew 1:1-11:1, 369)

Joseph is more than a good picture for us. He is an even better picture of Jesus. Joseph’s life is very much like Jesus’ life. Joseph descended in suffering, slavery, humiliation, and shame. Our Lord Jesus descended to us. He emptied Himself and took on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even the shameful death on the cross. Who sold Him into this slavery and humiliation? We did; we poor sinners. But just like Joseph before Him, Jesus was also exalted to reign supreme. He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. And we bow before Him in the famine called our sin, our hard hearts, our unwillingness to forgive each other. And what does our Lord Jesus do? He forgives you. He says, “Don’t be afraid, I AM in the place of God; I AM your God. I came to save many lives. And yours is among them.” And Jesus, your Brother, tells you what Joseph told his brothers: “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Certainly good news for troubled consciences! Jesus suffers forgiveness for you. Jesus lets forgiveness rule the day, every day, for  you.

So now, what will you do with that forgiveness, that absolution, you have just heard? First, you may trust it. You may stake all your hopes and dreams on it. Second, you may use that forgiveness to forgive one another. You see, only when Jesus stops forgiving you may you stop forgiving your neighbor. And, by the way, Jesus will never stop forgiving you! In fact, He orders His Church so that we may daily receive His forgiveness of sins through the Word and Sacraments. He arranges a wonderful delivery system of the Gospel proclaimed, Holy Baptism splashed upon you, Holy Absolution spoken into your ears, and Holy Supper placed into your mouth. He does all of this to comfort you and speak kindly to you.

So when you find yourself not forgiving your brother or sister in Christ, you may confess that sin. Christ promises to forgive. That way, you, along with Joseph and Jesus, are free to suffer forgiveness, to let forgiveness rule the day. Amen.

26 June 2015

"Through Persecution Christendom Grows"

In light of today's unconstitutional, tyrannical fiat by the U.S. Supreme Court, and in preparation for the onslaught yet to come:

From St. Peter: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)

From St. John: "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you." (1 John 3:13)

From Jesus Himself: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 14:18-19)

From Martin Luther: "To this day it happens that when tyrants rage against the Gospel, they do no more than blow into the ashes. Then the fire becomes greater, and the ashes fly into their eyes. This is the success which their tyranny is to meet. When they shed innocent blood, this blood of the Christians is to act as a fertilizer on the field, making it rich and productive. For through persecution Christendom grows; conversely, Christians become lazy and lax when conditions are peaceful and quiet" (What Luther Says, #3307).

22 June 2015

Homily for Trinity 3

"Jesus Sinners Doth Receive"
Luke 15:1-10

Listen here.

Our Lord Jesus receives sinners. He welcomes them. He embraces them. He does not turn them away when they cry to Him. He does not ignore their prayer or turn a deaf ear to their plea. Our Lord receives sinners. And our Lord eats with them. He feeds on their bread of sorrows. He drinks down their cup of suffering. And He consumes their grapes of wrath. In other words, Jesus does not shy away from meeting us where we are. He does not shrink from coming into the filth and fallout of our natural desires. He does not refuse to take into Himself the very thing that kills us.

As one hymn sings:

Thou cam-est to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the deep despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod
The road to bring good news from God!
How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man! (LSB 834:3)

Because of this—because our Lord Jesus receives sinners and eats with them, because He embraces them when they come and goes to them when they wander and stray—because of this, our Lord is scorned, despised, rejected, mocked, jeered and finally crucified. What kind of God—what kind of man—does not demand something, some better life or some assurance of payback, before helping or taking in an unsavory character? What kind of God—what kind of man—does not first insist that you shape up before He gives you a penny or comes to your aid? And what kind of God—what kind of man—does not first lecture you and try to fix you before He lifts a finger to shoulder your burden and pay your debt?

So our Lord is scorned and despised. Not by those who cry to Him in time of need, but by those who religiously try to defend God, by those who want others to see their religion, by those who want to impress Jesus by their tears and their hard work for the church. Those who say they’re on Jesus’ side and simply want to make Him into their own kind of Jesus. And they grumble when Jesus stands before you and proclaims His Gospel of peace. They complain when He opens His table to sinners. They murmur when He declares forgiveness even for those you don’t think deserve it.

So beware! You may think that the lost sheep and the lost coin are someone else—the people you pity, the person you refuse to acknowledge, the woman you don’t want to be bothered with, the man you don’t like much. But actually, as our Lord tells His parables, the lost are not just the sinners Jesus receives and eats with. The lost are also those who stray from Jesus by their grumbling, by their hatred for their brother or sister in Christ, by their refusal to love and forgive as they have been loved and forgiven, by their unwillingness to embrace “sinners” just as Jesus has embraced them.

Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin not simply to let the Pharisees have it, not simply to proclaim His own mission for sinners, not simply to remind His disciples and us of His purpose. He also tells the parable to draw and entice, to welcome and invite, to gather and sit down with and eat with YOU and ME.

Or do you think that you are one of those just persons who needs no repentance? Remember, it's the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven—those who now rest from their labors and await the resurrection on the Last Day—those are the just ones who need no repentance. They are the ninety-nine sheep that are left behind. They are the nine coins that are safely tucked away. They can no longer be lost, because Jesus has wiped away their tears forever.

No, we—each and every one of us—are the ones still who need repentance.

We are still as in a dungeon living,
Still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving;
Our undertakings
Are but toils and troubles and heartbreakings.
(LSB 679:2)

So according to Jesus’ parable, you and I are the sheep that goes astray. We have turned, everyone of us, to his own way, doing as we please, trusting in ourselves and despising others—living as if we deserved God’s mercy and as if His grace had no effect. But Shepherd Jesus comes searching for us and finds us. And you and I are also the coin that the Holy Spirit seeks out. He lights the lamp of His Word and overturns everything to find us and gather us back at the table where our Lord receives and eats with sinners.

Do you see the grace of our Lord Jesus? Do you understand the constant searching of the Holy Spirit? Do you take to heart the all-embracing love of the Father?

Our God does not teach us sinners by scolding and screaming so that He can get us to live right. Instead, He teaches in order to shower us with His mercy, to give us His Righteousness and Love, to speak into our hearts and minds His grace that forgives us, and to supply us with His true and abundant Life.

Jesus does this by receiving sinners and eating with them. And so our loving Lord Jesus comes in our flesh. He willingly drinks from and swallows down and drains our cup of sin and death. He does whatever it takes to seek us out, to shoulder our burdens, to carry our griefs, to endure our sorrows. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. So this Jesus is our Jesus. He comes in our flesh. He becomes our sin. He is tempted in every respect as we are. He gets what we deserve. And He is sacrificed to appease God for who we are and what we do.

That’s how our Lord Jesus is the tender and gentle shepherd. He carries us back to Himself. He demands nothing in return. He does not make us first prove our faith. He does not require us to do even the smallest part of the sacrifice. He only draws us to Himself. He gives us the confidence and courage to trust Him and what He gives. He encourages us to give thanks with all we are and with all we have.

He does all of this so that He might welcome and receive us back to Himself. He does all of this so that we might return to Him in true repentance—a repentance that does not seek any other self-gratification, a repentance that does not demand others to live as we think. Rather, as the sheep rescued by the shepherd and as the coin found by the woman, we get to live in true repentance, in true faith. That repentance and faith is completely satisfied with whatever our Lord gives. We get to live in true repentance and faith that feeds on and lives from Jesus’ boundless goodness and mercy. We get to live in true repentance  and faith that lives for others just as our Lord has lived for us.

May God grant us this true repentance and faith—the repentance and faith which leads the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to rejoice. You see,

We deserve but grief and shame,
Yet His words, rich grace revealing,
Pardon, peace and life proclaim;
Here our ills have perfect healing.
Firmly in these words believe:
Jesus sinners doth receive. (LSB 609:2)


15 June 2015

Homily for Trinity 2

"The Master's Invitation"
Luke 14:15-24

Listen here.

The master of the feast made doubly sure that the guests all received their “invites.” He issued two “invites” to each one. The first “invite” simply said, “You’re invited!” The second “invite” came on the day of the great supper itself. The master sent a special messenger to announce that the dinner is now served: “Come, for everything is now ready.”

All of this teaches us the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Come!” The Gospel is not a command; it’s an offer. It’s not a demand; it’s a gift. It’s not a royal fiat; it’s an invitation. It’s the Master’s invitation to share in the unbelievable joy of the Kingdom of God.

“Come!” God is expecting you. He wants you to join in His feast. He is ready for the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. He is ready for those who spend their lives in the highways and byways of life. He invites everyone: “Come, for everything is now ready.”

Just as a shepherd seeks for his lost sheep; just as a woman gets down on her hands and knees to look for her lost coin; and, yes, just as a father eagerly waits for his lost son to return home and looks down the road for him—in the same way God is always seeking, calling, inviting us back into loving, joyous relationship with Him.

God cries out: “Come, for everything is now ready.” Come, you who seek meaning for life. Come, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Come, you who falter under the burden and shame of your original sin, your actual sins, and even death itself. Come, you who are anxious and fearful. Come, you who mourn.

“Come you all; enter into the joy of your Lord. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet.  The calf is a fatted one; let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let none grieve over their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let none weep over their sins, for pardon has shone forth from the grave; let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free.”  (John Chrysostom - Easter homily)

You see, Christianity is not first and foremost a religion that says, “Do this and don’t do that.” Yes, we do receive God’s Law, especially in His Ten Commandments. And, yes, based on those Ten Commandments, we know that we sin in thought, word and deed. But that’s not what makes Christianity Christianity.

Instead, Christianity is first and foremost a faith that says, “Come!” The great “magnetism” of Jesus Christ comes not in His “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots,” but in His invitation: “Come to Me.” Come, be filled with the Holy Spirit. Come, be filled with the life and energy of God’s presence. And when we do come to Him, we will surely do certain things and live a certain way—not merely because we “should” do those things or "should" live that way, but because we delight in living with our loving Father and Savior. We delight in living and doing as the expression of our love for the One who laid down His life for us. We delight in living and doing with the One—Jesus—who gave His life on a cross to give us life.

In the 4th century, Pastor John Chrysostom commented on the Master’s invitation, “Come to Me all you who labor.” He said these precious words: “His invitation is one of kindness, His goodness is beyond description. ‘Come to me, all’ – not only rulers but also their subjects; not only the rich, but also the poor; not only the free, but also the slaves; not only men, but also women; not only the youth, but also the old; not only those of sound body, but also the maimed. All of you, He says, come!  For such are the Master’s gifts. He knows no distinction of slave and free, nor of rich and poor, but all such inequality is cast aside.  ‘Come,’ He says, ‘all you who labor and are burdened!’ And see whom He calls! Those who have spent their strength in breaking the law, those who are burdened with their sins, those who can no longer lift up their heads, those who are filled with shame, those who can no longer speak out. Why does He call them? Not to demand an accounting, nor to hold court. But why? To relieve them of their pain, to take away their heavy burdens.”

Now when Jesus says, “Come!” He does not stand on the top rung of a long, high ladder in heaven to signal us to start climbing. After all, He Himself has climbed down that ladder to stand alongside us. He has come to us. “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger.” He came and was born in a stable. He came and died on the cross. He came and rose victorious from the grave. He came to prepare the banquet of life and salvation for us. And now – today – Jesus sends His servants to extend His invitation: “Come, for everything is now ready.” There is nothing that you can or need to add to this feast. He has prepared it all. “It is finished!” He cried from the cross. He has prepared the feast of salvation for you. The only thing He asks of you is that you let Him serve it to you, and that you enjoy and delight in it.

But sadly and tragically, the invitation is not always accepted. This gracious invitation is too often rejected. “I have bought a field…. Please have me excused…. I have bought five yoke of oxen…. Please have me excused…. I have married a wife…. I cannot come.” And so flew the excuses. It was and is the response of so many of His own people. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive Him.” Is this not the same response today? Tragically, and sadly, we end up accepting the wrong invitations in life. We miss the banquet, the abundant life of Christ, and we settle for the lesser lunches and the fleeting feasts. And Jesus still laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

“Come, for everything is now ready.” “But I am not worthy to come,” you might object. “My clothes are not suitable. I wouldn’t know how to act in the Master’s palace. Besides, I’m just too busy and have too many other things to do.”

None of this makes any difference. The invitation goes out to all: to those who are on the back streets, to those who live in dirty, little houses, as well as to those who live in fine homes. Come! The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to come. Come as you are—come with all of your sins and sorrows and shame; come with all of your weaknesses and failures; come with all of your problems and anxieties. Come to the only One who can forgive you and heal you. Come to the One who on His cross opened wide His arms to welcome you. “Come, for everything is now ready.”

And coming to Jesus is not a one time thing. Let no one say: “Oh, I did that years ago.” Coming to Jesus is a way of life. It begins with Baptism. It involves living out our Baptism in daily repentance and sorrow for sin, and in turning from that sin to God. We come to Him and find Him right where He has promised to be for us. We come to Him in the Divine Service. “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” We come to Him in reading our Bibles. As Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” We come to Him in regular and faithful Communion. As Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” Yes, He who came down from heaven to meet us on our level, and to die in our place on a cross, still comes to meet us on our level.

No, He does not stand at the top of the ladder and call us to climb home. Instead, He stands at the bottom, lifts us up on His strong shoulders, and carries us up the ladder Himself. When we lay aside the excuses and dare to accept the invitation, then we truly know the wonder of the glorious banquet hall. Then we know the goodness of the food of life. Then we know the joy of amazing fellowship with God Himself. Yes, dare to accept it daily—today, tomorrow, the next day and all the days of your life. Live in the promise that our Lord will one day speak the greatest invitation of all: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.

08 June 2015

Homily for Trinity 1

"Rich Man or Lazarus?"
Luke 16:19-31

Listen here.

Wouldn’t you like to be the rich man—receive and enjoy your good things in your lifetime? Certainly none of us would want to be like Lazarus’ in this life, would we—poor, covered with sores, eating only scraps, dogs licking our sores? But then consider how each one ended up. Certainly, no one would choose to be in the rich man’s shoes in the next life, “being in torment” and “in anguish” for eternity. No, it would be much better to be in Lazarus’ eternal shoes—carried to Abraham’s side and comforted forever.

Or what about this? How would you write the epitaph for these men after they died? Based on Jesus’ story, here’s what we could write for the rich man: “He liked nice clothes and good food.” Talk about shallow! And here’s the epitaph we could write for Lazarus: “Oh, how he suffered!” Certainly not shallow, but also nothing glorious, or noble, or memorable.

So, which of these two men before us today would you rather be—rich man or Lazarus? And, no, you can’t cheat by picking and choosing. You can’t choose the rich man’s earthly life now and Lazarus’ eternal life then. That’s not an option. Sorry, can’t eat our cake and then have it too! Which of these men would you rather be? To answer that, you might want to remember that Jesus’ story is not about the evils of wealth and riches, nor is it about some odd but noble virtue of intentionally putting yourself under the wheels of life and saying, “Please, run over me!” No, Jesus’ story before us today draws our attention to faith in Him, the eternal Son of God.

Nils Jakob Laache was a Lutheran bishop at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. In his Book of Family Prayer Bishop Laache wrote a great little devotion for today’s Gospel reading. Here’s what he said about the rich man:

“‘It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat 19:23). Not that the rich man is condemned because he is rich, but rich people are so severely tempted to worldliness and unbelief. The rich man in our Gospel was unfortunate because he was unbelieving, worldly, and self-righteous. His life is summed up in few, but very significant words: ‘He was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” Then we hear that “in his lifetime he received his good things,” that he did not acknowledge God’s Word as necessary for salvation and did not understand that faith is the way to life. If you strive for earthly things and think that salvation inevitably belongs to you and all decent people, then you are the rich man’s partner, whether you have much or little in the world” (398-99, emphasis his).

Now, that hits close to home, doesn’t it? If you strive for earthly things—things such as the nice clothing and the best food, things such as the esteem and popularity in the eyes of others, things such as the latest goodies from cell phones to home entertainment—if you strive for these things, yes, you are the rich man’s partner.

In fact, let’s be honest and say that we all are the rich man’s partner. We may not be “clothed in purple and fine linen,” but we do have our pretty nice wardrobes. We cannot imagine wearing the same set of clothes day after day. Not only would the aroma get, well, a bit ripe, but we just don’t want to be seen wearing the same thing every day. After all, that would be boring. And what about that habit so many of us have of organizing our garments into “winter clothes” and “summer clothes,” if not one set for each of the four seasons. Yes, we have received our good things in life.

And let’s be honest. We do feast sumptuously every day. No, we may not dine on the richest of fare, but most of us really do not suffer from lack of food. Just think of how easy it is to get food. If the cupboard does become bare, we can easily go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s or Burger King or take something to go from Bread Co. or some other place of our choosing. As one friend’s mom would say, “We don’t wait until we’re hungry to eat; we eat so that we won’t be hungry.” Yes, we have received our good things in life.

For rich man and for us, the problem is not in the clothing and food. The problem comes in where we place our trust, where we look for good, for comfort, and for blessing. My, how we look to the “good things” we can receive in this life! But that did not help the rich man in eternity, nor will it help us.

The poor man, Lazarus, gives us a different picture. And let’s remember that Lazarus does not attain heavenly life because he was down and out. No, Lazarus shows us the necessity and virtue of faith. Here’s what Bishop Laache said about Lazarus:

“Poverty and sickness press hard, and no one is saved merely because he suffers here on earth. But these things can help us to hear God’s Word and turn our hearts away from the world. Lazarus was not saved as a reward for his suffering, but he inherited life, because he believed in the Lord. We learn this from the name ‘Lazarus’ which means one who trusts in God, and, besides, we hear that he is at home in the bosom of Abraham—Abraham, ‘the father of believers’—and that he did not seek his goods in earthly life. You are no ‘Lazarus’ and are not saved—even though you suffer ever so much on earth—unless you believe from the heart, suffer as a Christian, and have your treasure in heaven. But if you do this, your suffering is blessed and your tears are sown for a rich harvest” (399, emphasis his).

It’s no accident that Lazarus ends up side by side with Abraham. After all, Abraham is the “father of the faithful.” In fact, today’s Old Testament story about Abraham believing and being counted righteous is the first time that faith is explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Abraham trusted his Savior to deliver him and give him an heir. Lazarus trusted his Savior to deliver him from poverty and sores, and give him an heavenly inheritance.

That’s what our Lord calls us to do here today: trust Him above all things; trust Him for deliverance from whatever we may suffer, even if that deliverance comes only in eternity. You see, our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Lazarus. He is the one who did not set his hopes on worldly gain and wealth, but rather had no place to lay His head. He is the one who was left outside the gate of the world’s niceties. He was also taken outside the gate of His own holy city to be nailed to a tree. And on that cross He did not have dogs licking His sores, but He did have people wagging their tongues against Him.

But this Jesus, whom our sins of greed and coveting crucified, is also the One whom we hear in Moses and the Prophets. He is the One who does rise from the dead to tell us there is a better way than trusting nice clothes and good food. He is the One who gives us life now, in the midst of our sufferings and poverty. He is the one who brings us to Abraham’s side where we may be comforted both now and forever. As St. Paul said: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

So as we trust our Savior God who loves us enough to rescue us from trusting our good things in this life, we also learn to love our neighbor—every Lazarus whom God puts outside our gate. As St. John tells us today in the Epistle reading: “We love because He first loved us.” Instead of using our good things in life solely for ourselves, we get to use the good things given by God to help and serve the people around us.

So, which of the two men in Jesus’ story would you rather be? Perhaps Proverbs 8(:10-11) can help with that. Wisdom, personified in the Son of God, says: “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” You see, our Wisdom, our Lazarus, our Savior, comes to us today in His Body and Blood. Let’s take, eat, and drink, for here is the true sumptuous feast. Here we learn to trust our Savior and love our neighbor. Here we learn to be like Lazarus and rejoice in our Savior’s deliverance. Amen.

01 June 2015

Homily for Holy Trinity

"Trinity in Unity for Us"
John 3:1-17

Listen here. 

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Perhaps you remember that song from a few years back, “God Is Watching Us.” Many thought it was a nice Christian song. After all, it mentioned God. But there was a major problem. It sang about God watching us “from a distance.” It ranked right up there with the old “watch-maker God” image—that God made the world, wound it up like a watch to run by itself, and then went somewhere else in the universe. How can we be close to a distant deity? How can we be attached to a detached god? We cannot. And we certainly cannot have our sins washed clean by a god who won’t get his own hands dirty with us. And we certainly won’t be made a community with him, if he won’t associate with us.

There’s a lot of mystery in the one, true, Triune God. On the one hand, Scripture says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Dt. 6:4). And, on the other hand, God also identifies Himself as three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—when He sends His apostles out to make disciples by baptizing and teaching (Mt. 28:19). Then get ready for how we will confess Him in the Athanasian Creed: “we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” So far this might seem rather philosophical, even distant and detached.

So, what does it mean that we confess the Triune God? Do we want to be saved from sin, death, and the evil one? Then hold on to “the catholic faith.” And what faith is that? “that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” No, He’s not a distant deity. Our Triune God comes close to us. He attaches Himself to us. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit come to us in very real and personal ways. He dirties His almighty hands to cleanse us from our sinful weakness. Trinity in Unity for us.

Too often we like to compartmentalize God. We put Him in various boxes. There’s the Sunday morning box. Sunday morning is the time for God, we think, but the rest of Sunday and the other days of the week are ours to do with as we please. We think and act as if our ever-present God were rather absent and detached from our everyday lives.

Then there are the “Trinitarian boxes”—one box for each Person of the Trinity. As we learn in Catechism class, the Father created us, the Son redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit makes us holy. True enough! But then we box the divine Persons in. “Pastor, we’re supposed to pray to the Father, right?” “Right.” “And in Jesus’ name, right?” “Right.” Is it wrong, then, to pray to the Holy Spirit?” Not at all. Let’s remember that when we pray to one we pray to all, and when we pray to all we also pray to each one.

And here’s another thing to watch for. In some modern, “creative” worship services, God is almost divided into three gods. The invocation might be changed to go something like this: “In the name of the Father who created us; in the name of the Son who redeemed us; and in the name of the Holy Spirit who makes us holy.” At first we might think, “Wow, some nice variety.” However, if we take the words at all seriously, we end up having not only three Persons, but also three names. Three names can open the door to thinking of three different gods. The Biblical wording, though, still works best: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” One name, one God, and yet still three Persons. True God. True worship. Trinity in Unity for us.

You see, everyone has a god. The real question is: Is it the true God? Politicians, businessmen, and radio talk show hosts often give a lot of “god talk.” Pop music might even sing of “god.” Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses even speak of “god” and “gods.” But which god? Everyone has some kind of a god. It could be money, or power, or fame, or learning, or even the spirits found in a bottle. It might even be the ever-present “get-along-with-everybody-and-don’t-make-anyone-upset” god that wants to downplay the teaching of Scripture and the Church. As Martin Luther said in his Large Catechism: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress…. Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (LC I:2-3).

Today, Trinity Sunday, is about the true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—making Himself known to us. Our God has a passion to make Himself known to us and for us. Jesus tells us about God loving the world and sending His Son, and He also speaks of being born again by the Spirit.

God makes Himself known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Three Persons. And yet He always works for a unified purpose: to love us and have us as His very own people. Because of His great love, He created us. After we fell into sin, and even in the midst of our daily sinful thoughts, words and deeds, He loves us to redeem us and bring us back to Himself. And in the Christian faith and life He works all things to keep us as His own precious people. As Scripture says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:4-5).

Now if that isn’t great Good News, I don’t know what is! Just think of it. All of your joys and sorrows now take on a new light. Whatever happens to you—good or bad, joyous or grievous—the true, Triune God is always working to keep you as His own. Take, for example the recent storms and flooding in Texas. Such disasters show the raw power of God’s creation, a creation that only He can control, a power that rightly humbles us. And yet Jesus the Son of God shed His blood to redeem everyone affected by storms, tornados and floods. And the Holy Spirit constantly works to make known the saving deeds of Jesus and bring true comfort to the devastated regions.

And best of all, the holy Trinity and blessed Unity worked most gloriously at the cross and empty tomb. God makes Himself known to us by rescuing us from our sin and death. God’s good creation took a rotten turn. We masterpieces said to our Maker: “We don’t want You anymore; we’ll be our own gods.” We still say that as we box God in, as we keep Him at a distance, as we try to detach ourselves from Him. It’s no wonder that when we endure sufferings, we think God has abandoned us or left us. The truth is, we’ve left Him.

So the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all three together in Unity—work to bring us back to Himself. The Father shows His love for us by sending the Son to sacrifice Himself on the bloody cross for us. When Jesus the Son died for us, God died for us. The riches of God and His grace are in the blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, the very blood we receive today in the Supper. So the Son bowed His head and gave up the ghost. But then the Holy Spirit breathed life back into Him on the third day. Now He breathes new life into us. Three Persons of the Godhead work to rescue us from sin and death. That’s the new life we have when we are “born of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5).

It’s also the new life of community in the Church. Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a unified community, He joins us together in a community of loving and serving each other. We live in that community here at Hope as we hear God’s Word, receive His Sacrament, and care for one another, always learning in humility to count others more significant than ourselves (see Phil. 2:3). We also live in that community as we say farewell and Godspeed to brothers and sisters whom God has placed here these past several years—the Palmer family. Even as they must leave us, we still remain in the same family, the same community, of Jesus’ Church. Yes, we need each other, just as we need the Trinity in Unity. When our Triune God lovingly rescues us from sin and death, He also binds us together in His community called the Church.

God’s singular plan of making us, saving us, and keeping us holy comes from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:1, 5). Even today the Spirit delivers that peace with the Father in the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. So, our lifelong prayer, indeed our way of life, echoes the hymn: “My Maker, hold me in Your hand; O Christ, forgiven let me stand; Blest Comforter, do not depart; With faith and love enrich my heart” (LSB 876:4). Amen.