31 August 2020

Homily for Trinity 12 - 2020

"Freed from Isolation"

Mark 7:31-37

The deaf and mute man was cut off from everyone around him. Other people could talk, but the deaf man could not hear them. He could try to speak in his muffled, muted speech, but people around him could not understand a word he said. This poor man was isolated, alone in his own little world. Quite the lonely life. Until Jesus. When Jesus healed this man, He freed him from his life of lonely isolation. When Jesus restored this man’s hearing and speech, He also ushered him into a new and vibrant life of hearing and talking with God and other people.

Just as our gracious Lord healed the deaf and mute man, He also heals us. What He did physically for the deaf man in Gentile territory, He does spiritually for us week in and week out. Not only does He open our ears to hear Him and His message of mercy, but He also rescues us from our isolation. Not only does He loose our tongues to sing His praises and confess Him to others, but He also ushers us into vibrant life with Him and with each other.

The man’s deafness was certainly a result of Adam and Eve not listening to God in the Garden. His physical state of being tongue-tied was surely a result of Adam and Eve using their tongues to taste the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge—that one tree for which God said, “You shall not eat of it.” So when Jesus takes this man aside, puts His fingers into his ears, spits, and touches his tongue, our Lord reverses the age-old plague of sin and death. It’s a plague that closes our ears and shackles our tongues. It’s a plague that isolates us from God and from one another.

Perhaps you’ve noticed this plague of isolation when you talk with other people. Think of times when you and a family member are just not communicating well. You’re both speaking English; your mouths and ears are functioning fine, giving and receiving sound waves. You can hear and understand each other’s sounds and syllables. But for some reason he or she is not hearing what you’re saying; you’re not getting what he or she is talking about. You’re isolated from each other.

Such conversations lead to frustration and misunderstanding. Then, instead of listening to what the other person is actually saying, you’re planning your response to something just said, or you’re strategizing how to make your next point or “win” your case. Or, worse yet, as the other person is talking, your mind is off in a galaxy far, far away, wondering what’s for dinner. Your ears and tongue may be functioning just fine, but you’re still in isolation.

Our isolation really shows up when we get upset with what other people say to us. A friend may say something as a matter of fact, but you take it as a put down or an insult. You might take it as an obstacle to some dream or hope that you have. Perhaps you invite your friends over to play cards. They respond, “Sorry, we can’t make it. We have a prior commitment.” In your isolation, you start wondering, “Am I not good enough?” or “What’s wrong with me?” It’s the isolation of our sin and death.

This isolation especially separates us from God. When we get so wrapped up in our own little world of daily demands and hectic schedules, listening to God in His Word is far from our minds. We may talk a lot with loved ones, friends or colleagues, but talking with God in prayer? We tend to put that off, tell ourselves we don’t know how to pray, convince ourselves we’re not that good at it. Do you ever feel like your tongue is shackled when you pray? It’s our isolation of sin and death.

It’s the isolation that Jesus comes to heal and wash away by His blood. As Jesus healed the deaf-mute man, He also heals you. As our merciful Lord had compassion on the man isolated in his deafness and silence, He also cares enough to rescue you from your sin and death. This same Son of God joined Himself to our human flesh and blood to restore it to God’s original design. This same Lord of mercy endured the isolation from His closest disciples as they fled from Him. This same Lord hung on a cross carrying the full weight of humanity’s sin all by Himself. This same Savior plunged into the deep, dark isolation of death in order to open the graves of Adam, Eve and all the dead so that His vibrant life might burst forth for all to enjoy.

This same Jesus comes to you in your Baptism. He puts His fingers into your ears, spits, and touches your tongue even as the Spirit-filled waters cleanse you from sin and give you life. With your ears opened and your tongue loosed, you are brought into the Lord’s Church. Here you are no longer alone, no longer isolated. Here you get to enjoy the vibrant sounds of God’s Word and the joyous notes of praise sung by people around you. Here you learn how to live in harmony with others healed as you are.

This same Jesus comes to you in Confession and Absolution—and not just the general Confession on Sunday mornings, but especially when you come to receive the Holy Absolution in private. Here you get to confess those specific sins of not listening to God or to your loved ones, friends, or co-workers. Here you get to confess your many ways of isolating yourself from God and your fellow Christians by your self-centered thoughts, words, or deeds. And when you confess, your pastor speaks our Lord’s healing words into your ears. Yes, your pastor is a sinner like you, but what matters is what your Lord does. In the words of Absolution, your Lord Jesus again puts His fingers into your ears to open them up. And when your ears are opened in the forgiveness of your particular sins, you get to enjoy the vibrant sounds of life with God and renewed life with people around you.

And in the Eucharist, your Lord Jesus again touches your tongue so that it can speak and sing His praises and then build up your neighbor. Think of that as you come to the Lord’s Table this morning. With His very Body and Blood under the bread and wine your Lord looses your tongue from those unkind, bitter, even judgmental words you speak against someone near and dear to you. Unshackled from such sins, your tongue has new life to thank and praise God. Your tongue has new life to speak kindly to and graciously about people around you. Strengthened and fortified by Christ’s life-giving Body and Blood, you may use your tongue to declare the wonderful deeds of our Savior. As the hymn leads us to sing:
“Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name” (LSB 528:1-2).
The daily prayer liturgy of Matins begins with these words: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” That’s what our tongues were made for! “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10). But we don’t do that in individual isolation. No, we get to speak, sing, and praise in the Lord’s Church even when we pray alone at home. The Matins liturgy also sings what our ears are made for: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells.” When our Lord opens our ears and looses our tongues, we are rescued from our isolation. We are restored to life with Him; we are rejoined to the people around us. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Now we get to listen well to our loving Lord and to our neighbors. Now we get to speak God’s wonderful deeds and build one another up in love. Amen.

24 August 2020

Homily for Trinity 11 - 2020

"In Which Line Do You Stand?"

Luke 18:9-14

“Get in line, now!” Remember your grade school teacher’s voice repeating that command, several times each school day? Much of our school days were about learning how to stand in line, wait in line, and practice proper “line etiquette.” Stand right behind the child in front of you, not to the side. Don’t squirm or fidget or push others. And certainly do not, ever, cut in line. That got you into trouble in the lunch line and when you went out to recess. No one likes a line-cutter. After all, that’s cheating. Instead, be good, stand and walk single file, wait your turn, and you’ll get where you’re going in due time.

The reason we learn to stand in line during the school day is so that we can properly stand in line the rest of our lives. It’s a skill and an art form. All the more so these days, trying to stand on those social distancing stickers or mentally measuring the appropriate six feet. We do it at Schnucks when we get our groceries. Oh, and the scowls that come when that guy three people behind you cuts ahead of you when you weren’t looking!

Then there’s the sense of shame that comes from standing in the wrong line, waisting your time and having to go to the end of the other line. Think of the DMV, when you go to renew your driver’s license. You walk in, grab your little paper ticket with the number on it, and wait. (At the DMV, sitting in chairs is just another form of standing in line.) Finally, your number is called, you go to the desk and the gal sitting there says, “Sorry, this is the line for plate renewals. You’ll have to go over there and take another number.” So you start all over again.

Today’s Gospel shows two examples of getting in line. The Pharisee was a line-cutter, for sure. He strolled past everyone else and went to the front of the line. The Pharisee had priority. He deserved attention before anyone else. He pulled out his credentials and laid his papers on God’s desk. They were proof of his rights and claims. The Pharisee also knew to be polite. So he politely thanked God. It was only politeness, of course, because he was a self-made man. True thankfulness is the response to a gift. And accepting a gift means admitting you need and receive help from someone else. The Pharisee wasn’t going to admit that and weaken his case. He didn’t need any help. He trusted in himself. But it was still nice to be polite and thank God.

As the Pharisee stood at God’s desk, he looked around at others in the office. “A pretty sorry bunch,” he thought to himself. There’s the man who can’t get customers into his electronics shop. He must be overcharging them, underserving them, or both. Then he sternly looked at the child who suddenly wailed…and even more sternly at the irritated mother who had just corrected her child. The Pharisee saw no one who was like himself. This made him feel comfortable and pleased. His chances were good.

Most of us find it both necessary and gratifying to see someone as less than ourselves. We like our car more when we see that it’s better than someone else’s. When things go wrong in our lives, we console ourselves that others are worse off than we are. We crave being better than others around us. It may be in stronger muscles than the other guy or in a better singing voice than that gal. It may be in making a better salary or having better behaved children.

The Pharisee had no problem finding people less than himself. So he listed his superiorities. He fasted twice a week while most ordinary folks fasted only once a week, if that. The Pharisees thought that their extra measure of fasting would make up for, even atone for, those other schlubs who obviously had more sins. And while the “hoi polloi” would busy themselves at the unclean marketplace, the Pharisees would fast with special services and prayers—for the sins of those at the market, of course.

The Pharisees did the same with the tithe. God’s Law required a tenth of your produce or income. But those poor farmers and traders did not give the required tithe. So Pharisees upped their ante. Not only would they tithe on their income, but also on whatever they purchased. After all, that flour or sheep might just be untithed goods.

So the Pharisees did have a lot to show for themselves. They did live clean, decent, useful lives. They did their best to fulfill God’s Law and be responsible for their neighbors.

Now before we condemn those Pharisees, we should compare their exemplary lives with our own. How many of us are ready to give 10 percent twice to the Lord, first for our income, then second for every purchase we make? How many of us look down on the Pharisees for relying on their works? After all, we Lutherans know we’re saved only by grace through faith; it’s the gift of God, not a result of works. No, dear saints, we may not condemn that Pharisee. Instead, we must learn to recognize and condemn this Pharisee, the one each of us sees in the mirror. You see, each of us measures himself/herself over against other people and finds himself/herself bigger and better than they.

This is not even the height of being a Pharisee. That comes when we take God’s Law and use it to glorify ourselves before God Himself. We think we are good, decent and moral people. We actually expect God to agree with our good opinion of ourselves. We conclude that we are self-made persons whom God Himself should admire and look up to. But such lofty evaluations of ourselves only block us from seeing God, from seeing ourselves alone in His presence.

There was someone that day who did know that he stood alone in the presence of the personal, holy, living God. And he was afraid. He did not get in the line; he stayed outside the church. That line was for the good people who had tamed God. This man didn’t even think he knew how to pray. He did not know the proper phrases or gestures. He just blurted out the truth about himself. He was a sinner. He needed mercy. He cried to God.

Realizing this comes not from comparing oneself with other people, but by standing in the presence of God. There every pretense and deception is stripped away. How does God judge each of us? He says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). We are not at all as God is. He is holy; we are sinners. No amount of comparing ourselves with others can change that.

So the tax collector blurts out: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He thinks other people may be all right; he does not judge them. He stands alone before God. It’s between him and God. And sinners have no rights before God. He gave God the right to condemn and reject him. He was a sinner and needed God. He cried to God for blood-bought mercy. Only by the mercy of God could he stand. And so he returned to his house having received mercy. He returned with God. The tax collector was in the right line after all. This line has a sign above it that says: “For Sinners Only.”

Our Lord Jesus does not condemn the exemplary life of the Pharisee, nor does He commend the dishonest life of the tax collector. He simply points out how the Pharisee tries to negotiate and bargain with God, while the tax collector surrenders every right and claim. You see, mercy is possible only when you surrender yourself into God’s hands and God’s decision.

The Pharisee could not and did not do that, but the tax collector did. And he, by God’s grace in Christ crucified and risen, went down to his house justified. He was given mercy by the bloody sacrifice of Jesus. He was forgiven. Now he was God’s free, joyful, and grateful man.

So the question for you is this: in which line do you stand?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Amen.

17 August 2020

Homily for Trinity 10 - 2020

 "Peace in Both Realms"

Luke 19:41-47

Listen here.

When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, it’s both a spiritual thing and an earthly, political thing. On the one hand—the right hand—our Lord wept that His own chosen people did not know “the things that make for peace.” They did not know the time of their “visitation” by the One who came to bring peace between God and sinners. On the other hand—the left hand—Jesus wept that the earthly Jerusalem would be destroyed by enemies who would surround it, build a siege mound to invade it, and tear it down to the ground. This would happen in AD 70 under the Roman emperor Vespasian. God’s ancient city of peace, including the temple of stone—where God would come to visit His people—would be razed to the ground. So Jesus wept. He wept over lack of peace in both realms.

It’s most fitting to ponder the two kinds of government God has established among us humans. Luther said this about the first kind of government: “The one is spiritual; it has no sword, but it has the word, by means of which men are to become good and righteous, so that with this righteousness they may attain eternal life. He administers this righteousness through the word, which he has committed to the preachers.” We call this the “right-hand realm.” This is the Church.

Then Luther wrote of “the left-hand realm”: “The other kind is worldly government, which works through the sword so that those who do not want to be good and righteous to eternal life may be forced to become good and righteous in the eyes of the world.” This is the earthly, political realm. Righteousness in this left-hand realm does not lead to eternal life; only righteousness by faith in Christ can do that. But God does give us the left-hand realm so that we may have peace among people and enjoy other temporal blessings. Luther concludes: “Thus God himself is the founder, lord, master, protector, and rewarder of both kinds of righteousness” (AE 46:99-100).

Our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—does indeed rule over all things. He “has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). He rules over all people and the entire world as the Creator. In this reign of power He seeks to maintain and sustain His creation. But our God also reigns in grace over His Christians, His Church. This is His gracious and saving rule. It leads us to look forward to the resurrection of the body and the restoration of His creation when Jesus returns on the Last Day.

Until that day, though, we live, work, and play in the wild, hectic, messy intersection of God’s two realms—the earthly, political left-hand realm and the heavenly, spiritual right-hand realm. Now we might have a clue as to why 2020 has been so crazy! Not only are we dealing with the COVID pandemic, economic shut-down and reboot, destructive rioting and rising crime, but it also happens to be election season. What does that mean for life in the left-hand realm and in the right-hand realm? After all, we live in both realms at the same time.

In 1831, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville made a nine-month visit to the young United States of America. He wanted to study American social practices, laws, and politics. His book Democracy in America is the record of his journeys and the journal of his reflections. Tocqueville called a presidential election “a moment of crisis.” He compared it to a river overflowing its banks, as in a flash flood. Tocqueville wrote: “As the election draws near, intrigues intensify, and agitation increases and spreads. The citizens divide into several camps, each behind its candidate. A fever grips the entire nation. The election becomes the daily grist of the public papers, the subject of private conversations, the aim of all activity, the object of all thought, the sole interest of the moment.” Yep, still true! Nothing new under the sun. Then, Tocqueville says, after the verdict of voting is rendered, the river “returns peacefully to its bed” and calm is restored (pp. 151-153).

The question before us as God’s people in 2020, then, is this: how do we participate in this time of election-year “crisis”? How do we confess our Savior Jesus even as we weigh the issues and enter the voting booth? How do we vote “Christianly”? How do we keep in mind the things that make for peace in both realms?

In our Gospel, Jesus wept because His people had forgotten their God and His Word. They neglected God’s design in all of life—the vertical dimension of fearing and loving Him above all things and the horizontal dimension of loving their neighbors as themselves. They had the appearance of godliness but denied its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Since they focused only on the outward, earthly, political realm, they did not know their peace—Jesus in the flesh—nor the time of their visitation—His coming to bring the peace of sins forgiven.

In a similar fashion we too run the risk of not knowing the things that make for peace nor the time of our visitation from our Lord. We live in a culture that has forgotten God, where everyone turns to his own course and many hold fast to the deceit that humans rule and control the world. We breathe that same air and stew in those same juices. We set our hopes on vanquishing a new coronavirus, even though we still cannot cure the common cold. We believe the right policy will overcome oppression, crime and injustice, even though all wickedness comes from the fallen human heart within each of us. We look to political parties, candidates of choice, and campaign promises as the ultimate solutions to our problems rather than relying on the Savior who brings the only true peace in all things.

As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, though, He was on His way to achieving that peace between fallen, fearful human beings and the God who rules all things. When He cleansed the temple and drove out the money-changers, He also liberated the sacrificial animals. They would be needed no longer. You see, He came to be the temple of God in the flesh. He came to be the once and for all sacrifice to bring peace—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, in both realms. He went to the cross outside the earthly Jerusalem to bring you into God’s gracious presence in the new Jerusalem, His Church.

Your Lord Jesus still comes for you to know the time of your visitation. Once He came in blessing, all our sins redressing. Now He comes to keep bestowing His forgiveness and peace by means of water, word, and meal. These are His things that make for peace.

And His peace leads you and I out into the earthly city. What do we do there? We bear witness to our Lord and the peace He brings. And if 2020 is any indication, the earthly city desperately needs some peace! You and I are called to take part in the political life of our nation. No, we do not seek to establish a specifically “Christian government” or enact a some uniquely “Christian agenda.” But we do seek to serve and love our fellow human beings. We take part in our nation’s civic life with the common sense that comes from God’s Truth.

In our time, we Christians are called to rise above the usual bitter divides of red vs. blue, Republican vs. Democrat, right-wing vs. left-wing. God’s peace in Jesus frees us to engage and vote based on God’s Truth. What do I mean? Instead of looking at life in the civic realm through red- or blue-colored lenses, we look at it through the prescription glasses of God’s commandments. After all, God’s commandments give us clarity in seeing His design for all of life. And when we follow that design the best we can in the civic realm, life runs more smoothly, more peacefully in the civic realm.

So we might want to ask questions such as:

  • Does the candidate, the ticket, or the political party support and defend God’s gift of physical life, from womb to tomb and every moment in between?
  • Does the candidate, the ticket, or the political party honor and promote God’s gift of marriage between one man and one woman? Do they safeguard the nuclear family?
  • Does the candidate, the ticket, or the political party seek to let people improve and protect their possessions and income?
  • Does the candidate, the ticket, or the political party strive for contentment over the baser urges of envy and jealousy?
  • And, most of all, will the candidate, the ticket, or the political party at least acknowledge God Himself? Will they be at least okay with the worship of God, the calling on His name, the hearing of His Word and how all of that shapes and influences people to live out their lives in the civic realm?

Such are things that make for peace in the civic realm—God’s left-hand realm. Since you and I live at the receiving end of God’s peace in His right-hand realm—peace that comes only from Jesus once on the cross and Jesus now given in water, words and meal—we can live and labor for the peaceful benefit of those around us. Amen. 


10 August 2020

Homily for Trinity 9 - 2020

"Free to Be Shrewd" 

Luke 16:1-13

Listen here.

Put yourself in the shoes of the manager. For some time you’ve worked for this successful, very wealthy man. He has always been fair and honest—a good boss. He’s also a shrewd business man. He seeks out and acts on every good business opportunity he can. He’s one of those CEOs who wants to bless and benefit others. Because of this, the company has done quite well. Your boss also has many loyal clients. They rent property from him so they can plant, grow, and harvest their crops, usually olive oil or wheat. From their harvests they pay the rent to your boss—various agreed upon amounts of olive oil or wheat.

Your job has always been to manage these business transactions. Make sure the rent comes in on time. Keep the ledger to show who owes how much and who has paid up or not. Inventory the olive oil and wheat that come in and how well they sell in the market. Your boss has entrusted you with a great responsibility. He has trusted you to keep everything running smoothly. As his “estate agent,” you’ve done well and made a good salary. The business owner and all of his clients all seem to respect the job you’ve done.

Until now. Out of the blue, just this morning, your boss came to your workspace and said, “You’re fired. Please hand over the company’s accounting books, gather up your things, and be gone by the end of the day.” You were stunned. You did muster the courage to ask, “Why? What have I done?” The boss said, “I’ve heard word about you, how you’ve been dipping into the profits, taking olive oil and wheat for yourself. You’ve been squandering my possessions.” Then the boss left.

Squandering? Then you remember that story Jesus told—the one about that willful, prodigal son demanding his inheritance while his dad was still alive and then going off to another country and squandering it on the party scene. What wretch that guy was!

Now what will you do? You’re not in shape for strenuous manual labor. And rely on handouts? Never! One of the landowners must have seen something and said something. How could you be so careless? Yeah, not exactly the right thing to dip into the profits for yourself. But now, your family, how will you feed them? Remorse can wait. It won’t help you land on your feet. Now what? Time is short. This is an existential crisis.

Then it hits you. You know your boss is honorable, truly a man of mercy. So you call in his debtors. You tell them to reduce their rent payments. They’ll think he gave the order and you’re simply implementing it. They’ll be happy and, hey, one of them may even give you a job. Perhaps you can land on your feet.

What happens when the boss—this man of mercy—hears what you’ve done? He actually commends you! No anger, no dressing down. No, he does not approve of your dishonesty or your cheating. He did have every right to throw you in jail for your theft, but he didn’t. Instead, he compliments you on your shrewdness, your street smarts.

There’s one major problem with this parable from our Lord’s lips. It’s not that Jesus commends the dishonest manager, as troublesome as that appears. The real problem is that it’s so true. You and I do not have to pretend to be the dishonest manager—put ourselves in his shoes; we ARE that dishonest manager. God Himself is the rich man—the One who owns everything under the sun. He is the wealthiest, fairest, most honest One. And He shows Himself merciful. You and I are but His managers, His “estate agents.” We can only work with what belongs to Him—His possessions. Even we belong only to Him, not to ourselves.

We ARE that dishonest manager, and Jesus confronts us with that truth. We have wasted and do waste His possessions in thought, word, and deed. We routinely squander our heavenly Father’s possessions—both physical and spiritual—in selfishness and “ingrown eyeball-itis.” (That’s another term for “sin,” by the way.) It could be money and stuff. It could be Word and Sacrament. We squander it and deserve to have the management taken from us, forever.

What do you do with such an existential crisis? What do you do when the wealthy, merciful God of the universe confronts you, gives you your pink slip, and says, “Out of my presence”? You can’t do anything. There’s no human escape from this crisis. The solution must come from outside yourself.

Just as the manager in the parable did, you must trust the character of your Master—God—and stake everything on His mercy. He shows that mercy by sending His only-begotten Son to be the best and only honest manager. He comes, bringing all of the Father’s treasures, and He cancels your debt, your dishonesty, your doubts, your fears, all by going to a cross. His forgiveness for you is honored by His Father because of that death on a cross.

Your Lord Jesus is also shrewd in dispensing that cross-won forgiveness for you in the anointing of your Baptism and in the wheat of His Supper. When you have, receive, and use your Lord’s Sacraments, you have an eternal home when this earthly home fails you.

So it was the master’s mercy that freed the dishonest manager to be shrewd. Jesus highlights this with His parable punchline: “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” When you stake everything on your Lord’s mercy, you are free to be shrewd—but shrewd with honesty—in all of life. After all, Jesus also said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise—that’s shrewd (same Greek word)—as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

Let’s pray for shrewdness, or wisdom, in all of our management of God’s possessions, everything from His money and stuff to His mysteries of the Gospel and the Sacraments to our dealings with one another. His mercy in Christ frees us from our mismanagement and dishonesties. Now we are free to manage and use all things for His glory, for the good of His Church, and to benefit our neighbors.

On that note, let me encourage you in some shrewdness and then thank you for some shrewdness. First, the encouragement. I encourage you to view our time together in this place as both “political event” and “peaceful protest.” After all, this is the city of God in the midst of the city of fallen man. This place is God’s embassy in a foreign land, as are all Christian churches faithful to His Word and Sacraments. We are called to peacefully protest all the injustices and oppressions of our sinful flesh, this fallen world, and the devil himself. We must protest when leaders find ways to keep churches closed, punish them for opening, or otherwise muzzle the Gospel. We must protest when leaders prompt us to suspicion of one another, division from one another, and reporting one another, even over what we wear or don’t wear on our faces. Most of all, we must protest the old evil foe who stirs all of this up to distract us from the Lord’s mercy and our life together. After all, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil, especially in times of pandemic and pandemonium.

Now the “Thank you.” Please receive a hearty “Thank you” for your shrewdness in stewardship these past few very trying months. During this time when so many people, families, businesses and even churches are struggling, you—all of you—by God’s grace, have made sure that Hope congregation is not struggling. In fact, we have been operating in the black and continue to do so. And all it took was a pandemic to bring out such shrewdness! So thank you for strongly supporting the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of Jesus’ Sacraments. Thank you for taking care of your servants, both called and hired. And thank you for your shrewdness to use “unrighteous wealth” for our Lord’s eternal purposes.

Our Lord’s mercy frees us to be shrewd for the sake of proclaiming Him. Amen.

03 August 2020

Homily for Trinity 8 - 2020

At Peace with Sin, or with God?
Jeremiah 23:16-29; Acts 20:27-38; Matthew 7:15-23

Listen here.

Notice what God condemns through the Prophet Jeremiah: the notion that you can be at peace with God and at the same time be at peace with the sin in your life. In Jeremiah’s day false prophets were telling people, “It shall be well with you.” They were promising this to people who “despise the word of the LORD” and “to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart.” But you cannot eat your cake and have it too. You cannot cozy up to sin and cozy up to God. You cannot coddle the rebellions of your heart and yet maintain saving faith and a living relationship with the living God.

Jeremiah gives the only antidote to this foolish dreaming of the prophets. Those prophets had infected the people with a spiritual lethargy. God wants to heal them by waking them up: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

Yes, God’s message to you today is a fire that purges and cleanses from sin. It’s a hammer that smashes and breaks your stone-cold, rock-hard human heart to pieces. Nothing can stand up to that Word when it is spoken faithfully. Sure, a person may rebel against it. He/she may say, “Go away God! I will live life my way.” But that does not make God’s Word any less effective. Its fire will still burn. Its heavy blow will still fall and break to pieces.

So, do not imagine, even for a second, that you can live in peace with sin and with God at the same time. If anyone suggests such a thing, they are a false prophet. They are just like the prophets who lied to Israel. And Israel found out the hard way. They discovered that those preachers who said, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), were only belly-servers and soul-deceivers.

This is not just a problem for the Old Testament people of God. The same problem runs through the New Testament. In today’s Gospel our Lord says, as plainly as He can: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Then He tells you how to spot them: “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

The fruit of a prophet is what results from believing his teaching. What happens if you take a false prophet at his word? What fruits bud and grow in your life? If you were to listen to the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, and take to heart what they preached, you would think: “Hey, I can do whatever my little heart desires, after all, God will forgive me no matter what.” In other words, their teaching bore the fruit of leaving people unrepentant for their sins. It left their hearts in a state of rebellion against the Holy God of Israel. That’s how you can tell if you have a false prophet on your hands and in your ears.

Jesus could not be clearer, or more blunt: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” He says it flat out. On the Last Day some will say to Him: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?” To them He will give the sad and tragic reply: “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

“Lawlessness,” Jesus says. “You thought you could serve sin, even rejoice in it, and still enjoy My presence? Don’t you understand that I came to destroy sin? Don’t you get it that I came to free you from sin’s shackles, not to strengthen their hold on you?” Remember, Jesus went to His Cross, bearing the full load of your sin, so that you could be forgiven and stand in the Father’s presence. He poured out His blood for you. He blotted out the handwriting that was against you. He became a curse for you in order to free you from the curse of sin. He did all of this to set you free from sin’s tyrannical clutches. Yes, He bought you as His own flock with His own blood, the very blood of God.

In Acts 20 we hear Saint Paul speaking in concord with Jeremiah and our Lord Jesus. Paul warns the Ephesian elders—the pastors—to pay careful attention to themselves and to the flock that the Holy Spirit committed to their care. Paul forewarns them that, after he leaves, fierce wolves will come in among the flock. They will even arise from among their own number. They will speak twisted things to draw disciples to themselves, and thus away from the Good Shepherd. And what could be more twisted, and more certain to separate them from the Shepherd, than telling people: “God forgives you. Go ahead and continue in your rebellion”?

Paul does what every good pastor must do: he commends them to God in prayer. He commends them to the message of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. After all, only Jesus is able to build them up and give them “the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

So, have you have been playing with sin, enjoying its hollow promises and fleeting pleasures? Have you been toying with it, serving it, living in rebellion against God and His ways of life? Have you been holding a grudge, slandering, committing sexual sin, being disobedient to the authorities that God has given you? Have you been a slave to food or drink? Have you been thinking that you can do whatever you want without a care for God or the people around you? Have you been thinking that you can live life on your terms, yet still cling to and enjoy the grace and forgiveness of God? If you’re vertical and breathing, you certainly fit in there somewhere. So I invite you to hear God’s Word of grace for you today.

You cannot cling to both self-seeking sin and God-given forgiveness. In fact, your whole life as a Christian should be one of constantly fighting against the sins that you enjoy far too much. We call that repentance and faith. Your whole life should be marked by repentance—by a changed mind, a changed will, and changed loyalties—changed from fearing and loving earthly things to receiving the gifts of God. Remember how Luther teaches you to live in your Baptism. “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Here’s the comforting, healing Good News: Even though you seek to be at peace with your sin, God still wants you to be at peace with Him. God still cleanses you. God still nourishes you to enjoy His mercy, His grace, His presence instead of your sin. No matter how defiled, no matter how rebellious and sinful, no matter how deceived by false prophets, He calls you to Himself, the Crucified and Resurrected One. In the blood and water that once flowed from His pierced side and now flows through the sacred Font, He washes you from your sins and sets you free to live for Him. In the same body once nailed to a tree and the same blood once spilled from the Cross, He comes to you again today at His holy Table. He who puts an end to sin and conquers death feeds you with His forgiveness and life. He calls you to come to Him and let Him give you His forgiveness—to hear from the lips of your pastor the Absolution that sets you free from the chains of your sins and covers you with His perfect righteousness. He wants to unite you to Himself and pour out His good Spirit into you.

So, beware of false prophets. Beware of anyone who suggests to you that you can stay safe and secure in your sin. Beware…and flee. Flee to Jesus, the True Prophet, who conquers the sin, who rescues you from its clutches, and who gives you life and strength to live with Him. Amen.