Monday, August 25, 2014

Death schmeth [St. Bartholomew; St. Luke 22:24-30]


The artwork on the front of the bulletin is a bit different today. On it you see a shield with three flaying knives. Knives used to clean skin off game hunted in the wild to prepare it as food for the family of the hunter.

This is the shield of St. Bartholomew, whose saint day, very appropriately, we celebrate today. Not much is known about St. Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, but he was an Apostle. As the Collect stated, he was an Apostle chosen specifically by Jesus, to preach the Gospel. The price of which, was his life.

Thus, the shield and the tradition. That St. Bartholomew was flayed alive and crucified to be mocked by his enemies, but to imitate his Lord showing forth the same suffering and death as Jesus. For, as Jesus speaks to us today in verse 29,

“I assign to you as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom”

Before St. Bartholomew left to preach the Gospel, after the Ascension, he knew what he was getting into. Just as it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise again, so also with His Apostles and saints. There will not be prestige, popularity, or comfort. Riches will not come pouring in with millions of followers all waiting for what you have to say.

Instead, their lot is with Jesus; for better or worse. Our lot is with Jesus. In the confession of belief you all make today, you throw your hearts in with Christ leaning on Him and not your own understanding. You don’t know how all this works or how it pertains to everyday life, but Jesus gives clear promises.

Jesus assigned to the Apostles to carry His Word to the whole world. Tradition has St. Thomas making it to India, but that’s it. For all intents and purposes, the 12 Apostles failed. Even St. Paul, the most traveled of the bunch, only made it as far as Rome.

So it was handed over to those coming after them to continue the work of preaching the Gospel. The Apostles laid their hands on new men, ordaining them to teach the Apostle’s doctrine, to communion, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.

All of which Jesus handed over on the night when He was betrayed. All of which continues to spread, regardless of the deaths of millions of Christians. Which is a funny thing, because, usually when something is deemed non-profitable and non-cultural, it tends to die out, especially when it comes to religion.

For example: Islam has survived by the sword ever since its inception in the 8th century A.D. It is now simply a cultural identity. If you are Arabic or of middle-eastern decent, you are muslim. There are converts, but they are second or third-class, compared to those with direct genetic connection to Mohammed. They use death as a means of grace, moving from one country to another and forcing submission upon all either in the form of oppression or physical death.

This is a lie that has served Satan well. Satan and all unbelievers believe that death is the great purifier of the world. That through it, I should say by it, domination can be realized. Godly domination even, for God said to have dominion. Thus, in order for himself to be like God, Satan must spread death and thereby spread his reign over the earth.

He is not successful. It is true, Christians lose their lives for the faith by the thousands everyday, but the Faith is not stopped. Someone is always there to continue to proclaim the death of Christ in their bodies and , if needs be, with the death of their bodies.

For God’s true religion has been around since Adam and Eve. It has not changed, as some have surmised, from Judaism to Christianity, it has always been Christianity, or trust in the promise of God’s chosen. It has also not morphed in modern times to include everything and anything that resembles religion today. Christianity centers around one thing: Christ.

Just as Jesus is prepared to be born a man, grow in wisdom and stature like us, and prepared to go to the cross, so are we. In sin, we carry suffering with us wherever we go. Suffering because we battle against it. In bearing our sin, Christ suffered, was crucified, and was buried. He was being prepared as an offering to the Lord.

For the Father assigned, or ordained, Jesus for the explicit purpose of dying on the cross. It was divinely necessary that Christ suffer all things and die, in order to purify the world. IN rising again from the dead, Jesus has brought all things under His feet. He has accomplished total and complete dominion, even over sin and death itself.

Because death is not a means of grace. Jesus does not harness the power of death or consult with it in order to accomplish His task. He allows it to power up completely. He allows it to work its worst upon Him. He allows it the first punch, but death is nothing in the face of life. Death has failed.

Not only is there an afterlife, but events IN that afterlife. Death does not stop activity. The lie is that Christ has not accomplished what He set out to do, because of the cross and the tomb. The Truth is that, because of Easter, all other “truths” are a lie.

In rising again from the dead, Christ has shown that death has no dominion over Him; it could not hold Him. This means that all of God’s activity in history, that Jesus says is in the Old Testament was true and everything else was a lie. True religion is not cultural or geographic, but Christo-centric. It belongs to those who are a part of Christ.

The Gospel that was given to Adam, Noah, Moses, David, Isaiah, and the Apostles continues on, because Jesus continues on. Christianity is alive and thriving today, because her Lord is alive and thriving today. The Church stands against the gates of hell, because Christ has passed through them and come out victorious.

There is no such thing as a dying Church, a small Church, a weak Church, or a false Church. The subject preached in the Church is invincible and everlasting and those who are baptized are a part of that, literally.

Jesus has come to bring abundant life and gives this through His Sacraments, for it is through that Gospel that the Church lives on and lives on. Not only is it the life-blood for all who believe, but it is a life-blood that not even death can stop the pumping of it.

Thus, St. Bartholomew, the rest of the Apostles and all the saints can proclaim Jesus on the cross, for the world. This is why the shield of St. Bartholomew is knives, instead of a cross or fish or some other Christian symbol. Because knives, crosses, guns, swords, or lies can not stop the love of Jesus from dying and rising again.

Death has no power. Laugh at it. Make fun of it. Spit at it. Defy it. Dear Christian, death has no power over you anymore. Christ has baptized you into His eternal, godly body and will not let you go. Do not fear death, for the lie of Satan has been made true, in Christ. You will not surely die, you will sleep, for you are like God, being a part of the Body of Christ.

St. Bartholmew shunned those knives. St. Andrew and St. Peter derided their crosses. Death is but a slumber and they are resting with the Lord. The only reason we keep crosses in Church is because our Lord died on it for us. We do not worship that instrument of death, but the Lord who sat on it for our sins, dying our death in order to give us life, which you all now have and feast upon.

 For what the Father has assigned to Christ, He now assigns to us: first to suffer then to be glorified, with Him, for all eternity.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dishonesty policy [Trinity 9; St. Luke 16:1-9]


Today, Jesus is demanding more community involvement from us as He speaks to us, saying,

“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light”

 

In this, we hear the unrighteous ("dishonest" in the English) man praised for his shrewdness. Hear that again: The unrighteous man is praised. Christ makes a man righteous and so it seems as if the Lord is praising one who has no faith! It is a faithless man that wastes his Lord’s possessions as if they were worthless.

But we can not make that conclusion so lightly, for he is still the manager and he is still in charge of his Lord’s possessions. Thus, we must make the hard conclusion that he represents you. That you have all of the Lord’s possessions and yet they are a paltry compared to the rest of your things. You have the Lord’s own authority, yet you waste it in prodigal living.

For, part of being shrewd is being particular and careful. Being particular means being intolerant of certain people and things. Not just any old thing or belief system will do and not just any person, what he says and believes, is worth changing for.

Also, you are careful. You know and believe what you know and believe and it will take more than an impassioned appeal to change you. Truly, the Greek word here is not just "shrewd", but "prudent". So, you being shrewd and prudent, care for what you have and treasure it too highly to be moved on a whim.

I think, in one aspect of things, the unrighteous man is not praised for his unrighteousness nor is he praised for his shrewdness, but what they produce; that is, mercy and honor. The manager is nothing without his Lord (yes, Lord not "master") and he knows it. He knows that he needs his Lord's goods to continue to live prodigally, if nothing else.

When he finally takes his Lord's possessions seriously, he is praised. When he again turns to the great worth of his Lord's possessions, not only does he honor his Lord, but mercy is produced. His Lord's possessions are so valuable, that even if its jut part of the bill, it is more than enough.

Repent! This is the Lord's condemnation against you. You are more likely to argue for getting correct change than you are to argue for a correct understanding of the Trinity. You are more shrewd in keeping your own things in order than you are with the right reading of holy Scripture and the things of the Lord's Church. You are more prudent with your own self than you are with the fate of your neighbor and his eternal salvation.

It takes the unrighteous man to honor the Lord and show you how to be prudent and it takes the dishonest manager to show mercy and teach you to be shrewd!

The Lord’s holy possessions are so singularly important, that Christ Himself comes to pay for and accomplish these life-giving possessions of the Lord. Jesus is so prudent and shrewd with His holy gifts that only someone who is a part of His holy and precious Body will receive them.

You see, Jesus is the dishonest manager. He is the prodigal Son that takes His Father’s heavenly gifts and squanders them on sinners and enemies of the Throne. Jesus brings life, light, and salvation and gives them out for free, even to those who reject Him completely.

Even our sins of impudence and wastefulness are forgiven. Not just that, but we are given new life in Christ. Where our debts mounted to the ceiling, Jesus has sat us down and told us to write out our bill as zero. Not just zero, but never ever anything other than zero again.

In Jesus dying on the cross, He has redeemed us lost and condemned creatures. By His holy, precious Blood, we are converted from unrighteous to righteous; from wasteful to shrewd; from prodigal to prodigal.

Ha. Yes we remain prodigal, because the only way to deal with the Lord’s gifts are to spend them recklessly and spread them foolishly. Recklessly, as in using them as often as possible and foolishly, as in giving them away to any and everyone, for free.

Christ died, not just to save the world from sin, death, and the power of the devil, but to give a correct understanding of God. Jesus, on the cross, is why we hear the Apostles talk about the wisdom of God, the glory of God, and especially the Love of God. All of that is wrapped in one man, Who is both God and man.

Jesus reveals to us the Love of God; that He is merciful and slow to anger. That He desires not the death of the sinner, but is willing to die INSTEAD. This sacrifice then earns these means of Grace; these possessions of the Lord, to which we cling for dear life.

These Sacraments are where Jesus has promised to hand out salvation, not at the cross. We do not return to the cross for the gift of Life, Christ comes to us. In so honoring His Father’s goods, Jesus produces an infinite amount of mercy; mercy shown to the sinner and revealed to be the only goods or possessions worth anything.

We sit in abject poverty of spirit. We can’t handle our own government. We can’t deal with refugee children or the poor asking for help, much less can we handle our own bodies which work against us.

What we can handle is what Faith gives us to do. We can remember our baptism, where Jesus first called us and saved us completely. We can remember His Word, where Jesus again calls us, gives us faith and saves us completely. We can remember His death and resurrection by eating and drinking His true Body and true Blood where Jesus calls us, forgives us, and saves us completely.

Jesus now stores up His Father’s possessions in His Church. Those who believe in Christ are constantly in possession of salvation and know that it is only through Christ that these gifts are given. Thus, by communing with them, we are communing with our Lord and proclaiming His death until He comes again.

Jesus became unrighteous, taking on the sin of the world, in order to make you righteous. So that His perfect life of obedience and sacrifice would not only be yours, but for all who hear the Gospel. For this great and inexhaustible gift is for everyone. The Lord invites the entire world to eat of the fruit of salvation found in His Son.

The world is hungry and Jesus satisfies that hunger. Our own community is in need and Christ is the only One to fill that need and He has. The world has been saved. The sinner may find forgiveness and salvation. Man is once again reconciled to God and is at peace with Him.

And that’s what the dishonest manager is praised for. He is not praised for his own works or the fruits of them. He is praised for being a part of the Lord. He is praised for living with and in the Lord’s possessions and treasuring them so much, that He is willing to risk certain judgment in cutting those bills, in order to proclaim mightily, how valuable gifts of Christ truly are.

We are praised by God, not for our obedience, nor for our good lives, not even for our ability to hide our sins. We are praised because Jesus is praised. We are rewarded, because Jesus is rewarded. We are saved, forgiven, and redeemed because Jesus has purchased and won us. Not by any works we did. Not by any faith we had and certainly not by any accomplishments we made in the name of the Lord.

 We are saved solely by the merit and worthiness of Jesus. He gives it all to us, even before we think about the word “God”.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Like, hungry, man [Trinity 8; St. Matthew 7:15-23]


The Lord Jesus Christ speaks, not just to His generation, but to us today.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”


For Jesus is speaking of false prophets; prophets who hide behind their own deeds and say they are from the Lord. He is not just warning of the prophets of His time, unless they live forever. He is talking about prophets today.

For there are still false prophets today and they do not change their ways or methods. As Christ tells us, they are ravenous. They hunger and thrash about seeking those who resist in the faith, to devour. In this we know and believe that Jesus is God and His word is truth, because the false prophets are here, just as He said.

As we are hearing about fruit today and talked about bread last week, it seems rather pertinent. What is it that these pseudo, hidden prophets are after that they would degrade themselves so much; that they would look and sound like their most hated enemy?

Of all things, they are seeking the Faith! They look for it and they are drawn to it. It calls to them in the depths of their despair and they can't help hearing the words "fruit" and "bread" from the Lord's lips. They hunger and thirst for a righteousness they do not want and so they are never satisfied, because they eat and drink to their condemnation.

And there was war in heaven (Rev.12). There was war, as the book of Revelation tells us, over who was going to eat a child born of a virgin with a crown of stars. She conceived and bore a son the dragon wanted to devour and yet the Son was lifted up, away from him and the Virgin placed out of his reach. Instead, says our Lord, the dragon and his demons made war against her other children. Those birthed by water and the spirit and "who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus."

So, there is war on earth. The wolves against the sheep. The goats against the sheep. The dragon versus the Lamb. But this is not a war "against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Eph.6)

Make no mistake. The enemy is at our gates. We sit comfortable in our suburban and rural lifestyle thinking that satan would never come here. But it is precisely in these areas of comfort and peace that the danger is highest. The wolves convince you that there is no such thing as themselves and no such thing as reading the Bible correctly. Everyone just has their own opinion and they are entitled to it.

Repent of your sins! You think it is bad for the Iraqi Christians and you would be right. However, they have their enemies in black and white. They have the beast in front of them demanding the renunciation of their faith. As horrible as their murders are, they have an easy choice: Forsake the faith or die.

You deal with wolves clothed as sheep. You deal with the honey-tongued snake that whispers peace and rest, where there is no peace and rest. And the evil part is, you do not recognize them. You don't want to anyway, because what they say and promise sound so good and they do it all behind a loud and hearty, “Lord, Lord!”

St. Paul gives us a clue, from the Epistle today (Rom.8:14), in saying that the good fruit must be from the Spirit of God; in other words, from the Holy Spirit. St. Jeremiah clears up this saying by squaring our aim directly on those who despise the Word of God, as the bad fruit (Jer.23:17).

The Word of God, then, speaks directly and says that the ONE entering the Kingdom of heaven will be the man doing the will of His Father. Yes, there will only be ONE doing the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven. There will only be one sacrifice for the sin of the world. One Lord, one Faith, one baptism.

In the depths of our sin, we confuse ourselves so much over who is saying or doing what and how it makes us feel. In the midst of all that so-called fruit, we miss the point of Jesus’ words completely. We don’t have to look for the wolves; remember: THEY ARE HUNTING US!

Of evil, there is much fruit. Of Good there is only One. The Good news is that we don’t even have to look for the Good tree or the Good fruit, for it is brought to us. In fact, there is only one Good tree, just as there is only one Good man, which not only makes it easy to find, but easy to gain simply because it is given to us, by God.

You know the false prophets because Jesus has revealed Himself as the True Prophet. You know the lies by the presence of the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Jesus has offered Himself on the tree in place of Adam and Eve to undo the work of the devil. Jesus hangs on the tree of the cross, as a curse for the cursed, as bad fruit for the bad trees, in order that this tree of death, would be remade in to the Tree of Life.

On that cross, uplifted, Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath to the very last drop. By Jesus’ scorn and shame, He has purchased the bodies and souls of every last person on earth. By Jesus’ Body and Blood, He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. By His dying and His resurrection, the grace of God is shown and salvation’s living fruit is freely given.

This cross; this tree of wood that the world, the false prophets, and our sinful nature calls bad, is now overflowing with life eternal. This bad tree could not bear the Good Fruit of God and so Jesus was rejected by it. Jesus was rejected by death and by doing so, was destroyed. Death died with Christ and now Christ will never die again.

You who are grafted into this Good Tree are now known, not by your own works or your own lives, but by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. You are purchased and won by virtue of Baptism which attached you to the life of this Good Tree; this cross. The life you live is now by Christ and therefore, by the Spirit of God.

Thus, you are all sons of God. You all show forth the works of Christ. You all, in and by Jesus’ Name, do the will of His Father in heaven. For now He is our Father, who art in heaven. Now we are made a part of the Good Tree. Now we are the heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, bearing the Good fruit of the Spirit.

As former wolves, we continue to hunger. Yet now the Spirit drives our hunger towards the Bread of heaven that satisfies, heals, and fills us with the love of God, completely. The Good Fruit found on the cross is offered by the Holy Ghost in all of its salvific glory into the hands of believers to whom Jesus says, “I DO know you; come to me, you workers of righteousness.”

Amen.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Doctrine is life [Trinity 7; St. Mark 8:1-9]


There are three important rules that every Christian must memorize and yes, there will be a quiz. They are, as follows: Context, context, context.


In our context, context, context today, Jesus is speaking to us saying,

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him…”


The question begged is, “In which days” and looking at the surrounding passages, we find that they were spiritually dry days. At the end of chapter 7, Jesus must heal a deaf and dumb man of which we will hear on the 12th Sunday after Trinity. Also, in the verses following today’s Gospel, there is tempting God and no bread to be found, by the disciples.

So, in those days there was little faith. Men were blind, deaf, and mute, not just physically, but also towards the Word of God. Men were tempting God in asking for a sign and even those seeking God were complaining of not having bread. Indeed, the times in which Jesus placed Himself were wicked.

Even in the Temple itself, there was a lack of real spiritual food being given to the people. So much so, that Jesus felt the need to teach there all the time and return, on multiple occasions, to kick everybody, but Himself, out.

All this is driving at the presence of sin in every person, through and through. So, all this context is not just coincidental. The other Gospels may be in different order, but that does not mean that order and context don't matter. It's not just a nice story about a man, so this event happened and this one did too; as if nothing around it matters.

It does matter. Yes, the gospel writers placed different stories sometimes in different order, however, their intent is clear: to teach and to preach. To teach you doctrine and today you are to learn two of these doctrines from St. Mark. 1) You are a blind, deaf, and unspeaking sinner and 2) only Christ can make you otherwise.

You see, the account of the healing of the demoniac in Mark 7, was not coincidental to the feeding of the 4,000. Jesus is building up to when the disciples confess Who He truly is and yet failing to see Him in the breaking of the bread. From this section of St. Mark, I'm sure St. Paul gets his argument that "the wages of in is death".

If the wages of sin is death and you sin, even if it is jut once, you die. What is it that dead people do? This is where doctrine becomes important, because it will teach all about what it is, exactly, that dead people do. Either they are dead and stay dead, contributing nothing and doing nothing OR they are only figuratively dead and are able to work towards not being dead.

Doctrine tells us that dead means dead. That Jesus really meant what He said and that the Disciples, because they did not recognize the Bread of heaven right in front of them, were blind towards God, deaf towards God, and not actively seeking Him.

Repent. You the sinner are in dire straits. You have a need for life that you are not aware of and are not able to find. In sinning against the Law of God, you are actively dead. Your role, and the role of the entire world, in the Bible, is that of the demon possessed man. No matter your intent or actions, you are a slave to sin.

And so the disciples ask the very obvious (though not to them) and very pertinent question: "Where shall we find bread in the wilderness" of the graveyard. Where is there anything to eat in this wasteland of a cemetery?

Dear Christians, God gives the sign and it is His Son, in the flesh. For outside yourself, God works out salvation completely. Jesus has come in the midst of the deaf and blind to do His work. Jesus has come to a world in full rebellion against Him, in order to die on the cross for it.

While you were yet sinners Christ revealed Himself and died for you. While you were yet deaf, dumb, and blind Jesus gave you Faith by speaking to you. The doctrine Christ comes to give is handed down to us through His Apostles. Through them the Gospel was written down. These men are the eyewitnesses to all the things Jesus said and did and you hold their testimony in your hand.

Not only is their testimony in your hand, but also the Lord’s Testament. The sign of salvation that the Jews are looking for is in feeding. The true medicine for the deaf and blind is bread from heaven. The sure-fire way to rid yourself of the leaven of the Pharisees is to replace it with the bread of Jesus.

The only way to feed the dead in sin is with the true Body and true Blood of Christ.

You see now how context comes together. Not only is the demoniac fully healed and reconciled to the Lord through feeding, but the disciples are strengthened in their faith against all doubt. For the Lord insists on feeding His people and it is there, in the Lord’s words, that faith can not doubt.

No matter how many changes you go through in life; no matter how many different ideas you have about who the Lord is or what He’s doing; no matter how small your faith is; when and where the Lord promises salvation, Faith hears and believes.

Though the Lord’s work inside you is being brought to perfection, Jesus’ work of salvation outside of you has been brought to Perfection. The only promise inside you is to work out that salvation completely, in the end. In Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, He is doing just that. Jesus is throwing everything out, standing up, and saying, “Now what is left of importance?”; “Where WILL you get bread to feed all these people in the valley of tears?”

Jesus’ words can no more be altered, than His actions. Not just has Jesus healed, exorcised, and fed, but He has died and rose again. Not only were these actions for those who were alive back then, but they are for you, today.

The Gospel comes from outside of you and is preached to you. You change, but it stays the same. The same Christ, the same cross, the same salvation. The Sacraments come from outside of you and are administered to you correctly, according to the words of Jesus. They also remain the same: the same promise, the same Word, and the same forgiveness.

Christ dies on the cross even though everyone else thought He should not do so. God worked out salvation even though we think it should be flashier and more inviting. Jesus has laid this all out in a certain way and in certain words for you and spoken to you that you may believe.

Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, does not change His doctrine of salvation in order that you may always find forgiveness of sins intact and unchanged.

Amen.