Monday, April 27, 2015

Free will [Jubilate; Easter 4; St. John 16:16-22]

Jesus speaks to you today, saying,
18 So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.’”

There is a very popular myth that is perpetuated among you and it appeals to your very nature. So much so, that you tend to let it shape your entire worldview, even without thinking.

That myth is that the human will is free. The myth is that, in the cosmic battle for the universe, you have a duty to pick a side and God really wants you to pick the right one, so if you just let Him, He will help you and in turn, save you. Maybe.

Where this myth stems from is the fact that you can, as a human, control things close to you. You can speak certain words to certain people to get things done. You can choose what you will have for lunch. You can determine your own itinerary for the day. You can even choose who you will be around and who you will keep around you.

In our modern day of marvels, you can also control your environment. You are no longer bound to suffer under the biting, below-zero wind chills. Neither must you bear the intense heat of the August day. You can sit in a car, or building, or house and condition the air to your liking.

Not satisfied with just the environment, you are able to determine your own health. You can exercise, eat right, and thereby alleviate many ailments and even old age. Much more, with modern knowledge of genetics, we can even weed out the crippling diseases from society, even before a person is born.

In fact, modern possibilities seem so endless, that we must sit down in wonder and declare, “Is there no end to what we can accomplish?”

Thus, you and the world conclude together, that the human will can accomplish great things, maybe even things that last for eternity. Such as determining destiny, changing the outcome of the future, or even aligning oneself with the universe, simply by willing it to be so.

Although I’m sure the intention is well meaning, the practicality of such things just do not turn up. There is no evidence that positive or negative thinking changes the world, Much less make us healthy or prevent aging or death. There is no evidence of karma or harmonizing with the universe and there is no truth behind being able to will anything to your desire.

It is all in your head and there it remains. Maybe you come across a happy coincidence, but more often than not, we find the human will is bound, not just by flesh and blood, but in sin.

Repent. In choosing the good or the bad in life, you believe you are on neutral ground and can either choose to be saved or choose the devil’s side. You believe that your right or wrong choices directly affect God’s kingdom and your own salvation.

The truth of the matter is that your will is bound in sin and bound to death. You can not choose to live eternally any more than you can choose to be saved. Those who commit sin are slaves to sin, no matter what (Jn.8:34). No matter how much the disciples will to do good, they do not understand Jesus.

Jesus tells us we are dead in our sins and a dead man can not will himself to life, much less to new life in Christ. Sin leads only to eternal death and because all have sinned and no one is without sin, ever, the will is also sinful, even if it wills to do good.

Dear Christians, your salvation; your freedom; your goodness is with Christ alone. In the Bible you will hear of this Christ, but you will not find a salvation you can work out, work towards, or will to be. Instead you will find that Jesus has willed and worked it out for you.

By grace you have been saved, not by works. How do you know what a work is? It is something you think you do for God. It is something that takes the glory away from Christ. It is something you think God has commanded you to do and, if you were to stop, you would no longer be saved.

Hear how Jesus says that in a little while you will see HIM. Not you, not your works, and not a guide or directions to heaven, but Him, Himself. You will see Jesus with marks on His hands, feet, and side. You will see Jesus Who was grieved because of your sin, but now rejoices that He has reconciled you to the Father.

By virtue of baptism, the merits of Jesus’ work are yours and Jesus’ will is your will. Jesus frees the will to act in the manner it was created to act: hearing God. In Baptism, you are assumed into the Body of Christ and are now free to believe the Gospel. You are free to love your neighbor as yourself and you are free to love God fully.

It is only in Faith that your will is free. Not free to do what it wants, but free to remember that you have been saved. Free to hear the Word of God. Free to believe and free to handle God’s means of Grace, even in your mouth.

In Faith, your hands, life, and will do work towards redemption. The disciples do not understand Jesus, because they will to follow Jesus and yet Jesus is going to the cross and that is something, they and we can not endure.

At one point, there were two wills in heaven. One was cast down like lightning and a third of the angels with him. There is only room for one will: the will that declares the whole world saved by the sacrifice of Jesus; the will that proclaims that Jesus is the end of the Law and of works; the will that reveals forgiveness in the breaking of the bread.

The will that is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Chasing the goats [Easter 3; St.John 10:11-16]

Within even the LC-MS, there is a humungous push to reach the “lost”, usually referred to as the “un-churched”. These are the people you deem as not having the privilege of growing up in the church like you and so you think that these are the ones Jesus talks about.

And sometimes He does. Jesus talks about how He was sent to save the entire world, not just some. Jesus says that His Gospel is for all people; that they might hear and believe. Jesus also commanded that His Gospel be preached and that is how Faith would be created in the sinner.

Thus, it logically follows that you are preaching Christ to everyone, but especially taking care to give it to those you see as never having heard it before. Understandably so, you want them to share in the forgiveness Christ gave so freely, so that’s what you talk about.

The problem is that Jesus is not so clear on this subject as you would like Him to be. In fact, all Jesus does is talk about “lost SHEEP”. Lost or found, a sheep is a believer and is who Jesus is after. Also, if we make the connection, a sheep is not a goat.

Jesus will only pronounce two judgments, on the Last Day: sheep or goat. There are no other adjectives. Jesus will not use “lost” or “un-churched” or anything like that. Simply two different groups of people: those who believe and those who do not.

For now, we put it simply: the sheep are the elect and the goats are not. So, when Jesus is talking about “lost” or “other sheep”, He is referring to those who have already heard the Gospel and are being saved. The goats are those who don’t believe, even though they have heard.

Repent. In your zeal to advance the kingdom, you have left the sheep behind and have gone chasing the goats. In your sinful blindness, you have mistaken the Lord’s mission with your own and have forgotten not only the sheep, but your own need as well.

Do you think that everything is grand with you? Do you think that, just because you don’t have it as bad as others do, that you are safe and have no need of hearing the same Gospel over and over again?

The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep and does so in the Church. You need the Church. You need the Gospel. You need to hear and be comforted. You need to listen and believe that this hospital, which we call Church, is your ward. It is necessary for you to remain in the ICU. Your life depends on it.

Jesus rules over the goats. They are those who reject care and medicine. They memorize and do good works, believing in themselves and the power of God in their lives.
Jesus says,
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me;” (Jn.5:39)

You think that the Bible is simply an instruction manual, before you leave earth. Jesus means that Scripture is not about you, your life, or the power therein. Yet, this is exactly what you think witnessing is. But what do you know of such things?

What your brain wants to delve into, your eyes can not see. You can not tell the difference between a sheep or a goat. Only God searches the heart. Only the Shepherd can tell and only the Shepherd’s voice brings the sheep along.

Dear Christians, hearing the Shepherd is hearing the Gospel. Jesus leaves His voice behind that the sheep might hear and follow. Jesus is the man Who is so concerned with the sheep that He purchases them with His own body and blood, giving His Spirit to His pastors, in order that they would preach His words.

Baptism is Christ working in the world and the place where salvation occurs. Being baptized, we have been given open ears to hear about Jesus. We are given a clean heart to believe and a right spirit to act. In the Word of God, we hear Christ crucified and Faith is created.

Living in this forgiveness, you are not concerned with reaching out or reaching in. To you, attendance numbers matter little. Faith wants to hear the Gospel. Faith needs this renewing, because daily you sin much and sin destroys faith.

For you, returning to the sheep-pen is the most important thing on your to-do list and it is always the top priority. For you, remembering and being reminded of your Baptism, hearing the Gospel, and communing with your Lord is all that is necessary in this life.

Jesus creates His sheep to hear His voice. Jesus creates His sheep to believe. Jesus preaches His Gospel in the Church, for His sheep are in need of tending. Jesus therefore sends them Word and Sacrament.

The Shepherd’s voice is in His Word. There is nothing less and nothing more in the Bible. Jesus searches the heart with His Sacraments. He finds goats and baptizes them into sheep. He finds sinners and preaches them into righteousness. He seeks out the wolves and Communes them into His very Body and Blood.

True missional work is done by Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the Word and Sacrament. These are the only things that convert and you need this conversion, daily. You possess both sheep and goat, inside, and lose the battle daily.

Jesus gives the Gospel and the Holy Spirit delivers it to you, in order that you believe that you can be, and are forgiven. Even your sins do not prevent you from being baptized into the One Flock.

Great are you sins, but greater still is the One Shepherd. For “where sin increased, there Grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through [the righteousness of the crucifixion] to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom.5:20-21)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Low and naked [Easter 2; St. John 20:19-31]

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

The same speaks to us today, saying,
25 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.'”

Today is lovingly called Low Sunday, not just because of the stark attendance numbers, when compared to last Sunday, but because Jesus is resurrected and we are not. Thus, the low feeling Christians get from being left behind, so to speak.

Now, because we are here, we must deal with ISIS, the erosion of religious freedom, and unbelief in general. What they present us with, is an increasingly tantalizing picture of life without belief and, as is evidenced by the low attendance numbers, we believe it.

Consider the lilies in this room. They are lovely, yes? The sight and the smell of any flower really brightens up the place. Yet, what happens when you open it up? What happens when you strip away the petals and the stem? You find that the inside is no longer beautiful.

In fact, if you strip away anything in similar manner, you find that all of stuff is composed of the same stuff and really not that special or different. We spoke of this lack of wonder on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus washed the Apostles. There is nothing special about stuff, it just so happens to be arraigned in a different way. It’s all the same.

The Church has been stripped in like manner. On the outside, she looks mildly pleasing. She has an appealing building that usually stands out in the neighborhood. She has signs to denote her position and what she is about. She has art and decorations and she usually amasses quite a few people doing whatever.

But, take away any of those things and you are left with a relativism that doesn’t care where you “do church”. Take away the artwork and you are left with boredom. Take away the interior design and you are left with a warehouse or pole-barn. Take away all that the Church holds dear to teach and to preach and you are left with nothing special.

It is at this point that American Christianity says, “Now we have made it”. They rejoice in the fact that they have finally stripped the Church down to her bare essentials. That now we have the basic fundamentals of “being a Christian” and it looks like a trampled and dissected lily.

Indeed, you have gotten so close to this truth, that you can finally declare everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted, everything is believed, and everything is ok. And when you believe in everything, you believe in nothing and you cease to be the Church, you cease to be Christian, and you become just like everyone else.

Repent. The move from belief to unbelief is incredibly easy and painless. It seems as if you hardly notice it. So much so, that our Lord tells us that the road to death is wide and easy to walk on. For when the Church is seen for what it is made of, it is not special, it is not different, and it is not worth your time.

Dear Christians, if you were to truly dissect the Church to its bare-most parts, you would not find “similar stuff”, you would find other-worldly stuff. You would find body and blood; you would find a soul; you would find a man, sitting at the right hand of God, ordering all things.

Jesus had seen the de-construction of His Church from the beginning. Jesus had seen the harlotry rampant among His own people and had even declared to them, “If you want to be bare and nonessential, then you can be. Let the barbarian horde be your new masters, instead of me.”

However, even greater than the harlotry practiced and the turning away from God, was Jesus’ turning to God. Greater than any of the atrocities and lies committed in the name of the Church is the atrocity of Christ on the cross and the truth that He has risen from the dead.

When you strip the Church down to its core, you find Christ on the cross. There are no “essentials” and there are no “fundamentals”. If you have to ask about which fundamentals are necessary to being a Christian, you have already lost the battle.

To all things Christian, Christ is fundamental. Jesus, both God and man, His Gospel preached, His Sacraments, and His sacrifice on the cross is essential to being Christian. If you cut one thing or another or doubt the validity of any of Jesus, you are missing the mark.

See the interaction between Jesus and St. Thomas. Jesus did not tell him to look for miracles, or to use the power of God, or to just have faith. Jesus said Look, Touch, Hear, smell, and taste. In fact, miracles and life changing events are so far down the list, that they pale in comparison to the crucifixion.

Between Jesus and St. Thomas is the revelation of the physical; the touching and seeing the Church. Jesus comes in this way which can not be set aside as non-essential. The Sacraments constitute and make up the entirety of the promises Jesus makes to you.

For it is there, with all your senses, that you find Christ crucified for you. It is in baptism that you are killed and made alive toward God. It is in the Gospel that you are remade in order to believe. It is in the Lord’s Supper that you are forgiven and saved.

Jesus has stripped away your false pretenses and false ideals. He has taken your very heart, crushed it into gravel, and has given you a heart of flesh. Your dry bones of novelty, sin, and death are burned away. You are baptized, now.

You are baptized into the entire body of Christ where there is no “unnecessary”. We don’t live by a life that is just the “bare necessities”. We live by the life of Christ: full and abundant. We don’t live in a Church that is “fundamental”, where we are looking for what we can trim to be more relevant.

We live in a history and a tradition that is not our own. We live in a salvation purchased in Blood. We live in a right Spirit that has traversed death and come out alive. There is a fullness to the Church that can only be expressed by us in words, art, song, and emotion.

After that, is faith: Faith that it has all been done for us, Faith that there is so much more than we can realize, and Faith to believe that it is all given to us simply and freely in the Sacraments.

Nothing is left out by the Church. She can be stripped of art, walls, and rights and yet still be the haven where Christ comes to serve eternal life in His Supper. If forced to live in exile or captivity, the Church’s one foundation is Jesus and His justification and nothing else.

And since we are children of the day; since we have such a great high priest; we are moved by the Spirit to fill this church. Not just with people, but with love, song, prayer, art, decoration and every other thing imaginable that will tell of Christ serving us in the Divine Service.

In Faith, there is nothing that a Christian can take away from the Church and be satisfied. In Faith, it is all necessary, because Jesus gives it all and promises salvation. In all truth, you can not peel anything away from the Church or yourself, for the life you live is not your own, but Christ’s.

The point is that, in His bloody and sacrificial death; in Jesus, God is stripped bare in order that we may see the true love of God on the cross for us.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

On the Resurrection (its real)

From St. John Chrysostom:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.
Forever and ever.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!