Monday, November 30, 2015

Bit and bridle [Advent 1; St. Matthew 21:1-9]

On this first Sunday in Advent, Jesus speaks to you saying,
“If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once.”

Consider the donkeys. They are not parade horses or Rolls-Royces. They are not flashy or attractive, yet Jesus frees one and rides one in order that it be known that He is King of kings. Yes, we are to see that this humbles Jesus, but what does that mean?

The hymn of the day will give us our first clue. As printed on your bulletin, Jesus is on His way. He comes from the Father and returns to the Father. His road goes down to hell, but He returns to the right hand of God. Partly by using this donkey.

Consider this donkey who worked for a gardener. Because the gardener made the donkey work very hard but gave him very little food, the donkey prayed for another master, so the donkey was sold to a potter. The donkey also found this situation unbearable, since he was forced to carry even heavier loads than before. He prayed again, and this time the donkey was purchased by a tanner. When the donkey saw the kind of work the tanner did, he said, 'Oh, it would have been better for me to have kept on working for my previous masters in a state of starvation! Now I have ended up in a place where I won't even get a proper burial after I die.' (The donkey and his masters)

Repent! Even though the crosses you bear are from God Himself as good for you to have, you wish to be free of them. You turn to sin in order to blind your eyes from burdens you may carry saying, “Let someone else worry about it” or “I have to take care of myself”. In this sense you have much to be freed from.

In the second half of the Gospel reading, the donkey is freed only to be ridden. Now, that seems a might backwards. You’d think freedom would be getting to do whatever you want and not what someone else wants to do.

In fact, another parable comes to mind about a donkey that had turned aside from the main road and was heading for a cliff. The driver shouted at him, 'Where are you going, you wretched beast?' He grabbed hold of the donkey's tail and tried to drag him back from the cliff, but the donkey did not stop and instead kept going forward. So the man pushed the donkey even harder than he had pulled him back and said, 'Go ahead then! You can take the worthless victor's crown in this blasted contest.' (The driver and the donkey)

Repent! Had you been born a donkey, you would have been happier having at least the excuse for being stubborn and selfish. Yet, since you are human, you consider it your right to be such a person, diving head-first into sin, especially in front of those whom you despise.

With all this in mind, Dr. Luther compares humanity to donkeys. Really, the scripture does so, but in a nicer way. Isaiah says that we are all like sheep and have gone astray (53:6). That means: away from belief. Dr. Luther puts it in a harsher tone. So strong is the desire to sin in your bones that you need to be ridden in order to be free.

Thus you are either ridden by the devil or ridden by Christ.

Dear Christians, can you now see that having Christ as your master is true freedom? Satan does not even ride you, he simply binds you up and leaves you in your sin, watching as you destroy yourself in it. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle…” (Ps.32:9)

However, it is not enough just to cut the rope, for a loose donkey is still a donkey. No, the donkey must be changed in order that he see clearly, think clearly, and act clearly.

Jesus becomes a man. He is born of a virgin into the bondage of sin and death; your sin and death. He takes on your chains of burden and torment that steer you towards a cliff and bathes you in His glory, allowing all those near to shout “Glory to God in the Highest!”

Christ baptizes you into His majesty. By becoming bound by our sin and dying, He opens the kingdom of heaven to you. Jesus leaves His pure and kingly hall to ride around on a donkey in order to take back His kingdom through the cross. God of God yet fully man, Jesus unties the sinner in His sacraments.

The sinner made saint is not ridden in slavery, but ridden in love. Such love our Lord has for us, that He gives us a right spirit and a clean heart in order that we hear only good news from His lips. This is neither slavery nor bondage, it is true freedom.

To hear the Word of God and believe is faith-giving. To hear the command of Jesus, to be baptized and believe, is salvific. To hear the invitation to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins is not oppressive, but liberating.

True life is found only in Christ and true freedom is only given out by the only Son of God. As slaves of Christ you have been untied from sin, death, and the devil. As bearers of Jesus’ Gospel, you have been made to see, talk, and think clearly. As recipients of all that Christ has won for you on the cross, you are free.

The truth is, we are not neutral. We either have one master or the other and Jesus makes it so that the choice is easy and that all the work associated with it is accomplished. For, as He comes to take on the flesh of man, He comes to set you free.

Jesus came in the flesh, as one of you, yet with out sin. He came humble and riding on a donkey, heading towards the cross. Through this, Jesus accomplishes the mighty task of salvation, which we prepare to see the beginning of at Christmass.

Thus, with the whole Church, and the donkeys, we wait to hear of this wondrous love that elevates a lowly donkey to a noble steed; that glorifies you as the object of Christ’s love so much, that He hands Himself over to death, in order that you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear the holy things of God.

G.K. Chesterton writes this poem from our friend the donkey’s point of view:
When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

In Advent, we wait for our hour that Jesus gives to us. The hour when the Son of Man is glorified. The hour when God is reconciled to sinners. The hour when Christ takes on human flesh, dies upon the cross and frees us from our bondage of sin.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Bridal care [Ultimate Sunday; St. Matthew 25:1-13]

On this, the final Sunday, we once again find ourselves faced with the End of all things as Jesus returns one final time and says to you today,
“And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

The hymn of the day, which you just sang, is a wedding hymn. The wedding hymns which we sing, reveal a Bridegroom and a Bride. There is nothing about love, care, equality, vows, or commitment.

You all used to be in agreement that marriage was about Christ and the Church, but you didn’t like that, so marriage has become what we make of it. When was the last time you heard hymns at a wedding? When was the last time you heard about Christ and not the couple, at a wedding? When was the last time there were virgins at a wedding?

You can say that it’s a sign of the times and you can say that it was better in the old days, but that is just an excuse. There were the same problems then as there were now, its just that the internet wasn’t around to air out every body’s dirty laundry.

The reason there is even a wedding in the first place is because there is marriage. The reason there is marriage in the first place, is because there is a Bridegroom and a Bride and they must get together, thus saith the Lord.

In God’s first words to Adam, He says that it is not good to be alone and so the first marriage was officiated and we could say that there was a wedding. That wedding was very plain. There was no reception, no vows made, no music, no mention of the couple doing a thing. There was only God and His Word.

Compare that to a modern wedding. The focus is on the couple for the wrong reasons. The focus is on their love for each other, their commitment to each other and their words to each other. We say it is “their day” and so whatever they want goes.

And boy does it go. At least most people still are getting married, to each other, as man and woman. There is no end to what marriage has become today, since it is just something we made up and nothing to do with God at all: same sex couples, three or more people, relatives, animals, inanimate objects.

It is time to separate the permanent from the passing. To burn away the chaff. To say to the world, “You have taken what is God’s and have run too far with it.”

But, you don’t. You don’t want to get rid of anything that is fun, or that your friends think is fun, or that you’ve been taught is fun. You are the foolish virgins who not only fail to bring oil, but turn instead to the worldly merchants to determine what is valuable and what is not.

Repent. The true pain of being turned out to the merchants is that your lamp is not good enough to hold true faith. The real disappointment of trying to prepare yourself for God is finding out that everyone falls asleep. Even you.

Yes our lamps go out and we seek other means to light them. Similarly, we get bored of waiting and watching the same old weddings day in and day out, that we need to spice things up a bit, even going so far as to leave the church out altogether.

The point is, we are not supposed to be involved in Church. We are not supposed to be able to participate in weddings, marriages, or even births of other humans. These things all belong in the realm of the divine, for God has created all these and He still takes care of them.

What you miss in all things is the Bridegroom. There is only a Bride, because there is a Bridegroom. In this case, the reason there is marriage at all is because of Jesus and His Bride, the Church. The only reason there is any cause for celebration is because the Bride was dead, but now she is redeemed.

The 10 virgins are not praised for their lamps or the amount of oil in them. They are not even praised for staying awake. They are praised by being in the presence of the Bridegroom. The fact that any of this takes place, is all because of Jesus.

You see, when Jesus gave Adam and Eve in holy matrimony, He wasn’t simply bored and thought, “hey, this oughta be fun to see.” He was showing us Himself and what He was about to do. However, where Adam and Eve enjoyed their experience, Jesus did not have a pleasant wedding, by earthly standards.

For one, Jesus had to coordinate His own party, which consisted of enemies and false accusers. Then, He had to make His own garments, which happened to be His own blood. Thankfully someone else made the decorations: crown of thorns and the cross, but He did have to give Himself away and give His mother away.

You have a Lord who became man, suffered, and died so that you would know that He is a man, that He has created a Bride, the Church, and that they are married. In Love, Jesus gave us marriage and by grace He lets us participate in it.

In Christ, you are given god-like powers. You are allowed to give birth; to create! You are allowed to get married, a state reserved only for Jesus. You are even allowed to forgive and be forgiven.

In Christ, we worry not about lamps, for Jesus has filled ours to the brim. He has filled our lamp, filled our reserves, trimmed them, and stays awake for us. His wonderful gift of salvation ensures you that His Church will be at the right place at the right time.

For, remember, this is the Church getting hitched and you are a part of the Church, by baptism. Therefore, where the means of Grace go, there the Church goes. Where the Church goes, you go, for we follow the voice of the true Shepherd: “Take and eat”.

Where our attempts at godliness fall far short, Jesus has completed these for us. You don’t have to worry about imperfect ceremonies angering God. You simply have to rejoice in what Jesus has given to you and be thankful that marriage is not what you make of it, but what Jesus perfects it as.

You neither know the day nor the hour, but the Bridegroom knows you and has put His Name upon you, clothing you with His wedding garments. You are already a guest at the feast; you are already a participant, not in the work-up to it, but in the completed victory celebration.

Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Thou saint [Feast of All Saints; St. Matthew 5:1-12]

Jesus speaks today, in your hearing:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

It is no small thing that All Saints day is celebrated with White, symbolizing the resurrection, and the Reformation celebrated in place of a dark day of Hallow’s Eve. For, the people that in darkness sat, did so without the Gospel and without an understanding of justification by faith alone.

Thus, we have the light of All Saints in opposition to the darkness of sin; the promise of the Resurrection of all the dead set against the necessity for thick books of Concord and closed communion; the true light of Christ set in opposition to the Law.

And that light is heard in our Small Catechism where we say that it is the work of the Holy Ghost to call you by the Gospel, enlighten you with His gifts, and sanctify and keep you in the one, true faith. This doctrine points to the Beatitudes.

Jesus opens His mouth to teach His disciples. And contrary to all popular belief and teaching on the Beatitudes, they are about Jesus. They are not simply about Jesus, but they are only about Jesus, even though He speaks in the plural, which we’ll get to in a bit.

For now, Jesus is He who is poor in spirit. He is stricken, smitten, and afflicted for no sin of His own. He is abandoned and forsaken, even by God upon the cross. Jesus mourns, not just for His own city, but for you in your fatal sins.

Jesus is meek and mild, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mt.11:29). Jesus hungers. Jesus thirsts on the cross. Jesus is Righteousness itself, thus He is merciful, pure, and the creator of peace.

And for His own sake; rather, for His Name’s sake, He allows Himself to be persecuted to death. Reviled, falsely accused, and hung on a great evil tree, Jesus’ truly is the Son of God inheriting all His Father has prepared beforehand, for Him. Thus far the Beatitudes.

See what kind of love the Father has for Jesus! Not only do you get to see and follow Jesus to the cross, but that you, too, call Him Father and see the God of all Life emptying Himself, for His Name’s sake in order that He justify all by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ.

This is so, because nothing is impossible for God. It is not impossible for God to become a man, suffer, and die yet still retain the title of Almighty and Ever living. It is not impossible for God to be so weak that crucifixion could kill Him and yet still be found as the Lord of heaven and earth. In fact, it would be impossible for God to call Himself sovereign if He did not do so.

It would also not do, for God to leave you in corruption. It would also not do for God to lose even one of whom He has called. Nothing is impossible for God.

Only a sinner can be a saint and it seems that Jesus has an entire race of sinners that find themselves not so poor, not so mournful, not so meek, not so hungry, not so merciful, not so pure, and not so peaceful.

Dear saints at St. Luke, The Feast day of All Saints does not just celebrate those who have died in the faith who you will meet again; it does not just celebrate your own blessings. All Saint’s Day celebrates Christ and Him crucified, in which you hear of the righteousness of God and His love for the Son.

Being baptized into the Son, you find the great love of God directed at you, for the sake of Jesus. Blessed are you, for you are children of the most high. You are God’s children, NOW. This day. This moment. And you know, because Jesus is on the cross for you, that when He appears we shall be like Him, but even now, we are like Him. We are Christians.

Not just little lambs, but little Christs. You are now the sons who will inherit all the Father has created and recreated in His Son’s Name. Because you are justified in the sacraments the Holy Ghost gives, you are Christ-like: poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful, and persecuted.

These Beatitudes describe Christ and now also describe you who are baptized into Christ. There is no distinction that the Father makes between you and Jesus. In Christ alone, these Beatitudes are promises Jesus is making to you; promises that He accomplishes and perfects, for you.

For you cannot by your own reason or strength come to Jesus nor can you believe in Him. With this impossibility to be overcome, the Lord of impossibles overcomes. In His Christian church on earth, the Holy Ghost daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers, by faith alone.

Reason, strength, or action have nothing to do with your salvation and this is why: do you know why All Hallows Eve has become Halloween, a celebration of all things evil and dead? Because the world gets it. The world knows that, in order for all Saints to happen, there must first be evil and death.

So, more than Jesus declaring blessings to us in Christ as we remember the dead in faith, they are not dead! Christians do not remember the dead, but we remember the living. For behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a twinkling of an eye.

When that happens, then shall come to pass the saying, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15)

The sting of death is stuck fast upon the cross of Christ and the victory has been stolen and given to us. Jesus is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living (Mt. 22:32). This takes place the moment you receive faith. This takes place the moment you receive salvation by faith alone.

You were once of the evening; dead in your sin and harboring the seat of all evil in your heart, and in baptism you died to that sin and evil.

And in the light of the dawning of this day, Christ has baptized you into His resurrection. Thus, you are dead, and yet you live. You are a sinner, and yet you are a saint. You suffer in your sin and the world’s sin here, yet there a place is already prepared for you.

A room in a mansion, furnished with milk and honey blest, where, on the table at the bedside, there is not a Gideon Bible, but a page from the Book of life. A souvenir, if you will, of when the Lamb of God read your name from it.

You hear it today as Jesus calls all of you to His Feast of forgiveness and salvation, with all the Saints, for by Faith alone you are justified. Nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification. It is not, in any way necessary that you be prepared and disposed by the movement of your own will.

It is only by Christ alone.