Monday, November 21, 2016

You shall doze off [Trinity 27; St. Matthew 25:1-13]


On this final Sunday, we once again find ourselves faced with fear as Jesus returns and says to you today,

We hear of one other person resting in the 3rd Commandment. In it the Lord demands a remembrance of the Sabbath Day. The day He rested from His work of creating. Now you get to rest in the same way God does. Its not obedience and its not that God stops working, its that you get to put your feet up and hear that it is God taking care of all things, even you.

How do you know? You hear and learn God’s Word. For it is only in hearing that you receive Faith and it is only by faith alone that you hold it sacred and learn it. One of the holiest works God gives you to do is to gladly hear and learn preaching and His Word.

It is easy to say that the 10 virgins do a bad thing by falling asleep, but I say to you they are hearing that 3rd commandment and obeying. It is not the work you do in keeping your lamp, it is the Lord’s work in giving and maintaining your lamp of faith. In the same way it is your duty to rest everyday, meaning hear and learn God speaking to you.

But you can not do this on your own. In order to hear, someone has to preach. Even the world understands this. Education is best given through a teacher. However, even though everyone hears the Word, not everyone reacts the same way to it. When the Holy Spirit enters, you either believe Him or reject Him.

Remember Daniel and the lions! King Darius had just come into power over all of the empire of Babylon. Daniel had gained his favor, so the king had heard the Word from Daniel and so had all the princes and other rulers. And when they heard it, they rejected it and conspired to throw Daniel to the lions.

But who else heard the Word? The lions! They heard God and obeyed, setting aside their normal God-given task of eating meat. They heard the ultimate power that created the universe and couldn’t help but believe that it was their Creator telling them what to do.

So we also hear Isaiah speaking God’s own Word and prophesying about lions eating straw like the ox. The Word of God is performative; it’s creative; it does what it says. If God said let black be blue, then it would happen. If God said day is night, it would be so. If God said come unto me all who are weary and I will give you rest, then that is what happens.

When God says take your lamps, meet the Bridegroom, and watch all these things are done to you. You are given the lamp, you are given the Bridegroom, and watching is a passive activity. All these things are given to you in order to comfort you and make you realize that God is doing the work, but that you are in the right place.

There is no command from God to keep your lamp burning or filled with oil. There is no command to create or make sure there is a Groom. There IS the command to be at the right place with the right equipment. There is the command to greet the Bridegroom when He arrives and there is the command to go with Him.

Repent. What God gives to His Church, He offers freely and abundantly. Church is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We could have Service everyday. We could have Bible class everyday. You can come in for private Confession everyday.

Instead we have Service once, maybe twice a week. Bible class is twice a week. We are the 5 foolish virgins seeking God’s Word in a place other than where God has said it would be.

Jesus is the Light of the World, which is better than any old lamp to begin with. Jesus is the Groom who chases after His bride in all her faithless wanderings. Jesus neither slumbers nor sleeps in His constant regard for your faith and your salvation.

Baptized into His Light, you are not a child of darkness, groping about as if blind to the facts. You understand. You see clearly. You know the height, the depth, and the breadth. Your mirror may be dim and your vision of the future cloudy, but Christ on the cross is visible through those obstacles.

The Word of God has called you by His Gospel. That sound has made you a child of God, birthing faith within you. So perfect is this gift that you become a virgin; fresh and clean. Free form any spot or blemish. The invitation for the feast goes out and you are there. The announcement, “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” is given and you stand in front of the Bridegroom.

Nourished and strengthened by the Lord’s Supper, you constantly receive forgiveness, which is your lifeblood. This is the blood of the Spirit which surges through your veins, creating a spirit of constant watchfulness. You want to hear more of God’s Word in Bible Class. You want to receive more of God’s Word in Church and you want to cry out to everyone else, “The Bridegroom approaches!”

This is your life now, in these last days. It is not “I better or else”, but “I can’t believe I get to!” It is simply unthinkable and unbelievable that God has made you like God. What Adam and Eve attempted in sin, God succeeds at through the cross. Not in lowering Himself, but in elevating you.

Whenever you speak God’s Word, you speak with the creative force that birthed the universe. Whenever you hear the Word, you are hearing the very words that sustain all life today. This is the gift that Jesus packs into a neat little box of a church and a convenient book. This is the gift you are given this day.

Nevertheless, there is greater yet to come. Even though such a wonderful series of events is taking place here, at the Word of God, but even more is to take place when Christ returns. The lesser is on earth. The greater is in the new heavens and on the new earth, living forever in the true Temple, that is Jesus.

The End will come and when it does, to be sure you will be in the right place by grace alone, but all this will pass away. It will not matter how bright your lamp is, how clean your clothes are, or how well you stayed awake.

It will not matter how rich or poor you were or how well you did this or that task set before you. Nothing else will matter, even this day. For you will look back and there will only be the narrow, golden path that lead you to Christ’s side. All the chaff will be burned away.

You will make it through unscathed, though you were scarred. You will make it through perfectly healthy, though you were full of disease. You will make through strong as an ox, though you were feeble. You will make it through richer than Solomon, though you could not even buy bread. You will find rest, though you worked to death.

You will look back and see that the only thing that mattered was you setting aside the work you do so that God would work in you.
For, if it is true that the living Christ comes among His gathered people to teach them and feed them in public worship, and
if it is true that the life of the Church flows to her from Christ Himself, then

what is more important than weekly gathering together to receive His Gifts and responding to Him with our prayers and offerings?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Power [Trinity 26; St. Matthew 25:31-46]


So, Jesus speaks to us today in His Gospel and says,

We hear Jesus and see His life has led Him to a glorious throne and we ask, “when do I get one”? Many followers of Jesus, however, think this is just fine and have no problem submitting halfheartedly and blindly to a Jesus they have made up. A Jesus that is so powerful and so far removed that He only demands submission and blind obedience, or else.

This kind of power all men wish to obtain. The power over the masses. The power to impose will. The power to be popular and liked and to gain god-like status among followers, inducing religious zeal and tears. This sort of thing is not exclusive to religions. Any gathering of people for a certain cause gains this unfortunate obsession with power.

So, you must ask these 5 questions to any person who wishes to have power over you:
  1. What Power Have You Got?
  2. Where Did You Get It From?
  3. In Whose Interests Do You Exercise It?
  4. To Whom Are You Accountable?
  5. How Can We Get Rid Of You?
The answer to the first question varies. You may be the next president of the freest country in the world or you may be a husband or a father. Either way, power here usually only comes in the form of “who are you responsible for?” Power is given to someone by choice either by force or coercion.

Which immediately answers the second question: "where did you get power from". No matter the situation, you give others the permission to use power over you, even if you are too weak to defend yourself, there is still a choice. Again, power could be by election or by force.

The third question, "in whose interests do you exercise power", probably rounds back to question one and two. The same people that gave you power over them should be the ones you are using it for and (the 4th question) should also be the one you are accountable to.

The most telling question, and favorite, is the final one: how do we get rid of you. It’s the favorite because not a one of you with power would ever want to get rid of it, much less have someone take it from you and use it against you.

This is the lie of power. You work so hard to build it up and keep it up, but it seems to have a mind of its own and slip through your fingers on a whim to another wielder, possibly your enemy. You seek it nonetheless.

You want to be your own power, just like Adam and all the kings of Israel. You want it to come from inside of you; when you dig down deep. You want it all for yourself, to battle what you have to battle, to accomplish what you have to accomplish. Maybe you find yourself benefiting others, but your motive is pure autonomy and no one is going to take it from you.

Repent. When Jesus comes in power and glory, there will be none for you. You will have to sulk in His shadow and curse Him under your sinful breath, “Who does He think He is?”

How do you know this will be your reaction to Christ’s return? Look at how you treat others in power or those who have power over you. Do you fear and love God so that you do not despise or anger your parents and other authorities?

Jesus claims all power in heaven and on earth. He is the most high God and Creator. It is His by default; by right. It is a power that is inherent in Who He is. It comes from Himself. He wields it in His own interests and is accountable to no one but Himself.

Even unbelievers are with us up to this point, however, what Jesus does with this power is completely and utterly unbelievable. Everyone knows God demands perfection and is intolerant about it, but their understanding stops there. They refuse to see a self-sacrificing God.

Jesus does not need to create man in order to be a loving God. Jesus does not need to stay with the Israelites for thousands of years, in order to prove that He is the Lord. Jesus does not need to be born of a virgin, in order to prove His compassion. Jesus does not need to suffer and die on a cross, in order to prove His salvation.

But He does. “Empty”, is the word St. Paul uses to describe Jesus - all powerful, all knowing, all mighty Jesus. “Servant” is the word Jesus uses to describe Himself - Lord of all, fully perfect; need nothing Jesus. “Love” is the word used synonymously with “death on a cross” in Holy Scripture.

Jesus doesn’t need to do things this way at all, but He does. He does to show the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. That it is in losing power that you gain power. Its in giving all of your power away that true power arises. But this does not work for us in the real world, only in Faith.

Faith that clings to the words and promises of Jesus in times of trial and in the groanings of these Last Days. It is Faith that submits to the power of Christ, not out of duty, obligation, or fear, but in belief and trust that all promises come true for those in Christ Jesus. It is Faith that believes that a man is marked for separation to the right and not to the left.

On this earth, rulers and princes change with the rising and setting of the sun. In the USA, we elect our own authorities every two years or so. In serving, loving, and honoring your parents and other authorities, you are loving Christ. Jesus has so intertwined Himself with humanity that it is impossible to hate your brother and love the Lord.

Even if your parents, brothers, or rulers are wicked, Jesus hides Himself behind them and tells you loving them is loving me. Serving them is serving me. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Now that humanity has been assumed into the Godhead, there is no distinction to be made. Power is not had when you have the ability to oppress or kill on a whim. Power is to be had in utter service and submission to your neighbor and even that is really Jesus’ power and not your own.

Your own power only produces sin and strife. Christ’s power produces peace and life in exchange for His own. Jesus may appear unjust in His assumption of power, but the cross tells us otherwise.

Because, once there was a time where we could have gotten rid of God, or at least it seemed like it. There was a time where Jesus allowed Himself to be available, so to speak, for the airing of grievances. There was a time when you could hold onto the Almighty with two hands, falsely accuse Him, and nail Him to a cross.

We have tried ignoring Him, like Adam. We have tried consciously turning away from Him, like Israel. We have even tried killing Him, but He always comes back in mercy, compassion, and love. From the beginning, Jesus has exercised His power in long-suffering even while being ignored, even while being disregarded, and even while being murdered.

Jesus does not seek power the way you seek power. He seeks power in a way that is impossible for you to attain, not only because you would misuse it in sin, but because there would always be someone behind you waiting to take it from you. This can not be.

Therefore, Jesus is always the target, not you. Jesus is always the one making rules, promises, and retaining power. Jesus will be the powerful Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world and, by His Body and Blood, will create many sheep to be beside Him.

Today’s Gospel is not a treatise on power nor is it a primer on how to tell the difference between sheep and goats. It shows you that the power Christ has over the sheep and the goats is His because He has died for both, in order that through His sacrifice they would both have the forgiveness of sins, regardless of what they do with it. In the same way, the free forgiveness of sins is handed out by Jesus to you, each day in His Church, regardless of what you think you do or don’t deserve.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jesus finds you [Trinity 25; St. Matthew 24:15-28]

On this 3rd last Sunday of the Church year, we hear our Lord speak directly to us saying,
“So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”

Last week, we talked about what it meant to be a man: getting married, having kids, and especially teaching. Today continues that same train of thought by begging the question: where is Jesus??!

As a man, it is your duty to teach and to lead your family to Jesus, but according to the Gospel heard today Jesus is not anywhere. You are not to believe certain fellows if they say He is in great signs and wonders, in the wilderness, in the inner rooms, here, there, or anywhere.

You must also not believe when men work out these miracles in front of you to prove their affinity to Jesus or Christ’s presence. If someone miraculously heals the sick or even raises the dead, you are to call that demonic. If someone starts multiplying loaves and fish or does anything Jesus used to do, you are to run away, for satan and your persecution is near.

On top of this, even if we go to the Bible for words, we only hear that God will dwell in the Temple and with David’s throne forever and both of those are destroyed and muslim mosques sit in their places.

So how will you teach something you can not see? How will you find something that can not be found? You have tried searching the way of living an upright life, but that only gave you a feeling or idea of Jesus and He can be very judgmental.

And herein lies the problem. Imagine if someone actually had miraculous healing powers, what would we do to them? We would hound them and never let them rest. The government would want to dissect them and study them. We would get angry because they are not helping everyone and being selfish with their gift. We would tear them to pieces.

If we were able to find Jesus as He was, we would make Him do whatever we wanted. We would force Him to be a moralist, a bread king, or a Santa Claus. We would push Him into elected positions and charities so He could fix things. We’d press Him onto pictures, flags, and slogans and make Him make things right or crucify Him for failing to do so.

This is the type of Jesus you find. A Jesus made in your image and likeness to whom you give lip service, but make sure He stays in those boxes. So that even when you claim to have found Him, you have really just found another idea to be placed at the buffet of competing ideas and not Jesus at all.

Jesus hides Himself so that this doesn’t happen, even though lots of people attempt to do all of this to Jesus without Him appearing, you are not to believe them. Jesus is not going to do any of the things He has preciously done in the way He has preciously done them. Jesus will not be back as He once was.

Jesus will not return meek and mild as at Christmas. Jesus will not return in secret. Jesus will not return in any way that He needs to be born again, grow up again, or is at the mercy of man again. Never again will only one corner of the world witness God in the flesh. You will not find Jesus doing anything that He has done in the Bible, when He returns.

Do not follow those who say so! Follow the Word of God. Yes the Word says that Jesus has done all those things, but that is not the point of those miracles and wonders. Jesus has already accomplished the purpose of His miracles and that was to go to the cross and until Jesus returns again, in glory and in a sight to be seen from the east and the west, He will still be on that cross, for you.

Follow Jesus to the cross. You will find Him there. Not that He is forever crucified, but He is forever known as the God-man Who was crucified for the whole world. Jesus is known in heaven by that act. He is known by His enemies by that act and He is known in hell by that act.

Thus, you will know Him by that act, revealed to you by the holy Scriptures. You will not have to search for Jesus nor will you have to pick out which person is telling the truth about where He is. This is because Jesus is already found. He found Himself and He found you to tell you about it in Faith.

Christmas was not accomplished in a corner. The heavens were opened and angels were flying around singing, for crying out loud. That’s a pretty big corner. Epiphany was accomplished in the Temple, in the wilderness, and on a mountaintop in front of crowds. Lent was a tour of practically the entire eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Good Friday was a billboard and no one has yet disproved Easter.

You will remember Jesus by what He has done for you by hearing and teaching the Word of God. You will know Jesus by what He has done for you and you will recognize Jesus on the last day by what He has promised you and told you beforehand.

Do not be afraid. Not only have you been marked and set aside for the Return of Jesus, but He has promised to not leave you behind. The cross of Christ has declared just this thing. Those in Judea have already fled to the mountains and beyond. The one on the housetop and the one in the field have already left their posts.

You are already amid the tumult of the great tribulation and false christs abound, for the sign of the times has already been placed. The red flag of the end of all things has already come up. The cross, whereon God sat, has already been gathering many and will continue to do so.

Finding Jesus for your family is not a great mystery, neither is the Last Day. Jesus has given all the secrets to you. You already know what’s going to happen and how it will happen and you already possess the power and salvation of God at your fingertips.

You don’t go to find Christ, He comes to find you. He comes with His Word and His Sacraments bearing the good news of the forgiveness of sins. He brings His own holy water, His own holy words, and His own holy meal so that you know its Him. You will not have to decipher Him, decode Him, or attempt to remember Him like some long lost friend.

You will not miss Him if you don’t do things in just the right way and He will not pass you by if you are caught red-handed. And even if He hides Himself and things get worse and worse, they have an end. They will come to an end and the world to come will have no end.

The devil will have his 7 years and the Lord will have His thousand. For a little while you, the heavens, and the earth will be shaken, but for eternity you will stand in the presence of the Lord blessed, innocent, and righteous, for the sake of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Signs and wonders [Trinity 21; St. John 4:46-54]


Jesus speaks to you in His Word, saying,

So what signs and wonders have you seen from God? I’m willing to bet that you have never seen an entire universe created, or a sea split down the middle, or pillar of fire. I’m almost 100% certain that you have never seen a Buddha statue fall down, on its own, when brought into Church.

I’m also pretty sure that you have never been raised from the dead, been in a crowd fed by five loaves of bread, or been healed of paralysis.

Here’s the good news, though. Jesus says that you don’t have to see these things, even today. You get to walk by faith, not by sight. Better yet, anything that is too hard for you to understand like who to vote for, evolution, and microbiology; you get to place in that “faith” box. You don’t have to think about them. You don’t have to study or learn about them. You get to walk through life blindfolded, tempting God to keep the next step in front of you.

This is what you think. If its not done by God directly, then it is still God’s work somehow and that gives you the excuse to not know or learn about it. Or, even worse, you think God doesn’t act at all in the real world and so the Bible is just some mystical metaphor about being a good person. So, what’s the point in being in Church, as well?

On top of all that, Jesus seems to tell us the exact opposite of what we are hearing today when He says, An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. And He could have said it more than just the two times that are recorded in Matthew, but the meaning is clear. The application, not so much.

Repent. The meaning is that we are the evil and adulterous generation who needs signs and wonders before we believe. We yearn for some powerful manifestation of God’s presence in our lives that we completely miss what God is actually doing and the true sign that He is working.

That same verse from St. Matthew gives us our clue, to what God is actually doing, as does what Jesus does to the Official’s son. Death is what is happening in both places; the death of the Official’s son and the death of Jonah. Both are going where their families and friends can not reach. Both are being swallowed up against their will and neither can do anything about it.

Thus, the real miracle of Jesus, that you are witnesses of, is the resurrection from the dead, revealed to you only in Holy Scriptures. It is not in personal revelations or private signs and wonders, tailored just for you and no one else. It is the universal message of universal atonement.

One Lord. One Faith. One baptism. One message and one experience for all. The Lord only interacts with you in the way He promises. There is no hope of you finding Him anywhere but there. You will not find Him in a house. You will not find Him in your neighbor. You will not find Him anywhere.

Unless. Unless there was such a time and a place where He said He would be. Unless there was a way, a means, by which He said He would use. I had asked before how many of you witnessed a sign from the Lord. The answer is none of you and all of you.

None of you have witnessed a sign like you want to witness one, but all of you are witnesses of the sign that the Lord has given to be witnessed. Does that make sense? If you witness a sign that you want to, it is only your own and not from God. But if God sets up a sign to be witnessed and you see it, then its all good.

The Lord has a son. He watched Him be born, grow up, and live on His own. This Son also became sick, but this sickness could not be healed and so the Lord had to watch His Son die. But, so that this death would not be in vain, the Lord set His Son up on a placard. This Son was set on a pole as a sign. A sign to show what kind of sickness leads to everlasting death, even the death of God, and that is sin.

The sickness the Son contracted was your sin and the sin of all people of all time, not His own. This sickness is incurable just in you, thus you can imagine the incredible burden every sin of all time placed on the Son. But the Son bore it. Each and every step of His life He carried it, slowly, surely to the cross.

On that post, you may read that the King of kings hangs there. The true King of the Jews dies there and He will not be back, once He leaves it. For the true King is Jesus. The true Son is God and man in one Christ.

So it is, that today, you don’t just hear of Jesus saving some son by some miracle. You hear of the true Son of God going down into death in order to catch the official’s son and throw him back to life. Jesus dies on the cross and is buried in order that, when you die and are buried, He would also catch and release you.

Thus, you pass from death to life simply by His Word. And if simply by His Word, then by anything attached to that Word as well. Not as a magical formula, but as a God-given promise. Because Jesus said so. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

At this very moment, in this congregation, there is a person who is more qualified than anyone on earth, to give a testimony about witnessing this sign from Jesus. Unfortunately, she has yet to learn to talk. Yet, by her actions, dear Rebecca has freely given this testimony to all of you. She has touched, seen, and heard this sign coming together upon her. The water and the Word combined to create a sign of Faith that she shall not die, but live.

The true miracle, sign, and wonder of Jesus is that He doesn’t change. What He does to this official’s son, he does to all of you. When He promises rebirth and resurrection by water and the Word, it is accomplished in that way, and no other. You can get wet in the rain that falls from heaven, but you will not receive the same holy cleansing.

Baptism. One of the true signs, given to the Church, by Jesus. In it Jesus physically washes, clothes, and cares for the person, by faith alone. It is the sign that you have been forgiven, rescued from death, and given eternal salvation. It is the way Jesus promises salvation to Rebecca and to you, by faith alone, not by works.

Jesus makes His own signs. These are the signs we have, in the Church, and so these are the only signs we give and witness to, because these are the only signs in which Jesus works out His salvation in you and all people.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jesus, my friend [Trinity 20; St. Matthew 22:1-14]


Jesus speaks to you today, from His own Gospel, saying,

“The clothes make the man.”
“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
“Its what’s on the inside that counts.”

These clich├ęs and many more pressure you into discarding your body as any indicator of who you are in exchange for some sort of “inner-beauty”, which of course no one else can see, so really what’s the point?

Because, on the other hand, is Aesop and the Wolf in Sheep’s clothing, where the clothes don’t make the sheep, the wolf didn’t want to be a sheep, and the real “clothes” of the wolf DID matter. What you wear matters, not just clothing, but the clothing that is your body, matters.

No matter how you dress yourself up, you are human. You may wish to be a lion and roar about, scaring all around you, but your words and movements will beg to differ. It is what’s on the inside that counts, and Jesus tells us that there is not beauty on the inside, but horrible sin, for evil comes out of your heart.

As you hear Jesus speaking today about this wedding feast, you must remember that He is describing the Church. The wedding takes place in the Church, just as everything else that interests Him, does. The Abomination of desolation is set up in the Church. The division of the sheep and the goats will be in the Church. This man without a wedding garment is in the Church.

The Lord fumes at Adam and Eve in the church of Eden, ‘Who told you you were naked?” Who told you you were not clothed? Who told you to doubt my promise to clothe you? Friend, how did you get in here?

The pastor let me in. It was Adam, God’s priest on earth, that revealed the nakedness of them both. It was the false pastor that told me that I did not need to be clothed for this wedding, because I was fine as I was.

The Lord says this about the Church: Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.” (Lam. 1:8) Being unclothed means you retain your sin. Being naked means everyone knows you are not really a sheep, but a wolf. Being ok with that, means you want no forgiveness, and so you receive no forgiveness.

This is what Jesus gave the prophet Jeremiah to preach. That because you know better than God and because you see that there are more worthwhile things to spend your time on rather than coming to receive the forgiveness of sins at His hand in Church, you think you see clearly.

Being naked is never a good thing, in front of God. It is always associated with sin and death and the shackles that both of them offer. When the king comes to look upon this “friend”, he does not see an un-churched, non-believer, he sees a catechized, contributor who is sitting at the feast.

Where is our hope then? We can not be sure if we are clothed or unclothed. There is no guarantee from our own senses even to determine if someone else is clothed properly. In fact, we do not know if we will be called a “friend”-of-the-king and be tossed out likewise. Being present, does not mean that we will not fall away.

Repent of your sin. This parable can certainly be heard as a part of the Bible advocating correct behavior and proper “Christian” conduct, whatever that means. If that is only what is going on here, then there is no call to attend the Divine Service. You can conduct yourself in like civil manner, without consulting Holy Scripture at all.

Because Holy Scripture is not about you, it is about Christ. Of course Jesus is the son for whom a feast is thrown, but Jesus is also the friend that the king discovers. Note how, this third invitation results in many good and evil people showing up. Note how it is only one of those who is cast out. Note how it is not specified whether He is a part of the good or the evil bunch.

He is simply the one who has been disrobed. He is simply the one who has, for the sake of the good and evil, taken on the dirty rags that they came in, in order that they be dressed appropriately. He is simply the Only-begotten Son of God, taking on the sins of the world and being tossed out of His own banquet, onto the cross.

He is simply your God, sacrificing His own spot at His own wedding, in order for you to enjoy it fully as if it were your party. Sin is the garment Christ wears as He is stripped naked on the cross. Righteousness is the garment He purchased with His Body and Blood. And it is very, very Good that He leaves His Righteousness at the door of the feast in this way, for you to take up.

Now we need to find and grab hold of this door, this Feast, and this Wedding garment of righteousness. How can you be sure and certain that you will not be tossed out with the festal trash?

Adam and Eve knew they would not be forsaken, because immediately after their expulsion, God gave them clothes. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the prophets knew that God would go and be exiled with them when He said, ““And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.” (Eze. 16)

And this confounds us (Eze. 16:63), for we know it is our sin that Jesus is being kicked out for and yet it pleases Him to enact such a salvation, in this way. It was His good pleasure to be lifted high up on that cross for your sake, in order that it be known that God is the Lord; that He can suffer and still be God; that He can die and still be God; that He can rise again and be the one who clothes you in His garments of death and resurrection.

The Lord clothes you. Just as Adam and Eve had Jesus as their private Tailor, so even you, this day have their garments. You are not undressed, but dressed in the baptism that covers you, that robes you; that cleanses you. Both evil and good can be in the Church because Christ has paid for it all and His Blood covers it all.

So, you cross yourself to remind you of your baptism, wherein Jesus daily drowns you to sin and raises you to new life in God. You confess your sins to remind you of the robes you left behind and the new robe you now wear by grace alone. You approach the Body and Blood of the Crucified One, to remind you that this place at the feast is yours, in Faith alone.

Yes, satan. I am a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I am dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes. I am not what I say I am on the outside. My insides are rotten and full of sin and death. But, begone! I am baptized into Christ. I am not my own, I have not my own words or my own clothing anymore. Christ is all those things for me and He gives me His beauty, His righteousness, and His forgiveness.

Jesus is the one you need to refer to for anything that has to do with me. I must now sing to my Lord Christ, Who has redeemed me with His blood and has made me to be numbered with His Saints, in glory everlasting.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The only offering [Trinity 19; St. Matthew 9:1-8]


Jesus is speaking to you, from His own Gospel, saying,

So, today have you come as a Scribe or as a paralytic? Have you come to have it your way or have you come not caring? Maybe you hope to find healing or some other great gift that God may leave behind just for you?

Today there is a gross misunderstanding of what Church is and by Christians, no less. There is no one who can articulate why they come to church. Best as they can tell, its because mom would get mad or you would disappoint your grandparents. But, you don’t know the prayers and you definitely don’t know the songs. In fact this place makes you feel so uncomfortable, you surprise yourself at staying here for an hour and 15 minutes.

So why are you here? Everything that it looks like goes on here can be done at home, with style and substance more to your tastes, and probably with a better boost of pleasure for yourself.

To help answer this question, we look to the paralytic. Why was he brought forward? What did he hope to gain by being brought before Jesus? While we ought to and do pray for our own health and healing from the Lord, we are not promised it. We are promised to be heard, but we should not think that God is at our beck and call.

Consider the paralytic. He did not ask to be brought to Jesus, as far as we’re told. He did not say any magic prayers or disappoint his family by not being in church, thus finding himself paralyzed because of it. He was forced to come to Jesus and Jesus was busy gathering and preaching. He was announcing that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand and repentance was needed, in order to greet it properly.

And, as Jesus stood there, having preached and forgiven sins, some men started moving towards Him, holding something in their hands. It was a simple bed full of a man who could not use any of his limbs. He lay there, lifeless, as Jesus stood over him.

In like manner, some men here hold things in their hands after forgiveness and preaching have been given. They also approach the Lord and offer up what has been laid in their hands. Lifeless pieces of paper offered up as Jesus stands over them, at the time of the Offering.

If you were ever in doubt to how biblical your actions are in the Divine Service, let today lay those doubts to rest. In these men offering up the paralytic to Jesus, we see mirrored our own offerings brought towards the Lord of Life during the Service.

This means that each and everything you do in this space, at this time, echoes in eternity. What you do here, how you act here, what you offer here will go with you after you die. For here, heaven meets earth and what is performed here will be the actions performed forever and the first thing accomplished is Jesus coming down to you.

He comes down and first sees the faith of the men that brought you here. Without pastors and the Church, all poor sinners would die and perish in their sins. For, like the paralytic, powerless and without works, you need to be helped; you need Christ to be preached to you and the many faithful pastors in your life have endeavored to do this.

Secondly, Jesus comes and finds dead and impersonal faith. Jesus is not content with another’s faith. Another’s faith can and should certainly bring sick and sinner before God, but in order to be truly healed, you must believe for yourself. Also, you must be alive, for Jesus demands a living faith. You can not remain a paralyzed sinner, if you desire forgiveness.

Repent. The time to be slothful, petty, and half-hearted has passed. The sun is rising. The daylight has come. Either you are with Christ or you are against Him. Either you are offering your best or you are giving it to someone else. Either you are repenting or you are comfortable in your sins.

The paralysis of sin impairs your judgment. In sin you find right and wrong switched. You find good and bad swapped and you find that good enough is good enough. In God’s eyes, this is not good enough.

Jesus forgives the paralytic for sins such as these. In fact, Jesus encourages this man, still in his paralysis, to take heart in the forgiveness of sins. Not just because that forgiveness of sins is the most important thing in life, but because the forgiveness of sins is given and also comes in the form of an offering being brought to an Altar.

In Palm Sunday, we see a different kind of offering being brought by some men to the front of Christ’s Church and that is Christ Himself. Jesus ascends the hill of the Temple mount surrounded by many faithful men. He rides through the gate, ascends the steps to the holy of holies, and is arrested, scourged, and crucified.

Bringing your own offering imitates Christ offering Himself for the sins of the world. This is why such pomp is afforded this time in the Service. We sit silent. We are reverent. We bow, etc. Your action proves that you hear the Word of God and believe. Your offerings, brought as a sacrifice, show you that Jesus has worked His faith in you so that you now offer, not 10 %, not half, but all. For faith cries out, “All or nothing!”

Jesus does not desire nothing, so He creates everything. He comes to nothing in you, paralysis and sin, and makes you a full-fledged saint. He does not accept a dead faith, so He freely gives true living faith to you. Jesus can not stand half measures and half offerings, so He gives you His full, complete offering. You now get to bring the sacrifice and offering that Christ made, for you, at God’s Altar this very day, which is you, with your sins, prepared to be forgiven.

What you offer today is not something for God, but something for you. God is not served by human hands, but you serve the Faith given to you in offering all you have. That is, all of your sins. You are the one who benefits from your offering, just as you are the one who benefits from the Divine Service. All of this is happening for you so that your paralysis may be taken away and you be free from sin, death, and the devil.

This is because no matter what you offer, no matter how you pray, and no matter how many times you are here or not here, Christ has already worked out all good things for you, especially the forgiveness of sins. You do not buy this. You do not wish for it and you definitely do not earn it. But, you can not be here without it and you can not be with Christ for eternity without it.

Before the paralytic even thinks about worship or thanks; before you even considered God’s almighty handiwork, Christ had already offered Himself on the cross for you and by that single offering for all, you have gained the eternal inheritance and true everlasting life.

This is your hope. In the cross, you have good reason to hope in God in all your concerns and should not doubt that He will help you. You must also come to the aid of your neighbor or not be able to stand before God. Just as pastors have carried you along, so you too should bear your neighbor to your pastor and church, so that you may thank, worship, and glorify God with all His people.

Dear Christians, you have come here today as paralytics. Truly, it was the Holy Spirit in you, that brought you here, not so that you could walk again on your own, but so that you could live again in new life before God. For your one purpose in life is to be forgiven by Jesus and you are brought to this place because it is the only place in the world where this Word is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to it, for the forgiveness of sins.

You are here today by faith alone and grace alone. You are forgiven by Christ alone, through His holy Scriptures alone. It is this day that the Lord has made for you to hear His Word spoken just for you saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Foreigns [Trinity 14; St. Luke 17:11-19]

It is Jesus Who speaks in your hearing today, saying:

Let’s get one thing straight. Whenever the question is asked “What would Jesus do?”, the answer is always, always, “Die on the cross”. Jesus’ only mission is to save you from your sin, graft you into Himself, and get you to live with Him forever.

Today is no different. There are voices in the country speaking loudly against foreigners: refugees, immigrants, and their illegal counterparts. These loud voices are quick to define what a foreigner is, as well as saying that foreigners are anyone not “like us” as if there is a special rule or standard for them to determine such a thing.

The Greek word used in the Gospel today literally means “other-born” or “other-begotten”. I want to say it in Greek to you now, so that you remember it in a few minutes, when I will bring it up again: Allogenhj. A person born of another line, another family. Not born as we are.

In holy Scripture, you also hear of foreigners and as God defines who they are, it almost sounds just as bad as the politicians and atheists say it is. In Leviticus, no foreigner may eat (Lev. 22:10) or offer holy things and if you married a foreigner, you can’t eat either (Lev. 22:12). In Numbers, any foreigner caught near the Tabernacle would die (1:51). Indeed, even the divine Service is not for them (18:4). The priests are not to minister to them, for there is no forgiveness for them (18:7) in anything the priest is called to do.

Not separating yourself from foreigners is unfaithfulness and intermarriage is equal to breaking all the commandments at once (Ezra 9:1,2,14). The Lord has declared that Jerusalem will be holy and foreigners will pass through it no more (Joel 3:17). Harsh sounding, yet this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Hopefully you are squirming in your seat and wondering how in the world you are going to be compassionate tomorrow and still be Christian. Good. The rubber is hitting the road. A sinner encountering a holy God should feel as such.

Please continue to squirm as we consider Job. He is accused of having turned his spirit against God and that is why his troubles were so great. In the same chapter Job declares that he will see his Savior because he knows that his Redeemer lives, he declares that he is a foreigner to his own household. His affliction is that of a foreigner in front of God.

At the hands of the Law and his friends’ declaration of it to Job, he feels what you are feeling: that perhaps you are all foreigners and perhaps God really is enacting judgment upon you in events that are out of your control. You feel that all your suffering and all your sin makes sense if you yourself are also a foreigner.

Enough of all your abominations, saith the Lord, [when you admit] foreigners, [who are] uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations.” (Eze. 44:6-7)

Repent. “On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.” Obad. 1:11

You are the foreigner. A foreigner is not an alien, illegal or otherwise. A foreigner is a sinner. A foreigner is someone who has a corrupt and fallen nature, who rebels against God, and despises Him, in His own Church and does not believe rightly.

When the Bible is speaking about foreigners being excluded and not finding forgiveness, it is talking about the world in its corruption, the devil in his rebellion, and you in your sin.

Those who do not believe there is forgiveness to be found in the Divine Service of the Church of Christ will not find forgiveness there. Not that its not there, but that they do not want what God is offering to them there. And because you acted like them, you will be numbered with them. Because you act like and follow the world and your own sinfulness, you will be foreign to God.

So, what would Jesus do? In the place of the Allogenhj comes another Greek title that only one man in the entire history of creation bears: monogenhj. You can hear the word mono in there, meaning “one” or “only” or “sole”. In the place of the other-begotten comes the Only-begotten.

Jesus is not just one-of-a-kind or special. He is the ONLY kind. He is the only one to believe. He is the only one to follow. He is the only one to listen to. Not only that, but no other person or god can claim to be a son or sons, except Jesus. By declaring Himself to be the Only-begotten, Jesus protects us from quite a few heresies.

Not the least of which is the fact that He, being God and man, humbled Himself beneath us and became the foreigner, rejected by His own and sacrificed outside of His city that He might sanctify all people through His own blood.

Jesus is the foreigner. He allows His creatures to lay hold of Him, to blaspheme Him, and to crucify Him. He is not given a Jewish trial. He is not given a Jewish death, and He is not given a Jewish burial.

All this in order that He would save some Allogenhj ; some of the ones who have turned completely from Him in sin and have become alien to God. Sin makes you a foreigner. Baptism grants you full rights and access to the Only-Begotten and His righteousness. In that washing of rebirth (Titus 3:5), new blood and a new spirit is grafted into you to work out God’s salvation.

Now that the blood of the monogenhj flows through the veins of the Allogenhj you are no longer called strangers (Eph. 2:19), but saints. Because the true Body and Blood of the Only-begotten flows freely in your body and soul through Faith, you are adopted as sons and heirs.

Jesus becomes the foreigner, taking your place, and putting you in His place. The heir to the throne abdicates and enthrones you and crowns you with His many crowns. This is not a surprise. For all the apparent intolerance of the Old Testament that people love to pick on, they miss the Gospel in it.

When God promises that no foreigners will pass through the land of His people, He means that His Name is going to not only keep His children, but make more children of God, even out of the foreigners. The foreigner also is included through God’s Name.

Jesus is not keeping people out, He is inviting through Baptism, which is the place where we find God handing out His Name. In Christ, the Crucified, no sinner can stand and no foreigner can be present, because He, by His Word, changes them into saints and citizens of the Kingdom.

Herein lies the point. Jesus is crucified for all because that is the only way to save them and to change them, not into good people, but in to Sons of God. The greatest act of mercy Jesus can show to you, today, is by reminding you of your baptism wherein you were put to death along with your sin and foreign-ness, and were brought again to new life in Christ.

Making all people in the world one people would not do the same thing. In fact, it would only cause more hatred. One of the reasons there are people that look and act and talk differently from you is to show you your own foreignness in front of God, lead you to repent of it, and find forgiveness freely given for it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

It is worse [Trinity 13; St. Luke 10:23-37]

Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

For the last few weeks we have been talking about poverty. Whether it was the unrighteous manager, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, the tax collector, or the deaf and mute man all were brought in front of us to show the poverty of earth. Yet, all were brought in front of us to also reveal the poverty of God on the cross.

Today is no different. How easy life is when we are well off, or at least, not in need. Indeed, one of our favorite things to say is: “It could always be worse” or, similar to that is “someone always has it worse than you do”.

Then we try and think of how our lives could be worse than they are now and we imagine extreme things such as nuclear war, abject poverty, oppressive government, or even having many people in our family die at the same time or closer. You really must go to great lengths to think about it being worse for you.

The reason that is is because it is worse for you right now, in your sin. You already have to deal with death, suffering, trauma, and futility. You already know what its like to have nothing: no income, no rights, and no future. You have heard about all of these things from one source or another, maybe experiencing one or two personally, but never all of it.

We can not all be champions of empathy so when you have life-altering problems, they are just as big as other problems. This may sound conceited, but what difference does it make to the chemicals in your body whether undue stress is caused by family dysfunction or life as a refugee?

Take our man from Jerusalem, here. Who knows what he was thinking or what he was doing that fateful day when he decided to go to Jericho, but here he is. He takes his journey and is ambushed by hooligans. At this point, lying half-dead in the road, do you think he cares that Rome has created world peace within its borders?

Your fears often major in the minors. You think that by pretending your problems are not as important, that you gain more favor in being humble, but then you become angry and isolated when no one notices what you are hiding! Your inner resentment grows and grows until either you are living a life full of despair or you give up on religion altogether.

The difficulty you face is not in trying your best to decide what you must do or what you can do, the real difficulty you bring upon yourself is trying to figure out which way God has planned for you or, put simply, what is sin and what is not.

In that epic battle, you lose. In struggling to find what will please God and what will condemn you forever, you run into reality. The same reality that forces you to pick one drug over another, one family member over another, or one sin over another.

That is the catch. Each and everyday in your ordinary life, you are forced to choose: will you sin a little or will you sin a lot? Will you choose the sin that maybe God won’t notice or at least, you hope, that He will overlook, or will you choose the sin that everyone will notice and no one will overlook?

And no matter who you choose to see yourself as, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, there is this deficiency, or corruption of human nature. This is easy to point out in the violent robbers. The next easiest is the priest and the Levite, but what did the man do to deserve his beating and really what is so bad about the good Samaritan?

Lots of things could be speculated upon here as to what could have been done to avoid such a tragedy, but they are simply speculation. The cold, hard truth as to why each character sins and why your life is replete with sin is that they are all sinners.

The traveling man is a sinner. He did not do any specific thing to earn his beat-down, but as a result of his fallen condition, he deserves more. The Samaritan did not show great mercy here, just a little mercy. Where is he for the rest of those who have fallen victim to such crimes? There is plenty of guilt to pass around, even omitting the robbers’ actions.

Jesus is the end of this guilt and the end of such sufferings as the traveler, the Samaritan, and yes even the robbers and priest and Levite endured. You do not just suffer things physically, but also spiritually. You do suffer at the hands of your neighbors, intentional or not, but you also suffer under a holy God.

God demands perfection from you, without excuse. He demands righteousness and holiness. Not because He is mean and cold-hearted, but because that is Who He is and if you wish to be with Him forever, this is how it must be.

What a cruel and unmerciful attitude God has! If only He would bend the rules or overlook certain actions on your part, all of this suffering business could simply go away.

Dear Christian, thank heavens God does not overlook one injustice committed, no matter how small! Thank your lucky stars that the Lord is attentive of all things and forgets nothing. If He did not, then there would be no one who would attain any sort of blessing at all.

God knows what you think of Him and His unbending laws and He also knows your inability to follow them. He knows that you secretly resent having to be “goodie-goodie” when all your friends are not hindered by such out-dated thinking. And because He knows all this and more, He knows and wants to do something about it Himself.

You see, the law was not given for your benefit, primarily. The Law was given to reveal sin to you; to show you that, in this corrupted life, you really will have no good choices as to what you should or should not do. Each choice, good or bad, is corrupt and sinful in front of God.

In God’s eyes, you are already worse off than your neighbor. If you were to stand in front of God on your own, you would get no credit for helping a half-dead man be cared for properly and neither will this Samaritan.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan and He is the half-dead man. Jesus is the man that comes down from heaven to traverse an utterly corrupt road in a total depraved world. He comes bringing forgiveness and peace, but is stripped of everything, including His life on the cross.

He raises Himself from His all-dead state, returns to this road, and finds you, dead in your sins. He does not ask if you’ve been naughty or nice. He does not request a little room in your heart and He does not require your commitment to Him. He finds you. He speaks to revive you. He washes you and He feeds you immortality.

The beauty of the Gospel is that credit has already been wired to your account in full. The sweetness of Christ Crucified for you is that there is grace and mercy and peace from God, instead of judgment and laws that have no end. The comfort of the word of the cross is that there is an end to thievery, apathy, pain, and endless work.

Christ has come that you may be free. Free from the guilt of the Law that binds you to your sin. Free to hear the Word and believe it. Free to be washed and regenerated into the Body of Christ. Free to take and eat and drink the true Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all of your bad and good decisions.

Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Each and every decision you have to make in this life is accounted for and forgiven, by Jesus. Each and every time you come to a crossroads that is bad or worse or uncertain, you have confidence that your righteousness comes from Christ and not those sins.

You have received the Spirit by hearing with faith and not by works of the law (Gal. 3:2).
“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:11-14).

This does not mean that we continue in sinful ways, knowing that we are free from the law, but this does mean that we find forgiveness for all our deeds. It means we can live life without worrying about being righteous before God, because Jesus already has secured and paid for that righteousness in full.

Though we will still mark, avoid, and hate sin, we can now, with confidence approach a horrible situation, in which all the choices are sinful, and just pick one, even if it means sinning boldly. For there is no other God or Savior Who determines the righteousness of a person by His own, or Who gives His own righteousness so freely and completely.

There will never be a time when you come to church without sin. Do not fool yourself by thinking you don’t deserve to be here. Quickly bring your sin, confessing it as sin. It is the only offering Jesus will accept in exchange for His holiness.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Poverty stricken [Trinity 12; St. Mark 7:31-37]

God is speaking to you today, saying:

There is a path that leads a person out of poverty. Although it is seldom trod and fraught with despair and anguish and many do not make it, for one reason or another. But it is there.

There is also a path that leads to poverty or back to it, that is a well worn path. And that’s the thing. The ones that make it out are the exception. They are congratulated, because it is not often that it happens. Why is this? Is there some magic property of poverty that simply draws one in?

Take our Parkview friends who lost their homes in the fire this last Thursday. They were forced into poverty by some unknown force. It just happened without rhyme or reason. How does one counter that? Of course, it really can’t be countered as Jesus says, For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.

We can hear the despair here. No matter what we do, there will always be those in need. However, this does not mean you get to slack off. Jesus did not say, “You always have the poor so it doesn’t matter”, He said, “…and whenever you want you can do good for them.”

Jesus also said, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”. Jesus is commanding you to do futile work. Work that is not only endless, but that you will despise as well. Caring for the poor, consistently, is a thankless, fruitless job.

But there is the command. You either do it or you incur the wrath of God. The men in the gospel today understand this same thing. They have a poor brother; more than poor, he is deaf and mute. He is the epitome of what it means to be poor, being unable to lift himself out of it by any means.

In this deaf and speech impeded man, is shown all of sinners for all time. This is because there are two meanings behind being poor, whenever you hear of them in the Bible. The first being the most obvious: poor in material things; things necessary to live a life on earth. The second meaning is poverty of Spirit. The latter being the more devastating, but no less connected to the first.

Repent. Jesus uses poverty of material things to reveal to you your own poverty of spiritual things. Indeed, as He said the poor would always be here, to His Apostles, He then said you will not always have Him. The world has a poverty of Jesus.

There is a poverty you might get out of, but there is a poverty you will never get yourself out of. Jesus reveals this to you by allowing Himself to be crucified. It is great that you can find a poor person you can help, but Christ is still the crucified one. No matter how many you help or how you wish to help Jesus, God’s Word doesn’t change. You will always read about Jesus being Crucified and that means you are spiritually poor.

Jesus has one mission and that is to save you from your sins. He did not come to set you on a new adventure. He did not die so you could get a job or amass wealth on earth. From the day of His conception; no, from the very first day of Creation, Jesus had planned for your salvation.

This is because Jesus has also promised that there will be no poor among you. God is not just promising and not fulfilling here, because obviously people are poor everywhere. When God says there will be no poor, He means there will be no poor and yet we will always have the poor among us.

There will be no poor among you, because the Lord will surely bless you and He blesses you with the suffering, death, and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ. You are not to look for easement of the poor nor are you to look for your own easement from poverty, in order to secure righteousness, because you have already been given it.

You are not poor because your treasure is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God. You are not poor because you have the forgiveness of sins. You are not poor because you have the Lord of all Creation serving you salvation on a silver platter and in a silver chalice.

If anyone is poor, it is Jesus. Jesus was made poor for you. He had no place to lay His head in His own universe. The birds have nests. The foxes have holes. The enemies of Christ have riches, but He doesn’t and by His poverty upon the cross you are made rich.

God supplies your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have knowing that you brought nothing into this world and you can take nothing out of this world. You have food. You have clothing. With these be content for in that is great godliness.

Yet even in these gifts you cry out for mercy. Not just your own mercy, but for mercy for those who really are in terrible need. Continue to pray that God grant gainful employment. That He continues to feed and to care for all of you. Pray that you be kept from bitterness and resentment.

But do not forget!: poverty is its own gift from Jesus. Poverty keeps you humble. Poverty keeps you from evil of wanton living and disastrous overspending. Indeed, Jesus Himself gives great blessing to the poor saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus gives us His right Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to be able to discern these things. Though poverty is the cause of much suffering and it breaks my heart to think of those in such situations, it is also the den of much violence and blasphemy. Being poor does not give one a “free pass”.

On the same coin, being rich or comfortable is no picnic either. Indeed, comfort is a blessing, but comfort breeds complacency, and complacency breeds contempt. Contempt of the One Who gave us all things.

The idea is, you can be a good Christian by receiving what the Lord gives and telling others to also receive from Him, in the Divine Service. You can be a good neighbor by helping your neighbor in need, indiscriminately. Make no mistake your neighbors are more numerous than you think and are in greater need than you can provide.

Rely upon Christ and His sacrifice. Remember that He gave all He had to redeem His poor Church and though She is promised great riches in heaven, She waits for the last day in poverty here on earth. What she needs, the Lord provides and He always will to the end of the age.

Your poverty is just like that of the deaf and speech impaired man. Unless the Lord comes to retrieve you, you are in it forever. In sin, there are no bootstraps to pull up. The good pleasure of God sees that all is provided for you. In Christ, your need is supplied in the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and rid us of poverty forever.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Two men enter; two men leave [Trinity 11, St. Luke 18:9-14]

Today, we once again hear Christ speak to us, saying,

Two men enter. One man leaves.

This is the chant of post-apocalypse Bartertown, in the movie, Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. What the chanting audience is witnessing is justice. Two men have committed a crime. They are thrown into the arena to kill each other. If you die, you’re guilty. If you live, you’re innocent.

Two men: The Pharisee and the tax collector.
Two men: Cain and Abel.
Two men: Christ and you.

The 4th chapter of Genesis starts in a surprising upbeat manner. Even though Adm and Eve have just been expelled from Eden, they are celebrating a birth. It seems as though life outside will not be as bad as previously feared. Like last week, it appears as if God is wrong and there is nothing to fear in this new world.

But continue reading, and you find you are dead wrong. Literally. In the account of Cain and Abel, we see real life outside the garden. Here is presented to you is life under the newly obtained “knowledge of good and evil”. We now are in on the experiment that Adam and Eve started: ruling themselves.

Freed from the shackles of Godly intervention and imposed Law, Adam and Eve now "create" for themselves. Eve cries out at Cain’s birth, "I have created man just like God did". In this new-found freedom from Eden, Adam and Eve raise their own sons, teach them, and find that things aren’t so bad.

Cain grows up into this new freedom. He tills the ground as God said he would. He also creates. This time it is produce and crops. From barren ground, Cain tends his gardens and produces 100 fold. He is living the life. What’s Eden anyway? Life is good.

But Cain is not the only man around. Two men have entered this new, freedom-laden world. Abel, his brother, is also there. Abel is second born. He is not tilling the ground as God said he would and instead tends to animals, but he appears to be equally successful.

Two men go up to God to pray. Cain brings his crops. Abel, his fat portions. Two men enter. One man leaves. In the new freedom, apparently Cain is free to murder and Eve is free to weep for her dead son.

Two men go up to the Temple to pray: the Pharisee and the tax collector. Two brothers. Both claim Adam and Eve as ancestors. Both claim the Temple as their own. Both claim access to God through prayer. Both bring their offerings before God. Two men enter, one man leaves.

But you must admit that Cain and the Pharisee did not necessarily get the better end of the deal. If Abel suffered death, Cain suffered worse than death in his sin. If the tax collector suffered shame in sin, the Pharisee will be denied access to heaven.

We must amend our Australian film-making friends. It is not two men enter one man leaves. It is: “Two men enter; no man leaves.” In a post-Eden world, no one wins. In a land of enlightened, fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, death is the only winner.

Your enlightenment, superior perceptions, knowledge; they all betray. They betrayed Abel. They betrayed the tax collector and they hoodwinked Cain and the Pharisee. They were all blind; indeed every one of you is still blind to the fact. Whether you die at the hand of your brother, society, or live having committed the crime: no one’s getting out of here alive.

All of you enter. None of you leave. All of you are guilty. None are innocent.

The justice for Abel and the tax collector goes unfulfilled. There is none for them. Cain and the Pharisee get to live their lives. Though they are both cursed, their superior intellect has allowed them a life after such a life-ending disaster.

So where was Jesus when Abel needed Him? Where is Jesus when we need Him as we strive and fail in sin? When God breaks into the world of flesh and blood, there are no longer only two men in the fray. Jesus enters as the unprecedented and illegal entrant, increasing the number to three.

Now, God takes on flesh for the tax collector and barges in where He is not wanted or received: your heart. Since everyone is dead in their sin, there is no one to stop Him. Indeed, who can oppose God when His Word goes out to accomplish what it will? No one.

Jesus enters the fray. He doesn’t have to. He could have snapped His fingers and accomplished the same thing, but God became man and dwelt among us to fight for us on the cross. Now it is you and Christ that enter; two men enter, one man leaves. You get to leave. Christ stays behind to die your death.

High above all the knowledge of good and evil that Eden’s tree gave, is God’s knowledge. Where Eve, Cain, and the Pharisee run from a benevolent God Who only wishes to serve forgiveness, Jesus runs towards the wrath they incurred for doing so. Where Adam, Abel, and the tax collector failed in doing justice, Jesus fulfills that for them, by dying on the cross.

Eve, Cain, the Pharisee, and you want immediate results. In all conventional wisdom, justice is best if it is served swiftly. Less hurt. Less damage. However, true justice is only served by Christ and that only through a promise. A promise that all knowledge, all murder, all death, and all suffering will end.

What Abel and the tax collector are praised for is not their ability to die at the right time, nor is it their own humility. A true believer is praised for the humility of his master: the humility of Jesus.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” (Heb 11:4)

By faith alone Abel was able to stand in front of and endure his brother’s hatred and now his blood cries out to God, not for justice, but for propitiation; for atonement and forgiveness.

By faith alone was the tax collector able to come so close to the dwelling place of God on earth, with all his sins, and find justification freely given to his repentant heart and it is by faith alone that you all stand here today.

Reason tells you to flee from faith. Reason tells you that all this “Christian living” is not worth the satisfaction to be had by the ways of the world. Intellect tells you that it is easier and far more enjoyable to cast off the shackles of marriage and Church and to just do what feels right.

Knowledge tells you that the world is not so bad; that sin won’t affect you and that God is not watching. That sin you committed last week? Guess what, no lightning fell from heaven and nothing bad happened to you because of it. We must not be so bad off. Jesus must be crazy.

Jesus tells you to run towards faith. Jesus tells you that, because He lives, you will live. Jesus offers His blood which cries out greater than Abel, because it doesn’t just cry for justice and forgiveness, it gives it.

The Body and Blood Christ offers up on the altar of the world atones for all sin. This Body and Blood covers the sins of Adam. They cover the sins of Eve. They show mercy to the unrepentant Cain. They show mercy even to the self-righteous Pharisee and they are offered for you and your own forgiveness.

Jesus enters the death fray for you, bodily. He dies, but He gets to leave again. In His act of sacrifice, Jesus breaks the idea of “two men enter, one man leaves” in two. Jesus dies so that you may leave with your life. Jesus also lives so that death no longer has a hold on you. Now, two men enter, but two men leave. Where Cain and the Pharisee sought to impose the knowledge of Good and Evil upon the world whatever the cost, Jesus imposes the Tree of Life to a greater degree.

The fruit from the tree of Life, which is Jesus on the cross, is a greater sacrifice and a greater Word than that of the knowledge of Good and Evil and death. The word of the cross only kills Jesus, but is God’s power of salvation for you.

By His Body and Blood, Jesus removes the shroud of sin, death, and the devil (all fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and replaces it with justification, forgiveness, and mercy. It is Christ’s humility that wins the day for all sinners destroyed by the fall into sin.

Cain did not have to struggle and remain in his sin. The Pharisee did not have to think his righteousness came from his inner being. They simply had to die to sin and be raised to new life. Abel shows us how to die and the tax collect shows us the reception of this new life.

The Promise of Jesus in baptism kills you and brings you back to life in Christ. The Body and Blood that escapes death is offered to you for free. The medicine and antidote to all the hurt and damage done by the fall into sin is found at your fingertips and offered freely.