Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Simplification

"So it was that, after the Deluge, the Fallout, the plagues, the madness, the confusion of tongues, the rage, there began the bloodletting of the Simplification, when remnants of mankind had torn other remnants limb from limb, killing rulers, scientists, leaders, technicians, teachers, and whatever persons the leaders of the maddened mobs said deserved death for having helped make the Earth what it had become.  Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they had served the princes, but then later because they refused to join in the bloodletting and opposed the mobs, calling the crowds 'bloodthirsty simpletons.'

"Joyfully the mobs accepted the name, took up the cry: Simpletons!  Yes, yes!  I'm a simpleton!  Are you a simpleton?  We'll build a town and we'll name it Simple Town, because by then all the smart bastards that caused all this, they'll be dead!  Simpletons!  Let's go!  This ought to show 'em!  Anybody here not a simpleton?  Get the bastard, if there is!

"To escape the fury of the simpleton packs, such learned people as still survived fled to any sanctuary that offered itself.  When Holy Church received them, she vested them in monks' robes and tried to hide them in such monasteries and convents as had survived and could be reoccupied, for the religious were less despised by the mob except when they openly defied it and accepted martyrdom.  Sometimes such sanctuary was effective, but more often it was not.  Monasteries were invaded, records and sacred books were burned, refugees were seized and summarily hanged or burned.  The Simplification ceased to have plan or purpose soon after it began, and became an insane frenzy of mass murder and destruction such as can occur only when the last traces of social order are gone.  The madness was transmitted to the children, taught as they were - not merely to forget - but to hate, and surges of mob fury recurred sporadically even through the fourth generation after the Deluge.  By then, the fury was directed not against the learned, for there were none, but against the merely illiterate."

~Walter M. Miller, 1959
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sermon: St. Cyril of Alexandria - 2018

27 June 2018

Text: Luke 12:8-12 (2 Sam 7:17-29, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today, the Church remembers St. Cyril, who was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt during the years 412-444.  His time, like our own, was a turbulent age, with a lot of fighting over the crucial question: “Who is Jesus?”

For no matter what era we live in, that is always the most important question: “Who is Jesus?”  Our response to this question is not to be taken lightly.  Nor was it in the fifth century.  

While others were watering down Christ and thus watering down the Gospel, Bishop Cyril stood firm.  He knew very well our Lord’s warning that we heard anew in today’s Gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

This is where we are today, dear friends.  It is more difficult to confess Christ today in our country than it ever has been since its founding.  For the first time in American history, Christians are subjected to a soft persecution: being pressured to renounce Jesus by our hostile culture, being bullied to act outside of the Christian faith by our increasingly tyrannical courts, and being marginalized and impressed into silence by our politically-correct governments.  

The easy thing is to remain silent, or to outright deny one’s Christianity.  The hard thing is to confess Christ and let the chips fall.  Canada has begun to revoke the accreditations of law schools run by Christian institutions that uphold the traditional, common law, natural, and biblical definition of marriage.  In our own country, respectable Christian ministries are being shunned by banks and other businesses because Christians are today accused of “hate speech” by very powerful people simply for confessing the Word of God, just as we were already doing for four centuries before Cyril’s time.

So will we continue to confess Christ before men in these last days?  Or will we blaspheme the Holy Spirit?  St. Cyril surely knew the Lord’s admonition: “When they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

St. Cyril had much to say about his Lord Jesus Christ, and never pulled punches, never held back, never counted the political cost of his confession.  He made more than a few enemies in both church and state.  Some heretical bishops declared him a heretic and referred to him as a “monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church.”  It’s no wonder that our Lutheran confessions quote St. Cyril twice.  For being called a heretic by heretics, and being called a monster by monsters is just something faithful Christians of every age and tradition can expect.  

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Cyril’s biggest fight involved whether or not the blessed virgin Mary is “the mother of God.”  The heretic Nestorius condemned such language.  But Cyril pointed out that if Jesus is God, we have no choice but to call Mary the “mother of God”, saying:

“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills me with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers.”

And this is the same thing that the Book of Concord says, and that Lutheran churches are all committed to preaching and teaching – including Salem Lutheran Church.  In that sense, we are not only Lutherans but also Cyrillians.

Like many of the faithful church fathers of old, St. Cyril was removed from his service as bishop and sent into exile by the heretics who seized the reins of the church’s bureaucracy.  But Cyril stood firm, wearing the “whole armor of God” and wielding the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God”, confessing the faith once delivered to the saints.  He chose to be driven out rather than compromise with false doctrine, rather than to confess a false Christ.

In due time, Bishop Cyril was recognized as St. Cyril, as well as being named a doctor of the church.  He is lovingly called Pope Cyril by the Coptic Christians, a few of whom still bravely confess Christ in Egypt today.  Cyril’s theological writings are also still studied to this very day in Christian seminaries and other schools. 

And while St. Cyril wore many hats, so to speak: that of a patriarch, the bishop of one of the most important cities in the Empire, that of a theologian: a writer and doctor of the church, that of the confessor of the faith, suffering for the sake of Christ, let us not forget that Cyril was first and foremost a pastor, a preacher, a giver of soul-care to the members of his congregation.  St. Cyril proclaimed the law to those who needed to repent, and he proclaimed the Gospel to the contrite.  St. Cyril administered the sacraments to his parishioners great and small, young and old, those who could read and those who could not, those who understood the theological controversies of his day, and those who could not.  He taught the faithful to love the Lord and to be blessed by His gifts.  And that is what every pastor, bishop, and theologian is called to do.  

St. Cyril has advice for us who also live in perilous times, in a culture hostile to the truth of Jesus Christ, of Him who is both God and man, who was crucified for us, whose blood was shed for our atonement, whose body rose from death and walked out of the very tomb that was impotent to contain Him.  As every true preacher of the true faith, St. Cyril points us to Christ, and He shares Christ where He Himself promises to be found: in preaching and in sacraments.

On this day in which we remember our dear brother, let us allow him to preach to us from this pulpit, and let us rejoice to allow his proclamation to ring in our ears yet again.  Listen to the pastoral wisdom of St. Cyril, whose life and ministry were a testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ:

“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon: Nativity of St. John the Baptist - 2018

24 June 2018

Text: Luke 1:57-80 (Isa 40:1-5, Acts 13:13-26)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

At first glance, John the Baptist doesn’t really seem that important.  He’s a little like the person at the banquet who introduces the main speaker.  He’s like the warm-up act, whom people forget about once the headliner takes the stage.

Unlike his namesake, St. John the Evangelist (who wrote five books of the New Testament), St. John the Baptist wrote no books of the Bible.  The other John was at the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and Pentecost – and lived until the end of the first century.  John the Baptist barely saw Jesus get started in His ministry.  While Peter, Paul, and John had influential disciples of their own, St. John the Baptist’s disciples all left him to follow Jesus.

But our Lord said that among those born of women, no man was greater than John the Baptist.  John was the youngest person to ever confess Christ, leaping in the womb when his cousin Jesus, Himself in His own mother’s womb, drew near.  John set the standard of courageous preaching, proclaiming truth to power, calling the king to repentance.  John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and was a New Testament martyr for Christ years before St. Stephen would become known as the Church’s first martyr.  To this day, Eastern churches are all required to have a prominent icon to John displayed before the altar, for John does what every pastor and layman are to do in their vocations – to point to Christ!

What higher calling, what more exultant work is there, dear friends, than to point sinners to their Savior, to confess or preach Jesus as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”?  Yes, this line in our Liturgy, in the Agnus Dei, was first spoken by John – and we sing it three times every time we celebrate Holy Communion.  We also sing John’s confession in the Gloria in Excelsis, when we draw our attention to Jesus and point to His atoning word on the cross – just like John the Baptist did three years before our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Indeed, we must remember that John’s ministry was miraculous.  Even his birth was supernatural, being born to a woman who had been barren, to parents past the age of childbearing.  In order to bring John into the world, the Lord God suspended the normal order of the limitations of age.  For age leads to death, and barrenness is a limitation on the Lord’s command to “bear fruit and multiply.”  Zechariah and Elizabeth were object lessons in the Lord’s plan to overcome death and aging, and to bring fruit out of the wilderness.  And like his cousin Jesus, John’s birth was heralded by an angel and accompanied by signs.

Even his name was not of the ordinary.  Instead of being named after his father Zechariah, this future baptizer of Jesus was named “John.”  The name Zechariah means “the Lord remembers.”  But this son of Zechariah is given a new name in accordance with the Lord’s instructions: John means: “The Lord is gracious.”  Yes, indeed, God remembers His covenant, but He does not remember our sins when they are covered by the blood of the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world.  Instead of focusing on remembrance, John the Baptist’s name centers around God’s grace.  Even the name of John points to Jesus, whose own name means: “God saves.”

And as soon as Zechariah obeyed the word of God and commanded his son to be called “John,” the judgment was lifted, and the temporarily mute Zechariah “spoke, blessing God.”  And this caused those who witnessed this miracle to fear God, which the Psalmist teaches us, is the beginning of wisdom!

Zechariah the priest of the temple, the husband of Elizabeth, the father of John, himself prophesied on that day of the circumcision and naming of his son.  First, he prophesies of Christ: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”  Zechariah’s canticle describes Jesus as the “horn of salvation” in the “House of… David.”  He remembers the prophets, he reminds us of salvation, and he confesses the Lord’s mercy.  And this priest who is at the end of his own ministry at the end of the age, he whose name means to “remember,” reminds us of God’s promise to “remember His holy covenant.”  Zechariah proclaims our deliverance from our enemies, the most vexing of which are sin, death, and the devil – not to mention the world and our sinful nature.  And we are delivered so that we might “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

But Zechariah’s time of service is fading fast.  He is passing the torch to his miraculous son, the cousin of Jesus, the one who will preach Jesus and die for Jesus, who will be the voice crying in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” Jesus.

And Zechariah prophesies about his son the prophet: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.”

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Zechariah lays out what St. John will do: “give knowledge of salvation” in the “forgiveness of their sins.”  And by God’s “tender mercy,” those who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” will find themselves in the Lord’s “sunrise” to “give light” to those who do sit in darkness, guiding their “feet into the way of peace.”

This is John’s mission, dear friends.  John is not the Savior, even as his preaching included words such as these: “I am not He.  But behold, after me One is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.”  John will follow his calling to decrease, even as Jesus is to increase.  John will preach the law and the gospel without compromise, and he will die for the truth of the very Word of God – the living Word being Jesus of Nazareth, his own cousin whom he will baptize in the Jordan.

The preaching of John is the preaching of the church: a call to repent, an invitation to the waters of Holy Baptism, a pointing to the Lamb of God, and the good news of forgiveness, that is: “comfort.”  For the prophet Isaiah prefigured John and prefigured all preachers in his prophecy, words given to him by God to speak: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned… for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Indeed, dear friends, the mouth of the Lord continues to speak in His Word.  We continue to hear this Word, receive this call to repent, focusing our eyes on Christ the Lamb of God, remembering the cross and the grace of God in our atonement, calling to mind the waters of Holy Baptism, and proclaiming to the world that Jesus has come to bring comfort, to bring forgiveness, to bring peace with God and with men, and to remind each one of us that in Christ, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Not even the sword can silence that mouth.  John has spoken because the Lord has spoken.  And because the Lord has spoken, the church continues to speak.  We speak of Jesus, of forgiveness, and of the Gospel.  Thanks be to God for His mercy and for bringing His holy prophet St. John the Baptist into the wilderness of our fallen world, a desert transformed into a garden by the work of the Christ that John proclaimed, that we might indeed serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 3 - 2018

17 June 2018

Text: Luke 15:1-10

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord teaches us yet again in parables.  St. Luke records three of them in this one chapter, two of which are contained in this week’s Gospel: the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  The third parable is the Prodigal Son, which is better entitled, the Lost Son.

Jesus gives the same lesson in three different ways – which means that this is important to understanding God and His kingdom.  The idea of being lost and then being found is crucial to Christianity.

We may be tempted to trivialize the idea of being lost.  Losing a coin and then finding it may not seem like that big of a deal to us if we see coins as annoying and worthless bits of change.  Losing a sheep may be hard for us to relate to, given that few of us are animal herders that make a living from them.  In our culture, if you lose something, it’s usually not that big of a deal.  We can always get it replaced on Amazon with two-day shipping.

But these parables are actually timely.  For our culture is drifting away from its moorings.  Younger people are increasingly finding themselves lost.  This has fueled levels of depression and angst and risk-taking and self-injury not seen since perhaps the Lost Generation of World War I a hundred years ago. 

To be lost is to be without a home.  And one can be homeless while living in a massive house surrounded by luxuries.  This is increasingly what we see today: people who have money and fame and the freedom to travel the world, and yet they commit suicide.  They are lost. 

And while the movers and shakers of our culture and society wring their hands looking for explanations, once again, the answer is here in the dusty old book that sits on the coffee table, or worse, is held up for ridicule as a silly old myth written by dead white men to oppress everyone else.  Meanwhile, Jesus will speak to anyone with ears to hear.

Interestingly, Jesus recounts the joy of the owner upon finding something that was lost.  In the first parable, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, we aren’t taught what the sheep thinks about it.  Maybe the sheep was eyeball to eyeball with a wolf and was happy to see the shepherd.  Or maybe the sheep finally felt free and saw the shepherd coming to take him back as his “oppressor.”  But at any rate, the sheep is safe, and the shepherd “calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” 

In the second story, the Parable of the Lost Coin, a woman has lost one of her ten silver pieces.  She is so motivated to find it that she doesn’t even wait for the morning light to look for it (remember, in those days, there were no bright electric lights to  turn on and off like magic with the flick of a switch).  She spends precious oil on lighting a dimly-burning oil lamp to search for it.  “And when she has found it,” says Jesus, “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.’”

In these stories, God is represented by the shepherd and by the woman.  We are the lost ones.  We are the ones who need to be found.  Jesus calls being found “repentance.”  And what started this lesson of three stories was the fact that self-righteous scribes and Pharisees were grumbling that Jesus allowed some of these “found” people to join Him at the table: “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they gossip to one another.

Jesus reminds them of the joy that ought to break out among everyone when the lost are found. 

Think about when a child goes missing.  The parents become hysterical.  They call the police, who go into high gear to search the neighborhood.  Social media lights up as the story goes viral.  Amber alerts are issued.  There may be helicopters and canine teams dispatched.  Nobody can rest until the child is found safe and sound.  And when that happens, there is a huge sigh of relief and great joy.  There is no grumbling about the cost or the trouble expended to reunite a little one to his or her parents.

And think about this from the perspective of the lost one, dear friends.  A lost coin might well fall through the cracks of the floor to be buried in the dirt for the rest of time, never again to be carried and traded, treasured and saved.  It is out of place with no hope of again being useful.  A lost sheep is in grave danger of being hunted and eaten by predators.  Being lost is not freedom; it is not liberty from an “oppressor.”  Being lost is being away from the love and kindness and protection of others, from a sense of usefulness and belonging.  Being lost is to be subject to unseen dangers.  Being lost risks eternal displacement. 

Being lost is a tragedy, dear brothers and sisters.  I recently drove a passenger home from a bar.  It was on a Sunday night at midnight.  One of her friends paid for the ride and another friend came along with her to get home.  I believe that she was in her twenties.  In spite of having her whole life ahead of her, living in a nice home in one of the richest countries of the world, having the luxury to spend time and money on going out, she was utterly lost.  She had no friends other than her “bar friends.”  She had no family, and apparently nothing to look forward to except drinking every day.  She was suicidal.

This is a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost child.  This is what our Lord is talking about, dear friends.  And she is far from alone.

The problem is that she has a house, but no home.  She is free from responsibility and the demands of husband and children, but she is actually oppressed by loneliness and despair.  She knows her way around the city, but she is lost.  Hopefully, she will be found.  There is One who searches diligently for her.  There is a shepherd who will leave the ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes to seek after this one lost sheep; there is a lady of the house who will burn the midnight oil to seek after her to prevent her from falling through the floor.  There is a Father who gave her freedom, and even though she has misused it, will run after her and have a feast for her when she comes back home.

So where is home?  How are the lost sheep and coins and children found?  Jesus says that they are found in repentance: a change in mind.  When we stop seeing God as a rule-maker who imposes on us and start seeing Him as our dear Father and protector, we repent and are found.  When we stop rejecting ourselves by rebelling against whom God made us to be, accepting ourselves as His creature, His creation, His design, when we submit to the reality of His will to us, we repent and are found.  When we embrace the sense of usefulness that God has given us through creation, when we willingly provide for others out of what God has given us, when we seek to serve rather than being served, we repent and are found.

Our Lord Jesus had no need of repentance, and yet He endured the cross for us.  He shed His blood for us.  He came looking for us.  He took human flesh as one of us and for all of us.  He taught us what it means to be lost and to be found.  And He, the Good Shepherd, became the sacrificial Lamb for the sake of the lost sheep that we are.  He was betrayed for us at the cost of some of those silver coins.  He rose again from death and returned to the Father, and proves to us that we can even triumph over the grave, that the end of this life is not loss to the Christian, but rather to be found to eternal glory with the Father.

And in repentance there is joy, dear friends, in heaven and on earth, to the one who is found and to the Finder.  This joy is also found among the rest of those who were formerly lost but who have been found by the unrelenting love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the calling of the Holy Spirit.  Let us pray for the lost.  Let us provide a home for those who need to hear good news.  Let us be the instruments of God in recovering the sheep that have wandered, the coins that have rolled away, and the prodigal sons and daughters who think they have found freedom, but instead are enslaved to despair.  

And in carrying out the work the Lord has given us to do, we too find ourselves at home.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 2 - 2018

10 June 2018

Text: Luke 14:15-24

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Why are you all here?

There are other things that you could be doing right now: sleeping, watching a movie, having a cup of coffee, eating, getting some work done around the house, working outside before it gets hot, hanging out with friends, participating in social media, taking in a round of golf…  The possibilities are endless.

So why are you here?

Is it a habit?  A chance to catch up with friends?  Do you feel like you did something for God by coming here?  Are you getting a friend or relative off your back who nags you to go to church? 

Why are you here?

Are you bored?  Do you wish the pastor would just stop talking and get this over with?  Do you think this ritual is meaningless and stupid?  Is what we’re doing old fashioned and out of touch with the modern world?  Is your mind wandering as you think about other things?  Are you resentful that you have to be here?

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a story about a great banquet.  And let’s face it, banquets can be boring: bland food, people you would rather not hang out with, long-winded speeches, boring rituals – and worst of all, it takes time away from what we would rather be doing.  But in our Lord’s story, this man throws a banquet and “invited many.”  He prepares the food, the drinks, the venue, the agenda, and now he sends out servants for the RSVPs.  “But they all alike began to make excuses.”  These reasons given for refusing to come seem to make sense: work, business, family obligations, etc.  The banquet looks like it will become an embarrassing fiasco, a hall filled with empty seats.  The servants report back to their master that this banquet is shaping up to be a failure.

The “master of the house became angry” according to Jesus, as He continues His story, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  The servants do this.  Those who were invited but who had made excuses are being replaced by people who are more likely to be grateful to be there.

Jesus has the master in the story bring in still more outsiders.  And He’s pretty angry at the ones who spurned the invitation: “None of those men who were invited shall taste My banquet.”

So what is the point of this story?

Just before Jesus told this story (which was at a banquet), a man said something that is both simple and profound: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 

Do you see yourself as blessed?  Are you happy to be here where the Word of God is proclaimed, where Jesus is present in the bread and wine of the sacrament?  Of all the places where you could be right now, is this the place you would most rather be at this moment?  Would you prefer to have the freedom and the opportunity to come to the Divine Service, or would you rather be a billionaire.  Before you answer the question, dear brother, dear sister, think about it honestly.

For we are all poor, miserable sinners.  There are indeed times when this banquet is tedious: it’s too hot, it’s too cold, the hymns are not to our liking, the sermon is boring, we don’t like the wine, certain people annoy us, the service is too long, too early, too late, too different than what I grew up with, too high church, too low church, too whatever.

And there are times when we, like the original invitees in the Lord’s story, just opt out.  We just stay home.  We just figure that it isn’t that important anyway.

The Lord has a warning for us, dear friends.  This banquet is important.  You have been invited by God.  This is where your sins are forgiven.  This is where Jesus speaks to you.  This is where you have actual communion with the Triune God.  This is where God truly speaks to you: not some kind of vague sign or superstition, but the pure, unshakable, and perfect Word of God.  And God will fill His kingdom: with us or without us.  If we are unfaithful, our American churches will shrink and die off while churches in China and Africa are filled with those who aren’t making excuses, but who are blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of God.

If we are not studying and reading the Word of God, if we don’t pray, if we don’t teach our children the catechism, if we aren’t regularly communing and being absolved, if we aren’t supporting our church and the work of the kingdom with our time, talent, and treasure, if we feel annoyed and put upon to be here, if we are making excuses – then others will be called and we will be left to our own devices.  And even as the finest of foods is set at the heavenly table, even as a precious chalice of the choicest of wine sits at a place with our name on it, we will content ourselves to eat garbage out of the dumpster – the rot and the crud that the world has to offer.

Dear friends, let us not take this banquet for granted!  Our Lord suffered on the cross.  He died so that you will live!  He rose so that you too will conquer death!  He has given you His body and blood as the greatest banquet ever!  He surrounds you in words of love and forgiveness, calling us back when we wander, and placing us upon His shoulder to lead us as His beloved sheep.  He provides for us a place at His table, a place of honor.  This participation in the banquet of the Eucharist is a time-transcending foretaste of eternal life, of the great reunion with our loved ones, a little glimpse and an actual participation into the new heaven and the new earth, a life in which there will be no suffering, no death, no sorrow, no regrets, no boredom, and no excuses.

Why are you here, dear friends?  You are here because you are a sinner, and you are loved, and you are to be fed and lovingly doted upon by Your Father.  You are here because you have been invited by Jesus Himself, baptized, named as one of His own, worthy to sit at His table, one who has been chosen to live eternally.  You are here because of all the places on planet earth, there is no place better than to be at the table of the Lord and listening to good news.

There are indeed valid reasons that we may have to miss this banquet from time to time.  But there are also excuses, and we know the difference.  And the good news is that even your past excuses and grumbling are forgiven, and your name is still engraved in gold at the head table.  You were issued a garment to wear at this banquet, and you have been invited, even if you are poor and crippled and blind and lame, plagued by doubts, haunted by a past, weak in willpower, or even bearing the scars of a hostile world and your own sinful flesh.  None of that matters!  You are here at the eternal banquet by the Lord’s grace!  You are His beloved child!  You are surrounded by His peace and joy even if you desire to run away.  Resist the devil, and rejoice in what is offered to you at this banquet, this feast of feasts, each and every week, dear brother, dear sister!

For indeed, “blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sermon:Trinity 1 - 2018

3 June 2018

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The theme of our Lord’s story about Lazarus and the Rich Man can be summed up in a single word that only appears one time in the text: “mercy.” 

The Christian faith in many ways is nothing more than mercy.  God is merciful to His creation: we creatures who have betrayed Him, rejected Him, running into the arms of His enemy.  And when the Lord sent His Word to enlighten us, we rejected it.  When the Lord sent prophets to warn us, we turned on them.  When the Lord sent His only Son into the world to bear our sin and be our Savior, we crucified Him.  And our Lord Jesus is so merciful that as He was suffering on the cross, because of us and for our sakes, He prayed to the Father on our behalf: “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  He pleaded for mercy for us.

And so at the beginning of our Divine Service, we Christians have cried out for centuries: “Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.”  For without mercy, we are without life, and we are without hope.

Mercy is like freedom: you cannot have it unless you are willing to give it to others.  One of the Lord’s parables involved a man who begged to be forgiven a large debt.  And when he was forgiven, he used his new freedom to demand that someone else who owed him a small debt pay it back immediately.

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is a lesson about mercy and a warning about withholding mercy. 

Lazarus was a poor man who suffered ill-health.  The rich man showed him no mercy.  But at death, the Lord showed mercy to Lazarus, who was “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”  However, the reversal of fortune went to this certain rich man as well, who was sent to “Hades, being in torment.” 

The rich man had a lifetime to repent, to show mercy to his neighbor, to live out the Golden Rule, and do unto Lazarus as he would have Lazarus do unto him.  In the story, the rich man now becomes the beggar: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”

His lack of mercy was revisited upon him: “Child,” says the voice of the patriarch Abraham in this story: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”

The rich man’s lack of mercy is now the very judgment that the rich man faces now that his life is over.  Even as the rich man withheld mercy from Lazarus, so does God withhold mercy from the rich man.

For even as there is mercy, there is still justice.  But the good news, dear brothers and sisters, is that even with justice, there is mercy.  God will forgive each one of us who asks for mercy.  And in asking for mercy, we demonstrate repentance by showing mercy.  “Forgive us our trespasses,” the Lord teaches us to pray, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  “For we sin much,” as we say in our Catechism, “and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”  This is mercy.

But there is another warning that our Lord is mercifully teaching us right here and right now, dear friends.  The warning is this: the time to repent is now.  It is not tomorrow, not next year, not when you are older.  The time to repent is now, for that is where we live.  We live in the present.  The past is done.  The future may not come at all.  We can die at any moment, without warning.  There is nothing in our Lord’s story that implies that Lazarus and the rich man knew when they would die.  The rich man had daily opportunities to repent, to show mercy, to ask for forgiveness, and to be a good steward of the wealth with which the Lord had blessed him.

Each day that went by was another day lost, another opportunity squandered, another step closer to torment, to justice, to the loss of the opportunity to receive mercy.

In that sense, this is a terrifying parable.  The rich man speaks of “anguish in this flame.”  There is permanence in this condemnation: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”

But there is still good news, dear friends.  You can still pass from death to life, from sin to forgiveness, from living for yourself and squandering the Lord’s riches to living a life of mercy and investing the Lord’s riches by living in the kingdom, even as we repent each and every day.  You can still show mercy to others, in whatever way that might manifest itself in your life.  You may be rich or poor, but the Lord will provide for you very real ways to show mercy to your neighbor. 

And what’s more, God is merciful.  For even as the rich man begged for a warning, and it was too late for him – it is not too late for us!  For indeed “we have Moses and the Prophets,” let us hear them!  We have our Lord Jesus Christ and the Word that we are given anew right now, let us hear Him!  We have the full counsel of God summed up in the Catechism: let us hear that Word of God!

Let us hear, let us repent, let us receive mercy, and let us live!  For unlike the situation of the rich man whose life was squandered only upon himself, we do indeed have someone who has risen from the dead who is warning us, and what’s more, who is showing us mercy and saving us: our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the one who truly said, “I am,” before Abraham was.  Our Lord is the very Word of God made flesh, whose flesh was crucified for us, who rose from the dead, not to convince us of Moses and the Prophets, but to fulfill them and show us mercy!

We are the recipients of divine mercy, dear friends, from our baptisms to the opportunities we have to hear the Word of God preached and the Gospel proclaimed, from Holy Absolution to the most holy body and blood of our Lord, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, offered to us in mercy, and received by us in repentant joy!

The Christian faith is all about mercy.  It is given to us without strings attached, and we are given the opportunity to show it to others out of gratitude for the mercy shown to us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.