A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Follow Me! -- A Homily for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

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

Saint Matthew 4:12-25 (especially vv. 18-22)

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

“Follow me…” Christ our Lord has already met these men as John and Andrew were disciples of Saint John the Baptizer. They have heard John declare to them that this is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Now Jesus comes up to them and calls them to be His disciples. They drop everything and follow Him then and there.

“…and I will make you fishers of men.”

In the Walt Disney film Finding Nemo there is a climactic moment when Nemo is caught in the fishermen’s net. He urges the other fish to swim down, all together, so that the net cannot pull them in. He does this so that they can live. For these fish, being caught means they will be taken out of water and die. Not so with you!

Jesus here speaks to the apostles about being fishers of men. But the verb He uses speaks of the fish being caught alive. You see, being caught by our Lord is actually a rescue from the cruel waters of this world. He pulls you into the boat of His Church and you continually swim in the baptismal waters of new and everlasting life! You are not like Nemo who would have been caught and died with the other game fish. You are a redeemed creature with a new chance on life – in fact, it is not a chance! It is a sure and certain gift!

Our loving Lord has used His apostles and generation upon generation of pastors to stretch out the nets of the Gospel in their preaching and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. And by His grace, you have been caught alive in those nets, so that you may live forever!

Our Lord used Saint Andrew immediately. Before He even issued this call, when Andrew met Jesus, he went and told his brother that they had found the Christ! Andrew evangelizes his brother Simon Peter, and in the end, it is Peter who becomes the great apostle. Andrew fades into the background. But he didn’t mind. Andrew simply witnessed about Jesus to his brother, and became a fisher of men.

While Jesus is speaking to His apostles about their ministry of gathering people in the saving nets of the Means of Grace, it applies to you too! As you speak with your family and friends, you can tell them the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for them, or you can avoid it and let them be swept away in the raging currents of the world’s water. You can direct them where to find Jesus – in His Holy Gifts in His Church – or you can neglect their spiritual health and let them remain lost with no rudder, compass, or safe harbor.

Pastor Truelsen and I have been sent by the Lord to be fishers of men here at Saint John’s. And yet, we do not work alone. You are placed by God in your vocations to be living witnesses, to encourage others as fellow rescued fish in Christ’s boat.

So how are you doing? Have you latched on to every opportunity? Not in the least. Not one of us has been a great and powerful example of fishing for men. We more often try to be like Nemo and swim away from the fisherman – but the fishing boat we are trying to escape is God’s rescue – His Church! We try to save ourselves from our Savior! How ridiculous is that?!

Thanks be to God that we do not drown in those raging waters outside! In His mercy, our Lord and Master is a patient Fisherman! He watches as we try to slip away and dive overboard again and again. But He constantly is casting His nets to rescue us and return us to His Church. He never gives up when we persistently try to escape His salvation; instead, His determination and resolve are constant. Jesus does not want any fish stories about “the one that got away,” He desires to catch us all!

What joy we have in our loving Savior, who constantly rescues us. In spite of our attempts to escape, He still loves us and showers His mercy and forgiveness upon us. And there is no legal limit on how many He may catch. He desires all to be saved. So He sends His Spirit to cast those nets that even more may be rescued.

“Come with me if you want to live!” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character warned the boy he came to save in the film Terminator 2. In a far more urgent, more significant, more eternal way, our Lord speaks similar words: “Follow Me!” Indeed, He is saying, “Come with me if you want to live!”

Only in real life, you are not the one deciding to live. In the movie, John Conner forms a relationship with the Terminator and places his trust in him. He fights at his side. Not so with you! You are not the one deciding to trust or join forces with the Savior. It is the Holy Spirit calling you to faith and using Christ’s sacraments and preached Gospel to bring you to following Jesus. He blesses you with being caught alive and saved in Christ’s boat. The fish don’t decide to jump into the boat with the call: “Come with me if you want to live!” Instead, as we stubbornly attempt to swim away, we are caught by our Lord. As He places us safely in the font of saving waters, He speaks kindly to us, “Follow Me!” And by the Spirit’s work, we do.

Do we need to drop everything, and leave family and our jobs? No, that is not the point of this morning’s Gospel. We see from elsewhere in Scripture that James and John do not abandon their father; Zebedee is with hired hands as far as their business. Their mother is around too. Once again, Jesus shows a picture of priorities. In faith, their new vocation as disciples came first. Serving the Lord was more important than making a lot of money. Serving others was more important than remaining in their home town for the rest of their lives.

How quickly and willingly do we jump up when our Lord bids us, “Follow Me”? It’s more than saying, “Be baptized.” To follow Jesus can mean clearly showing His love, mercy, and forgiveness in what you say and do in your vocations. It might mean changing your vocation. It might mean that a boy or two in this congregation start seriously considering a life as a pastor serving in the Office of the Holy Ministry. It might mean a boy or girl here deciding to attend a Lutheran university and becoming a parochial school teacher. It might mean picking up your roots and moving to a new opportunity, or it might mean staying in one place for 70 years! Whatever the case may be, it means that the Lord is first and foremost in your life, and serving others goes hand in hand with that. It means setting aside any selfish motives.

You know as well as I that we are no good at this. From the person who says, “I’d rather die than live anywhere other than Lanesville,” to the youth who can’t wait to get to college and move away, if our thoughts, words, and deeds are to serve our own wants and needs then we fail. We are not following Him.

But – you guessed it – the Holy Spirit calls us to repentance, and our dear Savior renews us. He absolves us of our guilt and cleanses us from our selfish sin. He drowns Old Adam again and raises up the New Creature who once again is called to “Follow Me!”

This morning Jesus is using His lowly Fisher-of-men servants to rescue you once again. He calls out to you even now: “Follow Me!” Dear friends in Christ, drop what you’re doing. Come be nourished at His altar, that you may be forgiven and renewed to live a life following Him! Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Comfort in a Cup

A few years ago, a dear friend of our family moved to Delaware, Ohio. She shares our love of tea. To make a long story short, she and her daughter discovered a little cottage where afternoon tea was served.

Now, tea rooms usually have an assortment of loose teas that brew in the pot and are poured through a strainer into your cup. This little shop, however, had a specialty blend – one that we always selected – no need to waste time with the other choices. The Apple Tree Cottage’s special tea was Cinnamon-Vanilla.

Soothing. Calming. A delightfully mellowing way to relax, sipping cinnamon-vanilla tea and tasting some great sandwiches, pastries, and desserts. We had to take some home!

We were pleased to be able to buy some sachets of it, and have since shared it with other friends. Emma and Brian were over one evening when we served this delightful hot beverage. That night Emma first called it “comfort in a cup.”

How true! This amazing mixture of sweet and spicy was truly comforting. Yes, comfort in a cup!

Yet as I think of it some more, as much as I enjoy this amazing treat, there is another cup that is far more comforting! Saint Ignatius, the first-century pastor and bishop of Antioch, called it the “medicine of immortality.” Jesus said: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54 ESV) Saint Paul reminds us why: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16 ESV)

Jesus gives you the true “comfort in a cup” as He pours out His blood, shed on the cross for you. He quenches your thirst with the fruit of the True Vine, which spilled from His veins and sacred wounds. This precious lifeblood removes all fear and guilt over your sin, as He feeds you forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Some will warn against this precious Sacrament if you are feeling weak or ill-prepared. Yet when you are troubled by your sin and doubt, feeling weak in your faith and weary of this world, it is precisely the time to be drawn to our Savior’s holy altar and receive His saving feast! This is the hour that you most desperately need to be nourished and sustained – and comforted!

Our Lord Jesus bids you to come to His Table, to taste and see that the Lord is good! He desires that you in your weakness would be filled with His strength, as He gives it in His Most Precious Sacrament.

The body of God’s Lamb we eat,

A priestly food and priestly meat;

On sin-parched lips the chalice pours

His quenching blood that life restores. LSB 624, stanza 6

Kristi and I still enjoy the soothing simple joys of tea, especially our cinnamon-vanilla blend. But far more central to our lives in His grace is the best and truest “comfort in a cup” – the true Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Listen to Him!

[The following post originated as an article for our parish newsletter. References to "we" and "us" refer to the congregation I serve.]

During the Epiphany season, we hear about our Lord manifesting – revealing – Himself as God in the flesh. He speaks and acts, showing all that He is the Christ. His Word to both Jew and Gentile declares liberty from sin, death, and the devil – and actually makes it happen!

The season begins and ends with blessed words from the Father admonishing us: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." (Matthew 17:5 ESV)

Listen to Him. We are offered several opportunities every week to listen to Him. At the Divine Service, we hear the Word of Christ in the lessons from Scripture, in the preaching of that Word, and even in the words of the holy liturgy itself. There is a blessed irony: as you sing the divine liturgy, you are declaring God’s Word to those around you, and even to yourself!

Listen to Him. In Sunday School and Bible Classes, opportunities abound (and so do the vacant seats!) to sit at Jesus’ feet, like Mary of Bethany, and hear Him teach us. So many more could be joining us for this time of catechesis -- this time of hearing His Word. We have many faithful members in our parishes who teach and other faithful ones who attend this receiving of our Lord’s Word.

Listen to Him. As you bring your children to receive the saving washing of Holy Baptism, they are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their Old Adams die and the Lord gives them new birth as His children. At this miracle, our Father in heaven blesses them with echoes of “This is My beloved son.”

Listen to Him. Through confession, our hearts are convicted as we speak our sins and admit our guilt to our pastor. But then another miracle occurs. Jesus Christ speaks through the pastor to remove your guilt and release you from that sin. He stands in Christ’s stead, and again Jesus’ words through Isaiah echo: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Listen to Him. In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus declares the most clear and concise words of Gospel: “This is My Body…given for you.” “This is My Blood…shed for you.” Too amazing to understand completely, we can simply marvel at His Word, and humbly say, “Thank you,” and “Amen.” Our glorious God has become Man for us. The Eternal Son, begotten of the Father has received flesh through His Mother and been born of the same Blessed Virgin. Now, He becomes our perfect heavenly Bread and Priest! As He enters our bodies through our mouths, His sacred words enter our ears, and we Listen to Him!

Listen to Him. As we are already over a week into the Year of Our Lord 2008, may we encourage one another in keeping a new year’s resolution increasingly to be in His Word. God grant that you may always Listen to Him!

Monday, January 7, 2008

January: A Month of Life

The month of January is full of reminders of the precious gift of life. Simply beginning with the New Year’s festivities, we celebrate the fact that God has blessed us with another year of life on this earth. He continues to sustain us, providing food, clothing & shelter, as well as health and well-being.

The Church Year also provides reminders of this gift of life. We begin with the Epiphany of Our Lord. On this festival that commemorates the Wise Men visiting our Infant Lord, and bringing Him gifts, we see Jesus revealed as God for all people – Jew and Gentile alike. The Lord and Creator of Life stooped down to become a divine Creature for you and me. He who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, took on human life for our sake – only to lay it down and then take it back up! So at Epiphany and always, we celebrate our new life through Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

There is another date on the Church calendar this month: the 18th of January is celebrated as the Confession of Saint Peter. We praise God for Simon Peter’s famous confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16 ESV) The prince of the apostles recognizes (through faith) that Jesus is the Christ – anointed to be the promised Savior – and that He is in fact, the living God. He is the God of Life. He Himself lives, and He gives life. This profound, yet childlike faith nurtures our life through Jesus Christ.

Life through Jesus Christ continues to be celebrated a week later, as on the 25th we recall the Conversion of Saint Paul. Saul, as he rode to Damascus, was full of threats of death. He viewed Christians as enemies of God. Yet the Lord Jesus appeared to him, and brought him to repentance. Saul was convicted in his heart for siding with death and fighting life. Now the Lord called and ordained him to become Saint Paul, one of the greatest mouth pieces for the Lord of Life.

During the week between these two festivals, we recall this gift of Life through Jesus Christ on the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. While this is not a “Church calendar” date per se, it is an opportunity for the Church to rise up and confess clearly the gift of life from the Lord. This is a precious gift that no single human being has the right to take.

Life through Jesus Christ, given from conception, is precious and sacred to the Lord. Life is a joy and privilege given by God; a joy and privilege for which He revealed Himself at His Epiphany; for which He fasted, suffered, and died, as we recall at Lent; and for which He rose and ascended as we celebrate at Easter.

Dear friends in Christ, celebrate this wonderful, precious gift of life – this month, and always. Be ever mindful of the sacred treasure the Lord bestows through human life, and the eternal joys He desperately wants to give with it, all through the holy life, death, and resurrection of the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ!