A myHT Fortress

Monday, November 30, 2009

Was ist "Ablaze" mit Skt. Johannes Gemeinde?

Check out the new article in the Northern Illinois District's Ablaze newsletter on our German mission!

Und wann Sie nach Chicago gekommen, kommen Sie nach unser Gottesdienst!

Thanksgiving Eucharist: A Homily on Christ's Perfect Thanks

Luke 17:11-17

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

There were ten men who had the dreadful disease, which slowly

ate away at their flesh. Ten men had this terrible malady not only hurt the body, but isolated them from social contact with healthy people. Ten suffering a miserable existence. Fascinating that in this true story there are ten of them; one for each commandment. Even in setting up this chronicle, God shows that the Law cannot save or heal. The Law always accuses; and the Law always shows our sickness.

We always seem to put down the other nine for being “unthankful.” That is not the case at all. They were thankful. They were on their way to the Temple, to show themselves and give their offerings of thanks, just as Jesus told them to do.

The problem with the nine is not that they were not thankful. (Perhaps that misunderstanding is even greater because this Gospel has been assigned for days of national thanksgiving.) No, their problem is far greater.

You see, all ten had leprosy. All ten were told by Jesus to go show themselves to the priests – the action of somebody already healed. They still had the disease as they left, and Jesus healed them during their walk to Jerusalem. So they had faith that the Lord would heal them as they went.

But the problem arises when only one recognized that this indeed was God in the flesh! All ten were planning on thanking God. Only one realized that God was right there in person, and could be thanked directly. Nine did not recognize who Jesus Christ is.

You do not always recognize Jesus either. For some, it might be doubting or misunderstanding that Jesus comes and works a miracle in Holy Baptism. He does not simply sit in some far-off kingdom and zap children with His magic. He does far more than hover around like some spirit. The Lord Himself comes in Baptism and binding the promise of His Gospel to the water in the font, causes and gives forgiveness, rescue, and life!

You do not always recognize Jesus. Perhaps you suffer from moments of doubt about the Holy Supper. “It’s a reminder of His love and forgiveness,” you say. “We simply do it, obeying His command, ‘In remembrance of Me.’ It’s a good token of what He did a long time ago. Dear friends, that follows some serious Protestant misunderstandings. If that would be the case, then there is no need to have the Sacrament frequently.

But there is a need! You desperately need our Lord in His Supper, and the healing and gifts that He brings. Our Lord Jesus says: “This is My Body. This is My Blood.” No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Infinitely more than a reminder or obedience, which ends up focusing on our actions and thoughts, the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is God feeding us His Flesh and Blood, for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Even though this passage is not really emphasizing the thanks, on this day we pause and consider the application to our Day of Thanksgiving. We do fail in giving God the thanks we ought. When we stop and even try to begin to count our blessings, we are miserable failures, forgetting infinite gifts. Our thanks would never be good enough, or complete. We fall flat on our faces, and have no excuse.

But Jesus, our loving Lord, comes to us, and gives thanks for us! As He celebrates His Holy Eucharist among us, He gives thanks! That’s what Eucharist means: “to give thanks!” The ancient Church often used this word for the Divine Service and for Holy Communion itself. Some Lutherans shy away from using the term, because they fear it emphasizes our supposed work in the Sacrament. But actually, no! The One giving thanks is not you or the pastor; the One giving thanks is Christ Jesus Himself!

Day to day we fail at giving thanks. We pause over this holiday to offer our thanks to God. Still, our lists will always be incomplete; our prayers lacking.

We will always come up short, omitting blessings in our giving of thanks. But our Lord takes our prayers and perfects them. He provides the words where our minds and mouths fail. Our Blessed Savior speaks for us, giving thanks. Being God as well as Man, He is the only One ever to be perfect and complete in His thanksgiving. He gave perfect thanks during His earthly ministry. And ultimately, He gave perfect thanks in the offering of His Body and Blood on the cross. He continues to give thanks as He cleanses, forgives, and nourishes us through His Holy Word and Sacraments.

Christ Jesus comes to you today through His Holy Gospel. He speaks His perfect thanks and fills your ears with His perfect words. He transforms you, speaking life into you. And on Sunday, once again, He will come to you in the greatest, most intimate way in this life: His Holy Eucharist!

The sin of this world infects you. And it wants to slowly eat away at your body. But our precious Savior comes and brings His Body to you. He places His holy and perfectly, righteously healthy flesh into you, and it transforms you. It makes you cleansed and whole, that you may show yourself to Christ, the heavenly high priest, and In perfect and holy thanksgiving, He will welcome you and your cleansed, transformed body into His heaven forever!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The King Enthroned: A Homily on Christ the King

John 18:33-37

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

Growing up in the United States, we have been indoctrinated to reject the idea of kings and queens and royal families. My generation grew up with a series of Saturday morning cartoon shorts called “School House Rock.” One of those episodes, which I admit to enjoying as a child, was entitled “No More Kings,” which summarized American history from the Pilgrims to the Revolution. While entertaining and memorable, it definitely had a purpose of propaganda, teaching that democracy was the only legitimate possibility for our land, and that having a king was

ridiculous, if not oppressive and evil in having his authority.

People often despise those in authority over them, and when they did not choose those in authority, the disdain is even worse. We can be like this with God. Christ is our King. We don’t always appreciate His authority and dominion over us. We want to be our own kings or queens. We want control. We want independence. We are rebels. And that is not good.

Turn from your ways, you rebels! Repent of rejecting your true King. You don’t even have the excuse of the apostle’s generation, who may not have recognized Jesus Christ as King, because He did not look like a king.

Pastor David Tannahill is a friend who was born and raised in Canada. Once in his childhood in the 1960’s, Queen Elizabeth II came to his hometown and Pastor’s mother wanted to be sure he got to see her. They went to the event, and since the queen is not very tall, Mrs. Tannahill lifted her little boy so he could see above the crowd. “Can you see the Queen?” she asked. “No,” he sadly replied.

That evening, they watched the news. “There!” said Mrs. Tannahill, “Didn’t you see the

Queen?” she said, pointing to a lady on the television who had a simple spring dress, a pill box hat, and handbag. “Well yeah, I saw her!” he said,… “That’s the queen?”

The portraits in his school, and other pictures he had seen diplayed the Queen in her regal robes, with crown and scepter, opening parliament, or posing for formal occasions. Amazing pictures and film footage display the glory and beauty of her coronation, with regal ceremony and splendid trappings as she ascended to her throne. But this woman simply looked like someone’s mother! A regular person. Seeing her in person was not what he expected. She did not look powerful or regal or queenly.

Jesus did not appear regal or kingly. In fact, He did not even appear regal or kingly when He was lifted up on His throne! He looked like a wretched and humiliated criminal! Stripped, beaten and whipped mercilessly, the King of the Jews was nailed to His cross. To the naked eye, it seemed like a miserable defeat.

But our Lord loves paradox. Instead of defeat, the execution on that cross played right into God’s hand, becoming His victory over sin, death, and hell! As others scoffed and mocked the Man hanging underneath the sign that read: “The King of the Jews,” the reality was that

Christ was indeed being coroneted. Instead of gold and jewels, piercing thorns served as His crown. In the place of silks and ermine fur to line His royal robes, stripes of blood covered His sacred body. Rather than a splendid chair of gold, a rough, wooden cross was the throne He ascended, and thus the location of the unlikely ceremony.

These sorts of paradox are difficult for the world to grasp. And they are not easy for you or me, either. We see Christ’s body on the cross and we become uncomfortable and uneasy. We often slip into feeling like we’d rather not see it, because it reminds us of our sin and what it took to redeem us. We actually end up finding the image of the crucifix as a turn-off! At those times, are we not shunning the One Crucified? Are we not just like the crowds around who did not want to see Him there – the ones who mocked and wagged their heads at Him?

Repent! The devil and the world have swayed you to believe those lies, and you must stand firm against them. Repent of fearing, or despising, or avoiding the Crucified Jesus – the King.

The Gospel is that Jesus died for you! It’s a good thing! He lovingly and willingly was enthroned on that cross as He purchased and won your salvation. He suffered to gain that

victory over sin, death, and the devil at His coronation on the cross. And He gives us the gift of crucifixes to display the full beauty and splendor of the greatest and truest moment of “God’s Love in Action!”

Our precious Savior who indeed was “God’s Love in Action” on the cross stretches out His arms, pierced with those holy wounds, and embraces you with His Gospel. He gives His royal proclamation that on account of His royal blood, given and shed for you, you are not only “not guilty,” but an heir and member of His royal family! And the King’s Word does what He says.

From His throne He decrees, “It is finished.” And it is so! His work for your forgiveness and

salvation is accomplished, and can never be taken away by any enemy of His kingdom. As our friends in the Roman Church sing: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!” This is most certainly true. No one can undo the work of Christ our King.

The pierced side of our triumphant King spills forth water into the cleansing font. Life-giving

blood pours forth from His wounds, and into the precious and sacred cup from which you drink. His Royal Majesty Himself serves you, cleansing you inside and out, and nourishing you to life everlasting.

Now, He has assumed a new throne. He sits on the throne of this altar. In a few moments, there Christ Jesus will sit, in the flesh. Our Lord and God and King coming among His people and giving His Gifts.

So come, dear friends in Christ. Come to Our Lord’s throne. Join Him in His banquet hall as He celebrates His feast of victory with His royal family. Dine at this regal feast as you receive your Coming King! And by our good and gracious King actually entering you, you receive the forgiveness, life and salvation that He brings. You actually eat salvation! For in this meal, He transforms you from a beggarly peasant into a child of God – a prince or princess of heaven! Rejoice, for you are no longer slaves, but you are royal highnesses in His kingdom!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who's the Leader of the Club...?

Mickey Mouse turns 81 today. "Steamboat Willie" was released in theaters as a cartoon "short" on this day in 1928.

Word-full Wednesday: A Homily on Mk. 13:1-13

Mark 13:1-13

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

We live in a dangerous world. It is perfectly legal to kill anyone, so long as the smallest

portion of them still remains inside their mother. Some even support the idea that infants who are accidentally born during such gruesome procedures can be left alone to die without medical aid or comfort. For those who are ill over a long term, even when they are not

dying, as was the case with Terri Schiavo, it has become legally acceptable to starve them to death. Why? They are viewed as burdens to others. In Missouri, it is permissible to use tax dollars for pre-born people to be legally manufactured in the laboratory, and then kill them if and when their cells are no longer useful. Mohammedan terrorists plot evil around the world, even infiltrating our army and gunning down people on our own military bases. And yet, as horrifying as such things are, these are not as serious as the danger of which Jesus warns.

And Jesus began to say to them, "See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. So many people surround us in this world who have no faith in Christ. And among them are those who would gladly lead you

astray, dear friends in Christ. They want your faith, your loyalty, your support, and your wallet.

Jesus tells us this morning that it will be worse as the end approaches. Now, two ends loom in this reading from Saint Mark: the destruction of Jerusalem, just 40 years after Jesus prophesied this, and the end of this earth, whenever that day shall come.

"But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells of the coming persecution. He would be tried and tortured and even killed. These apostles could expect much of the same. This persecution is a sign of things to come. It would begin right away, and continue throughout history, but will be intense before Jesus comes again. Others hate the Church. But Jesus says: “Don’t worry. They hate Me more! I will endure this with and for you!”

And who are these dangers that Jesus warns us about? Right now we are not in danger of being beaten or killed for the Gospel’s sake. But we are in danger from the others of whom Jesus speaks: “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I AM he!” I AM. Jesus here warns of imposters who will try to convince others that they are the Christ—that they are the Lord God I AM! Wicked deceivers who want your admiration, your allegiance, your riches, all the

while claiming to be the Lord! In those early days of the New Testament Church until now – and until He returns in glory, we stand in danger of such imposters.

Are you ready to start following any guy who comes up and claims to be Christ? Doubtful. Hopefully you have learned enough over the years that you realize Jesus will not return quietly or secretly.

But there is a related danger. You could fall prey to false teachers – men or women who speak a message that departs from our Lord’s Word. Church bodies that deny the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work in and through the earthly elements of the Sacraments, joined to God’s Word. Those who say that forgiveness and salvation only signify or accompany Baptism and the Holy Supper, rather than the Lord using them as His means of bringing and delivering His grace.

Sadly, it is not always easy to spot such false teachers. Many are eloquent preachers. Some have large followings. Others use excitement and emotion, like the Pied Piper or Professor Harold Hill, and sway the worshipers, manipulating their audience to follow them. Some spread their message on television, internet, and radio. The danger is, they often begin with God’s Word and manipulate it to fit their own agenda. They end up being very difficult to notice and realize the heresy.

Such preachers and churches who raise their own word and reason above Christ’s are to be

marked and avoided. They are not proclaiming Jesus’ Gospel. They are speaking a different message from any number of sources claiming: “I AM he.”

Besides their sin of leading many astray, you are in danger of falling into sin by rejecting God’s Word and holding to their falsehoods. When you even begin to doubt the plain truth of God’s Word, whether preached, taught, or in His Holy Sacraments, you stray from Jesus and His teaching. You distance yourself from the Lord and listen to these imposters who say, “I AM he.”

Stop, dear friends in Christ! Flee from those who would deceive you. Do not remain easy targets and let their mouths fill your ears with deception. Do not sit mindlessly and absorb the propaganda from those who work against the Truth of God. Turn the channel. Change your website. Do whatever it takes to avoid those who teach against and instead of Christ!

Afraid you cannot do that? I know you can’t – at least not completely. And that is why our dear Savior preaches to us this morning. He warns us ahead of time about those who would deceive us and endanger us. But He also delivers us from evil. Jesus is the one and only true Christ. He IS I AM! The Lord is come in the flesh and has purchased and won forgiveness, life and salvation. He has redeemed you. And He did not leave it as a historical event that is unattached to you.

The one and only Christ has Christened you! He has marked you as anointed into Christ at your Baptism. Your Old Adam is dead and buried in Baptism, Our Lord has now raised you up as a New Creature, with Himself. As His New Creature, your eyes and ears are fixed on Jesus, and not on any false Christs or false teachers.

You have the joy of a Savior – our one and only true Savior – who removes you from the dangers of false teachers and imposters. He rescues you from death and the devil, those enemies who desire to sway you. He forgives you constantly, and preserves you in His mercy and grace through His Gifts that He gives in His Holy Church. He gathers you from their lies and deceptions, and protects you, His lambs, safe in His fold.

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” More Good News: even though you cannot endure, Christ has endured for you. He has been beaten for you. He has stood trial for you. He spares you from the horrors He endured, so that you may have a joy-filled and blessed eternity! He has called you to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit and preserves you in Him. He keeps you steadfast in His Word and continually bathes you in your baptized state. He repeatedly nourishes you with His Holy Body and Blood. He keeps you, body and soul, so that you endure to the end. He saves you! Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Glee: Good, Gracious, or Ghastly?

The theme is a common one from literature and television: take a rag-tag bunch of misfits, bring them together, and when working together, the greatest of odds can be overcome. This is at the heart of Glee, running its first season on Fox, Wednesdays at 9 PM EST.

There are a number of roles and situations on Glee that the Christian would find troubling. Of course, every human is sinful, and we will not look at every single character. Still, it’s a good thing to look at a few examples.

Kurt Hummel is a sweet boy. He is a loyal friend. He has a good voice. He loves fashion. And he has a bit of a crush on star quarterback Finn Hudson. Yes, Kurt is a stereotypical, flamboyant homosexual.

Sue Sylvester is downright mean. This cheerleading coach is the embodiment of evil, cunningly cutting down kids’ egos, manipulating and destroying what she sees fit, literally pushing people down stairs, and trying to sabotage the Glee Club.

Noah "Puck" Puckerman has fathered the pre-born child of Quinn Fabray, cheerleader and president of the celibacy club. Quinn is also the girlfriend of Finn Hudson, and has convinced him that although they have not had sexual relations, he is the father.

But perhaps the most disturbing scenario of the entire series (and yet the one we are drawn to accept and enjoy) is the relationship of Will Schuester and Emma Pilsbury. Will and Emma were high school friends at the same school where he now teaches and she is guidance counselor. Will is now in a very unhappy marriage, in which his wife, Terri, is completely self-absorbed—to the point it is plainly idolatry. She shows no care or concern for him, is extremely demanding and manipulative, and has led them to the brink of financial ruin.

Viewers are not supposed to like Terri at all. Conversely, Emma is quirky, but as nice and sweet as can be, and you end up wanting Will and Emma to get together! Will and Emma both show care for people, and put others ahead of themselves.

Those of us who are committed to what the Lord teaches about the sanctity of Holy Marriage can be easily led down this (albeit fictitious) path of approving their repressed romance. Granted, Will and Emma have not gotten to the point of sexual infidelity – or have they? Tension-filled hugs and staring into one another’s eyes might not be “going all the way,” but there certainly is desire that transgresses the 6th commandment.

On the other hand, in spite of all these troubles, is there anything worth noting? I would suggest there is.

Glee is full of love and friendship. Students that didn’t find a niche in the school have

become a group of loyal friends, truly caring for one another. When others fail them, the Glee kids come to realize that these new friends have accepted them, “no strings attached.”

Glee shows forgiveness. Yes, I realize it is not flowing from Christ through His Gifts, but the Glee students, along with Will and his friends, demonstrate a human forgiveness and an allowing of new beginnings for each other. Quinn is shunned by her cheerleader “friends” when they discover she is pregnant. She is also kicked off the squad. But the Glee friends voice their care for her. And when Finn has been pressured by the football team to back off from Glee and even torment them, Kurt takes a slushy out of Finn’s hand and tosses it on himself. Kurt “took one for the [Glee] team,” so the quarterback did not have the guilt of doing this to a friend, yet he could maintain a “cool” reputation on the football team. When all is said and done, Finn is welcomed back to Glee.

So where does that leave you, the Christian viewer? How should you feel about Glee? I propose that the answer is similar to how you should feel about the people in your real life – the students and faculty of your own school, the friends in your own circles, even the people in the pews of your church.

Every one of us is a poor, miserable sinner. This does not excuse our actions or words or thoughts in the least. However, we live in a recognition that in faith we will not approve of every behavior, every day.

Yes, Glee has some sinful characters and sinful scenarios. Still, there are moments of (humanly speaking) goodness, kindness, and friendship. Being familiar with a show like Glee that so many are watching, may provide opportunities for you to engage in discussions that would otherwise be unavailable. Perhaps the Lord might end up using you to be His witness, speaking the truth in love. He may lead you to show what was good and supportive of the faith in a given episode, and what was not.

In the end, you already know the one and only Source of your Glee: Jesus Christ! Our Savior has taken on human flesh and was born, announced with the Glee of singing angels. At His Baptism, the Father announced from heaven His Glee in His Son, in whom He is well pleased. With Jesus’ triumph on the cross and His joyous resurrection, God demonstrated His Glee once again, in the ultimate, first Easter.

Jesus is the greatest, truest, and everlasting Glee for His Church! Living in Him, we await the Day when our Glee will be complete, and He gathers us all into the eternal kingdom He has GIVEN.

[This post was produced for HigherThings.org, and can be viewed also here.]