A myHT Fortress

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Your Names are Written in Heaven: A Homily for St. Michael & All Angels

Luke 10:17-20

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

The children come running, as they return from the vacation. Excitedly, each one wants to be the first to speak in the classroom. “Teacher, guess what I did!” “Teacher, pick me!” “You won’t believe where we went and what we got to do!”

Jesus is welcoming back His students from their field trip. His first 72 missionaries, aside from the 12 apostles, are coming back to Jesus in today’s Gospel, and they can’t wait to talk to Him! . “Teacher, guess what I did!” “Teacher, pick me!” “You won’t believe where we went and what we got to do!”

With eyes wide from amazement, they describe to Jesus how even demons submitted to them in His name. Fallen angels – Satan’s minions – evil spirits roamed about Palestine and wreaked all sorts of havoc and tormented people. Demons are still very real. But then and there, they were in a last-ditch effort to ruin Christ’s work of salvation. Demons were unleashing all they had to distract people from our Lord and His Gospel. No one else had made any headway. No one, that is, except Jesus. Our Lord Christ had cast out demons. And now, recently, His disciples were beginning to do the same – not from their own authority or power, but in the Name of Jesus!

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” How’s that for a thrill that sends chills down your spine? Satan, the old evil foe, the prince of this world, falls down. That wicked serpent who deceived our ancestor Eve, who tormented faithful Job, who set the hearts of Pharaoh, Herod, and even modern, “civilized” politicians against innocent babies, is cunning and ferocious. Yet he is powerless against the Word of Christ.

Watch yourselves, though. For often we do not encourage Satan’s fall. Sometimes we help him back up. When you shy away from admitting that the devil exists and is a threat, it actually is helpful to him. It helps him up! When you think that demons are made up stories in the Bible and deny their existence, it helps him up. When you refrain from being sustained in the Divine Service by Gospel and Sacrament, Satan is happy; it helps him up!

But for all those rebellious times, our compassionate Savior and loving Lord rescues us. He dishes out His forgiveness and mercy through His means of grace. And with every helping, Satan fall[s] like lightning from heaven!

In today’s Gospel, our Savior rejoices with these returning missionaries, giving encouragement and cheering, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” But what does He mean? When Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” is He talking about the mission that He just sent them on, or is He talking about Satan and his fellow, fallen angels being cast out after they rebelled against the Lord, before the fall of Adam and Eve? In a word, yes. But specifically, our Lord Jesus calls attention to the recent events as these men were preaching the Gospel.

You see, every time a pastor’s hand dips in that font and pours a cleansing flood over someone, Christ wins. And the devil falls down. Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven. Every time the saving work of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and His forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are declared to people, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven. Every time someone repents and comes and confesses their sin to their pastor and he absolves him, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven. Every time someone comes to the Holy Supper of our Lord, and receives the Holy Gift of Christ Himself, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven.

But as joyous as it is, to know that Satan is falling, our Lord Christ declares that we are not to spend too much time focusing on that. No. He says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus says, “Yeah. It is great that you are kicking the devil’s backside in My Name! But this is even better: You get to spend eternity in heaven with Me!” You have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with His Gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith. You have been given new birth by Water and the Word, and continue to be nourished by His Gospel and Eucharist. Through these Gifts, Jesus is preserving you on that list, “written in heaven.”

On this Church festival of Saint Michael & All Angels, it can get easy to lose that focus. For well over a thousand years, the Holy Church has taken the 29th of September as a day to give thanks to God for His holy angels who serve and protect us. In the Lutheran Church, we sometimes transfer this celebration to a Sunday, so more people can participate in the occasion. We praise the Lord for His legions of spirit warriors who defend us from the evil one, and watch over God’s children. They do amazing work – miraculous work – that blesses us in our earthly pilgrimage, and for this it is completely appropriate to pause and thank our heavenly Father. Yet do it with the proper focus.

As the Master Teacher welcomes us to the Divine Service, we may get excited recalling the protection of guardian angels at this or that moment in life. “Teacher, pick me! I have a great story about angels!” And we remember the car accident where the police officer claims that no one should have survived, yet the baby in the car seat filled with shattered glass does not have a single scratch. Another recounts an accident where the semi’s rear bumper came to rest on the steering wheel, and one more inch would have made the crash fatal. Still others tell of moments of rescue, with no physical explanation, from tragedies, war, and violence.

Are these good to recall? Most definitely! Do angels serve and protect us? Absolutely! Should we honor them and praise the Lord for using them? Without a doubt! But should they crowd out the message of Christ? Never.

Jesus, Lord over men and angels, reminds us, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And until we join Him there, dear friends in Christ, you can join the thrilling celebration of Satan falling like lightning. We rejoice not simply in his defeat, but knowing that his defeat is Christ’s victory! Jesus baptizing another. Jesus preaching His Gospel to another. Jesus feeding another with His Body and Blood.

Praise God! Michael and Gabriel, angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven join in this praising. Celebrate that our gracious God sends them to serve and protect His children and His Church. But even more, dear friends in Christ, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Becoming Obi Wan

OK, I know that many of my friends would consider this sacrilege, but in the Prequel Trilogy of Star Wars, I grew to love Ewan McGregor's Obi Wan even more than Sir Alec Guinness'. (And that is saying a lot!)

Here is an interesting tidbit I just found on Ewan's Obi Wan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weedon: The Lutheran Study Bible

The following is an article that Pastor Wil Weedon posted on his blog this weekend. With his permission, I repeat it here, word-for-word.

First, a sadness. My brother-in-law is visiting - he's attends an LCMS Church out east. I was very saddened to hear that he knew nothing of The Lutheran Study Bible. His pastor hadn't shared about it with the congregation apparently. That's a crying shame. Folks, let's get the word out on this! Don't assume that your relatives and friends in other congregations have heard about it yet.

Second, a goofiness. The only feature of TLSB I've found, well, odd, is the way that the introduction to every biblical book begins. I have no idea what these introductions were supposed to accomplish, but so far I've found the really good stuff to start with Luther's introductions and then the comments following. Pr. McCain assures me it is just me. Might well be. They just seem strange.

Third, unbelievably wonderful features:

* the placing of the date when the events described approximately occurred at the top of each column. Folks have trouble keeping what happened when in order because the Scriptures are anything but chronological in the way they are assembled; this goes a long, long way toward helping.

* The Law/Gospel application notes. These little notes run throughout each chapter of Scripture and invite to some deep reflection on the Word just read and invariably conclude with a prayer. Scripture as a prayer book! YES!!!

* Citations from the church fathers (early and reformation) and the Lutheran Symbols. Since the Holy Spirit "calls, gathers, and enlightens the whole Christian Church on earth" we'd be foolish not to consider the wisdom of our forefathers as they meditated upon the Sacred Scriptures. TLSB notes that these citations are offered not to suggest that the Fathers or the Symbols are on a par with the Sacred Scriptures, but to listen to them as we might listen to a wise old pastor who's had years of living experience with the Word. (p. xii)

* Schnorr's engravings. I am partial to icons, I confess, but I must say that these engravings are quite beautiful. Classic Western artistic convention and they grace many pages.

* Articles reflecting on difficult areas in the intersection between the Scriptures and life in this crazy world we're currently living in. Wrath of God? Covered. Women in the Church? Covered. Homosexuality? Covered. What happens at death? Covered. Claims of faith healers that put an impossible burden on faith? Covered. These exceedingly well done articles pop up near the key Scripture passages that illumine these questions for us, and they let the light that is God's Word shine upon these question and guide our steps.

* The Christological focus. It's never lost! On every page, TLSB lets the Word of God do what our Lord says that it does: "testify of Me." Help in hearing that testimony as Scripture interprets Scripture (or, as I like to think of it, Scripture's enharmonics calling to each other) is invaluable.

* Geared toward confessing. The Word of God is meant to be spoken! Within the Christian Church we are to speak it to each other, and we are all called to speak it to the world. TLSB consistently reminds of this high calling and privilege to invite others to share with us the joy we have in the forgiveness of sins and adoption into God's family.

* An extensive set of cross-references. Nothing so illumines the Word of God as the Word of God. By following the cross-references similar words or themes come to clarity. So many of the cross-reference systems in English Bibles were prepared by Christians of the Reformed community and tend to miss Sacramental allusions; TLSB uses not only the best of the typical English cross-references, but includes ones from the traditional Luther Bible. Very rich indeed!

* Reference to LSB hymns and liturgy. I've been delighted and surprised to find a rather tight integration with Lutheran Service Book in the notes. The people's prayed and sung confession is further illumined by the Scripture passages that evoked these songs in the first place. An example. The notes on Psalm 51 observe: "David confesses his sin with Bathsheba in this intensely personal lament that has become significant in the Church's liturgy (vv. 10-12 in the Offertory, v 15 in the opening sentences of Matin and Vespers and as the Introit for Ash Wednesday)." (p. 896) Totally sweet!

* Word play explained. Lots of times there's a pun between similar sounding words in Hebrew or Greek that is simply lost in English translation. TLSB very helpfully notes these instances in the notes and will often produce a transliteration so that an English reader can hear the similarity in sound.

* Prayers for illumination. We've learned to look at the inside cover of the books for goodies tucked away by CPH. TLSB is no exception. There's an order for Bible reading, prayers for understanding and growing in the Word, lots more.

* Lectionaries. The two lectionary systems of LSB are at the front of the book. Easy to look up the readings for the coming Sunday and meditate upon them prior to attending Divine Service!

* Small Catechism. Having this handy within the bound Bible is a stroke of genius - CPH already did it some years back with an earlier edition of the ESV. In this Bible it is moved up to the front - fitting as for Lutherans the Small Catechism is a summary of the entire Scriptures. That's about it for now, but I wanted to put these thoughts out for any who are interested. If you haven't bought it yet, I can't encourage you strongly enough to get it and feast richly upon the Word of God with the remarkable help it provides.

Posted by William Weedon

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Who's the Greatest? A Homily on Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37

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

Who’s the greatest? Thirty or forty years ago, many would have answered that question with the name of a young boxer from Louisville: Muhammed Ali. Who’s the greatest? Ask that question in the realm of 20th century politics, and you could get very different answers, ranging from FDR to Ronald Reagan. Who’s the greatest? In the topic of cartoons, is it Mickey Mouse, or Bugs Bunny? In music, Elvis or the Beatles, or even Michael Jackson? Or an even greater competition – who’s the greatest – Cubs or White Sox?

The disciples are arguing the question, “Who’s the greatest?” These men we call “saint” and recognize them as heroes in the faith, yet even they had their share of rivalry and jealous strife.

Who’s the greatest? It is such a basic question, and one which has one basic answer every person wants to give: “me.” Stop for a moment and be honest. When you are in a group of people, you still want things to go your way. You want them to listen to your words and agree with your ideas. And you want this at the expense of the words, ideas, and ways of others. Who’s the greatest? “Me!” you say.

At school, we have the student attitude: forget about my classmate. I want the teacher to notice me – I’m the best. In the workplace: I’m the hardest worker. I am the most valuable to the company. I’m the greatest. And in church: I’ve put in more hours and donated more money than others. I’ve worked hard here. I am the greatest.

But is that really greatness? Is it great to be keeping track of our deeds like a bunch of Pharisees? Is it great to congratulate ourselves?

What is the answer to the disciples’ question: “Who is the greatest?” “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” Who’s the greatest? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13.) Jesus laid down His life not only for friends, but also His enemies. He laid down His life in order to trade us for our death. Who is greater than that? No one. Who’s the Greatest? Jesus! That’s who!

Amazing! Greatness has nothing to do with power or wealth. It is completely unrelated to politics or fame. False religions such as Islam or Mormonism, or even false teaching coming from the likes of Joel Osteen will speak of greatness in far more earthly terms. But true greatness – such as THE greatest One, Jesus Christ – is all about supreme love and mercy sacrificing self.

As you see the image of a crucifix, you witness the clearest picture of greatness. There is God, before your very eyes, giving everything up and laying down His life. Jesus Christ hangs there, body broken and blood shed for you. That is the image of true greatness.

When you see Jesus on the cross, you behold the greatest act of love, mercy, and forgiveness. There Almighty God makes Himself weak to give His strength, and gives Himself to death that He may give you life. Our Savior, nailed to that cross, is the absolute greatest!

And He doesn’t want to keep that greatness to Himself. Our loving Lord gifts you with greatness, so that you may enjoy the greatness of eternal life with Him. Through Baptism He has given a blessed exchange, trading you the depths of your broken flaws for His perfect greatness. And through His Holy Supper, He gives you to taste of His greatness, and as you eat His Body and Blood, it consumes you and transforms you, so you abide in His greatness.

So as you receive Jesus’ greatness, will things suddenly go your way? Will you automatically become successful? There are no such promises. Jesus being the greatest and then giving that greatness does not mean that we get everything going the way we want. It doesn’t mean we become wealthy or popular or powerful.

In fact, in the life of the Christian, if we are obsessed with becoming great, we fall into the same sin as the Twelve. We are slipping into desiring to be our own God, and join Adam and Eve in their rebellious quest for power and control. Yes, you might say that the sin in the Garden was precisely answering “Me!” to the question, “Who’s the greatest?”

But that is not true greatness. If it is sought and desired, it is not true greatness. “Who is the greatest?” has a truthful answer each of us must confess: “Not me.”

The greatness is righteousness in Christ, gifted in faith. The greatness is the mercy of God, receiving us into the kingdom of heaven. Even though we are not searching for it, as Teddy Roosevelt remarked, we have greatness thrust upon us—not as he understood, not the “greatness” the world thinks of – but as a gift of love and mercy.

So rejoice, even when finances are not great. Be glad, even when nothing goes your way and you suffer hardships. You may be the lowest and humblest of people that no history book or memoir would ever recall. You may never have a monument or statue or portrait remembering you to future generations. But so what?! That is not important. That is not “great” in God’s eyes.

For today we are reminded of true greatness through the saving acts and words of Jesus, who speaks His greatness to you before our Father in heaven, and gifts you with it that you may share in that blessed life.

“Who’s the greatest?” Jesus! And He is the greatest, for you! Amen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

God Save the Queen

Anglophiles that we are in this family, I am posting this lovely setting of "God Save the Queen." Hat Tip to Pastor Juhl who posted this on FB.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Latest Laugh: Taylor the Latte Boy

Kristi tripped upon this one online. Since listening to Wicked, we have become big Kristin Chenoweth fans. She apparently sang this on a couple talk shows a while back, but it is so funny!

No Pixie Dust Needed: A Homily on Mark 9:14-29

Mark 9:14-29

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

“All it takes is faith and trust…and…a little bit of pixie dust!” So says Peter Pan as he tells the Darling children how they can fly. You just need to believe hard enough, he says. That, and add a little magic. Soon, the children are flying off to Neverland with Peter, after he has encouraged them to believe. That was easy! They are quickly convinced that they have the power within themselves.

Or how about another moment in motion picture history. Luke Skywalker stands at the edge of the swamp, unable to levitate his starship out of the mire and on to dry land. The diminutive Jedi Master Yoda uses his powers to do the unthinkable, and he causes the ship to rise up and come to rest next to them. “I don’t believe it!” says Luke. “That is why you fail,” responds his master. Again, the power comes in the belief. If Luke had believed strongly enough, he could have lifted the many-ton ship with his mind.

We often run a danger in thinking of power residing in our faith. We turn faith into a work. Believe hard enough, stand firm in your faith, and God will give you salvation. Is that really what the Bible says? Even when Jesus says today, “O faithless generation,” is He really saying that the disciples were unable to cast out the demon because their trust was not strong or their belief not firm to the level God was requiring?

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

So often we hear well-intentioned but misguided encouragement that says believing is something we do. That faith is our own decision. My friends, if you think faith is based on you deciding to follow Jesus, or that you made Him your Lord and Savior, you are sadly mistaken. He is your Lord and Savior whether you like it or not. Christ is the Lord and Savior of millions around the world who have rejected that gift and turned their back on salvation. Still not one of us can accept Him or come to Him. That is the Spirit’s work!

“The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith is a gift – not a work. Belief is not something we actively think about or decide. Belief is a blessing from the Holy Spirit who has placed it in us!

For many of us, the early moments of that faith, that belief, were tied into our baptism. The Lord combines His Word with water and works a miracle – a miracle of destruction and of life.

The demon had cast the boy into water to destroy him. But the Lord spins that around. He casts us into water and destroys our Old Adams. Thrust into the blessed font, our Lord plunges His devilish enemies to a wretched death. And up from those depths rise new children, believers in Christ. But they rise because He is raising them, not because they have rescued themselves or cooperated in any way. So yes, like the boy, there is an attempt to destroy, but with God it is successful.

And in Baptism, the Lord has taken you from being mute – unable to speak any words of thanks or praise to God, and by gifting you with faith, has opened your mouth. He blesses you with His wondrous Gospel, speaking His words of life and salvation into your speech.

His faith, His gift. And even His prayer. When Jesus says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer,” He is not saying the disciples had not prayed. He is not saying they had not prayed hard enough, or with the right words.

Jesus’ prayer IS the Word of God. The Lord Himself speaking, and His words doing exactly what He says. The driving out of the demon has nothing to do with how eloquent the prayers of the disciples were or were not. It was not dependent on some sort of measuring of their trust in Christ. The demon was driven out by the power and authority of Jesus Christ. His Word commanding that evil spirit gave it no choice but to leave for good.

Our Savior continues to protect you too from the devil. He whisks you away from Satan and his minions in the waters of Baptism, and keeps you flowing up stream to life with Him. He picks you up from the desperate cries and waving arms of your frantic parents and places you safe and secure in His Holy Church, where He will keep you as you receive His forgiveness until life everlasting.

And in His Church we all abide, in the belief that the Holy Spirit has given us. Yet what about doubt? What about mistrust? What about all those times when we begin to listen to the temptations to question God and imagine that we know better? We are then falling into moments of 1st-commandment sin – unbelief!

At those times, we join this desperate father in his prayer: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Thankful that salvation does not depend on our own mind, reason, or strength, we rejoice that the Spirit gives faith, belief, and we pray that our Savior would rescue us from any unbelief.

Today we thank God for our Sunday School and Bible Classes here at St. John’s. We are truly blessed by the Lord with such opportunities, and He uses them to nourish us in the belief that He gives. Christ, our Master Teacher works through these men and women to speak His Gospel and share His love. Indeed, praise God for these opportunities, and use them well and often!

Dear friends in Christ, Jesus comes to you, giving you comfort today. HE shows you He is infinitely more powerful than the devil and his demons, as He rescues you from their influence. He celebrates that you are baptized into Him. And He continually gives His love to you, building you up in the faith He has also given.

On this Rally Day, rejoice with our Sunday School teachers, not because we have worked hard enough or believed hard enough, but together, we have all been gifted with faith and life in Jesus Christ!