A myHT Fortress

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Star Wars: The Musical -- One Season More

Hosanna! Blessed is He Who Comes: A Homily on Matthew 21:1-9

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

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” This morning we hear the chants of praise echoing from the streets of Jerusalem, welcoming Jesus. Voices raised singing psalms to the Savior King as He humbly entered the Holy City, riding on a donkey.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These words from Psalm 118 were chanted to Jesus then, and they are sung to Him even now. Throughout the centuries the Church has continued to praise the Lord with this beautiful confession of faith.

This morning we hear a confession of faith from new friends in our midst. They have been baptized. They have been catechized in the faith. Today, they acknowledge that gift.

But what about this confession of faith in the Gospel for this day? What do these words confess? “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna!” “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means, “Save us now, we pray.” It is what David sang in Psalm 118:25.

“Save us, we pray, O LORD!” The Lord was coming! And the crowds gathering around Jesus, trying to get a glimpse of Him, singing for joy, did not take this word lightly. This single word was confessing faith in Christ! The One they shouted to was the One whom they believed could save them!

Granted, even five days before His death, the people still did not understand how Jesus was coming to save them. Was He going to incite riots or work a miracle against the Roman garrison in Jerusalem? No one knew. They just knew they were expecting great power and majesty, like one would expect from royalty!

We follow that pattern too. We want our coming Jesus who will snap His fingers and produce all that we want or desire. We want a Jesus who will make life easy and trouble-free and will simply take away any illnesses or accidents or hardships from us and our loved ones. We want a Jesus who will bless our parish, school, and day care with lots of money and popularity. We want a Jesus who will give us an easy but high-paying job, a big house, expensive cars, and all the latest things that our friends have. We want a Jesus who – plain and simple – is not Jesus!

Repent. The people of Jerusalem may not have known any better. But you do. Lusting after the power, and glory of God in the image that we want Him to be, and trying to make that power and glory our own, has been a favorite sin ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. And imitating the ways of the world, as if its wisdom and ways were desired more than God’s, only leads to pain and judgment for the church.

Yet the Lord does not manipulate and remove trials from you. He does not wave a royal scepter like a wand and make you a force to be reckoned with, in the ways of the world. Instead, He surrounds you with His love and grace and forgiveness, as He bears your burdens and carries you through every trial and valley.

The wrong idea of Jesus? Even so, in this single word, “Hosanna,” we know that they looked to Jesus as the coming Savior. We join them in this desire to adore our God and King.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” With these words, the people of Jerusalem also confessed that Jesus is the Son of David. Not only is He the coming Savior, but He is the coming King! This Descendant of King David was recognized for who He was, again, even if not completely understood. He is a Savior. And as a descendant of David, He is One who could claim the throne. He is Messiah – the Anointed One – the Christ who is the Promised King. This Royal Heir had Divine right to rule over them, and they welcomed the Anointed One!

Yes, Jesus is King. He does rule over all. But His kingdom is not of this world. He is, as many Hebrew prayers state, “King of the Universe.” Yet He has no geographic realm. His rule is spiritual, godly, and eternal. He goes beyond any limits of our imaginations for our ultimate King.

Why? Because the Son of David is also the Son of God! He IS the LORD, God Almighty in the flesh. Jesus Christ, our Savior and King is our God!

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” With the Name of God invoked, He brings His presence to His people. When two or three are gathered in His Name – “The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – God blesses and bestows His presence.

Jesus, being God, brought the presence of the Lord wherever He was. Riding into Jerusalem, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh! They were blessed to behold their King and to see and hear God – Jesus – coming in the Name of the Lord! But they were not alone!

Every Lord’s Day, we are blessed to behold and hear Him too. We hear Jesus Christ as He speaks through the lips of our pastor. We behold and hear Him as we approach His altar, tasting Christ and the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He gives. Miraculously, our Savior-King comes and enters our bodies with His own Body and Blood, feeding our bodies and souls to give us life!

We hear Him and receive Him week after week in His Word and in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus DOES come to us. And every Sunday – every Lord’s Day – is a celebration of that presence.

That is why the Divine Service is the most important thing in any Christian’s life, whether they realize it or not. It is central to our faith. It is the heartbeat of the Church. It is where God comes and gives Himself as a Gift! It is where the Lord feeds us so we have the strength and nourishment to continue in life. When people truly understand this, they desire to come to the Divine Service.

Today our new friends who are confirmed or are transferring in are swearing to the Lord God Almighty to be faithful and regular in coming to His House, receiving His preaching, confessing your sin, and partaking of His Holy Eucharist. This is a solemn vow that there is nothing more important to you than coming to the Divine Service in Christ’s Church!

The devil and the world will tempt you. They will try to convince you how boring it is to come to the Divine Service. It is a tough battle, and Satan will try hard to harass you. Even when you do come, the devil will try to convince you to let your heart and mind drift from the Holy Gifts that our Savior gives.

But our dear and blessed Savior is there. The same Jesus who hears our “Hosannas” and “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” is still there. He continues to forgive us, even as we drift during the Divine Service, through the evry Gifts in that Service.

And with joy, we respond to that forgiveness, singing as His redeemed saints, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Star Wars: The Musical -- Overture and Dark Darth Vader

Kristi finds it almost disturbing, but I love this musical. It has only been preformed once, that I know of. You can find more info on the Facebook page for it, or at its website.

In any event, I find it humorous and entertaining, but I have a love for both Star Wars and musical theatre.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two Men Went Up to the Temple: A Homily on Luke 18:9-17

[Many of St. John's parishioners are currently reading "Why I am a Lutheran" by Rev. Dan Preus. A number of references to his book are woven into this homily.]

Luke 18:9-17

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

“Two men went up into the temple to pray.” Many people from all walks of life came daily to the temple. These men were coming for Daily Prayer, a time set aside in the morning and in the afternoon to thank and praise God – kind of like our Matins or Vespers. Set prayers and liturgies were spoken and sung. And these two particular men are the ones to whom Jesus draws our attention: a Pharisee and a tax collector.

What extremes in vocation! Their callings in life —their occupations and positions – were as far apart in the eyes of men as one could be! A Pharisee always appeared to be a good and righteous man. And tax collectors? They were the lowest of the low – traitors serving the pagan occupying government, and cheats at that!

And there they were, the supposedly righteous one, and the thief. Which one are you? That depends on the given moment. These men, like you and I, are to live our lives serving. Doing good works. The Pharisee has a list. Many works are in his daily routine. “Lord, just listen to

how great I am! You should be really proud of me!” And his prayer, as he drones on, has nothing to do with God, and simply is a resume of all the great things the Pharisee is accomplishing.

But for all the works he lists, is he really good? Dr. Preus reminds us in chapter three of his book: “in God’s eyes only believers do a good work Only the deed done in faith is acceptable. ‘For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23b). Even our finest and most honorable deed in this life must be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.” (Preus, 79.)

When you and I join the Pharisee in congratulating ourselves on how good we are – when we get all smug and pat ourselves on the shoulder and say how great it is that we do all this good, that we collected all these things for those in the Sudan, that we have solid doctrine free from medieval errors, and that we make our guests feel welcome, we become self-obsessed and self-serving; we become unbelieving idolaters! We join the Pharisee in his lack of faith – his damning unbelief. It is joining him in his death.

The tax collector had been dead in his sin too. “But the Holy Spirit called him by the Gospel and enlightened him with His gifts.” He was brought to repentance and pulled to faith. And joined to Christ, he was made alive in God.

In Holy Baptism, Jesus has done the same for you. Believers are alive! Yes, dead to sin, alive in Christ. Our Lord brought you to the font and you were joined with Him, as He was nailed to the cross. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

You died to sin. The Old Self has been crucified. Now God has raised you to new life in Him. His gift is that we live in the glory of our Risen Savior! Up out of those murky waters of death, Christ has raised a new creature – you!

So, can you accomplish what the Pharisees imagined, that somehow after coming to faith, you will not sin like common people anymore? Sorry. It does not work that way. Luther had a saying that, “Christians are always sinners and saints at the same time” (Preus, 84.) As His baptized children in the faith, the Lord preserves you as His saints. Yet, the Old sinful self still desires to be “number one.” You still want to think, say and do the things that please the sinful flesh. It is an ongoing battle. Yet the Lord will win the victory. He is fending off the evil in you, that you may continue to abide as His baptized children.

At Mt. Calvary, Jesus fulfilled and completed everything demanded at Mt. Sinai. You are no longer under the threat of death that came through that Law. And in His Holy Font at Mt. Zion, you have been given new birth as His saints, rescued from the wretchedness of a sinful life cut off from the Savior and His Church.

“As residents of Mount Zion, we rejoice with saints and angels around the throne of God as we thank Him for the death of our old sinful nature and for our new life in Christ” (Preus, 85.) It is an amazing joy to soak in what is really happening here! You are participating in something grand and cosmic! You are being enveloped in a miraculous moment. You are joining the “angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven” as you “laud and magnify” our Lord, “evermore praising Him” and eating His Body and drinking His Blood! And every time He gathers you to receive these Gifts, the old sinful nature dies again, and your new life is nourished and sustained in His forgiveness and mercy.

Now we do not stand in fear of the law killing and damning us. Jesus suffered damnation of the cross for you and me. We have been saved by Christ, and are “free to serve Him out of love” (Preus, 86.)

Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to bring you to repentance like the tax collector. He has convicted your hearts and brought you to His life-saving gifts that have rescued you. Like the tax collector, your sin and gilt is now gone. Our Savior has removed it from you. And you go down to your house justified.

Such incredible joy is now in you that you love and serve both God and neighbor. He sends you as His hands and feet and mouths to deliver His mercy. What a joy and honor that is. No way of earning heaven. Jesus has already done that for you. Now He gives and you receive, and all with Jesus at the center. He gives. You receive. And He uses you to give to others. What amazing mercy He gives to others, through you! And what amazing mercy He gives to you!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Names Written in Heaven: A Homily on Luke 10:17-20

Luke 10:17-20

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

The Lord is taking you on a hike through the mountains. Here in Chicago, that is not so easy to envision. We are blessed with large, open stretches of flat ground on which this city is built. Still, this week and next we will hear about three mountains that have been locations that have had a huge impact on you and your salvation.

“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 mother Eve, who tormented faithful Job, who set the hearts to reinvent God in their own image while newly delivered from Pharaoh at the Red Sea – although he is powerful and a strong adversary, he is powerless against the Word of Christ.

Watch yourselves, though. For often we do not encourage Satan’s fall. Sometimes we help and aid him. When you refrain from being sustained in the Divine Service by Gospel and Sacrament, Satan is happy; it helps him up! When you convince yourself that you “didn’t get anything” out of a service where God’s Word was faithfully preached and His Sacrament administered, you have been tricked by the devil, and rather than help his fall, you help him back up. Do not join the majority in the world and say, “Oh, we all believe in “god” – that’s enough. We’ll all end up in the same place.” They have bought a lie; and it is a lie from Satan. There is no such thing as a generic “god.” There is One God – the Holy Trinity – and Jesus is God the Son come in the flesh! It is a terrible symptom of our fallen nature to try to reinvent God in our own image.

It was on this first mountain mentioned in our study that we realize how fallen we are. At Sinai, the Lord handed down His Law, proving to us just how far we are from pleasing Him. “Daily we sin much,” says Dr. Luther. In the Ten Commandments, our holy God shows us that there is absolutely no way we can save ourselves and earn life with Him. We are completely rebellious!

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!

You see, to begin with, on Mount Calvary, Jesus assumed all sin on Himself and paid the price with His innocent and holy sacrifice, once and for all. The righteousness of Christ – His just perfection and holiness – are given through His precious blood. He was innocent, yet suffered and endured the miserable death that you and I deserve. There on that mountain, He paid the price and it stands paid forever!

He purchased your right to enter the courts of Mount Zion – the holy Church. Zion originally was the name for the mount on which the Temple was built. It sometimes was used for all Jerusalem, and then for all the Church, everywhere.

For those German immigrants in 1875, this humble corner of Montrose and LaVergne Avenues became Mt. Zion! Here, Christ delivered Himself to them.

Even now, here in the courts of Zion, 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.”

So many want to find salvation in other places. They don’t want to think it is that simple and that particular, that salvation comes through Christ alone, with His work on Mount Calvary and His delivery through Mount Zion. We even have to be careful as we discuss angels. If you give too much attention to Gabriel or Michael or Raphael, you end up distracting from Christ. Do not lose focus.

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.

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.

Satan may have thought he gained some ground when God declared His Law at Mount Sinai. But at Mount Calvary, Jesus – the Lord God in the flesh – took on our punishment, and gave us His righteousness as His Gift! Now, as we regularly gather in Mount Zion, He delivers that righteousness to us again and again, as He gifts us with His Gospel and Sacraments.

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. Rejoice that for 135 years, our gracious Savior has delivered His Gifts here, as He gathers His people on this corner in Chicago. But even more, dear friends in Christ, rejoice that [by His suffering and death on Calvary, the accusation from Sinai is now dismissed, and through the giving of His gifts at Zion that keep you in the faith] your names are written in heaven. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Someone DID Rise from the Dead: A Homily on Luke 16:19-31

Luke 16:19-31

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

It seems a little early to start talking about “A Christmas Carol” and Ebenezer Scrooge. In some ways, it seems that Scrooge is patterned off of the Rich Man in today’s Gospel text. And yet, there is a big difference.

Ebenezer Scrooge worships his money. He adores the wealth and serves it, with every thought,

word, and deed done to protect and save the money, for fear of losing it. On the other hand, the Rich Man in today’s text worships himself. He uses his wealth in every thought, word, and deed, to make his life comfortable and excessive. Money is his tool in adoring himself and giving in to his every whim.

This is a recurring theme in fictional works in print and film, sometimes even with humor, which lightens our mood and can get us to forget about the idolatry here. Think of London Tipton on Disney Channel’s Suite Life. Or the Cullen family in the Twilight series, Richie Rich from the old comic books, or Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. We have an obsession with wealth, even when we try not to. These characters are fiction, and none of them are really mean, but think about their life of faith, or rather, the absence of it. Now the financial success is not the sin. But adoring it is. Worshiping oneself with it is. Crowding

Christ out of your life for however much or little wealth you have is.

Then there is Tiny Tim, the adorable little boy with the weakness and illness, hobbling on his crutch, and on the verge of death unless Scrooge changes his ways. In the Scriptures it is poor Lazarus. But Lazarus is neither adorable nor little. He is a grown man, exceedingly poor, starving, his stomach rumbling and desiring the garbage that falls from the rich man’s table, and covered with sores.

In the book and films of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge ends up repenting and changing his ways. He begins to share his wealth rather than be a hoarding miser. So how dare this Rich Man deny mercy to Lazarus! He refuses to show mercy to the beggar, and ends up in hell. But is that why?

Why does he go to hell? Not because of his sin in hoarding and coveting. Not in the sin of denying mercy. These are wicked, yes, but they are merely the symptoms of his problem – his damning problem. Jesus is NOT at the center. The Rich Man himself is! He fears, loves, and trusts in himself above all things. He gives himself offerings of the finest clothes and most sumptuous feasts every day. No room for the Lord God in his life, only for self!

And as he rots in hell, you see another difference between the Rich Man and Scrooge. Scrooge, according to the story, had a true change of heart. He repented and even became known as a man of peace and generosity. This Rich Man never repented, and now in hell, does not even want his brothers to repent in faith. No. He just wants them to escape punishment. That’s it.

Beware, my friends. Do not let this be your habit. Do not go through the motions of repentance, but do it only out of fear of punishment. True repentance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. He will recall you to your baptismal waters where He refreshes and renews you in Christ’s forgiveness. Forgiveness that comes to you through His Holy Gospel!

Jesus, the loving Shepherd sought out this man, but was rejected. Christ knew his needs and well-provided him, but still he wandered and refused to return to be folded to the Shepherd’s breast. How sad!

Beware of wandering as the Rich Man did. It doesn’t even take skipping the Divine Service to wander. You might be enjoying a few sips of your Starbucks or sneaking in a text or two on your cell phone while in the pew. You might be looking at your watch, or not, but still thinking, “When is he ever going to stop!?” Yes, these are offensive to God, and begin refusing to listen to Him.

And that is what the remarks about the Rich Man’s brothers are all about. They had Moses and the Prophets. In other words, they had the Scriptures! They knew God’s Word. If they did not listen to God’s Word, they would not believe even if someone rose from the dead! And rose from the dead they DID! The daughter of Jairus, the son of the Widow from Nain, and…huh…LAZARUS. These resurrections did not cause any great numbers to repent. No massive group of followers for Jesus as a result of these miracles – even the miracle of rising from the dead. But even more importantly, not long after this, Jesus Christ Himself suffered, died, and rose from the dead! Those who refused to listen to God’s Word, refused to believe, even when Jesus Christ rose from the dead!

Not so with you. You are Jesus’ little lambs. You have been gathered by the Great Shepherd of the Sheep who is risen from the dead. He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His Gifts, sanctified, and kept you in the true faith.

You have a new life, forgiven in Christ. The Great Shepherd has risen from the dead, and speaks to you now in His Holy Word. He proclaims His comfort to you week after week in the preaching of His Gospel. He releases you from the guilt of your idolatry through Baptism and Holy Absolution. And He gives you far more than scraps from His Table – He gives you His very Body and Blood, given and shed for you, that you may not end up in the place of torment, but have life with Father Abraham, Lazarus, and all the saints, together with our loving Savior.

Jesus has gifted you with life and salvation, and has given you all that you need in this life, as well. He provided even for poor Lazarus. He has given you far more. As you continue to hear about “Build St. John’s” you are given Christ’s mercy. God has shown great mercy in building this congregation. He gives you His mercy even now. He IS mercy. And He bestows mercy through you.

The Rich Man placed his faith in himself and in the wrong wealth. He trusted in what moth and rust can destroy and thieves steal. But God the Holy Spirit has placed your faith in true wealth – the wealth of Christ! Jesus IS the absolutely highest in value. Jesus IS the priceless treasure.

Rejoice, dear redeemed and baptized little lambs! Jesus has given you Himself, which surpasses any wealth imaginable. He has shown His ultimate mercy and keeps you forever! Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hymnal in Every Home

"Back in the day," Lutherans would tote their hymnals from home to church, and then back home again. The compact Gesangbuecher would have only the text, without music, but effort was placed into learning the tunes as well, so they could be sung at home without notation. Hymns and prayers were taught to their children from what often was one of precious few books in their household. There was a sense of honor and respect for the treasures contained in those pages.

It is the hope and prayer of our faithful friends at CPH that such an attitude is reborn. The goal for Lutheran Service Book is that is not only be a book in the pew rack, but a part of your daily life of prayer. Be sure you are a part of this transforming movement of "A Hymnal in Every Home!"

Enduring and lasting, the psalms, hymns, and prayers of this volume will enrich any family whose hearts and minds the Holy Spirit will open. For nearly four years the congregations I have served have used this treasure; and from the start, every member of my household has had one as well! We join the 80% of LCMS congregations that have adopted LSB as their hymnal.

Thanks be to God for His enduring Word, liturgy, and song!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Really, Jesus? Seriously? Leave the 99 to Look for One?

Luke 15:1-10

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

No way! Jesus – this has to be some kind of joke! Leave 99 out in the desert wastelands to go looking for one?! Really?! Seriously?! No shepherd is going to do that – at least not a Good one! Or is He?

Why on earth would the shepherd leave the good ones to go looking for the stray? Why would he endanger those who had been obedient and search high and low for the one who wandered? There are predators in the desert – wolves, snakes – and dangerous terrain. Why risk any more? Why on earth would any self-respecting shepherd leave 99 sheep and go looking for one?! Why look for the trouble maker when you still have 99 good sheep?!

But then again, how “good” are those 99? They think they are pretty good. They feel they are righteous. They comfort themselves in a self-righteous pride.

So are you the one, or one of the 99? Careful how you answer that! And be careful not to romanticize that picture too much.

Don’t get some high and mighty image of yourself of “Oh! I haven’t strayed. I’ve been in church all my life. I never was a rebellious youth.” The Lord would beg to differ. Even when you have been in church physically, if your honest, your mind has wandered. As the mind-blowing miracle of heaven opening and Jesus coming to you in His Sacrament occurs, your sinful flesh is attempting to tell you that this is all boring. As you have spoken the words of the “Our Father,” your mind has slipped to other matters, every bit as much as everyone else. As you have outwardly been good to others and made decent choices, inwardly you have desired or lusted after things that wish to rob you of faith.

Being one of the 99 does not mean you have been good. It simply means that your sin has been of a different variety. In the end, it is every bit as damning as the straying of the one.

And maybe you have been the one. Maybe you have gone through a rebellious time. Maybe you turned your back on the Lord and His Church. Maybe you went looking for events, people, or even churches simply because they excited you and spoke what you wanted to hear to feel good about yourself. And as you were feeling good about yourself and perhaps even with your self-esteem soaring, your eternal well-being was in danger.

The congregation in which I grew up has a beautiful stained glass window that is a copy of the famous portrait by Bernard Plockhorst of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. A large group of sheep are following the Lord, with one little lamb safe and secure, nuzzling its face in Jesus’ bosom. All is well and good. The lamb has been saved from the appealing traps around him.

Dear friends, no matter who you are or what you have done, at one point or another, you have joined that straying lamb. But God our Savior… desires all people to be saved! (1 Tim. 2:3-4) The Good Shepherd “drew [you] up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set [your] feet upon a rock, making [your] steps secure.” That is the sweet Gospel, with the lamb having been rescued from the dangers of the world and itself.

Whether a single stray or a self-righteous animal from the mob of 99, the Holy Spirit has worked on you. He has brought you to repentance. He has turned you from your ways. Jesus has pulled you out of the briers, away from the rocky ledges keeping you from falling to your death and destruction. The Good and Gentle Shepherd gives the rescue as a gift, with no payment required, reuniting the whole flock. And what a joyous reunion it is!

“[The Good Shepherd] calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'” All the Church on earth and in heaven, together with all the holy angels rejoice and praise God for every repentant sinner redeemed and restored by Jesus. This is a tremendous, cosmic celebration every time the Holy Spirit brings someone to repentance. You know, just like in the weekly prayers of the Eucharist, we thank and praise the Lord “together with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven,” as we repentant lambs receive His forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Body and Blood.

It’s awesome! It’s amazing! It sends chills down the spine! What appears before the eyes is very ordinary. But what God is revealing is beyond extra-ordinary!

As we are gathered here for Divine Service, hidden to the eyes is that the Lord is cracking heaven open, pouring out forgiveness and mercy on all His repentant lambs who have strayed. All of His forgiven, redeemed Church, rejoices when one sinner repents. That is all the time. Stop and think how incredible this is: heaven constantly rejoicing over those whom the Spirit has brought to repentance – those who are restored and renewed in Christ! It is a beyond-your-wildest-dreams celebration…with Jesus at the center!

And with this celebration of Jesus and the whole Church, all you little lambs have great peace. Just like still waters and green pastures delight lambs, so receiving Christ in His Gifts delights you, His baptized children. Yes, it is thrilling to praise the Lord along with the hymnist, “God’s own child, I gladly say it, “I am baptized into Christ!” And just as thrilling is that you, His baptized child, are Jesus’ little lamb. Amen.