A myHT Fortress

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Sheep Hear My Voice: A Homily for Easter 4

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

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

“Hear My voice.” Have you ever watched a baby’s reaction to his mother’s voice? He reacts. He turns toward his mother, and is soothed by the comfort of His mother’s voice. He has heard her from within the womb, and finds comfort and nurture and care in her voice.

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki recognized the importance of listening, even when we are not aware of it. He stressed the importance of listening to a piece of music over and over to help in learning to play it. Playing that same piece well is aided immensely by repeatedly listening to it played well. And he even noted instances when children recognized pieces of music in utero.

The same is true for the pastor’s voice. A family that comes to the Lord’s house throughout pregnancy, will have a child that recognizes his pastor’s voice, and responds. Like his mother, the infant finds comfort and nurture and care in the voice of his pastor. And even if not from infancy, the more a person gathers around Christ’s gifts in the Church, the more he will know the voice of the Shepherd, and the more he is nourished and known by Christ, and thus follow Him.

In Holy Baptism, the Good Shepherd stretched His hand out over the waters, and pulled you to Himself. He called you by name, placing His own Name upon you, and brought you to hear His voice. As God’s new, baptized creature, you recognize His voice through His Sacred Scriptures, as well as the voice of His servant through whom He speaks to you.

Yet you do not always want to listen. There are many voices out there competing with the Lord, and to the sinful mind, sometimes they sound better. In fact, sometimes your own voice sounds better to your sinful self.

The contestant stares blankly, dumbfounded. “No. I am the best,” she thinks. “I am the next American Idol! These judges don’t know what they are talking about. They don’t know real talent!” In her frustration, and perhaps even delusion, the singer is refusing to listen. She does not hear the voice of the judge that says, “I’m sorry. It’s just not for you.” She lives in her own fantasy, hearing that she is great, talented, and amazing!

You do too, when your Old Adam is winning. You fancy yourself as great, talented, and amazing, rather than recognize the sin in your life that makes you as lowly, dumb, and plain as a sheep.

But Christ, our Good Shepherd, overcomes Old Adam. Our Lord has saved you, and He knows you. Yes, your Shepherd knows you! And it’s not just some passing knowledge!

In English we lump it all together with the verb “to know.” But our German crowd here at St. John’s could tell you there is a difference between “wissen” and “kennen.” “Wissen” is to know as in to know facts and things. “Kennen” is knowing something or someone with whom you have a relationship. The Lord knows you. Not simply as an object or fact. Der HErr kennt euch! The Lord KNOWS you, personally!

Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows each and every one whom He has saved and forgiven. He calls out to His sheep and leads them -- not blindly or generically, but personally and with deep thought and care, for He knows them.

For one hundred years, the Good Shepherd has tended His youthful sheep at Luther Institute, and then Luther North. When lambs have strayed, He has searched for them, and carried them home. While the school walks through the valley of the shadow of debt, in reality He has not abandoned the lambs or sheep of the school; His rod and staff of His Law and Gospel will see every one through the hardship, and the Table He spreads will lavish His Means of Grace upon us all. How so? He knows us! He knows us personally as His own. We know [His] voice, and follow [Him.]

So just how do we know His voice? Where do we hear Him? The confirmands can tell you. They spent Friday night’s lock-in hearing about these Means of Grace: Baptism, Absolution, Gospel and the Lord’s Supper. In these holy and precious gifts, the Good Shepherd speaks to us and we hear His voice. He nurtures His relationship with us, and so He continues to truly know us! He brings us to regularly and faithfully receive these gifts, and thus we are following Him.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The Good Shepherd called out: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And He knows the child whom He has called, and that baptized Christian follows Him.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
The Good Shepherd cries out again and again: “I forgive you all your sin, in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And you are absolved – the sin is gone; you are freed from it! You hear the voice of God that has passed judgment – a judgment that makes you “not guilty!” He does this out of love for you, as He truly knows you, and He now leads you to follow Him.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
The most important words that blessed voice utters each week: “This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, shed for you.” Jesus gives absolutely everything to protect and nourish and nurture His sheep. He even gives Himself! When you hear these sweet and blessed words, you are embraced by them, wrapped up in the ultimate and boundless love of Jesus. You hear His voice – the voice of God’s mercy – the voice of our Good Shepherd who knows you perfectly – better than you know yourself! And He brings you to follow Him!

Other voices may clamor for your attention. Others may claim to know you. But your sweet, loving Savior is your Good Shepherd. And now and always, He causes you to hear His voice, and He knows you, and you follow Him. Amen!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead? -- A Homily for the Resurrection of Our Lord

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this, and you refuse to listen? Jesus had told and taught His disciples, when these women were around, that, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” He spoke it plainly. No parables. It was straightforward. Come on, now, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Joanna, Salome – weren’t you listening that day? Actually, were you not listening those several days?

These awe-inspiring angels are proclaiming Christ’s victory, but this is also a bit of Law for us. Like these women, have we not listened? Be truthful, how often are you in the pew, but zoning out. You listen to the sermon for a bit, but then there is that adorable toddler just two pews in front of you, and you have fun, making faces, or spending time actually thinking, “I need to stop playing with this baby and listen,” all the while not hearing the Word of God. You start drifting on a tangent, thinking about the ball game later that day, or the homework that still needs to get done, or the date you enjoyed last night.

When you are not listening, you can miss some very important stuff! These women were faithful followers of Jesus, but even they had not listened to His prophecies about dying and rising.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this and you misunderstand? “She is only sleeping,” Jesus said, referring to Jairus’ daughter, and regarding His dear friend, He stated, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”

Lutherans often will follow Jesus’ example here, and use an expression, “Asleep in Jesus,” to refer to Christians who have departed this earthly life. We really should not talk about them as dead. They are alive in Christ. Their bodies merely rest until they also get to enjoy the glory of seeing Jesus face to face!

In the creed we confess that Christ will “judge the living and the dead.” But you probably are like the majority of people, and misunderstand our Lord and His Church here. The “living and the dead” is not talking about those who breathe and walk the earth, versus those who lie in cemeteries. No. “The living and the dead” refers to those who are in Christ, and those who have rejected our Lord. Those who have died in the Lord are really living! And sadly, those who refuse Him, even though their hearts pump and their lungs breathe, they are dead already.

We are prone to misunderstand Jesus. The ravages of sin affect our minds, our memories and the clarity of thought. So as plain as Jesus’ words are, we easily misunderstand. Still, that is no excuse. You cannot pass any blame for your misunderstanding of Jesus. It is still your own fault.

Or was it just that they forgot?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this and you forgot?

Talk of dementia and Alzheimer’s is all around. Vitamin and herbal supplement companies have various products to sell, claiming they help memory recall. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and exercising the body and mind are all supposed to help, too. But these women don’t appear to have had medical conditions. Was their memory simply slipping, or did they choose not to remember? Jesus’ talk of resurrection was not easy to understand, even after seeing Lazarus rise. Perhaps because it was difficult, they blocked it out of their memories.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this and you refuse to believe? Like the apostles later in the day, it seems too good to be true. You watched Him die before your very eyes. How could He be alive?!

And there you are. Smack, dab, in the middle of the most basic sin that is at the heart of all sin: unbelief. The angels gently rebuke the women for their unbelief. Later that evening, Jesus Himself would rebuke the apostles for their unbelief. Thinking Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead is calling Christ a liar!

Not listening, forgetting, misunderstanding, refusing to believe. These are the wretched sins you slip into, and die – daily. But our Risen Lord has an answer! Daily He calls you back to your Baptism. He reminds you of that moment when He called you by name, and washed you into His death and resurrection. He renews you and refreshes you in the Absolution that flows from Baptism.

Like the pair of angels on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant – the location of God’s forgiveness and grace in the Old Testament –God sends this pair of angels to declare the wondrous mystery of Christ’s resurrection, pointing to the Living and Risen Body of Christ as the location of God’s forgiveness and grace now.

You can’t look for Jesus in a pyramid. You won’t find Him in a Jerusalem cemetery. The women thought they’d give Him a proper burial, since they didn’t have time on Good Friday, before the Sabbath began. They planned on saying their “farewells” to Him that Sunday morning. But the angels set them straight: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” “He is risen. He is not here.”

Jesus Christ is alive and well. He is living. And as surely as the Lord lives, He delivers that life to you! This morning He speaks life into your ears and feeds life into your mouths. He transforms your lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious Body.

All this He does that when you depart this earth, your loved ones may have the comfort of hearing: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That’s right! Because Jesus is living, you are too. Because He is risen, you will rise too. And when you depart this life, you will not be truly dead. You will be alive in Christ!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Are You Terror-Strikcken? -- A Homily for Good Friday

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

Are you nervous? Are you full of anxiety? Are you terror-stricken? This past week brought some sobering news from Luther North. Everyone around has known of their financial troubles, some from Luther itself, other debts and troubles from the redistribution of debts from other schools. But for many, it has felt like we are watching a beloved friend suffer. The anguish feels unbearable. We pray that the Lord provide the financing miracle that Luther needs to teach the Gospel to yet another generation!

That Friday brought some sobering news. No one understood the trouble of Jesus’ sin; none from Himself, all of it from the redistribution of the debt of sin from every other human onto the Savior. One disciple had taken his own life, ten were in hiding, and one was faithful, with the women, watching their beloved Friend suffer. The anguish felt unbearable. And though they did not understand, it was through that suffering and death that God would give the miracle of forgiveness, life, and salvation – for all generations.

That Friday brought some sobering news…to the devil! He had delighted in causing His divine Enemy to suffer. Christ’s anguish was not only bearable, it was delightful – that is, until our Blessed Redeemer exclaimed, “It is finished!” It is complete. It’s done. And nothing and no one can undo what Christ has completed. No one can unravel the saving sacrifice of Jesus. At that moment, the wicked glee of Satan in hurting and harming Jesus came to a screeching halt. The Lord was victorious! He accomplished what He had come to do. And he who had overcome by the tree in the garden, had now been overcome by the tree of the cross. The devil was terror-stricken.

Are you terror-stricken? Your Old Adam should be! The terror of realizing the cross is our fault is what originally drove men to monasteries. The terror comes in recognizing that it is your hand that hammered the nails, your spit that stung Christ’s face, your arm that cracked that whip, your thorns that slashed His brow. St. Peter knew this well. In his Pentecost sermon, St. Peter judged his hearers and said: “This Jesus whom you crucified.” The blame is not on some small group of Jewish leaders, nor on Pilate or his soldiers. The blame is on every single man, woman, and child, for we are sinners all!

Are you terror-stricken? And there is nothing you can do. No list of prayers to say that will make it right. No acts of repentance to remove any guilt. No amount of fasting or abstaining that will win God’s favor. The guilt, the blame, the trespass is yours, completely. Helpless, terror-stricken, and sober, you stand before the cross.

Nothing you can do, indeed! Praise God that He has great compassion and boundless love, doing what you could never do! Are you terror-stricken? The very sight of Jesus dying, which can bring about fear and terror, is actually the work of God to remove fear and terror! Christ pays the price for sin – all sin, of all people, of all time. He gives His Body and sheds His Blood to defeat sin, death, and the devil.
Now the Holy Spirit brings you repentance and brings you forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He brings you the gifts from the cross! Yes, since you can’t do a thing, He brings it all to you!

Often we hear the phrase, “Take it to the foot of the cross.” But you can’t! You can’t get in some time machine. You cannot alter history. You were not there when they crucified our Lord. And that is OK. It’s more than OK; that is part of God’s plan. Since no one can go there, He brings there here! Our Lord takes the forgiveness, life, and salvation purchased and won on the cross, and delivers them to you, now. He doesn’t just zap you in thin air with His forgiveness, He washes you in it. He fills your ears with it. He feeds you with it.

The Holy Sacraments and the proclamation of His Gospel are God’s methods of delivering His mercy, forgiveness, and life. In other words, they are His means of grace. No matter how wretched you have been, no matter how terror-stricken you have been – or should have been, our precious Savior comes and works repentance into your heart and cleanses you and claims you and brings to you His redemption in His blood.

Dear friends in Christ, you don’t have to go to the foot of the cross, because the Lord Himself brings the blood of Jesus to you! He washes you in His blood at Baptism. He proclaims His blood to you in His Gospel. He pours His blood into your mouth.

Are you terror-stricken? You don’t need to be! The sobering thoughts and events which struck terror in you are the very moment of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and hell. We are not gathered here for some somber funeral; we are gathered here to commemorate the victory of our Lord Jesus as He exclaimed, “It is finished!” We are gathered by our Lord as the blood and water continue to flow from His side, cleansing and quenching His Bride, the Church.

You are freed from terror! You are redeemed. You are given the joy of Jesus’ victory that pulls you out of deep sobriety. He comes to you and brings you the fruits of the tree of the cross – forgiveness, life, and salvation – along with His Body broken and Blood shed for you! Indeed, “It is finished!” And with centuries of Christians, we can join the refrain: “We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You. By Your cross You have redeemed the world.” Amen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Whose Supper Is It? -- A Homily for Holy Thursday

1 Corinthians 11:23-32

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

Whose Supper is it? It began over 1400 years before Christ gathered His apostles in the Upper Room. The Passover Lamb was slain, bread and wine were feasted upon. The Children of Israel gathered, dressed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The Lord was about to deliver them from bondage in Egypt. The blood of the innocent lamb had been shed, an innocent life slain that death might pass over, and they would have life.

Whose Supper is it? Jesus gathered the 12 with Him. The Lamb of God would be slain the next morning, and bread and wine were about to change beyond their understanding. Christ would cause His Body and Blood to join that bread and wine to be feasted upon. The Lord was about to deliver them from bondage to sin, death, and the devil. The Blood of the Lamb of God would be shed, His innocent life slain that death might pass over, and we would have life – eternal life!

So whose Supper is it? Is it the Feast of the Children of Israel? Well, they certainly received it. They got to enjoy it and the blessings He gave through it. But it did not belong to them. The Supper was not theirs to change or amend as they wished. They could not direct the angel of death to do anything other than what the Father directed. They could not change the pardon and release that the blood of the lamb was giving.

Whose Supper is it? Is it the Banquet of the disciples? They received it too. In fact, they received it as Jesus fulfilled it. So could they just do their own thing, and change it up, making it more relevant to their day and age? Could they decide on the invitation list for the Lord’s feast?

Whose Supper is it? Do you imagine it to be yours? That you can control it? Delay it or refuse it? Change it? Adjust it? Make it fit your perceived needs? Don’t get carried away, thinking that the Lord’s feast is yours to do with as you please?

There! Did you hear that?! Whose Supper is it? It is the LORD’s! He began it. He fulfilled it. He gives it as an everlasting ordinance. In other words, it keeps going and going, without stop, until we are gathered with Him in heaven. And THEN, it keeps going without end! There, at the wedding feast of the Lamb of God, we join in the never-ending Supper.

Whose Supper is it? “This is My Body…This is My Blood.” The One who began the first Passover thousands of years ago, is the One who completes it. And the One who becomes it! The Host and Master of the Feast, serves Himself as the sustenance! No longer merely earthly gifts of bread and wine, He enters those elements, changing them forever! He gifts us with His Body and Blood, and not in some spiritual, other-worldly sense. His Body and Blood are really there, truly consumed, as He fills your body with His own!

Whose supper is it? “Do this in remembrance of Me,” we often translate Jesus’ words. Perhaps it is closer to say, “Keep on doing this, in My remembering.” Yes, we remember Jesus’ Passion and death in the Sacrament. We are like the children at the Passover table rehearsing the questions as our father teaches us about God delivering His people. But Jesus is speaking of His remembering of us! He speaks of His coming, suffering, and dying to BE the ultimate Passover Lamb. He remembers us, and shields us from the angel of death. Yes, it is His Supper, and His remembering. If it was our Supper, sure, we could be front and center, enjoying the honor and prestige of being the rememberers. But it is the Lord’s, and He comes to us, pouring out His mercy even as He poured out His blood.

If it were our supper, we could decide how often or how rare to celebrate it, and whether to do our own thing, or follow someone else’s patterns. But it is Jesus’! He tells us to do this often! And so from the earliest days and weeks of the Christian Church, along with the preaching of the Lord’s Gospel, the Lord’s Supper has been offered on every Lord’s Day, Sunday, and also at other times, such as festivals to the Lord, as well as when Christians need it and ask their pastors. And from ancient times, we have joined with the Church throughout the world with a common language and expression as we receive His Holy Gifts.

Whose Supper is it? This is the joyous Feast of the Lamb who was slain, the wedding Banquet of the Lamb of God, the Holy Supper of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is glad to gather you to Himself and receive this feast. He loves you and desires that death would pass over you, so He fills you with His Body and Blood, giving you His divine life! This is Jesus’ Supper, and He gives it for you! Amen.