A myHT Fortress

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.

Jesus at the Center: A Homily on Luke 14:25-35

Luke 14:25-35

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

Jesus at the center. That sums it all up. When others may ask why you are a Christian – particularly why you are a Lutheran, there is your answer: Jesus at the center! If Christ is not at the heart of it all, it is not Lutheran. If He is not the one whom everything flows from and returns to, it is not Lutheran.

But you really don’t keep Jesus at the center, do you? At least not every day – every moment – above all people and things. Is He pushed to the side by your sports calendar? Does He get forgotten due to social commitments? Does He just get in the way of your sleep schedule? When we are truthful, we find that Jesus often is not the Center of our lives.

Perhaps you have not counted the cost. But wait! Counting the cost of being Jesus’ disciple is more than giving up stuff. Christ speaks today of bearing your cross. He says that as a Christian, you will suffer. Depending on the time or place, being a Christian has carried a death sentence with it.

When His hearers were listening to this for the first time, they realized His word for cross was not symbolic. To them, it was truly a weapon of death. When they heard “bear his own cross,” jaws would have dropped and eyes widened as people realized Jesus means business.

And not just for them. He’s talking to you too. People will hate you for having Jesus at the center. Life will be hard, and sometimes dangerous. Even if you might not get the death sentence in this country for being Christian, it is still very possible to suffer from gossip and slander, harassment, pressure on – or even losing – your job, and much more.

“Oh! Lord! Don’t let that happen. I don’t want to suffer!” But that is not a choice. And that is the Old Adam trying to tell God that you know better than He! But shying away from suffering is a lack of trust. It is doubt that the Lord will see you through it. It is wanting glory rather than suffering, and desiring the promise of reward rather than faith that Jesus is carrying you through every hardship.

Repent of this doubt! Repent of seeking glory rather than suffering with Jesus! Repent of your tiny trust. Repent of refusing Jesus to be the center of your life!

But fear not, dear baptized friends. You have the joyous news of our Savior! In John 1:14, our Lord tells us: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word became flesh – Jesus became Man, for you. God became Man, in order to suffer and die for you, so you may have life in Him. And when He became flesh, He dwelt among us – He “tabernacled” among us.

In the Old Testament, before the Temple was built, the Lord made Himself present in a tent that in English we call the “Tabernacle.” Here, John uses the verb form of “tabernacle” to describe Jesus coming in the flesh for you. God made His glory present at the Tabernacle.

Now, He makes His glory known through His Son, who has come in the flesh for you!

And how does that glory come to be known? Not through power. Not through being mighty and getting His way. The glory of God is known in His mercy, so the very suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is the crowning moment of His glory. That is one of the reasons that the traditional Lutheran altar and chancel is adorned with a crucifix – a cross with the body of Jesus on it, displaying God in all His glory, giving everything up to save you and me.

That is hard for the world. It is crude – even obscene – to see Jesus displayed dying for all. It is something people do not want to see and be reminded of. Yet this very horrible act is the very event that brings you life! Jesus, at the center of His cross has saved you, rescued you, from the devil, the world, and yourself! Yes, the One who perfectly kept God’s Law, took on our guilt and took our punishment on Himself. All out of His great love for you!

So now, no matter what your suffering, no matter what cross you bear, Jesus is at the center. He is the One bearing your burden and getting you through. He has mercy and compassion on you, not leaving you to endure your crosses by yourself. He has suffered every temptation and every pain, and not only sympathizes, but He Himself undergoes your trials.

Jesus also speaks today about counting the cost. At St. John’s, some would say we have not always done that so well. It was renovations rather than a tower some ten years ago. And while interest rates and dividends favored us, things went well. But the cost is now counted with different rates, and our financial times are not as carefree. The budget is tight to begin with, and we need to get more serious about paying off the debt we took on a decade ago.

You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks as we speak of the “Build St. John’s” campaign. You will be asked to consider with prayer what you can do to aid in the work of God’s kingdom right here. While we cannot pretend there is no problem, still, the Lord is giving us great gifts. He has placed a wonderful faculty and staff among us. He has gathered a peaceful and loving congregation, and blessed us with great facilities. He has given us a neighborhood ripe for the picking. Indeed, the Lord is ready to “Build St. John’s,” and He has counted the cost. And He has paid the cost with the Holy and Precious Blood of His Son! That is His Son, Jesus, at the center!

In two weeks we will hear more each week about “Why I Am a Lutheran.” We will hear how Jesus is truly at the center, bringing His Gospel to us, delivering His forgiveness, and displaying His glory in His death and resurrection for you! Amen.