A myHT Fortress

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.