A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Living Water: A Homily on John 4:5-26

John 4:5-26

Oculi/3rd Sunday in Lent

27 March 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

In the initial Pirates of the Caribbean film, Captain Barbosa describes the diabolical fate that has befallen him and his crew. These pirates have stolen a cursed treasure, and the result is an existence of a living death.

They cannot be killed, and yet they cannot savor life. Food has no taste and does not satisfy. Water, wine, and other drink do not quench their thirst. If wounded, they do not bleed. Feeling and sensation appear to be gone. There is no such thing as pleasure.

You may not realize it, but without the Lord, this is your existence too, ever since Eve encouraged Adam to, "c'mon, eat the fruit. Do it!" The Lord said, "In that day, you shall surely die." Granted, they did not drop with a heart attack at that very moment, yet everything changed.

Cells in their bodies started dying. Sickness, imperfections, flaws, and disappointments entered this life. Hunger and thirst began to hurt. And there began the lack of satisfying our true needs and good desires.

Without Jesus, you are lost in this life without true and lasting pleasures. You can drink rivers full of the waters of this world, and still be a heap of dry, parched skin and bones.

Today Jesus speaks to this Samaritan woman, and finds her in this situation. She is flawed, and her earthly needs cannot be satiated. She is a serial monogamist, at best. She is fornicating and cohabiting. But Jesus does not simply preach Law to her. At the right moment, He gushes forth with Gospel!

He speaks to her of living water, reminding her that the water from this well at which she sits will only quench thirst for a brief time; she will be thirsty again. But Jesus, the true well of Jacob, is a spring, a fountain of living water that bursts forth and brings an eternal satisfaction of satisfying the true needs of your body and soul.

Some will look at this Gospel text and make a big issue out of the fact that the person to whom Jesus is speaking is a woman, or a Samaritan. This is true. And much can be spoken of on these topics.

But back up and just ponder this. It does not matter who you are, what sex you are, what ethnic background you are or what neighborhood you come from; Jesus has come for you! He is living water for you! He has come to fill you with thirst-quenching, satisfying, enlivening water! He transforms you into a child of God, born of the living water that flows from our Savior's side, and cleansed and nourished by that very living Water!

No matter how much you try to fill your life with the various "waters" of this world, you will remain dry. You can run after love or desired attention from someone other than your spouse. You can pour yourself into your schoolwork or sports, other extra curriculars to escape other pressures and sadnesses and voids in your life, but nothing you will find will truly fill them. You can try to gather many friends, or find escape in your favorite music, a TV show, a movie, or a game, but your existence will remain parched and lacking true life. You will continue to be dry and wasting away.

Remember the line from the classic poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!" The seafarer is surrounded by water; yet it is salt water. To drink it as it is would be fatal. The salt would dehydrate the one drinking more than any hydrating goodness could come from the water. Such drinking can be dangerous and even deadly.

You see, the so-called waters of this world and its pleasures have the same effect as salt water. Yes. Drinking in the supposed goodness or helpfulness of thee waters of this world's vain and temporary fixes does nothing good for you. Without the Lord, searching for the satisfaction of such thirst-quenching will simply help you waste away.

Jesus, however, does not want you wasting away. He beholds your sad, dry condition, surrounded by such earthly salt waters, and steps in to intervene from your fatal saturation. He has gone to the cross and shed His blood and spilled water from His side for you. He rose from that tomb to give you life welling up from that font for you!

Our sweet Savior has reached into the waters of the raging flood and rescued His Church on board her ark. He has reached into the waters of the Red Sea, drying a path for the hundreds of thousands in His Old Testament Church to walk a dusty road between walls of water, until they safely reached the other side. He dragged Naaman in his complaining and unbelief into the Jordan, and cleansed him of disease. He placed Himself into that same river to absorb your sin. And He reached into the font, plunging Old Adam to his wretched drowning death, and raising you up as His new, righteous creature.

He who is Living Water keeps you in your baptismal grace. He washes you into life everlasting. He rejoices to call you God's own child, ... baptized into Christ! Amen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It: A Homily on Matthew 4:1-11

Matthew 4:1-11

1st Sunday in Lent

13 March 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"The devil made me do it." Modify that just a bit..."the old beggar woman who was peddling apples, she made me eat it!" OK, you have to work with me here. Eating an apple is not generally a sin (unless you were told not to.) But suppose it was. And here we have Snow White facing this severe temptation.

Was Snow White completely innocent here? Did she think she had to pick up an apple and bite into one? The apples looked so shiny and perfect. Succulent fruit, and after all, fruit is made by God and is a gift from Him, right? It is natural, organic. Yes, Snow White gives into the temptation and like every other human, she grabs hold of the temptation and relishes it as she indulges.

Sure, we can feel sorry for the princess, but the blame isn't only for the wicked queen; the blame comes back to her, as well. No one forced her to eat. And even if they did, it doesn't stop the fact that she gave in to temptation. And Snow White suffers the death that all who give into temptation suffer.

"The devil made me do it." That is a common excuse. But, of course, it does not cut it. No matter what the occasion, the devil did not make you do it. He may have tempted or deceived, enticed you with your interests, lusts, and even talents, but he cannot make you do anything.

Can you imagine Jesus, trying to explain to His heavenly Father why all the rocks in that part of the desert suddenly were fresh, warm, delightful-smelling bread? "The devil made Me do it!?" Absolutely not! He knows the devil has no such authority, and our Lord Jesus clearly demonstrates the power of God's Word in this series of temptations. And as the Lord God-in-the-flesh, He triumphs over all temptation and remains pure, holy, and sinless.

But then there you are, stuck in your flawed, mortal nature, while "the old evil foe now means deadly woe." He is subtle and crafty, and twists words to confuse you. He will even take the Word of God and rip it out of context, trying to convince you that your sin is just another choice, with no real "right" or "wrong."

That's what Satan was hoping to convince Jesus of here. No real right or wrong. So what if you turn some rocks into bread? What's the big deal if you jump off of the Temple and show your power? What does it matter if there is a crucifixion or not, if the devil kindly gives the world back to God? However, Jesus does know why it matters.

The Lord's miracles are never self-serving. He does not do parlor tricks. He does not bend or break laws of nature just because He wants to have some fun. Miracles are for the support of others' faith, giving glory to God.

So feeding over 5,000 is a beautiful, noble work, selflessly providing for the people and glorifying God. Yet feeding Himself by transforming rocks into bread is a selfish miracle with no one else to appreciate it. So instead, Jesus declares to Satan the Word of God.

The devil tried his best to quote the Word of the Lord, too. Out of context. Edited into short soundbites. Trying to twist it into supporting sin. Nevertheless, Jesus stands firm, declaring God's Word. And, as always, His Word is powerful, and sends Satan running scared.

Today you have the joy of knowing there is more to this than the fact that Jesus was tempted by the devil. Jesus endured temptation for you. He remained sinless for you. And now, He stands with you supporting and preserving you, "lead[ing] [you] not into temptation."

Today He forgives and releases you from the many and frequent sins which come from giving into temptation. He who did not cause the stones to become bread, now makes bread become His Body in the bread, for the life of the world. He who would not leap from the Temple roof, has leapt off of the page of written Scripture, and into the here-and-now of your lives. He who would not bow down to Satan, is ever before our heavenly Father in humble adoration, interceding on our behalf.

Yes, you are like Snow White. You are like her in yet another way. Not only have you both given into temptation, and not only will you both suffer death. But someday your Prince will come; the Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and Lord of lords will return. Having "kissed" you through His Word and Sacraments, He will call out, and raise you up! And He will carry you into His kingdom, where you will enjoy life with the Prince forever! And infinitely better than some fairy tale, He will bring you to be with Him in the ultimate "happily ever after!" Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ashy-Clean: An Ash Wednesday Homily

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday

9 March 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"When you give to the needy..." Jesus fully expects that as His disciple, you will do this. It is not a question of "if," but "when." You shall give to the needy. No, it is not an 11th commandment; but it is already covered. "You shall not murder," means that you will help and support your neighbor in every bodily need.

You will give food and clothing to the one who has need. You will do whatever is in your power and ability to aid someone who is having a challenge. And when you do not, you defy the commandments of God.

"When you pray..." Jesus fully expects that you will be men, women, and children of prayer. Perhaps not spoken out loud or in public, as He warns you to avoid trying to get attention in that

manner. Nevertheless, the Lord tenderly invites you to call on Him. And He commands you to remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.

You are to be in the Lord's house, gathered with His people on every Lord's Day -- every Sunday. And that is just for starters. You should come at other opportunities, as well. You should spend more time in the Word of the Lord, and receiving His holy gifts, and responding in prayer and praise. And when you do not, you defy the commandments of God.

"When you fast..." Jesus fully expects that you will fast at one time or another. He does not command exactly when, or where, or for how long, but He assumes you will fast. "You shall have no other gods," includes the god of your own stomach. You are not to fear, love, or trust yourself above all things. Your body can participate in the life of prayer and discipline. And when you allow your own body to become your god, you defy the commandments of God.

So he we are, a bunch of defiant rebels. Here we are, people who like our stuff, and would rather not give too much away. Here we are, people who are happy to spend hours each night in front of a TV or on the Internet, but are simply too busy for prayer. Here we are, ready to gorge ourselves on Fat Tuesday, to make up for anything we might resentfully "give up" for the next 40 days.

How do you think you stand before God, with all of this baggage? You were right; each one of you is a "poor, miserable sinner." The value of your wretched, rebellious, commandment-breaking, human self is less than that smudge of ash on your forehead.

But our dear Lord does not want you to be "ashes to ashes and dust to dust." He is heartbroken that He ever had to tell our Father Adam, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return." He knows it is a dreadful reminder of mortality for anyone to see the 90-year-old grandma, the 40-something cancer survivor, or even the toddler with ashes on their foreheads, reminding them all of their mortality. His heart goes out to you, as the Law crushes you into realizing you damning sin, and the death you face.

But our sweet Savior also gives forgiveness. He climbed the hill of Calvary and laid down His life for you. He gave to you in your need as He allowed His body to be broken and His blood shed to remove your sin. Jesus prayed for His persecutors, executioners, indeed for you and me as He hung there, dying. And He fasted from the wealth and splendor of His heavenly, divine power, permitting Himself to be sacrificed for you.

And now, He gives cleansing. He did it at the font. And He renews that cleansing with Holy Absolution. Ashes are a common ingredient in simple and ancient soap recipes. The charred cross on your forehead is a reminder not only of your mortality, deserved at that, but also a reminder that our Lord Jesus cleanses you! He washes away the guilt of breaking His Ten Commandments. He purifies you from all unrighteousness.

After you have fallen down in the ashes, Jesus Christ lifts you up, cleanses you, and makes you His holy and righteous disciple. And He bids you to come and feast on the Body broken and Blood shed, which are the very gifts that cleanse you from within. Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jesus' Mountain Top Experience: A Homily on Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration of Our Lord

6 March 2011

St. John's, Chicago, Illinois

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

It was the ultimate "mountain top experience." In fact, it is the very reason we have the expression "mountain top experience." Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to behold Him in His glory. But what does this mean?

As a teenager, I went to one of the earlier National Youth Gatherings. We were with some 15,000 youth, and were caught up in the excitement and emotion of it. Many times that week, we were told that this was a great " mountaintop experience" -- and it was. The trouble was, few of us wanted to go down from the mountain and experience regular, everyday life.

And more trouble -- you get caught up in the scene here, rather than the words. You look at the flashing white clothes and how regal and impressive the event is, and you think that this is the glory. But it is not.

You are like all people. You want the glitz, the glamour of the red carpet, the lights of the paparazzi cameras, the popularity of celebrity life, of a YouTube video with a million hits, of having a Facebook account with a few thousand "friends." To a 21st century American, that is glory.

But that is not real glory. That is a broken, sinful idea of what glory must be. But it is not true glory.

Moses had gone up on the mountain to talk with the Lord. Elijah also went up Mt. Sinai, several hundred years later, to talk with the Lord. Is this now some divine rift in the space/time continuum, where we see those events from the other side? In other words, do we see here what Moses and Elijah experienced in the books of Exodus and 1 Kings? We just don't know. But we do know that these were not simply ghosts; this was the real Moses and the real Elijah bodily speaking with Jesus -- God-in-the-flesh, in all His glory. And this body was now radiating with light beyond compare!

But what makes this so full of Jesus Christ's glory? The light? The display of power? The voice from heaven?

The glory is made known through the Word! The Word spoken by the Word-made-flesh. And what does He say? Luke's account tells us; Jesus speaks of His exodus--His departure. In other words, He talks to Moses and Elijah about His upcoming crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. And there is the point. That is where we see Christ in His glory.

Our God and Lord, suffering and dying on the cross -- there is the image of ultimate mercy. That is God's love in action. And that is the most beautiful, most poignant moment of God's mercy -- ever. When you gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus, remember: you are not looking on our Lord being defeated. No! You are seeing our Savior, victorious over sin and death, fully displaying the glory of our merciful God!

And this is how His glory comes into contact with us, week after week. Jesus uses this pulpit on Sundays, and these classrooms throughout the week to be places where His saving Gospel is proclaimed. The glory of Jesus is handed out, in the preaching and teaching of His death and resurrection. Our Lord gathers a pastor, a faculty and staff to be His mouthpieces in declaring His exodus, and pouring out His glory, that His baptized children may bask and bathe in it.

Through the saving Gospel, our Lord Jesus frees you from the sin of seeking your own glory. He forgives you for looking for His glory, but in all the wrong places and all the wrong ways. He removes your guilt for stumbling and not knowing the right things to say, like Peter offering to set up tents.

His glory is seen as He gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation. The glory of the Lord was revealed as He led the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. St. Paul refers to that event as a "Baptism into Moses." God's glory foreshadowing baptism.

The glory of the Lord was revealed as He miraculously provided bread for Elijah and the widow. Before that, the Lord sent ravens to give him bread. The Lord provided a never-ending supply of bread to sustain Elijah's life.

These events were used by God to show His coming glory in His sacraments. The glory of the Lord can be found in Holy Baptism and His Holy Supper. They look and sound simple and ordinary. Bread, wine, and water do not seem to suggest "glory." Yet our dear Lord attaches the glory of His Word to these elements, and His Word does what it says.

These precious gifts then bring the forgiveness, mercy, and blessing of Jesus to you. They bring God's glory to you. And they prepare you and your body for the day when you will see God face-to-face, in all His glory, as you dwell with Him in eternity.

Our Lord's Transfiguration fixes your eyes on Jesus. But it is not all about getting caught up in the light and white robes and majesty. The glory is all in the Word spoken by Jesus to Moses and Elijah. He tells them of THE mountain top experience He was about to undergo. He had set His face toward Jerusalem, and was about to give Himself on the cross of Mt. Calvary.

Yes, the mountain top experience of Mt. Calvary is the greatest moment of His glory, and the truest place where we want to cling to Him and cry out in faith, "'Tis good, Lord, to be here." And as we follow Him from His victorious cross to His empty tomb, we are given the gift of experiencing His glory; not through some time machine, but through His preaching and sacraments that bring those moments to us.

Thanks be to God! Our Transfigured Lord brings His ultimate mountain top experience of Calvary to you, giving you His life and salvation! Amen.

Star Wars: The Musical -- The Walls Are Closing In