A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Divisive Prince of Peace: A Homily on Mt. 10:34-42

Matthew 10:34-42

Proper 8

26 June 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Who is most important to you? Is your relationship with your spouse the highest priority? Is your time with your children most important? Or is the approval and respect of your parents your highest goal? That is at it should be, as long as your faithfulness to God is greater.

But Jesus speaks today about your relationship with Him. You see, there is great irony that the Prince of Peace can be quite divisive. There is a great lack of peace, due to the fact that many are against Him.

Our Lord speaks quite clearly about this. He lays it on the line. People will turn against you because of Jesus Christ -- and not just a few, and not just sort of. Many will be against you, thinking you are naive, childish, or mindless for following Jesus. And Christ is reminding you, if your loyalties lie with others, you are not worthy of Him.

So where do you stand? Do you remain steadfast in His Word? Are you planted firmly in His mighty fortress? Or do you shy away from admitting your faith and confessing Christ? Is peace more important to you than faithfulness?

Ah! There is a frequent problem. You enjoy peace. So much so, that you don't want to rock the boat, and you are ready and willing to remain quiet if it means everything will continue to be calm and friendly. Peace is fine when it is authentic, but when it comes from deception and from avoiding or denying the Lord, it is sinful.

So you fall into sin, whether your own, or supporting the sin of others by your words and deeds--or lack thereof, as you try to keep that false peace. Are you, or someone you know, falling into sexual promiscuity? Do you just give in and say, "My teen is going to do it anyway, so I should "get her protection?" Do you shy away from truly parenting your children, and give them adult freedoms at a far-too-early age? Do you just keep quiet and mind your own business when the satanic lie of "a woman's right to chose" comes up? Really? Another human being's life is in danger, a murder being planned, and you think, "It's not my place. I'll just keep the peace.

In the original television series Battlestar Galactica, the pilot episode showed a grand and glorious festival starting, celebrating peace after centuries of war with their enemies, the Cylons. People were tired and worn out from the conflict, and too quickly and gullibly bought the lies of their enemies who promised peace. While a few, such as Commander Adama, were skeptical, and did not trust the disingenuous proposal, the majority were led like lambs to the slaughter because they desired peace at any price, even if it was a false peace.

You are often willing to settle for false peace, too. And not only settle, but promote! Well, stop! Do not worship a false peace. Stop fearing the division that comes when you follow Christ. And so there you are, condemned by the law, in that you have held these priorities above the Lord.

Yet, there is amazing news! "You have died to the law through the body of Christ." You are baptized into Christ. And He has died, paying for all sin. Since you are in Him, you have died to sin as well. The price is paid. And you are freed from sin.

Yes, Jesus has given Himself and paid the price of all your sin, so you are no longer under the burden of punishment for that law. And having borne that burden, He has brought you true and lasting peace. Peace that does not come from people avoiding conflict or disagreement over God's Word. Peace that is not artificial. But peace that proceeds from the Lord God Himself, delivered in the Spirit, through Christ Jesus and His holy gifts.

Yet He who brings division, which divides those who have faith in Christ, and those who reject Him, brings true peace through that faith. The "Wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" comes to you, restoring you and making you right with God. He does not bring peace for those who reject Him, or sweep Him under the carpet. There is no peace for those who deny Him to make life easier among your friends, family, or co-workers. But true and lasting peace for His baptized who confess their Lord and Christ.

You have been washed into peace with God through Holy Baptism! Reborn, restored, rescued, and renewed, He has claimed you and embraced you as His own. Jesus' suffering and death on the cross was a violent event; however that tragedy brought the everlasting peace that He gives! You are at peace with Him!

So rejoice, dear friends in Christ! You are at peace with God. A beautiful gift of undeserved peace is given you through Jesus' Word and Sacraments, and He keeps on giving it. As He gathers you to receive those gifts, His peace fills you, and your words and actions reflect that peace to those around you. Not because it is demanded of you, but because He has brought His peace to your life.

Depart in peace. Amen.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit's Day: A Homily on Matthew 28

Matthew 28:16-20

Feast of the Holy Trinity

19 June 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

The Word of God proceeded from the Father, and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. Did you ever stop and think about that? All three--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were involved at Creation. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all three there from eternity, and all three playing their part in creating this world.

Just as the Holy Trinity was involved in the creation, with His Word and the Spirit over the waters, so also the Spirit joins the waters of Holy Baptism, and re-creates, giving new and everlasting birth.

And that is where our Lord focuses our attention on this festival--baptism. The Holy Gospel for today takes us to the final moments before Jesus ascended. There, in Jesus' words, God reveals Himself clearly as the only true and Triune God. He speaks directly about Holy Baptism, where we are drawn into the family of the Lord God as He gives new birth.

Christ our Lord speaks of making disciples--forming Christians. He declares two gifts that go hand-in-hand: Baptism and Teaching [His Gospel.] Yet how often are you treasuring these gifts? Do you think of your baptism as something long ago, with little meaning on day to day life? Do you think that since you are baptized you can act however you please, and God will have to forgive you? Are your thoughts, words, and deeds as filthy as those around you, and you have no intention of changing?

Well, stop! You are despising God's precious gift! Baptism is an ongoing reality. Just as your physical birth from your mother continues to be important to you, in that you are a living, breathing human, so also your new birth through Baptism has the ongoing reality of you being spiritually alive. Unless, of course, you reject the Lord and His gift, and let that faith shrivel and die.

If the fish bites down on that hook and is taken from the water, he doesn't have long before he will die. You are like that fish. If you are removed from the environment of your baptismal waters, you could dry up and die.

You see, you can refrain from hearing the preaching and teaching of His Word, and faith weakens. The Spirit delivers Christ through His Word, and ushers you into your relationship with the Father. Without that ongoing nurturing in that Word, the faith born from your Baptism can die.

Do not let your faith die. Do not "despise preaching and His Word." Do not turn your back on the Lord's gifts.

But you do. Just like everyone else, you do not hold your Baptism in the highest regard.

So the Lord keeps on pouring out His forgiveness. He keeps on lavishing His love through these gifts of His Word and Baptism. He multiplies His mercy and gives His grace. Father, Son, and Spirit gush forth the forgiving flood of Baptism on you, and constantly renew you.

So do not worry. Our loving, Triune God speaks tenderly to you, removing the guilt and stain of sin. He cleanses you and renews you, freeing you from the sinful feelings and attitudes that oppose Him and His Gifts. And you are blessed.

As the nation celebrates Fathers Day, many have feelings of fondness, honor, and good memories. Yet for many others it is a reminder of broken relationships or broken dreams or unfulfilled hopes of marriage and family. For them it is a day of sadness or even resentment. For everyone, though, today is a day to celebrate our heavenly Father, and His perfect and holy relationship in which He adopts us as His own. And with it also being Holy Trinity Sunday, it is a day not only to recall our Father in heaven, but also His Son and His Spirit.

You may spend this day with or remembering your father, or at the Six Corners Bar B Que,or just relaxing. But now your heavenly Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit comes in Christ's gifts of preached Gospel and His Blessed Sacrament. That is the most important thing that happens to you today. Now He has gifted you to celebrate Father, Son and Holy Spirit's Day -- Holy Trinity Sunday. Amen.

Living Water: A Homily for Pentecost

Saint John 7:37-39

Feast of Pentecost

12 June 2011

St. John’s, Chicago, IL

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

In the beginning, there were Rivers of Living Water. The earth was full of perfect, holy life, as the Lord GOD had designed it. Eden had a river, and from it flowed four others. The Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, flowed out of Eden’s River and watered God’s garden.

How utterly devastating for Eve, our first mother, as she was driven from that garden and that river. The perfect, living waters that nourished the new creation were now marred by sin, and drought as well as flooding riverbeds became a part of life on earth.

Some 1650 years later, the rivers of the world swelled and were joined by the waters of the deep and by the waters above in the Flood. In the most violent destruction the world has ever known, the Lord permitted unimaginable amounts of water to devastate the earth, ridding it of the unbelieving millions, while preserving the entire Church – the eight members of Noah’s family.

One thousand years after that, the River Nile comes to mind. While many Hebrew boys died at the hands of Egyptian soldiers, the Lord floated the infant Moses to safety in his little ark. Eighty years later, the Lord provided Moses to led the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground, while drowning the unbelieving Egyptian army.

Another forty years, and Joshua led the people on dry ground as they crossed the Jordan River, bringing them into the Promised Land.

Naaman washed in that humble river centuries later. Stepping into the stream as an unbeliever, the Lord changed him. His flesh was cleansed and made like a newborn, and Naaman was given the gift of faith.

But wait! All this talk of water? Today is Pentecost. It's about fire, right? Well, yes, the Holy Spirit used tongues of fire that day to bear witness to His presence, but more often He uses water in His actions.

Pentecost is a day of celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes to you in Baptism. Imagine the amazing scene of these immense crowds listening to the apostles preach, and then 3,000 were baptized!

In this wonderful gift of living water, the Holy Spirit does His work. He brings about your birth, He enlivens you. He is the living water flowing from Jesus' side. He gives and builds faith in Christ, and then gushes forth in the life of the Christian.

Even as the living waters of the mother’s womb protect the baby, and are part and parcel with the child’s birth, so also, the waters of Holy Baptism are what attend your birth to Holy Mother Church, at her font, as the Spirit washes you into rescue and new life, flowing from new birth!

And remember: elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus says, "whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, and He has.

In fact, THAT is what today is all about! If people start focusing only on the Spirit Himself, they are missing the point. The Holy Spirit does not want the spotlight. He is not the center of attention. He is always pointing to Christ. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit in today's Gospel lesson, and in the reading from Acts, He does.

The danger that we face is losing the focus on Christ. That can get pretty easy on Pentecost. If you are not careful, as you sing praises to God the Holy Spirit, and get wrapped up in the miraculous events of the first Pentecost that followed the Resurrection, you can be distracted from how Jesus-centered this is. You can look for God in amazing, science-defying miracles, rather than look for Him in the daily miracles of His Church. You can get distracted by the power and abilities of the Holy Spirit, apart from Christ, and completely miss the point.

Beware. If you separate the Spirit from the Word and work of Jesus Christ, you grieve them both, and offend God. The wind, the fire, and the languages are all amazing gifts, but they are not ends in themselves. And they are in no way to lead us to look away from Jesus, to focus on the Spirit.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is not about sitting around and thinking about tongues of fire, foreign languages, and rushing wind. It is about the Holy Spirit delivering Jesus. The preaching of St. Peter and the apostles was the Spirit bringing Jesus to the multitudes. The 3,000 baptisms were the Holy Spirit bring Jesus into those lives with His forgiveness, rescue, and salvation.

Just 50 days earlier, Jesus had been glorified in His death and resurrection. Now that His work was complete -- finished -- the Holy Spirit was bringing that glory of Christ to His Church. He was delivering the forgiveness, life, and salvation won on the cross and bursting from that empty tomb. He brings Jesus!

Dear friends in Christ, rejoice! On this Pentecost Day, and always, the Holy Spirit still is working miracles! He is keeping you in the living water of your Baptism. He is gifting you with the Gospel, quenching your thirst, bringing the forgiveness of Christ to you. He is delivering the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. And in all this, He is giving and nourishing and sustaining faith, that you may be gathered into the ultimate "Upper Room" with our Lord when you depart this life.

The water that wells up to eternal life is a wondrous, unique gift from God. And unlike the fountain of youth in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, receiving life from this water does not take it away from someone else! The Lord causes it to spring forth from the font, and carry you along through this world, until you join Him in eternity.

And so today, as our summer begins, the Holy Spirit carries you along, saying, "Come on in, the water's fine!" Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Homily for Easter 7

St. John 17:1-11

7th Sunday of Easter

5 June 2011

St. John’s, Chicago, IL

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

This week, our “Week of Weeks” draws to a close. The seven-week celebration of the Victory of Christ’s Resurrection is rapidly nearing completion. While we rejoice in the rising of our Lord Jesus every Sunday, the intensified focus is nearly complete for this year. But our Risen Savior has words of comfort to encourage us in these last days – days when we no longer see Jesus walking about as His apostles saw Him, in His earthly form.

This morning we hear Jesus pray to our heavenly Father: “I have manifested your name.” I have revealed You. I have made you known. Christ our Lord who rose from the dead reveals to us our wondrous, Triune God.

Yet in our earthly lives, our Old Adams do not want to notice what Jesus has revealed. We cover our eyes, and avoid seeing Jesus. We turn away, refusing to witness God as He desires to come to us. We are far more interested in other sources for revealing a god.

Where do we look for our god to be revealed? We look for our Master to be revealed in entertainment. In our culture of “texting, Google, iPhones and Facebook;” and with devices that are only desirable if they come with functions such as camera and game systems, we are consumed with the idea that we must be entertained. So we sit back, and instead of witnessing the amazing comfort and awe and splendor of one- or two-thousand year old songs and prayers of the Holy Liturgy, we let our minds drift, and covet the worldly entertainment that has lured and enticed others.

Where do we look for our god to be revealed? We often look for signs of God in financial success. Our heads are turned away from Christ as attention shifts to monetary blessings. We might worship at the altar of the scanner, bar code, and plastic card, or perhaps just work harder to have cash in hand. We also might become totally immersed in the idea of wiping out debts to the point that our families, our obligations, and our relationships take a back seat. In the end, we might have a god in our credit, or another god of financial freedom. Old Adam is always looking to turn blessings into false gods.

In the end, we are looking just about anywhere except to the one place – to the One Lord and True God revealed to us through Jesus Christ – God-in-the-flesh!

Dear friends in Christ, we have comfort and joy from Jesus as we hear Him pray for us: “Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Our Father in heaven does indeed keep us. He protects and preserves us, as He leads us to abide in Him. He protects us from the devil, the world, and our sinful selves. And thus, He protects and keeps us from everlasting condemnation.

How does He protect us? God protects us as He forgives and strengthens us – through His Means of Grace! In Holy Baptism He placed His name upon us, rescuing us from the slavery to sin and death into which we were born. He claimed us! In Holy Absolution, He offers to continually protect and keep us from falling back into a lazy life as “Old Adam.” He protects us from a life of imperfection and giving in to our fleshly desires. And in His Holy Supper, God protects and keeps us from those same enemies, as He feeds us with His very self, nourishing us with His Holy Body and Blood, granting forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Now we regularly and frequently gather to receive these Gifts which strengthen and protect us. That is the entire purpose of coming to the Divine Service. Not simply to pray. Not merely to praise God. But to receive His Holy Gifts. You really are freed and released from your guilt as you hear the Gospel preached! It is happening right now! God is cancelling your debt of sin and selfishness at this very moment! He did the same at your Baptism, and soon He will sustain you with Himself in the Sacrament of the Altar. As you continually receive Jesus in His Gifts, He continually works on you and forgives, protects, and strengthens you!

This past Thursday, the Church throughout the world observed the Ascension of Our Lord. At His ascension, Jesus was taken up, body and soul, into heaven. He is at the right hand of God even now, still in that risen and glorified Body! Yet this is in no way limiting Him.

You see, the Father is everywhere. So His right hand is everywhere. You can be assured with holy comfort that our Lord Jesus is present in that same risen glorified Body wherever His Gospel and Sacraments are delivered. Yes! Indeed! That is the joyous mystery of this Holy Day! Jesus went away precisely to get closer to us!

Jesus’ ascension did NOT take Him away! No, dear friends in Christ. He ascended precisely to come to you! Now He can come in His Body to bring Himself to you, and with Himself, His holy gifts of forgiveness and life.

This morning Jesus thanks His Father for glorifying Him, but not because He likes the attention or fame. Our Savior thanks His Father for this glory so that in this glory, He can “Give eternal life to all whom you have given [Me.]” The Father has sent the Spirit to call you to faith, gather you, enlighten and sanctify you, so that the Son can give you this abundant life!

Praise God, dear friends, for you have a wonderful ascended Lord, who is with you, giving you protection and all things you need to be ushered into eternal life. His glory, His suffering, His death, and resurrection, and now, His ascension, are all for you! So rejoice in His resurrection, knowing that this Good News brings you Christ Jesus Himself! Amen!