A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chosen: A Homily for Higher Things on 1 Peter 2:1-12

1 Peter 2:1-12

Friday Matins

Higher Things

Coram Deo -- Atlanta

22 July 2011

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

So how do you feel this morning, as you stand before God? Feeling pretty good about yourself? Or not so much? Are you down on yourself and say that even as His baptized child, you are alone, afraid, and a failure? Or are you feeling overly confident?

All of these sorts of feelings went through Hal Jordan's mind. Deep down he was scared and didn't have great trust in himself. Yet he covered it with a bold, in-your-face confidence and wild playfulness that tried to charm everyone.

So when the ring chose who would be the next Green Lantern, whom should it pick? It chose Hal. A very unlikely choice -- a loser! Nothing in him that seemed worthy of being chosen.

Israel wasn't worthy, either. God's chosen people were small in numbers, not a major military power, not wealthy among the nations -- nothing to make them an obvious selection as a "chosen nation."

The same goes for you. Nothing in your natural self makes you chosen, royal, or holy. "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

In a sense, Hal Jordan was chosen by grace, not deserving the gift. Some would argue that he had qualities deep down that the needed. But a biblical understanding of our lives reminds us that anything good and worthy of being chosen is entirely gift!

The Lord has reached out and gifted you. He transforms you from your former "loser" self, and gives you life as His new, baptized child; chosen, royal, and holy in Him. You stand before God as His redeemed, forgiven, and saintly child.

At one point in the film, Green Lantern, the entire earth is in danger from impending doom, as an evil force heads it's way. "The Guardians" decide to cut their losses and give up on earth. But Hal stands before the Guardians, defending himself and the reasons for saving earth. He then proves himself and does it.

The Lord God has not given up on you. You do not have to stand before God defending yourself. Your dear Lord Jesus has already done that! He stood before God in your place, being your Mediator and Defender. He bore the burden of your sin, to be your Savior, and now the Father in His mercy calls and chooses you.

Yes, Jesus stood before the Father, as your substitute, purchasing and transforming you from unworthy losers into God's chosen people. Yes, He placed His Name upon you and chose you; not by sending some dying purple alien with a ring, but in the far more miraculous moment of Baptism! Now yes, you stand before God -- not defending yourselves or justifying your heroic actions. You stand before Him as He rejoices over the saving work of His Son, giving you good deeds that His Son works through you.

As fun as the story is, the film Green Lantern gets things a little backwards. The hero, Hal, is a man who is given god-like powers, and becomes the mediator and savior of the world. The reality is that Jesus Christ is true God, and has become man for you, and is your Mediator and Savior!

And now that He has saved you, purchased and won you, you are indeed "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Amen.

Rev. Rich Heinz


St. John's Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL

Christ Buys the Treasure: A Homily on Matthew 13:44-52

Matthew 13:44-52

Proper 12

24 July 2011

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

So how much are you willing to give up? Have you gone and sold everything and purchased that field for the treasure? That pearl of great price? No? Then how worthy do you think you are?

That's the point of this parable, isn't it? That you need to be ready to get rid of everything and follow Jesus, right? You need to be so dedicated that, like some medieval monk, you give up all your earthly wealth and influence to make peace with God and seek His kingdom, that you may have eternal life.

But wait! Does that sound right? Does this sound like what Jesus would really say? No! Not at all! How on earth could you do anything to purchase the kingdom of God? Think about it! That is all wrong. We are brought back to the question you must ask: in our Lord's parables, who is doing the verbs?

Did you actually think --even for a moment -- that it is you? Did you really think that it is up to you to give things up and purchase anything? How can you? "All your righteous deeds are filthy rags!" Even your best is wretched before our holy God. There is not even a remote possibility of paying for anything He does, much less your salvation and entrance into His kingdom!

So no, you cannot be the doer of the verbs here. And the is some sinful arrogance that needs to be put in check, if you have ever thought you can "do your part" in obtaining the kingdom. The thought that Jesus has saved us from sin, and life is yours "if you only...(insert your work here)," is actually false teaching.

"Jesus died for you, now you decide to follow Him." "Jesus saved you, now you just gotta do this, or pray that to invite Him into your heart." And so on. These are heresies, that say somehow you contribute to your salvation. Mark and avoid those thoughts and the preachers who teach them! Such teaching can endanger you!

When you give credence to such teaching, you defy God. You reject His full and free forgiveness and life, given through Jesus Christ.

Repent! Repent of thinking that you can somehow cooperate with Christ and make a difference in your own salvation. When you actually think that somehow you are the one giving up and purchasing the field or pearl of great price, you put yourself in Christ's place, and make yourself God--repent!

So who does the verbs? It is Jesus! Jesus alone! He is the one who acts and speaks. He is the one who has found the treasure of His Church, covered her up in Holy Baptism, and purchased her with His holy and innocent suffering and death.

In the 1930's, the British Empire was stirred up. King Edward VIII had fallen in love with an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. Edward had been raised his entire life to be king, yet found he felt it impossible to carry out his duties "without the woman [he] love[d]." He abdicated the throne--gave up everything--to be with her.

Our Lord Jesus gave up everything too. Mrs. Simpson may have been a divorcee, but we in the Church are guilty of being chronic adulterers. We go chasing after other gods, and are often unfaithful to the true Lord.

Yet Christ, the perfect bridegroom, and King of Kings and Lord of lords laid aside everything to be with His Bride. By taking on the lowliness of human flesh for you, He bought His holy Bride, and cleansed her from all sin -- even the sin of straying from the holy Bridegroom and chasing after other people and situations that you find attractive.

Edward VIII did this out of a little selfishness and chose to escape His duties as King. He chose his bride and turned from his kingdom. Jesus, on the other hand, has done this out of self-less love, which serves His Bride in His kingdom. Through all of this, Jesus has rescued you and serves you, giving gifts to you and making you His holy Bride.

Rejoice, dear friends in Christ. Your dear Savior is the King who has found you, and paid the great price to keep you. He gave everything up, suffering and dying to gather you into His kingdom. He counts you as far more valuable than pearls or great treasure. He covers you in Baptism, and places you safely in His kingdom, where you will remain as He nourishes, forgives, and sustains you with His Word and Holy Sacraments. Amen.

Weeds and Wheat: A Homily on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Proper 11

17 July 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

When you spend much time at the Art Institute, you see a vast array of works of art. You also see some ridiculous, if not ugly items that make you question both the artist and the donor that placed it there. Magnificent culture and works of great beauty are there before your eyes, yet they can be just steps away from something that begs you to ask: "Art? Really?!"

And there would be many art teachers, professors, and artists themselves who would plead with you to leave both the great art, and the seemingly unworthy art side by side. Let time pass and see if it has lasting beauty to be admired. The avant garde architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright looks like it fits perfectly with the designs of subdivisions fifty or even a hundred years later. Generations later, his work is seen as art.

Jesus speaks of grain and wheat sprouting up side by side. Others notice weeds among the wheat, and ask the land owner, "Really?" They want to pull up the weeds. But the land owner has extreme and perfect patience.

No, unlike the work that might be considered "art" years later, the weeds will not become wheat! And yet, the landowner isn't duped into thinking they will change. But he does have extreme and perfect patience.

You and I would fall among those who are eager to root up the weeds. "Lord, here. Let me help You! You don't want all those nasty weeds among the seedlings You just planted! I'll pull them out for You."

Do you know how well that works out? I'll tell you. The five-year-old listened to his cousin. "You should help your grandma and grandpa. The are a lot of weeds here. Pull them up!" And so he did. And in about ten minutes all of the small plants were uprooted. Then came the terrible news. His parents, visibly upset, explained their anger. Those were not weeds; he had just uprooted his grandparents' freshly planted tomato garden!

This is precisely what our Lord is preventing. Yes, the Church on earth has both true believers and hypocrites. We live side by side in this life, unable to see into the hearts of others. Jesus is telling you, "Don't you dare think you can tell the difference and kick out unbelievers who appear to be Christians. If you do, it's likely you'll remove true believers too!"

When you think you know people who don't really belong in church, or you think they may be here only for the tuition discount, and you'd like to see them leave, the Lord says to get off your high horse and stop thinking you know better than God. Don't be like your five-year-old pastor -- I mean, that five-year-old boy pulling up tomato plants. You cannot tell if someone truly believes. You are not qualified to be judge. You are not the Lord God. And it is quite possible you could damage and uproot others in the faith, if you try to purge the garden of unwanted weeds.

Dear friends in Christ, the Lord has Good News for you. You do not have to be the judge. You do not have to bear the burden of uprooting anyone. And you have the sweet assurance that He who has baptized you and nourishes you in His Word, keeps you in the one true faith as lovely, healthy grain.

Nine of our youth just got back from an awesome week with 1200 kids and chaperones from 25 states and four Canadian provinces. They worshiped, they learned, and they had fun. During those four long days, our dear Lord was giving them the tremendous Gospel that they are His precious plantings. They are not weeds. Our Savior will not hold their sin against them, and throw them into the fire with the weeds. They Wayne before God justified by grace, through faith, on account of Christ.

You too! It's not just them. Jesus isn't just for kids. You have been baptized into Christ and clothed with Christ. The Father in heaven no longer sees the worthless weed-like behavior you often have; He looks at you and beholds His dearly beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. He sees you stand before Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

The ultimate and perfect patience of God is clearly displayed for all people in all time, as we see Jesus on His cross. There He hung for you and me, pouring forth His life-giving blood, covering us with His righteousness. There He delivered you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, hanging from that amazing cross! But that ultimate and perfect patience is not just some example for you, or a requirement to follow. It is a joy to experience, as He gives His gifts!

Rejoice, dear friends in Christ! He has taken your weed-like self and made you precious grain. Jesus covers you with Himself, and makes you pleasing to His supremely patient Father. You are a beautiful plant, given growth by your loving, heavenly Father, who rejoices as He makes you His own! Amen.

The Rev. Richard A. Heinz