A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Who Is the Greatest -- In My Name: A Homily on Matthew 18:1-20

Matthew 18:1-20

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 18

4 September 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Who is the greatest?" how frustrating for Jesus, that once again, the apostles are up to their same old competitions! Each of them wanted to be the greatest -- the leader -- the one who could have authority and control.

Jesus has been talking about how He would go to Jerusalem and be killed and then rise, and it is as if they haven't heard a word. He has been clear and direct that this is the way of revealing His true glory, in His suffering and death for all. Yet they seem to shrug their shoulders and go right back to the same old arguments.

"Who is the greatest?" You tend to go right along with the Twelve. You think in terms of the older one. The one more educated or more highly trained. The one with more wealth or political clout. But that isn't what Jesus says. He sees you and most people chasing all these wrong ideas, and so He turns the tables.

In Episode Two of the Star Wars movies, we find a corresponding moment. Jedi Master Obi-Wan was stumped and could not answer a mystery. Then Master Yoda asks a group of children, the oldest ones of whom appear to be about five years old. And one comes up with the answer right away! "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is!" Yoda exclaims.

Now, in the film, it was to the credit of the child himself, and his mind. The reality is that the Lord gifts with wisdom. He gives simple childlike faith. Not to any credit of our own, but entirely His generous gift. Children depend on their parents. A baby cannot feed or clothe or shelter herself. The parent provides and gives, and the child receives. The parent of a little child does everything for him, as he is weak, helpless and dependent.

So what are we to do? The NIV quotes Jesus as saying, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The ESV translates it as: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

But if you think you are the one changing or turning, you are puffed up with pride, trusting in your own works. You are then full of yourself. And guess what? That means you are not like a child with humble, helpless faith. That means you are thinking that somehow you can influence your own salvation. That you can make some decision to make Jesus your Lord and Savior, when you don't have that ability or authority. He gives. You receive. You cannot be the one "doing the verbs."

In these English translations, "change" and "turn" sound like we are the ones doing it. But Jesus' actual choice of verb here is passive. In other words, He says you are turned, you are changed. You are converted. The Holy Spirit converts you and gifts you with childlike faith.

But don't stop with the thoughts on "childlike." Jesus also is making it clear that children are a part of His Church. Unlike many others of that time, Jesus is very much an advocate for the children, and brings the little ones to Himself in baptism and His preaching and teaching. He does not segregate them from His adult followers, but calls young and old alike. The infants are as much a part of His kingdom and their parents, and join them in that kingdom through Holy Baptism.

Yes. He is speaking of Baptism here. The way in which Jesus speaks of receiving a "child in My name," uses grammar and language the same way as other baptismal passages in Matthew. Yes. Jesus is telling His Church that she will receive these little children through this sacred washing of rebirth and renewal!

"In My name" -- "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That is the name of which Jesus speaks. That is the name in which the Lord received you into His Church -- His kingdom. That is the name in which you receive forgiveness of sins. That is the name of the One who will change your lowly body so that it will be like His glorious body at the day of the resurrection of all flesh.

A friend of mine is a pastor in southern Illinois. He has spent the past two weeks in Russia finalizing legal details, signing all the appropriate paperwork, and completing everything necessary. For what? He and his wife have adopted a little boy. And when all is said and done, the passport of that child as he flies to the U.S. will list his new parent's family name as his own. He belongs to them, and they are now his parents.

Rejoice, dear friends in Christ! You have been given the name of our Lord God as a free and amazing gift. Jesus gathers you into the family of God and now that you have been adopted, His name is yours. And along with that name, His authority, and all the rights and privileges of being His child.

Rejoice, because you need not worry and squabble about who's the greatest. The truth is, not one of us is greatest. Jesus Christ Himself is the greatest. He gifts you as children of God. And He gives you the gift of greatness through faith. Yes, He gives you amazing greatness, as you remain humble in His Name. Amen.

Get Behind Me: A Homily on Matthew 16:21-28

Matthew 16:21-28

Proper 17

28 August 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Oh, Peter! How ridiculous you are! Do you really think that you know better than Jesus?! What a shame you don't know the Lord as well as we do. You and your crazy ideas about Jesus the Warrior-King! All you ever think about is glory and His popularity and power. You sure need Jesus to set you straight.

Hmm...have you stopped and thought about how ridiculous you are? Do you really think that you know better than Jesus? What a shame that you don't know the Lord as well as you think you do. You may not think of glory, popularity and power in terms of an earthly kingdom of Israel, but you have the same sentiments.

Oh! That congregation has five times as many people every Sunday, they must be doing something right! Why do we have all this death and resurrection talk? Why can't we just hear about improving our attitudes or daily life? Maybe we should find something exciting to visitors, and not talk so much about this suffering and sin business. That's kind of a "downer."

Sadly, many churches have done this over the years. Change the message so they don't offend. But that is falling into the same trap as Peter. And when you start feeling the same, and how we might be more popular if we laid off the suffering, dying, and rising of Jesus, and instead focused on living your life right, Jesus tells you: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Yet not only is Jesus' response a rebuke of what Peter said, it is also an urging to "fall in line." "Get behind Me." "Get on board. Take up your cross and follow Me." And with that, He is talking to you, too.

And you are thinking, "Umm. Yeah. Jesus, about that..." it scares you. It disturbs you. You don't want to give any consideration that your life as a Christian is not happy and easy in this world; it can be challenging, difficult, and even painful. "And ya know, while we are at it, we really don't like following. You see, we are born leaders. Don't need anyone else's directions or orders, we've got it under control.

"It's nothing personal, Jesus. We just don't want to think about suffering or dying, or being harassed or humiliated, or having to answer to anyone for anything."

And Jesus says, "Neither did Peter. But I forgive you both." Christ our Lord does not give Peter the pink slip and hire another disciple. He doesn't get mad at him and cut him off from His kingdom. He gives Peter the Law, but then assures repentant Peter with Gospel.

You too. For all the moments that you don't even want to look at the crucifixion, much less dwell on it and ponder it, our loving and forgiving Jesus releases you from the guilt of your sin and "set[s] your mind on the things of God." He restores and renews you, just like He did Peter, and you are His baptized, forgiven child, following Jesus who is carrying your cross too!

Dear friends in Christ, there is your sweet comfort. Your dear Jesus who has borne His own cross to take away your sin and give you life and salvation, now carries your cross too. You are not enduring anything in this life, alone. He endures it all, on your behalf.

The Son of Man endured it all as He came into His kingdom. There on His cross, He was crowned and enthroned, truly gaining the world as He lost His life for it. Having gone up to Jerusalem for you, He repays you according to what He has done, suffering, dying, and rising for you!

So even when life is overwhelming, and you get harassed or suffer for the Gospel, He is there, enduring it for you. Christ is your Mighty Fortress, protecting you so that not even the gates of hell can prevail against His Church.

You are forgiven. You are following Him. And for every failure, He is constantly restoring and renewing you in His one, true faith! "Get behind Me?" Yeah. Fall in line. "Take up your cross and follow Me." Jesus invites you to come after Him today, and with His grace and mercy, thanks be to God, He fulfills our following. Amen.

The Christ, the Son of the Living God: A Homily on Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20

Proper 16

21 August 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" lots of confusion surrounded this point in the New Testament era. When Jesus asked this, He knew He was the Son of Man, but not most people. Misunderstandings abounded, as to whether it would be Elijah, confusing what the Prophet Malachi had said, or Jeremiah, or another prophet, or even St. John the Baptizer. Even most of the disciples might not have understood what Jesus was getting at here. So He goes on.

"Who do you say that I am?" There is the heart of it all. Who do you say Jesus is? Is He a prophet? A kind Man? A good Teacher? The perfect example of love? Yes...He is. But if that is all that He is, then you are still going to hell. If Jesus is just a prophet, you are still stuck in your sin. If Jesus is merely kind or good, He would not be giving you life everlasting. If He is simply an example and teacher of love, you would still be in the devil's loveless clutches.

And sure, you say, "Oh! I know better than that! I know Jesus is the Son of God." But do your words and actions follow suit? Or do you speak one thing in church and act another way outside these doors?

Yes, when Simon Peter boldly proclaims, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" you are ready to chime right in, "Me too! That's what I say!" but where is your focus?

If you keep turning back on yourself, and dwell on how you feel, you are off track. If you spend your time thinking about how you reacted to worship, or how you felt or what you thought during hymns or readings or prayers, Satan has been successful! It is NOT about you. The Lord Jesus is God coming to you. And He does this no matter what you are thinking or saying or feeling about it. Remember, it is not by your reason or strength; He sends His Spirit through His Gifts of Word and Sacraments to forgive you and bring you life. And He does this when and where and in whom He chooses.

So would you agree that He is the Christ, just because you thought so, or felt it? Is He the Son of God simply because of your instinct? Absolutely not! The Lord God promises to work through His proclaimed Word, and in His proclamation, He clearly and definitively reveals that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

That is great news! God Himself has come to bear your sin and be your Savior. He is your Redeemer and Rescuer. And He has given His Spirit to reveal that to you in faith. "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." And so He has. The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and gifted Simon Peter to confess that Jesus is the Lord, and He gifts you to confess it too!

In the 1950's, a show called, "21" was enjoying popularity. Twenty-one was a game show in which contestants answered questions, like "Jeopardy" or "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." But "21" suffered a scandal. They had kept a close watch on ratings, and when they found a contestant that people really liked, they fed him answers so he would keep winning.

You have been given the answers, as well. Only with the Lord and in this situation, it is not cheating. He provides the answers for who Jesus is, and gives you faith in Christ!

This morning we rejoice as once again the Lord has gathered an amazing faculty and staff here at St. John's. He places them here to support and encourage everyone during their earthly journey, as they receive Jesus' Gifts and are then given to confess that He is indeed "the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Our dear Savior has gathered a faculty and staff that is confesses Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God," our only Lord and Savior from sin. He blesses them with faith, and in His love, He uses them to instill this in everyone He gathers here. They believe and confess with you, their fellow baptized faithful, that Jesus is our Risen Lord, who fulfilled that sign of Jonah, of which Jesus spoke soon before this event.

Jonah, seemingly dead in the belly of a fish for three days, then given a "life after death." Jesus, truly dead in the belly of the earth for three days when buried, then rises and gives life after death.

Dear friends in Christ, because the Father has revealed this to you, too, you believe and confess that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." and through that gift of faith, you too receive the fruits of this sign of Jonah -- that is, you too join the Lord Jesus in His marvelous resurrection! Amen.