A myHT Fortress

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rising from Your Watery Grave: A Homily for the Resurrection of Our Lord

Mark 16:1-8

Resurrection of Our Lord

8 April 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.]

In a week, it will be the one hundredth anniversary. While many passengers had already gone to sleep in their cabins, others among the upper classes were up late from their elegant dining and elite socializing. But then, in the icy north Atlantic waters, the R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg, and within a few short hours, over fifteen hundred people froze, drowned, and went down in a watery grave.

The shipbuilders, the general public, and the newspapers all boasted about the "unsinkable" ship. They practically seemed to be daring God to stop this colossal vessel. They trusted in themselves and failed to see any danger.

You boast too. Far too often, you are trusting in yourself, not the Lord. You mock Him as your trust is in yourself, and you fail to see the danger of your self-idolatry. As dangers in this life face you, often you feel you can handle things, and don't need the Lord. With that God-and-death-defying attitude, it is not simply a body in danger of dying, it is your entire self, body and soul.

When the Carpathia finally arrived, they tethered life boats and a small group of survivors were pulled from the water and rescued. Grieving, and in shock, these people had a new chance at life. Pulled out of the waters of death, they received the gift of life.

We don't like to think about it in that way, but in a sense, your Baptism also had such lethal consequences. Your Old Adam struggled, but fighting against that Word of God at the font, the sinful self went down in a watery grave.

At Baptism, there was no lifeboat, nor was there a need for one. The Old Adam needed to die, but Jesus worked an amazing rescue. In this Sacrament, He gave you not merely a new chance at life; He gave you a new life! Pulled from the waters of death in that font, you received the gift of life itself.

Those who came to the aid of the Titanic were not sure what they would find. It had been hours in the icy cold, and many bodies of the dead floated throughout the area. They were helpless, as death had seemed to win.

The women coming to Jesus' tomb knew what they would find. Well, they thought they knew. But what they thought they knew, was not the case at all. They "knew" that they would find Jesus' body, wrapped in linen, and laying on a stone slab in Joseph of Arimethea's tomb. They "knew" that they needed the spices and ointments and perfumes they were bearing to give their Lord a proper burial. They were helpless, as they thought death had won.

You often join that same flawed, sinful assumption, that death has won. When you talk of a departed Christian in the past tense, and speak of them as "dead," be careful how you understand that. Their bodies have ceased to function, but they are not dead. Jesus says so. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. They are alive in Christ, awaiting the Resurrection. Do not think for a moment that death has won!

Death has not won. Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.]

By giving Himself into death on that Friday, Jesus defeated death. That ancient enemy suddenly lost all its power. It was completely unable to keep its hold on Jesus, because it is finished. And in the perfect completion of His saving work, Jesus Christ completely crushed death. It had to let go of Him. Death could not lash out at Him; Jesus was the Victor.

But the Resurrection is not simply some history lesson. It is history. It is fact. But it is not something that happened a long time ago, with no relevance now. The resurrection occurred then, but has a lasting, eternal impact. It is not simply magic. The Lord delivers the gift of the fruits of His death and resurrection to you.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.]

He did it at your Baptism. Christ brought to you the rescue and forgiveness He purchased on the cross. And He washed you into His death and resurrection, joining you to Himself, so that you have the sure and certain promise of your resurrection.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.]

He is doing it right now. Jesus is using the words proclaimed to you from this pulpit to bring the forgiveness, life, and salvation won at the cross. And in a few moments, He will feed you His risen Body and Blood, preparing your body for its own resurrection at the Last Day.

The dark and earliest hours of the 15th of April, 1912, were a tragic, watery, earthly end for hundreds of people. But for all of them who died in the Lord, they were washed away in the baptismal reality that their Risen Lord swept them to Himself, where they await their own resurrection.

And you too. Easter is not simply about Jesus' resurrection. Sure, that is most important, but it does not stand alone. Jesus' resurrection insists then upon yours. Even as the Holy One was not abandoned to the grave, so also, He will not abandon you to yours. He gathers you to Himself at the moment of death, and He anticipates the Day when He will unite, perfect, and glorify your resurrected body, to enjoy His presence without end!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed. Alleluia.] Amen.

A Homily for the Easter Vigil

Old Testament Readings

Vigil of the Resurrection of Our Lord

7 April 2012

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

Darkness descends on the land, and yet, it does not overwhelm. The world surrounds you with death and despair, but they cannot latch onto you. The shadows lengthen, and yet, Jesus Christ is the Light of the World; the Light no darkness can overcome.

In the beginning the Lord God simply said, Let there be light, and there was. At that same time, He worked with the waters He created.

The evil, God-hating world was condemned and destroyed by the raging waters of the Flood, while the Lord God preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. The terrifying violence of the flood surrounded them, yet the Lord was rescuing and keeping and saving His Church. And at the end of this tribulation, He cast the bright beams of [His] Light upon them. Salvation unto [them] had come. God had brought their new life out of the waters of death.

The venomous hatred of Pharaoh spewed out on his Hebrew slaves. Demonically he focused on recapturing them and enslaving them again. With his hardened heart, Pharaoh delighted in pursuing these people whom he viewed as his rightful property. But the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, delivered His children out of bondage with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He led Pharaoh and his army into the midst of the sea, collapsing the water on them. While he drowned in the darkness of overwhelming water, the children of Israel, the Old Testament Church, were kept in the light of day. The Lord had brought them through the sea on dry ground. And they were saved.

The three young men stood firm in their resolve. The Holy Spirit kept them firm in refusing to deny God and worship the idol of the king. Thrown into the fiery furnace, the intensity of the heat and light would be unimaginable. But then came the true Light! The Son of God came to them, protecting them from a torturous live cremation. He rescued them, and turned it into a moment to preach to the eyes of the king that the Lord of Israel is the Lord of Life and the only true God.

You live in a world surrounded by darkness, death, and destruction. But your dear Lord has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all that. And after His brief rest in His tomb, Christ Jesus, who lay in deaths strong bands, has passed over from death to life. He overcame death and the grave, and has burst forth. He is the Light of the world, and that Light radiates from the holy sepulcher, shining forth for you and the world to see.

In the sacred waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus joins Himself to you. You have been united by Him to Him, so that His death becomes yours; His resurrection, yours as well. Your Savior has pulled you into the waters of Holy Baptism, and drawn you from them, so that Old Adam is drowned and the New Creature is born. You are His, safe and secure in the Ark of His Church, until He brings you to Himself. Someday, He will bring you out of your grave, where He will bring out your Baptized self and bask you in His Light, glorifying your resurrected body and gathering you into His eternal kingdom.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!


Father, Forgive THEM: A Homily for Good Friday

Luke 23:34

Good Friday

6 April 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

There was quite a stir several years back, when Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ first hit theaters. Some tried trumping up allegations that anti-Semitic remarks that he had allegedly made were proof that he treated the Jewish leaders unfairly in this portrayal. They maintained that the film was laying blame at the feet of the Jews.

Upon hearing this, I wanted to respond: "I'm sorry. Did we see the same film? Because The Passion of the Christ that I saw clearly did not assign blame to one group. There is lots of blame to go around. It is more complicated than that."

The Sanhedrin was guilty, do not get me wrong. The high priest, who should have been the spiritual leader for the entire nation, this last generation of the Old Testament Church, led the people in rejecting and despising the very God he thought he served. The scribes and Pharisees who had been viewed as righteous, upright men, were proving to be the unwitting agents of the devil.

But the Jewish leadership was not the only group to blame. Governor Pilate was proving he had a lack of a spine. He kept returning to his instinct that Jesus was indeed innocent -- perhaps a little touch of mental illness and delusion, but pretty harmless. Yet the crowds looked ready to riot. They would interfere with imperial politics, and create problems for Pilate in Caesar's court. Pilate was realizing he could end up dying over this ridiculous little religious squabble. Better to give the mob what it wants.

And so, Pilate joins the ranks of the guilty. He too is sinning against God by ordering the crucifixion of Christ. The enlisted men who served the governor are in his mix, too. Being the very men who shoved the thorns, who cracked the whips, who hammered the nails, these soldiers have the guilt of Christ's blood on them too.

But wait, the night before, Peter denied even knowing Jesus, the other apostles simply ran away into the darkness, trying to save their own lives as they abandoned Jesus. They are guilty of forsaking their Savior and leaving Him to be arrested and killed.

Crowds of the curious and passers-by gathered on Golgotha. While a few were there weeping, most were there to mock and decry Jesus. They jeered and gloated over the Man that they felt was becoming too popular and engaging in false teaching. In their condescension and cruel words, they too were guilty of this terrible miscarriage of justice.

And then there is you. You are not free from guilt. You see, Jesus had no sin whatsoever. He was undeserving of death. Yet there He was, submitting to the death deserved by every other human being ever -- including the sin of those in the Old Testament Church and the New.

The oldest paintings of the crucifixion have an actual skull underground at the "Place of the Skull," and traditionally this is supposed to be the skull of Adam, the first man. The blood from Jesus' precious wounds then falls onto the skull of Adam, reminding all that Jesus' sacrifice is for every person in every age, all the way back to Adam.

So there He is, Jesus, lifted up on the cross to bear your sin and be your Savior. He speaks from the cross this glorious word of absolution: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Who is the "they?" Not simply the Jewish Temple leadership. Not merely the Romans. Not just the people gathered on Golgotha.

Saint Luke carefully chooses the words of this Gospel, and when Jesus said "forgive them," He was referring to everyone. Everyone else in the entire world who ever was, is, or will be born is guilty and deserving of the death sentence of the cross and the pain of hell endured there. But Jesus declares this blessed absolution to all, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

In fact, His absolution is not just for all at that moment. Another clue that everyone is included here is that Jesus uses a verb form that is not in most English translations; He actually says, "Father, KEEP FORGIVING them, for they know not what they do." Not just the sin at that moment of mocking and crucifying Him, but all sin, through which you transgress against Him.

Jesus prays for you! He absolves you. He removes all guilt you have in this torture and death, rescuing you as He declares a lasting absolution. Dear friends in Christ, you are lovingly saved by the Savior, rescued by your Redeemer, and loosed by your Lord.

Do not despair when you behold or ponder your dear Lord on His cross. The image is not one of deep despair; but an image of loving victory on His part. A victory with lasting, absolving results! "Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world!"

Yes, every last person is guilty of the Lord's death. However, every last one has had his sin atoned, paid for by the Savior. You are absolved. And Jesus KEEPS on absolving you, as He prays to the Father on your behalf.

Christ Jesus has absolved you, and He keeps on delivering that forgiveness to you through His precious gifts of Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of His Gospel, and in His Holy Supper. Each and every time you receive these great blessings, the Lord Jesus continues to speak those sweet, loving words: "Father, KEEP FORGIVING them, for they know not what they do." Amen.

Love One Another: A Homily for Holy Thursday

John 13:1-15, 34-35

Holy Thursday

5 April 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

It was barely dawn on a Sunday morning, and there was a large crowd in the room, in the house where the Ephesian congregation met. The pastor had just read the Scriptures, stopping several times for the people to repeat the passage, trying to learn much of it by heart. It was time for the sermon.

But this morning, it would not be the pastor of this parish preaching. Today it would be THE Pastor of Ephesus -- "the Elder" as he had come to be known. The door opened, and everyone turned to see him. A little old man, frail, bald, with a long, white beard, was being carried in on a litter. He was over 100 years old. He summoned his strength, and preached the Word of God: "Little children, love one another." And as quickly as it began, the sermon ended. One little sentence. St. John the Apostle and Evangelist did not seem to have the strength to say more, and yet, what more needed to be said?

"Little children, love one another." At first, that is Law. "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another." When St. John heard Jesus speak those words, decades earlier, they stuck with him. Profound. With authority. Jesus, who loved everyone perfectly, now commanded His disciples to do the same. And He tells you to do it too!

"Love one another." But you don't. You are not constantly thinking about the actions to do and the words to say to serve your neighbor. You really don't perfectly keep your spouse or parents or children above yourself, much less friends, acquaintances or even strangers. You constantly fail this simple command from Christ. Many times every hour, simply by what you omit or avoid, you do not "love one another."

And then there is the fact that you actively break this command. You gossip and hurt reputations, defiling the eighth commandment. You show a lack of love as you steal from others, whether time, or effort, attention, or things. You refuse love to those who suffer or have no voice when you keep silent regarding the unborn, the downtrodden, the sick and the poor. In these and many ways, you are selfish and put your own wants and needs first, loving yourself rather than others in your life. Sadly, little children, you do not love one another.

But St. John also tells you, "God is love." The Lord Jesus is Love incarnate. He took on flesh to perfectly love you and every other human being. Yes! Your loving God became Man in order to be perfect love in life, in death, and in His resurrection. He loved you perfectly as He kept God's Law in your place. He loved you perfectly as He bore your sin of failing to love, as He suffered and died in your place. He loved you perfectly as He rose to new life for you! He loves you perfectly even now, as He lives and reigns to all eternity.

Perhaps the clearest and most direct way that He gives this love to you is the very gift He instituted on this night: the Holy Supper of our Lord! In this gift of His very Body and Blood, Jesus is loving you completely. Here He unites His Body and Blood with bread and wine, giving you the thrilling gift of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting the love of God! The ultimate in loving others -- laying down one's life for them -- that is what Jesus did on that next day, Good Friday. He blesses you with that gift of love!

So really, even though it was Law for those Ephesian Christians, they were also hearing Gospel. Not Gospel in the command to love. But when they heard the very word, "love," their thoughts were turned to Jesus Christ, who is the very embodiment of God's Love. In hearing, "Love one another," the Lord led them to focus on Christ who is the One of whom we say, "God is love." Yes, He is. God is love. He is the perfect Love who gives His life as the ransom for the many. He is the Love that has redeemed and saved you. He is the Love that has rescued you from sin, death, and the devil, gifting you with forgiveness, life, and salvation in this Blessed Sacrament of Love.

And having been given His love in such a pure and profound and holy way, He fills you with it. He loves you and now loves through you, showing mercy and compassion and holy love to those around. You are not loving on your own, but as His redeemed and baptized creatures, Jesus shares His love through works He has prepared in advance for you to do.

So you do love. And when you fail, you have the calm and sweet assurance that Jesus Christ loves you perfectly, and mercifully forgives you, that you may forever abide in His love. "Little children, love one another." Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Behold, Your King: A Homily for Palm Sunday

Mark 15:1-47

Mark 15:1-47

Palm Sunday

1 April 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation." On that first Palm Sunday, the Lord Jesus came. There He was, "Humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." No pompous or pretentious monarch. No overbearing Caesar with delusions of deity. He was the real deal. THE King of kings, simply riding into town, quietly receiving the praises of children and the adoring faithful.

Quite the crowd was gathered there, chanting psalms and rejoicing greatly! News had travelled about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and this meant two things: there were many who were amazed and receiving faith in Jesus as the Christ, and there were others from the Scribes and Pharisees who saw this as a blasphemous problem, feeling the need for Jesus to die for that sin. While that second group was off, likely lurking and working in the shadows, the first group, the adoring faithful, were welcoming Jesus to the capital city of King David, where His enthronement awaited.

But the enthronement envisioned by the adoring crowds was not at all what they anticipated; they were joyous as they imagined glory and peace coming to Israel as the King of the Jews came into power. "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! The King of Israel!" "Hosanna to the Son of David." They lifted their cries to Christ, their King, whom they knew would save them, even if in a different manner than they thought.

You are just like them. You want the King to be in the image you have made. You want a King of Glory, who will conquer and reign. You want the omnipotent Lord of the universe. And He is! But that doesn't mean He will reign and display His might in the way you want.

You want Jesus to give the perfect, moral, upright government on earth, free from Cook County antics, free from governors from both major parties that go to prison, and free from the manipulations from both sides of the aisle in Congress. You want Him to provide earthly rulers who will allow us to live in peace and openly practice our faith. You want respect for your Christian heritage and life. But He never promises those things -- not in his life.

You want Jesus to come and snap His fingers and make the financial challenges of this parish disappear. After all, He should help His Church, right? You want Him to just make a bunch of people show up for church, rather than actually have to invite someone. You want Jesus to be the King who displays the glory that you imagine.

If you look for Jesus to use His power and glory to simply fix the problems of his earth in the way you want, in the time table you want, you are sadly mistaken. He knows that many hardships and challenges are actually gifts that will draw you to Him, and bring you to realize that you can do nothing for yourself; Christ alone can speak and act to save you. And He does.

Your own desires can go against the plans and designs of the King of Israel. The power and force to do things "the right way" makes you and even the faithful on the streets of Jerusalem against the word and work of Jesus Christ. So stop. Stop trying to mold Christ in your image. Stop redefining who Jesus should be. Stop demanding your own misconceptions of your King.

Your King is this humble suffering servant, your powerful God, who gave everything up to suffer and die for you. Your King loves paradox, becoming weak so His strength is displayed, and dying that you might live. Your King is forsaken, abandoned by His Father, that you may be adopted forever. It is here, on His cross, where the King of the Jews comes into the fullness of His glory. The rough hewn wood of the cross is His crude throne. The twisted thorns on His brow, His crown. The blood pouring from His holy wounds, His crown jewels that adorn His royal body.

No, this is not the King you expected or desired. But He is the King you need! He has become flesh for you. He gives Himself in royal service to you. He sets aside His almighty power and veils His divine self, submitting to the earthly authorities. He lays down His life as a ransom for the many. Performing miracles, declaring orders, or sending legions of angel armies to fight off evil doers would not have helped you. King Jesus knew the only way to redeem and save you was this paradoxical enthronement -- this coronation on the cross.

And now, you are baptized into the royal family. You are made an heir of the Father on account of the saving work of Christ Jesus. He was forsaken. He was abandoned, suffering the very pain of hell as He cried out and prayed Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" There, in His being forsaken, He removed the abandonment you deserve. He made ready the royal courts of His Church to receive you. He has now sent His Spirit to call you to faith, and rescue you from such threats. He was forsaken, that you would never be.

"Hosanna! Save us!" you pray, with the ancient faithful of Jerusalem. "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel!" Jesus has accomplished your salvation by being the King you needed. He was enthroned on the cross as He died, that you might be rescued from death, and enjoy a resurrected life with Him forever. The King of Israel has come to save you. He came into Jerusalem on a humble donkey to win salvation as your King. Now He comes to deliver that salvation, as He rides the humble elements of bread and wine. And He comes to do that, even as you rejoice and sing, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" Amen.

New Covenant: A Homily for the Week of Lent 5

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Midweek of Lent 5

28 March 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Know the Lord!" I don't even have to say that, do I? After all, we are in the New Covenant. So Jeremiah says you already know the Lord. Right. And if you walk outside these doors, and go about in this neighborhood, you will have no need to say, "Know the Lord," because all our neighbors do -- every last one of them -- right?

What you have here is a case of what pastors and Lutheran Bible scholars call, "now/not yet." The Lord has fulfilled His promises, and yet, the completion in all it's glorious perfection will be at the Last Day.

Jeremiah preaches the promise of the New Covenant. The old one had been violated, many times over. Every day the children of Israel had failed God at keeping His Word, and being a faithful bride the the Holy Bridegroom and Lord. They had been the immoral wife, desiring and lusting after other gods, just as Potiphar's wife had desired and lusted after the handsome slave Joseph. The covenant that simply said, "I will be your God, and you will be My people," was too much for them to bear. And so they became a wicked wife, unfaithful to her husband, breaking her wedding vow and serving only her self-centered desires.

Of course, you have no stone to cast here. You daily sin much; you stray as well. The gods you go chasing after may not be Baal or Asherah, they are not made of wood or stone. More likely, your gods are made of electronics: computers, smart phones, iPods, and the like. Or you lust after the gods of wealth and popularity. No matter what or who they are, you place people or objects as higher priorities than the Lord God.

This was the rejection of the Old Covenant. And judgment fell on the Old Covenant Church for refusing the Lord who had made that Covenant. The people of Israel and you are both guilty of its violation.

But there is comfort in the preaching of Jeremiah. The prophet whom many referred to as "Terror on Every Side" -- something like calling him, "Old Gloom and Doom," was now speaking words of tender comfort and peace from God. After their wandering and straying and forsaking God, He was giving them a New Covenant.

You live in the New Covenant. The Law of God is written in your hearts. Your called-to-faith, forgiven, renewed hearts have God's Law written upon them. Do you keep it, though? Not perfectly. Not completely. That's the "not yet." It is there, yet you still slip back into your sin, and fail at keeping the covenant.

And that is where Jesus makes all the difference. He IS the New Covenant, placed in you, making you stand clean and righteous and perfect before God. He forgives you for all your straying and unfaithfulness, and cleanses you to be the spotless, pure and holy Bride.

Your dear Lord promises to be your God, and you will be His people. Not because you have done well at keeping His old covenant, but because He has given you the blessing to be His people. He "forgive[s] [your] iniquity, and [remembers your] sin no more."

Far more significant than bringing you up out of slavery to taskmasters in Egypt, your Redeemer has brought you up out of the slavery and bondage of sin, death, and the devil. The Lord God lavishes you with His mercy and love, releasing you from all these things that are harmful to your eternal well-being, and preserving you in the one, true faith.

God sends Jeremiah to preach this comforting Gospel, dear friends in Christ. He declares to you that He has forgiven all your breaking of His old covenant, and fills you with the joy and comfort of Jesus Christ and His New Covenant. In the suffering and death on His cross, Jesus has purchased and won you salvation, instituting the New Covenant. And in His Holy Sacraments, He delivers that salvation to you, placing the New Covenant inside you. No one has to preach or teach to you to "know the Lord." By His grace, through what He has done, and then through His preaching and sacraments, you already do! You know the Lord, thanks be to God. Amen.