A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Comes Love: A Homily on Mark 10:2-16

First Comes Love…”
19th S. after Pentecost                                                                       
7 October 2012
St. Johns, Chicago, IL

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

"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  What a loaded question.  I am reminded of a placard I once saw in a photo of a priest at a march for life.  It said: What is legal is not always moral. 
The Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus to get Him to slip up and say something against the Scriptures.  They know that the Scriptures included permission in the Old Testament for divorce, even though it is not part of Gods perfect plan.  They also know that Jesus is teaching love and mercy and might accidentally contradict the Scriptures.  No such luck.
He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away."  Jesus goes on to explain that it is because of the hardness of fallen human hearts that God made this allowance.  But He is quick to remind them of Gods grand design at creation: one man, one woman, for life.
Funny, preaching this passage in some countrieseven in Canada, by insisting that marriage is only for one man and one woman, can be considered hate speech.  But the Lord plainly lays out His design for marriage and family here, and He speaks the truth in love.
But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.'  'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 
So where does that leave us?  We live in a nation where for some time there has been a success rate for marriages hovering around 50% --  even in Christian homes.  Statistically speaking, every single one of us either has had a divorce, or knows someone who has been through  divorce.  And what about those cases where the spouse has been unfaithful and there actually is a biblical permission for divorce? 
The devil, the world, and our sinful selves are hard at work, trying to convince people that they have fallen out of love, or encouraging constant fighting that leads to shattering marriages.  Some give in to violent urges.  Others yell.  Still others plot financial revenge. 

Does this describe your relationship?  Then God says to you: Repent!  And get help!  Or is this being done to you?  Then God offers His love and compassion, picking up the pieces of your life and offering His healing.

Far too quickly, though, we are wont to believe the devils lies and slide down that slippery slope of fear, mistrust, and brokenness.  If we stop and admit it, we often enjoy television shows and movies that present situations that encourage breaking marriages.  So our minds and sub-consciences get filled with seduction, excitement, and the so-called growing apart that becomes acceptable in society.  After failing to defend the Lords order of marriage and family for so long, we end up agreeing with immorality by virtue of our silence. 

Dear friends in Christ, the perfect family that God designed in Eden is under attack. What hope can we have?

Our hope comes from a perfect marriage.  No, not one that you could ever have as a couple.  I mean the perfect marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Yes!  Our Lord Jesus is the perfect Bridegroom.  And the Church is His Bride.  At the cross, Jesus takes leave of His mother and is joined to His Bride.  As He gives His Body up for her, He is acting out of His perfect, holy, self-sacrificing love.  The Church receives that love in humble thanks and joy.  At the cross, as He takes His bride, Jesus removes any spot or wrinkle or blemish.  He cleanses her from any trespass or sin, and claims her as His own.

Now, even in the midst of our broken relationships and failed families, we have hope.  Jesus has come and removes the pain and guilt.  He hears our confession and absolves us for breaking our promises, for breaking others hearts, and for failing to be the saints we are called to be.  Jesus tells you today that yes, even divorce can be repented of, and He renews us to continue in this life.  The loving forgiveness of the Perfect Bridegroom restores our relationship with Him, and breathes new life into our relationships with one another.

The childrens playground chant says: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in a baby carriage.

A holy marriage is always open to Gods gift of life and procreation.  Here again, our culture bombards us with ideas contrary to Gods Word.  Television, films and printed media degrade the value of family and children.  Emphasis is on the individual and his or her career.  Much is made over friends and activities outside the home and away from spouse and children.  In our culture and media, you only hear about large families in a context of what a burden! or How environmentally irresponsible!  And even then, it seems that more than two children qualifies a family as large in the 21st century.

And here we are, hearing the Scriptures, where every mention of children is always in the context of blessing, and never as burden.  We hear God tell Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.  We hear God repeat that blessing after the Flood.  King Solomon writes in Psalm 127, Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of ones youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!  And today we hear Jesus treat children with great love and respect.

Society says: Limit your families on purpose.  Jesus says: Be fruitful and multiply.  The world says: Dont have too many children or we will use up all the resources.  Scripture says: The Lord will provide.  The world would have the Church worry about statistics and how we are shrinking.  Our Lord would encourage more of the Church growing the old fashioned way, by having more children.
Today we hear Jesus welcoming and blessing little children a text which has been closely connected to Holy Baptism since ancient times.

So does this mean you are a terrible Christian if you dont have children, or have only one?  No.  For some, God has not allowed our bodies or health to create more children.  For others, serious stewardship concerns led them to refrain from a larger family.  Still others may be serving God in other varied ways.

On the other hand, some limit their families with purely selfish motives.  If it is all about me, then this is a sin to face and confess.  Then it is akin to the sin of the disciples in todays Gospel, thinking Jesus is too important to be bothered with children.  But we know that our Lord reaches out to everyone, regardless of age.  He wants the little children to come to Him.

As His Church, we bring the little children to Him.  We bring them to Holy Baptism, where He gifts them with forgiveness and faith.  We bring them to the Divine Service so they can hear Him and be nourished by Him even before they understand what is going on.  His Word is living and active, and works even before they are cognizant of its meaning.  That means even while still in the womb!  Like St. John the Baptizer, our babies hear His Word preached and are brought into Gods presence, where faith is given and strengthened.

First comes love the eternal, almighty love of God from the foundation of the world, showered on His Bride, the Church.

Then comes marriage Christ, united with His Bride as He suffers and dies on the cross.  The Savior-Bridegroom now constantly gives Himself to His Bride as He speaks His constant I love you through His Word, and shares His sacred Body in the Supper.

Then comes the baby in the baby carriage OK, so there is no carriage.  But there is a tub!  A large and wondrous font for the saving Baptism that gives new birth to the millions of children born to this union.  Here the Lord is constantly growing His Church, as He bestows new life on the countless children who are brought to Baptism every year!

So here we are, the family of God.  Christ and His Bride are united, and children are brought forth in the womb of the Baptismal Font.  Thanks be to God, who calls us as His family!  Amen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Satan Falling: A Homily for the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels

Feast of St. Michael & All Angels (observed)                        
25 September 2011
St. Johns, Chicago, IL

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

About a week ago, a high school friend of Kristi's received the kind of contact no parent wants to ever get: police telling him that his son was in a terrible car accident.  The teenage boy was driving home and fell asleep at the wheel, and the car ended up wrapped around a tree.  With only what appears to be a broken leg and some bruising, amazingly, he survived!  When you look at the car, you know that he should not have come out of that car alive.  Only by the grace of God, protecting the teen with His holy angels, is that boy still here.

On Leap Day of 2008, another friend was returning from work, driving in the fast lane of the interstate.  Suddenly, the SUV in front of her swerved, to reveal a broken down semi.  There was no time to react, other than braking as much as she could.  Her car was crushed as it impacted with the rear of the trailer.  In the end, there was one inch between her head and the tailgate of the truck.  No earthly reason why she survived.  Simply the Lord's holy angels protecting.

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Satan, the old evil foe, the prince of this world, falls down.  That wicked serpent who deceived our mother Eve, who set Israelite hearts to reinvent God in their own image while newly delivered from Pharaoh at the Red Sea although he is powerful and a strong adversary, he is powerless against the Word of Christ.

Watch yourselves, though.  For often we do not encourage Satans fall.  Sometimes we help and aid him.  When you refrain from being sustained in the Divine Service by Gospel and Sacrament, Satan is happy; it helps him up!  When you convince yourself that you didnt get anything out of a service where Gods Word was faithfully preached and His Sacrament administered, you have been tricked by the devil, and rather than help his fall, you help him back up. 

Today we pause and thank God for His holy angels.  He placed an angel at the Garden of Eden when our first parents fell.  They shattered the image of God and plunged us all into the depths of sin, sickness, and death.  So the Lord God placed cherubim at the entrance to Eden, to be sure that humans did not go and eat of the tree of life.  Sounds mean and vindictive, doesnt it?  Yet that very action was one of love.  In His judgment, the Lord had mercy, to prevent Adam and Eve from finding that fruit and living forever in a fallen, sick, sinful and suffering condition.  He was protecting you, even as you join in the rebellion of your ancestors!

But for all those rebellious times, our compassionate Savior and loving Lord rescues us.  He dishes out His forgiveness and mercy through His means of grace.  And with every helping, Satan fall[s] like lightning from heaven!

You see, to begin with, on the cross Jesus assumed all sin on Himself and paid the price with His innocent and holy sacrifice, once and for all.  The righteousness of Christ His just perfection and holiness are given through His precious blood.   He was innocent, yet suffered and endured the miserable death that you and I deserve.  There on that mountain, He paid the price and it stands paid forever!

He purchased your right to enter His Church.  His innocent suffering and death on the cross made it a tree of life.  One that angels do not guard to keep you from it, but a new tree of life to which angels rejoice to encourage you.  And these holy angels rejoice as God gathers repentant sinners to Himself, and crashes in on the devils kingdom.

Even now, here in the kingdom, here at St. Johns, every time a pastors hand dips in that font and pours a cleansing flood over someone, Christ wins.  And the devil falls down.  Every time the saving work of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and His forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are declared to people, every time someone repents and comes and confesses their sin to their pastor and he absolves him, every time someone comes to the Holy Supper of our Lord, and receives the Holy Gift of Christ Himself, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven.

But as joyous as it is, to know that Satan is falling, our Lord Christ declares that we are not to spend too much time focusing on that.  No.  He says, Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.  Jesus says, Yeah.  It is great! But this is even better: You get to spend eternity in heaven with Me!  You have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with His Gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith.  You have been given new birth by Water and the Word, and continue to be nourished by His Gospel and Eucharist.  Through these Gifts, Jesus is preserving you on that list, written in heaven. 

So many want to find salvation in other places.  They dont want to think it is that simple and that particular, that salvation comes through Christ alone, with His work on Mount Calvary and His delivery through His Holy Church.  We even have to be careful as we discuss angels.  If you give too much attention to Gabriel or Michael or Raphael, you end up distracting from Christ.  Do not lose focus.

On this Church festival of Saint Michael & All Angels, it can get easy to lose that focus.  For well over a thousand years, the Holy Church has taken the 29th of September as a day to give thanks to God for His holy angels who serve and protect us.  In the Lutheran Church, we sometimes transfer this celebration to a Sunday, so more people can participate in the occasion.  We praise the Lord for His legions of spirit warriors who defend us from the evil one, and watch over Gods children.  They do amazing work miraculous work that blesses us in our earthly pilgrimage, and for this it is completely appropriate to pause and thank our heavenly Father.  Yet do it with the proper focus.

Jesus, Lord over men and angels, reminds us, Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.  And until we join Him there, dear friends in Christ, you can join the thrilling celebration of Satan falling like lightning.  We rejoice not simply in his defeat, but knowing that his defeat is Christs victory!  Jesus baptizing another.  Jesus preaching His Gospel to another.  Jesus feeding another with His Body and Blood.

Praise God!  Michael and Gabriel, angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven join in this praising.  Celebrate that our gracious God sends them to serve and protect His children and His Church.  But even more, dear friends in Christ, rejoice that [by His suffering and death on Calvary, and the giving of His gifts in the Divine Service that keep you in the faith] your names are written in heaven.  Amen.