A myHT Fortress

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Thirst: A Homily for Good Friday

Good Friday
29 March 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
"After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst."  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth."

"I thirst."  do you drink your eight glasses of water -- two quarts -- every day?  While some are very faithful, most do not.  So your body's systems are denied this source of life.  Water is needed for your body, so that all the functions of your cells work in good order.  And they, in turn, keep your organs strong and functioning, and alive.

Our loving Savior endured every need of His human body, just like you.  He would get tired.  He hungered.  And He thirsted.

A thousand years before suffering on the cross, Jesus prayed through King David: "They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink" (Psalm 69:21.)  There were actually two moments when Jesus was offered something to drink during the crucifixion: when He first was lifted up, and later, when He cries out.

At the beginning of His ordeal on the cross, soldiers offered Jesus wine mixed with gall.  This gall would be a potent antiseptic, perhaps even with narcotic capabilities.  It was actually an act of mercy, meant to lessen the pain.  Maybe because they figured He wasn't a real criminal, but just some religious nut, they felt a little sorry for Him.  But as soon as Jesus tasted it, and recognized it, He refused this drink.  He would not deaden the pain.  He would endure the complete suffering of crucifixion for all.

But this time, they offered the sour wine.  Vinegar, basically.  The sainted Dr. Erich Kiehl, from our seminary in St. Louis,  pointed out that while this beverage may sound disgusting to most of us, this particular variety of sour wine was considered a refreshing drink in first century Palestine.  So, once again, this was an act of mercy.

As Jesus was suffering in His body, He felt the thirst.  With labored breathing, and loss of blood, His body was feeling the need for more fluids.  He thirsted.  And He knew it.

Sometimes you have gotten used to a lack of water, a smaller amount keeps you going, and you get to the point that you don't know any better.  Your body would burn more fat, eat less, feel less tired, and simply function at a better level.  Yet, since you do not realize you are thirsty, you get by with less water, while your health unknowingly suffers.

Dear friends, it is not only physical thirst of your body that plagues you.  You have a spiritual thirsting of body and soul.  And if you neglect it, you begin to no longer feel it.  "I'm not thirsty," you say, as you suffer from dehydration.  "I'm not thirsty," you say, as you decide to go to the park district game rather than church.  "I'm not thirsty," you say, as you imagine you need the Sacrament less than you do.

Our Lord who thirsted for you, has paid the complete price for your sin.  He has redeemed you, and rescued you from sin, death, and the devil. And bound to His salvation in Holy Baptism, you have been given faith that now recognizes this thirst, and yearns for the Lord!  "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." (Psalm 42:1-2.)

Your dear Lord Christ then hung there, having cried out and given up His Spirit.  Pierced by the spear, from the side of the dead Son of God issued life-giving blood and water. 

Refreshed and renewed by the One who is Living Water, you are given an eternal quenching, receiving the precious blood and water, flowing from the Savior.  And you are blessed to be drawn to your Savior and drink from Him, speaking back His own words: “I thirst.”  Amen.

Love One Another: A Homily for Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday
28 March 2013
St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Pastor Matthew Harrison, our Synod President would say, "Show mercy."  It means, "Love one another."  Francis, the new bishop of Rome is known for encouraging works of charity; "Love one another."  Such love naturally flows from faith in Christ.  It is expected by Him; yet it is given by Him.

Think back to first-century Ephesus.  The congregation has their beloved pastor who had seemed to be there forever, coming out of retirement to preach -- 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 fool yourself into thinking that God does not detest your sins as much as those of your neighbor, and refuse to love him, because for whatever reason, you find his sin more repulsive.  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.  And that is a damning situation for you.

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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sacred Talk 24/7

He Has Remembered

“He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”          Psalm 98:3

Any family that has dealt with dementia or Alzheimer’s knows the hardships of not remembering.  Our hearts go out to anyone who has dealt, or continues to deal, with such memory loss and the emotional suffering that accompanies it.

Pastor Lutz had endured such memory loss for a number of years now.  Like so many who suffer from it, he fondly recalled many people and events of the past, while having more difficulty with newer memories.  We hope and pray for the Lord to relieve the many people who face such challenges.

We also have a sure and certain hope in the One who remembers us!  Christ Jesus “remembers” His steadfast love and faithfulness to you, His beloved, baptized children.  At the same time, because He has nourished and sustained you with His Means of Grace, He remembers your sin no more.

We rejoice that this week, after a long and fulfilling pilgrimage on earth, Jesus welcomed Pastor John Lutz, remembering none of his sin, and echoing, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master.”  (Matthew 25:21)

Thanks be to God for the 93 wonderful years that He gave His servant, and especially for the 33 years that He called Pastor Lutz to serve His people here at St. John’s!

Yours in Christ’s service,
Rev. Richard A. Heinz,
St. John’s Lutheran Church,
Chicago, Illinois

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Kept Word: A Homily on John 8:46-59

Judica: the 5th Sunday in Lent
17 March 2013
St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."

What about Abraham?!  Ha! Gotcha, Jesus.  Abraham was a good and righteous man.  Everyone knows he kept God's Word.  But he died, just like everyone else.  Jesus, are You trying to say that You are more important than Abraham?! 

Why, Abraham was definitely the greatest man ever!  He did not spare his only son, but offered him up when God commanded it.  And God blessed him with so much wealth, he had to be doing something right!

What about the prophets?!  Yeah, Jesus!  They died too.  Are you saying that the men whom God sent to preach His Word did not keep it?

You know that these Jewish leaders were wrong in trying to lie about Jesus, and twist His words.  You know the irony of them sticking up for the prophets, when many of their people persecuted and even killed the prophets of the Lord.

What about Jesus!?  He obviously, and perfectly kept His Word.  And yet He never was blessed with tremendous wealth or exercised great earthly power.  And He died!  Well, yes.  He died in the physical, bodily way.  The temporal way, here in space and time.  But it was not an eternal spiritual death.  It was not being permanently and eternally cut off from God, as one who has rejected Him. 

"Never seeing death," here, is talking about not going to hell.  Not enduring eternal death and separation from God, on account of rejecting Jesus Christ.

What about you?!  Have you rejected Jesus?  Do you keep His Word?  Careful, now.  Be honest.  Every single day you mess things up.  You fail to do what He commands.  You might do a good job in other people's eyes, but when judged on a scale of perfection, you come up short. 

You are in the same situation as these men testing Jesus.  Deep down, if you are honest, you hear Jesus talking and saying that you will die if you do not keep His Word, and you want Him to stop talking.  "Be quiet, Jesus.  Those are not the words we want to hear.  Stop it.  You are being too exclusive, Jesus.  There are a lot of really nice people who do good things, even if they don't believe in You."

Really?  No.  They may seem to be nice, and their actions and words may look good, but if not done in faith in Christ, they are empty and still lead to death and separation from the Lord.  And your defending them means that you are straying from Jesus and His Word, as well.  And so you are drifting from life in Christ, to death.

Beware.  You are joining Jesus' antagonists and refusing to hear what He says.  Saint John, who records this exchange, would beg you at this point, "Little children, love one another," yes,  in the love of Christ alone, which comes through faith in Him.

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."  Christ Jesus is indeed greater than Abraham; He is the Lord God Himself, I AM.  He created Abraham.  He called Abraham to faith, and led Him to Canaan.  He spoke His promises to Abraham, and blessed him to believe them.  "And it was credited to him as righteousness."

But there you are.  There is the difference between Abraham and the Jewish leaders challenging Jesus.  Abraham heard the Word of the Lord and received it in faith.  These men in the Gospel reading do not have faith.  They reject the Lord and His Word.  They would have more trust in any of their self-sacrifice, than in Jesus Himself.

And now here you are. The Lord has not tested you, telling you to sacrifice your only son.  He has not miraculously provided a baby when you were a hundred years old.  But He has poured out His Holy Spirit, that you may have the same faith as His servant Abraham.

Jesus has made you a child of God in Holy Baptism, and it was credited to you as righteousness.  He speaks His Gospel week after week, and you receive it in faith, and it is credited to you as righteousness.  He nourishes you with His Holy Eucharist, and the Bread of Life is credited to you as righteousness.

Through these Means of Grace, the Lord, I AM, makes you His own, that you may keep His Word and never see death. He removes all guilt of trusting in yourself, and closing your ears to the God of Abraham.  He cleanses you from the iniquity of thinking Jesus is inferior, to Abraham, the prophets, or anyone, for that matter!  He gifts you with faith, and credits it to you as righteousness.

Yet even as you are sure and certain of what Christ Jesus has done for you, He is veiled in this world.  Veiled in Word and Sacrament, Christ comes to you with forgiveness and life.  Veiled, the glory of God renews and restores you.

There is an old Lutheran tradition to veil works of art, including crosses, statues, and paintings during the last two weeks of Lent.  A cloth covers these images of Jesus, reminding us of how God comes to us, veiled in human flesh and blood, to save us.

Christ Jesus is God, veiled in the flesh, for you. He reminds you today, "Before Abraham was, I AM." And He has endured all suffering and death for you, so that you may never die.  Amen.