A myHT Fortress

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.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Who Will Help Me Eat This Bread: A Homily on John 6:1-15

Laetare: The 4th Sunday in Lent
10 March 2013
St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Bread?  Really, Jesus?  That's not very 21st century.  You're disrespecting the disciples of Dr. Atkins.  The serious South Beach Dieters will be looking at Your fiber content, to see if Your bread is acceptable.  And the Paleo Diet folks are right out.

From the very beginning, at the Fall of man, the Lord God tells Adam that he will be eating bread.  It is a very basic element to the human diet, and a tool for the Lord to give you nourishment and sustenance. 

Of course, there it is part of the punishment.  "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."   You are mortal, and you will die.  In the mean time, you will have to work for what you eat, and it will be difficult. 

I'm sure many of the little ones here could tell you the story of the Little Red Hen.  Every step of the way, while growing wheat, harvesting, milling, and baking, she asks around the barnyard, "Who will help me?" and no one lifts a finger.  So in the end, she keeps the warm, fresh-baked bread all for herself and her chicks.  It is all Law.  "Whoever will not work, will not eat."

Today, Jesus turns that all around.  Today, you can rejoice, for He is the One who has worked to bring you the Bread of heaven, while you simply receive.  Rejoice, because having the Bread of Life placed in your mouth does not come only if you are worthy enough or sincere enough, or have worked hard, like the Little Red Hen.  The blessing of the Bread of heaven is that it is purely a gift, from Jesus Christ to you! 

You will never be able to work hard enough or perfectly enough to earn this Bread, and so you can rejoice that when Jesus asks the Little Red Hen's question, "Who will help me eat this bread?" He gifts you to answer, "I will!"  Jesus gives His very Body to be the bread that keeps you steadfast in the true faith, to life everlasting.

And yet, how often do you stand there and think of yourself as more of an Atkins' Diet kind of Christian?  "I think I'll pass on this bread, Lord. I'm kind of watching what I eat, and I just think I'd better hold off on this."  "I don't need to come to services that often.  And hearing the sermon is just fine; I just communed last week.  I'm not that bad; I don't need it yet, right?" 

Wrong.  Dr. Luther would remind you to look at yourself and touch your body, to make sure that you are still on this earth, with flesh and bone.  If so, you are a sinner, and need God's mercy and grace that come through His Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

In today's Gospel lesson, the Passover was at hand.  The rescuing of Israel some 1,400 years earlier, delivering them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm was in the forefront of everyone's mind.  That was the amazing night when all the people heard the promise of the Lord and ate His meal, feasting on the Passover Lamb, and eating unleavened bread.  And then, as the people of God wandered in the wilderness, He nourished them with Manna--bread from heaven.  He kept them alive with this gracious gift.

So when Jesus suddenly and miraculously provides bread from heaven, in the wilderness, at Passover time, it is most definitely a sign that He is the Christ!  He is the same Lord who brought Israel up out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Of course, even many who experienced this had their own thoughts.  They set aside their spiritual needs, and thought with the gods of their bellies.  "If Jesus were King, we wouldn't have to work anymore!  He could always make us bread!  We'd be set!"

Don't look at today's Gospel, and see only a bunch of people being fed.  Do not focus on the Lord keeping that multitude from starving.  Yes, He did that, but that is not the main point.  If you gloss over Jesus as Christ and Savior, the Lord of the Eucharist, giving Himself as the Bread of Life, then you are overlooking the heart of His message for today.  You are treating Jesus like some Protestant church's symbol or image, rather than the real deal.

Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and distributed the loaves.  He did this, foreshadowing His own Last Supper at a Passover in the not-so-distant future.  And pointing ahead to our own liturgy, rejoicing at His altar, where week after week you hear: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the same night I which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, 'Take, eat, this is My Body.'"

Then He gathered up the fragments so nothing would be lost.  Why?  First, this was a miracle!  A gift from God, and none of it should be wasted. 

And then, He is teaching His Church about the future.  When He regularly provides His own Flesh and Blood week after week, He is showing that none of it should be wasted.  It is holy, and precious, even if some remains after the celebration. 

This is why Lutherans keep consecrated elements separate from unblessed bread and wine.  We do not mix the Body and Blood of Jesus with common things.  We either eat and drink it all, or keep it saved and separate, to use for another celebration of the Lord's Supper.  All will be consumed.  None of it lost.  And we rejoice.

Rejoice, dear friends in Christ, Jesus IS the Bread of Life, feeding you Himself to keep you steadfast in the true faith, to life everlasting.  Rejoice!  The Lord who provided for Israel in the wilderness, provides you with the Body of Christ Jesus, feeding you forgiveness, life, and salvation as you wander in the wilderness of this earth, until you cross the Jordan of death and the grave into His Promised Land.  Rejoice, your Jesus is not some "Bread King," but the real, true, and everlasting King who provides for you and protects you, body and soul.  Yes.  Rejoice!

Now.  In addition to the Body of Christ, who will help me eat this bread?  Amen.