Friday, June 25, 2010

Summoned to Freedom

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).  

In tonight’s epistle reading Saint Paul speaks of slavery and freedom.  Two realities that are deeply imbedded in the American consciousness.  He writes “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  This of course means that we were once under the yoke of bondage – enslaved to the power of sin, death, and the devil.

Yet, the various accounts of the false teachers of this world would have us believe that we are born free apart from God’s good and gracious will. They would have us believe that we are not captives. Not born in slavery – with mercy, grace, light and life from the womb. Free to choose our own paths in life, to choose our own destinies, and to follow our dreams. It is understood that we are immediately born in a marvelous freedom – having favor with God and his mercy. These truths are held to be “self evident” and supported by an Almighty, sovereign, and providential God. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Enlightenment writer, taught the world that man is indeed born “good,” so long as he is born in a state of nature. The natural man, through his instinctive will and evolutionary spirit is pure and good – not enslaved but in perpetual light.

Yet, God’s revelation does not support this for we were once enslaved to the yoke of bondage. And we were once orphans, estranged from our heavenly father. The English writer and poet D.H. Lawrence once wrote that the more one speaks and thinks of freedom, the louder the rattling of his chains becomes. Though, Lawrence was no Lutheran he taps into an element of truth which every man and woman intuitively knows deep down, though he might spend a lifetime trying to deny it - that we are not born into freedom. This is that we are not born and brought into this world as sons but rather enslaved to the darkness and evil principles of this world. We are born in too much pain. There is too much strife in our lives. Too much misery and anguish. Too many dark and hopeless days. Too much depression and agony in the family.

As Christians we all bear the marks of the yoke of bondage.  We go about anxious about many things.  Anxious about our work – anxious about whether God will provide for us in our latter years – anxious whether God loves us at all.  There is too much rattling of our chains.

Our personal histories bear witness to the yoke of bondage in this world. Our relationships to even our dearest loved ones bear fractures of the bondage that sin brings. Fractures of selfishness, hardened hearts, anger, and all sorts of grievous offences to one another. It is a world marked by sin and decay. And we are dying sinners in this dying world. Dear Christians, how often has it seemed that dark times have overtaken us?

Dearest Christians, the Lord never leaves his people but he looks down from heaven and beholds us and his pity awakens. He loves his church and his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. For when the fullness of time had come, He sent forth his Son, born of a woman as you were, born into this world - your world and its evil design - under the same binding law in which you find yourself. He came not in what appeared to be a victory march of a great military hero to be highly esteemed but descended into His baptism to share in your heartache and lowly estate. And our estate is the suffering of bondage – suffering from our own sin. To confound the wisdom of this world God’s victory march was up the dusty path to Calvary to make things new.

For Jesus, in God’s work on the cross, has restored the relationship intended for us in paradise. He has violently destroyed the old ways of this world and ushered in a new world. No longer are you ruled by the law of the flesh and its sinister power. Beloved, He has given you a new world in himself. He became a servant to all. He fulfilled the law and destroyed its powers. He was crucified with the weight of the world’s sins, burying every grievous crime in the deepest caverns of the earth. He arose spotless, free, and in glory so have you in Holy Baptism. For this reason we can say in every trouble, prayer, and thanksgiving ‘Our Father!’ And he sees you and declares ‘hear is my dearest child with whom I am well pleased.’ 

Yet he is not distant. He is not away in heaven at the outskirts of the universe. For heaven has come near. The Son has been sent. Heaven has come down to earth, on earth as it is in heaven, through the birth of a virgin. And tonight we pray with Simeon “My own eyes have seen the salvation.” 

Do not submit again to anxious worry – and the yoke of spiritual slavery.  You have been summoned to a life of freedom.  Free to worship him without fear and holy in His sight.  Saint Paul writes For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

And this lovely Gospel, that is Christ, comes into our ear through the work of the Spirit, creating this very church – her pews – and her altar.  The triune name has been sent into our hearts and has now overtaken us. And this is the new canon, that God came to break the shackles of this world – He comes to break the yoke of slavery.  He comes to gently wake you from a nightmare that has long since ended in the waters of Holy Baptism. And he wakes you with the opened eyes of faith – which no longer see and hear rattling chains but rather the incarnation of God in their neighbor. 

Tonight you are sons and daughters to your heavenly Father who has come to you in the Lord Jesus.  For freedom Christ has set you free.  Free to have a quiet night and peace at the last.  And to herald His love in the morning.  In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Feast of the Holy Trinity

"Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me" (John 8:54).

Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity.  Trinity Sunday we call it.  We think about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  One God, three persons.  We may think of catechism class or Sunday school and picture a neat diagram about the trinity.  In the shape of triangle.  We may remember the Father taking one corner – the Son another corner of the triangle – and the Holy Spirit with the third.  We have triangles on our reredos on the side of our altar here. It is a helpful symbol of the Trinity to be sure.  But on Trinity Sunday we know there is a bigger reality           
To truly celebrate this day we must be sure that God is more than a diagram and more than a symbol.  He is more than a subject for theologians to talk about.  To truly rejoice we must know and see who God is and what He is for us.  We must know His work and His mission.  We must know His very heart.  We must know him personally.  We must see where His glory is to be found.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says “It is my Father who glorifies me.”    
In the sending of the Son the Father’s heart is turned toward us and revealed.  Here we know God as more than a symbol but as a person.  Here we know God as He is – in his glorification.  The Father’s desire is to give us and share his dearest treasure.  The father’s will is Jesus and all that he is.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If we wish to know the deepest mysteries of the Holy Trinity, we should hear the Words of the Father.  For the Father spoke to the disciples directly, saying “Listen to him – listen to my Son – He speaks for me.”  When God speaks He speaks Jesus.  And when Jesus speaks it is God himself who speaks. 

If we may have an image of the Trinity let me please draw your attention to the painting in your bulletin.  It is a painting by a Spanish painter by the name of Jusepe de Ribera.  In his painting, the Father is seated in heaven with a flowing red robe.  And he holds his crucified Son – Christ’s arms are resting and hanging over his Father’s knees calling to mind the cross.  The crucified one lies within the Father.

If we wish to catch a real glimpse of glory, let us see it here.  In the crucified Son the Father’s heart is turned toward us and revealed.  Here is the glorification of God.  The Father’s desire is to give us and share his dearest treasure.  To share himself in a Son who joyfully gives.  The Father’s will in our lives is Jesus and all that he is.

John later records that before Jesus breathed his last breath and gave up his spirit.  He looked up to heaven and prayed to the Father.  "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:1-5).

The glory that Jesus speaks of is His crucifixion – His suffering and death – and rising for the forgiveness of the world.  The glorifed son is the crucified Son.  That glory is given and shed for you.  As you look at Jusepe Ribera’s painting consider this...  

Here the son is presented by the Father – lifted up by angels.  His hands and feet are drawn out to you – lifted by angels up for you.  For you in every way.  God lives to give to you.  Lives to present you to himself as one robed with glory from on high.  Dressed up with all the righteousness of Christ.        
And who is the Father looking at?  In Ribera’s painting it is the Father himself.  He looks at you for whom the son is given.  He sees you baptized and blessed with the glory of His Son.  The Father holds one hand on His son’s head, while a dove hovers above, showering light from its wings.  And this is the work of the dove – this is the work of the Holy Spirit – to shine light upon the work of the Son.  To show the love of the Father.

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we rest with the one who rested in the grave for us.  And we rise with the glorified Son.  Like Christ, the Father now holds us tenderly in His care and he will never let us go.  The Holy Spirit hovers over our households and God sends His angels to protect us and give us rest.

The Father sees that Christ is your possession and looks at you tenderly – loving you – as a true Father loves his true children.  The Son has covered your sins with his glory.  As the light pours into our St. Paul this morning, the Father only sees prodigal sons and daughters – returning home to him!

And He gives us Christ and all that He has.  His glory.  His death and resurrection.  His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  To believe in God is to believe in Jesus as God.  This is to know God as He is.  Among us.  As man - as God – as Father – as Son.  And you calls you His beloved.
This is the glory of the Father.  This is the glory of the Son…given for you.