Thursday, March 28, 2013

a helpful quote to stay the course with preaching through holy week!

"I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills… and flush them all down the drain!  The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they wont be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone–and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness–they will be of very little use in the pulpit."

Robert Farrar Capon

Wednesday of Holy Week Homily (John 13:16-38)

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Every time Jesus talks about His glory He is talking about his bitter suffering and death.  That’s it.  When Jesus talks about entering into his glory he is talking about Good Friday.  When Jesus speaks about God’s glory he is speaking about his death – Good Friday.  It should be noted that there will be roughly half the people here on Good Friday than on Easter.  When it comes to our spiritual lives folks generally prefer Easter over Good Friday.  Easter is more palatable.  It’s more in line with our personal version of God’s glory.  There is trumpets, banners, easter lilies, and hot breakfast.  And who doesn’t like that?

But Good Friday is different.  We enter our pews in silence and see God beaten and whipped like an animal.  The crowds spit on him.  They nail him to a tree and mock him.  He is naked and cries out “My God my God why have you forsaken me.”  Who can look without turning his face in horror?  What glory could there possibly be in that miserable sight? 

On holy Wednesday we must contemplate this holy mystery.  If you do not love the cross you are no Christian.  If you do not want God the crucified you have God at all.  St. Paul writes “I have resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.” 

Jesus makes atonement for the sins of the whole world.  Lifted up high on the cross – his lips crack under the heat of the Father’s wrath.  He cries out to his executioners and he prays for you when he says “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  God stretched out his hands and embraces the whole world with all of its sin, all of its immorality, all of its hatred against himself – all of its rebellion. 

This isn’t a mystery you can set aside and say, well I already understand that.  I know that already.  Of course Jesus forgives me my sins. 

No.  There is joy in this.  Your life which you have made a mess of has been redeemed by Christ.  There is happiness in this.  Because it means you can lie down with your spouse and feel no shame.  It means you can look your own father in the eye with nothing to be embarrassed about, even if you don’t live up to his expectations.  It means the sun shines brighter, the sky becomes a deeper shade of blue.  The birds sing in a more lovely way.  Your food tastes better and your cheap beer tastes like the expensive stuff. 

All because God’s love has destroyed the evil that dwells within you.  Your life is good because of Good Friday.  God loves sinners and God loves you.  You can at last hold you head up. 

When Jesus speaks of the glory of God he is speaking of His own crucifixion.  If you want holiness and righteousness, and if you want a little glory for yourself you can only find it at the cross.  Not up in the clouds but down here.  In the muck and slop of a sinful and messy world, in your ordinary somewhat fractured relationships with those closest to you.  Find glory in your love for one another. Both in giving it and receiving it.

In tonight’s Gospel when he tells his disciples to love one another, he does it while setting the table.  He takes bread and wine and shows them the altar that father Abraham had seen on Mount Moriah 2000 years earlier.  And now you too by the eyes of faith can see what he saw – except all much clearer.  God will provide for you.  For he gives you Himself.  And what else do you really need?  In Jesus name. 


Monday of Holy Week Homily (John 12:1-23)

Here we are six days before the Passover at the home of Lazarus.  Six days before Jesus is made the Passover Lamb – sacrificed and bled for the sins of the world.  It's a dinner scene. 

Martha is there and her sister Mary, perhaps Mary Magdalene, who used to run around with too many men in town.  Lazarus is there whom Jesus has earlier raised from the dead.  The disciples are there.  They recline with Jesus at the table.  He teaches, they listen.  For faith cometh by hearing.

Mary does something strange.  It’s not just strange to us.  It’s strange to the disciples too.  It’s a party faux pas of the worst sort – and an awkward one.  She takes a pound of perfume and anoints Jesus feet for burial.  She delicately and affectionately dries his feet with her hair.  This is not any perfume – it’s worth 300 denarii meaning – that it was easily an entire years salary. 

Judas the betrayer of Jesus got all bothered about this and thought it was a waste of resources.  St. John the evangelist tells us that Judas was not interested in the money going to the poor, he just wanted to line his pockets.  Judas was the comptroller, he was the stewardship committee, he was the money guy, and of course that was his downfall. 

Mary loves Jesus.  And Judas loves himself.  If you are wondering whether you are Mary or Judas.  You are both.  Christians are at the same time saint and sinner. 

Simultaneously you are spirit filled Mary and demon possessed Judas.  This is what Martin Luther is getting at in the Small Catechism on baptism when he writes that the old man must be daily beaten down  and die with all evil desires and that a new man must arise daily before God.  The old adam must die and the new man must live.  The Judas in you must die and the Mary in you must arise and worship God with everything that you have.

Mary is a saint of God and one to be emulated.  The thought that pouring a years salary on Jesus feet was somehow excessive did not cross her mind.  She longed to anoint and kiss His feet.  We are too nervous to pray in public, and we think bowing at the altar is overdoing it – perhaps too catholic and showy maybe. 

Repent and stop carefully calculating like Judas.  When it comes to worship of God you can’t overdo it.  Jesus loves a prostitute like Mary – and just and more amazingly he loves you.  God befriends sinners and eats with them.  He doesn’t just forgive sinners but he loves them. 

Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus feet for burial.  She was the first to the tomb on Easter morning.  That’s why Mary gets it and the disciples don’t.  After riding into Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus tells his disciples that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  He’s speaking about his death – his glory is there.  

The glorified Christ is the crucified Christ.  God wants you to see his glory there and that is why Mary anoints his body for death with her tears and her hair.  It’s no secret that there will be twice as many people at my congregation on Easter Sunday.  Most folks will stay home on Good Friday.

And with all due respect, they don’t get it.  But that’s ok Jesus loves them anyways.  It took the disciples a while to figure it out and perhaps someday they will do.  God is patient.

Jesus dies for unbelieving disciples.  He dies for prostitutes.  He dies for Judas.  The only difference with us and them is that we are a slightly better at concealing our crimes.  So God be praised he dies for us.  You are free from scandal.  And free from sin.   

You have a reason to be glad.  If you want to worship like Mary and kiss the feet of God then come to His supper – recline at his table.  Receive his body and blood – for this is the highest form of worship.  Like Mary he adores you and remembers you.

Come recline at the table with St. Mary and Martha, with Lazarus, and with all the angels.  The tomb is empty.  And you too are already raised from the dead.    

Homily for Palm Sunday

“Hosanna to the Son of David!...Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus rides into Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers.  He rides in on a donkey, a beast of burden - in humility.  No chariots here.  No war horses and farefare. 

Our God does not show his muscles and his strength.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

This is our God.  To the children who wave palm branches and welcome their king this morning.  Mark this message well.  This king Jesus is not like other kings.  And this God is not like other.  This is true God.  Jesus is true God.  And God is man.  Behold your king.  He rides into Jerusalem to make all things new.

He is betrayed by his own disciple, denied by his best friend, and handed over to sinful men.  As Isaiah foretold  he opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter.  My kingdom is not of this world he says.  They yell out crucify him.  He is condemned and bound.  As Barabbas the murderer goes free – just as you go free.   

They beat him and spit on him.  They mocked him and stripped him naked.  They put on purple clothes to mock him.  Bloody and beaten he carried his cross up the mountain.  They put nails in his hands and a spear through his feet.  His body pounded to a cross.  They raised him high.  The crowds cried out to him “You said the temple would be destroyed and raised on the third day. But you can’t even save yourself!”

God sacrifices his own son.  Darkness covered the earth and Jesus cried out with a loud voice “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Hosanna in the highest.  This is why we wave palm branches.  This is our king.  He suffers for the betrayal of Judas, and the denial of Peter.  He suffers for gossip and adultery among us.  He suffers the penalty for our vulgarity, our cold hearts.  He carries in his body your sins and is crucified for them. 

Because God is love and because God is just he does not permit evil.  And because we are evil he should surely go after us.  But as Abraham believed, God would provide the sacrifice.  And he does.  The Father sends forth his Son whom he loves.  Jesus lies down on the altar that Isaac escaped from.      

He is made guilty that you would be declared innocent.  His case would be tried so that your case would be dismissed.  He suffers hell so that you might receive heaven.  He receives God’s wrath that you would receive God’s love.

Hosanna in the highest.  Behold your king.  A suffering, beaten, and bloody king.  He comes.  A Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth.  Led to the slaughter.  Pierced for our transgressions.  He dies for our sins which brought us death.  He destroys death by dying.

Hosanna literally means rescue us now.  And this is the sort of rescue you need.  Whatever scandal or shame you feel in your heart.  Whatever pain haunts you – hand it all over this morning.  Hand it over to Christ this morning – this start of holy week.

Like the crowds on Palm Sunday throw your sins at his feet.  Donkeys carry baggage, and Jesus carries sins.  Dump all your baggage on him.  Dump on him all of your brokenness.  Give to him your mistrust, your failures, your anxiety.  Let him bear your shame.  Let him carry your sorrows and your scandals. 

Remember his words.  Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Leave your sins with Jesus.  That’s why the crowds throw down their cloaks at Jesus feet when he rides in.  Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Hosanna in the highest.

Jesus dies for the sins of the world. He breathes his last breath.  The curtain of the temple is torn in two.  The earth shakes.  The tombs and graveyards are emptied.  And the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep sang and danced their way to the holy city. 

Your Savior has arrived.  You too can dance on your grave – and ride into the holy city.  Behold your God!  He rides into your ears by His holy Word and into your mouth by this most holy sacrament. 

The processional on Palm Sunday points to the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Lord’s Supper.  God comes in ways that you do not expect.  He comes in lowly ways.  A donkey sort of way.  A body and blood sort of way.  Bread and a sip of wine way.  A preacher sort of way.  Your sins are forgiven.  You slate is wiped clean.  Hosanna in the highest.  In Jesus name.                        

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fifth Week of Lent (Judica) Midweek

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29). 

Martin Luther would say to his congregation “God be praised, a seven year old child knows what the church is: holy believers and the little sheep who hear the voice of their good shepherd.”  That is why we pray our Father who art in heaven.  And confess “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic church.

Sheep are not known for their brilliance.  They are dumb.  They get lost, easily separated from the flock.  They are easy prey for wolves.  Sheep are an easy meal. 

On your confirmation you didn’t feel like a sheep.  That day you stood, tall and proud, dressed in a white robe.  And pledged that your life would be one of faithfulness to God’s Word.  You promised to be present in weekly worship.  To receive His sacraments every week.  To remain faithful to God – and suffer death rather than fall away.  That was your intention: to remain true to God – to remain steadfast in the faith in which you were baptized.

What happened to your good intentions?  You would say that life happened.  The real world got in it’s way, with all of its demands and obligations.  You were busy.  And your children were busy – maybe they had to kick a ball around.  Other things became more important than being in God’s house each week. 

We have mimicked the way of the world rather than mimicking the ways of God and his holy commands. The truth is we have despised preaching and God’s Word. 

No wonder our children flee from church.  No wonder that vast majority of our confirmands we never see again.  We often talk about church like a crushing obligation.  We speak of worship and receiving the gifts of Christ as if it were a curse rather than a blessing. 

Repent.  The Pharisees in tonight’s Gospel reading are stalking Jesus, finding reasons they should not believe in him or worship him.  Perhaps we are actually more like them – and much less like the sheep.  But no matter what.  Repent.  Whether you are a Pharisee or a sheep.  Repent.  No matter when you were baptized, or when you were confirmed, tonight, you are in the right place. 

The Good Shepherd who loves you does not come for the religious experts.  He comes for lost sinners.  He comes for confirmation - breakers.  He comes for the broken and hurting.  He comes for those who have broken their vows.  "Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning."  Confess that you have loved the world more than God.  Confess that you have spiritually neglect your own family. 

Confess that the image that you have created for others of yourself is a mirage – and a fraud.
Don’t imagine that a sheep can survive on its own.  Sheep need a good shepherd.  And sheep need a flock to keep them warm through the long winter. 

Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  Confess that your hearing has become weak.  You have lent your ear eagerly to the words of the devil and followed in his footsteps.  Repent.  Turn again toward the Lord who loves you. 

When you broke your vows – Jesus fulfilled them.  When you went wandering your own way.  Jesus walked steadily toward the cross.  When you followed your will, he prayed that his father’s will would be done. 

The sins of your past have been bound to the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord.  They have been dealt with.  The payment is complete.  His blood covers all your sins.  You are covered in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.  You are brighter than the day of your confirmation.  You have a fresh start.  Your sins are forgiven you.             

Jesus says “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  Return to the Lord. He loves you.  He lays down his life for you.  He doesn’t just forgive you.  He actually likes you.  He adores you.  You are His.   

And now, you, little sheep, can stare down the infernal wolf.  He cannot have you.  You belong to God and Him alone.  He will not break his vow.  And no one will snatch you out of his hand.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent (Judica)

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).

Abraham was an old man and Sarah was an old woman.  They laughed when God told them they they would have a son.  That is why Isaac in Hebrew literally means laughter. 

But today Abraham is not laughing today.  He is taking his son – his only son – up to a high mountain.  Isaac is carrying on his back the wood that his father had chopped up for the sacrifice.  For God had said to Abraham “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a sacrifice on the mountain of which I shall tell you.” 

Abraham who delighted in his son, now leads him steadily toward the mountain.  He looks down at his son, who trudges on – up toward the mountain to worship God.  The father loves the son and the son loves his father.  Tear drops perhaps rolled down the wrinkles on Abraham’s aging and tired face – warn down from a century from travel, bondage, and war. 

This treasure of his son – was his joy – the apple of his eye.  Perhaps his Son Isaac laughed along the way.  But on the third day.  Abraham took the wood that his son had carried.  He built an altar out of the wood.  And asked that his Son lay down on the altar.  He did.  And his father tied him down and bound him to the wood.  The son was bound and tied to the wooden altar.  God had told Abraham to do this.  And Abraham trusted God.  He knew that the Lord would provide.  But he was still a man.  An old man.  He raised his knife and took the fire in his hand. 

His wrinkled hands shook violently.  He would first slaughter his son and then he would burn him.
At that moment of complete terror, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and told Abraham to put down his knife, now I know that you fear God and have not withheld your son.  The Lord will provide.  Abraham lifted his bloodshot eyes and saw a ram caught in a corn of thorns by horns. 

God himself would provide.  Abraham took the sacrifice caught in a crown of thorns.  Issac was released from the altar unharmed.  And the ram was offered up instead of his son.  Issac was released and the sacrifice given by God was bound.

With knife in his hand, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the sacrifice.  He saw Good Friday 2000 years before Christ was born.  He saw that another Father offers up his Son.  God provides the sacrifice that ends all sacrifice.  God settles the debts.  The eternal Son carries his wooden altar – his wooden cross toward another mountain.  He lays down.       

You sins brought about the death of God’s son.  It could be no other way….Only in this way can we rightly understand everyone’s favorite confirmation verse “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”  

The Father offers up his son as a sacrifice.    The father takes a knife to his own Son.  He is roasted in his  father’s wrath – lifted high against the blazing sun - the punishment we sinners rightfully deserved.  Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.  He is the Passover lamb, where death passes over.  He is the ram caught in the thicket.  He is strapped down to the altar and you go free like Isaac.

The Lord gives over his own Son to death that you might live.  This is not an illustration for God’s love.  No, he actually does this.  As much as I, as your pastors, love and care for you – here at St. Paul.  I do not love you that much. 

For you I wouldn’t take my son, my Luther, whom I love, and sacrifice him for you.  I wouldn’t.  But God’s love is not like ours.  His ways are not our ways.  And his thoughts are not our thoughts.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth so are his ways higher than our ways. 

Behold the unfathomable love of God showed to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Today Jesus says to the Jews “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad..truly.” When Abraham lifted his knife high, Abraham had faith.  Abraham saw Good Friday – He saw the crucified Christ when he saw the Ram caught in the thorns.  He knew that God would provide the sacrifice.  Abraham believed in Jesus.  He belief that God would provide the sacrifice.  He knew that Isaac would live and Jesus would die.  He knew that he would be raised from the dead.  

God’s love it different than our love.  He gives to us his son.  The holy Son of God lays down on the altar for sinners like us.  Tremble.  What wondrous love is this?  That the same God who created the heavens and the earth, the wind the sea, our farms, lays his son in the grave, that we would spared from death.

Last week Jesus said to us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”        

Rejoice, dear Christian.  You have passed from death to life.  Jesus has come for the likes of you.  The sacrifice is given.  Your rest is won.  Your sins have been paid for and satisfied.  The bright shore is coming.  You will weep no more.  And soon your will safely stand in your fatherland.  With Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  In Jesus name.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Laetare Midweek Homily

John 9:1-38 
"Jesus heals a man born blind"

Tonight God gets his hands dirty.  Jesus get down and spits on the ground.  He makes clay in the mud with his own saliva.  Then anoints the man’s eyes.  Telling him to go wash in the pool of Salom.  Do rememeber it was God in the beginning who made man from the dust of the ground.  And tonight God gets his hands in the mud again to recreate man.  To restore his sight.  To give sight to the blind.

The blind man is healed, made new.  What was once a gray and darkened world now explodes with color and light.  He now sees the sun bursting through the palm trees – and the birds fly overhead.  He sees Jesus and the disciples walk on.    

When he is pressured by the Pharisees to give an answer about how he was healed, he doesn’t really know what to say.  This blind man who now sees does not even praise God, but simply says, I don’t know.  But “Once I was blind but now I see.”  The blind man is much like us.  Often we don’t have the words to say.  We are very clumsy in how we speak about God.  We are inarticulate.

Although we are continually healed by the Risen Christ, through holy baptism and the ongoing forgiveness of sins, we don’t exactly know what that all means.  When God deals with us, we often forget and don’t really believe he is who he says he is.  Like the blind man, we are often timid to give God honor with our mouths at our work place.          

But God is patient with this man.  And he is patient with us.  Later Jesus sits with the man, without him even knowing it and asks him if he believes.  The blind man who now sees responds with a great deal of desperation and doubt “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”  Jesus says “It is I.”  The man simply cries out “Lord, I believe.”

Don’t be amazed that Jesus can heal a blind man.  Don’t marvel that Jesus can feed 5000 with five loaves and two fish.  It’s not that big of a deal.  What’s amazing is that greater miracle.  That he loves you, despite your rebellion and your sin – despite your manipulation and control over your own family.   

Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  He died for sins he didn’t commit.  The greater miracle is that God in His very flesh and blood assumed the sins of the world and by his innocence destroyed the darkness of death.   

He does something much greater than multiplying bread and fish tonight.  He does something more amazing than healing the blind.  These things are nothing really.

He does one better.  God gets his hands dirty with you too.  He gets kicked into the dust.  And whipped until he bleeds.  He carries His cross, heavy laden with the sins of the world.  He is pierced for ourtransgressions.  He suffers the hell of the underworld – for all sinners.  He drinks sour wine. 

He is abandoned by the Father, crying out “Father, father, why have you forsaken me.”  He bows his head and gives up His Spirit.  It is finished for death cannot hold him.  

This sinless son of God is the light of the world.  He breaks free from the tomb – destroys the bonds of death.  He ascends to heaven so that he might lower Himself to us – giving you His Resurrected body.  He pours out blood from heaven.  He anoints your gloomy darkened eyes so that you might see clearly that he has loved you dearly.  Your sins are forgiven – your guilt is taken away.

In our text this evening the greatest miracle is not so much the healing miracle but rather that the man comes to faith in Christ, and leaves the world for the sake of the Gospel.  This is the point of the lesson.  This is the miracle.  Faith in God’s Son.    

For all of our trips to the hospital and consultation with doctors.  For all of our care for the correct medications, we rarely neglect the needs of our bodies.  This lent let us give equal attention to our souls which live eternally with Christ or the devil. 

For your soul too needs consultation with God, the medicine of the Lord’s Supper, and the healing balm of the Gospel.  For you were lost but now am found.  Once blind but now you see.

And let our prayer be “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared before the face of all people,” and “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  Amen.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Oculi Wednesday

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:17-20).

I’ve always been a big fan of Neil Young.  Have you heard the song "Heart of Gold."  It’s something of a depressing song but expresses a certain truth actually.  He sings about searching for a heart of gold and coming up short.  In an age of free love he sings about traveling to Hollywood looking for a heart of gold.  Then through the Redwood forests looking for a heart of gold.  You get an image of an aging hippie with long hair going desperately from place to place looking for just someone - anyone with a pure heart – a heart of gold.  Each verse closes with the words “but I’m growing old.”  You get the sense that things are not going well.  He’s coming up short in the places he’s going.  Coming up short with the people he is meeting.  Betrayed – let down by people.  He can’t find a decent heart – and things are not what he thinks they should be. 

Jesus tells us about the human heart tonight.  And it’s not a heart of gold.  Jesus says what comes out of the heart is what defiles a person. Jesus says “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”  So much for a heart of gold!  Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, slander and gossip do not come from our limbs but from our own hearts. 

Our hearts betray us and expose us for what we are – poor, miserable, violent, and vindictive sinners. 

When your best friend betrayed you and spoke evil of you, was your first reaction to forgive them for the sake of Christ?  Or did your heart immediately fantasize about how to tell them off most effectively in the fewest words possible?  If your boss at work tells you that you were confused about taking that week of vacation time, do you concoct a plan to go to upper management, to get him fired?  Or maybe you could just slash his tires.  Our thoughts reveal the content of our heart.  And it’s not a heart of gold.           

There are none with hearts of gold.  Saint Paul says all have gone astray.  Even your best friend will occasionally betray you.  It doesn’t mean they don’t value your friendship.  The problem is just that their heart is too much like yours: petty, vain, self-seeking, scared, and sinful.

Tonight the Pharisees accuse Jesus and the disciples because they didn’t wash their hands.  The Pharisees were not a bunch of jerks for this.  Ceremonial handwashing began as a pious practice so that the people of Israel could remember that they were unclean due to their sin and rebellion against God’s commandments on Mt. Sinai.  The practice of ritual handwashing was practiced as a reminder of their desperate need for God’s forgiveness through cleansing. 

The ritual handwashing pointed toward the coming Messiah – it pointed to baptism.  But now the Messiah was here.  His baptism was completed.  Everything was being fulfilled.  And the Pharisees were missing the boat here.  They chose to worship their ceremonies rather than worship God.

For us our worship is entertainment, sports, and our bellies.  Nevertheless, tonight we’ve come to the right place.  For here our idols are destroyed.  The proud are crushed.  The humble are lifted up.  The rich are made poor and the poor become rich.  Satan is destroyed.  You are not defiled or unclean anymore.  Like the Canaanite woman you too have cried out “Lord have mercy on me.”  And perhaps tonight you were even daring enough to mean it.                   

Don’t go searching for a heart of gold.  Neil Young did not find it and neither will you.  And like him we are all growing old.  Our search for what we thought would please us in this life has come up short.  Perhaps even our own family has forgotten us and our friends have even let us down.  But there is only one who has a heart of gold. 

His heart has found you, sought you out, and washed you clean.  His heart is for you.  A heart of love.  His sacred heart of gold – pierced and bled - emptied into a chalice for you.  Given and shed for you. 

He was forsaken, rejected, and despised by men.  He suffered hell for your sins.  He has exchanged your black heart for his heart of gold. 

He has scrubbed you down and washed you clean in his blood.  He has joy over you.  If you are a failure of a mother, you are now a perfect mother.  If you have failed as a father, now you are the father that you always wanted to be.  If you have not met your parents expectations.  Take heart, God is pleased with you because he is pleased with his son.  Find happiness in this.  Your sinful heart has been made pure.  The lamb of God has taken away your sins.  Come and find strength for the week.  In Jesus name.

Processionals in the Divine Service

(acolyte crew at St. Paul Wittenberg, WI)

"Pastor, I have seen our acolytes doing processionals for communion services.  Wow they do a really good job with this! But where does this tradition from?"

It is appropriate when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated to provide a processional.  Processionals recall how the crowds follow or welcome Jesus on His travels, especially Jesus’ processional on Palm Sunday.  Processionals exist through the whole Bible and have been around for thousands of years as well as the time of the Lutheran Reformation.  Hear the words of King David himself “Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary” (Psalm 68:24). 

In worship the opening procession is led by the cross, which symbolizes that the Christian church follows the Lord.  The cross is followed by torch bearers (or ‘lucifers, meaning ‘one who bears light’).  These torches carried by our acolytes recall the words of Christ Himself when he says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).  The opening processional shows how Christ enters in among us to teach us and serve us His living-giving gifts!     

What is a Gospel processional?  Since the first centuries of the church and through the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation, the Gospel processional has been used to emphasize the reality that Christ taught in the midst of his gathered guests.  Indeed Jesus comes among us to teach.  Reading the Gospel from the center of the church represents the incarnate Christ walking among His people, surrounded by disciples, calling to mind the Sermon on the Mount. 

At the end of the service we have a ‘recessional’ where we follow Christ out into the world, "If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).  We leave as forgiven people washed in His blood.  We pick up our cross and follow Him in our daily callings.  We depart remembering His words "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).  

Want to learn more about the tradition of processionals in worship?  See the following books!
A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, Concordia Publishing House, 2003.
Lutheran Altar Book, Concordia Publishing House (this is the book on our altar!)
The Acolyte: A Handbook for Pastors and Acolytes in Lutheran Churches, CPH, 1977.
The Lutheran Liturgy, Fortress Press, 1947