Monday, April 28, 2014

Second Week of Easter (Quasimodogeniti)

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:19-31)

Last Sunday we greeted our Lord’s Resurrection with loud singing, with trumpets, and joy. Easter is always great. The flowers, the hymns, the Easter breakfast. Who does not love Easter?

But this week we have a different sort of scene. It’s Easter evening and the disciples aren’t singing, not even smiling. They are terrified.  They are locked in the upper room with the doors shut. The bolt is locked and and they are all quaking with fear. Their knees are shaking. They were convinced everything was over and done. Jesus was killed by a bloodthirsty mob and now they were coming after the disciples.  No trumpets here. No joyous singing and alleluias on Easter evening. Just a bunch of scared and quivering sinful disciples.

As they whispered together in fear, planning how they would just survive the rest of the day, Jesus comes among them. Risen and fresh from the grave he stands before them -arms outstretched, showing his pierced hands, he blesses them, saying “Peace be with you.” The disciples are in total awe. They saw him tried before Pilate, beaten to a pulp, and hanged on a tree until he died. His lifeless body was laid in a tomb – dead as a doornail. 

But he’s not dead now. Their Jesus is alive. He breathed on them His Holy Spirit and sent these apostles –the first pastors to do the work of the ministry – to forgive the sins of those who repent and to withhold forgiveness from those who refuse to repent and turn from sin.

Yet Thomas who was not with them refused to believe. He is something of the first Christian skeptic – he wants to believe – but needs some proof. He needs some good evidence to set things straight, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hands into his side, I will never believe!”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again and Thomas this time is with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus stood among them. He said to Thomas “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Then Thomas comes back with the most wonderful confession of who Jesus is in all of Holy Scripture. He believes. “My Lord and my God” says Thomas. 

Now Thomas gets a bad rap and it’s unfortunate. In everyday life if someone is doubtful or wavering in confidence they get called a “doubting Thomas.” But why are we so hard on Thomas? Peter denied Jesus several times but we don’t call him Peter the denier. And we let Judas off the hook a bit. We don’t call him Judas the betrayer. But for me, Thomas I like because he’s stubborn like us. He’s a skeptic. He doesn’t take someone’s word for it. He needs proof.

And we’re a lot like him. We are of the attitude as well that if it sounds to go to be true then, well it’s probably not. Thomas we should like because he speaks for us. “Unless I place my finger into the nail holes and unless I place my hand into his side I will never believe.” Jesus is patient with him. He invites Thomas to put his fingers into the nail marks of his hands and to put his hand in his pierced side. My Lord and my God!

You are a lot like those scared disciples in this morning’s reading. You too have a problem with locking your doors too much. You are afraid of the whole world. Afraid for aging parents. Worried about money. Fretting about the future of your children. Worried about the future of our church as if Jesus was still dead and buried in the tomb. You worry about everything. And your incessant worrying is killing you.

But be of good cheer. This morning there is good news for faithless and anxious disciples! Jesus stands among you to announce his love for you. When he shows himself to his frightened and skittish disciples he doesn’t say “Look what you’ve done to me!” but rather “look what I’ve done for you!” He doesn’t remind Peter of his denials. He doesn’t slap Thomas for his problem with doubt.  He just says “Look here, reach out your’s me! Your sins are forgiven. Do not doubt but believe!”

There is room in Christ’s church for faithless disciples like ourselves.  There is room for doubting Thomas’s and there is room for you. Jesus says to you this morning “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, this is my body and this is my blood. Don’t disbelieve but believe.”

This morning you have proof that you can sink your teeth into. You have evidence that you can drink as he reaches out to you with his life-giving blood. You have proof of God’s love for sinners. For Jesus died for all your unbelief. He paid for all your faithless fears. He was troubled and worried about your future so that you wouldn’t have to.

Let Jesus unbar the gate of your heart and let him enter in. He stands among you and he speaks tender words of love and forgiveness. He doesn’t remind you of your sins he just forgives them all.  

This morning we doubting Thomas’s can again be sure of God’s love once again. We can see Jesus among us, risen from the grave and confess with all boldness and confidence “My Lord and My God.”  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord

He is risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia! This morning we mock the devil.  We stare down death knowing that our last enemy has been destroyed. Our Lord has stormed the gates of hell, unlocked the chains that bound us, and raised us again to new life.

Good Friday was not just some unfortunate and sad event. What sinful man meant for evil God meant for good. It was indeed a Good Friday that Christ – the Son of God – should hang naked – and suffer and die in the place of all sinners – upon the accursed tree. He absorbed the full wrath and fury of God. He consumed sin, death, disease, and hell itself.  He bore the sins of the whole world until all of God’s righteous anger was appeased and his fiery wrath was snuffed out.

Hanging between heaven and Earth with outstretched arms, and with blood flowing over His whole body he bore the curse of all human wickedness and blessed and forgave his own executioners – blessed and forgave you. In victory he cried out in Greek “tetelestai” which means “It is finished” – it is done. Paradise is restored as God looks at what he has done and said it is very good. And he rested on the 7th day in the sleep of death in a dusty tomb.

But you see this Jesus was without sin. Therefore death could not hold him. Christ came forth alive from the grave in which He lay and destroyed and consumed both the devil and death, who has devoured him – thinking they had won. But the devil was tricked by Christ. He tore the devil’s belly and hell’s jaws apart and ascended into heaven, where He is now seated in eternal life and glory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” This morning we mock the devil and stare down the infernal wolf. We mock death. He is Risen!

When the two Mary’s ran to the tomb on Easter morning they expected to find a corpse but Jesus had risen. They soon saw Jesus for themselves. He later appeared to the Emmaus disciples on the road. Then to all the disciples in the upper room, fresh, and risen from the grave. He would show them his pierced hands, and feet.  He showed them His pierced side. He broke bread and ate with them. He would stay with his disciples for another forty days.  And not just to them but to hundreds of his followers. 

This actually happened. God became man and died and rose for sinful man. All the disciples bore witness to Jesus resurrection from the grave. They saw with their own eyes – felt him with their own hands. And they all died for what they believed – either stoned to death, nailed to a cross, filleted alive, or beheaded.

Dear Christians, nobody would suffer and die for a lie. And the 2 billion Christians in the world aren’t following after a fairy tale either. This truth that Christ has been raised from the dead changes everything. Your life is different. Your best days are actually ahead. Your sins have been paid for. Your failures have been forgotten. Your life has been redeemed. Hell has been closed and heaven has been opened. Best of all it means that God is pleased with you. Jesus did not rise from the grave for himself – but he did so most importantly for you.      

The grave of Christ is empty and this means that your grave too shall be empty – when the trumpet blasts – and Jesus comes again with his holy angels to call you forth. You will rise from your grave with him.

Like our Easter lilies and flowers this morning – you too will come to full bloom – and sprout forth from the dust of the earth and be raised incorruptible – never to die again.  

Jesus Resurrection is your Resurrection! Jesus told his disciples and he has told you, saying “Where I am going you shall be also.” On the last day, the dead will rise. Everyone out of the grave, alive, will spring forth, like a lily in spring and face the rising Sun. No one will stay in the grave. For everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will live.

Therefore come out into the morning sun and meet the Risen Lord. He is present where he has promised to be in His Word and Sacrament - in His preaching – with his gathered guests. Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I among you.

And this same Jesus, risen and fresh from the grave is with you now. It is he who stands victoriously on our altar as the very Lamb of God. It is he who provides the Easter dinner. His very body and blood for the life of this world.

He gives you the bread of immortality and heavenly drink – which is the antidote to death. He gives you himself. So come feast on the bread of heaven and wet your lips on the chalice of his love.

Join your ranks with the angels and the saints in heaven. Jesus lives and so shall you.He is risen. He has risen indeed. Alleluia! 

Vigil of the Resurrection of Our Lord - Holy Saturday

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God said “let there be light.” And it was good. On the third day God brought forth the trees bearing fruit pointing to Christ who is the fruit of the womb – and the very tree of life itself. And it was good. On the seventh day God rested from all his work just as Jesus rested from his work – resting in the tomb on the seventh day.

Because of the wickedness of sin God preserved Noah and your family through the flood and the waters. And you have been kept safe and secure within the arc of the one holy Christian and apostolic church. The Spirit who hovers over the face of the waters hovers over Noah and his family in the form of the dove and will do so again at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river. By baptism you have been saved – your sins have been washed away. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It is through this cleansing flood - the Red Sea of Christ’s blood that you escape the bondage of Pharaoh – the devil – and death itself. The wooden staff of Moses has been lifted up and the wooden cross of Christ has been raised high. Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.

And Jesus stretched out his hand over the sea and brought us from darkness into light. He fed us with manna from heaven. Refreshed us with life-giving water from the rock – and drink from his pierced side.

Like the valley of dry bones, you too have received the breath of life. You have heard the Gospel. Your grave has been opened. You have received new life from above.   

Like Job confess that you know that Your Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the Earth. And after your skin is thus destroyed, yet, in your flesh you shall see God high and lifted up on the tree of life - raised on the third day.

For as the prophet Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, so Your Lord and your God spent three days in the belly of the earth. All for you.

He walked through the fiery furnace of the king – in agony he endured the wrath of God. He descended into the fiery furnace of hell itself to set free all the prisoners.  Like the shadrach, mesach and abednago, your lives have been spared.

Death has been destroyed.  The stone has been rolled back. Christ has risen. And all the scriptures have all been fulfilled. Alleluia. In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homily for Maundy Thursday

Tonight the Passover festival is at hand. All the people are celebrating the Israelites rescue from slavery in Egypt. Recall that the Israelites were commanded to take a spotless lamb, kill it at twilight. They were commanded to paint their doors and houses with the blood of the Lamb.

They were to roast the lamb over the fire and eat the sacrifice. God said “I will pass through the land of Egypt, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you

The church of Israel eats and lives. God sees the blood. Death passes over. The waters are parted and they escape through the Red Sea. Pharoah is drowned and they escape on dry ground.  They receive manna from heaven. Water from the rock.

God instituted the first convenant with blood through Moses and Aaron. They took the blood of the sacrificed animal and splashed it on the altar and upon the people of the congregation. Buckets of blood were sprinkled upon the people and even their children. God called it a “peace offering” for the forgiveness of sins. They worshipped the true God – and anticipated their Savior who was to come.

Joshua, which means Savior, then leads them into the promised land. Jonathon destroys the Philistines. David kills Goliath, and the ark of the covenant is brought to Jerusalem. All these things are but dim shadows of what’s to come.

For tonight everything is different. The old has passed away and the new has come. The New Testament has been signed, sealed, and delivered. Not by the flesh of bulls or goats but by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Tonight in the upper room Jesus says I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many. He takes off his clothes, ties a towel, around his waist – He takes the form of a slave. And he begins to wash the feet of his disciples who will soon use them to run away.

Judas will betray him, Peter will deny him, and the disciples will all fall away. Who will betray him?  They all ask, “Is it I Lord?” The answer of course is “Yes, it is you.” The same crowds who welcome Jesus on Palm Sunday are actually the same folks who yell our “crucify him..crucify him!”

The bloodthirsty crowds yell out “Let his blood be upon us and on our children.” As David took the arc of the conevant to Jerusalem, so now Jesus is dragged through the same city streets. But unlike David, no one is dancing because everyone is looking away in horror. Jesus is mocked, beaten, and spat upon. He is treated worse than a slave – He bears the curse for all sin.

Like a lamb he is led to the slaughter. He is roasted in the father’s fiery wrath. And like the lambs he is killed at twilight. The creatures kill their creator and lay him in a tomb. But first the centurion says at the cross “Behold this truly was the Son of God.” And like Aaron He strikes the rock and out comes waters from his pierced side.And blood pours forth sprinkling those who looked on. 

Nearly everyone’s favorite hymn is "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" But it doesn’t really matter if you were there. It’s actually better that you’re here tonight where God wants you to be. Because tonight is the night of your deliverance. Because God himself, the firstborn is struck down – His name is Jesus. His blood is painted upon the door of your heart and the lintel of your soul. He comes under the roof of our mouth. And God sees the blood which marks you and death passes over.

The devil cannot have you. You escape through the Red Sea of Christ’s blood – and pharaoh – Goliath – and Satan himself is drowned – and destroyed. Although you still wander around in the wilderness of sin God is with you and Jesus lives. Even tonight you receive manna from heaven to nourish you. You are washed in Holy Baptism – refreshed by heavenly waters of rebirth.

Jesus is our Joshua who leads us to the promised land – to be in the presence of God forever more. The upper room with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. The same blood that flows from his pierced side is the same blood which is poured out for you tonight from our altar. All so that you can be comforted again and hear the most refreshing words on this side of heaven. All your sins have been forgiven. “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Therefore, we too can cry out “Let his blood be upon us and our children.” 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.        

Wednesday of Holy Week

Tonight in the upper room Jesus said that the bread was His body and wine is his blood. Then he walks through the Passover celebration with his disciples and kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

As Jesus prays we see his appalling mental agony. He declared to His disciples that His “soul was very sorrowful, even to death” Our Scriptures say that Jesus became “greatly distressed and troubled.” In total terror he desperately asks his Father in heaven if there is some other way, saying, “Father is you are willing, remove this cup from me.” Jesus’ sweat becoming “great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

We read this detail tonight from Luke, whom himself was a doctor. And St. Luke or Dr. Luke says that Jesus is sweating blood and he means it. It’s a very rare but very real phenomenon called “hemohydrosis,” which is a rupture of the blood vessels that supply the sweat glands. The blood vessels burst when they come in contact with the millions of sweat glands throughout the surface of the skin – the blood mingles with sweat – and the whole body sweats blood.

The only instances where this happens is when a creature is so completely filled with terror or being tortured.  Cases of sweating blood are rare – the only other documented cases have been recorded in prisoner of war camps and during hellish experiments – particularly under the Nazis in World War 2.

Jesus is so terrified and tortured that he sweats blood in the garden. He is in agony. His sufferings have already begun, perhaps even much earlier. When Jesus rose from his baptism the Father said “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

The Father is well pleased precisely because His Son is the Suffering Servant who will suffer for the sins of the whole world. This is why he came and although very few understand Jesus in the Gospels – Jesus never forgets his mission – not for a moment.

Tonight, in complete agony in the garden, he sweats blood. He can already feel the crown of thorns pressed upon his head. He is already experiencing the shards of glass and metal ripping through his flesh. Tonight he feels the beating and feels the weight of our sins upon his soul. He feels the weight of the crossbeam on his shoulders. He experiences the nails through his wrists and feet. He feels the crucifixion and his chest cavity being pulled apart and the panic of dying on the cross - suffocating from the poison of our own sins. He knows what’s coming.

Consider the price he paid. Consider how deep his love for you. Let yourself be amazed by his compassion for you. Let your heart be softened again and discover again the joy of the Gospel – that God loves sinners. Although you might not think much of yourself, consider God’s thoughts toward you.    

To him you are worth it. Even though you have betrayed him with a kiss, and denied him like Peter you are worth it. Like the rest of the disciples, you too have a habit of fleeing whenever there is trouble. Your heart often is far from him. But he is not far from you. He prays for you “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Turn again toward the God of love and compassion. Death will not hold him. Jesus will be raised. The sun will come up and winter will not last forever. With Jesus, the grass is actually greener on the other side.  So come to him and bask in the light of the holy cross. All your sins have been destroyed.

Let your prayer be “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And he does: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday of Judica - Midweek Divine Service (John 10:22–38)

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:22-23). 

Tonight the jews are stalking Jesus like hyenas, looking for the right opportunity to pounce on him and destroy him. They are showing their fangs and saying “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” But these unbelievers have already made up their mind about Jesus. They reject him and they are blind.

But Jesus answers them anyways “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 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. I and the Father are one.”

Upon hearing this immediately the jews pick up stones to kill him. They reject the Son of God – they reject their own Messiah whom all the Holy Scriptures and prophets speak of. They don’t believe in the incarnation. They don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ. They prefer life without him.

There are many today, most in fact, who prefer life without Christ – without the preaching of the Gospel – without the holy supper. They go about their lives like the jews in tonight’s reading always fabricating a reason to disregard Christ as he comes to us in His Holy Word and Sacrament. But of course there is no life, apart from him, for he is the author of life and life itself.  
Many are comfortable saying that Jesus is alright, but very few confess with their mouth that Jesus is the Lord God.

When it comes to what we believe about Jesus there are two options. Either we believe Him that he is the eternal Son of God – to be worshiped and adored for all eternity – or we dismiss him as a raving lunatic. Jesus did after all say that He is God.  

In tonight’s reading Jesus is drawing a line in the sand to make things clear. Either you belong to the flock of Christ, purchased and won with his blood, with Jesus as your Good Shepherd or you belong to the devil. Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus’ sheep hear his voice; they delight in the forgiveness of sins, they bask in the love of God at his altar where he brings good gifts from heaven. Jesus sheep recognize Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as their God, in whose name they were baptized.

There are no such thing as half Christians – there is no fence sitting in the holy Christian church – your either all in or all out. You either belong to Christ and his holy angels or belong to the devil and his unholy angels. Either we die to our sin and receive forgiveness or we die in our sin and perish eternally. 

If your wondering where you belong you belong to Christ. You belong to Him. You belong to Jesus. And you always have. It’s true that you’ve wandered. It’s true that you have strayed and sinned. It’s true that your priorities are out of whack and your life is a mess.  But nevertheless you are baptized. He has given you His Holy Spirit – he has created faith in you however weak it may be – and he continues to sustain you. You have been given ears to hear his voice and legs to follow him. He calls you by name. You are his.

Tonight hear and see him do something truly wonderful. Palm Sunday is upon us. This Sunday he will ride into Jerusalem - to the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers. The crowds will cry out Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.

Behold the lamb of God! He let’s himself be stalked and preyed upon by the worst predators at Pilate’s mansion. He is led like a lamb to the slaughter – to die for sins he didn’t commit. He will be torn apart by wicked men. As the bloodthirsty crowds cry out “Let his blood be upon us and our children.”

He is put in chains and Barabbas goes free. He is punished and you are rewarded. He is cursed and you are blessed. He forgives his own executioners and tonight he forgives you. He is the sinner and you are the saint. He dies and you live. Behold the love of God.

Christ will not stay dead and neither will you. He is raised up in glory all so that these words can be spoken to you. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.     

So tonight you have proof of God’s love. You can sink your teeth once again into His promises. His body given for you. Blood shed for you for the remission of all your sins.  God does not lie. Your sins are forgiven. In the name of Jesus.  Amen.   

"My Sheep Hear My Voice" - a homily for the Wednesday of Judica

"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).

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 or chase 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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Homily for Wednesday of Laetare - Healing of the Man Born Blind

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:1-39).

Tonight Jesus heals a man born blind from birth. When we hear of these miracles of Jesus we should never hear them as if they were just neat stories from a long time ago. We should never get these nostalgic or sentimental attitudes toward Christ as if we ourselves were not included in the action. A Christian should always learn to see himself in the story – we should see ourselves as the one for whom the Son of God leaves his throne in heaven.

You see the kingdom of God has come. Jesus is here. Healings, miracles, and the raising of the dead is the normal business of the day for Christians. Jesus is with us.   

In the Bible, we are the lepers in need of healing. We are the demon possessed in need of an exorcism. We are the hungry in need of  bread.  We are the broken in need of wholeness and restoration. We are those who are dead like Lazarus who need to be brought back to life by the living Words spoken by the author of life. Tonight you are the man born blind – who now sees.

The disciples are curious whether the man is blind because of his parents sin or his own sin, but for Jesus the reason for the man’s troubles are different than that. Jesus answers: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Then Jesus spits in the mud, gets his hands dirty and anoints the man with mud and tells him to wash in the water by His Word. And his eyes are opened – his world of gray – is anointed with a thousand colors he never saw before. At the words of Jesus – he sees – his world is forever changed. 

Jesus says “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” What is Jesus saying here? He’s saying it’s not JUST because of our own sin, that we suffer hardship, pain, and loss. It’s also because God wills it. The apostle Paul testifies that Jesus specifically told him that He would not be healed of his thorn in the flesh is 2nd Corinthians. Paul explains that the Lord let him suffer in order that he might be further humbled.

God causes Moses to have a leprous hand to demonstrate God’s miraculous power to Pharaoh. And don’t forget about Job who suffered  great loss in his family, unspeakable pain and misfortune. It was God himself who allowed Satan to test Job’s faith through suffering and unbearable trouble. The bible is filled with examples like this.

It’s too simplistic to say that God just wants us to be happy and healthy and care free. All things are subject to God’s greater purposes. He allows suffering and brings healing where and when he wills it – on his own timetable. Not on ours. 

No story shows God’s use of suffering and miracles more clearly than the story tonight of the man born blind. The disciples ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents,” said Jesus, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” This means that sickness, suffering, and hardship do not come as punishment from God. But that all these things work together for a much great purpose. 

And what purpose is that? That the works of God might be displayed in you. The greatest miracle in the story is not just that the man born blind now sees. The greatest miracle in that the man comes to faith in Jesus. He is called by the Holy Spirit to faith in the Gospel. This is the greatest miracle. And it doesn't happen instantly. First he’s healed, then he’s confused, he calls Jesus a prophet but still doesn't know who he really is. He is harassed by all of his neighbors, disowned by his own family, and kicked out of the synagogue for his run in with Jesus. Only later does this man come to faith and say “Lord, I believe” and he falls down and worships Him. 

Like the blind man and all the prophets and saints of old. God loves you and therefore does not spare you a cross. The great troubles that we suffer serve a much greater purpose. That the works of God might be displayed in you. As you are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.      

If we are assured of God’s love when all is well we should be equally certain of God’s love precisely when everything seems to be unraveling. Because it’s precisely when things are completely undone when the God is love is doing His very best work. And that is precisely what we see at the cross of Christ.   

Tonight, like the blind man, God gets his hands in the mud again for you. The God who made man from the dust now tromps up a dusty hill to restore what man had lost since the fall. He is spit upon so that he can anoint with holy baptism. He is cursed for your sake, so that he can bless you tonight with his own hands. 

The greatest miracle is that you are called to faith in the Gospel. That you open your mouth and confess that Jesus is Lord. That Christ has risen from the grave. This is the greatest miracle. And you too are part of God’s story, the people for whom he came in mercy.  

Like the blind man, even though your sins are forgiven your life is not a walk through the roses and that’s actually a good thing. And it’s meant to be that way. Because the God of love is ever drawing us closer to him. So that as the pleasures and securities of this life all prove empty we might again place our trust in Him alone – and be filled with Him only - who is our life – our healer – and our greatest joy.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.