Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Visitation

Two pregnant moms come together tonight. The Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth represents the Old Testament, she is an older woman at this point, and she carries John the Baptist in her womb. He will be the last prophet. The Old has passed and the new has come.  

Mary bears in her womb the New Testament. Just earlier she had asked the angel Gabriel how she could possibly be pregnant because she had never been with a man. But Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she conceived in her womb the very Son of God – the promised Messiah – who would usher a whole new world – a new creation.

After our first parents sinned – God’s promised a Savior. A Messiah was promised to Adam and Eve – the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head and restore paradise. And now this Seed of the woman, our Savior, has come. The center of all human history is the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Mary is the new eve – the mother of all the living and she understands her place in history. Everyone loves that song, called, “Mary did you know?” I like the song too. The words go:

“Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughter…Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kissed your little baby you kissed the face of God Mary did you know?”

Well, the text tonight actually answers the question quite well. Mary clearly did know. She believed. She understood that she was carrying the Christ based upon her song, the Magnificat, a sort of aria, a sublime song of faith about Jesus.  

When Mary goes to Elizabeth with this great news – the world world stands still. This is what the whole world has been waiting for. All of the promises of God become are seen in this very moment. But things are not quiet for long – nor should they be. The angels are rejoicing. John the Baptist is leaping in the belly of His mother. Mary is singing. Elizabeth is rejoicing. All of creation is changing. Holy Scripture says in Romans chapter 8: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Great things are happening.

The Lord of all creation is entering our world. Not as a booming voice from Mount Sinai, not as a burning bush or a pillar of fire but as a little lamb. In Mary’s womb, tonight, God is an embryo. The seed promised since the dawn of human existence who would free us from our sins – who would restore life – restore communion with God. He is here. 

Mary is the new Eve. A little beating heart under hers. And she gets it. She believes. And she does what pregnant moms do. Announce the good news. As the arc of the covenant was carried with the presence of God to Judea in the Old Testament, now, in the new Testament, the new arc of the covenant – is carried to the hill country. But God is not carried in an arc of gold but in the womb of Mary – the new shrine for the presence of God until His birth in a manger in Bethlehem.

Elizabeth is thrilled at the presence of Mary. She is filled with the Holy Spirit and cries out “Blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

It’s a good question. A question we should all ask. Why should we poor miserable sinners expect to be blessed by God? We have unclean lips – we dwell in the midst of an unclean people. It’s hard to imagine that the holy presence of God would even dare come near us. But this has always been the will of God, even before the fall into sin - that God would dwell among his people – tabernacle among us – become a man, like us in every way, but without sin – yet bearing sin – that we might be his own. So that we might live under him in His kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Like Elizabeth. God has come to you. Be glad. He wants to bless you. To heal you. To forgive you all of your sins. That seed born of Mary – would grow and bear the best fruit upon the tree of the cross and Mary’s heart would be pierced. He would be crushed for our offenses – nailed and killed – and gobbled up by the grave. But he sprouted up from the earth on the third day to destroy sins power. To overcome death. To open heaven for all who believe – for Mary – for Elizabeth – for John – and for all of God’s family, especially for you.

The people in the Old Testament lived broken and sinful lives like us. They too needed to be saved. They needed Jesus just like we do. And now he comes to you, fresh and risen from the grave, to give himself. God comes to you tonight in mercy. He reigns in heaven and down here on our altar as the Lamb of God. He visits you in love. Covers you with his cleansing sacrificial blood.  Like Mary you too bear Christ. You carry him in the manger of your heart and bear him in body and soul. God is with us. 

In the name of Jesus.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Homily for The Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul, Apostles and Martyrs

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16). 

It is fitting that we celebrate the historic Lutheran feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul, especially because the church is beginning to enter a different era than our parents or grandparents.  Soon the church will be entering a time much more like the world of St. Peter and St. Paul in the first century.  A time of threats, violence, and persecution against Christians.  Our world is changing.  And it’s changing quickly.    

Just this year the Supreme Court made a significant move toward accepting homosexual marriage.  One of our supreme court justices wrote that those who don’t support homosexual marriage (that is, Christians of course) are “enemies to the human race and obstacles to human progress.”

Our culture is becoming more debased every day.  We are slouching toward Sodom and Gomorrah.  Now evil is called good and good is called evil.  You are considered an enemy of the new world. The church will come under assault –  it’s going to come sooner than we all think.  The church will come under assault again just like the first century – a world much like St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Paul writes the following in Ephesians chapter 6:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Jesus himself says to his disciples “Everyone will hate you because of me, They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  But the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

As Jesus took up his cross, so did Peter and Paul.  Peter was crucified under Nero – the Roman emperor.  Peter did not count himself worthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Lord so they crucified him upside down.  St. Paul had his head cut off as an old man because he preached God’s Word to a crowd who didn’t want to hear it.  This is something we should know about.  Our church is named after him of course. This is why church tradition paints the church in red this morning.  To remind us of the blood of the martyrs who lived and died for Christ.  

This morning in our text Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is.  Peter boldly yells outs “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  But this morning you should imagine the Son of the living God putting this question to you.  Who do you say that I am?  What do you think of Jesus?  Was he simply a great moral leader – and perhaps you think your children can learn some good morals?  Is church merely a social club that provides some nice perks and something to do? 

Those are of course the wrong answers.  But thanks be to God, you know the right answer.  Jesus is God.  He gives meaning to everything.  He is more than a moral leader. He is not a life coach – He is life itself. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth.  He is the savior.  This Jesus – the Son of the living God rescues you from God’s wrath for all your sins.  He saves you from death itself – and opens the way to eternal life.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through him.  He gives meaning to your life and makes life out of death.      

What does this all mean?  It means that it is precisely through suffering and tribulation that faith learns what it cost our Lord to earn salvation for us.  And we learn how precious his Gospel is.  When Christians suffer for the sake of the Gospel they better know the God of love shown to us in His Son.  In the words of Lyn Anderson, you were never promised a rose garden but you were promised a cross to bear – a cross like St. Peter and St. Paul.  Except your cross is made for you – sized up to fit – fashioned for your frame.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted or stretched beyond what you can bear.  Unlike St. Peter you will not be crucified upside down amidst a screaming crowd. Unlike St. Paul you won’t lose your head for the sake of the Gospel.  But your daughter will renounce you.  And your best friend may rise up against you or forget you altogether.  You will feel a stinging betrayal – and perhaps you will be cut deeply with loneliness and heartache.        

But God has not changed his mind about you.  You are baptized.  You are loved.  Be of good cheer. Jesus has gone ahead of you.  He has carried your burden and your sorrows.  He has not forgotten you.  He remembers you and watches you while you sleep.  

He loves you.  Your life is full of meaning and significance.  Your labors, your pain, and your cross are not an accident.      

This old world is growing older – and we are dying sinners in a dying world.  We’re all in the same boat. The whole creation groans longing for redemption.  

And this morning you have what you most need.  Jesus has risen from the grave.  Death is destroyed and your sins are not just forgiven – they are forgotten forever. Jesus has provided the way of escape. And actually he gives more than a rose garden.  He gives you himself.  The blood which flows from his pierced side unto our altar is brighter than any rose.  His presence is more lovely than any garden.  Through his crimson blood – the gates of paradise have swung wide open to sinners like us. Sinners like Peter and Paul and you. He that believes and is baptized will be saved.  

So what do you believe about Jesus?  Who do you say that he is? Well, say this: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God…I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.”  Jesus says on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” Therefore, let the persecution come.  Let the whole world come undone.  Let us be like St. Peter and St. Paul and follow Christ.  Let’s lay down our lives like him.  Let’s come to the altar and join all those who have departed in the one truth faith.  Let’s follow the crimson flood of Christ’s blood and receive food for weary souls.  In Jesus name.  Amen.