Monday, February 24, 2014

Homily for Sexagesima

When a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to [Jesus], he said in a parable:  “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold” (Luke 8:4-15). 

Jesus this morning tells us that there are four different types of people who hear the Word of God.  Not all are saved.  Most are not saved.  The devil, the world, and our sinful nature work against us constantly to disrupt and destroy faith.

A sower went out to sow seed, and some fell among the path and some was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air devoured it.  Jesus tells us here that the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. This is common in our day. Folks don’t want anything to do with the word of God. People are so cold and callous that they are quite content to avoid the Word of God altogether.  Worse than not believing they just don’t really care at all.  They are indifferent to the things of God.  They have no desire to hear the forgiveness of sins preached or hear the Scriptures proclaimed.  They are not hungry for the Lord’s Supper because they belong to the devil, who is their father.  When they do hear the Word of God is bounces off them without ever penetrating their hearts.  They are content with their lives and secure in their own sins.  Their hearts are hardened against God himself.

Jesus tells us about the second type of person who hears the Word of God.  Jesus says some of the seed fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  Jesus says that these folks are those who when they hear the word of God, receive it with joy.  But these have no root, they believe for a while, and in a time of testing they fall away from the Gospel altogether.  The saddest example of this is with confirmation students over the years.  On confirmation Sunday they are dressed up in white robes. 

They stand tall and proud, they promise before God and all the angels in heaven, before the congregation as well, that they would rather die than fall away from the Christian faith.

But within a year or two by and large they are gone.  Gone from bible study.  Gone from the Lord’s Supper.  A fraction of those little ones that are baptized will even make their way to confirmation.  And a very small fraction of those confirmed will persist in the faith until the end.

And then there is another group of those who hear the word of God and fall away.  This third group, Jesus says.  The seed is scattered among thorns, and the thorns grow and choke it out.  Jesus says this is about those who hear, but as they go on their way they are chocked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.  Faith is choked out.  Spiritual life dies.  And they fall away from the Gospel, God’s Word, and Holy Sacraments.

They are consumed by the cares, and pleasures of this earthly life.  Their minds are on earthly things only and not heavenly things.  They have no terror over their sins.  They too are comfortable and content.  They are married to this dying world – a cheap thrill.  Rather than married to Christ – the heavenly bridegroom.  They have given up on prayer at home.  Given up on reading the Bible.  Given up on seeing the forgiveness of sins as the most important part of their lives. They don’t want Jesus to come again soon.  Because they are enjoying themselves too much. 

This morning is a call to repentance.  We have a real problem with trampling the Word of God.  We have a problem with rocky hearts that let the preaching of the Gospel just richochet off our ears without any change in our hearts.  When it comes to God’s word we all have attention deficit disorder.  We take what we like and dismiss those things from God’s Word which we find accusing or inconvenient. 

Satan himself is the other sower of seed.  And perhaps he has your ear.  In the beginning he caused man to doubt God’s Word.  He assaulted Eve by saying to her “Did God really say.”  Did God really say that you can’t do that?  No problem, do it anyways.  Satan sows his seed over this whole world.  He is called the prince of darkness and the ruler of this world. He causes you to sin and throws your sins in your face.  He accuses you day and night.  Satan is a good preacher straight out of hell.  He is a good sower. But he is rotten to the core.        

But there is another sower much more powerful.  A sower born in Bethlehem who is also God’s Seed born in Bethlehem—the head-crushing Seed promised in Genesis chapter 3:15.  A seed to restore all fallen man back from the ruined soil of Eden. That Promised Seed is being planted on this very plot of ground, right here, right now. And here you are receiving it. Jesus is both the sower and the seed.

He planted himself on the rocky ground of Golgotha.  He was lifted up on the wood of the cross.  The promised seed bled for the life of the world.  His blood soaked the ground and at last we see what the tree of life in paradise looks like. The sinless son of God, arms outstretched on the tree of life - wrecklessly sowing his love for those who least deserve it.  Holy blood and life-giving water flow forth from his pierced side and spills into our font and chalice on the altar.   

It’s not a mistake that you are here.  Sitting in these pews.  In this old church we endure the rocky and hard places in life for the sake of Him who loves us.  We endure thorns and thistles but remain rooted in the good soil.  We are moistened by the waters of holy baptism.  Strengthened by the forgiveness of sins and refreshed through Christ’s Holy Supper.  Our pilgrimage will not last forever. 

God takes much away from us in the process.  The Christian life is filled with pain.  And with each loss.  With everything taken away from us, we learn again that having God is actually enough.  It is enough to have Him.  He is by your side.  He is with you. He is for you in every way.  And he loves you. Satan cannot have you.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you; and the life which you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God who loves you and delivered Himself up for you.”

This morning Jesus tells us about the last group of disciples.  Jesus says they are those who hear the Word of God, and hold unto it.  The message is clear.  The Christian life is about stubborn persistence.  It’s not a sprint.  It’s a marathon. And Christ is by your side. 

 But this morning find rest for weary souls.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are free to go home at peace with God and with one another.  You are free to change your lives and to soften stony hearts.  God is not angry with you.  He’s not even disappointed in you.  He is pleased with what he sees.  Because when he sees you He sees his Son.  You are washed in his blood.  Sins forgiven. 

Therefore be gentle with one another and kind.  You are God’s family – friends of Christ.  Therefore, there are plenty or reasons to be glad. You are saved by Jesus.  You are planted firmly in God’s Kingdom.  You have God as your Father. Christ as your brother.  And the holy angels at your service.  Your God gives you everything you need.  And does everything for your good.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Homily for The Feast of Transfiguration

This morning we come to the climax of the Epiphany season in which we have the feast day of the Transfiguration.  This morning we see Jesus take Peter, James, and John his first three disciples up upon a mountain.  At the top of this mountain they see Jesus, his face is shining brighter than the sun and he dressed in white clothing which is shining and all his bright glory is radiating from his presence. 

At the top his this mountain Jesus is joined by the two VIP’s of God’s OT people.  Moses, the supreme law-giver who represent the first five books of the Bible.  And also Elijah, who is the prophet par-excellence, who represents all of the prophets who spoke of the Messiah – the Savior of the world who would come into the world.  This morning we have the whole Bible represented in these three men.  And these men are having a conversation and speaking of what is to come.  Moses and Elijah are conversing with Jesus about the completion of God’s plan. 

That Jesus will be handed over to be crucified, to die for the sins of the world, and to be raised on the third day – thus putting an end to death and delivering forgiveness of sins and everlasting life to all believers. And up on this mountain the disciples are loving every moment.  They are having a spiritual mountaintop experience – all is going right – they are with God – hanging out with Moses and Elijah and things are looking good.  So good that Peter wants to have a camping party and make three tents – and stay there. As Peter was still speaking, the Scriptures say “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and God the Father spoken from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples, terrified by the holy presence of God, hit the deck and throw themselves on their faces in fear.   

They fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  No moses, no Elijah.  Jesus the face of Christ, stooping down to lift them up.

Jesus tells them not to tell anyone of the vision until after He is raised from the dead.  They quietly descend down the mountain and the slow journey starts to another mountain – high up on the mount of Golgotha where all things will be made new.

Today we observe the feast day of the Transfiguration.  But what does it all mean?  The scriptures point out this morning that the Transfiguration is on the sixth day.  If you remember from Genesis it was man who was created on the sixth day.  This was the first time God did not say it was good but said for the very first time “It is very good.”  He created man to live forever in paradise, created man from the dust of the ground to live, worship, and have pure delight in the presence of God for eternity. 

But paradise was short-lived.  For God did not create man from the dust of the earth just to stick him right back in it.  But that is not God’s fault that is ours.  It was not long before we turned away from his life giving Word and death entered in.  Ever since, humanity has been languishing in the curse caused by our own sin.  We are all growing old and weak from our sins.  Marriages are fractured, Backs are sore, our eye sight is getting worse.  Even in our relationships we so often grow cold and callous.        

The Transfiguration takes place on the sixth day to show up what our future looks like.  Jesus is shining like the Sun to show us what God’s plan for us is.  Because quite frankly, you don’t shine like the sun.  You’ve rained on more than your fair share of parades. You can be dark, dim, and cold to those whom God has called you to love the very most.  Your  appearance isn’t dazzling like the transfiguration because sins sully our own appearances.  We are not adorned in dazzling white but have been horribly damaged by the darkness of sin and the blackness of our own cold hearts.   

That is why Moses and Elijah are encouraging Christ to press on – to fulfil the entire Scriptures by reversing the curse of sin which has marred man’s existence since that dreadful day.  So this morning we see the dazzling presence of Christ – shining brighter than the sun – clothes white as light.  All to show us what we too will look like when this valley of tears is ended and God ushers us into his presence when He comes again.

But before we can be transfigured like Christ, first he needs to be disfigured by sinful man.  This Transfigured sinless Son of God must be disfigured by our sins.  He must carry our sorrows, bear our shame, and be beaten and marred beyond human semblance.  Bearing the curse for rebellious and sinful man.  He must take our cold callous hearts and in exchange give us his heart of gold.  He must be disfigured at the cross – until as the scriptures say he appeared as a worm and not a man.  With no semblance or beauty that we should desire him.  A man to whom people would look away from. 

He must be left in a tomb for our sake.  To rob death of its power.  To burst open the gates of hell and to disfigure Satan until he has lost all power over the sons and daughters of God.  And he rises victoriously on the third day, destroying death, and showing us what our future will look like. 

The transfiguration points to the cross and resurrection which is the fulfillment of everything that Moses and Elijah ever spoke of.  Jesus is our bread from heaven. His blood is the Red Sea which ushers us into the promised land.  Christ is our fiery chariot ride to heaven. Now that Christ has come – they fade into the distance and all we see is Christ. 

Just like, St. Peter who threw himself down in fear at the Transfiguration, Christ knows all the things that terrify you.  He knows how afraid and faithless you can be.  Like Peter, Jesus knows what a fair-weathered disciple you are. But He is still with you.   

The risen Christ speaks the same words to you this morning that he speak to Peter.  He says to you “don’t be afraid.”  Your future is good and it’s secure. Your sins are forgiven.  You life has been redeemed. Trust in me.”

Even though you can’t see through the clouds of confusion caused by the troubles and changes of this dying world, you should nevertheless see Christ.  And like Peter you gaze at the loving face of your Savior.  A Savior who goes to hell and back to claim you as his own.  And this morning he reaches out to you to feed you gifts from heaven.  To give you himself and all that he is – His righteousness – His innocence – His blessedness – His holy body and blood.  Everything God could possibly give you He does.  He calls you His own. 

And the Father speaks the same words to you that he speaks to His Son.  You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. And just like the disciples we can head down the mountain to our ordinary lives – knowing that someday – when our work is done.  We too will shine like the sun in His glorious Kingdom.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.