Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Sunday of the Deaf Mute

In today’s Gospel our Lord does another a miracle. Some people bring a deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus. Jesus takes him aside from the crowd privately and plunges his fingers into the man’s ears. Jesus spits, grabs the man’s tongue and looks up to heaven praying to God. Jesus groans and says “ephphatha,” which is an Aramaic word meaning “be opened.” The man’s ears are opened. His tongue is released and now he speaks plainly, which is to say, He confesses Christ.

Perhaps the man had some sort of turrets syndrome and couldn’t control his speech. Maybe he yelled and screamed incoherent things with no meaning and drove his family and friends nuts. So they bring him to Jesus. There is always a link between hearing and speaking. It’s difficult to speak plainly if you’re your unable to hear. And for those who struggle with either of these things, I have heard it’s one of the most frustrating and unpleasant of burdens one can bear. Because when your stuck with only your own thoughts your stuck also with your own sins.

I can tell you that young men especially are challenged here. One or two generations of men now have been raised on video games and computers. Few play musical instruments; they are too ashamed to sing. They are unacquainted with poetry, Shakespeare, or the corpus of western literature. They have forgotten that they belong to humanities story found in the Bible.

Their ears drums work but they are deaf to any harmony and beauty of God’s law. Their mouths are filled with coarse talk but their tongues are tied when it comes to expressing the content of their souls. They can’t express themselves. They have no words for their agony, for their joys, for their greatest hopes and dreams. No wonder so many men are frustrated and angry. They act out and who can blame them?

But the truth is we all struggle. Ever since Adam and Eve stuffed up their ears to the voice of God we’ve all been hearing impaired and as a result, like the troubled man in our Gospel text we are tongue tied as well. Man is made to live in communion and conversation with God, and yet for all the flapping we do with our tongues, how slow we are to pray and sing to God. How slow and tongue tied we can be when it comes to opening our mouths and talking to God, especially when it comes to confessing our sins.  

While our tongues should be employed for praising God and building one another up in love, we use our tongues so often to tear people down.

Martin Luther said a church is a mouth house. A place where God speaks and we listen. The Scriptures say faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

And so we come here because in this place God opens up our ears. He baptizes. He teaches. He says those who are well have no need of a physician but only those who are ill. He prays for us. He unplugs ears, he opens mouths. He says take eat this is my body, take drink this is my blood.

The man in today’s Gospel text was deaf, dumb, and blind to God but a miracle happened. He heard the word of God. He believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and was therefore saved by the Gospel.

Jesus is not afraid to get his hands dirty with you either. He is not deaf to your pleas for mercy and help. His tongue is not tied when it comes to his love for you. He plunges his fingers into your ears and he opens them up to hear the sweetest message which can be heard on this side of heaven. The message that He has made payment for your sins with his holy and precious blood and by his innocent suffering and death. The message that He descended to hell to shut the devil’s mouth. The message that he rose for your justification. All so that you can hear the most beautiful words which can fill your hearts with joy. The words that your sins are forgiven - that your life is worth living - that you are redeemed, prized, and loved by God.

So rejoice and be glad. Open your ears to the words of absolution. Speak plainly that Jesus is Lord. Be as happy as a lark. Sing like a bird. Your sins are forgiven. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity)

Two men opened the doors to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wittenberg to pray. Both men sat in their pews. One was a life-long member of the church, the other man, the town-drunk, just happened to stumble in, still hung over from the night before.

The first man was successful in every way. As the saying goes he counted his blessings. And prayed, saying, “God, I thank you, that I am not like other men. I’ve never had a divorce, my children are all successful, and what’s more they are all married. My reputation in town is pretty close to impeccable. Sure, I’m a sinner, but overall, I’ve done fairly well, I’ve done my best, at least much better than that trouble making drunk on welfare in that other pew. I thank you God that I am not like him.”

But the town drunk, gnarly looking, and still smelling like booze from the night before, kept his head down through the entire service. When it came time to confess his sins, he meant it, oh did he mean it! He considered the mess he had made of his marriage, and the neglect of his own children, how he had let them down. He felt ashamed of his anger, his mistrust of God, and what he had become. He pounded his chest, saying, I a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you.”

Jesus tells us this morning, that this man went home to his house declared righteous and forgiven by God, rather than the first man, the life-long Lutheran, who remained in bondage to sin and the devil. The man who the whole community considered great and blessed was damned, and the town drunk, was saved.

Dear Christians this parable this morning is not difficult to understand. We are warned of the dangers of complacency. Measuring our goodness in comparison with others is an easy road to hell and we are all guilty of it. It’s easy to be a Pharisee. It’s easy to scoff and ridicule politicians or celebrities about their affairs, their shortcomings, their weaknesses. In our families we are quick to find fault with each other rather than recognizing how we contribute already to a bad situation. Even in a church congregation how easy it is to blame others, to dwell and meditate on the flaws and defects of others.

Let us confess the truth! That when it comes to spotting the sins of others we have the eye of an eagle but when it comes to seeing our own sins we are as blind as a bat.

Repent, beware, because in the kingdom of God tax collectors enter before Pharisees, prostitutes are called rather than self-righteous saints, and drunks walk into heaven before life-long Lutherans.
This is what the Pharisee this morning didn’t understand. He thought he could stand before God based upon his own righteousness. He thought God was impressed by him.

How foolish. St. Paul tells us this morning in our epistle that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. All of us by nature are children of wrath. No one is righteous, no not one, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. This is what the Pharisee did not get. So while he was holding up his chin in arrogant rebellion against the God of love He was sending forth his Son to die for him.

Like a greedy tax collector the Lord Christ was collecting the sins of the sins of the world. He was baptized, taught, suffered for rebel man. While we pray “God I thank you that I am not like other men” it is Jesus who prays for you “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

For proud and rebel man it is God who humbles himself, taking on the form of a servant. Lowered in the earth he dies with your sins. He takes your place. He dies your death. It is complete. He stands victoriously in hell, crushes the devils throat and leads the captives out. The tomb shatters, and there he stands, raised up, resurrected, a man of mercy for the likes of you.

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Like the tax collector you go home justified, declared righteous through the atoning blood Christ. The chalice is pressed to your lips and you go free. You enjoy the benefit of a good conscience before God your Father.

The saying is true that Jesus eats and drink with tax collectors and prostitutes, but it’s equally true that he also eats and drinks with Pharisees. And that’s good news for us. So let us no longer dwell upon the sins of others but let us dwell only upon the love of God. In the name of Jesus.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (The Cleansing of the Temple)

When Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41–48).

Our Lord this morning comes to the city gates of Jerusalem and weeps bitterly. The Jews who have the Holy Scriptures and all the prophecies concerning Jesus are blind when it comes to their hour of salvation. The same people who persecuted their pastors and prophets, and killed God’s messengers have now rejected God’s dearly beloved Son.

The cried out “crucify him! We have no king but Ceasar.” They cried out “let his blood be upon us and our children.” Jesus mourned and wept for them. They who refused to see the things that make for peace – a tree lifted up against a dark sky – nails and a spear – his payment in blood. They rejected the Messiah. They cried out for Barabbas and killed the author of life.

Jesus had warned of the judgment to come. A half generation later the Romans marched on the city of Jerusalem. The Temple was burned to the ground. Well over a million Jews were brutally killed. Those who lived, perhaps a 100,000 were put in slavery back in Egypt.

These days we are too politically correct to say that God ever pours out his wrath or punishes anyone. But then again, God isn’t concerned about political correctness. Read the Bible. Pride, vanity, and violence got the best of man so God sent forth a furious flood to destroy rebel man, at this time billions of people. Only Noah and his family were saved. Sexual immorality ran amok in Sodom and Gemorrah so God set the entire city in flames in his fiery judgment. And now Jerusalem, just half a generation after their bloodthirsty cries to kill Jesus receive a worse judgment. The Roman armies hem them in on all sides. No one is spared from a violent death. Jesus this morning cleanses the temple, overturns tables, and thrashes a whip forshadowing this historic event. 

This is a hard lesson for us because in one way or another we’re all raised on a hallmark version of Christianity. After all who wants to hear about fire and brimstone? But then if you can’t handle some fire and brimstone you probably can’t handle the Bible either – because the Scriptures are filled with it. Jesus preaching is filled with it. Warnings, threats, and admonitions from God to repent, to change, to be spared from disaster.

The truth remains for all to see. God destroys Jerusalem – the city that kills God’s prophets, messengers, and now His beloved Son. Jesus prophecy was sadly true. 

But if God threatens wrath and punishment for all those who rebel against his commandments and reject his dear Son, then what about us? What about Lutheran congregations who refuse to hear the weekly preaching of God’s Word and drive their pastors out of town? What about husbands and wives abandoning each other. Fathers, rather than helping their daughters find a good and honorable husband, actually help their poor daughters move in with their dead-beat boyfriends! They not only approve but assist in handing their daughters into a life of fornication! What about grandparents who flood their grandchildren with every form of entertainment and somehow miss teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. What shame! What about the daily murder of children in the womb? Four thousand little ones a day. Lord, help us!

What will God to with us when he sees what we’ve done with marriage. Openly celebrating fornication and sodomy. Redefining marriage altogether.    

Our TV’s are flooded with sitcoms that would scandalize our grandmothers. And we laugh at all the coarse jokes. The people of Sodom and Gemorrah would blush at the things we celebrate. The citizens of Noah’s day would be horrified of us.

When God looks upon our nation, when he looks upon our community, our church, our home what does he think? Much worse when he sees our sinful hearts, our wicked thoughts, debased minds and corruption what does he think? Does he like what he sees? Is he proud of what we’ve become? Or does he weep for us, like he weeps for Jerusalem?

In our Gospel this morning Jesus weeps, saying “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
But dear Christian, by God’s grace you know the things that make for peace: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. A child who grows up with one mission. To bear the wickedness of this whole world, to bear your sins in his flesh and blood, to free you from everlasting death and eternal judgment. Behold the cross lifted up. See the nails piercing his hands and feet. See the things that make for peace and justice. Behold the cost it took to save you.

Sure Jesus wept over Jerusalem. But in the Garden of Gethsemane he wept for your salvation. His tears became drops of blood. He is overcome with love for his fallen creation. And in Jesus, we see God’s loving heart.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He wishes not to perish but all to be brought to repentance and eternal life.

When Jesus is raised from the grave on Easter morning, he doesn’t speak a single word of judgment. He speaks nothing but peace and forgives his shifty disciples. He shows them his resurrected body. He says peace be with you! Look what I have done for you! Your sins are forgiven. You are already raised from the dead. God is not coming after you, you who have faith in his son. God is not coming after you, you who hear his word week in and week out in the Divine Service and receive his body and blood. You belong to Christ.  

Jesus has quenched God’s wrath and anger on the cross for all those who repent and are baptized into his holy name. The wrath of God and his fiery judgment is only reserved for the devil and his angels and those who stubbornly spurn his love and reject his Son.

So have no fear. The judgment for you has already come. You have already passed from death to life. Nothing came harm you. No sickness can hurt you. No army can stop you. You belong to the true Jerusalem, the city of God set in the heavens. Jesus lives and so do you. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Sunday of the Unjust Steward (the Ninth Sunday after Trinity)

In this mornings parable the master of a large corporate farm fires his manager for bad dealings. The manager, now fired and afraid for his life goes to the master’s debtors one by one. He reduces their debts and frees them from what they rightfully owe.

The dishonest manager has stolen even more from the master. This is fraud and a felony and we should expect the master, the business owner, to be furious. He should press charges and seek some sort of restitution or wage garnishing on all those workers who slipped through his fingers. He should lawyer up and press chargers against this dishonest manager who squanders his money.

But strangely he doesn’t. The master when he finds out actually commends his dishonest manager for his shrewdness. And the master doesn’t go to the authorities to turn him or anyone in.

We make a big mistake with the parables when we try to make sense of them, as if somehow God is like us. Because actually the exact opposite is true. The parables, all of them, show us that God is not like us, he doesn’t think like us, he doesn’t act like us. And this parable is no different.

The pagan Romans in the first century, when they were trying to figure what this Christianity  was all about, used this parable as a way to disprove that the Gospels said anything correct about God. The Romans, since the time of Socrates and Aristotle and Alexander were obsessed with justice. They were obsessed with the law.

To them this parable showed that the Christian God commended dishonesty and even tolerated fraud. For the Romans who were obsessed with the law, and good order, this parable drove them crazy because it actually rewards trickery and stealing. This was intolerable and so this parable was used in their arsenal to ridicule and disprove the truthfulness of God’s message in the New Testament.

But this is what the parables do. They are not good evangelism stories, because they are quite repulsive to those outside of the faith and have a way of hiding Christ. This is why St. Paul would say in 1st Corinthians that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks and Romans. And in a way, we can agree. If you’re the owner of your business and you’ve extended a line of credit to your customers and your recently hired employee sends word to all of them that they no longer owe you anything you too would be furious!

And so here comes the great scandal of the cross. God of course is the master. And a masterful trick has been played on him, and strangely he’s in on the deal. He sends forth his son. A very shrewd manager indeed. A manager who was put in charge of your enormous debt. He bore what you owe in his very body. He was whipped, spat upon, and cursed. He was nailed to a cross. Your doubts hung around his neck. He was penalized for your sins. He made payment that you couldn’t afford. He bled, he suffered, he died.

He said it is finished. Your debt, the devil, death itself is done for. He dealt shrewdly with your sins by lying in a grave, tricking the devil, and rising from the dead. He who owed nothing has paid everything…What a sham. What a glorious fraud. A divine trick.

The great boast of a Christian is that God is not fair. Repentant sinners don’t get what they deserve. And God actually commends you for taking advantage of situation.

As a Christian you are encouraged to take what doesn’t belong to you. Steal what’s not yours. Eat his body and drink his blood. It’s the will of God to give you a kingdom. Your debts are erased. You’re not in the red anymore, you’re not even in the black. You have a gigantic credit to your account – the very righteousness of God. An inheritance of heaven. You have the angels and saints as your friends. Friends who will receive you in eternal, heavenly dwellings.  

The grace of God is a radical thing. Marvelous and incomprehensible. By the blood of the cross we walk away scott free. A fascinating part of this parable is that the manager allows debtors to actually walk away with free oil and wheat. Can we have any doubt that this refers to the cleaning oil of holy baptism. And the wheat surely the Lord’s Supper. The bread from heaven.

The pagan Romans in the first century could not see the grace of God in this parable. Christ was hidden from them. But don’t you miss it. God is not an angry master coming to collect his debts. Jesus has made full payment. It was the son’s great joy to do this for you. It was always the plan since God promised Eve that the seed of her womb would crush the serpents head. There is nothing left to pay. Nothing left to do. Nothing to do but open your hands to receive eternal treasures and undeserved wealth.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Jesus said “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15–23)

What kid has not been told to not take candy from a stranger or get into their car? It’s a gut-wrenching experience to explain to children that not everyone is nice, and that sometimes big people hurt little people. Because as much as we would like to shelter our children, and calm their fears, we also need to teach them slowly, and carefully that evil does exist in the world. They need to be cautious, even suspicious, there are wicked men who would harm children.

This is why we have fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretal. Because wolves and cananbalistic witches actually do exist. None of us live in the world of the Andy Griffith show. The town of Mayberry, as much as it appeals to our ideals or nostalgia, is not a real place.

But of all the dangers and threats that do exist, it’s those in places of public trust and authority that can do the greatest harm. In our second reading, our epistle text St. Paul warns the congregation to pay careful attention to the flock. Paul warns them the fierce wolves will come in, who will twist the word of truth, all to titillate their itching ears. In other words, Paul warns them not to take candy from strangers.

Jesus warns us tonight that we know a false preacher from his fruit. Which is to say, we do not judge by appearances or popularity but by comparing what is preached to the Word of God – the Bible. So if a slick preacher comes along and preaches that your going to have your best life now or how to be happier 7 days a week. Beware!

Sure it sounds good but measure everything against what we learn in the Gospels and New Testament. Biblical, historic Christianity is never found on the new York times best seller list.

And so it is that we measure everything we hear from God’s Word alone. We identify false prophets by the fruit of what they speak. Even when we hear a sermon we compare it to what we actually hear in God’s Word. We don’t ultimately trust presidents, popes, governors, village presidents or even LCMS pastors. They can all error. They all sin. They all are capable of letting you down.

And yet our greatest struggle is with the ravenous wolf inside all of us. Because we can all be modern day jeckel and hydes. A lamb one minute and a wolf the next. The sinful flesh is weak.  Anger can get the best of us. Husbands can be unkind. Wives can be loveless to their husbands. Children can be disrespectful to parents. Students at school can be cruel to one another and tear each other to shreds. Ever since Eve took the candy from the strange intruder, self-interest has reigned supreme and we and others suffer for it.
Yet into this fallen world God sent his son to raise us up. And He comes to you not as a ravenous wolf, but as gentle as a Lamb, a child born of a virgin mother.  A Savior wrapped in human flesh, bearing your sin, and the wickedness of this whole world gone awry. He is your Good Shepherd and protector precisely because he lays down his life for you. Jesus tells us tonight that a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit but just look at him dying on the cross. His arms stretched out in love like the limbs of a tree. In this diseased tree he does the impossible – from the awful scene of Calvary this tree of death becomes a tree of life – and paradise is restored before our very eyes. A diseased tree cannot bear good fruit but look at what the Roman centurion does. He takes his spear and plucks the side of Jesus and out pours the very fruit of life. Water and blood – forgiveness and eternal life – a gusher of pure mercy and grace. Kneel at the foot of the cross – the tree of life - and behold the salvation of the world. Bask in his undeserved love – baptismal waters cover you. Yours sins are forgiven. It’s free. It’s finished. The old infernal wolf has been cast down.

In judgment you won’t be cut down and thrown into the fire with him. He won’t say “I never knew you…depart from me.” Rather, He will call you by name. He will gently rouse you from your peaceful sleep and lift you from your grave. He will say I have known you and loved you from before the foundation of the world.

You belong to Him and have a place in His Kingdom. A place much safer than Mayberry and much happier too. The book of Revelation says that streets are actually paved with gold. Can you imagine that? The streets are paved with gold. There is no need for the sun because the light of Christ illumines the whole city. The angels will serve you. The saints will join you. The heavens are opened to you.

So rejoice. Bask in the safety and love of God. Little Red riding hood escapes the wolves and so will you. Hansel and Gretal return to their father’s house for a joyful homecoming and so will you. Safe and sound in the Kingdom of God. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Forty days ago the stone was rolled aside. Jesus walked out of the grave into the morning light. The powers of hell cracked under his feet. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” It is gone! Death is defeated. Life has won.

The grave could not hold him. He burst forth from the warm soil like a flower in the spring. Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener, and in a way, he was. 

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Risen and fresh from the grave he showed himself to the women, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the Emmaus road. He showed himself alive to all the disciples and later to Thomas in the upper room. See and touch my hands, my side, and my feet. Thomas saw and believed, saying, “My Lord, and my God.”

Jesus then went fishing with the disciples on the Sea of Tiberias. He showed himself risen from the dead, alive, and victorious to 500 men at one time. They have born withness this. He continued to teach them, saying, “was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory.” He interpreted to them in the scriptures all the things concerning Himself – that all of the Scriptures bear witness to him. His death and his resurrection. He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

None of this is speculation! All these things actually happened. Jesus did not just briefly appear and disappear. He was teaching and preaching after His resurrection for 40 days. Men have born witness to this with their lives. Men do not suffer for the sake of preserving a lie. Men lay down their lives for the truth.    

Jesus said “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

He then led them out to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. He departed from them and ascended bodily into heaven, and a cloud took him from their sight – to be seated at the right hand of God in power and glory.

What does this mean? Jesus said “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God has highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above all names, that in the name of Jesus every knee that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth should bow.

While the disciples looked after Him as He went into heaven, two men in white robes stood by them and said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven.”

He will descend from the clouds with a battle cry and with the voice of the archangel and with the blast of the trumpet of God at the end of the world, on the Last Day.

This is the meaning of what we confess every time we gather for the Divine Service. We confess with our mouths “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.”

All believers receive eternal life in body and soul and all unbelievers will be condemned and banished with all demons into the eternal fire. That’s what the Bible says.  

But He doesn't just come on the last day. We are living in the time of Pentecost, where He comes continually. And he comes in mercy and in love. In Word and Sacrament. Under a preacher voice – announcing the forgiveness of sins.  

For you who are baptized and believe in Christ, what have you to fear? He destroyed all of your sins at the cross. He ransacked the gates of hell. He has opened all your graves already. Heaven’s doors swing open. Cancer, financial ruin, death itself will not have the last word with any of us. Jesus lives and reigns victorious over all.

Sure we have tears and sorrow now, but these things will pass. Jesus has ascended into heaven, saying where I am there you shall be also.

Therefore we pray that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us form this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. In the name of Jesus. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Homily for The Sunday of Christian Joy

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me...When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:16-22 ESV)

God made man for eternal joy and blessedness but when Adam followed the serpent, the devil, he was sentenced to eternal sorrow and condemnation. Women have children in pain. Men live by the sweat of their brow. Like Cain and Abel, our children fight, and feud, and rise up against one another. They hold grudges and hope the worst for one another.

And so God promised a Savior who would crush the serpents head and on the holy cross he did just that. Christ has been raised from the dead. The Father raised him up on the third day to announce the total defeat of sin, death, and the devil. He ransomed us from hell by his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. Why? All so that you may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. God has bought you back – Your sins, though heinous, have all been removed. His love is greater than your wickedness. His goodness is greater than your evil. You belong only to him. It is finished.  

He is risen. Sinners are forgiven. The dead are raised. Winter has ended and spring has sprung. You are baptized into Him – baptized and drowned into his death and raised up in his resurrection. You belong to God – children to be lifted from your beds and gravestones on the last Day – caught up in the clouds – raised by God to everlasting life to live with God in the splendor of heaven.  

But your not there yet. Tomorrow you’re most likely not going off to heaven you’ll just be going off to work. You have to put up with a rude boss – maybe hostile coworkers. You have to wash the dishes. You have to care for your aging spouse. Spar with difficult children and face criticism and critique. You’re not in heaven. You belong to heaven, but you’re not there yet. You’re down here where the cheerful blast of Easter trumpets are not heard, at least not now, because what you hear best is the fiery blast of God’s law – the piercing blare of a guilty conscience.  

Jesus gives his disciples some mysterious words this morning. He says “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” He is of course giving something of a farewell address in the upper room before the Last Supper. He is telling them that he is going away. He will be arrested. They won’t see him when he’s locked in Herod’s dungeon – then beaten – spat upon – crucified and killed. They won’t see him when his dead body is laid in the manger of the earth in a dusty grave.

Then Jesus says and a little while and you will see me again. We know that He is speaking about his resurrection on the third day – that’s what Easter is all about. Now He has ascended bodily to the right of the Father to be present for us in even a more glorious way through His Word and Sacrament – preached and given right here within these four walls.

But we’re still dealing with the little while of this life. A life which Martin Luther called a “valley of tears.” As blessed as our lives are down here – we’re still pilgrims – we’ll always be strangers in something of a strange land still ruled by our sinful flesh, the devil, and the grave.

Our anxieties bear witness to this. So do our medicine cabinets. It is a terrible mistake however, to think that our own sufferings are worse than the person sitting next to us in the pew.   

Generally people keep things to themselves. We are germans. We are Lutherans. That is what we do. We grin and bear it. But none of us knows what each other is going through. No one knows whose wife cheated on them, nobody knows who struggles with addiction. No one knows whose child had an abortion and now the whole family suffers horrible guilt and remorse. No one knows who is nearly on the verge of a mental and spiritual breakdown.   

And therefore, if anything, we should be more sympathetic to one another. We suffer from what is common to all men. As we wait through the little whiles of life, we’re in all in this together, tossed about in the same boat. The Scriptures say that “Our hope is in the same Lord. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

You’re living between the day of Pentecost and the Last Day. You’re living in the “little while” of this life. Our Lord this morning likens your salvation to a woman in child birth. She has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

Jesus says “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  

Traditionally today is called the “Sunday of Christian joy.” Jubilate in latin simply means “rejoice,” and even though you have not rejoiced for some time, rejoice simply over this: that you too shall see God, face to face and much to your surprise he won’t be disappointed in you. Through his holy cross – his forgiveness you have divine approval.

In heaven our sicknesses will be brought to health. Our broken families will be restored. Jesus forgiving blood will cover us all and even now, the treasures of heaven belong to you.  

But for now in this in between time, as we await the final trumpet blast make room in your heart for true Christian joy. We are destined for eternal joy and blessedness. Though weeping may tarry for the night joy cometh in the morning. In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

(some inspiration for this homily comes from Fr. David Peterson on 4/22/2015)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Homily for Good Shepherd - Misericordias Domini

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:11-16). 

There is a fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s about a girl on mission to go to granny’s house to deliver her some bread and wine. Before little Red riding hood ventures out into the dark woods she is warned by her mother to stay on path.

But she scarcely enters the woods when she comes face to face with a big bad wolf. But the wolf is crafty, and even seems friendly, and soon little red riding hood makes the mistake of giving the wolf granny’s address. The wolf goes on ahead to granny’s house, gulps her down, and then lies in wait for little red riding hood to show up at the door.  

When little red riding hood sees the wolf in her grammas clothing, she cries out “Oh grandmother, what big ears to you. Oh grandmother, what big eyes you have. Oh grandmother, was a terrible big mouth you have!” And with that the wolf jumped out and swallowed up little red riding hood. 

It’s a story to teach girls and boys to listen closely to their mothers. It’s a warning to stay on the right path and to be aware your own vulnerability. It’s a warning to be on guard for wolves, child predators, and other dangerous animals because we all know the world is a very dangerous place. The scriptures teach us that satan is the prince of this world, and that he prowls about like a roaring lion (like a wolf) seeking someone to devour.  

Maybe you’re all grown up now, don’t much believe in fairy tales, and maybe you’re not that concerned about the old infernal wolf. But beware! Little Red riding hood didn’t recognize him either until it was too late.  Let’s face it, you too have not heeded all the warnings of your mother. None of us have stayed on the proper path. We’ve flirted with disaster. Like little red riding hood, our own folly has come home to roost. We sin – we try to make friends with the devil – we consider our sins to be harmless but they are not. They’re destructive, dangerous, and deadly.  

Pornography invites demons into the home. Anger can poison the soul. Greed and stinginess can destroy the faith of Christians. Even anxiety and despair can separate us from the God of love.

Today we confess that we have not heeded the counsel of our mothers or of God. We are like sheep, like little red riding hood who went astray. We too have been foolish like sheep each one going his own way. We have left the path that God desires for us.

And we are no match for the wolf, no match for the devil. We confess that we need a Shepherd – one stronger than us – one who can defend us, fight for us, and save us from our sins. One who can rescue us from the belly of the wolf. Save us from the perils of everlasting death.

We actually didn't finish the story of little read riding hood. After the wolf had his meal a huntsmen, a shepherd, came along, heard the wolf snoring, sliced the wolf’s stomach, and out slipped granny and little red riding hood. Alive, resurrected, safe and sound.

There is a huntsmen, named Jesus Christ, who put the wolf in his crosshairs. He says I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. You see, the wolf had a right to take us. He had a rightful claim. We were gullible. We sinned, we wandered, we disobeyed God. We chose death over life. And yet, He sent forth his son, born of a woman to save us. He loved us chiefly by dying – by being cursed with the punishment we rightfully deserved.

Instead of you, instead of granny, or little red riding hood being harmed -  the Good Shepherd inserted himself in the jaws of death – he was eaten, devoured, consumed by death itself on the cross. He was laid in dust of the earth.

But the belly of death had to be cut open. The grave opened it’s mouth and was forced to release it’s prey. Death could not hold him and by his resurrection he has destroyed the power of sin, the grave, and the infernal wolf.

The wolf who thought you were an easy target, has at last met his match. The belly of the wolf – death itself is opened by the empty tomb on Easter morning. The grave is sliced open. The stone rolled aside. And you, granny, and red riding hood escape, unmolested, unharmed, safe-and sound, with all the children of the resurrection.

Jesus says My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I know my own and my own know me. This is why we pray The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

You have the huntsmen to protect you. A crucified, and resurrected huntsmen. A good shepherd, who loves defenseless sheep. Our Lord and God who takes us to greener pastures. So listen to his voice. Hear his words. He who says I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will never die. 

Little red riding hood was bringing bread and wine to granny for her health but you receive something even better – the very body and blood of your savior, the Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ. Food and drink that forgives sin, and places you back on the right path.

So even if you have wandered, be comforted. Again, make your way to the king of love enthroned on the altar now. A good and tender shepherd who welcomes us through the forgiveness of sins into his kingdom – where pastures are most certainly greener on the other side. A kingdom where love reigns supreme, and death itself is no more, and our homecoming is most certainly joyful. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Homily for Quasi Modo Genite

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  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 on the day of Easter one thing we shy away from actually talking about, is recognizing that by and large none of the disciples believed that Christ had risen – at least they were painfully slow to believe what had taken place.

In one way or another all four of the Gospels express this reality – that even after they saw the resurrected Christ, they were not joyful but terrified, and unbelieving. It’s easy for us to be judgmental of them. We think “of course Jesus is raised from the dead – how could they not be rejoicing and glad – and happy!”

But what about you? If you betrayed your friend, scattered, and denied him, saw him killed by crucifixion, and laid in a grave, how would you respond if you were told he was now alive and was coming to see you?

In today’s Gospel we see the disciples scared straight. It’s eight days after the Resurrection and they are not filled with Easter joy. They are filled with Easter fear and they have all locked themselves in the attic of a house. We’re told they are scared of the Jews, but perhaps they are scared of Christ Himself. Jesus had told them that anyone who denied him before men he would deny before his father in heaven. He had talked about justice and judgment – and what if he was coming back to give the disciples what they truly deserved?

And what if he came back to doll out justice for you. What should we all expect for ourselves?
Because we too have a problem with locking our doors to him. We too have a tendency to reject Christ and not invite him daily into our homes. When is the last time you prayed at home, out loud with your family? When is the last time you honestly sat down with a Bible and read his Word.
Like the disciples, locked in the upper room, we too have a reason to be afraid – our sins convict – we are fair-weather disciples – we are all frauds!

Besides this, the culture is changing. We’re afraid to talk with our children about the truth of God’s gift of marriage - that sexual intimacy is only for God’s gift of marriage and that everything else is simply adultery.

Marriage is for one man and one woman. Not two men, not two women – not three – not four – or any other arrangement. Our common excuse to get off the hook is to say we shouldn’t judge, but frankly yes we should. God’s Word already judges these things and tells us what is right and what is wrong. None of us should be ashamed of the Word of God.

Children deserve mommies and daddies who are committed and pledged to one another with the promise of God. Children don’t need two daddies or two mommies. They need fathers to protect them. They need moms to nurture them. They need dads to love them best by loving their mom and promising to be there – til death do them part because that’s what God tells us, and so we must say ‘Amen.’

But our lips are locked. Doors are sealed and tongues are tied and yet we must speak the truth. Jesus says “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

And no doubt we are entering a time when we are tempted to shy away from God’s Word. I hear that if you are a baker and are asked to bake a cake for a gay wedding, you will be fined, imprisoned, or worse if you refuse. This is the world we are entering and we need to find out voice not lose it.

What we all have in common is a problem with unbelief. The disciples doubt. Thomas doubts. They are afraid of God’s judgment – they are terrified because of their sins. They are also terrified of others and what others will think of them. And they are silent, locked away, and scared.

But Jesus is alive and He’s coming back. But when he appears in that upper room to the scared disciples he doesn’t return like a fire-breathing dragon. He doesn’t burst through the locked doors to bring judgment to Peter’s denials and Thomas’s unbelief, and he doesn’t rise from the dead to condemn you either!

No, He appears to his disciples to show them his pierced hands and feet – his crucified and risen body. He greets them not with fear but with love and kindness. He doesn’t say look what you have done to me but rather look what I have done for you! And yet he doesn’t excuse their sins, he shows them his scars to prove that he has paid for them all.

And those scars – those pierced hands and feet, his pierced side are enough for you. He took all the punishment. There is forgiveness for those who have nearly given up on prayer. There is forgiveness for those who have become more familiar with their tv guides than their Bibles. There is forgiveness for those who are more comfortable in this fallen world than in the kingdom of God. There in the wounds of Jesus is forgiveness for adultery, lying, cheating, and gossip. Like Thomas, you have proof that God has been raised from the dead and He comes to forgive sinners only. He calls you to a whole new life.    

Today Christ has Risen too. He breaks through thick walls and locked doors. HE makes his way through bolted, stubborn hearts. He wants entrance into your life. He says Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age. This is my body and this is my blood. Do not be unbelieving but believe. The same Lord, resurrected from the grave is present this morning with his disciples, even his doubting disciples.

This morning we are thankful for Thomas. He gives a voice to our doubts. Like Thomas we can touch Jesus’ body in the Holy Sacrament. We can drink his blood which forgives us our sins and strengthens our faith. And then our doubts can all wash away. He is risen! Easter fear gives way to Easter joy, and like Thomas, we can look at the crucified and risen Lord, and confess the truth, saying “My Lord and My God.”  In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 20, 2015

You can't keep a good man down! - An Easter Homily

The old saying is true, “You can’t keep a good man down.” They tried to shut him up. They yelled with their shrill cries, “crucify him.” The holy and gentle Son of God was dressed in a purple robe. They mocked him and whipped him with shards of glass. They pressed a crown of thorns upon his innocent head. He carried your sins up that blood stained mountain. They tore his flesh with nails and pounded a spike through his feet. They lifted him up with his arms stretched out to embrace the whole world in love. He said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then, in victory, He cried out, “It is finished.” He bowed his head and gave up His spirit.

They tried to keep a good man down but how could they? Death came into the world through one man – and now he who knew no sin became sin for us. And because he was truly innocent – guiltless, and without sin, what claim did death and the devil hold upon him? Nothing! No, death and hell could not hold him.

He burst forth from the grave. The angels rolled aside the stone from the entrance of the tomb and just like our Easter liles – Jesus was alive, in full bloom, fresh and risen the grave. He walked out. The earth shook, the graves trembled, the power of death cracked under His feet.  

All the Scriptures bear witness to this moment. You can’t keep a good man down. So when Mary Magdalene showed up at the grave this morning she found not the dead body of Jesus but angels announcing that He has risen.

You can’t keep a good man down and so God became a man to get the job done. To bear the curse of fallen humanity, to die for us all, and be raised up again – to unbar the gates of paradise for all who believe.  All through the forgiveness of sins – purchased and won through his death and glorious resurrection.

Mary and the disciples would soon see Jesus that day, alive, still bearing the marks of the nails in his feet and hands. But now he uses those feet to go to his disciples to announce this good news Himself. He uses his pierced hands now to bless – and declare his undying love for sinners, telling them to go to the ends of the world, teaching everything that he has commanded, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  

This morning dear Christians we are not celebrating some great event that happened a long time ago. No. The history of mankind revolves around this day. He said, “Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” This is my true body given for you. This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

The same Christ, risen from the grave and victorious, who lives and reigns to all eternity, is present on our altar this morning.

He is here at St. Paul Lutheran church in Wittenberg. Offering the gifts won from the cross and empty tomb. Offering Himself - His life-giving body and blood. Gifts which Christians have long called the andidote to death and the medicine of immortality.

You can’t keep a good man down. You can’t keep a Christian down either. Sure we suffer down here. Our loved ones die, children rebel, wander, and are sometimes even taken away. Our sins haunt us. Work is difficult and sometimes even dangerous for our health. Everything breaks down.

Maybe your Easter ham today will be overcooked and won’t receive any compliments. Perhaps your Easter dress didn’t look as good as you had hoped. But know this - every trouble in life, whether it be bitter loss, death itself, or even minor inconveniences – like ham and clothing all have the same answer, and the answer is this: He is risen.

If you really want to take the day in properly – take a walk through the cemetery and consider that this short life of labor is not the sum and substance of life. Jesus is, and pretty soon now the trumpets will blast and he will come again.

He will descend from the clouds with the mighty blast of a trumpet, with all the armies of his blessed angels, and all people whether Christian, atheist, or uninterested, will be woken up to eternal punishment or eternal joy. He will separate the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful, the chaff from the wheat, believers from unbelievers, because there is a distinction between life and death – a difference between the children of this evil age and the children of God.

You can’t keep a good man down and neither will a Christian stay down in the grave but will awake to glorious splendor – lifted up in the Resurrection of the body to eternal life.

So what is most important to you? Because now is the hour of your salvation. What do you hope in? Where is your trust and confidence? Whom, above all things, do you love the very most? What is your greatest joy and delight of your soul?

Let it be the Lord God and His Son – who freely offers salvation to us all. The stone is rolled away to prove that we are no longer in the prison house of death and hell. With Mary and the disciples peer into the empty tomb and sing out with St. Paul: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” They are gone. Jesus lives.  

You can’t keep a good man down. The grave is empty and so shall the graves of all the saints of Christ become empty on the greater and eternal Easter of His return. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Homily for Easter Vigil

As we gathered in the darkness tonight we are reminded that no matter how richly we have been blessed in this life we still contend with darkness. We’re nervous about the world our children are growing up in and our own sins make matters worse.

Here faith triumphs over all evil and darkness. Tonight we imitate the faith of the faithful women like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who ran to the tomb to wait to see him.

Holy Scripture says “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.”

Jesus had told them to be watchful and praise be to God so tonight you are. There the Mary’s sat in the hour of darkness as you sit, waiting, watching for His glorious appearance.

So does faith triumph over darkness and the grave. No darkness can frighten us. No sorrow can break us, for in spite of our weeping, we will remain faithful. We watch and we wait.

Like Noah, like Moses and Aaron at the Red Sea, like Ezekiel, Job, and Jonah. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. You have your own fiery furnace to contend with, the terror or your own sins, pressures, temptations to take the easy way out.

But stand your ground. There is one who fights for you. There is a fourth man in the fire with you, Jesus the Son of God. He has endured it all for you. Through His blood He has satiated the Father’s wrath, and calmed the storm of his anger against all sin.

From the cross and up from the grave - how can you doubt His love for you? You heard the angels tonight. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. See the place where all your sins were dealt with. See the place where death is destroyed. The stone has been rolled aside.  

Mary after seeing the empty tomb soon came face to face with Jesus. He lives and calls her his own as he calls you his own. Like Mary, embrace him and kiss him in the Sacrament. He is the bridegroom. You are the bride.     

You have waited for good things. At this altar sin is destroyed, death passes over. Children rest in safety and evil pharaoh is plunged into the sea. Tonight our dry bones come alive in holy faith – standing, waiting, ready for the resurrection even now. Like Job that which has been taken from you will most certainly be given back.

Dear friends of God. Rejoice. Be glad and let your heart take courage. The grave is open. It won’t hold Jesus. It won’t hold your loved ones who have departed with the sign of faith in holy baptism. It won’t hold you. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Homily for Maundy Thursday

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).

As arrangements are being made about where to observe the Passover something of an awkward confrontation erupts among the disciples. They are arguing about who is to be called the greatest in the kingdom. But when you get down to it they were really just trying to figure out who would have the rather awkward task of washing feet for the Passover, a duty typically reserved for slaves and servants.

If one of the disciples had grabbed the basin of water and towel, and gotten on his knees for service, his name would surely be remembered. Perhaps our church would be named St. Peter or St. James if they had done this. But no one was willing to bring himself to such a lowly position. In the middle of the dispute about who would be greatest Our Lord took the opportunity to show them what greatness means in the Kingdom of God.

Our Lord rose from supper. He took off his outer garments, and taking a towel tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin, took the form of a lowly servant, and began to do what servants do.

Nobody was more upset than St. Peter who objected vociferously, “You shall never wash my feet.” Lord how dare you stoop so low…it is not fitting…it is beneath your dignity and honor!

Yet blushing and shamed Peter gave in and let His Lord stoop down on his hands and knees and wash the dirt between his toes. You have a wonderful painting of this on the cover of your bulletin tonight. God steps down from heavens throne to perform the service of a slave. On his knees, he removes the dust of human feet, and dries those feet with a towel, an apron around his waist.

After he washes the feet of the disciples he gives them all a question: Do you understand what I have done to you? If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

It’s unfortunate that so many Christians miss out on the joy of this holy day because tomorrow our Lord is ridiculed by his enemies, but tonight we see his contract of love with his friends. Friends who would betray him, deny him, and scatter.

Tonight you have a portrait of divine love and Jesus puts to you the same question: Do you understand what I have done to you?

Do not be like Judas resisting his love. Peter wept bitterly when he denied his Lord, saw His sin, and beheld His Lord, loving Him all the way to the cross. By this we know love that he laid down his life for us.

There is an important message that we cannot miss tonight. Jesus friends fall away, scatter, deny, and betray him when the going gets tough, and let’s face it, your loyalty to Jesus is questionable too. Love does not always prevail in our homes and in our congregation. Love is not a given. Sin is a given.

Who among us does not suffer with a guilty conscience and crushing sense of inadequacy? Who is not tired, overworked, and burdened with the cares of this life. Who does not suffer anxiety. Who is not spared from the gloomy haze of depression or hopelessness.

But of all the joys in life. For all the reasons to be filled with gratitude and thanks – whether it be good food or drink, a healthy body, beautiful spring weather, chocolate, and singing birds. There is nothing so glorious as to be a friend of Christ. There is nothing so sublime as to hear from the mouth of God that all your sins are forgiven.

If you are still doubting, doubt no more.  How can you? He stoops down – all the way from heaven to your pit of despair. He sets a table before you. A feast of love. His holy body is given to you. His blood covers you. You are washed clean by the Lord of Love and receive His divine approval and the birds don’t just chirp but all the angels sing.

And we sing too because not even the angry bloodthirsty crowds can stop his love for you tomorrow. Those who wanted him dead repeatedly accused him of receiving sinners and eating with them and praise be to God it’s true. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Meditation on Wednesday of Holy Week (Passion of Luke)

They led away the author of life to die – to die for our sake. In a way beyond our understanding, the power of God brought from Christ’s passion an end far different from that which was intended by his enemies and the devil himself. Jesus sufferings served as a snare for death and rendered it powerless. The Lord’s death proved to be our restoration to immortality and newness of life.

Condemned to death though innocent, he went forward bearing on his shoulders the cross in which he was to suffer. He did this for our sake, taking on himself the punishment that the law justly imposed on sinners. He was cursed for our sake according to the saying of Scripture: “A curse is on everyone who is hanged on a tree.”…

We who have all committed many sins were under that ancient curse for our refusal to obey the law of God. To set us free he who was without sin took that curse on himself. Since he is God who is above all, his sufferings sufficed for all, his death in the flesh was the redemption for all. For you.[1]

One of my favorite paintings is by an Italian painter of Christ carrying his cross. It’s in the Prado, Museum in Madrid Spain. I had the pleasure of seeing it during a high school trip years ago and it left a deep impression on me.

In the painting the heavy wooden cross is held up by Our Lord’s tired shoulders, nearly crushing him. The Roman soldiers are whipping his scourged back. The crown of thorns has pierced his head – his precious blood is running down his face but most stirring about the painting is, above all, his eyes because he is looking at you and in you. His are tired eyes, yet fierce and determined. And you are struck. Exposed. But in those eyes we see clearly he is not angry or threatening. Even with a bloodied face and torn body, he looks at you in love, even though just hours earlier, perhaps you too had cried out “crucify him, crucify him.”

Now those tired eyes pierce your own. He sees you. He recognizes you. You are singled out, no longer just part of the crowd.  And perhaps for the first time, you fully understand, that he is suffering not just for the sins of the world, but most importantly for your own sins.

You see, even the demons and the unbelieving world know and believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world. That knowledge does not make us Christians but only a true Christian can say that I know and believe he has done this all for me.

When the Lord looks upon you tonight in love don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to look upon Him. To see what it cost him. His beaten body and bloody face. Behold his eyes and see his compassion that he has for you. That He loves you infinitely more than he loves himself.

He is lifted up, pierced, and nailed to the tree to be mocked and suffer the pains of hell in your place. We have done this to him and yet he prays for us all “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” and “truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Behold he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. In the name of Jesus. 

[1] This first part mostly taken from John Chrysostom AD 407