Thursday, March 19, 2015

Homily for St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus

When the Wise Men had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2).  

Today we remember St. Joseph, guardian and protector of Jesus. Our Lutheran Confessions and our hymnals teach us to remember the saints. We do not worship the saints. We do not pray to the saints. We remember them. We give thanks for them so that we may imitate their faith and good works in our own lives. It’s not altogether unlike remembering your sainted parents who fell asleep trusting in the Lord God. But today we remember the parent and protector of Jesus, St. Joseph. 

The Holy Scriptures do not say much about St. Joseph but this is really much to his glory because the Christian life is not about being in the center of attention. Let us remember than Joseph was in a difficult situation. His fiancée had a bulging belly before they were married and you better believe people were talking. It would have been easier for him to leave this whole scandal behind him but he didn’t.  

He didn’t take his cue from this fallen world, where fathers so often give up on their wives and children. Rather he listened to the angel sent from God who told him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for the baby she carries in her womb is from the Holy Spirit.’ 

Later after Jesus is born the angel appears to Joseph again telling him to take his bride and young son down to Egypt to escape from Herod’s slaughter. He listened to the voice of angels. He protects Mary and infant son from danger. When the coast was clear he brought his young family to Nazareth and carved out a living as a carpenter. 

The Scriptures don’t say much about Joseph and this is why we should give him double the honor, because in his quiet life of labor and work he is a perfect picture of love and humility and fatherhood. We can assume his hands were rough and calloused from work in the shop. He ate his bread by the sweat of his brow. He adopted his son Jesus as a son in the truest sense. Joseph loved him and disciplined him. Brought him up in the fear and instruction of the Lord. Even the Son of God needed to learn the Scriptures. And Joseph taught Jesus a trade, how to use his hands for a greater good. And among the beams of wood, and the nails, and the pounding of a hammer, Jesus saw first hand a father’s love.  

Above all, Joseph loved his son by loving his mother, Mary, which of course is the best thing fathers can ever give their children. 

We know them as the holy family but they were more ordinary than we give them credit for. It should not be a scandal for us to consider that even they could lose their tempers too, say things that were less than thoughtful, and ride out all the ups and downs that life can throw at us.  

They were just as burned out as us. Worked just as hard or harder. Like us they lived in perilous times and yet there is Joseph quietly working in the background. There is much we can learn from St. Joseph. It seems fair to say that his life probably didn’t go quite as he had planned. He didn’t plan that his fiancée would be pregnant with the Messiah. He didn’t plan on all the ridicule from others, who if they did call his beloved the “virgin Mary” it would have been out of spite and cruelty. It’s something of a miracle that Mary was not stoned and it’s hard to imagine the fear and concern that Joseph went through. Joseph never planned that he would have to carry his wife and baby to a foreign land to escape Herod’s slaughter. Joseph never planned on the humiliation of his son’s birth in cold barn next to animals.

The wise men and Simeon told Joseph that his son would suffer a bitter death and die for the sins of the world and Joseph was told that a sword would pierce his dear wife’s soul. Joseph never could have predicted any of these things. It’s fair to say, his life was filled with trouble, and labors, and unexpected twists of fate. 

And no doubt you can relate because let’s face it – things haven't worked out quite according to plan for you either. The greatest lesson we learn from Joseph is that he quietly submits to the will of God. Perhaps Jesus learned from his father Joseph to pray “Not my will but your will be done.” Joseph submits to the will of God and trusts in Him. His ears are wide open to the voices of angels and you should listen to them too.

Today is remembered at the feast day of St. Joseph, guardian and protector of Jesus, and in many ways, your vocation, or “your calling,” is like his. This whole world, like Herod, is still trying to destroy Jesus and faith in Him. So be like Joseph, and guard and protect Jesus in your heart, and let him be born again ever in the manger of your soul. 

Like Joseph, labor and work in the place that God has entrusted you. Get out of the spotlight. Love one another in humble service and quietness. And be like the holy family, with all its ups and downs, knowing and being confident that God works all things together for good for those who love him. In the name of Jesus. Amen.        

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Faith of the Canaanite Woman - The Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

"And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly" (Matthew 15:21-28).

This morning a poor desperate woman begs Jesus for help. Her daughter is being tormented by a demon. Perhaps it’s something of a broken home because not a word is said about the woman’s husband. Perhaps he was a dead-beat dad not in the picture to provide proper love and support for the daughter and now she’s suffering for the sins of her father. The demons won’t leave her alone. Perhaps the daughter cursed her own mother, spat at her, and disrespected her. Maybe the daughter was a teenager and was defiling herself with wicked men. Whatever it is she has a demon.  

We don’t often talk about demons these days but we should. As soon as the ministry of Jesus began the demons show up everywhere. Demons torture. Demons destroy. Demons seek to draw people away from Christ. 

You too have been attacked. The truth is you have been more than eager to invite demons into your life as well. Anger, gossip, and booze can all be welcome invitations to demons. Gambling, pornography, lying, none of these behaviors can ultimately be controlled. They are forms of demon possession that take control of the mind, and heart, and can corrupt the soul to destruction. They defile, shame, and destroy.

Bullies at school, ISIS in the middle east, it’s all demonic possession. For the woman this morning her daughter is simply not herself. This poor mother is afraid, she’s at wits-end. So she runs to Jesus. She cries out, desperately to him that he would heal her. But Jesus, upon hearing her, passes by. He says nothing. In fact, he ignores her, seeming to want nothing at all to do with her. 

Maybe you know the feeling. Sometimes it seems as if God gives you the silent treatment as well. Who hasn’t felt the sting of loneliness during this long winter. Who hasn’t struggled with unemployment at one time or another in their life and wondered with uncertainty how God would provide? If you’ve watched a child go through chemotherapy you know what it’s like to experience the deafening silence of God. If you’ve even been picked on at school and wondered when it would end you know the feeling. Why won’t God come down, and help me right now, right here, and save me.  

Sometimes it seems as if God ignores you too, but it only seems so, and that is why we learn a wonderful lesson about prayer and God’s promises this morning from this Canaanite woman. When it comes to her relationship with God, she refuses to give up, and so after the silence she runs to him again. “Lord help me,” she prays. And then Jesus comes back with what seems to be an insult.  He tells her “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she comes back again with a real zinger. In fact she agrees and says “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus is amazed at how strong her faith is. He says “O woman, great is your faith” and her daughter is healed instantly. The point of this account, although perhaps a bit confusing at first, is really simple. True faith is stubborn. True faith refuses to take no for an answer. It is the very nature of faith to cling to Jesus like burrs on a dog. Faith refuses to let go. And that is why this woman is praised by Christ.

Because let’s face it. It doesn't always seem like God is in our corner. It doesn't always seem as if God is on our side. Sometimes it seems as if he’s not listening at all, but he certainly is. He is with us and by our side. We are tested in our faith to become stronger.  

It seemed as if the Lord was saying no to her, but she knew that he must give in. She knew that he would eventually say yes. She knew and trusted that God was good and would be kind and gracious to her. She was stubborn and persistent and refused to let go until Jesus helped her daughter. She had faith.

We can learn a lot here. Frankly most Christians who are baptized and confirmed eventually fall away. Only a handful are stubborn enough in their faith to stick it out to the very end and believe that God is loving even amid pain and disappointments.

Dear Christians at St. Paul, like Jacob in our Old Testament text today, the holy life of faith is a bit like a wrestling match. It can get a little violent at times. Jacob wrestles with the Lord in the middle of the night but lo and behold, Jacob wins.

I have a son too. We wrestle. I pretend to have him pinned, but I always let him win. It’s the same with God. You wrestle with his promises. You seem to be losing but you’re not. You refuse to let go. Like the Cannanite woman, even when the Lord is silent, you run to him because you know that he loves you and he does. 

This season of Lent. Let us kneel at the foot of the cross where Jesus is present for us. He has gone to hell and back to destroy demons and set the prisoners free. He has triumphed over all our fears by rising from the grave. Demons are cast down, sins are destroyed, and saints are raised up to live before God in righteousness, and purity forever. He reigns victorious at the Right Hand of God. He hears all of your prayers, he knows what’s best for you, and he works all things together for your good. 

What’s important is that the Cannanite woman does not deny that she is a dog. She knows she doesn’t deserve anything. Like us, she basically says “I, a poor miserable sinner.” But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table, and this morning sinners eat the crumbs that fall from our master’s table.

We don’t deserve even a scrap, but right now he lays before us a feast. God has heard our prayers. And He is here to give us heavenly bread and drink. We doesn't give you crumbs. He gives you a feast for the forgiveness of sins, healing for a sin-sick soul, and blessed hope for eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.