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