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.