Monday, April 11, 2016

The Sunday of the Confession of St. Thomas

This morning we see the disciples minus Judas and minus Thomas. They’re scared, deathly afraid, and hiding behind locked doors in the upper room. It’s the evening of Easter. That morning Mary Magdalene and the women had already reported that they had seen the risen Christ.

That afternoon the two disciples on the Emmaus road had already walked and talked with the Risen Lord. These disciples in the upper room are scared for their lives. We know they are scared of the Jews but perhaps they are even scared of Jesus. If he is alive the disciples know what they deserve. They betrayed him. They denied him. they fled from him. They said “I do not know the man” and they hid themselves. They sinned against him.

The Jews has once begged Moses that God should keep a distance from them. They too knew what they deserved. They knew that if they came face to face with God they would be destroyed by his anger.   

Maybe you can relate. You haven’t been much of a friend of Jesus either. You haven’t exactly been the devoted and loyal disciple you promised to be since you stood so tall and proud on the day of your confirmation – promising that you would rather die than fall away from weekly worship and the true Christian faith.

Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver – a fine payment in those days but you have been disloyal to God for far less. Peter denied knowing Jesus to save his own hide but you deny him for far less. By the websites you visit on the internet, by the curses your reign down on your fellow Christian, by your loveless attitude toward those closest to you. You too by word and action have screamed out “I do not know the man!”   

Yes, you know what it’s like to live behind locked doors. You say you love God but you like him at arm’s length. You certainly don’t want him to get in the way of your fun. Like the Israelites we have golden calves galore –we enjoy our amusements more than we delight in God.

So put yourselves in the shoes of the disciples. If you knew the Christ was coming back to dole out his justice and to give you exactly what you deserve, your knees too would be knocking.

So see yourself among the scared disciples in the upper room with bolted hearts and terrified souls. Deniers, betrayers, and fair-weather friends of God. But then lift your weary souls, behold him with your sullen eyes – and let your hearts give way to the gladness. He is risen. Your Jesus is living and back from the dead and he doesn’t come to you like a fire-breathing dragon. He doesn’t come back saying “look what you’ve done” but “look what I’ve done for you!” The first words out of his mouth are the same words announced by angels at his birth. Peace be with you. Do not be afraid!    

Dear Christians of St. Paul Lutheran Church, your sins are not too great for Jesus on the cross! If you think your sins are too serious and so wicked as to not be forgiven God don’t deceive yourself! God is not impressed by your false piety. Repent. He who knew no sin became sin so that you, through Him, might become the very righteousness of God. Jesus died for sinners.  He rose for you. His grace covers you.   

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.

Today, like Eve Charlotte, we are all new-born babies. Baptized. Born from heaven. Cleansed from all sin. Brought from death to life. Adopted as sons and daughters of the king. We belong to a royal and noble family with God as our Father, the church as our mother, and Jesus, our ever protective big brother.

The season of Easter is all about rebuilding our lives on this one foundation - that Jesus lives.

So be like Thomas. Do not be unbelieving but believe. The Risen Christ stands among you in love. He doesn’t have a single word of judgment. Not a single threatening word. Only words of comfort and peace for sinners. Love for fair-weather friends and deadbeat disciples.
He invites you to gaze into his pierced side, to touch the baptismal font on your way to the altar and behold the water and his word which cleanses your soul.

The Lord Jesus stands among you, fresh, and risen from the grave. Like Thomas reach out with your fingers for the chalice of his love, reach out, touch and taste his body and blood. Behold him face to face and declare once again “My Lord, and my God.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Homily for Ash Wednesday - Gunsmoke

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

My favorite tv show is gunsmoke. In my opinion the best tv show in history. Matt Dillon plays a marshal in Dodge City – a place filled with crooks, gamblers, drinkers, and criminals. Every episode begins with Marshal Matt Dillon taking a walk on Boot Hill, a cemetary at the outskirts of town – contemplating all the men in the grave – put there six feet deep by bullets, sickness, revenge, or even by the arm of the law – sometimes by Matt Dillon's own gun.

The Marshal’s walk through the cemetery is a reminder that he and the people in town live in a fallen world. It’s a realistic view of small town life, because betrayals, tragedy, and death are present in every episode. The Andy Griffith show is funnier, but we all know Mayberry even for its time was a bit too rosy. Nobody really lives in Mayberry, but Dodge, now that’s a place in which we can relate – it’s a world in which we live. A fallen world, a wild west with betrayals, greed, lust, ambition, violence, and death. And yet it all leads to the cemetery – no one is spared from boot hill - each grave marked with a wooden cross sticking out of the dusty earth.

Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, we have a sobering reminder that we live in Dodge. That each day is one day closer to the grave – to Boot Hill. The Bible says that the soul who sins shall die. God said in the day that you disobey, the day in which you partake of that which I command you not to - you will surely die. The writing was on the wall, but we disobeyed God. We became outlaws, gunslingers, vigilantes, rebels.  

We turned away from God. We turned away from his life-giving word, and befriended Satan and his lies. We sinned. The devil promised pleasure but he gave us hell instead. He promised life but he gave us death. Ever since we’ve limping off to boot hill, dragging our feet as we go to a dusty death.

Tonight you are marked with ashes, a sobering reminder of the physicality of death. Through sin death entered the world through one man, the first Adam, a man of the dust. By his disobedience all men fell. We were cast out of Eden to the wild west – a wilderness where the violence continues. We turn away from God. We become slaves to sin. We hurt ourselves. We hurt those we love. We betray. We are betrayed. We gossip. We hope the worst for others. Our thoughts are soiled with sin – our day dreams and fantasies are “X rated.” Our bodies are broken from hurt and decay. You citizen of Dodge, confess your sins, confess that you are not the Mayberry type.  

So take a walk through boot hill. Look at the grave, and recall the ashes. But then remember there is another Marshal in town. He doesn’t rule with a gun or a horse. He rides into Jerusalem, humble and mounted on a donkey. Behold your marshal, your shepherd of love. He rides into Jerusalem and weeps over the carnage. He weeps over those who would betray him. Weeps over your sins and the damage they have caused. And yet he loves you.

He walks from Boot Hill to Mount Calvary. He brings justice not with a gun or with a badge but his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. This man of dust, a flesh and blood man, the second Adam has come. He who knew no sin became the sin that you are so that through him you might become the very righteousness of God. In Him, the lawless become upstanding members of the community. Crooks, gossips, gamblers, drinkers, and gunslingers are welcomed. Prodigals and rebels come home. Vigilantes find a place again at the family table to which they belong. Sinners become holy saints through his atoning death and sacrifice.  

The old saying from the Marshal, is true, “Get out of dodge.” And some day you will be delivered from this valley of tears – delivered from the violence of sin. Like Christ you will yield up your spirit and fall asleep and lay down to rest on boot hill. A cross will adorn your grave.

But you won’t stay there long and neither did Christ. The tomb cracked, the earth shook, and He walked out. Winter always gives way to spring, death gives way to life, and your bones, your dust and ashes will rise up. You will enjoy a new body, a heavenly one, and for the first time in your life you will feel comfortable in your own skin – as the immaculate bride of Christ. You will walk upon streets paced with gold, with no need of a sun as the light of Christ illuminates the entire City of God.

Tonight we don’t mark our foreheads with ashes to have some sort of pity party. We mark ourselves with ashes in the shape of the holy cross. We do it to mock death, in way to mock our own sins which have already died in the wounds of Christ. We put crosses of ash on our heads to stare down death. Like Marshal Dillon, we hold our ground. And saddle up and journey to the empty tomb on Easter morning. In the name of Jesus. Amen.