Sermo Dei: Ascension 2016

Posted on May 5th, 2016

GIOTTO_Ascension

The purpose of the world was for man to receive the love of the Father through His gifts to man and His presence with man.

 

He gave His gifts to us in creation, and in our senses that delight in creation – the joy that comes from walking, swimming, running, feeling the cool breeze, laughing, tasting watermelon, making music, playing catch. As Adam the first-formed matured, along with his wife, eventually God would join them, entering fully into His creation; for man who was made in God’s image was made to be in communion with Christ who is the image of the invisible God.

 

Immanuel, “God with us” was always the larger plan and story God had in mind for us.

 

The incarnation was not simply for the purpose of forgiving sins, a “Plan B” so that God could offer Himself as the sacrifice in our place. That God did that for us is unfathomable, and worthy of our highest praise forever into the ages. But the Immanuel prophecy, that the virgin would bear a son who would be Immanuel, God with us – that’s not only for our forgiveness, but Immanuel, “God with us” was always the larger plan and story God had in mind for us. As it is written in the Revelation about the endless ages which are to come: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” The plan was always, from the beginning, that God and man would dwell together, in a perfect community, or communion. The closest picture we have is the familial image, whereby God is the Father, the Son is the Bridegroom, and we the Church are collectively the Bride: all part of one family, one household, one community.

 

Bereft of this vision and goal for humanity, we are divided into clans and tribes, or even as radical individuals, our only purpose to conquer others or avoid them.

 


 

The success a few years ago of a book called The Purpose-driven Life was no doubt related to the sense of purposelessness and disconnectedness that we feel. Farms are huge and mechanized, and we no longer work the earth; developments in transportation have us living hundreds or thousands of miles from home and family; people are becoming disconnected even from basic biological truths about what it is to be a man or a woman. We are lost in the cosmos: without purpose, without meaning, without hope. All modern society offers is sex without love, homes without children, games that we watch instead of play, and the perpetual anxiety that we are not having as much fun as everybody else on social media, where artificial lives always appears picture-perfect.

 

The shallow life drives us to wallow in drink and sex, ambition and anger; raging about government and politicians, always dissatisfied, imagining life would be better if we just acquired one more thing.

 

Adrift and unmoored, we look for a personal purpose statement without seeing the larger purpose to all human life that ought to shape our entire worldview. Even the disciples of Jesus were not immune to this blindness. Immediately before Jesus ascends, the Holy Apostles ask Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” I think, in the year of Trump and Clinton, we can identify with that question.

 

Our Lord will not be king of Israel, or America; He will be king of the cosmos.

 

Election years are always tense; emotions run high, and we tend to think of a potential loss in apocalyptic terms. Although the Holy Apostles did not live in a political environment like ours, we see their thoughts about politics and the reign of Jesus were closely aligned. But they have missed the mark; our Lord will not be king of Israel, or America; He will be king of the cosmos. All of the crosses we bear now have a purpose: God loves us as His adopted children, and is shaping and preparing us for life in His kingdom.

 

Jesus ascending to the Father shows that God has something much greater in mind than restoring the glories of a past Israelite kingdom. The Ascension shows us that God has begun to bring about what He intended in the beginning. The Ascension shows us that a Man now dwells with God. For the Son of God does not shed the human nature He assumed into His person. He remains forever incarnate, forever standing before the Father for us, displaying the wounds by which we have healing. The Ascension fulfills the Scripture, “We have an advocate with the Father,” “Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins.”

 

The Ascension is not intermission, but inauguration.

 

The Ascension is not intermission, but inauguration. The Ascension of Jesus shows that the union of man with God is already begun. Our hope, our life is a constant anticipation of that becoming a full reality for us. Our life now, though, is not a series of speed bumps on the road to our own perfect union with God. Being human means that even now we learn to enjoy food and drink and people and words and music and art not as the world does, but as gifts from God; and our communion with God makes us connected with all people around us not as competitors in a race to gather and hoard, but as brothers and sisters from our first father and as people for whom Jesus also died.

 

The Ascension shows us that the body of Jesus, risen from the dead, does not dwell in a world of death. He is making all things new, and when death is destroyed, we will dwell in our bodies where He is with His body. So let not sadness or loss overtake you; Jesus is risen from the dead, the mortal world holds no power over Him, neither shall it have any power over you. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Groundbreaking 2016

Posted on April 20th, 2016

Immanuel Lutheran School Faculty (Kevin Wolf/Photo)

Immanuel Lutheran School Faculty (Kevin Wolf/Photo)

Immanuel Lutheran School Expansion Project Groundbreaking Ceremony

April 17, 2016


The sin at the Tower of Babel was not building a tower. It was in the name. “Let us make a name for ourselves,” they said.

Solomon built the first great temple in Jerusalem, not for his own name, but a house for the name of God.

When a group of German immigrants gathered in Old Town Alexandria in 1870, they gathered under the name Immanuel—God with us. It is the title given to the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is forever blessed.

The names of those people who first gathered have faded from our community’s memory. For those people sacrificed their time, their treasure, their talent, not to build up their own name, but that the saving name of Immanuel would be passed down from generation to generation. The first thing they did was establish a school. Within nine years they built a church. Five years later they built a school.

War came. The school closed.

They moved to this location, and erected the name Immanuel here. They built a new school. And as they grew, they built another church, and the school expanded into the old church building.


We now stand at a crossroads in American history, and Western civilization. Even as ISIS recently destroyed the ancient gate of Nineveh, so the walls of our once great culture are collapsing. The American church is in steep decline. We could accept defeat, or retreat; perhaps move to other countries, where Christianity grows.

That day may come. But today is not that day.

Today we build. For our work, the work begun 146 years ago, is not done.

Today we build. Not for our own name. One day our names too will be forgotten, lost to human memory. We build for the name of Immanuel, the God who is still with us. Here children will learn the truth about the world, her history and her future. They will love what is beautiful and noble, their ears opened to great music, their minds ruminating on poems and puzzles, they will sing, play, laugh, and learn what is virtuous and lovely. I thank God for all of you, your offerings, your sacrifice, your optimism, your love.


At the beginning of his compositions, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote “JJ,” for Jesu Juva, “Jesus Help.” And at the end, +SDG+, Soli Deo Gloria, “To God Alone Be the Glory.” Let us now write with our prayers, “Jesus, Help!” over this site. And when it is complete, we will gather here again to celebrate the name Immanuel, and give God alone the Glory. +INJ+

Immanuel Lutheran School students at Groundbreaking (Kevin Wolf/Photo)

Immanuel Lutheran School students at Groundbreaking (Kevin Wolf/Photo)

Sermo Dei: Jubilate 2016

Posted on April 20th, 2016

 

capilla sitian resurreccion

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


“A little while,” “A little while,” “A little while,” “A little while,” “A little while,” “A little while,” “A little while.” Seven times our Lord’s words are repeated in today’s Gospel. Why?

We have a skewed perspective on time. When we are young, we misuse our time because it seems like there is so much of it. In the 25th Psalm, David looks back on his many sins and pleads with God, “Do not remember the sins of my youth!”

In the 90th Psalm, Moses reminds us that our time is limited:

10The days of our lives are seventy years;

And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,

Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;

For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

11Who knows the power of Your anger?

For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.

12So teach us to number our days,

That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Our time is short. When we are in the midst of suffering, though, it seems just the opposite. The agony appears endless.

We should always apply the Bible to our own lives. But we cannot do that as God intended until we first understand the original intent. In today’s Gospel (St. John 16:16-22), Jesus is preparing His disciples for the troubles that are ahead of them. That very night, Jesus will be arrested, and after they all abandon Jesus, they will despair. They failed their Master, and then they will see Him scorned, ridiculed, tortured, and executed.  “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Sorrow becomes joy at the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.


Our experience often tells us different. Troubled marriages, aging bodies, barren wombs, cold tombs where our dead stay. How does the resurrection of Jesus change that?

To you also, the Lord says, “A little while, a little while, just a little while.”

And then, a parable, about a woman in labor. A strange parable, and entirely out of place. Jesus told many stories. But this conversation is taking place on Holy Thursday, hours before His arrest. And the language Jesus uses does not seem appropriate.

“A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

We don’t talk about newborn babies like this. It wouldn’t be a bad pro-life idea: get balloons, fill them with helium and carry them to the hospital: “It’s a human being!” Of course it’s a human being, that’s why we shouldn’t kill them. But a mom or dad says, “Look at this precious little boy!” or, “Isn’t she the cutest baby you’ve ever seen!” Also, no mother says, “My human being has been born into the world,” but, “We have a new baby,” or, “Our family has a new addition.” We’re not thinking cosmically at that moment, but personally.

Something bigger is happening when Jesus says, “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”  He uses the illustration that the pain and uncertainty of childbearing, though it is excruciating to the mother, gives way to unbelievable joy after the “little while” of labor. But the deeper message is that Jesus Himself is the human being born into and given to the world. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a a son is given.” Jesus is the human being who is not for Mary and Joseph only, but the long awaited Son for Adam and Eve and every one of their children down to all of us.

Born once of a virgin womb, He was born anew from a virgin tomb, the new grave in the garden in which no one had yet been laid. The resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruits of your own. So what is your suffering now? It is but for a little while.


Why does the Lord make you wait? He is training you, training your heart, teaching you that all the other things in which you trusted are not important. Be faithful to your calling, dear Christian. Cling to the Creed, keep the Commandments, call upon God in the day of trouble, He will answer you.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

to the soul who seeks him.

26 It is good that one should wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord. 

He loves you as a mother loves her new baby, as an artist his creation, as a composer her composition, as an architect his city. He will not abandon you. Only a little while, and you will see.

For the Lord will not

cast off forever,

32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion

according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 

Be confident in this, for we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.


Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Faith and Good Works

Posted on April 15th, 2016

A gem from Luther on faith and good works:

 

Faith is something living, something active…. Faith is not an idle, loose thought…. There is something busy, active, and powerful about Faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do Good Works without ceasing. Faith does not ask if Good Works need to be done. It has already done them and is still doing them before even being asked.

Luther Brevier, p122

Sermo Dei: Misericordias Domini 2016

Posted on April 11th, 2016

shepherd

Alleluia! Christ is risen!


 

Children learn to speak by being spoken to. So it is with the children of God. Ephphatha, the pastor says to the one coming to Baptism. He is repeating the Word of Jesus spoken to a deaf man: Ephphatha, ‘Be opened.’”

This follows the Lord’s Prayer, where the Pastor, as an elder brother, teaches his new little sister the words Jesus gave us. “Listen, baby sister,” the pastor is saying, “here is how we call on Our Father, and He will always hear us.” These words open the ears of the child – and they also open the ears of God, ears that are always open to our cry.

“Call on Me in the day of trouble,” the Lord says, “and I will answer you.”

It also runs the other way, as it must with children. Jesus says of His sheep, “They will hear My voice.”

The voice of God must first call us from error. When God’s Law condemns us, this is not unkind. For it is not unkind to warn a person that his manner of life will bring him to ruin. The Shepherd calls the sheep back because he knows the danger of the wolf and the thief. The sheep may not understand why they are not given more freedom; but the shepherd knows that some kinds of freedom result in bondage.

So Christ our Shepherd speaks to us clear words:


 

Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;

Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart;

Be reconciled;

Love your enemies;

Do good to those who hate you;

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth;

Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment;

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.

And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”


The Lord Jesus speaks the same way today when He says, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Shortly after this He says, “I lay down My life that I may take it again.” His death is the atonement, the ransom, the payment for the the innumerable ways we have failed to do and be what man was meant to be. Our adulterous hearts, our angry and judgmental words, our seeking after treasure, the idle words spoken to gossip and boast and share secrets, our desire to be great, and not a servant – for all of this, for all of us, for all the world Christ the Good Shepherd laid down His life.


Heeding His call to repent, Christ comes to you speaking another word:


 

Rejoice, your King comes to you;

Take up your bed and walk;

I forgive you all your sins;

I will wipe away every tear from every eye;

I will never leave you nor forsake you;

Let not your heart be troubled;

I am the way, and the truth, and the life;

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.

Whoever eats My flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life;

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.

Take away the stone.

Lazarus, come forth from your grave;

Take and eat, this is My body given for you;

Behold, I am making all things new.


This means He is also making you new. Not only in the resurrection, but even now. As the holy Apostle Peter said in the Epistle, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” And again, “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

For you have become a part of this Shepherd’s fold. You got here entirely by grace, as the baptism of Sarah this morning was not her own doing. So you stay entirely by God’s free act of mercy. Listen no more to the lies of your flesh, the world, the devil. You hear the Shepherd’s voice and know that it is the truth.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Sermo Dei: The Resurrection of Our Lord 2016

Posted on March 27th, 2016

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Three years ago, an article in the New York Times described Easter this way: “Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus.”

Now if you didn’t catch what was wrong with that, I’m not entirely surprised. It’s how most people think today, even many who go to church: the body dies, the spirit floats off to heaven.

That is not Easter. That is not resurrection. That’s just the old Platonic philosophy masquerading as Christianity.

Did you know that the Hebrew Bible makes very little distinction between what we would call the “soul” and the body? Why do you think that is? Because the Hebrews were directly connected to the beginning of God’s Word, which tells us that God made us not as separable components, but as a whole, a fusion together of breath and body, of mind and matter. Separate them, and you have death. This is why you have very little talk in the Old Testament about heaven, or life after death. Heaven in the Old Testament refers to the sky, or to God’s domain. We are made not as heavenly beings, but earthly. God made us from the dust.

That was the sobering reminder given us when this long journey began, at Ash Wednesday. Spoken over you, smeared unto your forehead, was the curse of Adam: “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust you shall return.” That is who you are in Adam: dust. Disconnected from God, all we are is dust in the wind.

God did not abandon Adam to his dust. God can do new things with dust.

But the God who spoke the curse over Adam did not abandon him to his dust. He did not leave the sons and daughters of Adam, and our first mother, Eve, without this hope: that “God can do new things with dust” (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p158).


When the prophets talked about a future existence for the human person, they talked like what we heard Job say today: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).

The future renewal of the human person is treated in detail by the holy prophet Ezekiel, through whom the Lord tells of the rejoining of breath to body, of spirit to flesh: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Eze 36:26). Ezekiel sees a vast graveyard, long-decayed, full of nothing but bones. “Can these bones live?” the Lord asks? Ezekiel is not sure.

Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Eze 37:5–6)

With the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, this begins. A dead man lives. In His body.

resurrection of Jesus

When the women heard this news, they were afraid. They fled, they trembled, they were amazed, and they were afraid. That’s how Mark’s Gospel ends, in the earliest manuscripts (Mark 16:1-8). It seems like a terrible ending, which is why alternate endings, longer endings started popping up. But there is a certain logic to it ending there, with the women in fear.

With the resurrection of Jesus, the entire cosmos has now begun to be reordered.

It’s a fearful thing to have the whole world turned upside down. I don’t mean just your personal situation, to suddenly have a drastic change in job, family, house, or reputation. But with the resurrection of Jesus, something more has happened. It’s not just their world turned upside down; the entire cosmos has now begun to be reordered. The holy Apostle Paul put it this way: “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Co 15:20). What happens to Jesus—His bodily resurrection—is the beginning of what will happen to all who die in Him. Which means you.

The Christian faith is not that when you die, good things will happen to you in some ghostly heaven. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it this way: “Resurrection isn’t life after death; it is life after life after death” (Surprised by Hope, p169).


So what do we have so far? First, God made the earth, and us to dwell in it. Earth and bodies are good. Second, sin and death go together. Third, God promised a real, bodily resurrection. Fourth, the death of Jesus was the taking away of the world’s sin. Fifth, the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation. His resurrection is your future.


But because it’s your future, it’s also your now, your present. The New Testament hope is not that one day we go to be with Jesus, but that one day Jesus comes to be with us, fully and completely, in a renewed earth. The Biblical language for this is the New Jerusalem, or the new heavens and the new earth—not creation destroyed, but creation restored. And that should transform our outlook on this world.

You can’t go too far poking around the internet without seeing something like this: #lolnothingmatters. As the Western world teeters on the edge of disaster, as the political theater becomes increasingly clownish, and law becomes increasingly disconnected with biological reality, people laugh because what else can you do except cry when you’ve fallen with Alice down the rabbit hole?

With the resurrection of Jesus, everything now matters. Everything that is good, everything that is beautiful, everything that is noble, lasts into God’s future.

Here’s what you can do: Although you know that the world is not only very evil but also very foolish; and although you know that you are going to die, and that your money and possessions all go to someone else: it is not true that nothing matters.

With the resurrection of Jesus, everything matters. Matter matters, the earth matters, your body matters, what you do matters. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians spends an entire long chapter—58 complicated verses—discussing the resurrection of Jesus, our coming resurrection, and he ends the whole thing by saying, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Isn’t that beautiful? Everything that is good, everything that is beautiful, everything that is noble, lasts into God’s future, which is our future. Earlier in the letter, he says that the foolish things we’ve done, and the sinful things, are like hay and grass—the fires of judgment will consume them. But the noble things are like silver and gold—the fires of judgment will cleanse them of their impurities, and they will last.

How that works out remains a mystery, but the amazing music from organ and flute and oboe and choir, a beautiful building, a majestic tree, a radiant flower, an apple that has just the right amount of tanginess, the cleaning of a child’s diaper, rescuing people fleeing from ISIS persecution, smiling at your neighbor struggling with a small child, offering a hand in help and friendship—it all matters.

On the opposite side of the ledger, we’ve come to think of sin as rule-breaking – with the rules being arbitrary, or perhaps even designed to keep us from having our fun. The commandments of God are nothing of the sort. They describe for us dehumanizing behavior. The most obvious is killing. But God made us for community, which means man and woman find their fulfillment in marital self-giving and procreation, not in raging selfish lust; words are for encouragement, not derision; and the heart that covets has lost sight of God who gives us what we need at the right time. All of which circles back to the most important commandments, the first three, which remind us that God is the maker, and apart from Him we have no good thing; apart from Him, we lose what it means to be human.

Easter is not just a day in the calendar. Easter is our life. We are resurrection people.

So Easter is not just a day in the church calendar. It isn’t even fifty days, which is the length of the Easter season. Easter is our life. We are resurrection people.


Jesus is risen from the dead, and death is undone.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and we see what God can do with dead things.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and in Him we shall rise.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and in Him we now live.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and no king, president, governor, or tyrant can unseat Him.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and your cancer doesn’t have the last word.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and your sins are left behind in the tomb.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and your depression doesn’t define your ultimate reality.

Jesus is risen from the dead, and now Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman are called to live together without violence, marked by charity and selflessness.


So rejoice, you beloved children of God, and confess with me not the words of this day, but the words of your life:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

+INJ+

Sermo Dei: Good Friday Passion Vespers 2016

Posted on March 25th, 2016

When people hurt us—if they say something mean, don’t keep their promise, don’t invite us to their party—when anything unkind happens to us, our natural reaction is to be angry.  Even if we don’t react with an equally hateful word or deed, we will hold onto the sin.  Over the years, you can store up grudges, grudges that make you angry and bitter.

What does not come naturally to us is to forgive. Not just move on and pretend nothing happened, but really, truly forgive. To forgive is a gift worked by the Holy Spirit.

Now we might be willing to forgive if someone apologizes to us, if they try really hard to make friends again. But that’s not what our Lord does. He doesn’t wait for people to say “Sorry.” Jesus forgives His executioners while they are in the act of crucifying Him. Pilate. Herod. Caiaphas. Annas. The Centurion. Peter. The Scribes. The Pharisees. The thief on the right. The thief on the left.…

Me.  You.

“Father, forgive them.”

Jesus Crucifixion
Jesus says that forgiveness for us too. Because it was not only the soldiers who drove the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus.  It was my sins that struck the first blow.  It was your sins that whipped Him.  It was your bad behavior, your disobedience, your unkindness that pressed the thorns into His head.

Yet Jesus speaks His Word—“Father, forgive them”—and in that moment the words of John the Baptist come to their fulfillment: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Jesus does not retaliate.  He does not condemn.  He forgives.


Have you ever been to the Korean War Memorial? It has these words engraved in large letters over the fountain:  “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.”  We could say the same thing about forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not free.  It is free to you and free to me, but it was not free for Jesus – it cost Him.  It cost Him His life.

But not just His life.  The prophet Isaiah foretell the agonies of Jesus’ death:  “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.”  Jesus is struck on the back, but He says, “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give You rest.”  Jesus has the beard ripped out of His cheek, but He turns the other cheek.  Jesus is spat upon in the face, but He like a slave washes their feet.  The people cry, “Crucify Him!” but He prays, “Father, forgive them.”

Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, and on Good Friday we see Jesus doing what He said.  Jesus prayed for us on the cross, and He keeps on praying for us.  Jesus is doing the work of a priest.  Besides offering sacrifices, a priest also prays for the people.  Jesus, in offering up Himself as a sacrifice, also prayed for us, and so Jesus is the true Chief Priest.

When Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them,” our whole life is now wrapped up in that prayer.  We have been forgiven, and now this prayer becomes ours; we pray that same prayer for other people, even for our enemies, the people who are mean to us and do us harm.  We pray for God’s forgiveness for them, and for strength to forgive them ourselves.

Today our forgiveness has been won.  “So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us” [Small Catechism].

Isn’t that hard to do?  Our nature says, “Hate your enemies.”  But today, we no longer have to be controlled by that sinful nature.  It has been nailed to the cross, and buried in a tomb.  Today, this Good and great Friday, Christ has prayed for and won forgiveness for us enemies of God – and today He calls us His friends.  “Father, forgive them.”  And He breathed His last, and the Father said, “Yes. I forgive you.”  ✠INJ✠

 

Sermo Dei: Holy Thursday 2016

Posted on March 25th, 2016

There were three great Patriarchs of the Jews: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob had a twin brother Esau, and they had parted when Jacob by trickery got their father’s blessing instead of Esau. Esau had promised that he would one day kill Jacob. So Jacob fled, and worked for a man named Laban.

Things have gone well since then. Jacob has a family, and has become wealthy through breeding livestock. But he had to run away, because his brothers-in-law want to kill him. And now his old enemy, his brother Esau, is approaching. The scouts say Esau has with him an army of 400 men.

So this is it at last. There’s no more running, no more hiding. He has hatred from his own family, he is homeless, he has nothing other than the promise.

Separating his family members in hopes that some will survive, he kneels in the dust and, in fear and desperation, pleads with God to remember His promise:

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ (Ge 32:10–12)

Rembrandt, "Jacob's Prayer"

Rembrandt, “Jacob’s Prayer”

That is how we approach God. That is how we pray. And most especially on this night, that is how we come to the Sacrament of the Altar. We have two words, two sayings, two truths that always for us hang together: “I am not worthy”; and, “You said.” That’s what we find happening in the Epistle lesson tonight, St. Paul’s great teaching on how to approach Holy Communion.

We come entirely confessing our unworthiness. It is imperative that each one of us, each time we come to the Holy Supper, examine ourselves. This is the clear instruction of God’s Word to us:

28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 

How do we examine ourselves? On the basis of the Ten Commandments, which are all summarized by the word Love: Have you loved God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Our honest examination leads us to say with Jacob, “I am not worthy,” which forms the basis of tonight’s Eucharistic Prayer: “We are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto us.” This confession of unworthiness drives us to look to the body and blood of Jesus, the one man who is worthy, the one man who is sinless, the one man who exchanges His strength for our weakness. That’s the “You said” of the Lord’s Supper: Jesus said, “This is My body, This is My blood,” and He said that He gives it to us “for the remission of sins.” We are not worthy, but He said that He gives us His body which takes away our unworthiness, takes away our sins. He gives us sanctity for defilement, cleanness for dirtiness, chastity for fornication, joy for despair, peace for fear, life for death.

But if you come to the supper saying, “I deserve this,” you will incur only God’s wrath:

29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 

The Supper gives life, even unto the resurrection; but if we come thinking we are worthy, and not depending on what God has said about the Supper, then it will be to our death.

31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 

These are the options: judge ourselves, or be judged, by God. Accepting God’s judgment now, we accept His discipline:

32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Judged now, we come to the Supper in repentance, saying, “I am not worthy; but You promised forgiveness, You promised life, You promised Yourself, and I know You do not lie. The world lies to me. The devil lies to me, promising me what is not true. Lies rage in my own heart and soul, making me anger or despair, euphoric at my glory, melancholy at my failure. But You do not lie. You made me, and though I am fallen, You love me still. Wash me as You washed Peter. Cleanse me as You cleansed David. Drive away my demons, as You freed Mary Magdalene. I am not worthy, but You have promised, and I take You at Your Word. In You will I live, in You will I die, and Yours will I be forever.” +INJ+

 

Prayers for the Holy Communion

Posted on March 23rd, 2016

MysticalSupper-new

I first heard these prayers used at Divine Service at Redeemer, Fort Wayne. I believe they come to us by way of the 1908 Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal, but I don’t know a source beyond that. The outline below is where we place them when used (a couple times a year) at Immanuel. I post them here for your Holy Thursday reflection.


 

PREFACE

PROPER PREFACE

SANCTUS

 

GLORY be to Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou almighty and everlasting Son of the Father, that by the sacrifice of Thyself upon the cross, offered up once for all, Thou didst perfect them that are sanctified, and ordain, as a memorial and seal thereof, Thy Holy Supper, in which Thou givest us Thy body to eat, and Thy blood to drink, that being in Thee, even as Thou art in us, we may have eternal life, and be raised up at the last day. Most merciful and exalted Redeemer, we humbly confess that we are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto us, and that, by reason of our sins, we are too impure and weak worthily to receive Thy saving gifts. Sanctify us, therefore, we beseech Thee, in our bodies and souls, by Thy Holy Spirit, and thus fit and prepare us to come to Thy Supper, to the glory of Thy grace, and to our own eternal good. And in whatsoever, through weakness, we do fail and come short, in true repentance and sorrow on account of our sins, in living faith and trust in Thy merits, and in an earnest purpose to amend our sinful lives, do Thou graciously supply and grant, out of the fulness of the merits of Thy bitter sufferings and death; to the end that we, who even in this present world desire to enjoy Thee, our only comfort and, Savior, in the Holy Sacrament, may at last see Thee face to face in Thy heavenly kingdom, and dwell with Thee, and with all Thy saints, for ever and ever. Amen.

LORD’S PRAYER

VERBA 

 

PRAISE, and honor, and glory, be unto Thee, O Christ! The bread which we bless is the communion of Thy holy body, and the cup which we bless is the communion of Thy holy blood. O Thou everlasting Son of the Father, sanctify us by Thy Holy Spirit, and make us worthy partakers of Thy sacred body and blood, that we may be cleansed from sin and made one with all the members of Thy Church in heaven and on earth. Lord Jesus! Thou hast bought us: to Thee will we live, to Thee will we die, and Thine will we be forever. Amen. 

 

AGNUS DEI

Sermo Dei: Palm Sunday 2016

Posted on March 21st, 2016

There are people in this country who do not belong. So say the nationalists. They’re angry, and ready to drive these foreigners out. Others have welcomed the foreigners. “The world has changed,” they say, “and we have to accept the new reality.” The parties bicker while the situation gets worse. We once were a great nation, but we haven’t had a leader in a long time: a real leader, someone who can make us great again.

There is a bold man, a strong man who is willing to fight for us. But there’s been near riots in the city, and he’s made the establishment nervous. Many say he goes too far.

There’s another man who has helped the poor. He advocates sharing property, and condemns the rich. Some call him a socialist, or worse.

For many, none of the options seem appealing. They all make us nervous.

Palm_Sunday icon

I’m talking, of course, about the situation in Jerusalem in mid-March, AD 33. Foreigners have taken over Judea, installing a Roman governor, currently Pontius Pilate. Barabbas the strong man is in prison for committing murder in a rebellion. And now Jesus enters the city, with an army of poor people singing Jewish songs for the inauguration of a king.

19  Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

20  This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

22  The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone.

24  This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25  Save us, we pray, O Lord!

O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 118:19–26.

So they welcomed Jesus. But their expectation was a political or military victory. He has come for a very different reason: to walk the way of the cross, there atoning for our sins—and invite us to be His disciples, walking too on the way of the cross, not fighting for earthly power but imitating Jesus in forgiveness, patience, and trust in the Father even to the end.


This Holy Week is not only the story of Jesus, but it is your story. We reenact it, in a sense, by things like the procession with palms, not to be creative, but to remind us that we are in the story, that God became man to join us in our plight and lead us through death to resurrection.

When we, instead, think that our primary story is the one told by our politics or March Madness bracket or our personal lusts and predilections, we will fall into pride or despair.

And when despair comes: when we are dissatisfied with every political candidate; seemingly ignored or laughed at by everyone—even at church; when your ailing body gets worse; when the time of despair comes, you go to helpers—lawyers, physicians, pastors, therapists, friends—but what do you do when nothing seems to help, when you say, “No one is coming to help”?

Perhaps you’ve felt that way, as everything falls apart in your family, your career, your health, your soul. I have long mental lists of the things people have told me they’ve given up for Lent – not just chocolate, or meat, but things that cause them to struggle: lusts, addictions, behaviors that harm self and others. The Holy Spirit calls us—calls you, and me—to throw off, repudiate, renounce the things of evil: “Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Col. 3.5).

And again, “Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3.8f). Do you think there will be no consequences? The Holy Spirit expressly says, “The wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience” (Col. 3.6).


So what do you do when you have failed? When you have failed not just in your discipline for Lent, but in your Christian life, where can you turn?

Hosanna! is your word, Hosanna! is your song. It means “Help us, save us now!” The Hebrews turned it into a cheer of praise for a king or champion. It is that for us, and Christians used it in their earliest liturgies. At the communion, the pastor would say, “Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Didache 10:6) We use it this way, but when you are in despair, when you feel the weight of your sins, when you start to think that this world’s problems are the ultimate problems, then maybe we need to get back to the earlier, literal meaning of Hosanna: Save us now! Come and help me!


Sometimes I look at the church and say, “Where is our Luther? Where is our Athanasius? Where is our Augustine? We need a champion to help us.” Or I look at the country and say, “Where is our Lincoln, where is our Madison? No one is coming to help.” And you too may say, as pastors, poets, priests, and politicians fail us: “No one is coming to help.” But that is blasphemy. For the Lord tells us first of all, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” God uses people as He sees fit – but there is one Savior, one King, one God who became Man to answer our cry of Hosanna, to be our Help when all helps fail, to be our Light when all other lights go out.

If we lived at the times of our heroes, we would have felt the same troubles as now. Luther saw the Western Church collapsing around him; Augustine had to confront the accusation that Christians were responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire; and Athanasius, the great defender of Christian doctrine, was made into such a villain that he was sent into exile; he alone seemed to stand fast for the truth, so that he was called Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.”

Lincoln, one of our great presidents, saw the nation go to war with itself, and for freeing the slaves was rewarded with assassination.

There is no golden age, there is no earthly paradise we can create by working harder or finding the right leader.

But there is a Jesus who answers your cry. He refuses to fulfill the earthly dreams of a people demanding that He make Israel great again. He wins by dying, He lives by bleeding. He forgives even His enemies.


So do you have sins that trouble your conscience? Have you been angry? Slothful? Despairing? Have you failed to love, failed to pray, failed to go to confession? Have you broken your Lenten fast, broken your marriage vows, broken your baptism and confirmation promises?

Your conscience should trouble you: and when it does, O sinner, look to another sin—the Jesus who was made the snake on the pole, the bronze serpent. The sinless One became sin, all of your faithlessness, all your anger, lust, rage is poured onto Him. A sponge was lifted to His lips, but He Himself is the sponge, absorbing into Himself all of your failure, all of your wickedness, all of your sin. All of it. Your sins condemned Jesus. So when you look at the cross, you see their end.

A few years ago, a little girl came to the Ash Wednesday service and received the ashes on her forehead. That night, she washed and went to bed. In the morning, she said to her mother, “Look! My sins are gone!”

We veil the crosses as we go deeper into Lent because our stupidity causes us to miss what is really happening. When we hit Good Friday and the veil is removed, it is the calendar’s way of telling you to look at the cross and say the same thing as that pious little girl: Look! My sins are gone!

Your sins are gone. You are free. Rejoice and be glad, and whenever you are in doubt, whenever you worry, whenever you sin, whenever you despair, you have a word: Hosanna! Help me, save me, dear Jesus! +INJ+