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Created By the Word

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Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Trinity 21

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” All things have a beginning except God.  He alone is eternal and uncreated.  We reject the evolutionist belief that the stuff of this universe has always been here and somehow formed itself into what we see now.  For then we would be declaring the universe to be eternal, making a god out of creation rather than the Creator.  That is the very definition of idolatry.

    The God who created all things out of nothing is the Triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–three eternal Persons in one divine Being.  Even in the beginning, we have a glimpse of God in His three-in-oneness. The Father creates. The Word of the Son is spoken. The Spirit of God hovers over the water. The Father creates through the Word, His Son, and He does it by the Holy Spirit who is in and with the water. You can see here that creation and baptism are intimately connected with one another.  Both are beginnings, creation and new creation, the work of the Father through the Son in the Spirit with the water.

    Interestingly, the Gospel of John in the New Testament begins just like Genesis, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Through Him all things were made.”  The Word is Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Through the living Word of His Son, God created everything out of nothing. “Let there be light,” the Word says, “and there was light.” The Word is powerful and creative.  He brings about what He says.  Through the Word all things were made–water and sky, plants and trees, fish and birds, animals and man. All creatures owe their existence to Christ the Word, whether they know Him or not.  In fact, it is written in Colossians 1 that not only were all things were created through the Son of God but that in Him all things hold together still.  Jesus is the Logos, He is the logic, the wisdom of the universe.  The Laws of nature, the intricate complexities of the smallest strand of DNA to the largest galaxy, the beauty and the orderliness and the liveliness of creation all find their source in Him.  

    One of the many reasons we reject the theory of evolution, then, is because it’s opposed to this Scriptural truth of the centrality of Christ.  It imagines that all this beauty and order and life can be produced by chance random processes, that chaos can order itself, without any person doing the designing and organizing and sustaining.  To use a familiar example: if I were to say that an auto assembly plant exploded, and out of that Big Bang, after a long, long time, came a perfectly assembled car, you’d think I was a little nuts.  And yet what evolution proposes is infinitely more improbable than that; for our eyes, our brains, our DNA are vastly more complex in their design than a car.  Not only does evolution fail to say where all the stuff in the universe came from (which is no small matter); the key question that evolution has yet to explain is:  how can life come from something that’s not alive, as evolution proposes?  Such a thing has never ever been done in the laboratory in even the most rudimentary way.  We know that life only comes from another living thing, and that the Source of all life is God.  The fact that there are similarities among living things is not a sign that we have the same ancestors, but that we have the same Creator.  Our God is like a great artist who in His creatures shows a definite style to His work.  

    Of course, there are some who try to embrace both sides of the debate:  Believe in God and believe in evolution.  They propose that God created all things through the process of evolution.  But that is mere fantasy and a delusion when compared to Scripture.  For not only do the time frames not work–7 ordinary days of evening and morning vs. billions and billions of years–but the way in which all life, especially human life, comes into being couldn’t be more different.  For the evolutionist, to get to human beings like you and me, death has to be in existence right from the start.  It’s a necessary factor in the process of only the strong surviving and supposedly developing into higher and higher forms of life.  There’s all sorts of death and bloodshed before human beings ever come on the scene.  But there is no death at all in Genesis 1 and 2, not even among the animals.  Full-fledged human beings are present before there is any death.  What does Scripture say? “The wages of sin is death.”  First God creates human beings, and then there’s death after they fall into sin.  Evolution turns that Scriptural truth completely upside down and replaces it with a lie.  For by denying that death is the wages of sin, it denies the need for a Savior from sin.  It denies Christ.  It undermines the Gospel which says that Christ took the wages of death upon Himself to free us from the curse of sin when He died in our place on the cross.  Denying the Biblical narrative of creation undermines and contradicts belief in Jesus.  For Jesus is the creative Word made flesh who alone breaks the curse of sin on this fallen world by His death and resurrection and brings the new creation.

    It is only after the fall of mankind in the Garden that we see and experience death and disorder and decay all around us. It is written, “The whole creation groans.” The groanings can be heard in the earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes and fires that turn order into a pile of disordered rubble. Many creatures no longer multiply as they once did. Species go extinct.  Weeds grow in our garden. Our attempts to rule over and use this creation often end up harming creation.
    
    Above all, we see that death and disorder in ourselves.  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned away from God’s creative and ordering Word and believed the father of lies, who said that God is not to be trusted.  The Lie turned the creature against the Creator.  Turned inward on ourselves, the image of God is broken in us.  There is disorder in our homes and our relationships with others.  There is disorder in our hearts, where what we desire and what we know is right are  in conflict.  There is disorder in our bodies, where sickness and bodily ailments take their toll, leaving us finally in the disordered dust of the grave.  

    This is how it is.  The Word brings life.  The Lie brings death.  The Word says, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  The Lie says, “Children are a burden, not a blessing.  Better not have too many.  Separate the sexual relationship from the creation of life.”  The Word says, “The two shall become one flesh.”  The Lie says, “You don’t need God to join you together in the life of marriage to have sex.  Follow your heart’s desires and needs and passions.”  The Word says, “Male and female He created them.”  The Lie says, “Male and male is fine; female and female is fine.  People should be free to love whomever they want, even to live according to whatever gender they choose.”  The Word says, “Have dominion over creation; fill the earth and subdue it.  Continue God’s creative and ordering work.”  The Lie says, “Human beings have no more right to life than the animals, perhaps even less than they do.”  The Word says, “God is your Father; you shall be as He is.”  The Lie says, “The animals are your ancestors; you shall behave as they do.”  The Lie says, “You’re fine just the way you are; no need to change.”  The Word says, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”  

    And here is that Gospel: Just as He did in the very beginning, yet again 2000 years ago God spoke His Word into the chaos and darkness of this fallen world.  The Father spoke His Word by the Spirit to a young girl named Mary, and the creative Word was made Flesh in her womb. The creative and ordering Word who made all things and set them in order in the beginning was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in the person of Jesus.

    Jesus entered this world bearing our humanity to set things in order once again, to battle the darkness and the disorder. He healed the diseased. He cast out demons. He brought mercy and forgiveness to tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, calling them out of darkness into His marvelous light.  He brought order to our disordered humanity.  He undid the damage of the Lie and took the curse of the Law against our rebellion.  Jesus took into Himself the disorder and the darkness and the decay and the death and He put it all to death in His body on the cross.

    When Jesus rose bodily from the grave on the first day of the week, a new creation dawned. It is the chief reason that Sunday is called the Lord’s Day in the new testament. The resurrection marks the beginning of a new creation. Just as light first shone into the darkness on the first day of the old creation, so the light of Christ broke through the darkness of our death on the first day of the week. A new creation has broken in even as this old one is passing away.

    And the creation account itself in Genesis actually foretells and foreshadows this saving work of Christ.  For notice how the days are marked: it’s not morning and then evening the way we usually think of it, but first evening and then morning.  First it’s darkness, then it’s light.  First it’s the shadow of death, then it’s the light of life.  Jesus dies in the darkness of Good Friday to subdue creation, which literally shook at His death, and then He rises at the dawn of Easter on the first day of the week to be the Light of the world, to put an end to death and to bring about a new creation.

    Man was created on the sixth day, and then God rested on the seventh.  In Jesus who is the new Adam, man was redeemed and recreated on the 6th day of the week, Good Friday.  He then rested in the tomb on the seventh day, having finished His work of redemption.  And He rose again to bring about an eternal eighth day, a day of unending light and life.  The Scriptures say that in the new creation there will be no night.  For the Lord God will be its light at all times, and the Lamb will be its lamp.  We will need no rest; for He Himself is our rest and our peace.  For from Him flows mercy and forgiveness and life.  In Jesus the image of God is restored to us.  In Jesus our lost humanity is given back to us, and we are made fully human again, prepared body and soul to live in the joys of God’s presence.

    And again, all of this is accomplished by the words of God.  He speaks, and it is so.  “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Jesus says to the nobleman in the Gospel, “Your son lives,” and indeed he lives and is well.  Jesus’ Word accomplishes what it says.  And so it is for you.  Jesus speaks His Word to you, and His Word creates what He says.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  And your hearts and minds are stilled and calmed.  “I forgive you all your sins.”  And your sins are truly removed from you as far as the east is from the west.  “This is My body; this is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  And indeed, by that Word, the bread actually is His body and the wine actually is His blood, that you may be cleansed and filled with His life and light.  God’s creative Word is still in effect for you.  Like the nobleman in the Gospel, trust in that Word.  Cling to it.  Believe it that you may receive its blessing.  For only the Word of Christ can recreate you and put you back in order again.  It is written, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”  “Then God saw everything that He had made in Christ, and indeed it was very good.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(The first paragraphs above are adapted from a sermon by the Rev. William Cwirla.)

Hearts, Mouths, Ears, and Feet

Romans 10:9-17
Trinity 12

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Frequently I have preached to you about how, as Christians, our most important sense is our sense of hearing.  We’re all about the ears, not the eyes.  For we walk by faith in God’s words, not by sight or experience.  And words first and foremost are heard.  They’re spoken with the mouth and listened to with the ears.  You could come into divine service blindfolded and not really miss a thing, especially if you know the liturgy by heart.  The main thing here is the speaking and the hearing.  Educators like to point out how learning is best achieved by involving as many senses as you can in the process.  And of course that is true.  However, we’re not simply talking about learning here, but about faith, the trust of the heart.  And the Epistle states it very straightforwardly, “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.”  

    We do use all five of our senses when we are gathered for divine service.  There is the smell of the candles and the wine, even incense in churches that use it.  Our sense of touch and taste are involved, too, in the Sacraments.  Though even then, what is it that makes Baptism or the Lord’s Supper what they are but the spoken Word of God?  Likewise, we do have enduring visual imagery here that is drawn directly from God’s Word, like the cross and the icons (though nothing so shallow as video screens with their fleeting and sometimes manipulative images).  But we never put our trust simply in what we see.  We trust in what we hear–the sure words and promises of God which never fail, which most assuredly bring about what they declare.null

    So it’s an interesting statement that we hear in today’s Epistle, when the Apostle Paul quotes the words of Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace.”  You could understand if he said, “How beautiful is the voice” or “How beautiful is the mouth.”  But instead he says “feet.”  What do feet have to do with it?  

    We don’t usually think of feet as beautiful.  They get calloused and dirty and smelly sometimes.  And consider your feet also in a spiritual sense.  How often have you “voted with your feet” against hearing or learning or following Christ’s Word?  How often have you used your feet to keep your distance from those around you who are in need?  How often have you run with those feet to share the latest bit of juicy gossip? How often have you used those feet to storm away from your spouse or your parents in anger? How often have you strutted around with your feet in pride or just kicked them up on the couch in laziness?  No, our feet are not beautiful.  Just as Adam and Eve were marched out of the Garden when they sinned, so God’s judgment on our rebellion is that we are driven out and cannot step foot in His presence.

    But thankfully, there is One who walked in our shoes for us, who has human feet just like us, though He Himself is without sin.  The beautiful feet Isaiah refers to, first and foremost, are the feet of Jesus.  These are the feet of God’s Son, who was born with ten little toes just like the rest of us. These are the feet that stepped into the water of the Jordan River to be baptized for you. These are the feet of Him who walked from town to town preaching the kingdom of God and healing the sick, even walking right into a funeral procession to raise a widow’s son.  These are feet of the One who spoke mercy to sinners, feet that became so beautiful to a sinful woman that she washed them with her tears and hair!  These are the feet that stood before the religious leaders and the Roman Governor when Jesus was on trial. These are the feet that stumbled as they carried the cross to Calvary. And there, on that mountain, behold the beautiful feet, pierced with nails, fastened to the cross–all this to bring you the Good news that your sins are forgiven. His feet and hands and side and brow are pierced for you, for your sins. His blood washes it all away and cleanses you.  Your sins are wiped out once and for all.  The price has been fully paid.  With His feet Jesus has crushed the devil’s head and ground the power of the grave to powder.  In Jesus there is peace between you and God. How beautiful indeed are those holy feet of Jesus that walked this earth on their way to the cross for your salvation!

    And it gets better still.  For these feet of Jesus, that lay cold and lifeless in the tomb, walked again when He rose from the grave in glory.  And these feet of Jesus, that Mary Magdalene clung to at the empty tomb, were planted firmly on the mountain in Galilee where Jesus said to the eleven, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Jesus, who had washed the disciples feet, was now sending them on their way to use their feet to bring the good news of salvation to every nation and language and people.  

    This is also what the Epistle reading is speaking of, then, when it refers to the beautiful feet.  It all starts with the beautiful feet of Jesus; but He sends out others in His name, that by His grace their feet may become beautiful, too, as they go and preach the Gospel and bring the gifts of Christ to His people.  

    “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Scripture says.  However, Paul reminds us that you can’t call on the name of the Lord if you don’t believe in Him.  So if there is going to be calling on the Lord, there must be believing in the Lord.  But you can’t believe in a Lord that you’ve never heard of or learned about properly. So before there can be believing in the Lord, there must be a hearing of the Lord’s words.  But you can’t hear the Lord’s words without someone preaching and teaching them to you.  So before there can be hearing the Lord’s words, there must be a preacher.  But you can’t be a preacher without being sent by Lord.  So before there can be preachers and missionaries, there must be the means by which the Lord’s sends out men, calling them and ordaining them for the task.  You see, it all starts with the sending.  First Jesus is sent by the Father to redeem the world.  Then Jesus sends His apostles to proclaim the good news, and through His church He continues to send preachers and ministers.  That’s why it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace.”  Saving faith that calls on the Lord’s name is traced back to the feet and the Lord’s sending.  It’s about Him, not the messenger.

    In our age of the Postal Service and UPS trucks and the internet, we forget the importance in ancient times of couriers who could carry a message with their feet over many miles.  Especially someone bringing good news from far away would refresh the souls of those who heard it and bring joy to their hearts.  You can imagine in that context how someone might praise the feet of the messenger as much as his speaking.  In fact the distance race we now know as the marathon comes from a Greek legend where a soldier was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated.  It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “We have won.”  This is in a very real sense what the preaching of the Gospel is, an announcement that we have won in Christ; the enemy has been defeated.  Now in the Greek legend, the messenger then immediately collapsed and died.  And I suppose there would be no more blessed way for a pastor to die, after proclaiming the Gospel.  But this is the good news, that the One who died now lives.  And that is why we have won.  The risen Jesus holds the field forever.

    So a preacher’s feet are only beautiful because they have been washed by Christ’s mercy, and because he is now given to proclaim the glad tidings and distribute the good things of Jesus.  I remember a seminary professor once telling us seminarians to think about what the people see when they come to take holy communion.  He reminded us that what they see with their heads bowed at the altar rail are the pastor’s feet.  His advice was more practical than theological–he told us to make sure, therefore, that our shoes were always clean and polished for the service.  That’s fine advice, I suppose, which I should probably follow more often.  But the theological point is the key thing: When you see any minister’s feet, remember the feet of Jesus that walked this earth for you, that bled for you, the feet of Him who sent out His ministers to proclaim the Gospel of peace, to give out the body and blood that purchased your peace.  

    That’s how it works: from the feet of Jesus to the feet of preachers, who deliver the Gospel into your ears so that you may confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from dead and be saved.  “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news!”  And fellow believers, today you are given to do just as the women did at the empty tomb and cling to Jesus’ beautiful, risen feet.  For the heavenly Christ makes this earthly altar to be His footstool.  Come and worship the risen Jesus; He is truly alive; He is truly here.  Receive His life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Share in His victory.  We have won.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Mark Beutow for some of the beautiful feet material above)

The Things that Make for Your Peace

Luke 19:41-48
Trinity 10

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    We’re always looking for what will bring us peace and contentment and happiness.  We try to find it in getting stuff, in having that relationship we’ve always sought, in our work, in hobbies and vacation trips, in a pill, in some new philosophy of life or some new diet or workout.  But it always seems to be just out of reach.  For real peace comes only through communion with God in Christ Jesus.  

    The name Jerusalem literally means “city of peace.”  “Salem” in Jerusalem is a form of the word “Shalom,” “peace.”  So there is clearly a sad irony in Jesus’ words when He says, “If you had known, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  The Prince of Peace had come to them.  But the city of peace did not recognize or receive Him.null

    And so as our Lord is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time before His death, He weeps over her.  He cries as a parent cries who sees that his child has gone wrong.  He cries as a husband cries over the wife that has rejected him for another.  He weeps out of love for His people who were blind to who He was and what He had come to give them.  Our Lord is not a cold, dispassionate, detached person.  Not only did He take on our flesh and blood but also our soul and spirit and mind and emotions.  His heart aches when His people turn away from Him.

    Jesus laments over what is going to happen to them.  In the year 70 A.D., just forty years after this Gospel, Jesus’ prophetic words were fulfilled.  Jerusalem was attacked and laid siege by the Romans.  Hundreds of thousands were killed or died from famine and plague.  Those not worth anything to the empire were executed, adult and child alike; their dead bodies piled up to block the lanes and the streets of the city.  The strong men were kept alive and forced to work in mines or become slaves.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that 97,000 young men were taken away as slaves.  He also reports that Titus, the emperor Vespasian’s son, sent a great number of captives into the Roman provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed in their theaters and coliseums, by the sword and by the wild beasts.  Above all, the temple was utterly destroyed and laid waste.  All that is left of the temple still today is the wailing wall.

    This was the judgment of God.  The Romans were His instrument in executing the sentence.  For Israel had rejected the Messiah.  They did not know the time of their visitation, when God Himself visited them and walked among them.  It was their day, and they missed it.  The things that made for their peace with God were hidden from their eyes by their own unbelief.  The weeping of God eventually becomes the judgment of God for those who will not repent.

    Now it’s not as if the Jews weren’t religious.  St. Paul says in the Epistle, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” in Christ.  They were passionate for God, but they tried to get right with Him on the basis of their own keeping of God’s Law.  They foolishly trusted in their own obedience and holiness rather than humbly and penitently relying on the grace of God revealed to them in Christ and receiving His righteousness as a free and undeserved gift.  And so they ended up rejecting the very one their Law prophesied.  All their religious passion was for nothing.  They wanted something flashier and more glorious than this lowly Jesus.  In fact it offended them to think that’s how God would visit them.  They stumbled at this stumbling stone of the Gospel, and so the stones of the temple and the city were demolished around them.  Their lives were taken from them.

    This is a clear and sobering call to repentance for you still today.  For it shows that God’s judgment is real and is nothing to be trifled with.  What happened to the Jews in Jerusalem in the 1st century is a miniature picture of what will happen to all the unbelieving world on judgment day.  Consider, then, how things stand with you.  Are you passionate about moral topics and the social decay of our nation, but ho-hum about learning Scriptural doctrine and the Gospel of Christ crucified and studying God’s Word?  Are you relying on your own religious efforts and praying and obedience to bring you into God’s favor rather than Christ alone?  Then your religion is like the false, man-centered religion of the Jews, and you must repent.  Do you look for God primarily in mysterious signs or supernatural occurrences instead of in His humble but sure Word?  Is divine service something that has become passe’, that you could do without for weeks at a time?  Then you are like the Israelites who did not know the time of their visitation; you aren’t seeing how God Himself visits you in the scandalously lowly means of preaching and the sacraments, and you must repent.  Are you one who wants to use religion as a means of personal gain or as a way of getting God to bless you financially?  Then you are like those who bought and sold in the temple, and you must repent.

    Turn away from all that, and turn to Him whose heart still weeps out of love for His people.  Trust in Him who continues to cry out, “If you would know, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  Christ Himself is your Peace.  He is the One who brings reconciliation between you and God, the One who gives the peace that passes all understanding.  This is your day, the day of your visitation, as it is written, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”  This is the moment in which Christ is coming to you in His Gospel sounding in your ears.  Believe in Him; trust in what He has done; seek His righteousness.

    For our Lord has cleansed the temple.  When Jesus drove out the moneychangers in righteous anger and purified the temple as a house of prayer, that was a sign of what He was about to do at Calvary.  For there on the cross Jesus Himself experienced the righteous anger of God against the world’s sin and drove it out in the temple of His own body.  Jesus made Himself unclean in your place.  He took all of the greed and the self-righteousness and the pollution of every sin that you’ve done or that has been done to you, and He made it His own dirty mess.  By His holy suffering and death He took it away from you and cleansed it from you forever.  

    Jesus had said of His body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Though the temple in Jerusalem remains destroyed, Jesus could not remain in the grave.  He is now bodily raised in everlasting glory and honor, the new and eternal dwelling place of God for you.  Jesus is your temple.  The risen body of Christ is full of holiness and righteousness and cleansing.  Baptized into Him, those things are all yours.  You are now the body of Christ.  And therefore you are the temple of Christ’s Spirit, who dwells in you through your baptismal faith. You are safe from divine judgment.  For you are in Him who took the judgment for you.

    Brothers and sisters in Christ, God is coming to visit, both now and on the Last Day.  That is bad news for the unrepentant, for those who want something more than Jesus and His undeserved grace.  God’s visitation means judgment for the unbelieving.  But for you who believe, it is the greatest good news.  “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  But you do know.  This is your day; this is the time of your visitation!  Here are the things that make for your peace, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest, for your restoration to the Father.  God grant you always to be like that faithful remnant in the Gospel that were very attentive to hear Jesus, so that by His grace you may be brought to dwell eternally in the new Jerusalem above.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Wasting the Master's Goods

Luke 16:1-13
Trinity 9

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Back in my seminary days, I took a class on the Gospel of Luke.  Each of us pastors-to-be were assigned a passage from Luke that would show up in the Sunday readings; we were to make a presentation on it so that we could help each other prepare to preach on these texts.  I was assigned today’s Gospel reading, the parable of the unjust steward.  I really struggled to fully understand what this passage was trying to say, and so I remember beginning my presentation by saying to my fellow seminarians, “When the Sunday comes when this is the Gospel reading, it might be a good idea to preach on the Old Testament reading or the Epistle.”  I don’t think my presentation that day was particularly helpful to anyone.  Today I’ll try to make up for that a bit.

    The reason this Gospel reading is hard to understand at first is because the one Jesus praises and holds up as an example is a man who mismanaged his master’s goods, and then he cheated the master out of what the people owed him so that they would treat him favorably and give him room and board after he’s fired.  What is Jesus’ point?null

    We should begin by asking whom does the steward represent?  First of all, he represents us according to our old Adam, who have been poor stewards of the goods of the Master, the things the Lord has entrusted to us.  Have we always used the money and talents and possessions that we’ve received from God to serve our neighbor and to help build up the Church and the ministry of the Gospel?  And when we have done that (because we know it’s the right thing to do), has there still been a struggle against the flesh which wants to use our resources for other things?  ($100 seems a lot bigger in the offering plate than it does at state fair, doesn't it.)  Or in our stewardship as parents and grandparents, have we encouraged our children’s devotion more to sports and extracurricular activities or their devotion to the Word of God, pleasing their peers or pleasing the Lord?  Are we more concerned about their making a good living or having eternal life?  And when we’re faced with a situation in life where following God’s Word means taking a financial hit, do we justify not following God’s Word?  The truth is, if we were called before the Lord to give an account of our stewardship, to lay out not only our bank statements but also the dreams and desires and motivations of our hearts, there also would be cause for us to be dismissed from our stewardship.

    However, I would suggest that in a deeper sense, the steward in the parable actually represents Christ Himself, the eternal One who is the manager of the heavenly Father’s goods.  For remember what occurred right before today’s Gospel.  Jesus had just finished telling the story of the prodigal son; He had just been accused of wasting His time and efforts on tax collectors and sinners, throwing away His “goods,” mercy and forgiveness, the Father’s goods, on people such as that.  And now He tells a parable about a steward who was supposedly mismanaging goods.  Do you see?  He’s talking about Himself and the way things are in the kingdom of God.

    For what does the steward do?  He goes around to everyone forgiving debt!  To the one who owes 100 measures of oil, his bill is reduced to 50.  And to the one who owes 100 measures of wheat, his bill is reduced to 80.  The steward desires to be received by them, and the way that happens is by forgiveness, by debts being cut and taken away.

    This is the way of Jesus.  He comes to us as one who “mismanages” the Father’s goods, throwing away God’s mercy and forgiveness on us.  It doesn’t matter to Jesus that He’s accused of giving away God’s grace too cheaply.  After all, His grace is not cheap, it’s free, since He purchased it for us at the greatest cost of His own blood!  Jesus’ mission was to bear every accusation, to take all that we are justly accused of and make full payment for our debts.  Jesus made eternal friends of us, not by hoarding things for Himself, but by living as one with no home of his own, no place to lay his head.  The material things of this world He used entirely in the service of others, having nothing but literally the clothes on His back.  He became poor so that we might know and receive the riches of His mercy.  He even gave away His own body into death, that through His atoning and all-sufficient sacrifice we might be cleansed from all unrighteousness.

    Jesus the Steward desires to be received by us, into our homes and into our hearts.  That doesn’t happen by some decision or commitment that we make; it comes by the forgiveness and the release from the debt of sin that He freely gives.  Jesus has done much more than cut your bill by 20% or even 50%.  He’s taken care of it all.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  All of it.  You are debt-free toward God in Christ.  Repent and believe that Gospel.

    Which brings us to one more important point about the steward in the parable–his faith.  Jesus praised him not only because he was shrewd, but also because he trusted in his master’s mercy.  That’s the key.  He believed that the same master who didn’t have him thrown into prison for wasting his possessions (when he could have) would also be merciful to him by honoring the debts he reduced (which the master didn’t have to).  The steward knew what sort of a gracious and good master he had, and that’s where he put his hope.  He believed his master to be a man of generosity and forgiveness, and he staked his salvation and his future on that.  So it’s not just the steward’s shrewdness, but it is the faith in the master’s mercy that is praised here.

    So also, you are called to trust that the Father is a God of mercy who will forgive your debts through Christ, that you may be received into an everlasting home.  We stake our salvation and our future on the generosity and forgiveness of our God.  It is that faith God desires and praises.  We believe that God the Father will be merciful to us for the sake of Jesus–just as Jesus relied on His Father’s mercy and trusted in Him even on the cross.  Jesus believed that the Father would honor His death in our place to cover what we owed and that He would raise Him up on the third day.

    And now Jesus has ordained stewards to stand in His place, to distribute the eternal blessings He has won by His death and resurrection.  Jesus commends His stewards when they “squander” His possessions in the ministry of the Holy Gospel and cancel the debts you owe Him.  That is the job of a pastor–to be a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:5), to the take the Master’s goods and give them away.  Whenever you hear the Gospel and the absolution, it’s as if I am asking you, “What does your bill say?  What impossible debt do you owe because of your sin?  Sit down, take your bill, and write 0, paid in full.”  You are all squared up with God in Christ–and then some.

    Living in that faith, you are freed to be shrewd like the steward in the parable, not using mammon only to make friends in this life, but putting unrighteous mammon to use to make eternal friends in the fellowship of the Gospel, supporting the mission of the church in your offerings and in your estate planning, investing in the things that will last into eternity, using the things of this life with an eye toward the life of the world to come, desiring to be received by your fellow saints into the everlasting home prepared for you by Christ.

    Here in divine service, unrighteous mammon, ordinary stuff is put to a righteous use, as wood and stone and lights and microphones and cloth are put to use in proclaiming the redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus.  And particularly in the Sacraments do we see this.  Temporal water is combined with the Name of God in Baptism to become a sacred anointing and a cleansing from sin.  Ordinary words become the vehicle for delivering to you the extraordinary absolution from the Lord.  Common bread and wine are consecrated to be the holy, eternal body and blood of Christ, given and shed for your forgiveness.  Especially here in this place, the things of this world are sanctified by the Lord’s Word, so that sinners are made to be saints, fallen people are made to be the very body of Christ.  Here the Lord’s people make friends in Him, those with whom you will be received into an everlasting home.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Beware of False Prophets

Matthew 7:13-23
Trinity 8

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets.”  Our Lord wouldn’t warn us like this unless there was a real and present danger to us.  In fact, the threat a false prophet poses is worse than that of disease or violent crime or terrorism or financial ruin.  For while those things endanger your earthly lives, false teaching endangers your eternal life.  

    A big part of what makes false prophets so dangerous is that we actually like what they have to say very often.  False teachers tell us what we want to hear.  It is written in 2 Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  

    A true prophet preaches repentance.  But false prophets know that condemning sin and warning people to be saved from the coming judgment doesn’t sell too well these days.  It’s so negative and harsh.  Nobody wants to be told that they need to turn from their self-absorbed ways.  What people want is something practical to help them in their families and at work, something uplifting, a spirituality that helps us to feel better about ourselves.  null

    This is what the prophet Jeremiah spoke of in the Old Testament reading.  The false prophets say to those who despise God, “The Lord has said, ‘You shall have peace’ And to everyone who does whatever they want to do, the false prophets say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” False prophets will often come across as very inclusive and loving.  But in truth, they let people get away with their self-justification and rationalization of sin.  They let fraudulent spirituality sit unchallenged next to Christian truth to avoid offending anyone.  While they may seem to be so nice, there is nothing caring or loving about tolerating false teaching or ungodly living.  For such things are lethal to the soul and invite God’s judgment.  That is the broad path that leads to destruction.

    False prophets are also a real threat to us because they look like the real thing.  Jesus said, “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ravenous wolves.”  False prophets look like sheep of the Good Shepherd.  In fact they may look more godly and holy than a true prophet and preacher of God’s Word.  For while many false prophets will overlook and bless sin--especially in the realm of sexual immorality, many other false prophets will stress very strongly that Christianity is all about your own personal holiness.  They’ll be all about doing good works and being a good person and following these rules and those regulations for right living.  You’ll look at them and say, “They must be from God.  Look at how religious and devoted they are.  Look at how piously they talk.”  The pope with his pomp looks good.  The evangelical preacher giving you step by step instructions on how to become a better you looks good.  The passionate Jehovah’s Witness, the family-values Mormon looks good.  But in the end, they are in the same camp as the Pharisees, who falsely believed that living an obedient life is the way you gain God’s favor.  Those who look within themselves for the answers, those who trust in their own good works to keep themselves close to God or to make themselves better candidates for heaven are just engaging in a more spiritual form of self-absorption.  They’re in love with their own righteousness.  The devil is perfectly happy with that sort of religion.

    Repent, then, of your own succumbing to the spirit of false prophecy.  Confess where you’ve misused your keeping of God’s commands as a way to try to exalt yourself and earn His blessing.  Acknowledge where you’ve ignored God’s Law for the sake of convenience and rationalized away your sin.  Turn from all of that and humbly seek His mercy.  Turn your attention to true prophetic words.

    But how can you be sure of who a true prophet is?  Well, to begin with, there is really only one true Prophet, and that is Christ himself.  He alone speaks the words of God without flaw and without fail.  He is the Word of God in the flesh and the fulfillment of all prophecy.  His alone are the words of eternal life.  Do not put your trust in any man.  I am called and sent by God to be your pastor, but your faith should never be in me or my opinions, but only in the Word of God which I am given to speak.  In the second reading for today, Paul reminded the pastors at Ephesus that false prophets would arise from among themselves.  Good prophets would go bad.  So make sure, first of all, that it is the word of Christ that you are hearing, the holy Scriptures that are being proclaimed to you and not just some pious human wisdom.  The solid rock upon which the Church is built is the words of Jesus.  Everything else is sinking sand.  When what is preached is not a vision of the preacher’s own heart but that which comes from the mouth of the Lord, then you are hearing a true prophet.  

    But you might rightly say, “I’m not a theology major.  False teachers quote the Bible just like genuine teachers.  How do I tell the difference?  How can I tell whether or not someone is misusing Christ’s Word?”  The simplest answer that I can give to you is one I’ve told you many times before:  Know your Catechism by heart.  For there in the Catechism and the Creeds is summarized for you the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures and all that you need to know and believe to be saved.  There is confessed God’s holy Law and Gospel by which you are brought to repentance and to faith in Christ.  There you have what the church has taught and believed from the Word of God since the days of the apostles.  If what someone is preaching sounds a little weird to you, different from the Catechism and the Creeds and the Word of God you’ve heard preached here, then beware of it; flee from it.  

    Jesus says in the Gospel when judging between true and false prophets, “You will know them by their fruits.”  The fruit refers not simply to their lifestyle, since that can be the deceptive clothing of the wolf.  The fruit refers to the doctrine.  What spiritual food do they offer?  What do they hold forth for your souls to feast upon?  Is it solely Christ the Bread of Life, the food that fully satisfies you, or are other “ingredients” and requirements added, like arsenic on your plate?  It is written, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

    I John 4 gives us one test, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”  A true prophet of God will not shy away from affirming the flesh and blood realities of our salvation, that God the Son became a real flesh and blood human being, that He offered up His body on the cross to save us, that He rose again in the body, tangibly, and that He comes to us now with His real and literal body and blood in the Sacrament.  Those who contradict any of those things are false prophets.

    Here’s one more test: St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Christ and Him crucified.”  If Jesus and His sacrifice are not the center of everything that is proclaimed, if the Passion narrative is treated just as history that you have to give lip service to so that you can get to the real important and relevant stuff, then that prophet isn’t true.  Paul told the pastors at Ephesus “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”  That blood of Christ is the thread that runs through all true prophecy and preaching.

    And don’t forget this: a false prophet may not know that he is one.  He may be very sincere.  But sincerity is not a reliable test.  Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that Day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me.’” It’s not the impressiveness of the works or the success or the numbers that you should go by.  Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  

    nullHe who does the will of the Father is Christ Himself.  Consider that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prayed to His Father, “If it is possible, take this cup [of suffering] away from Me.  Nevertheless not My will but Your will be done.”  It was the will of the Father that Jesus lay down His life for you to rescue you from hell.  It was the will of the Father that Jesus be cut down like a bad tree and thrown into the fire of judgment in your place.  It was the will of the Father that Jesus be a sheep in wolves’ clothing, the pure Lamb of God who allowed Himself to be cloaked in sin and evil at Calvary in order to put them to death in His body, so that you might be delivered from all evil forever.  The wolf has been conquered.  You have been cleansed from all sin by Christ’s blood.  You are given entrance into the kingdom of heaven in Christ.  He has ascended to heaven, and holding on to Him like a child on His back, you have ridden with Him there.  The kingdom is yours in Jesus, by faith now, by sight at the close of the age.

    And so, to do the will of the Father, for a pastor, is to preach that, to proclaim Christ alone as the Savior from sin and death.  And to do the will of the Father, for a hearer, for you, is to believe that Gospel of Christ and stake your whole life on it.  That is the true prophetic Word for you today, the same prophetic Word proclaimed by John the Baptizer, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is here.  Believe the Gospel of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  The will of the Father was done when you were baptized, squeezed through the narrow way of the cross.  The will of the Father is done as you live in the narrow way of your baptism, dying to your sin and rising to the new life of Christ, the life of faith and love, receiving from God His free gifts and giving of yourself to others in your daily vocations.  And the will of your Father is done as you come to the Lord’s table in simple faith.  For the tree of the cross has borne the most abundant fruit, the body and blood of Christ which gives you His mercy and which will raise you up on the Last Day.

    Beware of false prophets.  Behold the true Prophet, Jesus.  His are the words that give you life.  By His fruits you will know Him.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Righteousness Exceeding the Scribes and Pharisees

Matthew 5:17-26
Trinity 6
 
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
 
    Jesus speaks some hard words in today’s Gospel: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The problem is, our righteousness is exactly that of the scribes and the Pharisees.  It’s the same, for we think that righteousness is primarily about our good behavior and good moral appearances.
 
    To prove this, our Lord points us to our anger.  Anger and indignation is the result of our having been wronged or sinned against in some way.  But what we do in response is the telling thing. It reveals how we view ourselves, and how we view our neighbor. When we are angry, we take the higher position and condemn them as wrong.  And they may very well be in the wrong, especially if they’ve sinned against us.  But have you ever noticed how even when we are at fault, we can still get angry?  We think that they’re over-reacting and blowing things out of proportion and freaking out about some little flaw or mistake of ours.  We turn things around on them.  And so even when we’re at fault, we still find reason to get angry and justify ourselves and look down on them.null
 
    The problem with anger is that if it is not dealt with, if it is not confessed to God and to one another so that it can be taken away, if it is not cleansed from us by the blood of Jesus in His words and Sacraments, it enslaves us.  Satan gets us to brood over it, obsessively, with growing and distorted emphasis on its injustice.  In the court of our minds we hold a secret trial in which we prosecute the wrongdoer. And then we remember all the other offenses that we have suffered from that person.  And that fuels our anger further and our desire for justice. We convince ourselves that we are justified in our judgment of them. We hold the moral high ground against them.  This anger leads to bitterness and resentment.  And so we end up stewing in our own poison.  For we have begun to despise those whom we should love.  We have self-righteously placed ourselves above them.  In other words, we have become the scribe and the Pharisee.
 
    This is spiritual suicide.  For “you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and who ever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  This sort of stewing, bitter heart eventually overflows in bitter words and leads to hell.  When we despise our neighbors and hold a grudge against them, we don't usually attack them physically.  We do so verbally, emotionally, and spiritually. We talk to others about them to get them on our side so that they will join us in condemning them. We give them the cold shoulder and treat them as being dead to us. That is spiritual murder. And by cutting ourselves off from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cut ourselves off from Christ as well, which is spiritual suicide. We take the position of the scribes and the Pharisees, and we follow in their righteousness, which is really only an outward righteousness. And unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
 
    Repent, then, and turn to Christ.  For the only righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees is the righteousness of Jesus.  He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets.  He came to fulfill them–inwardly, outwardly, actively, passively–all for you.  Righteousness is not ultimately about your works but about the works of Jesus done on your behalf.  The Pharisees’ righteousness was about good appearances, though in truth they were whitewashed tombs, inwardly full of dead men’s bones.  But Jesus doesn’t just cake a bunch of make-up on your sinful flesh to make you look good.  He actually takes away your sin and makes you righteous, right with God and restored to Him.null
 
    Jesus fulfilled the Law and brought righteousness to your humanity in two ways.  First, it is written in Hebrews, “He was tempted in all points just as we are, yet without sin.”  Not only did Jesus not do the things that the commandments forbid, He also did do everything the commandments demand.  Not only did He not murder or steal or have impure thoughts, but He also perfectly loved His Father in heaven and His neighbor on earth, doing good and healing, teaching the truth to all, forgiving even His enemies.  Jesus did this not only as an example, but as your representative and your substitute to redeem you.  Jesus gives you His righteous life as a gift through faith in Him.  His keeping of the Law counts for you.  
 
    Jesus also fulfilled the Law for you by suffering its penalties in your place.  “The soul that sins shall die.”  Jesus Himself knew exactly what it was like to be the object of people’s anger and bitterness and resentment.  He heard in His own human ears the words of betrayal, the cries for His death.  Every vengeful thought, every desire for payback was pointed at Jesus on the cross.  But it wasn’t just the murderous judgment of the world but the righteous judgment of God that Jesus suffered at Golgotha.  Since the wages of sin is death, Jesus was put to death by the Father in your place to take the judgment of eternal death away from you forever.  
 
    Only in Jesus is there deliverance from the judgment of the Law.  For only in Jesus do we receive an inward righteousness before God, the righteousness of faith, where we despair of our own goodness and instead rely on Christ alone.  We prayed it in the Introit, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped.”
 
    Our Lord is not one who constantly replays the video of your sins in His mind so that you might get what you’ve got coming.  All anger, even the righteous divine wrath, was fully removed at the cross.  “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  The Lord has erased all your sins from the video of your life.  He remembers them no more.  
 
    In fact, actually the Lord has done even better than that.  He’s given you a whole new video, a whole new life, the life of the risen Jesus, which is entirely yours in holy baptism.  For St. Paul says in the Epistle that by water and the Word you were buried with Christ and raised with Him to a new life.  That means that His death for sin counts as your death for sin.  It’s all done and behind you.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus.”  You are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  His life is yours, the life of mercy, of forgiving your neighbor, letting go of your anger and desire for payback, since Jesus has already taken care of all that.
 
    Jesus now says to you, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  “I release you from the crushing weight of the Law; I give you the peace of being reconciled with God.”  “It is finished, accomplished, completed, fulfilled.  All has been done.”  Romans 10 declares, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
 
    So hear Jesus’ words again with Gospel ears:  “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  But your righteousness does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, for you are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  By faith you are as spotless and holy as He is.
 
    So when you come to the altar to receive the gift of the Lord’s body and blood, if you have something against your brother or sister, or they against you, this is the place to release it and let it go.  Confess your sins and forgive one another.  Be reconciled in Christ, whose body was sacrificed for you and whose blood was shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Here at the foot of the cross, all anger dies.  There is only mercy here and righteousness that far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Our Lord has brought you through the Red Sea of Baptism, out of the house of bondage.  Believe it.  The righteousness of Christ is yours.  In Him you shall enter the kingdom of heaven.  

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
 
(Most of the above is borrowed from the Rev. Jason Braaten at Gottesdienst Online,
gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2013/07/righteousness-that-exceeds-scribes-and.html)
 

The Wedding of Samuel Speckhard and Cacia Scheler

"One Flesh"
July 11, 2015

✠  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned having a couple of my own relatives in the nursing profession, it’s that you don’t want to have an in-depth conversation about their workday over dinner unless you have a strong stomach.  The nature of the job is that all the realities of the body are being dealt with, and nurses develop a certain comfort level and their own unique sense of humor talking about these things.  There’s no avoiding the truth of our fleshly existence when you’re in the medical field.

    And this is not a bad thing.  For this is the way Lutherans talk theology.  Martin Luther said that a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.  No spiritualized platitudes or euphemisms.  Lutherans like to speak in direct, physical, tangible, concrete language.  

    And that’s true then also when it comes to marriage.  On days like today you’ll often hear a lot of flowery language about love and happiness and two becoming one.  And that’s all fine.  But it’s a little too Platonic and ethereal if we just stop there; that comes short of what the Bible actually says.  We heard it a couple times in the readings today, “The two shall become one flesh.”  Marriage is the union of heart and mind and body.  There’s no point in avoiding that reality.  For not only is it how God created things to be, but it also teaches us about our relationship with Him, too.null

    God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life.  But with the creation of Adam, humanity was not yet complete.  Not only is it not good for man to be alone, but man alone does not yet fully reflect the image of the God who is love, the Holy Trinity.  The Trinity is a relationship of persons; those created in the image of God are also a relationship of persons–the Lover, the Beloved One, and the Love that they share together.  Humanity is complete, then, only when Eve comes on the scene.

    God created her differently, from Adam’s side, forming her to be like Adam and of equal worth and humanity, but certainly not the same.  Man and woman are uniquely connected in how they were made.  Then the Lord brought Eve to Adam and presented her to him.  That is the reason behind the tradition of the bride being brought down the aisle to her groom.  The one who escorts her, the father, stands in the place of God the Father, presenting this Eve, Cacia, to her Adam, Samuel.  God brought Eve to Adam, and they became the first husband and wife.

    Man and woman in marriage, then, are not simply two independent partners bound by a piece of paper, a contract.  Rather, what was one flesh at creation now becomes one flesh again, both figuratively and literally.  God Himself gives you to each other in marriage, and that is why you have permission now to give yourselves fully to each other.

    The one flesh union created by God is intended for your mutual happiness and companionship.  There is a very real sense in which the two of you complete each other–not just in some Hollywood movie sense, but in the theological sense of the complementarity of male and female.  Your individual personalities and unique characteristics come together to form a whole that is greater than the both of you.  One of the great gifts God is giving you today is the unique fellowship you will share as husband and wife–the ability to confide in each other, to lean on each other in the challenging times,  to rejoice together in the good times.

    And of course, this one flesh reality of marriage is manifested in the procreation of children who are quite literally one flesh of their father and mother.  When and if God grants it, children are the public testimony of the one flesh union that God has created.  Though our culture tends to downplay it, being fruitful and multiplying is integral to what marriage is all about as God instituted it.  That’s one of the many reasons why an actual marriage in God’s sight can only be between a man and a woman, regardless of what any court says.  God seeks to continue His work of creation through your marriage, that your children may be brought up as you were, in the fear and instruction of the Lord, that they may be baptized and brought to trust in Christ and receive the gifts of His salvation.

    And that then brings us to the even greater reality of what marriage is all about.  Ephesians 5 speaks of the man leaving his father and mother and being joined to His wife and becoming one flesh, and then it says: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  All along we thought St. Paul was speaking primarily about husbands and wives, when the main point was about Jesus.  It is written, “We are members of His body, bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh.”  Jesus is the new Adam and the Church is the new Eve.  

    “A man shall leave His father and mother and be joined to His wife.”  And so Jesus, the Son of God, left His Father in heaven to be joined to His elect wife, His chosen people.  In order to save us who had fallen into sin, who were cursed to return to the dust in eternal death because of our rebellion, Christ literally joined Himself to our flesh and blood and became man.  Jesus even had to leave His mother Mary behind for a time on the cross.  The second Adam was put into the deep sleep of death for us on the sixth day, Good Friday.  As the first Adam brought death into the world through sin, so Jesus brought life into the world by dying our death for us, taking away our sin and conquering the grave Easter morning.  In the same way that Eve was created from Adam’s side, the Church is created from Christ’s pierced side, from the water and blood that flowed, the living water of Baptism which makes us members of His body, the blood of Christ poured out in the chalice of the Lord’s Supper, by which we are cleansed of all sin.  nullThrough these Sacraments, the Church is Jesus’ radiant bride, dressed in the beautiful white garment of His righteousness.

    Sam and Cacia, that eternal reality is what God has given to form the heart and the foundation of your marriage.  Because Christ has forgiven you freely and without your earning it, you are free to forgive each other without making the other earn it.  In leaving your father and mother, Sam, you are doing as Christ did, that you may give of yourself and lay down your life for your bride.  In receiving him as your husband, Cacia, you are a picture of the Church, who honors her groom and submits to Him and His love and returns that love with a glad heart.  Sam, you die for her.  Cacia, you live for him.

    Which brings us finally to the part of the sermon where people expect me to give you advice.  Not my forte, but I’ll do my best.  First, Sam, as the husband, remember this one simple truth: it’s your fault–it is, even when it’s not.  I’m actually being mostly serious.  For you are in the role of Christ, and He counted all of our sin as His own, as His fault.  Though you both will have things to confess and forgive each other for–and saying “I forgive you” out loud is of the utmost importance–it is especially for you to be the man and not to point the finger and blame, but to take any flaws and failings as your own and cover them as Christ did for us.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  Thankfully we have a Savior who bears our burdens with us and for us to deliver us.

    And Cacia, as Sam’s wife, seek your happiness in marriage in the unique ways that he shows love to you, and be a gracious receiver.  Just as it is Christ’s joy to give us joy, so also what makes most husbands happy is when they can make their wives happy and draw their bride freely and willingly to themselves.  So avoid putting up barriers because his attempts to express love may fall short at times, or because you know your own imperfections and don’t feel deserving.  We operate not by merit but by grace.  We haven’t deserved anything from the Lord, and we certainly can’t repay Him, but it is His joy to give to us freely anyway.  Give your husband the joy of freely receiving and responding to his self-giving–just as it is the church’s happiness to receive the love of Christ.

    (Oh, and one more thing, Cacia: while it may be OK for Sam to do the vacuuming, if he ever places the end of the hose anywhere near his forehead, pull the plug as quickly as you can.)

    Sam and Cacia, as you are being joined together today, so are your names–your individual names remain the same, your last names become one.  The name Samuel means “God has heard.”  We rejoice with you both of you today that God has indeed heard your prayers for a faithful spouse; you are His good gifts to each other.  And Cacia, as I recall it, your name was given as a shortened form of the acacia trees mentioned in Scripture.  It was the acacia that was used in the construction of the tabernacle where God’s presence dwelt and to make the ark of the covenant.  As Jesus tabernacled in our flesh, as you who are the temple of His Spirit enter into the covenant of holy matrimony, may He make your new household to be His dwelling place.  May He send His angels to guard and keep you.  And may He richly bless the one flesh union of your marriage for your good and for the glory of His name.

✠  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

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