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The Rich Man and Lazarus

Genesis 15:1-6; 1 John 4:16-21; Luke 16:19-31

 In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

    “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.”  Abram was an aging man; his wife was past menopause and childless.  But the Word of the Lord came to Him with the promise that, nonetheless, His descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that one of His seed would bring blessing to all the nations.  Against all the evidence to the contrary, Abram did not stumble in doubt; he believed.  He knew that God was not only powerful enough to carry out His Word–even though Abram didn’t have the first clue how He would do it–but that God was gracious and faithful to bring forth the One who would be the Redeemer of all nations.  By that trust in the promise, God counted Abram as righteous, not by works but by faith.  God’s ways don’t change. They are the same today as they were in the Old Testament.  Faith alone saves.

    However, such faith is never alone.  In the Epistle John wrote: “This commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21) No one should comfort himself that he shares the faith of Abraham if he is without love toward the brother. Faith alone makes us right with God; but such faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by the fruits of the faith, the works of love.

    Did the rich man in the Gospel reading have faith? He surely must have thought of himself as trusting in God.  In the torments of hell he calls Abraham his father, and Abraham even calls him “son.”  But the fact that the rich man’s faith was a sham is revealed by two things.  First of all, it is clearly implied by the Gospel that he walked right by the poor beggar Lazarus without paying him any attention or giving him anything–Lazarus who was pitied only by the neighborhood dogs who alleviated his suffering by licking his sores. What sort of faith is that–that a man has less pity than a dog?  But he not only walked by, he feasted just a short distance from Lazarus, and poor Lazarus would gladly have joined the dogs to lick up the crumbs from under the table. How could we say that the rich man had faith?

    It is very likely that the rich man rarely missed the opportunity to attend the Synagogue. He might even have had a special seat of honor–the pillars of the community often did.  But when Moses and the prophets were read aloud in the Synagogue, he listened but did not take them to heart. He did not let the words sink into him and reduce him to fear. He did not realize that God meant exactly what he said: “Cursed is he who does not continue in all that is written in the book of the law to do it.” To him it was just a nice break during the week, or maybe it was simply a necessary social obligation he had to fulfill. Whatever. He came and listened, but without heeding. And so he was a man without the faith of Abraham, the faith which alone is counted for righteousness, the faith which is never alone, but always breaks forth into deeds of love for the neighbor.

    And here’s the second way we can know the rich man didn’t have faith.  When he is in torment in hell, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus back as a warning to his five living brothers, and Abraham responds that they have Moses and the prophets, the Scriptures, and they need to listen to them.  But the rich man dismisses such a thought. “No, father Abraham,” he pleads, “but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  You see, even in hell, unbelievers like the rich man despise the Word.  They don’t think it has enough power, and they want something else and something more.  Miracles, signs, anything.  But they don’t think the Word of God is enough.

    Abraham, though, is no unbeliever. He knows the power of the promises of God, the might of God’s Word. That Word called him from unbelief to faith. That Word brought him from death to life. That Word gave him a child and through that child the promise of the Messiah who would bring blessing to all. That Word sustained him all the days of his pilgrimage. That Word kept him humble before God so he never trusted in his own deeds, and yet that Word made him fruitful in good works.  Abraham was well known for his hospitality.  The Word worked this love in him.  It was a Word that brought Him joy in the end.  It was not a Word to be despised. So he says to the rich man here: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”  Miracles don’t work faith; only the Word does that.

    So here we sit, richer in the Word than they were. For God has given us the witness of Apostles and Evangelists to add to Moses and the Prophets. We do not merely have the foretelling of the One who would bring blessing to all. We know His story! We know how He came to us who could not get to Him. We know how He shouldered the burden of our sin and carried it to death on the tree. We know how the Father raised Him from the dead and glorified His body with a life that never ends. We know that sharing that life is what the Word of God is spoken to us for. We know He has a baptism that robes us in righteousness and glory. We know that He spreads a table where we may eat a divine food that yields eternal life. The riches are laid out every week.

    But are any of us sometimes like the Rich Man?  Do we merely hear but do not truly receive the Word that is spoken?  Do we doubt its power and instead wish for and look for something more–miracles and signs, impressive performance, something more to really do the job?  Or how many of us ignore the particular people God lays at our gate?  And would we like a public comparison of what we give in charity and offerings vs. what we spend on our own entertainment and eating out?  Or a comparison of the amount of time we spend teaching our children sports vs. teaching them God’s Word, or in recreation vs. in prayer and Bible study?  Mere historical knowledge of Bible facts is useless on the day of judgment; it is not what God reckons to anyone as righteousness. As James points out, even the demons believe like that!

    What should a person do who wonders if he is like the rich man and his brothers? Abraham points the way. He doesn’t tell you to get busy showing love in your life as though deeds of love are what brings faith alive. No. He tells you to listen to the Scriptures; listen to what the Word of God says. Take it to heart. For the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My Word.” (Is 66:2)  Humbly receive the Word which does its work on you.  If the words of God which you have heard cut you to the heart and make you tremble, that is good, for the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves those who have a contrite spirit.  To be aware of your sin and to be brought to repentance is the working of the Holy Spirit within you.  

    Even more so, the working of the Holy Spirit is to bring you to faith in Christ Jesus.  In the ministry of the Word, the Spirit is always pointing to the Word made flesh who sacrificed His flesh to save you and to win your forgiveness.  The phrase “Moses and the Prophets” should call to mind the time later in this same Gospel when Jesus was walking on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples.  There it is written that “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  To believe that Moses and Prophets aren’t enough is to believe that Jesus isn’t enough.  But through the Holy Spirit you have been brought to believe that Jesus is more than enough, that He is everything for your faith.  From that faith love will come–for faith lays hold of the Word, and the Word is God Himself, who is Love.

    We see that love of God most clearly in the fact that He made Himself to be just like Lazarus for us in Jesus.  Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him.  Jesus Himself said in the Psalms that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet.  And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. . .  And by His wounds we are healed.”  Though Jesus was despised by the rich and the powerful of His day, yet the blood that flowed from His wounds cleansed us of our sin and bought our eternal healing, the restoration and resurrection of our bodies to glory on the Last Day.

    The name Lazarus is the Greek way of saying the name “Eliezer” that we heard in the OT reading.  Eli means “my God” and ezer means “help.”  My God is Help–Lazarus.  Despite his miserable condition in this life, Lazarus trusted in God’s promises, like Abraham his father.  He believed Moses and the Prophets and in the Messiah they foretold.  He believed in Jesus.  By that faith alone He was saved and comforted and granted perfect life without end in God’s presence.

    Let us all take our place with Lazarus, then, and trust in God alone as our Help.  He has helped you most fully and completely in His Son.  Where you have fallen short and failed to love, hear and believe the Word of God that you are forgiven; you are cleansed and holy and put right with God again through the cross of Christ.  Receive Him who is perfect love in Holy Communion, let this salutary gift of Christ’s own body and blood strengthen you in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another and the Lazaruses at your gates.  In such faith, trusting solely in what Christ has done for you, you can indeed be confident of dying a blessed death and being welcomed to the Feast that never ends with Lazarus, Abraham, and all the saints and angels in the Kingdom of the Father.  To Him with the Son and the Holy Spirit be all glory and honor and praise, now and forever.  Amen.

(With thanks to the Rev. William Weedon for much of the above.)

In the Image of Love, the Holy Trinity

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

    It’s not enough simply to say that you believe in God.  That’s an incomplete confession of faith.  For the term “God” can and does mean any number of things to any different number of people.  “God” for a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist is something much different than for a Christian.  Most Americans will say that they believe in God, but that God is often just a generic and undefined being.  The true God is certainly more than just the “man upstairs,” as Isaiah learned.  Who is the God you believe in?  Who is the one and only true God?

    That’s where creeds like the Athanasian Creed come in and are so important.  They may seem unnecessarily detailed at times, but they are important both because they defend against falsehood, and because they declare the Scriptural mystery of who the one true God is.  He is the Blessed Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–one God in three persons.  

    Reviewing very quickly, Scripture makes it clear that there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6 says, "The Lord our God, the Lord is One."  Isaiah 45 says, "I am God, and there is no other."  Unlike the pagan religions which had many gods that were connected to parts of creation–the god of the moon, the god of the sun, the god of the sea–Christianity confesses only one God, who has created the moon, the sun, the sea, and every living thing, and who is Himself outside of creation.null

    But the Bible also clearly teaches that this one God is three-fold.  Three distinct persons are referred to as God in the Scriptures.  First there is God the Father, the One we are directed to pray to in the Lord's Prayer, the one James refers to as the source of all good and perfect gifts.  Second, there is God the Son, Jesus Christ.  John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word (the "Word" being a name for Jesus) and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  And third, there is God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  In Acts 5 it is said that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit.  And then the Apostle Peter declared to him, "You have not lied to men but to God."  Clearly then, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God.

    And therein lies the mystery.  It's not as if each of these three persons are 1/3 God, so that when you put them all together, you've got the one true God.  But of course neither is it true that there are three Gods or even three different forms of God.  No, each of these persons are fully divine, and yet they are so perfectly united and joined together in love that there is only one God.  That is the paradox of the Trinity.

    Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why spend all the time and effort on this?  What’s the point?  This isn’t something that’s rationally understandable anyway, so why should we make a big deal out of it?”  Well, for one thing, if we only paid attention to those teachings of the Bible that were logically explainable, I don't suppose that we would baptize or have communion or believe that God became a man in Christ.  Those are mysteries of the faith, too.  But more importantly, this is our God, this is how God has revealed Himself.  Part of worshiping Him is meditating on who He is, even if we can’t fully grasp it all in this life.  There is much to be gained simply in pondering who God is and what He has done for us that the Scriptures declare and the Creeds confess.

    And here’s one benefit in particular in meditating on the doctrine of the Trinity:  The better we understand what God is like, the better we'll understand what we've been created to be and to do.  For man was created in God's image, right?.  Mankind was made to be a reflection of God's being.  So understanding Him is going to tell us something about ourselves.

    Now, keeping in mind that God is a Trinity, listen to Genesis 1:  "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .'  So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  First of all, notice that God says, "Let us make man . . ."  A conversation is going on within God Himself, between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But also notice what God then created!  Did He make a single, androgenous, self-contained being?  No, He created a relationship of beings who together formed a oneness and a unity.  When God made man in His image, He made them male and female.

    Now, of course, I'm not suggesting that there's anything "female" in the nature of God, like some churches do which ordain women, or which change masculine references to God to feminine ones, even going so far as to baptize in the name of "Mother, Daughter, and Comforter."  God's masculine nature is clearly made known in His self-given name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from them both.

    What I am suggesting, though, is that for God to create something in His image meant creating more than one.  Now why didn't He make three of something?  Well, I'll get to that in a minute.  But what's important for us to understand now is that God is and always has been a personal being, one who by nature always relates to another.  Even before the creation of man, there was a relationship of persons within God.  God is Himself a community and a unity of persons.  And that is precisely why the creation of man wasn't complete until Eve came on the scene.  So to be created in God's image is to be made to be in a certain kind of relationship with other people.  God is a relationship of persons.  Man, therefore, is also a relationship of persons.

    An early church father, St. Augustine, gives us some helpful thoughts in gaining a deeper understanding of the Trinity.  He began with the Bible verse, "God is love."  Now love, he said, isn't something which involves only one person.  In fact it has three aspects:  the one who loves, the one who is loved, and the love itself.  Augustine equated these three aspects of love to the three persons of the Trinity.  So, for instance, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father's voice came from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son," and then the Holy Spirit came to rest on Him.  The Father is the One who loves, the Son is the One who is loved, and the Holy Spirit is the Love itself, that love being an actual person.  So within God there is a relationship of outward reaching love that draws the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together in a perfect unity.

    That’s why it’s just not right to lump modern-day Judaism and Islam into the same category as Christianity and call them all monotheistic, as if we all worship the same God.  We don’t.  The Trinity is of a very different nature.  The Christian God of the Old and New Testaments is very different from those who have rejected Jesus as the Son of God.  If you think about it, the other so-called monotheistic religions cannot have a god who is love within Himself.  For love by its very nature requires more than one person.  Allah cannot be a god who is love; for he’s all by himself.  Poor guy is lonely; maybe that’s why he seems grumpy all the time.  Only Christians can say, “God is love,” the blessed Holy Trinity.

    We can see from this, then, just how highly God has exalted marriage, that He made it the first relationship to reflect His image.  Adam was the one who loved, Eve was the beloved, and together they shared in a love from God that drew them together as one.  There's the three we were looking for, the third usually being concretely represented in the children God gives.  To be created in the image of God, therefore, means that we are to be reflecting divine, self-giving love–not only in marriage, of course, but in all our relationships–the kind of love that caused God to create us in the first place, a love that seeks to extend itself and reach out and give and sacrifice in order to draw others into a harmonious unity and a God-pleasing oneness.

    Now, understanding that such is the image of God, we must admit that as we look at ourselves and the world around us, it's often difficult to see that image being reflected in our relationships.  We should not forget or ignore the fact, therefore, that since the creation of Adam and Eve, mankind has fallen into sin.  The image of God has been corrupted and broken in us.  We no longer reflect who He is.  And that, at its essence, is what sin really is–a degrading of our Maker by failing to mirror His goodness, a rebellion in thought, word, and action against the nature of God, in whose likeness we were intended to be.  God is loving and self-giving, we are often self-centered and proud.  God is characterized by unity and oneness, we are often characterized by division and individualism and a stubborn attitude of self-sufficiency.  Such a corrupted image of God is doomed to eternal separation from Him.

    Fortunately for us, it is in God's nature to love even the unlovable.  As we heard in the Gospel, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  And Romans 5 says, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  You might say that God was just being Himself when in His love He initiated His plan to rescue you.  In the sending of Jesus, God was reaching out in a complete and ultimate way in order to draw you back into unity with Himself.  On the cross Jesus received the full judgment for your corrupted natures.  And then by His resurrection from the grave, Jesus restored the image of God for you.  Therefore, all who are joined to Christ by faith share in that restored image and are made right with God.  That's what Baptism and Holy Communion are all about.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are fed with His very body and blood.  Through those means, God makes you one with Christ and recreates you in His likeness.  As Colossians 3 says, "(You) have put on the new nature [of Christ] which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator."  We look forward, therefore, with eager expectation to the second coming of Christ, when that newness will be fully revealed in us, when the vestiges of our corrupted natures will be forever destroyed, when we will perfectly reflect the image of God and share in the unity of His love.

    So, you see, to reflect upon the doctrine of the Trinity is not just a once-a-year exercise in intellectual gymnastics.  It is rather to meditate on the God who is love and who is life for us all.   To begin to understand God is to know what you were created to be by the Father and who you are in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit.  It is to be drawn into the Father’s love given you through His Son, poured out upon you by the Holy Spirit, so that you may share forever in His divine life.  Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to Him, for He has shown mercy to us.  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

The Fire of Tongues

Audio Player Audio PlayerActs 2:1-21

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

    Fire can cleanse, and fire can destroy.  Fire can serve good purposes, like keeping us warm or cooking our food; or it can do great harm, as we saw so dramatically in the burning of Trinity Lutheran Church downtown.  God appears to Moses in the burning bush, which is aflame but is not consumed; hell is described as a lake of fire and unspeakable torment.  So we must learn to distinguish between the fire that is from God, and the fire that seeks to work against Him.  

    On the 50th day after Easter, tongues of fire came to rest on the apostles as they were gathered together in the upper room.  Then they began to speak with other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.  Simple Galileans, recognizable by their northern accents, spoke with fiery boldness in the mother tongues of all those who were gathered there in Jerusalem from all over the world, proclaiming the wonderful works of God in Christ in dozens of different languages.

    However, we also hear in the Scriptures of another fire of tongues.  James writes this, “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.  The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell!” (James 3:5-6)

    So there are two kinds of tongues and two kinds of fire here.  First, there is the tongue of the Word of God, whose fire is the Spirit of God.  Second, there is the tongue that is set within our bodily members, whose fire is hell.  The devil always tries to copy and mimic God, but in an upside down and destructive way.  Though both of these are fiery tongues, they stand in diametrical opposition to one another.null

    We know all too well how our tongues and our speech can be used in ways that are contrary to God and that manipulate things to our advantage.  We know the perverse pleasure of sharing in gossip that helps rumors to spread like wildfire.  We know what it’s like to deceive by not quite telling the whole truth, how to say things a certain way to make ourselves look better or cover up our sin.  And we know what it’s like to use our tongues to cut others down rather than to build others up.  Again James writes, “The tongue is full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10).  Rather, St. Paul says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).  

    That’s what the problem was with the people at Babel.  They didn’t use their tongues to impart the grace of God or glorify Him, but to glorify and exalt themselves.  They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves.”  Not wanting to receive the identity that God had given them, they engaged in the religion of following their dreams and believing in themselves to get them to the heavens.  But that is a doctrine of the devil.  It is a hellish tongue which teaches you to trust in yourself and to pride yourself in your own choices and achievements.  Still today God confuses and scatters us in our rebellion and tears down our towers, that we might learn humility and be brought to repentance before Him.

    But, of course, our Lord doesn’t stop there.  Then God undoes the destructive, fiery tongue of man with His own constructive, fiery tongue of life.  Pentecost is the undoing of Babel.  At Babel God said in judgment, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.”  At Pentecost God the Father said in mercy to His only begotten Son, “Come, let us go down and pour out our Spirit on them, so that the words of the Gospel might be clearly proclaimed to them in their own language.  Let their ears be opened so that they may not be confused but may understand and receive the forgiveness and salvation which you, my beloved Son, won for them on the cross.”

    And so it was that there was a sound of a rushing, mighty wind and tongues of fire on those gathered together for worship on that Sunday morning.  God was blowing the breath of His Spirit across the embers of His little band of disciples to stir up the flame of the Church.  Martin Luther said that the artists who have depicted Pentecost missed the point when they drew the tongues of fire on the top of everyone’s heads.  The tongues of fire should be resting over their mouths, he suggested, because the mouth is where the action is with the Holy Spirit.  The church is a mouth house, where the Holy Spirit proclaims the Gospel from the mouth of a preacher, and believers confess that Gospel and sing and pray and extol the Lord and Savior with their mouths.

    Our tongues must be purified with the Spirit’s refining fire to do that.  Recall the prophet Isaiah, who saw the Lord lifted high and exalted upon His throne.  Isaiah said, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  Isaiah knew that his lips were soiled by sin and needed to be cleansed.  Then one of the fiery seraphim swooped down to the incense altar and took a fiery coal and touched it to Isaiah’s lips, and he absolved him.  “Your guilt is taken away, your sin is purged,” the angel said.  Isaiah’s mouth was purified by fire.

    That burning coal is a picture for us of the Word and fiery Spirit of our God.  To those who cry out in penitence with Isaiah saying, “Woe is me; for I am lost!”  “Lord, deliver me from my sin,” the Holy Spirit comes with the live coal of Christ’s Word and purifies our lips and cleanses us of our sin.  The same Jesus who purified our human nature by becoming man, the same Jesus who felt the fires of hell for us on the cross and suffered the inferno of God’s judgment to redeem us and save us, the same Jesus who rose from the dead on the third day to give us victory over the grave and everlasting life–He now pours out His Holy Spirit to deliver those gifts of salvation to you through His Word and through the Sacraments.  John the Baptist preached that “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And truly the Holy Spirit is a cleansing fire, who purges you of all iniquity through the precious blood of Christ.

    That’s what the Holy Spirit was all about at the first Pentecost; and that’s He’s still about today.  We sometimes forget that the main thing that happened on Pentecost was not the signs of the rushing wind and the fire, but the preaching and the baptizing that the Holy Spirit did through the apostles.  Most of Acts chapter 2 is the sermon which Peter spoke that day.  By the Spirit’s power, He condemned the people for their unbelief in Christ and their wickedness in putting Jesus to death.  Yet Peter also proclaimed how God accomplished His saving purposes through Christ's death, and how the Father raised Jesus from the dead as Lord of all and the only Savior.  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart in sorrow for their sin, and they said to the apostles, “What shall we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  About 3,000 people were baptized that day from all different lands and languages, who carried that Spirit-filled Gospel home with them, spreading it like a prairie brush fire.  And of those who remained in Jerusalem, it is written that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper, and to the prayers.

    So we may not have the sound of the rushing of the wind and the tongues of fire any longer–those were one-time signs marking the first outpouring.  But the Spirit is still at work fanning the flame of faith and love to glow brightly among God’s people.  The Holy Spirit continues to be poured out in baptism, which is the new birth of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit continues His ministry of calling people to true repentance and of preaching the life-giving Word of Christ.  And the Holy Spirit continues to place the fiery Word on your tongue by giving into your mouth the body and blood of Christ, the Word made flesh, for the forgiveness of your sins.  In these ways the Holy Spirit opens your lips, that you may pray to God, praise Him, and give Him thanks in true faith.  As it is written, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

    Pentecost is still continuing.  Not in the ecstatic babbling that goes on in so-called “Pentecostal” churches.  Rather, it goes on whenever the Bible is translated into a new language or whenever a missionary carries the Gospel to people in their own mother tongue.  Just the fact that we can even hear the Gospel in English right now is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit.  The forgiveness of your sins, purchased for you by a man who spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, preached by apostles who spoke Greek, confessed by much of the early church which spoke Latin, has come to you in your own language, English, a Gentile tongue.  That’s God’s gift to you. There’s no more personal way of saying that Jesus is your Savior from sin and death than to say it in your own language.  Jesus is for you.  You can be sure of it because you are hearing it in your own native tongue.

    Let us then, today and always, speak that language which the Holy Spirit has taught you, the language of faith.  For it is written, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  Let us use our tongues to sing and proclaim the wonderful deeds of our Savior, who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  May our prayer ever be, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in the them the fire of your love.”

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

(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt for some of the above)

Whatever You Ask in My Name

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

    Jesus declares in today’s Gospel, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”  That’s a pretty amazing promise, isn’t it.  And it’s true.  But let’s be sure and listen carefully to what Jesus says.  For there are some who misunderstand those words to mean that you can ask for literally anything you want, and as long as you pray it sincerely in faith and add the tag line “in Jesus’ name,” God will grant it to you.  I’m sure you’ve heard this referred to before as the prosperity gospel, health and wealth teaching, “name it and claim it.”  If you pray for something by name and claim it as your own and truly believe God will give it to you, then you’ll receive it–be it a better paying job or healing from some disease or a new car or any number of things. And if you don’t receive it, well, then it’s because you didn’t pray hard enough or have strong enough faith.

    But that’s certainly not what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.  It is written in James 4, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  Adulterers and adulteresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3-4) So prayer in Jesus’ name is certainly not a blank check to fulfill all your worldly dreams and desires.  We must confess that too often that’s how we utilize prayer, to try to get God to follow our will rather than asking Him to conform us to His will, to get Him to make our dreams and plans come to fulfillment rather than seeking our place in the fulfillment of His plan of salvation.null

    To pray in Jesus’ name means, first of all, that you pray as one who is baptized.  For it is in the water that He put His name on you and gave His name to you so that you may come to the Father in prayer.  In Baptism the Son of God joined you to Himself and made you members of God’s family so that you now have access to the Father as His children.  When someone is baptized, during the ceremony the pastor lays his hands upon their head while the Lord’s Prayer is prayed.  That is meant to be a visual declaration that the gift of calling God “Father” is being given to the one baptized.  Now they, too, are given permission to pray the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s as if Jesus is giving you His username and password at the font.  It’s not identity theft, it’s an identity gift.  In Jesus you are counted as sons of God with all the benefits that entails.  You are given the privilege of coming before the Father with the same status and standing as Jesus Himself!  God hears you just like He hears Jesus.  The name of Jesus opens heaven to you.  It unlocks the door to the Father’s heart.  

    This is so important to remember, because apart from Christ, heaven is closed to you, locked tight.  Your sin is like an impenetrable barrier that separates you from your Creator.  And you can’t break through from this side.  But by coming to you from the Father and taking on your human nature, Jesus broke through the sin-barrier from the other side.  Through His cross and resurrection and ascension back to the Father, He has given you an opening and a portal to heaven.  There is only one way to access God, to come to Him in prayer, and that is through Jesus.  

    Non-Christian religions, therefore, do not lead to the true God, even if they teach that there’s only one God–not Judaism, not Islam, not Buddhism, not the nature religion of Native Americans.  For they all reject Jesus as being the incarnate Son of God and the Savior from sin.  And He is the only way to God, as He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Jesus also said in Luke 10, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”  These other religions don’t even have God the Father, for they’ve rejected His Son who reveals Him.  

    So listen to today’s Epistle reading and take it to heart: “There is One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”  You can’t come to God the Father directly; you need an intermediary, a go-between.  It is sheer foolishness and arrogance to think that you can just waltz into God’s presence and that He has to listen to you based on your own merits.  That wouldn’t be true even with an earthly authority.  You can’t just presume that because you want to talk to the governor or the president that they’re required to make an appointment with you and listen to you.  You have to have an in, something or someone that gets you into their presence.  How much more so, then, with the King of kings!  There has to be a reason for you to be given an audience with Him.  And don’t ever think that your own merits and good living will do the trick, like some cash bribe to a politician.  God doesn’t do quid pro quo and bargaining; he can’t be bought by anything that you do.

    No, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith in what He has done to save you, to know that it is only because of His merits that you can come before the heavenly throne with your petitions and prayers.  It is to pray knowing that Christ is your sole passageway to the Father.  Like Moses was for the people of Israel in the wilderness, so Jesus is our intermediary, our go-between, our eternal  peacemaker with God.  As the bronze serpent was lifted up, our Lord Jesus was lifted up on the cross for us, so that everyone who looks to Him in faith may be saved from the venom of sin and be restored to fellowship with the Father.

    Prayer in Jesus’ name, then, is prayer that begins with Jesus and His coming to us–not only in His ministry 2000 years ago, but also as He comes to us now through His words and Spirit.  Christ is still the Mediator between us and the Father.  Christian prayer begins with listening to the Gospel of Christ, listening to and meditating on the words of the Scriptures read and proclaimed, and then on the basis of that Word, speaking back to Him in faith, making requests based on what He has said and promised, praising Him for what He has done.  

    That is the Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer: The Father speaks to us through His Son by the Holy Spirit.  And we speak by the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father.  First the Father comes to us through Christ with His words of life; and then, having been filled with His life, we are enabled through faith in Christ to pray those words back to the Father and bring our needs and requests before Him.  True prayer is based not on the poverty of our sinful hearts, but on the richness of God’s faithful Word.

    This is our response, then, to those espousing a “name it and claim it” theology.  Godly prayer is shaped by God’s words.  Prayer in Jesus’ name is prayer that proceeds from faith in Him.  And faith never prays “My will be done,” but, “Thy will be done.”  Faith trusts that God’s will in Jesus is good and gracious.  For the name “Jesus” literally means “The Lord saves.” When we pray in Jesus’ name, therefore, we are asking the Father for all of the saving gifts that have been put into that name which is above every name.  All of this and more is the meaning of Jesus’ words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”  

    So, with this right understanding of Jesus’ words, the question must be asked: Do we take Jesus at His Word?  Does this tremendous promise and privilege move us to pray and to seek Him?  All too often, we must confess that we are lazy in our prayer, or we want to pray but are easily distracted from it by other priorities.  The devil, the world, and our own flesh are always seeking to divert us from prayer.  You must therefore prepare yourselves to oppose them.  When they prompt you to think that there’s something else you must do first, then you must say, “No; as soon as the need arises, I will pray.  For when I have need to call upon God, that is the right time to do it.  As God says, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.’  And if I do not feel ready or worthy to pray, God will make me ready and worthy.  For I know that He loves me, not because I am so good and righteous, but because of Christ, whom I love and in whom I believe.”

    And when you are tempted to think that your prayer won’t do any good, be reminded of Jesus’ promise.  He said, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  He urgently invites you to come to Him as dear children to a loving Father.  If earthly fathers, who are sinners, generally know how to give good things to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  If I told you that there was a rich man or a king sitting on a pile of gold saying, “Ask and you will receive,” you wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’ll get around to it later.”  You’d go right to him and make your request.  How much more should you do so with the King of heaven!  God will never turn away a heart that trusts in Him.  And even if your prayers in Jesus’ name aren’t answered immediately or precisely the way you’d like, they will all be answered for your good.  Sometimes the best thing God can do for you is not to give you what you want, at least not right away.  In the end though all your faithful prayers will be answered “yes” in the resurrection, when Jesus comes again to bring us the richness of heaven and the restoration of our bodies and the fullness of joy and peace.  For it is written in 2 Corinthians, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are all ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

    Therefore, the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Pray without ceasing.”  Pray silently; pray out loud. Use the morning and evening prayers and the meal prayers given you in the Catechism.  Pray the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer given you in the Scriptures.  If nothing else, simply pray, “Lord, have mercy.”  You will never have a shortage of things to pray for in this fallen world.  Jesus said it plainly, “In the world you will have tribulation”–both as a result of the curse of sin and death, and because you are seeking to live faithfully as a Christian.  Both of those things are bound to bring you trouble, sooner or later.  However, Jesus goes on, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  In Him, by His cross and resurrection, the victory is won; all that troubles you has been overcome and defeated.  So pray with boldness and confidence in Him who is the risen Conqueror, who has given you His triumph, who has opened the door of heaven to you.  And believe Him when He says, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

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

Risen Indeed

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Luke 24:1-12; I Corinthians 15:12-26

    The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

    That is our glad confession of faith this day.  The Lord is truly, literally risen.  But there are many who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  They love that today is April fool’s day, because they think that it’s stupid and irrational to believe in such fairy tale nonsense.  At best, they see Easter as a pious myth that has only spiritual, symbolic meaning that isn’t meant to be taken literally.  Christians are the fools.  

    And besides, the world would say, what good is a fleshly resurrection anyway?  In good new age fashion, they believe that the body and material things are lower level stuff, even evil, and our spiritual existence is where it’s really at.  Our culture tends to look at the body as little more than a container, and all that truly counts is the inner, spiritual aspects of who we are.  Your outward gender and sex are supposedly irrelevant to who you truly are.  Reincarnation is based on this faulty thinking.  You supposedly keep coming back in a different body, until finally you get it right, and then you are able to escape the body and leave it behind permanently and join the one spirit of the universe.  null

    Even many Christians are tempted to think this way about the body.  They think that the goal is for the soul to go to heaven, and the body then is pretty much out of the picture.  A recent survey revealed that only about half of the Christians questioned said that they believed in the resurrection of the body.  That’s horrible!  For we confess the resurrection of the body here every week.  We believe in the God who is the Creator of this material world and of our bodies.  It is true that God’s physical creation has been corrupted because of sin.  But the problem is sin, not God’s bodily creation.  The goal of salvation is the restoration of God’s creation and the redemption of our bodies together with our souls.

    In today’s Epistle St. Paul speaks of the marvelous reality of the resurrection, the actual, literal raising of the dead body of Jesus to life again, a body that still bore the glorious marks of His sacrifice on the cross.  Easter is not just about Jesus living on in our memories or being alive in our hearts.  It’s about the truth that He who was indisputably dead, speared in the side and into the heart just to be sure, is risen in glorified flesh–touchable, tangible, and real.

    Today the church proclaims that it is a fact of history that Jesus the crucified One lives.  Earlier in I Corinthians 15 Paul laid out the evidence and eyewitness testimony for Jesus’ resurrection.  The Lord Jesus appeared risen from the dead to Mary Magdalene, to the apostles, to those on the road to Emmaus, and to more than 500 others–men who were still alive when Paul wrote these words, who could be asked and who did verify these claims, that the same Jesus who was nailed to a cross, was seen and heard and touched by them, raised from the dead.  

    And remember this, too.  If there had been a dead body to produce, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have produced it, and put it on public display, like our government sometimes has done to prove a terrorist has been killed.  They had every reason politically to do everything they could to silence these rumors of resurrection.  That was the point of having Jesus’ tomb securely guarded in the first place. 

    And if you think about it, why would the disciples want to make this up, anyway, and risk punishment and crucifixion themselves?  They’d be next on the arrest list.  The disciples showed clearly they weren’t exactly a bold and faithful bunch when threatened with suffering.  And yet after Easter, when faced with persecution, they consistently preached the risen Jesus and the church grew through much affliction.  Several other supposed messiahs had appeared on the scene and faded away.  But not Jesus.  His bodily resurrection isn’t a myth; it is a matter of history, a matter of fact.

    Now imagine for a moment if the resurrection were not true.  What then?  That’s the terrible question that St. Paul raises in the Epistle for the sake of argument.  Suppose that there is no resurrection of the dead.  Suppose that dead bodies do not rise from the grave.  What would that mean for our faith and our life?

    Well, if Christ is not raised, then my preaching is empty and your faith is empty, Paul says. Then it really is an April fools, and you and I are wasting our time here this morning.  For then that would mean that Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t really do the job on sin.  The curse of death would still remain on us.

    If there is no resurrection of the body, then all those who claim to be Christian but go to church only rarely are right on in their thinking.  After all, it’s only what’s inside that counts, right?  If there is no resurrection, then there is no real need for Baptism, or Absolution, or the Lord’s Supper, or preaching.  Those are all things that go on with the body–with the ears and the mouth and butts in the pew.  If there is no resurrection, then we can have a spiritual life apart from our bodily life.  All this stuff at Church, it’s just outward stuff.  Some of you who skip divine service most weeks have been infected with that worldly false teaching and are being lured to trust in something inside of yourself rather than outside of yourself in Jesus.  You’re being tempted to change the 3rd Commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day whenever there isn’t something else you want to do.”  One of the best tests of faith in the resurrection is what happens the Sunday after Easter.

    If soul and body are not intrinsically connected, then what goes on with our bodies has very little to do with our faith.  You can be a Christian on the inside and live and dress and act however you please on the outside.  You can talk about the faith that you have in your heart and then conduct your physical life no differently than the unbelieving culture.  It doesn’t matter, if there is no resurrection of the body.

    But of course that way of thinking is pure foolishness; and those who live believing that they can separate body and spirit are deceived.  For it is written, “Honor God with your body.”  On the Last Day all the dead will rise, some to everlasting life and joy, others to everlasting death and torment.  Let each of us, then, repent this day of our sin and false belief, and let us cling to the truth of the living Jesus, our Savior.  

    For Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. As the angels announced at the tomb, “He is not here, He has risen!”  Jesus Himself said it on Easter evening, “Why are you troubled? . . . Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”  Jesus’ rising from the dead is our deliverance from the powers of darkness.  It is the Father’s seal of approval on the work of His Son.  By raising Him from the dead, God showed that He was pleased with the death of His Son, that He accepts it as the redemption price for the world, that your sins are covered and forgiven by His blood.  You are now reconciled to God in Christ.  Nothing in all creation can undo what Jesus has done.  You who trust in Christ are fully redeemed.  You have new life in Him.

    Jesus is the first-fruits of the dead, which means that He is the beginning of the harvest, the first of many more to rise through Him.  That’s why Easter is such a big deal–it’s not only His victory, it is also your victory, too.  Jesus is the source and spring of our bodily resurrection.  For the Scriptures say that those who believe and are baptized are members of His body.  And where the head goes, the body must surely follow.  Jesus’ resurrection stands at the beginning of this New Testament age, ours comes at the close of the age.  But through our baptismal union with Him they are inseparably connected.  Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”  

    Jesus alone can be trusted with our death, for it is written, “Death no longer has mastery over Him.” And death therefore no longer has mastery over anyone who is in Him by faith.  Jesus’ death is our death to sin. His life is our life before God the Father. The preaching of His death and resurrection is not some pious hope or merely some inspiring religious message, but it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

    Christ has glorified your bodies.  For not only did He purify you by taking on your very flesh and blood in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only did He bear your sins in His body on the tree, but He has broken the curse of death by rising in the flesh on the third day.  And now He baptizes your bodies into His death and life.  He speaks His Word of forgiveness into them.  He feeds your bodies with His own life-giving Body and Blood.  God claims your bodies as His temple.  He honors them with His presence and works through them to bless others.  And though these bodies will one day die and decay, God has promised to raise them and glorify them at Christ’s return.  He will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.

    So do not be led astray by all of the real April fools who would try to get you to doubt the Word of Christ and His resurrection.  The devil will continue flinging such excrement until the day of Judgment.  If there is no resurrection, if the body isn’t saved, then neither is the soul.  And so St. Paul says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”  If Christianity is only good for this life, if all Jesus is good for is to help us feel good about ourselves, cope with life, give our kids a little morality, then we are of all people the most pitiful.

    But Christ is risen from the dead.  Your greatest enemy has been defeated by the cross.  What’s the worst that can happen to you?  What is there left to be afraid of in this world if death is defeated and all sin is forgiven?  What do you have to fear of poverty, sickness, violence, cancer, hunger, persecution?  Christ has conquered and overcome it all for you.

    There is now great meaning to your life because Christ is risen.  There is meaning even in suffering and sorrow and affliction. And because of what we celebrate this day, your future is bright in Christ; it is brimming with promise.  Suffering will give way to resurrection.  Jesus Christ is risen today.  He is alive and among us to give Himself to us, even from this very altar.  He is our meat and drink indeed.  Faith lives upon no other.  Truly, this is the day which the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  

    The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

You Have Kept the Good Wine Until Now

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John 2:1-11
Epiphany 2

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

    The Apostle John writes his Gospel in such a way that there is often a twofold meaning in his words. On the one hand, John will narrate the true, literal words and actions of Jesus. But on the other hand, he will often do this in such a way as to emphasize a deeper point about Christ and His redeeming work. That is the case with today’s Gospel.  There is the straightforward, explicit meaning; but there is also a deeper, implicit meaning which shows us the ongoing significance of Christ’s miracle and how it still continues in the church.

    We know the story well, how the wine ran out at this wedding feast, how at His mother’s prodding, Jesus was moved to help out, how the servants filled six stone jars with water which Jesus then miraculously changed to wine, how when the new wine was taken to the master of the feast, he was pleased but also bothered that it wasn’t served first; for it was better than any of the other wines.

    So, what are we supposed to learn from this?  Well clearly we learn that Jesus is truly God. For no mere man can change one substance into another without doing something to it along the way.  Water gets turned into wine every year in vineyards and wineries throughout the world, as rainwater produces grapes and juice and fermentation makes the wine.  But here Jesus compresses all of that power of His creation into this one moment.  It is as we sang a moment ago: Jesus is “God in flesh made manifest.” This miracle reveals Jesus to be the divine Lord of the elements of creation, who cares even about the little things, like beverages at weddings feasts.

    We also clearly learn in this Gospel that Christ approves of marriage and honors it. For if He didn’t uphold marriage, He wouldn’t have sanctioned it here with His presence.  Especially in our current cultural context–where marriage is being redefined into nothingness, where people behave as if they’re free to join themselves together sexually without God first giving them to each other, where people cast marriage aside when it no longer fits their plans for self-fulfillment–with the casualties of the sexual revolution piling up all around us, we must constantly be reminded that matrimony is a holy thing, established by God Himself before sin ever entered the world. The Lord is the One who joins together a man and a woman and makes them to be husband and wife. Therefore, the marriage relationship should be held in the highest regard.

    Consider, after all, how the Lord has given two commandments that uphold this holy estate. In the 6th Commandment, the Lord seeks to protect marriage from adultery and to maintain the faithful unity of husband and wife. And in the 4th Commandment, He establishes the marital relationship as the foundation of the family and commands that the husband and wife be honored by their children.  We must learn, then, from our Lord’s presence at the wedding feast of Cana how He fully approves of married life.  Those who are single should honor God and this institution by remaining chaste. And those who are married should treat their spouse as a gift from the Lord Himself.

    And last of all, we clearly see from this Gospel that alcohol is not inherently sinful.  Alcohol can definitely be misused for self-indulgent purposes that unleash the sinful nature; drunkenness is clearly a sin.  Nevertheless, all of those who would call the good gifts of God’s creation evil must reckon with the fact that Jesus here produced about 150 gallons, the equivalent of more than 700 bottles, of vintage wine for the people to enjoy. We do better simply to follow the words of St. Paul in I Timothy: “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because the word of God and prayer make it holy.”

    All of this is the straightforward meaning of today’s Gospel. And yet John clues us in that there is still much more for the church to grasp in this account.  For John calls this miracle a “sign.” And signs point beyond themselves to something else, to a larger reality. This changing of water into wine, then, is a sign of something much greater.

    We begin to perceive what that something greater is in the very opening words of this passage: “on the third day.”  In this way the believer is told right from the start that the events at Cana are directly connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus, who rose from the grave “on the third day.” This sign points us to Christ’s greater work of overcoming the consuming power of the grave and restoring all of creation to its original newness and abundance.

    When Jesus was told by His mother that the wine ran out at the wedding banquet, Jesus responded to her with these strange words: “What does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” When Jesus refers to His “hour” in John’s Gospel, it is always a reference to His impending crucifixion. So why would Jesus make that connection?  What would running out of wine have to do with the cross?

    Part of the connection is revealed in the word used here to say that the wine failed and ran short.  It’s the very same word in Greek that is used in Romans 3, where St. Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The reason that the things of this creation fail us and run short is because we ourselves have failed and come up short in keeping God’s Law and living according to it. This has not only brought mortal judgment on us; it has brought a curse on all things. Even the blessings of God’s good creation are temporary.  Sooner or later all of our stuff will fail us.  The Scriptures say that the world in its present form is in bondage to decay and is passing away.

    So, when the wine ran out, that drew attention to the hour of Christ’s suffering and dying in order to redeem His sapped and fallen creation. Jesus reminds His mother that if she is going to appeal to him for a miracle, she must also deal with the cross, where He will break the curse of decay and death forever. Already here, then, Jesus was beginning to bring about the redemption of creation, which would come to fulfillment on Good Friday and Easter. For He was reversing the draining force of sin so that there was bounty and joy once again.

    In order for this creation to be made new again, the curse on it had to be removed.  And that curse was broken through the flesh of Christ sacrificed on Calvary.  Galatians 3 declares, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”  Jesus took the curse into Himself so that by His death sin’s draining domination over us and over creation would be undone.  All that saps the life out of this fallen world He has subdued and destroyed by His holy cross.

    The fact that this miracle occurs on the third day not only points forward to the resurrection, but also points back to the 3rd day of creation when God brought forth the fruit-bearing plants from the earth.  Jesus performs this sign with the fruit of the vine in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah’s kingdom.  It is written in Amos, “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when . . . sweet wine will drip from the mountains and flow from the hills.” No running short there! And Isaiah foretold a day when the Lord would swallow up death forever. Of that day he said this, “The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines.” In this miracle, then, we begin to see the very kingdom of God and the new creation breaking in, which will be revealed in all its glory on the Last Day.

    The six water pots were filled to the brim. For the fullness of time has come.  Jesus fulfills all that was written in Moses and the Prophets.  Out of the water of the Old Testament promises we draw the finest wine of Jesus Himself.  The number six points us to the day of man’s creation in the beginning.  And it points us to the day of our recreation on the sixth day, Good Friday.  The water and the wine in this miracle, then, are signs of the water and the blood which flowed from Jesus’ side and which flow to us now in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The six jars were used for ritual washing.  Likewise, the Scriptures say that Holy Baptism is the washing of regeneration, and that the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin.  Our Lord renewed the gifts of creation at Cana’s wedding feast, and now He renews us through His sacramental gifts in water and wine, so that we might be restored to the sweetness of life with God.  

    You must learn to see and believe, then, that the miracle of Cana still goes on; the wedding banquet continues.  The heavenly groom, Jesus Christ, comes in the Divine Service to His churchly bride to comfort you with His love.  By water and the Word He has made you His own.  And in Holy Communion you become one with Christ as He gives you His life and all that He is.  He who showed Himself to be Lord of the elements at Cana now shows Himself to be Lord of the elements on the altar.  He causes His blood and body to be present under the wine and the bread, and through this miracle He recreates you in Himself.  These elements of creation won’t fail you; for they deliver to you the Lord Himself who will never fail you or leave you.  His grace doesn’t run out; there is always enough and more.  That is why the Scriptures say, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

    Know, then, that the Lord here is giving you a vintage sign:  at Cana, at Calvary, and on the altar–a sign of His glory, glory revealed in His love for you.  As always, He has saved the choice wine for last.  He has given His best; and it is all for you.  Come, then, in faith to His table, that you may partake in the great wedding feast when He returns.  For it is written in Revelation 19, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”

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

St. Lucia Points Us to Christ

Revelation 7:9-17                                                    
Matthew 19:23-30

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    St. Lucia was born in Sicily in the year 283 A.D. to rich parents, members of the nobility.  However, her father died when she was still very small, and so she and her mother Eutychia were left alone.  Eutychia taught and raised her in the faith, and Lucia was a very devout and pious young woman.  In fact even though they still had much wealth, she desired to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor.  Her mother, though, did not permit her to do this.  

    But then something occurred that changed her mother’s mind.  Eutychia had been suffering for several years from a hemorrhage, a chronic flow of blood.  Lucia prayed for her mother’s healing.  Evidently, her prayer was answered.  Her mother was restored to health; the hemorrhage stopped.  In response to this wonderful gift of healing from God, Eutychia allowed Lucia to have her wish and to distribute the vast majority of her share of the family wealth to the poor.null

    There was just one problem.  Lucia had been betrothed to a deceitful young man who was not a Christian.  He loved Lucia’s riches more than her.  When she gave away her wealth, he was furious.  His greediness moved him to get revenge.  He went to the governor of Sicily and  exposed the fact to him that Lucia was a Christian.  This was during the year 303 when Christianity was still illegal and Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the church was taking place.  All that someone had to do was denounce a person publicly to the authorities, and that person would be arrested.  If they didn’t deny or recant their faith by cursing Christ and offering incense to Caesar, then they could be killed.

    Lucia did not recant or deny her faith in Christ even under this threat.  As a result she was tortured, her eyes were put out, and she was executed, perhaps having been burned at the stake.  Her martyr’s death immediately made her famous in Sicily, and the story of her life and death, with some embellishments, lives on to this day.  

    Particularly in Sweden, Lucia is remembered on December 13th by having one of the daughters of the house dress in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles and go singing from room to room early in the morning while it is still dark to awaken the other family members and to offer them cakes of saffron bread.  There are several reasons for this tradition.  First of all, Lucia is said to have once brought bread to needy people who were living in a cave.  This gift also reminds us of Lucia’s faith that Jesus is the Bread of Life.

    The other aspects of this tradition are also important.  The white robe is a reminder of the holiness of the saints who have died in Christ, and indeed of all those buried with Christ in baptism.  It is written of Christians in the book of Revelation, “These are they who come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” Jesus Christ.  St. Lucia’s holiness arose not from her own goodness or her virginity but from the cleansing forgiveness of Christ.  

    The crown of candles is also significant for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it indicates that even when Lucia no longer had her eyes, she still had the light of Christ to walk by.  She could yet “see” by faith, far better than any of her persecutors could ever see.  Though physically blind, she had better vision than any unbeliever.  For she was enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we say in the catechism.  Furthermore, the fact that these candles are worn as a crown is a reminder of the crown of glory that all believers shall inherit through Christ in heaven.  Though her life in this world ended in darkness and death, her eternal existence is one of light and life, even as it is for all the faithful.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”  

    Jesus entered our world of darkness by literally becoming one of us.  He was born at midnight in the cold that He might warm us with the light of His presence.  It is fitting that Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25th when the days are just beginning to grow lighter again. For He is the Light who wins out over the powers of darkness.  Though Jesus suffered on the cross under a dark shroud as the sacrifice for our sin, on the third day He came forth from the gloom of death in resurrection light.  He is the Sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in His wings, as we heard this past Sunday, and through faith in Him, Romans 8 says, we too are conquerors, victors over death and the devil.  

    St. Lucia bore witness to that fact in her life and in her death.  In fact the word “martyr” literally means “witness.”  In giving away much of her goods and wealth to help the poor, she bore witness to the love of Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich.  She bore witness to a belief in God as the Creator who can and will provide for all of our daily needs.  And in death she bore witness to God as the Recreator, who is more powerful than death.  She testified that she loved the Lord and His salvation even more than life itself in this world.  Like Abraham, she was looking for a better country, a heavenly one.  She knew that the only way to have life in the world to come is to lay down your life in the world that is.

    So it is also for you, especially in this Advent tide as you set your hearts on the coming of the Lord.  You may not be called to be a martyr, but you are given to testify to Christ in word and deed and to take up your cross and follow Him.  Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Baptized into Christ, you are given to live the pattern of His life–humility before glory, death before resurrection, crucifying your old Adam that Christ may be pre-eminent and that His life may show forth in and through you.  

    This life of repentance and faith is not easy.  It is truly a narrow road on which you are called to run.  But along this road, Hebrews says, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses–Abraham and Joseph and Moses, Gideon and David and Samuel, prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs like Lucia.  And above all, you are upheld by Him who laid this path and ran it for you, Jesus.  Consider Him, Hebrews says, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Your road will end up where Christ’s ended up, for you are in Him.  What is now only a candle in the darkness will soon be the dawning of the everlasting Day of resurrection at Jesus’ return.  Let that joy set before you give you endurance in the faith.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠