quod pro nobis traditum est

Monday, June 26, 2006

Trinity 2 / Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

ST. LUKE 14:15-24

In today's Gospel lesson we hear of the greatness of God's mercy to all people. He sends His Servant, the Messiah, as He promised His people in the Old Testament. The Messiah, or Christ, is the Anointed One, chosen by God to fulfill the Scriptures and bring salvation to His people. Prior to Jesus telling about the man and his invitation to a great banquet, He accepted the invitation to eat bread with a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, a religious group. The Pharisees watched Him closely for His teachings and His miracles seemed to go against the Law. On that occasion, while he was at table with this ruler, he showed mercy on a man and healed him of dropsy. This occurred on the Sabbath. Was it lawful for Jesus to do this work on the Sabbath? To the Pharisees this act of healing broke the Sabbath Law. What appeared externally to be work was indeed an act of mercy and, according to Jesus, was the purpose of the Sabbath.

We also need this reminder of the Sabbath not just for the day itself but for the sake of coming to know better God and His mercy for us. This is the day of rest for God's people just as He commanded. God's merciful healing in Christ is especially made available and given to His people on this day. This day has both God’s command and promise. Today is also the Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg Confession is the primary document of the Reformation and was presented to the Roman Emporer Charles V on June 25, 1530. The document was written and presented as an attempt to find unity between the Reformers and the Roman Church. The central teaching on salvation is made in Article IV that people "are freely justified for Christ's sake" or "that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace for Christ's sake, through faith." The Reformers were concerned about the Scriptural teaching of the centrality of God's mercy toward people and how, on account of His mercy in Christ, He makes us righteous and gives us salvation.

Article V of the Augsburg Confession makes clear how we receive this saving faith, "In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel." In short, God's grace and mercy is ours and comes to us in the waters of Baptism, in the teaching and hearing of the Gospel and in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper just as it came to God’s people of old through means God had chosen. The apostolic teaching and ministry continues in the Church today. While in the world people can come to know that there is a God it is here that people are brought to faith and God’s salvation in Christ.

So that we do not forget God's mercy to all people and do not forget the intention of the Augsburg Confession, the Reformers write the following words which conclude the main articles of the document: "This is about the sum of our teaching. As can be seen, there is nothing [in these articles] that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers." So far the Augsburg Confession. This may seem to be paying unnecessary attention to doctrine or church history. On the other hand, and what is helpful in remembering such things as the Augsburg Confession on this day, is that the Scriptural teaching of God's mercy in Christ continues to be proclaimed to all people and is available and given to us and all people in the church and her ministry today. Also, you may find it interesting that Pope Benedict, prior to being named pope, and while working at the Vatican as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called upon the Roman Catholic Church to adopt the Augsburg Confession as a document of the Church.

While eating with the ruler of the Pharisees Jesus noticed how those gathered sat there at the table and he taught them a parable on being invited to a marriage feast. He says, do not go to the place of honor but to the lowest place that the host may come to you and invite you to go to the higher place. He also told the man who invited Him that in giving a dinner or banquet that he ought not invite family, friends or rich neighbors. They can repay him. Rather, Jesus teaches, "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (v. 14) Jesus takes the opportunity of his invitation to this meal by the ruler to teach the meaning of inviting and being invited. Here is an opportunity to learn humility and receive mercy. This is what faith is, humbly receiving the mercy that God so freely gives to those in need.

The best illustration of humbly receiving God’s mercy is that of a child receiving Holy Baptism. At Baptism God gives that child His grace and mercy and welcomes that child into the church and even puts His holy name on him or her. The child, though born sinful and not deserving of God’s love and mercy, is clothed with Christ through water and the Word. He or she is baptized into Christ’s death and raised to new life freely given him or her in Christ. The parents bring their child to be baptized and the pastor puts the water on the child’s head but this is all the work of God’s love and mercy toward that child. Basically, God is saying in Baptism that He loves that child and wants that child to freely have His mercy and salvation. So it appears simple with the pouring of water but at the same time this is a wonderful and miraculous work of God’s mercy to all people. The same can be said of Holy Communion. It appears to be simple bread and wine but it is a wonderful and miraculous work of God’s mercy for His baptized people in Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ talk of invitation to the banquet takes place because He Himself was invited to the table of the ruler and because in accepting this invitation He is also giving those who are present the opportunity to receive God’s invitation to eat bread in the kingdom of God. This is the purpose for which Jesus was sent by the Father. He is on the road to the cross where He will become the sacrificial Lamb. With the shedding of His blood all sin is paid for and washed clean. God reconciles the world to Himself and sinful man, who deserves nothing but God’s wrath and punishment, has peace with God. The cross is where God works His mercy toward the world and conquers our enemies of sin, death and devil. Through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross people are given the invitation to the banquet feast where everything is ready.

Jesus tells those who reject Him that they are invited to eat bread in the kingdom of heaven with Him. “But they all alike began to make excuses.” Three are mentioned here. One bought a field, one bought five yoke of oxen and the third was married. They could not come to the great banquet because they were pre-occupied with other things. The result is that they lose out on tasting the householder’s banquet. Instead, the poor and maimed and blind and lame are welcomed in and people are not only invited but compelled to come in. Salvation is extended beyond the chosen people of Israel to the Gentiles and all are invited, all are recipients of God’s mercy in Christ, that they may taste of the banquet and His house be filled. It could very well be that the householder is God the Father and His servant is Christ Himself. Indeed Christ brings the Father’s invitation in the Spirit to partake of His mercy. There is really no excuse to reject God’s mercy and yet many people do. The way is narrow. Not that the invitation is not for all but because the majority are worried about the things of this life that they have no time for the things from above. They do not recognize Jesus when He is standing in front of them. So Jesus came and brings the Father’s invitation. This is seen in the Last Supper where He speaks of His Body and His Blood to His disciples as the new testament just prior to His death. The disciples’ eyes are opened to knowing who Jesus is and that He is risen as their eyes were open in His presence in the breaking of the bread.

“The Supreme Father therefore is inviting you to the Supper of eternal joy, but while one man is given over to greed, another to curiosity, another to the delight of the flesh, all the reprobate make excuses. While one man is held back by earthly cares, this other by acute anxiety over somebody else’s business, and the mind of yet another is given over to bodily lust, each in turn contemptuous hastens not to the feast of eternal life.” (Gregory, 183) Today at this altar the invitation of mercy is once again made. Here is forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Here we poor sinners rejoice in knowing that we have received the invitation and are partakers of that promised feast of eternal life. The Servant of God brings the invitation and He has prepared the table. Come, for all is now ready. Amen.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Faith of the Fathers

Father's Day happened to be a good fit for the First Sunday after Trinity. . .

Hear Father Abraham's words to the rich man in torment,
"'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither
will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "
(Luke 16)

Some fathers believe they do their children a favor
by not "forcing" them to come to church. The rich man
thought his brothers could be convinced and saved by the
resurrection from the dead. So we seek signs of success
or we wait until tragedy before we are ready to hear God's Word.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The
hearing of Moses and the prophets, the apostles and evangelists,
unites both parents and children in the one true faith in our Father
who is in heaven. This faith is created, nourished and strengthened
on earth in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of our Lord
Jesus Christ.

The Church is paid for with the Lord's blood and this shed blood
pours out forgiveness of sins in sacramental realities. It is like the beggar,
Lazarus, who has been carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom.
He lives forever in the mercy of God.

The mercy of the Lord endures forever. From generation to generation
the Church lives by the Lord's mercy. The Church lives in the holy
tradition of receiving and hearing the Scriptures, being united to Christ
and His Church in the Holy Eucharist, and confessing that faith in the
Creeds. This is not a tradition that we are embarrased to pass on
to our children.

Abraham believed the Lord and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
(Gen. 15) As those baptized into Christ we are made children of
Abraham. Like Abraham we share in Christ's righteousness.
"If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus
Christ the righteous." (1 John 2)

This is the faith of the fathers, theirs and ours, handed down from
generation to generation of those who love God and keep His
commandments. "We love Him because He first loved us . . .
And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves
God must love his brother also." (1 John 4)

A father shows his love for his children when he brings them to
his Father's house. Here is where our children hear the Scriptures
with the Church and are drawn to see the face of the Father
in the face of His Son.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost Homily

Day of Pentecost 4 June 2006
“Keeping Jesus’ Words” John 14:23-31

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Church was born in the resurrected Lord's appearance to His disciples in the closed room where He breathed His Spirit on them and gave them the keys of the kingdom. As promised of the Father, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent in the preaching of St. Peter. All who were gathered in the hearing of God’s Word, though they were of many nationalities and languages, heard in the preaching of Peter one language, that is, they heard of God’s love and His salvation for them in Jesus Christ. This is the Man who they rejected and crucified who became for them their forgiveness and salvation. In Christ God reconciles His enemies, even you and me, who are enemies of God because of sin. Thus the death of Christ is brought about by those who think they are doing service to God but, in reality, this death is really the work of God who is doing service to man, rescuing us from sin, death and eternal condemnation. The Church, born of God’s Spirit, continues in the apostolic doctrine; that is she remains in, abides in, or keeps the words of Jesus and, gathered at the altar, proclaims the Lord's death until He comes. The Church then, in continuity with the Church at Pentecost, keeps the living tradition of the faith as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) This book has also been called, and rightly so, the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
The Church's life in the Spirit with her eyes focused on Christ, is quite practical. The believers, having been turned away from sin and unbelief, are now led by the Spirit in communion with Christ and drawn to the Father in heaven. They enjoy the life of Christ, that is His forgiveness of sins and salvation. They know God as a merciful God. Rather than being a burden, the hearing and keeping of Jesus’ words becomes the very stuff of life itself. The Lord’s Day is changed so that families can gather together in Jesus’ name and the historic liturgy bears the same Spirit that gave life to the early church and kept her in the one true faith. We are part of that same catholic tradition. For example, we are taught the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer and yet we can never fully know and understand the faith which we receive through these gifts of the Spirit. As Dr. Luther writes in the Large Catechism, "However no human wisdom can understand the Creed. It must be taught by the Holy Spirit alone (1 Cor. 2:12)." (LC, II)
The faith that we are taught is given to us in the preaching, in catechesis, in the prayerful study and meditation on the Word of God. The Divine Service is a time set apart from the world for the children of God to be gathered in reverence and receive God's Spirit through the words of Jesus. Here we are joined together with the Church of all times and places and the Church in heaven for the hearing and speaking of the one language of the Church, that is the voice of Christ, spoken to us in the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us all things and brings into our remembrance the words of Christ Himself. This is demonstrated so clearly at the Altar in the giving and receiving of Christ's Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. This is My Body. This is My Blood. Do this in remembrance of Me. The Church remembers Christ and His words because He first remembers her and never leaves nor forsakes His bride. "If anyone loves, Me, he will keep my word; and the Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with Him." The words of the Spirit are the words of Jesus and the words of Jesus are the words of the Father. The peace Jesus leaves His disciples before He leaves to suffer and die for them and for the world is the same peace that His disciples and His Church today receive through that same death where God has truly loved us and truly reconciled us to Himself. In Christ's forgiveness and in His peace in the Holy Spirit we are strengthened and united and kept in the one language of the one true faith. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.