The Veil of the Liturgy Lifted – thoughts for All Saints’ Day

“Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them.” – Matthew 5:1-2

Here in these verses is contained all the works and majesty and mercy of God. The Lord looks down from heaven and sees all the children of men; from where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth. He who fashions the hearts of us all and observes all our deeds. (Ps. 33:13-15) And observing the crowds, the multitude of men, women, and children who populate the earth and toil and spin in vain, working for righteousness by their deeds and morals, working for prosperity in created things such as silver and gold, working toward immortality by vain efforts of heroism and epitaphs of glorious deeds of valor and strength; the Lord looks upon the multitude and has pity and compassion. For He is a God of compassion.

For when He looks out upon the multitude He sees that their works are like rags and that they are as sheep without a shepherd. He looks and sees that there are none who seek after God and none who do good (Ps. 14:2; 53:2) and so He acts on our behalf.

He went up the mountain.

As the eternal sage and wise man, He went up the mountain of wisdom and knowledge so that He could teach the people from the mountain of God, from the mouth of God. Only the lesson is not like the lessons of men and the instruction is not like the instruction of men. For God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. So it is that in ascending the mountain He descended to earth. For who has descended accept the one who ascended? In ascending the mountain He was brought low to a stable that He might ascend the mountain called Calvary to teach the mercy of God; that He would ascend the hill called Golgotha that we would learn the lesson of life. The Lord went up the mountain to pray for sinners and teach them the ways of God, which are ways of mercy and grace and lead to eternal life. The Lord went up the mountain to do for men what we could not do for ourselves. He went up the mountain to obey the Father, to be obedient unto death. He went up the mountain that He might be the pinnacle of humanity and the leader of the human race.

And having accomplished everything His Father commanded, having made purification for sin and having offered for all time the single sacrifice for sin, having been lifted up by sinners as the pure and undefiled Lamb of God (Jn. 8:28) that takes away the sin of the world, He was then lifted up from the earth by God, and sat down at the right hand the majesty on high (Heb. 1:3; 10:12). Having done all that was commanded of Him, the Son of Man was exalted by God to the right hand of the power of God (Luke 22:69). And having been lifted up from the earth He draws all men to Himself; for He died a death for all men and the life He lives He lives to God for all men (Jn. 12:32; Ro. 6:10). And there around His throne whereupon He sits in majesty, splendor, and radiance, from whence He rules the nations, there His disciples gather to Him having washed their robes in His blood and made them white as snow.

And from there, from His place of rest where He sits; from His throne of glory and exaltation; from His seat of authority over life and death and over all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, from there He opens His mouth and teaches that numberless multitude from every nation, from every tribe and peoples and tongues who stand before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. He teaches you the ways of the Lord.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Numbered among the numberless multitude, your voice joins theirs as you cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And you serve the Lord day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shelters you with His presence (Rev. 7:10, 15). And you no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness, for in Him you are satisfied. You are no longer scorched by the sun and heat of toil, toiling after eternal life, for in Him you rest and live forever. The Lamb in the midst of the throne is your shepherd, and He guides you to springs of living water, and God wipes away your tears. For in Him is peace forevermore. Amen.

Jesus, if you’re real…

Jesus BillboardWhat do you pray for? Healing? A better job? Any job? A better marriage? For your kids’ safety? Chances are you pray for a whole litany of things. And the more dire things are, the more fervently you pray. Even if you don’t go to church or believe all that “Bible stuff” you still pray. Everyone prays. Everyone cries out to something when life goes wrong. Even the atheist prays when his plane is about to crash. I don’t care particularly to whom you pray, my point is that you do indeed pray. Most of us pray to the god called “Fate”. We say to Fate, “I’m good; I’ve tried to do my best. Would you please give me a break and cut me some slack!?” Even if you call it wishful thinking, you’re desperately hoping that someone or something will grant your wish. That’s praying. After all, the word “pray” simply means to petition, to ask.

But I would go further and say that even if you don’t believe all that “Bible stuff” or go to church or even consider yourself a Christian, still you pray to the Man who changed water into wine. You seek Him out in your prayers. You don’t have to admit it to me or to anyone else. I don’t know who you are. But you know that when the proverbial poop has hit the fan and you’ve hit your knees because the weight of  the world has come crashing down on you, whether you’ve just got a gut-wrenching phone call or have come from a heart-rending doctor’s visit, when all the chips are down and you’ve nothing left to hang on to, you pray to the Son of Mary. “Jesus, if you’re real…!”

You can fill in the blank. You’ve prayed it before. Probably many times. Even if you call yourself “Christian” you’ve prayed it. Even if you think the Bible is a load of crap, you’ve hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe, if even a smidgen of it is true, He’ll have compassion on you and heal you or your loved one or even bring them back from the dead. In your desperation you have sought the Son of God.

How beautiful, then, that He promises that whoever seeks finds and whoever asks receives and to whomever knocks the door is opened! Oh, I know, your wish list wasn’t granted. Mine either. (You think pastors don’t have wishful prayers?) But you have sought the Lord! You have sought the Lord and the Lord has made Himself known to you. How else do you explain your grandmother’s insistence that you go to the Lord’s gathering on Sunday? How else do you explain those bothersome Christian friends of yours that are always trying to get you to come to church with them? How else do you explain your reading this article? How else do explain you knowing about the gospel of the Lord Jesus, that He has reconciled you to God by His blood and will raise you from the dead. How else do you explain it except that as infrequently and spottily as you have sought Him, He has diligently and without rest sought you!

Which reminds me, all those sicknesses you’ve asked to be healed of, all those deaths you’ve asked to be undone; they’re answered. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Your cancer is healed in His flesh. Your back pain and debilitating disease is healed in His risen flesh. Not right now, you object? No evidence, you say? If that’s your argument then don’t go to the doctor for chemo because it takes a while to work and you won’t be healed immediately and not everyone is healed by it. If that’s your argument then don’t get a job because it takes a couple of weeks to get a paycheck and your money problems won’t magically disappear. You wait for stuff all the time, even impatiently, but you still wait. So we wait now, with baited breath we wait upon the Lord, eagerly anticipating the revealing of the sons of God. We wait for the Man of heaven to raise the dead and give life to those who call upon His name. And those who wait upon the Lord renew their strength so that they run and do not grow weary; they walk and do not faint; they mount up with wings like eagles. For all who call upon His name shall be made whole – that is, their prayers shall be answered – in Jesus’ name. See you at the Lord’s gathering on Sunday.

Summoned by the King

This parable of the merciful king is not one of salvation. It’s not a sowing the seed parable or a pearl of great price parable. It’s a wheat and tares parable; a sheep and goat parable; a good vs. bad fish parable. It’s a parable about the tares, the goats and the bad fish. It’s a parable about those who say, “Lord, Lord,” but do not keep His word.

But it’s not a parable about salvation. You aren’t saved from death and hell because you forgive from the heart. You forgive from the heart because you are saved from death and hell. You forgive from the heart not in order to get a new heart, but since you have been given a new heart, you forgive from it. By saying, “Unless you forgive from your heart,” is not our Lord saying once you learn to do this you will also be forgiven. That’s absurd. How can we learn to forgive from a heart that is trapped in sin and unbelief, from which comes all manner of evil and covetous desires? Our heart must be made new. It must be reformed and reshaped. It must be recreated before it can do the things of the new creation. So we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

This parable is about from whom you come and where you are going.

Consider the wicked servant. He came from the darkness of debt, summoned by the king to come into the presence of the king. Summoned so that his account would be settled by the king who want to settle his account. The king didn’t want the servant’s money or things; he wanted to settle the account with his servant. He wanted to free his servant from the great debt he owed to his king. So the king summoned him from the darkness of bondage and brought him into his presence to shine the light of freedom on the face of his servant. The pity of the king wasn’t because of the servant’s plea for patience and promise to repay all that he owed. The king’s pity was born of his own heart. For from his hear the king forgives his servant.

You have been summoned by the King. Here you are in His courtroom. Here you are in His light, gathered in His presence that He might shine His light of truth and mercy upon you, to have you pity on you and forgive your great debt. He doesn’t want to sell you into slavery, or to take from you your wife and children or anything that is yours. He wants to set you free from your debt that would have cost you everything. He has summoned you to forgive you from His heart that hung upon the cross and cancel the record of debt that would cost you everything.

Our sin costs us everything. The devil lies to you and tells you that your sin doesn’t cost you anything, that your sin is only an imaginary line between what you call good and evil; an imaginary line that separates decency and indecency. So that sin becomes nothing more than too much. It becomes the difference between money and too much money; between sex and too much sex; between drinking and too much drinking; gambling and too much gambling; gossiping and too much gossiping. The deceiver would deceive you as he has deceived the nations by making sin only a line of morality set by the comfort level of men and women. So that if you can change the comfort level then you can change what is sinful. We become comfortable with a certain amount of gossip, so we stop calling it sin. We become comfortable with a certain amount of divorce for certain reasons like the pursuit of happiness and fairy-tale love, so divorce is no longer called sin. We become comfortable with the pornography of primetime TV and PG-13 movies and the songs on our radio, so that living together before marriage, sex outside of marriage, and homosexuality cease to be sin and become morally acceptable even if it’s not our preference. We become comfortable with sex for pleasure only so that birth control is touted as good stewardship and being responsible. And the God-given mandate to procreate is set aside for the man-driven idea of family planning and freedom from responsibility in sex. What was once divine has become moralized. It is easily to grow accustom to the devil’s morals and forget the word of God. You can be sure that wherever God makes His will known, there the devil builds a morality of men to do away with the will of God. And the devil dances the jig on the graves of God’s commandments. The devil doesn’t have to convince you to disobey God, he only has to convince you to be good and that you are good, but there is only one who is good.

So the devil does his best to make the Christian faith a faith about moral behavior. If he can get the preachers to preach morals and the people to judge based on the accepted morals of men, then he has done away with sin and righteousness and the justice of God. And he has trapped us in our sin and binds us to shame. Even though we think we are good and right. And we become as the emperor who is proud of his wardrobe only to have a child proclaim that we don’t actually have any clothes. When we listen to the morals of men rather than the commands of God we become as the wicked servant who didn’t ask for forgiveness but simply asked for more time to make good his debt. And we find ourselves believing in purgatory: time we have to make up for sins of our past. How silly we are.

Ironically, if we would listen to the fairy-tales of children we would be better off. Because Jack and Jill thought to ascend the hill to take what belonged to God, and Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. Hansel and Gretel followed their heart and gathered wealth a plenty; and the witch who’d led them down the path of gluttony ate their flesh and bones. Our sin costs us everything.

But the king has pity. He forgives our debt. He cancels what we owe. He restores our lives. Our sin would cost us our wives and children, but he gives them back by forgiving our sin. Our sin would cost us our reputations and livelihoods, but the king restores them by forgiving our sin. The king forgives us wholly and completely. He’s not interested in your behavior to settle your account. He’s not interested in the money we call good works. He simply declares you debt free, freeing you from the bondage of your sin and the destruction it would cause.

You are free.

And now you go forth from the King’s presence. You go forth in the mercy and forgiveness of the great King. You go and forgive as you have been forgiven, from your heart. For your heart is here made new, created anew by the heart of all men, Christ Jesus. He is your heart and from your heart you forgive others every grievance and sin they have against you. Every lie told about you, every penny stolen from you, every defamation of your character, every pain others have caused you, whatever they have done to you and against you. You cancel their debt. You forgive from your heart who is Christ, and the light of Christ shines through you onto the face of all men.

To do otherwise is to return to the darkness of sin. To do otherwise is to mock God and call Him a liar. To do otherwise is to expose you as one who does not come from us and who is not one of us. To do otherwise is loose everything. For the one who seeks to keep his life will loose it, while the one who looses his life for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel will be given eternal life. For what is required of you, O man, but to love the Lord, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Seven, Seventy-seven, and the Christ.

Peter wants to know if seven times is sufficient to forgive a brother who sins against him. Our Lord compounds it by saying that seventy times seven is enough, eternal implications. But they’re not merely numbers.

Cain will be avenged seven-fold. But Lamech seventy-seven fold. From Adam, Lamech is the seventh through Cain. Cain’s murder is repeated by Lamech. Lamech knows this and knows that the generations of Cain being free from accounting is over. Lamech’s son, or Lamech himself, will pay the penalty. So Lamech swears that if Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then his is to be seventy-sevenfold! God has mercy and seventy generations later Jesus is born.

Jesus is born seventy-seven generations from Adam, according to Luke, who unlike Matthew begins with Jesus’ birth. Luke begins with Jesus and moves to God showing Jesus ascension to the right hand of God, to show that Jesus is the answer to all the sins of the generations going back to Adam. Jesus is the answer to Lamech’s fear and is the restitution of Cain’s murder. Jesus is the son of Adam that cannot be killed. He is the Son of God that makes all the sons of men righteous.

Peter is to forgive his brother by Christ’s forgiveness who is the forgiveness of all men; an eternal forgiveness.

Some (rambling) thoughts on Trinity 21

Jesus seems to decry signs and wonders in John 4 (for us Michaelmas skippers), saying to the man who want’s his son healed, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” But perhaps it only seems that he is decrying signs and wonders because we remember His rebuke that an adulterous generation asks for signs. I say ‘seems’ because the evangelist writes that, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (Jn. 20:30-31)

In light of 20:30-31, it ‘seems’ that signs and wonders are a good thing and that they are a catalyst of belief.

Perhaps the difference is that the man didn’t ask for signs and wonders in order to believe, but asked for healing for his son because he did believe. Prayer is born of faith. On the other hand, the pericope concludes with the man discovering that his son was healed the hour when the Lord said to him, “Your son will live,” so that “he himself believed, and all his household.” The man believed because of the sign of the water into wine AND because of Jesus’ words. Who’s to say which faith is right or wrong when both led the man to seek and honor the Lord, asking for His blessing and compassion?

The pericope entangles the signs and words of Jesus together so intricately that you don’t have one without the other. Jesus performed signs so that the disciples believed on Him, also saying that His words are life. It seems John emphasizes belief that Jesus is the Son of God who gives life in a way that isn’t all that familiar to us as Lutherans. We prefer to have Jesus believed on as the one who forgives our sins – taught by John especially on the lips of St. John the Baptist – stressing the words of Jesus, even sometimes saying that if we don’t believe that Jesus forgives us all our sins by His blood, then believing that He is the Son of God is a moot point. Indeed, faith comes from the external word, but sometimes that word says something by signs and wonders and sometimes by forming words and syllables.

The point is that the Son of God came to dwell among us to lead dead men to life. After all, dead men can’t drink wine.