Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sermon for 9/25/11: Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Jesus the Priest

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thanks to advances in medicine, leprosy is not a disease that we worry about today. That was not always the case. In the ancient world, leprosy was a dreadful disease. To be infected with this disease was to face a grim future that included infection and disfigurement, exclusion from the community, and ultimately death. These lepers lived a life of living death. Their disease cut them off from their families and their communities. They were, according to the Law, unclean and therefore without access to the presence of God. Now these men—one of whom was a Samaritan—were bound together by their affliction. Under ordinary circumstances they would have had nothing to do with each other. The Jews would have considered the Samaritan unclean. But now they are tied together by this common bond.

Luke tells us that as the Lord Jesus made His way through the midst of Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem, he approaches an unnamed village. And as He approaches that village, these ten lepers standing afar off cry out to Him: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They dare not get to close for the law kept them apart less they spread their disease. They were judged to be contagious. They could only cry out from a distance for mercy. They speak their prayer for us mercy for they know themselves to be in need of mercy. Mercy is God withholding from us the wrath and judgment that we deserve. If grace is God giving us the favor that we do not deserve, then mercy is God not giving us the punishment that our sins deserve. Mercy is that divine pity that will not let sin have its way with us and pay us off in death. So just as in the Divine Service, where the Lord Jesus approaches us in His Word, and we cry out in the Kyrie, "Lord, have mercy upon us"; these men implore the same Lord to have mercy. They beg Him not to turn away from them in their need.

Now Jesus answers that prayer in what appears to be a strange sort of way. In effect, He tells these lepers to act as though they were already healed. He says, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, those who thought that their leprosy was cured were instructed to present themselves to the priests. The priest was to examine the leper and if his leprosy was indeed gone, the priest would perform a rite of purification and cleansing and offer the appointed sacrifice. Leviticus says, "So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean."

So these lepers take Jesus at His word and off they run to the priest. Luke writes, "And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed." Can you imagine their sheer joy as they look down at their hands and arms to discover that the hideous disease is gone? Gone are the things that had characterized their existence as lepers. Luke doesn't tell us how they responded to the healing. No doubt they went to the priests, were examined, declared clean, offered the sacrifices and returned to the their homes full of gratitude that their flesh was restored to health and that they were reunited to family and friends. Luke zeroes in the leper who could not have gone to the temple; he could not be seen by a priest because he was a Samaritan. He was doubly unclean. He was unclean because of his leprosy, but he was also unclean because he was a Samaritan. The temple was off-limits to him.

So what does this Samaritan do? Listen again to the words of our Gospel: "Now one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks." It is not merely that the Samaritan has enough good manners and common civility to return to say "thanks" while the other nine men were self-absorbed and didn't have the decency to express their gratitude to Jesus. Rather, the Samaritan comes to confess that Jesus is God in the flesh, for it is Jesus who has healed him from leprosy and restored him to life.

The Samaritan's worship at the feet of Jesus is a confession that Jesus is the Temple of God; He is the Priest who gives us access to God. The temple was the place where God caused His glory to dwell. Hallowed by His name, the temple was the place where God had located His presence for His people. But now that temple of mortar and stone is fulfilled and replaced by Immanuel, God in the flesh.

In the Old Testament, the temple was the place of sacrifice. The sacrifices were the means that God had appointed for the covering of sins and the cleansing of those who were defiled by their sin. And those sacrifices pointed to Jesus Christ who came in our flesh as the Lamb of God to bear our sin and be our Redeemer. He came without spot or blemish, perfect man and true God to die as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is both the priest and victim of sacrifice. By His death, He has blotted out our sin.

The Samaritan ex-leper got it right! He knew where to worship. He fell down at the feet of Jesus glorifying Him and giving thanks for all His benefits. Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God is the place of our worship. Like that leper now cleansed of His leprosy we are where Jesus is. And Jesus is here just as He has promised. He is here in the Baptism that joins us to His death and resurrection. He is here in His words that give us the forgiveness of our sins. He is here with His body and blood to give us the pledge and testament of life and salvation. True worship takes place where God locates Himself, where He puts Himself for us. That's why Christians reject as paganism the old argument that says, "I don't have to come to church to worship God. I can worship God on the golf course." It is not that God is absent from the golf course, but that God has not promised to be there for you, to give you the sure words of salvation in Christ.

The Samaritan's life was restored. It was lived on the strength of all that He had received from Jesus Christ. God grant that blessing for us as well as He draws us week after week in this place to hear His Gospel and eat and drink at His Table; for He will say to you, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well." In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PARODY: Feel Like Bacon Love

A parody of "Feel Like Making Love" by Bad Company. For Pastor Cwirla.

Bacon, when I think about you,
I think about love.
Bacon, if I live without you,
I live without love.
If I had those hunger pangs
Just like yesterday,
I would fry you in a skillet,
Leave you browning all the way.
Feel like bacon!

Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love; do you?

Bacon, when I think about you,
I think about love.
Bacon, can't live without you:
Bacon love!
If I had some scrambled eggs
I'd been fryin',
I would brown some bacon slices--
Sends me flyin'.
Feel like bacon!

(chorus) Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love; do you?

If I had those hunger pangs
Just like yesterday,
I would fry you in a skillet,
Leave you browning all the way.
Feel like bacon!

(chorus) Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love!
Feel like bacon love; do you?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sermon for 9/18/11: Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

What Must I Do?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A young lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him the question, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds with another question: What is written in the law? What is your reading of it? Now this would be easy to overlook, but we have here a hallmark of the Old Testament faith. Jesus asked the question first of all about the Law. What is written in the Law? And the lawyer knew the answer! He responded, not by saying what he felt was right or wrong; no, he responded by God’s own words from Deuteronomy: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

This lawyer didn’t learn these words on his own. Someone had to teach them to him. His parents. It is the responsibility of the parents to teach and pass on the faith to their children. This lawyer knew the answer to Jesus’ question, and responded with a summary of the 10 Commandments. Now this gives us a little insight into how our Lord wants this done. Passing on God’s Word is something that is active. Children and adults don’t simply learn these things by observing. No, it’s work. It has to be taught, step-by-step, and even word-by-word. Certainly this is a labor of love, because passing on God’s Word is the most important gift that you can ever give someone. But it doesn’t just happen by occasionally talking about it or wishing it will happen.

So we then move to Jesus’ second question: What is your reading of it? In other words, what does the Law mean? Now this is the harder question. In order to answer this question, the lawyer first of all had to know the answer to the first. He had to know the words of the Law. He knew the words, but he didn’t get the meaning. Learning the words without knowing the meaning does no good in the end. The lawyer believed that the point of the Law was that you could keep it. He thought, he firmly believed in his heart, that he could do everything in the Law. He thought he could be perfect. But obviously this is not so. This lawyer was dead in trespasses and sins. He knew the Law, but he didn’t keep it. He worked with the false assumption that keeping the Law was easy. As long as he didn’t kill anyone or cause any real harm, then, so he thought, he had kept the Law.

Now this is how you and I think about the Law by nature. When we think about the Law at all, we think that it is good because it applies to other people. I will teach the Law to my children so that they will behave. Or, I will teach the Law so that it will look like I am a better person. This is the way the Law works in the world. The Law teaches us to behave. It teaches me how to be a better person, so that I can get to heaven, right? Wrong. The Law kills. It teaches us first of all what God’s will is, and then secondly that we cannot keep it. No one can. But we in our arrogance and pride blithely go through life believing that we can do God’s will. Jesus, though, is about to teach us the true nature of Law and Gospel.

How? He tells us a story. A certain man went from Jerusalem down to Jericho and fell among thieves. He is stripped, beaten and left for dead. A priest sees him and goes on the other side, and so does a Levite, another keeper of the Law. The impression you get from the text is that these so-called pious men had more important things to do. The priest had to do his duty in the Temple, the Levite had to keep up with his duties for God as well. They didn’t have time for this man who fell on hard times. But another man came along the road. He was a Samaritan, a outsider and not a part of the chosen people. But he saw this man left for dead and had compassion on him. The word for compassion there is a great one. It means that his guts were moved to help him. He ached to help the man. This Samaritan, this outcast then helps the man, binds up his wounds, pours oil and wine on them, sets him on his own animal, and took him to an inn to care for him. Then this Samaritan says to the innkeeper, Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.

What’s the point of the story? The point of the story is that the lawyer is the man lying half dead beside the road. And so are you. The Law reveals to us that even if we think we can go along life without a care in the road, sin seeks constantly to destroy. And so we really are half-dead, helpless and without hope, left to ourselves. Knowing this, how can I presume to go and do likewise?

But Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Where you and I fail to keep the Law because of sin, Jesus is the one who binds up your wounds, sets you on His animal, the Word of God, and carries you into the Inn of his Church. Jesus does it, because you can’t. No amount of willpower, no amount of work or planning or anything on our part will ever save anyone. You can’t force someone into heaven. But Jesus uses His Word, proclaimed from the pulpit, taught in Bible class and Sunday school and Catechism instruction, and taught by fathers and mothers around the dinner table, and in Christian schools. He uses this word to bring healing and forgiveness. What a treasure! What an opportunity and blessing God gives to us! We are His hands and feet and mouth to pass on his Word. And even though our efforts are incomplete, because of Christ and His work on the cross, God’s Word is taught and carried forth to the ends of the earth.

So no matter how great your sin, no matter how much you have failed to teach God’s Word or to hear it, your sin isn’t too great for the God who saves by His blood. As we heard in Hosea 6, Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. We may not always understand God’s ways, but one thing is certain: you can look at His cross and know that He loves you, and that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And that means there is nothing left for you to do. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sermon for 9/11/11: Twelfth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

O Lord, Open My Lips

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is not incorrect to see the working of the devil in our physical troubles. It was through Satan’s temptations that sin entered this world, bringing with it sickness, and pain, and death itself. Such is Satan’s goal, to disrupt and tear down the lives and capacities of those who have been made in the image of God, to cause people trouble in both soul and body. He does this, of course, to turn our hearts away from the Lord. Nevertheless, our Lord uses even Satan’s destructive schemes to accomplish His own righteous purposes. The apostle Paul spoke of how although God wouldn’t take away his physical troubles, He taught Paul through those troubles to trust completely in His grace and power in Christ. In this way, the devil’s attacks are turned upside down so that they move us to hold even more tightly to the Lord’s salvation. Though we may be weak ourselves, yet we are made to be strong in the Lord because our trust is directed even more fervently to His strength and mercy. When Satan attacks us, the Spirit draws us to pray in faith, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! Make haste to help me, O Lord!

However, we cannot pray in this way unless the Lord first opens our ears and turns loose our tongues. Like this man in the Gospel, we are by nature deaf and mute towards God. By our sinful nature our ears are closed off toward God. We do not naturally grasp His words or perceive what He says. We do not, by nature, speak God’s language. Jesus often said, “He who has ears, let him hear,” because many listening to Him still did not get what He was saying. And if there is an impediment in our hearing, there is also going to be an impediment in our speaking. Our words will not rightly reflect the Lord’s Words. Our mouths will not properly declare His praise.

The people who brought the man to Jesus did so that He might place His hands on him. Now, you and I need never feel deprived of that personal contact with our Lord. He is the One who consistently provides us with His healing touch, and it is a very literal and physical touch. For He Himself took on our flesh and blood, real eyes and ears and feet and hands, that He might deal with us concretely and on our level. Even now, our Lord comes into contact with us not only according to His divine nature but also according to His bodily human nature. We meet Him face to face in the Supper of His body and blood. He lays His hands on us in Baptism, and in the words of Absolution speaks to us His Word of forgiveness. Indeed, our Lord still attends to His people personally.

Jesus did two things to this man: first, He took his fingers and put them into the deaf man’s ears; second, He spit and touched the man’s tongue with it. He made direct physical contact with this man’s problems, in order to heal him. But, why did Jesus do it in this particular way? What can we learn from His actions? First, in the Scriptures, the “finger of God” is another term for the Holy Spirit. So, when Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears, He shows us that it is only by the working of the Holy Spirit that our ears are opened rightly to hear God’s Word. It is only by the Spirit’s power that we are made both able and willing to listen to and believe the Gospel. As Paul said: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor can he know them. But we have received the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” Jesus opens our ears by His Spirit, the finger of God, that we may hear and hold to His Words of life, as it is written, “Faith comes by hearing.”

Then, too, when Jesus spit and touched the man’s tongue, that is for us a picture of God’s Word being placed in our mouths, that our tongues might be turned loose to sing His praise. The Psalmist prays, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.” In Baptism, the Lord puts His name on us, that we may call upon His name in prayer. And the Lord places into our mouths His very own words, that our once muted tongues may sound forth with words of faith – the confessing of the creed, the singing of the church’s hymns, the proclaiming of His marvelous deeds and His life-giving teaching. By first opening our ears to hear His Word rightly, the Lord also opens our mouths to confess our faith rightly. First the ears, then the mouth. Speaking flows from hearing. Christ puts His Words into our ears, and they flow off our tongues back to Him in prayer and praise.

Jesus looked up to heaven, no doubt in prayer. He sighed, and then said to the man, “Ephphatha,” which means, “be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened and his tongue was loosed, and he spoke freely and plainly. And when Jesus said, “Be opened,” He spoke not just to the man’s ears and mouth, but to the whole man, for those words also mean “to be released.” Jesus was releasing this man from Satan’s bondage. This miracle is more than just evidence of Jesus’ power over physical ailments; it is evidence of His triumph over the devil. Jesus’ words shatter the chains by which the evil one binds his victim. Our Lord’s words also shatter the chains that bind and enslave you. He says to you, “Be opened! Be released!” And by water and the Spirit you are set free from the powers of darkness.

But that freedom does not come without a price. As Jesus spoke He sighed; He groaned as One who bore a great burden. And, indeed, He did because He took on Himself all the things that cause us to groan—the pain, the loneliness, the troubles—whatever binds and imprisons us. That He might release us from Satan’s captivity, the Lord put Himself under that captivity. He let Himself be placed into the hands of the powers of darkness, who finally killed Him. There on the cross He made direct contact with our sin, groaning and breathing His last, in our place. However, through that death He was victorious, for He took away the sin that gives Satan his power. And by rising bodily from the grave, He restored the bodies of all the faithful to a life that is whole and immortal and imperishable. That resurrection life will be revealed to us and the whole creation when our Lord returns.

God grant, then, that you who have had your ears opened and your tongues set loose by Christ may confess before all the world, with these people in the Gospel reading: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

GUEST POST: Tribute and Memorial

A Tribute and Memorial 
To The Victims And Valiant Responders
Of September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

Thank you for the invitation to lead you in this Tribute and Memorial for the victims and valiant responders of the events that took place 10 years ago today.

I’d like to start by defining our gathering, first in the negative and then in the positive.

First we should know that even though a clergyman is standing before you, this is not a church service.  I am all in favor of church services and highly recommend them and the blessings they confer, but they are best held among people of like faith, and I am certain that many different faiths are represented here today.

Secondly, I sincerely hope that we have not gathered for a national day of self pity, even though the scars will never go away, because that would give great joy to our enemies, and that we must not do.

Nor have we gathered because we necessarily approve of the way this attack against our nation has been handled.  There are some who consider 10 years of indecisive war to be a blundering tragedy in its own right.

But then why are we here?  For noble reasons, indeed!

First to remember the many who died and their survivors who suffered such great loss, to assure them that they are not forgotten.  To let them know that the milk of human kindness swells within us.  If you look around you will see, not virtual reality, but flesh and blood human beings willingly assembled in a show of support for their fellow Americans who were monstrously murdered 10 years ago, and for their spouses and children, their parents and friends who can never forget what was taken from them on that dark and doleful day.

We gather, too, to let the world know that we will always respond when our people are threatened, injured or killed.  Those familiar with Cleveland’s Fire Dispatch procedures know that the first thing the officer says when he picks up the apparatus mic is, “wheels rolling.” He doesn’t first inquire after the religious or political views of the person in distress.  He doesn’t ask: do you have insurance or, how will you be paying for this little visit?  His first words are, “wheels rolling.”  And though the jargon is different for EMS, CPD and all the other outstanding agencies represented here today, the result is the same, when duty calls, we go.

We also convene today in order to pay tribute to those who answered that call 10 years ago, who ran into the peril as everyone else was running out, and who sacrificed so much.  I can testify to the mighty dedication that was elicited from all of you following the attack.  We can all remember what we were doing that day, the moment we first comprehended that war had broken out on our soil.  Our first thoughts went to our loved ones!  But having the vocation we do meant that we had to leave them behind in order to protect and serve others.  And they – in their own breathtaking act of heroism – said to us, go! and we did!  Attending to the work with vigor we did not even know we possessed, standing guard over our city with our own bodies, for no one knew where war would break out next.

We remember the following days: the anthrax, the crazies who came out of the woodwork, the freeway snipers 12 months later.  While others regained a modicum of stability with time we were on the highest possible alert, with no time to think about our own well-being because we did not take this job to be served, but to serve and to expend our lives for the well-being of others.

I can also personally attest to the dedication of the people who operated in Pennsylvania and New York City, our brothers and sisters in the military and safety services, who gave their all to the
recovery efforts.  Who breathed in the dust of their fellow human beings 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until finally in July of 2002 the labor was complete – at least as complete as such a thing ever can be.

I witnessed members of agencies from all over this great nation converge on Pennsylvania, and then later on New York City to do their "duty to God and country."  The FBI, ATF, ICE, the National Guard, D-Mort, the airline disaster response teams, myriads of private contractors with the knowledge and equipment to do what needed to be done.  And in addition a mass of selfless, nameless volunteers waiting outside the scenes to offer relief, encouragement, food, drink, clean clothing and to meet every possible need in support of the endeavor. It felt for all the world like the Old America, “the home of the brave” when every American sang from the same score, and what a feeling it was.

And like they did in that by-gone era, many people returned to their faith for solace and for answers.  The clerical collar was like a magnet then.  Everyone wanted to talk, to hear a word of God from Scripture, to begin and end their shifts with prayer so that they might gain spiritual strength in the face of sadness and danger.  It was an uplifting and liberating time when people understood as never before what King David says in the 46th Psalm that, “God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble.”

I recall one incident, working third shift at Freshkills, the reconverted garbage dump on Staten Island that was used to sift through all the debris, to search for human remains, evidence, and personal belongings to return to grieving families.  About two in the morning an eagle-eyed detective caught glimpse of a badge going over the edge of the sifter and get lost in the rubble below.  All work ground to a halt and that badge became the focus of an intense search!

When it was found another intense search ensued, this time for the chaplain whose presence was urgently requested because everyone had gathered there, and wanted more than any other thing, to hold an immediate, impromptu funeral service for the fallen Port Authority officer, whose badge would soon be returned to his family.  It’s not the kind of thing they prepare you for in the seminary, but God’s Word did its work that night and for many more, healing the wounded souls of those who jeopardized their lives, their health and their sanity for the love of their fellow man.

Based on such devotion we have also gathered today as Cleveland’s safety forces to re-dedicate ourselves to the same, each according to his God-given vocation.  In this Jesus is the best pattern, who says, “greater love has no man that this that a man lay down his life for his friends, I have called you my friends.”  Following the example of His perfect sacrifice, which brings the forgiveness of sins and redemption to the world, we devote ourselves to the daily task of saving life, relieving affliction and restoring those in danger to normalcy.

I hope, too, that we have come together for one other important purpose: to reclaim the blessings of liberty!  We are not the perpetrators here but in the last ten years we have been treated as if we are, and not just at airports.  We have lost large swaths of our privacy, our freedom of speech our freedom of movement and other important liberties in the name of security, and this is intolerable.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said that: those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

Lastly we have also assembled on this 10th anniversary in hopes of gaining, by God’s gracious blessing, a degree of closure if possible, the power to move forward if we can.  There is something about the number ten that helps that happen.  That does not mean that we will or should forget, we must not.  But instead, may the events of the past make us ten times stronger, and ten times more resolved, to rise to any future challenge and to meet it with courage.  God grant us the grace to do that; and also to put our wounds behind us; our sorrow behind us, and to know a brighter future.

Thank you for your kind attention.

by: Rev. Dean Kavoruas, Chaplain
Cleveland Emergency Services
FBI – Cleveland Division