Sunday, April 23, 2017

What is the anointing of the Spirit?

THE LORD AND GIVER OF LIFE


Now 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.  John 20:30-31

EASTER is not only the celebration of the Lord's resurrection from the dead, but the assurance of our own as well.  We say in the creed, "I believe the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."  The body we refer to here is our own.  As Jesus was awakened, we too shall be awakened.  As Jesus was raised, we too shall be raised.  As Jesus was given a new and glorified  body,  we shall receive the same at the resurrection of all flesh.  This is the ultimate purpose and promise of the Lord's suffering, death and resurrection, to give amnesty  o rebels, and give life to the dead.

We hear the same promise from Ezekiel in today's Old Testament lesson where he says, "And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live..."  (Ezek 37:13)

And again from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."  (Romans 8:11)

The one who does all these things, dear Christian, is none other than the Holy Spirit of God, the third person of the Holy Trinity.  He is exactly what we confess Him to be, "the Lord and Giver of Life," but if He is so vital, where does He come from?  And how do we make Him our very own?  Those are the questions we will feast on this morning.

One of the most overlooked words in our faith is the word Christ, a word that is used nearly 500 times in the New Testament, and is a regular feature of our liturgy, offices, prayers and hymns.  Most people think that Christ is just another name for Jesus, a synonym like Savior or Redeemer, but it is much more than that.  The word Christ comes from the word chrism, which means oil.

In the Old Testament kings and priests were anointed or chrismated with oil.  Copious  amounts of olive oil were poured over their heads and ran down their beards so that they listened and shone like the sun, like the Light of the Word Himself, whose earthly  representatives they were, but every priest or king ever anointed was more than met the eye.  He was an object lesson directig us to the Anointed of God.  He was a living prophecy of Jesus, the Lord's Christ, whom the Father would send in the fullness of time.

St. John wants everyone to know and everyone to believe that this Jesus is the Christ, so he makes scripture.  He writes a gospel.  He creates a sacred text and concludes it by saying, "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."  May we who have celebrated the solemnities of the Lord's resurrection, believe that today!  May we give it all credence because there is nothing more precious in this world than what St. John writes here, nothing more dear than having Life in His name, yet we know that sinners cannot have life because the verdict of Scripture is that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that the wages of sin is not the life and good times it promises, but cold, cruel death instead, so if we are to enjoy this most cherished and guarded possession of all, our very existence, and if further we are to "look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come," then we must rely on Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Anointed One, Jesus the One who is chrismated not with olive oil, but with the Holy Spirit of God, with the Lord and Giver of life.

We learn this from the testimony of St. John the Baptist who says, "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him.  I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."

Others throughout salvation history, prophets, priests, craftsmen and kings were always given a measure of the Holy Spirit, for without this anointing they could not conduct their divine work, but St. John the Baptist assures us that this Anointed One of God, chrismated with the Spirit, not only possesses the Spirit, but gives the Spirit to men, "without measure."  (Jn 3:32)  He demonstrated this on the evening of the first Easter when He passed through locked doors, greeted terrified disciples in peace, and breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."  He did the same on Pentecost, only on a grander scale.  He does the same in the church each day, for whenever a baby is baptized or absolution given for sins confessed, or as often as the glad tidings of the gospel are given voice; the One who is at work behind the scenes is the Lord and Giver of life Himself, forgiving our sins and the sins of all believers and imparting his fruit of love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Therefore we should know today, on this second Sunday of Easter, that Jesus is the Christ:  Jesus the chrismated One, who by His Spirit is always at work in the church raising up our dead bones, and breathing new life into them.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What does Psalm 23 mean?

THE LORD OF THE PSALM


The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  He leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul:  He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His names' sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.  Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

THERE is no question that the 23rd Psalm is the most famous and well-loved of them all, or that it has brought more peace to troubled souls than any other, but for all its elegance, unless we invest it with the announcement that Jesus makes in today's gospel that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, it does us little good at all.

In fact Jesus is the Good Shepherd who did lay down His sacred life in order to rescue us from the peril of everlasting death as our Collect says: and to insure that we will always be filled with the perpetual gladness and eternal joys the church prays for in her Collect this holy day. 

Therefore just as we learn the ten commandments with their Christian meaning in our catechism, let us do the same with today's Psalm.  Let us learn its Christian meaning.

First we should know that Jesus is the Lord of the Psalms, and when He is your shepherd you can confidently confess along with King David, "I shall not want."  You can believe with all boldness and confidence that He will provide you with all that you need for this body and life, and for your eternal life as well.

The still waters in the Psalm are prophetic of holy baptism.  The great error the church in our day is that everyone wants to be in touch with Jesus, but without using the channels that He Himself establishes.

Mary Magdalene did this when she saw Jesus on Easter morning.  She tried to hold the glorified Lord, but Jesus said to her "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father..."

The church should learn from this to apprehend Christ only by His appointed means, so let us learn to highly praise the "still waters" of holy baptism even as the Psalm does.  For by baptism we are incorporated into the name of the one, true, God:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all others imposters.  There is nothing better than that, no more glorious or higher aspiration a person can ever have, but baptism is not just a passing ceremony.  Rather it is God's covenant of love that He makes with us at the font, and that carries us throughout our entire life, each hour of each day, and crosses with us into eternity as well.  It is the great inheritance that will never expire.  God's own blessed promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you, not now, not ever.

This is why we should make the sign of the cross often, because it is an incarnational remembrance of our baptism; a bodily motion that involves our whole person, a holy moment that covers us with the cross of Christ and calls to mind all the forgiveness, love and the protection it provides us from sin, death and the devil.  By it we preach the gospel to ourselves, to our fellow Christians, and to all who have eyes to see.

To be baptized also means to walk in the straight and well-established paths of righteousness as we learn them from holy Scripture.  Sheep, by nature, walk in zigzag lines.  They do this, because unlike skunks or porcupines or other wild animals, they have no natural defenses, so they are constantly using their peripheral vision to spot any wolves coming from behind; but when Jesus is your shepherd, you have all the protection you could ever need. Christ before me, Christ behind me.  The devil cannot harm you.  The Lord's rod and staff, which symbolize the cross, comfort us, because we know that no enemy can touch us here.

Still, living in the world is not a walk in the park!  Until the Lord returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, to set all things right, this world will always be "the valley of the shadow of death."  It will be marked with every imaginable evil and misfortune, and it is no Christian virtue to deny that; no virtue at all to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that the world is anything other than what it is.  Leave that to those who don't know Christian doctrine, or who hold a faulty version of it, but let us see the world for what it is.  Only let us not be afraid of any evil, whatever its form, whatever its threat, whatever its reputation or supposed power to harm us, because our Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who conquered sin and death and who raised us to new life in baptism and who promises in this Psalm to be our constant companion.

Yet He is not only an imaginary friend, the kind a child may invent when she feels alone, but one who prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.  That table is the Holy Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, wherein we eat the Lord's body and drink the Lord's blood, in with and under the bread and the wine, so that we can say, "For thou art with me" and mean what we say.

Therefore this delightful Psalm is not a hazy and imaginary affair, but a pure confession of the holy Christian faith, for in it we find the Good Shepherd who did not run when the wolf came, but offered HImself in our stead.  He laid down His life for us, and by His death we obtain the remission of sins, peace with God and the expectation that whenever we look over our shoulders, we will see goodness and mercy pursuing us all the days of our lives, and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord our God forever.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Where is this cure for death?

DEFYING DEATH


Lo! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and this mortal body be clothed with immortality.  When this perishable is dressed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory!  O death where is your sting!  Where your victory!"  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:51-55

TODAY God's people defy death!

Today the church accomplishes what humanity has feverishly tried to achieve by politics, technology, social engineering and every conceivable superstition since the fall of man into sin; namely to abolish death and to "fundamentally transform" this cruel world so that it should become paradise, but nothing has worked!

Death still bats a thousand.  Correction: make that .999 because there is One Man whom it could not conquer, and whom the grave could not secure, and that is the one we name Lord; Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, but who could not be found in the tomb on the first Easter because He woke up from death very early in the morning and walked away, and it is for this reason that Christians refer to death as nothing more than sleep, for we too will wake up from it.  We too will rise up like the lame man Jesus healed, and walk away when the Last Trumpet sounds, so take heart!  Though we seem to be hopelessly entangled with the cords of death, Jesus will untangle them and set you free.

Yet when the church defies death it is not with contrived courage like a group of 10-year-old boys daring one another to jump from the high dive.  Neither is it because we live in denial as people so love to do these days.  Nor is it because we have worked ourselves up into an alternate reality like jihadists who are willing to shed innocent blood and throw away their own precious lives for nothing more than a lie.  Nor are we under-prepared when we spit in the face of death like a person who brings a knife to a gunfight; NO!  We are fully prepared, gathered this Easter to defy death by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and by His celebrated resurrection from the world of the dead.

We defy death by the cross!  The "man from heaven" entered the dust of the earth.  Our captain penetrated death's stronghold.  He walked in its front door, spoiled it, pulled out its stinger, robbed it of its power to intimidate and proclaimed His victory over it then and there.  This is what we mean as often as we confess"He descended into hell."

We defy death by the Lord's resurrection which we mark this day, by which He opened all the prison doors so that the grave can no longer hold you in.  Indeed it now proves to be nothing more than the gate to heaven for all who believe and are baptized.  The case is exactly as we sing in the hymn, "and the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to   heaven.  Jesus, here I die with thee, there to live eternally."  (TLH #409)

In the Liturgy of St. James used by Eastern Catholics today, death is personified and cries out, "My power has been destroyed, for I received a dead Man as one of their dead, but I could not hold Him.  Then I also lost with Him all those who were under my power.  From the beginning I held the dead, but now This One raises them." To this acclamation the worshipers respond. "Glory to your cross and resurrection, O Lord."

We further defy death by faith:  by believing St. Paul when he writes that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God," but that we shall all be changed in the blink of an eye, when our Lord makes His glorious return to judge all things in our favor.  To unveil all that is now shrouded in impenetrable mystery; and to set right all that sin has made so appallingly and dreadfully wrong!

We defy death by the power of baptism in which we put on the whole armor of God, for it is not simply a metaphor that St. Paul gives in Ephesians chapter six, but something that is accomplished in us by the church's primary sacrament."  In it we put on Christ:  His cross, burial, resurrection and immortal life.  He is now our shield.  He is now the suit of armor that renders harmless the devil's fiery darts.

We defy death by the power of the Eucharist.  What was separated on the cross, the Lord's body from His blood, was joined together again at the resurrection and assumed into heaven at His ascension, for our Lord never did, nor ever will shed His humanity which is His connection to us and ours to Him, so we should be clear that it is not the corpse of a dead Jesus that we receive in holy communion, but the living flesh and blood of our resurrected, ascended, glorified, exalted and eternally-reigning Lord, and it is this holy communion by which we enter into fellowship with the Living God!

Therefore in the name of Jesus we will no longer "whistle past the graveyard."  Instead we will continue to defy death and to spit in its face, not by any power or goodness or righteousness of our own -- God forbid -- but by Jesus our risen Lord, Who "in the blink of an eye," will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself."  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, April 10, 2017

Do we want to save our lives on this cursed earth or do we want to see Jesus?

WE WANT TO SEE JESUS

Public Domain 
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested of him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  John 12:20-21

THIRTY years after our Lord was crucified and raised again St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "we preach Christ crucified."  Why does he say that?  Did he not know that Jesus rose from the dead?  Did he not know that the Lord ascended and reigns all glorious in the skies?

Following the Apostle's example the church preaches the same message, but the cross remains earth's greatest scandal, not only to those who doubt, but also to those who believe.  To us -- to the little Puritan residing in each of us who bristles at the sight of Jesus on the cross.  How do we know this?  Because the simple act of replacing the empty cross which adorns most Lutheran altars with a crucifix is more often than not a declaration of war in a Lutheran parish.

What rankles us so?  It is the painful reminder that it is our sins that were adjudicated there; that we, not the spotless Lamb of God, are the ones who warrant crucifixion for our many and heinous crimes against God.  How could that not scare us?  How could it not make us see red?  But that is the Law side of the cross.  Threatening as it is, it must always be maintained because sinful nature only understands the language of fear, but the church's predominate message is not the law, but the gospel.  The glad message that the Man affixed on the cross is our Lord, our God, our Saviour and our King who, moved by great pity for us, suffered death in our place, and now we are free indeed!

The subject of the church's discourse concerns both the Lord's death and especially the preparatory ritual leading to it, because Holy Week corresponds to the Old Testament feast of the Passover.  This feast was instituted by the Lord to remind Israel of the miraculous deliverance He gave her when He freed her from the tyranny of Egypt.  Every year on the 15th day of the first month of the year, Israelite families were commanded to celebrate it by slaughtering an unspotted Passover lamb and consuming it.

There were other ceremonies too.  Four days earlier, on the 10th day of the month, the unblemished lamb was to be chosen from the flock then kept until the 14th day.  When the evening of the 14th day came it was slaughtered, roasted and eaten.  The rabbis who interpreted these scriptures record that the chosen lamb was to be tied up on the 10th day and remain on display before the eyes of the people for the full four days until it was slaughtered.

Palm Sunday is something like the 10th day for the church.  The day that the Lamb, chosen by God, was separated from the flock, placed on a donkey and ceremoniously paraded into Jerusalem.  Soon, like the Passover victim displayed for all to see, God's Lamb will be bound with ropes, stand trial for our sins, and be openly slain before the eyes of the world.  Just as the blood of the Passover lamb caused God's anger to "pass over" the Jewish  houses, the blood of Jesus causes his wrath to pass over our sins, and to remember them no more.

Today we are like the Greeks who wished to see Jesus.  This is why we come to church.  In her liturgy the church shows Jesus to all who care to see Him, and it is done in much the same way now as it was then.  She begins with a preparatory celebration.  She meets with her Lord, confesses her sins and receives His absolution.  She gladly hears and learns His word, prays in His name, sings God's praises and gives Him holy thanks.  All of these ceremonies are preparatory however, to the Lord's passion, death and resurrection which we remember in holy communion, but remember is too weak a word.  We do much more than that!  By our Lord's power the church mysteriously enters, with Jesus, into the never ending song of salvation, praise and thanksgiving celebrated throughout heaven and earth, even as our liturgy says: heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.

The word eucharist, the church's oldest word for holy communion, means thanksgiving.  On Maundy Thursday Jesus took bread and gave thanks.  He gave eucharist, but it was not only for the bread that He thanks the Father, but most especially for the Bride he was about to redeem at the cost of His life.  We are that Bride.  We are the joy of Jesu's desire, and the church -- joining in that same Eucharist -- also gives meet, right and salutary thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for earth's greatest blessing, the gift of the Bridegroom who was glorified in His death and who glorifies us by it.  If war heroes can die a glorious death, how much more the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ our Saviour and King who redeems every sinner from every sin?

That isn't the end of the matter because our lives are patterned after the liturgy.  Following baptism every Christian enters a life-long holy week; a period of time that corresponds to the four days that the Passover Lamb was displayed.  Jesus told the Greek believers who wished to see him, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."

What does this mean?  It does not mean that we should discount our lives or throw them away, but rather that we should give them away, that we should give them over in "faith towards thee and in fervent love towards one another."  God doesn't need your mercy or generosity, your neighbor does.  God doesn't need your patience or your kindness, your neighbor does, so we die daily to self and rise anew each day to serve God in righteousness and purity forever.

To live our lives this way is the preparatory service rendered by each Christian, in anticipation of the never-ending holy communion we will celebrate with our Lord.  As Jesus was glorified through death, burial and resurrection, we will be too.  Then where our Lord is, there His servants will also truly be.  We are those servants, redeemed by Jesus, strengthened by His Spirit and honored not by men, but by the Father.  This is all by grace; by grace through faith and not of ourselves, lest any man should boast.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, April 9, 2017

HOSANNA! (Save us!)

ALL GLORY LAUD AND HONOR TO THEE, REDEEMER KING


The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, so they took branches of palm tress and went out to meet him crying out, "Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"  John 12:12-14

TODAY is Palm Sunday!  Today the procession that took place 2,000 years ago unfolds before our very eyes.  Today we don't only commemorate, but we also participate!  Today we join the church of heaven and earth in crying out to Jesus "Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel."

The way the world counts time these events are in the past, but as the church counts time they are an ever present reality.  Though these acclamations were shouted out two thousand years ago, they are of such surpassing greatness that the church embedded them into her liturgy and to pray every Sunday, because these words best describe what occurs as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup which is the very definition of Christian worship.

As Jesus came to Jerusalem that day, so He comes to His church today.  Then He came as a man, one so genuine and true that people could see nothing more.  Today He comes under the forms of bread and wine and the same problem prevails.  Many people can perceive nothing more than meets the eye, but there is much more here, for as often as we sing Hosanna, and Blessed is He who comes to us in the name of the Lord; this King of Israel answers by coming to us and by giving His body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink for the remission of our defiant sins, for life, salvation, consolation, spiritual confidence, peace and calm; and to inoculate us against the Great Judgment and from the second death.

What sin?  It's a question we must always ask, because unless the church teaches the Law as clearly as the Gospel, God's people gradually lose their awareness of it.  When that happens, the Lord's great sacrifice declines in importance.  People fall into self-righteousness.  They start feeling good about themselves and stop taking this Medicine, but today we open the windows.  Today we let the sunshine in.  Today we take on the deadliest sin of all, the sin of pride. the sin of self-promotion.

It is pride that led the devil to revolt, Israel to rebel, and each of us to recklessly follow in their train, but let's give that word some content.  Pride means that we love ourselves more than God or our neighbor.  It means that the person suffering from pride can never be happy, satisfied, calm, quenched, at rest or at peace until he has garnered "all glory, laud and honor to himself."  From this desperate and vain quest proceeds every known cruelty of man against man.

Sometimes the symptoms of this terminal disease are plain to see as with politicians, sports figures and other members of the illuminati who, no matter how famous they are, can never cease gorging their egos; but pride comes in different packages too:  the tyrant who must control everything about him; the passive-aggressive person; also the meek person who conceals his pride under the cloak of humility or victimhood,  whose fastest track to praise is for others to know how oppressed he is and how many sorrows he has to bear.

The common thread here is that the Redeemer King, who alone is worth of "all glory, laud and honor," gets none, while man the sinner hoards it for himself; but paltry praise it is.

Contrast this with the Lord we welcome into the church today, with Jesus who rightly owns all glory, laud and honor, but lowered himself into the depths of human sin, into the self-conceit, chaos, powerlessness and utter unpredictability of this world, so that by His pure humility, and by His willing death on the cross, He might truly exalt us all!

So the church, now as then, cries out to Jesus, "Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"

The word Hosanna is an appeal for divine help.  As often as we pray it we are asking our Lord and Savior to come to our aid, to save us from our sins, and to grant us His peace now and forever.  It is a prayer He will always answer, but an answer that came with a great price, because we must remember that our Lord rode into Jerusalem that day to stand trial for our sins, to be adjudged guilty, condemned to death, mocked by the world and even, momentarily, to be forsaken by God, as the man of sorrows expunged the sins of all the world in His body on the cross.  Yet it is here where the proclamation, "King of Israel" is made most clear.  In John's gospel the Lord's death was not a defeat, but victory over the devil and the world.  He came into the world for this very purpose, to be the Lamb of God who lifts away the sin of the world.  We read the language of the Lord's exaltation throughout John's Gospel.  In it Jesus refers to His death on the cross as being "lifted up" or "exalted" in the same way that a king is raised up high upon his throne.   Immediately  before His passion, He prays, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify You..."  Here we learn that our Lord's death is not a failure, but the true and actual glory of God which Isaiah predicted would be "revealed" and that "all flesh shall see it together."

We hear further from St. John that our Lord was dressed in a purple robe, albeit in mockery; coronated with a crown, albeit of thorns: and proclaimed by the one-world Roman government to be the King of the Jews (INRI).

This is the King we worship, the King to whom we pray, the King to whom we offer all glory, laud and honor; the King we welcome into the church every Sunday who rescues us by His death and shares pure glory with us, here in the church, and there in eternity.  Amen

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A little faith, some persistence, and a willingness to accept what others do not want

AND HELL WAS POWERLESS

The Canaanite woman in the Gospel is a good example of that proverb, It's always darkest just before the dawn.  She had accomplished most of her objectives.  Her goal was to talk to Jesus, so she had gotten through to Him.  She thought the hardest part would be penetrating the dense crowd and the circle of disciples, but now she had the Lord's attention.  She assumed the worst was over, her hopes would be fulfilled.  How badly she was mistaken!  One obstacle she had not counted on was that the Lord might refuse.  That was what happened.  He gave her a very negative excuse.  How terrible that must have been!  She had won all the battles but now was losing the war.  If the devil tried at that moment to get her to abandon hope, he would have had reason on his side.  That is very unusual for the devil.  Normally, reason is his mortal enemy, which is why he is far more likely to tempt us through our appetites and emotions, but Satan does lurk, and sometimes he lunges when afflictions come.  Here he met a more formidable foe than reason.  He came up against the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit told the woman, Don't take No for an answer.  She had come to the right Person, but it was necessary to come in faith, so the Spirit told her not to give up.

Isn't it amazing how we both want, and don't want, answers from God?  What greater treasure can any Christian have than divine mercy?  Isn't that what makes us His sons and daughters?  He made us in His image so that we could love Him with a love like His own.  He makes choices, therefore His images also make choices.  We think we're so mature, but what have we done?  He has given us opportunities to serve Him instead of Mammon.  Instead of carrying us, He permits us to take steps on our own.  To look at us, though, you would think He had left the universe.  We look up and whine, "Don't You care?"  Think about this - you wouldn't spoil a child whom you really loved, so God will not spoil you.  He wants to build your faith, which He can't do by giving you everything you want.  Those evil experiences confuse us.  Often God's blessings get lost in the shuffle.

Do you see the parallel with last Sunday's lesson about the sacrifice of Isaac?  Here we have the mother-daughter relationship.  We don't see the daughter, because the mother did not bring her.   She was demon-possessed, badly in need of an exorcist.  The same God who tested Abraham was now testing this Gentile.  Jesus does not tell this woman that it is a test. He doesn't say anything about whether or not she loves Him.  He speaks only about what is right.  Just as in last week's lesson, the saving answer is the Lamb.  Jesus took all the assaults and temptations of the devil upon Himself.   So how did that help this woman?  In the end she did get what she asked for.  The demon did go out of her daughter, so, at the end of this Lenten season we will again come to that wonderful Sunday of Easter, where we can see that Jesus even conquered death.

How does this help with our afflictions?  Remember, He isn't asking us to do anything that he didn't.  The devil only looks big and menacing.  He is on his way out.  The only power he has is what people give him, but he can deceive.  If he can't get us to question Jesus' ability, he will try to get us to doubt His willingness, so when the Canaanite woman asked for help, the devil must have cast doubts in her mind when the Lord returned only silence.

That wasn't exactly a denial, but it certainly wasn't agreement.  It left the door open for the woman to consider her worthiness.  Here, Satan has some truth to begin with.  None of us are worthy of Jesus' help.  We do not deserve divine favors.  For anyone to look God in the eye and claim any kind of rights is vilest blasphemy.  So Jesus looked her in the eye and said, It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.  Since the woman already knew she was not worthy, the Lord probably said this for the benefit of the disciples, but the woman was being tested sorely.  Does she say, "You made me thus"?  No.  No excuses from her.  Only faith, which depends on the kind of humility she showed here.  If she had any self-esteem at all, she ditched it here, and hell was powerless!  By faith, this woman took advantage of the Lord's rebuke, and let us not blame Jesus.  His rebuke was infinitely wise.  It gave this woman the opportunity to jettison the excess baggage, to throw herself into His hands.  She was not just clever, she was faithful.  Even if she were from the cursed race of Canaan, Jesus' blessings were far too large to be contained in the tents of Shem.  The same God who enlarged Japheth, enlarged this Hamite woman, who claimed no right, but begged for the unwanted scraps of God's grace.  When we insist on our rights, we give the devil power.  If we fall down hoping for the scraps, hell has no answer.

Remember also, Jesus Himself is the children's Bread.  He was turned over to the Gentiles by the leaders of His people.  Yes, they threw the Lord to the dogs, but as we follow the Way of the Cross, we arrive at the Fountain of Life, to drink of God's good pleasure.  Don't let the powers of hell tell you that sinners cannot have help from Jesus.  So what if knowledge of your sin makes you uncomfortable?  Cast yourself on the mercy of the court.  The atoning sacrifice is our Bread.  When we, like the Canaanite woman, stop fighting with Him, He bathes us in the Fountain of Life, and dresses us in His righteousness.  When He went to Jericho, did He stay with the local rabbi?  No, he stayed with a tax collector, Zacchaeus.  When He was at Simon's house, was He impressed by the excellent entertainment?   He was far more pleased with a prostitute who cried on His feet.  When He wanted someone to preach to the Gentiles, did He ask one of His friends?  No, He got a guy who hated the sound of His name and converted him.  You see the pattern here?  Neither Zacchaeus, nor the prostitute, nor Saul had anything to offer, but neither did they take No for an answer.  In the most discouraging of situations, God's arms are often open the widest, as they were for that Canaanite woman.  He might want to make us a little thirstier, but His goal is to get us to drink, so His grace is at work, providing the Fountain of Life for us. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Everyone Has a Reflection

CHURCH MIRRORS



Bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and rejoice.  For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found and they began to celebrate with joy.  Luke 15:23-24

The Mass, which the church has been celebrating with joy since Pentecost, is a mirror image of the Lord's life, death and resurrection.  The first part of his public ministry could be termed the Service of the Word.  He devoted three years to teaching God's word to men and calling them to repentance.  The same is true about the church's weekly celebration.  It begins with the liturgy of the word.  In it Jesus still teaches heavenly realities to earthbound men, and still calls us to turn from our sins and hold to him alone for our soul's salvation.

The second part of the Lord's ministry corresponds to the Service of the Sacrament.  As his earthly ministry was about to come to an end, Jesus established the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and then filled it with power.  He did it by offering his body into death, pouring out his blood as the sacrifice that gives life to the world, and by rising again victorious over the grave.  In the same way the church, after gladly hearing and learning God's word, after repenting and devoting herself anew to her God, celebrates the blessed sacrament with joy.  It is our connection to the Lord's death and resurrection and to all the benefits  that he obtained for us there.  In holy communion the Good Shepherd prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies and anoints our head with the oil of gladness that no sin, death or devil can ever take from us.  No wonder, like the people in the parable, we too celebrate with joy.

The older son in the parable represents Israel.  The Jews of our Lord's day, and those of the earliest church, were of the firm opinion that God loved only Israel, and that the Christ came for them alone.  Instead of accepting God's mercy and gladly extending it to others they became exclusive.  They felt themselves superior to other people, they looked down on them and resented them.  The Jewish/Gentile controversy is long over, but the church is the New Israel.  Are we exclusive?  Do we look down on others?  Do we consider ourselves better, holier or dearer to God than those who are outside the church; those into whose heart the word repentance never enters?  Do we consider certain groups of people as beyond the love of God or the hope of salvation?  Or...do we single out individuals who have wronged us as too despicable and too depraved ever to love God or to be loved by Him?  It is not hard to do, but this parable teaches us better.  It instructs us not to have an elite attitude, but to pray for all people, even our enemies; and to rejoice with the angels of heaven when any sinner turns from his mis-spent life, and is baptized.

We also bear resemblance to the younger son in the parable.  Before baptism we are born with all the guilt of our parents' sins weighing heavy upon us.  Even if we are unable to do much harm because of our tender age, the seeds of evil are firmly in place; and minus baptism, minus the Holy Spirit and the teaching of God's Word, we too would waste our lives away like the prodigal son, alienated from God and greedy to practice every kind of impurity, but we have not so learned Christ!  For anyone who is in Christ is a New Creation. Yet sad to say the Old Adam still exerts a mighty influence over us.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and it causes us all types of trouble.  We can cry about it if we like, we can lament and sink in the soup of self-pity, or of self-recrimination, but that is not the best course!  Instead we should come to our senses like the prodigal and return to our Father's house, where we will not be treated as we deserve, but as the sons that we are, and where we will find grace to help in time of need.

Let us remember again today that the scriptures are not about us, but about Jesus.  He is the fatted calf, fattened up with our sins, and sacrificed for the life of the world.  He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  He is the son who was handed over to death by the Father for our trespasses, and raised again by the same Father for our justification.  This makes us Teflon so that no sin, no stain, no guilt or condemnation of sin can stick to us, but because the Old Man is such a mountebank, let us be quick to add that this glorious blessing is *not* a license to sin, let down our guard, or to abuse the grace of God.  Instead let us be energized by it, learn to be grateful and to express our love for all people.  How can we who have died to sin do any differently?

The parable is about Jesus.  He is the son who was dead, but now is alive and who shares His indestructible life with us.  He is the one who was lost in death for three days, but was found on Easter, and is found today in the church, the Word and the sacraments.  Don't try to know Jesus in any other way.  Don't try to find rest for your souls in a private religion apart from all the people of God who gather in His house on His day.  The Christian faith is not a mental exercise that can be practiced in isolation, devoid of its rites and rituals, its ceremonies and its celebration of the Eucharist.  Instead, return to your Father's house, who gave the fatted calf for your sins, and with whom you, too, will rise from the dust of death.  Eat, drink deeply from the wells of salvation and celebrate with joy.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras