Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Caiaphas Asked the Critical Question of Faith

Mark 14:61

Most of the commentaries assume that Caiaphas was out to get Jesus that night.  There is no doubt that Caiaphas thought Jesus was wrong, but he was not a long-standing enemy.  Caiaphas was a Sadduccee, a theological liberal, who didn't take the next life seriously at all, but wanted peace and order in the present.  If only Jesus hadn't mentioned the Kingdom of God.  Passover was at hand, and political talk that might rock the boat with all those pilgrims in town was just too dangerous.

The hierarchy had found a way to arrest Jesus at night.  The people were asleep, and the Twelve were scattered.  Pharisees and Sadduccees came together to make common cause against One who was an embarrassment to the establishment, and a preacher of repentance.  The two parties might have given each other dirty looks as they entered the room, but they knew they had common business to conduct.

The Procurator was in town for the Passover.  Most of the year Pontius Pilate spent at the seaside resort of Caesarea, but he knew he had to be very careful at this time of year, so he reinforced the Jerusalem garrison, and came in person to live in the dark discomfort of the Fortress of Antonia.  Caiaphas knew that he had to observe all of the formalities in this matter.  He couldn't ask Pilate for an execution with undotted i's.  He needed witnesses, proper trial procedure, and a legal conviction.  The Pharisees were hungry for Jesus' blood; the Sadduccees were resigned to sacrificing Him to avoid trouble.  Jesus had the right to remain silent.  If He maintained silence, He could be acquitted for insufficient evidence.  All sorts of accusations were made, but finally two witnesses reported what Jesus had said about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it.  They were telling the truth, even if they didn't understand the meaning, but Caiaphas had a case then, and would press Jesus for an answer.

He decided to convict Jesus out of His own mouth.  The question for tonight came when Caiaphas abjured Jesus, made Him swear to tell the truth, then asked Him, Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?  Jesus couldn't say No, but silence now would not be clear enough.  Jesus answered truthfully, knowing His answer would bring death.  He said, I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.  The "I Am" was enough, because that was the name God revealed to Moses from the burning bush.  The reference to Daniel 7 was clearly a claim to be the Messiah.  Caiaphas reacted with horror, tearing his robe to lament the spoken blasphemy. The Council passed the death sentence.

Jesus did not fall into a trap.  He knew the Law.  He knew that by holding His peace He could have been acquitted, but He knew it was His father's desire to save the world by sacrificing Him.  He had become incarnate for this purpose.  Terrible things would happen to Him now, but He could not turn back.  The question had more importance than Caiaphas could have imagined. He certainly did not ask it in faith, though it is the critical question of faith: Who is Jesus? Or as He put it earlier in the week, What do you think of the Christ? That very question was being put to Him.  Are you the Word made flesh, the Seed of Abraham, the Savior of the Nations?  Jesus answered, "I am."  Once they tried to stone Him for saying that.   This time there would be no stones, not with Pilate in the city.  Nothing so disorderly as a stoning would be permitted.  During Passover it would have to be a Roman execution.  They would raise up the dry tree.

Once at the close of a church service, an intelligent-looking man came up to the pastor and said, "I don't see any reason to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.  I can be saved not by believing in some barbaric sacrifice, but by following His example.  That is enough for any man."

The pastor answered, "I suppose it is, Do you intend to do that in this life?"

"I do," the man replied.

"I'm sure you want to," said the pastor, "but the Word of God tells us that Jesus knew no sin, neither was any deceit found in His mouth.  Could you say that about youself?"

The man became embarrassed and admitted that he had sinned, so the pastor replied, "Then you don't need an example. You need a Savior who can cover your sins with His blood." During this Lenten season, we have been moved by those who have seen the love of God in Jesus Christ. However, no words can express that love nearly as well as Jesus" own statement, "I am."  The love that urged Him to give Himself into death is greater than we could ever grasp.  His testimony was to Himself, that He had come from heaven to save us for all eternity.  Now our testimony must be to Him.  Every facet of our lives must proclaim, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed!  Is He the Savior?  He is, He is, He is. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, March 30, 2015

All is not lost


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For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place:  "This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.  Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy.  There I will make a horn to sprout for David: I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.  His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine."  Psalm 132:13-18

THE blessings of the church year bring us once again to the Sunday we call Laetare, which is the Latin word for Rejoice!  It may seem odd to have such a Sunday in the middle of Lent which is a season of sorrow, but it is a good reminder of the Christian adage to, "Rejoice in the Lord always."  There are plenty of reasons to be miserable, but there are many more to rejoice; powerful reasons that can only be grasped by faith, and today's Psalm enumerates them nicely for us.

David tells us that, "the Lord has chosen Zion."  In the Old Testament Zion was the Lord's pet name for Jerusalem, but since the coming of Christ the earthly Jerusalem is no longer important.  Today the church is Zion.  We are the Lord's beloved and the home where He is pleased to dwell, but as earthly Jerusalem was a picture of the church to come, the church is the picture of Jerusalem above which is free, and which is our final destination, so whatever is going on around you today, there is another reality at work, a heavenly one, to which we are all heirs through Christ, and it fills us with joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

We rejoice today, too, because the Lord promises in the Psalm, "I will bless her provisions!"  Like the people that Jesus taught and fed in the desert that day, we too have many needs, but provisions are scarce.  We are always worried where our next dollar will come from, where our next meal will come from.  That is natural in a sinful world.  We might be able to coast for a time but when we cease to struggle we cease to live, and that makes us afraid, but there are no shortages with Jesus.  Like God did in the Old Testament, Jesus provided manna in the wilderness to nourish and cheer His people, to make them glad and give them reason to rejoice.  He did not only provide bread, but He Himself is the bread, the Bread of Life.  He is the One who by the bloody sweat of His brow labored in suffering and death to provide an eternal banquet of salvation for us, to feed our hungry souls with bread that satisfies so that we will never hunger gain.  As the Lord Himself says, "I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

Today we still pray for daily bread.  A Christian should never lift a  morsel of food to his lips without giving thanks to the One who provides all that he needs to support this body and life.  Likewise, still today, we receive the heavenly manna, the body and blood of our Lord under the forms of bread and wine.  As food nourishes and cheers the body, even so the Eucharist cheers and nourishes the drooping soul.

We have further reason to celebrate on this Laetare Sunday because the Lord says in the Psalm, "Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy."  We are those priests, we are those saints.  In the words of St. Peter, "...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."  Therefore leave the darkness behind you today, and walk the light of the Lord.

Finally we rejoice today because the Psalm says, "There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.  His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on Him, His crown will shine."  Jesus is the Horn.  Jesus is the Anointed.  By His suffering and death He conquered our deadly enemies Satan, death and sin, but like dumb beasts who don't know what has happened to them, they continue to lumber about, to cause every sort of distress in the world.  They trouble the Lord's church and the Lord's people, but they are lame ducks, and a date has been set for their final shame, and whatever damage they do, even now -- especially now -- our God counters by His grace.  He makes all things work together for our good, even things we cannot understand, or comprehend, or fathom; things that we can only perceive as bad.  He turns even these around for our ultimate advantage.  Nothing was darker than our Lord's death.  From Friday afternoon until early Sunday morning hope had been extinguished from the world.  If the world could snuff out the only true light it had ever known, what hope could there possibly be?  That's the way it seemed.  Even the most ardent believer was slow to believe the Scriptures, as we all are, but that is not the way it really was!   When David prayed the words, "but on Him His crown will shine," he was predicting the Lord's resurrection, the greatest reason there is for the world to rejoice, because now, in Christ, people who were slaves to sin, and subject to death are made free, are made alive never to die again.

It is no empty word when our Lord says, "...whoever lives and believes in me will never die!"  Neither is it an empty word when St. Paul tells us that by baptism we are raised to newness of life with Christ, so let us live new lives.  Put your old ways behind you, the sin and shame and sorrow, and all the reasons you have to be sad and, "rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice."  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One man must die for the people


Once as two friends were walking through the park on a Sunday afternoon, a brass ensemble in the bandstand was playing one of Sousa's marches.  One of the friends was really enjoying it.  He said to his friend, "What music!  Doesn't it make you patriotic just to hear it?"  "Sorry," answered the other, "I can't hear you over the racket that band is making." Both men heard the same music, but each received it in a different way.  So it is with the Gospel.  There are many who appreciate it, while others find it tiresome, or reject it out of hand.

Jesus received a mixed reaction like that.  News travels fast in the Middle East.  Before sunset the authorities in Jerusalem had heard about Lazarus, who had been dead and buried for three days until Jesus called him forth.  To Mary and Martha it was wonderful news.   The religious leaders saw it very differently.  They were frightened.  Their people were very unhappy, they chafed under Roman rule, they were getting edgy.  It was a bad time of year for that.  Jerusalem was filling with pilgrims.  If Jesus came now, it could very well start a rebellion.  Rome had a way of crushing rebellions with an iron heel, and with very little concern over collateral damage.  These leaders knew that if a rebellion occurred on their watch, Rome would replace them with leaders they thought they could control.

Caiaphas remained calm.  He had no intentions of loosing his job.  He was the High Priest, so he could call the shots. Neither had he any doubts as to what needed to be done.  The only response was to kill the Galilean Prophet, exterminate the nuisance.  That was what he meant as he spoke the famous quotation in our text:  one man must die for the people.   He had no idea of the deeper level we see, the level on which his statement would remain eternally true.  The religious leaders knew well enough what Caiaphas meant.  It was a cold, calculating statement of political expediency.  The elders of Judea were not quick to take life.  They agreed only because the alternative was even less attractive, that the situation would get out of control.  That they could not afford.

The Evangelist John will not let us leave it at that.  He says something very unusual here, that Caiaphas did not say this on his own.  What then, was it a demon?  No, John does not allow that interpretation.   Instead he tells us that Caiaphas was prophesying.   He does not say, "false prophesying," but just plain "prophesying."  Even though his words were motivated by sinful thoughts, they came to his mouth by the Holy Spirit.  By God's special grace, this motion for murder was turned into a description of the Atonement.  One man would die for the people indeed, but not a mere man, no, the Messiah Himself, the Son of Man.  His death would be a sacrifice for sins.   Not only would it preserve temporary civil peace, it would also make peace with God for everyone in the world.   He died for Lazarus, to be sure, and historically it was Lazarus' resurrection that fixed the idea in Caiaphas' mind that Jesus had to go, but He died for us as well.  His call still sounds: brother, come forth … sister, come forth.   That's the Gospel call.  Jesus reaches into our spiritual death by His Gospel and calls us to be spiritually resurrected.  He does not wait until we're in our graves -- that would be too late.  The time for repentance is during our earthly lives.  Some people in the Gospels were exceptions to this so that we might see the power of God.  He had to show us that Jesus was Jehovah Incarnate.  Those miracles were prophesied of old, and written down in the Scriptures so that people could identify Messiah when He came.  Now He has come, and the risen Lord calls us to come forth, come forth from the love of sin, come forth from serving the devil, the world, and our flesh.   Our heavenly Bridegroom is calling His bride, asking for our promise to love, honor, and obey.  He offers us forgiveness because He has made full atonement.  He offers us peace because the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.

Why should this be so difficult?  Why is the dead-end street of sin so much more attractive than the straight path to eternal life?  Why doesn't the Gospel seem like good news?  Why is it that when God plays a march we all hear noise?  You know why.   As far as the flesh is concerned, Jesus is just an Intruder who wants to interfere with our little set-up.  So each of us in his own heart becomes a Caiaphas.  We relish the tomb, find comfort in the darkness, and wish the Morning Star would go away.  We each like to think, I am the captain of my soul; the master of my fate.  So each of us has his own little Jerusalem inside of his soul, in which he thinks he is the high priest.  To this God says, You fool!  If Jesus is not the Captain on your soul, then Satan is.  If Jesus is not your High Priest, then you bow before the altar of demons.  If Jesus is not your Liberator, then you are a slave.

The Gospel is a message of love, whether we think it is music or noise.  It isn't God's fault if some people abuse it, reject it, or misapply it.  The Gospel assures us that the Son of God was willing to accept death for Himself in order to call us forth from our self-made tombs. He is our Substitute, which St. John presents so dramatically as He quotes the crucified Lord saying, "It is finished."  The kingdom of sin is over.  God is awakening us, calling us, come be conformed to the image of His Son, come and be holy as He is holy.

The way we respond is by using our reason, our judgment, our gift of language.  The Word tells us that Jesus died for all, so I reason that He died for me. I hear that He is the Savior of the world, so I reason He is my Savior.  Emotions add nothing, although they might lubricate the reason, they add nothing to the faith.  God can create faith in the pre-verbal and non-verbal through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Again, the emotions add nothing to it.  On the other hand, like the man who didn't care for the band, one could call it all a lot of nonsense. That is the inner sinner, rolling back the stone across the entrance to his heart, settling down to enjoy the pitch blackness, and loudly proclaiming to all, It's my free choice! What a delusion!   It's a choice all right, but not free.  All darkness can give you is ignorance of your own peril.  Death has had its day.  Jesus has overcome it, so leave it behind.   The Lord of life has an easy yoke and a light burden.  Jesus will have His day now, and by faith He will have it with you.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Let Faith Do Its Work

WEALTH, fame, and status have so often been the excess ballast that pulled people under because they could not let it go and float to the top.  That is a hard option, even when it is clear-cut, which it usually isn't.  By the world's standards, the choice Moses made was very unusual, but our text assures us it was the choice of faith.  Moses chose to be mistreated with the covenant people of God.  If he had kept quiet about his origins, no one would have known that he was not Pharaoh's grandchild, or that he was a Hebrew, and therefore assigned to slavery in the brickyards of Goshen.  Moses made the disclosure by faith.  That is what makes a person a saint - faith.

If your wealth, fame, and status are available to do good, to help the needy, to promote the work of the Holy Church, to relieve sufferings of all kinds, then it won't be weighing you down.   Possessions that one holds loosely, and lets go of easily, won't hinder anyone from swimming with the Lord.  There are many degrees of commitment.  Not everybody has a vocation to poverty, to letting everything go, to traveling about empty-handed, like John the Baptist.  On the other hand, to be anchored in the vanities shows that you are truly committed to them, rather than the Lord.

St. John, in his First Letter, calls faith the victory that overcomes the world.  Moses is a good example of this.  Without faith he could not have exchanged the luxuries of Pharaoh's house for the bondage that attended true holiness.  He could never have become a saint.  He might have gone down in history as a decent, wise Egyptian ruler, but nothing spectacular.  By faith he chose holiness instead, the road that led to Mt. Sinai where he saw the glory of the Lord, and in his own hands held the tablets that God had written on.  Do you suppose he might have thought he was dreaming?  The tablets were very real.  Had he dropped them on his foot it would have hurt.  As for the writing on them, it was probably the first time anything had been written in Hebrew.  Moses spoke Hebrew with his people, but nobody had written it before.  One can imagine the Lord going over everything with Moses so that he knew what all the little marks meant.  Later, Moses would write the Torah in that language, but on Mt. Sinai he had nothing with which to write.  All he could do was kneel on the ground in wonder over what he had seen.

There is a great picture!  To be a saint requires humility, because faith cannot exist without humility.  One cannot serve God while he serves himself.  If you regard yourself with dignity and esteem, then God's praise is not in your mouth.  You are first and foremost a sinner, whose attitudes are entirely ungodly.  Praise is comely for the upright, but no one starts off upright.  It is only by grace that any of us have a right to praise God.  Humility is the quality that permits us to hear, to step down from wanting to be heard, to listen with a quiet mind.  By hearing the Holy spirit creates faith.  That makes the critical difference.  In faith we receive the genuine joys of sainthood.  Consider these words from the 34th Psalm:

Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered
with shame, the poor man called and the Lord heard him; He saved him
out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those
who fear Him, and He delivers them.

So, would you like to be radiant?  Moses was.  When he had been talking with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting, his face radiated when he came out.  He had to wear a veil because nobody could stand to look at him.  Sinners cannot look upon what is holy.  When we turn, in obedience, from God to face those we serve, we cannot show our complete holiness, because it would destroy them.  The Spirit who dwells within us is so powerful, so filled with all-surpassing wisdom, so comforting and peaceful within, so merciful and compassionate without, a mere look from a true Christian can turn an unbeliever away with guilt.  But the Spirit wants us to look upon those who need our help. It is for their sake we are sent into the world.  So expect crosses, afflictions, and troubles.  God places them over us like the veil Moses wore.  The Holy Spirit dwells in us, but we do not possess the Holy Spirit.  He constantly renews His presence in us as we turn to the Word and Sacraments, for that is where we remove our veils and let God serve us.  The indwelling is always his choice, not ours.

Does that mean we have afflictions all the time?  Who wants to live like that?  Be assured, it was never God's intention to leave us in misery.  Rather, He delights in delivering us.  By faith Moses ordered the lambs killed, the doors painted with blood, the matzohs baked, the families gathered for the feast of commitment.  Once they survived that night of terror, there would be no going back to what had been.  By taking part in the Lord's Passover, they were committing themselves to the desert, the Holy Land, the Temple, but the Lord made an even bigger commitment.  Nothing could turn Jehovah's face from them, not the Red Sea, not the Amalekites, not even their own idolatry.  He asked that they turn to Him.  When they did, there was deliverance, there was manna, there was a victory, there was a bronze snake, there was a clear manifestation of divine grace.

What do we have that corresponds to that feast of commitment?  We have the record of the greatest commitment of all, the commitment even to death that Jesus made to us.  We have the Gospel of His resurrection, His ascension, and His promise to return.  There can be no doubt that He is 100% committed to us.  We turn to Him, repenting of our sins, hearing His sacred Absolution.  All because He is so committed to us, we need no works of righteousness, but true repentance, letting the Lord serve us, letting Him nurse us with His own flesh and blood, so the grace we receive makes us holy.  We cannot face those who are still in slavery unless we put the veil back on.  Faith began in humility, it approaches the Fountain of Life in humility, and it serves in humility after being served, reflecting the deepest commitment ever known.  The faith of all saints is the faith of the cross. AMEN.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can't I just pray at home?


Public Domain

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  this is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4

THE sin of our day is to think that the Christian religion can be practiced in isolation.  Many who consider themselves believers rarely step a foot in the church.  They think that private prayer is more pleasing to God than the prayers made in God's House.  But St. Paul comes to the rescue today to tell us how things really are.  The words he writes are not simply random references to personal prayer, but liturgical traditions that he is teaching to a young bishop named Timothy; pastoral duties that he is to discharge within the life of the church.

This is not to disparage personal prayer, for it is good!  Very good!  Indispensable to be sure!  Any child of God who has done battle with sin and Satan, who has faced danger, illness, poverty, despair and frustration (and who has not?) cannot help but pray without ceasing, but we should learn to think of private prayers as extensions of the ones we pray in church; for it is here, in the body of Christ, that we learn how to pray, and what we ought to pray for.

We learn here, for example, that it is not God pleasing to pray for our favorite team to win today's football game, but that we would be quite remiss, on the other hand, if we did not entreat God "for every sort and condition of men;"  if we did not raise holy hands in supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings.  When Paul uses these four terms he is not merely stuffing the page with synonyms, but he is talking about four different kinds of prayers that the church prays, so let us consider his words very carefully.

The first is Supplications.  We can think of supplications as the prayers we offer for all that we need to preserve body and soul.  God wants us to remember that He is the source of every good gift.  He wants us to ask him Him for everything we need.  He wants us to receive His gifts with grateful hearts and use them to His glory and our blessing.  The Table Prayer, the Morning and Evening Prayers we learn in the catechism are examples of Supplications.

Next Paul mentions Prayers.  We can think of this term as referring to the fixed prayers that God's people carefully composed over the centuries to be offered over and over again.  We find them throughout Scripture and in the church's liturgy, prayer books and hymnals.  Some are long like the 51st psalm.  Others are short such as the Kyrie, which means Lord, have mercy.  It is a wonderful prayer, brief and to the point but as dynamic as they come.  It is a cry that pierces the heavens more quickly than a Tweet and brings the aid of the Almighty to our side when we need it the most!  Remember it and pray it often, or better still, learn to sing it as we did in the sermon hymn a few moments ago (The Lutheran Hymnal #6).

Intercessions are the prayers we pray for others.  Many times people ask us to pray for them and we promise that we will, but how often do we?  This is why the church, very early on, developed the Prayers of the Faithful, what we in our liturgy call the General Prayer.  It is the church's prayer, prayed in close connection with the Sacrament.  It is here that the One Mediator between God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus, showers us with His love, feeds us with His flesh and blood so that we might have life within us, and makes our imperfect prayers perfect.  He is the righteous man who intercedes for us and His prayers avail much.  Here no one is forgotten.  Here all are prayed for well whether mentioned by name or not.    When we think of all the need there is in the world we can do nothing else but pray, because contrary to what human pride tells us, we live in a creaky, dying world that is beyond human help, so we must seek divine aid for all the things that trouble us if we are to enjoy the dignified and godly life that St. Paul describes.

Lastly, the apostle speaks of Thanksgiving.  It is meet, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God, but in the New Testament, the word "thanksgiving" almost always refers to Sacrament.  Paul may be referring here to the Eucharistic Prayer which was a part of nearly every liturgy the church ever produced.  It is a prayer that surrounded the consecration and recalled the glorious events of our salvation.  It spoke aloud the Old Testament types of the coming Christ, and of their fulfillment in our Lord's incarnation, life, death and resurrection; whose benefits we obtain from this Supper, namely, the remission of sins, life and salvation.

These are the greatest gifts of God, bar none: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  Yet many Christians turn up their noses at them.  They imagine that deeds are superior to creeds, that works are superior to faith.  They don't realize that Christian deeds are fueled  by Christian creeds, and that Christian works are generated by Christian faith.  Self-righteousness is a virulent disease that we can easily contract, so be careful.  Good works, as indispensable as they are, cannot comfort us in the anguish of life or at the hour of our death.  Then there is only one deed that will calm our trembling hearts; that of the one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus who loved us and gave nothing less than Himself for us to deliver us from this present evil age.  May we love Him with all our hearts and serve Him with all our strength.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath


One Sabbath when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.  And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.  And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"  But they remained silent.  Then He took him and healed him and released him.  and he said to them, "Which of you having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?"  And they could not reply to these things.  Luke 14:1-6

THE four gospels were carefully crafted by the evangelists.  They were written first to catechize their original hearers, secondly to teach the faith of Jesus to the end of the age, so whenever St. Luke refers to our Lord's table fellowship, as he does in today's gospel lesson, and as he does so often, it is with this end in mind:  that we, who are  forever catechumens, should learn something about this table that the Lord prepares for our rest in the presence of our fierce enemies, in the plain view of sin, death and the devil.

We should notice here that Jesus is willing to eat with sinners.  The pharisees and teachers of the Law, though outwardly righteous people, inwardly they were dead.  Outwardly they were healthy, but inwardly they suffered from dropsy of the soul.  Dropsy is a debilitating condition caused by heart or kidney failure.  People suffering from it retain fluid in the lungs or abdomen so that breathing and exertion of any kind become difficult to impossible.  Left untreated dropsy spells a long, slow, agonizing death.  The fluid that filled these men was pride and self-righteousness.  Thus the Lord's saying: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, a warning that applies as much to us as it did to them.

Because of their pride they greatly misunderstood the Sabbath in the same way that Protestants misunderstand baptism.  They suppose that baptism is something a person does to show his love for God rather than the thing that God does to show His love for us; to claim sinners as His own and to exalt us for time and eternity.  In the same way the lawyers and pharisees thought that the Sabbath was a day to perform for God, to make Him happy and to obtain His blessed applause in the form of a storied life.  They did not comprehend that the Lord established the Sabbath for the benefit of man and not man for the Sabbath.  So even as strict Jews do today, they painstakingly followed the rules in the hope of obtaining God's favor; something gained for something given.

However things don't work that way with heaven.  You can't do business with God, so Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath rules so as to restore its original intent, a day for God to bless His people.  He healed the sick man on the Sabbath and St. Luke records the three actions our Lord did that day:  He took him, healed him, and released him.

We should note the double meaning of the verbs St. Luke uses to relay this account to us.  It says He "took" the  man and made him well.  In the same way, at another table in the near future, Jesus would "take" bread, and in a miracle that defies human wisdom, that baffles Protestant faith, He gave it to His disciples with these words: take eat this is my body, given for you for the remission of sins.

Next St. Luke says that he "healed" the man.  We don't know how many other sick people our Lord made well during His earthly ministry (and still does as often as we pray) but every healing that our Lord performed should point us to, and make us long for, the healing of the soul that we obtain at the Lord's table on the Lord's Day.

We should remember once again today that Christians do not celebrate the Sabbath, the 7th day any longer, but the 8th Day, which in divine reckoning is actually the first day of the new creation; a day that looks back to the Lord's resurrection, yes, but even more so one that looks forward to His glorious return when we will obtain the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting that comes from the forgiveness of our sins.

We must say the same of the holy bread we here eat and the holy wine we here drink that they the glorified flesh and blood of our resurrected, ascended, reigning and returning Lord Jesus Christ, may His name be blessed forever!

Next St. Luke notes that the Lord "released" him.  The same can be said of us as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup.  We are released!  We are set free, liberated from the sins that weigh us down, sear our consciousness, stifle our prayers, rob us of joy, bathe us in guilt and disrupt our relationships with one another.  The Lord's Supper that we receive on the Lord's Day releases us from all of these and from the eternal death and damnation that sin brings to all who will not humble themselves before God:  all who will not confess their sins and believe the absolution.

In the face of all that our Lord did, St. Luke reports that the pharisees and teachers of the Law were silent!  They had not a word to say.  How could they?  They had no faith, but we do, so we have much to say.  We shout out our praise to God Who is good and Whose mercy endures forever.  We bless the Lord in the Nunc Dimittis, employing the words of Simeon when with his own eyes he beheld the mystery of the ages, now in flesh appearing, to bring joy to the world.  We leave this place with the Lord's benediction singing in our ears, "strengthened in faith towards Thee and in fervent love for one another."  May our faith and love never end, may our song continue into eternity.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Isn't Jesus the son of Joseph?


This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired
And He began to speak to them saying, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears." And they all testified against Him and marveled that such gracious words should come out of His mouth, and they kept saying to one another, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" Luke 4:21-22

Theological controversy is nothing new. The church has been embroiled in it from the beginning. It has fought over countless matters, some significant such as the doctrine of salvation; some insignificant such as the date that Easter should be celebrated. A list of the church's controversies would fill a book, but today we encounter the very first one, the grand daddy of them all, when the people in the synagogue kept asking one another: Isn't this Joseph's son?

Make no mistake, Joseph played an important role in God's plan. He was the husband of the Blessed Virgin, and the protector of and provider for the Holy Family. Though we know little about him the church has always honored him as a great saint, and held him a worthy example to be imitated by all. His feast day is celebrated on March 19th, and he is known as the Patron Saint of a Happy Death because tradition says he was privileged to die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

But as important a person as St. Joseph was, Jesus was only his son in a legal sense. His true Father is God Himself. Jesus springs from divine seed, joined to the truly human seed of the Blessed Virgin, so the church has always confessed Him to be not only "true man born of the Virgin Mary," but also "true God begotten of the Father from eternity."

When we say that Jesus is, "of one substance with the Father," we are professing that He is God. We are saying that whatever "substance" God is, the incarnate Lord is of the same, but in our Lord's first public liturgy His hearers got it all wrong. May we, by the Spirit of the Lord given us in baptism, get it right.

Neither was Jesus merely an imaginary Son of God. That was another church controversy, called Docetism. It taught that Jesus did not truly assume human flesh, for that would be beneath God, but rather that He only "seemed" to be human, that He was what we would call today a hologram, however, this is wrong. God created a material world, and the sin that ruined it all is equally real. Trespasses always start in the mind, but they quickly become incarnate. They take on human form as we use the wondrous bodies that God entrusted to us to perpetrate every manner of evil against our neighbor, and even sin against our own bodies. But this is the world that He made, the world that He loves, and the world that He reconciled to Himself by the death of His Holy Child. The preacher of the sermon to the Hebrews says it like this: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Heb. 2:14)

Yet Jesus did not only become incarnate long ago, for a short time. He promises to be present among us to the end of the age, not just in our minds and hearts, but actually and factually in the Word and Sacraments. The church must constantly defend this truth because we are like the people the Lord taught that day. We wonder: How can this pastor forgive my sins? Isn't he Joseph's son? How can bread and wine be heaven's food brought to earth, eternity's feast brought into time? Can it really purge my sins, console me in my sorrow and give me eternal life? Isn't this Joseph's son? No, this is God's Son, bodily present among us to set us free from the devil's oppression, from the fear of death, from theological blindness and from spiritual bankruptcy. He is the Ransom God gave for us, the innocent for the guilty, the Righteous for the unrighteous, the immortal for the mortal, the incorruptible Son of God, given to raise the sons of earth.

Nor must we forget the Word of God, but again our faith falters. Wasn't the bible written by men, we ask? Can we really believe it, put our trust in it and build our lives on it? In today's Old Testament lesson we find that when the Walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt after sitting in ruins for decades, the people rededicated them by publicly reading and preaching God's Word for hours on end. They prayed, worshiped and ate a sacred meal of fat foods and sweet wine which was prophetic of the Eucharist we celebrate today. Furthermore, what did the Word made flesh do when He went to the synagogue? He read the Scriptures and offered Himself as their very fulfillment. It is what we still do today. The Services we encounter in Nehemiah and Luke are but infant forms of the fully grown Mass that we celebrate today.

Still there is one more important lesson we learn from today's gospel, that the love of God extends to all men. Today the church is not Israel. We are the chosen people. Will we hear Jesus when we hear the Scriptures? Will we see His flesh and blood in the bread and the wine? Will we treasure and uphold the church's sacred traditions so that she might be a Light to the Gentiles? Or will we throw Jesus over the cliff or under the bus in order to win the praise of men, in order to swell our numbers, our pride and our bank account? If we do that, then we too will be rejected.

Already this land, which once lay in heathen darkness, is quickly returning to the same. It is filled with pride and superstition. It is because of us, because the church believes that Jesus is the son of Joseph, but not the Son of God, still incarnate among us, to save all men from the sin's tyranny. God wants to give the Gospel to all men, but we don't need to lose it as the Jews did in order for others to gain it, so let us stand firm and hold to the traditions that we were taught by our faithful fathers: that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is still graciously incarnate among us in the church, and that He will come again in glory to liberate us from all oppression. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

MEMO to self: Choose life


This day I call heaven and earth to serve as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.  Now choose life that both you and your seed may live.  Deuteronomy 30:19

IT is easy to understand why Jesus says what He says to us in today's gospel lesson.  If the bar to be His disciples is set so high that we need to hate father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister, and even our own lives; and to choose the shame of the cross as He Himself did, that will take a lot of convincing.  It isn't the stuff of church signs, nor will you see people lined up at the door anxious to join up for such a life.  The number will always be small.

It is harder to understand the sermon Moses delivered to God's Old Testament people fourteen centuries earlier.  In it he preaches God's Word in the simplest possible manner.  He speaks to them like a Dutch Uncle.  He goes to great lengths to explain in the plainest terms how storied their lives will be if they remain faithful to their Lord, if they observe His judgments and obey His statutes, and on the other hand, how miserable their existence if they do not; if they worship other gods and reject God's Word and God's ways as so many do (both inside and outside of church) so freely today.  No one could have walked away from the sermon that morning asking what did Moses mean? for it was as clear as crystal, and what sane person would choose anything else?

Moses was no fool.  He spent the first forty years of his life in Egypt, in the courts of world culture and of world power, and the next forty in the desert seminary of Midian, which was about as far away from his former life as a man could ever get.  In Egypt he became a man of the world, but in the desert he became a man of God; a theologian who knew just how irrational and illogical people can be, how they can talk themselves into the most inane courses of action and make the most insane choices, how people will regularly cut off their nose to spite their face.  Moses knew all this so after outlining the two ways a person can follow in life -- and there are only two: the way of life and the way of death, the way of the cross, and all the others -- after carefully explaining both ways to them he says these two startling words:  Choose life!

Why would he say that?  Is there any question?  Isn't it what people call today a "no-brainer?"  If you set food before a starving man, will he not choose to eat?  If you set serenity before a woman whose life is entangled in drama, will she not choose peace?  But Moses, like Jesus, knew the stuff that people are made of, so he tells his hearers, choose life.

This should come as no surprise to Christians.  St. Paul states in Romans 8:7 that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God and will not submit to His laws.  Our catechism recognizes the same when we say in the Third Article, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him..."  which is why it is impossible to do what the Christian Radio crowd is always urging us to do: to make a decision for Christ.  Moses' people could not do it, and neither can we.  Instead, it is God's gracious Word, choose life, that awakens us from spiritual death and works saving faith within us.

There is another reason also that Moses said the words he said, namely, that the way of life is not obvious.  We learn from both our Lord's words and example that we must die to find life:  die to sin, die to self, and finally close our eyelids in death before we can hear the words this day you will be with Me in paradise.  We learn that to obtain true and lasting glory, which will never make us ashamed, never leave us and never forsake us, that we must find it through the shame of the cross.

The Lord's followers could not in any way, shape or form comprehend how Jesus, dead on the cross, could lead to any good, but His temporary suffering and death avert our permanent suffering and death.  His cross deletes our sins and releases us from the judgment that would otherwise be due to us on their account.  This is the love of God, "that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  We did not perish for our own sins as would have been just, but Jesus did in our stead, and now they are gone and God remembers them no more!  We need not think or worry that the Almighty is our enemy or that He is out to get us, but we learn from His Word instead that He is our dear Father and we are His dear children, who loves us and will bless us always.  As the Psalmist says, "Many are the afflictions of the Righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."  We are those people, afflicted by the forces of sin, death and the devil; righteous before God by faith and delivered from them all by the Savior that God appointed.

It is not obvious that the things we suffer in this world will finally work for our blessing, but St. Paul insists that "all things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose."  We are those people, called to Christ for time and eternity by the blessings of holy baptism, kept safe by the power of His Word and Sacraments.  Therefore we can be confident as we bear the heavy crosses of life that "nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  In the words of Moses, which are the words of God, Choose life!  Choose the cross!  Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Have You Ever Been So Sure of Yourself Only to be Embarrassed?


Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He marked how they chose the places of honor. Luke 14:7

IN these few words, Dear Christians, Jesus the Great Physician also proves Himself the Great Diagnostician. By this keen observation He seizes our sin by the throat and exposes it for what it is, and then in history’s greatest act of humility the Teller of the parable debases Himself and becomes obedient unto death, even the death of the cross in order to take away the sin of the world; exalt sinners to the heights of heaven; and plant the seeds of true modesty within us so that we might walk worthy of the high calling we have in Christ Jesus.

When Jesus noticed the race to the top taking place at dinner that day it wasn’t the first time; He’d seen it all before. He was at Babel when proud men decided they could build a skyscraper to heaven and situate themselves higher than even God Himself.  He was at the Exodus when Pharaoh humbled himself 10 times, and 10 times repented of his humility in order to exalt himself instead.  He experienced it up close when Herod killed the Innocents of Bethlehem on the chance that Mary’s son might be the Real King of the Jews forcing him to take a lower seat; and He noted it among His own disciples as they argued who was the greatest among them
(Mark 9:34).

Self exaltation is the life blood of politicians, actors, sports figures and world improvers of every stripe. Money, power and glory are the triune god they worship, but it’s not only big shots who promote themselves; it’s our sin as well. It’s in our hearts and in our homes. It’s the food we eat and the water we drink. Each of us is engaged in an endless struggle to be more important and more highly honored than those around us.

Those who work hard and lead orderly lives are often contemptuous of the entitlement generation, but truth be told we are all on welfare -- God’s welfare. We depend on Him daily to give us all that we need to support this body and life and for the ongoing forgiveness of our many sins, knowing that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

So we thank God that Jesus isn’t just the Great Diagnostician, but the Great Physician as well. To diagnose disease is a high art, but to cure it even higher, and the only cure for ingrained sin such as ours is a blood transfusion, and this is what Jesus gave. We who were once far away from God because of our sinful pride, have now been brought near by the blood of Christ
(Ephesians 2:13).

God promised death to Adam and Eve if they sinned therefore blood had to be shed. The thorns and nails were necessary for justice to prevail as God counts justice, but not just blood. If our sin is self-exaltation then our redemption needed to consist of humility as well. So Jesus “humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Whenever we hear those words we should think of both sides of the equation, not only the death, but also the humbling.

What did it mean for our Lord to leave His heavenly home? To glance from heaven’s unspeakable wonder to earth’s dank misery for even a moment must be a forbidding experience. We don’t like hospitals and rush past graveyards, but Jesus didn’t just give despair a passing glance. Instead He willingly came to earth, to live with us and for us in this vale of tears. He placed Himself under the Law which accuses and kills in order to redeem us from it’s curse (Galatians 4:4). He subjected Himself to humiliation, brutality and death, but this was exactly what the doctor had ordered to cure “the pride of life”
(1 John 2:16) which marks our very existence. As Jesus was humbled, we were truly exalted in heaven’s book.

Our first encounter with exultation was Baptism. It’s a sacrament so humble as to fly beneath our theological radar, but in it God forgave our sins, delivered us from death and the devil and gave us the unparalleled promise of everlasting life. However unassuming the sacrament may appear Jesus commanded it, and we have all been dressed with the righteousness of Christ in it.
(Galatians 3:26)

Jacob received Isaac’s blessing because he was dressed in the clothing of his older brother. In the same way we are arrayed in our Lord’s garment of holiness, and as such become co-heirs with Christ of the entire storehouse of God’s innumerable blessings.

We are exalted by absolution, too.  Confessing our sins before the pastor may seem humiliating.   Receiving absolution from a mere man may insult our self-esteem, but as Jesus states, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Things like sin and God’s judgment may not trouble us much when we are young, healthy and prosperous, but all that can turn on a dime.  Hospitals and morgues are filled with people who started out their day like any other, and in the blink of an eye all was lost. In all the changing scenes of life we need the assurance that our sins are forgiven, and it’s the Church’s ministry to make this Gospel known through the blessings of absolution.

We are exalted as well by the preaching of God’s Word. The Bible is held in contempt by men, and even by the flesh of Christians, but from it we learn the wisdom of the ages, most especially salvation which is through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. In it the mysteries of God, life and death are revealed, so that a child who has faith in God’s Word is wiser than earth’s most highly exalted scholars.

We are exalted, too, when we partake of the Lord’s body and blood. This is our earthly interface with the wedding feast Jesus talks of in the parable because it’s not just a parable! God has given a real wedding feast and we are the honored guests! More than that, in the surprise of surprises, upon arriving we find that we are not only the guests, but also the Bride, now married to the Bridegroom Christ. In this Sacrament the church is made One Flesh with Jesus her Husband, and it’s a marriage which will never end; a match made in heaven, and what God has joined no man can ever put asunder.  All this is the work of Jesus the Great Diagnostician, and the Great Physician.

He knows who we are: proud, boastful and self-exalting sinners who think that our righteousness before God and man will make us great and glorious, but such an attitude can only backfire and lower us to the depths of hell. He knows what we need; a humble and bleeding Savior, who leaves the highest seat of honor at God’s Right Hand, and takes the lowest place of all, so that we with Him might be exalted; and He makes provision to deliver these benefits to us by means as humble as He, namely preaching and the Sacraments, so that penitent sinners richly and daily receive the needed remission of sins, and continue in the: unity of the Spirit and the bond of Peace with God and one another. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Season to Bear Divine Fruit is Our Season of Mercy

Luke 13:1-9

public domain
And he spoke this parable. "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came seeking fruit from it, but found none. And so he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit from this fig tree and I find none. Cut it down! Why should it use up ground?' But the vinedresser said to him, 'Sir let it be for this year, until I dig around it, and fertilize it, and if it should bear fruit well and good; but if not you can cut it down.'" Luke 13:6-9

GOD'S message never changes. Turn from your sins and live. Repent and believe the gospel. God himself preached it in the garden. Ezekiel announced it to Israel and St. Paul does the same in today's Epistle lesson. The message never changes, but in Jesus it became crystallized. It took on a new precision and a greater intensity. While life today is all about giving people endless choices, God's menu is very short: repent or perish.

It is a divine message but one of limited power! It is the Law, not the Gospel. It can wake us up from our spiritual coma. It can strike fear into our hearts, but it cannot justify us before God or console us in the face of evil. Today's gospel lesson talks about two kinds of trouble that we must endure in this world.

One is man made, when the strong oppress the weak to secure their own position. Pilate did this when a contingent of Galileans tried to throw off his power. His soldiers murdered them in the temple, mixing their own blood with the blood of the sacrifices they brought. It wasn't the last time that Pilate would shed Galilean blood. The first was for sins against the state, but with Jesus it was for our sins against God. There are Pilate's large and small in every generation, let us be sure that we are not one of them.

Besides man's cruelty to man, we hear about another type of catastrophe today, about a tower that fell and killed 18 people. It may sound like small potatoes when we consider the mass casualties of our day, but to those people it was a big deal. Unfortunately the more we "progress" the greater the opportunity for carnage, because try as we might, whenever greedy, lazy and fallible men are involved, something will always go wrong.

But what of such events? Is God speaking through them? Is he sending his judgment to men before its appointed time? There are more than a few who would answer, Yes. And, what if we escape such things? What if we prosper in life and are healthy, wealthy and wise for all of our days? Does this mean that all is right with our souls? Does it mean that the Almighty is pleased with our performance, and that he is showing his appreciation in return? We long to know many things, but it is not the ninth inning yet.

There is no doubt that whenever we suffer, whatever the cause, it is always a wake up call, a summons to repent, to re-assess, to look upward, outward, and to ask hard questions of ourselves in light of God's word, so that, in the words of St. Paul, "we would not be judged with the world," but as important as self-examination is we must not become pre-occupied with ourselves, or with asking unanswerable questions. Instead we must fix our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who teaches us by this parable that we are the fruitless fig tree, and that he is the Vinedresser who acts to save us!

But what went wrong? How is it that divinely planted trees, for that is what we are, cannot produce the fruit that God seeks? It is because the devil injected humanity with his poison. He did it in order to stop us from producing the fruits of righteousness, so that we might share in his endless misery, but Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate to change that outcome. The digging and fertilizing that the Lord talks about in the parable is his own death and resurrection. It is the only cure for what ails us. It is the only way to extract satan's poison, restore us to the image of our Maker, and make us fit for the heavenly mansion that Jesus went ahead to prepare for us.

Today's readings are heavily slanted towards the Law. The Old Testament lesson warns God's people not to get comfortable with sin or to become weary in well-doing. The Epistle cautions us not to receive the grace of God in vain. In it St. Paul mentions three specific transgressions that God's people must avoid: sexual immorality, putting God to the test, and complaining rather than giving thanks. The message is precise, unmistakable, and applicable to believers and unbelievers alike: unless you repent you will likewise perish.

But how do we do that? We are doing it now. We repent by coming to church. From the beginning whenever God's people gathered for holy communion with their Lord they first confessed their sins. They conceded what we concede every Sunday: that we are poor sinners, miserable sinners who merit nothing from God, nothing that is except present and eternal punishment. That is repentance! Churches that don't do that -- and there are many -- can hardly be called churches, but we don't only confess, we also receive absolution from the pastor as if from God himself. This too is part of repentance. By it our sins are dissolved, our hearts are made light, our wrongs are made right, and we become new creations. We also gladly hear and learn God's word so that from it we might learn to live a godly life, and from it obtain the strength to do it. This too is part of repentance, but there is still more. We pray, praise and give Eucharistic thanks in unity with the whole people of God, using the church's unique language, and most especially by taking the cup of salvation to our lips. Here dead trees are made alive, fruitless trees fertile and timid trees bold. Here, at the Lord's altar, we are assured that we will never perish because we are tended by the Great Vinedresser, Jesus our Lord, who died so that we might live; and who rose again so that we might never die. God grant that we continue to thus repent and believe the gospel. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ask the Wrong Question...


If you ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer. If you ask a person how to get to Indiana when Pennsylvania is your destination, you’re going to have a problem. That’s what the lawyer in the parable did (which may not be a parable at all), he asked two wrong questions. The first because he wanted to trick the Lord, and the second because he wanted to justify himself. Talk about foolish endeavors. While we might obtain good standing before men, good standing before God is unachievable. We can neither trick God into giving us a glad eternity, nor justify ourselves before Him no matter how hard we try, because we have been robbed of righteousness by the devil.

But what’s impossible for us, because we’re robbed of righteousness by the devil, is entirely possible for Jesus who is the Good Samaritan. He finds us where we are, has compassion on us when no one else will, binds up our wounds, brings us to the inn of the church, appoints inn-keepers to care for us, pays the price for our salvation, and will return again to give us the eternal life that we all hope to obtain.

The parable is neither a morality play, nor is it about obtaining God’s eternal applause for a job well done. The parable is about Jesus who does what the Law cannot do, namely, rescue us from death, cleanse us from our sins, make us righteous before God and give us eternal life. Now it’s a fact that we all want life. We all want to be healthy, happy, successful and prosperous and we don’t ever want it to end. No surprise there. We were created by the Living God, made in His image and formed in His likeness. Every fiber of our being longs to live, thrive and survive. But the devil ruined it all. He came into the garden, tempted Adam, led him into sin and every generation since has inherited and imitated Adam’s rebellion – and this is bad because in God's economy the sentence for sin is death. What a contradiction! Living creations of the Living God, condemned to death because of sin, but that is our true condition, and the source of all our frustration.

Death is repulsive to us; a stranger; an enemy we want nothing to do with. But like the robbers in the parable it always lurks around the next corner. And like the robbers, it doesn’t usually finish us off with one big chop. Instead it breaks us down day by day, week by week, torments us with temptation, and beats us with guilt, shame, illness, injuries, troubles of all sorts until there is nothing left. Is there any hope for us? Is there any way out?

Many answers have been proposed. Adam and Eve thought they could cover their sin with fig leaves. They were the first Green Energy Czars of history but it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. The builders of the Tower of Babel thought they had the answer, but God frustrated their plans, as He always does when we get to be too big for our britches. Ever since sin entered the world, and death by sin (Romans 5:12) an endless parade of social, economic, legislative, technological and religious solutions have been proposed to turn things around; to make the world a better place and give men the joy they all desire. But they all break down because they all ask the wrong question that the lawyer asked Jesus that day: what must I do to inherit eternal life.

Do you hear the error?

What must I do?

How can I save MYSELF?

O, how we love that question! It appeals to our pride like no other and makes perfect sense to intellects disabled by sin. “How can I save myself?” It’s all we know, and when we’re not busy destroying ourselves, we’re busy saving ourselves, but nothing works. What’s the evidence, you ask? Hospitals are still full; pharmacies are in no danger of closing; nursing homes are experiencing a bull market and Death still bats a 1000. Cemeteries are as busy as ever…but don’t worry because there’s always room for one more.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? We naturally think that heaven is something we can merit but Jesus sets the record straight. In the parable the Priest and the Levite represent the Law, but they were of no help to the dying man. The lawyer thought that by a series of good works, prayers and devotions that he could extort God’s favor, and we think the same. But there’s nothing more deadly than self-righteousness whether the Christian kind or the socialist kind.

The defect isn’t in the Law. St. Paul asserts that: the Law is Spiritual, but I am Carnal, sold under sin. (Romans 7:14) The problem is not the Law; the problem is us. We are powerless to love God or our neighbor as the Law demands. The bar is set so high that we can’t even see the top of it let alone jump over it. We are perpetual under-achievers in the spiritual arena, moral midgets, lawyers to the -enth degree and the microscopic standards we set for ourselves won’t get us where we want to go.

There was another error in the lawyer’s question as well, an internal contradiction. “What must I "Do" to Inherit eternal life,” he asked? But Inherit and Do are very different creatures! One is a wage for services rendered, the other a gift. St. Paul writes in Romans 8:16 that by faith we become “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him,” and suffer we do.

The parable is not about us and what we do. The parable is about Jesus. He is the Good Samaritan! He is the one who finds us on the side of life’s road; beaten by sin; robbed of righteousness; stripped of life and bereft of peace and joy. Unlike the priest and Levite who, coming upon the scene, crossed to the other side, Jesus saw our distress and came to our aid. He gladly paid the price of our salvation by giving His sacred body to die our death, and pouring out His holy blood to cancel out our sin, give life to the dead and restore us to un-ending health. Jesus did more besides. He brought us into the inn of the church and appointed inn-keepers known as pastors to continue our treatment. He gave them instructions to care for us until His return, to administer the wine and oil of His Word and Sacraments, not just once but continually. We need that Word to be applied liberally and constantly to us for it and it alone makes our sorrowing spirits sing. It alone is light for our darkness, wisdom for our foolishness, balm for our sorrow and only it can treat the wounds we suffer daily at the hands of sin, death and the devil. It and it alone is pure joy, pure goodness, pure beauty and pure truth in a world where nothing is innocent, nothing is holy.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan, we are not. But having received divine Mercy we are in a position to understand it, and commissioned by our Lord to go and do likewise. This is what we are to be engaged in from the day we are baptized until the day the Good Samaritan returns to give us eternal life as an inheritance. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras