Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why is it so hard to choose life when life is what we all want?

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“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left Him and went away.   Matthew 22:21-22

We’ve all heard sad stories but today’s gospel lesson records the saddest of all. We learn from St. Matthew that the people who were with Jesus that day heard what He had to say, marveled at His wisdom, and then promptly left Him and went away to live their lives without Him. Does that amaze us? On the one hand, as people who’ve been enlightened by the Spirit of God, it surely does. We know that malice towards the Christ is not only the saddest possible existence, but also the most dangerous, because without Jesus life is a dead end, both temporally and eternally, yet on the other hand it doesn’t surprise us because we know the power of sin, not only from Scripture but also from personal experience. Sin makes us blind. It makes us thick. It makes us cotton-headed and drives us to act against our own best interest.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses read God’s Law to the people and in a detailed and plain sermon that anyone could understand he set two choices before their eyes: life and death, but before they could respond he added these words, “choose life!” “Choose life that both you and your descendants may live…” Why did he do that? Wasn’t the choice obvious? Don’t we always act in our own best interest, especially when the choices are so clear? Unfortunately not. When it comes to matters that reason can comprehend we can be very savvy. We read, study and do our homework to insure that we pick the option that yields the most benefits, but in spiritual matters nothing is clear! Sin has turned us into fools, simpletons who can’t see God’s gifts even when they’re placed in front of us. The Herodians and Scribes in today’s gospel lesson are a perfect example.  They stood in the presence of Jesus but couldn’t connect the dots.  St. Matthew informs us that as they heard Him they marveled at His words and wondered at His wisdom.  How could they not? To meet Jesus was to encounter God in human flesh.  He taught with authority, not just because He was more talented than the Scribes, whose call it was to teach and interpret the Law, but because He is the Living Word, Scripture’s author, so every word that He spoke carried the unmistakable ring of truth, but it wasn’t only His words that caused such wonder in people.  It was also the way He conducted Himself among men. They observed the way He lived, that He was always holy, always gracious, always pure and unlike anything they had ever seen before. To be in His presence must have been as exhilarating as it was wondrous, and there was no aspect of Jesus that they wanted to miss, but in the end St. Matthew tells us that they left Him and went away.

What were they leaving behind?  They were walking away from the only One who can save us from sin, and fulfill the obligations we owe to God and Caesar.  As odious as it might seem sometimes, even citizens of heaven must fulfill their obligations to Caesar, not only for fear of punishment, but out or reverence for God who established government as His ministers to keep order in the sinful world.  Usually we don’t like the things Caesar demands of us.  He has an insatiable appetite for our money, he likes to send us traffic tickets in the mail, and send our children off to fight senseless wars. He’s never quite happy until he controls everything and everyone. That’s not the way God wants things to be. He expects those who govern to be noble and to rule with wisdom. He charges them to make intelligent laws that reward people for doing good, and punish them for doing evil, but more often than not those things get turned around, so the kings of the world must remember that they, too, have a King to whom they are answerable; a king named Jesus, who is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”  Caesar loves power and glory.  He loves to coin money and put his name and picture on it so that we never forget who it belongs to, but Jesus doesn’t criticize him for this.  Instead He instructs us: render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars. If we do Caesar is happy, but things aren’t so simple regarding our obligations to God because He isn’t satisfied with mere outward performance.  We can’t get Him out of our hair or out or our conscience by filling in paperwork and paying money.  God demands more of us than anyone can possibly fulfill.  He requires that we fear, love and trust in Him above all things. He insists that we live our lives like Jesus did, giving our full time and attention to Him, but this is impossible for sinners to do, so Jesus came to our rescue, came to save us and to do all the things that we cannot.  Not only did He obey the civil law and even submit His life to it, but He did much more!  He fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s law for us, and then died to expiate our sins.  This is what the Scribes, and all who reject Jesus today leave behind: the only Savior and friend a sinner ever had.

However sad a commentary that is, please understand that it’s the natural tendency of us all. Left to our own devices we to, would walk away, but God calls us by the Gospel to come to Jesus, never to leave Him behind: not the Jesus of modern theology, but St. Matthew’s Jesus; the One who saw the evil intent of the Scribes, and called them on it; the One who made them “feel bad” without apology and never a thought of attending an “anger management” seminar; the One who antagonized them to such a degree that they manufactured whatever evidence it would take to get rid of Him (Luke 23:2);  the One who was handed over for our trespasses, and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25);  The One who “while we were yet sinners…died for the ungodly,” and who became the Wisdom and Power of God (1 Cor 1:30), and the source of eternal Salvation for all who put their hope in Him.

Through the Church God still calls out to all men to repent of their sins, believe the Gospel, and be baptized. He calls out to us all to learn true wisdom from His Word, to join the church in her Holy Communion, to live each day as citizens of heaven, and to wait patiently for our Savior to return, who will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Overcoming the world begins with the conquering of our own souls

Jeremiah 26:1-15
Ephesians 5:1-9
Luke 11:14-28

Do all Christians have adjustment problems?  Absolutely.  We live in a precarious balance between our society, to which there is constant pressure to adjust, and a Lord to whom we want to adjust.  We are the saints.  In the Old Testament God called His people "saints" whom He rescued from Egypt and brought out into the desert.  He called them a kingdom of priests, a holy  nation, a consecrated people.  He brought them out of one land to conquer another so every saint was a soldier.  You and I have been rescued from something far worse than slavery.  Jesus has rescued us from the system of evil that dominates the world and has set before us the task of enlarging our little remnant, of liberating and recruiting the people around us.  The first goal of conquest for each of us is his own soul.  God has called us to stake out territory in our hearts and minds, to break down the walls of stubbornness and pride, to exterminate the lust and covetousness, and to plow under the falsehood and love of vanity.

That seems like a tall order.  Each little remnant of goodness is besieged by evil, but I have good news for you.  There is a power which can change men, energy to renew and sanctify our lives.  While all the generators in the world could not help us control ourselves, while all the technology can do nothing about sin and its consequences, the Light of the World with His full and free grace makes us new creatures.  He anoints us with the Holy Spirit to make us "prisoners of hope,"  The Light shines into our business life, our home life, our social life.  All of these would be in total darkness without Him, but since the cross and resurrection are very public, very much there for all to see, there is no reason to be without Jesus.  He is here for everyone with full and free forgiveness.

Now the Bible does not just say that we are "in the light."  St. Paul says, "You are the light in the Lord."  That is our calling -- to be living lights, reflecting what Jesus is constantly beaming upon us.  How do we do this?  We test every word and deed to see whether it pleases God, whether it serves profitably toward the goal of conquest, which in the first case is the conquest of our own souls. This is never accomplished by programs or human meddling.  Matthew was an intriguing, graft-ridden bureaucrat.  He didn't need a twelve-step program, or a daily dose of Ritalin to make him a conscientious disciple.  Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but she didn't need hours of counseling, or a course in philosophy.  The Word of Christ changed her life.  And what about Saul, the persecutor, breathing out threatenings and slaughter?  Did he need a vegetarian diet, or warm mineral baths?  Hardly!  It was a voice from heaven that begat him to a lively hope, so that he went to Ananias to be baptized, to die to sin, to have his Old Adam drowned, so that the life he lived in the flesh he lived by faith in the Son of God.

On every hand there is darkness, but that's not the worst of it.  God isn't going to let the darkness go on forever.  He is going to put a stop to all the lying, the obscenity, the pursuit of vanity, the contempt, the coveting, and all the other fruits of disobedience.  As in the days of Noah, God is going to put a stop to it.  We are to have nothing to do with evil.  That does not mean we cannot love individual people who are enthralled by the world.  We always stand ready to forgive them, to reach to those we can see stumbling about in the darkness, but we cannot let ourselves get entangled in evil's web.  We are holy.  In one sense we are holy because Jesus has made us holy.  In another we are becoming holy, because God's strength increases in us as our own strength is used up.  Fortunately we do not have to make ourselves holy.  We reflect the holy light of our Lord.

The light which Jesus beams on us and through us is the only hope for the perishing world around us.  Our society spends billions on advertising every year, but Jesus is counting on the living testimony of His saints to call people out of darkness.  What kind of testimony do we give?  In this letter St. Paul seems especially concerned about our speech, warning us to avoid obscenity, silliness, and levity.  All humor is not wrong, but adultery and fornication are no laughing matter.  Falsehood is always out of place, and idle gossip is not a fit pastime for the saints of the Most High.  Be creative with your icebreakers.  Why should your tongue be an organ of wrath when God made it to be an organ of praise?

Hemmed in and besieged by evil we cannot help but sin.  Be assured that the wonderful grace of God forgives all our sins.  We contribute absolutely nothing to the process of our salvation, still we must confess that the Light shines not only on us, but in us.  It becomes in fact, our light.  The fruit belongs to the vine, but it also belongs to the branch that bore it.  That fruit does not bring us any closer to God, but it is still active, leading us to walk as children of light.  This is a miracle, the miracle of second birth, of regeneration.  No one can make the tongue, hands, feet, eyes, or anything else right if the heart is not right.  Jesus did exactly that for us in the Holy Baptism, as He joined us together with Himself in His death, made us partakers of His atonement, cleansed us by His blood, and created faith within us.  Jesus has liberated us, separated us from the surrounding darkness, and recruited us as His soldiers.  In Baptism we crossed the Red Sea with Jesus, and now we stand with Him in the desert, temptation all around us, and a promised land ahead.  The exodus is done.  The time for conquest has come.  The Jericho whose walls we must take is in our own soul.  We must not let the devil cut us off from the Word, or from Christ's Holy Sacrament, the manna that He gives us sealing our forgiveness and strengthening our faith.

The light discloses all things.  That makes us squirm with discomfort for there is so much we would as soon keep hidden, but we know better than to fear the Light of the World.  We may not look like much in the light, be we are the real winners here.  Of all the people in the world, we are the only ones who have the privilege of doing good works.  Yes there is sin in us, but Jesus forgives it so we can overcome it.  We can let people see the help of our hands, hear the praises of our tongues, be warmed by the comfort of our presence.  We want to export the miracle of rebirth.  Even before our own souls are completely conquered, we can start on the nearby parts of the world.  Amen

 ~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, May 23, 2016

We worship the Trinity in Person and the Unity in Substance, of Majesty coequal


A Psalm of David.  Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD  the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.  Psalm 29:1-2

KING DAVID, the author of our psalm, never saw the temple, but his inspired words became an important part of Israel's worship.  His psalm is not only confession of one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but it is liturgy as well.  Then as now it is the divine Word that comprised both the content and power of Israel's worship.  Then as now worship is nothing other than God's Word on the lips of His people so that they  might know how to be orthodox, that is to say, so that they might know how to praise their Savior aright, but the problem is that we cannot be orthodox unless we are "begotten from above" as Jesus explains to Nicodemus; begotten "by water and the Spirit," which is to say by baptism.  These are the"unclean lips" Isaiah bemoans when he comes face to face with the One who is holy and "lifted up."  The prophet is not talking about the sins of the tongue, but about the sinful heart (from which all other sins proceed) that prevents him from confessing Christ as Lord, so he cries out, "Woe is me!" which was the exclamation used at funerals, so what Isaiah is really saying here is, "I'm dead!"  He recognizes that due to his fallen condition there is no hope for him -- except there is, for Isaiah and for all who are born of sinful flesh, but take note please what exactly that hope is, and who it is that provides it!  It is not Isaiah himself, neither is it you yourself, but holy Scripture says, "Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and he touched my mouth and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."

The early church fathers understood this to mean nothing else than the blessed sacrament of holy communion.  "This is my body given for you, for the remission of sins," and we must do the same.  We must understand that it is no mistake that the church from earliest times embedded Isaiah's words in her communion liturgy!  Amazingly enough the earliest recorded liturgy, the liturgy of Addai and Mari, did not include the words of institution, but it did include the Sanctus.  So when the church sings these words with lips now purified by the blood of Jesus, she is participating in the true praise of the true God into which her members are baptized.  You are those members!  She is factually in league, not with the things of earth, or with the Destroyer of souls, or with the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, or the gospel of tablets and tattoos, but with the "heavenly beings" of our psalm, and with Isaiah's Seraphim who came to life in the temple one remarkable day!  This is company worth keeping!

Yes, "participate," is the right word, for the Christian faith is not merely a body of doctrinal formulations to which one gives his assent, and calls that faith.  There is doctrine to be sure, and the doctrine of the Trinity is a glorious one, a cherished one, one that took the church 300 years to formulate  from about 100 A.D. to 400 A.D. before the church finally settled on a common faith, and serviceable language to teach men who God is and what He does; language such as we possess in the Athanasian Creed confessed here this day.  Finally entrance into life is not attained by doctrinal exam in spite of the last verse of the Athanasian Creed, but by faith in the crucified Lord and by baptism into His death and resurrection, for these two, trust and baptism, always go together and what God hath joined together, let not quack theologians put asunder.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely a verbal formulation, but is something that is professed by living the baptismal life, first by receiving the church's sacrament of holy baptism, thereafter to be baptized into the baptism with which the Lord himself was baptized, that is, the cross!

Unlike the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, our crosses have no atoning benefit or merit, and why should they since the Lord died once and for all!  Yet, like St. Paul, we "die daily."  That is to say, each Christian must take up his cross and follow Jesus, First by waging relentless war against the ever present temptation to live like swine; secondly by the patient acceptance of life's trials whatever their composition might be:  illness, poverty, sorrow, loss, or disappointment.  These are inevitable, and the pursuit of the soft life is not a Christian virtue, but instead the Christian life is composed of sacrifice, patient suffering, and above all Godly hope.

St. Peter admonishes the church in this manner:  Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, to test you, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Here St. Peter grounds us in Christian reality, even as he reminds us that the same Spirit who descended upon the Lord at His baptism is your possession also, by virtue of your baptism, in the name of the Triune God, so as the Lord's baptized, we glorify God along with the heavenly beings, and the seraphim glorify Him in the body of the church by true faith and in our own bodies by a true life.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What society deems normal is illogical


In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filling the temple. The Seraphim standing above Him. Each had six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to the other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD Almighty, all the earth is filled with His glory. Isaiah 6:1-3

ON Trinity Sunday it is meet, right and salutary that we should once again consider who our God is, and what He does for us. Most people don’t want to know God, at least not the Triune God. They offer many reasons for their denial but at the end of the day fear is the driving factor. Why fear? Because even if a person is raised by wolves reason tells him that there is a God who created and sustains all things; a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and who holds men responsible for the thoughts, words and deeds of their lives. This proves too much for sinners to bear so denial is a form of self-preservation. It enables people to get on with their lives, eke out a living, and hopefully find a little happiness before the great and terrible Day of the Lord sweeps them away in the sleep of death.

Lest we become overly critical let us remember that Christians also have a sinful nature. That we too can curse and deny on par with Peter who repudiated the Lord at the accusation of a servant girl. Let us remember and confess as sin that we, too, stick our heads in the sand like an ostrich and frequently live like there is no God and no tomorrow. Neither should we judge too harshly because in the last 150 years the blessing of reason, which leads men to recognize the fingerprint of God on everything has been successfully disabled and replaced by propaganda. Today we operate without thought, reason or logic and respond almost exclusively to social indoctrination. Why else would anyone believe in global warming, recycling or peak oil? Or why would reasonable men trade their liberty for a pot of protection? Why else would we patiently endure high prices and high taxes in order to fight wars against poverty, drugs and an ever-increasing number of middle-eastern bogeymen never asking: is this reasonable? can it be done? is it working? where is the progress? when will these ‘wars’ end? and why are we out saving the world when we cannot save ourselves? Why indeed! Because our powers of reason have been stolen from us and our ability to fear, love and trust in God above all things is non-existent.

So what can change all that? What can supply us with the light and truth and the power to live rational and reasonable lives? Only the Word of God, dear Christians, and Isaiah's vision is a good starting point. Consider what this mighty prophecy teaches us about who God is and what He does. Then the light of Christ will replace our fear with faith, restore blessed reason, and aid us in seeing through the clouds of culture that envelope us.

The first thing we find in this lesson is that Isaiah dates his vision in historical time, the year that King Uzziah died, the year 750BC. We should not pass over these words because they teach us the happy lesson that God interacts with us in time and history. They inform us that He does not expect us to reach up to meet Him, which is impossible for sinners, or to deal with Him on the heavenly plane. Instead He condescends to reach down to us in mercy and grace. He did it for Isaiah in this vision, and He does it for us all in Christ.

God’s tender mercy for us is not merely a positive feeling within His heart, but a reasonable reality that took on palpable form, a Word made flesh. It moved Him to act in time and space by sending His Son, just as Isaiah repeatedly prophesied, to purge our sins by His blood and to remove our guilt by His death so that we who are men of unclean lips might have fellowship with the Lord of Sabaoth by faith, so that we too might sing these same Seraphic words: Holy, Holy, Holy to the Holy Trinity as we enter into holy communion with the body and blood of Christ; present among us to remit our sins and make us holy, even as He is holy. We could never want for more, dear Christians, because to be one with God in Christ is to know perfect peace and surpassing joy. As Isaiah writes: Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is stayed on Thee. (26:3)

What the angel did for Isaiah with the burning coal, Christ does for us all. By means of His fiery death on the altar of the cross He purged our sins and obtained a storehouse of grace that can never be exhausted, no matter how long or how far we have strayed from mercy, and today is the day of salvation! But the mercy of God is not inert. It does not reside in “the cloud,” waiting for men to find this holiest of grails. Instead it is published abroad by the church’s teaching, preaching, baptizing, absolving of sinners and is distributed to the unclean lips of men with the bread and the wine, so that we might have the remission of our sins, and the blessing of God at all times and in all places.

God’s mercy does more besides. It prepares us for His service even as it did Isaiah. It moves us to pray like Isaiah: Here am I send me, send me. Not that we are all called to be prophets, indeed few of us are, but we are all called to hear the prophets, to believe their words, to sing Holy, Holy, Holy to the Holy Trinity, to fight against temptation and to be men of clean lips, not by what goes into them, but by what comes out; to heed the word of St. James who says: be slow to speak and quick to listen; to ask the Lord to guard our lips so that we might never use the same tongue to bless God and curse men who are made in His image; to seek God’s help to tame our tongues, which though they are small members, have the power to set the whole world on fire; and to learn anew the meaning of the second commandment: that we should not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray praise and give thanks, to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May God the Holy Trinity grant us all these things, for Jesus sake. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, May 20, 2016

Forgiving those who trespass against us


BEFORE we consider the obvious lesson of the parable, let’s take a moment to think about the less evident but more important one, namely that Jesus is the Merciful Lord of the parable who paid the debt we owe by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.  This is our faith, our life, our hope and our joy.

Jesus is the Merciful Lord.  Numerous times in His earthly ministry people called on Him for aid and He answered them all:  the thief on the cross who was suffering the wages of his sin; the Canaanite woman who was willing to eat crumbs because she loved her daughter more than her pride; and the father of a self-destructive son who was possessed by a demon to name just a few.  They didn’t ask Jesus for silver or gold or jewels but only for mercy and He gave it because they believed and asked.  May we all so believe, and so call upon our Lord Jesus Christ in every trouble whatever it might be, and know that He will always hear us and extend mercy to us.

Jesus isn’t only our Merciful Lord, but our Merciful Servant as well.  He says in Matthew 20:28 “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  Jesus did many things in His earthly ministry.  He preached God’s Word, taught heavenly wisdom to earthly people, miraculously reversed the consequences of sin and kept the Law perfectly on our behalf.  All of these things were vital parts of  His saving mission, but the one thing we glory in above all is the Cross of Christ which still towers over the wrecks of time, and still confers grace, mercy and peace to sinners throughout the ages.

When Jesus died God forgave the sins of the world, all of them, including yours.  Always remember that and never doubt it, but the problem with sin is that we can’t see it with our eyes.  We can see its effects; most obviously in the way we interact with one another, amusing ourselves by abusing one another.  Why else does a man on Cleveland’s east side rape and murder eleven women?  Why else do those in power print and borrow money like there’s no tomorrow and send the bill to us and our children?  What do their balance sheets look like before the Lord?  But more importantly, what do ours look like?  Are we better than they?  Less sinful?  More righteous?  Kinder or gentler?  God forbid!  Scripture emphatically states that, “there is none that is righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10).  We all plot to game the system.  We all want a free ride.  We’re all more than happy to accept pardon for the mountains of debt we owe, but un-willing to extend the same pardon to those whose debt is but a mole hill by comparison.  No, we can’t see sin with our eyes, and divine justice is something in the foggy future, so in order to teach us this central lesson of the Christian faith Jesus uses a parable in which He compares sin to debt.

The Unmerciful Servant was in dire trouble.  Like much of the financial world today he had borrowed too much money.  He was up to his eyeballs in debt and now it was time to repay, but his investments all went suddenly south.  He was upside down, under water, and had no way to pay what he owed.  Unlike today there were no bailouts in Jesus’ day, but there were debtor prisons and a strict code of justice which if applied today would land many of the world’s financiers into a deep, dark, dank prison, but lest we feel smug please know that the parable isn’t about Wall Street, it’s about Main Street.  It’s about us.  We too have incurred unsustainable debt before God and man by our countless transgressions. (Luke 15:21)  Every violation is like money borrowed that we must pay back, but like the Unmerciful Servant we have no means, so all that remains for us is to be sold into temporal and eternal punishment.

The Unmerciful Servant was no fool however, nor should we be.  He entered negotiations without a leg to stand on, and not a chance in the world of winning.  His desperate request was not to be forgiven, but only for more time.  It wouldn’t have helped because he never could have paid back the debt he owed, and neither can we, but in the end it didn’t matter because he got much more than he ever bargained for.  The Merciful Lord forgave the entire debt and set him free!  So it is with us!  We too have been released.  We too have been set free from the consequences of our sins before God, not by bargaining, but by confessing and believing.  St. John states in his first epistle that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all un-righteousness. (1 John 1:9)  Why does he say that?  He says “just” because the Merciful Servant paid our debt, in full, on the cross and there is no balance due.  And He says “faithful” because God does exactly what He had promised to do from the beginning, namely to forgive our iniquity and remember our sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

We said earlier that the parable is about Jesus who is the Merciful Lord and Servant, but it’s about us too.  Once we grasp the divine transaction that occurred on the Cross, and the mountain of debt that has been forgiven us, it is incumbent upon us to forgive the mole hill of debt that others owe us.  Those mole hills can often seem like mountains to us.  People can be cruel and heartless.  They can rob us of joy and make us wish we were never born.  That’s the reality of life in a sinful world and we must never, like so many co-dependants, deny it or minimize it, but as Forgiven Servants we must acknowledge that the debt of sin we owed to God was immeasurably greater than the debts that others owe to us; and that it’s our high calling in Christ to forgive others even as God in Christ has forgiven us. (Eph. 4:32)

We have no duty to expose ourselves to the assaults of others, neither should we confuse forgiving wrong, with excusing it.  Nor can we forgive the sins people commit against others, against society, or remit civil penalties.  Never-the-less forgiveness lies at the very heart of the Christian faith; God’s forgiveness extended to us in Christ, and our forgiveness extended to others who desire it from us.  It’s not always easy to do, and the repetitive sins we commit against one another often make us weary, so we pray that the Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort would grant us a hearty faith to believe that He has pardoned all our debt in Christ; and strengthen us to forgive those who trespass against us.   Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why do bad things happen to good people?


And behold they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith Jesus said to the paralytic, "Be of good cheer son, your sins are forgiven." And behold some of the scribes said within themselves: this man is blaspheming. But Jesus, seeing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” Matthew 9:2-4

Jesus met two very different kinds of people when He visited His home town that day, but their differences aren’t noted for the sake of drama, or to spin an interesting yarn. Rather so that by hearing them we might examine ourselves to see which one of the two we are.  Are we like the people who brought their troubles to Jesus, believing in His power and love to help them?  Or are we like the Scribes who couldn’t connect the dots between illness and sin, and so were not interested in Jesus who could both heal and forgive?  If you know your catechism, you’ll know that we are both!

Each of us has a Scribe inside called Flesh, and it doesn’t believe that the troubles we suffer are part of the temporal punishment our sins merit.  We don’t like illness, poverty, social unrest or family strife, neither do we think we need Jesus to conquer them.  Instead we imagine that the march of progress will eliminate them bit by bit, and consign them to the dustbin of history, so that they’ll never trouble us again, but Sin makes such a dream impossible.  People like to say that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do know history are also doomed to repeat it.  We never seem to learn, and even if we could, by some stretch of the imagination, sustain rational thought for more than a fleeting moment, the Sinful Self always rises up to destroy us.  We ask why bad things happen to good people.  They don’t, they happen to bad people; people who have rebelled against their God, excluded the possibility of His judgment and would rather build a Perfect World by their own genius than have their sins forgiven.  We are those people.  When God warned Adam and Eve, “the day you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17) what He did not say was that it would be a slow death!  Our first parents didn’t simply drop dead like Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts Chapter Five when they lied to the Holy Spirit.  Instead they were cursed with a protracted death.  The man with hard labor; the woman with the travails of childbirth.  They lost their superior powers and were robbed of the good cheer that comes from fellowship with the Living God.  They were ejected from paradise and consigned to a life of exhaustion, illness, pain, in-harmonious relationships, treachery and finally death.  Do you think that these troubles that have marked humanity from the beginning are going to be mitigated by technology or government decree?  That’s exactly what our Scribe thinks, and why he pays homage to these instead of the Savior who forgives sin.

Thankfully there’s another force at work within us, namely the Holy Spirit of God.  In baptism He called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified us.  In this primary sacrament He restored the lost image of God to us and made us new creations, and now, just like the paralytic, we too depend on Him for the forgiveness of our sins, a reconciliation which was made possible by His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death on the cross, and by His resurrection from the dead.  Though the Lord’s death and resurrection are past events the benefits they confer are not.  The absolution first given by Jesus to the paralytic is still given today to spiritual paralytics who are astonished by the corruption of their Flesh, and who desperately want to be done with sin and win the victory over it.

What’s so wondrous and exhilarating about the forgiveness of sins?  First, it gives us peace with God, and nothing else can!  The world doesn’t forgive transgressions and even if it does, it never forgets; but when the Son sets us free we are free indeed (John 8:32), and our sins are remembered no more! (Jeremiah 31:34) Further, we all have our detractors, those who know our sins all too well and never let us forget them! The certain forgiveness we receive from God, based on Christ’s suffering and death, enables us to live with dignity even in the face of the never-ending criticism people love to dish out to us.  The Gospel also gives us new powers, to put off the Old Self, put away falsehood, put aside anger and to forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:32) When we understand that the bill for sin was paid in full on the cross, we can also put our present sufferings into the proper context.  They are not punishment, but discipline (Hebrews 12:5), administered by the God who loves us so that we might learn to rely on Him alone, and find our joy in the gifts He gives and the promises He makes.  Knowing that our sins have been erased allows us to die with confidence.  Many people boast that they’re not afraid to die.  It’s an easy thing to say when we’re healthy and well, but such confidence quickly vanishes when death is at the door, or when the most unthinkable hardships turn our world upside down.

Like the paralytic, we also call on Jesus to heal our diseases.  The instant miraculous healings we read of in the gospels no longer occur, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless.  We have the power of prayer, the confidence to ask boldly, and the faith to accept whatever God gives us, knowing that His will is always good and gracious, the very best one for us.

We depend on the Gospel for good cheer as well, and what a rare commodity that is today! People are so morose.  Is it any wonder?  Bad news is everywhere.  Violence is glorified.  Villains are lionized.  Arrogance is celebrated.  Sin is extolled as virtue, and those who are supposed to be the wisest among us bicker like four year olds on the playground, as the whole “wired” planet watches and wonders.  Yet through it all the words of Jesus break through the despair and restore the joy of salvation to us. “Son be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” We are those sons, children of God, and heirs of salvation, so like the paralytic let us rise up from our gloomy beds, and move steadily on towards our heavenly home.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The division of nations at Babylon is reversed at Pentecost


"THESE THINGS I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you ALL THINGS and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."  John 14:25-26

"THESE THINGS I have spoken to you while I am still with you," says Jesus but the Twelve still don't get the full meaning and intent of "THESE THINGS."  Just when they think they are on the right path and THINGS  start making sense, they look for another way.  Thomas asks, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?"  (John 14:5)   Philip tries another tack and suggests, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us."  (John 14:8)  Judas (not Iscariot) takes a different approach and asks Jesus, "Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?"  (John 14:22)

Jesus tells them:  "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you ALL THINGS and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."  (John 14:26)  The Helper is promised.  Heavenly peace is proclaimed.  Now Jesus is ready to leave them and return to His Father.  Just when THINGS were becoming clearer, God's Son announces He's leaving.  The Twelve need the promised Helper to call to their remembrance ALL THE THINGS they have seen and heard.

Less than two weeks later, a mighty wind and tongues of fire roar through the Upper Room.  The Twelve, minus Judas Iscariot, but having added Saint Matthias and a great number of our Lord's disciples witness the descent of the promised Helper.  Tongues that were divided at Babel come together to tell the Good News about Jesus Christ.  A fiery sword that barred the gates of Paradise is now a fiery tongue bringing salvation -- restoring the gift -- pouring out the many THINGS Joel (2) and David (Psalm 110) had prophesied.

Today the Church celebrates with great joy the descent of the promised Holy Spirit.  Contrary to teachings of the popular religious sects, the Holy Spirit does not bring peculiar gifts that separate "true" Christians from "false" Christians.  No, the Holy Spirit comes to bring Christ to all nations, and all nations to the Good News of forgiveness and life.  The Holy Spirit comes to teach us of Jesus and what He has done for us, to give us a right judgment in ALL THINGS, that we might live in confident faith before our God here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Saint Paul writes to the church in Corinth:  "do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's."  (1 Cor. 6:19)  St. Peter (1 Peter 2) calls us new born babes being built up as God's House of living stones, bathed in Baptism, fed with Christ's Body and Blood, sustained by the forgiveness of sins.  The writer to the Hebrews reminds us:  "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."  (Heb. 12:22-24)  The Spirit inspired Scriptures repeatedly tell us of THESE THINGS, yet we live as if there is no such THING as the Holy Spirit.

We pollute our bodies with the eye and ear candy of the world.  Seemingly everything on television shoves sexual immorality in our eyes, through our minds, and down our throats.  Weekends were made for Michelob, not for receiving the HOLY THINGS.  We know the intricacies of the NBA playoff series better than the books of the Bible.  The stories we long to hear are found on soap operas, not in God's Word.  What the world portrays as peace from the daily grind is far from the peace proclaimed by Christ and His messengers.  The world goes so far as to mock and ridicule those who receive peace each Lord's day in the Lord's house as a foolish THING.

Who do you love?  Do you love the world that longs for you to make a name for yourself?  Or the God Who loves you and comes to you and makes His home with you?  Or have you decided to serve both in your life?  St. John writes:  "do not love the world or the THINGS in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him."  (1 John 2:15)  You cannot talk out of both sides of your mouth.  Reject the one, love the other, or live in fear of the judgment.

Learn to pray the prayer of the ancient Church:  "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Thy love."  Without Jesus Christ, you are an empty vessel.  The world fills you up with pride, arrogance, hatred, anger, fear, and betrayal.  The world offers nothing eternal except death.  Jesus Christ gives you everything the world despises, even an end to death.  When Jesus tells the Twelve, "Arise, let us go from here," (John 14:31b) THINGS will never be the same for them and the whole of creation.  They rise to see Him do as Thomas said, "Let us also go that we may die with Him."  (John 11:16)

It is odd to think that going with Christ is dying with Christ.  In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit binds you to Jesus.  You are with Him whatever He does and wherever He goes.  When He walks you walk with Him.  When He raises Lazarus from the dead, He raises you from the dead.  When He sweats blood, is nailed to a cross, and dies a criminal's death, you die with Him, and He dies for you.  When He rises from the dead, you too rise with Him.  When He ascends to heaven, you will rise with Him.  This is the right judgment the Holy Spirit brings you.  You are judged worthy of everlasting life because of Jesus.  Your death is dead.  Your life is forever, because of THESE THINGS. 

Everlasting life gives you all the more to rejoice in His holy comfort.  Today He prepares a Table in the sight of your enemies.  The Lord of hosts makes for you a feast of choice pieces, of fat THINGS full of marrow.  This Feast, this Lord's Supper, is the Feast of victory of our God.  This Feast puts forgiveness, life, and salvation in your mouth.  You swallow Christ's True Body and True Blood, as Christ swallowed up death forever.

THESE HOLY THINGS the Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance every Lord's Day in the Divine Liturgy.  You confess who the Spirit is and what the Spirit does in the Creed.

When you confess the Holy Spirit, you think of Christ's Church Militant here and Christ's Church Triumphant yet to come.  You confess the communion of saints, both here in this world and there in the world to come, gathered around pulpit and altar feeding on the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world,.  You confess the forgiveness of sins, the comfort the Holy Spirit delivers through Word, water, bread, and wine.  You confess the resurrection of the body, that stills the troubled heart with the sure and certain hope that you shall not die, but live.  You confess life everlasting, longing for Jesus Christ to make good His promise, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."  (John 14:18)

Rejoice, you who are made righteous in the blood of Christ!  The Holy Spirit dwells in you through Baptism and dwells in the Church through preaching and the visible Gospel in Baptism and the Lord's Supper.  THESE HOLY THINGS teach the hearts of Christ's faithful, bring a right judgment in all THINGS, and cause us to rejoice in holy comfort.  Blessed are you who see and hear the Spirit of the Lord filling the world, sent by the Father and the Son, who with the Spirit are three-in-one and one-in-three, Holy Trinity, one God, unto eternity.  Amen


Friday, May 13, 2016

Recognition, gratefulness, and reverence in the presence of the Lord Jesus


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 with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less

When He saw them He said, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And it happened that as they went, they were cleansed. Luke 17:14

THE story here isn’t about the bad behavior of the nine who gave no thanks, or even about the one who did, but rather it’s about Jesus.  He is the central figure of the story, the Scriptures, our lives and our future.  Without Him any talk of God is speculative, but with Christ, who cleansed us from the leprosy of our sins by His death on the cross, we too become part of the everlasting chorus.  We too will be among those who fall on their faces as did the leper, and worship the Lamb at His heavenly throne without end, and there is no better place we could ever be than that.

There’s plenty to criticize about the nine, but whatever else we might say, they heard about Jesus, believed what they had heard and trusted that He could save them from a life that had become living hell.  We don’t know if they just happened to be at the right place at the right time, or if they sought Jesus out, but it makes no difference because the Lord’s watchful eye sees the distress of His children, hears their pleas for mercy, and answers them all, and we are those children.  Whatever else they did or didn’t do, the ten lepers believed in the power of Jesus and prayed the most important prayer a distressed soul can ever pray: “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.”  It’s a prayer so important that the church enshrined it into her liturgy centuries ago so that God’s people could pray it together each time they gathered, so that they could bring their every petition large or small to Jesus who loves to answer prayer.  Yet it’s not only a prayer for church, but one we take home with us as well; one we can pray at all times, and in all places, because there’s no end to our temporal and spiritual needs.  Keep the leper’s prayer on your lips and in your heart always, and when you can think of no other thing to say, simply pray Lord have mercy, and know that He will always answer in the affirmative.

Now it’s possible that hearing the Lord’s question “where are the nine,” might lead us to become self-righteous or indignant, but that would be a mistake because we are the nine.  We too have received the good gifts of God: health and salvation, daily bread, liberation from sin, death and the devil but we don’t count our blessings.  Instead we complain about what we don’t have, lose patience, worry, anguish and forget to rely on our Great High Priest for all our needs.  If songs and prayers of thanksgiving were not part of the Liturgy, how often would we give God our thanks and praise?  Don’t answer the question, Beloved, because the answer isn’t pretty, but don't despair either.  Only thank God that His church teaches us to pray, and learn from the negative example of the nine, and the positive example of the one to give God glory at all times and under all circumstances.  It’ll benefit us more than the bitterness and envy we’re so accustomed to.

There’s a lot we could say about the one Samaritan who returned.  He too, has much to teach us, not only his thankful heart, but also the fact that he recognized Jesus for who He was.  Jesus told the ten to show themselves to the priests.  This is what the Mosaic law commanded for lepers made clean, that a priest certify their cure, and that they offer the specified sacrifices in thanksgiving.  Such an act entailed a trip to the Jerusalem Temple quite a distance away.  The Temple was the place where God and man met, and where animals were sacrificed to atone for the sins that men had committed.  It was a place of grace where animals died, so sinners could live.  In that respect it looked forward to Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Ten were healed but only the Samaritan, a religious half-breed, a man whose people had been on the wrong side of the theological tracks for seven centuries; only he was astute enough to realize that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that Scripture promised.  In that moment his theology became as pure as his flesh, and he understood that Jesus is the Temple of God.  Jesus is the Victim and the Priest who forgives our sins, restores us to health and is worthy of our worship and thanksgiving.

Yes, Jesus is the central character in the story.  He was on His way to Jerusalem to die, not for a political cause but a theological one.  In accordance with God’s will, the treasured Savior gave His unblemished and holy flesh in exchange for the toxic assets of our sinful flesh.  As lepers coming into contact with Jesus were made clean, so sinners, however many they be, or however many sins they bring to the Cross, are also purified and made whole, we are among those people.

As the Samaritan glorified, worshiped and praised Jesus we should do the same, not just with our hearts and minds, but with our bodies as well.  As the Thankful Samaritan laid himself face down at the Lord’s feet, may we too learn reverence, which isn’t only a matter of the mind but of the body.  Reverence is a much needed virtue in our boisterous world, where noise is everywhere and everything.  It’s not just for psychological reasons that Christians practice it.  We have another and better reason.  Just as Jesus walked into an un-named town on the Galilee-Samaria border, He comes to Cleveland, Ohio, today and resides in the sanctuary of Christ Lutheran Church.  He doesn’t just send His love or His regards.  He doesn’t just say, “thinking of you” or “hope all is well.”  Instead the resurrected and glorified Lord, whose true presence we are taught to discern in the Word and Sacraments is authentically with us, hearing and answering all our cries for mercy.

We show our reverence for Christ first with our faith.  We believe all that He says about sin and its forgiveness.  And faith is the highest form of worship a Christian can render, because it receives our Lord and His gifts of salvation.  Such faith receives the forgiveness of sins and eternal life Jesus came to bring.  Such faith is great because its object is great, the Lord Jesus Himself.

We also worship Him with our bodies, with slow, thoughtful, humble and quiet movements whenever we enter His courts, and with music, liturgy and prayers that recognize this Divine Guest for who He is, and that match the gifts that He gives.  This is the chief purpose of the church’s ritual; to teach us reverence as we fall down at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving and praise Him for sins forgiven and new life granted.

While we show reverence in our worship, we also show it each day of our lives.  We do it by rejecting the works of the flesh, the ones St. Paul lists in Galatians chapter five; and by embracing the fruits of the Spirit with our bodies as well as with our minds. In these ways, by our faith, our knowledge, our reverence and our lives, we too properly glorify the God/Man Jesus who cleanses us from the leprosy of sin and gives us eternally grateful hearts. Amen

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, May 12, 2016

If He really is the Lord God

THE royal line of Israel goes back to David.  Saul had been king before him, but because he did evil his line was cut off.  David was also a sinner, but God's promises to him were more certain.  The prophet Nathan told him that the sword would not depart from his house.  There were dynastic troubles during David's lifetime.  While Solomon was king there was peace, but when he died the northern tribes rebelled, proclaimed their independence, and established a kingdom at Samaria.  They also rejected Jerusalem and the Temple.  They built golden calves at Bethel and Dan so their people could worship without going to Jerusalem.  About a century later, Ahab became king of Israel.  He married the daughter of the king of Sidon.  Her name was Jezebel.  She has become proverbial as a schemer.  She hired 450 priests to conduct the rites of Ba'al and his consort, Astarte.  They filled the land with bloody sacrifices and temple prostitution, and to provide PR for her blasphemies, she hired prophets who prophesied in the name of Ba'al.

We look at the poor fools who worshipped Ba'al and think we're so much better.  Of course we reject the ancient magic, but are our hearts disposed towards the Lord as they should be?  Don't we have our own ways of loving the darkness rather than the light?  The point of Elijah's ministry was not all negative.  Of course he wanted to rid Israel of the pagan magic, but he also wanted the people to turn to the Lord in trust and love.  You don't need mythology to worship Ba'al.  Today, all around us, are people who trust in cars and trucks, in government agencies and corporations, in historical progress, and in vanities like conflict management.  Some of the more radical environmentalists talk about the earth the way the pagans did.  Some might say Christian prayers on Sunday, then run to mammon on Monday.  In Elijah's day God withheld the rain.  Today He visits us with terrorism, with AIDS, with abortions, with civil strife, before long we can look forward to oppression and despotism.  The institutional agenda drives everything, and the media keep trying to convince us that such an agenda is important.  The modern Ahabs want to manage the conflict, so they turn upon any genuine prophetic voice as a troubler of Israel.

The conflict between the true God and His opponents is as real for us as it was for Elijah.  So how is God calling us?  He sees that we want to have it both ways, so He directs Elijah's question to us.   Is the Lord God or is He not?  If He is, then Elijah's counsel is Then follow Him.  Elijah arranged for that famous test to be held on Mt. Carmel.  In front of all the people, fire from heaven devoured Elijah's sacrifice.  That's a hard act to follow.  Can we demonstrate that the Triune God, the Father, the Son whom we know chiefly as the Incarnate Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, is the only true God?

The supreme test is not on Mt. Carmel, but on Mt. Calvary.  There we see a far better sacrifice.  St. John the Baptist, the New Testament Elijah, called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Within each of us there is the Jezebel of the flesh who wants to follow the modern Ba'al.  There is also the spirit, moved and pulled along by the Holy Spirit, that wants to follow Jesus.  Each of us has this double nature, therefore each of us halts between these opinions.  To be healed of this limp, we need to look to the crucifix.  There we see the Righteous Rabbi, who told the rich young man to give up everything he had, then showed him how to do it.  There is a better sacrifice than Elijah's, for this Man kept the Law perfectly in every way.  This is God Incarnate, who gives us His flesh and blood for our food and drink.  This is the greatest love that we could ever know.  This was also the supreme test, where God Himself was dead, then rose again because death had no right to claim Him.  If He isn't God, then nobody is.

So does this greater David, greater Moses, greater Elijah really want me to give up everything for Him?  That is not the question.  The real question is, since He is the Savior, how much are we willing to let Him save us from?  We are glad that He saves us from death, that He is the Lord of the end of life.  We are glad that he saves us from our sins, freeing us from their eternal consequences.  But in this life there are a number of things that we really don't want to be saved from.  Elijah calls us to consider carefully the claims that Christ has on us.  If He is God, then follow Him.

On Transfiguration we stood on the mountaintop with Jesus.  On Pentecost we watched the Holy Spirit come upon the Church.  Was there any hesitation in Jesus' steps as He strode boldly toward Jerusalem?  Indeed, as the Passion drew near, there was some hesitation in Gethsemane, but even then He did not swerve from His purpose.  He loved us too much to abandon us.  His heart was fixed on the cross.  Likewise the Apostles, filled with the Spirit, with the same certainty of mind called the people of Jerusalem to repentance, and the washing of regeneration.  Neither Jesus nor the Apostles call us to follow the Lord on Sunday and Ba'al the rest of the week.  We will never be perfect at this, but we will always be forgiven.  We have seen the test on Mt. Calvary.  We know that the Lord has conquered sin and death.  As confusing as it often gets, may our hearts be disposed to love the truth, to seek peace with God, a conscience cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and to use all the opportunities God sends us to follow our Savior.   AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Couldn't God have saved us another way?


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And He took him aside from the crowd, and placed his fingers into his ears, and spit and touched his tongue and looked upward into heaven, and sighed and said to him, Ephphatha, which means, Be opened! And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue loosed and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:33-35

Beloved in Christ, we can never praise the incarnation of our Lord highly enough. It’s theoretically possible that God who is omnipotent could have made some other arrangement to deal with human sin; that He could have saved us from a distance, or conducted a spiritual transaction in the heavens, away from our sight and without our knowledge -- but that’s not what He did! Instead, in a show of great love and solidarity with sinful man, He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to be our Savior. And so our Lord Jesus assumed human flesh, took on the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5ff)

All that the incarnate Lord did, He did for our benefit. In His earthly life He took up residence in Nazareth, a city of Galilee, which was far removed from the religious capitol of Jerusalem. From there He used His feet to take him to still more out of the way places like Tyre and Sidon where the glory of God’s Word had never been heard, where people lived alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12) There He expelled demons, healed the sick and preached the good news of the Kingdom so that people who otherwise had no expectation of blessing would see and learn first hand, the love that God has for all men, a love we can still rely upon today and always. From there His feet carried Him to the region known as Decapolis where a deaf and mute man was presented to Him for healing. His friends brought the man to Jesus requesting only that the Lord should touch him with His Holy Hand, and it would be enough.  We read in St. Mark’s gospel that Jesus graciously received the man, without an appointment, without charge, and without any stipulations or demands. How different that is from the signs posted on telephone poles around town that warn: Jesus is coming, clean up your life. We can no more clean up our lives, than rotting flesh can stop stinking, but Jesus has cleansed us to our very core by His Word. (John 15:3)

We learn that He employed His fingers to open the man’s ears, and even saliva from His sacred tongue to open the mans lips, so that his mouth might show forth God’s praise. And He utilized His eyes in performing this miracle as well. He turned them heavenward because the Beloved Son had come from there to do the will of His Father, which was to release sinners from the curse that sin incurs. He used His mouth to speak the words of healing, “Be opened!” Because Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the utterances of His lips are all-powerful. When He says to deaf ears, “Be opened!” they open. And when our Lord says with His dying breath, “it is finished” we should be fully persuaded that the struggles of our soul are over and the Day of our deliverance is here. Neither should we miss the significance of what the Evangelist reports in verse 34 that the Lord “sighed.” We Confess in the Athanasian Creed that our Lord not only had a human body but also a “reasonable soul.” This means that He could think, reason, and understand things even as we do. That He could comprehend human suffering and identify with it. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) As our Lord wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, and shed tears of sorrow over the lost city of Jerusalem, so here He sighs over the immense conglomeration of misery that sin has visited on the world and all its inhabitants.

Was there more to His sigh as well? Was our Lord also churning over in His mind His own future suffering and death? Was He thinking that for every sin He forgave and every disease He healed, He who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows would be stricken, smitten of God and afflicted on the Cross, where He would pour out His sacred blood so that sinful men might obtain fresh joy in the Lord? (Isaiah 29:19 and 53:4).

But the faith we Confess isn’t merely a recalling of the historical events of our salvation, as prized and amazing as they are. As we can never acclaim our Lord’s incarnation highly enough, nor can we sufficiently exalt the Blessed Sacrament. As Jesus once came in the flesh to save us from our sins He still comes to us today and gives us His true body and blood in Holy Communion. He doesn’t come in human form to be sure, but neither is His Sacramental Presence among us only imaginary or symbolic. In holy communion we receive the body and blood of Christ as He deigns to give Himself to us today, for the forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation.

As His mode of presence is different, so are the benefits. The holy communion we receive at the altar today doesn’t open deaf ears, balance brain chemicals or kill cancer cells within us. But it does put our sin, which is the cause of all our ills, into permanent remission. As Christians we should never ask: what did I do to deserve this, or, why is this happening to me? We won’t like the answer. We deserve all the bad things that happen to us, and more besides, if the Lord God decided to mark our iniquities, or treat us as our sins warrant, but He doesn’t! Instead, in the Eucharist He comforts us with the assurance that sin and death have been conquered and will one day be nothing but a distant memory. Or as the hymnist Sigismund von Birken wrote four centuries ago, “and the fears that now annoy, shall be laughter on the morrow. Christ I suffer here with Thee, there O share Thy joys with me.” (TLH 409)

God grant that our ears be opened to His Word and that we praise and value it as the highest good. And God grant that our tongues be loosed to rightly confess the holy Christian faith that Jesus does all things well. For indeed He does. He heals our diseases, forgives our sins and gives us reason to sing. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras