Tuesday, June 28, 2016

We think we need a lot of things, but only one is going to make any difference.

YOU NEED MERCY


Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6:36

YOU need mercy!  It's the reason the Lord's people gather in the Lord's house on the Lord's day:  so that they might obtain the mercy needed to go on another day, so that they might call on the giver of all good gifts to continue to supply them with all they need to support this body and life.  For none of these comes from nature, or the planet, or the ingenuity of man but from the Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort.

You need mercy!  You need the gift of spiritual enlightenment so that you can see the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for what it truly is: not a piece of jewelry, not a good luck charm for baseball players at the plate, but the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  It is life, peace, gladness for the heart, and relief from the fear of condemnation that sin always brings in its wake.

As the blood of Jesus Christ cleansed you from your parents' sin in holy baptism, even so he continues to wash you clean of the many transgressions you commit in thought, word and deed each day; those you yourself perpetrate, but also those perpetrated against you by others, whose sorrow and shame infect you, torment you, and rob you of peace day and night.

You need mercy; the mercy of God the Holy Spirit so that you can remain in the one true faith; so that you, the disciple, can become like Jesus, the Master, a goal you should strive for more and more each day.  It is a daily struggle and you dare never let down your guard because "misery loves company;"  because there is nothing the culture wants more than for you to join its deadly party, to share its irrational beliefs, to confess its twisted values, to partake of its poisonous pleasures, and only the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is able to shield you from the world's relentless assaults against your salvation and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

You need mercy because you have self-righteously judged others and thereby made yourself liable to judgment.  You have mercilessly condemned the people who have not lived up to the standard that you, in your fatal pride, have set for them, and thereby have made yourself liable for condemnation.

You need mercy.  Until you fully believe that, until you comprehend that all you have, all you are, all you desire, and all you might ever hope for, proceeds from Christ who IS the mercy of God, nothing else matters: not the church, her doctrine, her worship, her wisdom, her ethics, her soul-soothing hymns, or her life-giving sacraments.  They mean nothing until you realize that you need mercy.

You need mercy!  And God be praised, you have mercy!

You have NOT man's mercy which is no more durable than a Cracker Jack toy; neither the government's tender mercies.  They want only to own you, strip you of your dignity, demolish your self-worth, and shackle you with economic chains stronger than steel.  Nor do you have the mercy the culture offers to bestow upon you if you will worship at its altar and conform your life to its twisted dictates, or suffer its wrath.

No!  The mercy you need, and the mercy that is granted to you, is God's mercy in Christ; the loving kindness that God displayed when He gave over His Son into the hands of heartless, jealous and greedy men to do with Him what they would, to crucify the Lord of Glory, but what they meant for evil, God meant for good, so that we might obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need.

This is the mercy He extends to the humble, to those who will stop in their mental tracks long enough to hear the whole counsel of God:  the hammer of the law that condemns our sins and the new song of the gospel that heals the sin sick soul.  Things are as the Psalm says, "For though the LORD is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar."  (138:6)

You need mercy, and you have mercy, because only mercy will keep you in the one, true faith unto eternal life.  Only mercy will give you the resurrection from the dead.  Only divine compassion will enable you to endure the crosses of life with composure.  Only mercy will cross the Jordan with you, into the Promised Land of heaven.

You need mercy.  You have mercy.  Now hear the word of the Lord:  Be merciful!  You must now become a mercy giver.  How that will happen in each case is not rocket science because charity begins at home and works its way out as able.  Like your cell phone that is always pinging out for a wifi connection, even so mercy is always in search for the opportunity to give what has so richly been given.

We observed a towering example of mercy in Charleston, South Carolina last week when a family member of each of nine who were slain at the AME church, were given the opportunity to speak to the court.

Nine people; nine sorely aggrieved, deeply bereaved Christians, each of whom received God's mercy in his own life through Christ's death on the cross, each of whom believed the Word of God in today's epistle lesson that says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,"  each of whom then offered his own forgiveness to the seething mass-murderer who could not sleep  at night unless he had first shed innocent blood.  They not only  freely forgave, but openly prayed that he should repent before God, believe the sacrifice of Christ for remission, and so receive such mercy that he might be pardoned of all his sins and share eternity in glory with those whom he so wickedly put to death.

That is what Jesus means when He says:  Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful.  It was an example so shining that the world had apoplexy!  The culture, that neither knows nor believes in God's eternal mercy in Christ, was appalled, scandalized and outraged, but every Christian who has received mercy, along with the angels of heaven, rejoiced with a great joy.

You need mercy.  You have mercy.  Now give mercy.  Amen

~Rev. Dean Kavouras




Friday, June 24, 2016

Nativity of John the Baptist

GOD'S LAMB


And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.  Luke 1:76

THE special circumstances of St. John's birth are in keeping with the singular person the Baptizer was, and the exclusive ministry God gave him to perform.

Critics might think the whole affair to be over blown, but they would be wrong because  according to our Lord, John is a unique man in all history.  He is the one who brought the Old Testament to a close and by his ministry introduced the New to the world.  He was the last of a long line of super-remarkable men who foretold the coming of the Savior, who kept the promise alive in the darkest night, who risked life and limb to assure the world that the Light of Life overcomes the Darkness of death and that when "every  earthly prop gives way, He then is all our hope and stay;" a message still sorely needed today, and still preached in the name of Jesus by His church today.  It is no wonder then that Jesus says that "...among those born of women, none is greater than John," but He then adds that, "the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John."

The Lord, who was not born of woman, but of a virgin, was speaking of Himself.  He is the one who made Himself the Least and was thus made the Greatest of all.  None the less, John's true greatness did not arise from the circumstances of his Samuel-like birth, or from the diet of locusts that winged his thoughts to heaven, or the honey he ate that caused sweet sentences to flow from his golden mouth, but his pre-eminence came from the baptism of repentance he administered, which previewed Christian baptism, and from the witness he gave which in a word is this:  "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!"

It is a message so towering and a gospel of such surpassing greatness, that the church could not help but embed these words into her Liturgy where we too behold with our eyes and with our tongues, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the Baptizer's message, and let us learn it now.

First is the word "behold."  By it John summons all people to turn the eyes of their hearts to Jesus who is God's very own sacrificial Lamb and who alone takes away the sin and sorrow of the world.  We should note that in worldly terms the church has a very limited arsenal to defeat these mighty enemies; limited, but also potent, for it is nothing less than the Word of God which is the Sword of the Spirit, and not only a sword but a double-edged sword.  One edge wields the Law - the very real threat of retribution for those who will not behold this Lamb or put their trust for the forgiveness of sins and salvation in Him; those who would continue to live their lives following the dictates of their own heart, and not the Word of God.  That is one edge, but the other promises future glory such as eye has never seen, neither ear heard, nor has ever entered into the heart of man, for all who believe and are baptized, and who wish to walk in the way of peace.

Yet a warning to the church is needed.  She should not get overly enthusiastic as is so common today.  She should not attempt to bring people into the church with gimmicks or under false pretenses, or try to impose her faith on others.  Neither need we fear that the church will become extinct if we don't do something positive and constructive.  Remember John!  Remember where his base of operations was.  It was in the desert, many long, obscure and dangerous miles from Jerusalem, the religious capital, the place where one would think he would have the greatest impact.  Also remember his tools:  a word, "behold," and a river named Jordan.

Then what is the church to do today in the face of shrinking numbers, waning influence, and the immense rise of hatred in the world?  Nothing other than stay the course.  By her steady proclamation of God's Word, her example of patience in suffering and her unfeigned love for all men, even her enemies, the Spirit will continue to work through her: to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify sinners, and give them everlasting salvation.

What does John invite the world to behold?  The Lamb of God, or said another way, God's Lamb, that is to say the sacrifice that God Himself put forth to remove, take away, delete and forevermore dissolve the disaster wrought by the snake:  the sin, sorrow, misery, cruelty, bloodshed, greed, faithlessness, and utter injustice that defines the world today.

Throughout the Old Testament many lambs were brought for sacrifice, but they were of limited capacity.  They were the lambs of men, put forth by men, as a sacrifice for the sins of the man who offered it in faith, but every animal ever sacrificed in the Old Testament was but a prophecy pointing to this Lamb, to God's one and only Son, whom God Himself presented as a propitiation to protect and defend the world from the contagion of sin and the curse of death and hell.  This, our Great Isaac gladly and willingly did in obedience to His Father in order to make men holy and to make men free.

St. Paul says it like this:  For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so also by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.  Jesus is the One Man and you are those many made righteous by Him.

In closing then, let us take up the words of Zechariah, John's father, onto our lips.  "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David ... to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  God grant it.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Unlike politicians, when God tells us, "Look," He shows us real things.

BELIEVE THE WORD OF THE LORD


Abram believed the LORD, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."  Genesis 15:6

HOLY Scripture tells us today that Abraham believed God.  Now that was a miracle, indeed! Why a miracle?  Because that isn't what men do!  Men are not anxious to hear, or to believe a Word from God.  Why is that?  Because sin blinds us to the glory of God, and gives us auditory exclusion.  It closes off our ears so that we can hear every voice in the world as clear as a bell, every harebrained message, but our ears become sealed shut when it comes to hearing the Divine Word that dissolves our sins and raises the dead.

The rich man in today's parable is a perfect example.  He could only hear one voice, the voice of his belly.  It's not that he was unaware of God's Word, he wasn't.  We discover that from the latter part of the parable where he holds theological discourse with Father Abraham.  He had religious training, even as we do, but he closed his ears to it.  He did not keep his confirmation vow to remain faithful unto death in this one true faith.  He pursued the soft life and was concerned only with his wardrobe and his table, and he was not about to give away his goodies, even to the one who says, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat." We are that rich man in one way or another, to one degree or another.

Like the rich man, we too hear competing voices.  As there is the Gospel of Christ, there is also the gospel of Google which, like Satan, carries us to the top of a very high mountain, and shows us all the virtual kingdoms of the world, in all their virtual glory, brightly shimmering with endless possibilities and say to us:  all these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me, and we do!  Therefore what scripture tells us today is remarkable:  that Abraham believed God, and further that his faith was accounted to him as Righteousness. May we do the same.  May we, too, be righteous by faith in the Word of God, the Word made flesh, even Jesus Christ our Lord and God.  It isn't easy.  Indeed, it isn't even possible, except for one thing that makes all the difference in the world; the gift of divine grace we receive in baptism, a gift that is enlarged and confirmed, and that stands taller and stronger as often as you hear God's word, the very thing we are engaged in at this time.

It's not that Abraham had no doubts, he did, but that was because he listened to his own narrative instead of God's.  Moses records the encounter for us.  Abraham says to the LORD, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and behold a member of my household will be my heir."  Abraham meant to impress upon the LORD that he was an old man, married to a super-annuated woman, and that the closest thing he would ever have to an heir was his servant Eliezer who was no doubt as dear to him as a son, but he was not a son.  The LORD then answers back with a behold of His own.  "And behold the word of the LORD came to him saying, "This man shall not be your heir, but the son of your own flesh shall be your heir," and he brought him outside and said, "Look, if you will, to the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them."  Then he said to him, "So numerous shall your offspring be!"

By listening to his own narrative Abraham had momentarily forgotten that "with God nothing shall be impossible."  He failed to, "ponder anew,  what the Almighty can do, who with His love doth befriend thee."  Yet let us not make that same mistake, for we are those promised offspring, as numerous as the stars of the sky, who will shine like the stars forever, for St. Paul writes in Galatians that "we are all sons of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ."

There is yet another blessed lesson we should learn from today's reading.  As Abraham was to have a son of his own, Isaac by name, even so God would send none other than His one and only Son to be the world's Redeemer, to be our Savior from sin and death and our shield from the devil's fiery darts.  As it was not enough for one who was almost  Abraham's son, to be his heir, even so our Lord Jesus Christ wasn't of similar substance with the Father, but as we confess in our Creed of ONE substance with the Father by whom all things were made.  That is to say, the man who redeemed us is God Himself, dressed in the likeness of men, one who was born as we are born, lived as we live, suffered as we suffer and died as we die, only He did much more, for you see, He is Lazarus in the parable.  He is the one who comes from the bosom of the Father and returns to the same.  He is the one who is despised and rejected of men.  He is the one who teaches the church about heaven and hell and who fulfills the predictions made by Moses and the prophets.  He is the one who was raised from the dead and believed upon in the world, who by His church preaches the Easter gospel to all the world, rich and poor alike, proclaiming to one and all that a man is made righteous before God by faith alone; not any old faith, but by trust in the Lord who, by His cross, attained salvation for us, who comes to us today in this divine service under the bread and the wine, and who will come again in glory, recognizable to all, to judge the living and the dead.  He is the One who Abraham believed and who the sons of Abraham love.  We are those sons.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras


Thursday, June 2, 2016

No longer Jews and Gentiles, but one to live in the house of Wisdom

RECONCILIATION


Wisdom has built her house, she has established her seven pillars.  She has sacrificed her animals.  She has mixed her wine.  She has furnished her table.  She has sent out her young women to cry out from the towering heights.  "Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!"  To the person who has no sense she says, "Come!  Eat my bread, and drink the wine that I have mixed."  Leave your simple ways and live, and walk in the ways of blessed insight.  Proverbs 9:1-6

CHRIST is the Wisdom of God!  He is the Father's House, the Father's temple, the place where He is to be sought and worshiped, and the place where His much-needed mercy is found.  If you see Jesus, you have seen the Father, and have free access to His right hand, the place where true joys are found.

All that humanity has ever hoped for or dreamed of is found, will only be found, in the things that God promises to those who love Him, so let us stop being side-tracked by cheap thrills and the passing pleasures of sin that never give what they promise.  They are all lies, mirages, Eve's tempter, doing to Eve's children what he did to their mother.  Let us instead wake up from our slumber and learn to watch with Christ.

Yet the blessings Wisdom promises today can only be realized in union with Jesus, so what St. Paul says in today's epistle lesson is golden:  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments ... that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, He might reconcile us both to God in one body, through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Paul's subject matter here is reconciliation, making peace between warring factions; not nations v. nation or debtor v. creditor, but reconciliation between holy God, Who dwells in unapproachable light, and sinful man, who staggers and stumbles about in thick darkness like a thousand drunken sailors.  By His death on the cross our Lord abolished the commandments that convicted us of sin, and remanded us to death row.  He answered for all sins, felt the pain of each one, and dissolved them all however egregious, by His blood on the cross, but that is not the end of the matter!  If the world has been thus reconciled to God by Christ, then other reconciliations must needs take place.

St. Paul specifically calls for the end of the centuries-old hatred between the Jews and the Gentiles; these ancient enemies who woke up one day to find that they were both children of the one God by faith in Jesus Christ and did not know what to think!  So the teacher of the Church explains the facts of life to them:  that Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between them in His body on the cross, that those who were once far off are now near, those who were once strangers to the promises of Israel are now One New Man, One New Temple which is the flesh of Christ, our foundation and cornerstone.

Neither is that the end of the matter, because Christians are never done with their work until all people are reconciled to one another in Christ:  husbands to wives, parents to children, brothers to sisters.  Wherever enmity exists, the wall of separation is to be torn down by the flesh of Christ, sacrificed on the cross, and now given for us Christians to eat and to drink, for Jesus is the sacrificial lamb in today's Old Testament lesson and the Sacrament of His body and blood, the bread and the wine the church invites us to receive.

This divinely commanded unity is not only something the church teaches by word, but her architecture as well.  There are two parts to the traditional Christian church, the nave which represents earth, and the chancel which represents heaven, but unlike Israel's temple where a curtain divided the two to keep sinners at a safe distance from God, in the New Testament the dividing wall has been torn down; torn down by, and replaced by the flesh of Christ!  Not imaginary, or symbolic flesh as if our religion were but a charade; it is not!   But by the flesh and blood of the Man Christ Jesus, whose cross breaks down the wall of enmity, and whose resurrection reconciles us to to our true Father, and to one another.

In the Old Testament the high priest was allowed to go into the holy of holies but once a year to meet with God and make atonement for the people's sins, but because of our Great High Priest who entered heaven by His own blood, we enter every Lord's Day.  We leave the earth and enter into heaven to commune with the Living God, through the body of Christ that makes us all one.  As there is no more curtain, there is no more fear, shame or guilt because our wrongs are fully forgiven, and we are reconciled to our God by Christ.

By the same token, let us understand what happens when in the Divine Service the pastor says, "The peace of the Lord be with you always,"  and the congregation answers, "Amen."  These words are a remnant of the ancient rite where those communing would share the kiss of peace as a sign that those who are reconciled with God through Christ, are also at peace with one another, and thus truly one in the Christ they are about to partake, so let us be sure to learn the lesson the church teaches us on this 2nd Sunday after Trinity; that we are at peace with God by the cross, and so it is the goal of our lives to be at peace with one another; to be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.  God grant it!  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras