Thursday, March 30, 2017

Everyone Has a Reflection


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, March 27, 2017

Does the Virgin Mother Still Have a Role in Our Lives Today?


At the time of the Fall, Adam saw the motherhood of his wife as a sign of hope. When God had cursed snake, woman, ground, and man, when mortality became a fact of life, Adam called his wife "Lifegiver." That was a sacramental naming. Jesus did similar things with Simon and Saul, giving them the baptismal names of Peter and Paul. Adam would not presume to name himself, since he had no such authority. He knew full well that he was not the measure of all things. God had already named him, and if it had to be done again, God would have to do it, but two of the patriarchs received sacramental names. Abram was named Abraham when he was given the covenant of circumcision, and Jacob was named Israel when he wrestled with the Lord all through the night. These people were part of salvation history, but the true mother that bore Immanuel was not Eve. The real mother of hope was a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, who conceived God Incarnate in a miraculous way.

Why a virgin? I cannot tell you all the reasons for this, except that it was God's decision to do it that way. He wanted it to be a miracle, to call attention to it. He wanted to put the promise of Genesis 3:15 into effect in an unmistakable way, having the Deliverer be the offspring of the woman. He determined to send His Son in the womb of a virgin. He proclaimed through the prophesy of Isaiah that Immanuel would be the Virgin's Son, and once He proclaimed it there was no turning back. The Word had to be fulfilled. In the past the Church has stated that somehow this avoided the taint of original sin. Virginity alone is not a sufficient reason for this. Had God chosen a man to be the father of Jesus, He could still have arranged for him to be sinless, but it is pointless to speak of what God could have done. He chose to permit the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of His Son. That became a fact of history.

Eventually, God had to let Mary know. He sent an angel to tell her. Gabriel gave her a royal greeting as recorded by the evangelist, a greeting that is well-known now as the first verse of the ave Maria. And was she surprised! But she did not complain. She said, "I am at the Lord's service." Did she have any idea what that service would be? Of course she knew what motherhood was. In fact, she is an ideal type of all Christian mothers. If the home is the heart of the family, the mother is the keeper of the home. She wasn't worried about keeping up with the neighbors, or about how she looked. Or even about whether Joseph would be displeased. She was looking forward to her marriage with the carpenter, but the idea that her first child would not be his did not get in the way. "I am at the Lord's service. So be it."

The message was from God. The angel told her that her child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, and would be called the Son of the Most High. Just as Jehovah is the Old Testament's name for God the Son, so the Most High is the Old Testament's name for God the Father. Then, the angel told her to name the child Jesus, the Greek translation of Joshua. As the Old Testament Joshua conquered Canaan, so the New Testament Joshua would fulfill what God had told Adam and Eve about conquering evil. St. Matthew adds that another angel gave a similar message to St. Joseph in a dream. So the husband and wife were on the same page.  

About the time Mary was due, the census interrupted her life. She and Joseph, who did marry, had to make that famous journey to Bethlehem, where they couldn't find a vacancy. The prophecy of Micah, which the scribes quoted to Herod to the Holy Family's disadvantage, is for us a clear direction as to where to look for the Messiah. That is all part of God's plan. You see, the Holy Family is not complete without us. I do mean us. The Holy Child was none other than God who became one of us to taste death. We confess that today when we refer to Mary as the Mother of God. St. Paul teaches us in Philippians 2: He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, presenting Himself in human form, becoming obedient to death. There was no Son of God in heaven while Jesus was on earth. He was no less omnipresent than before, but in His humiliation He did not employ His majestic attributes. The Son of God, in His totality, spoke the fourth word on the cross, forsaken by God. Moslems are offended when we call Mary the Mother of God because they don't believe God needs a mother, but our God is very human. Our God dealt effectively with sin. The Moslem God ignores sin. Our God forgives it by paying its price.

If we are included in the Holy Family, does that make Mary our mother? No, it does not. The New Testament tells us plainly that our mother is the Holy Church. She fulfills the maternal and nurturing role in the Family of God. Mary, during her lifetime, gave Jesus her full love and affection as a mother gives a child. From the first chapter of Acts, it seems clear that she became a believer, as did her son James, but she could not bring us to faith, nor can she nurture us now. It was Mother Church who bore us as children for the Lord, and it is she who feeds us with Word and Sacrament. The Church raises us to spiritual adulthood, protects us from dangers, and assures us of our place in God's extended Family. We cannot talk to Mary today. She is departed to be with Jesus. We cannot communicate with those who are in the place of eternal life, but Mother Church is as near as our telephone.

One more thing should be clear to everyone. I mean that the people in the church are our brothers and sisters, members with us in the extended Holy Family. It is true that our earthly brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters for that matter, might get in our way. One can only imagine how things were in Mary and Joseph's house, but they stayed together, raised all their children, taught them God's Commandments, observed the festivals, and provided a good example to us all. Mary certainly had a key role in this, for as the mother she was the keeper of the home. Jesus and His family had a good home. That is what God was asking of the virgin from Nazareth, and that's what she gave Him, at the Lord's service. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The time to repent is running out.


In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp.  Exodus 15:13

THERE is nothing ordinary about time.  It is created by God and therefore holy, yet though it becomes our enemy due to sin, Jesus redeems time by entering into it.  In the church's worship all the events of salvation history past, present, and future converge on this hour, so that along with St. Paul we can truly say, "Behold, now is the time of God's favor, behold, now is the day of salvation."  (2 Corinthians 6:2)

This being the case, we should not pass too quickly over Holy Scripture's many references to time.  We learn from St. Mark, for example, that our Lord was crucified about the third hour, which corresponds roughly to nine o'clock in the morning.  We learn also that from the sixth to the ninth hour (from noon to three) thick darkness covered the land before the Firstborn of God bowed His head in death for us.

This corresponds to the final plagues that forced Egypt to let go of God's people.   The second last was thick darkness covering the land, which was followed by the death of the firstborn of all in Egypt, from Pharaoh's firstborn, to the lowliest slave, even of the cattle.  There was no house untouched by death; no home, that is, except the Israelite ones whose doorposts were painted with the blood of the Passover lamb.  All this was prophetic of what happened on the cross.  As Israel was liberated from Egypt's cruel bondage, so we by the Lord's ultimate sacrifice are freed from the death-grip of the Evil One, who wishes to have us as his slaves in a world of his own without end.  Nothing is worse than that!  However, as today's Collect states, this is what we merit by our wrongs, so the worst mistake you can make is to dismiss the ten commandments and conform your life to the dictates of the blind culture.  That is an error which cannot be repaired when it comes time for judgment, but it can be repaired now by all who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit who was poured out "at the third hour" of the day.  You are those people.

Yes, time is sacred.  Christ redeemed it by His death and took away its curse by giving us an indestructible life like His own, one that time cannot touch.  What a blessing that is as we consider the clock that, whether awake or asleep, never stops ticking.  The time to repent is running out.  Judgment is coming.  Jesus is coming.  We all have an expiration date.  We all have an appointment at the judgment seat of Christ, but because we are cleansed of our sins by the Judge's own death these are no threat to us if we hold fast to the Gospel, unless we have believed in vain.

In recognition of such a great salvation the church, from her beginning, marked the various hours of each day and sanctifies them with beloved liturgies.  We have two of them in our hymnal, Matins and Vespers, by which we hallow those times even today, and which are at least partly based on today's text, "In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp."

This is a reference to the events that took place immediately following Israel's exodus from Egypt.  Though the people had seen the LORD perform amazing feats of salvation, they lived in constant fear, and they were not quiet about it.  The word we regularly encounter is grumble, which means to complain.  It's used so often that we can't help but wonder if Moses was not making a point; if he was not warning the church against this sin and telling us to trust God and be grateful instead.  Israel saw the LORD rain down terror on Egypt, open the red Sea before them, drown the Egyptian army behind them, and turn bitter water sweet by a piece of wood that symbolized baptism and the cross, but still they did not believe.

Although they were faithless, God is faithful!  He did not leave or forsake His people but loved them, cared for them and nurtured them.  He gave them quail to eat every evening, and every morning He rained down bread from heaven.  All this in a place otherwise uninhabitable and devoid of commerce, field or farm whereby they could obtain the  necessities of life.  They had to rely on God directly and He came through for them every time, and He will do the same for you.  Every hour of every day in every need, Jesus is your shepherd.  You shall not be in want!

We could think of the quail as prophetic of the flesh of Christ who is the "evening sacrifice," who came "late in time," died late in the day and who calls thieves in the eleventh hour to be with Him in paradise; and we can think of the manna that appeared each joyous morning s the bread of the Eucharist of which we learn in today's gospel.  As people grumbled against the LORD in the wilderness, so they did against Jesus as He unveiled this most blessed divine knowledge to men:  that He Himself is the true bread come down from heaven, and that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will pass right through the grave and live forever with Him in Paradise.

This was too much for the Jews who contended with Him; too much for the thousands who had eaten of the five loaves and two fish.  We read in John 6:66 that many walked away at that point and would no longer follow Him, so the Lord asked the twelve, "Will you also leave me?" to which Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  For you have he words of eternal life..."

Time is sacred!  This is why St Paul teaches the church to "redeem the time."  We are doing that now.  We do it as often as we worship; as often as we pray; as often as we perform the good works that proceed from faith, for these are not simply abstract "good works," but they too are worship because they proceed from faith and are as sacred as the time they redeem.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Finding God where He wants us to find Him


And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His servant, for behold from now on all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done Great Things, and holy is His name." Luke 1:46-49.

The moment our Lord was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the earthly presence of God was relocated from the temple to the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This offends our fallen intellects, but if we want to know God, if we want to rejoice in His love and calm all of our fears, then we must learn to know Him as He wants to be known and to find Him where He wants to be found.

Left to our own devices we are like a dog chasing its tail, but when we humble ourselves as the Virgin did, we can be certain that God will exalt us and make us as blessed as she, but there is a problem. We learn in holy scripture that the Lord delights in confounding human wisdom, and one of the ways He does it is by locating Himself where we would never think to look. He doesn't do it to be cruel or to amuse Himself, but to frustrate our pride, to stymie our genius, to teach us that the "foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men," so that humanity might cease and desist from trying to be its own savior, and embrace the One whom Mary proclaims "God my Savior."

Now there's no question that God, who is all-powerful, could simply cast a spell over the world, and make us see things His way, but that would demean the creatures He made us to be! It would reduce the precious gift of being human, of being created in the image of the Divine, to the current state of affairs where we are nothing more than virtual persons, a social security number, an email address, a Facebook page, dairy cows to be milked by the those who are able, and if the milk runs dry then beef cows instead. Until all men can join the Blessed Virgin Mary in singing the Magnificat with all their hearts, the carnage will continue. Human life will be cheap, expendable, something to be used up by whoever can control it, and then thrown away like so much garbage. Don't blame the politicians, multi-national corporations or the thug on the street because it is a group effort. Each one of us plays his part and the more we try to untangle the yarn, the more snarled it becomes. What a state of affairs! Is there an answer? A way out? A road back to sanity?

The Virgin answers the question for us, and may her song become ours. "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His servant, for behold from now on all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done Great Things, and holy is His name." Why did Mary speak this way? Because her womb had become the temple of God, and what can a temple do except sing the praises of the God who dwells therein?

In the fullness of time, the Ruler of Israel was born of the Virgin Mary in the Little Town of Bethlehem: and He is the true temple, the dwelling place of God that was "destroyed" on the cross, but raised again on the third day, to turn the tables on death and to bring redemption to us all, so if you want to find God, and the Peace that surpasses human understanding, then look to the Man nailed to the cross, to the crucified and reigning Lord who carries out the will of the Father by suffering, bleeding and dying for your sins. For here you will find the wisdom of God and the power of God; the love of God, and the glory of God, which stands the world's wisdom on its ear, and radiates salvation for all.

Where to do we find God today? Many were asking last week following the massacre in Connecticut, where was God while all this was happening? He is where He has always been, in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. But where is Christ? Where do we find Him when we need Him, and we always do! He is still found, still magnified and still rejoiced over in the womb of His virgin Bride, the church, but this too seems to baffle us, to offend our sensibilities. We happily go to the gas station for fuel, to the coffee house for coffee, to the theater for entertainment, but when it comes to the most crucial matter of all, salvation from sin and death, divine joy in the midst of earthly sorrow, we want a spiritual Jesus, a djini who pops up whenever and wherever we want Him to, but our Lord does not work that way. He resides in the church. He is present here by the Word and the Sacraments to regard the low estate of His servants, to exalt us by the ongoing remission of our sins, to replace chaos with calm, conflict with peace, and the stygian darkness of this present age with the glorious Light of His presence.

Not only does He reside in the church corporately, but in each of us individually. The body of every Christian is God's temple as surely as the Virgin was. He lives in our hearts by faith and in our flesh by the Eucharist, so let us glorify God with our body as the Virgin did. Let us magnify Him with our song, rejoice because of His birth, and look for His reappearing when He will do Great Things for us. Holy is His name! Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Only God can cause you to confess


Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God."  But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.   Exodus 8:19

THE central event of the Old Testament is the Exodus, that event by which the LORD liberated His people  from 450 years of brutal dictatorship, from hopeless slavery under the watchful eye of ever more demanding Egyptian overlords, and by which He set them free to serve him in righteousness and purity forever.

Generation after generation they suffered unbearable sorrow.  They built houses they did not live in and planted vineyards they did not drink, but as bad as Pharaoh was, he was only a type of one more cruel; of Beelzebul who is Satan's Chief Lieutenant.

Like his master he is incapable of mercy and unable to find rest or attain to any sense of well-being.  His only comfort, if we can call it that, is when men's hearts harden like Pharaoh's, when people enslave and abuse one another, when they rob them of their labor and deny the of their dignity; above all, when men's tongues are tied so that they will not pray, praise, or give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort.  Therefore it should not in any way surprise us when we hear in today's gospel that Beelzebul robs a man of his power of speech.  There can hardly be a more brutal crime than to cut out a man's tongue.  To be sure people use their tongues to transgress, to curse God and man, to lie and deceive; and as many people know firsthand, sadly so, that the tongue can be more devastating than the fist, that it can batter a child or disassemble a spouse without leaving so much as a single mark.

Repent!  Turn away from your sins, O hard-hearted, venomous-tongued Pharaohs, you husbands and wives, you parents and children, and God will change His mind and not take revenge on you or hand you over to Satan; but He who is faithful and just will forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness!  He will soften your heart and sanctify your tongue so that you might become a speaker of good things like Isaiah who anxiously cried out:  Here am I, Lord, send me, send me, for the gift of speech, however much it is misused, is the greatest gift of all.  It is speech that makes us like God who begat us, speech that separates us from and elevates us above the animals that God gave to be our servants and our food.

Speech is divine.  By it  man fulfills his highest vocation which is to worship God, the very thing we are most blessedly engaged in at this time.  For as often as we sing Glory be to Thee O Lord, or Praise be to Thee O Christ, or Bless we the Lord, or Thanks be to God, it is a holy act of holy worship!  It is performative speech, which means that what is being said is what factually occurs.

Here in God's House, men whose lips that are bathed by baptism, and whose tongues are untied by the Finger of God, open their mouths to receive the body and blood of Christ, so that they may be one flesh with the Lord of Glory and never hunger or thirst again.

Even the Egyptian magicians could not keep silent.  "It is the Finger of God," they said, and in this way they became ancestors of all future enemies of the Gospel who could not help but to confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father:  men like Ananias, the High Priest who declared, "It is better that one man should die for the nation, than that the whole nation perish;"  Men like Pilate who declared, "This man has done nothing wrong," and like the man we might think of as the obstetrician of the church, the Roman soldier whose spear tore open the side of the New Adam, thereby giving birth to the New Eve, the church, the mother of all the living by water and by blood, and who later fell down at the foot of the cross to confess, "Truly this man was the Son of God."

In today's gospel we learn that Jesus is the Finger of God, yet when we speak this way we don't mean that He is a mere tool of the Father, but instead that He is the eternal Son of the Father whose meat and drink it is to do the Father's will, who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, who lowered Himself in order to drink the cup of suffering so that we might take the cup of blessing; that cup of which the Lord declares, "This cup IS the New Testament in my blood," the cup that "runneth over" with consolation, courage, strength, rest, relief, pardon for sins, and every good thing we could ever desire.

For the moment though, remember that we are still involved in a hot war!  The forces of evil are fully aware that the Finger of God is at work in the world, undoing their evil deeds and opening the lips of men to show forth God's praise.  They know that as often as the church baptizes a baby, calls her people to repentance, gives holy absolution, gives voice to the Holy Scripture, or engages in holy worship, that they, like Pharaoh of old, are loosing their slaves.  This causes no joy in their demented world, but only demonic rage and makes them as wily as cornered animals.  That's who and what we are dealing with.

While the world at large is concerned with nothing more than a new pair of blue jeans and cold beer on a Friday  night, we are engaged in spiritual warfare, and must remain sober and vigilant, but we need not fear or lose a wink of sleep at night because Jesus who is the Finger of God fights for us, even as He did for Israel against the Egyptians; and as that evil army fled in fear, so do the demons.   Glory be to Jesus, the Finger of God.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Who are the lost children of Israel?


June Beale pours tea for other evacuee children in the dining hall
at Marchant's Hill school, Hindhead, Surrey, 1944.
And from there He arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And He entered a house but did not want anyone to know, yet He could not be hidden.  But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet.  Mark 7:24-25

TODAY we join the Syro-phoenician woman in worshiping at the feet of Jesus and asking Him to "defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul."

Yes, the woman in today's Gospel prayed that same Collect we prayed earlier albeit in different words, but that does not matter.  What does matter is that she said it!  She said it with unwavering faith, and she addressed it to the right person: to Jesus the Son of David; to Jesus who knows how to have mercy; to Jesus who is magnitudes more compassionate than the demons are cruel, and who came into the world to destroy the devil's reign of terror.

You would do well to make her prayer your prayer:  Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.  Neither is it one that is strange to our lips, but rather a prayer we pray every Sunday, as often as we sing "Hosanna" which means Lord save us!  It is one that Jesus hears and answers over and over again, therefore a petition we will never stop singing as long as we have breath, one that should be on the tip of our tongues as often as we see the devil's work in evidence each day, and for that we only need to open our eyes.

If we read today's gospel carefully, however, there are some questions we should be asking.  If Jesus really did come only for the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," and if He had qualms about giving the "children's bread to the dogs," what was He doing in Tyre and Sidon?  Was his GPS not working that day?  Did He take a wrong turn?  The Syro-Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon were on the far northwest coast of Israel, on the  Mediterranean  Sea.  It is a pair of cities that the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah condemned in the strongest possible terms.  They were tiny nations but exceptionally savvy.  Their people had the rare gift of appreciating what they had, so they worked hard and parlayed their tiny piece of real estate into one of the most powerful shipping ports of the ancient world.  They were wealthy, diverse cosmopolitan and beautiful to behold, but with much mammon and stunning success also comes fatal pride.  While their treasure houses were bursting at the seams, they fell prey to the maxim of Jesus, "What does it benefit a man if he should gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?"   Though the God of Israel who gives incorruptible wealth to men in Christ was only a stone's throw from their southern wall, they worshiped their own prowess instead.

Yet although they refused to know God or to honor Him as God, He did not refuse to know them!  When His own people would not hear Him, Jesus reminded them that "there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the heavens were shut up three and a half years, and a great famine came over all the land, but Elijah was sent to none of them; only to the Zarephath in the land of Sidon to a woman who was a widow."  Hearing this was too much for the Lord's audience to bear.  It was hate speech in the extreme and a few verses later Saint Luke reports that the people were going to throw Him over a nearby cliff and be done with Him, but the evangelist also tells us that he "walked through their midst" because His time had not yet come.  There was cross in His future!

We find the same thing in Saint Matthew's gospel.  Jesus says to the Jews who rejected Him, "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you."  It is only a few pages later that we find Jesus in those very cities doing those "mighty works."

Now let us ask again, if the Lord only came for "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and if it was not proper "to give the children's bread to dogs," what was Jesus doing there?  Or possibly a more germane question is this:  what is Jesus doing here in Cleveland, Ohio?

Are we more godly than the people of Tyre and Sidon?  Are we less in need of Jesus' mercy and power to expel the demons from our hearts and our homes?  From our children, our streets, our politics, and our institutions?

You don't need to read the daily news for the answer.  Instead read the ten commandments with their Christian explanation, then look in the  mirror.  You are the lost sheep of the house of Israel!  You and your children are the ones who are possessed by the demons of burning desire but can find no rest or peace in the world's endless list of placebos.

Nevertheless, Praise God the Lord Ye Sons of Men! (TLH #105) because  as Jesus came to Tyre and Sidon then, he comes to Cleveland, Ohio today.  He is the children's Bread, and you are the children, but thank God that at Christ Lutheran Church we don't only get crumbs that might fall off the table, but the whole Christ, the living body and life-giving blood of the glorified and exalted Jesus who chases your demons far away and makes you to lie down in green pastures!

Therefore thank God today for this Good News.  Hear His word.  Call on Him in every trouble.  Pray, praise, and come to His table so that you, too, having been justified by faith may eat of the Living Bread that comes down from heaven.  Amen.

~  Rev Dean. Kavouras

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Crushing the head of the enemy


And so David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine, and killed him.  There was no sword in David's hand.  Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took hold of his sword, and drew it from its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it.  And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.  1 Samuel 17:50-51

WE can never repeat it often enough, that the Old Testament is a Christian book.  Jews may claim it as their own, and Muslims pay it lip service, but it is our book, our divine scripture that  makes us wise unto salvation which is by faith in Jesus Christ!

No portion of the Old Testament stands on its own, so we dare not preach the Old Testament without showing its fulfillment in the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins.  Today's lesson is a perfect example.  As it stands it teaches us to have courage in the face of overwhelming odds, especially where God is concerned.  That is a good lesson, one that will serve you all the days of your life, but it goes deeper than that.  It teaches us to train and be prepared for any contingency.   The sling and smooth stones David chose as his weapons were not a spur of the moment decision but something he had trained with extensively.  In the hand of a skilled operator the sling was deadly and accurate hundreds of yards away.  It was the sniper rifle of antiquity.  Slingers, once they had mastered their equipment, could hit a target the size of a hair hundreds of yards away.  (Judges 20:16)  Neither were the stones ordinary, but carefully chosen and uniformly honed and smoothed to perfect roundness about the size of a tennis ball.  The result was a projectile so lethal that even Goliath the mighty Philistine giant, could not stand against it.  Yet the account we have before us today is more than a lesson on preparedness, important as that is.  Rather, these things were written for the church so that we might learn what Samuel writes in verse forty-seven, namely that "the battle is the LORD's," and He is the one who subdues Satan and every enemy under our feet, and redeems what you cannot possibly fix.

If only the world could learn this lesson, that it cannot save itself; that it cannot end war or poverty or injustice or sorrow or tears or man's cruelty to man, or conquer death however high its hopes, its technology, or its vaunted pride.  "Salvation belongs to the Lord;"  to Christ the "Smooth Stone," whose atoning death on the cross strikes the carefully-aimed and deadly blow to the Philistine devil and crushes his murderous head.  Until we connect those particular dots to David's Sling and David's Stone, we have little more here than a "value tale," and if Jesus is the Smooth Stone, then let us not forget about the Sling that sends the Stone hurdling forth on its mission!

Scripture says that "God loved the world in this way:  that He sent forth His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life;" and again in 1 John 4:9 "In this the love of God is made manifest among us, that God sent forth his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."

This divine love of the Father is displayed, demonstrated and exhibited most perfectly in the death of Jesus on the cross!  This is the glory of God, the Kingdom of God, Christ crucified for us!  This life, salvation, relief and release from the disaster we make for ourselves by the sins of our twisted minds, venomous tongues, and by our duplicitous deeds.

Scripture further says that:  in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of woman,  so let us hear the whole counsel of God this day and not just its protestant interpretation.  God did not drop His Son from the clouds into the manger of Bethlehem, but caused Him to become incarnate by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  She, too is the sling  from which the Stone was cast.  We learn this as early as the second chapter of Genesis if we read it with a Christian lens, for our Lord Jesus is the:  Man who left his heavenly Father and the womb of his Blessed Virgin Mother so that by His death He might cleanse the church of her sins and take her as His holy bride.  You are that church!  You are that unblemished bride washed clean from every stain of sin in the living waters of holy baptism.

Though it is not our practice to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or ask her to pray for us, we must still join all generations in calling her blessed, for if she is the Lord's mother, she is our mother as well, for we are Christ's brothers.  Yet she is not our birth mother.  That honor goes to a different "woman," our Mother the Church.  (Galatians 4:26 & Cyprian of Carthage ca.270 AD)  As the Father sent His Son into the world, as Jesus sprang forth from the virgin's womb, the church is David's sling that sends forth the light and truth of Christ  crucified into all the world.  By this Gospel we preach and the sacraments we administer in the mass, we strike deadly blow after deadly blow to Satan the Philistine giant whom our Lord defeated in the wilderness and on the cross.

Baptized into His name, and by the power of His Spirit, you too can now turn from your sins.  You too can send the devil packing and live a new, rational and productive life of "faith towards Thee and fervent love towards one another."  You too can say to Goliath as often as he threatens you, as often as he tempts you to fall down and worship him, "Be gone, Satan!   For it is written"  You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve."  Then as the Philistines fled the Israelite army, and as Satan took flight from Jesus in the wilderness, he will dash away from you as well like the defeated bully that he is.

All glory be to Jesus our Smooth Stone; Son of God, Son of David and Son of Mary.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras