17 April 2006
The Mystery of the Lord's Mercy
Let me be clear. You have not heard about a mercy that began when the Father sent His Son into the flesh. Rather, as you have heard today, this mercy begins in the beginning. It begins in the Lord’s love which calls the entire world and then us into existence. And the mercy continues in the Father offering man the world so that we might tend this world with tenderness, and thereby offer it back to Him in unending thanksgiving. Yet our ancestors ruined and marred what our Father lovingly made through His Word. But this does not cause our merciful Father to destroy all and say, “Never again.” Rather, in His mercy, He promises to redeem, to reclaim and to restore us—and, thereby, to make all things new again. As part of His plan, He cleanses the world by a great Flood. And then, as you have heard, in His mercy the Lord prefigures His climactic act by releasing His chosen people from the grasp of satanic Pharaoh, by pulling them dramatically through the Red Sea, and by pointing them to the Promised Land—which they will attain by the strength of the bread He gives, and by keeping His Word and walking in His commandments.
In these things, Our Lord shows that He has always been at work for the salvation of the world. In these things, Our Lord shows that His undying love for His world drives all that He does. And in these things, Our Lord shows that His mercy for us and to us endures forever. And that is good. For if we would believe that the Lord’s mercy begins only when His Son comes into the world, then we might also be tempted to believe that His mercy ends—or, at least, subsides—when His Son ascends into heaven.
Yet the reason we celebrate the mystery of Our Lord’s mercy is not so that we can look back and remember a time when the Lord had mercy, and then pray that someday that time might be repeated. Rather, we celebrate the mystery of Our Lord’s mercy so that we might know and remember, believe and take to heart that Our Lord continues to have mercy on us; that His resurrection has not faded; and that His mercy was personally directed to us when He wondrously resurrected us by submerging us in His Son’s Blood in the waters of Holy Baptism. But most of all, we celebrate the great mystery of Our Lord’s mercy so that we might not fear Our Lord’s wrath, but rejoice in and hold firmly and steadfastly to His mercy.
An excerpt from the sermon preached at the Great Vigil at Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit.
Why Christ Arose
In short, Our Lord Jesus died to put to death who we once were; and He rose to return us to who we are created to be. And who are we raised up to be? Children of the heavenly Father. Sons and daughters of God. And men and women who serve the Lord with gladness. But that is not all. We are also raised up by Our Lord to be brothers and sisters in; lovers of all men; and godly people who live not for ourselves but for one another.
Such living cuts against the grain. Such living is living against our former nature. For our habits enslave us in pride and selfishness. And our old ways addict us to things that are unreal, things that are really no help, and things that often lead to despair.
From these, Christ Jesus has released us. From these, He has delivered us. From these, He has set us free—both by His death, which destroyed the grip of sin and death; and by His resurrection, which gives us this new way of life and this new way to live. For Our Lord’s Resurrection breathes life into our life—both now and forever—because it breathes back into us a true, intimate, and full life with God in Christ
And if we are with God in Christ, then we are also bound together. For the glories of Christ’s resurrection are not offered, one by one, to each individual. Rather, Christ is risen so that we may live the new life together, in His holy catholic Church. This true Church is all those who receive, by faith, His wondrous resurrection; and who keep to that faith by remaining in communion with those bishops who rightly maintain the Father’s Word in the tradition of the holy apostles. For through them—that is, through these men to whom Christ first appeared, and who are the witnesses of His resurrection—to them, the Spirit of Christ was given; upon them the Spirit of Christ was breathed; and in them and their successors, the Spirit of Christ lives.
So the Lord arises to release us from our old selves; and also, to bind us together into His new self—the Self which is His churchly Body where, together, we are strengthened by the Spirit and, through Him, we earnestly await the entrance into the Father’s kingdom in our glorified bodies.
From the sermon for Easter Sunday (Resurrection Mass) preached at Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit, 16 April 2006.
15 April 2006
Did Jesus Set Up His Own Demise?
As if to excuse the inexcusable; as if to cover up the sin that exposes all our sins; as if to justify the betrayer who exemplifies our betrayal—it is foolishly asserted that Our Lord Jesus elaborately set up and arranged His own demise. Of course, some might say, He did this for the good of all. He just needed help with the details. And so the ends justify the means.
But this means that the Righteous One committed evil by urging one of His own to sin. More than that, it says that Our Lord Jesus was not betrayed and killed by sinful men, but by His own will to complete the task.
Was the wickedness of
The truth is that the desire to kill the Messiah did not spring from the same source as His desire to die. Their desire, fueled by unmitigated hatred, was the ultimate act in trying to be like God. Our Lord’s desire, fueled by immeasurable love, was the ultimate act in restoring us to God’s image so that we might continually mature into His likeness. His desire and will came from the Holy Spirit. Their desire and will was of the devil.
So Our Lord did not incite, but rather permitted, those madmen’s naughty hands. And while He knew ahead of time what would happen, He did not compel them to do the sinful deed—even though, through it, He completed the first half of His mission in our flesh.
For you do know that His mission was not simply to suffer and die. Any man could have done that. But Our Lord’s mission reached its fullness when, after His passion and martyrdom, He descended into hell to release those bound by Satan’s death-grip; and then ascended from the grave, bursting open the gates of death and transforming them into the gates through which the righteous now enter life eternal.
So because His goal was not simply to die, but also to raise us to life; because He aimed not at His self-destruction, but at our restoration; because His will was not to die as a martyred hero, but to grant unending life to those destined to die—for this reason, what Our Lord Jesus undertook could not be reversed, while what the hateful mob did could be wiped out. For He who came to save sinners did not refuse mercy even to His murderers. While they were blinded with rage, He prayed for their forgiveness. In doing so, He converted their evil wickedness into their way—and your way—to Life. And with this, God’s grace becomes all the more wonderful, and the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge is seen to be all the more magnificent and worthy of our unending praise. For it is His mercy which turned the blood they shed into the blood that saved them. It is His mercy that made the body they sacrificed the sacrifice that atones for our sin. And it is His mercy that transformed their cries for His death into our hymns of adoration.
And so, even though He was willing to suffer what He knew had to be—what He knew was coming—that does not mean that Our Lord was the author of their crimes, or one who maniacally set in motion His own death. No one asked, urged, compelled or tricked Judas or the others into doing evil for the sake of good. But when evil was done to Him, Our Lord humbly and dispassionately permitted it so that He could use their madness in order to accomplish their salvation, and your salvation, and the salvation of all creation. And in doing so, He salvaged and recalled many who had a hand in His death—men like
Yet the ungodliest of men—the “son of perdition” together with many of the priests and leaders—these were inflamed by a hatred that even Our Lord could not put out, because they were unwilling. They did not think the Lord’s promises were believable, and so they preferred their self-chosen addictions of pride, greed, and living life now. And in choosing what they preferred—in choosing against their Lord—they chose their own death. Is it any wonder, then, that Judas saw no way out but to hang himself? For he had not believed in mercy before; and he surely did not believe in it then. But the other betrayer—that is,
The fact, then, is that Our Lord God, in His mercy, is determined to save us. So when He was ready, according to His own purpose and without any evil design, the Father led His Son in the Spirit to the top of the mountain where He was crucified, dead and buried. But this was not because
Therefore, since He has restored us by His resurrection from the dead; since He has not only shown us but also given us such remarkable mercy; and since all life that lives is completely dependent upon the life He died to live in us—let us not give into our pride or grow smug in self-satisfaction by excusing our sin, or the sin of His betrayer. For we have nothing—except what we have received from Him in His Spirit. And we have nothing to give—except to give thanks in His holy Church. And we have no other way to live—except to live the life He has planted within us. And this life is not a life that gives us license to live as we please, but to live only for Him by keeping His commandment to love His Word by loving one another.
Let us, then, love His mercy by being merciful. And let us love His sacrifice by partaking of it regularly. And let us love His love by holding to all His commandments. For Our Lord Himself is our way, and through Him alone do we come to the fullness of communion with the Father. So let us tread the path of His endurance and humiliation by living against our flesh, by resisting evil, by running from sin, by chasing away the clouds of despair, and by living courageously through the storms of fear. No doubt, as long as we are in this life, we shall know the snares of the wicked, the persecutions of the unbelieving, the threats of the powerful, the insults of the proud. But we must also remember that all these things the Lord of hosts and King of glory has successfully passed through in the form of our weakness and in the likeness of sinful flesh. And He has done this so that, when we face the dangers that threaten our life in God, we might desire, not so much to avoid and escape them, as to endure and overcome them and finally gain the victory through Christ Our Lord, to whom with the Father in the Holy Spirit belongs all glory, honor and worship.
12 April 2006
The Son is Not Forsaken by the Father
Representing all the members of His body in Himself, and speaking for those whom He was redeeming in the punishment of the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ uttered that cry which He had once uttered in the Psalm: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from Me, and from the words of My groaning?”
That cry is a lesson, not a complaint. For the Son of God could not have been forsaken by the Father or separated from Him since, in His Person,
Therefore, when you hear Our Lord say, “My God, My God,” I urge you not to believe that, when Jesus was fastened to the wood of the cross, the almighty God and Father had turned His back on Him. For in
To be sure, both natures retain their own properties. Yet, in
So why, then, did
Yet by praying to the Father, Our Lord Jesus shows that this determination is not His alone; that He is not the only one determined to act on our behalf. For the blessed Apostle says that the Father “spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.” And he says, “
For how would He—who had come to destroy death and the author of death by His Passion—how would He have saved sinners if he had resisted His persecutors? The Jews, then, believed
But the Savior’s power would not be displayed against the blind rage of the foolish scribes and wicked priests. And the redemption of mankind would not be delayed by obeying the blasphemer’s evil tongues. For if they had truly wanted to recognize the deity in the Son, they would have remembered His countless miracles which confirmed true faith. In fact, they acknowledged as much when they said that He saved others. But those many great miracles, done openly and in public, does nothing to soften the hearts of those who resist the Holy Spirit. And so all of God’s benefits towards them are turned into their destruction. So even if
Therefore the insults of empty exultation were scorned by Our Lord. And the Lord's mercy in restoring the lost and the fallen was not turned from the path of its purpose by insult or mockery. For a unmatched victim was being offered to God for the world's salvation, and the slaying of Christ the true Lamb, predicted through so many, ages, was transferring the sons of promise into the liberty of the Faith. The New Testament also was being ratified, and in the blood of
But let us not follow their lead. Instead, let us prostrate our bodies and our souls, and worship God's
09 April 2006
Sacrificing the Will
So Our Lord Jesus first sacrifices Himself—His will, His desire. And by doing so, He becomes the most pure, the most holy, the most spotless sacrifice which is offered for the life of the world.
Because He willingly sacrifices His will; because He deliberately submits Himself entirely to the will of the Father; because He determines to lose His life in order to gain the world—for this reason Our Lord Jesus both saves us with an unmatched love; and He also shows us the way we receive and give thanks for and live from this sacrifice. So His sacrifice is both our salvation, and our example. His sacrifice both is the way we are reconciled to the Father, and shows us the way we live a life of reconciliation. His sacrifice both is the path that leads to full communion with the Father, and demonstrates the way we live that communion in the Spirit.
For when He was being served up for our salvation, Our Lord thought not of Himself. Neither did He fear. Neither did He seek to hide. Neither did He get angry. But serenely and compassionately, as He saw His own forsake Him and His own deride Him and His own torture Him—for them He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
For these He sought pardon, from whom at the time He was still receiving injury. For He took no thought that He was being put to death by them, but only that He was dying for them. (St Augustine)
An excerpt from today's sermon.
02 April 2006
Abraham's Vision of the Mass
Which day was that? Which day rejoiced the heart of Abraham? St John Chrysostom says that "'My day,' seems to me to mean the day of the Crucifixion, which Abraham foreshowed typically by the offering of the ram and of Isaac."
Let me add, however, that Abraham does not simply see Good Friday. He sees the Holy Sacrifice; which is to say that he sees the Lord’s Day—that is, Abraham sees the Holy Mass. For at the Mass, in the Spirit, you see the Love of the Father. There He lies—the only-begotten Son—in all His glory on the altar. The Son, who in love, was both sacrificed and sacrificed Himself; the Son whose Body was broken so that we might eat and live, and whose Blood was shed so that it might be poured down our throats; the Son who offered Himself so that we, who will taste death, might now taste Life Himself.
It’s this day that Abraham saw and rejoiced to see. And he saw it as he stared at his son, his only son, whom he nearly killed, but whose life was ransomed by the ram of God.
God's Mercy in the Law & Commandments
“I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (Jn 8.51)This correspondes to what the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths of Joshua & David. Joshua tells the children of Israel to take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Josh 22)
And David commands his son, Solomon, to walk in His [the Lord's] ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses. Then David adds this promise:
that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the LORD may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’How are we to understand these words? How are we to understand these commands?
The Law and commandments flow from the mercy of God. For they are handed down not as a test, not to threaten, but so that we might be safe-guarded from our own self-destructive ways and so that, through them, we may safely attain the kingdom of heaven.
Now should we refuse to walk in the way of the Law and in the works of the commandments, then they accuse us of going our self-chosen way--that is, against the Lord's way. But it appears that the primary use of the Lord's Law is merciful; so that we might remain in the way which is Christ Jesus our Lord.
"Come to Me"
Our Lord lovingly appeals to the Jews, and also to all the hesitant, to all the wary, to all the unwilling, to all the fearful. Our Lord urges them all to lay aside their hatred and meanness, and to see past their fears. For they fear that He will take away their place and nation. They fear that they will lose out on the zest of life. They fear that they’ll lose control. And they fear that it’s a trap—that God the Father is more like the fathers and men they’ve always known—abusive, demanding, cold-hearted, selfish and uncaring.
“Come to Me,” Our Lord says. “And walk away from your fears. Come to Me, and know—truly know—My Father. For He is not like your father, who lies to you every chance he gets; and who is in it only for himself. For your father is the father of lies. But My Father—He is the Father of Life, the Begetter of Truth. He not only loves. He is Love. So lose yourself and your fears, and come to Me. For by heeding My word, you shall never see death.”
An excerpt from today's sermon.