Saturday, April 20, 2019

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday: “Behold the Man! A God Who Loves”[1]
April 18, 2019
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

             Just what is new about Jesus’ Commandment to love one another?  After all, Moses long ago had commanded us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; ESV).  And our Lord had already given us the Golden Rule: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12).  That is, as He tells us, “the Law and the Prophets,” the rule of the Old Testament.  What, then, is new about the Command on this night when Jesus says, “love one another” (John 13:34)?  It is these words: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  Just as I have loved you.  And how does He love us?  Not just deep down in His sacred heart.  Not with warm fuzzies and emotion.  Jesus loves in action.  He loves with His hands.  He loves with His feet.  He loves with His sacred head and pierced side.  He loves with His whole Body, unto death.  He dies.  That is how He loves, as St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
            Love is not an emotion.  Love is action for the good of the beloved.  Love is sacrifice.  Love is the giving of the self.  And where you and I always get it wrong, Jesus gets it right.  You want to know what love is, Jesus asks His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed, during the Passover Feast?  I’ll show you.  Jesus, the Teacher and Lord, God in the flesh, stoops down with basin and towel and unstraps the sandals of His disciples.  Remember, John the Baptist confessed that he was not even worthy to unstrap the sandals of the Lord.  And that is a slave’s work.  Dirty stuff.  Feet mired in the muck of the road, dirt, mud, sewage.  Jesus is not afraid to stoop down and grab ahold of that, take those caked feet in His hands, loose them, scrub them, rub them dry with His towel.  That is how Jesus loves.  The Lord of all acts as the slave.  He gets dirty.  He does not love with good intentions.  He loves with humility.  He loves with action.  He loves by getting dirty, cleansing the filthy of their filth. 
            That’s pretty new, particularly in comparison with a religion all worried about clean and unclean.  Peter is a good Jew, and He will have none of it.  Now, this comes from noble intentions.  Far be it from You to get dirty with my filth, Lord.  But that shows us everything we need to know about Peter’s love.  His love keeps his hands clean.  And he doesn’t want to see the Lord get dirty.  That’s too low for You, Lord.  And it doesn’t even occur to him that Jesus’ action is the real thing.  That’s love.  That is God’s love for sinners that cleanses the filthy, head to toe.  By taking the filth onto Himself. 
            And bearing it to the cross.  Jesus loves us to the death of the cross.  That is how He loves.  There His loving hands are nailed to the tree, His feet, His brow, His side, pierced for you, for your redemption, for the forgiveness of your sins.  To cover your filth and wash it away with the blood and water that pour from His side and weep from His precious wounds.  The picture of love is the crucifix.  If you want to know what love is, look there.  That trumps even the Golden Rule.  Jesus doesn’t just treat us the way He would like to be treated.  He doesn’t just love His neighbor as Himself.  He loves Himself not at all, but gives Himself up completely, in love for the world, in love for you.  God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
            God loves us in the Body of Jesus given into death for our sins.  And the risen Jesus still loves us in giving that Body, the very Body crucified, dead, and buried, now risen and glorified, and the Blood that painted that Body red, shed for us.  He gives it, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink in the Supper He instituted on this night for the forgiveness of sins.
            And you, like Peter, object.  Now, this comes from noble intentions.  Far be it from You, Lord, to come really and substantially, not just figuratively, with Your true Body and Blood, on the humble forms of bread and wine.  Surely not.  Surely this is just symbolic.  Surely such common elements are unable to contain You and all Your gifts.  The finite is not capable of the infinite.  And to forgive sins in this way?  Unreasonable is what that is.  It is beneath You. 
            But here stand the bare Words of our Lord’s Testament on the night in which He was betrayed.  “Take, eat.  This is my Body.  Drink of it, all of you.  This is my Blood of the New Testament.  Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  For all your good intentions and warm, fuzzy feelings about Jesus, to love Him is not to deny His Word.  It is to believe it.  It is to receive it, and so receive His love for you.  He doesn’t love with feelings.  He loves with His Body and Blood.  And here they are for you in the Supper, which forgives your sins. 
            And that is the key to the new of the Commandment.  Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  You can only love that way with the love of Jesus Himself, poured out for you at His death, flowing through you in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.  That is to say, your love for one another flows from the Sacrament.  We even call it the Holy Communion.  Because it unites us as one in the love of Jesus.  Jesus’ love (and remember, we’re not talking about some schmaltzy emotion here, but love that is action, sacrifice, the real thing)… Jesus’ love flows between you and your fellow Christians at the altar, and outward toward your neighbor.
            And that means not a feeling in the inner-recesses of your heart, but concrete action.  God became flesh to love you.  You are flesh to be Christ to your neighbor.  What does he need?  Help him.  Give to him.  Be a Christian with your body, not just your heart.  Get busy.  Do good works, not because God needs them, but because your neighbor does.  Love as a sinner among sinners.  Do the dirty work.  Don’t be afraid to take your neighbor’s filthy foot in your hands and wash away the mud and the sewage.  Forgive your neighbor’s sins.  Even his sins against you.  Take his sin on yourself.  Die to it.  Even when he’s not sorry.  Even when he doesn’t deserve it.  That is the point of the whole foot washing business.  That is not the sacrament Jesus instituted on that night, which is why we don’t have foot washing stations here tonight.  The point of it is, that’s how low you go to serve.  That’s the kind of service that is most important.  Taking your neighbor’s filth away.  Forgiving him.  Remember that Jesus didn’t wash the feet of people who were deserving, or who even appreciated it.  He washed the feet of His disciples who abandoned Him in His hour of need.  He washed the feet of Peter, who denied Him.  He washed the feet of Judas, who betrayed Him and rejected Him forever. 
            And then He died for them all.  And He died for you.  That is how Jesus loves.  God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
            Now, who of us can love in that way?  We cannot, of ourselves.  Our old nature is incapable of it.  Which is why we always come back to the altar where Christ puts Himself in us.  St. Ambrose said, “Because I always sin, I always need the medicine.”  So here we are.  And as Christ places His incarnate love on our tongues and pours it down our throats, our sins are forgiven, including our lovelessness, and we die to self and are quickened in Jesus.  We are given to live in faith toward our God, and in fervent love toward one another.  We forgive one another’s trespasses against us, for God has forgiven ours against Him.  We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and gave Himself for us, and gives Himself to us.
            God’s love is not an emotion.  It is the giving of Himself for us in the flesh of Jesus.  It is the giving of Himself to us in the Holy Supper.  This is really something new.  The love of Christ’s disciples is the love of Christ Himself given into death for us, made one with us in the Supper, coursing through our veins, enlivening us in our very bodies to love one another.  Just as He has loved us.  Come to the Feast.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

[1] Based on Jeffrey Hemmer, Behold the Man! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Midweek in Lent 5/Palm Sunday-Sunday of the Passion

Lenten Midweek 5: “Behold the Man! A God Who Thirsts”[1]
April 10, 2019
Text: John 19:28-30

             After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28; ESV).  God thirsts.  Because He is a Man.  Nailed to the cross for our sins, His strength is dried up like a potsherd.  His tongue sticks to His jaws as He is laid in the dry dust of death (Ps. 22:15).  He is poured out like water (v. 14).  He knows “It is finished” (John 19:30).  He has drained the cup of God’s wrath to its bitter dregs.  His lips are cracked and bleeding.  His throat is parched and His eyes grow dim waiting for His God (Ps. 69:3).  Having suffered the hell that is our sin’s wages, He longs for even a finger dipped in water to cool His tongue.  And they offer up sour wine to slake His thirst (Ps. 69:21), wine-vinegar, the cheap swill the soldiers drink while they wait for their victims to die.  But also the sop in which the Jews would dip their bread.  Let not that image pass over you.  Jesus is the Living Bread from heaven dipped in the sop, the wine vinegar, that He be our Bread of Life.
            But it’s not water they give Him.  It’s not much help, this sour wine.  And there is great irony in the fact that Jesus, our Lord, now thirsts.  For this Man is the God by whom the waters were created, the oceans, the springs, the rushing rivers.  Christ is the Rock that followed Israel in the wilderness, the rock Moses struck so that water flowed forth for all to drink.  Our Lord made the six stone jars of water into the very best wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12).  He promised the Samaritan woman at the well that if she knew who it was who asked her for a drink, she would have asked Him and He would have given her Living Water, and she would never have thirsted again (John 4:1-42).  It was at the Feast of Tabernacles, on the last day of the Feast, the great day, that Jesus stood up in the Temple and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).  But here He thirsts, and the best they will do for Him is a sponge full of vinegar to wet and sting His lips. 
            But what is it Jesus ultimately thirsts after?  You.  He thirsts after you and your salvation.  That is why He came.  To save you, by thirsting and suffering and dying for you.  Jesus thirsts to be poured out like water (Ps. 22:14), that we who thirst, who are parched by sin and death, may come to the waters (Is. 55:1) and drink and be slaked by the Living Water of the Lord.
            We know we are thirsty.  We’re dying of thirst.  But like mirages in the desert, we claw our way to anything and everything that is not Living Water, not Jesus, to quench us and save us.  And it’s all an illusion.  What are some of those mirages?  Money.  Influence.  Popularity.  Success.  Surely if I were rich or powerful I could manufacture a heaven for myself.  Just a little more than I have now and I could be happy.  We even do this with human love.  If I’d only married him or her instead of the spouse I have, or if I only had a spouse, I’d be so much happier.  If I had those parents or those kids I’d be so much better off.  There is a reason St. Paul identifies covetousness as idolatry (Col. 3:5).  We look to the things we covet to give us true joy, lasting happiness, to complete us, to save us.  And when it doesn’t work out?  Then there are the other things we turn to to satisfy our thirst.  We may even become addicted to them.  Alcohol.  Drugs.  Pornography.  Sex.  Gambling.  Whatever we use to mask the pain or induce a moment of ecstasy.  But it all leads to nowhere, and you know it.  It leads to guilt, to self-loathing, and finally, the grave.  It is not the Water of Life.  It is a pining after Egypt, a hearkening back to the Garden where your parents tried to satisfy their craving with what God had not given them.
            Repent.  There is only One who can slake your thirst, and by grace, you know Him as the One poured out for you and for your salvation.  For finally what you are thirsting for is righteousness (Matt. 5:6), and only Jesus can satisfy when He takes your sin and becomes your righteousness.  When Jesus saves you, all your idols topple to the ground.  They are broken to pieces before Him.  It is Jesus who gives you true and abundant joy, a joy that abides even through sadness and suffering.  It is Jesus who gives you eternal happiness, who completes you, who brings you into His heavenly Kingdom.  He doesn’t just mask your pain.  He covers it with His blood.  He sanctifies it, puts your tears in His bottle (Ps. 56:8), and on that Day, God will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev. 21:4). To you, Jesus promises, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (v. 6).  It is the fulfillment of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 55.  Finally, that thirst you feel, that only Jesus can quench, is a pining after the New Creation, the New Heavens and Earth to come, and the River of Life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1).
            How do you get this Living Water of Jesus Christ?  God answers through the Prophet Isaiah answers in our Old Testament: “Listen diligently to me… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Is. 55:2, 3).  The Living Water flows through the Word in all its forms: Scripture and preaching, Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, what we call the Means of Grace.  Our Lord tells us, as He told Nicodemus, we are born anew by water and the Spirit (John 3).  That is what happens in Holy Baptism.  Our whole life in Christ flows from the Font and is fed from the Pulpit and the Altar.  We come to Jesus to buy and eat without money and without price (Is. 55:1) here where He gives Himself freely in His Word. 
            And our thirst is slaked.  Our sins are forgiven.  Christ gives us His righteousness as a gift.  We have life, and we have it abundantly, with joy and peace and consolation.  Our flesh, with a little help from the devil and the world, is really good at convincing us otherwise.  Our three main enemies are always directing us elsewhere for refreshment and life.  That is why we so often despise the gifts we receive here in the Church and make other choices.  God help us.  And of course, it is true that as long as we are in this fallen flesh, we continue to sin, and live in the fallen world, and so bad things happen, and we feel that thirst in a very real way.  But the Holy Spirit has the last laugh.  Because He uses even that thirst to drive us back here, back to the Church, back to Christ, to drink deeply of His Living Water.  As they say, hunger is the best sauce.  Thirst drives us to the Altar, to the sweet wine that is our Lord’s true Blood, shed of the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. 
            Our Lord drinks the cup of God’s wrath to its very dregs on the cross, and tastes the sour wine offered for His relief.  But what really slakes His thirst is knowing that all is now finished (John 19:28).  That is to say, His offering of Himself to atone for our sins.  And that slakes our thirst, too.  We rest in that accomplished fact, and drink deeply from the wells of salvation (Is. 12:3).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] Based on Jeffrey Hemmer, Behold the Man! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (C)

April 14, 2019
Text: John 12:12-19; Luke 22:1-23:56
            Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means “Save us!”  We use it as an exclamation of praise, and it is certainly that and was used that way in the Scriptures.  But it is first of all a prayer, and it is a prayer for our most basic need.  Salvation.  The word is directly related to the name “Joshua,” our Lord’s Hebrew Name, Yeshua, “YHWH saves.”  Hosanna, we pray.  And when any Christian prays that prayer, God in heaven hears and answers.  He answers with Jesus.  He sends His Son.  God comes down.  In the flesh.  He comes to save.  “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13; ESV).  So the people cried, praying Psalm 118, as the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Scripture recorded by the Prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).  “Hosanna,” the people cry, “save us!”  God responds by sending His salvation in the person of Jesus, whose Name means “The LORD saves.”  Hosanna.  Yeshua.  Prayer and response.  Jesus is always God’s answer to our prayer.
            Hosanna.  Save us.  This is what King Solomon prayed for at the dedication of the Temple.[1]  Solomon prayed that God would always hear the prayers of those who pray toward the place of which God promises, “My name shall be there” (1 Kings 8:29).  In the Old Testament this was the Temple in Jerusalem, the dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat (the throne of God!), and the place of Sacrifice.  These things pointed forward to Jesus, the One who “comes in the name of the Lord,” who is Himself the mercy seat and the sacrifice.  Solomon prayed that God would hear all who pray toward the Temple in their many and various afflictions, and that for the sake of His Name He would rescue, release, forgive, save.  That is, after all, the pattern of our God.  He heard the cries of His people in Egyptian bondage.  He sent Moses to speak in His Name, and He Himself led the people out of their slavery, through the Red Sea and the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  He led them with His own presence in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  He dwelt with His people.  His glory descended on the Tabernacle.  He met with Moses face to face.  Make no mistake.  This is Jesus.  The LORD heard the prayers of His people, Hosanna, save us.  His answer is Jesus. 
            You wouldn’t know this from the English translation, but again and again in the Psalms and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God’s people pray some form of the word from which we get “Hosanna.”  It is translated “save.”  Save me.  Save us.  Save the king.  Simply: Save.  In other words, again and again the people of God pray the Name “Jesus.”  Isn’t that amazing?  And God answers, finally, and decisively, by sending Jesus.  Hosanna.  Save us.  Jesus.  The LORD saves.  It reminds me of the hymn we’ve been singing the last couple of midweeks, “Jesus, in Your Dying Woes” (LSB 447), every verse ending, “Hear us, holy Jesus.”  Or the very moving closing hymn last Sunday, “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” (LSB 434), as we cry at the end of each verse, “O Jesus!  O Jesus!”  It was the cry of the 21 Coptic martyrs on the beach in Libya in 2015, as their throats were slit by Islamic terrorists.  Jesus!  The Lord saves!  Lord, save us.  Hosanna. 
            So it is no accident that the people cry “Hosanna,” as our Lord rides into Jerusalem to accomplish His saving work.  In addressing that word, that prayer, to Him, they are confessing Him to be the Messiah!  They are confessing Him to be God’s answer to their prayers.  Now, to be sure, they may not understand just what it entails that Jesus is the answer to their Hosannas.  We know that many were expecting Messiah to claim the Kingship of Israel in such a way as to deliver the nation from the tyranny of the Romans.  Others wanted healing miracles and bread in abundance.  And lest we forget, this crowd has assembled because Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead.  We all want a King who can do that.  But Jesus is not a politician, and even though He can actually deliver on His promises, and does that very thing, His Kingdom is not of this world.  The great mystery of it all is this: God’s answer to our Palm Sunday prayer is the Passion of our Lord.  God’s answer to our Hosanna is God dead on the cross.  That is the relationship between what we did at the beginning of the service with our palms and procession of joyful singing, and what we did shortly after as we solemnly heard the account of our Lord’s suffering and death for us in its entirety from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  Hosanna, we pray.  Save us.  The Lord does it, by suffering and bleeding and dying.  This is not what anyone expected.  But it is how the Lord accomplishes our salvation.  Jesus reigns from the cross.  Jesus saves us on the cross.  Our prayer is answered on the cross.  This is what Holy Week is all about.
            And what of us now?  The cross was nearly 2000 years ago, and still we have reason to cry, “Hosanna!  Save us!”  There are the sins that beset us, the relationships we have broken, the loneliness, the shame, the despair that can set in deep down in our souls.  There is cancer.  There is war.  There are the promises of politicians, mostly broken, and nearly all of them impotent, every one of them, without exception unable to save us.  There is deep anxiety because we know that things are not right.  We need saving.  And if the cross is God’s answer, we need help if we are to see how.  A distant God who died for you two millennia ago, but has no contact with you now, is not a real Savior.  But that is not our God.  Remember that God answers our Hosanna by coming.  He comes downJesus comes.  That is how He delivers the salvation of the cross.  He comes to you, in the flesh, just as surely as He came into the womb of the Virgin Mary, just as surely as His hands and feet were nailed to the tree and His sacred, kingly head crowned with thorns.  He comes to you in water and words and bread and wine, delivering the gifts of His salvation.  It is His voice you hear, forgiving your sins.  It is His Blood with which you are washed in the font.  It is His Body you eat and His Blood you drink, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This is the medicine that heals you, body and soul.  His flesh is the bread of life in abundance.  He is the King who redeems you from the tyranny of sin, of death, and of the devil.  He is risen from the dead, and He will call you out of the grave on the Last Day, just as He called Lazarus.  And you will never die again.  He promises.  And He delivers.  Hosanna is a prayer for all occasions.  We always need His saving.  And He always saves.  “Hosanna,” we pray.  “Jesus,” God answers. 
            It is right, then, that the prayer, “Hosanna, save us,” has also become an exclamation of praise.  For His saving us is an accomplished fact in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  You will see it when He comes again in glory.  Oh, how we long for that Day.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Hosanna.  Come, and save us.  He will.  He is coming soon.  In the meantime, He does not leave us on our own.  We sing the song of the Palm Sunday crowd every time we come to the altar.  We sing the Sanctus: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest… blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (LSB 195).  We pray “Hosanna,” and what does He do?  He comes down and feeds us with His Body and Blood.  He forgives our sins.  He saves us.  “Hosanna,” we pray.  God’s answer is Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

[1] He does not use the word “Hosanna,” but here he connects God’s salvation and His Name.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Midweek of Lent 4/Fifth Sunday in Lent

Lenten Midweek 4: “Behold the Man! A God with a Mother”[1]
April 3, 2019
Text: John 19:25-27

             Woman,” Jesus calls her, before His first miracle at the wedding in Cana (John 2:4).  Woman,” He calls her from the cross as He commends her into the care of His beloved disciple, John (19:26).  Mary is the new Eve.  She is the fulfillment of the first Gospel prophecy spoken in the Garden in the midst of the Curse, God preaching to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15; ESV; emphasis added). 
            God has a mother.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, is sent by the Father to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He is God of God, and flesh of Mary’s flesh.  To say that God has a mother is to say that God is a Man.  Our Lord Jesus is one Person with two natures, divine and human.  He is God and Man.  And the reason He is God and Man is for us men and for our salvation.  Our Redeemer must be God to live a sinless life of perfection before God, His heavenly Father, in our place.  To fulfill the Law of God in our place.  To count for all of us, all humanity in His active and passive obedience, His righteousness before God and His suffering for our sins.  And He must be Man to be under the Law and suffer and die to atone for us.  In Christ, Man stands righteous and holy before God.  In Christ, God is born and suffers and dies. 
            It is the great battle between the Seed of the woman and the accursed serpent, the dragon hell-bent on devouring Him (Rev. 12:4).  On the cross, the serpent takes ahold of Him, sinks His poisoned fangs into our Lord’s heel.  On the cross, the dragon swallows the Lord of Life into death.  But the joke is one him.  On the cross, the Offspring of the woman stomps the serpent’s head into the dust.  He bursts through the belly of the dragon, whole and alive, risen from the dead, the flesh and blood born of Mary exalted and enthroned at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  In Christ, our flesh is exalted above all creatures in heaven and on earth (Cf. FC SD VIII:26).  God has a mother.  God became a Man.  This Man is God.  Mary is Theotokos.  Mary is the Mother of God.
            Christmas wasn’t so long ago, and I think we can all agree that Christmas is a very special time of year.  I don’t mind telling you that, with the way the school vacation worked out, having my kids at home all Twelve Days of Christmas this year made it extra special.  But what really makes Christmas so special?  We don’t even give this a lot of conscious thought, but we know it instinctively, though perhaps saying it out loud will be a little shocking.  Christmas is special for this reason alone: Holy Week.  God was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary to die.  For you.  And that is why you feast and sing and give presents on December 25th.  Because Jesus was born to die for the forgiveness of your sins. 
            He goes through all the stages of human development, and this is so important.  God took up residence in the Virgin’s womb to be a Zygote, a Blastocyst, a Fetus, a Newborn, for all zygotes, blastocysts, fetuses, and newborns.  For you.  This, of course, has great implications for our doctrine of life.  If God was all of these, we can no longer safely pretend that unborn children are anything less than fully human persons whose lives are sacred, holy, gifts of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  And then this Newborn grew into a Toddler, a Boy, an Adolescent, a Teenager, a Young Man, a Man.  For you who have been any or all of these.  What Jesus becomes, He redeems. 
            On the cross, Jesus’ hour has come, the divinely appointed hour of His suffering and death for our redemption.  Now we understand the rebuke of His mother at the wedding in Cana, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).  Jesus is not being mean, nor is He disobeying or dishonoring His mother.  But even as Mary is our Lord’s mother, He is her Savior and her God.  And this is actually a confession of His two natures.  “Woman, I don’t get my working of miracles from you, but from my Father.  I work miracles because I am the Son of God.  God tells me when to perform a sign.  That is not your place.”  And then we know the Father does give Him to perform the sign, the changing of water into wine, that His disciples believe in Him, and that we understand Jesus is the Bridegroom come to redeem His Bride, the Church, and take her to Himself as holy, cleansed by His blood, and give her joy, wine in abundance, the good stuff, the very best.  This reveals His divine nature.  The Man, Jesus, can do this, because He is God. 
            But when His hour does come, on Golgotha, He once again addresses her as “Woman,” and we understand that what He is doing now He can do because He has taken on flesh in the womb of Mary.  God cannot suffer.  God cannot die.  But God does suffer and die, because our God, Jesus, is a Man.  His power and majesty are from God.  His humility and vulnerability to suffering and death are from Mary.  His human nature gives death its hour.  To redeem our human bodies and souls. 
            Now, even from the cross, bearing the load of this world’s sin, our Lord beholds His mother and the disciples whom He loves, and He has compassion.  Woman, behold your son! … Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27).  John is to take Jesus’ place as the Son who cares for His widowed mother.  Mary is to care for John, who has been bereaved of His beloved Friend and Master.  It is a moving moment.  And it teaches us that we need each other.  The Lord sets the solitary in a family (Psalm 68:6).  He brings us into the Church.  He dies to make this the reality.  We’re a family, here.  God is our Father.  The Church is our Mother.  We are brothers and sisters of one another, brothers and sisters of Christ.  Born of the Font.  Nourished at the Family Table.  The water and blood that pour from our Lord’s side birth and sustain us.  Mary is the picture of the Church who gives us birth and nurtures us.  The Apostle John is the picture of Jesus who cares for us, provides for us, and preaches the Word to us.  In other words, John is the pastor. 
            Now, some of you get nervous with all this talk of Mary.  You shouldn’t.  Repent.  You’ve gotta stop worrying about things being too Roman Catholic.  Instead, you should ask what is revealed in the Scriptures.  Mary is the Mother of God.  God becomes a Man in her womb.  To confess anything less is the Nestorian heresy, and not Christianity.  We should not pray to Mary.  She is not sinless, and she is certainly not coredemptrix.  Those are the Roman errors.  Jesus is her Redeemer, even as He is ours.  St. Ambrose, who predates the Roman denomination by over a thousand years, wonders if perhaps Mary thought Jesus needed her to die, as well, to add something to His redemption.  No, Ambrose reminds us, “Jesus did not need a helper for the redemption of all, Who saved all without a helper.”[2]  So much for the silly idea that Mary is any kind of co-savior with her Son.  The Church Father, Ambrose puts that idea to rest. 
            How, then, should we regard Mary?  We should give her her proper place.  We should honor her for what she is, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, a forgiven sinner who gave birth to our Lord.  Dr. Luther strikes the proper balance: “We want to hold the dear Virgin and holy mother in all honor, as she certainly deserves to be honored.  Yet we will not so honor her as to make her equal to her Son, Christ.  For she was not crucified for us, nor did she die for us; neither did she pray for us on the cross.  But it was Christ who was crucified and died for us and with tears offered supplications and prayer for us on the cross [Heb. 5:7].  Therefore, let each one honor the mother Mary as he will—provided only she is not honored with the honor due to Christ.  And this is also the reason why the Lord separates His mother from Himself: so that He will be the only one to whom we should cling.”[3]  Thus Dr. Luther.
            Well, as any good mother does, Mary takes us by the hand and teaches us about our Savior, and in so doing, she teaches us her proper place.  She ever and always and only points us to her Son.  Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servants at the wedding (John 2:5).  Do whatever He tells you,” she says to you and me.  “Hang on His Word.  I was honored to give Him birth, to bear in my womb our gracious God and Savior.  It was all gift, to be His mother, to raise Him as my beloved Son, and there ends my part in the story of your salvation.  Hear Him.  Follow Him.  He is your Savior.  He is your God.  By His blood you are cleansed.  By His wounds you are healed.  He died for you, and He is risen in the Body I bore, and He lives and reigns in that Body at the right hand of our Father in heaven.  And where He goes, we go.  He will raise us.  We will reign with Him.  Behold the Man!  Behold my Son.”  Jesus gives His mother to His beloved disciple, to you, to point you to Jesus.  The Seed of the Woman, the Son of Mary, has crushed the serpent’s head.  The dragon is defeated.  The Curse is done.  You are saved.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

[1] Based on Jeffrey Hemmer, Behold the Man! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).
[2] Selections from the Letters of St. Ambrose, Letter 63, NPNF2 10:473, quoted in Hemmer.
[3] LW 69:262, quoted in Hemmer.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (C)
April 7, 2019
Text: Luke 20:9-20

            Who would do such a thing?  What vineyard owner would send one servant to collect fruit, only to have him beaten and sent back empty handed; then send another servant, only to have him beaten also and treated shamefully and sent back empty handed; then send another to be wounded and cast out?  This is ridiculous.  When the first servant is assaulted, you call the police.  You gather up a group of armed warriors and go on a raid.  There should be hell to pay.  What you don’t do is send another servant, and another.  But this guy?  He just doesn’t get it.  “I know what I’ll do,” he says to himself.  “I will send my beloved son.”  Because that’s gonna go well.  “Considering how they treated the servants, surely they will respect my beloved son.”  I’m not so sure this guy is sane.  What is the famous quote about the definition of insanity?  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?  Who would do such a thing?  Who would send servant after servant after servant, receive them back bloody and bruised and empty handed, and then think it a brilliant idea to send his son?
            God would.  And God did.
            Prophet after prophet He sent to His vineyard, His people Israel.  The tenants, of course, are the religious leaders.  The Chief Priests, the scribes, and the elders all know Jesus is telling the parable against them.  The disciples and the crowds know it, too.  And they know there is a long history, here.  Prophets have to carry high-risk life insurance.  It never ends well.  If the reports are true, Isaiah was sawn in two.  Jeremiah was stoned to death.  Amos was tortured and slain by the priests of Bethel.  Ezekiel was slain in Babylon by the chief of the Jews.  And we know from our Lord’s own report that Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, was slain between the altar and the vestibule (Matt. 23:35).  This is not to mention all the mistreatment they suffered in their ministry prior to their martyrdom.  So it goes. 
            And who would do such a thing?  Who would beat and mistreat and murder prophets graciously sent by God to call the people to repentance, to restore them as God’s own special people?  The wicked kings of Israel and Judah.  The priests who had sold out to the prevailing opinions of the people.  The false prophets who prophesied, “Peace, peace,” but there was no peace.  The people themselves, who didn’t want to hear it.  Don’t tell me to repent.  Tell them to repent, fine.  But don’t tell me my sin separates me from God. 
            God’s solution?  I will send my beloved Son.
            And the Chief Priests’, the scribes’, the elders’ solution?  This is the heir.  Let us kill him, so the inheritance may be ours” (Luke 20:14; ESV).  So they threw Him out of the vineyard and killed Him.  They led Him out of the city and they crucified Him. 
            There are several punch lines to this story.  God knew it would happen that way!  Jesus knew it would happen that way!  In fact, this is all according to plan.  Don’t for a minute think the religious leaders, or even the Romans, are actually in control of our Lord’s suffering and death.  Remember what Jesus says: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). 
            Punch line number two: The wicked tenants, the religious leaders, actually think it will work!  This is the heir,” they say.  They actually know, at this point, that Jesus is God’s Messiah.  And they think they can get rid of this problem by killing Him!  And even after He warns them by way of this parable what will result from this, namely, God will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others, this is still their plan.
            But then the greatest punch line: In killing the Son, the Vineyard is given to the Church.  It is taken away from Israel as a nation, and given to sinners whose sins are forgiven by the blood and death of the Son, who do not reject Him, but believe in Him and live in Him, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, men and women, slave and free, all who cling by faith to the crucified Lord.  The unbelieving religious leaders have their place and their nation ripped away, and with all unbelievers they are destroyed.  The believers, the Christians, are the “others” brought in who are given the vineyard by grace.
            And they are brought in by means of God sending more servants!  The Apostles, Christian pastors, Christian parents who bring their babies to the baptismal font, Christian confessors who speak Christ to their neighbor and bring them to the Church to hear the living voice of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. 
            Now, this is where the saying at the end of the parable comes into play.  Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Luke 20:17).  This is a direct prophecy of His death and resurrection.  The builders, the religious leaders, reject Jesus and crucify Him.  But He is risen from the dead and is the cornerstone of the Vineyard, the Church.  And now everyone must die by this Stone.  Because you either fall on Him in faith to be broken to pieces, die to self in repentance, and so live.  Or He will fall on you and crush you.  There is no middle ground.  You either believe, in which you lose your life in Jesus, and so find it, or you don’t believe, in which you lose your life eternally.  Either way, you die.  But only one of those deaths ends in eternal life. 
            And it is important to take warning here.  You are in the Vineyard by grace, because your parents or some other servant brought you to Jesus.  But there is always the danger of falling into the sin of the wicked tenants.  That is to say, rejecting God’s Word, His preachers, and so His preaching.  How do we do that?  When we despise God’s Word and do not gladly hear and learn it.  When we reject the Word that is preached to us because we don’t want to hear that our own particular sins separate us from God.  “Go ahead, preacher, preach to them, but don’t preach to me unless it’s to tell me I’m right.”  When we make Sunday morning an option instead of seeing it as the vital supplier of our spiritual life and breath that it is.  Be warned that rejection of God’s Word is rejection of God Himself.  Rejection of the preacher is rejection of the Christ who is on his lips.  Rejection of the preaching is rejection of life.  Luther said that the Gospel is like a passing rain shower.  It pours on a place and makes everything green and fruitful, but when we are ungrateful and take the precious Gospel for granted, the shower moves on to another place, and we are deprived.  God is raining down the Gospel upon us this very moment.  That is what happens at Church.  Soak it in deeply and receive it with thanksgiving. 
            The Divine Service is our connection to Christ, the Vine.  If we abide in Him, we bear much fruit, the fruit of repentance and faith, the fruit the Vineyard owner is looking for when He sends His servants.  But apart from Christ the Vine, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
            And what are the fruits?  Connected to Christ by His Word and Sacraments, the nourishing sap of the Vine flows into us and through us, so that we believe in Him and repent of our sins.  And the fruit of love for God and our neighbor begins to bud.  That is the life of Christ flowing through us and out of us toward our neighbor.  We serve him.  We are generous to him.  We lend freely, and give sacrificially.  We protect him.  We speak well of him.  We guard the sanctity of his and her body.  We love our neighbor as ourself.  We put him first.  We even die for him, if God so wills.  Because we have the real life that cannot be taken away, the life of Christ, and the resurrection of our own body to come.  That is the fruit. 
            And God sends His preachers, and God sends His Son, with all the benefits of His death and life, to keep you in the Vineyard of His Church, for the Day of Harvest.  Who would do that for a bunch of ungrateful sinners like you and me?  God would.  And He did.  And He does.  He gave His Son into death.  He gives us His Son unto life.  Blessed be the Lord.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Midweek of Lent 3/Fourth Sunday in Lent

Lenten Midweek 3: “Behold the Man! A God Exposed”[1]
March 28, 2019
Text: John Gen. 3:7-21; John 19:1-5, 23-24

            Your fig leaves are inadequate.  Those excuses, stories told to deceive others and yourself, outright lies you use to justify yourself  It’ll never work.  It didn’t for your first parents.  The fig leaves they hastily sewed together in their flight from God couldn’t cover their guilt or their shame. 
            Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness before that fateful forbidden bite.  Before they were wholly focused on God and His love for them and His provision for them.  They loved one another because God first loved them, and they loved God.  In their original righteousness, they were happy in God, and they perfectly knew God’s will and delighted to do it.  But when they tasted the fruit of their rebellion, they looked down.  Incurvatus in se is the theological term.  They were curved in on themselves.  Navel gazers.  They had only known good, but now they knew evil, and it was them.  Naked.  Exposed.  Vulnerable.  Ashamed.  That is why they covered themselves and hid from God.
            Shame is different than guilt, though the two often go together.  Guilt is the residue of sin, whether you feel it or not.  It is the objective reality for sinners in their sin.  Shame is subjective.  And it is always the fruit of an unhealthy preoccupation with the self.  We’re ashamed when we look at ourselves.  We’re just like our parents in the garden.  Having lost God’s image and original righteousness, we are born in original sin.  We, too, are curved in on the self.  And we’re naked.  Exposed.  Vulnerable.  And taking fashion advice from Adam and Eve, we sew together the fig leaves of self-justifying excuses and lies.  We hide ourselves behind our piety and good citizenship.  We cover our tracks.  We tell our stories so that we look good, and everyone else not so great.  We disguise our gossip as Christian concern.  We pretend we didn’t take a second look at that man or woman who passed by, or hover a little too long over the image on the website.  Greed we call taking care of ourselves.  You know, so we won’t be a burden to others.  Whatever it is, everyone else does it.  Repent.  You may be able to fool others, maybe even yourself, but not God.  You might as well go to Confession so you can be absolved, rather than hiding from God, as if you could.     
            God, of course, found Adam and Eve, and there was hell to pay for their sins.  The Curse and all that.  But our God is merciful.  And He did not leave us without hope.  In the very midst of the Curse, He preached the Gospel: “I will put enmity between you,” the serpent, and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15; ESV).  And then He covered our parents’ nakedness.  Not with fig leaves, but with skin.  The first death, animals sacrificed to cover sin.  We’ve been wearing clothes ever since, to cover our shame.  But those animals were types of Christ, the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head.  You see, “Sin can only be covered with skin” (Hemmer).
            And so Jesus.  God the Son is born of the Virgin.  Naked He comes into this world, and she wraps Him in swaddling clothes.  Jesus is a God who wears clothing.  And why?  He has no sin.  He has nothing to hide, nothing of which to be ashamed.  But He is clothed for us, for our sin and shame.  God is clothed in human flesh.  Jesus dresses as a man.
            And as we meet Him in our Holy Gospel this evening, He is stripped by the soldiers, clothed again, and stripped again.  He is stripped for flogging, a particularly gruesome punishment.  Leather straps, two to three feet long, held together by a wooden handle, studded with metal balls that beat and bruise the skin, and shards of sheep bone that rip the skin and muscle to shreds.  This can even expose the internal organs, so deep are the wounds.  So this is already serious business.
            But then they clothe Him.  A crown of thorns.  The Curse: Thorns and thistles, the fruitless produce of a cursed land, now pierce the brow of His sacred head.  A purple robe.  The color of royalty, to be sure.  But so also, the color worn by the rich man who despised poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19), the ostentatious color worn by prostitutes, including the great prostitute of Revelation 17.  Then, too, it was a color used in the Tabernacle (Ex. 26), the place of sacrifice, and in the robes of the High Priest (Ex. 39), the one who makes the sacrifice.  Pilate has the soldiers clothe Him thus to bring Him out for mockery.  Behold the man!” Pilate declares (John 19:5).  This is no King, he means to say.  Ah, but He is.  Clothed in the purple fig leaves of our sin, clothed in our greed and lovelessness, clothed as the Sacrifice, clothed as the Great High Priest who offers, not a lamb, but Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
            The Lord bears our sin, our guilt, our shame.  And they lead Him out to the Place of a Skull, where they strip Him of His clothes, nail Him to the cross, and raise Him up, naked, exposed, vulnerable, paying the hell due for our sins.  The soldiers divide His garments among them, and for His clothing they cast lots, to fulfill the Scriptures.  This was all prophesied in Psalm 22 (v. 18).  Ah, yes, that seamless tunic, woven from top to bottom.  A costly specimen.  Jesus is stripped of it so some miserable wretch of a soldier can have it. 
            Which is the point of all that is going on here.
            Jesus is not curved in on Himself.  His eyes are trained on His Father.  Even as He suffers the greatest physical torture this world can inflict, and all the pains of hell in His naked, bleeding, exposed body, He does it all in faithfulness to God and out of love for us.  And the robe, the tunic, is given from top to bottom, from above to below, to cover our sin. 
            For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  Christ is our robe.  Christ is our tunic.  Christ covers us with His own righteousness, with Himself.  That is what it means to be baptized into Christ.  To be covered with His death and resurrection.  To be covered with His obedience.  To be covered with His life.  This is top to bottom covering, from above, from heaven, to below, to you and me.  And it is seamless, of a piece, whole, complete.  This alone covers our nakedness.  Christ, the God clothed in skin.
            Jesus is the God who died naked in order to clothe us.  Jesus is the God who is risen from the dead, but before He leaves the tomb, neatly folds His gravecloths, the linen wrappings, the face cloth (the shroud!).  And He leaves them behind.  No need for those anymore.  No need to cover the shame of nakedness, the rot and stench of death. 
            And you?  Forget the fig leaves.  Don’t even try to justify yourself.  Jesus is your justification.  Jesus is the robe of your righteousness.  In Jesus, you stand before God covered, and you are not ashamed.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

[1] Based on Jeffrey Hemmer, Behold the Man! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).

Fourth Sunday in Lent (C)

March 31, 2019
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

            Two groups of people, two different kinds of hearers with two dramatically different reactions, serve as the original audience for this parable.  On the one hand, there are “the tax collectors and sinners” who are “drawing near to hear” Jesus (Luke 15:1; ESV).  On the other hand, there are “the Pharisees and scribes,” the religious elite, who grumble precisely because Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (v. 2).  Now, there is great irony at play within these two groups.  The despised sinners, rejected by polite society and abandoned to hell by respectable religious people, these are the ones who come to Jesus and hang on every Word of His preaching.  The religious leaders, the Pharisees and scribes, the “good Christian folk” who demand the respect of everyone… these refuse to give Jesus the time of day.  They will not hear His preaching.  They will not receive Him… as a colleague, much less their Messiah and Lord.  These pious leaders of Israel reject Jesus.  And they reject Him for doing the very thing He was sent by the Father to do.  They reject Him for receiving sinners and eating with them
            So our Lord tells a parable.  Two sons, two dramatically different relationships with their father… or, maybe not so different, as we’ll see.  On the one hand, there is the younger son.  He wants his inheritance, and he wants it now.  For this son to demand his inheritance from the father is to tell his father he wishes he would hurry up and die.  Imagine the hurt of the father, the ache for this son who has turned against him and wishes him dead.  And the amazing thing is, he gives the rascal what he wants.  He divides up the inheritance.  And notice here, too, the older son also benefits from the younger son’s audacity.  The older son also gets his share.  The younger son gathers together all he has, his newfound fortune, and journeys into a far country, squandering his property in reckless living.  We can only imagine what that entails.  On the other hand, there is this older son.  He stays with his father.  But remember, lest you think this older son the responsible, selfless hero, he has received his inheritance, too.  Everything that the younger son did not take.  So, good for him that he stays and takes care of his own property.  Good for him that he does not squander it in reckless living.  How selfless is it, though, to stay and take care of your own interests?  Can you really claim that this makes you righteous?
            Now consider, in contrast to the two sons, the one father and his unimaginable compassion.  To divide the inheritance in the first place is essentially to declare himself dead for the sake of his sons.  This brings new meaning to the idea of loving your children to death.  But the father does any number of unbelievable things in the parable.  This parable is most often called “The Prodigal Son,” but perhaps it should be called “The Prodigal Father.”  Prodigal simply means reckless and wasteful.  And this is as good a description of the father’s love as it is of the son’s behavior.  Notice where the father is while his younger son is away in a far country.  He is every day watching and waiting, praying and worrying, straining his eyes down the long road into town, hoping against all hope that his wandering son will come home again… you know, the son that wished him dead.  And one day he sees, a long way off, a lone, gaunt figure stumbling down the road.  And he knows.  It is the son.  And here is where the father’s love makes him do the most ridiculous, prodigal things.  In his “compassion,” (the Greek word here basically means “feeling it in his bowels”) he hikes up his robes and runs.  Now, in our culture, some people run for fun, as silly as that is.  Not so in the ancient world.  No self-respecting man, much less of pillar of the community like this father, would run.  That would be demeaning.  To hike up your robes is like showing off your underwear.  It is embarrassing.  It is shameful.  But love knows no shame.  The father runs to the rebellious son, and before a word can be spoken, he embraces him and kisses him, a reckless show of love and affection, especially for a son who has disowned his father.  The son, remember, had resolved to work his way into the father’s house as a servant.  When he was hungry, tending pigs (unclean animals good Jewish boys should avoid!), longing to eat their slop, he thought maybe he could go home and work his sin off at the farm.  He even has a speech prepared.  And he gets part of the way through it when he meets his father.  He confesses his sin.  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).  But the father cuts him off.  There will be no promises of working off sin, as if you can work off the sin of wishing your father dead.  Here in the father’s house, there will only be forgiveness, restoration, and joy.  Put the best robe on him.  Put a ring on his finger.  Put shoes on his feet.  And kill the fatted calf.  Let’s eat and celebrate.  For there has been a death and resurrection.  This son was lost, but now he is found. 
            The older son was out in the fields while all this was taking place.  He hears the music and dancing.  A servant fills him in on the details.  And he is angry.  Not that his brother is back.  Perhaps not even that his father has been merciful.  But a party?  Really?  For this wretch?  Full restoration to his place in the family?  And the fatted calf… There are only two reasons you would slaughter the fatted calf: If the King is coming, or if the older son is getting married.  The older son knows he’s not getting married, and as far as he knows, the King has not come for a visit.  But this worthless rebel of a younger son has come home, and the father treats him like royalty.  Forget it.  I’m not going in.  Well, here is more reckless, prodigal love on the part of the father.  He goes out to his son.  Never would this happen.  When your son is being a snot, you don’t cater to his tantrum, especially not in the ancient world.  But the father goes out to him, and he begs.  Come in.  Celebrate.  All that is mine is yours.  This feast is for you, too.  And your brother has been restored.  It is a time for joy. 
            So, two sons, one father, one unimaginable, reckless, prodigal compassion for his rebellious sons.  The father, of course, is God.  More specifically, he is Jesus.  And the prodigal son is the tax collectors and sinners Jesus receives and with whom he eats.  The older son is the Pharisees and scribes.  In His prodigal love, Jesus gives Himself into death for both groups, for the forgiveness of their rebellion, and that they might have the inheritance of the Kingdom.  How Jesus loves sinners who disown Him and abuse His gifts.  He longs to receive them back into His embrace and claim them as His own.  He longs to put the best robe on them, the robe of Holy Baptism; the ring of faith to mark them members of His holy Bride, the Church; and as shoes for their feet putting on the readiness of the Gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15).  And how Jesus loves sinners who don’t know they are sinners; who think they are faithful, pious, good Christian folk; who in their self-righteousness fail to recognize that they need the same prodigal grace and love of Jesus that the “really bad” sinners need.  He longs to bring both into the Feast, where He is both Host and Meal.  Jesus is the King who comes and the elder Son who has arrived for His wedding.  And He is the Fatted Calf who is slaughtered and served on the altar for the celebration.  And He wants everyone to come in and sing and dance and partake and rejoice.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, rebellious sons, and Pharisees.  He wants them all.  He died for them all.  He lives for them all.  The bowels of His prodigal love ache for all.  He aches, He suffers, He longs for you.
            Yes, the parable, finally, is about you.  And about Jesus’ prodigal love for you.  The cross it the ultimate prodigal act of love that makes you His own.  He died to give you the inheritance, which is His Kingdom and Salvation.  Are you the younger son, who has wasted this inheritance in reckless living?  Are you a sinner, and you know it?  You cannot work your way into God’s favor.  Nothing you do can restore you to His House.  But thanks be to God, you don’t have to work your way out of the mess, nor are you rejected.  Jesus hikes up His skirts and runs to you to receive you back to Himself and wrap you back in your baptismal robes. 
            On the other hand, are you the older son who has always come to Church, Sunday after Sunday, doing what is expected of you, dressing, speaking, and voting the right way, giving your offering, and sometimes having a hard time recognizing your own sin in comparison with the prodigal?  Are you offended that you’re in the company of tax collectors and prostitutes and really bad sinners?  Repent.  And rejoice.  Jesus comes out to you in your self-righteous rebellion and He begs.  He sends his servants, the Christian pastors, to bid you come to the Feast.  And He Himself comes out to you.  All that He has is yours.  Come into the Feast.  Eat with the sinners.  Be the sinner that you are, and so be forgiven.  Come, sing and dance and eat.
            For this is the place of death and resurrection.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And you are baptized into Christ.  Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, in Christ, you are no longer dead, but alive.  You are no longer lost, but found.  And the angels in heaven rejoice.  And we on earth rejoice as the Lord gathers us sinners around the Fatted Calf, the Body and Blood of the Lord, given and shed for you, and for all, for the forgiveness of all of our sins.  The Father pours out His compassion on you.  The Son has been slaughtered, that you may eat and celebrate and be fully restored.  The Spirit calls you to come and eat, for the Feast is now ready.  Jesus sinners doth receive.  There is a place at His Table for you.  The Lord receives you and eats with you and feeds you with Himself.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.