Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, most unfortunately,
we currently live in a culture that appears to prize politeness above all else. The
chief, cardinal sin in 2023 is arguably being offensive, seeming callous and cold,
or ignoring the social mores and conventions about what is and isn’t allowed to be
said, suggested, or practiced in public. I don’t think I have to say very much at all
to make this point, do I? I imagine you all know precisely what I mean. It was
somewhat of a reality for me when I was up north in the Midwest, among all the
faultlessly courteous and uncontroversial Scandinavian stock, who’ve perfected
the Midwest nice, and it’s just as true here in the South as well with our well-
meaning privileging of hospitality no matter what. But now and again, we dread so
much hurting the feelings of others to the point that we from time to time even
shrink from the truth for the sake of avoiding an awkward situation or heaven
forbid so-called cancellation. We know deep down that it is wrong to keep quiet in
the face of evil and untruth, but sometimes we silence ourselves anyways simply
to stay safe, to remain well-respected. We keep our heads down. The corrupt
culture out there is doomed, we recognize this, and we do our best to protect our
own, our own household, our own church, but maybe we are also overly careful
not to rock the boat too much out there either.
I get it. I’m confident I do it too – we all do. We censor ourselves,
sometimes for the benefit of others, sometimes for our own. But the fact is, it is
often the case that the truth naturally, necessarily offends. Or every so often,
getting to the truth requires running the risk of offense and occasional outrage
even. And if for whatever reason you don’t believe me, then at least believe Jesus.
Take another brief look at our lesson today. This is another one of those difficult
narratives we’ve had an awful lot of lately – like the ones I seem to keep getting
tasked with this season as a brand-new pastor.
But that’s okay. I appreciate the challenge the lectionary editors have presented
me. And what needs to be said needs to be said regardless. So here it is.
The account of our Lord’s conversation with the Canaanite woman this
morning very likely upsets our modern, pristinely hospitable sensibilities.
Theologians and interpreters have labored for centuries to understand what exactly
is going on here in this text. Why does Jesus sound so harsh in our reading? Was
He initially unconcerned entirely with that pagan woman? Why does He appear to
write her off at first? Didn’t He care? Didn’t He come to redeem the whole human
race, pagans and Canaanites included? And isn’t He pretty much calling her a dog
at one point? That’s clearly not very nice, right? Did Jesus even sin in doing so, in
ostensibly insulting the woman? I’ve heard liberal mainline Protestants suggest as
much, as blasphemous and absurd as that notion is. Notwithstanding all that
nonsense though, one can more or less understand why this has turned out to be
such a complicated text for so many. What exactly is Jesus up to here? Why does
He seemingly test the woman in the way that He does? What’s the deal? What’s
Well let’s start here, dear faithful. Our God, the true God, the only God, is
all-merciful, and as St. John writes, He is love. God Himself is love. There is no
hint of ill-will in our God. He is purely good and absolutely benevolent. Having
said that though, nowhere in Holy Scripture does it ever say that our God is always
nice. Niceness is not in and of itself a virtue. Niceness is only a virtue when it is in
the service of truth. But sometimes, in order to get to the truth, to unearth what
really matters, being nice is nothing but a hindrance, a hurdle, a distraction and an
excuse. And all you have to do is take a quick stroll through the Old Testament to
find out that God wasn’t invariably what we would call nice. He wasn’t. He was
loving, He is loving, to be sure. Always. And just and merciful, that’s obvious and
significant. But true love also entails frequent tough love, a father’s love, a love
that runs the risk of hurt feelings, a love shaped by justice and formed by genuine,
comprehensive, prudent mercy. A well-thought-out mercy.
A mercy concerned with eternity. And Jesus, Who is God, in comprehensively,
prudently loving the Canaanite woman that day, He said what He said knowing it
might well have offended her. But God knows everything. He is omniscient, all-
knowing. He likewise knew that the risk of offense had a purpose. He well
understood that His momentary setting aside of niceness was in the service of
truth, a saving truth, a truth requisite, required for the sake of saving faith.
Jesus knew the faith of the Canaanite woman before she ever even uttered a
word. She came to Him, we are told, begging for His help, because her daughter
was demon-possessed. Now the disciples just wanted to send her away though,
right? Since they could not see nor sense her faith and they merely thought she
brought an unwanted disturbance to their day. But the very fact that she sought the
Lord for help is itself proof of her faith in Him. Her tears, her crying out, her
mother’s love manifested in seeking out the Savior were then evidence of her trust
in the true God. However, when our Lord saw this fledgling faith, He immediately
realized as well that it still needed to be strengthened, to be clarified, to be figured
out. It needed work. Faith always needs to be strengthened, it more often than not
needs a little work. And so, He said to the disciples, with her without question in
earshot: “Listen: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Or in
other words, He was saying this: “Woman, I am not responsible for you, nor for
any who are not of God’s chosen fold to whom I was explicitly sent.” Which is to
say, of the Hebrew fold. As a Canaanite – she was an outsider. And yet, she didn’t
listen to the Lord, did she? She didn’t take no for an answer. She continued to cry
out in desperation for help, a desperation that took on the form of worship, of
genuflection, St. Matthew tells us. “Lord, please help me. I need You. My
daughter needs you” Yet in reply, Jesus answered her with sternness and said,
“Dear woman, it is neither good nor right to take the children’s bread and to throw
it to the little dogs.” But that despairing Canaanite mother responded with a fierce
boldness, as is recorded in our Gospel, exclaiming: “Yes, Lord, you’re right. Yet
even the little doggies eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Those words, that confession of a faith marked by an unusual humility, a
modesty and meekness generally foreign and unknown to sinners, that profession
of faith was exactly what Jesus intended to tease out from her from the get-go. He
wanted to bring this incredible confession into human language, out in the open,
into the light, to make it spoken and public, real and fleshly, for both the woman’s
benefit, to strengthen her faith in actuality, to clarify it for her own good, but also
for the sake of the disciples nearby, who would then be able to see through this
admittedly awkward but eye-opening interaction that yes, the Son of God did
indeed come for the whole world, for both Jew and Gentile, chosen and heathen,
to redeem all flesh through His incarnate, holy, obedient life and sacrifice.
Profoundly, our Gospel reading continues with our Lord now commending
the Canaanite stranger: “And then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman,
great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire.’ And her demon-possessed
daughter was healed from that very hour.” From that moment. This is how God
works faith, beloved. Sometimes it is a miraculous conversion experience,
something that happens all at once. That’s been the case for many in church
history, for countless saints, Paul included at Damascus, and even my own
theological hobby horse and teacher, Johann Georg Hamann, his conversion was
similarly sudden. So it happens. But for most of us, faith takes time. And it can be
a challenge, even a pain, a struggle and something far from comfortable. I mean,
the law is rarely a welcomed thing for sinners. So the working of faith, the work of
the Holy Spirit within us, it can take an apparently roundabout route, a catechetical
detour, so to speak. It might have to be tested, teased out over time and through
however many tough trials. And maybe, or probably, that process entails hearing
stuff that by our common standards of decency and politeness would be regarded
as rude, considered harsh and uncaring. But the truth is, sometimes the truth is
rude, and harsh, and seemingly uncaring.
When we cling to our sinful nature, for instance, the truth in fact does not care for
us one bit, it is uncaring with respect to us insofar as we are sinners and inasmuch
as we aim to remain so in our impenitence, our lack of repentance. And yet the
truth ultimately wants to set us free from all that. Christ desires to liberate us from
the sinner’s fate. And not surprisingly, now and again He has to remind us that we
are, in reality, dogs, no better than dogs, in order to get the point across.
So that’s the first lesson, brothers and sisters. Expect the Word of God to
upset your sensibilities at times. It will happen and it will happen for your own
good, to wake you up from your sinner’s slumber, to force you to confront your
fallenness and your need for continual forgiveness. Anticipate that not everything
in the Christian life will be determined by politeness. That’s a lesson for our faith,
but it is additionally a lesson for how we are to live our lives in the world as well.
God pulls no punches with us. And in imitation of our Lord, we ought not pull
punches either with the sinful flesh and with the wicked world. We must stand up
for truth and reject falsehood at every turn. We are called to proudly defend our
faith and the whole counsel of God, even if that means hurting other’s feelings.
Yes, we should be gentle, as gentle as possible, as gentle as doves, which our Lord
encourages – and being patient and understanding is, of course, important and
nothing short of virtuous. But the need for understanding and patience never
justifies tolerating sin and untruth for any period of time. Our Lord further
encourages us to be as shrewd as serpents, remember? Instead of being
accommodating and capitulating, we must aim to be considerate but firm. And we
must be willing to cause offense if need be.
I mean, after all, we preach Christ crucified and nothing but – that which is
a stumbling block and which is itself the greatest offense and scandal in world
history. God Himself gives offense to the worldly-wise and to their sophisticated
sensibilities through the very nature of His means of redemption, through the
beaten and bloodied body of the Christ.
When we proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of God incarnate, we,
too, participate, in liturgical fashion, in this mighty offense and this serious
scandal. And yet, it is all in service of the truth, of God’s truth. For that reason,
proclaiming the scandal of truth, preaching what is folly to the world but wisdom
and the power of God to the faithful, this is not merely a justified effort but it is
moreover a sanctified duty. For us. So always be willing to listen in love, to even
walk alongside those struggling with sin and false teaching, but at the same time,
be ready, be good and ready to confront them with God’s Word, what may be
difficult for them to hear, although altogether necessary. Now I am in no way
whatsoever recommending that you should be eager to offend anyone. Not at all.
But yes, you very much should be willing to do so, if Holy Scripture demands that
of you. And more than anything else though, you ought to be ready and willing for
Holy Scripture to disturb and upset you yourself. Because it will, because it
should. Because it is right, and time and time again, we are wrong and wrong-
headedly set in our wrong ways.
Here’s another lesson for you, though. Not only should you be like our
Lord in His willingness to confront fallenness with an unabashed, audacious
articulation of truth, but you should furthermore be like the Canaanite woman in
our reading today as well. God reminded her of her sinner’s status, of her
unworthiness, her undesirability and littleness. And in response, what did she do?
She persisted and kept pestering Him. She kept begging Him for His salvation.
Dear saints, we are allowed to be bold with our God. To pester Him in piety.
That’s what this anonymous saintly woman teaches us. We are expected to be bold
with the Almighty God. We ought to never act entitled, to be certain, because we
don’t deserve any goodness and mercy from Him. And we surely should never
ever act entitled when it comes to His grace and the means through which He
delivers it to us, for example, in the Holy Supper. Because in reality, we have done
nothing at all to merit His grace.
However, when we recognize this fact in repentance and when we come to Him in
humility, like that blessed Canaanite woman, then yes, we are wholly justified in
asking Him boldly for what we need and require.
He has promised to show mercy on the penitent. And even though we know
good and well that He keeps His promises without our pitiable promptings, we still
have every right to remind Him regularly of those promises, to hold Him to them
whenever, in prayer and petition. Look anywhere in Holy Scripture. All over the
Old Testament, the psalms especially. The Word of God is chock-full of instances
of believers confidently demanding love and concern and providence from their
God with no shame. Be blatant with your God. Don’t be afraid to say what you
mean. The cross and Christ’s misery and His pangs permit it. Demand what the
Lord has promised you. I give you further permission, as your shepherd. Come to
your Lord as a little doggie, begging solely for the scraps from His table. But
come just as much with boldness, with fearlessness, knowing that those scraps
belong to you, not because you have deserved them, but because your Master has
promised them to you in spite of your being undeserving. They are your
inheritance, after all, yours to claim. Not in an entitled way, of course. Entitlement
consists in assuming we have a claim to something that we don’t. But when
something is given to us in particular, promised to us, bestowed upon us, then by
all means, we may ask for it dauntless and without a trace of fear, guilt, reticence
And a final quick lesson – three in one today. You guys are lucky to have
me. This Gospel reading should also be a reminder to us here that we have no
monopoly on salvation. God died nailed to a tree, hung like a macabre, unsightly
beast in a slaughterhouse. The Creator of the universe dangled like a piece of meat
before His scoffers and mockers. If you want to talk about offense, nothing could
ever be more offensive, more disgusting, derogatory, and disrespectful than that.
God became flesh, a man, only to be brutally butchered, His holy flesh flagellated
and flayed by none other than those He was sent to save.
Our sinful nature and what it cost Him, a divine death, is itself an offense – an
offense to God, the most objectionable offense ever given. We fell from grace and
He very well could have left us in damnation, in our sad, wretched state those
many, many centuries ago. But He didn’t. He sent His Son to suffer all offense, to
bear all hurt feelings, to endure all unkindness and cruelty, to withstand the very
height or rather depth of the inhospitable, in order to deliver us from ourselves and
from the wages of our pitiful sin. The merits of the cross are gifted to us, salvation
is afforded us. But it doesn’t solely belong to us. The crucifixion at Calvary was
for all mankind, every man, woman, and child. Christ’s Passion was for the
redemption of all people. For the Jew and for the Greek, for the chosen and for the
heathen, for the disciples and for the Canaanite woman.
Apart from faith, from grace and mercy, you and I are not any better
whatsoever than every other sinner out there right now, period. God and God
alone has made us worthy. Therefore, in response to that mercy and truest love,
take the message – I urge you, take the Good News of undeserved deliverance, and
profess it to the world, friends, with audacity. All us flea-covered dogs, us sin-
ridden mutts, are kindly invited to huddle under the dinner table for the Master’s
plenteous scraps. So go out and call others to this generous table. They’re hungry
out there, dear flock. Desperate, despairing, and downtrodden. They need our Lord
as much as we do. Even if they don’t realize it yet, they, too, long for Him. So
speak the Gospel, whenever you get the chance. Give Him to them. Don’t be
greedy. And don’t waste any time either. Do not hesitate with what concerns
eternal fate. There is plenty of room at this rail for any and all in need of hope and
promise. And really, the only things that should ever offend us here within these
walls are empty pews. All thanks and praise for every bit of mercy shown us that
we never once earned be unto our gracious God, with all the glory, forever and
ever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear brothers
and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in his masterful Lectures on Romans, our
forefather in the faith, Dr. Martin Luther, makes this profound and pertinent statement – he
writes: “Our nature has been so deeply curved in upon itself on account of the viciousness of
original sin that it not only twists and turns the very finest gifts of God in upon itself and
enjoys them evilly (as is evident in the case of legalists and hypocrites), indeed, it even uses
God Himself to achieve these crooked aims, but it moreover seems to be altogether ignorant of
this very fact, that in acting so iniquitously, so perversely, and in such a depraved way, it is
even seeking God for its own sinful sake. Thus the prophet Jeremiah says in chapter 17: ‘The
heart is perverse above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ In other
words,” Luther says, “the heart is so curved in on itself that no man, no matter how holy, can
even begin to understand it.” Now St. Augustine in a previous century referred to this precise
wicked tendency on the part of sinners as the homo incurvatus in se – the Latin phrase for: “a
man curved in on himself.” Dear faithful, our sin is so inherent, so ingrained and entrenched,
that we take even the best of things given to us by our Father in heaven, those good and perfect
gifts from above, and we curve them inward, taint them with our selfish cravings, and warp
them by our impulse toward pure narcissism. And as Luther confesses, we do this even with
God Himself. It’s true. And it’s shameful. And it is our reality as fallen creatures.
I mention all this today because our Gospel lesson picks up where we left off last week.
After our Lord lavished His overabundant care and concern, His love, upon the crowds in
healing their sick and fattening them with a miraculous quantity of carbs and freshwater
protein, Jesus was then forced to retreat to a desolate mountainside for the sake of some
semblance of peace and respite from the overexcited multitudes. Now St. Matthew does not
record this particular part, but St. John does in his gospel account, where he writes that right
after Jesus fed those thousands, He immediately sensed the devious machinations, the
mischievous scheming of their collective heart and He knew that the crowds intended to
capture Him by force and claim Him as their king…
– an involuntary bread king, as it has been so called, apprehended against His own will. You
see, they wanted to bottle this bounteous miracle, the excess of free bread and an unearned
meal, and keep it for themselves in utter self-service and self-conceit, even if it meant
kidnapping the Messiah in order to so, to have Him on hand, ready to perform this trick at their
every wish. The incurvatus in se on full display – taking the best gifts and curving them inward
– even the gift of God incarnate and the bread of life. This is man’s nature, I’m afraid to admit.
And so, may this all be a warning to us here today. The feast of the altar here at Bethlehem, for
instance, the miraculous feeding still going on, while it is for us, and for our forgiveness, it
does not belong to us – and neither does our Lord, not His body nor His blood. He does not
belong to us. Rather, we belong to Him – we are His body – we are His possession. And our
presence at this table, at His table, the Lord’s table, is by His invitation and His invitation
alone. We have to bear this in mind frequently, friends, lest we, too, curve the Holy Supper
But that evening, two millennia ago, our Lord, in spite of what had happened, He held
no grudge against His would-be-kidnappers with their inwardly-curved hearts. Instead, He
merely retired once more to the side of the mountain to pray in quiet. How I wish we knew
what exactly that holy prayer was like… Yet our narrative swiftly shifts elsewhere, doesn’t it?
Out onto the lake where the disciples were sailing toward Capernaum. A strong wind began to
blow, we are told, with the boat greatly buffeted by the waves. It isn’t stated explicitly in our
given passage this morning, and I’m no sailor, to be certain, but Sts. Mathew and John’s
accounts imply some degree of danger involved with the ship on those precarious waters. As it
happens, in St. Mark’s telling of the story, we clearly find out that the disciples were in fact in
distress when out on the waves. And Jesus, their Lord, at this point no doubt thoroughly
exhausted, terribly tired, being fully man and subject to the sheer infirmity of a man’s body,
and having only recently narrowly escaped capture by the exact same crowd He suffered to
help, Jesus nevertheless abandoned His much-deserved solitude and rest and He went out to
assist His beloved disciples in their distress. St. John a bit later on, right before the Passion
narrative, he records that our Lord, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them
unto the very end. How true and beautiful these poetic words are.
And how true they were that night, in the wee hours of the morning, before dawn, when the
disciples feared for their safety out at sea in a tiny boat rocked back and forth by the
unseasonably fierce waves.
Our Lord loved His own, He still loves His own. He headed out to the disciples in the
darkness of night, walking on the water, as we hear. This was a marvel to them, of course, a
mystery, a miracle. But to us, it is nothing surprising really. Our Lord is God, Jesus is God, we
know this, and that early morning prior to dawn, God incarnate, in the flesh, decided to stroll
along the waves of the very sea He once made, like a man without a care in the world, but like
a God with every care in the world, He sauntered atop the wind-rushed water. And the
disciples, seeing a figure roaming seemingly carefree on this now-savage sea of Galilee, they
cried out in complete terror. St. Matthew reports they were worried it was a ghost out there.
They fretted. They’d already seen plenty of miracles, but how quickly they forgot and
faithlessly thought it was but a strange, spooky specter out on the dimly-lit water.
Our Lord turned to them straightaway though, He began to approach that humble vessel
of a ship and He urged them: “Dear friends, be of good cheer, it is I: be not afraid.” Such
words of comfort and consolation. But St. Peter, the most extroverted and opiniated of the
bunch, was determined at that time to test the Lord though: “If it is you, Master, bid me to
come out to you on the water – only then will I believe.” And Jesus responded, with patience,
in His surely soft but confident voice: “So come to me then, my son. Come on.” And Peter
stepped out of the boat, began to walk, like His Lord and Teacher, on top of the waves, against
all reason and common sense and science. However, a ways past His Lord, yonder in the
distance, he saw the ferocious wind nearby. And he worried. He was afraid, anxious. He
stumbled. He began to sink. His trust faltered and his body was soon submerged. And yet
immediately God’s hand was right there, yanking him from a watery death. God grasped His
hand firmly, saved Peter from himself and from his foolish fate, and then asked He with a
divine sincerity: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt? Why do you doubt?” And they
both thereafter took shelter in the little boat and headed on, with the wind dying down, having
been calmed by its very Creator. All the disciples then worshipped Jesus, we are told, saying:
“Truly you are the Son of God.” And that is our story this morning.
Our God is so patient, isn’t He? Merciful and understanding. And still, how often we,
His children, doubt Him. Why do we doubt, brothers and sisters? Why do we fail to fear, love,
and trust in our God? Why do we take the gift of faith and curve it, twist and turn it, distort it
into doubt? How many times has He saved us from a figurative watery death just like Peter?
How many times has He healed us and fed us and wiped tears and snot from our messy faces
like a loving, selfless mother, and protected us from dangers we justly deserved? But we
nonetheless doubt Him. Lord, we believe but help our unbelief!
I do wonder though: what does your doubt and unbelief look like, friend? That’s the
question I pose to you as individual Christians this day. We all doubt. But what does yours
look like? Does it manifest itself in a general lack of prayer, for example? Do you pray every
day? Or does your doubt take the disfigured and discontented shape of a morning routine
without a single moment of spoken gratitude for your Father in Heaven and for His endless
generosity? Or is it however many days a week you go without once cracking a Bible – is that
what it looks like for you personally? Or maybe you constantly cling to your pet sins? Maybe
they are more of a companion to you than God’s gracious forgiveness. Or heaven forbid,
maybe you actually doubt His forgiveness. Perhaps you embrace not the pleasure of present
sins but the self-pity of ruminating over sins from years past – from wrongdoings and offenses
long since forgiven and forgotten. Do you feel unworthy of His absolution? The absolution I
speak to you here, do you have confidence in it? Or do you neglect to confess what you know
good and well His once for all sacrifice was more than sufficient to satisfy? What secrets still
lay hidden underneath the floorboards of your life? And do they lead you to doubt and distrust
and disbelieve? If so, know this: nothing is hidden from God. You are not invisible or veiled
from the One Who sees everything. St. Paul writes in the Epistle to the Hebrews that not a
thing in creation is hidden from God’s sight. Not a moment of your life is concealed from the
One Who made you, Who formed you in the womb. So what use is there in doubting Him?
Why dispute His forgiveness? He wants to forgive you – and He is ready to forgive you. So get
over yourself already. He has purchased you, paid your price. All that’s left to do is confess
and receive His grace with thanksgiving.
Or maybe you doubt because sometimes, when all is quiet and you’re alone, you long so
much simply to see Him, you yearn deeply to hear Him, to witness His face and listen to the
sweetness of His voice, but you are unfortunately met with nothing but silence, a blank stare
with nothing staring back. Your death, like all our deaths, it is imminent, friend, and you know
it, don’t you? You feel it in your bones, its impending reality, and as your mortality becomes
more and more apparent and palpable to you with the passing of days, weeks, months, and
years, maybe you worry and fret that at that last moment, at this life’s end, that there will be
nobody at all there to take your hand and to save you from the darkness of fading out and
fading away, from nothing but the nothingness. We all have those moments. I would be lying
to you if I were to suggest that they weren’t just as much a concern for clergymen, as if we
were somehow immune to the occasional dark night of the soul.
When you really get down to it, we are all of such little faith. But that’s okay, dear
faithful. Our God’s saving hand, thankfully it is not dependent on the little faith we can muster
but on the sure faith He freely gives to us – on the faith worked in us by the Holy Ghost, His
faith, which can indeed move mountains. If you doubt, if you need to hear God speak to you in
order to know with absolute certainty that He is there with you always, then all you have to do
is open your Bible. Read the Word of God out loud. God works through means, I say it so
often and will say it once again – He works solely through means, and God is present with us
in and through these things. When you read the Bible aloud, yours is the voice of God – just as
mine is when I read His Gospel to you in this service and preach His Word. Or do you want to
see God? Is that it? Is that your desire? Do you desperately wonder what exactly He looks like?
Well then open your eyes, open them wide, gaze upon the host and the chalice here presently,
because that is our God, that’s what He looks like for us now, the One Who not only bears
Himself before your human sight, but offers Himself up onto your tongues and into your souls.
Or do you ever think to yourself: God could never forgive this specific sin of mine. It is
too great. Neither can I confess it before a minister of the Lord. He wouldn’t understand. No, I
am not deserving of God’s salvation. I am not worthy of being redeemed. There can be no
room in the kingdom for someone like me. Should this ever be your thinking, then I beg you, I
implore you, quiet your doubt, distress, and dismay for just a moment.
For one brief moment, try your best to stifle it – and think instead of your baptism. Remember
your Holy Baptism, friend. You once sank in those waters and were then yanked out by the
hand of God. You died with Christ, were buried with Him, so how dare you now doubt the fact
that you shall be raised with Him, too. Hear this sermon – hear me preaching – heed God’s
Word from this pulpit – I am preaching you out of the grave of those sins. You are free. For in
fact, you have already been raised. In a very real sense, you are already resurrected. You are a
new man, a new woman, in your Holy Baptism and in the Word proclaimed to you. So repent
once again and believe, confess and be forgiven. And trust it. Trust the words of absolution.
And then let the past go. Shake it off. And if the devil won’t leave you alone about all the
wrong you’ve done, then all you must do is just keep pointing that luckless loser to this here
font, where your death and your resurrection once became a reality and remain so. Hush the
satanic foe, who, we must acknowledge, is so cunning at times that he makes his own hellish,
deceitful voice sound an awful lot like our own. But silence him, won’t you? Because he
deserves nothing save our disdain and derision.
Here’s the thing, dear children: you are saved. You are redeemed. Period. You are
preached right out of that grave. It’s spoken and done. And you will soon be fed with God’s
own body and blood. You get to hear your God speak within these walls weekly and are
invited to witness His form and taste His mercy at this rail. So do not be afraid of Him, nor
should you fear yourself and your sins. Only believe. Take courage and believe. Do not doubt.
But trust your Lord and His goodness. Trust that He loves you and will love you unto the very
end and beyond. You are a sinner, this is true and unavoidable, and you will remain a sinner
until your final earthly breath. Regrettably, you will continue to curve even the most perfect
gifts of God inward, even God Himself, to your own selfish advantage. That is our despicable
nature. But our God, He holds no grudges, fortunately. When He speaks His forgiveness, that
forgiveness won on a cross by unimaginable affliction and grief, He well means it. And when
He forgives you, your sins are blotted out, it’s not just talk – they are forever removed from
you as far as the east is from the west, as the psalmist, King David, once sang. God loves you
despite all your consistent mistakes and your fallen nature. Yes, you deserve eternal wrath.
Yes, you deserve that harrowing justice long ago meted out on an innocent Son at Calvary.
But His death for you, in your place, in your stead, has taken all that away – it’s gone now –
His passionate suffering has atoned for all that you rightly earned. Our Lord, the One
ransomed, now gladly captures, kidnaps the sinner’s fate from you, and as a free gift, God
gives you His grace, mercy, life and salvation in return. What an exchange! So be not afraid of
Him. Come out onto the water to greet Him. Ignore the waves of this present life, that’s only
the devil kicking and screaming in defeat until the Last Day, like the pathetic baby he is. But
look to your God instead, keep your eye on Him, as He’s walking out on the water to you,
coming to you this day, making up the distance Himself, for you, in order to safeguard you
until that time when He at last takes you home for good.
There is no reason to doubt, dear faithful. But be of good cheer always – rejoice at all
times – for your salvation lies outside of you. Trust me in that. And remember your baptism
every single morning, look to the Blessed Sacrament here where the true God resides, and put
your faith in His Word. Again the prophet Jeremiah inquires: “The heart is perverse above all
things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Well God does, beloved. He
understands. It doesn’t matter that you cannot fathom the iniquity of your own blackened heart
and its miserable abyss. Because He already has, and for the sake of love, for the sake of
mercy, He has reckoned your weak, pitiful little heart righteous on account of the merits of His
only-begotten Son, the Christ. God knows you. He sees you. That’s what matters. And He still
desires you, notwithstanding all your many blemishes – He longs for you – each one of you,
He wills your personal salvation. Therefore, do not doubt Him any longer. But come and kneel,
in faith, in worship, receive the body and blood of your Lord, what cannot ever in truth be
doubted. Maybe your minds wander here and there in this service, but your senses, your eyes
and tongues, your catechized bodies, deep down they good and well recognize Who God is
after all these years. So come on down, be forgiven one more time. This meal of redemption
and supper of salvation is just for you, prepared for you, you blessed sinner and saint. Our Lord
Jesus Christ, He is not a ghost, nor a specter faintly felt. No, He is really and truly here, right
now, soon again in the flesh, with us gathered on this ark of faith, the ship of this life – all
thanks to the Holy Ghost. What a miracle that is. And Jesus calls to you now like He once
called to Peter: “Come to Me, My child. Come taste and see.” In His Name. Amen.
Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear brothers
and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, hear these words once more: “Then Jesus
ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, He
looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the
disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.
And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” Here endeth the
Gospel. Now friends, if I were to ask you all what the most important aspect of this miracle
narrative is, or where you might find the true significance and deepest meaning in the story
of the feeding of the five thousand, I wonder what you would perhaps say.
Well, my guess is—and I think it’s a pretty good guess—you would probably tell me
that it has something to do with the very nature of the miracle itself. You might bring up the
fact that this Gospel narrative speaks to the power of our God, it attests to the ability of
Christ to work wonders and to feed thousands with such an insignificant quantity. And you
all very likely already know that many, many more than just five thousand were actually
fed, right? The five thousand number only refers to the men in attendance. Scripture tells us
there were women and children there as well though. So for all we know, this story should
maybe be called the feeding of the twenty-thousand. That many hungry mouths fed with
five loaves and two fish, an exceptionally meager portion, to say the least. So, chances are
you’d mention all that stuff. And I’d get your point. For sure. The miracle itself seems, on
the face of it, to be what matters the most here. The taking and breaking of five loaves and
two little fish and turning them, by preternatural and divine means, into a meal for the
equivalent of nearly a third of Johnson City, TN. That is extraordinary, miraculous,
genuinely inexplicable and simply wondrous.
But… I would not agree with you. No I do not believe that that is what is most
important about this text. It is important, crucial even, but it’s not what really matters
foremost, above all else. Really, friends, the most noteworthy feature of this story is bound
up with a single solitary word. Verse 20, in the ancient Greek text, ἐχορτάσθησαν.
In the English translation, it boils down to three little words in the whole of the lesson: “they
were satisfied.” Satisfaction. What a heavy word, friends, a word with so many
connotations. But you know what, really, this word satisfaction, as broad and loaded with
plenty of meaning as it is, it does not even begin to fully convey what that Greek word truly
A better translation for ἐχορτάσθησαν would probably be: “they were satiated.” Or
better yet: “they were fattened.” That’s what the word usually means. It refers to one being
filled to the point of overindulgence, being gorged even. It means one is maximally
satisfied, comprehensively gratified, and straight up fattened up like a grazing beast of the
field or French foi gras goose. That’s what it means, dear faithful. And that is what matters
the most here. Not only does our God work wonders, miracles, feats that contradict and
supersede the very laws of nature, not only does He demonstrate His power and might in
this marvel, but He moreover provides through it in an over-abundance. He did not just feed
the twenty-or-so thousand. He satiated them. He fattened them. He supplied them with more
than they needed or even asked for. And remember, there were twelve whole basketsful left
over. His bountiful providence is nothing short of overflowing. My cup runneth over, as the
psalmist says, right? And baskets, too, floweth over in our Gospel reading this morning.
That’s the real miracle if you ask me.
Of course, this is not the first time we see our Lord lavishing excess and plentitude
upon His creatures in extra-ordinary ways. There was the wedding feast at Cana, remember?
The very first miracle. Do you guys recall in that Gospel narrative what the governor of the
feast—the so-called feastmaster—what he says after he tastes that wine Jesus miraculously
furnishes? He says this, according to the New King James Version, anyhow, he says: “Every
man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the
inferior wine. But you have kept the good wine until now!” He exclaims this in utter
surprise. But here’s the thing, friends, again we have a little word that, for whatever reason,
is unfortunately softened in translation. μεθυσθῶσιν in the Greek does not merely denote
and indicate that one has “drunk well.” It means instead—more clearly and with all the
provocative implications considered here—that one has become a little intoxicated, a bit
inebriated. Frankly, it means, at the very least, that one is sort of buzzed.
From what we can tell based on what is documented in St. John’s Gospel chapter 2 and the
nature of wedding feasts at that time and location, some of the guests were more than likely
already good and soused when Jesus provided them with more wine. And that, in my view,
is again the point of the miracle: not that Jesus can turn water into wine, as remarkable as
that is, but that He does so in an excessive, overabundant, even exorbitant way.
That’s our Lord though, a God of sheer extravagance. Now, this interpretation, this
reality, I mean to say, I am sure that it upsets many of the Baptists and other semi-legalists
in our midst. But it is nevertheless true, according to Holy Scripture. It is fixed in the
inspired, inerrant Bible alongside, to be sure, strict admonitions against consistent
drunkenness and being consumed by the bottle with all the debauchery that entails. So
obviously moderation on the part of the recipient of the gift is just as critical to keep in
mind. But the point here is this: God incarnate fattened the five-thousand men along with
their families that day on the grassy lawn with just five loaves and two fish. And He gave an
already-tipsy matrimonial drinking party approximately one thousand bottles of an
otherworldly wine with which to continue their merriment and chase their cheer. That is
what really matters. That Christ, our God enfleshed, lavishes His care and concern and His
benevolent, beneficent, bounteous and unsparing consideration upon His creation. And
don’t we even here similar language today in our Gospel lesson? Again it reads: “When
Jesus went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them.” He went on to
heal their sick, but more than that, He thereafter gratified and gorged them, overfilled,
overindulged them, to the tune of twelve basketsful leftover, you know, the first century
equivalent of a Southern grandma’s fridge filled to the brim with Country-Crock butter
containers overflowing with all variety of leftover meals ready for warming over. What an
authentic and profoundly meaningful miracle.
And as you all well know, this wasn’t a one-or two-time thing either. Jesus satiated,
satisfied many during His earthly travels and ministry. And He still does so today, all these
centuries later. What do you think the means of grace are all about?
The mysteries over which I have been called to be a steward, per St. Paul’s words in 1
Corinthians 4 – and words proven out in our text this morning by the fact that the disciples
themselves distributed the meal that evening long ago on the grassy lawn – these mysteries
are the epitome of a satisfying feast. This satiation and spiritual fattening is still going on
right here, right now, in Christ’s holy church. But bear this in mind, beloved: He does not
just feed us spiritually. But He does so through physical, fleshly, material means, through
concrete, actual, tactile things, through real bread and real wine which you can touch and
smell and taste and see. And think about that bread for a moment, brothers and sisters, that
bread which is, when consecrated up here, the very bread of life, on which our Lord says we
are to feast for the sake of abounding life in John chapter 6. And don’t forget, as well, that
that exhortation in John 6 was made in the context of – guess what? The same miraculous
feeding of the thousands. And so our Lord continues to furnish us with this precise bread of
life – and with wine, not unlike at Cana. So what I am trying to suggest is this: there is a
clear connection between the feeding of the thousands—and even that wedding party in
John 2—and the Blessed Sacrament of this altar.
And I ask you: have you wondered why in the feeding of the thousands it was five
loaves of bread? It is entirely rare in Holy Scripture that a number has no apparent meaning
at all. Now I’m not suggesting we ought to go overboard with numerology or anything like
that, but numbers in the Bible often do carry quite a bit of significance. And our Lord fed
the thousands, maybe even twenty-thousand, with five loaves of bread. Five loaves – kind of
like the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. As far as I am concerned, that is
the significance of the number of loaves – they signify the senses, they stand for the very
senses through which our God satisfies, sates, and satiates us, His children. We are not
Puritans, dear faithful. Neither are we Pietists, nor Gnostics or enthusiasts of any sort. We
recognize and confess the goodness of this creation and that God works salvation through
creation. I mean, God Himself so condescended to become a part of creation for our sake,
right? For our redemption. The flesh is not altogether evil and solely a hindrance, but it is,
when so ordained by God, no less than the vehicle for our deliverance. And this is made
abundantly clear in how grace comes to us now: through the senses, through water, through
the Word spoken into our ears, though bread and wine witnessed, consumed, and digested.
Our God is not a God of asceticism and austerity but one of extravagance. That is our
teaching – and let us give thanks for it. We are not only filled but downright stuffed. Our
faith is a faith of bountiful promise and providence, of grace upon grace, and of
thanksgiving – and by all means, do draw a connection between that fact and the indulgence
we partake in every fourth Thursday in November. It is, after all, a fitting connection to
Now it goes without saying though that the Christian life is not always an easy trip. It
ain’t a perpetual party, so to speak. The feast is not all that we face here below. We suffer,
too, don’t we? We suffer like all other sinners suffer, from the ramifications of the Fall in
this present life, from hunger, deprivation, and want. We are not immune to the pains of this
earthly existence. There is enough heartache to go around, as well as hurt feelings, there is
cancer and Alzheimer’s, betrayal and divorce, loneliness, anxiety and depression, confusion
and a sense of aimlessness in both youth and old age, and there is loss. But the church is not
a place of perfection, and neither is it a club for those who have it all together and figured
out. This church, Christ’s body, it’s a hospital, a ward for the wayward. We come here not
to prove ourselves to the world nor to anyone else but to lay out flat on a gurney in our
weakest, darkest moments before the Great Physician Himself, the very Son of God, the
only begotten Son of God. We cannot neglect the fact that our Gospel reading today begins
with our Lord’s compassion pouring forth in the healing of the sick, the distressed, the
diseased and demon-possessed. But here’s another fancy old Greek word for you, as I might
as well give them to you in threes, which is a holy number. ἐσπλαγχνίσθη. That’s the word
we find in verse 14 in the original text for our Lord’s being moved to compassion. Yet
again, the translation does not do justice to the fullest meaning here. This word means,
rather viscerally, that Jesus was moved in His inward parts, literally perturbed in His
intestines, with pity and with love.
In other words, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was sick to His stomach, altogether
nauseous, with an aching deep down, at the suffering of the sick. He was sick from the
reality of the sick. He was punched in the gut by witnessing the consequences of sin on His
beloved creation – witnessing what was never meant to happen from the first day of
creation. And so, He healed them that day, out of love, pity, and compassion, He returned
them to wholeness. And He heals us still. But here’s the beauty of it all: now, for us, today,
our healing and our being satiated and satisfied and overfilled in feasting on mercy, these
once separate things are now made one, they are united – they happen through the very
same means, the exact same means of grace, Word and Sacrament, preaching, teaching,
baptizing, forgiving, and consuming the flesh and blood of our God, these are what heal us
and what satisfy and feed and gratify us. Jesus says in John chapter 6: “I am the living bread
which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the
bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” This flesh
was offered up at Golgotha, that vile place of the skull, and it is still handed out, handed
over, two-thousand years later, delivered into your begging hands and onto your needful
tongues, at this altar right here in the hills of Tennessee.
It is a miracle that Christ turned water into wine, over a thousand bottles worth, and
that He fed thousands upon thousands with a mere five loaves and two fish. But an even
greater miracle is His continual presence with us and His constant, unrelenting providing for
us, particularly in this magnificent mean. This is the feast of victory for our God. A victory
over sin, death, the devil, the world, ultimately, it is just as much a triumph over cancer and
Alzheimer’s and sadness and sorrow in the consummation of the age. But most importantly,
it is a victory for us, for our sake, for our forgiveness.
In a few moments, our Lord’s own words will be chanted over common bread and
wine, the same kind eaten and drunk every day all over the world. But this bread, this wine,
is so much more. That is why we elevate it in the service. To lift it high and show you that
in this bread and in this wine God really and truly and undeniably dwells. I elevate the host
and the chalice so that you might gaze upon them with faithful adoration, knowing that soon
this meal will satisfy your senses, and fill your belly, and nourish your soul forever.
Lutheran churches across the globe celebrate this same meal this morning.
We commune with them, with the whole church on earth and in heaven, with all the sainted
and faithful departed. Therefore, it is entirely correct to say that Jesus, our Lord, is still
feeding thousands, millions even, surely billions by now, every single Sunday.
The miracle continues. The mystery remains. So come now and kneel, dear flock,
take and eat, take and drink, the bread of life, the Sacrificial Lamb of God Who takes away
the sins of the world, including and especially your own. Be forgiven of your failures and
your faults in this supper. Be satisfied by this here sumptuous spread. Be enticed, lured,
charmed to pure Christian merriment by Your loving yet justly jealous God. And be
strengthened unto life everlasting, I invite you. All thanks and praise for this most
providential banquet of deliverance and meal of mercy be unto God, with all the glory, forever and ever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Our sermon text this morning is the lectionary reading from St. Paul’s epistle to the
church in Rome.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear brothers
and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we have an extraordinarily rich tradition of
hymnody in the history of our Evangelical Lutheran church. The best, in fact. And I think
that bold claim can be easily, skillfully borne out. One need only peruse our present hymnal
for proof of its veracity. I mean, the Lutheran chorales, right – c’mon. It doesn’t get any
better than that. They are without equal. But I tell you what, my favorite hymn of all, my
most beloved hymn, it wasn’t even written by a Lutheran, I have to confess. Not even. And
actually, for whatever reason, it did not make the cut for the Lutheran Service Book
currently in our pews. You won’t find it in there. Which is a pity. But it was in the old
Lutheran hymnal some of you may have grown up with, the affectionately so-called TLH,
that glorious hymn book – and we actually sang it together just now. Hymn 533 – Nearer
My God to Thee. Now this isn’t a theologically dense hymn, to say the least. No, it doesn’t
share the same conceptual depth as the unparalleled hymnody of Martin Luther, Phillip
Nicolai, Paul Gerhardt, and so many others. And to tell you the truth, it wasn’t even written
by an orthodox Christian either, but by, of all people, a nineteenth century Unitarian by the
name of Sarah Fuller Flower Adams.
Yet none of that really matters, if you ask me. It is nevertheless a Christian hymn that
truly moves those who really hear it. Particularly when set to that of old tune Bethany we
know so well. It is so simple. It is so unambiguous. It is almost childlike. It is childlike, in
fact. It expresses in very plain terms that blessed hope that only a child could ever rightly
articulate without all the pretensions of the supposed maturity of adulthood. There is a
reason, dear friends, why the string ensemble on the Titanic reportedly played this very
hymn as that poor vessel sank along with over fifteen hundred souls in the North Atlantic in
the spring of 1912.
At first the ship’s ensemble played lighter, less serious melodies, so the story goes, that they
wouldn’t cause any more of panic than the iceberg itself already had. But when reality
finally sat in, when their collective fate became clear to most, this unadorned little hymn on
violin and cello is what they turned to for comfort – right before the end, as they met their
Our faith, friends, as mysterious as it may be, and as profound as its theology no
doubt is, our faith is not really all that complicated though. Brothers and sisters, unless our
dear Lord returns first, every one of us is going to die someday. I know we don’t really like
to think about that overly often or bring it up in polite conversation. Not in the twenty-first
century, anyhow – not in America. Even us Christians, we don’t wish to dwell on it too
much – because that would just be morbid and morose. I get it. But that doesn’t change
anything though. Denial doesn’t do away with the consequences of the fall. That’s not how
it works. Until the arrival of the Last Day and the resurrection of the body promised us, we
come from dust and earth and to dust and earth we’re gonna return. We will all keep
growing older and frailer. And one of these days, hopefully far off when we are all of a ripe
old age, a day will come though when we will each close our eyes and go to sleep, in the
eyes of this world, forever, yet in reality but for a little while. We will pass from this vale of
tears for good. That is our fate. That is our future. Six of our closest friends and family will
lower us into a bed below six feet of God’s green earth, our bodies will be buried beneath
common dirt, and we will be, for a time, elsewhere. That is where our lives are headed.
That’s the reality. It is. And we have to be honest about it.
You know, I used to sing this hymn to my eldest daughter, Freyja Lynn, every night
when she was in the womb. And then after that too, for quite a long time. I don’t know that
she really recognizes the words even now, but she certainly knows the tune. She clings to it
in some sense. And the other day, as I was gathering hymns for this Sunday, I sang this one
to her on the couch for a moment. And lured by its familiarity, she hopped up on my lap and
she listened closely, and began to sing along in her understanding of how it’s supposed to
And as we sat there together, tears started welling up in my tired-for-a-thirty-three-year-old
eyes. You know, I don’t cry very often, unfortunately. I bemoan that fact. I do. I don’t weep
as much as I wish I could – or as much as a good Christian man really should. But that
genuinely brought tears to my eyes. Because as we sang together, I was reminded that no
matter what I do, I cannot protect my daughter nor save her from the same fate we all face.
It is the same heart-wrenching realization I had the very moment she was born and opened
her big blue eyes – a realization about the finale of her worldly destiny. Unless Jesus comes
back first—and I pray, come soon, Lord—unless He comes back first, my daughters, too,
will someday fall asleep, they will die to this world. That is the hardest thing for a father to
ever have to come to terms with. But that’s life – that is a part of our story, as sinners, as
much as hurts to admit.
But for those of us who have faith, there is more to the story, thank heavens. This life
is not all there is and this death is not the end, as we know. Our hope lies beyond, in what
we do not yet see, as St. Paul poetically puts it in our reading this morning. “For I consider,”
he says, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that
is to be revealed to us… for now, though, we do groan inwardly as we await the redemption
of our bodies.” And as the apostle goes on to declare, it is in that very hope and waiting and
anticipation and expectation that we were once saved and are saved still. In that
otherworldly hope. “E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me; still all my song shall be:
nearer, my God, to Thee.”
Our hope, the answer to our inward groaning, is in the shape of an instrument of
Roman execution. Our hope was birthed from the womb of a man’s painful and bloody
death, the death of a man who more so than any other man ought never to have tasted death
at all. But by His cross, by His unjust yet wholly sacrificial death for us, He overcame the
world, and the devil, and all sin everywhere and for all time – and death itself, He conquered
it just the same. His death put the very power of death to death. So that now we may boast
with the apostle and even mock death’s defeat: “O piteous death where is thy sting? O sad
grave, where is thy victory?” And creation itself groans, too, Paul tells us.
Everything groans to escape its suffering and decay, its shame, misery, and anguish. But by
the death of God on the indignity of a cross, the world also was redeemed. The world is
being redeemed. Now this creation will pass away, that’s true, a burning conflagration will
occur – but a new a creation will arrive in its place. A new world. “Behold, I make all
things new,” so announces the enthroned King in the revelation to St. John. “Wherever there
is death, wherever there is loss, wherever there is pain and heartbreak, wheresoever there is
a carcass or a corpse of what once woefully groaned a sincere groan for relief and hope,
there am I, making all things new.” This our Lord promises.
What is more, this same Lord and King by Whose death we are liberated from death
shared with us a glimpse of the glory to come during His earthly ministry. Didn’t He? He
did so with His best friend, Lazarus. He dried pitiful Martha’s tears and raised His own
confidant from a death-ridden sepulcher. And He did so as well with a little girl once, the
daughter of Jairus, who was probably not too much older than my own little Freyja.
Remember the story, friends? It made it into all three synoptic gospels, after all – you
should. Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, he rushed to our Lord, the evangelists write, and
he begged Him for help, as his daughter was near dying. But Jesus, calm and collected,
consoled him immediately and enjoined him: “Be not afraid, Jairus. But only believe. Take
courage and believe,” Our Lord said. And in the narrative, Jesus followed them back to the
synagogue leader’s home where they were met with great weeping and wailing – for the girl
was already gone, you see, she’d passed away while they were on their way, or so it seemed.
And yet our Lord comforted the crowd upon entrance: “Why do you weep? This child is not
dead, but merely asleep.” He then went over to the bed where the dead girl’s body was at
rest and spoke to her confident words: “Talitha koum! Little girl, I say to you, get up!” And
He took her by the hand, roused her from the casket of her childhood bed, and she was
awakened to life again. She was asleep, sleeping the sleep of death, and our God beckoned
her awake and alive. And that is precisely how it will be on the Last Day for us all, friends.
My God will take my daughters by the hand and will say to them with a love only He could
love: “Little girls, arise – get up.”
A kindly, kingly voice will lift them from their deepest slumber. And I’ll get to see them
once again, after what will only seem like a short while. That is our hope. That’s my hope.
And thank You for it, Lord Jesus.
Whatever suffering we now face, whatever opposition and oppression, whatever
heartache, hunger, and haunt burdens our souls, none of it compares to the uplifting glory
which awaits us. At present, Paul writes, our bodies groan for redemption. Our hearts, our
minds, our members, we groan and sigh for that coming day when, as our Lord proclaims in
the Parable of the Tares this morning, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom
of their Father.” Some of us here are younger, some of us older. Some of us have more
physical pains and ailments than others, some more emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma.
We’ve all lost loved ones. We’ve all been forced to speak bittersweet goodbyes. We know
what joy is reserved for the saints when they pass from this life. We recognize and even
confess that indeed precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. But it still
hurts us so much in this valley below, to have to say goodbye, to have to be apart, even for a
short while, to have to let go. It is the same sadness and aching I feel in my inner being as a
father when I cherish my daughters with hugs and kisses, knowing full well their earthly fate
as sinners. It does grieve us terribly to have to lose those nearest to us someday. Yet we
mustn’t ever forget what all those murmurs, groans, wails, and sighs of sorrow point toward
– they point toward heaven, and ultimately, they point further forward to the resurrection of
the dead, that most anticipated hope. Your loved ones in the faith are now merely sleeping,
dear faithful. Be not afraid, but only believe. Take courage and believe.
And beloved, our God is so gracious, He gives us a taste of the glory to come even
right here, right now. In this meal soon to be prepared just for you, for your forgiveness,
your bodies and souls are not solely strengthened by it, but they are slowly being readied for
eternity through it. This food, this bread and wine, body and blood of a Savior, makes ready
your flesh for life incorruptible, a never-ending communion. It is, as St. Ignatius of Antioch
used to say, the very medicine of immortality, what protects our souls from death, what
prepares our bodies for the physical resurrection.
This is only a foretaste of the feast to come, but even here we savor life without end for a
brief period of time, however much a mystery that is. And all those loved ones who’ve gone
before us in the faith, your parents and partners, your friends and family and fellow
Christians, they, too, commune with you in this place. What happens in this sanctuary may
not look like much to the eyes of the world. But when you kneel here, you commune with
the whole Body of Christ, the church on earth and in heaven, the Church Militant and the
Church Triumphant. We are not alone. Here you are at one with them all – with all the saints
from time immemorial. This side of heaven and the resurrection, nothing at all brings you
closer to God and the faithful departed than this blessed supper. No nearer my God could I
possibly be than in this foretaste of eternity.
So whatever stony grief we now meet, just know that it only lasts for a little bit of
time. That’s the message this morning. It is here now but soon gone. As that chief psalmist,
king David, once sang: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
The glory to come, which we catch a fleeting glimpse of within the walls of the holy
Christian church, it surpasses all trial and tribulation here below. Our hardship, however
hard it may be, is nothing in comparison to the jubilation at dawn, to that exultation on the
horizon. All the little Freyja’s of the world, baptized into the name of the only God, one and
yet three persons, will be raised at the end of the age. And mine with them. And all the little
ones of the faithful who fell asleep still in the womb, they’ll be wakened, too. All your tears
will be wiped away, all things made new. Each day we inch nearer to God. And one of these
days, there will be no more distance at all, no separation, no more pain – only rejoicing and
intimacy. In the late nineteenth century, the good bishop of Exeter, Church of England,
Edward Henry Bickersteth, dared to add a sixth and final stanza to Sarah Adam’s famous
hymn. And honestly, I think she would have approved. It reads: “There in my Father's
home, safe and at rest, There in my Saviour’s love, perfectly blest; Age after age to be,
nearer my God to Thee, Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!” All thanks and praise for
our simple faith, our childlike hope, and our truest consolation as pilgrims here in a land of
bitter disappointment, all thanks and praise be unto God forever and always. In the Name of
Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23
Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear
brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “He who has ears let him hear.”
That’s a good a place as any to begin our sermon. Our Lord speaks this imperative in our
Gospel lesson this morning. He says it frequently throughout the Gospels, in fact. You
hear it a lot. It is almost a catchphrase of sorts. I believe it is the most common of all the
phrases He uses. But do not think for a moment that this saying is supposed to be some
figurative language or rhetorical device on our Lord’s part. It is not figurative or
rhetorical in the least but is meant to be taken as quite literal. Remember, St. Paul writes
in his letter to the Romans that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of
Christ.” This is vital for us Lutherans. Faith is worked through the five senses. It is an
empirical phenomenon. It is not just a feeling, an inner spirituality, a therapeutic
religiosity, or whatever other new age regurgitation of what is essentially no more than an
ancient and serpentine enthusiasm, as Martin Luther himself puts it. Rather, faith comes
to us from without, from outside of us, and it comes particularly through hearing, through
the ears, foremost. The content of the faith must be heard or at least perceived in some
way. That is why it is so crucial, dear friends, that you are here this morning. Now I’m
sure you know people who outwardly profess the Christian faith but who moreover argue
that they have no need to come to church. Their faith, so they say, is between them and
God. They don’t need organized, institutional religion and the weekly gathering of the
faithful. Their spirituality is presumably above all that. Well, I’m sorry to have to be so
blunt and the bearer of bad news, but: no, that isn’t even remotely right. Actually, it is
The faith only happens here, within the walls or the very bosom of the holy
Christian church, and in the midst of those listening with their ears elsewhere to what is
being taught, preached, and delivered in this place.
The faith is birthed here in Holy Baptism, it is reared and reinforced here through the
proclamation from the pulpit and by our Lord’s own body and blood – all of which are
based around the words of Christ being spoken, audibly conveyed, articulated in common
language. God’s command spoken along with the waters of Holy Baptism. The Words of
Institution spoken over the elements of bread and wine. Faith comes by hearing what is
spoken, full stop. And you have to be here to hear, be it either physically or at least
electronically. And thanks be to God that y’all are here today. That is significant and a
significant place to start.
Now, in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus relays a familiar parable – that of
the sower. Christ was resting at the shore of a lake, we are told, when a crowd gathered
round Him on all sides. So He instead took to a boat, rowed it out onto the lake, and then
began to preach to the multitudes on the shore from the vessel. And He shared with them
this parable: “A sower went out to sow,” Jesus says. “And as he sowed, some seeds fell
along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground,
where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no
depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they
withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
But still other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some
sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Our lectionary section today does not
pick this part up, but after the telling of this parable, according to St. Matthew, the
disciples, somewhat confused by what they’d just heard, they ask the Lord for clarity.
“Why, Master, do you choose to speak in parables and seeming riddles? they inquire.
“What’s the point.” And Jesus answers them: “This is why I speak to [the crowds] in
parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they
understand.” This much was prophesied centuries ago, as our Lord notes.
Still perplexed though, the disciples wonder: “Well, Teacher, what does that even
mean and what exactly are you trying to say with this strange agrarian parable you just
relayed?” And our Lord, ever patient and obliging, goes on to explain.
He more or less says this: “That seed which falls along the path is what is heard but never
quite understood. It is that faith the devil destroys before it ever even gets the chance to
find any soil to begin to grow. As for what is sown on rocky ground, this refers to that
seed which does find some soil yet never manages to take firm root. This is when the
faith is received but quickly relinquished, out of fear of persecution or punishment,
discomfort or discomposure, and the way of suffering the faith naturally entails. What is
sown among the thorns, however, is the faith received and rooted, but soon choked out by
the love of mammon and the other luxuries of this fallen world. But then there is the seed
sown on good, hospitable soil which yields much fruit, grain even a hundredfold. This is
the faith nourished and propagated among the elect.”
Brothers and sisters, here is the sad reality though. Most folks fall into those first
three categories in our Lord’s parable. The fruit-yielding seed, the fourth and final
category, it represents but a remnant. To be clear, the seed in this parable is the Word of
God, both Christ incarnate as the Word as well as the written Word, inspired and
preserved by the Holy Spirit, which is steadfastly delivered from the pulpit. But the
predominance of people today, they prefer a different word, don’t they? The world which
sleeps in on Sunday morning prefers a more relaxed, less demanding word. A word that
sounds nicer to the ears and more convenient at the end of the day, but one which on the
Last Day will ultimately be emptied of all meaning, all comfort and consolation. And
some, most unfortunately, they even prefer an outright ugly word, they favor a word
composed of filth and admitted meaninglessness, a black pill, as the kids these days say;
they privilege the offense of nihilism, sheer hopelessness, over against the beauty of truth
and tradition. They would sooner have hedonism than heaven. Whatever it is though, the
world removed from the faith, removed from the church and her walls, is indisputably
ruled by the god of this world, the evil one, who snatches away souls before the good
Word is ever really heard and truly understood.
So that is the seed cast along the path. But what about the seed cast on rocky
ground. Well, how many people do you know personally who were once baptized into the
name of the Triune God, dutifully reared in the faith, but who have not darkened the door
of a church in years? They perhaps were confirmed, had made a public confession of
their belief, and yet currently live as if none of that ever mattered. Their faith, having
taken little root, has been since scorched by the sun, by the heat of the tension between
the Word of God and the false philosophies of this crooked age. “The faith is bigoted,”
they might argue – which you all’ve perhaps been unlucky enough to have heard. Or “all
you backwards, unthinking Christians are nothing but hypocrites,” a recognizable refrain.
Or whatever politically correct mantra they likely learned at university. All these are
merely the sounds of the sun beating down countless degrees of heat on the faith of a
wandering spirit until it withers. And it is entirely heartbreaking. It breaks my heart. It
really does. I speak from experience with some nearest to me. But their faith now, I’m
afraid to say, it is in name only. Considering all that, dear faithful, I must urge you: take
catechesis seriously. Take catechizing your children in a deathly serious way. I, their
pastor, will see them once or twice a week, I hope. But you are with them every day. It is
your responsibility to prevent them from falling away.
Fathers especially, read the Bible with your children. Bring them to church often.
Teach them why it matters to be here and why they ought to be wary of the world. You
want to be a good provider, right? Then provide for their eternal wellbeing. Do your best
whenever you can. It is in God’s hands, of course. And if your best happens to fail, then
don’t you ever beat yourself up over it either. The Holy Spirit works faith, not you. So
don’t you dare dwell or brood on it, that’s only hubris and pride speaking. Having said
that, I do beg you: don’t take this undertaking lightly. Save your children. As St. Paul
tells St. Timothy, by keeping a close watch on the teaching, the doctrine, by standing firm
in the faith and in the Word of God, you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
This applies to pastors, to be sure. But above all, I believe it applies to fathers with their
sons and daughters.
St. Paul furthermore says in our lesson from Romans today that by the Spirit of God we
receive adoption as sons and are thereby able to call our God “Abba, Father, Daddy.” A
name connoting a profound and then countercultural intimacy with the divine. You each
have a loving Father in heaven. You need Him unfailingly. Do you not? And so your
children, they likewise need you, dear fathers. They need you to point them to their
Heavenly Father. That said, tend to them. Be their shepherds, as I know you will.
And then, friends, there is the seed sown on good soil but nonetheless among the
thorns and the thistles. And here is the most unsettling part of the message this morning.
This part of the parable, it may even apply to some within the holy Christian church in
our midst. I pray that’s not so. And perhaps it isn’t. But listen well, little flock: where
exactly are you in this parable. Who are you? Make no mistake, this parable is about you.
It is about me. We are within its narrative. But where do we fall in it? Is there something
in your life that chokes out your faith? Is it mammon, as Jesus suggests? Is it love of the
holy dollar and avarice? Is it the delights of the flesh and self-indulgence? Is it the
coveted attention of others? Is it work or sports, excuses or entertainment? Is it fear?
Laziness? Indifference or callous unconcern? Do you put anything before the faith in
your life? Do you privilege the Word or do you privilege the world? Be honest with
yourself. For the end of the age is approaching, but it is not here just yet. We pray daily
for our Lord’s return, but He is not here just yet. You are still living and breathing. It is
not too late to turn from evil. The seed of your faith has been sown in good soil. In the
Word and the Sacraments. And the truth is, every patch of green earth is going to have
some thorn and thistle. Even the good soil in our parable has a choking weed here and
there. But the question is, will those little weeds, those tiny thorns and thistles, suffocate
your faith? Or will your faith persevere and persist?
All that to say, do not continue in sin, beloved. But repent and believe. Confess
and be forgiven. The Lord of the Harvest will eventually return. And He will judge us
according to the fruit, the grain, we yield. Do you still wrestle with this or that sin? I
wouldn’t be surprised. So do I – constantly. This or that sin. All the time.
But that is precisely why your faith needs regular nourishing, here in this place, that it
may therethrough carry you unto the end, that you may fight the good fight, keep the
faith, and finish the race. That’s why you must keep coming back here. Keep coming to
hear the Word of Christ, by which faith is created and then sustained. If the Word
convicts you of your sin, if you hear yourself in the parable in an unexpected and
unhappy way or if you feel yourself accused by the words of the law preached, then
repent, turn from your sin and be reconciled to your God. I exhort you in this, as your
shepherd, that you would do so. Yet I also know that, like me, you will continue to
struggle even after repentance. You will persist in hurting your neighbor, yourself, and
your God. That will not cease this side of the grave. Not entirely. But your Lord, trust
that He has already paid the price for every last failure, former and future. He has already
covered every single sin with His suffering and death. It’s all been done and atoned for.
As He Himself said from atop an instrument of torture and execution: “It is finished.”
Believe Him. All you must do is confess and receive the gracious forgiveness He
purchased long ago on a cross.
He will heal you. It may be a long recovery. It probably will be. But He will heal
you. In fact, He is presently healing you. He’s already hard at work. He is nourishing
your faith. Friends, He quite literally waters your faith weekly with His very own blood,
in the meal of this most blessed Sacrament. He once shed His blood for you and for your
forgiveness, and now He rains it generously upon you here. The Seed of the woman
foretold in Genesis chapter three found His foreordained soil in a borrowed tomb. He was
buried deep below. Yet on the third day, new life nevertheless sprang forth. Everlasting
life. And He gives that life to you freely. So repent and believe. It is that effortless and
uncomplicated. He who has ears, let him hear, and he who has a tongue and eyes, let him
taste and see. Your God waits for you here at this altar. Your faith needs His body and
blood. The mystery of this meal will make you strong in time. So don’t neglect it or
belittle its meaning.
To be quite honest, brothers and sisters, this is, in many ways, a rather sorrowful
Gospel reading. It is sad that so much seed is seemingly wasted, that so few yield fruit.
But again, faith comes by hearing. Maybe for many, the faith they once heard was seed
cast on infertile or inhospitable soil. This stands to reason, however much a shame it is.
But here’s the thing, there is nothing stopping us from casting more and more seed. And
that, I think, is part of the point of our Lord’s parable this morning. Keep on casting. The
more seed scattered and strewn, the more likely it is faith will eventually sprout forth
somewhere. No one outside these walls is a lost cause. As far as we are concerned, not a
single soul. Not one. Christ bled out for them all. Therefore, keep sharing the Gospel with
them. Keep speaking it to them. Whenever you have the opportunity. They need to hear it
to be brought or ushered home to the saving faith. And if you don’t have the opportunity,
then make it.
I personally have been called to preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments to
you in this place. And in that calling there is the obvious expectation of hopefully
growing the church. We desperately require it. But that is not solely my responsibility.
That is something we each bear. Does it wound and main your heart that someone you
love immensely has cast aside the Christian faith? If so, then use that pain and heartbreak.
Let it give you power and purpose. Sublimate that suffering, dear saints. Do not give up
on those loved ones. The Holy Spirt works faith, this is most certainly true. But God
works through means, too – and you are each one of His means. Keep casting seed. Who
knows what tomorrow will bring. The ravenous birds may well fly elsewhere, the thorns,
thistles, and weeds may happen to dwindle, and the sun may ease off its blistering heat.
Who knows. But there is still time. That we do know. So let us never take for granted
what little time there is. Keep sowing the seed, dear faithful. And the Lord of the Harvest
will reward you and reward you greatly when He does return. In the Name of Jesus.