Quasimodogeniti – 2017

In Nomine Iesu

Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. Where were you, that Easter evening? Out with your twin brother? Hiding somewhere? We hear nothing from you since the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed, and then you didn’t know where Jesus was going or the way. Before that, you pessimistically suggested that they all go with Jesus to Jerusalem to die, which was more correct than you imagined? But where were you on the evening of that first day of the week when the news came from the women and Peter and John that Jesus had risen? Why weren’t you in that upper room with your fellow disciples? Why did they have to go out and find you? Why didn’t you believe them when they said, “We have seen the Lord?” Continue reading

The Resurrection of Our Lord – 2017

What surprises about the Easter gospel is all the surprise over Jesus’ resurrection. The women are surprised to find an open, empty tomb. The disciples are surprised, and don’t initially believe the news. It’s not as if Jesus hadn’t told them. At least three times in advance He said that He would be crucified and on the third day rise again. Three times. And still they didn’t believe it. The women were going to the tomb to finish a hasty burial not look for a risen Jesus. When they heard the news from the angel, “He is not here, He is risen,” they were surprised. When they saw the risen Lord, they were surprised. In John’s gospel, Mary doesn’t even recognize Him. She thinks He’s the gardener. She wants to know where the body of Jesus was. No one believed Him. Continue reading

Good Friday – 2017

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

John the Baptist first uttered this sentence pointing to Jesus as He emerged from His Jordan baptism. We sing it at in the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. Look! There He is! Behold! God’s Lamb. In John’s Gospel, Lamb of God is an image that never gets fully developed. Jesus is the Light of the world, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the Door of the sheep, the Way, the Truth, the Resurrection, the Life, the true Vine. But we never hear about Lamb. Not until the end. And then it is hidden beneath the sound of all the Passover lambs in Jerusalem being slaughtered, their cries are the background for Jesus’ “it is finished.” Continue reading

Holy Thursday – 2017

“This day shall be  for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a  statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. (Exodus 12:14)

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the Name of Jesus.

Karen and I were doing a morning walk up in Ventura, as we like to do, with cup of warm coffee in hand, looking out at the ocean for the surfers and perhaps a whale or dolphin sighting. We like to walk a foot and bike path that leads behind the fair grounds. There is a nice wetlands area where you can see egrets, cormorants, and herons. The path crosses a railroad track at some point, where we usually turn around. Off to one side of the track, there is a little patch, much like a tiny garden patch, with a cross on it. The day we were there, there were some birthday balloons tied to the cross and some flowers. There was a name of the cross. There were dates. He was a little over eighteen years old when he died. Continue reading

5 Lent 2017 – John 11:1-45

In Nomine Iesu

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is the seventh “sign” that Jesus does in the first half of John’s Gospel. After that, there are no more signs, save one. His own death and resurrection. It has been building up to this. Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. That was the first sign. He healed the official’s son at Capernaum with nothing but a word of promise. He healed a lame man at the Pool called Bethesda. He multiplied bread and fish for five thousand in the wilderness. He walked on the water at night to meet His disciples. He healed the eyes of the man born blind with spit, mud, and washing water.

And in today’s reading, He raises His good friend Lazarus from the dead. The seventh sign. After that, it’s on to Jerusalem and Holy Week for the rest of John’s Gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection to which all the other signs were pointers. Continue reading

4 Lent 2017 – John 9:1-41

In Nomine Iesu

A man born blind. Who sinned? This man or his parents? But he was blind from birth. So obviously his parents, right? Sin has consequences; therefore consequences must have sins. Right? Wrong. He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Go figure. His blindness becomes a canvas to display Jesus’ glory as the light of the world.

If Niccodemus, the rabbi who came to Jesus at night, represented religious Judaism, and if the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well represented syncretistic Samaria, the man born blind represents us. Every disciple of Jesus. Born blind but given sight. Not seeing, yet believing. Continue reading

3 Lent 2017 – John 4:5-26

In Nomine Iesu

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is a story with many interesting levels of meaning. Unfortunately, most of this time, and in the past even from this pulpit, we get distracted by the Samaritan woman. She’s an easy target, low-hanging fruit for the moralistic fruit pickers. Five marriages and now living with number six, probably because the rabbis and the rest of the community have more or less given up on her. We’re quick to judge, to make assumptions, to condemn. Because that’s what religious people do best. Continue reading

2 Lent 2017 – John 3:1-17

In Nomine Iesu

Abram was 75 years old when he was uprooted by the call of God, taken from his comfortable home in Ur of the Chaldees and given to wander as an alien in the land of Canaan for the rest of his life. God made a three-fold promise, as covenant, with Abram. The Lord would make him a great nation, the father of many, even though at the time, Abram and his wife Sarai had no children. His descendants would inherit the land one day, the land that Abram lived in as a foreigner. And through the Seed of Abraham, his singular offspring, all nations of the earth would be blessed. Abram was blessed to be a blessing.

Abram believed God, he believed that covenant promise the Lord had made, and the Lord credited that faith in the promise as righteousness. That three-fold promise to Abram was the foundation of OT Israel – a people, a land, and promised Seed. It was a promise repeated from generation to generation, from Abraham to his son Isaac, to his son Jacob. It was a promise repeated to the nation of Israel, the sons of Abraham. It was a promise fulfilled when God sent His Son to be born of Israel as a son of Abraham. Jesus, the Christ. The son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of Israel, the son of God.

When Nicodemus came to visit with Jesus, rabbi to rabbi, a son of Abraham met the Seed of Abraham, the One through whom all nations of the earth, and all peoples, would be blessed. He didn’t know that yet. To Nicodemus, Jesus was a new teacher on the block who needed to be checked out. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council. Perhaps he had been sent to investigate this upstart teacher from Nazareth. He had heard the stories, read the headlines of Jesus’ signs – water into wine, the lame walking, demons cast out, lepers cleansed. Impressive resume. “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Indeed, but Nicodemus isn’t there to flatter Jesus with the obvious. There is something on his mind and heart. Perhaps it’s that age old question that preoccupied the Pharisees: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ reply certainly points in that direction. But Nicodemus never comes out and asks it.

He comes to Jesus as night. Let’s not lose the significance of that. Night is the hour than no one can work. In the creation week, God spoke in the day, but the hours between evening and morning are silent. God also works in the light of day. Those who walk in the night stumble and fall Judas betrayed Jesus at night. John underscores that fact. Nicodemus is “in the dark” about who Jesus is. As a Torah teacher, he should have known and recognized the Light and Life of the world, but Sin’s blindness and Religion’s presuppositions keep him in the dark. He is, like the rest of the Pharisees, blind to the Light that is shining on them.

Our catechism says that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or even come to Him. We are as in the dark, spiritually speaking, as Nicodemus. Jesus must open our ears, our minds, our hearts. He must give us the faith-eyes to see that Light and Life that has been shining on us all along. And so bit by bit, Jesus pries open the closed mind and hardened heart of the Pharisee, a man who has tried so hard to keep Torah and yet knows in the dark night of his own soul that he doesn’t.

“Truly, truly, I say to you.” Better to translate that “Amen, amen, I say to you” which is not really a translation at all. Amen is a sure and certain as it gets, straight from the lips of Jesus. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Huh? What does that mean? Born again? Even more confusing, the word “again” can also be translated “from above,” which makes more sense. Unless one is born “from above” he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus, who is in the dark about these things, hears it as “born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old? How can he enter again into his mother’s womb?” That’s outrageously silly nonsense!

Again, Jesus’ double Amen. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” Ah, now that makes more sense. Sort of. To be born of flesh is to be born “from below,” as we all are born “from below” as children of Adam. If you are “flesh” then you are born from below, of the flesh. To be born of the Spirit is to be born spiritually, “from above.” And not just Spirit but water and Spirit, for the Spirit is never alone. Even in Genesis, in the creation week, before God spoke, the Spirit, wind, breath of God hovered over the face of the watery Deep. Water and Spirit. It’s right there in Genesis 1:2. Any Torah teacher, including Nicodemus, would have known that. Should have known that.

But the Spirit teaches spiritual things to those born of water and Spirit. These things a “spiritually discerned,” as the apostle Paul put it. The natural man, born of flesh, cannot comprehend these things, cannot come to know God, cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. These are heavenly things, and we are earthly creatures. We cannot reach up to God, no matter how many times or ways humanity has tried. God must reach down to us. No one has gone up into heaven but One has come down from heaven, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Son of Israel, Jesus our Lord. He is the Word become Flesh, the only-begotten Son enfleshed in our humanity. He is God reaching down to us, all the way down, to save us.

This is how God loved the world: He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather to condemn Sin in the Flesh so that the world would be saved through His death and resurrection. He came to be lifted up on the cross, as Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness, so that by His death He might become the antidote to Death, the antiserum to the sting of Death, and the source of life for all men.

What Nicodemus hoped to find in the Torah is found in Jesus, the Torah in the flesh standing before Him, talking with Him. What Nicodemus wanted more than anything else, to see the kingdom of God and to enter that kingdom to life eternal, is found only in Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love for the world. And it’s not a matter of choice, or decisions, or good behavior, or anything else you or I might do. It’s a matter of birth, of being and identity. You must be born from above, a second time, not of flesh but of water and Spirit. You must become something altogether different, a new creation. Simply renovating the old Adamic flesh won’t work. Topical treatments won’t deal with the deep disease of Sin. You must die and rise in Jesus, be born in Him, and that is the work of the Spirit through water and Word.

Nicodemus shows up two more times in John’s gospel. As a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, he spoke up in Jesus’ defense, a risky move on his part. And even riskier, Nicodemus went with Joseph of Aramathea bringing burial spices to help with giving Jesus a proper burial. By all appearances, the Spirit had done His work on Nicodemus the rabbi, now a disciple. Like Abraham, his forefather, Nicodemus was called out by God from his comfortable position as a Pharisee, teacher, and leader to wander the pilgrim way of the disciple, as stranger and alien to his own people. “He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him.” The nation rejected him. The ruling council, of which Nicodemus was a member, rejected Him. But to all who did receive him,  who believed in his name,  he gave the right  to become  children of God,  who  were born,  not of blood  nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of God. Born of water and Spirit. Born anew from above.

You too are called “children of God,” born anew from above in Baptism. Like Abraham in Canaan, like Nicodemus among his own people, you are called out to be God’s people, a chosen people, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s treasured possession. This is your identity in this world. This is who you are. Child of God, priest of God, heir of eternal life. This shapes your thinking, your doing, your being. This defines you, over and against all the ways the world has to define who you are, God has His Word. You are His child.

Remember that when Sin, Death, and devil cause you doubt. Remember that in the night, the dark night of your own soul, the night of doubt and despair and disbelief, the night when there is nothing no one but Jesus for you. You will see and enter the kingdom of God. The King has made you His child.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

1 Lent 2017 – Matthew 4:1-11

In Nomine Iesu

Sin begins almost imperceptibly. The little lie. The half-truth. It’s that little tiny error when you release the bow and let the arrow fly that causes you to miss the mark. Perhaps that’s why the word for sin, “harmatia,” means literally missing the mark. The miss looks huge at the end when the arrow flies way off target. But the error in the beginning was almost imperceptible. You golfers know this. A slight twitch. A breath at the wrong moment. Just a tiny hair off on the angle of the club can be the difference between birdy and bogey. It’s that little wayward glance that leads to adultery. That little petty theft that leads to grand larceny. In the Greek tragedies, “hamartia,” sin, is that tiny little misstep that sets into motion a chain of events that ends in tragedy. Like the innocent little snowball that triggers the avalanche that buries the town. Continue reading

Magnificat! (Bach Chorale Vespers – 20 November 2016)

Magnificat anima mea Dominum. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” pregnant Virgin sings. “My life makes the Lord very great, enlarges, amplifies Him. Don’t look at me, look at Him. He is mighty and merciful and holy. He puts down the proud, He lifts up the humble. He fills the hungry, He empties the full. He keeps His promises. My soul magnifies the Lord.” Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

The life of faith not a selfie.
Continue reading