17 October 2009

Homily upon St. Luke's Day (2009)

[Isaiah 35:5-8; 2 Timothy 4:5-18; Luke 10:1-9]

This week I spent even more hours hanging around the hospital than I usually do. We can post-pone facing it for a while, but we know the truth. These bodies of ours run down, grow tattered and worn, begin to fail. We are more fragile than we dare to imagine. And when our bodies begin to fail us, we are forced to face what we know is true but avoid considering most of the time: our pilgrimage here has a limit and this world is not our final home and this flesh in which we live is destined for the grave.

Isaiah saw a time, though, when there would be a great push back. Suddenly defective bodies, grave-bound and shackled, were being restored. Blind eyes opened again. Deaf ears unstopped. Those who have lost the ability to walk on their own, are suddenly leaping and dancing. And tongues that have been rendered silent - now singing for joy. Isaiah saw a time when Death’s feeding on us would be pushed back and halted. And it would be like waters pouring through a thirsty land - for we do thirst for a life that death cannot rob us of. And in it all the prophet sees a way, a highway. It leads home, away from the sorrows of this troubled age and to the true home we’ve been promised. Only the clean walk on that way - the people God has cleansed in that water breaking out in the desert - the waters of baptism. Even if they’re fools, if they walk on that way, they won’t go astray or get lost. They’ll head down the road to home. And at the end it will be not just a temporary healing of this or that, but a total healing of body and soul, as everlasting joy crowns our heads and sorrow and sighing are chased away forever. What a vision!

What Isaiah saw beginning to happen was, of course, our Lord’s ministry. For the first time, there stood One upon the earth who could and did push back death and all its attendant sorrows. And as He was getting ready to make his grand last tour before heading up to Jerusalem, He took 72 of his disciples - and tradition says St. Luke was among them - and sent them out to every place He was headed Himself. And the power that was in Him to manifest the glory of the coming age - a glory over which death and bodily decay stand no chance - that power He laid on the 72 as He sent them forth. He sent them forth, and to told them to pray that the Lord of the harvest would raise up yet more workers. He sent them forth defenseless - lambs in the midst of wolves - armed only with the truth that they carried. He sent them forth impoverished, having only a greeting of peace to give and totally dependent upon the good will of those who heard them for bodily needs. But what peace! He sent them forth not jockeying for better positions and easier living, but occupied with but a two-fold task: to heal the sick and announce: The Kingdom, the reign of God, has come near you. Jesus is on the way. Or as C.S. Lewis would say it, Aslan is on the move. Isaiah’s vision is coming true and waters are about to bust forth that will wash you clean and set you on a highway that leads to home.

But we mustn’t forget that our Lord gives us all of this as promise in this present age. He didn’t heal every blind man or every deaf man. There were plenty left still in their beds, unable to get up and move again. There were many who never had their tongues loosed to sing. The healings and even the raising of the dead that our Lord or His disciples performed, these were all the promise of what He would finally do for all in the end. They showed where He was headed and what His death on the tree and resurrection from the dead would finally bring about. But it wouldn’t be right away. They give us a bright future and joyous hope - and with that bright future and joyous hope we can battle our way through the trials still before us. How well St. Paul understood.

In our second reading, he knows death is not far away. His life will be poured out like a drink offering. His departure from this age is at hand. Does it make him despair? No. His Lord went into death and came out alive - having secured forgiveness for the sins of the world, including Paul’s own. So he knows that what awaits him is the crown of righteousness - a crown earned by our Lord Himself for all His baptized brothers and sisters - that crown the Lord, the righteous judge, will award him on that day. He thinks about it and he is comforted. And yet…

The sorrows abound. He’s lonely. He’s in prison. His friends have all deserted him - all save St. Luke. He tells St. Timothy to bring St. Mark to him. Pitifully he tells him to bring also some of the things he’s left behind - he must have been the absent minded sort too - the cloak, the books, and above all the parchments, the papers if you will, so that he can write more. Death is before him, and yet he has more testifying to the grace of God in Jesus Christ to do. All alone he had stood at his trial, no one standing with him, but the Lord. And yet that was enough.

And so for us too, how often we will go through experiences like St. Paul’s in our lives. When we feel alone, abandoned, and death is breathing down our necks. And it’s frightening. And yet the Lord stands by us. The Lord whose very life is the guarantee that this death which we are facing down will not be the end of us. This Lord who rescues us from the lion’s mouth by setting our feet upon a holy way that the devil who prowls as a roaring lion cannot come up on. This Lord who rescues us from every evil deed and finally brings us safely into His kingdom. Even in his loneliness, his fear, his pain - the apostle is comforted and comforts others. The life that appeared in Jesus is no cheat. It is the ultimate reality - for He is the forgiveness of all sin and He is the destruction of all death and He has made us His own and we will live with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

And this is the truth that gets us through the hospital days and the funeral home days and the long emptiness when we feel so alone and abandoned or frightened and worried about what tomorrow will bring. The Lord, who has already shown us what our future will be, stands by us then to strengthen us and get us through to that Kingdom, and for that we give all glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Brian P Westgate said...

What hymns are you using tomorrow? We'll be singing in Leadville Loy's pair on Law & Gospel, Christians Come in Sweetest Measures, Holy God We Praise Thy Name, and Abide O Dearest Jesus?

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Weedon: thank you for a wonderful, edifying, and encouraging sermon. But, for one who has been saddled with a pedantic spirit that needs to have the obvious made clear, can you give me an unqualified “yes” or “no” answer to the question, “Are we Christians members of God’s Kingdom now?”

Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...


We'll be singing "Fight the Good Fight" as Entrance; "O God of God" for HOD; I can't remember the Distribution hymns off hand; we close with "Praise God."


Now, how can you ask? You know the Apostle's words in Colossians - we have been transferred into the Kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. The Kingdom for which we joyfully wait (i.e., wait its manifestation) is a Kingdom which we are truly a part of even now. We're a colony from that future that our Lord has planted back into time. We're the true future of this world!

Anonymous said...

Please forgive me, but as a layman I am used to hearing of the Kingdom almost exclusively in the future tense.

Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

That is most interesting, George. I would have assumed the opposite in our day and age. Shows you how a preacher who doesn't get to hear much preaching shouldn't assume anything!

Myrtle said...

Dear Pastor Weedon,

Coming from a Protestant background, I, too, was not taught that we are a part of the Kingdom now until I recently joined the Lutheran confession.

I have found that there are so many givens in confessional Lutheranism which are sadly lacking in the teaching of Christian brethren outside the doctrine that for you would probably be considered Christianity 101. That in baptism we are given the inheritance of Christ, that we are full partakers of all that is His, including the kingdom of heaven, here on earth, albeit in an imperfect world and only a mere shadow of what is to come, is certainly one of those givens.

What are a few other givens? That we are forgiven, not just on the cross as remediation for sin that would have damned us eternally, but are daily forgiven, washed anew by the Spirit and by the gifts of Christ. That Christ is present in all of the Living Word, not just the New Testament, so that all of Scripture is for us to grasp, to cling to, to claim. That Divine Service is for God to come to us, to teach us, heal us, give to us, rather than for us to do something for Him (I grew up in the faith being chastised far too many times that if I were only at church to be fed then I should re-examine my reasons for being there). And, of course, that there is (and always should be) a proper distinction between Law and Gospel, that the Law was not just for the children of Israel, but has relevance for me, today, to teach me of my sin, of the fact that there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can do to mitigate our condition, that the "greatest" of our works are mere dross, so that through the work of the Holy Spirit in the gift of faith we can see the magnificence of the grace and mercy of Christ and His Work on the cross.

Thank you for the sweet, sweet Gospel of this message, the precious reminder of the hope we have in Christ, and the encouragement that we are (I am) not alone in our (my) battle against the old Adam within.

Anonymous said...

We tend to hear the Gospel preached to us, in accordance with our Confessions, as ending with the atonement our Lord made for our sins. Some years ago this was called to my attention when I read in John R. W. Stott’s “Baptism and Fullness,” “Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that it is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us.” That, of course, covers our life in the Kingdom.

Luther’s explanation of the Second Petition, “we pray that it may come unto us also,” lacks the immediacy of the passage from Colossians.
Thank you for your patience.
Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart

Rev. Allen Yount said...

"Luther’s explanation of the Second Petition, 'we pray that it may come unto us also,' lacks the immediacy of the passage from Colossians."

Not really, when you look at the second part of Luther's explanation: "How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes [present tense] when our heavenly Father gives [present tense] us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time
and there in eternity [both, not either-or]" (material in brackets added).

Given that context, it follows that Luther's statement "we pray in this petition that it may come to us also" can be understood in the sense "we pray that it may continue to come to us, as it has already come to us, and will come to us." It speaks both of our being members of the kingdom now through faith and of our waiting for it to manifest itself on the Last Day when Christ returns in visible glory.

Hope that makes what we're actually praying in the Lord's Prayer a little clearer to you, George. The Lord be with you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Yount: Thank you for your concern.

I suspect that part of the problem lies in the fact that Luther, in this instance, considered the Kingdom as part of the process of sanctification. But Scripture portrays the Kingdom as an environment which God has created for His people. This is obviously the view of St. Paul in the Colossians passage. One of the qualifications for membership is that we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Romans 8:9 “…whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.”

I cannot find any evidence in Scripture that the Holy Spirit or the Kingdom are given to us partially, or over time. That is not to say that the Kingdom does not change over time, until it is fulfilled, or that we do not change until we are perfected in that Kingdom. But while all of this change is taking place, we continue as full members of God’s Kingdom, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us in all of His fullness from the time of our baptism. Is that not the glorious Gospel of the Kingdom our Lord proclaimed?

I am not saying that Luther is wrong; I am simply unable to understand him.

And with Thy Spirit.
Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart