11 September 2011

Homily upon the Installation of Pr. Jeff Hemmer

as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, O'Fallon, IL.  The feast of the Holy Cross is being transferred to this afternoon in that parish:

Pastor Hemmer, Laura, dear members of Bethany:  the observance of Holy Cross day and an installation – it doesn’t get better than that.

We had a hint of it already in the Introit:  “The Lord has made known His salvation; he has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.”  The Lord has a righteousness that is His and that He wills to make it known to us and to all – in fact, to give it to us as our very salvation.  And this righteousness He reveals upon the Holy Cross where His right hand and His holy arm worked salvation for Him – a salvation at which all the world is summoned to break forth into joyous song, singing His praises:  “Sing my tongue the glorious battle, sing the ending of the fray, now about the cross, the trophy, sound the loud triumphant lay.  Tell how Christ the world’s redeemer as a victim won the day.”

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, Pr. Hemmer - which at this point I think you had better - is to hold up that righteousness to this people, to remind them ceaselessly that it is theirs.  You are to wrap them up in it in Holy Baptism in that font.  You are to constantly renew them in it as you feed into their mouths the very body and blood of Jesus. And when they come to you broken and despairing and wondering how on earth God could possibly want or love them, you must yet again drape that righteousness right over them with the word of Christ’s absolution and proclaim to them that rotten as they are and have been or will be, their standing before God will always be based upon a righteousness that is alien to them, coming from the outside in, the righteousness of the Man upon the tree, who lived that perfect and unbroken “yes” to the will of the Father and did so for them, so that clothed in His perfect righteousness they might stand guiltless, without spot or blemish, before the judgment seat.  Having clothed them anew in the promise, you will bid them join in the unending song of praise to the Crucified and grow daily in their “yes” to God’s will with their Jesus.

And when your congregation grumbles – don’t  you all look at me like that - you know perfectly well you do and that you will. Repent!  But you, my brother, when they fall in their weakness and grouse and complain, and when they are afflicted, as in today’s OT reading, you must do as faithful Moses.  You must not cease to pray for them, and to set before them the curse upon the pole, which our Lord says in John 3 is a picture of His own crucifixion.  You must lift high before them the righteousness that is mightier than all grumbling, that if we humble ourselves to gaze upon, the nasty bite of the snake from which we all suffer – and which shows up in our grousing about the Lord and the way He would lead us – it comes to no harm at all.  For there He did not complain one bit at what His Father laid on Him, but received it and bore it and did so in confidence that His Father would neither abandon Him nor us in Him to the serpent in the end – that the end would be resurrection and eternal life, for Him and for us!

So your ministry must be single themed.  As St. Paul said in today’s epistle:  the wisdom of the cross.  For this simple message, which looks like so much hooey to those who are perishing, is actually – for those who are being saved – the very power of God!  Who’d have ever thunk that the Church could go on being Church precisely by this single theme – like Ravel’s Bolero – played every louder and stronger and gripping people in their heart of hearts until it sees them through death itself and into everlasting life:  Christ died for you; Christ is your righteousness.  His cross has answered for your every sin.  You are holy and without blame before Him because of what He has done for you.  Ah, the message of the Cross, that in His foolishness and weakness, God chose to EMBRACE your sin, to carry it to death in His own body, to bear Himself the consequences of your disobedience, to answer fully for the eternal punishment that was your choice, and then to present His righteousness to you as sheer gift - unasked, unsought, unearned – just laid on you in the waters of our Baptism, in the Absolution, in the Eucharist, in all the times you speak His Word to one another.  The world cannot even believe that the Church can go on existing yakking endlessly about the cross, but we know that the only reason the Church does go on existing is because the cross is her one themed joy.

So, dear brother, what the saints here at Bethany would hammer into Hemmer today is the request of the Greeks to Philip from the Gospel:  “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  What Jesus would they see?  The One who is glorified upon the Tree, doing the will of His Father.  The One who falls into the ground like a grain of wheat in order to bear much fruit – the First Fruits of a new creation!  The One who loses His life to keep it for eternal life.  The One who will not ask His Father to save Him from the hour, but instead asks only that the Father’s name be glorified in what He is about to do upon His cross.  The One whose cross is the judgment of this world, that casts the ruler of this world out, and whose lifting upon upon the tree draws all people to Himself.  THAT’S the Jesus they want to see and that’s the Jesus that the Lord puts YOU here today to deliver to them.  Not you with your bright ideas and notions.  He IS bright, you have been warned!  I wouldn’t like to tangle with him in an argument.  But it’s not about you or your brightness, or you and your athletic prowess – he bikes centuries and runs marathons and all sorts of things that will make you feel like slugs besides him.  It’s not about you and your  carpentry skills or ability to fix cars or to wring chicken's necks – don’t even get me started.  Oh, you will love him and he will love you.  But that's not really the big deal.  It’s about JESUS and Him crucified.  That’s the sole point of Pr. Hemmer being put today as pastor in this place.  Jesus.

And, people loved by God, how we need that Jesus.  Who else could see us through the horrors of life in this world – things like the sad events our nation remembers this day.  Hopefully we’ve come far enough away that we’re not picking at scabs, but sadly reminiscing over the scars.  But you just think of it:  when horrifying moments like that befall us (and you know they come crashing down on us individually as well as upon us as a nation), what a comfort beyond words it is that we can turn to Jesus – to the One who is no stranger to the terrible things that humans do to each other, to Him who is with us in our tears and in our sorrows.  He knows what it is to weep at death.  He has felt in His own body the irrational hatred of those who think they serve God by dishing out violence and destruction.  And most of all Him who can and will transform the ashes and cause them to live again.  That’s Whom you must preach, Pr. Hemmer:  the Crucified One who rose from the dead to dish out the gift of righteousness and a life bigger than any death that His baptized brothers and sisters, including you, will ever face.

So I close this homily upon Holy Cross Day with the words of Dr. Luther:  “Preach one thing:  Christ crucified.”  Amen.

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