Saturday, August 23, 2008
Sermon for St. Bartholomew day August 23, 2008
St. Bartholomew Luke 22:24-30
In the Name of the Father and the + Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is tough to believe that God's love for you is not proved in wealth and privilege, in success. God's love for you is proved in His promise fulfilled: Jesus on the cross, out of the tomb, and into your heart by way of the mouth in His Body and Blood. His greatness in washing you, feeding you, forgiving you. His love is proved in the quiet things in which He has embedded in His promise: words, bread, wine, water, earthen vessels, tongue-tied, egotistical pastors.
Good Theologians are always idealistic. Lutheran Theologians are always a little sad. That is what exposure to the Truth does to a person. It makes the falsehood and the darkness we must still endure ever more distasteful. As knowledge grows so does frustration. When idealism is sharpened and the will of God more distinctly exposed, then the Church Militant's flaws grow more obvious and disturbing, as does the depravity of our own sins.
There is a temptation to pragmatism, to search for greatness where it can be measured and approved in the sight of men. But that is to abandon the Gospel. We want to make it work, to pack the pews, to improve lives, to get knowable answers to prayers, to build something of ourselves here and now that the world will recognize and respect. This can all be done if you are willing to lie, to strip the Law of its stern killing power and the Gospel of its ridiculously free grace. Preach to itchy ears, be what men want you be, look the other way while they rape your sister, and you'll never be lonely - until, of course, it is too late.
None of those things indicate greatness. Ceasar was wealthy. Islam has converts galore. Any focus upon such things only indicates greed and selfishness. It is the way of the Gentiles. Return to the Apostles, to their preaching and writing in the New Testament and to the Scriptures of the prophets which they quote and expound. Follow the fiery example of their faith. Love what they believed. Receive what they taught with joy.
For there is a kingdom the world does not know. It lives in you. It is the Kingdom of God's grace, the kingdom ruled through forgiveness, the kingdom of dying and rising, where a little child leads them and the strong man is ousted by submission to death. Your King is greatest because He became the least. If it were not so He could not be your King. You would still be lost in your trespasses and destined for Hell's fire. He humbled Himself to the point of death. He died the most shameful death known to man. He was numbered with transgressors. He did not shrink from His love. He paid the price. He laid down His life and He took it up again. He is not dead. He lives. He has satisfied His wrath and His justice for you. He became least to make you great and now you become great in His weakness borne in your bones.
Thus He gladly welcomes you. He accepts you. He names you. For He loves you beyond all telling or imagination. His dying and rising is acted out in you. It began with Baptism. It will not end until the final resurrection to come. Until, then, you live by faith and trust in the good things to be. There is a feast and kingdom awaiting in heaven. But there is also a feast and a kingdom here hidden from the eyes and wisdom of men. You are an honored guest at this feast, for the only One actually innocent refuses to throw stones. You are His son or daughter in whom He is well-pleased. He gives Himself in the bread and the wine, the satisfaction of His wrath, the claim to His inheritance. He unites you to Himself, to His Father, and to His Spirit, to the saints beside you, before you, and behind you, to the saints all over this sad world, and to the saints at rest who sing with angels, even, to St. Bartholomew. Ah, yes, Bartholomew. Free at last of his childish ways, declared innocent by the One with the power to pardon. Apostle of the Lord sent to preach Good News, forerunner of the saints, embraced with the risen arms of Christ, Our Lord. Bartholomew! Your brother. Soon, my friends, you will follow. What a blessed day it will be!
In + Jesus' Name. Amen.