Category Archives: Gate of Heaven

Oculi (2016)


February 28, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Exodus 8:16-24

Epistle: Ephesians 5:1-9

Gospel: Luke 11:14-28


Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

From the Gospel for this Sunday:

“Jesus said, ‘But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.'” – Luke 11:20

When you were baptized, and again when you were confirmed, you were asked, “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” And you answered— either through your godparents at your baptism, or you yourself answered the question at your confirmation— with the single word “Yes.” “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.” A simple answer to a simple question. But what follows is not simple at all, for by answering that question with a “Yes”, you in fact enlisted as a soldier in the battle against Satan and his legions, a battle which never ends until we leave this present world and, like poor Lazarus, are carried by the holy angels into the paradise of God. “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.”

You may have noticed that Satan appears in the Gospel read here in church on each of these first three Sundays in Lent: on the first Sunday we heard of our Lord’s struggle against Satan in the wilderness; last Sunday we heard of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was “tormented by a demon”; and today we see our Lord’s enemies accusing Him of being in league with Beelzebul, i.e., the Devil. You might well wonder why there is all this emphasis on the Devil during Lent. The reason is that in the ancient Church Lent was the time when adult converts to the faith received their final preparation for baptism during the vigil of the night before Easter, when they would be asked this question, “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.”

Now in our day it isn’t easy to talk about Satan and his legions. Many Christians are reluctant to talk about the subject too much for fear of being laughed at. When demons do get mentioned, we often tend to slide over the matter as if it doesn’t mean much to us or as if it embarrasses us— after all, who still believes in devils in this enlightened age? So many people assume that this is just another outworn superstition for which there is no place in this so-called “modern” world. Today the Devil is much discredited and treated as something of a joke. Just think of the popular picture of the Devil in red tights with horns and a tail and waving a pitchfork! He’s comical, laughable— and the word “devil” has gone all the way from being a word of dread to being in fact a term of endearment, as when a fond father says of his little son, “He’s a little devil, isn’t he?” A devil? No, there’s no such thing.

The irony of all this is that this disbelief in Satan and his legions prevails in an age in which, as much as and perhaps more than any other, there is mountainous evidence of his work!

As some of you know, one of my obsessions is the First World War. The last day of that war was November 11th, which, when I was growing up, we called “Armistice Day” , because it was the day when there was an end to the fighting. For four days before November 11th, representatives of Germany and representatives of the Allied nations were trying to work out the terms of the Armistice. Now you might have thought that they would have then and there, on November 7th, called a halt to the fighting, but no! The fighting and the killing went right on until 10:59 AM on the 11th. (It was in fact an American soldier from Baltimore, Henry Gunther, whose parents lived in Highlandtown, who was the last Allied casualty.) Well in those four days of negotiations six thousand more soldiers were killed; and even after the Armistice was signed at 5 o’clock in the morning on the 11th, the generals ordered their troops to continue killing each other until exactly 11 o’clock! I find it hard to imagine the mindset of generals who would order continued slaughter, even though they knew it was less than six hours till the cease-fire would go into effect.

Well, Satan’s efforts and works are hard to detect. But when I look at something like that, and indeed at what, in my opinion, was a completely tragic and unnecessary war, how can one not see a more-than-human power of evil at work? Or look at our own day, when thousands of people are perfectly willing to blow themselves up to destroy their enemies and in so doing imagine that they are somehow pleasing God!

But it’s not just those poor deluded people in other lands who are Satan’s prey. For if people in our part of the world are convinced that Satan is nothing more than an outmoded superstition— a myth, a fairy-tale— then he can go about his destructive work undetected and unhindered. Then our resistance is down and we are easy prey to all his seductive wiles. I’ll never forget how one my dearest teachers, Dr. Martin Franzmann, put this many years ago. He said: “The trouble with the modern world is that we’ve been the Devil’s funeral— and then we’ve stayed for the refreshments served by his grieving relatives.”

But all of Holy Scripture, together with the faithful and constant teaching of the Church, and also everyday experience, unite in proclaiming the reality of the ancient enemy of God and Man. Of course Holy Scripture tells us not so much what Satan and his legions are as what they do. They are of course by nature fallen angels, invisible spirits, bodiless powers, and their purpose is always to destroy everything good that a truly good and gracious Creator has made. And Christ’s Church and we Christians are especially the target of their evil purpose. It has been often and truly said that “Wherever Christ builds his Church, there the Devil builds a chapel,” and I’ve known some churches in which the Devil had a very fine and large chapel indeed! Two of his favorite tricks are to sow seeds of dissension, and to keep our eyes so focused on problems that we lose sight of all God’s goodness!

And so we are called to prayer, as we pray in the daily morning and evening prayers in the Catechism: “Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.” And we are called to watchfulness. This Sunday’s Gospel is in fact a call to watchfulness against all the snares and delusions of Satan.

Now all of this can sound rather gloomy and defeating unless we remember that Holy Scripture never calls our attention to the sad reality of Satan without also drawing our attention to our Lord’s victory over Him! So when in the Holy Gospel for this day Jesus is accused of casting out devils with the help of the devils, He replies: “If I by the finger of God cast out devils, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Satan has met his match and more in the incarnate Son of God, God made man, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great struggle with Satan in the wilderness, in His life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will— always resisting every Satanic suggestion— and finally in His death of pouring out His life-blood to cleanse us from the stain of all our sins, our Savior has defeated the Devil, the decisive battle has been won. And now we but await the manifestation, the unveiling, of His victory on that Last and Great Day when the world as we now know it will come to its end and the risen Lord of love will make all things new. That new world dawned from the open tomb when the Lord Jesus rose victorious from the dead, the triumph we celebrate every Sunday and which we’ll again celebrate with great joy at Easter.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.

Reminiscere (2016)


February 21, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Genesis 32:22-32

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

From the Gospel for this the second Sunday in Lent:

“But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help!’ And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, “O woman great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” – Saint Matthew 15:25-28

It’s often been said that we Christians learn more from the hymns we sing than from the sermons we hear. Well that’s of course a humbling thought for preachers like me, but I happen to believe it’s true. We Christians learn more from the hymns we sing than from the sermons we hear. So if you remember nothing else of what I say this morning, remember these words of a hymn which I believe wonderfully expresses the teaching of the Gospel for this second Sunday in the Lent. Speaking of the Savior the hymn-writer says:

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
   On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
   All other ground is sinking sand.

“When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.” And you might well say that in the gospel just read darkness does veil Christ’s lovely face; in fact you might say that we see a stern and unfamiliar Jesus.

After a confrontation with the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees— the religious establishment of Jesus’ day— Jesus leaves the familiar neighborhood of Galilee and withdraws to the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. And there a Canaanite woman, not a Jew but a Gentile, comes and pleads for Jesus’ help. To the Jews this Canaanite woman is a nobody and on top of that has a daughter “severely possessed by a demon.”

And yet this Canaanite woman comes to Jesus, no doubt having heard of Him through the crowds which not only heard Him but also witnessed His healing of those who were sick and troubled. She addresses Him as “Lord,” and “Son of David,” as the long-awaited Messiah and Savior. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.”

But Jesus doesn’t say anything in response to her plea, and His disciples urge Him to get rid of this nuisance! Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the Gentile woman doesn’t give up but comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet saying, “Lord, help me!” And Jesus replies: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread”— meaning the Jews’ bread— “and throw it to the dogs”— meaning the Gentiles, like this Canaanite woman. But the woman still doesn’t give up! “When darkness veils His lovely face I rest on His unchanging grace…” She speaks words of astonishing faith and humility: She replies, “Yes, Lord”— she doesn’t contradict Jesus— “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” As if to say, “Well as a Canaanite and not a Jew, I’m not much, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Such humility. Such faith in Jesus. And Jesus replies, “O woman, great is your faith!” and her daughter was instantly.

So what is Jesus teaching us here?

First of all, we learn that we must expect times in our lives when God seems strange, distant, when He seems to be indifferent to our plight and our cries for help. So it was with this Canaanite woman and such is the experience of every Christian. In such times God is teaching us to trust Him— no matter what! One thinks of the words of the much-afflicted Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

The second thing we learn here is that God never fails to answer our prayers in His time and in His way, even when we seem to be waiting for an answer for months and even years on end. He alone knows what is best for you and for me, and He also knows that at times carefree, happy days can be the greatest danger of all, as we then so often forget Him. And that is why in the ancient Litany, which Dr. Luther held to be the best prayer on earth after the Lord’s Prayer, the Church prays that God would deliver us not only “in all time of our tribulation” but also “in all time of our prosperity.”

Finally, the sufferings we Christians in fact endure are not punishment, because Jesus on the cross bore all the punishment we by our sins have deserved. Yes, we do indeed experience the painful consequences of our sins, but this is not punishment but rather a way in which a merciful Lord permits us to experience sin’s painful consequences so that we may turn from them and live.

“When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.” Even when the face of Jesus seems stern and strange, it is still always the face once crowned with thorns out of love for you and for me and for every child of Adam’s lost and fallen race. No one could see God’s love in that crucified body, that thorn-crowned face, but there most clearly God’s heart of love is revealed. And there can be no greater proof of His forgiving love than the gift He now gives us at this altar— the truly present body which once hung on Calvary’s cross, and the out-poured blood received under the outward appearances of the consecrated bread and wine. Here truly we taste the goodness of the Lord!

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
   On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
   All other ground is sinking sand.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.

Invocavit (2016)


February 14, 2016 AD

Old Testament: 1 Samuel 17:40-51

Epistle: Hebrews 4:14-16

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text for this day is from the third and fourth chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel:

And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and, behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him; and, lo, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

It was of course C. S. Lewis who said that Satan’s greatest success in modern times is his success in persuading countless souls that he is a harmless myth— despite the fact that the last century saw evil perhaps unparalleled in human history. And what shall we say of this new century, now halfway through its second decade? Well, C. S. Lewis was right! Satan’s greatest success is his success in persuading countless souls that he is a harmless myth, a joke.

Not so St. Paul who wrote of Satan, “We are not ignorant of his devices.”

The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that immediately after Jesus’ baptism He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.

Now there is a great deal which can be said about this deeply mysterious story of God-Incarnate’s battle with the Prince of Darkness, but for today let’s focus on just one aspect of that battle. At Jesus’ baptism, just before His fasting and temptation, Jesus hears the voice of God the Father proclaim: “This is My Beloved Son.” But what then does Satan do? He tries to sow seeds of doubt in our Lord’s mind and heart. God the Father says, “This is My beloved Son!” Satan whispers, “If you are the Son of God…”— if you are the Son of God— “command that these stones be made bread… if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple…,” as if to say, “God the Father’s word is not enough. ‘This is My beloved Son’? Let’s have some proof here.” Satan says, “If you are the Son of God,” echoing his words to Eve at the very beginning of the human story: “Did God say? Did God really say?” No wonder we call Satan “The Old Evil Foe”— up to the same old tricks he’s been up to since the beginning.

Now at your baptism, you didn’t literally hear God the Father say, “This is my beloved Child,” but you were through the waters of that heavenly washing truly made “the child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” But just as Satan tried to sow seeds of doubt in the mind and heart of our Lord, just so he tries the very same thing with us. He tries to bring about doubt as to what and who by God’s tender mercies we truly are.

Sinners, yes! But sinners forgiven and cleansed through Jesus’ precious blood: as our baptism assures us, as the word of absolution assures us, and as Christ’s truly present-in-the-Sacrament Body and Blood assure us. More than anything else Satan wants you to forget, to forget all that. He wants to sow seeds of doubt in your mind and heart: “You? You as you are!— a child of God?” Satan whispers, “How can that be? Just look at all your troubles and difficulties. Yes, look at your sins!” And Satan is past master at bringing to life the memory of sins long ago repented of, forgiven, but which still come back to trouble our conscience. “You, you as you are, a child of God?”

Our Lord held fast to the word His Father spoke at His baptism: “This is My Beloved Son”; just so we cling to God’s word of tender mercy put upon us with the water of our baptism whose power is the Blood of Jesus. Just listen to some wonderful words of that splendid preacher John Donne. Donne says:

Against this [accusation of the devil] there is no other medicine but the blood of Christ. And therefore, whensoever this apprehension of God’s future judgment bites on you, be sure to present to it the blood of your Savior. Never consider God’s judgement for sin alone but rather in company with the blood of Christ. It is but the hissing of the Serpent, the whispering of Satan when he surprises you in a melancholy midnight of dejection of spirit and lays your sins before you. Look not on your sins so inseparably that you cannot see Christ, too! Come not to Confession to God without consideration of the promises of the Gospel.

In the words of John Newton:

How sweet the name of JESUS sounds
In a believer’s car!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

By Him my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;—
Satan accuses me in vain
And I am owned a child.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus to life everlasting. +Amen.

Ash Wednesday (2016)

Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Joel 2:12-19
Gospel: Matthew 6:16-21
Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel which was read just a few minutes ago is a portion from Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount where he talks about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He doesn’t command His followers to pray, to fast, to give alms; He assumes that His followers will pray, and fast, and give alms— the three traditional disciplines of the holy season of Lent, which we begin this night.

After a long and difficult winter, the kind of winter we’ve been having this year, just about everybody welcomes the coming of spring: the long winter nights give way to days of increasing light, winter’s cold and ice and snow are banished by the warm spring days; the crocuses and daffodils begin to lift their heads above the soil, and wherever we look we see signs of new and radiant life. Yes, after a long and difficult winter we welcome the coming of spring!

Well, spring in that sense is still some weeks away; but today, Ash Wednesday, we begin that season of the Church year which has often and rightly been called “the springtime of the soul.” In fact the word “Lent” is derived from an Old English word, lencten, which simply means “spring.”—”lencten” probably because of the lengthening days. And just as we welcome the coming of spring, just so we Christians welcome this “springtime of the soul.” For during this holy season, the seed of new and eternal life which was planted in us in Baptism is nourished and grows:

All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.

The “winter of our sins” is banished by the light and love of God’s crucified and risen Son. And those traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are aids in reaching out for that love and light.

In prayer we consciously reach out for love and light for others and for ourselves. Through alms-giving, which includes every act of kindness and generosity toward others, we try to reflect in some small way God’s kindness and generosity toward us poor sinners. In fasting we experience hunger and thereby learn that we are needy, radically dependent beings whose life is not our own: “It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves,” and by foregoing for a season perfectly good and legitimate pleasures we get rid of some of life’s distractions so that we can more clearly see ourselves as we are, God as He is, and also what God is asking of us through all the seemingly  insignificant instances of life as we experience it day by day. As the nineteenth century Christian poet John Keble put it:

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves— a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

And so the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving can be compared to weeding your garden— not an end in itself, but a means to an end. You weed your garden so that the flowers you’ve planted won’t be choked by weeds nor their beauty hidden. Weeding is not an end in itself and the traditional Lenten disciplines are not an end in themselves, still less are they a means of somehow gaining God’s favor! For God does not need our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; you and I do! Because through them we weed the garden of our souls so we can then bloom with the fruit of the Spirit: the “fruit” that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

So how is it with you, with me, as we again begin our Lenten journey to Calvary’s cross and on to the Lord’s resurrection? Is it still winter— our hearts cold and hardened with apathy and indifference, resentment and bitterness, perhaps even a dose of despair? Is our practice of religion cold and formal, or is it the expression of a grateful heart warmed by love beyond understanding— the love of God who came down into our terror and torment and death to raise us up into His life and freedom and joy?

If it is still winter in our hearts, then the Lenten spring is here to bring us back to life: to warm our hearts with the fire of Christ’s love and to revive our flagging spirits through the gentle dew of His mercy toward us sinners— sinners, who by our misuse of God’s gifts have made of God’s good world a veritable wasteland of sorrow and want; and who, by sinning against one another, in fact sin against the One who has called each one of us out of nothingness into being: God who is Love. It was Saint Isaac the Syrian, a fourth century Bishop of Nineveh, who wrote:

Those who understand that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings than those produced by the most fearful tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain.

Well those are not just words of a Christian bishop who lived more than fifteen hundred years ago. I can truthfully say that they ring true to my own experience. And what a terrible thing it is to realize that I have sinned against someone who loves me very much. And that is true of every last one of us because each one of us has sinned against Love: the eternal Love who called us into being and then saved us from sin and death by His bitter passion and death. Yes, “the sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain.”

Healing for that pain can only be found through the “tree” which Saint John, exiled on Patmos, saw in mystic vision: that “tree” which is the cross of Jesus, “the tree of life whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.” There alone do we find healing for the wounds of sin, balm for our troubled consciences, and peace through the precious blood of Jesus which cleanses and refreshes every sad and broken heart.

After a long and difficult winter, we welcome the coming of spring. Let us then welcome the coming of Lent, the “springtime of the soul.” In the words of the ancient liturgy:

The Lenten spring shines forth,
The flower of repentance…
Let us cast off the works of darkness,
Let us put on the armor of light,
     that passing through Lent as through a great sea,
     we may reach the third day resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus to life everlasting. +Amen.


Quinquagesima (2016)


February 7, 2016 AD

Old Testament: Isaiah 35:3-7

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Gospel: Luke 18:31-43

Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Jesus stood still and commanded [the blind beggar] to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, that I may receive my sight.'” – St. Luke 18:40, 41

Although many of us have difficulty with our eyesight from time to time, I doubt that any of us can have any real sense of what it’s like to be blind. But we can perhaps at least imagine the desperation of the blind beggar in today’s Gospel, no doubt reduced to begging by his blindness. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries out and keeps on crying out despite all the efforts of the crowd to silence him. Jesus commands the people to bring him to Him and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?. . .Lord, let me receive my sight!” And Jesus then says, “Receive your sight, your faith has made you well!” In His compassion our Lord restores his sight and he follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.

Now that blind beggar’s prayer; “Lord, let me receive my sight” must be your prayer and mine as well. For although we’re not literally blind, we’re blind in a far deeper sense: blind to the love and the will of our Maker. For if we really saw God clearly, our hearts would be continually overflowing with peace and joy. But since they are not, we too need to pray with that blind beggar, “Lord, let me receive my sight!”

The trouble is that, instead of clearly seeing the love and the will of God, we’re distracted: we see all kinds of other things instead. And you have to be careful about what you see!

Now I happen to have a dear friend in another part of the country who’s struggled with depression all his life. But his depression isn’t helped by what he chooses daily to see. Not content with looking at one or two news reports, he tends to keep watching the news all day long! And that, I submit, is enough to depress even the most cheerfully disposed person! And then there are those of us who are tempted to spend our time constantly following the latest scandals and tragedies in the Church and in the world— or even worse, materials not fit for human consumption, let alone for any Christian trying to follow the holy Jesus who said, “Blessed are the pure in heart…” You have to be careful about what you see!

Now we are naïve if we think this is a small matter of no consequence, if we fail to realize that Satan uses all of this to blind and confuse and alienate us from the life of God. For the more careless we are about what we choose to see, the greater the danger of being plunged ever deeper into spiritual confusion and darkness. You have to be careful about what you see!

Lent begins this Wednesday. And what is Lent for if not that time of year when, more than at any other time, we in fact gaze on Jesus? Lent in fact is all about seeing: about seeing ourselves as we are and our Maker as He is.

It’s a time for seeing ourselves as we in fact are: not as we’d like to be, nor yet as we fancy ourselves to be, but as we in painful fact are. Honest and thorough self-examination in the light of God’s Word written should quickly dispel any illusions we might have. For example, just how well do you and I measure up in the light of Saint Paul’s great hymn to love as we heard it in the Epistle for this Sunday?

“Love is patient; love is kind, and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish; not quick to take offense. Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other people’s sins, but delights in the truth.”

Yes, in self-examination and in confession we see ourselves as we truly are.

But then in the word of pardon spoken by the pastor, whom God has put there to do just that, we see God as He truly is, who knows us better than we know ourselves yet loves us still; we see Jesus the crucified and risen Friend of sinners. And what else is the Sacrament we receive this day but the means whereby we see: see the love which brought the eternal Son of God to the shameful cross to cleanse us through His precious blood and make us His?

You have to be careful about what you see! “Lord, let me receive my sight.” In the wonderful Epistle for this Last Sunday before Lent, Saint Paul says, “Now”— in this life— “we see through a glass darkly, but then”— in heaven— “face to face.” And Saint John says of the redeemed in heaven: “His servants shall worship Him for they shall see His face.” But for now,

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind—
Yea all I need in Thee to find,
     O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.

Advent 2 (2015)

Advent 2

December 6, 2015 AD

Old Testament: Malachi 4:1-6

Epistle: Romans 15:4-13

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

– St. Luke 21:28

I wonder how many times you’ve found yourself asking, “Where will it all end?” That’s not the kind of question we’re likely to ask when things are going well, but I’m sure we’ve all asked that question in times of personal crisis, or when faced with family difficulties that just won’t go away, or on those days when we become so painfully aware of the violence and conflict in the world, of the deprivation and hunger, the sheer misery that mark the lives of millions. It’s then that we find ourselves asking, “Where will it all end?”

Just a few short days after those terrible events we’ve come to call “9-11”, I received a beautiful card from a very dear and considerably older friend encouraging all of us “to remain strong in faith and prayer because,” she said, “no matter what might happen in the meantime, we Christians already know how the story ends.”

And how does the story end? In the coming again in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead and to usher in His beyond-imagination glorious kingdom which in His love He prepared for us from the foundation of the world. That’s where it will all end!

To many people of course our Christian belief in Christ’s coming again has nothing to do with the urgent demands of life; it seems to deal with what to them is at best an utterly remote possibility— in fact an event that in all likelihood will never take place and therefore can be safely ignored. And if truth be told, even within the visible Church there are people who have in fact abandoned this hope in part because misguided teachers have so distorted our Lord’s teaching about this with all kinds of bizarre notions and have even attempted to predict the exact day and hour of His coming— despite the fact that our Lord Himself said: “Watch, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

In the Gospel for this Sunday our Lord does in fact speak of the signs of the last days: “signs in sun and moon and stars and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring. . .men fainting with fear and foreboding at what is coming on the world.” But what is so often forgotten is that, according to Holy Scripture, all days from Christ’s first coming in lowliness until His second coming in glory are in fact the last days – the days when God is at last bringing to completion His truly loving purpose for the whole creation. Saint John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour,” and Saint Paul addressed the Christians of his day as those “upon whom the end of the ages has come.”

And so when Jesus says, “When you see these things place, you know that the kingdom of God is near,” Jesus is speaking in terms not of our human time-table but in terms of God’s time-table which is another thing altogether— the Lord “with whom one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” In a word, the signs of which Jesus speaks tell us that He is coming, not when He is coming as Jesus said, “Watch for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “Watch, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Someone has said that our Lord’s coming again has to do not with a date but with an attitude. “Not a date” because the day and hour of His coming are known only to Him, “but an attitude”: an attitude which is neither cynical despair and resignation nor naive optimism but rather a deep and abiding hope which can face the very worst and still rejoice because it is hope grounded solely in Christ: the Lord who through forgiveness makes each moment of our lives a new beginning, who brings good out of evil, life out of death, and who will in the End deliver the dying creation and wonderfully transform all things by the light of His resurrection. As Saint Paul writes to the Church at Rome, “Creation itself will”— in a way we cannot now even dimly imagine— “be delivered from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

We live in a dying world and you and I are dying people; the grave awaits each and every one of us, and the world as we now know it will come to an end. The signs of which Jesus speaks in this day’s Gospel tell us that this is so: “signs in sun and moon and stars and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring. . .men’s hearts fainting with fear and with foreboding at what is coming on the world.” In fact all the dismal and destructive realities of life tells us that this so. But if we remember and take seriously the words of Jesus, these signs— these grim reminders of our own mortality and of the world’s approaching end— are no cause for despair. Seen with eyes of faith, they are even reason for hope because they tell us that the Lord we love and long to see is in fact on His way; He is coming to gather His redeemed children into the kingdom which in His love He has prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

So where will it all end? Not in death and oblivion, but in the coming again of the Lord whose love we already know through His manger, cross, and open tomb. So, “When all these begin to take place, look up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

And so I would like to conclude this morning with some beautiful, yes, poetic words of John Henry Newman about the altar, the altar of the Sacrament, as this place where our hope is kindled and sustained. Newman says,

But while the times wax old, and the colours of the earth fade, and the voice of song is brought low, and all kindreds of the earth can but wail and lament, the sons of God “lift up their heads for their redemption draweth nigh.” Nature fails, the sun shines not, and the moon is dim, the stars fall from heaven, and the foundations of the round world shake; but the altar’s light burns ever brighter; there are sights there which the many cannot see and all above the tumults of earth the command is heard to show forth the Lord’s death and the promise that the Lord is coming. “Happy are the people that are in such a case!” who, when  wearied of the things seen can turn with good hope to the things unseen; yea “blessed are the people who have the Lord for their God.” “Come unto Me,” He says, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Rest is better than toil, peace satisfies, and quietness disappoints not. These are sure goods. Such is the calm of the heavenly Jerusalem , which is the mother of us all; and such is their calm worship, the foretaste of heaven, who for a season shut themselves out from the world, and seek Him in invisible-Presence, whom they shall hereafter see face to face. (J. H. Newman, Parochial & Plain Sermons VII, l58f)

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, +Amen.

Trinity 24 (2015)

Trinity 24

November 15, 2015 AD

Old Testament: Isaiah 51:9-16

Epistle: Colossians 1:9-14

Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26
Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the crowd making a tumult, He said, ‘Depart, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed Him to scorn.” (St. Matthew 9:23f)

At this time of the year when earth begins to feel the cold hand of winter, the hours of darkness lengthen, and nature itself in some sense dies, we Christians begin to think about the  end: the end of life, the end of the world. But we do that in the dazzling light of Jesus’ resurrection, of which the raising of Jairus’ daughter in the Gospel just read is a sign— a sign pointing forward to Jesus’ resurrection and ours, when in the end He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But the mourners just laugh Jesus to scorn.

christ-1522Now it’s no secret that we live in a day when the resurrection hope is dismissed as a matter of little concern which one may or may not believe, or else is trivialized as nothing more than a poetic way of saying that— well— despite everything, life still— somehow— has meaning. Now this faith weariness, this loss of Christian nerve, this death of genuine hope is of course by no means something new. You might even say that it’s as old as the human story. Job asks, “If a man die, will he live again?” And the New Testament Scriptures give plenty of evidence as to how this hope was then dismissed by both Jew and Gentile. The party of the Sadducees in Judaism knew nothing of the resurrection hope, and when Saint Paul preached the resurrection to the sophisticated audience gathered on Mars Hill in Athens, “some mocked him and others said, ‘We’ll listen to you again some other time,'” more or less dismissing him out of hand. Yes, the rejection of the resurrection hope is nothing new!

In fact members of the Church St. Paul founded in the city of Corinth kept asking— anxiously, “How are the dead raised? With is what kind of body do they come?” And St. Paul answers their anxious question by using a comparison: the picture of seed sown in the earth. Of the body buried and risen St. Paul says, “What is sown in the earth is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

And it is at this point that one so often finds confusion worse confounded because that word “spiritual” is one of the slipperiest, most easily misunderstood words there is! It can mean so many different things! And so today, just as in St. Paul’s day, when we people hear the word, “spiritual,” they jump to the conclusion, “If spiritual, then certainly not bodily.” But that conclusion contradicts everything we as Christians believe!

For us Christians spirit and body are by no means mutually exclusive, since God who is spirit in fact took on Himself from blessed Mary a body and has never put it aside— although that body born of Mary, crucified and buried, is now risen and wondrously changed in a way we can’t even begin to understand this side of our own resurrection. So when Saint Paul speaks of the resurrection body as a “spiritual body,” he doesn’t mean “not bodily at all”, but a body totally responsive to the Holy Spirit who, as we learned in our Catechism, “will on the last day raise me me and all the dead and give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.”

The life we now know, this side of the resurrection— despite all its tragedies, sorrows, pains and absurdities, its own manifest injustices and intractable problems— is nevertheless God’s precious gift, full of joy and delight and wonderful surprise— truly a gift of love! And where there is so much love, there must be more, always more. And how do we know that? Because on the first day of the week the Lord of Love rose from the dead. And not only on Easter Day but every Lord’s Day we celebrate His glorious resurrection, receiving Him in that wonderful Sacrament which is me the sure Pledge of our own resurrection, as we hear in the dismissal from the Lord’s Table: “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.” And so here at the altar we know and truly receive our Savior’s hope-sustaining love.

Preaching to some no doubt skeptical Oxford undergraduates about fifty years ago, Austin Farrer had this to say:

They think too little of [God’s] love who call this hope in question. Belief in this infinite and invaluable gift, this partaking of God’s eternity, is the acid-test of genuine faith. Leave this out of account, and you can can equivocate forever on God’s very existence: your talk of God can always be talk about the backside of nature, dressed in emotional rhetoric. But a God who reverses nature, who undoes death, that those in whom the likeness of His glory has faintly and fitfully shone may be drawn everlastingly into the heart of light and know Him as He is: This is a God indeed, a God Almighty, a God to be trusted, loved, and adored.

Saint John put it so simply: “Beloved, we are children now. But it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.”

And now the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, to life everlasting. +Amen.


All Saints Day (2015)

OSLC 5All Saints Day

November 1, 2015 AD

First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Epistle: 1 John 3:1-3

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

Click here to listen and subscribe to Pastor McClean’s sermons on iTunes.

Whenever we say the Apostles’ Creed— and if we follow Dr. Luther’s instructions in the Small Catechism we say the Apostles Creed twice a day, morning and evening— whenever we say that Creed we confess our faith in the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints: the Holy Christian Church which is the Communion of Saints. And it is especially on this Festival of All Saints that we rejoice in this truth— or, to speak more accurately, in this blessed reality.

It was Pastor Wilhelm Löhe, one of the great Fathers of the Lutheran Church during the nineteenth century, who said:

When I was young I thirsted for an eternal fellowship. Now I know an eternal fellowship which becomes more and more close and binding— the holy Church! From it death shall not separate me, but death will for the first time bring me to complete enjoyment of love and fellowship. [For] there is one eternal Church, part to be found here, and part to be found in eternity.

I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints— here on earth and there in heaven. As we sang in William Walsham Howe’s wonderful hymn:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine:
Yet all are one in Thee for all are Thine.

Or as we sang in the sermon hymn:

One family we dwell in Him,
One Church above, beneath:
Though now divided by the stream
The narrow stream of death.

I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.

Long before the coming of our Lord the author of the Book of Proverbs said: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Well in the first reading from Holy Scripture we have a fragment of the vision of Saint John exiled on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. We usually call that vision The Revelation to Saint John. And at its very beginning Saint John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”— the day when all the seven churches of Asia Minor to which he wrote would have been gathered for the weekly celebration of the Holy Communion on the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The late Austin Farrer put it this way:

One Sunday it happened that St John could not be at church with his friends, for like Elisha, like Jesus, he was taken by the armed men and held in prison. But God consoled him with a vision: he saw the Christian sacrament that morning not as we human beings see it, but as it is seen in heaven. His spirit went up; he saw the throne of glory and the four cherubim full of eyes in every part who sleep not saying Holy, Holy, Holy. And he saw the Lamb of God: a Lamb standing as though slaughtered; a Lamb alone worthy to open for mankind the blessed promises of God. He saw the Lamb, and then the angels. I saw, he says, and heard the voice of many angels round about the Throne, the number of them ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to be receive power and riches and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing…

And he saw the saints standing before the throne of God and the Lamb. And who are the saints? Those who had come out of great tribulation and had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the gentle Lamb who leads to springs of living waters and wipes away every tear from their eyes.

You and I are not yet there. We are only on the journey; they are at journey’s end— in the nearer presence of the Lord in whom is all our life and hope. As Pastor Löhe said, “There is one eternal Church, part to be found here and part to be found in eternity.” But it is one eternal Church, and both here on earth and there in heaven Christ’s people worship before the throne of God and the Lamb. In heaven the saints see Him. Here on earth we find Him hidden under the outward appearances of bread and wine. But we with the saints in heaven acclaim Him as the Lamb slain for us all, washing away our sins through His most precious Blood, feeding us with the heavenly Food for our journey— His Body given, His blood shed— and worshipping Him as do the saints and the angels in the words of the thrice holy hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth: Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest!

I believe in the Holy Christian Church: the Communion of Saints. God grant that we may rejoice not only on this All Saints Day but every day in that blest communion, fellowship divine, until we too are called to Christ’s nearer presence and join in worshipping Him before the throne of God and the Lamb.

And now the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, to live everlasting. +Amen.